Looking to the Good Shepherd Jesus for the example of how to care for others... Keeping a discerning eye on those who claim to be shepherds of God's people... Learning to recognize, heal from, and speak out against abuse -- spiritual, emotional, verbal, and physical -- in churches, organizations, families, and society.
So for myStrength in Hymnseries, this isn't exactly a hymn in the modern sense like the others, but it sure is an ancient one. The early church sang the Psalms, as did the Old Testament saints. Just words for the eyes and mouth? No. Worship from and for the heart. As a teen and young adult, I sang it straight from the King James, with a little repetition to make the words fit the rhythm of the melody. Whatever the tune, whatever the version, it's a timeless and powerful testimony to the goodness of God.
"From Psalm 100, we're going to see that Christian worship is a weekly cosmic journey that takes us to a palace, a pasture, and a pantry, where we experience God as a King, a Shepherd, and a Gift-Giver." Josh Bales in sermon on 9/29/2013
"Why do people in church seem like
cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … On the
whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently
sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of
power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear
ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash
helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should
lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or
the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.” — Annie Dillard, Christian nature lover best known as author of A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This quote, which Josh Bales used in his aforementioned sermon, is from her book of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters.
One more thing, a prayer of confession, from yesterday's service:
"Almighty God, we confess how hard it is to be your people. You have called us to be the church, to continue the mission of Jesus Christ to our lonely and confused world. Yet we acknowledge we are more apathetic than active, isolated than involved, callous than compassionate, obstinate than obedient, legalistic than loving. Gracious Lord, have mercy upon us and forgive our sins. Remove the obstacles preventing us from being your representatives to a broken world. Awaken our hearts to the promised gift of your indwelling Spirit. This we pray in Jesus' powerful name. Amen"
This morning Judy, a dear friend from church, was talking with me about the grace and goodness of God. As I left, she encouraged me to keep noticing beauty, to keep taking photographs, and to keep writing. That I will do, no matter what else is going on in my life, which sometimes is a bit much for my patience level. Participating in the beauty of the Lord helps to keeps my faith alive and to trust him when I might not otherwise.
The pictures in this post were taken in Baldwin Park, Florida, in a small neighborhood natural habitat preserve. Two of my younger children and I were waiting for my kids to get out of Lake Baldwin Church's youth group and decided to go on a nature walk and enjoy the beautiful creation of our King, Shepherd, and Gift-Giver. What is beauty? Good question, one which my son had asked me a little earlier when I told another mother she had "beautiful children." I replied simply, "Beauty is a reflection of the goodness of God."
Great Is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Though changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. Great Is Thy faithfulness, Great Is Thy faithfulness, Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide, Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
beauty of nature witnesses to my soul about the glory and goodness of
God. That's why I include so many nature photos on my blog. Experiencing God as the Grand Creator helps
take the edge off of some of the negative perceptions about his character
that I had acquired along the way. God is life and love, not rules and
for today and bright hope for tomorrow" is exactly what I need right now.
Say a prayer for me, will you? And let me know how I can be
praying for you, too. That would be my privilege.
now, since some of you said you like my personal "life" notes
on the hymns...
When I turned 50 earlier
this month, my children and some of our friends and relatives compiled a
beautiful photo album / scrap book for me with paragraphs of things they
remembered about me. My daughter Joanna sent in her entry
from Australia, where she is a student this semester at the University of
Canberra, and where she took the sunset photo above. She wrote:
1. I appreciate the
creativity you put into teaching us in elementary school. I will
always remember when we wrapped up in sheet togas and crawled through the
catacombs we constructed in the dining room, complete with dripping water sound
effects and candles. You
always wanted us to learn with our senses.
2. One of my first memories
ever is hearing you sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" as I fell
asleep, and I still hear you singing it. It always "brings me
back" and makes me grateful to your faithfulness to us.
3. Over the
past few years, you have modeled to me how to think critically and how to speak
up graciously against injustice. You have helped shape my plans to become
a counselor. As you have found your voice, I have as well."
so touched by her words.
first one -- the catacombs and bed sheets one -- was when we were learning
about the early Christian martyrs who were persecuted and killed for their
faith in the Roman empire. I wanted my children to remember that even though
God is faithful and just and compassionate, that life will not always be
sunshine and roses for this children. He brings us through trials --
often severe ones -- to fulfill his greater purposes not only in our own lives
but also in human history. Our challenge is to keep trusting.
second one -- hymn singing is something we did a lot more in the earlier years
of child raisingand home schooling, especially at bedtime for lullabyes and during a morning
worship and Scripture reading. It is something we need to revive somehow.
