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Worship more fully

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

In Worship more fully

A young girl’s prayer for Zimbabwe

The year is 1978. It is 5:00am.  The tiny church building is full at this early hour. The bush war in Rhodesia is raging across and on the border of my country, South Africa. Along with my friends, I sit in a church building on a cold winter’s morning and I pray. For months this is my daily routine before I walk on to school. I am a teenager, not fully understanding all the issues, but I do know what bloody death and massacre is. I read about it daily in our newspapers and I sit quietly, along with the rest of the country, as the names of the men who died that day roll on the TV screen at the end of the nightly news bulletin. My parents eventually put a stop to the 5am prayer vigil, knowing that my final exams are ahead and I need to focus on these.

My boyfriend – who unknown to my teenage heart, will be my husband in years to come – is fulfilling his military conscription. He, along with the many who die daily, are fighting a border war. A war that is unpopular and where the issues are hazy and uncertain.

Rhodesia is under the rule of former white British subjects and the bush war – the Zimbabwe War of Liberation – has been raging for well over a decade. South Africa is under white rule too and the Nationalist government sends thousands of boy-men to fight at the country’s borders to keep the ‘enemy’ at bay. Every white South African male at the age of sixteen receives military “call up” papers. By eighteen, tens of thousand of boys are fighting a man’s war and dying for a cause not fully understood.

It is the 1970’s and Communism is a fierce force and our world is in the grip of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and Cuba give military support to the Zimbabwe freedom fighters on the border and further north in Angola. Is this then a war against communism in Africa? The United States has placed economic sanctions against South Africa because of its’ Apartheid laws. Is this war then a racial war in which boys on both sides of the conflict are needlessly dying before they become men?

In 1978 I am a young teenage girl, only just becoming politically aware. I see the unjust treatment of non-white race groups in my daily life and I am not fully persuaded that the war is merely a fight against Communism. However, in history classes at school we study Marx, Lenin and Stalin. My forming opinions cannot reconcile these ideologies with the prosperity of democracy and capitalism I see in my country.

I also see thousands of white boys, once school peers, now dead.  I think about the unknown black boys fighting for freedom, also now dead.

So, along with my neighbors and my friends, I go to pray each morning at 5am.

It is 1980 and Rhodesia becomes Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, a veteran of the Zimbabwe War of Liberation is inaugurated as President.

Thirty-seven years later Robert Mugabe, under military arrest, finally resigns as President. The country, once fertile and prosperous, is desecrated and deathly poor. Its’ citizens, both black and white, have left the country by the millions. Those who could not leave have suffered under the hands of a cruel and self-serving despot.

My teenage years are long gone. The unfurling of events in Zimbabwe over the past few weeks has made me recall that small church building on a cold winter’s morning in 1978. I can still feel the hard floor on my bended knees and the smell of the oil on the wooden pew as I leaned against it to pray. I can still clearly see the cold vapor around our words as we prayed for a beloved continent. I can still feel the hope for peace to come and the deep cry for the killing to stop.

It is now November 2017. In the United States where I am currently found, winter has come. The air is cold at 5am as I, once again, pray for Zimbabwe. I pray for her citizens. I pray for her once fertile land. I pray for her new President. I pray for peace to come to this broken country and I cry fervently for the killing to stop.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior …” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3

In Worship more fully

Holy Week – the Disciplined and the Wild

With incredulity written all over his face, zombie-like arms outstretched before him and a determined gleam in his wide eyes, my youngest grandson has started to walk. In all honesty, he’s not very good at it … yet. That matters not one jot to me. Every wobbly step gets wildly applauded.   When he wants to get somewhere fast, he reverts to his ape like scuttle – hands and feet firmly planted on the ground and diapered butt high in the air. I delight in his little scuttle, trying to impress it in my mind because I know that, all too soon, it will be a thing of the past. Not long from now he will be running fast with his mama trying to keep up.

It seems to me just yesterday that my grandson’s mama was born and tomorrow my daughter turns 30. She is strong and confident and outspoken and wise. Some of that I taught her. She is also fragile and afraid and silent and unsure. Some of that I taught her too.  Parents teach.  Intentionally as well as unwittingly our lives transfer from generation to generation. The greatest parental joy is when we see the fruit of our intentionality bringing success to our children; it cuts deep when reflected back to us is a mirror of our own deficiencies. Yet, this pain is a two edged-sword because along with the wound to our ego comes the soothing salve of mercy for our own too-human parents.

Parenting is both an exercise in the heavy lifting disciplines as well as weightless free falling spontaneity. Make sure to brush your teeth and eat your greens and learn your multiplication but today we celebrate our sticky-up-hair with a no brushing rule while we jump on the bed and make up stories of wild beasts in faraway lands.

Our Father in heaven is the perfect parent whose very life and breath has been transferred from generation to generation. In his teaching to us I see that the human soul needs disciplines such as prayer and reading and gathering; I also see the need for the wildness of parting seas and oil vats that never run dry and walking on water.

There are times for a disciplined and steady walking of our faith. Holy week, which today has come, can be this for us. Some Christ followers may ask, “Is not every week holy?” and the answer is, of course, yes. Yet the human soul seeks traditions, or disciplines, that train us in righteousness. As millions of Christ-followers walk in the steps of Jesus to the Cross this week, we discipline ourselves to remember the sorrow of betrayal and the pain of sacrifice. We examine ourselves and we enter into the sufferings of others as well as our own.

Then, with the rising of the sun on Easter day we celebrate the wildness of the resurrection. Life conquering wildness where all sorrow is absorbed into the sacrifice that was full payment for transgression.

There is only one perfect parent; one perfect Father and one perfect Son. All the rest are mere babes learning to walk. Whether you are a parent or a child, or both, I encourage you, this Holy week, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. May your steps take you to the cross of humility and to the transformative power of new beginnings.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

In Worship more fully

When People Break in and Steal

Our mission house in the North West Province of South Africa was burgled. Thieves knew our newly arrived missionaries from the United States were out of the house for the night. They broke down doors and took what did not belong to them. They took their time and cooked food from the freezer, ate banana loaf baked by our missionaries with care and they even took a swim, littering as they went. These actions were boldly defiant. They broke one particular locked cabinet, knowing that laptops were there, indicating an intimate knowledge of the house. They went on a spree, stealing TV sets and taking irreplaceable items such as a ring once belonging to a grandmother and a cherished wedding ring. The thieves deliberately violated private space and then wrote these words on the kitchen white board, “Welcome to Africa.”

I am ashamed of these people, fellow Africans, who take what is not theirs and who violate God’s law of love and honor.

What to do Lord? What to do when people mistreat us so? These were words I silently prayed as we flew over snow-capped mountains with the sun appearing in the east. How do we respond when our boundaries are violated and hurt sets in like rot?

“Pray for those who spitefully use you”.

 A whisper in my soul. So quiet. I listen.

 “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”

 The silence of sacrifice.

 “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

A leading to love.

These are hard words. Very hard words. These test our character to the core.

“Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.”

When people mistreat you, the most important part before anything else is done is to remember whose you are.

When you pray for those who spitefully use you, when you forgive, when you love, when you give, there is no loss in this hard thing. Only gain.

Your reward will be great

and

you will be children of the Most High.

ooOoo

I am so proud of Nelson and Leslie Koon for their exemplary attitude.  This same scripture was whispered to them in the middle of this chaos and they have embraced the leading of the Holy Spirit to the fullest.  They lean in toward God’s calling on their life during times of trial, not away from.  They know that calling and serving is never cheap but costly.  They know the enemy of their soul will try to derail them so they turn to their Most High father and embrace his ways. They do not retaliate in anger, in bitterness and revenge.  Instead they have chosen to be “thankful, grateful, blessed.”  For this the scripture says their reward will be great.