Archive | December, 2012

As we say good-bye to 2012

31 Dec

It seems appropriate that as we are getting ready to leave 2012 that the next psalm in line is Psalm 51.  This psalm is used every Ash Wednesday when we prepare to enter our Lenten disciplines.  Yet, I think it is also a good way to say good-bye to an old year.  The writer asks God to wipe his life clean – to begin again in God’s grace.

1-3 Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.

I believe what the psalmists says in verse 4.  That when we do hurtful things the one we are violating is God.  Even when we hurt our own bodies through destructive choices, it is truly God who is hurt.  God knows us fully, loves us a parent, and can give us a wonderful life, if we can get in step with God.  Of course, as the psalmist says, there are times I have felt like I was wrong since before I was born.

4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

When we allow God full access to our broken lives, so that God is invited to see the absolute truth, then God can help us to conceive a new, true life.  You see, I think that God does know all about our lives.  But, unless we are willing to ‘join God on the tour our lives’. then we cannot see the reality of our life’s choices.  We must rely on God to show us the truth, ‘scrub us’ until we are clean, and then often the new possibilities of life.

7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

The response to God’s cleaning and healing of our lives is PRAISE.  I love the image in verses 16-17.  The psalmist talks of the God-worship they learned when pride was shattered.  I know in my live, it is when I had nothing else to stand on, that I really understood the power of God’s grace for my life and knew anything I had on my own was a poor shadow next to God.

16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

One of the sermon image I remember about how a plants get fed.  That is the soil is hard then the plant cannot receive the basic need of water; it runs off and away from the plant’s roots.  It is only when the soil is broken and open that the water can reach the roots to feed the plant.  So it is with our hearts,  unless we have ‘heart-shattered lives’ we cannot receive the nurishment God has for us.

18-19 Make Zion the place you delight in,
repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
Then you’ll get real worship from us,
acts of worship small and large,
Including all the bulls
they can heave onto your altar!

I pray you will open your lives and hearts and minds this night.  To give all the old hurts and wounds and bad decisions of 2012 over to God for healing and redemption.  With God looking at all of our lives, we can find new hope and creative possibilities for 2013.


The Heart of Worship

28 Dec

Since my Sunday morning worship experience has changed to drastically it encourages reflection on the heart of worship.  I am truly enjoying my new little church. (Our attendance high point has been 37)  I believe even without the facilities, music, children’s program, etc. of my former appointment, that this little place is capable of transformation worship experiences.  And with that in mind, I reflect on Psalm 50. The beginning of the psalm sets up a cosmic court.  This is a frequent literary device of the Hebrew scriptures.  God is going to ‘bring a case’ against God’s people.  The first verses of this psalm are setting the scene.

1-3 The God of gods—it’s God!—speaks out, shouts, “Earth!”
welcomes the sun in the east,
farewells the disappearing sun in the west.
From the dazzle of Zion,
God blazes into view.
Our God makes his entrance,
he’s not shy in his coming.
Starbursts of fireworks precede him.

4-5 He summons heaven and earth as a jury,
he’s taking his people to court:
“Round up my saints who swore
on the Bible their loyalty to me.”

The whole cosmos attests to the fairness of this court,
that here God is judge.

God’s complaint against the people concerns their worship.  Animal sacrifice was a mainstay of worship for the people of Israel.  And, God complaint about the hollowness of the way the perform this ritual is found in a number of places in the Hebrew scripture.  The people of God are going through the ritual without understanding or meaning and believe it is adequate for praising God.

7-15 “Are you listening, dear people? I’m getting ready to speak;
Israel, I’m about ready to bring you to trial.
This is God, your God,
speaking to you.
I don’t find fault with your acts of worship,
the frequent burnt sacrifices you offer.
But why should I want your blue-ribbon bull,
or more and more goats from your herds?
Every creature in the forest is mine,
the wild animals on all the mountains.
I know every mountain bird by name;
the scampering field mice are my friends.
If I get hungry, do you think I’d tell you?
All creation and its bounty are mine.
Do you think I feast on venison?
or drink draughts of goats’ blood?
Spread for me a banquet of praise,
serve High God a feast of kept promises,
And call for help when you’re in trouble—
I’ll help you, and you’ll honor me.”
I like the image of spreading a banquet of praise for God, a feast of kept promises.  What kind of banquet could we offer God?  What have we been giving God praise for in these last day of 2012?  In this psalm God makes it clear that this is what God wants.
The final verses deals with people who are worst than those who offer animal sacrifice without meaning; they are people who are completely disobedient.

