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She Is Mine by Stephanie Fast

“Stephanie Fast is the name she was given in America. She does not know her original name, birth date, or place of birth, other than that she is Korean. Because she is biracial, Stephanie Fast was abandoned, left in a strange place to fend for herself, likely to die of starvation, disease—or worse.

Stephanie has made it her life’s work to try to help rescue every orphan out there—terrified, hungry, hurting, abused. If you believe that how we treat the most vulnerable among us determines our own humanity you will want to read Stephanie’s book—you will want to get to know Stephanie’s story.”

The almost unbelievable and harrowing story of a Korean war orphan, abandoned by her mother and unknown to her American GI father, She is Mine is an amazing testament to the courage and endurance of the author, but even more to the grace of God in her life. Her website says “Stephanie’s story will leave you moved—and changed.” It left me moved, yes, and puzzled. I was puzzled by the mercy of God and by His sovereignty. Why was Stephanie spared the fate of another child she writes about in her memoir, a baby who died abandoned on a trash heap after seven year old Stephanie, or Yoon Myoung as she was known in Korean, had tried to mother her and save her life? Why was Yoon Myoung/Stephanie adopted by an American couple and brought to the U.S. while other Korean orphans languished in orphanages or scavenged on the streets? I don’t know, and author Stephanie Fast provides no answers to those troubling questions. She can only testify to the fact that God saved her, and “in every instance of my life, whether I knew it or not, there was a greater, higher, wiser power propelling willing hearts to rescue me.”

Maybe God is “propelling” us to rescue just one, or to help, and we are not listening?

I recommend the book, but I do warn you that Stephanie’s story is a very difficult one which includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, abandonment, and violence. Stephanie eventually is rescued, and her message is that there is hope. However, reading this book can be emotionally draining. Even if you don’t choose to read Stephanie’s story, please take this blog post as a cue to pray for Stephanie Fast and for the millions of orphans and abused children who are struggling for survival and hope even today as you are reading these words.

Stephanie Fast’s website.

Called to Love is a ministry designed to encourage and support adoptive and foster moms by providing an annual retreat.

Chosen International is a faith-based organization whose goal is to encourage teens who have been adopted to embrace God’s plan of adoption for their lives, and grow into spiritually and emotionally healthy adulthood.

Christian Friends of Korea: hope and healing to the people of North Korea in the name of Christ.

New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services. (adoption agency)

Kazembe Orphanage, an orphanage in northern Zambia run by my friends, the Morrow family.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson.

Prayer is a mysterious thing. Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., writes about answered prayers and unanswered prayers and prayer circles and praying through and specific prayers and dreams and life goals. I found the book inspiring, and as I indicated, somewhat mysterious. Appropriately enough. If I had prayer figured out, I would very nearly think that I have God figured out, and that would be presumptuous and unwise of me.

“Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying. We give up too easily. We give up too soon. We quit praying right before the miracle happens.”

“We shouldn’t seek answers as much as we should seek God. If you seek answers you won’t find them, but if you seek God, the answers will find you.”

“Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it gives you the strength to walk through them. When you pray through, the burden is taken off of your shoulders and put on the shoulders of Him who carried the cross to Calvary.”

“Faith is the willingness to look foolish.”

“There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. That is who He is. That is what He does. And the bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory. The greatest moments in life are the miraculous moments when human impotence and divine omnipotence intersect – and they intersect when we draw a circle around the impossible situations in our lives and invite God to intervene.”

“if God doesn’t answer the way you want, you still need to praise through. That is when it’s most difficult to praise God, but that is also when our praise is most pure and most pleasing to God.”

I am in the midst of a prayer journey with God, and it looks impossible. I’ve been asking him to do something, something good and right and big and important, for nigh on ten years now. So far it’s not happening. In fact, as far as I can tell, nothing is happening that moves us closer to God’s glory or my desires. However, I’m determined to keep praying, keep wrestling, until God gives me what I am asking or until I die and go to be with Him. And if I’m in heaven and my prayers are still not answered, I’ll keep asking there.

I think that’s what this book is all about, and that’s what God asks us to do in the Bible:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:13

And if we know that he hears us—-whatever we ask—-we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:15

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

The other thing I got out of this book was a new encouragement and vision for goal-setting.

