Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Musical Interlude

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 91

(or any Psalm of your choice!)

This week we enjoy a musical interlude.  Consider it our intermission in our journey through twelve major themes in Scripture.  But this isn’t your typical intermission.  Don’t tune out.  You can get up for a snack if you like, but come back quickly!  There is music to sing!

Like there are many different tones in music, there are a diversity of tones in the Psalms.  There are psalms of praise, psalms of lament, psalms of questioning, psalms of awe, psalms of forgiveness, psalms of assurance.

The Psalms can be sung.  The Psalms can be read.  The Psalms speak to all aspects of the human condition.  When we are joyful, mourning, hungry, seeking justice, aching for rescue, and more – there’s a Psalm for that!

When our words fail us, we have the gift of the Psalms.  They are a human composition, but I believe they were composed by God and then shared through human  hands.

The crafting of psalms continues today.  Perhaps you write poetry or music to get rolling thoughts out of your mind and onto paper.  Perhaps when you are stressed or worried you turn to music to give you  words when you can’t find them.  When I struggle to give voice to my emotions, I turn to my favorite songs both sacred and secular.  When I hear them or sing along to them I emote and then sense God’s peace.

Our lives are psalms.  We live them as we write them.  And like the Psalms, what we do with our lives is an offering to God.  Sometimes what we offer is not so pretty – those times of anger, frustration, and loss – but God honors that offering because it is authentic and true.  In the Psalms I believe we see humanity setting pretenses aside and standing in real-ness and genuine-ness before God.  And in a world that seems to be all about “putting on faces” and “keeping up appearances” I think we would do well to express, emote, and find our voice in and among the Psalms.

Reflection: (A) Take time to write a psalm of thankfulness to God for what God has done in your life this week.  To shape your psalm writing consider: (1) what God has done for you, (2) how God’s action changed you and/or your circumstance, (3) what will you do now that God has acted on your behalf, and (4) how has this experience made you more genuine and real?

(B) Think through your music collection – whether vinyl, CD, or MP3 – and identify songs in your repertoire that you see as psalms.  Maybe it’s a ballad by The Beatles or Kenny Chesney or Alanis Morissette or Journey!   Maybe it’s a hymn!  Study these songs.  Do they speak to thankfulness, struggle, or wonder?  How do they shape or how have they shaped your experience?  How do they help you set aside the facades and the appearances so you can uncover the real, genuine you?

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Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Restoration

Sunday’s Scripture – Jeremiah 31:31-34

In this week’s text God foretells of a coming covenant that will reconcile the fractured relationship between God and God’s people.  This new covenant will heal all brokenness – physical and spiritual.  Receiving this new covenant will begin a process of renewal and transformation of all creation whereby God will reclaim God’s people and all the earth for God’s purposes alone.  This process is one that God will complete in God’s time – we don’t know the day or the hour of its completion.  We do know that we presently live in the goodness of this new covenant and we wait expectantly for God to complete the redemption of all creation.

As Christians from a Wesleyan perspective, we can discuss in our theological vocabulary what happened to the people of Israel when they received this new covenant – a covenant of grace-filled forgiveness – without challenging the integrity of this Old Testament text.  We do not want to project onto or read into a text.  This is known as eisegesis – the process of misinterpreting a text by projecting our own presuppositions or biases onto it.  (This includes being a Christian and reading an Old Testament text!)  We could jump to or gloss over everything in the Old Testament and say the answer is Jesus…but the answer isn’t always Jesus…and that’s okay!  So when it comes to eisegesis – in the vein of The W’s – it is BAD!  Therefore, we want to engage in exegesis – the process of providing a critical explanation or interpretation of a text by enlivening information lifted up by the Scripture text.  So exegete…because it’s good for you!

(Now after that break for our Eisegesis vs. Exegesis PSA – back to Jeremiah 31:31-34!)

In receiving the new covenant the people of Israel were, as Wesley would say, justified and regenerated.  Justification, Wesley believes, “changes our outward relation to God, so that of enemies we become children” and by regeneration he believes “out inner most souls are changed, so that of sinners we become saints” (John Wesley, The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God, Point 2.  You have view the full sermon here.)  In justification we know that God has acted on our behalves; God has rescued and saved us!  This is not something we could have done for ourselves.  In regeneration we are completely changed from the inside out; no longer are we shaped by sin but we are shaped by grace and that translates into every movement of our lives.

Israel’s disobedience, their idolatry, their sin deemed them contrary to God, opponents of God, enemies of God, but God’s grace transformed them and their circumstance, showering them with forgiveness and calling them children.  Those who were once blameful in exile are now blameless in restoration through the new covenant.  Sinners became saints, and enemies, children, and ultimately friends.

The same goes for us.  Our disobedience, idolatry, and sin makes us contrary to, opponents and enemies of God, but God’s grace continually transforms us and our circumstances that we may be children of God.

Reflection: Take time today to thank God for this grace.  Share a personal experience of God’s grace with someone.  Pray for our friends that continue resisting the powerful transformation that awaits them in God’s grace.  Pray for strength as you live each day as a witness of the power and movement of God’s grace.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Exile

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 10:17-25

A central illustration in our Scripture passage for this week is a shepherd and this shepherd has not been…well…very shepherdly…

The Scripture calls the shepherds “stupid” because they do not “inquire of the Lord.”  They do not seek the Lord’s advice, attend to the Lord’s truth, or obey the Lord’s command.  The shepherds of the people – the kings and the governors that the Israelites’ begged for so they could be like the other nations – have squandered their decisions and led God’s people astray.  The shepherds have not been good stewards or caregivers for their flock.

