Glory

An opening prayer based on Psalm 29 (The Message)

Bravo, God, bravo!
All authorities and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before Your glory,
in wonder before Your visible power.

Yahweh Melek*,
Yahweh Tsebaoth**
,
Your voice rolls over the waters
like thunder tympanic: 

smashing the cedars,
skipping the mountain ranges,
shaking the deserts,
setting the oak trees dancing …

as we fall to our knees
and cry “Glory!”
“Glory to God
who rules and reigns
over everyone and everything.”

“Glory!”
“Glory to God
who gives his people
strength and might.”

“Glory!”
“Glory to God
who blesses her people
with peace.”

 

* King of kings
** Lord of hosts, of all

The desolation of death

*Easter Eve: John 19:38-42*

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid him there.
Verses 41-42

Darkness has covered the land –

not just darkness in the sense of night
but the darkness of betrayal
the darkness of denial
the darkness of disbelief
the darkness of mockery
the darkness of abandonment
the darkness of human barbarity
the darkness of death.

You know the desolation of this moment:

you who have buried a loved one, a child;
you who have been beaten, ridiculed, bullied, abused;
you who have been surprised by a positive result on an HIV test when you have always been faithful;
you who have watched the tiny bag of possessions – all that you own – taken from you and burned to nothing;
you who have witnessed people run screaming for their lives as bullets riddle their bodies and bombs drop from the sky;
you who have sat in the isolation of a TB ward …

… you ….

As silence settles in the tomb
and darkness and desolation within our hearts
we wait
in anticipation of the morning
and in the assurance that we are not alone.

“If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”                                                                            Psalm 139:11-12

Psalm 27 – Stay

At the start of the year, it is relatively easy to stay close to the Source of our Song and Salvation. Our spirits are high; we feel energized and refreshed following a time of rest; and the newness of it all has us imagining the best case scenarios of how we intend life to be.

But by the time that Easter rolls around, our energy and enthusiasms seems to dissipate; our song gets a little softer, our worship a little flatter; other priorities seem to take over; and our presence in the house of God becomes less and less regular – despite the fact that we know deep down inside that being in the presence of God is exactly where we NEED to be.

Today, David – the poet king – urges us:

Stay with God.
Take heart.
Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God!

I’ve been wondering why it is so hard to stay with God our whole lives long; to contemplate God’s beauty; to study at God’s feet; to place ourselves consistently in the only quiet, secure spot in the whole wide world. Psalm 27 speaks to four specific enemies that not just lure us off God’s well-lighted paths into sinking sand, but that attack us, bully us, and besiege us until we’ve forgotten entirely about God as our Refuge and Retreat.

In the image of vandal hordes riding down on us, ready to eat us alive, we find a terrifying introduction to the enemy of fear.

Those who have been raped, mugged, hijacked, held up in their homes, diagnosed with terminal illness, evicted from their job and regular source of income, thrown out onto the street etc. can testify to the power of fear as the enemy who …

… makes us forget or disbelieve that God is on our side …
… sets us scrambling for control, struggling in our own strength to find a safe way out …
… tells us we’re on our own and overwhelms our resourcefulness …
… obliterates our capacity for reasoned, rational thought …
… robs us of our freedom, locks us in our homes, imprisons us in our trauma …
… leaves us feeling shaky and powerless.

A no-less-intrusive enemy – and one, in fact, that we often invite into our lives is noise.

If God’s house is the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world … the perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic which we all abhor, why is it that we can’t seem to make it through the day without detaching our cellphones from our hands or our headsets from our ears?

Gone are the days of solitude and silence which helped us to stay with God in every moment. Instead, we plug into the news on the car radio, disengage from the worries of work through the television or mindless tablet games, and compulsively update our social media status as though our family and friends care intimately about what and where we’ve just eaten.

Noise …

… distracts us …
… takes our minds off of how we’re actually doing …
… anaesthetises us when we don’t like how we’re feeling …
… compensates for a sense of boredom, or futility, or frustration with our lives.

Worst of all, noise drowns out the still, small voice of the Spirit who assures us that God is near and keeps us on the well-lit path.

Besides external noise, deep within our psyche lies an insidious enemy: inadequacy.

Isn’t it ironic that even as David hears the whisper of his heart to seek God, he recalls God’s faithfulness – “you’ve always been right there for me … you’ve always kept the door open”   – and immediately demand that God not play hide-and-seek with him in that important moment: “don’t hide from me,” “don’t turn your back on me,” “don’t throw me out,” “don’t abandon me.”

Lurking within most us is a hidden sense of brokenness: inadequacy whispers cruelly that we’re not worthy …
… not worthy of time …
… not worthy of affirmation …
… not worthy of love …
… not worthy of loyalty.

And because we feel so inadequate, we’re always rushing around, trying to be in control; trying to make people and plans turn out the way that we have dreamed and desired.

And we’re always looking for the inadequacies in others – as if their faults, their failings, their shortcomings somehow lessen our own.

And we’re always waiting – worrying deep inside –
… for them to walk away …
… to abandon us …
… to move on to someone, or something, better.

Sometimes we even give them a push (or several) to help them prove what we’ve already known. And sometimes we cling to them desperately, putting our own wellbeing aside to make ourselves absolutely indispensable to them.

But the trickiest enemy of all is that of dishonesty.

David prays:

“Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street …

don’t throw me to the dogs,
those liars who are out to get me ….”

Most people won’t simply make up blatant untruths about us; they’ll put their spin, their interpretation on our words or actions, and suddenly …
… we find ourselves being treated differently by others …
… we’re sucked in to the need to protect and defend ourselves; to explain what we actually did or said and why …
… we find ourselves going on the attack, seeking revenge, plotting to annihilate the one who has brought our good name into disrepute….

Yet, what makes dishonesty so tricky is how frequently we lie to ourselves, because when we have walked on a well-lighted path and someone tries to blemish our reputation, others will probably just shrug it off, “Yvonne? I don’t believe that.” In fact, they would probably think less of the one who had tried to lessen us.

But when we have dappled in the darkness ourselves; when we have stepped into the shadows from time to time; when we have run others down; when we have told little lies (and large ones) to keep ourselves out of trouble; when we have made promises that we have broken over and over again, then we put ourselves in a place of great vulnerability from which only God can rescue us.

***

There is a lovely Gaelic prayer about enemies which reads:

May those who love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us, may God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles
so we know them by their limping.

If only the enemies of fearnoiseinadequacy, and dishonesty were as easy to identify and avoid. When they attack, when they seek to pull us down, may we courageously declare to them, “I choose to stay with God. At God’s feet I will find all I need to see me through this trouble, to defeat my enemies.”

Lifesong – Psalm 40:1-11

Years ago, a quirky TV character, Ally McBeal, made a lasting impression on me when her new therapist suggested that the first step to regaining her confidence was finding a song theme for her life. I decided in that moment that I needed one too: wonderful words and an uplifting tune that would pick me up when I was feeling down and remind me of what was most important in my life.

Fortunately, as I have aged matured grown, my life song has evolved too.

In my 20’s, Chesney Hawkes helped me hold onto my uniqueness with I am the one and only. In my 30’s as I candidated for ministry, it was Nichole Nordeman who reminded me to be brave. Just last year, Matt Redman set me singing the 10000 reasons I have to bless the Lord with certainty and joy.

But in Psalm 40:3, the poet king David reveals the deep yearning of God to set a new song in our hearts.

This new song is based on the assurance of what God has done and the certainty of the marvelous things that God is still to do.

You, Lord God, have done
    many wonderful things,
and you have planned
    marvelous things for us.
    No one is like you!
I would never be able to tell
    all you have done.                                  ~ verse 5 (CEV)

One of the remarkable gifts of growing older is the wealth of evidence that our life’s experience provides us with concerning God’s presence and protection in times of turmoil and trouble. With each hard thing that we encounter and come through – bruised but still beloved, oftentimes stronger and wiser – blessings of faith are added that God walks with and, indeed, often carries us through the muck and miry clay that life so often throws our way.

Each moment of grace, every experience of salvation becomes a line, a note, in a new song of praise that informs our expectations concerning the future; for if God has been faithful in the past, surely we can be set free to face the future less fearfully.

Unfortunately, however, there are other voices that seek to drown out this new song.

