Bible Reading

“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:114).

Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms.  It may well be the most artistic.

There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  This psalm has twenty-two sections, each named for a succeeding letter.  So, in your Bible, the first section of Psalm 119 is headed “aleph,” the second “beth,” the third “gimel” and so on to the end of the alphabet.

Each section has eight verses, and each one of those verses begins with a word corresponding to that section’s alphabet letter.  Thus the first section has eight verses, each verse beginning with a word starting with an aleph (or “A”).  The second eight verses each begin with a beth (or “B”). On it goes, changing letters every eight verses.  If you don’t think that’s tough, try writing your own poem that way!

So why the artistry?

The more complicated the structure, the more valuable the subject.  And so, the writer does it this way, giving the poem great length and complicated presentation to underscore the importance and value of his subject, the word of God.

But I want to focus on one little phrase: “according to your word.”  It occurs five times in the poem and on all five occasions, the writer refers to something God has promised: hope in desperate times (vs. 25), strength in days of sorrow (vs. 28), knowledge and good judgment for day to day living (vs. 65), relief in times of suffering (vs. 107), and understanding in times of confusion (vs. 169).  Interestingly, the author knows these are the promises of God because he has read them in God’s word.

Like the Psalmist, make God your refuge and shield in 2020 by trusting in his promises – promises you will find in a daily reading of God’s word.  You can’t know about them if you don’t read about them.

Making Disciples

In her recent book, Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin writes:

In 2015 I met an Iranian science professor from a world-class university.  I asked him how he came to be a Christian.  He replied, “Through the ministry of J.S. Bach!” My new friend had been raised in a Muslim family.  But when the Islamic revolution swept through Iran in 1980, he abandoned his familial faith.  Alongside his scientific studies, my friend was a semiprofessional flutist.  Classical music was banned by the new government, so music lovers crowded into private houses to savor illicit sonatas.  Before one secret concert, my friend rehearsed a Bach flute sonata with his musical mentor but was stopped a few bars in: “I cannot hear the cross of Christ in what you are playing,” his mentor complained.  My friend was bewildered: with little knowledge of Christianity, he had no idea what his mentor meant.  But the challenge stuck with him.  Gradually, he began to apprehend the profoundly Christian fabric of Bach’s works; and when he first walked into a church a few years later, he sensed the same reality.

Reading those words I was reminded of these very important truths: while there is only one road to Christ, no one knows it on their own.  Everyone must be shown the way.  The way can only be shown by Christ followers, but it is revealed in ways that are as varied as the lives we live and the experiences we share.

It may not be Bach, but you have something in common with a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, a relative who needs to know the way to Jesus.  Use that commonality to point them to Christ that they too might become a disciple.

The Heart Enshrined Word

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent . . . 16 for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood (Proverbs 1:10-16).

Barry Black grew up on the streets of Baltimore, the son of a devoutly religious mother.  She paid her children a nickel a verse for every passage of scripture they committed to memory and Barry quickly learned to game the system.  He began looking  for the shortest verses in the Bible (“low hanging fruit” he calls them).  There was “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35).  Then “Rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).  Then “Remember Lot’s Wife” (Luke 17:32) and “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Barry found two for one specials.  “Do not kill” was Exodus 20:13, but so was Deuteronomy 5:17.  Learn it once, get paid twice.  Barry’s mother knew what he was doing, but she also knew what she was doing.  In order to find those verses, Barry had to make his way through the Bible.  Eventually, his mother capped what she would pay to a quarter a week (five verses), and eventually, Barry found greater value than a nickel a verse.

One afternoon in his 13th year, young Barry was invited by some friends to join them in taking revenge on a common nemesis.  Barry remembered Proverbs 1:10-16 and refused, choosing to stay far away from those “friends.”  The revenge went horribly wrong, and a boy died.  The others were charged and convicted of murder.  “That would have been me” Barry says, “had I not remembered the proverb” and taken it to heart.

Today Barry is the Chaplain of the United States Senate and as I listened to him a few days ago (his speech peppered with scripture) I thought: That’s what David meant when he wrote: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11).

