Next – The Final Part to Psalm 116


This picture is me and Robin and little Adeana worshipping during a practice at First United Methodist Church of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Adeana was so cute, coming up and simply taking my hand as I danced to the LORD. Robin couldn’t resist joining in! It was a truly magical moment.

I’ve now had several hours of frustration as I HAD started writing the next portion of post, since I couldn’t figure out how to keep going after I got the Psalm to display in columns, But it’s disappeared. I know I saved it to draft, a couple of times, actually, but I can’t figure out where it’s gone. So, now that I’ve lost my train of thought and I should be going to bed, I figured to sit here and write some more.

Okay, so I didn’t write anymore, I went to sleep. But I saved this to draft and IT didn’t disappear. I’m really disappointed. What I had written was really heart-felt and it was good,(even if I do say it myself), and it can’t be recreated. So, I guess I’ll just take a few minutes to get coffeed up and prayed up and I’ll begin again, and I’ll simply have to make it better.

SO – Why Psalm 116? It’s just the Psalm that struck me most about how I felt when Papa God (took me a long time to be able to cal Him that – more later) reached down and pulled me up out of the miry pit that was dragging me down to death. According to James B Coffman in his “Commentary on Psalm 116,” this psalm is considered by ancient Hebrew tradition to be written by King Hezekiah after the LORD saved him from death. You can read that story in Isaiah 38 if you’d like to know more about how Hezekiah’s pleas for more time after God told him he was going to die gained him 15 more years. And, while I don’t know how many more years I’ll have due to the salvation of the LORD, I know that I would be dead by now if He hadn’t saved me. My weight, my alcohol and drug consumption, my inability to hold gainful employment due to those things, all added up to a recipe for disaster.

As I contemplated my baptism and what it meant to me, declaring to all the world, out loud, that I have decided to follow Jesus, it hit me that this psalm not only expressed what I needed to do, it said it TWICE, for added emphasis. “I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.” (verses 14 & 18). This is a psalm of thanksgiving, yet more than simply giving thanks, it’s an acknowledgement that God answered a plea for help. And I had to let people KNOW that I was thankful, and that God had answered, and because of that, I get to live and love and serve Him for the rest of my days. And I had to let the people of Gungu UMC in Kigoma, Tanzania know that their faithfulness to God was making an impact halfway around the world. They needed to know that their prayers and their devotion changed the life of someone they didn’t even know existed. This is something we all need to be reminded of, we never know when something we do will affect someone who will “pay it forward” so to speak. It’s called the butterfly effect. My friend Robin, one of the others on this trip to Kigoma and now fulltime in missions with Wycliffe Bible Translators, wrote eloquently on this phenomenon. You can find her article in the August 2011 issue of Today’s Christian Woman.

I had to let the world know that, because the LORD listened to me, actually heard and paid heed to my pleas, (hmmmm, sounds like the literary device called synthetic parallelism I learned about in class, where a second phrase completes or supplements the first as seen in verses 1 & 2 of this psalm – yes, this is still about my class!), I would call upon His name, love, honor and serve Him for the rest of my life.

There is soooooooo much more I could go into here, (such as the 8 things we should “render to the LORD” (v.12) for all He has benefitted us: love, praise, worship, fear, our bodies, service, gratitude and payment of our vows – identified by Warren E. Berkley in “Something in Return”, the Expository Files, October 1996), but if I write it all here, I won’t have anything to write about next time. (Not really, I’ll never run out of material, but it feels like a good place to leave you for now. Thanks for reading!)

Psalm 116 – Part 2

So, I’d been thinking about baptism, and getting dunked completely like Jesus did. The symbolism and significance are that the person you were goes down into the water and dies, and when you come up, you are a new person, having symbolically died with Christ and been risen in resurrection as He rose. Your sin is washed away. God forgives all, and you begin life anew. That thought was very appealing to me. Those who knew me before will say that my conversion was nearly of Saul to Paul proportions. I never saw it as QUITE that epic, but I will admit that it was pretty drastic.

