A couple weeks ago I picked up my daughter from school like I do everyday, on the way back to the car from the courtyard she asked me if those prayer cards at our church were for everyone. I assured her that anyone could put a prayer request on the cards. She seemed really interested in prayer cards, particularly if she could use one…the conversation became more clear:
Her: “You know how we pray every Sunday using the prayer cards that people turn in…”
Me: “Yes…” (dodging parents, children, and still oblivious)
Her: “Do you think I could fill out one of those prayer cards this Sunday?
Me: “I think you can fill out a prayer card whenever you have something to pray about.”
Her: “I have something daddy…”
Me: “Ok, do you want to share with me what it is?” (thinking she might share something embarrassing…or personal…)
Her: “Yes, I have a friend in my class and she told me that she doesn’t go to church because her family just does not go and she also told me that she doesn’t believe that there is a God…So I would like to pray to God so that He can show her that He is real.”
Me: Well then, that seems like a good thing to pray about.” (speechless really…)
About half-way through the second song on Sunday Morning, my daughter asked me if I had a prayer card. I told her I didn’t (because I never pick up one—too busy on Sundays to fill it out) and then proceeded to tell her where to go to get one. My awesome daughter stomped out of the row (she had loud boots on) and walked to the lobby area—returning with a smile and a card in her hand. She filled out her name and in the designated area she wrote, “I would like to pray for my friend ________ who does not go to church and does not believe that you are real.” (something close at least…)
She hands me the card and I glance at it because her spelling is still somewhat of a challenge to read at times…but she had made her message clear and I could decipher it! So, my daughter’s friend was prayed over in worship service that Sunday one or two weeks ago. I must admit to you I said a little prayer that Sunday Morning as well and it was, “Lord God, please help me not to mess this up…may she always have faith that you are real and that you listen and respond to our prayers for those in need.”
Sundays are busy for me. I teach. I preach. I hug. I shake hands. I field questions. I sing along. I pray along. I sometimes wonder in all of my activity if I fail to realize that God is there with us, ready to accept our offerings and listen to our cries for help. God empowers the truth we teach and revels in the hugs we share. God must be very proud of a young girl who brings her friend’s situation to Him…And God must think that I need a lesson in what it means to have faith that He can reveal himself to those who do not know him—maybe God needed to remind me that in my church activity there is time to connect with Him (The Living and Present God).
Lessons received, thank you God and B (my daughter).
I am only going to post one time this week, mainly because this past week has been a whirlwind and I am still trying to catch-up with everything. My family spent the weekend in Michigan singing with college friends, more on that to come. Monday was my birthday and thank you to all those who took the time to wish me a happy birthday. I always feel guilty on my birthday for not responding to daily Facebook alerts I receive telling me whose birthday it is today. Also, My sister and her five boys came to visit this week during their spring break. I haven’t seen my sister since 2013 and I haven’t ever spent quality time with my nephews, so we are having a good time. So, I’ll post one and get back to having fun with the kids.
This weekend, like every time I sing, I feel connected to God. I know some of you don’t sing or can’t sing, but think about that one thing you can rely on to connect. For me, it is singing. I connect to God, to people, and I remember my story through the songs that bring back memories and the people with whom I have shared those memories. As a chorus member, we would close every concert with the same song. So, for four years I sang the same song as a member of the Rochester College chorus. You would think I would be tired of that song, but quite the opposite. You see, when I am singing “Go Ye Now in Peace” I am in the midst of the people I love. I am a part of the whole of that song, and I can never get through the first line without welling up inside…and crying like a baby. Here are the lyrics to the song:
Go ye now in peace and know that the love of God will guide you.
Feel his presence here beside you, showing you the way.
In your time of trouble when hurt and despair are there to grieve you,
Know that the Lord will never leave you, He will bring you courage.
Know that the God who sent His Son to die that you might live,
Will never leave you lost and alone in His beloved world.
Go ye now in peace.
Go ye now in peace.
Go ye now in peace.
The song is by Joyce Elaine Eilers, and so I want to give her the proper credit. When I sing this song now, there are some friends missing because they are no longer with us in the journey of life. I have a friend who suffered the loss on her father at the hands of violence…and it was unfair to that family to have to go through that. I have another friend who lost his sister and we still don’t know all the circumstances surrounding her disappearance. Not that knowing would make her absence hurt less. Life rolls on, kids are born. Some of us have more kids than expected, some have lost babies and suffered miscarriages, some have had some surprises. Life tends to throw the kitchen sink at us at times. I think that is why I’m glad to cry through this song when I depart this wonderful people. I won’t be there, but God will. I won’t know the words to say, but God knows how to speak to the heart. I will leave feeling awkward and leave many things unsaid, but God put His everything on the table for us. And through the ups and downs of life, God never leaves us lost and alone in His beloved world.
Therefore, you may want to search for this song on the internet and listen to it a few times this week. Yo may want to read the lyrics and remind yourself of the Lord’s presence. I will once again get lost in the busyness of life and wait for the next time I am surrounded by folks I love with everything I am, and I get to cry through another attempt at singing this song. And the thing is…this happens to me in worship all of the time. It happens at GracePointe, when I’m visiting White Station, and even on Sunday morning at Rochester (By the way—Adam Hill just flat out can preach…) Worship slows down life, and allows me to connect to God and His people I love. What a great weekend worshipping and remembering…I hope you worship, remember, and connect!