“Goal setting begins and ends with prayer. God-ordained goals are conceived in the context of prayer, and prayer is what brings them to full term. You need to keep circling your dreams in prayer, like the Israelites circled Jericho.”

Maybe I’ll share some of my “life goals list” with you soon. What life goals has God given you?

Resurrection Sunday 2015

I’ve been trying to think of how I can share with anyone who reads this blog about the most important thing in the world to me. I love books. I think stories are very important; in fact, I believe we are made to think in story and feel others’ stories and live our lives as stories. When I read a really good book or hear a really good lecture or talk that reflects truth and beauty, I am not just entertained—-I am fed, mentally and spiritually. C.S. Lewis wrote, “[L]iterary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.” I guess I’m one of those “literary people,” and I tend to think we’d be better off if all of us were at least a bit “literary”. Nevertheless, as important as stories and books are to me, they are not the most vital center of my life.

I also love my husband and my eight children. I think of them and pray for them and text them and write letters to them and send them emails and talk with them and just live life with them almost all day long every day. My family is the thing that gives me energy and the thing that uses a great deal of my energy every day. I scheme and plan ways to bless them, and sometimes I get frustrated with them and try to change them or make them do what I want them to do, for their own good, of course. But underneath it all, I love them desperately. I would give my right arm for them. However, those nine people in my immediate family are not the center and support of my life.

My church and my homeschooling community are another very significant part of what makes me tick. I depend on the people in my church body and in my community of friends to pray for me and commiserate with me and comfort me in sorrow and rejoice with me in times of celebration. I discuss ideas with them, and they give me feedback that refines and sharpens those ideas to better conform to the truth and to reality. We all know that we are fallible people, and we try to give each other grace and mercy and forgiveness and a second (third, fourth, fifth . . . ) chance. I depend upon these people.

And yet, if you take away all of my church friends and my homeschooling friends and my neighbors and my Facebook friends, if you take away my fantastic Engineer Husband and every one of my eight wonderful children, if you take away all of my books and even my eyesight and my hearing so that I can never read or listen to another story, one thing would remain. Only one hope endures past stories, beyond family, transcending the communication and encouragement of friendship. Someday all of these other things will most likely be taken away from me. I may get so old that I forget all of the stories that I can’t read or hear anymore anyway. My family and friends can’t go with me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and in fact, some may precede me in going there. Then, when everything else is stripped away, it will be just me and Jesus. Just me and the God of the Universe who became flesh and dwelt among us and suffered and died for my sin and who gloriously LIVES so that I can live with Him for all eternity.

I hope you know Jesus, too. I hope you have turned your back on your sin and your idols and trusted Him for salvation and for forgiveness and for life. I hope that whatever wonderful, important, significant, good blessings you have in your life, you know that in the end it will be just you and Jesus. Or not. He calls you to repent (turn around), leave your fallible and flimsy God-substitutes behind, obey His unshakeable Word (The Bible) and look to Him for all that you need. It’s a good deal. You should jump on it because whatever you’re holding on to in the place of God, whatever is keeping you from trusting Him alone, whether it’s pleasure or stuff or family or friends or religious rules or intellectual pride or fame or fill-in-the-blank, only God satisfies. Only God forgives sin completely and forever through Christ. Only Jesus will be there for you when everything else is gone with the wind.

Happy Resurrection Day!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (II Corinthians 9:8)
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The Abolition of Man, ch. 1, Men Without Chests

C.S> Lewis begins this essay with his thoughts about a textbook that he has received for review and that he thinks is pernicious in its influence and teaching. He calls the textboook’s authors by the pseudonyms Gaius and Titius.

“The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”

Yes, indeed, schoolboys and girls are unaware of the subtext and foundational assumptions of their textbooks and their literature assignments—even when I try to make them aware. I find it harder to put assumptions into children’s minds, however, than Lewis assumes it is. Most of the books I use, at the younger levels at least, have “good assumptions”; however, I have found that the students are not thinking about the assignments at all unless I deliberately provoke them to thought, again and again. They are not taking in the assumptions in school assignments, good or bad.

Now the assumptions and implicit messages in song lyrics and television shows and movies are a very different matter. The students I know share many of the assumptions that Hollywood and the music industry are selling:

Sex is the most important part of a romantic relationship. No one waits until after the wedding to have a sexual relationship.

