Saturday, April 23, 2011

From Peace and Joy to Purpose

When Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem after the resurrection, he stood among them, bid them Peace, showed them his hands and feet and ate with them to confirm that he was not a ghost. As they moved beyond their joy and amazement,

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what was written. The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24: 44-49 New International Version

Yes, they experienced joy and peace – but they were also challenged with a new purpose! They were to be witnesses to all that had happened! A witness is one who sees or knows by personal presence or direct knowledge – one who can attest to a fact or an event. They were to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, in the name of Jesus, the Christ.

They were not to simply be passive recipients of this great sacrificial gift of an agonizing death on an old wooden cross. They were to be active recipients, by bearing witness to all that had happened so that the Good News would spread to the far corners of the earth. Not by their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit who would clothe them with courage, endurance and wisdom to witness in the face of persecution. No pain. No gain. No Spirit. No Power!

Our purpose in life is to join the host of witnesses that attest to the Risen Christ of the New Testament, that others may come to know Him as the fulfillment of all that the witnesses of the Old Testament foretold. The Messiah, the King of a new different kind of future, born in a stable, the obedient Son, the Savior on a Cross, the Risen Christ, would send us what Yehwah, God the Father, had promised………… his very own Holy Spirit to walk with us on the path of witnessing to His Presence among us.

Patricia McCann, Elder
for the Adult Discipleship / Membership Development Council

Friday, April 22, 2011

From Psalms to Peace and Joy

Is it any wonder that the Old Testament Psalms are favorite sources of inspiration? These poems or songs of praise, worship, thankfulness and repentance represent a wide range of feelings, emotions, attitudes and interests. Written by so many people, from different time periods, they strike a common chord. They illuminate God’s covenant with Israel. They document His chosen people’s communication with their faithful Yahweh. They capture human dependency on the Almighty across time and space.

But when we step into the world of the Book of Luke, within a specific time period and geographic space, a single author focuses on telling the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a book of Good News in which Luke, a highly educated man writing from a Greek background and viewpoint, documents that Jesus loved all kinds of people. Yahweh’s covenant with Israel was now available to all – through the sacrifice of this Jesus who loved children, the poor, and the oppressed.

There is a theme of joy throughout the book. Christ brought joy as well as hope and salvation. When Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem after the resurrection, he stood among them and said,
Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they
still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.......
Luke 24: 36c-41a New International Version
Yes, they experienced joy – for it seemed too good to be true! Their master Rabbi, their friend, their Messiah was alive! Remember the first time you heard and believed these words and knew the Holy Spirit was speaking to you? Did not your heart burn within you? The Living Christ speaks through the Gospels!

Amazed that this Jesus of Nazareth sacrificed for us on the Cross, we now experience peace and joy, assured that He lives and will return. The witness of the Old Testament affirms God’s faithfulness through the ages; the Gospels teach and inspire us to follow Jesus today; the Holy Spirit challenges, convicts, comforts and guides us as we journey through this life on earth.

Hallelujah! Amen!

Patricia McCann
for the Adult Discipleship / Membership Development Council

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why resurrection matters

Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, I Corinthians 15:4

In his book, The Reason for God, author and pastor, Timothy Keller tells of people who come to him expressing their struggles with the church’s teaching on the resurrection. They like other parts of Christian teaching, but they simply cannot accept the teaching that Jesus was raised from the dead and lives eternally in heaven.

He often responds to their concerns by saying, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything stands is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

If the Jesus did rise from the dead it means that we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also means we don’t have to be afraid of anything: death, cancer, earthquake, recession, or a falling dollar. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.

The good news is he is alive! The evidence is overwhelming. Death and the grave could not keep him down. The tomb is empty, the witnesses saw him, the Scriptures prophesied his victory over death, and people’s lives were forever changed by the power of the gospel.

Come celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus this Sunday. Services begin at 9:15 and 11:00 AM. Easter is still a revered event in our society, so please invite your friends and family to worship with you during Holy Week and on Easter Sunday.

Pastor Ray 

When Darkness Reigns

Most of us react to approaching harm with self defense. If the threat includes violence, then isn’t violence in self defense justified by law? What did Jesus do when threatened?

