You might recall Jesus quoting from the prophet Isaiah when confronted abut why his disciples don’t practice the ceremonial tradition of washing their hands before a meal. The quote comes from Isaiah 29:13 and is a charge that God has against his people, Israel:
And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
There are a couple of things that strike me in this passage. First, the obvious is that these people have learned to say the right things, project holy things on the outside…but their hearts are far from God. Therefore, there is little to no relationship with the Lord, they just listen to the holy words and memorize them. They sing the songs they know and go through the rituals, but they do not KNOW God. Second, God charges that the fear they are to have, due to the closeness of the relationship has also been cheapened. This “fear of the Lord” is now something that is taught. Perhaps it is practiced and perfected, and then performed, but the fear of the Lord is not authentic; something that would grow out of real relationship with the Lord.
So, the very things and people God set up to draw his people closer and provide them with a healthy “fear of the Lord” has become a barrier to authentic faith. Now, when we see the “fear of the Lord” we must understand God’s holiness and God’s care to truly engage this phrase. Fear can mean respect, yes, but with the Lord it is that understanding that the holy God who has every right to destroy us and the evil of the world has invited into relationship to care for us. This is more than respect, but the awe and wonder of how this is possible mixed with the responsibility to live in thankfulness for this opportunity.
What Jesus doesn’t share with the Pharisees is the verse a few passages down. Listen to the words of Isiah 29:16 =
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
I sometimes wonder if in our construed way of making God our divine servant who exists to make us happy and content, if we have indeed turned things upside-down. You see, the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders made the mistake that God served them, and I think that Christians have bought into a popular version of American Christianity that does the same thing. How can the clay regard the potter as the clay?
I must admit that it is easier for me to say the Christian things and read the Christian book than it is for me to spend time with God, walk with God, and relate to God. It is also easier to think that God wants me to be happy than it is to live as if the purpose of my existence is to make God happy. God’s priorities are not my priorities, and God’s happiness is not even close to the things that make me happy. This is why we are asked to follow Jesus and learn to be disciples of Jesus; because it was his life, not ours or the Jews or anyone else, that truly glorified God…that is “made God happy.”
So, I want God to please remind me that I am clay and you are the Creating Potter. Help me walk with you and talk with you and never substitute what I’m taught about you with who you are in my life. Help me to bring something that is of worth as I worship you with my life that you may be honored by my life…up close…not from a distance.
There is little doubt that music moves people. There is something about the combination of lyric and rhythm, pitch and sound that connects to our innermost thoughts and feelings. Here are some thoughts about the effect of music:
“Music can change the world because it can change people.”
“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”
― Martin Luther
“Music... will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“A great song should lift your heart, warm the soul and make you feel good.”
― Colbie Caillat
I don’t really want to the question the idea of music’s power, but I want us to think about what it is that our music is persuading us of…or moving us towards. Let me explain. As we think about what we fill our hearts and minds with on a weekly and daily basis, what does our music applaud? Does the music we most often listen to speak highly of sex? How about sexual acts? How about sexual acts in the club with random hook-ups? How about the power of love? How about the pride of our nation? How about the life of luxury? How about the life of leisure? How about the city life? How about the country life? How about escaping your life? How about the violent life? How about the peaceful life? How about money? How about being unique and different? How about being angry? And the list goes and goes…
Does the music you listen to affect the way you engage the world—there is little doubt that it does…so, from a minister’s perspective let me say that our worship through music sets us on a particular trajectory, or in a particular frame of mind and heart. Now, I’m not trying to argue that love is evil or that we shouldn’t have some level of national pride…but I am trying to assert that music does have power and that power must be acknowledged and accepted…and perhaps even cautioned against!
The power of music is why it is an important part of our worship of God. And while you might be a hip hop, country, rap, alternative, pop, or classical fan; I hope and pray we are all listening to songs that praise God. David sings this in Psalm 59:
16 But as for me, I will sing about your power.
Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
For you have been my refuge,
a place of safety when I am in distress.
17 O my Strength, to you I sing praises,
for you, O God, are my refuge,
the God who shows me unfailing love.
May the songs of our God always be in our hearts, in our minds, and upon our lips! And may the songs of other, lesser things diminish in comparison to our great God. In the words of a contemporary song:
How great is our God!
