Tag Archives: Nations

Of Voices & Family

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Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

Wendy and I read a fascinating interview in the last week of an expert in race and culture. In the loud cacophony of voices lecturing about race and culture with stark in-group and out-group labels and distinctions, this academic stands as a proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” He has been studying trends for 50 years and pointed out facts that no one else is talking about or acknowledging.

The number of bi-racial and bi-cultural couples getting married and having children has increased significantly in the last 50 years and continues to rise. Both Wendy’s and my family are classic examples. Between our siblings, nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, we have the following races and cultures represented in just two generations: Dutch-American, Anglo-American, African-American, Korean-American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican.

In other words, the simple, binary labels on the census list are increasingly obsolete. For this, I am increasingly joyful.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 117, is most known for being the answer to trivial pursuit questions. As just two verses long, it is the shortest psalm and the shortest chapter in the Bible. (If anyone is starting this chapter-a-day journey with me today, you’re getting off to an easy start. Just a warning, the longest psalm is just two chapters away, so you might want to get a head-start! 🙂

In its brief content, however, this ancient Hebrew song of praise has a significant purpose in the Great Story. This short song, traditionally sung each year as part of the Hebrew Passover, calls all nations and all peoples to worship and praise. This fits in context with the calling of Abraham, father of the Hebrew people when God promises Abraham that through his descendants all nations and peoples will be blessed.

If we fast forward to the Jesus story, we find Jesus breaking down the racial and cultural walls that His tribe had erected to keep those they considered spiritual and racial riff-raff out. Jesus followers went even further to take the message of Jesus to the Greek, African, and Roman worlds and beyond. This created upheaval and conflict among Jesus followers of strictly Hebrew descent. It was Paul (who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”) who used today’s “trivial” psalm when writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome to argue that from the very beginning the Great Story has been about all nations, all races, all cultures, and all peoples.

When John was given a glimpse of heaven’s throne room, this is what he saw and heard:

And when [the Lamb who had been slain] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation
.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NIV) emphasis added

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of texting our daughters of Suzanna’s engagement to Chino in Mexico a couple of years ago. The response to the news was, “Yay for more beautiful brown babies in the family!” (by the way, the first of those arrives this summer and we can’t wait to meet our newest nephew).

Along my life journey, I have observed that we humans like to reduce very complex questions into simple binary boxes and choices. As a follower of Jesus, I found that the journey seemingly began that way. I could choose to follow, or not (though my theologian friends will be happy to turn that into a very complex question for you). After that, things get exponentially personal and complex. Just yesterday, I gave a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I made the same argument about the season of Lent. Religious institutions want to make things top-down prescriptive when Jesus was always about things being intimately and spiritually bottom-up personal.

I find myself this morning meditating on the contrast between the voices of culture and the experiences of family. There are such complex questions we face today of race, gender, and culture. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss them. At the same time, I find myself encouraged by a profound truth simply stated in today’s chapter.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Personal AND Universal

“Sit in silence, go into darkness,
    queen city of the Babylonians;
no more will you be called
    queen of kingdoms.”
Isaiah 47:5 (NIV)

The Great Story told throughout God’s Message weaves multiple storylines together throughout history. There is the storyline about God’s relationship with humanity on an individual, interpersonal level, but there is also the storyline of God’s relationship with the nations. As I journey through God’s Message I believe that it’s important to recognize and distinguish between the two in understanding the Story.

In today’s chapter, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to the nation (you might also say Kingdom or Empire) of Babylon. Earlier in the Isaiah’s prophetic writings God said that He would raise up that nation of Babylon in order to deal with the rebellious Kingdom of Judah.

When we read the story of Daniel and his friends, who had been taken into exile by the Babylonians, we find that God is at work in the life of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Once again we see God at work in storylines on the national level and on the personal level.

Now Isaiah’s prophetic pen targets this nation of Babylon whom God will bring low just as He had raised her up. God was at work in the storylines of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah, Jeremiah, while at the same moment being at work in the storylines of Babylon, Israel, Judah and Persia.

This morning I’m thinking about my belief that God cares about me and my story in intimate and detailed ways, AND that God cares about the nations and the larger storyline being told in the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms. I have heard some argue that God has bigger issues to deal with than their own personal troubles. I don’t believe that God is limited in power, knowledge or presence so that either storyline be excluded for the other. I’m thinking this morning about the tension of being grateful for God’s care and involvement in my own personal story, without being deluded into thinking that it’s any more important than all the billions and trillions of storylines woven into the Great Story God is telling.

All You Nations

pillow globePraise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.
Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

I am not what I would consider to be “well traveled” from an international perspective. I’ve done just enough travel to other nations and cultures to have a taste of life in other places. I am proud of my daughters. Even in their youth, they have travelled far more extensively than me and have experienced many other cultures on other continents. I have watched them approach life with a larger perspective on life than I see in most of their peers. Through their experiences I have gained a much bigger appreciation for our global village.

I am constantly aware that for my brothers and sisters around the globe, following Jesus comes with a much higher personal price tag:

  • In North Korea, being caught with a Bible or worshipping God will get you and your entire family thrown into the gulag. It is estimated that between 50,000-70,000 Jesus followers have been imprisoned. North Korea tops Open Door’s list of the 60 most dangerous countries for followers of Jesus. (OpenDoors.org)
  • In Syria in 2013, there were 2,123 documented killings of Jesus followers because of their faith (CBS News)
  • On New Year’s Eve in Cairo, a Jesus follower was shot leaving worship. He was turned away by three hospitals and died a short time later. (MideastChristianNews)
  • On January 3rd in Lebanon a Greek Orthodox priest, whose personal library of books and resources had been used by the whole community, had his entire library torched and an employee shot. An interview with the priest, published years ago, had been deemed blasphemous to Islam. (WorldWatchNews)

This morning I am thinking about how easy it is to follow Jesus in this place where I live. While grateful for this, I confess how susceptible I am to giving undue daily emotional concern and mental energy to what my daughter Taylor labels “Midwest white girl problems.” When I read the lyric in the psalmist’s short, ancient ditty calling on praise for all nations this morning, it reminded me of my penchant for living an insular life and my need to widen my perspective. In the quiet of this dark, Iowa morning I muse that ease and affluence may be more eternally detrimental to my spiritual well-being than the daily suffering and persecution faced by my brothers and sisters around the globe.

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