It's too easy to wander in what music we choose. I don't mind my
kids (who are now mostly teens and adults) listening to decent
secular pop and country music, but shouldn't they also be listening songs which
are inherently more wholesome and faith-building? I notice difference
that in my own life. Maybe that's why I started the "Strength inHymn"series?
the third -- learning to think and speak up -- is borne from the fires and
trials of life. Finding my voice meant getting past the pious passivity
that often afflicts Christian women who believe they should be seen but not
heard. What my daughter is talking about is what's on this blog: posts on abuse of authority / legalism, gender roles, and more. Joanna knows that if
time and money were no object for me, I'd go back and get a master's degree in
counseling to help others work through these issues. But that's not an
option at this point, so I guess I'll experience that vicariously through her and just keep writing
my own little blog posts as my contribution to
humanity. Fortunately, I do have a new teaching job that I love, and
that is a story of God's faithfulness right there! I thank God for
showing that care just when I needed it most, in the midst of a
dark season of stress and loss and need. That's a story for another day.
P.S. I took the rainbow picture at the top of the post yesterday evening. One of my teenage sons was leaving for a concert with his older sister, buttook the time to call and tell me to get outside and see the rainbow! Bless his heart! The rainbow has always been a symbol of God's faithfulness.
Redeem thy misspent time that's past, And live this day as if the last; Improve thy talent with due care; For the great day thyself prepare.
Let all thy converse be sincere, Thy conscience as the noon-day clear; Think how all-seeing God thy ways And all thy secret thoughts surveys.
Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart, And with the angels bear thy part, Who all night long unwearied sing High praise to the eternal King.
Direct, control, suggest, this day, All I
design, or do, or say, That
all my powers, with all their might, In Thy
sole glory may unite.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
I guess you recognized that last bit, didn't
you, even if you hadn't heard the rest? The doxology that we know and love is
actually the final part of a much longer hymn. I'm only including about half of the verses here. The author, Thomas Ken, was an Anglican bishop whose
Protestant religious convictions landed him as a prisoner in the Tower of
London. According to CyberHymnal, "Ken wrote this hymn at a time when the established church believed only Scripture should be sung as hymns—with an emphasis on the
Psalms. Some considered it sinful and blasphemous to write new lyrics for
church music, akin to adding to the Scriptures. In that atmosphere, Ken
wrote this and several other hymns for the boys at Winchester College,
with strict instructions that they use them only in their rooms, for private
devotions. Ironically, the last stanza has come into widespread use as
the Doxology, perhaps the most frequently used piece of music
in public worship. At Ken's request, the hymn was sung at his funeral, fittingly
held at sunrise."
What is the point? Is this hymn demanding a lifestyle of performance? Are we just supposed to push ourselves to do, do, do – to prove our worth? No. It is about being aware of God, taking time to worship, making the most of our day, serving others, getting better at what we do, keeping a clear conscience, and living well with a heart for excellence -- with God's empowerment. All of this is wholesome and ultimately pleasant for the soul. I believe this invigorating approach is so much better than living with the “worm mentality” of thinking I can never do anything well or that I am so insignificant that my puny efforts will never make a difference or that God has to hold his nose or look away when I am in his presence. As the Westminster catechism proclaims, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever!” We can do that. We were made for it.
I thought of this hymn
today because I had areallyhard time getting up and getting going with the day since I hadn’t slept well during the
night. Unfortunately, this sleepiness resulted in a few cross words
exchanged with a child who had other expectations for my activity level. I eventually eased into wakefulness,
especially with the help of a little caffeine and reading. It was a productive day after all: a vigorous mix of laundry,
helping my husband with his resume, grading and lesson planning for the classes
I teach three days a week, chauffeuring my kids, cooking dinner, chatting with my family, and shopping. And yes, wee pockets of time to pause and rest and ponder the goodness of God and the beauty of his creation. Speaking of which, the photos here are actually not of sunrise, but
this evening’s sunset as I left home for
errands – but I think that’s just fine since once I got
going, I lasted all day! I love to stop and notice what God has made for our enjoyment and his own glory.
At Lake Monroe, the skies are blue, but a storm is coming. As I walk over to the marina, I see darkening clouds and the breeze picks up. Moments later, the thunder rolls and the wind whips the palm trees. I keep walking. The waves crash against the sea wall and the sailboat bells clang furiously. I see lightning in the distance. The rain pelts the windows of my van when I pull away from the Veteran's Memorial park. As I drive home, it's a full storm and the puddles splash up so intensely onto my windshield that I cannot see at all. I steadily apply my brakes and hope I don't hydroplane, spin, or hit anything. Fortunately, I don't, but my adrenaline pumps hard. Nearing home, I run into the grocery store for just a few things, but looking out the window at the lightning and seeing the long line at the check out, I realize I had better go pick up my teenage son at the school bus stop instead. It is just too fierce for walking out there. I leave my groceries at the store, and rush to my own neighborhood just in time. As my son dashes toward the van, the lightning splits the sky. I think, "My van is a shelter in the stormy blast!" I drop him off at home, then drive over to the elementary school to pick up my two youngest, then back to the store for my groceries, and to another bus stop for another child. It's a stormy day, but soon I am safe and dry inside my own house with my children around me. Young friends are coming over for the evening and life is good.
Yes, there are times when life itself seems so stormy for us. Dark clouds, rain, wind, thunder, lightning. Anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, fear. Yet God is with us in the midst of it. He is our help and our hope. He is our shepherd and our shelter, and the storm will pass.