The sound of silence

I was watching the new Alter Bridge[1] single on YouTube the other day when I came across a live cover of The Sound of Silence, the classic Simon & Garfunkel song. The song features Alter Bridge’s lead singer Myles Kennedy in a guest duet spot with David Draiman and his band Disturbed during a recent tour. It is an incredibly beautiful cover. Two singers at the top of their game, especially as they build into the song.

I’m quite fond of Simon & Garfunkel as their songs are the music that I associate the most with my childhood – they were a favourite band of my parents. The Sound of Silence is obviously one of their best and well known songs.

The Myles Kennedy and David Draiman version of the song struck a chord with me – I couldn’t help thinking of the many injustices that are often overlooked in this world[2]. The sound of silence that follows a moment when we, as Christians, really should have stood up and been a voice for the voiceless.

Proverbs 31 tells us to:

8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice.

Tom Wright, in his book Simply Good News, writes about how the gospel compels us to act on injustices:

…the early Christians prayed and acted on the basis that the good news was true. There is no reason on earth, and certainly none in heaven, why we today should not do the same. And if anyone tries to say that the good news is not about all these things – about freeing slaves, helping the poor, about reconciling warring factions, ethnic groupings, and whole nations, about looking after the blessed world we live on and in – but instead is only about coming to faith in the present and going to heaven in the future, then we must reply that something has gone very, very wrong in their thinking.

And just in case we really need convincing, Jesus calls us to do this too: God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

So what does this look like? I think it starts with prayer: Thy will be done, thy kingdom come…

But it also needs to be followed with action.

I met a guy over the weekend who is a missionary in Thailand. The organisation he serves with (Empowerasia) provides a home for teenage girls from nearby villages – a Christ-filled environment that rescues them from what can be, from the sounds of things, terrible situations. Jamie is a living example of what the Bible is calling us to do, someone who hungers and thirsts for justice.

The questions I’m going to finish with are: How does this play out in our lives in New Zealand (or wherever we are living)? What does seeking justice look like for us, as individuals and as church communities? How might we be willing to disturb the sound of silence?


[1] As an irrelevant side note – Alter Bridge are one of my favourite bands and I’m looking forward to the new album in October!

[2]  A quick Google search suggests this isn’t the meaning of the song, but it’s what I get out of it!

All who are weary…

We’ve had a bit of sickness in our house over the past few weeks – I seem to have been hit the hardest and I’m only now starting to feel close to ‘normal’ again. In the midst of the weariness that sickness brings, the song Come As You Are (by Crowder, not Nirvana…) kept popping into my head, particularly the following verse:

There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure

I assume the lyrics are based on Matthew 11:28-30, which reads:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

How awesome it is to have a God who knows that there will be times in our journey when we are weary, for a multitude of reasons. A God who will always provide us with rest.

I like how Brennan Manning discusses these verses in The Ragamuffin Gospel:

When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy burdened” he assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love. He knew that physical pain, the loss of loved ones, failure, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and betrayal would sap our spirits…

Thank you Lord that in the midst of weariness we can find rest in your unending grace.

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Is it wrong to doubt?

doubt

At our church members’ meeting this week (which I mentioned in my previous post), a Word for Today devotion was shared on the topic of doubt. The devotion suggested that doubt is ‘the doorway through which Satan enters your life’ and that ‘your doubts reveal a lack of confidence in what God says’ – I’m not sure I agree with these statements.

Surely some level of doubt isn’t unhealthy, or is even healthy. I believe that questioning what we believe and why we believe it strengthens our faith. Sharing these doubts and working to understand them with others is crucial to developing a truly authentic community of Christ followers.

I recently listened to a sermon by Nate Pyle where he touched ever so briefly on the topic of doubt in the context of speaking about the Great Commission. Matthew 28:17 says “When they saw him [Jesus], they worshiped him – but some of them doubted!” Here it is in black and white – it’s not wrong to doubt, it doesn’t make us a bad Christian. Nate finished by saying that doubt only becomes a problem when we use it as an excuse to not continue seeking God. Doubts, knocking on the door, asking him to answer, is okay.

Rachel Held Evans, in her book Evolving in Monkey Town, discusses doubt and makes an important observation:

Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter is a virtue.

I think this differentiation is key, and perhaps the Word for Today devotion was primarily addressing the former. However, it portrayed it in such a way that it suggested all doubt was wrong, which is so unhelpful for those of us sitting in the pews with nagging questions of ‘why?’, ‘how?’ and ‘when?’ running through our head.