After praying alone in anguish on the Mount of Olives that His Father’s will be done, Jesus found his disciples asleep and warned them to pray that they not fall into temptation. Later Judas, one of the Twelve, approached him with a crowd. It became clear that their intent was to arrest Jesus. One of Jesus’ followers, reacting to the threat of violence, struck a servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear! But Jesus healed the servant’s wound and commanded there be no more violence.
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.” Luke 22:52-53, New International Version

Jesus’ enemies, threatened by the Rabbi’s growing influence and popularity, feared his power in teaching the people. Their instinct was to destroy Him. But his instinct (his Father’s will) was not to retaliate.

Jesus transcended the laws of the Torah with the power of a forgiving heart. Violence is darkness. Forgiveness is light and new life, redemption. Sometimes the light of Christ in us threatens others. Have you ever encountered distrust, suspicion or hatred because of your actions that reflected your own Christian values? Intimidated by a code of conduct that differs from their own, or a perceived threat to their own influence, power, or position, others may counter in direct or subversive ways. The potential for darkness and for under-handed retaliation is everywhere. Evil is always at work in the world – all the time!

We must remain alert to temptation and forces working against Christ. There is potential for darkness, in ourselves as well as others. Let us not fall asleep as did the disciples on the night Jesus was betrayed. Darkness can be overcome by the light of forgiveness. May we follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth. May each of us always yield to the Holy Spirit guiding us as He speaks through Scripture, our conscience and our fellow believers.

Then darkness will not reign……..

Patricia McCann, Elder
for the Adult Discipleship / Membership Development Council

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bread and Wine; Body and Blood

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22: 14-20

Sundown has arrived, officially marking the beginning of Passover. Passover symbolized not only the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt, but also foretold of the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus, in these verses, is eager to prepare the apostles for what is to come, things that they will likely not completely grasp, but which will become the centerpiece of Christianity in the years and centuries to follow. Through the bread and the wine, as symbolic of Christ’s body and blood, Christ transforms the Passover Seder into an entirely different kind of ceremony – one which looks back in remembrance of His atoning death on the cross.

C.S. Lewis in The Business of Heaven says it is hard to imagine what the apostles understood as Christ, his body not yet broken and his blood not yet shed, handed them the bread and the wine, saying they were his body. Were they confused by what they heard or did they grasp the symbolic intent of Christ’s statement? What do we experience as we meditate on Christ’s death on the cross? What do we experience as we dwell on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Do we fully understand what Christ’s atoning death did for us? That not only did Christ die and bear our sins, but that we who believe in Christ have also been crucified with and died with him. The new covenant that has been established through Christ’s death and resurrection has restored our fellowship and communion with God – something that we cannot fully comprehend or appreciate. Fortunately, however, as Lewis says, the command to the apostles (and to us) was to “Take, eat: not Take, understand.”

by Greg Lewis
for the Adult Discipleship and Membership Development Council

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Passover Meal from Luke

From the “Gospel According to Luke, Chap. 22, verses 7-13” [NRSV]

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparation for it?” “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Luke, the historian, has been telling us how Jesus was born, grew to manhood joined by his disciples while teaching across the land, and now comes to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. By now the people along His way have heard His teaching, know the parables, have seen the healing, and He has foretold the death of the Son of Man.

Still, what are we to make of this? Yes, we know that the chief priests, the scribes, the elders are objecting to His preaching to the people. Jesus, however, continues on the road, town to town, knowing the wide reception of the people while receiving also the anger and flat rejection of the temple chiefs. What are they all to do, His supporters, followers, His enemies? Jesus is here now, off the roads from so many places, telling the word of God to so many people.

So the time has come then for the Day of the Unleavened Bread, honored by every good Israelite. And here is the group of travelers, away from home, not connected with a temple, and what does Jesus do? How does He do it? Are these places known beforehand, these people already informed? Or have they understood God’s word all the time and how to carry out this word for His presence among them?

by Ken Wylie
for the Adult Discipleship and Member Development Council

Monday, April 18, 2011

From the Gospel According to Luke

Luke 8:4-15

When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the earth and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.”

Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for awhile and in time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”

Rabbi or teacher is a title used in the Gospels for Jesus, and in these verses we see that skill exercised so well as historian Luke continues his account of Jesus’ peripatetic ministry. He has been more located in one area but is now out and moving again with his group up to Magdala, a village near the city of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. The companions are the 12 disciples and several women (including Mary Magdalene) cured of what are called “evil spirits and infirmities.” Knowing He was coming, the local people have gathered, and now Jesus speaks to them.

He will tell them a parable (by definition a story in any of several styles—metaphor, fable, proverb, etc.) It is a story that as people close to the soil, villagers and farmers, they can relate to. He tells the parable, perhaps more clear to some than others, then calls out, Let anyone with ears to hear listen!

Those ready to receive the parable’s message could believe they have received a secret of God about His kingdom and now being given to the people through the teaching of Jesus. Those not ready for this message of the Lord, the ones opposed to Jesus, refusing to receive him as their rabbi, teaching of God, would hear it, understand it in only a vague, indirect or shadowy form. They did not “get it.”

So there Jesus is as the disciples are asking what the parable means, and He is answering with a reference, as often, to an Israelite prophet of centuries before (Isaiah 6:9), To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.

by Ken Wylie
for the Adult Discipleship and Membership Development Council

Saturday, April 16, 2011

“I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” Psalm 143:6

There are terrible, dark times in every life when loss, grief, pain, and fear threaten us. These are serious enemies. We may not be strong enough to battle them and survive. After the battle, even if we continue to breathe, our spirits may be so crushed that we may as well be dead. David recounts in Psalm 143: “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead.”

Depression can feel like this, and with it our spirits flicker and grow dim. Or it can happen in the blink of an eye—suddenly all seems lost, there is no hope.

I remember the very moment our little daughter’s organs began to fail after several days in Intensive Care. By then she was using a ventilator to breathe. It was nearly dawn, and we’d been washing her small body for long hours with ice water, trying to reduce her fever. Her eyes were half closed, unfocused. For the last hour I could barely rouse her, and then I realized she wasn’t responding at all. In a moment her body suddenly turned yellow, as if a yellow shadow passed over her, and she was utterly still.

I remember watching, numb, disbelieving, and then searing pain, and helplessness. This dear child, so loved, at the edge of death. And all I could do then was spread out my hands and fall onto God’s mercy.

David cried out: “Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

God doesn’t reward us for being righteous. No one is righteous. We are not worthy of his attention.

But God loves us tenderly, and He has promised to listen to our prayers--and not only to listen but to answer them. He loves us; he is merciful. He will catch us when we fall on him. He will rain his mercy on us, and we will live.

God gave us our daughter back, from the very brink of death. And so He brings us all, through Jesus Christ, to eternal life.

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.”

By Lisa Russell

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yearning for God

Lord, so often I sought You in my youth and never felt your touch. Your word I never doubted, but it never reached my heart. Never was I able to produce the perfect righteousness that you demanded. Your grace was my only hope. I confessed my sins and accepted You as my Savior and yet I still longed for that special touch.

So often I felt lonely, forgotten and cut off from Your Presence. My spirit was ready to give up and my heart was cold. Where are those days Lord, when you reached out to people and showed Your love? I pleadingly spread out my hand to You. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. Unless Lord, You come to my rescue, I won’t survive much longer. Do not hide Your face in anger as I am close to

Lord, bring me words and tones of steadfast love and faithfulness. I simply do not know the way unless You direct my path. I cry out to you, to protect me from the temptation of the world. In You alone, I trust and depend on Your protection. When I walked thru the valley of the shadow of death, You were with me. You gave me a new heart and a new spirit – You have led me beside still waters. Your love I cannot comprehend.

Preserve me, O Lord, for Your name’s sake. I pray Lord, that in these last days of my life I will serve You with joy and gladness. And even if I falter, I will look up at the cross on which my Savior died. Knowing that living, He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away. Rising, He freely justified forever that one day He’s coming again. O glorious day!

