Monday, August 31, 2015

He Laveth the Thirsty Land

  Years ago I was privileged to sing in a performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah."  One of the great choruses from that oratorio is "Thanks be to God, He Laveth the Thirsty Land."
  The oratorio is based on the story of Elijah as told in 1 Kings.   At that time Israel had turned away from God.  King Ahab had married Jezebel and begun worshipping Baal.  Jewish prophets, including Elijah were persecuted.  
   As a result of Israel's disobedience the rain disappeared.  For three years not a drop fell on this desert kingdom.  Even the dew dried up. There was almost nothing to eat.  Then God told Elijah to meet with Ahab, and they set up a trial to see who was more powerful, the Lord God of Israel, or Baal.  
    All the people were summoned to Mount Carmel where each side prepared a bull for sacrifice and laid it on the pyre but did not light the fire.
   The prophets of Baal went first.  They laid out their sacrifice, then prayed and chanted to Baal, calling for fire.  They prayed all day.  They cut themselves with swords.  Elijah taunted them saying "call him louder, . . .  perhaps he is asleep."  
    Then Elijah called the people to him and they watched while he built the altar to the Lord that had been broken.  He put the wood on the altar and laid the sacrificed bullock upon it.  Then he poured water over it all.  Then he dug a trench and filled that with water also.  At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah prayed to God, and fire from heaven fell and consumed the sacrifice and the wood and the stones and the dust and even the water that was in the trench.
    After this demonstration of the Lord's power, Elijah prayed again to God for rain.  Seven times Elijah sent his servant to look toward the sea.  On the seventh time, the servant reported a small cloud.  Then Elijah told Ahab to hurry home for if he did not leave immediately the storm would stop him.  Then the heavens were black with clouds and wind and there was a great rain.
  In Mendelssohn's "Elijah" the storm is described as "the waters gather, they rush along, the stormy billows are high, their fury is mighty, but the Lord is above them, and Almighty.  Thanks be to God!  He laveth the thirsty land!"
  It is a thrilling chorus to sing and I often recall the words in the midst of a rainstorm.  But after the long drought of this summer, I understand more deeply the gratitude of a parched people when the clouds gather and rain waters the earth.  Unlike the Israelites, we in British Columbia have not faced starvation, but we have seen thousands of acres of forest burn, we have witnessed streams and rivers run so low the fish are endangered and, perhaps, we have learned a better understanding of how precious is water.
  So, as the skies turned dark this weekend and rain poured down on my thirsty garden I sang with the Israelites, "Thanks be to God, He laveth the thirsty land."

part one of "Elijah" with Thomas Hampson

Monday, August 24, 2015

Church Camp

    This past week Rev. Irwin and his family have been at Camp Imodene, either as campers or workers.  Listening to them talk reminded me of my own experience with church camps.
    The first one I attended didn't thrill me.  I felt like an outsider since it seemed everyone else in my cabin had been there before.  I didn't like the regimented timetable and I wasn't keen on washing dishes in a plastic basin with lukewarm water.

    The following year I attended a different camp and loved it.  We were on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, in cabins with running water and we were all new, since this was the first season for the camp.  Early rising was still a problem for me, but I learned to treasure that first few minutes of the day when we each sought out a quiet place to pray and read the Bible.  I had my special place in a grove of trees close to the beach.  Dappled sunlight illumined my Bible, birds sang above me and the shush of waves provided background music.  I felt so close to God in those early morning moments.  It was at camp that I began a personal relationship with Jesus.
     The end of the day brought another special time when we gathered around the campfire on the beach.  Each cabin would be responsible for putting on a skit or some other entertainment.  We'd begin campfire time in high spirits with lots of shouting and laughing, but as the light faded from the sky and the flames burned down we turned to our thoughts to God.  Silly songs gave way to sacred music.  Our talk was thoughtful, hushed. We drew closer to each other, holding hands as we sang a farewell to the day and received a benediction.  Then we returned to our cabins in silence, our hearts filled with gratitude to the Lord and love for each other.

