Monthly Archives: August 2015

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Monday, August 31, 2015 – The Beginning of Good News

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” – Mark 1:1-3

Mark announces in his first line that he is writing “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

It is an abrupt way to start the gospel.  Unlike Matthew and Luke who begin their accounts with infancy stories to help us position Jesus in society through genealogies and romantic, even scandalous tales, Mark is silent on Jesus’ birth, childhood, youth, and early adulthood.  Unlike John who begins his account with a theological prologue to proclaim Christ Jesus as an essential part of the mighty movement of God from before all eternity – the very creative word of God which “became flesh and dwelt among us,” Mark offers no theological insight to explain the identity of Jesus.

Mark simply tells us that the beginning of the good news is in the wilderness.

Perhaps this message holds no surprise.  Maybe we can understand that God’s good news is found far from the glamour of adoring crowds and far from the pools of political power.  God’s offer of salvation may be extended in such places just as surely as anywhere else, but it may be that God’s offer is not viewed as particularly good news in such glitzy venues.  Perhaps it may be seen as irrelevant or even as threatening by those who seem to have it all.  But in the wilderness – in the lonely places, the difficult places, the sad places, the troubling places, the powerless places, in places of heart-break and struggle and desperation, God’s grace and truth find receptive souls whose experience of God’s love and concern is received as very good news.

Of course, it doesn’t take us long to learn that life is filled with ups and downs.  While we may experience a variety of mountaintop highs, our journeys also include sojourns into deep valleys as we encounter difficulty and disease, disappointment and defeat, despair and death.  If you find yourself in just such a difficult place, find comfort in the good news that God has neither forgotten nor forsaken you.  Even while facing hurt and heartbreak, you are never out of God’s care and keeping.  Nowhere can you experience the good news of God’s blessing more fully than in a lonely, wilderness place.  In fact, Mark tells us that that is exactly where God’s good news begins.

Good Father, thank you for meeting me in my loneliest places with the good news of your love and care.  Help me trust you at all times and in all places.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, August 27, 2015 – Who Am I that You Should Care?

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 – “Who am I that you, O God, should care about me?”  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

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015 – O Lord, Our Lord, How Majestic Is Thy Name!

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.

SERMON – “UnMasked” Video

“Unmasked”
Video Link
Matthew 16:13-21a sermon by Gorman HoustonPreached as the first installment of the fourth season of “God on Broadway”
First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa.August 23, 2015

To see the entire worship service, please click on the “Video Link” above.  (The sermon begins at the time mark 26:30.)

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 – 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

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Monday, August 24, 2015 – 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

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Friday, August 21, 2015 – The True Rewards 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

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Thursday, August 20, 2015 – Contrasting Wisdom and Wickedness

The wicked are not so but are like chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,but the way of the wicked will perish. - Psalm 1:4-6

After extolling the attributes of a life of wisdom, the psalmist describes the self-destruction of those who choose a different path.  Understanding this first psalm hangs on grasping the contrasts between wisdom and wickedness. While wisdom is typically contrasted to folly, the psalmist contrasts wisdom and wickedness.   Such a move reveals that the psalmist tightly connects wisdom with righteousness – following the way of the Lord.  To choose another way would, therefore, be contrary to the will and way of God – the definition of wickedness.

The first contrast comes as the psalmist expresses that the life of the wicked is not a verdant well-watered fruitful tree but a dry, lifeless chaff, which produces nothing and is blown about by the wind. Those who do not follow the way of the Lord but follow another way will not last.

The psalmist reveals the destiny of the foolish by contrasting the posturing of the wicked – who can stand neither in the judgment nor among the righteous – to the stature of the wise – who “walk not in the way of the wicked, nor stand in the circle of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.”  Not to be able to stand in the judgment may be interpreted in a variety of ways, but all interpretations tend to converge on the idea that things will not work out well for those folks at all, as they will be excluded both from the presence of the Lord and from the fellowship of the Lord’s people.

The final contrast comes in recognizing that the Lord knows the way of the wise.  Not so with the way of the wicked.  Their path leads not to our life-giving Lord but only to destruction.

Perhaps in all of this you are reminded of Jesus’ words of wisdom when he said, “ the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, (but)… the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Our Father, …lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015 – Typical Godly Wisdom

He is like a tree, planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. – Psalm 1:3

The psalmist continues the first psalm by conveying that there is nothing magical about wisdom.  In fact, wisdom is as typical as a tree.  This analogy assures us that no impossible feat is required to gain wisdom.  Everyone of us is designed to live wisely, productively – even abundantly, just as trees are designed to produce leaves and fruit in season.

When a tree is planted by streams of water, it tends to produce abundant fruit.  A mature apple tree, for example, will produce around 1,500 apples each year.  With five seeds in each apple, a total of 7,500 seeds are produced from one typical tree in one typical year. In similar ways, the psalmist seems to be saying that godly wisdom typically thrives and multiplies itself.

One other fascinating aspect of this psalm is that the verb, which is translated “planted” can also be translated “transplanted.”  Recognizing this aspect of the psalm helps us see that God’s grace opens opportunities for all of us, even those of us who play the fool.  No self-inflicted folly puts us outside the God-given ability to reclaim wisdom.  God always holds out the opportunity for our lives to be transplanted from dry, thorny, lifeless ground to the fertile soil of godly wisdom.

The good news is that a wise, abundant, fulfilling life is God’s desire and opportunity for us all.

Good Father, truly we are wondrously made.  Grant us wisdom that we may live wisely in harmony with your desire for our lives. Amen.

A Bible-study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015 – “The Beginning of Blessings”

Blessed is the man who walks not in the way of the wicked, nor stands in the circle of sinners,nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD,and on his law he meditates day and night. – Psalms 1:1-2

The Book of Psalms, often called the Psalter, is a collection of hymns which were used in corporate and individual worship within Judaism.  The Psalter begins with a wisdom psalm, which guides the faithful along the path of blessedness.  It is noteworthy that the Psalter begins with a blessing, “Blessed is the man.”  Wisdom begins by telling us about the source of true blessings, true happiness, true delight.

The beginning of wisdom is knowing that true blessings come from a right relationship with God, from being in harmony with God’s will.  If we spend our energy resisting God’s authority, we will never find buoyancy in life and never escape the gravitational pull of unrestrained self-love.

The other great lesson these initial verses in Psalm 1 teach is that it is easy to end up separated from God’s blessings without ever making a conscious decision to veer from the faith.  When we do not say “no” to the things which are opposed to God, we are by default saying “no” to God.

“Blessed is the woman or man,” the psalmist is saying, “who says ‘no’ to the things that lead away from God and says ‘yes’ to God.”  In wonderful alliteration that means “no” to “the way of the wicked,” “no” to “the circle of sinners,” “no” to “the seat of scoffers,”  and “yes” to “the law of the Lord.”

What a great beginning to the Psalter! What a great beginning to a life of faith and blessedness!

Blessings to you!

“Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Amen.   (Psalm 119:105)

A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston