Monthly Archives: January 2014

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Thursday, January 30, 2014 – Goodness and Mercy for Every Need

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.                                                           – Psalm 23

Using rich pastoral imagery, the psalmist reveals many ways in which sheep thrive in the care and keeping of a good shepherd.  We are presented with an interesting list – green pastures, still waters, righteous paths, anointed heads, the eternal household of God.  Even a cursory reading reveals that the shepherd provides far more than the bare necessities for mere sustenance.  There seems to be goodness and mercy for every need.

In the middle of the 20th Century, Abraham Maslow created a framework for understanding human needs and, in particular, for understanding the need-obstacles which prevent individuals from achieving their full potential. Maslow posited that humans are needy and that the needs may be classified and ordered from basic needs for survival all the way to advanced needs for self-fulfillment.  His study led to his famous hierarchy of needs.

The idea Maslow advanced is that humans can only address a higher-level need when all the lower-level needs are met. Only when we meet our needs for immediate survival, can we work to meet our needs for security, and only then can we work to meet our needs for relationships, etc.  An accomplished musician cannot address higher-level needs of achieving excellence if she is suddenly submerged in a sinking boat and senses a danger of drowning.  Her immediate need for oxygen trumps her higher-level needs for developing her skill.  As you may remember from psychology textbooks, Maslow’s hierarchy looks like this.

Now, with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind, consider the progression of the shepherd’s care – from physiological needs (food and water) to safety needs (correct orientation and security even in the face of death). As the psalm unfolds, we find the shepherd’s care moves right up the hierarchy – belonging (preparing a table), esteem (anointing with oil), and self-actualization (dwelling in the LORD’s house forever).

As we study this concept, we perhaps understand even better the psalmist’s affirmation that in the Shepherd’s care, we truly are complete.  ”The LORD is my shepherd.  I shall not want.”

Lord, I confess that I am needy in so many ways. Grant me wisdom to bind myself to you and to trust your shepherding care.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston.

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 – My Shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. – Psalm 23:1

The 23rd psalm is by far the most recognizable psalm and perhaps the most well-known passage of scripture in the entire Bible.  Both its familiarity and its beloved status make Psalm 23 difficult to analyze and appreciate on a deeper level.  Perhaps we all know the first line of this psalm.  What we may not know is that this first verse sets the context for the entire psalm and really for a life-shaping faith.  Let’s look at it.

“The LORD” (written in all caps in most translations) is the intimate covenant name for God – Jehovah or Yahweh.  This is no grand expression of praise for the God of all creation.  This is a personal confession of one who is claiming the God who has already claimed her.  The psalmist begins by making the basic profession, “I am the Lord’s, and the Lord is mine.”

As you might expect, the first verse goes even further by defining the relationships which create the covenant bond.  ”The Lord is my Shepherd.”  There are many expressions the psalmist could have used – “God is my King,” “God is my Higher Power,” “God is my Co-Pilot.” The image of the Shepherding God was deliberately selected.

A shepherd oversees the flock, leads the flock, and provides for the needs of the flock for food, water, shelter, and protection.   Perhaps we all understand that.  We also know that there is no democracy in the sheepfold.  The shepherd is clearly the one with authority and power.  But unlike evil despots who amass power and wealth at the expense of their subjects, shepherds sacrifice for the well being of the sheep. The Shepherd leads, not by accumulating power or wealth or status but by using power, wealth, and status to provide for both the immediate and the long-term well-being of the sheep.

“The LORD is my shepherd.  I shall not want.”  Can you see the profound power in just the first line of this beloved psalm?  When we repeat these familiar words, we are declaring that we are freely entering into covenant bond with our Shepherding God who freely enters into covenant bond with us.  We are also asserting that within that bond, we are complete.

Dear Lord, thank you for claiming us and Shepherding us into your care and keeping.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Monday, January 27, 2014 – A Cry of Despair in the Context of Hope

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?  Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. To thee they cried, and were saved; in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.

