Saturday, April 28, 2012

Depending on His Good Care - Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
   He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 may be the single most famous chapter in the whole Bible.  Christians and nonChristians alike know and appreciate its images.  Today, I feel the burden of working with this heavy and honored text.  
However, I find some help from a preacher-scholar named James Mays.  He is the former president of the Society of Biblical Literature and the founding editor of the Interpretation commentary series.  But before his chapter on Psalm 23, he wrote, “Any interpretation seems presumptuous.  ... Why undertake to explain a psalm that ... so rightly speaks for us and interprets us?”
  If he can’t interpret this Psalm, then I am not going to even try!  
But maybe like he said, Psalm 23 actually interprets us.  Maybe, we identify with Psalm 23 on such a deep heart-level because it clearly and profoundly speaks the truth of our hearts.  So today, I don’t want to explain Psalm 23.  Instead, I want to let Psalm 23 explain us and our relationship with God.  (I’ve been really helped this week by Phillip Keller’s little book called, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, so much of what I’ll say flows out of that.)
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD.  Behind this familiar statement is a humbling truth.  If “the LORD is my shepherd,” then I am a sheep.  This sheep and Shepherd relationship explains so much about us.
First, we are owned.  I am a sheep, and I belong to God, my Shepherd.  I am not my own; I am owned.  We may not like it, but we belong to God.  That is a simple and fundamental truth of reality.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Living in God's Overflow - Psalm 133

This week, we begin a season called “Eastertide.”  It is the season between Easter and Pentecost, and traditionally the church focuses our attention during this season on what it means to be a church.  This Eastertide, we are focusing on that most fundamental part of our existence as people of God - prayer.  Today is the first day of a seven week series on the Psalms.  We will not only preach them.  We will pray them.  We will celebrate them.  We will meditate them.  We will live them.  

To set the frame for this journey through the Psalms, today, we need to spend a little time talking about the book of Psalms as a whole.  I’m guessing that you have some questions about the Psalms - even if you haven’t exactly put them into words.
What are the Psalms?  A psalm is basically a prayer, actually a prayer song.  Some were written by individuals - like David - in response to specific situations.  Others were written for specific worship situations - like crowning a new king or pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  They are like Israel’s hymnbook, full of poetic imagery.  They were collected over hundreds of years.  They cover all kinds of topics and situations and attitudes.  They soar with amazing poetry and roll in the dirt with gritty honesty.    But the key thing to remember about the Psalms is that they are the prayer songs of the people of Israel.   
Why do Christians pray the Psalms?  Well, actually, some Christians stopped - for a while.  In Nazi Germany, the Psalms and the whole Old Testament, were considered Jewish and outdated and almost barbaric.  Thankfully, the Church at large (and minority of German Christians) rejected that view and continued in the ancient tradition of praying the psalms.
But why?  Why do we still pray these prayers that are 2-3,000 years old?  There are three basic reasons we stick with these prayers.
  1. The Psalms put us in the stream of God’s interaction with people.  We return to the Psalms for the same reason we return to the old hymns (and our favorite new songs).  They connect us with the deep flow of God’s grace among God’s people.  These prayers have been recorded and preserved because generation after generation has found them helpful for connecting with God.
  2. The Psalms give voice to the prayers of our hearts.  Sometimes, we just don’t know what to pray.  Other times, we have all of these feelings inside us, but we can’t quite put words to what we want to say.  Sometimes, we are actually afraid to say what we feel.  But the Psalms help us to pray our feelings.  They are raw and honest.  They go into the depths of the human experience and bring out our pains and joys and put them into words in our prayers to God.
  3. The Psalms reshape the prayers of our hearts.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of those resisting German Christians in the Nazi era who stayed committed to the Psalms.  In his little book, Psalms - The Prayer Book of the Bible, he explains: “If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. ... If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. ... The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”  In other words, if we just pray what we feel, most of the time we’ll keep asking for “our daily bread” or all the stuff we need or want.  The Psalms stretch us beyond our selfish limited view of the world and help us see the world from the perspective of others and even from God’s perspective.
One last question: If Psalms are the people’s prayers, then how are they “the Word of God”? 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Arab Springs - Exodus 15:1-21

