Happy Thanksgiving!

Devotions from Methodist Life will return next week.

Psalm 34:1-8

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
    so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
    happy are those who take refuge in him.

Praise

Psalm 113       (NRSV)

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
    praise the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

By John Grimm

We can praise the Lord.  This psalm from the Hebrew people is not only for the Jews.  It is for all people!  Learning to have joy in our lives, as Paul instructs, comes from praising the Lord.  Thankfully, the first Church Council in Jerusalem, as described in Acts, has extraordinarily little limiting Gentiles who place faith in Jesus Christ.  Thankfully, as we read this psalm, we can see no infringement upon the Jewish law, ceremonial or otherwise. 

It is knowing the Lord is our God that gives us the ability and the insight to praise him.  No one else is seated on high, for this life is not about who is the king of the mountain.  The Lord our God not only looks down from heaven, but he is also involved in life on earth by removing the poor and needy from squalor.  Do we remember the times we were poor, and the Lord raised us up?  Do we remember the times we were needy, and God removed us from the ash heap?  These are reasons we praise God.

Maybe we do not have those memories.  Maybe we are the princes of God’s people.  Knowing and seeing the Lord lift others from squalor gives us reason to praise.  Thanking God for the changed welfare of another person is appropriate.  It is then that we see God has expanded our lives to include those who are not like us.

There are barren women, and barren couples, today.  Knowing the Lord can and does place children in the lives of barren people is a praise.  Even though someone is barren does not mean others bar them from participating in life.  It is a joy for barren women, and couples, to lovingly teach and encourage children to know the Lord.  Again, this opportunity is reason to praise the Lord.

Yes, we can praise the Lord.  He is our God.  Who knows, maybe someone who hears us giving praise to the Lord will make the Lord their God!

We praise God, for you have worked in our lives.  You can see from heaven and can assist us here on earth.  Thank you for lifting us from squalor.  Thank you for allowing even the princes of the earth to see your work on earth.  It is through the name of Jesus Christ that we know you as our God.  Amen.

Let the Music Play

Psalm 150 (NLT)

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

By Chuck Griffin

As someone regularly involved in leading worship, I have to acknowledge where I am and am not gifted. Music is definitely an area where I need to step back and let others take charge.

I love worship music, though, and singing is a critical part of worship. When the singing has to be muted or subdued, as it has been during the pandemic, I am among the first to recognize how we suffer.

Psalm 150 makes it clear how noisy worship should be, at least at times. (There’s a place in worship for deep, meaningful silence, too.) The word “exuberance” comes to mind.

One thing I’ve learned over the years—musical exuberance comes in many forms. I’ve been blessed to pastor churches employing all sorts of music styles, and I’ve seen how every style has the potential to glorify God.

Some rural folk would immediately reject the idea of “high” worship being inspiring, but some of the best worship I’ve ever experienced was at a Methodist church that focused on the organ, the choir, and a highly disciplined, classical sound. These people knew how to inspire worshipers with music that often was centuries old.

I’ve also been blessed to have a similar experience during so-called “contemporary” worship in its many different forms. (This style should significantly change how it sounds every decade or so if it’s going to stay contemporary. Otherwise, it is just a particular generation’s preference.) I have been in services with a bluegrass or southern gospel sound that have brought me to tears, too.

Here’s the key: It’s not the style of the music, it’s the intent of the music leaders and the worshipers as they follow along. If God is praised through the music, if God is glorified, God’s Spirit will flow through what is happening, and we will feel inner transformation during the experience.

If the music comes across like a performance—if someone other than God is glorified—the whole service is likely to fall flat.

I thank God regularly for those of you with musical gifts, whether you are pianists, organists, guitarists, singers, fiddlers, banjo pickers, saxophonists, drummers, cymbal crashers or tambourine shakers. Keep doing what you do to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

Lord, thank you for the gift of music. It touches our souls in places words can never reach. Amen.

How Shall We Give Thanks?

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 100

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Our national day of Thanksgiving is a week away. Many of us won’t have our usual experiences, particularly where family gatherings are concerned.

We still need to give thanks, however—powerfully! Even in these less-than-ideal times, we remain a blessed people. I believe the freedom and hope we experience here flows from God.

Today’s psalm, which we will continue to meditate upon until next Thursday, reminds us of the deepest meaning of Thanksgiving. Thankfulness has to be directed somewhere, and God is the most appropriate recipient.

God is, after all, the source of life. God holds the blueprint of the universe, and it is drawn in the color of love.

God saves us despite our turning away from our creator. Lift up praises each day for Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and the hope we receive in the resurrection!

During the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m going to offer us a short exercise in thankfulness to try each day. Check back here, or subscribe by entering your email in the subscription box found on any page of Methodist Life.

Lord, may a new sense of thankfulness overwhelm us this day and all the remaining days we have. Amen.

Shout to the Lord

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 98:4-9

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
    Let the earth and all living things join in.
Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!
    Let the hills sing out their songs of joy
before the Lord,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
    and the nations with fairness.

