How often does a church congregation have assigned homework? Two weeks ago, our pastor, George Matthew Clash, suggested that we read Psalm 119 daily. I decided to read it in a different version each day and started reading from the Revised Standard Version Bible that I received as a teenager. Next, I read from the New Living Translation, then King James, Amplified, New American Standard, New International Version, and finally The Passion Translation. As I read, I highlighted those verses that were particularly meaningful to me in each translation.
Psalm 119 is a tribute to the Word of God presented in an orderly way. It is the longest psalm in the Bible and is divided into twenty-two stanzas, each with eight verses, and with a total of 176 verses. The Psalm is an acrostic poem where the verses of each stanza begin with a different Hebrew letter. The entire Hebrew alphabet is covered in succession from "alef" to "tau." The eight Hebrew words used to refer to the Word of God in Psalm 119 are law, commandments, ordinances, precepts, decrees, word, promises and statutes.
I would like to share with you some of the verses that I highlighted: At the very beginning, the Psalmist makes it clear that God's Word provides a pathway of blessing for us. Both The King James and Revised Standard Version say the same thing in Verse 2. "Blessed are those that keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart." The Passion Translation puts the verse a little differently. "What joy overwhelms everyone who keeps the ways of God, those who seek him as their heart's passion!"
Verse 11 is one that I memorized as a girl: "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you." (NAS) or "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (NIV)
I love the way The Passion Translation articulates verse 48. "I long for more revelation of your truth, for I love the light of your word as I meditate on your decrees." Verse 54 from the NAS version says, "Your statutes are my song in the house of my pilgrimage."
Verses 89 and 90 are ones we should all camp on. "Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations..." (KJV) The Passion Translation says it this way: "Standing firm in the heavens and fastened to eternity is the word of God. Your faithfulness flows from one generation to the next; all that you created sits firmly in place to testify of you."
Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant help us to remember the words of verse 105 with their beautiful song, "Thy Word." Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (RSV) The Passion Translation has an interesting way to translate this verse. "Truth's shining light guides me in my choices and decisions; the revelation of your word makes my pathway clear."
The New American Standard Version translates verse 137 this way: "Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me." Several verses talk about the mercies or compassion of the Lord. Verse 156 is one such verse. "Your compassion is great, O Lord; preserve my life according to your laws." (NIV)
Verse 160 in The Passion Translation says, "The sum total of all your words add up to absolute truth, and every one of your righteous decrees is everlasting." Amen! Our responsibility, as lovers of God's word, is to delight in His commands and meditate on them regularly. Then we will be walking on the path of enlightenment and blessing.
"Call Grandmom!" That is what my girls, Holly and Laura, and I said when we needed prayer. My mom was a prayer warrior. She loved Jesus and truly believed Matthew 7:7. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." She went home to meet the One who answered her prayers on Wednesday night, January 17. I want to honor my mom's life of 100 years and eight months with memories.
You could probably call my mom's ancestors pioneers as they were established in Pennsylvania prior to the Revolutionary War and helped fund a regiment of George Washington's army. English, German, and Irish blood ran through her veins. It is fitting that my mom's parents met at a Brethren Church in Philadelphia. They were a prosperous and generous couple until mom's dad died when she was seven years old. This life event threw my mom, her older brother, and my grandmother into poverty. Even though my grandmother went to work, the family was dependent on assistance from friends at their church. Spam (process meat) was frequently on the menu, and hand-me-down clothes were worn. But these "momentary troubles" did not overcome this hopeful family. My mom was blessed with a high IQ and graduated from Abington Highschool with honors. After attending Peirce School of Business, she worked as the secretary to the President of Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. Later she became the secretary to the Superintendent of Schools at Abington School District. She was recognized for her attention to detail in every endeavor she accomplished and closed out her career as a proofreader of legal advertising for the Montgomery Newspapers. Even recently she was proofreading the programs for the chaplain at the community where she lived.
I will be eternally grateful to my parents for the firm foundation they established for our family by raising us in a Christ-centered atmosphere. My brother, Arthur, and sister, Mary Lou, and I, Joan, were secure in the love they poured on us. Mom and Dad were active members of the First Baptist Church of Glenside where mom taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and was active in Women's Fellowship. She was an officer of the Glenside-Weldon PTA and volunteered with Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. Most importantly, she was a faithful wife to her husband, Ken Miller, and loving mother of her children.
It is my fondest memories of Mom that will sustain me in the future. She was always there for us in a multitude of ways, and the environment in our home helped us prosper. We could count on a nightly family dinner, complete with dessert. We talked about our days around the family table. We expected my dad to greet every person that came to church on Sunday and would eventually hear Mom's warning as we waited to go home: "Ken, the roast is going to burn!" Mom and Dad led by example, being kind and generous to anyone in need. My mom's intellect served her well when she was helping us with homework or as she taught Bible studies. Our family vacations to Stone Harbor, NJ, were something we anticipated yearly. Our shore adventures were fun and memorable. One of our biggest family treats was our visit to the SPCA to get a puppy. Frisky, our puppy, came home with a virus. Mom nursed him back to health with her homemade chicken broth.
