All Posts By

Michelle Tessendorf

In Worship more fully

Why Respect Wins

My father-in-law recently passed away after a prolonged illness. I spent 10 days alongside my husband caring for my mother-in-law in her grief and helping to finalize my father-in-law’s affairs. In a folder, my husband found a list written in his father’s hand, entitled “People to call when I die”. This was so typical of him – planning and taking care of the details. To him this was respectful of others. In fact, “respectful” is one of the top three words I would use to describe him. It is a character trait I deeply valued in him.

One of the core values of the organization where I serve is Respect. Psalm 138:6 tells us that even though the Lord is high, he regards (or respects – Amplified Bible) the lowly. Respect is when we give due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. The Lord is our role model in that, no matter how high we consider ourselves to be, we are to be respectful toward all, even, or maybe more especially, to those we consider to be lowly. It does not mean we never disagree with others; of course we do and may – even Jesus did – as long as our disagreement does not flow over into disrespect. At our organization we define disrespect as any action that diminishes or undermines someone else.

When we regard the feelings of others, it is a kindness we show toward them. Simple things like greeting someone – showing that you notice them and you acknowledge them. I know a woman who greets others with the kind of joy you display when seeing a long last friend after years of separation, yet she may have seen them the day before. The introvert in me admires that so much and I try and emulate that kindness within the parameters of my own personality.

In the United States, we have just come through the mid-term elections. We have witnessed disrespectful behavior on a daily basis for months on end. It has been painful to bear. Yet, in the midst of this, I have seen people take the high ground of respect. Not the kind of respect that says, “I admire you for what you stand for” but rather, the kind of respect that says, “I do not agree with what you stand for and I don’t really like the way you behave, but I will treat you respectfully. I will give due regard for your feelings.”

Oh, that I would always strive to take the high road and avoid giving in to the cheap, short-lived satisfaction of the low blows. The contemplative person in me sits and examines my actions over the past year. There are definite moments when I have failed. In humbling myself before the Lord with a contrite heart, I feel encouraged by the Spirit that, this year, the scales for me tipped toward the high road of respect. That is a win and I have seen the fruit of this in the beautiful and deep relationships I have enjoyed.

Respect is a form of kindness and kindness is an attribute of love and love never fails.

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29-32

In Worship more fully

The Weight of the Blessing

The early morning rain outside the window of my Arizona desert home is soothing. The heavens have opened and the sound of it is like laughter – full of abandon and contagiously joyful. From the warmth of my bed I watch the limbs of trees bow with the weight of the blessing. I recently returned to the desert from our home on the Southern tip of Africa. There I saw the rain too. After years of drought that had brought the city to within days of no water, the rain came. And came. And came. Not one person did I hear complain of the unending wet. The rivers flowed and the dams filled and grown men walked barefoot in the puddles.

From my bed I watch the rivulets run down the windowpane and I think of rivers of living water. I think of Jesus and of drinking of him and of never thirsting again.

Our souls long for the rain that soaks deep and brings refreshing to forgotten seeds planted long ago. Alongside deeply rooted trees, grown to maturity, the God of all creation continuously germinates seeds in our life. There is always the new within the old, the hope within the constant, the young trickle within a flowing river.

Our God establishes us and he refreshes us. He leads us beside still waters and he quenches us with fountains that spring forth.   He quiets our soul and he disturbs us deeply.

Oh, that we would taste and see that the Lord is good.

“Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” – Psalm 1:1-3

In Worship more fully

Bits & Bridles and our God

In horse training, there is a technique called Liberty Training. The entire process is based on trust. The horse and trainer keep eye contact and they learn each other’s ways. The horse moves when the trainer moves and goes where the trainer goes. The end result is that this powerful, four legged creature simply watches the trainer and, based on a trusted relationship forged over time, follows direction without bit, bridle or crop. Sheer intuitive understanding takes over and a beautiful and majestic dance between the two ensues.  In freedom, the horse and trainer work and move as one.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye. Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding; whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you. (Psalm 32: 9-10)

What does it look like to be guided by God’s eye; to simply see where he is looking and to instinctively go to that place? What freedom to not need a bit and bridle, but to trust enough to stay near, to enter into a dance of liberty with the creator of our soul. What beauty, what peace.

This dance comes only from times of solitude with our God, learning him, experiencing him, watching him move and keeping our eye fixed on him as we follow.   It comes from understanding his deep, deep love and his ever-present grace. It comes from seeing his majesty and recognizing our own in his image. It comes from trusting his ways and finding our freedom within them.

This Liberty Dance between creator and created takes training in accepting the righteousness of this new creature we have become in Him. It takes a dying to self and living in Christ. It takes loving ourselves and loving our neighbor and loving Love above all else.  It is entering into the dance of life with the Trinity himself.

Anything less is a bit and a bridle.

 

“The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Familiar yet new

The light falls differently in this place. Sun-speckled shade through the canopy above is soft. The wind is gentle today, welcoming and calm, like the Holy Spirit in my heart. It is sorely needed after the long journey across the Atlantic to our home on the point of Africa. I allow peace and joy to mingle. This place; it soars in my veins, familiar and true.   This instinctive understanding of my home country settles on me. Like my very DNA, it has been passed on from generation to generation. No matter how long I am away, it is never gone. It remains firm and it gives me strength. Like the Holy Spirit, this place is familiar yet with a promise of being wild, uncontainable and always challenging.

We have a new neighbor. He has torn down the old house he purchased and is building anew. In the process he has removed tall trees that bordered our property. This has changed my garden. Where there used to be old, wet shade, there is now bright sunshine.   Where there used to be a canopy of pine needles above, there is now blue sky and majestic views of the mountains behind our respective properties. I love the newness of all this. In the shadow of the ancient mountain, I get to recreate my garden with sun-loving plants. Isn’t this just like the Holy Spirit in our lives? Sometimes the old and familiar needs to go and we need the change. The challenge of the new makes us lean into him all the more. Yet, like the mountain range, He brings an ageless comfort that is solid and reliable.

Our African garden is filled with critters. Proximity to a Nature Reserve brings eagles, owls, tortoise, squirrels, a snake or two, wild geese and bugs galore. The soil teems with earthworms providing organic compost others pay good money for. I love sharing this space with the wildlife. I also love sharing it with guests who come from afar on mission trips, family trips and diverse celebratory trips. This old property has seen seeds planted, harvest gathered, children raised, families gather, seasons change and generations come and go. What a privilege it is for me to be one of God’s stewards, providing a place of peace and joy to all who pass through her gates.

I relish the people with whom I have walked long roads, shared in pain, laughed out loud, grown older and with whom I have forged a purpose. I look forward to the fresh insight from those new to our work. Like my old garden bathed in fresh sunlight, the damp, moldy places will find new meaning. The breeze of spring blowing over the southern hemisphere is like the newness of the ancient Spirit that blows where He wills. Life is full.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

In Worship more fully

How Your Soul Is Formed Matters

The image is on bended knee, directly in front of me when I wake up every morning. I found it many years ago on a sale, cluttered amongst other marked down items. In that busy, post-Christmas store, as people were returning and exchanging their gifts, this little sculpture spoke to me.   It represents my innards, my soul, my very depth. This, Lord, is how I want my soul to be formed – in an always bended-knee posture, face upward, searching Yours.   So, there it is, on the dressing table in front of my bed. In the morning it petitions me and in the evening it encourages me, this symbol of my beseeching soul.

Every day we are being formed. What we see, hear, touch, smell and taste sends us messages.   These messages whisper stories to us about ourselves and they form us. The prevailing culture sends a message that all we have and all we do must be busier and bigger in order to be better. It daily whispers our shame as we become slaves to the tyranny of first and of most. But what if we turn away from the call of the tormenter and bend our knees to the creator of our soul and, with face lifted to his, we smell his fragrance and we see and feel and hear and taste his way?

This is the way of slow and steady and sacrifice.

