Prayer by Dana Gioia

I discovered this poem and it touched me deeply.  I don’t know the situation or the circumstances that birthed these words, but I resonate with them.  The joining of grief, art, faith, lament, hope…

Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.

Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.

Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,

in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore

and the harsh falcon its flightless young.

New Song: Gadol Adonai (Great is the Lord)

Last year, our family traveled to Mexico.  While there, we worshipped with a Spanish speaking congregation.  It was hard to follow along, I won’t deny it.  But there were moments when I understood what we were doing together.  For example, when the band transitioned from an upbeat praise song that I didn’t know into “Cuan Grande Es Dios” (or “How Great is our God”), I raised my hands and sang.  It was a taste of what heaven will be like when every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and his people will shout praises.  This weekend, I’m hoping to have a similar experience as we sing both in English and Hebrew.  Yes, Hebrew!  AND You already know the song!  It’s the same song we sang last summer.  And I know, I know, it will be stretch for us, but we will take time to learn it together.  And when we get it, it will be powerful to hear God’s praises in another language.  We will sing the intro and chorus in Hebrew and the rest in English.  Here goes…

Intro: Gadol Adonai umehulal me’od, B’ir Eloheinu, B’har kodsho X2

I know, it’s going to be a challenge at first, but hang with it!  This comes straight from Psalm 48:1 which says,

“GREAT IS THE LORD, AND MOST WORTHY OF PRAISE, IN THE CITY OF OUR GOD, HIS HOLY MOUNTAIN.”

So not only are we singing in Hebrew, we are singing God’s word in the original language!  But I still don’t want to push it, so back to English…

Verse 1: I’ll come before Your throne, The God of my joy

I’ll give the fruit of my lips

And remember the great things You did, for me

Remember.  That word shows up in the scriptures 231 times.  Why, do you think?  I’m pretty sure it’s because God knows us so well, he knows that we forget.  I also love that this verse refers to Psalm 34 where we see that God’s light and care guide us into his presence and that is where we praise and remember.  Check it out…

Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
 -Psalm 34:3-4a

Moving on…

Verse 2: Behold the temple of God, is now with man

As His people all nations will rise

He will wipe every tear from their eyes

Death, pain and mourning will cease forevermore!

We are going to see this as we dig deeper into studying the temple, but now we are the temple of God.  This is clear in two different places…
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  And he also writes, “In him (that’s Jesus) the whole building (that’s us!) is joined together and rises to become a holytemple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21).
Back to Hebrew…

Chorus: Hallelujah ki malach Adonai Eloheinu, Hallelujah ki malach Elohei Tzvaot

This comes almost directly from the last book of the bible where John sees a vision of heaven.  He writes,

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude…“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns”. -Revelation 19:6

Just like my taste of heaven in Mexico, at the end of time all people in every tongue will praise God.  But the song also gives us a chance to slow down and meditate.  We aren’t in glory yet.  So until we get there we need to remember and rejoice.  As it says in the psalms,

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
    and delight in his salvation.
My whole being will exclaim,
    “Who is like you, Lord? -Psalm 35:9-10

Bridge: Rejoice, oh rejoice my soul, And give honor to him X2

The primary work of the church is worship. . . . Evangelism and other functions of ministry flow from the worship of the church. . . . I have discovered in my own life that corporate worship is the taproot of my life. It is the source of my spiritual life and growth.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

Hillbilly Nativity

What was it like for Mary and Joseph?

As we get closer to Christmas, I’ve been wondering what it would be like now…

trailer

The first thing they noticed was the broken window.  The inn had been full so the broken down mobile trailer out back and down the dirt road was the only place available.

The second thing they noticed was the strong smell of cat pee.

“Oh LORD, please help us,” Joseph whispered as they stepped on the rubber mats covering the floor since the carpet had been torn out.  

The dirty, bearded man in the kitchen of the inn had said this place was available and that he’d turn on the heat.  Apparently that meant turning on the stove top burner simultaneously heating the living/dining room and filling it with the smell of natural gas.  Joseph moved quickly to the stove turning off the gas before they exploded in a huge fireball and then returned to the living room to help Mary sink down into the old Lazy-boy chair.

“This chair is so broken, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get out of it,” Mary sighed as she rubbed her bulging belly.

“I’m sorry.  It’s just a night or two,” said Joseph, “and then we’ll be able to go home to Nazareth before the baby is born.” 

“I hope so,” replied Mary, “that would be…AHHH!”

“What?  What’s wrong?  What’s wrong?” asked Joseph.

“AHHHH!” said Mary.  “I think that’s what they call a really, hard contraction.”

“Well those can happen a week or two before a baby is born, right?” Joseph asked, while knowing that this wasn’t one of those times.

“Maybe sometimes that happens,” gasped Mary, “but my water just broke so I don’t think this is one of those times.  AHHH!”

It was at that moment that both Mary and Joseph had the same thought simultaneously.  They both wished they were home instead of this leaky, smelly trailer.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We know that Mary and Joseph were in a cave, probably by themselves.  There are some other things that we can assume from the text, but the one thing that we know is that it wasn’t an ideal situation.  But here’s the thing, they were in the middle of God’s perfect plan.

