Category Archives: devotion

The way home

Some draft song words I wrote after a Christian music conference earlier this year. Any ideas for a title?

1.
You came to us, showed that your pain
was your road to royal glory.
Wipe away tears, give us your joy
Lord, help us understand your word.

2.
Jesus is alive, here with us,
we ask him to show us the road:
Jesus, burn our hearts with wonder
Lord, help us understand your word.

3.
We gather today, we repent
of times we did not want to hear.
Now we turn, we call on your name
Lord, help us understand your word.

4.
Spirit, pour out meaning and hope
on every life resurrected.
Cut our hearts, shine the Christ-light
Lord, help us understand your word.

Chorus.
Praise God, lift your voice, all sing
The joy of the Lord is our strength.
Praise God, life your voice, all sing
Our Saviour shows us the way home.

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My Jacob

Empathy here, at the genesis, a garment
worn to wrestle. The hip bone
wrenched at dawn. A new name
for one at the end of himself. Stones
ground under heels overnight. He won’t go,

that heel-grabber, he wants a full-face
blessing. Under his torn garment,
throbbing with honest pain, his hip bone
is ID’d by my thumbprint. My name:
he knows it. He left it with the stones,

that time he gave my house my name,
rested his head and dream-laddered to me on pillow-stones.
So I won’t go,
and he’ll see the lines of kindness that write my face.
And I’ll feel the pain shouldered under his garment,

thumb-pressed into memories of when he had to go,
flee a father who could not see his face,
the hairs barely plucked free of his garment.
He knows the throbbing truth, has picked it from the bone:
his brother was right when he spat the heel-grabber name.

And yet. He grabs the other truth while we grind stones:
I want to make room for him, to let him go
with a memory of my face.
He will get a chance to replace this garment,
the one holy-torn to our contention’s bone.

Fast backward and forward to other bruised bone:
His own father with sticks carried on boy-shoulders, carried in the name
of a ram-surprised sacrifice. Then, those stones
that cried at the sight of battered shoulders, cross-ready to go.
You will cry, too, at my thorn-pressed, pain-readable face.

At the dawn there I am, and you have a new name.
When your pillows are stones, your dreams wrestle with bruised bone,
remember your holy-torn garment, read my love-legible face.

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Esther

Maybe for a

time such as this? When
cousins / fathers stand at gates, and
I’m not sure whether I
won / lost / drew that
beauty contest and / or the
Makerlove, covenanted through history, but

Maybe not for a

time such as this? When
cousins / fathers change minds, and
I’m not sure whether I
am / am not / am becoming, the
braver of sceptres for that unspoken / spoken
Kinlove, exiled into history, and

Maybe not around for a much longer

time than this? Resolve, then,
tendrils every word. Hebrew letters
curve into destiny. My scribe hushes mention of the
Consonant One, but herenow,
providential friends, we can
grab some vowels and toddle into the
Yahweh Godfire.

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Olivet discourse

Olivet Discourse

David escapes the Mount of Olives way,
tears pulled down the slope of his
cheek by the proud gravity of
a son’s plan to descend
on his people like
the ground dew.
David weeps
at the town gate. A conspiracy
of tree branches yank my son,
my son, Absalom, into a hair-raised
death. If only me, my Jerusalem self,
if only it had been me.

Later, more if-only tears pulled
down by this heavy mountain
magnetic. Jesus’ donkey
knows the burden too.
The disciples sing peace.
The stones tremble with
the desire to harmonise.
Jesus weeps
at all the lost Jerusalem selves,
the strewn stones, the tender
everyday ground like dust
by another military season.

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Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem

When the palm leaves are shown the donkey is waved on through

Its hooves are slowed by the smashed green stickiness, everywhere underfoot

 Jesus, donkey, remember:  

                 Big fish

                 Rumbling darkness  

The gentle donkey lurches,

throws Jesus into the three-day deep. 

 

The big fish heaves Jonah from its pit.

Jonah sets his face to elsewhere,

away from the glare of mercy.                      

 

Jonah’s compassion is a withered plant,

sulking on the doorstep, outside the rain.

Choking down tender dewdrops

                                                come morning.

 

Three women set their faces to the dawn.

They clutch their fragrant grief to themselves.

Come, morning: 

                 Dazzle with your bright angel clothes

                 Frighten us with rising joy.

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A song about a kiss

The Bible, it’s a book. It’s a book full of different books, that all fit together into one story. The story of how God loves us, and how God rescues us.

And …you may not know, the Bible is a book that’s full of songs. We have, in the Bible, the book of Psalms. The Psalms are songs. They were sung, long ago, by God’s people. Many of these songs were sung in desperate times, when the people were being captured, enslaved, torn from their homes and sent to distant lands. Many of the songs speak of a deep longing for God’s King to arrive, finally, and put things right.

Today, I would like you to remember one of these old old songs. It’s song about a kiss:

I will listen to what God the Lord will say;
he promises peace to his people, his saints-
but let them not return to foolishness.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Love and Faithfulness meet together;
Right Living and Peace kiss each other.

(Psalm 85:8-10)

God’s people, so long ago, were longing for this kiss to happen. They wanted to see God reach into history and rescue them with a huge kiss. And then they would live forever in a kingdom of right living and peace.

And it happened. We know this from the Bible. Right Living and Peace kissed each other. God rescued his people.

How did it happen? When did it happen?

God loves us so much he sent his son Jesus to earth to be our King. Jesus lived the right way, the perfect way. He obeyed God by getting killed, getting punished so that we would not need to be punished. We can’t live a perfect life. Jesus came to earth to live it for us. So Jesus is our Right Living King.

And Jesus is our King of Peace. His Kingdom of Peace is unfolding every day. We can’t always see it…Life is hard, there is hurt, pain and conflict in our lives and in our friends’ and families’ lives. But through Jesus we can be part of God’s family. Jesus is going to return to earth one day, and all of God’s family will be able to live in perfect peace and happiness under his rule. There will be heaven on earth for God’s people, forever.

So, as you’re walking through the shops and you hear Christmas carols, you can remember that they are songs that celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Right Living King, and the King of Peace. Jesus’ birth is the reason we can sing and celebrate at Christmas, and keep on celebrating forever. Our King has arrived!

Madonna mit Kind (Albin Egger-Lienz, 1921)

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Welcome to almost mid-February

Farewell to January 2013 . January, when I wrote my first calendar entries neatly,  in the same coloured pen.  Wondered what the year would hold. Farewell to this land of empty calendar spaces.  Farewell to a time of dreaming, a time of possibility.

Welcome, already, to February 2013.  Welcome to February 11, 2013.  Welcome, almost, to mid February 2013.

Sometimes it feels like I am so busy joining the dots on my calendar that I am missing something, missing the bigger picture.  And sometimes I think, IS there a bigger picture? And if there is, am I meant to see it?

It’s good to know I am not alone in this:

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil- this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.

(Ecclesiastes 3: 9-15)

There is frustration here.  We know that the world is big. Bigger than us, bigger than our calendar.  Bigger than all our calendars put together, bigger even than the church roster. But we will never be able to understand things as clearly as God.

We can see beauty around us, minute to minute.  But we can’t add up those minutes into something that equals the meaning of the universe.   We have eternity in our hearts.  We want to understand more, because we know that there is so much more to things than the here and now.  We want to know that the effort we put into things has meaning, a point.

The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that there was a God in charge of time and history.  We are privileged to know more than this writer; we know that God has broken into history.  Jesus, the Son of God, has  become King of all history and all time through his death and resurrection. There will be eternal, abundant life for all Jesus’ followers.  It’s His kingdom that we’re helping to usher in.  This is what colours our world with new meaning:

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

Jesus is the King, He’s defeated death.  He’s liberated us from the power of the law too.  We don ‘t need to do anything to meet our own standards of goodness, busyness or respectability.  Or other people’s standards.

It’s not about us anymore.  It’s about being ambassadors for the King, rolling out the red carpet for Him.  It’s about looking forward to Jesus’ second coming, when He comes in full glory and power. Looking forward to the time when there will be feasting and joy in His presence.  It’s about all the work we can throw ourselves into now, to advance Jesus’ kingdom as it breaks into the world.

We are assured that our work is meaningful. Because our labour is in the Lord, and it is not in vain.

Dear Lord Jesus

 You are the forever King.
 You are King of history and time
Over each breath, each life,
Over all cultures, all eras.

Thank you
That even though you are infinite
You chose to break into our history
To come into our misery
To journey to the centre of our heartbreak
You died, because you loved us. 

Help us to welcome you gladly
Into our lives
Into the life of our church, our community, our country,
Into every bit of our world –
Your world.

Amen

 

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Psalms alive!

 

Psalms 103 and 104: these psalms are neighbors.  They are both loud and boisterous, but neither minds.  I’d like to spend some time in their neighborhood.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great! (Psalm 104:1)

Psalm 96 is not a neighbor, but it is definitely on the same train line:

O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation day by day. (Psalm 96:1-2)

There’s lots to love here.  All the “O”s and exclamation points: so much drama and excitement!  But why is there drama and excitement?  Because these psalms shout out a blessing to God!

Strange to think that we can “bless” God.  What does that mean? it can’t mean that we add to anything that He is already.  He is holy, perfect.  He is the one who saves us.  How do we bless God?… By responding to who He is, and what He has done. With “O”s and exclamation points.  With song.  By telling stories about his great rescue.

I love these Psalms because they remind me that my prehistory, history, present and future are all punctuated with exclamation marks.  And God put them there! So many reasons to praise who He is, and what He has done.

I love it that, as a church, our blessings cannot be monotone.  We bless God when we turn ourselves inside out to praise Him.  Because everyone has uniquely packed insides, everyone will sing out Psalm 103:1 differently.  But there will still be a beautiful harmony because blessing the Lord also involves our obedience to Him.  And when we bless the Lord in this way we sing in harmony with the angels above!

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word! 

Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will! 

Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

(Psalm 103:20-22, ESV translation)

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Journey to the centre of heartbreak (Luke 7:11-17)

Let me tell you a story, an old old story.About a brave warrior from Sweden. His name was Beowulf.  One day Beowulf sails across the sea.  He’s on a mission to help his friend, the king of the Danes.

Why does the Danish king need help? A vicious outcast, a demonic beast called Grendel is terrorizing the king’s hall.  He’s coming in at night and killing and devouring the king’s men. 

Beowulf, the great warrior, fights with his bare strength against the monster.  He pulls off Grendel’s arm and the monster goes away to die. 

Then Grendel’s vicious mother emerges from her horrible swampy home.  She wants revenge for her son’s death.  She kills one of the king’s men.  Beowulf is the only person brave enough to swim to the depths of the swamp to confront this sea hag. He kills Grendel’s mother with his sword.  Peace is restored to the land of the Danes.

Beowulf sails home.  He is a hero.  He becomes king of his own land.  A popular, wise king.  He rules for many years. 

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Let me tell you another old, old story.  About another king.  In fact, this man is known as the King of all kings. 

This man did not fight monsters with his bare hands.  He did not wield a sword or battle anyone.  He did not travel the high seas.  In the part of his story we are looking at he is travelling through the countryside, approaching a tiny, obscure village called Nain.  How could a man like this be the King of all kings?

Let us meet this man, this would-be king…his name is Jesus.

 

On the road with Jesus (Luke 4-7)

Jesus is on the road.  He’s finished recruiting twelve men to be his special students and ambassadors.  His twelve disciples.  He’s just given the disciples a long pep talk about the kind of people he expects them to be.  They are not to judge others.  They are to love and forgive their enemies.  These aren’t fighting words.  These are not the words of a warrior who wants to fight to obtain freedom.  The disciples must have been wondering: Who is this man? What is his agenda?

But there’s a lot of buzz about Jesus.  It’s spreading.  This man is amazing.  He’s healed demon-possessed people.  He’s made lepers clean and well again.  He’s restored, someone’s twisted, withered hand. He’s given a paralytic man walking legs.  What will he do next?  It’s not just Jesus and his disciples on the road now.  A large crowd has come to join them.

 

Collision with heartbreak (Luke 7:11-12)

Jesus and his followers come to Nain, a small town.  And all the buzz, and all the excitement fades in a second.  Because they collide with a funeral procession at the town gate.  Somebody’s dead child is being carried out.  It’s a boy, and he’s the only son of a widow. 