John Beerhorst
Lenten Blog – Psalm 143
for Pastoral Care Council

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


PSALM 143 ... The first verse of this psalm reminds me of the “Jesus Prayer”, a prayer from the early church. The prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Orthodox Christians often pray this prayer several times daily. The psalmist has this attitude of heart when he says, “no one living is righteous before you.”

As we live our lives, we often find ourselves in the same place as the Psalmist. We feel weak inside and our spirits are overcome with dismay. We feel dry like parched soil when we come before God. We feel pressed to the ground and our spiritual life seems to be in darkness. But as we acknowledge these feelings before God we must in turn remember that God’s faithful love is always with us.

So the Psalmist is quick to remind the Lord that he is His servant. He says, “No matter how badly I’m pressed, I’m committed to You and to your kingdom”. As he struggles with his life, he also desires that God show him His will and that the Spirit of God will lead him. He says “show me the way to go; reveal your way to me. Many today are self confident within themselves and how they make decisions. We would be better served with a spirit of humility always depending on God to show us how to live.

To me the most personal part of the Psalm is the prayer posture mentioned in verse 6. As he looks at the works of God’s hands, he gives back to God his own hands spread out before Him. We see this prayer gesture throughout the Old and New Testaments. Often the early Christians thought of the cross when they stood and lifted their hands to the Lord. Stretching out one’s hands is a very vivid expression of an intimate and quite personal relationship of the creature with his creator.

The Psalmist gets very personal when he says, I trust in your faithful love, I long for You, and you are my protector. We need this personal approach when we live our lives because to the world, God either doesn’t exist or is just an idea. This Psalm reveals the sinfulness of humankind but we can come to God who is steadfast in His love and we can offer our whole selves to God.

In the morning, let us remember His steadfast love and put our trust in Him. He will teach us the way we should live our lives one day at a time.

Ron and Eleanor Ehresman

Life is hard, but God is good

Unexpected beauty
Oh my, what a psalm of despair!  For the writer, life is overwhelming. As an old quotation says “There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t have been worse and it was worse.”  

I remember yelling at God when life was hard and answers were hard to come by.
A friend who was going through a hard time said “I feel like giving up on my faith.”
And today I talked to a woman who was discouraged and feeling like she couldn’t be strong for her son one more day. He has a long-term illness with many surgeries. Yet with God’s help she will be strong so her son doesn’t despair. 

Each of us in those moments can meditate on all the works that God has done. In our thirst for him we can reach our hands like a desert thirsty for rain. With the light of a new day we can look forward to God’s word of love. He will show us the way to go… he will guide us with his eye.  In her Stephen Ministry devotions last week, Jeannie Forrest commented on the beauty of the lotus flower…how it grows in the mud at the edge of a pond, often in not very clean water. Yet from the mud comes this beautiful flower.            

I could wish the psalmist could read Romans 5:3-5 in The Message. Despite being hemmed in with troubles, “we can keep alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.”

By Marge Stromberg

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Psalm of David

`Psalm 143    A Psalm of David     from The Message

Listen to this prayer of mine, God;
pay attention to what I’m asking.
Answer me—you’re famous for your answers!
            Do what’s right for me.
But don’t, please don’t, haul me into court;
            Not a person alive would be acquitted there.

The enemy hunted me down;
            He kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.
He put me in a black hole,
            buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.
I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
my heart heavy, like lead.
I remembered the old days,
            went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked.
Stretched out my hands to you,
            as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain.

Hurry with your answer God!
            I’m nearly at the end of my rope.
Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me!
            That would be certain death.
If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,
            I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you.
Point out the road I must travel;
            I’m all ears, all eyes before you.
Save me from my enemies, God—
            you’re my only hope!
Teach me how to live to please you,
            Because you’re my God.
Lead me by your blessed Spirit
            Into cleared and level pastureland.

Keep up your reputation, God—give me life!
            In your justice, get me out of this trouble!
In your great love, vanquish my enemies;           
            Make a clean sweep of those who harass me.
And why? Because I’m your servant.

            To better understand this Psalm, I’ve begun with the
Eugene Peterson version from The Message.