The decision to do a full dunk was made, but then came the “problem” of logistics. Where, when, how and by whom? The church I attended at the time didn’t have a full dunk baptismal, and while there was (and still is) a nearby river, it’s not the cleanest. A local, or someone’s private pool just didn’t seem right. And then the answer came. The opportunity came to make the same mission trip to Tanzania as the friend who started this whole journey for me in the first place. I thought, “How cool would it be to get baptized in Lake Tanganyika? In Africa, man!” (Sorry, “I’m in Africa, man,” is a semi-private joke. Maybe someday that story will get told here.)

During the planning sessions for the trip to Tanzania, I voiced my wish to get baptized there and bring my whole “coming to Christ” journey full circle. My thought was that Lowell, the guy who heads up the ministry we were working with, would baptize me in Lake Tanganyika and it would be like all those really cool baptism scenes you see in the movies. — It didn’t turn out that way.

The way it ended up looking, visually, wasn’t really much to speak of, at least not compared to the idea I had in my head. But the way it was SPIRITUALLY, now that’s a whole different thing! As I said in Part 1, that little church in Kigoma, Tanzania was the only United Methodist church in Tanzania with a full dunk baptismal, but it wasn’t getting used. I don’t know if the people didn’t really understand baptism, or if they were just afraid of being first, or if it was making a public display, or what, but they weren’t getting baptized. So Lowell asked me if I would do it in the church during a regular Sunday service so that they could see what it was really like. As cool as the lake would have been, this was cooler, to be able to lead by example!

But then I realized, as cool as that was, the group of people watching would be a whole lot different, and a WHOLE LOT larger than I had planned. And now I was being an example and not just having an intimate little gathering of mission team buddies and God. There would be a couple hundred “Intimate” strangers there too. And I had to publicly declare why I was doing this – to people who don’t speak English! I prayed on it and I prayed on it, and it finally came to me, Psalm 116. It was me.


And so one that day, with Lowell and the leader of our mission team down with a SEVERE case of food poisoning and unable to attend, I stood before the congregation of Gungu United Methodist Church and made my Public Declaration that I am a follower of Jesus Christ by reading Psalm 116 – in Swahili!!!

Psalm 116 – Part 1

So now that you have a little bit of background I can move to the middle, about the power of Psalm 116 in my life. And this is sort of the crux of my current assignment, relating something I’ve learned in my current class, Old Testament Survey, to something relevant now. As I wracked my brain ablout what to do, realizing I couldn’t really use what I had been working on when I tried to take the class at a different school, I was just coming up blank. Then I started thinking about how I really got here, to the place where I have to do such a project, and what REALLY affected me on the path. (And was it from the Old Testament!?) And I thought of my baptism.

I was sprinkle baptized as an infant, though I had to go back to the church where it happened because when I asked my Mom about it, she couldn’t remember. They found me in “The Big Book,” and even gave me a certification that it had happened. But now, in my new life in Christ, I felt the need to publically profess my faith and get the full dunk. While there is great contoversy, the form of baptism really doesn’t matter, in fact, in extreme situations, it doesn’t even need to happen. Consider the thief on the cross next to Jesus at His crucifiction. The man said, “Remember me,” and Jesus told him that by the faith of his statement he would reside in Heaven.

OK, so that was a baby bunny trail, now back to my point, a public declaration of my faith. I felt I wanted to do it, I felt I needed to do it, but where and when, exactly, were questions spinning in my mind. At my home church, the church that my Grandmother (yes, the Gramma from post number one) was brought up in, and her parents and their parents as well? (That whole story is for a different post, but quite a story it is!!) Or someplace else, sometime else?

Alright, I guess I need to go down another bunny trail to give you enough background to understand, really, where I was at during this time. You see, the whole reason I was even at this church was because a drinking buddy of mine went on a mission trip to Africa. It was conversations with him about where he went and what he did and why, that made me start questioning where I was at in life, and what was I really doing and why. And it was through those conversations, both before he left and after he got back that I started thinking that maybe I was missing out on something. Maybe, just maybe, there was something more “out there” for me. And in one of those conversations he talked about this little church that they went to in the town of Kigoma, Tanzania. It was one room, but full of happy, loving people. One of the things they did on their trip was to encourage the people of that church, worshipped with them, prayed with them, sang and danced with them. And it was amazing to me that this guy that I had known since high school would do something like that, and I was intrigued.