You should always follow your dreams, and ignore or demolish anyone or anything that prevents you from doing what you really want to do.

Marriage is confining and generally unhappy.

The universe exists to make me happy.

My conclusion is that bad assumptions that appeal to our sin nature are easier to sell and implant than good assumptions that make us into people of good impulses and decisions.

Showers of Blessing

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from February 18, 2005:

It was supposed to rain this afternoon here in Houston. No rain, however, and no one is disappointed. We can always count on having rain sometime soon, probably more rain than we want. It rains frequently in Houston.
In San Angelo where I grew up, it was a different story. We appreciated rain. Not far from the house where I grew up, there was a huge billboard with this year-round message: “Pray for rain.” There may have been a Scripture reference, too. The one I always heard in church when we were asked to pray for rain was 2 Chronicles 7:14:

.

. . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Sometimes we had so little rain that water was rationed. You could only water your yard on certain days of the week, and after a while, all the yards started to turn brown in the scorching summer heat. Droughts always seemed to come in the spring or the summer for some reason. A few people had wells, and they put signs in their yards so that no one would think they were cheating with their green grass: “Well Water Used Here.”

So we’d pray for rain, and the city would spend money to hire an airplane to go up and seed the clouds, if there were any clouds. But as often as not, the clouds that San Angelo paid to have seeded would move on to Big Spring or Midland or Abilene and pour down all that rain on one of those undeserving towns instead of raining on our parched lawns. The ranchers would start talking about how they were having to bring in feed for their sheep or cattle so they’d have enough to eat. Then we’d have a day of special prayer for rain, or maybe even a week of prayer meetings, asking God for those showers we knew we needed.

And when it did rain, we knew that our prayers had been answered. We knew that we were dependent on the grace of God and His provision, day in and day out. One rain wouldn’t last forever; we’d need God to provide over and over again, every year.

In Houston, we take the rain for granted. It rains all the time. We complain because it rains too much, and it messes up our soccer game or spoils the picnic we had planned. We need the rain here, too, but we don’t know it. God provides in abundance, but we don’t appreciate it.

Maybe everybody ought to live in West Texas for a while. I’ve been in Houston for almost thirty years, but I still love the rain. I like to go walk in the rain and soak it into my skin. I like to watch the rain come down in my backyard and see the drops bounce off puddles and plants. The showers are still a blessing.

Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington.

Does a journalist need to participate in his subject’s life and culture in order to write with insight and understanding about those subjects? For instance does one have to handle snakes in order to write about snake handlers, Pentecostal Christians who believe that they are showing the world their faith in Christ when they drink poison and handle snakes, taking their cue from Christ’s words?

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:17-18
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Luke 10:19

Or is a journalist who participates in such rituals not only a little crazy, but also devoid of journalistic objectivity? I would say the latter, but this book did make me think. It didn’t make me want to handle snakes, nor did it convince me that those who do so are anything other than thrill-seeking cultists. (There are other issues with the Jesus-only, legalistic, spiritual gift-seeking doctrine and practice of these snake handling churches.) What it did make me think about is the lines we draw between emotion and spiritual experience and reason, the way try to keep ourselves so safe that we wall out the Holy Spirit himself and become bored with our safe, unemotional, non-experiential Christianity. There’s a balance somewhere, and even though I see the kind of presumptuous testing of God that the snake handlers do as dangerous and somewhat prideful, I also see that we lose something precious when we say that God cannot and will not ever perform the kinds of miracles and signs that were common in the New Testament.

This book is about more than just snakes. The author reaches back into his own past and into his family heritage to try to understand just where the snake-handling preachers and testifiers have come from and what they really are experiencing when they “handle”. Mr. Covington also muses on the essence of a good story and how the ending is surprising but somehow inevitable. The book would fascinate fans of Flannery O’Connor’s stories, and in fact Covington begins his story with a quote from O’Connor:

“The descent into himself will, at the same time, be a descent into his region. It will be a descent through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man cried in the gospels, he sees men as if they were trees, but walking.” ~Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners.

