Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Psalm 122 - A Pilgrim's Psalm

The first church I remember attending - It is now closed

The third of the 15 Psalms of Ascent begins with a verse that I memorized in Sunday School when I was probably about six or seven: “I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord.” I can’t say that verse without remembering the dark paneled interior of the hundred year old church (pictured above) we attended so many (many, many) years ago. I would love to go back – I would be so thrilled to enter again the place where I first learned about God –therefore I can imagine the anticipation of the Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem and approached the temple, the house of the Lord.

Verse 2 says “Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” The growing excitement pauses as the psalmist veers off to describe Jerusalem and to tell us why they are there: to praise the name of the Lord. There is great enthusiasm in those verses as well, but we are reined in by the solemn statement that “there the thrones for judgment stand”.

The ending verses are somber, also, yet hopeful as the pilgrims are enjoined to pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”

How does Psalm 122 relate to 21st century Christians? I should be excited to go to church and thankful that I get that opportunity much more often than the few times a year that these pilgrims had when they marched up to Jerusalem on feast days, reciting the psalms. I need to remember to “praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel”. And I must always “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”. Boy, that is certainly a current concern. Is Jerusalem ever out of the news?

“Peace be within you.”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Teens in the Bible - Uzziah

Chapter 19 teen Uzziah

Somewhere around 750 years before Christ all the people of Judah took Uzziah (also called Azariah) and made him king in place of his father who was killed because he had turned away from following the Lord God Jehovah. Uzziah was only sixteen years old at the time, but, as the Bible tells us, he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He sought God and received instruction in how to revere (fear) the Lord. And as long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.

Imagine a sixteen-year-old in charge of armies, going to war, and rebuilding towns. Uzziah became famous and very, very powerful. Well, that’s not always a good thing, is it? After Uzziah became powerful his pride led to his downfall. What do you think happened? Remember, as long as he sought God, God gave him success. Uzziah was unfaithful to God; his pride led him to do something arrogant, self-centered, and stupid. Ah, now that sounds like a teenager. Uzziah entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. “No, no, no,” the priests told him. “It’s not your place to burn the incense. Only the consecrated priests can do that. Leave the sanctuary.”

Well, young Uzziah got angry and raged at the priests . . . and . . . [scary suspense music] Uzziah broke out in leprosy on his forehead. Uzziah ruled for 52 years, but he lived in a separate house, leprous and excluded from the temple, until the day he died. There’s a lesson there that is just too obvious.

Next Saturday teen Jehoiachin – yea, try to pronounce that!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Psalm 121 - One of the MOST Comforting Psalms of All

The second of the 15 Psalms of Ascent is packed with assurance for you of how closely and thoroughly God watches over you. Here are the promises: 1) He will not let your foot slip. 2) He watches over you without pause. 3) He will keep you from harm. 4) He will watch over your life now and forever. Of course there is much more poetry to the verses, but essentially this psalm of comfort and reassurance sings a hopeful declaration, a guarantee, in fact, that the Maker of heaven and earth is your constant helper.

Looking at these verses from our self-centered perspective though puts some obligation on us. We have a bit to do, too. The first verse says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?” Most translations (I checked over 20) leave the final phrase as a question, but the old King James version (and a couple others) interpret that verse as: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” Regardless as to whether that was intended as a question or a statement the author of this psalm, King David, knew the answer and revealed it concretely in the next verse. We have the same obligation, first to lift our eyes, that is to make a decision to seek out help, and second to know where to look. Lifting your eyes also hints that there is an expectation, i.e. that you are looking in the right direction for that help.

The second verse says, “My help comes from the LORD (Yahweh), Who made heaven and earth.” Thank you, King David, for making that statement free from ambiguity, doubt, or vagueness. Now read the entire psalm and be comforted.
Psalm 121
A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Teens in the Bible - teen Daniel

Chapter 18 teen Daniel

Hold to your faith. Can you do this if faced with life changes so radical that everyone around you is converting to a new way of thinking? Daniel, of “lion’s den” fame, was a teen when Jerusalem fell to Babylon six hundred years before Christ. He was given a new name, plunged into a new society, and brainwashed to break down his beliefs. Hmm, sounds a little like going off to college.

Did Daniel hold to his faith? Oh, did he ever. The Bible tells us that he was without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He and his equally gifted friends were to be trained for three years before entering into the king’s service. First came a change in diet, but Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. He asked the chief official to indulge him in an experiment to see if he and his friends would look healthier and better nourished if they stuck to vegetables and water for ten days. It worked and he was allowed to continue his healthy ways.

