Religion and faith

A rehearsal for choral evensong may not be the first place one would go to look for inspiration for writing. Nevertheless a comment made by the visiting choirmaster struck a chord with me!

At the beginning of one work, our entry was not confident and together. He likened it to people trying to use a moving walkway and acted out the way that they might hesitate before getting on. Our walkway was the introduction on the organ; we had to get on at the correct point without hesitation.

The thought which occurred to me was that taking a step of faith is very similar.

I remember as a pre-teen being convinced that Christianity was the best religion. I had been brought up in a family where both parents were confirmed members of the Church of England and I had attended Sunday School from an early age.

At (day) school we studied comparative religion, looking at the major religions at that time – Judaism, Islam, Shintoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Humanism may have been mentioned as well. It seemed to me that if everyone practised the teachings of Jesus Christ the world would be a wonderful place.

What I didn’t understand at that time was the difference between religion and faith.

Religion is concerned with rules. Judaism, from which Christianity arose, is full of rules. Christianity includes the Old Testament (similar to the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament, which begins with four accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, the story of his early followers (The Acts of the Apostles), letters (Epistles) to Churches and individuals and a vision of the future (The Revelation of St John the Divine).

The letter to the Hebrews lists people of faith from the Old Testament and explains how they lived out their faith. Hebrews 11

Christianity differs from other religions in an important way. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah. Adherents to Judaism are still waiting for the Messiah. As far as I am aware in Islam Jesus is regarded as a prophet, but not as the Son of God. In the Old Testament the Spirit of God rested on a few individuals, sometimes only for a short time, while they performed an important task or prophesied.

The prophet Joel looked forward to a time, when God would pour out his Spirit on all people Joel 2:28-29

Christians believe that this began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to those who believed in Jesus Christ. Acts 2

It is easy to mistake Christianity for a set of rules. Anyone who tries to be a Christian by obeying rules is bound to discover that it is impossible. However, Christianity is a way of living in a relationship with the living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through this relationship, which is strengthened through worship, prayer, Holy Communion, Bible-reading and fellowship with other believers, Christians are changed from within to become more Christ-like. We need to trust God to give us his strength rather than act or speak in our own strength.

Our society emphasises self-improvement, but Christians should be looking to God to improve them. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Christianity can only be proved to be true from within. Without taking the step of faith and beginning to trust the God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is impossible to know whether Christianity is true. There is no benefit to those, who do not believe and trust.

It is like knowing that the moving walkway would save time and effort, but failing to step onto it.

Have you taken the step of faith?

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

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#PsalmTweets: the last 16 tweets

This is my final post in the #PsalmTweets project, which began with Psalm 1 on Sunday 27 August and ended with Psalm 150 on Tuesday 23 January. (I say ended, but @PsalterMark is continuing hopefully with a new group of #PsalmTweeters.)

Rather than have two weeks of Tweets here and a final post with only two tweets and perhaps some thoughts about the challenge as a whole, I am doing the final round-up here. Scroll to the bottom of this post for my reflections on the project, if you are not interested in the Tweets!

Ps. 135: A psalm of praise to God for who He is, what He does and has done. A call to those, who are in awe of God to praise Him. #PsalmTweets

Ps. 136: A psalm of thanks to God for what He is, what He does and his love, Refrain: His love endures forever.

Ps. 137: An unhappy, homesick psalm from exile in Babylon – unable to sing and wishing for vengeance.

Ps. 138: David promises to praise God whole-heartedly. He desires that all the kings of the earth would do likewise. He reflects on God’s omniscience and love.

Ps. 139: A favourite psalm. David speaks of God’s knowledge of him/us, his presence, foreknowledge, protection, creation. David is honest and open before God

Ps. 140. David prays for deliverance from evil men. He asks God to avenge. He ends with a declaration of faith in a just God. The righteous will praise God and live in his presence.

Ps. 141: David prays about his relationship with God, that God would keep him from sinning by word or deed. He prays against evildoers, fixes his eyes on the sovereign Lord and asks for protection.

Ps. 142: David’s prayer when pusued by King Saul. He was hiding in a cave. Men were against him, but God was his refuge.

Ps. 143: An urgent prayer of David, pursued by an enemy, wishing to know God’s guidance and will, asking for rescue from trouble and for his enemies to be silenced.