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Have you ever noticed how often birds appear in the Bible? Owls of all types, eagles, ospreys, hawks, sea gulls and more all figure into God’s story.  Noah sent out a raven and then a dove.  Elijah was fed by ravens.  In Psalm 84 the writer says of heaven: “How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord of hosts!” and then goes on to remark that the sparrow finds a home in the court of the living God and the swallow builds a nest at the altar of the Lord of Hosts.

Jesus however noted that sparrows were cheap.  You could buy ten for a penny.  But God loves them so much that not a one can fall to the earth without God noticing.  To God, we are worth much more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31), and the Lord is watching after us with even greater care.

Civilla Martin was traveling with her preacher husband in 1905 when they stopped for a visit with their close friends, the Doolittles.  Mrs. Doolittle had been bedfast for twenty years.  Her husband was wheel-chair bound.  Yet, their attitudes were inspirational and encouraging.  “How could they always be so . . . up?” Civilla asked.  Mr. Doolittle replied with a grin: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”
Later that evening Civilla wrote these words that became a gospel hymn:

Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home
when Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he!
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

The song isn’t in our congregation’s hymnal, but another of Civilla’s is:

Be not dismayed whate’re betide
God will take care of you.

Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand

Time is filled with swift transition.
Naught of earth unmoved can stand.
Build your hopes on things eternal.
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Before taking us to Asia as missionaries in 1961, my father traveled all over the United States raising money for the effort.  He was often told: “Don’t forget the folks back home,” and to be sure he didn’t, churches would make tapes of congregational singing and give them to him.  On one of those tapes, from a church in Florida, was this hymn.  It’s where I learned it.  Dad loved it and we’d often sing it as a family.

Churches don’t sing it much anymore and so it remained but a memory until 2010 and the remake of the movie “True Grit.”  As I listened to the sound track (music only), I recognized the tune and the words came back in a flood of memories.  I used that sound track at my father’s funeral.

Though the words were written by Jennie Wilson (1856-1913), the music that made it popular was composed by F.L. Eiland (1860-1909) who wrote some 300 hymns himself during his short life.  Eiland, a member of the Church of Christ, lived in Texas and established a singing school in Waco, attended by (among others) Tillit S. Teddlie (who wrote “Heaven Holds All to Me” and many others).

Chances are, some of you know the Ray Charles song “You Don’t Know Me” (also covered by Meryl Streep) or the Dean Martin song “In the Misty Moonlight” or Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby.”  All these and more were written by Cindy Walker – who was F.L. Eiland’s grandaughter.
Eiland also wrote “Look Away From The Cross” but my favorite remains “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.”

Trust in Him who will not leave you
Whatsoever years may bring.
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view.

Our Bible Heritage

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with small parts in Aramaic), and the New Testament in Greek. The earliest translation of the whole Bible into English was in the 14th century, but by that time, the Latin translation dominated and that English Bible was translated from Latin.

Two views existed regarding translation: The dominant one held that having a Bible the common man could read would just cause problems and confusion. The other was that people needed access to God’s word in a way they could understand.

William Tyndale was born in England about 1494. He went to Oxford University in 1509 where he studied languages. His goal was to study theology but discovered to his surprise that scripture was not in the Oxford syllabus, so he transferred to Cambridge. Determining to create an English New Testament from the Greek text, he found no support in England so he traveled to Germany where the project was completed in 2 years (1526).

Tyndale’s New Testament was not warmly received in England. The English church determined to buy up as many copies as possible and burn them. Tyndale had printed them on a shoestring budget, but the purchase of them in large quantities by his enemies made it possible for Tyndale to bring out another, better, edition. Because Tyndale dared to rebel against ecclesiastical authority, he was branded a heretic (one who causes division) and arrested. Found guilty, he was tied to a stake and strangled to death. His body was then burned. The date was October 6, 1536 – 483 years ago.

But the die had been cast and there would be no turning back. New English Bibles appeared in rapid succession and today, at least in our nation, they are cheap, readable and plentiful. Our blessing cost more than one man his life. I hope you are taking advantage of Tyndale’s sacrifice and daily reading your Bible.