Covington descends deep into himself and his region to try to explain the lives and actions of the people he comes to know and care for, such as:
Preacher Glendel Buford Summerford, accused of attempted murder of his wife by snakebite.
Darlene Summerford, the alleged victim, who keeps a photograph of her favorite snake in her purse.
Charles McGlocklin, end-time evangelist and snake handler.
Aline McGlocklin, his wife, also moved by the Spirit to handle on occasion.
Punkin Brown, legendary evangelist who would wipe the sweat off his brow with rattlesnakes.
Aunt Daisy, the prophetess.
Anna Pelfrey, who is said to have died twice and been revived by prayer.
Diane Pelfrey, her daughter, age 21 and a third-generation handler.

And others. Mr. Covington doesn’t make fun of these people and their beliefs, but rather he becomes a part of them, to an extent. Yet, it is the reservations he holds, the core of sanity and even dedication to something higher than mere ecstatic experience, that brings about an ending to the story of Dennis Covington and the snake handlers. It’s a good story and a good ending, and I learned something from the journey, although I’m not sure I can put it into words. If any of this rambling interests you, read the book. Then, come tell me what you learned.

Note: This book was published in 1995. Wikipedia says, “In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne “Punkin” Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama.”

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Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend

Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend.

Townsend, Formerly the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is a veteran on the “God beat”, having written for several U.S. newspapers and other publications. In this book, he has given readers interested in World War II and its aftermath an insightful look at a quiet and unassuming hero, Lutheran pastor and chaplain Henry Gerecke. Pastor Gerecke was fifty years old when he enlisted in the Army Chaplain Corps in 1943. He was at the upper limit of the acceptable age range for the chaplaincy, but the army was in desperate need of more chaplains to meet the spiritual needs of the men in the U.S. Army who were fighting both in Europe and in the Pacific.

This book was especially poignant for me for a couple of reasons: one, my father-in-law, John Early, was an army chaplain during World War II. Although he served stateside for his entire war, he could easily have been sent to Europe and then to Germany to minister in some of the same circumstances that Gerecke served in. In fact, Gerecke’s personality, background, and ministry reminded me of my father-in-law quite a bit. Both men came from rural homes and ministered in small, lowly places before the war. Both men were humble evangelical preachers who longed to see men (and women) come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Both attended chaplain school at Harvard University, and both worked hard with the help of a much appreciated chaplain’s assistant to counsel, preach, lecture, file paperwork, write letters of condolence, and do many more services to the soldiers under their care. My father-in-law spoke often and fondly of his assistant, Donald.

The second reason that the book spoke to me had to do with Chaplain Gerecke’s particular assignment, after the surrender of Germany, to attend the trial at Nuremberg and minister to the high-ranking Nazis who were on trial there. According to the Geneva Conventions and U.S. army regulations, the United States was responsible to provide spiritual comfort to the Nazi prisoners. having a German chaplain did not seem advisable since the prisoners were being held in strict confinement and their captors were concerned that they might be the object of attempts to help them escape or commit suicide. Because he could speak German and because he was recommended by colleagues as a dedicated Lutheran minister, Gerecke was asked to extend his service in the army and come to Nuremberg to minister to such notorious criminals as Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, and Hermann Goering, head of the German Air Force and Hitler’s designated successor. Gerecke found himself preaching and eventually administering communion to some of the world’s worst criminals, men who were responsible for the torture, rape, and death of millions. What an amazing story of courage, spiritual discernment, and grace!

There are aspects of this story that Townsend discusses thoroughly and then leaves as open questions. Should Gerecke have given communion, a sacrament in Lutheran theology, to men who may have only been “jailhouse converts”? On the other hand, should he have honored the request of one of the Nazis to commune, even though the man made it clear that he did not believe in or put his trust in Christ, but simply wanted to receive communion as a sort of insurance? (Gerecke refused communion to the man under those circumstances.) Can or should a Christian minister promise forgiveness to men who sinned against so many, a great number of whom were Jews whose understanding of forgiveness might be much different from a Christian understanding and who might very well resent the offering of forgiveness on their behalf without their consent? What was Gerecke’s role as a minister of the gospel in the face of such evil men? Does the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness, extend to such perpetrators of such horrible crimes? I appreciated Townsend’s discussion of such thorny and difficult moral and theological dilemmas and his leaving it to the reader to decide for himself what the answers to those questions might be.