I’ll finish with another quote from Rachel’s book (which is a great read if you haven’t already picked it up!):

Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves. It is a refining fire, a hot flame that keeps our faith alive and moving and bubbling about, where certainty would only freeze it on the spot.

Faith isn’t about being right, or settling down, or refusing to change. Faith is a journey, and every generation contributes its own sketches on the map. I’ve got miles and miles to go on this journey, but I think I can see Jesus up ahead.

And for further reading, few interesting articles on Christians who aren’t afraid to doubt:

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Ambitions, hopes and plans

The song All for Jesus has frequently been in my head this year (after singing it occasionally at out previous church), particularly the lyrics ‘All of my ambitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands.’

These lyrics are a reminder for me to test my intentions and to be aware of my ambitions and plans. I find this particularly to be the case when it comes to trying to figure out where God intends for me to serve once the pastoral search committee (to find our new senior pastor) process is over – which will hopefully draw to a close soon.

The song also emphasises the need to be intentional about sacrificing own ambitions for God’s kingdom – he may have plans that don’t necessarily line up with our own. So often in life we cling to our ambitions and plans as they can give us a sense of security.

But Jesus wants us to give him our all – everything, including our ambitions, hopes and plans. In Luke 9 he says “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

This doesn’t necessarily mean those plans we thought we had aren’t what we’ll end up doing, but we have to be willing for Jesus to have other plans for our life.

This song and Luke 9:23 make me seriously ask myself these two questions:
1. What are the ambitions, hopes and plans that I’m holding onto?
2. Are these getting on the way of me fully surrendering to Christ?

Being a disciple of Christ isn’t meant to be easy. However I take solace in the last words Jesus speaks before ascending into heaven at the end of Matthew 28 “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus recognises discipleship is difficult – however he is always with us and loves us, no matter what.

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.

For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All for Jesus – Robin Mark

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Learning to pray

Lords_Prayer

Our son turned two today – he was very excited, especially about the birthday cake and candles, which he has been anticipating since we went to a birthday party a few months ago.

He’s been making amazing strides in his language over the past month, and we’ve begun to teach him how to pray, which has been lovely.

Ever since the day he was born we’ve been praying with him. The first blessing he got was from his Nan in the delivery suite, when he was only a few minutes old. Later that night, I vividly remember holding him as Kim slept in the hospital bed, bringing his face close to mine and praying that he would grow into a strong man of God.

Prayer is a part of daily life for our family, something he has been, and always will be, exposed to. We pray with him at least a few times during the day; grace at dining table (he’s always reaching out to hold our hands once he’s in his high chair (probably because it means dinners almost ready!) and once he’s in bed.

More recently he’s been asking for prayer, especially at bedtime and sometimes more than once. He’s been sick quite a bit (for him) over the last month, so when we ask him what he wants us to pray for he says ‘peace’ in his cute little voice. I find that our prayer with him definitely gives him comfort – he almost always will be peaceful and fall asleep after we pray.

Kim has been teaching him he doesn’t have to have wait for us to pray, that he can talk to God all by himself; he just needs to say ‘peace Jesus’. I think he’s starting to get the hang of it.

This has got me thinking about how we learn to pray. I’ve always felt some sort of deficiency in this space, like I’m not very good at it. But over recent years I’ve become more intentional, learning new ways to pray and spiritual disciplines, attending a course that our church in Dunedin offered a few years ago, and studying the Bible more.

It heartens me to know that even the disciples seemed to struggle with prayer, asking Jesus to teach them how to pray in Luke 11. What followed was the Lord’s Prayer, which I’ve often overlooked in the past. During our church’s week long prayer vigil this year, I spent some time reading NT Wright’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. It gave me a much deeper understanding of what this particular prayer is really about, and helped me think more about how I pray in practice. NT Wright likens the Lord’s Prayer to a framework, scaffolding rather than the whole building. It made me realise in particular that I have a tendency to spend a lot of time praying about my needs or the needs of my nearest and dearests, but not nearly enough time praying for God’s kingdom, asking forgiveness, and just genuinely honouring and praising God. A new perspective I’d overlooked, but am trying to focus more on now.

I’m never going to be a perfect pray-er – I, like my son, will always be learning (who isn’t?!), but who better to learn from than Jesus!

9So this is how you should pray:
Our father in heaven,
may your name be honoured
10may your kingdom come
may your will be done
as in heaven, so on earth.
11Give us today the bread we need now;
12and forgive us the things we owe,
as we too have forgiven what was owed to us.
13Don’t bring us into the great trial,
but rescue us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13 (as translated by NT Wright)

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