From the crying out from the depths to the cry to Israel to put their hope in the Lord, it’s sweet and concise. One of the things I love about the Psalms is the primacy of a right relationship with God and how He initiates that in His character. I love the fact that if indeed He was to count our sins against us, we wouldn’t have a chance, but because of His great love, mercy and kindness, He forgives to restore that right relationship. A relationship that means when we call from the depths of our being He not only hears us but gives us His Word to hold on to. There is His presence, there is His word, there is His redemption, there is something to hope for.
That is a great basis from which to wait. Wait on the fulfilment of His Word. Wait on the promise of redemption and restoration.
That redemption has eternal and global ramifications and is one that we look forward to even now having experienced His greatness towards us.
My friend asked me if I was going to say anything, I shook my head. Eventually he got up and shared an aspect of his testimony and he simply gave thanks for being redeemed. It had a powerful impact on the listeners. It had a powerful impact on me. He knew where he had been and how bad things were and how amazing it was for God to redeem Him from that by His love. He knew God for himself, he had a story of the Redeemed.
This Psalm shares four other stories of the Redeemed. Whether wanderers looking for a city to settle in, or those whose decisions actively placed them in darkness, or those foolish and sickened by their rebellion or those on the season about to be overwhelmed by the storms of their voyage – these all knew what it was to be in peril, what it was to cry out to God and what it was for God to hear and rescue them.
These stories are to inspire us to know we have a story to share. How we were sinking in sin, far from the peaceful shore. How our active rebellion left us in a spiralling cycle of addiction and pain. How we were looking for something to satisfy in so many different areas and things and came up short in all of them. In those situations, some cataclysmic, some internal as we die in quiet agony. Whatever the situation, we have a story to share – a real story – of God showing up and showing out reversing the fortunes of the afflicted and shutting up the wicked.
We have a story to share in word or song. In conversation and in life. A story of giving thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.
Meatloaf always made me chuckle with the line I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.
For the Meatloaf fans, feel free to let me know how I got the wrong end of the stick and don’t appreciate the lyrical beauty of the piece. It still makes me chuckle.
Anyway, I was reflecting on the redemption stories that focus on family failings. How far a man will go to protect his children because he didn’t protect his wife. Or how much a mother wants to support her daughter because she failed to appreciate her own mother who suffered and died of a broken heart before reparation could be made.
I was reflecting on that and thinking about what lengths we would go to for love. What lengths we would go to for others to live a better life. What lengths we would go to for the wholeness of the family. The lengths we go to for the right outcome.
There is something heartening about stories of redemption.
Following football (or soccer if you must) as I do it, is often that players come along who develop a reputation. Assisted by fans and the media, that reputation seemingly forever shapes how the player is regarded. If that reputation is positive the player may on occasion gain an unfair advantage due to officials taking the reputation into account. Likewise if the reputation is negative, the player may be hard done by on occasion because of what has gone on before.
For a number of reasons the bad boy reputation never seems to give the person a break. Soon they themselves believe there is little else to do but live down to the reputation. Thus continues the ongoing cycle of defeat.
Thank God for hope. Hope of redemption.
This is the unrelenting hope in God who is able to take those bad boy reputations and turns them on their head. The indefatigable hope in God who will not give up on His creation even while others have written us off because of what we have done.
Those redemption stories are not just about sportspeople. I have witnessed people from messed up homes with a messed up past discounted by the education system and rejected in society come across loving people who support the individual. Over time the rebellious energy is channelled into something more constructive.
More than this is the greatest story of redemption that sees rebellious humanity given the chance to live like the children of the Creator.
It’s tough believing anyone can change, but the hope of redemption is what keeps us going in spite of the failure. It’s what stops us from going cynical and hostile to the people we serve.
What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns.(Jeremiah 2:5, 11, 28)
Whether it’s the pursuit of money or material gain, grasping for power and control, straining for popularity and acceptance, chasing celebrity and credibility I sometimes wonder if we’re no less idolatrous a people as Judah.
If we are, there is still a way to return to God.
If you, Israel, will return, then return to me,” declares the Lord. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray,and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ then the nations will invoke blessings by him and in him they will boast.Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, (Jeremiah 4:1-4a)
Two incidents in the space of a week has me thinking again about how we should remember people.
Former radio and television personality and charity worker Jimmy Saville, who died a year ago, has not been accused of a number of incidents of sexually inappropriate behaviour. The charges and allegations have caused quite a stir at the BBC and brought out some other accusations of inappropriate behaviour that was tolerated in media circles.
Then, of course, there is the issue of Lance Armstrong which again has caused headlines after the Usada sent over evidence suggesting that the man who won 7 Tour de France competitions was responsible for being part of one of the most sophisticated doping schemes ever seen in sport. This is the same Lance Armstrong that overcame cancer and used it to be an inspiration to others. Indeed his cycling exploits established him among the greatest cyclists of all time.