So, it seems like the party might be over.  The crowd must be thinking: It’s been great to see so many people healed, but they were alive to start with.  This widow’s son is dead.  There’s nothing to be done, except to join the procession, express some sympathy to the widow.  Or is there?

Jesus goes to the child’s coffin.  We are in a small country town.  But we have also travelled to the centre of our human heartbreak.  Our heartbreak that we will all die.  All our loved ones will die.  Jesus has collided with our biggest heartbreak.

 

Compassion (Luke 7:13-14)

The story says that Jesus’ heart went out to the widow. 

Jesus tells her not to cry.  Which might have made people in the crowd a bit angry.  Surely this woman should be allowed to cry?  She has already lost her husband, and now she has lost her only son.  She will be lonely, probably destitute. 

Then Jesus goes up to the coffin, touches it.  The people carrying the coffin stand still.  What Jesus does is very surprising.  Touching an open coffin makes him ritually unclean.  Not something a mourner would usually do.  He is not shying away from the situation.  He’s sharing the grief of the widow in a very intimate way.  But what can he do?  The boy is dead! Perhaps it would be best just to move on to the next town and see if there are any sick people who can be healed. 

 

Power (Luke 7:14-15)

But Jesus’ compassion is more than a symbolic gesture.  The crowd don’t know it yet, but he has the power to reverse death.  And his power is in his words.   All he has to say is “Young man I say to you, get up.”  And the boy gets up. 

 There is a beautiful description of what Jesus does next- he gives the boy back to his mother.  This miracle does not simply show Jesus’ amazing power over death. It shows that Jesus’ mission here on earth has a point.  He is showing what his agenda is as King over all the earth.  It is to restore everything, to make everything new again.  To fling away despair and death.  The miracles show Jesus’ infinite compassion breaking into the sadness and brokenness of our world. 

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Who are you? (Luke 7:16-17 and Luke 7:18-23)

The crowd is quiet.  They are awed.  Then there is noise, everyone is joyful, praising Jesus. 

But there is still confusion about who Jesus is.  Some people say, ” God has come to help his people” and others say ” A great prophet has appeared among us”.  Is Jesus a prophet, a messenger from God, or is he something more? 

John the Baptist is confused, too.  In the next passage he sends word to Jesus.  He asks “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Is Jesus really the Christ?  Is he really God’s King?

Jesus says:

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

Jesus does not give himself a title here.  He doesn’t declare himself to be King.  But all the things he lists are what the prophets of long ago predicted that the Messiah, God’s King, would do.  Jesus knows who he is.

What about you?  Who do you think Jesus is?  Do you think Jesus is irrelevant to you?  Do you think he is some teacher from long ago, interesting but slightly embarrassing and outdated?  Do you think that it’s time for society to move on, to move past the idea that Jesus is God’s King?  Who worships kings in this day and age, anyway?

 

The end of a story, and everything begins again (Revelation 21:3-5)

I didn’t tell you how Beowulf’s story ends.  We know he rules for many years.  A popular, wise king. 

But all this time there is a dragon lurking deep under his land.  The dragon is disturbed, and begins a campaign of fiery terror against Beowulf’s people.  Beowulf fights the dragon.  He manages to stab and kill the dragon, but not before the dragon has scratched him with his evil talons.  Dragon poison enters  Beowulf’s blood, and Beowulf dies.  Beowulf, the beloved king, dead.  His people are bereft. They wail, they are inconsolable as the funeral pyre of their king goes up in smoke.

The people are scared.  They have lost their security, they have lost their warrior king, the one who protected them.  Now it is inevitable that old feuds will boil up again, that they will be invaded by other peoples.  A lady stands by the funeral pyre, prophesying about their bleak, bleak future.  A wild prophesy of nightmare and lament.  Her nation will be invaded, there will be enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles, slavery and abasement.

How different it is in Jesus’ kingdom.  At the end of the Bible his kingdom is described like this:

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live among them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
(Revelation 21:3-5)

Jesus is looking forward to the time when he can walk among us and we can be his people, and he can be our King. He is looking forward to showing his people his sparkling new kingdom, washed free of every heartbreak and sorrow. Jesus has beaten death.  Jesus has travelled to the centre of our heartbreak.

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