So now, we take a giant leap forward. Don’t worry, I’ll backtrack and fill in a lot of the gaps I’m creating, but this tme, rather than hopping down a bunny trail, we just got sucked into a worm hole and we’re catepulting ahead in time. It’s five years later, and I’m in Kigoma, Tanzania. As I said above, I’d been thinking about getting baptized so I could make my public declaration of being a follower of Christ, but I didn’t know by whom, when or where. Then it struck me, since it was my buddy’s trip to Tanzania that started my on my path, wouldn’t it be cool to get baptized in Africa?!! As I talked about it with the guy who runs the ministry we went to help, (Joy in the Harvest), he thought it would be a great idea. That little, one room church in Kigoma just happens to be the only United Methodist church in Tanzania with a full dunk baptismal!! And so my baptism was planned to be a part of that mission trip….

To be continued….

Hmmmm. Where to Begin? Beginning, Middle, or Both?

Some say that the best place to begin is at the beginning, but I don’t think that’s always true. Especially if you’re the type to get lost as you chase down rabbit trails and never end up getting to the original point you were trying to make. And I am that type. I can go down all sorts of trails, following points all over creation, and never get where I wanted to go. So I think that I’m going to start with the place my mind went when I first started thinking about this project.

As I wracked my brain for an idea to start this project off, something that would relate to the Old Testament, something that would “be a witness” to others, I realized that the only place I could go was the Psalms. One Psalm in particular, to start off. Psam 116, the one that I read as my public declaration before my Baptism. But then I continued my thinking and realized that to understand WHY this Psalm is so important to me, perhaps some background would be helpful.

So, here’s the quick version of my early childhood religious upbringing. When I was a kid, my Dad would take me, nearly every Sunday, to the local coffee shop where he would meet with his friends and talk over coffee. I didn’t give a wit about the conversations, I was excited because I got to drink either Coca Cola, or CHOCOLATE MILK! Neither were not often to be had at home.

But even better than the prospect of chocolate milk or Coca Cola was the actual drive to the coffee shop. We did it nearly every week. We would drive several bocks off course, to a particular street in town. This particular street, in just a two block stretch, had four churches. And one block east was another one. Every week we would drive down those two blocks, turn east and head back past the fifth church. Once past, we would head on to coffee and cola heaven with Dad saying, “Well, we’ve done our churchly duty.” That’s my best memory of church when I was growing up.

In contrast, the experience ofchurch that does not bring joy happened when I was 5 or 6 years old. As far as I remember, I only actually went to church when I spent Saturday night over at my grandparents house. I remember that Sunday School was pretty fun when I was there. We got to play, have story time and then a snack!

I loved snack time, cookies and Funny Face koolaid. (I know, I know, I’m showing my age with Funny Face. Goofy Grape was the BEST!!) And I loved to help make the Funny Face, it was my act of service. But really what it was, was my chance to SNEEZE! I LOVED to sneeze when I was a kid. And when you dumped the packet of koolaid in the pitcher, a very fine powder would waft up and, if snorted correctly, produce an awesome sneeze.

And therein lies the rub. That is the cause of the bad memory. The leaders told me I was a bad girl for doing that. I didn’t understand why helping out was bad. Then they said I couldn’t help anymore, and that confused me even more. I got really upset about it. I had a bit of a tantrum about it. And that’s when they said I couldn’t come back. I remember standing in the hallway when Gramma came to pick me up, and them telling her what a bad girl I had been. They said I couldn’t come back until I learned how to behave.

And so I didn’t go back. I told Gramma that I didn’t understand why helping was bad, and I didn’t understand what they wanted me to change. I keep saying “they” because that’s what they were. They were the nameless, now faceless big people who got mad at me for being a good, quiet, helpful little girl. And “they” are the ones who scared me away, kicked me out of Sunday School at the tender age of 5 or 6 for snorting koolaid! I still had to go to church with Gramma when I spent the night, but I went to big people church and drew pictures during the service.

And that’s how my 40 years in the wilderness began.