When things like this happen it understandably evokes passionate reactions from people. Some prefer to remember people for the positive impact they made in life. They recall the good charity work, the time they invested in helping people’s dreams come true and the extent to which they raised people’s esteem.
Some are all about condemning and castigating the former hero. To have presented a front of respectability which hides something a great deal more sinister is a fall from grace, some people cannot recover from. It hurts like betrayal and it tarnishes everything about them. Anything good they ever did can never be seen in the same light again.
I am not saying which way I go where that’s concerned. I am saying this. When I read about the heroes of faith, some of their ‘indiscretions’ were fairly serious. In fact by fairly serious, I really mean very serious. I mean people being killed kind of serious.
What makes them heroes of faith, though, is that their failings and sins did not stop them from pursuing and living for the God of righteousness, justice, love and mercy. As long as He is on His throne, no matter the level of depths we fall into, there is still redemption. And as long as He is holy and righteous there is no one who can make a claim against someone as though they’ve never been guilty of indiscretions themselves. The argument of not being as bad as others doesn’t cut it in the scheme of things.
Thinking the best about people is a healthy pursuit. The failing, flaws and faults that people have and the traumas they cause are not to be dismissed, I’m not suggesting that for a minute. Yet these things happen and after they happen we have a choice as to whether to be part of the process of healing, restoration and reconciliation or the path that leads to hatred, contempt and bitterness.
It is events like these that really challenges followers of Christ to see if they know and can express the love that covers a multitude. By cover, I certainly don’t mean condone, but it certainly prevents a condemnation without hope for redemption.
I did not know about Michael English until the turn of the century. While doing some work in Nottingham, a friend had some videos and on them were some Gaither Homecoming and Gaither Vocal Band stuff. First I heard or saw them, despite the fact that with songs like Because He Lives, I’d been singing Gaither stuff since I could sing.
I never took up interest in Gaither stuff until around 2008, where I just got into them in a fairly concerted manner. I was particularly interested in the Gaither Vocal Band and the variety of formations they had over the years. they have been tremendously blessed to have had some fine vocalists and superb combinations in their run, and one of the outstanding vocalists who rejoined them soon after their 25th anniversary, is Michael English.
From the top, I have to brazenly state quite clearly, this was a superb read. Truly brilliant. Good reads give you the impression you are listening to the writer speak to you in their voice. You don’t have to know them – I don’t know Michael English – but the way the book is written opens you up to who he is. It is a true personal work. Even if he had assistance with the writing of it, this enhances his voice, not detract from it. You are not reading the works of Shakespeare or Dickens, you’re not meant to be impressed by the wide vocabulary. You are caught up with how this guy grew up and dealt with the many issues in his life that threatened to take him under.
The read gave a good insight into his struggles from childhood, and how those things that a child suffers with, can be the framework that affects them in adulthood. It remains amazing how the attitudes of adults can have such damaging impacts on children. It is a true saying that hurt people, hurt people because we’re hurt, people.
What the book also does well is allow us to get inside English’s thinking during the events that took place, whether it was finding acclaim as a singer with the Gaither Vocal Band initially and then in his solo career, and then the circumstances surrounding the fall. He is fairly open and accepts responsibility for his part in affairs, and I couldn’t read it without looking at my own heart and recognising some similar issues that I can more than relate with.
One particular poignant aspect of the read should act as something of hope for addicts of any kind. English’s descent into addiction, and his struggle overcoming it and staying clean, then the variety of responses from the church are vivid and evocative. Reading the journey he makes is filled with such a range of emotions that I sometimes want to share this with everyone I come across and say, “Read this, this is what real Christians suffer with. Take away the mask of civility, and we’re all struggling inside, and we need help!” Really excellent stuff from English as he endeavours to be as transparent as he can.
He also shows that the way back is not always that straightforward. Some can boast of instant and complete healings, but the story that English relates is one where there are setbacks and relapses. His very return is one that he fully appreciates is a day-by-day by God’s grace experience. That as well is refreshing to read.
The book has the tagline “My story of failure and God’s story of redemption. When you read it, however, the God’s story aspect is rather amazing looking at how certain characters remain faithful to English even in the depths of his addiction, when things were really rough for the guy. People who were around and virtually saved his life are so impressive in their acts of kindness that it says again that God’s story of redemption works through people, even if the mess we find ourselves in is worsened by people. Human beings – what complex creatures.
There is so much to be said about what the book highlights and what people can learn from it, that I could not recommend it enough. It’s a book rooted in real human experience that people can relate with in many ways. English evidently wrote it so people could see the glory of God in helping people return from the darkest pits in life. I am grateful for him writing this book. I am grateful to God for rescuing him and giving him a testimony that will help others to similarly know that the Father’s heart is to see the prodigal sons and daughters come to their senses and return home. If you get the chance, purchase the book read it. Then give it to someone else.