16-21 Next, God calls up the wicked:

“What are you up to, quoting my laws,
talking like we are good friends?
You never answer the door when I call;
you treat my words like garbage.
If you find a thief, you make him your buddy;
adulterers are your friends of choice.
Your mouth drools filth;
lying is a serious art form with you.
You stab your own brother in the back,
rip off your little sister.
I kept a quiet patience while you did these things;
you thought I went along with your game.
I’m calling you on the carpet, now,
laying your wickedness out in plain sight.

22-23 “Time’s up for playing fast and
loose with me.
I’m ready to pass sentence,
and there’s no help in sight!
It’s the praising life that honors me.
As soon as you set your foot on the Way,
I’ll show you my salvation.”

I hope you will find a place in your heart for the final two verses of this psalm.  A life of praising God is the way to go.  Even if you can just praise God for a roof over your head and the ability to walk to the refrigerator and find food.  There are blessings that can be found in each moment; sometimes you have to search hard – but I know you can find them.

A Time to Look Back and Ahead

27 Dec

These last few days of the year always seem like a time to look back at what has happened during the year and look at hopes and dreams for the year to come.  Of course, I am a simple person and my looking back and forward are much the same.  I am just grateful for God’s presence with me and believe that it will be there in the year to come.

I like Psalm 49 for looking to the reality of our lives and our dependence on God’s grace.   The psalmist wants to get your attention first:

“1-2 Listen, everyone, listen—
earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

3-4 I set plainspoken wisdom before you,
my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life’s riddle with the help of a harp.”

So, we know we are going to get some wisdom which is helpful to anyone – rich/poor, old/young, men/women.

“5-6 So why should I fear in bad times,
hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
demeaned by the arrogant rich?”

For me that is always the question.  Why should I fear anything, if God and me are good?

“7-9 Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
against the Black Hole.”

I really like this part of the psalm.  For some reason, as human beings, we believe we can take care of our own lives.  That we can figure out what we should do, we can develop kindness or patience or wisdom from our own abilities.  Also, there is the proclamation that God is the one who can rescue and give us life forever.

“10-11 Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
wiped out right along with fools and dunces.
They leave all their prowess behind,
move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!

12 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.”

This is my favorite part of the psalm.  The reality of the brief nature of our lives.  It is true for every being on the planet; we have a limited time to make a difference in our world.  I really like verse 12 which also closes out the psalm “Like our dogs, we age and weaken and die.”  It sounds dark and depressing, but living with older adults it is the absolute truth.

“13-15 This is what happens to those who live for the moment,
who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to hell;
they disappear down the gullet of the grave;
They waste away to nothing—
nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.
But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.”

The last two stanzas of this psalm continue to challenge us to remember that the choices in our lives will make a difference after our death.

“16-19 So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
where they’ll never see sunshine again.

20 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.”

As I live with my parents and hear their frustrations about the limitation that come with aging, I ask them what they expected.

So I guess that is my question to you.  What are you expecting from God and from yourselves in the coming year.  For me, I hope to cling closely to God and try to figure it out as I greet each day.  Peace.



25 Dec

A Happy Christmas to All

25 Dec

It is a very different Christmas for me this year.  I am relaxing with my parents watching old movies.  I have watched my required movies of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol”.  Yet, the most different part is the place where I celebrated Christmas Eve last night.  I remember how I enjoyed the beauty of services at Vestal – from the decorations, to the music, to the wonderful faces of friends.  I also remember the exhausting the schedule of three services. Last night I celebrated Christmas Eve at my new church.  It was snowing all afternoon and when I left home an hour and a half early for a 7:00 p.m. service.  As I made the first turn from my parent’s road to a secondary road, I slowly slid into a ditch.  I was trying to “rock” my car out of the ditch when a very nice couple in a pick up truck pushed me out.  I made it to church and then found out that my 84 year old organist couldn’t make it to the church.  The pianist did make it to church, but not the lay reader and her family.  The lay reader and her family were going to form a choir for the night.  So, the pianist and I did all the music.  I sang “Star-child” by myself with her (and her grand-daughter) join in on the chorus and then the pianist and I sang “O Holy Night” for the Offertory.

It reminds me of years ago when my sons were in a Montessori school.  They needed someone to fill in for the Spanish teacher (this was only a 1/2 hour class).  Now I flunked out of 3 years of High School Spanish, but I was willing to fill in for the class.  When I told my Dad the story and told him I was just trying to help.  His response was, “Well, I just hope a Brain Surgeon doesn’t call you for help!”   He figured I was as qualified to do his job as each Spanish.

I think this also applies to my singing.  But, we made it through the song and we hit most of the notes.  And we worshiped – we heard the story from Luke, sang Christmas Carols, and share Communion together.  There were less than 40 of us, yet it a lovely commemeration of Christ’s birth.  The photo is how the world looked when I drove home from the worship services.  It was also beautiful.

The Psalm of the day is 48.  It is a praise song for the dwelling place of God.  Today we celebrate God coming to earth as a baby and that the most important dwelling place for God is in our hearts.  This dwelling place for God’s presence can transform our lives and celebrate the joy of God each day.