But that’s not all.

While a shepherd is one leader over many, a shepherd can also be one person ordering his or her own life – shepherding our day to day thoughts, feelings, and deeds. Each person is also accountable as his or her own shepherd.  We are each held responsible for our actions for good or for ill.

When we understand shepherds this way, we see then that individuals have also acted egregiously as they have not inquired of the Lord.

All people then face the Lord’s judgment because of their actions.  The result of their judgment is exile in a foreign land, which – in my greatest Southern flair – ain’t pretty.

Once again…that’s not all.

What amazes me in Scripture is the hope that is found even in the midst of exile.  Throughout the prophetic texts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the Scripture will speak of the hardship of exile and then almost immediately speak of the hope for home – home being returning to God and the land God gifted  them.

For example, read Jeremiah 23:1-4:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

In this Scripture passage the Lord holds accountable those “stupid” shepherds that have scattered the people.  And then God moves – because that’s who God is and what God does – to bring salvation to the people.  God, as the Good Shepherd, gathers the stray sheep and brings them home that they may have fruitful lives.  God promises that a Good Shepherd is coming – he will be the Shepherd of all the shepherds – and under his guidance we shall not fear or be led astray.

(10 points to whoever can guess who that is!  And no…Hezekiah is not the answer…but good try!)

Reflection: Think about a time where you have felt exiled from God…a time where you didn’t make the wisest of decisions and that distanced you in your relationship with God.  Did you feel angry, lost, worried, upset?  Did you feel numb?  Did you even notice you were in a state of exile?  How were you restored from your exile experience?  What gave you hope to press on, persevere, or – in the language of Dori – to just keep swimming?  What have you done so that you do not end up exiled again?  How have you submitted yourself to the guidance of our ultimate shepherd?

Prayer: Holy God, forgive me when I stray from you.  Forgive me when the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the actions of my body separate me from you.  Comfort me in my times of exile for in you I find hope, and in you I find my way home.  Amen.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Squabbling

Scriptures for Sunday ~ Judges 2:1-5, 17:6; I Samuel 8:19-22; and II Kings 24:20

Our focus word for this week is Squabbling – something that happens very regularly in Scripture.  Folks bicker with one another; more often than not they bicker with God.  And the bickering leads to a fissure in the relationship that can either be healed or lead to further brokenness.

As I reflect on the bickering – the squabbling – I am reminded of how my brother and I used to act on car rides to our grandparents’ house when we were children.  We had your typical “brother and sister” relationship – as in the line drawn down the middle of the backseat to indicate my side and his side and don’t you dare even flick an eyelash into my territory typical “brother and sister” relationship.  We would fight, we would bicker, and then we would get into trouble because of our fighting and bickering all because we didn’t handle the adjustment of sharing the same space, or neighboring space, in the car.

(We’re better now…I promise…mainly because we are hardly ever in the same car…haha.)

What I just described is a “growing pain” – an adjustment period were folks are getting used to one another because of a new circumstance, be it a new relationship, new house, new job, new schedule, new school, new whatever.  Growing pains can take awhile to resolve or they can resolve very quickly.  I believe what hastens the resolution is the effort we (humanity) put forward to bring about the resolution.

In our Scripture passages this week God’s people are experiencing growing pains in their relationship with God.  They are discovering it is not so easy to live as partners with God in this covenant community.  There are rules – lots of rules – and it turns out that God wants them obeyed all the time because these rules outfit the covenant shared between God and the people.

This covenant model was foreign to the neighbors and neighboring faiths of God’s people in the Promised Land.  Whereas the Canaanites had a human-hierarchical structure of leadership, God’s people were called to declare and recognize God’s sovereignty alone.  God would be their Lord as well as their guide.  But this idea of human-hierarchical structure was too tempting.  God’s people wanted to be like their neighbors.  Conformity became their priority and soon God’s people strayed from the covenant relationship that brought them up from Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Their straying led to squabbling – squabbling led to major sinning – and major sinning led to physical and spiritual exile.

In I Samuel 8:5b the people say, “Appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like the other nations.”  But God didn’t want God’s people to be like other nations.  God set us apart for great and mighty things.  If God’s plan for us could have been completed without God setting us apart, why would God have intervened?  And why if God made this special movement to set us apart would humanity want to slap a “return to sender” sticker on that precious gift so we could go it alone?

Later in I Samuel 8:20 the people say they want a king not only for governance but so the king  can “go out before us and fight our battles.”  Since sin came into our lives, God has been going before us and fighting our battles.  No earthly king – no human being – could ever do for us what God has done, is doing, and has yet to do.

What we must remember is that God works in mysterious ways that we don’t always understand and that don’t always fit our timelines.  We can become impatient in our waiting.  We can experience growing pains in our relationship with God, which places us in a fragile position.  We can either

(A) Act impulsively to fix them, which may lead us further away from God

OR

(B) Attend diligently to seeking God’s will in the growing pains.

(I’ll give you a hint…go with B!!!)

I believe as we seek God’s will in the growing pains we find peace.  This peace is the gift of assurance in our relationship with God.  This peace reveals that God has set us apart for great and mighty things and that God will make a way – in God’s time – for their accomplishment.

Prayer: O God how thankful we are that you have set us apart as your people and that you invite us into covenant relationship.  Forgive us when we neglect that relationship, seeking conformity with the world rather than seeking your will.  Forgive us O God when our straying leads us to squabbling with you and our neighbors.  Help us experience your peace and assurance amidst our growing pains.  Help us grow closer to you.  In your name, which is above all names, we pray.  Amen.