Later Daniel distinguished himself among the administrators who could find no corruption or negligence in his work. They plotted his downfall by urging the king to write a decree that ordered everyone to pray only to the king or face being thrown into a den of lions. Daniel again held to his faith and prayed three times a day to God. He was discovered and, you know the story, he was sealed into the den. God sent an angel who shut the mouths of the lions. Is closing their jaws enough? Don’t they have powerful claws? I think it’s important to note the Bible’s reason why no wound was found on him. It was because Daniel “had trusted in his God”. Daniel held to his faith. Can you hold to a strong faith in the Lord Almighty?

How did Daniel do it? He stayed with his early religious training, he prayed several times a day, and he trusted God.

Next Saturday teen Uzziah

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Psalm 120 - Are You in Distress?

There are 15 psalms that are called Psalms of Ascent (or Degrees) which were sung by the Jewish people as they ascended to Jerusalem for holy festivals three times a year. Psalm 120 is the first of these. It begins with a lament – a call for the Lord to save the psalmist from “lying lips and deceitful tongues”. He was surrounded by a wicked world. In fact there are clues in the psalm as to exactly which part of the wicked world encircled him: verse 5 says “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar!” 

Meshech was the son of Japheth whose descendants inhabited a barbarous area which is now the northern parts of Moscow, Russia. The tents of Kedar refers to descendants of one of Abraham’s sons who were nomads and plunderers … not very nice people.

The psalmist ends this short cry declaring that he is a man of peace, but when he speaks they (his evil neighbors) are ready for war. How distressful. This sounds utterly hopeless yet I would refer you back to the opening verse: “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.”

Call on the Lord in your distress and he will answer you.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Teens in the Bible - Jeremiah

Chapter 17 teen Jeremiah

Jeremiah wrote the Bible books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Ancient tradition also credits him as the author of 1st and 2nd Kings. He was just coming out of his teen years when the Lord called him into service as a prophet. God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” For teens who are reading this now I want you to consider how Jeremiah must have felt. How would you feel if God told you that he knew you before you were conceived; that He had set you apart and had a plan for you? I suppose this might answer your question about when life begins, but it would also make you proud. Wouldn't you feel important? Special? Wouldn't this give you a lot of confidence? Maybe you would even feel arrogant, conceited, or self-important.

Did Jeremiah exhibit any of those things in his response? Not at all. He answered, “Ah Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” Within his simple self-effacing response we see humility, modesty, and an unassuming nature. What a teen!

Jeremiah was called to give the prophecy unto Israel of a coming destruction. Israel had forsaken the God Jehovah and turned to idols. The unspeakable had happened: they had built towers to Baal and were sacrificing their children there! I can’t imagine it and yet people are still sacrificing children today, born and unborn, children whom God knew before they were in the womb.

Scholars call Jeremiah the weeping prophet because of his sorrowful account in Lamentations of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was persecuted repeatedly, beaten, and thrown down a cistern to starve to death. He was rescued and never lost his faith in God.

(next Saturday teen Daniel)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Psalm of Ascent - 133

There are 15 psalms in a row, Psalm 120 through Psalm 134, that are labeled “Songs of Ascent” or some translations may have “Songs of Degrees”. Since I love to solve a puzzle I did a little research and found that these psalms were sung by a procession (usually of priests, followed by the people) as they went up the steps to the temple. Some sources say there were 15 steps from the court of the women up to the next court in the temple and the priests would chant the next consecutive psalm on each step. Very possibly the key changed, musically going a step higher as well.

Psalm 133 is used as a responsive reading in churches. It’s very short and seemingly obtuse on first reading it. Here it is, verse by verse:

1) Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
Yes, yes, a good reminder especially if a church is going through any "unpleasantness". Actually King David wrote this psalm when he regained his throne after his son Absalom’s rebellion. The story is in 2nd Samuel and 1st Chronicles and tells how the people were of one mind to make him king and support him again – together in unity – and the Hebrew word for together and for unity is the same word and is repeated here so the verse ends with the same word twice. (How intricately woven is the word of the Lord.)

2) It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
Sounds kind of messy and oily, but as I looked up the recipe for this oil (Exodus 30: 25) I found that it contained myrrh and cinnamon and lemon grass and other great smelling herbs and I bet it was a very pleasing aroma, very different from the smells I suspect were common place then like sweat and rotting things and animals.

3) As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
This place called Hermon has really, really heavy dew, so here the psalmist is just coming up with a way to show how the Israelites’ unity was covering them all. I love the commanded blessing: life for evermore. This is a promise of eternal life.