Voices of temptation: the false promises of money, sex, and power that lead us in the wrong direction despite oftentimes good intentions; that temporarily assauge our doubts, our fears, our insecurities without addressing the underlying issues of our shadow selves; that provide an illusion of firmer ground from which to speak and be and act until it all gives way.

You bless all of those
    who trust you, Lord,
    and refuse to worship idols
    or follow false gods.                          ~ verse 4 (CEV)

But also voices of religious legalism and rigidity that make love conditional: good and proper sounding practices and procedures that make us feel a little too unworthy to walk with a holy God until we’ve got our behavior under control; or church-imposed demands to give, to serve, to share in a certain manner or at a certain level in order to truly belong.

Sacrifices and offerings
    are not what please you;
    gifts and payment for sin
    are not what you demand.
But you made me willing
    to listen and obey.                           ~ verse 6 (CEV)

Yet it is God himself/herself who makes us worthy, who makes us willing, who gives us this new song to sing.

And it’s important that we sing our new song until it resonates outwards – throughout the world.

A song has no meaning, no purpose, unless it is sung. And when one person starts singing, it is amazing how quickly others start to sing along. If the lyrics are simple enough, even those who have never heard it before are soon humming too.

And how simple is the Psalmist’s refrain?
Our Lord always helps!
Our Lord is kind.
He is faithful and caring,
and he saves us.

When your people worshiped,
you know I told them,
    “Our Lord always helps!”
When all your people met,
    I did not keep silent.
I said, “Our Lord is kind.
    He is faithful and caring,
    and he saves us.”                          ~ verses 9 and 10 (CEV)

The voices on the rise in our world today – particularly on the political front – are singing untruths and half-truths to advance agendas of hatred and suspicion, of greed and self-gain, of ostracism and self-preservation at any cost.

“Let’s make ourselves great again” will resound through the nations unless we provide an alternate song: “all glory to the God who has pity on us. May your love and your faithfulness keep us secure.”

 

 

A new song for a new year

I patiently waited, Lord,
    for you to hear my prayer.
You listened and pulled me
from a lonely pit
    full of mud and mire.
You let me stand on a rock
    with my feet firm,
and you gave me a new song,
    a song of praise to you.

~ Psalm 40:1-3a

O God, our Composing Creator,
who listens intently amidst the vast symphony
~ of rumbling waves and rolling thunder,
~ of shifting sands and butterfly beats,
~ of elephant trumpets and sparrow chirups,
~ of guileless giggles and adoring angels,
to the melody of my life in all its minor and major keys:
THANK YOU

for accompanying me through
the blues,
the bends,
the broken beats;
for chanting into the depths of my soul
an alternative refrain to the world’s “sure thing;”
for bringing harmony and rhythm
to the cacophony of demanding, expectant voices within and around me.

Fill in the blank score of this new year
with a new song –
a song of praise to You.
And may Your passion and truth resonate
through the minims and the moments of my days
as I dance in step with You.

God’s love will never fail us

An adaptation of Psalm 136 for personal or corporate prayer.
Works well as a call to worship.

***

Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s love will never fail us.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
God’s love will never fail us.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
God’s love will never fail us.

For God alone does that which we thought impossible,
creating by hand the heavens,
charting the rivers and the seas,
raising up snow-capped mountains and liveable land,
setting the rhythm of our days and seasons
by the light of the sun and moon and stars:
God’s love will never fail us.

Indeed God alone does not leave us
in places of darkness and desolation
but stretches out child-embracing, leper-touching, sight-restoring hands
to rescue us from our despair
and bring us safely through insurmountable obstacles,
and unbearable, inhospitable circumstances.
God’s love will never fail us.

God alone remembers us at the lowest point of our lives
and humbles those who seek to keep us there.
God reignites our hope,
promising us not only the comfort of heaven
but also the provision of daily bread –
to us and every creature.
God’s love will never fail us.

So give thanks to the God of heaven
and Lord of earth;
God’s love will never fail us
the Keeper of your life and mine.
God’s love will never fail us
In God’s love we are made,
God’s love will never fail us
in God’s love we are set free,
God’s love will never fail us
in God’s love we find hope and comfort.
God’s love will never fail us.