The earth is filled with His glory and we have but to look and to learn. The creators of fine wines prune back vines in ways that yield a smaller crop. The fruit from these vines grow slowly and cluster into bunches that make the kind of wine that matures in character and depth with each passing year. The growers of mass-produced grapes on unwieldy trellises produce wine fit only for instant consumption.

The earth shows us the way Glorious, if we only but look. Soil polluted by the harsh chemicals of the tyrant-made is not what forms the soul to be Christ-like.

Organic and heirloom He wants for us. This requires us to turn from the culture of our day and be willing to prune back, live simply, take longer, grow authentically and produce seed after this kind. Heirloom seeds contain all that they have inherited from those that came before and they pass it all on to the next generation, unmodified and fully able to produce after its’ own kind. How we pass the gospel of Christ from one generation to the next matters.

Of late, my heart cries more and more to turn away from the dominion of the culture of this present age and to seek God’s pruning. With the Scriptures as my anchor, I look more and more to the Church fathers of ancient days and seek out their teaching and their prayers. I search for those in our post-modern world who bear fruit that tastes of the good inheritance they have received from those who came before them – people like Dallas Willard and Eugene Petersen and Henri Nouwen and others. People of old and of new, all who display the same innards and who call us to turn from the mass-produced and who beseech us to embrace solitude and silence and sacrifice.

So that our souls may be formed in Christ and not in culture.

So that our souls may heal from the chemicals that produce false growth.

So that our souls may long for our neighbor’s good and not so very much for our own.

So that our spiritual disciplines are exactly that and not forms of entertainment.

So that our souls are not led into temptation but that we are delivered from evil.

So that the Body of Christ reflects His kingdom and not our own.

 

“May your kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10

In Worship more fully

When Lent and Valentine’s Day Collide

At the check-out counter I heard the cashier and the customer debating whether they would be going to church or going out on a date on Wednesday, February 14th.

There is the obvious connection of love when the beginning of Lent falls on Valentines Day. Christ’s death in our stead is love to the uttermost. Ash Wednesday, this year on February 14th, marks the beginning of a fast upheld by millions of Christians globally. It is a time of deep reflection and sincere repentance, leading up to Easter.

Valentines Day, on the other hand, is human silliness celebrated in candy, flowers and romance.  This is not a moralistic judgment on romance or silliness. I am a great believer in celebrations. And silliness in relationships is sometimes exactly what is needed.

My choice of words and my point is rather about how very different the two days are.

When faced with the dilemma of starting a time of fasting, contemplation and repentance or going out on a romantic date, I offer this suggestion.

Our relationships are of utmost importance. Scripture tells us that we can give up everything and live in hardship but if we do not have love, we have gained nothing. We can be so spiritual that we are able to converse with angels in their own language, but if we do not have love, all our words are but irritating noise.

The point of Lent is Love Uttermost; a love that nurtures goodness and holiness and charity and selflessness.

Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day need not be an either/or. It can, in fact, be a time to examine the love we profess in our human relationships and find the many ways in which this love is “me-oriented”. Perhaps the 40 days of fasting during Lent can be one of fasting from our own selfishness, starting this Valentines Day.

 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

 

 

In Lead more gently

Proximity To Power Can Lead To Ruin

I stood watching little children play in one of those indoor playgrounds with obstacle courses worthy of the military.  The kids squealed with delight at climbing over and under, swinging from ropes and jumping over barricades.  One little girl was lording it over them all.  She cut the lines with a smirk, going from play equipment to play equipment, never waiting her turn.  The fascinating thing is that she developed a small entourage.  A few children followed her lead, hanging out with her and thereby getting to cut in line too.  They recognized in her some power and they wanted in.

We do that as adults too.  We seek after power.  Initially we work to pay for shelter and food but once that is taken care of, we seek power.  Power helps us cut the line, get what we want, makes our life easier and others beholden to us.  We snub or we use those with less power than we have and we seek to be close to those who have more power than us, hoping that some of theirs may rub off on us.

Proximity to power is a goal that can lead to ruin.

It sets us on a path that is circular; offering just enough hope that each bend will lead us to the next level where we will find enough power to stay ahead of the pack. The reality is that the desire for power (its’ form takes many shapes) is a path on which we endlessly strive but never arrive.  Power is a false god, a torturous god whose goal is to lead us away from the truth.