    I loved that camp.  So much that I went back the following year and the year after that I attended a shortened camp for teens.  For a few years after that I went back as a cabin leader.  The place and the time were powerful for me, the memories strong and positive.  I pray that all who attended church camp this summer had a wonderful time and came home filled with the Holy Spirit and the joy of belonging to Christ.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review --The Prayer of Jabez

by Linda Cliff

The Prayer of Jaybez   
Breaking Through to the Blessed Life
                                    - By Bruce Wilkinson

"Jabez was more honourable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, "Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested." (1 Chronicles 4:9,10)

The opening paragraph of the preface summarizes the book and states that, "I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers . . . I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favour with God.”   

During my trip to the Dominican Republic, the Holy Spirit convinced me that I had to learn more about prayer and integrate prayer more fully in my life.  I have found this little book, only 90 pages, to be a powerful call for Christians to embrace this simple yet powerful prayer.  The author begins by describing how Jabez fits within the genealogy of the Old Testament and describes how this prayer has changed his own life.  What I found helpful were the stories that Wilkinson used to illustrate the power of this prayer.

Wilkinson then breaks the prayer into four sections.  
So Why not Ask–Oh, that you would bless me indeed,
Living Large for God – Oh, that you would enlarge my territory, The Touch of Greatness- Oh, that your Hand would be with me, and Keeping the Legacy Safe- Oh, that you would keep me from evil.
In each section the implications of the prayer are discussed and then Wilkinson encourages the reader to pray the prayer for thirty days, keeping a record of the wonders that God will deliver.

So I ask myself, what will get in the way of this simple request?  I think that fear is one of the impediments, because when God delivers we don’t know how we will react.   I have yet to accept the thirty day challenge but I am looking at the Prayer of Jabez  as part of my prayer life.

The book is available in the church library.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Welcome Owen

Very busy Sunday this week.  To begin we had special musical guests, Raven Baroque.  They played the prelude, offertory and postlude as well as accompanying the hymns.  Thanks to Larry for arranging this, and thanks to the members of the group for gracing our service.

   Announcement time featured those celebrating birthdays and anniversaries in August.  Among our couples there is a 60th anniversary coming up this week and a 64th anniversary. Congratulations to you and to everyone else with a special day in the month of August.

   But, the highlight of the service was the baptism of Owen Robert Arthur, the newest member of our fellowship. 
Owen and his parents and siblings travelled all the way from Belgium to share this important occasion at Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church.  

The congregation welcomed Owen with prayer and hymns and many smiles. 

  We ended the morning with cake.  I've come to believe the hallmark of our congregation is cake, we have it  for birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, homecomings and good weather (or bad weather).  We just like cake.

Altogether a joyful, meaningful, holy Sunday morning.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Like as a Father

by Alice Valdal

As a season's ticket holder, I've been enjoying the wealth of concerts offered at the Butchart Gardens this summer.  A warm evening, in a beautiful garden, watching the sun go down and listening to wonderful music is a balm to the soul. 
   It's also a great opportunity for people (and dog) watching.

Some things I've seen are just plain funny -- like the dog who howled along with the singer.  Or the string player trying to hold her music on the stand with her foot when the wind blew.
 But other's have touched my heart. I saw a child, frightened by a dragonfly, shrink up, small and tight, into her mother's embrace, totally trusting in her mother's love and protection. 
     I saw a father take off his jacket to wrap around his little girl, keeping her warm, while he shivered in shirt-sleeves.  

     I've seen parents quietly keeping watch while their children run and dance on the beckoning expanse of lawn.  There's just something about music and the evening and a big patch of grass!   Unaware that a parent stands guard, the children exult in their freedom, until someone takes a tumble.  There are tears and a rush to mom or dad for comfort and a kiss.  Then they are back to running and playing, healed and reassured. 

 The Bible abounds with images of God as a father.
Psalm 103:13 "like as a father pitieth his children"
 Psalm 68: 5-6
 Deuteronomy 32:10 
 Matthew 6:8 
 Matthew 18:14 

     God, the Father, goes to extraordinary lengths to draw close to His children, inviting them walk with Him in harmony and love.  My thanks to all the earthly parents who model the Heavenly Father and enrich my soul on a warm summer evening.