Looking through the psalms at BCUC, I hope you have been seeing the range of human emotions expressed to God in poetry and prayer. This week we look at Psalm 73 which tells a story of a person who had feelings of jealousy and envy as they looked at how much more fun it seemed the people who don’t follow God have. He nearly slipped and lost his faith. Yet, he remembered the goodness of God, and came to a solid understanding that a relationship with God is better than anything else.
Have you thought about writing your own psalm? In BCUC Chats I gave a brief outline on how to write a psalm based on Psalm 10. Many Psalms follow a pattern which can be replicated. We believe there is some amazing talent in BCUC and would love to give the opportunity for the congregation to contribute their own Psalms to a booklet we will publish as a Christmas gift to all. We would love to see your contributions. Send them to email@example.com.
If you need a kick start we will host a Psalm writing workshop Sunday 25th August, 2-5 pm at BCUC. Below is an example of a psalm from a workshop that was run in in Illinois.
A Coffee Psalm
O God, You are like coffee!
You percolate . . . and the mere sound of you stirs me from sleep. I thirst
for you, O God, in the morning when I wake up. Your aroma permeates
my soul when I come into your presence. You pour yourself out and
shower me with blessings. You fill my cup with good things. Your
heat and steam rise as incense and fill my nostrils. I lift you up
with my hands and drink you into my being. Your warmth
penetrates my mouth. O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Your warmth continues to travel through me, warming my
gut. You dwell ever within me. You energize me, O God.
After a time, you give me energy to set about the tasks
you lay before me. I return to you, O God, throughout
the day, and get renewed and refreshed every time
I drink you in. O taste and see that the Lord is
good! You restore my soul and fill my senses.
You help me get through the day when
my sleepiness tries to keep me
from doing your will. O taste and see that the Lord is good.
O God, you are like coffee to me!
© 2012 by C. Christian Dederer
Very occasionally I’ve watched gangsta type movies. I always find them somewhat despairing and soul-less. It usually involves some young guy trying to find acceptance while making a name for himself by gradually doing more violent, dreadful, and immoral things. Eventually they are in so deep that it seems like there is no way out and then the twist at the end is they become the kingpin themselves or they are caught. The road to redemption however is rarely offered. The hole they found themselves in they only ever dig deeper. This is where Psalm 130 becomes the song of the hopeful, future redeemed. It begins with a well used phrase of the psalmist “I cry out”. From out of the depths I cry out… who will save me from my sin!!
This short psalm is a favourite psalm of many great Christian leaders and thinkers including Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Calvin, Augustine and John Bunyan. 19th Century C.H. Spurgeon said that v3 and v4 contains “the essence of all scripture”.
How do you get out of the depths? How do you stop digging and climb right out? The answer is: not on your own but only with God. The Psalm gives 6 milestones to help climb out of the hole of your own making. They are: crying (including heartfelt humble prayer); surrendering to God; seeking his forgiveness; waiting; hoping; and receiving his gifts of unfailing love and full redemption. These milestones of Psalm 130 tell the concise story of the Christian journey from death to life thanks to Jesus. It’s what John Bunyan writes about in the first English novel ever published “Pilgrims Progress”, now portrayed in a new movie showing today.
I wonder if this is your story?
Is this the journey you have had or are having? If so, you are in good company – from the psalmist through to some of the greats of Christian history today. The best gangsta stories are the rare times when repentance mixed with redemption happen, thanks to Jesus.
Your Brother in Christ
Psalm 121 begins with a question “I lift my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from?”. This may seem to us a bit of an odd question. For us living in the Adelaide plains or the sylvan foothills of the Eastern suburbs, the image of looking at mountains may conjure us the majestic snow tipped Austrian peaks from the Sound of Music, or the stunning French Alps we see on late night TV watching the Tour de France. Places that inspire beauty, awe and reverence for God and God’s created world. After all, didn’t most major biblical characters have some kind of mountain-top experience where they met the Lord?
This is where a little knowledge of the biblical context helps our understanding. Most bibles will give a title to many psalms. Psalms 120-134 have “A song of ascents”. Most scholars agree these are a list of pilgrim songs sung by Jews journeying to Jerusalem for the three annual Holy Festivals. The road ascends and goes through mountains. The image then is of the pilgrim looking up at the treacherous road ahead full of perils from narrow winding paths, bandits and wild animals and saying a quick arrow prayer to God… HELP!
I wonder as you look forward into your week, your next month, your next term or the rest of the year, does it make you cry “HELP”. The answer then comes as this wonderful reassurance of God’s watchful, caring presence. No wonder some Jewish families have a tradition of writing this psalm out and placing in a newborn baby’s crib. The message of blessed, watchful, assurance is emphasised throughout scripture. For example these wonderful promises in the book of Philippians 4 :
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
May we each know the transcendent peace of Christ in our troubles.
Today begins a series on the Psalms which are prayers and poems and should be read in that way.