48 1-3 God majestic,
praise abounds in our God-city!
His sacred mountain,
breathtaking in its heights—earth’s joy.
Zion Mountain looms in the North,
city of the world-King.
God in his citadel peaks

4-6 The kings got together,
they united and came.
They took one look and shook their heads,
they scattered and ran away.
They doubled up in pain
like a woman having a baby.

7-8 You smashed the ships of Tarshish
with a storm out of the East.
We heard about it, then we saw it
with our eyes—
In God’s city of Angel Armies,
in the city our God
Set on firm foundations,
firm forever.

9-10 We pondered your love-in-action, God,
waiting in your temple:
Your name, God, evokes a train
of Hallelujahs wherever
It is spoken, near and far;
your arms are heaped with goodness-in-action.

11 Be glad, Zion Mountain;
Dance, Judah’s daughters!
He does what he said he’d do!

12-14 Circle Zion, take her measure,
count her fortress peaks,
Gaze long at her sloping bulwark,
climb her citadel heights—
Then you can tell the next generation
detail by detail the story of God,
Our God forever,
who guides us till the end of time.

The third candle of Joy

16 Dec

This is the third Sunday of Advent and the candle we light is a symbol of JOY.  For me, joy, is that deep sense of God’s presence that comes to us even in difficult times to reminds us of God’s love, give us strength for the day, or begin healing in a time and place that seems beyond healing.

In these past days I have thought about and prayed for the people of Newtown, Conn. quite often.  It is overwhelming to think of their loss and grief.  I simple pray for them.  I pray for God grace and gentle healing spirit to be poured out upon them.  I pray that their love and strength can reclaim their school for what it is suppose to be, what it always should have been; a place of safety and learning and growing.

The psalm for the day is one of praise.  And since I believe a good way to go through any kind of day is by praising God, I like this one.

Applause, everyone. Bravo, bravissimo!
Shout God-songs at the top of your lungs!
God Most High is stunning,
astride land and ocean.
He crushes hostile people,
puts nations at our feet.
He set us at the head of the line,
prize-winning Jacob, his favorite.
Loud cheers as God climbs the mountain,
a ram’s horn blast at the summit.
Sing songs to God, sing out!
Sing to our King, sing praise!
He’s Lord over earth,
so sing your best songs to God.
God is Lord of godless nations—
sovereign, he’s King of the mountain.
Princes from all over are gathered,
people of Abraham’s God.
The powers of earth are God’s—
he soars over all.

I want to believe that there will be a time that God’s wisdom and love and justice and peace will rule over our world.  I want to believe it even through I don’t see it often.  Most of all, I want my life to be one that attempts to live that desired reality of God in this imperfect world.

I pray you will find the peace of God in this day  –  even in the midst of sadness and destruction  –  even in the midst of stress and lists and too much to do  –  even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty –  God’s joy is there waiting for us to turn to God.

12-12-12 a good day to blog

12 Dec

The psalm for the day is a praise song, and therefore, easier to wrap my mind around.   Psalm 46 uses this refrain three times:

“Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.”

I think what Eugene Peterson is paraphrasing in this refrain is the personal and protective relationship with have with God.  The story of Jacob wresting with God and/or an angel of God give Israel their name; their identity.  We are a part of the people who wrestle with their relationship with God.  It is this God, who knows us intimately who fights for us, even as we wrestle with God.  It is this cosmic God who also protects our lives.

The first stanza of the praise song says that God is a safe place to dwell.  God will protect us from any danger.

“God is a safe place to hide,
ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.”

What do you think God protects you from?  How would you phrase the safety you feel in your relationship with God.  I know one of the ways I think about my safety in God is this:  I believe that I been given a life in Christ that will never end and since I have trusted God in this life, I don’t worry about what my life will be after my death.  So, I am not worried about death, there is nothing else to fear – God is with me through it all.

The second stanza is one of praise of God’s dwelling place.  Again, the emphasis is that we are protected by God.

 “River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city,
this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe,
God at your service from crack of dawn.
Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten,
but Earth does anything he says.”

So, when you think of God’s dwelling place, what do you imagine?  I believe God dwells in each moment of our lives – past, present and future.  For me, God is not on a mountain far away, or only at the dawn of creation, but here and giving us God’s presence and offering wisdom.

The last stanza continues to praise God and gives a beautiful picture of what the realm of God could look like.

“Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
Bans war from pole to pole,
breaks all the weapons across his knee.
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God,
above politics, above everything.”

I love the idea of banning war from pole to pole and God breaking all weapons across his knee.  In this season when we celebrate the Prince of Peace, it is a create idea to meditate on.

I hope you enjoy this song as praise as I do.   Peace.