Well, this is an incredibly short chapter - only three verses - but an awful lot is packed in there.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Teens in the Bible - a nameless servant girl

Chapter 16 the nameless servant girl

Naaman was a commander in the army of the king of Aram, enemy of Israel; he was a great man, a valiant soldier and highly regarded. But he had one huge negative against him: he had leprosy. Now bands of men from his army had gone out and taken some captives. One was a young girl from Israel who became a servant to Naaman’s wife. This is the nameless servant girl I want to look at. She has a small part in the Bible – doesn't even get her name recorded – but she does something truly remarkable. She tells Naaman’s wife that there is a prophet in Samaria who could cure Naaman of the leprosy. She was referring to the prophet Elisha.

My first question is why would she help her captors? If I were stolen away from my family and forced into servitude I would not be so magnanimous as to give away this special bit of information. I've taught over three thousand teenagers in my career and I can tell you that the vast majority of them would also be tight-lipped about the cure if they were in this situation. We all have something to learn here about developing a kind and generous nature. Hooray for this teen for she is teaching me something all these thousands of years later. If I have information that could help someone, even my enemy, I should tell him.

My second question is why did Naaman believe her at all? I’m going to conclude that he must have seen her honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. He went to his king and got a royal letter to take to the king of Israel plus ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold (worth about $750,000 in today’s money) and ten sets of clothing. (You can read the story and see if he gets cured in 2nd Kings, chapter 5.) We don’t hear anything else about “nameless servant girl”, but she did get a place in God’s Holy Word. What an honor.

(next Saturday teen Jeremiah)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

For the Writers Voice Contest

Query letter

Dear Literary Agent,

I’d like to offer Pocket of Uncertainty, a young adult novel of 70,000 words, for your consideration.

Seventeen-year-old Jessica thinks high school would be perfect if she could catch the eye of super jock Michael Hoffman instead of shy Tyler. Michael, a sociopath in the making, pulls a prank that results in a horrible accident.  Jessica’s physical body falls into a coma while her spirit splits off to invade the thoughts and dreams of friends and enemies. She roams her school, harvesting slivers of others’ souls and unknowingly spreading everyone’s secret memories.

When she indwells Tyler she experiences not only his feelings for her, but a dream kiss that makes her question her faulty self-image. Maybe she could be the type of girl Tyler envisions – if she ever wakes up from this coma.

She pushes her way into Michael’s girlfriend, a hollow beauty with a broken soul. Jessica always wanted to be in her shoes and now she has a chance to be half of the coolest couple in school. But the longer Jessica’s spirit is split from her own body the harder it is for her to maneuver the supernatural realm.  And leaving behind thoughts of that dream kiss complicates matters. The only people who can still communicate with Jessica’s splintered soul – the two she has hurt the most – must find a way to help her before she dies, becomes a vegetable, or gets stuck being someone she no longer wants to be.

Pocket of Uncertainty is a young adult novel that explores the doubts and hesitations that most teens have about life and love, and does so from the troubled perspectives of five uncertain souls. It should appeal to fans of YA paranormal and teen romance.

I hold a Master of Arts in English and am working on building an online platform. 
Thank you so much for your time and attention.  I have pasted the first 250 words below per your submission guidelines.

Debra Chapoton

 Pocket of Uncertainty
Chapter 1 Jessica – Thursday and Friday
I’m such a bad person.
I held the knife, steadily this first time, directly over her heart. Her eyes didn't flutter open. I stayed poised waiting for that exact unpracticed moment when I would raise my arm higher, release my breath with a scream, and plunge the weapon downward with jealous rage.
Or resentful hate.
Or odious envy.
hadn't really got hold of my circle of emotions yet. I stared at her closed eyes, waiting for a signal. She looked like my enemy. She had the same long blonde hair as Hannah. And she was pretty, just like Hannah.
And Michael would step between us at any moment now and save her.
“Jessica,” Michael whispered my name. I raised my arm. Jerked it. I felt a tingle in my shoulder like a tendon snapped or something and I half turned without meaning to.
Her eyes opened. She didn't scream and neither did I, though one of us should have. She sneered instead, rolled her eyes toward Michael and whispered the classic save me.
I slammed the knife down and let the blade flash through my palm, my fist stopping lightly a quarter inch from her chest. In the same instant Michael leaped from behind me and punched at the knife. The handle was all the way exposed. It easily flipped away and thumped on the floor, no resounding metallic clatter. Of course not. The rubber stage prop was as phony as we were. Our sixty second impromptu warm-up exercise received the hesitant applause of the other twenty-seven kids in Drama class. Then three more kids took the stage.

Update: This novel was renamed A SOUL'S KISS and is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.