Psalm 10 starts with a cry of despair and hopelessness. Where is God when wicked men seem to be thriving? It chronicles their wicked acts. They don’t seem to even recognise God and act as though old crimes will be forgotten. You can understand the despair, but perhaps we should ask where we were when God needed us?
Nevertheless, the Psalm continues with a call to action for God to rise and break the arm of the wicked man. That is very much a human solution, not one from God and a prayer you shouldn’t expect to be answered.
Then the mood changes completely with the recognition that the Lord is King forever. He has acted previously to free nations. He listens to prayer and he will save the people of earth from oppression.
The message here is that we should turn to God right from the outset in times of despair. He prepares our heart, that is changes our perceptions of what is occurring, suggests a prayer that aligns with His will and then hears the prayer and acts on it.
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the book, “When bad things happen to good people” when his son died in childhood of progeria (premature ageing). He wants to debunk the idea that God causes bad things to happen for the concept that God gave his creation free will to align with Him or turn from Him, which means that good and evil will exist in the world, and we are all subject to both.
His response to bad things happening is to learn to forgive an imperfect world in order to focus on the good and beauty that exists. Likewise, learn to forgive imperfect people to avoid being lonely. Also learn to forgive God when we perceive that He has abandoned us, because He is still there for us. For God gave us life and wants us to live it to the full.
Today is our second Sunday in Philippians. Last week’s focus was Joy in Community and today’s is Hope for the Future – Phil. 3:12-4:1.
The apostle Paul looked to the future with hope. ‘Hope’ for the Christian isn’t wishing that something will be so. ‘Hope’ is based on the promises of God to us in the scriptures concerning our futures. ‘Hope’ is based on our experiences of the activity of God in our lives and the lives of those around us. ‘Hope’ is the foundation for building our future life with God for eternity.
In Jeremiah 29:11 we read:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Rick Warren, Pastor & Author wrote:
What gives me the most hope every day is God’s grace, knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God.
Christian hope builds as we look back with thanksgiving, growing spiritually through an awareness of God’s activities and blessings in our lives. This growth is sustained in the present as our lives are motivated by God’s continual acts of grace in our lives and as we see God at work in the lives of others around us. And we can look to the future with hope based on the promises of God to us in scripture and on the faithfulness of God in our life, past and present.
John C. Broger, missionary and author wrote:
The hope that God has provided for you is not merely a wish. Neither is it dependent on other people, possessions, or circumstances for its validity. Instead, biblical hope is an application of your faith that supplies a confident expectation in God’s fulfilment of His promises. Coupled with faith and love, hope is part of the abiding characteristics in a believer’s life.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Today and next Sunday I’ll be preaching from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s four chapters of joy! Its key verse is chapter 4, verse 4: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say it – Rejoice!’
Today we’ll be thinking about Joy in Community – four characteristics of a joy-filled community from Philippians 1:1-11. It’s quite amazing that this theme should flow throughout this short letter from Paul: he’s a prisoner in chains in Rome when he writes to the Philippian church – not the ideal environment to produce a joy-filled letter! Next Sunday the theme will be Hope for the future.
So, on today’s theme, what is ‘joy’? Some think that ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ are the same. ‘Joy’ and’ happiness’ are wonderful feelings to experience but are very different. ‘Joy’ comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events. ‘Joy’ is listed as one of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22. John Piper writes, ‘Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.’
The giant redwoods of California are among the world’s largest living things, towering over 100 metres above ground. You would imagine that such forest giants would have huge root systems, burrowing deep into the earth to provide stability for their massive canopy. In fact, redwoods have a very shallow root system. They support themselves by sending out their roots laterally, so they intertwine and interlock with other redwoods nearby and together stand strong against buffeting winds. Like many trees that grow in a forest, their close proximity to each other makes them grow taller, straighter and faster as together they seek and strive towards the light.
Today we’ll consider life situations and the Christian understanding of ‘joy’ to grow into a deeper appreciation of ourselves as a ‘community of joy’. We can learn a lot from Philippians – and from the redwoods!
This week we talk about giving our service to the Lord.
Think about where we hear the word service: a worship ’service’, the service industry, goods and services tax, “at your service” and “service with a smile”.
You may have heard of the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy getting dinner ready for Jesus and the disciples while Mary seemed to be the lazy one sitting and listening to Jesus teaching. Yet when Mary was chastised, Jesus said ‘Hold on, Mary has done the better thing by listening to me’. We can sometimes take this message too far and think all we need to do is sit at Jesus feet and listen and learn. Jesus also said “teach them to obey all I have commanded”. Jesus parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) is often interpreted to mean putting into action the gifts God has given you.
Paul is often writing about each person of the church being gifted by the Holy Spirit in many different ways and that we need to use those gifts to help the body of Christ. I love the distilled message from this verse in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Even in a reasonably self-focused western society people often get a sense of wanting to serve in community, that we are here for each other. Over the last few weeks we have been challenged into re-assessing giving our time, treasure and talents in service to the Lord. The Uniting Church basis of union states “the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ”.