Sing with me,
How great is our God!
And all will see,
How great, how great is our God!
This past Sunday morning my daughter was on the floor of our church building drawing the picture above, during one of the songs she asked me, "Do you remember our home in Memphis daddy?" I shook my head and continued to sing, peering down from time to time as she added the details to her picture of "home." It was a small house on Sheridan Street, and of course I remember it. It was our first home, the one in which our family came to be. Our neighbors, the best, from Mrs. V who grew up on the street and never left to young families whose children cruised the sidewalks. Mrs V is up into her 80s and she knows nothing else than Sheridan St. Then there were other families that came and gone. I mean, I was really impressed with the picture Brynn drew of our Memphis home. Here is an actual picture of the house when we first bought it.
We have lived in PA for a little over a year now, and B has made friends and seems to be really adjusting to life here. However, it isn't home to her! Home is a little house on Sheridan Street in the city that we loved, where she was born, the world she came to know in Memphis. We have three red maple trees in our front yard, they are affectionately named Olivia, Elliot, and Sophia. Personally, I think it is beautiful that B loved that little house, the friends we have, and sometimes I pray that this move is good for the family...and I must admit that moments like this Sunday scare me just a tad!
However, for most people "home" is simply a place tucked away in the past, it is a nice trip down memory lane. While there is a nostalgia for home, we rarely get to experience it as it was. I remember going back to places that I had once completely immersed myself in and being surprised at the changes. I have visited my high school, my college, and even my home congregation and they are not the same...in fact, I don't think they are supposed to be.
I remember going back to SomaMemphis when I was visiting last spring, and it had changed so much. The look had changed, the students had changed, and while there was some familiarity, I realized that it didn't feel like home to me anymore. That isn't to say I wasn't welcomed and didn't have a good time catching up with people, but my stamp, my imprint, was gone. Soma moved on as did I, and well...that's life.
On that same trip I went by our little home on Sheridan, and it has been changed to suit the new owner. It isn't the same, no longer the Woodall's home. But guess what, B doesn't need to know! She can keep our home alive in her mind, in her heart. She can be creative in her art as she represents what was. She can name the flippin' trees after whoever she wants because a sense of "home" is important and I am absolutely grateful for our home in Memphis. I am grateful for our newer, emerging home in Hummelstown.
I have rambled through some tears as I think about what makes "home" possible...so thank you to those who have been neighbors, family, and friends of the Woodalls. Home is a sacred space, and wherever you are and whatever you're doing, know that you have a home in the hearts, prayers, and thoughts of the Woodalls. To God be the praise, for God has saw fit to give us a home with him, and at the end of our journeys through this world we will all gather once again...and we will be HOME!
It's been a while since I have written on this blog. I am finishing my dissertation (if you know me well, you may not believe that statement) and have been focusing my efforts elsewhere. But, each fall semester I have the privilege of leading a group of students through the Old Testament. One of the bonus assignments in the class is the writing of a personal Psalm after the lecture on the book. Each student is to write a psalm, label it as a psalm of orientation, disorientation, or new-orientation. Each year, the sharing of personal feelings is intense in the class and I am amazed at the openness in the classroom. This year was no different. However, one of the students who did not share a psalm began to react about half way through the class and I noticed her crying most of the period.
I didn't really acknowledge her reaction, but a few hours after class I received an email from her. She said:
I simply could not read this today. It was so hard for me to be vulnerable in front of the class; I knew I would fall apart. I could not even keep the tears away WITHOUT reading it. So I left it at home and did not even attempt it.
I had no idea a simple exercise could have such an impact...imagine if we took the time to share personal psalms in our small groups or churches. Returning to the student, she attached her psalm to the email and it is below for you to read. It is a psalm of new orientation, one that laments the past, cries out to God for explanation but celebrates God's presence in the face of troubles:
Where were you, God, in all of these struggles?
This was just one of the psalms that students shared, imagine the depths of joy, hurt, and trust that people carry... just waiting to be asked...waiting to be prompted...or perhaps even ignoring it. So, write a psalm and meditate on the presence of God in your life. If you wrote a psalm, what would it say?
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.