Twenty-eight years ago, my parents moved to an Acts Community for senior living called Springhouse Estates where they participated in many of the activities provided. Mom was known for her sharp mind up until her death. She was also noticed for the stylish way in which she dressed and had a collection of shoes that would be the envy of any fashion designer. Mom was organized to a fault, and we discovered that she wrote her own obituary. She also left us some writings that she would like us to read at our family gathering to remember her. They include The Lord's Prayer, Psalm 23, and a poem written by Ellen Brenneman called "His Journey's Just Begun." In part, it says, "Don't think of him as gone away. His journey's just begun. Life holds so many facets; this earth is only one...And think of him as living in the hearts of those he touched...for nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much."
My family received a gift from God in that we were able to celebrate 100 years of a life well lived with Mom on May 18, 2023. Her two great grandsons, Jack and Ben, joined the party. For them and all of us, she left a magnificent legacy. May we also leave an exceptional legacy for those who will follow us.
Shevat, the eleventh month on the Hebrew religious calendar, usually occurs during January and February on our calendar. Its name has an interesting origin in the Akkadian language. The Jews became familiar with it while they were in captivity in Babylon. Its meaning, to strike, refers to the heavy rains that pour down during the month. The constellation in the sky during Shevat corresponds well with the meaning of the month's name. It is Aquarius, the water bearer. The first time Shevat is mentioned by name in the Bible is in the book of Zechariah, Chapter 1, Verse 7: "On the 24th day of the eleventh month, the month of Shevat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah..."
Occurring in the middle of this month is what the Jews call Tu B'Shevat or The New Year of Trees. Thus, Shevat is known as a month of renewal, rebirth, revival, and regeneration. The New Year of Trees occurs on the fifteenth day of this month and is considered a minor holiday in Israel. Dried fruits are always on the menu for this celebration. Also, placed on a plate would be the fruit of the seven species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Jews that celebrate Tu B'Shevat are reminded of their duty to care for the natural world.
Shevat 15 was the original date when tithes from fruit trees were to be given to the priests. Rabbis determined that fruit which blossomed before the 15th of Shevat would be called produce of the previous year. The fruit that blossomed before this date was produce of the rains from the previous year and should be tithed along with the crops of the previous year. The New Year for Trees date is also used for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. According to Leviticus 19:23-25, the fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years. On the fourth year, the fruit must be given to God. By the fifth year, one may eat the fruit of their trees.
It is significant that the Bible talks about the way humankind should be rooted and grounded and that through the cultivation of strong roots of faith, we can produce fruit for the Kingdom of God. Both Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Psalm 1:3 instruct us to be like trees "planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither..." The purpose of a tree is to provide fruit to bring life to others. We also have been blessed to be able to give our spiritual fruit to others so that they can grow in Christlikeness.
Hope is given to the people of Israel and all of us who are grafted into the family of God through the words of the prophet Jeremiah. "In those days and at that time, I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; He will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it is called: ‘The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’” (Jeremiah 33:15,16)
How exciting it is that we have been grafted into the olive tree to share in the nourishing sap from the root! (Romans 11:17) We are called to be trees "planted by the water that never fail to bear fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17:8) In addition, we are called to be "...oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor." (Isaiah 61:3) Let's celebrate this month of Shevat by rooting deeply into the soil of the Lord's truth so that we bring forth fruit and display His righteousness.
What an amazing display of God's glory I saw early on Friday morning! Three of His heavenly creations appeared at the same time. The crescent moon was still shining in the southern sky. To the left of it was the morning star, brightly flickering. Below both celestial bodies was the horizon, splashed with the vibrant pink-orange colors of the sunrise. This spectacular array drew me in and brought me into a moment of contemplating the Lord's majesty and power and glory.
A writer's technique called "personification" is used in the Bible, especially by the writers of Psalms and Isaiah. Psalm 148:1-6 gives us a wonderful example of this: "Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above. Praise Him, all His angels, praise Him, all His heavenly hosts. Praise Him sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars. Praise Him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He commanded, and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; He gave a decree that will never pass away." The Friday morning sky seemed to be giving the Lord praise just as this Psalm describes.
It is interesting to note that the Lord refers to Himself as the Morning Star. "...I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." (Revelation 22:16) The morning star announces the beginning of a new day and signals the end of the night. Think about how God introduced the Gentile population to The Morning Star, the Light of the World. He led the Magi by a star to visit the One who would be a light to those in darkness.
Psalm 74:16 declares, "The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon." God separated the day from the night with the sun and moon, and the canvas for the celestial bodies is the sky that He paints uniquely every single day. The prophet Isaiah compares the sun and moon to the Lord, "The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously." (Isaiah 24:23)
I have decided that my favorite verses to contemplate come from Psalm 8. "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:1-4) This is an amazing truth! When we compare God's majesty and power to our humanity, it is astonishing how important we are to Him in His great scheme of the world.
The heavenly delights we see are a reminder of God's great love for us. The moon and sun herald the day and night and tell us that seasons change, while the Morning Star reminds us that the season of darkness will come to light. The Lord will prevail. He will guide and direct us. We must join the heavenly hosts in praise to the God of the universe.
Joan E. Mathias