Monday, September 29, 2008

From the lips of children and infants

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. " [Psalm 8:1-2]

At this month's Family Gathering, we looked at the importance of singing and how David helped establish music and singing at the heart of the worship of God (where previously it had primarily been sacrifice). We reflected upon the three components of Praise, Thanksgiving and Petition (or Lament) through song and prayer. I found myself today thinking about the opening lines to Macbeth's Twelfth Night ... 'If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it'.

I believe the Lord truly delights in us when like David, we come before him to sing and make music with all our soul (see Ps 27:6, 57:7, 87:7, 98:5, 108:1, 144:9, 147:7) It is what Paul instructs us to do to be filled with the Spirit, "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" [Eph 5:19)

As I went on my early morning prayer-walk today, I was listening to Psalm 8 and the opening verses (above) seemed somehow to come alive, perhaps in light of what the Lord is doing in my heart. Somehow, when even children sing praise to God, there is a power (strength) released that can overcome our enemies, which are sometimes (not always) just in our heads. We gain a new perspective, hope is renewed and God is put center-stage.

Jesus quoted this Psalm in Matthew's gospel in response to those who were unhappy at the children singing 'Hosanna' in the temple, affirming Jesus as the Messiah. He quotes from the Greek translation which comes out a little differently but carries the same meaning. "have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?" [Matt 21:16] Jesus affirms the importance of praise, and the connection between praise and strength or power.

We see a miraculous demonstration of this in 2 Chron 20 where Jehoshaphat sees how God's power is released to overcome the enemy simply through prioritizing praise. He puts the worship band at the head of the army (you ready for this Andy?) as they head out to fight. But it is God, the object of their praise, who fights for them in response to their praise, thanksgiving and petition in song.

"Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's ... You need not fight in this battle .. stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem .. for the LORD is with you .. Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD .. the Levites, from the sons of the Kohathites and of the sons of the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel, with a very loud voice .. Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God and you will be established .. he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.".. When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. " [2 Chron 20:15-22]

I believe that the Lord wants us to take this message to heart - to make our homes a place of making music to the Lord. It is so important for our children to grow up seeing and hearing their parents praise and worship. But it is not just for the children. We have so many music resources available to us to help in this. never forget also, the power of using the Psalms as a songbook (the Church has done this for most of it's history). Let us give time to praise in our Home Churches. I would like us to continue to set aside time occasionally as a network to gather simply to praise and worship God, to enjoy him and to seek his face. A "few" of us did this through the summer - look out for such opportunities and be encouraged to make the sacrifice of time.

'Show your power O Lord our God'


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Judgment Seat

"For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God" [2 Cor 5:1-11]

Serving the needs of others (is this a good description of love?) has been something much on my mind as of late. My work with the Center for Relational Leadership (CRL) focuses primarily upon our meeting one another's relational or emotional needs. But in our Simple Church, we have also been contemplating the work of Mission Possible in East Austin and how we might get involved. Recently I asked Kazuki and Jeanne to attend a meeting regarding the upcoming HopeFest initiative - another opportunity to serve some of the more disadvantaged people of our community in this city. These are all important works that I believe bring pleasure to our Father. I know that some in BridgePoint are involved in other caring initiatives. Then at times, it feels like it as all we can manage just to get through the day and cope with the demands and pressures of 'ordinary life'.

So how do we best respond when needs are made known or we just feel challenged to grow in our faithfulness to God and his call upon us? Or what is it that will help us become someone whose heart (and will) is impacted by an increased sensitivity to the struggles of people around us? This week I am reading Paul's second letter to the Corinthians and feel that the passage above offers us some help with these questions.

Firstly, Paul's perspective is unashamedly eternal, somthing that we can all too easily lose sight of in our materialistic/humanistic culture. This is not all there is and though we have tasted something of what is to come, there is more;
  • where do we find ourselves 'investing' our time, talents and treasure?
  • what are the truest desires of our hearts? what do we long for more of?
  • do we have a steadfast hope that is rooted in our (ongoing) 'experience' of the Spirit?
Secondly, Paul speaks of a new-found confidence that springs from his life of faith/trust in the goodness and provision of God within this eternal context
  • he prefers to be with Jesus in the fullest sense
  • he desires to please the Lord above all others
  • he anticipates the coming judgment (for believers) based upon what we have done (vs just intellectual assent to certain truth statements)
  • his service flows from a reverential fear or terror of the Lord almighty (something only truly possible for those who believe in Him)
  • he knows that God knows him, and this is good!
May we too know this love of Christ that so compels the apostle Paul, that we too may no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us and was raised by the Father. This too is our destiny and our confidence.