Our family is in a similar situation in that we are waiting for a baby in what many people would call a less than ideal situation, but we believe we are are also in the middle of God’s plan.  This Christmas, wherever you find yourself, may you find your ache for peace, hope, joy and love in Jesus.  He is the one born to first time parents in a place no woman would want to give birth.

It was a mess and yet…and yet he came anyway.  He came to be with us in the middle of our own mess.

Your mess.  My mess.

That’s an amazing gift.

Merry Christmas.

_______________________

BTW, that is not my image.  It’s from The CarpetBagger Blog.  Thanks!

Since the reformation, Christians in my tradition of Protestantism have struggled to find a balance between faith and art.  One writer has compared the relationships to an “on again-off again dating relationship”.  Christians “make out” with art, get disgusted and walk away.  And in all fairness, art has a tendency to push boundaries farther than people of faith would like.  But art at it’s best helps us experience beauty, paradox, mystery and transcendence.  These are all attributes of God.  These are all aspects of his being that we struggle to understand and experience.

Art also speaks a visual language that can speak to people who aren’t ready to hear the truth of the gospel.  I have a friend who is a believer artist and calls his art “a bridge to people”.  He has numerous examples of people asking questions about his art pieces that enables him to enter into dialogue about Jesus.

All that to say, I was struck by this article from a lapsed Christian museum curator…

It is probably not for me to comment on the possible reasons for the decline in church-going, except that I am myself a symptom of it, having been brought up to take it for granted that I would attend church and now being an almost entirely lapsed Christian. 

What should be obvious is that, as a culture, we have not lost a need for an understanding of, and interest in, the unknowable: the origins of man; our purpose in the world; the ethical requirements of our behaviour towards one another; the belief that there is more to life than the satisfaction of material wants; the importance of understanding other people’s culture as well as our own. These human needs used to be satisfied to some extent at least by church attendance. But no longer. We no longer, or at least the great majority of us, no longer look to the church for the understanding and satisfaction of these needs. But these needs for the immaterial, for the experience of transcendence, for the mysteries of life as well as its material wants, have not just gone away. They have to be satisfied in some way. That is why contemporary art has moved into the space of the unknown, the exploration of the ineffable, through the experience of transcendence. Contemporary art is not just secular, but sacred as well.

-CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH, “The Sacred And The Secular In Contemporary Art“, http://standpointmag.co.uk/ , Nov 28, 16.

 

Worship has become narcissistic, focusing on me and my praise of God; and spirituality has turned toward a preoccupation with my journey of faith and my spiritual condition and experience. . . When we become narcissistic, the place of worship and spirituality in God’s narrative is lost. . .

-Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

…The church as a living witness to God’s narrative became the place where the consumer could buy a product that fulfilled his or her needs.  Of course, the church does fulfill needs, but they must be placed within the cosmic narrative, thereby reducing the individual’s focus on self and turning his or her contemplation to God’s saving deeds, whereby the whole world is made right.

-Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

New Song: The Lion and the Lamb

As we approach the presidential election, it’s easy to either hope in a candidate to fix our nation or give up hope entirely.  I suggest that neither way of looking at the world is biblical or helpful.

For what it’s worth, this is what I think…

The world is broken.  We are called to work for the kingdom of God and address wrong and injustice.  (And there have been too many examples in this past year!)  This is the kingdom of God that is here among us.  But at the same time, we will never be able to cure the underlying brokenness affecting our souls.  Only God can do that.  That is what we look forward to in the kingdom to come.

Next weekend, we are going to learn a song that declares Jesus is concerned with healing our brokenness now.  He is breaking the chains of sin and oppression.  It’s also a song that looks towards the second coming when he will solve every problem created by sin and death…

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” -Mark 14:62

He’s coming on the clouds
Kings and kingdoms will bow down
Every chain will break
As broken hearts declare His praise
For who can stop the Lord Almighty?

The rest of the song jumps to the fulfillment of that prophecy.  In the book of the Revelation we read,

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals…But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals…

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders…Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

-Rev 5:1-6a, 11, 13

Our God is a lion
The Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power
And fighting our battles
Every knee will bow before Him
Our God is a lamb
The lamb that was slain
For the sins of the world
His blood breaks the chains
Every knee will bow before the lion and the lamb
Every knee will bow before him

The end of the chorus and later the bridge all refer to this passage from Isaiah that is quoted again in Romans.  Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that deliverance and strength is through the lamb alone…

By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
    are deliverance and strength.’” -Isaiah 45:23-24

The second verse continues that same theme, but takes us back to a psalm of David which asks the question,

Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord strong and mighty,
    the Lord mighty in battle…
Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty—
    he is the King of glory.  
-Psalm 24: 8, 10

Open up the gates
Make way before the King of Kings
The God who comes to save
Is here to set the captives free
For who can stop the Lord Almighty?

The answer is, “no one”.

Who can stop the Lord Almighty?

 

If we are to recover the Christian narrative, we must first disabuse ourselves of civil religion. . . . We live in the narrative of God and within a culture that lives by the narrative of democracy.  The two narratives are separate, yet we live in them both simultaneously.  However, as Christians, our ultimate commitment is to God’s narrative: “Jesus is Lord.” There is no other worthy allegiance.

-Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals