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Worship more fully

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 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

In Worship more fully

Is Christmas About Family? Thoughts On The 3rd Sunday Of Advent

It’s the happiest time of the year – or so the song goes.  Christmas is actually a very difficult time of the year for many people because Christmas is hailed as a time for family and loved ones.  The problem is that for many of us – no, all of us – our family does not resemble the perfect family we see on social media, Christmas movies or the picture we have in our own head.  Instead, our family is made up of difficult spouses or hyperactive fighting children or sullen teenagers or stubborn aging parents or critical adult children. Not to mention that crazy Aunt/Uncle/Cousin we keep under wraps.  For some of us, we’d put up with all the difficulties just to be with absent loved ones.  Christmas being about family in perfect settings of green, red and gold can leave us feeling very lonely.

The thing is, Christmas is actually not about family and loved ones.  It is about us.  It is about our own soul drawing closer to the Christ who came to redeem us.

He came to redeem us from

  • our impatience (with our cousin’s poor choices, our mother’s eternal talking, our siblings showing off and so the list continues.)
  • our judgment (of our aunt’s drinking habits, our niece’s new boyfriend, our grandmother’s spending sprees, and so forth.)
  • our hurt (from our father’s aloofness, our boss’s reviews, our spouse’s criticism and other silent prisons.)
  • ourselves. 

Redemption means that Christ came to exchange all of that and in its’ place he gives us:

  • His righteousness (it’s got nothing to do with our own goodness or how we – or our family – behave.)
  • Peace – his peace works from the inside out, not the other way around.
  • Joy in the Holy Ghost – the comforter, the healer, the helper is among us always.  He is a breath, a prayer, a smile, a tear away.

This Advent season, as we celebrate Christ-mass, let us be kind to one another … and to ourselves.

“So then, we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Romans 14:19

In Worship more fully

Evening thoughts on the Second Sunday of Advent

As evening comes on the second Sunday of Advent, festive lights twinkle from rooftops and songs of magic snowmen fill the air.  I reflect on the meaning of Christ-mass (the celebration of Christ).  I know that this season can be commercialized and marketers do exploit our herd instincts – of this, we need to beware.  But, our Christian faith is filled with celebrations observed and it is good to enjoy these.

I came upon a portion of scripture the other morning and it gave me pause.  While hanging ornaments and stringing lights, I pondered it in my heart.

“When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work. When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare—what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t ever forget that you were a slave in Egypt. I command you: Do what I’m telling you.” – Deuteronomy 24:19-22

I am not a farmer but for most of my life I have lived around farms.  We have had farmers in the church we pastored and I have had farmers for friends.  They are salt-of-the-earth hardworking people.   I have visited a few olive farms, which is fascinating. To this day they shake and rake the olives off the tree to harvest them – a practice that goes back thousands of years.   I have been told that it takes, on average, a full tree of olives to make about 4 bottles of olive oil.  So why waste some of those precious olives and leave them on the branches?

Our South African home is in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful viticulture centers. Here, the study of grapes is a science as well as an art.  The farming of these grapes are livelihoods for many families in the area.  Each grape is precious.  Why leave some on the vine?

What is this telling us of God’s character?

That He cares immensely for us.  Yes, for us.  I know the scripture talks about the foreigner, the orphan and the widow – the vulnerable of our world.  God cares for this group of people and this scripture clearly speaks to us about caring for the vulnerable too.  It is a command. The God we serve does not command us merely because he can.  Commandments are always for our own good because the God of all creation cares immensely about the kind of people we are becoming.

There are two parts of this scripture passage that speaks directly to those of us who are not presently foreigners, widows or orphans.

The first part is the “so that” part.  We leave to the vulnerable a portion of the fruit of our work so that God will bless us in ourwork. This passage of scripture talks of God’s nature that is not greedy but generous and caring of others.  When we emulate God (which is what being a disciple is) then we are blessed in what we do.  Our actions practiced often enough becomes our character.When we give and share with those who cannot possibly repay us, our nature, our motivation, starts becoming like our Father’s. It is from this motivation of caring, truly caring for others, that our work is blessed.

The second part is the remembering.  “Don’t forget that you were a slave in Egypt.” We are to be humble in our giving, to remember our own vulnerabilities, our own redemption.  Never are we to lord it over those for whom a portion of our income is left.  We leave it because the God of creation decreed that it belongs to them.

This Christmas season as we purchase gifts, cook family meals and celebrate the season, may we, with intention, give some of our wheat in the field, some of our olives on the tree and some of our grapes on the vine.  Let us take these gifts and with a humble heart – give.  Give, not because it is tax year-end and our giving can be tax-deductible.  Rather, let us give because, at this time of the year when we celebrate the incarnation of our Christ, we intentionally want our actions to reflect his very nature – generously given to us in his coming.

As the sun sets over the second Sunday of Advent, I encourage you to give.  Give to a charity.  More than you planned.  Give more than you intended.  Give generously and humbly and full of joy!  Then, along with that check, send a note with a humble heart, thanking the non-profit for the work they do.  Thank them for making a way for you to live out God’s command.

If you don’t know where to give, here are three of the places where I give.  They do good work.

Midwest Food Bank
Chi Alpha
and of course Orchard: Africa

“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” – Proverbs 22:9