This is the last of seven scattered penitential Psalms. Divided into four sections, the first half shows David in great despair. All the way through he looks to God for justice, for visibility, remembering better days of how God worked, for quenching his extreme thirst.
Think of it as looking for hope, as you struggle to find a path through a massive disorganized junkyard. Thorn covered weeds are everywhere. In the dark it’s a dangerous path.

            In the second half, David is still calling on God for attention, then help. He feels ignored or deserted… feeling desperate.
            Then, as morning dawns, he seems to come to a clearing. He comes into a meadow of hope. Drifting spring clouds remind him God is still there. David asks for direction, promising to rely only on God. “I’m unemployed… bankruptcy lurks”.
            Lead me in the right path—I’m relying on you alone. Ultimately, I’m working with you, Lord.

                                                                                                Gordon Stromberg
                                                                                                Lenten blog  4-9-11

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Psalm 130

We do not wake each morning with the intention of doing harm to our family, friends, acquaintances or God, but we sometimes make hurtful comments or unintentionally do things that make others feel badly. We keep trying to do better the next day, but then we repeat our same mistakes. Psalm 130 reminds us that God is a forgiving God and that no matter how many times we fall short of his expectations (or our own expectations of our selves), he is always there to pick us up, brush us off and help us try again “… for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” (V. 7) This promise does not exempt us from continually working to improve ourselves; however, it reminds us that even with our best efforts, we will fall short but we can count on God’s love and forgiveness. Very reassuring!!!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Give us strength to live according to your will and the reassurance of your love and forgiveness when we fall short. Amen

--Jan Sullivan

Friday, April 8, 2011

Reflection on Psalm 130

A former FPCE pastor Paul Suzuki often likened waiting for the Lord with handing our winter wraps over to the coat check room when we go to dinner or a show. Often the way we wait on God resembles getting up every 5-10 minutes to confirm they still have our coat and it is safe. We miss the delightful meal, heartwarming conversation, or enjoyable show because of our fretting and inattention. I think Rev Suzuki would say that it reveals our lack of trust. I wonder if some of us fear we might forget the coat if we set it aside. Well, remember we have that coat for a reason and it has a place in our life. We need the coat; the coat has a function in our life—especially if we are going to go back out in the weather.

It is the same with our worries, concerns and cares—they too have a place in with us. Our deepest cries matter and they are a partner in our lives. They remind us of our humanity, our connectedness to others, our incompleteness, and our needs. As with the coat, it is important that we treat these concerns with dignity and grace. They don’t disappear when we wait for God.

But God is no ordinary coat check clerk. God is the fullness of forgiveness, hope and restoration. How wonderful if each time we got back our coat it was a little cleaner, a little better fitting, yet still recognizable as our coat? What a delight it would be to anticipate the transformation! And yet in partnering with God, crying out and then waiting, our cares are transformed. They have the opportunity of taking on a little more forgiveness, a little more hope, a little more movement toward restoration. They may look a lot like they used to, but don’t underestimate the power of subtle changes. I can tell you they make a big difference. It is ok to wait; it is a faithful process in which to put your trust.

And, if you do happen to forget to go back for your coat, well, maybe you didn’t really need it, or perhaps, it really wasn’t yours to begin with. God will find a way to return it to the rightful owner. It will not be lost.

Constantly forgiven and restored,

Yours in Christ,
Susan Colten

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Psalm 130 - “My soul waits for the Lord; more than watchmen wait for the morning; more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

During my years in Africa, I came to know many watchmen. In each home I lived, there was always a watchmen standing guard during the night. Yacob, Mosie, Inussa, and Pierre were those I knew best. Often I would step out of my home at night and go talk to them. Night watchmen have their own special kind of wisdom. They have lots of time to reflect, lots of time to wonder. Some watchmen were not very helpful. These men would sleep easily and soundly, not even hearing someone knocking at the gate. One used come running to me in fear, as if I were actually his watchman. Yet others were quite skilled at their job, even enjoyed their work. Those watchmen had eyes for the darkness. They saw every little thing that happened, every bird or animal that moved, let alone every person that should or shouldn’t have been there. They also knew the night skies, every star in its place, where the moon would rise or set, and when. Their ears could discern between what they knew, and what was new. They recognized creatures by their voices. They had a keen sense of what was right in the darkness. And out of this sense, out of their alertness, they waited for the morning. Not in fear of what might happen, but rather in a calm expectancy.