“Those chaplains believed that God loves all human beings, including perpetrators, and so their decision was more about how to minister to the Nazis, not whether they should. The process of ministering to those who have committed evil involves returning the wrongdoer to goodness, a difficult challenge when faced with a leader of the Third Reich. For Gerecke and O’Connor (the Catholic chaplain at Nuremberg) that challenge meant using what they had learned about each defendant to spiritually lead him back from the place where he’d fallen to a place of restoration.
. . . A middle-aged American preacher . . . was attempting to bring what he believed was God’s light into a dark heart. The Nuremberg chaplains were not judging the members of their flocks, nor were they forgiving their crimes against humanity. They were trying to lead those Nazis who were willing to follow toward a deeper insight into what they had done. They were attempting to give Hitler’s henchmen new standing a human beings before their impending executions.”

Excellent thoughtful, challenging nonfiction about a humble but steadfast pastor who served God in the darkest of prisons.

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Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin


Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin.

“I survived the war, but then I had to survive myself coming home from the war. Despite the good times and all the attention, I was under a cloud that kept growing darker. I had nightmares about killing the Bird from which I woke up shouting and swearing. My running legs were gone and I couldn’t compete anymore, which broke my heart. I wanted to strike it rich, but lost money instead. I drank and fought. I knew I was on the wrong path—but didn’t know what to do about it.” ~Louis Zamperini

If the movie Unbroken, or even what you’ve heard about the movie or the book by Laura Hillenbrand, is your only acquaintance with Louis Zamperini, then you already know that he was an amazing man with an almost unbelievable life story. What you may not know is what Paul Harvey used to call The Rest of the Story.

I would suggest that anyone who was captivated by Mr. Zamperini’s story in the movie should immediately, without delay, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you just aren’t a reader and can’t bring yourself to read that wonderful biography, then Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In tells the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story in a much shorter format, 224 pages laid out in easy to read chunks or chapter of three or four pages each. If you’ve already read Unbroken, but can’t get your friends or family members to read it, give them a copy of this book. Louis Zamperini’s character, warmth, and wisdom shine through the pages here just as they did in the pages of Unbroken.

David Rensin, who had already worked with Mr. Zamperini on his autobiography Devil at My Heels, met with Zamperini again for about six months to complete this book because Louis said he still had stories he wanted to tell. The stories in the book, which was completed two days before Mr. Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, continue to illuminate the life of this man who not only was a hero, but also a very broken and vengeful man after his return from prison camp. In Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand tells what it was that made Louis Zamperini whole again, in her words. In this book Mr. Zamperini gets to tell us about his recovery in his own words.

“I had nothing left to lose.
That admission itself was the beginning of my recovery. I’d always known that I’d come home from the war with a problem, but I had never been willing to ask for help—from anyone.
But now I had, and my whole body and spirit felt different. Wonderful. Calm. Free.”

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50 Facts and Links for Psalm 119

We studied Psalm 119 in our homeschool last fall and attempted to memorize parts of it. I thought I would collect some of the links and facts I learned about the longest psalm here so that I can refer back to these things.

1. It takes about 15 minutes to read aloud or recite the entire 176 verses of Psalm 119.

2. The Psalms are numbered differently in the Catholic (Douay) translation of the Bible which was translated from the Septuagint and takes its numbering. In Douay, this psalm is Psalm 118.

3. There are 22 times 8, or 176 verses in Psalm 119.

4. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections or stanzas.

5. Some people think that 176 different people wrote one verse each to compile the Psalm during the exile about 450 B.C. Other people think that the priest/prophet Ezra wrote all of Psalm 119.

6. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph. Verses 1-8 all begin with aleph. Other than verse 115, the first three verses of the psalm are the only ones not spoken directly to God. They are the introduction.

7. Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 9-16 all begin with beth. Beth also means “house” in Hebrew. We can make our heart a home for God’s word.

8. Psalm 119 may have been written as an acrostic poem so that it would be easier to memorize.

9. The Ortodox have a tradition that King David used this psalm to teach his young son Solomon the alphabet—–but not just the alphabet for writing letters: the alphabet of the spiritual life. They believe that Psalm 119 is a psalm written by David.

10. The name of God (Yahweh/Jehovah) appears twenty-four times in Psalm 119.

11. Psalm 119 is recited or read with special solemnity at Orthodox funeral services and on the various All-Souls Days occurring throughout the year, with “Alleluia” chanted between each verse.