In December of 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a small fruit vender, borrowed about $200 (US) to buy fruit to sell in a hand cart.  City officials harassed and beat him for not having a vending permit.  Finally, when he refused to pay a bribe, they confiscated his equipment and dumped his fruit into the street.  After the local governor refused to hear his complaint, Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest of corruption and oppression in Tunisia.
28 days later, after non-stop protests, Tunisia’s President Zine Ben Ali, stepped down after 23 years in power.  
9 days after that, protests began in Egypt.  It only took 18 days to dethrone Hosni Mubarek after 29 years in power.
By the time Mubarek left, protests had already begun in Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.  Within a few months the protests spread to nearly every country in the Middle East and Northern Africa. 
Together, people around the region stood up to demand their dignity and basic human rights.  Together people called for an end to corruption, abuse of power, rigged votes, and - a new word for me - kleptocracy, which means “rule by thieves.”  I remember an interview of a woman in Lybia.  The reporter was asking her if she thought the Lybian rebells would be successful.  She was adamant that they would be.  She kept saying things like, “Ghadaffi has to go,” and “This is the end of all of that.”
The Arab Spring was a tidal wave of hope and urgency that swept through nation after nation where people longed to be free.  Although, it is still underway in places like Syria and Jordan, we can see clearly that the Arab Spring has reshaped our geopolitical landscape.  They defeated their enemies by joining together in protest.  A frustrated fruit vender has toppled a tyrant and changed our world.
But this was not the first Arab Spring. 

Community Art Project: Exodus 15, Isaiah 25

This is the last installment of our community art.  If this is your first post, just scroll back through the archives to see all 8 weeks of art made by the people of KNU International English Church.  Special thanks to all the folks in Greenhouse Worship for incubating our creative worship experiences!

Isaiah 25:6-9 There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.  He will swallow up death forever!  The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.  He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people.
    The Lord has spoken!

 Exodus 15:8, 12  At the blast of your breath, the waters piled up!  The surging waters stood straight like a wall; in the heart of the sea the deep waters became hard.  You raised your right hand, and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Goodbye Letter #02: Elizabeth Jancewicz

-- This was originally a post Elizabeth did on her blog, where she post lots of cool original art and updates on her adventures with her also very cool musician husband, Eric. ---
In honor of it being Palm Sunday (it has been for 17 minutes now) I am finally posting a little drawing I did weeks ago:
First off, the church that Eric and I went to when we lived in Korea was amazing. It was the KNU International English Church in Cheonan, and it still stands as one of the best churches either of us have ever had the privileged of attending. The community in the church was not only welcoming and kept a strong community within the church by getting together for lunches, but they also addressed really tough issues that a lot of churches seem to steer clear of, and they are extremely active in real help for the poor and needy. I was impressed and moved by the actions of this church during my few short months in Korea two years ago.
To add to this, Eric and I were involved with Pastor Josh Broward’s family in that Sarah, Josh’s wife, was my assistant during my first teaching job in Korea and also found me another job so that I could extend my stay; and Eric taught their young daughter piano lessons. (Eric also played piano in the worship team when he was there.)
Seriously, sometimes we think about returning to live in Korean simply because the church was really just so good.

Retro Poem #3: America

I've been thinking about this poem often during Lent, since we're preaching through Exodus.  This is one of my first poems, but I think it's also one of my favorites.

The land of liberty
The place where freedom reigns.
We breathe but do not live.
Self-procured captivity
Pours out slavery’s stains.
Our streets reflect the sieve.
We seek satisfaction.
Desire overtakes us.
Our master is our Self.
For him is all action.
Is there no Spartacus
To lead in rebellion?
Each morn we gladly rise
And lock mind and body
To the yoke of vile lust.
We daily live our lies
Then watch our comedy.
The truth is ne’er discussed.
The sieve is evident.
All goes in, none comes out.
A bitter tasting gall
Is the only remnant
Of our life lived without 
The joy of freedom’s hall.
God, please, free us from us.
Make me the Spartacus!

As I look back, I see that our role is not to be the Spartacus, but to follow Christ - the victorious Spartacus who sets us all free.