O LORD, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion, my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.                                                                              -Psalm 22:1-5, 19-21, 27-28

Many readers may recognize the first verse of Psalm 22 as being among the seven last sayings of Jesus on the cross.  There is no question that Jesus knew this psalm, and that these words were on his lips and in his mind as he was rejected, as he was crucified, as he was dying.  ”My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”

Jesus must have experienced the deepest despair possible as he died on the cross, and this scripture came to his mind.  Notice that this universal cry of despair is how the prayer begins, but despair is not where the psalm ends. The movement is first away from the personal expression of despair to the faithfulness of God through the ages.  Then, the psalmist calls upon God to offer salvation from the violence of men as well as from all forces of evil – natural and supernatural.

As the psalmist professes confidence in God’s sovereign nature, his words form expressions of praise to the one who “rules over all the nations,” and who has certainly not forgotten his servant in his time of great despair.

What a powerful expression of worship we find, which both gives voice to our own doubt and despair and transforms our laments into songs of praise!

Eternal Father, we cannot avoid despair when misfortune and heartbreak intrude upon our lives.  How thankful we are for your unfailing care and your healing grace, which are greater than our problems, and which overwhelm our despair with hope!  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 – Look Who’s Talking

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world….The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether….Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:1-4, 7-9, 14

What a magnificent expression of praise is Psalm 19!  In it we find wonderfully familiar passages, including the first verse, “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” and the last verse, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight.”  Between the two we find dynamic movement, a survey of the “voices” which speak praise to God – natural, supernatural, and personal.

The psalmist begins with the vast heavens.  Though there is no word uttered by the natural elements, the beauty of the skies, the precise movement of the stars, and the dependability of the sun all proclaim God’s goodness to the ends of the earth.  The psalmist assures us that even if we had never heard the Word of God, we would have knowledge of God’s glory from the witness of the created order.

The psalmist then considers the supernatural revelation of God and offers praise to the “voice” of the scripture which speaks with endurance and power, “reviving the soul,” “making wise the simple,” “rejoicing the heart,” and “enlightening the eyes.”  The assurance we find is that as we encounter and live into the Word of God, every part of our body is enlivened to live fully and, by doing so, to offer witness to God.

Finally, the psalmist invites us to align our thoughts and words with these natural and supernatural “voices.”  In fact, the movement of the psalm mirrors the grace of God – from the vastness of the universe and the eternal chambers of the Divine to our individual mind and mouth.  We are called to “Join with all nature in manifold witness.”

In the context of a universe which knows of God’s goodness and greatness, and in the power of the revealed Word of God, the psalm gives us a prayer that our voices may be aligned with those of the heavens, that our lives may be calibrated with the truth of scripture, and that we may find our greatest joy in living in full agreement with the will of God.  What a powerful, personal prayer, worthy of being found often in our hearts and on our lips!

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Friday, January 17, 2014 – O that deliverance… would come out of Zion!

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one… O that deliverance for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, Israel shall be glad. - Psalm 14:1-3, 7

The psalmist is no fool.  He is aware of the depravity in the world.  He is not deceived by smooth talk or clever tricks.  He knows the damage that is done by those who “are corrupt,” that they are not to be trusted, that “they do abominable deeds.”

The psalmist is no fool.  He knows well the human predicament, the natural condition of all persons.  He knows that basic human nature is self-focused, greedy, “under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9).  Is anyone not infected with sin?  Is anyone immune to its life-taking ways?  Is anyone outside its death-grip?  ”No, not one,” the Psalmist laments.

The psalmist is no fool.  He knows that “the fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’”  The fool never seeks out God, never looks for God, never finds the truth of God, never experiences the grace of God.   The psalmist knows that sin will not be appeased.  He knows that things will not correct themselves.  He knows that our only hope comes from God’s grace and mercy.

