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Worship more fully

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. 

In Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Out of the Flames

This past week a massive fire, driven by gale force winds ravaged our South African hometown of Somerset West. People had to be evacuated from their homes and at least four farms dating back to the 1700’s were threatened. Indigenous plants, fynbos – unique in the world to this area – went up in flames, as did some of the wildlife that make the Helderberg Mountains their home.

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mountains

little pink flowers

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jackal

The fire was finally contained about two miles from our Mission Home.

A small spark and dry grass is all it takes to start a fire. I have seen this happen in my life and in the lives of others.  During a dry spell, when life feels difficult and refreshing water seems far away, from seemingly nowhere someone or something lights a spark and without warning an out of control fire starts.

Fires are an incredible force of nature. They can burn up unwanted weeds and dead foliage and be a cleansing grace. Or, driven by stormy winds, they can get out of control and consume all in its path. I bear witness to this in my own life, as I am certain you can too. One small decision or unintended outcome leads to another and another and then, driven by unseen forces, a vicious fire devastates all in its path.

The 250 firefighters of the Somerset West fire worked day and night, in harsh conditions, doing their job above and beyond duty. Firefighting is not for the faint hearted. It takes courage to walk toward the flames when everyone and everything else is fleeing. It takes strength of body and immense strength of character to fight a fire that swirls around you and soars far above you – forces both seen and unseen coming together with the intent of destroying all you hold dear. The firefighters of Somerset West fought with all their might, but not alone – never alone. For days, the community of this small Western Cape village stood beside their men and women in the heat of the battle as donations of food and drink poured in. Neighborhood groups and churches rallied together, people stood together and battled together until the wind turned, died down and the flames were finally vanquished.  A community won together.

soft grass
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Photo by Justin Sullivan

Photo by Justin Sullivan

Fighting fires in our life takes immense courage. As ill winds blow doubt and fear in our face, it takes its toll on our health and on our minds and on our hearts. It is easy to believe that we are alone, that we will succumb, that all is lost. But then, right there in that place of devastation, in that place of loss, in that place of swirling hurt, out of the flames the Holy One walks and stills the wind. The community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit turns up and they bring refreshing and strength. Despite our deep fatigue, we find grace to walk toward the flames and fight the good fight. In the midst of the battle, we find comfort and we find peace.

It takes but to look and to see that we are not alone. We never were.

As you enter into 2017, may you know that whatever fire you may face in the year to come, the community of the Holy Christ is with you. Always.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2

In Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Purpose amidst the chaos

I slipped on a muddy patch, banged my knee and lived with the black bruise, aching and ugly and right there for all the world to see.

It had been raining. Hard. This bountiful garden of ours on the tip of Africa was drenched. Majestic trees stooped over, the weight of the water heavy in their leaves. I took to the outdoors at the first reprieve, breathing the sweet scent of life amongst the mountains. I was looking for the bird that was singing somewhere above my head when I went down.

That muddy patch on cobbled walkway was disaster waiting for inattention.

lilies and ferns

rock

bee in lily

The time had come for serious work. The moss-riddled stepping stones were dangerous and someone else could get injured. This house of ours welcomes scores of people each year. She is a peaceful harbor, a place of reprieve and everybody I know loves her. To have a spot that could hurt seemed unthinkable, yet there it was.

In the beginning of time there was another garden and in the midst of the garden, evil lurked. It would bruise and bring pain unthinkable. But, a plan of redemption was made.

This place of peace, our African refuge, has been entrusted to us for safekeeping. We are stewards of magnificence, keepers of paradise. Above her foliage fly owls and eagles and far below scurry creatures amongst lilies of white and of lilac and of orange as bright as the sun.

bright orange

sunlight in trees

pansy

rocks and water

red bubbles

yellow center

This blemish in paradise, this place of hurt, needed attention. The keepers of the garden were rallied and a plan of redemption was made. The mud and moss and mess were scraped away. The growth was cut back. Pebbles were brought in to widen the trail and order was brought to chaos. The northern slopes of this paradise is still a glorious wild place – just slightly tamed, a gentle subduing by the stewards of the garden.

Pathway

chairs

My life – and yours – has places of hurt slap in the midst of our beautiful places. Evil lurks, waiting for our inattention, waiting to bruise us as we fall. It hurts and it humiliates. It haunts our dreams and humbles our aspirations. Yet, in the very midst of the garden, in the cool of the day, our Savior seeks us out. Then he cleans away the moss and he scrapes away the mud and he – just slightly – tames those wild places and brings purpose to the chaos.

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed…The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2: 8 & 15

In Lead more gently/ Worship more fully

When does life have true meaning?

There is this mystery in God and of it I dreamt a dream.

A hundred thousand people gathered before me. Their eyes were shut and they were hidden in their own darkness.

A voice said, “Help them.”

I said, “I have but one gift.”

The voice said, “Give your one gift.”

In my dream I spoke words to the one closest to me and the words caused her eyes to open.

And the voice said to her, “ Help them.”

She said, “I have but one gift.”

The voice said, “Give your one gift.”

So she sang to the one beside her and it caused his eyes to open.

In my dream a gift was given, person to person, each gift unique.

And in that peculiar time of dreams unfolding, every eye was opened and the hundred thousand saw each other. And when they saw, they stood in awe.

I woke and knew.

This then is the mystery in God:

This world is only whole when you give to it your gift. And the healing your gift brings is a place of holy awe.

You can choose to look within, find your contribution and then give. Or you can choose to hide and to keep. In hiding you will become small. In keeping you will loose. In exploring you will grow. In giving you will receive.

Each person has something to contribute. God has not only given you a gift; he has made you a gift to this world. He has either conferred talents at birth or He has formed them in you through the journey of your life.   These gifts and abilities are richly meaningful when you give them back to Him in service to others.

Life has true meaning when we contribute. Contributing brings connection and when we connect one with the other, we grow.

And as is the nature of mysteries, there is one more service to God that we owe:

Others feel significant when we not only allow them to contribute but we also receive their contribution with the holy awe it deserves. They are, after all, God’s healing gift to us.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8

In Worship more fully

5 Prayers That Will Shape Your Year

Here it is. This new year.

For many, it is just another year. Nothing will be different. Life will continue as before. The year ahead seems just like the year past.

If this is you, I would like to encourage you to make a change. I am told that in Hebrew, the word “year” can also mean “change”.

We are designed for change. We are created to grow and with growth comes change. This year, my prayer for you – my loyal readers, my friends, my loved ones – is that you will embrace change.

Here are 5 prayers I have written for you. If you pray them daily, with sincerity and with passion, you may not recognize yourself this time next year.

Interspersed are photos I took while enjoying some leisure time at the end of the year with friends who never fail to draw me closer to God.

5 PRAYERS FOR THE NEW YEAR

PRAYER FOR LIFE
Lord, the greatest gift you have given to me is life. May I know this gift in all its’ fullness. May I not squander this gift with useless activity and clamoring entertainment. Rather may I embrace this gift of life with worthwhile work, real relationships, soul care and sincere worship.

trees and ice

sun through trees

snow in trees

PRAYER FOR GOODNESS
Lord, you are the very essence of goodness and can therefore not want anything other than goodness for me. May I see the goodness that you have already brought my way that I have not yet recognized. Also, may I see the goodness that will be wrapped in a new opportunity or a new direction. May I even see the goodness in a seeming hardship. Lord, give me eyes and ears and a heart that recognizes all the good you bring my way.

lamp and pines

cone in snow

snow man

PRAYER FOR PRESENCE
Lord, may I understand that one of the greatest gifts I can give to others is presence. To be there for them. To support them, assure them and encourage them with my very presence. Show me, Lord, each day, where my presence will make all the difference. God, above all else, may I know the comfort and energizing assurance of your presence with me.

bench and tree

church full front

PRAYER FOR CONSISTENCY
Lord, may I know a consistent walk toward you that builds my character. Even when I want to do something that pleases me but displeases you. Even when I have to humble myself before others and it brings temporary embarrassment. Even when it hurts, but because I said I would, I follow through. Even though there are a million reasons to give up, may I continue. God, this year, teach me consistency. Teach me a long obedience in the same direction.

red roof, flag and sky

door and wreath

ranger station

PRAYER FOR GENEROSITY
Lord, our desire for financial security discourages us from giving. Teach me the freedom that comes from generosity. Help me know that in giving I place my confidence in you and not in my worldly goods. Help me, Lord, toward a true understanding that it is far more blessed to give than to receive.

church on rocks

snow on pine needles

yellow rock and snow

May these prayers help you grow and change and become more like Jesus every day this year.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” – James 5: 16-18