Later today many of us are having lunches together (its not too late to join in). We will be serving each other, eating together and sharing life together. I encourage you to take the conversation to another level by asking some of these questions:
- What has the risen Christ done in your life over the last week?
- What is your favourite bible verse or book of the bible?
- Tell a story about a memorable baptism.
- What has been a significant sermon you have heard?
- When did you realise the loving God was real in your life?
- What is key in encouraging your faith?
- How does the loving God excite the daylights out of you today?
- How do you love to serve others and Jesus? What about it gives you the most joy?
Today we’re talking about giving. There are many ways to give. Consider the three T’s: Time, Treasure and Talent.
Towards the end of the book of Acts, Paul is reflecting on his ministry planting churches and raising followers of Jesus. He did this while working in the tent making business to fund his own way across the Roman Empire. He says :
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35.
People seem wired differently. There are some who love getting presents; there are others who love giving away gifts and in fact giving away anything. Then there are others who are so used to overflowing with generosity to others that it’s very hard for them to receive anything back. Even to the point of accepting the gift that Jesus died to give them life. Today we’re particularly talking about what we do with our money. This can be a ‘testy’ topic full of scepticism within churches. Some of this is due to poor examples of people abusing their position for financial gain. It seems so contrary to what Jesus teaches. For example:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” Matthew 6:24.
A quick scan through the stories of Jesus and you realise Jesus is concerned with our attitude towards money. One Article from Christianity today says: “Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.” For Jesus, money and possessions seem to be considered a spiritual issue of the heart.
When it comes to finances I love what John Wesley, the founder of methodism teaches: “Having, first, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then give all you can.” This is a practice he put in place himself. Today some have distilled it to a workable 80:10:10 guideline. Spend 80%, save 10% and give away 10%. But as you will hear in today’s sermon Wesley himself went way beyond this. He lived by the hope that as his wages increased each year his standard of living did not increase but rather his standard of giving. Inspiring.
Please take the time to check out the information in the stewardship packs. Thanks for all you do to be part of a great community of people who love God and love others.
Having an Attitude of Gratitude –
If you have ever been involved in kids ministry and helping young people learn how to pray, usually the first and most flowing prayers they have are prayers of thanksgiving. “Thank you God for my family, for friends, for food, for people in the church, for my pets, for my teacher, for your love and that you made us.”
If you were to go to a counsellor today they often prescribe a diet of thankfulness. Write a list each day for some of the small and big things you can be thankful for. Being thankful as we grow up seems to be harder for some. Yet an attitude of gratitude lifts us beyond ourselves, acknowledges God’s graceful presence in our lives, takes us out of our sense of entitlement or being ‘owed’ something from the world and helps us find joy. Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica encouraged them to “Give thanks in all circumstances”, whether in times of persecution and suffering or times of peace.
I once ran a youth group night looking at giving thanks no matter what. I split the group in two and asked them to stop and give thanks to God every five minutes. One group went to the youth room to play video games, air hockey and have fun for 30 minutes. The other group had to sort ‘hundreds-and-thousands’ (or sprinkles) into colour groups… and that’s it. I then asked how easy it was to give thanks. The group having fun generally forgot to stop and give thanks to God unless I reminded them, the other group were full of thanks.
Right now at BCUC I think we are generally in a season of good news and anticipation. As we embark on a three-week stewardship program “Thanks-Giving-Service” I wanted to begin with thanks. Give thanks for what God has provided for the past financial year, give thanks for the people He has placed in your life, the love he has shown and the faith that has grown. I want to personally give thanks on behalf of the leadership of Burnside City for your sacrificial giving to our church over the last year and much more. Many give generously with their treasure, talent and time. This church would not be a beacon for the Gospel and a place of discipleship without these significant contributions. Thank you. For all you have done both noticed and unnoticed, BCUC is richer for it and we thank you for helping us shine the light of Christ to a community that needs it. I encourage you this week to find someone, even during morning tea at church to say thank you to.
Ever tried watching TV without the power switched on? Chances are it’s going to be boring and lifeless. In some ways that’s like us without the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus died, he rose again and appeared to his disciples, teaching, feeding, and eating with them. He blessed them and gave them instructions to go into the world to make disciples, baptising them, and teaching them. He also said to wait for the Holy Spirit to give them the power they needed to do the job.
The Greek word used for power is ‘dynamos’ which is not an oppressive, authoritarian kind of power. Instead it is the word used for ‘dynamic’ and ‘dynamite’. It is an energy that is explosive, creative, and exciting. That kind of tingling, electrifying power energised a small band of scared, uneducated misfits to start a church movement that has now spread to all parts of the world. This same power is at work in us today for the exact same purposes. It’s a power that increases the size of our hearts (just like the Grinch).
“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5.
By increasing our power to love, the Holy Spirit helps us see everyone around us as people God deeply loves and people who need the abundant, eternal life God offers through Jesus.
Will you let God break your heart for what breaks God’s? Will you allow yourselves to be used by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit to bring healing and purpose to others?
Your Brother in Christ