Monday, December 16, 2013

Handel's worship

George Frideric Handel's Messiah went public in Dublin in April 1742, originally meant to be an Easter offering.
I love that at this first performance of the Messiah the Rev. Patrick Dealny was so moved by what one of the female soloists was singing that he jumped to his feet and cried out "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!"
There were certainly moments like that for me when I listened to the Messiah at York Minster this last Saturday. I wept silently as I listened to the words and music--trying not to make a scene. A part of me wanted to jump up at points or even fall on my face and just worship.  I don't think the refined audience of York residents gathered that evening would have approved!
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5 KJV)
My Spirit said 'yes!' This is my hope. This is what I'm living for! 

Handel's Messiah is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Being a worship leader, I admit that most Christan worship songs cannot stand the test of time.  Most modern worship music is written to be simple, catchy, accessible and singable-- in other words congregational.  But Handel's Messiah is in a class all its own.

Not only is the music sublime but its intention is noble.  The music is meant to carry the very word of life and message of hope.

Handel came across the libretto by Charles Jennens when he was in debt, depressed, and contemplating a return to Germany. He was moved profoundly to set the words to music. The libretto was divided into three parts: 1) prophecies about the coming messiah (largely drawing on Isaiah); 2) the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection of Christ; 3) the End times with Christ’s final victory over sin and death, largely based in the book of Revelation.

Handel wrote Messiah in a very short time-- just 24 days in which he barely ate or left his home. It is said that when He wrote the Hallelujah Chorus his assistant found him in tears and he said, "I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God." 

Using scripture in theatre was revolutionary for Handel's day and some people opposed his work.  Influential people would try and sabotage his performances by giving large teas and sponsoring other theatrical performances in order to steal away his audiences. "If the Playhouse is a fit Temple..." one opponent published in a newspaper, "or a Company of Players fit Ministers of God’s Word."  This person saw the Messiah as "prostituting sacred things to the perverse humour of a Set of obstinate people."

Handel was German and accustomed to having the word of God accessible.  Isn't this what Martin Luthrer had accomplished for all of us? The inventors of the printing press and founders of the Lutheran bible were not about to let only a chosen few have the word of God in in holy places but in every part of life.   "I have read my Bible very well," he said, "and will choose for myself." In fact, Handel maintained that he knew the Bible as well as any bishop. 

Some said that Satan was behind the word of God being proclaimed in the theatre of all places!

Handel was certainly ahead of his time, and I am thankful for people like him who challenge the traditions and popular culture of our day by having a clear vision of what God wants to do.

“I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” – George Frideric Handel

“I have heard great music--even sublime music. I've heard music fit for princes, for kings. I have heard music fit for any monarch. But that night, for the first time in my life, I heard music fit for God.” 
-- J. Scott Featherstone

Monday, October 28, 2013

Single and lonely?

I was really entertained when I heard a great message on singleness last night. The title, I thought, was "single and lonely?" but I would have renamed it "an introduction to approaching singleness" because I felt like it only scratched the surface.

The speaker did a great job of approaching the topic with humour and humanity. But I felt the message was aimed at people between the age of 18 and 25.  He maintained that if you are single you can focus on eternity and our future in God, which is very true. I totally agree.

And you can do that for a few years.

And it's good.

But what about after 40 and still single...having  done all those things.

Single and lonely?  I would have liked to hear that message.

I couldn't help looking around and seeing so many older singles in our church who are still looking for a partner and thinking he didn't really address their concerns-- our concerns.

Maybe the topic is just too big. And besides...who wants to talk about the desperation of a single person approaching mid-life and thinking "will I always be alone..???" and the disappointment of realizing life isn't turning out the way I thought it would. It's easy to be optimistic in your 20's and thinking "I still have time,"and then approaching 30's and thinking "it will turn out right somehow, hang on to hope!"  and then entering your 40's thinking  "what's wrong with me???"

I'm not one of those women who ever focused on marriage as a young person. I was definitely living for the future and thinking of what I could do for the kingdom. I used to get impatient with women in their 20's who were desperate to get married. I was living my life and pursuing my dreams and definitely not waiting for a man to fill that space. If he came along, great--but I wasn't waiting around.