12. In Orthodox monasteries Psalm 119 is read daily at the Midnight Office: “At midnight I arose to give thanks unto Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness” (v. 62).

13. Eight Hebrew words are used to refer to God’s Word in Psalm 119.

14. The first word is promise or word, dabar in Hebrew, used 24 times: it means God’s spoken, revealed word.

15. The second word is saying, imrah in Hebrew, used 19 times: this is another way to say word, anything God has spoken, commanded or promised.

16. The third word is statutes, chuqqim, used 21 times: these are the rules that God gave to His people early in their history. It can be translated “laws”.

17. The fourth word is judgments, mishpatim, used 23 times: a later word for statutes, can be translated as judgements or rules or rulings.

18. The fifth word is law, torah, used 25 times: this means the first 5 books of the Bible. Later it included other books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is translated as “law” or “teaching” or even “revelation”.

19. The sixth word is commands, miswah/miswot, used 22 times: what someone with authority (God) tells you to do, orders.

20. The seventh word is precepts, piqqudim, used 21 times: these give us help when we want to know what to do. This word is sometimes translated as “guidelines” or “instructions” in Psalm 119.

21. The eighth word is testimonies, eduth, used 23 times: these are the things that God tells us to do. Related to the word “witness”, keeping His testimonies means being loyal to the covenant or promise that God has made with us.

22. Way and path both mean the same thing in the psalm. They mean: what we do in our lives. Our way can be good or bad. If we obey Psalm 119, our way will be good. Jesus said, “I am the way” (John 14:6). If we obey Jesus, our way will be good. In Acts 9:2, “in the way” is another name for “being a Christian”.

23. Psalm 119:89 is a popular Nigerian praise song.

24. Psalm 119:105 was set to music by Christian songwriters Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

25. Psalm 119 is used in Jewish tradition to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

26. Psalm 119 is a prayer that includes many different elements, including prayers of praise (45-48), lament (81-88), vindication (132-134), obedience (57-64), and petitions for wisdom (33-40).

27. Charles Spurgeon liked this Psalm so much, he said, “we might do well to commit it to memory.”

28. “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” ~C.S. Lewis

29. The actual author of Psalm 119 is unknown.

30. Verses 14, 72, 83, 119, 127, 162, and 176 contain similes comparing one thing to another like thing.

31. Some great people have memorized this whole Psalm and found great blessing in doing so: John Ruskin (19th century British writer), William Wilberforce (19th century British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire), Henry Martyn (19th century pioneer missionary to India), and David Livingstone (19th century pioneer missionary to Africa).

32. George Wishart was the Bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century (not to be confused with another Scot by the same name who was martyred a century earlier). Wishart was condemned to death and would have been executed. But when he was on the scaffold he made use of a custom that allowed the condemned person to choose one psalm to be sung, and he chose Psalms 119:1-176. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, his pardon arrived and his life was spared.

33. He is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it is used at the beginning of verbs to make them causative. So the prayers in this section (five) are stated, “Cause me to learn” and “Cause me to understand” and “Cause me to walk” and so forth.

34. “Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French philosopher and devout Christian, loved Psalm 119. He is another person who memorized it, and he called verse 59 ‘the turning point of man’s character and destiny.’ He meant that it is vital for every person to consider his or her ways, understand that our ways are destructive and will lead us to destruction, and then make an about-face and determine to go in God’s ways instead.” (Boice)

35. The yodh stanza (ten) represents the small Hebrew letter Jesus referred to as a “jot” in Matthew 5:18 : “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

36. “Kaph is a curved letter, similar to a half circle, and it was often thought of as a hand held out to receive some gift or blessing . . . He holds out his hand toward him [God] as a suppliant.” (Boice)

37. We are held up and supported by the word of God.
Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live. Psalm 119:116
“In the Middle Ages, under the monastic order of the Benedictines, when a novice’s period of preparation was ended and he was ready to become attached to the monastery for life, there was an induction ceremony in which, with outstretched arms, the novice recited Psalms 119:116 three times . . . The community repeated the words and then sang the Gloria Patri, which was a way of acknowledging that the commitments of the monastic life could only be sustained by God, to whom all glory belongs.” (Boice)

38. The Masorites said that the Word of God is mentioned in every verse except Psalm 119:122. Other people reckon differently (with disagreement about verses 84, 90, 121, and 132). But Scripture is mentioned in at least 171 of 176 verses.