Ps. 144: David praises God, who trains him for war. This is a difficult psalm in the context of “Love your enemies”. David sees deliverance by God as the key to prosperity and peace in the land.

Ps. 145: Headed “A psalm of praise. Of David” this one does what it says! 4 sections begin with statements about God’s character.

Ps. 146: A psalm of praise to God. Comparison between trusting in mortals and in the sovereign Lord of creation, salvation, healing, love and protection, who rules for ever.

Ps. 147: A psalm of praise to the God of Israel (thought to be exclusive) for his works in the life of the nation, creation, sustaining the earth. Poetry about the weather. Sing praises to God!

Israel is another name for Jacob. Christians believe that they are included as sons/daughters of the patriarchs as well as being children of God.

Ps. 148: “Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore him” is a hymn inspired by this psalm. Let all creation praise the creator.

Ps. 149: A song of praise to God, who is creator and King. Prayer about vengeance against other nations is difficult in the light of other scriptures.

Ps. 150: A wonderful psalm of praise to end with. Praise God in his sanctuary, for his acts of power. Use every sort of musical instrument, dance! All living things, praise the Lord!

Having the goal of Tweeting about each Psalm has helped me focus and analyse the construction. I have noticed details in some of the psalms, which I had glossed over previously. The differences between the outlook of the Psalmists and that of Jesus Christ struck me quite forcibly, especially in some of these later psalms included in this post.

I am taking a break from reading a Psalm a day and reading some of the New Testament on a regular basis, alongside the study materials I use. (Mentioned in my What I read in December post.)

The Psalms have much to teach us, but they have to be read in the context of the Bible as a whole. For example, Israel is another name for Jacob. Christians believe that they are included as sons/daughters of the patriarchs as well as being children of God. Psalm 147 uses Israel as the name of a nation.

I am thankful for the other Psalm Tweeters, who have encouraged me by likes or retweets and to my readers here.

Having accidentally discovered how to set up a poll on Twitter, I asked my followers there to vote on the subject of my future Tweets. A small majority of a small number of voters were in favour of tweets about the Gospel of Matthew. I am not qualified to exam-level in theology, but I ran the idea past the vicar, who encouraged me to go ahead with it. I am not setting myself daily targets as with the Psalm Tweets, which was a community project.

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Looking back on 2017 and forward to 2018

At the beginning of the year I chose the word Trust and wrote a post about my reasons and goals.

In July I revisited the word and wrote an update about my progress.

So as the end of the year approaches how am I getting on?

There have been times when I have failed completely to trust God. Other times I have been really encouraged about the way things have worked out.

A notable example was when I began to make plans to travel and include attending the ACW Writers’ Day in London. I had decided on dates to travel, but not booked my train tickets. Then I changed my mind. I realised that I didn’t need to go. The trip would have been for my benefit and not for that of my Mum, with whom I would stay. I would miss a number of events near home for the sake of a single event in London.

I went to our cathedral (on the same day as the writers’ day) for a choral workshop and a festival service with presentations of awards, including one to a member of our church choir. On the Sunday morning I sang in the choir at the confirmation service in the parish church. In the afternoon hubby and I went to a piano recital at a theatre in our local area. It was probably the busiest weekend of the year so far!

Then a few weeks later I made the trip south and found that it was entirely for Mum’s benefit. We had a really enjoyable time with her friends and activities at her church. I had seen some of my own friends on earlier visits.

Seen from the train

Seen from the train

I was also blessed on my journeys. My journey south was on the day of a storm, which affected transport on my route later in the day. (The trains were running normally when I passed the affected area.) I had to change trains in 13 minutes according to the timetable. The train I was on was running late. I didn’t panic, but waited patiently for the lift in order to change platforms. My next train was due to leave in 2 minutes as I boarded it. In fact I think it waited a little longer for other passengers from the delayed train. My return journey was on time all the way. (This is a journey which takes at least 8 hours in total with 3 trains.)

Other ways in which I have behaved differently include stepping down from a rota, where there seems to be no shortage of volunteers, in order to have more energy for music and for my other activities.

I wonder which word I should choose for 2018.  The second lesson of St Peter Chapter 1 verse 5-7 has a list of qualities which should be added to faith. The books of poetry tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Micah tells us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

One word?

Discipleship. Learning to live God’s way.