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 are many times I wonder why it is that study of the Bible has been a part of the life of faith, encouraged since the time I was young. You see, there was a time in our world in which many people attended the worship service came to hear the word of God read to them, to hear it explained, and then spent very little time reading on their own. It wasn’t because they were unfaithful, it was because they were illiterate. So, there was a dependence upon the church to tell the larger story of God—through the Bible—so that the people would know what to look for and do in their lives.
This is not my experience, in fact, as a young man I thought that reading the Bible was a chore. Maybe you have a hard time getting into the word of God, but I want to suggest that we are living in a shifting time for the church, because for the past 50 years or so many evangelical churches assume that their people are reading and studying on their own. This is one of the biggest difference between some of the earlier, more liturgical churches and many of the more recent, populous movements of the 18th and 19th century. The newer church groups, like the one I’m a part of, are beginning to realize that people are not choosing to read their Bibles. The scholars call it a post-literate world in which we can read, but choose to explore other forms—for us those forms are multi-media and digital.
So, there is a shift back to wanting more scripture presented in the worship service, reminding us of the story of God that we rarely engage in Monday-Friday. And while we can argue what people OUGHT to do, there is a difference in all of our lives between what ought to happen and what seems to really happen! (Am I right?!?!?)
However we engage, we need to focus on the larger story of God because it is God’s historical faithfulness that helps us in times of trouble, both individually and collectively as a church. Listen to the words of the psalmist Asaph:
1 Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
display your radiant glory
2 to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
Come to rescue us!
3 Turn us again to yourself, O God.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
4 O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,
how long will you be angry with our prayers?
5 You have fed us with sorrow
and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
6 You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations.
Our enemies treat us as a joke.
7 Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
The Psalm points us to a refrain, “Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.” This refrain speaks of the ever unfolding story of our God. “Turn us again to yourself” looks backwards at all the times God has abruptly stole our attentions away from other things. God interrupted our world and turned our heads around. God did it in Egypt, at the Sea Crossing, and by protecting his people over and over again. “Make you face shine down” focuses on the present situation in which the psalmist cries out for help. The Psalmist knows that he can ask God for help because God has acted before, but presently there is a need for confirmation of God’s presence. Then, there is a statement of faith in future deliverance…”only then will we be saved.”
For the church, of any generation, this message is one centered on Christ. Through this Christmas season we teach and focus upon the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. We ask to know the Lord’s presence in the midst of our congregations and on a daily basis in our lives. We long for the second coming, the time of redemption and full salvation from this world. It is these verses below that Asaph wrote so many years ago to provide new meaning in our hearts today, he wrote this to God:
17 Strengthen the man you love,
the son of your choice.
18 Then we will never abandon you again.
Revive us so we can call on your name once more.
19 Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
God, tell us your story from Alpha to Omega, beginning to the end, so we can see your power, know your faithfulness, and stand in awe of your love. For today, we ask to feel your presence and know your Son Jesus because we want to be saved, we want to be his people on the day of his return. God, make us your people because we don't deserve it but your grace and mercy provides a relationship between us. Amen.
In Matthew 5, Jesus speaks from a mountain telling the people who have gathered there, “Blessed are…” Some contemporary translate that to mean, “Joyful are those” in that same text. However, if you read those “Beatitudes” you will find that the attributes mentioned by the Lord Jesus are not the usual list of “a few of my favorite things.” Well, some of the questions that we so often must come to terms with is why is the Lord God praiseworthy? How do we know God? When can we see God? I believe Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, is encouraging and reassuring a group of people gathered there while also challenging and condemning a group of people not present on the mountain, but present in the socio-religious landscape of everyone assembled there.
So, Jesus clarifies who gets to see God, participate in God’s work, and understands the real reasons to praise God. God has a long history of taking care of the broken, healing the sick, and being a helper in the time of need. Of course, if we never consider ourselves broken, sick, or in need—then there isn’t much need for God. The horrifying prospect here is not just that, but also that there isn’t produced in our lives the JOY of the Lord.
Let me focus us on Psalm 146:5-10 and notice the first line, “But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper…”
5 But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
7 He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
9 The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.
Praise the Lord!
Here in Psalm 146, the reasons to praise the Lord are abundant. Praise the Lord for creating sky, earth, and sea, and all that is in them and for keeping promises without ceasing (verse 6). Praise the Lord, too, for giving justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to the imprisoned, and sight to the blind, not to mention a few other items, such as protecting strangers and supporting widows and orphans (verses 7-8). There’s a lot of praiseworthiness here. Simply put, the psalm gives credit where credit is due.
Of course, the flip side is also quietly present, “But miserable are those who do not have help from the God of Israel…” Flip the psalm and hear the list of those who might not witness the help of God and I wonder this—What fills our time and energy? Are we busy seeking those things that make us strong and powerful and whole and secure? Are we crying out to God for HELP!
Can we claim that the source of our JOY most certainly is the response to our deepest longings? May the Joy of the Lord be your strength, may God be the deepest longing of our hearts, minds, and souls.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.