39. There have been many lengthy works written on this Psalm, including one by Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher and writer, who wrote a three-volume work on Psalm 119.

40. Persecution and suffering in the life of a follower of God’s law is a major theme of Psalm 119.

41. The psalm opens with beatitudes. “Blessed” are those whose ways are blameless, who live according to God’s law, who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.

42. John Calvin preached 22 sermons (one for each stanza) from Psalm 119.

43. Charles Spurgeon lists eight marks of true love for God’s Word: 1)reverence for the authority of God’s Word, 2)admiration for its holiness, 3)jealousy for its honor, 4)respect for all that it says, 5)diligence in the study of it, 6)eager desire to obey it, 7)readiness to praise it, 8)great desire to share it with others.

44. The average Bible reader spends less time in the word of God each day than he spends watching the commercials in a thirty minute television program.

45. Psalm 119 is approximately the same length as the books of Ruth, James or Philippians.

46. Psalm 119 is not the psalmist telling me how much I should love God’s word. Instead it’s the psalmist telling all of us how much he has come to love God’s word. It’s a prayer of praise for the sweetness, value, and delight of God’s word.

47. Hymns based on verses from Psalm 119 are Open My Eyes That I May See (Clara Scott), For the Beauty of the Earth (Folliott Sandford Pierpoint), Break Thou The Bread of Life (Mary Lathbury), Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word (Martin Luther/Catherine Winkworth), and Wonderful Words of Life (Philip Bliss).

48. “”I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. The Word, locked up in the heart—is a preservative against sin. As one would carry an antidote with him when he comes near an infected place—so David carried the Word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin.” ~Thomas Watson

49. “Beware of slighting, despising, or neglecting the Bible.
Read it daily,
pray over it incessantly, and
meditate on what it reveals continually!” ~James Smith, The Way of Salvation Set Forth
His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night! Psalm 1:2

50. The Gospel in Psalm 119 by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. “Making resolutions is not sufficient to meet the standard. . . His law is holy and good and righteous; it is pure, but we can’t keep it. Even when we make resolutions, we can’t keep it. We don’t keep it. We can’t. We’re not able to serve the Lord. We are failures, and that comes out in Psalm 119. . . . We need the divine enabling and power of Jesus. He is our righteousness; He is the only one who has fulfilled God’s law.”

Sources:
Psalm 119 Facts: Ten Things to Know About Psalm 119.
20 Quotes About the Book of Psalms
David Guzik Commentary on Psalm 119.
Grace Gems: The Scriptures.

Deuteronomy: A New Year’s Challenge and Reminder

I have a hard time with the book of Deuteronomy. It’s all about “obey and be blessed” or “disobey and be cursed.” And the problem is that I’ve already blown it, multiple times. But I can resonate with this take on the message of the book of Deuteronomy:

“[J]ust as the fingers of despair and guilt begin to tighten their grip, I remember a little verse in Deuteronomy 31 v.21 which astonished me when I first read it. It says ‘I know the intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.’ What did he know? He knew that the inevitable would happen. That good intentions would become bad choices. That the fire of passion would be dulled by the daily grind of life and that someday they would look around and realize their story had not turned out the way they thought it would.

He knew that they would take the gifts he gave them and twist and shape them into something they were never meant to be. He knew they would turn away and reject him, that those chosen to bear his image would instead deface it before a watching world.

He knew and yet he loved them.”
~The Inevitable Plot Line by Heidi Johnston

The message of Deuteronomy is not “you are already cursed, too bad for you” but rather “I know you and I love you. Choose life.”

Here are more treasures from Deuteronomy, written by one of my favorite preacher-bloggers, New Orleans retired pastor Joe McKeever:
The best things in Deuteronomy.
The next best things in Deuteronomy.
More of the best of Deuteronomy.
The best of Deuteronomy, part 4.
The best of Deuteronomy, part 5

Southern Baptists choose a book of the Bible to focus on each January for their “January Bible Study.” This year the study is entitled “Deuteronomy: A Challenge to a New Generation”.