But what  about the men and women just like me who focused on eternity in their 20's and 30's and still find themselves wondering what the next 20 or 30 years are going to look like if they never get married...? It's a sobering thought. The kind that could make you cry yourself to sleep at night if you dwell on it too long.

It's not something we talk about much in the church and yet I can tell you the truth---I know it's on our minds. And from the many profiles I see on Christian dating sites from my own church... I know that not everyone is thinking their singleness is this great gift from God to focus on eternity.

There is real pain here.

Because for all Paul's assertions that "it is good for them(unmarried people)  if they remain even as I. (1 Cor 7:8) we have to go back to what God originally intended.

It is not good for the man to be alone...(Gen. 2:18)

So in case you're thinking you're going crazy in your singleness...TAKE HEART. God never intended us to be alone. He designed marriage and the truth is...very few of us are called to be single.

 When I have heard speakers talk about this in YWAM, they have often said "there are a lot of disobedient men out there..." because let's face it-- there are more single women than men. And when you join YWAM, the numbers of gorgeous, spirit-filled, vibrant and strong women out there increases ten times--and too many of them single.

And then we ask the question "where are the men??"

But let me get back to my point. Regardless of how I struggle with this issue, the truth remains that God is able to make all grace abound to us. And what I mean by that... is that He can give the strength and ability to face any situation, no matter how abnormal or unnatural--and I believe that singleness is not God's intention for most of us. It feels really abnormal and unnatural because I don't believe it's what God wanted for us--and yet here we are--struggling through life in all its imperfections.

So in the midst of it all...this is my confession of faith:

God can meet us even here.

Here in my loneliness, God is greater. Here in my 'unnatural state' (smile)-- God is at my side.

God is still the God of the impossible.

So I want to hang on HOPE and keep speaking the truth of who God is. I have met so many older women who gave up at some point. They left their desire to be married  with God and got on with life but they stopped praying into this area.

Seek and you will find...knock and the door will be opened...

I think there is something to be said for perseverance... not desperation, but perseverance...

I don't want to stop asking God for something good I believe He has for me.  I want to feed myself on the amazing possibilities and the greatness of God.  I've started praying more fervently in this area with a friend. I'm not giving up. I'm asking, seeking and knocking. Are you? I'm not talking about murmuring, grumbling or complaining :) That's different!

Meanwhile, I need to work on my relational circle.

This was another issue the speaker brought up last night--this fact that singles wouldn't be so lonely if there were better relationships happening around them-- more of a community in churches. I have coffee with married women but I am rarely invited into families... maybe people don't realize I need family, too. I have to work on making my needs known because people rarely see me as a needy person.

Maybe it's more poignant for me being far away from my home country, my home town and any family. Most people in this city haven't known me longer than three years.  I can't tell you how embarrassing it can be for me to invite myself over for holidays but sometimes I can't bear spending it alone. Everyone else who is single goes home on holidays and weekends. I can't exactly nip back to California for Easter...makes it more challenging!

The thing is we do have an aging population of single people in our churches. There's no getting around it. I would love to hear a message addressing this audience specifically. In the meantime, these are some of my honest thoughts and struggles.

Come on single friends! Let's not give up.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Taking care of yourself

I'm in a new season of taking care of myself.

Sounds a little strange to say it that way but it's true.

I'm responsible for me and to be the best me possible.

Something has been happening to me the past few months that I want to explain here and I don't have much time so forgive the mistakes and inadequacies in expressing myself.

Firstly, I've been learning to accept myself as I am. This is a huge step for me because I grew up in a really critical environment-- a fairly negative one. I have had to really learn to be positive. But I've felt for a long time that something is missing beyond optimism or being positive. 

I need to really like and love me.

I've been learning to accept myself as I am--not as I should be or would like to be...but right now.

Realizing God loves me and giving mental ascent to an idea is easy--but embracing this in our hearts and our thinking is another. God's love has always been there. His love and acceptance and reassurance that I belong have always been there. But I'm really learning to accept this to be true right now.

This gives way to my second point.

I've not been happy with my weight for a long time. I have seasons where I get a hold of this and I change but it has not been something enduring. I stumbled about some extreme weight-loss videos on youtube that have been encouraging. I watched some episodes of  "extreme weightloss makeover editions" with Chris Powell-- wow! Those have been inspiring. They've helped me to move forward in my own journey.

Realizing that I'm 44 years old (as of last month) and that my energy levels have been decreasing as my weight has been increasing is a sobering thought.

Probably for the first time--not as a means of acceptance or love or approval for anyone--not as a way to EARN love or respect from anyone else-- I am losing weight and taking care of myself for ME.

In the past, I would dread going home to California if I'd been gaining weight. I would feel a need to diet or change myself if I was going to meet up with friends or family--- because of what THEY thought.

I don't care anymore.

This is about me. This is for me. I have to take a hold of my life in order to be the best possible me I can be so I can live a long, healthy and fruitful life.

I've only been in this process a few days but I can already feel the difference. I've been exercising, eating better. The scale was a sobering moment yesterday but I'm facing these things so I can set a goal for myself over the next  year. I want to lose 50 pounds over the next year. I think it's totally possible and I feel God's encouragement and strength.

I have a renewed hope and joy in everything knowing that I'm taking a hold of this. I sense the Holy Spirit in me also rejoicing.

God is good. I look forward to the next year and all the changes!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

praying for encouragement

I often listen to Graham Cooke because he speaks my language.

He's loving, he's kind, but he tells the truth--and most importantly--you can tell he hangs out with Jesus.

One thing I've heard him say more than once is "I pray for encouragment every single day" and I thought that was an interesting statement.

Makes sense. If God is our source and we depend on Him...then why not ask Him for the courage to keep going?

So I was praying on Sunday and reading scripture and I came across this one in the proverbs right away:

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. (Proverbs 14:4 NLT)

That made me laugh right away. I just had a sense that I am just like that ox-- big animal--not dainty or fragile-- and knew that who I am is needed for this next coming harvest--and it's defnitely coming.

That cheered my heart.  God knows I don't always feel like I fit in--but he knows how to get through. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

I have another friend who regularly asks God for presents. I think that's a cute one.  I guess if the way you feel loved is through receiving gifts, this would be important to ask God. Here's the thing, though:  God comes through every time for her!

God is good like that. When we call on His name, He answers.

Holy Spirit, bring the encouragement we need for this day to live in Your love and to do your will with a grateful heart.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In my weakness I am strong

Last week I started getting sick…and I mean “knock out” sick---the kind where I just want to sleep forever. It’s not exactly typical for me.

By Saturday I was getting worried—it seemed to no t be improving and I was expected to lead worship at two services on Sunday…from 3:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. I was thinking, “will I make it?”
So I started praying with a friend and he was telling me declare healing over my life and to live by faith. I did do that. I prayed a lot but on Sunday I felt a bit dizzy.  My voice was beginning to fade. 

I decided to press through it. I even used a stool for the first service so that I could rest a bit.
But by the second service my voice was really suffering. I could barely get words out, let alone a melody by half way through it.

EVEN SO… something amazing happened.

The presence of God was probably the thickest I remember it in a long time in the church. I could sense the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit in the room. And I kept laughing. It was making me laugh that people were able to worship and go deeper regardless of the music.  Many people remarked at the JOY in the room…reminded me of Psalm 16 v. 11…  You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

In fact, people came up to me afterwards and said “I need to tell you that people were coming in off the streets because of the worship.”
Today my friend Fiona told me a guy came in off the street and responded to a call for prayer even though he had just come in at the end. Fiona told me there were people standing in the aisles just to hear what was going on.

There was such joy and peace in His presence. I’m really grateful God came and ministered so powerfully.

It’s not about the music at all in the end—it’s about the faith that we have in what God can do in the UNSEEN. I was trusting God to lead the worship—to go beyond my quacking and straining. In our weakness, He really wants to be the strength.

I think the bible is full of those examples…where he wants to make it clear to us that our own strength is not what gets us there.  Think of Gideon with his army,  Jericho and the walls, Joshophat and the singers….  We don’t like to be put in that place of weakness. We want to feel competent and prepared. I’m all about preparation—but in the end, it’s the impossible things I want to be asking for. I want God to be lifted high and receive the glory due His name.
 All too often without our weaknesses to keep us in check, who gets the glory? God doesn’t share glory (Isaiah 42:8) I think this is why it’s good to boast about our weakness! I guess on Sunday it was a clear example of this and I’m really grateful for that. I don’t like being sick, but I’ve been getting some good rest and I think that’s been good, too.