The psalmist is no fool.  He knows our hope is in the Lord, and he wisely longs for “deliverance” from the tight grip of sin to “come out of Zion.”  In fact, the psalmist is so certain that the Lord will act in grace to redeem his creation, to cancel the power of sin, and to restore “the fortunes of his people,” that he is already anticipating that “Jacob shall rejoice,” and that “Israel shall be glad.”

Indeed, the psalmist is no fool.

Good Father, save us.  We cannot save ourselves.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

 

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 – What is man that thou art mindful of him?

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. – Psalm 8:3-5

The psalmist asks the timeless question, which haunts every person of faith.  ”When I look at thy heavens,… what is man that thou art mindful of him?”  Don’t we understand the psalmist’s query?  We read of billions of stars, we learn of the vastness of the universe, we consider the 7.2 billion people who live on planet Earth, and we wonder how the God of of it all could possibly know us or care for us.  The psalmist articulates this mystery, which is at the center of faith – God is both infinitely large and infinitely tender, lord of every infinitely small atom and lord of the infinitely large, ever-expanding universe. 

The mystery is actually far more profound than we or the psalmist could ever articulate, for there is nothing that any human could do to attract God’s attention or earn God’s blessing. Creation itself reveals that God is far too great for us to control or manipulate.  That we personally experience God’s favor only reveals God’s very nature – that God is both great and good.  The psalmist gives us voice to exclaim that God is both the genius and power which created all the universe and the tenderness and grace which claims each of us as his own.

When we consider this divine mystery, we are moved with the psalmist to exclaim, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!”

Eternal God, our loving, caring Father, you are shrouded in mystery, glory, and honor.  Who am I that you should care for me?  I am humbled that you know me, love me, and bless me. Truly I praise your name.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Monday, January 13, 2014 – O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!  - Psalm 8:1

Psalm 8 is a familiar expression of praise and thanksgiving.  The focus of the psalm is God’s creative genius.   Notice the beauty and power of the first line, which we find repeated at the end of the psalm.  This expression of praise serves to bracket the specific aspects of creation, which are enumerated in the psalm.  Perhaps the use of this liturgically rich verse to begin and end the psalm indicates that these words were were to be repeated by the congregation in call-and-response style at the beginning and at the end of the reading of the psalm in corporate worship, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!”

Again we see here, as we did in psalm 3, that the psalmist uses the intimate, covenanted name Jehovah (LORD), not the more general term Elohim (God).  The psalmist first declares that Jehovah is “our Lord,” that the God of Israel is our God, that we claim the God who claims us – “O LORD, our Lord.” These first four words serve both as an ascription to glory and as a personal confession that we submit to God’s authority.  Such a pledge of allegiance offers clear identity to the people of God and contains revolutionary power.  The worshiping community affirms their ultimate allegiance to Jehovah, not to any governmental, political, or institutional authority.

The first sentence reminds us that Jehovah’s wondrous glory is revealed throughout the created order and invites us to join the natural chorus in praise of God’s supernatural goodness. “How majestic is thy name in all the earth!”  The word “majestic,” translated “excellent” in the King James Version, lifts our minds to consider the stately, grand genius of God who is fully worthy of all praise.

This first line of Psalm 8 is worthy of our regular use in both private and public worship.  As we encounter delicate beauty, extreme excellence, profound truth, and abundant grace in our lives, our praise is rightly directed to the source of all beauty, excellence, truth, and grace.  In like manner, as any or all of us achieve personal or professional esteem, we do well to give praise to God,  The psalmist gives us voice to do just that, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!”

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!”  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Friday, January 10, 2014 – Selah

Thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill. [Selah] 
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me. – Psalm 3:3-5

The psalmist continues expressing thanks for the Lord’s safe-keeping and sustenance as he moves from verse 3 into verses four and five.  He extols the Lord’s faithfulness when he actively calls upon the Lord as well as when he passively sleeps in the assurance of the Lord’s care. In it all, he affirms, “The Lord sustains me.”