I am not a musical person. You don’t want me to lead the singing; my year of piano lessons was at best inauspicious. Whenever I was supposed to be practicing, the weather outside always seemed so nice.

But dear Lord, how I do love the music during worship. I particularly love the singing, as it is the one place I can comfortably join in, hiding my off-key efforts among the better voices near me. (It helps to be standing near the choir.)

And dear Lord, how I miss the singing in unison right now. I understand the science behind how Covid-19 spreads, and I know why we should not be projecting our voices on those Sundays we are able to gather. We so want to shout to you, though!

I’m reminded of a story a friend of mine in the Czech Republic told me. She was brought up secretly in a church considered illegal under Soviet rule. Throughout her childhood and into her early adult years, she and her fellow church members gathered in a room, shutters closed, and whispered their hymns.

What a glorious day it was when the Iron Curtain fell, and they were able to throw open the shutters and sing out loud!

We aren’t nearly as oppressed, but I expect we will experience a similar joy and sense of renewal when we can burst forth in the hymns, the Gloria Patri, and the Doxology.

We will shout to the Lord, and I promise, I’ll try not to throw those around me off key.

Lord, in this odd time when we have to choose our love for one another over shouting to you, may we continue to worship you well in our hearts. May our love for you be evident. May our quiet praise be enhanced by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Keep Reading

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 149 (NLT)

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
    O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
    Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

What a lovely little psalm. There is singing and dancing, the air alive with the sound of instruments. Day and night, the people rejoice. The psalm continues, too!

Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
    and a sharp sword in their hands—
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with shackles
    and their leaders with iron chains,
to execute the judgment written against them.
    This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

Hmmmm. Suddenly, Psalm 149 is a little less lovely. Swords, shackles and vengeance bring a kind of darkness to this psalm we might not have expected.

The Bible is full of sudden turns like this. A lot of devotionals and sermons deal with these startling disparities simply by stopping short, ending the selection of verses before the disturbance brought on by the new thought begins. I understand why—for the sake of brevity, and in an effort to get one clear point across without muddying the devotional or sermon too much, stopping short is sometimes necessary.

We still need, however, to learn to deal with these incongruities, so we are better equipped as believers to help seekers who naturally may be put off by such passages.

Perspective is important. Remember, these texts are very old, meaning they were written in a time when a lot of our ideas about what constitutes civilized behavior had yet to develop. The psalm we’re reading today is at least 2,500 years old, and maybe older.

Understanding this, we’re starting in the wrong place if we critique these texts from a modern viewpoint. Texts like our psalm carry within them what were at the time new revelations about how God’s people should relate to their creator and to one another.

Many of those ideas grew to become the basis of what we now think of as modern, civilized behavior. We should not be critical of the people who first began to comprehend revelations of God’s holiness and God’s desire to save a remnant from the effects of sin.

As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

When Jesus came on the scene centuries after this psalm to expand our understanding of God’s love and grace, he was not afraid to draw on what had been taught through his Jewish culture thus far. God is over all things and above all things. God redeems his people, and Jesus came as God in flesh to prove this point.

And yet, even in gentle Jesus’ teachings, it is clear that what is opposed to God ultimately will face God’s wrath. God has never wavered on that point.

Jesus used a metaphorical sword, and he expected us to pick it up and use it against the enemies of God. I am talking about speaking the truth of who God is and what God is doing through Jesus Christ to restore a broken world. This truth cuts through the political machinations and outright lies of the worldly nations.

This “sword of truth” imagery is most vivid in the final book of the Bible, Revelation, where the author has a vision of Christ completing his work in the world.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16.)

The ancient Israelites felt called to take up their swords and impose shackles in obedience to God, delivering primitive lessons about holiness in what we now consider primitive times. We are called to do similar work with restorative words and sacrificial acts, following Jesus’ lead as the bringer of truth. And God’s truth shall reign.

Lord, thank you for the revelations you have given humanity about your nature since before recorded history began. May the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior be evident to all very soon. Amen.

Constant God, Constant Praise

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Psalm 105:1-6
Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Abraham,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

We are called to praise regardless of whether we perceive the times as good or bad. God is eternal, God is constant and unchanging, and God has revealed his loving nature to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

God is the one outside and over all creation. Having made us, God naturally should define our purpose for existing. We were made to praise God.

It helps, as the psalm says, to remember, too. Remember the great stories of God’s work, dwelling in the ones that move you. Search the Scriptures to discover those stories as you praise continually.

Remember the very personal encounters you’ve had with God—the moment you realized Jesus Christ had died to save you, the times God sustained you through what seemed unbearable, the gifts of people and events that helped you understand there is more to creation than what we immediately see and hear.

If you’re feeling particularly down, take a seat and make a list with the heading, “How God Has Blessed Me.” You’ll see, it will not stay blank for long.

Then praise him some more.

Lord, you are mighty, you are holy, and yet you stay in the moment with us. Thank you so much. Amen.