One of the lessons I am learning, is that it is a good thing to be keenly aware of God – through His Word, through others, through creation, through experience, through music and art, the written word and so much more. God comes to us through all of our senses, if we’re looking for Him. I have learned to look for Him in my everyday happenings, whether routine or unexpected. And the closer I look, the more I see Him, the more I hear and feel Him, the more I recognize His hand at work. I also have come to look for Him in the “depth” Because just as the watchman develops the skill of knowing what is right in the darkness, I too am learning to see what is “right” in my dark times, when I am in “the depth”. Not because things are going well. Rather because God is always present, even in “the depth”; even in the darkness.

May He reveal Himself to each of us through new and unexpected ways, bringing to us that calm expectancy – even in the darkness - that comes from our Hope, that is Jesus Christ.

Caryl Weinberg

Mission Council

Lessons Learned

Psalm 130 is comforting, consoling and didactic. It lets me know that God holds me while I sin and break His rules, asks me to be patient while He showers me with mercy, redemption grace, and love while I am working through forgiveness. I rejoice that there is nothing incomplete about God. His love is unfailing and His salvation is all inclusive, covering my past, present and future. What an amazing God! He is all I need! The songs that come to mind for me as I learn this lesson are "Amazing Grace" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord".

My lesson learned is that I because of God's fullness I cannot serve Him half way or use just part of Him. I need all of Him all of the time and He wants me all of the time. So I ask Him to make and mold me. Turn me inside out so that I develop my mind, soul, heart and spirit to be more like His. Let me be one whose hope in You and gratitude for Your mercy inspire me to fervent praise and unremitting obedience.

by Nelda Hobbs

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Psalm 130 -- “O Lord, hear my voice . . . in his word I put my hope.”

A few weekends ago, our grandson, Jackson and I, headed down to the Museum of Science and Industry and its Omnimax Theater to see the Hubble Space Telescope movie. Film from the telescope showed a vastness to the heavens, a depth to an ever-growing universe, so beautiful, yet distant beyond imagination. And I thought to myself, the more we know about our expanding universe, the smaller we humans become. These verses reveal something even more extraordinary. Our Lord, the Creator of the magnificent universe, has his ear attuned to the desperate cries of his people, who are as minute as the dust. Yet he knows us and hears us and counts us significant enough in his great cosmic order to be intimately concerned with our troubles. Even more, despite our repeated failings, our faltering steps, our pathetic sins he extends his forgiveness and bathes us in lavish love. It is beyond our comprehension, understood only by the organ of faith. Yet it is our hope, constantly affirmed in the scriptures, repeatedly affirmed in our lives, and ultimately confirmed on the Cross, that he redeems us. Praise be to our Lord!

Terry Halliday

Out of the Deep….

In the second movement of his Requiem, John Rutter captures Psalm 130 perfectly (in my opinion). In the beginning, you can feel the despair in the cello and the voices. The low pitches, the dissonant chords, the conflicting harmonies all bring together the desperation of being so far from God. Yet, as the Psalm recognizes that God is forgiving and the psalmist places his hope in God, the spirit of the music lightens, the notes are more pleasantly harmonious and pace quickens. Rutter brings us back to reality, though, and ends the piece back in the depths asking God to hear us.

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord:

Lord, hear my voice.

O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.

If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss O Lord, who may abide it?

For there is mercy with thee therefore shalt thou be feared.

I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for him in his word is my trust.

My soil fleeth unto the Lord before the morning watch,

I say, before the morning watch.

O Israel, trust in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy

and with him is plenteous redemption.

And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.

by Matt McLeod

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Psalm 130 - “A Testimony of Trust In The Lord”

This psalm starts with a sad expression of despair. According to my NIV Bible, “depths” means as if caught up in rising flood waters. In verse 2, “Let your ears be attentive”, certainly implies a degree of urgency.

