23 October, 2011

Why Do We Sing?

Of all the things we do together as a church I think that from the perspective of an outsider, the strangest thing we do is to sing. Especially in our modern culture - it seems that unless you're performing in front of a large audience, or perhaps a quick solo in the shower or car, singing has no place in our lives. So I can imagine that the sight of a bunch of people getting together and singing would strike most non-Christians as a trifle odd.

I was recently thinking about the story of Paul and Silas when they were jailed in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). After being arrested for doing nothing more than casting a demon out of a slave-girl, they were severely beaten and thrown into the deepest dungeon. Come midnight, what do you think they were doing? If it was me, I think I'd be getting some well-deserved shut-eye, some much needed rest to recuperate after a rough day. After all, it was probably pitch dark - what else was there to do?

Paul and Silas were not like me. They didn't sleep, they sang. I wonder what they sang? The text says it was "hymns to God" but I wonder what the words were, what they were saying to God. I wonder what the tune was like. Do you think they sounded good? How much oomph do you think they could muster after all they had been through? But the other prisoners listened. It doesn't just say they heard them, they were listening.

I find this interesting, not because it is a good example of how we can rejoice even in the worst circumstances, which it is, nor because it shows how their attitude helped to win over the jailer and his family, which it did. I find it interesting because it highlights the important place that singing had in the lives of Paul and Silas. They didn't sing because everyone else was. They didn't sing because they were commanded to. They sang because it meant something to them. The words they sang and the fact they could do it together was a great comfort to them. Perhaps they sang an old Psalm which connected them to all the Jews who had faithfully sung it for centuries. Perhaps they sang a favourite of the church at Philippi which reminded them of their brothers and sisters nearby. Their singing connected them to each other, to brethren past and present, and to God.

Is that why we sing?

10 July, 2011

One Thing

You don't have to look very far to see that the world is changing. Even in my few years I have seen the world get faster, more complicated and stressful. One interesting statistic is that during my lifetime the average size of houses have doubled. Is this because families are much larger today? On the contrary, families are smaller. Is it because we are richer? Certainly.

But I think that this reflects something in our lifestyles that is not healthy. It shows how cluttered our lives have become that we need such large homes to contain it all. We don't just need a place to sleep, a place to eat and a place to socialise. We need a place to work on the computer, a place to watch the TV, a place to play games, rooms to hold all our clothes, several places to primp and preen ourselves, a retreat where we can escape from the children, a place where they can escape us.

What this shows is how many things we dedicate our lives to. When we devote a room to something it tells us how important it is to us. But how many of all these things are really important? Why do we feel the need to escape from our children? Why do we devote so much space and time to our appearance?Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying we ought to be ascetics. But let's think about what our houses say about us and our priorities. So much of what we do, even legitimate things, are not that important.

Martha struggled with this too (Luke 10:38-42). When Jesus came to visit she wanted to serve him - a noble thing to do. Perhaps though, she wanted to make a good impression, put on a good show with her cooking, make everything just so. Wouldn't we all, especially if Jesus was coming over. Wouldn't we straighten the pictures, pull all the weeds, polish all the furniture, tidy every room?

How did Jesus react? “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Jesus is that one thing. All our houses, all our possessions, all our obsessions mean nothing unless they help to bring us back to that one thing. Too often they do the opposite. Our houses will go out of fashion and fall apart, our belongings will come and go, our appearances will fade and be forgotten. But Jesus, that one thing, will not be taken away from us.

03 July, 2011

Looking in the Mirror

I love footy. Its toughness, its spectacle; the way it flows and sweeps across a field. The camaraderie of supporting a team.

But that passion can bring out both the best and the worst in me. It breeds loyalty and devotion, but it can also stir up hatred and derision. Wins sometimes are too gloating, defeats too bitter. After a game I sometimes look at myself, and I don't like what I see.

I'm sure we all experience this from time to time - we see ourselves in the mirror and are confronted by our sin and are disgusted. It can be thoroughly disheartening.

David was confronted by his sin by the prophet Nathan. Why did it take this long for David to realise his sin? David, who knew God and His law so well - why was his conscience not pricked earlier in the sordid affair? But if we are too critical of David here I think we misunderstand how blinded we can be by power. Maybe David grew too used to his will being done without question that he stopped questioning it himself? We can be just the same when we dwell in the self-important delusions of our own making. When we believe we have power, whether it be power over another person, or power to sit in judgment over a football team, we become blind to our own sin because we believe we are above the law. We are our own king! No wonder we are devastated when we come crashing to earth.

The important thing is that once David was confronted by his sin, he did not ignore it. Nathan's message enabled David to see the consequences of his actions in a way he hadn't before, and in a way he couldn't ignore. He mourned and humbled himself and he turned to God (2 Sam. 12:16-17).

Humility is the antidote to our selfishness and delusions of power. There is no better way to remain humble than to confess our sins to one another, and to God. How good it is that God is willing to forgive our sins and pick us up and make us new (Psalm 32).

29 March, 2011

Lake Matheson, New Zealand

Early morning at Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, we enjoyed the sunrise before a leisurely coffee with the Southern Alps as a spectacular backdrop.

Mt Tasman and Mt Cook from Lake Matheson.

What better place to enjoy a morning coffee?

13 February, 2011

As We Wait Eagerly

It was just over 150 years ago that Queensland's first telegram network was first used. With our modern technology, it's hard to imagine just how revolutionary this was, to send a message and actually expect it to be received the same day. Now we expect everything to be instantaneous. We can watch a sporting event live on the other side of the planet. We can order an airline ticket and have it sitting in our email before we have time to look. It almost seems that something like patience is rapidly becoming a quaint product of a bygone era.

But we know that in our Christian walk, there is much we can only anticipate, and must wait patiently to be fulfilled. Yes, sin has been defeated through Christ, but we still struggle with it in this life. Yes, we are in God's Kingdom now, but we are not yet with God in Heaven. There is much of God's promises that we must patiently await in hope.

Indeed, the whole creation shares with us in this, as Paul reminds us of our need for patience and hope:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:18-25