focus on God

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.

John 14:1

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

I’ve been enjoying the new hymnbook entitled Voices Together. Reading through new hymns and new songs (to me), as well as familiar hymns. And readings in the back, including morning, evening, and night liturgy, with prayers. Other than a Bible, this is the book I have in hand now every day.

What I’ve found is that it helps me get my focus on God, the same way Scripture does. Well, it’s meant to do that, as we raise our voice in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. With helpful readings and prayers in the back. The present day liturgy of the denominations Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was telling his disciples some quite heavy things, not only more than they could wrap their heads around, but more than their hearts could bear. But he told them to believe in God, to believe in him. And to realize that in the midst of their troubles, he had overcome the world.

Scripture is replete with this theme. Trouble real and imagined. There is no end to that. But God wants us to lift our eyes up, off our troubles and onto God and God’s promises. We’re to be transfixed there. We can be either looking at our problems, or at God, one of the two, not both. I am speaking of focus here. It’s not like we’re oblivious to reality. But that’s not where we’re to live. We’re instead to live in God.

God will take care of it. Christ has won. What that means for us is that God wants us to learn to live above circumstances, so to speak. Still owning proper responsibility, but doing so in a way which puts God front and center. A matter of both perspective and expectation. Seeing everything more as God does, and finding God’s priority as well as God’s help. Learning to live in that. In and through Jesus.

rejoice in the Lord always

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

I’ve not been one, at least for the most part who has got into praise and worship music. I’m returning to hymns lately, since coming back to the tradition of my childhood, the Mennonites. And with them, some worship songs in the new hymnal. Singing can help us, a gift from God, and not just to help us praise, but to also help us lament along with all the other both proper and natural human responses from our experiences in this world.

For me it has been most helpful lately to simply rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice in God. In doing so, we rejoice in God, in the Lord just for who God is. We rejoice in God’s person. We praise God for God’s goodness, for God’s works. We worship God because God is deserving of highest honor and praise, awe and love. And we thank God for all of God’s answers to our prayers, for God’s mercy and grace.

I find that as I practice rejoicing in the Lord, in Jesus, in God- whether I feel like it or not, then it might begin to be a habit, and a habit which is accompanied with the joy of the Lord. One of the reasons we do this is because we believe in God, in God’s love, that God will take care of everything, that God is with us no matter what, and that in the end God will somehow make all things right and good. We trust in the Lord, our confidence in God. In and through Jesus.

an early Christian hymn

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:16

What is the difference for the Christian? What enables us toward true godliness? The simple answer is Christ, and Christ in his coming. What we celebrate at Christmas. And what we see in Christ in his incarnation, life and ministry of teaching and healing, his death and resurrection, his ascension and the Spirit being poured out, and the promise of his return when what he has accomplished will be completed.

The hymn like any good hymn gives us a particular focus. And the focus is on Christ himself, and the events and impact of that on the world. That makes all the difference. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

the fresh breath/air of the Protestant Reformation

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3

I really don’t care to identify as Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, or whatever, but rather, as Christian. I know that even Christian carries with it some historical baggage which is not helpful, and actually distracts, not to mention, contradicts its true meaning.

But on Spotify today, while trying to scroll down to see the albums playing my favorite music artist, Johann Sebastian Bach, and being blocked from doing so by an add, I either purposefully or inadvertently hit an album which has beautiful singing (likely in German), but I lit on Bach’s chorale music, so beautiful, this album. Bach himself was a Lutheran, in a pietist Lutheran setting, one that had as an emphasis a personal relationship with Christ, or knowing Christ. I was reminded of the beautiful early Lutheran music at the time of that great Reformer and Church Father, Martin Luther.

What I identify with is the emphasis on scripture being the authority to which we appeal, while taking tradition seriously, yet subjecting everything to the test of scripture. For me that’s a breath of a fresh air. And not only lifts one’s spirits, but brings new life, so that a song of praise and thanksgiving to God is indeed appropriate. It is God’s word, scripture, the essence of which is the gospel, God’s good news in Christ, which indeed is transformative. For us and for the world, someday to fill the new earth after the final judgment and salvation, in and through Jesus.

Billy Graham’s funeral

I watched/listened to Billy Graham’s funeral yesterday. Like with countless others, God had a profound impact on my life through the ministry of Billy Graham. And his life, though peculiarly gifted, is an example for us all.

I thought the funeral was fitting, but also squirmed some when I kept hearing accolades and praise heaped on Billy himself. I was thinking that to simply hear him preach a message as in one of his mission (previously called crusade) programs would have been better. His life was all about pointing people to Jesus and the gospel/good news of God in Jesus through his death on the cross. And yet he was a man deserving of special honor, to be sure.