The 3rd and 4th verses are encouraging for me. It reinforces that we are not alone and that we all sin. As humans we are flawed at birth and our weaknesses cause us to sin. It reminds us that none of us could stand from the weight of our sins but not for GOD’s forgiveness. We therefore can trust in GOD’s forgiveness.

Verses 5 and 6 state trust and patience. The night watchman reference is great. Night limits your vision. The watchman is alone and can’t see the evil that he knows is around him. He waits for the light of dawn, when evil shrinks back into the night, when he can see, not be alone, and out of danger. The night represents our sin and the light of the morning, the coming of forgiveness. I think this foretells the coming of the light, the Christ. Christ’s sacrifice and GOD’s ultimate act of forgiveness.

Verses 7 and 8 reminds us that GOD has his own timetable but not to worry because GOD’s forgiveness is never in doubt. His love is, “unfailing”. It finishes by prophesizing that GOD will redeem Israel from their sins. A prophesy that will be fulfilled through Christ.

This psalm sure started on a low note but just kept building to a strong positive ending. A verse in one of the hymns, sung in Church on Sunday, was, “we gain strength while we wait upon the Lord”. While singing it I thought of this psalm.


by Peter Steffen

Monday, April 4, 2011

Psalm 130 - Waiting and Hoping

Like the writer of this psalm, I begin many of my prayers with cries for the Lord to hear me---cries for mercy--- then move on to the realization that I am unworthy to be heard by God Almighty (“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”). It’s a bleak picture: the psalmist’s situation is bleak (“out of the depths I cry to you”), and his knowledge of the Lord’s holiness causes him to realize that there is no reason why the Lord of the universe should listen to his cries.

And then comes the “but.” “But with you there is forgiveness.” The psalm turns on this verse and you can almost see hope and relief wash over the writer. He shifts from praying to the Lord to speaking to a third party---or perhaps himself---and then to Israel, encouraging patience and hope.

In verse 6 the psalmist uses an interesting analogy to describe his waiting: “more than watchmen wait for the morning.” So I ask myself, “How do watchmen wait for the morning?” Never having been a watchman, it’s hard to say for sure, but I have spent sleepless nights worrying about the welfare of my children or my aging parents, or trying to sort out an intractable problem. One thing I know is that watchmen wait eagerly---they can hardly wait for the long night-shift to be finished. It’s sometimes hard to be patient while waiting. The second thing is that watchmen wait with certainty. They don’t stand around saying “I wonder if we’ll have to wait forever.” Of course not! There is no question in their minds that the sun will come up and their waiting will be finished.

And that’s the hope the psalmist gives Israel, and us---the certainty that the Lord loves us and that however bleak our circumstance, we will not wait forever for redemption. Hallelujah!

by Sally Ivaska

Saturday, April 2, 2011

So Much More Than One Soul Suffering

by Dave Rutherford, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

This is the first time I have read Psalm 102, so I don’t have years of study and reflection to draw upon — I can only share some first impressions.

The first thing that struck me is that, after the first 11 verses describing in grim detail his physical and emotional afflictions, the writer does not then ask God for relief for himself. He does not ask God to heal him or to comfort him or to deliver him from his tormentors. He moves right into a prayer for the Jewish people, asking for God to look with favor upon them and to rebuild Zion. He reaches past his own despair, perhaps viewing his personal suffering as not personal to him at all, but part of a broader plight being endured by the whole Jewish people. It’s not about him.

The second thing that struck me is the enormity of his prayer. He doesn’t just ask God to respond to the suffering of the Jews and rebuild Zion because they love its stones. He asks God to preserve a written record of the writer’s prayer and his description of God’s infinite power and timelessness, so that a people that doesn’t even exist yet may read it and be moved to praise God. It’s not about Zion, either. It’s about God.

It appears God answered his prayer.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Have I Failed God?

by Jacki Glew, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

Have you ever felt like a failure? Ever felt like you weren’t good enough? We all have had those times. Maybe you’ve failed a test, failed to win, failed someone you love, failed at a job, failed at a marriage, failed to keep your home, failed someone’s trust… We’ve all failed. None of us is perfect. And maybe then we think, Have I failed God?

Psalm 102 is written by someone who is crying out to God when he failed miserably. Any of us can remember a sad, heart-breaking moment in our lives, and could put ourselves in the same shoes as this psalm’s author. Isn’t it often at times when we are farthest down that we rely most on God and call out to Him for help?

1Hear my prayer, LORD;
let my cry for help come to You.
2 Do not hide Your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn Your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly

We may fail at things in life, but God never fails us. He loves us too much to do that. He watches over us every single moment of our lives, and wants the best for us even though our tough times may seem like the worst that can happen. God allows failures in our lives to teach us lessons and to show us how strong we can be. And at the same time, we realize how weak we are without Him.

19The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven He viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
release those condemned to death.”

Think about how hard you would try to reach out and grab a lifeline if you were drowning. If death were staring you in the face, as it is for the author of this psalm, wouldn’t you do anything to stay alive?

Guess what? God has thrown you a lifeline. We are all condemned to die unless we grab it. Ironically, we can be saved because someone else died in our place: Jesus Christ.

But wait… Who’s being condemned to death here? You might be thinking, I’m not a sinner! I haven’t murdered! I haven’t stolen anything! I haven’t committed adultery! I’m a good person! I’m going to heaven, right??

Romans 6:23 says: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The price of committing sin is death. Any sin. Tell me a time you haven’t lied. Better yet, tell God. How many times in your life have gone by where you didn’t put God first? That’s certainly not honoring Him.

God is perfect, and eternity with Him requires you to be perfect, too. There is no person on earth who has ever been perfect. Except one: Jesus Christ. Only Jesus could be the perfect sacrifice to stand in our place to die on the cross. He was condemned to die in our place so that when we face God one day, we can put on Christ’s white robe of righteousness, and it will cover all of our sins and God will see us as perfect again.

So, again, I’m going to ask you, Have you failed God?

Have you failed to thank Him for loving you so much that He sent His son Jesus to die in your place?

Have you failed to honor Easter as a holy day honoring Jesus’ sacrifice for us? Are you treating it as some kind of cosmic joke and worshiping a big white bunny with lots of chocolate instead?

Have you failed to recognize that every single one of us is a sinner, and that we deserve God’s wrath, punishment, and death?

Have you failed to remember that Christ overcame death when that gravestone was rolled away and now we can overcome death, too?

Will you pray to God today to ask His forgiveness for going your own way, and ask Him to bring Christ into your life to receive His free gift of eternal life?

Don’t fail Him now.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trouble With Affliction

by Laura Urban, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

This psalm of affliction gives me trouble. I read the opening verses, and I realize I am not a person who is “afflicted.” My heart is not “withering like grass.” I am not “too wasted to eat my bread.” These images of affliction continue through the first 11 verses with a graphic, visceral intensity.

This psalm is not my voice.

But I am sure it is the voice of those in the midst of despair and destruction in Japan, Libya, and other areas of the world stricken by disaster, in calamities driven by man or nature. Surely many feel “like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.” (I picture one who feels forced to search alone in darkness for the basic necessities of life.)

I also feel sure that these verses are the voice of Christ: “All day long my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.” (v. 8) Jesus knew affliction, loneliness, and despair. It is jarring to remember that Jesus was not the comfortable suburbanite that I am. This Lenten season, it is humbling to meditate on these verses and to enter into His anguish.

Yet, for all its words of affliction, this psalm is one that ends with a note of triumph. Indeed, it is even Christ’s triumph that is celebrated. The author of the Book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 102 (v. 25-27) to introduce his argument that God has exalted Jesus as his Son. Fully consecrating the Incarnation, this author presents the psalm as the words of God the Father to the Son:

In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like clothing;

like a cloak you will roll them up,

and like clothing they will be changed.

But you are the same,

and your years will never end.

(Hebrews 1:10-12; from Ps 102: 25-27)

May we, too, worship at the feet at the one who has known affliction, yet forever endures. Our hope is in the one “who does not wear out like clothing.”