Jesus, the very personification of Omnipotence, both shows and tells us the truth about power.

God with us, Immanuel, chose to be with us in the most humble of ways.  He could have been with us from a palace, from the home of a tech billionaire or from high office.  Instead, he avoided the privilege of the powerful and became Immanuel within a poor family from a nowhere village.  He did not seek the power this world has to offer. His coming, including the way he chose for his coming, compels us to reconsider the assumptions about how the world is organized.  The power of first, of most, of biggest is more suited to Herod in his palace than Jesus in his manger.

The mother of two sons wanted her boys to be at the center of power.  She asked Jesus to put them on each side of him, to rule with him when his kingdom comes.  His other disciples, when they heard of this, were outraged because they too wanted proximity to power.  We know how Jesus responded.

He gathered his disciples close to him and he spoke to them about the false god of power.  He spoke of the way power is used to lord it over others, how power is used to manipulate people – ensuring that others submit to the powerbroker’s way of doing things.  To this, Jesus spoke strong words.

Not so among you!

Instead, he said, use any power you have to serve others.  If you’re going to fight over the right to be great then find that greatness in serving others. If you have any power, use it to make their lives easier.   Relieve their burdens.

Any time we use what power we have accumulated or what power has been bestowed on us to manipulate others, we are following the false god of power.  Every time we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves either ahead or lacking, we are following the false god of power.  Let us beware of this all-consuming false god.

Any time we use what power we have to relieve someone of a burden, to make their task easier, to serve them in some way, we are following the True Power – the All Mighty who laid down his power in order to take up our burden.

As the New Year approaches, I ask that each one of us examine what power we have.  Truly examine it.  Quantify it.  Understand it.

Then, when you understand your power – however large or small – I have one request to ask of you.

Would you, this New Year, resolve to use your power to make one person’s burden lighter as the year begins?  Stop.  Think.  How and for whom can you do this?  Let the power of Love lead the way.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Galatians 6:10

In Worship more fully

A Festival Of Lights. Reflections On The 4th Sunday Of Advent & Christmas Eve

Driving through our neighborhood at this time of the year is an exercise in amateur psychology for me.  The Christmas lights decorating each home tells me something of the people who live inside. There are the homes that sparkle with golden color carefully covering rooftops and trees and where wreathes of flawless circles adorn the doors.  Then there are homes splashed in combinations of red and green and gold that twinkle around window frames and porch pillars.  There are neighbors who took the easy way out and installed one of those lights at the end of the driveway that project colored sparkles all over their house walls.  And then, of course, there is the home where every square inch has been blinding us all with lights of many colors and blow up Disney characters since before Thanksgiving.

These then are my neighbors.  And yours.  For reasons as varied as there are people on this planet, we enter into the fun of the season and we string up lights.

Jesus spoke about lights.  He reminded us that we don’t go to all the effort of hanging a light, only to cover it up so that people cannot see it.  No, we hang our Christmas lights entirely because we want people to see it. When speaking of lights, Jesus made a profound statement.  He said that we are lights.  He did not say we should try and be lights or if we do certain things we will be like a light.  Nope.  He said we are lights.  Not only are we lights, we are the kind of lights that light up the whole world.  The problem Jesus was addressing was not whether or not we are lights, but whether or not we are covering up the light that we are.  He encouraged us to come out from under that basket where we are hiding and shine before each other.

How do we do this?  By our good works.

In each one of us are works just waiting to be done.  They are simply there.  Waiting.  Some of the works are seemingly small, like the help we offer a co-worker so they can finish the year strong.  Some are more difficult, like the kindness we show to a family member who does not do life the way we think they should. Some are really, really hard – and we all know what those are in our life.

You are a light.  Every human on this planet is one.  We are the Christmas lights that Jesus has hung.  Each one different.  Each one unique.  We are meant to light up this world of ours – to be a festival of lights giving glory to God in the highest.

Where there is darkness this Christmas season, will you show up and be the light?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Mathew 5:14-16