Songs/hymns which Billy chose, and well done. Good words from his children, and a good closing word from Franklin Graham, echoing his father, and what his father would have wanted and appreciated.

I will forever appreciate and be thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham along with myriads of others. To God be the glory. In and through Jesus.

simply trusting / taking God at his word

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15

Abraham is called both the father of many nations, and the father of all who believe. The passage quoted above is a key in the Genesis narrative on Abraham, echoed by Paul in Romans 4. We do see fits and starts, and hesitations, along with even gaffes along the way, in Abraham and his wife, Sarah’s faith. But by and large as Paul points out in Romans 4, and the writer to the Hebrews does as well in the “faith chapter” of Hebrews 11, they had a true faith, which over time was strengthened, even if it had its moments.

Fastforward to us today, which actually Paul does in Romans 4, and for us who are the children of Abraham, the distinctive which marks us out is faith, simply taking God at his word. Only with that kind of faith, could Abraham have the audacity to be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar in obedience to God’s command to him. Abraham’s faith in God’s word was so literal, that he imagined with a sanctified imagination to be sure, that God indeed not only could, but surely would raise up Isaac from the dead. Only by the same kind of faith, can we expect to be enabled to follow. It’s a faith which like Abraham’s, surely will be tested. But the test is passed by simply taking God at his word, simply believing, and in that, simply trusting God.

I don’t sing hymns as much as I should (I listen to classical music), and I may have quibbles with this or that in some hymns, but the point of the hymn I’m about to quote is well stated, and right down to where we live. As well as pointing out the importance of living by faith, which begins by believing God’s word to us. One could say being open to God, and God’s voice in the first place, if we look at the story of Abraham. But we can’t be too strong in stressing the importance of faith in God through faith in his word, when it’s all said and done. I think this hymn communicates the kind of faith we need to have.

1. Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain:
Trusting as the moments fly,
Trusting as the days go by;
Trusting Him whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

2. Brightly doth His Spirit shine
Into this poor heart of mine;
While He leads I cannot fall;
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

3. Singing if my way is clear,
Praying if the path be drear;
If in danger for Him call;
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

4. Trusting Him while life shall last,
Trusting Him till earth be past;
Till within the jasper wall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

 

the beauty of liturgy

There is nothing I like better than a well thought out liturgical time of worship. The Anglican tradition is one of the Christian traditions which has provided us with this through the wonderful Book of Common Prayer. I am glad to say I have not only at least a fairly recent edition of it, but also a version of Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 edition, set for worship (The First English Prayer Book: The first edition since the original publication in 1549). Liturgy could be described as a set form of worship through scripture reading, song and meditation, as well as instruction.

One of our favorite memories together on our (I think) 23rd anniversary was finding an Episcopalian (American version of Anglican) church, making our way in late, and being led to the front row where a lady helped us work through the Book of Common Prayer in the order of the service. Rich in both scripture reading and liturgy, as well as in song, with the Eucharist at the end, and of course a sermon, it was one of the richest times of worship, Deb and I agree, that we’ve experienced.

Our present church values both the reading of scripture and liturgy. We have a professor who is rather steeped in this, and prays accordingly. So that this is modeled well for us.

Here is this morning’s liturgy, including a meditation.

The Anglican tradition is one of my favorite, in fact I might fancy myself as being an Anglican Anabaptist, or Anabaptist Anglican, but better yet, “simply Christian.” Would that we would simply call ourselves that, and agree to disagree on so many what I would call secondary issues. And learn to get along well even when the differences are more serious (in our perception, anyhow). The Anglican tradition is not only one steeped in beauty, but is a mediating one, yes, even between Catholic and Protestant. And thus pushes us toward the goal of Jesus’ high priestly prayer that on earth we in Jesus may all be one as he is one with the Father.

There should be both some spontaneity and freedom, along with liturgy, I think, in any given Christian service. A good number of churches from a number of traditions I think do this quite well.

Above all, liturgy mirrors the beauty of the same found in scripture. Of course good liturgy includes a lot of scripture. It is perhaps more than a bit ironic that churches which make the most of scripture in theory (“sola scriptura”) often seem to neglect it in practice with all too often limited reading. Sermons can be helpful, and in fact have an indispensable place, but God’s people need to hear scripture read. And we do well to learn to appreciate the beauty found in liturgy. So that we individually and together may be conformed more and more to the beauty of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.