It is noteworthy and more than a little curious that the psalmist makes a shift in speaking of God from the second-person to the third in the midst of the psalm.  He does not veer from calling God by the revealed, intimate, covenant name, Jehovah, which is translated as LORD (all caps) in most English translations. Nor does he introduce any new theological concepts.  So why the shift to the third person.

Perhaps the key to understanding this grammatical shift may be found in the strange word Selah, which appears 71 times in the Psalter.  No one knows for sure what the word means, but most scholars believe Selah is a congregational rubric for use in corporate worship.  It could mean “interlude” or something like that.  One theory is that the rubric is akin to the designation “chorus” which we find in some songs today, an instruction for the entire congregation to sing the refrain.

If Selah is such an instruction, what is the refrain? The answer might be found by looking for the line in the psalm which seems to be distinguished from the other lines… perhaps in the way verse 3 is distinguished from the remaining introductory verses by being cast in the second person. If such a theory be correct, then several times the congregation would be prompted to respond to the leader’s reading of the stanzas of the psalm – some of which speak of the number of foes, some of which speak of the goodness of God – by proclaiming a prayer of thanksgiving to the LORD Jehovah, “Thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”

This call-and-response aspect of the psalm allows us to claim and profess the power of faith and respond with it not only to the verses of the psalm, but also to the vagaries of life. In this way, when we encounter life’s challenges, difficulties, frustrations, and hard times, we can make them all “Selah” moments.  That is we can offer not a response of fear or doubt or anger, but rather a response of faith, “Thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Selah – what a great refrain!

Thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.  Amen

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Wednesday, July 8, 2014 – A Shield about Me

But thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. – Psalm 3:3

Even though he faces overwhelming foes, the psalmist finds assurance that he is in the personal care of a God who protects, provides, and prevails.

Notice that the psalmist refers to his foes in the third person, but speaks of his Lord in the second person.  Recognizing the personal nature of the relationship between the psalmist and his God is the key to understanding the meaning and nature of the psalm.  ”Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me.”

The psalmist could have said something more general like, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles,” as in Psalm 34.  But here he is abundantly personal, and it is his personal relationship with God which gives him strength during times of crisis.  His faith is not just a theological idea.  His is personal.  He knows his God to be his personal protector – to “shield me on all sides,” to “ground my feet,” to “lift my head high” (Psalm 3 – The Message).

We do well to learn from the psalmist.  If it is God who shields us, then who can defeat us?  If it is God who grounds us, then who can move us?  If it is God who lifts our head, then who can bring us down?

Good Father, bathe me thoroughly in your grace, fill me completely with your spirit, wrap me tightly in your care that I may be fully yours forevermore.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

 

Pure and Simple Logo 2.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 – The Reward of Righteous Living

O LORD, how many are my foes!  Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God. - Psalm 3:1-2

The first psalm, which expresses the blessings of a life of wisdom, is followed by a series of psalms, which warn us against trying to turn God’s blessings into a payout formula.  Psalm 2 begins with the question, “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?”,  or as the King James Version puts it, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?”  And Psalm 3 speaks of the mocking and misery caused by adversaries, “O Lord, how many are my foes!”

The placement of these psalms reminds us that the rewards of righteous living are not always immediately obvious.  Wisdom and righteousness are their own end.  They do not bring instant reward. Instead they align us with the will and place us on the way of God.  We still face foes.  We still are dealt defeat. We still struggle with sorrow and suffering. Righteous living is not a guarantee of a life of delights and ease.  Righteous living is its own reward.  Living in harmony with God is its own reward.  Being in right relationship with God is its own reward.

To those outside the context of faith, there seems to be no reward to righteous living.  They mock the righteous by saying, “there is no help for him from God.”  ”Where is the payoff?” they may wonder.  ”What is the benefit of faith?” They may ask.  They simply cannot grasp the reward of righteous living.  Jesus explains this phenomenon in Mark’s Gospel, when he tells his disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand…” (Mark 4:11-12)

The secret of the kingdom of God?  Righteousness is its own reward.

Good Father, may pleasing you be the only reward I ever seek.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston