Silly Me, Short Question, Strong Answer

 

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On  Monday’s  for two years, I’ve been blessed to be part of a group of people from about a dozen different  churches who meet (and have met for fourteen years) in a home for three hours to sing worship songs and speak scripture, as they sense inspiration to read it, as intercession for  the salvation – true reverent, thankful relationship with Jesus as Savior, Redeemer and Lord of their lives – of loved ones, friends, organizations, governments, nations, and even terrorists. These very ordinary people are amazing, and we feel God’s Presence every week,powerfully. I know His heart is to see the lost brought into God’s great love and forgiveness through Jesus, so  it’s not surprising, I guess, when we share God’s heart and love what He loves, that He shows up.

Some days we are mostly about intercession. some day’s it’s mostly worship, and some days, God’s Holy Spirit makes it  about us and the changes and  truths we need to embrace. These people  are transparent,  openly admitting where we blow it, and the bond we feel with each other, as well as with Jesus,  is amazing. Last  Monday the morning flowed into the word that God wants to do something new in each of us. Several shared about “God-incidences” in their lives, with one woman saying with a  laugh that she knew what  she said to another person HAD to be God speaking through  her, ”Because I’m not that smart!”

While we were in a time of  silence and listening, I “heard” a brief thought, prefaced by  the difficulty I had that morning of getting an earring through the shrinking hole in my left  earlobe, while thinking how ridiculous (even though widely accepted as common sense) it is to think  I/we make myself/ourselves more beautiful by poking holes in parts of our bodies and hanging  jewelry in or from them. Does that make me more  beautiful to God? If it doesn’t, what does our Heavenly (and relentlessly patient) Father think is true beauty? Hmmm…. this is offered as a “whadayathink.” I heard it for me and share it with you for your own reflection:

The most beautifying “thing” I can put on is
complete reliance on Jesus to be my acceptance before God–
yes, my covering, but not just my covering for sin,
He is my cleansing from sin.
Just As I Am in Him,
renewed into the creation God intended all along in me;
I am beautiful to God.
My face is washed clean from shame BY the  Father’s Love.
am delighted in; I am chosen.
HIS  beauty becomes the radiance in me,
a mirror polished to reflect Jesus,
like a still pool,  a cup holding Living Water reflecting ABBA’s Glory. 
Lord God, Father, help  me  remember and believe who You say I am to you and what  You see and You place within me, so I know my true identity and what truly matters, in Jesus’ name, amen!
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A point of clarification

In case  anyone wonders about my motives in posting this blog for the past 8 years, after today’s Worship Intercession group – anywhere from 15 to 30 of us from across, and I mean ACROSS,  denominations and ages –  where we sing intercession for three hours over those  who don’t know  Jesus as LORD and Lover of their souls, I earnestly want everyone to know that this is about what GOD does in my life. It’s not about my power or glory or fame, but GOD’S.

I truly am blessed by Robin Mark’s music, and this song expresses my desires in writing:

We passionately sang this today, some of us on our feet, hands lifted, in joy!Those who can’t stand worship just as passionately from their chairs! No formula, no “liturgy,” no right way or wrong way or tradition, but simply passionately prayed intercession and love.

I’ve never before been part of group of people so dedicated and committed, earnestly desiring what God desires: that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE,  comes to know the great, unsearchable love He offers us through relationship with Jesus as Redeemer, Savior, and LORD!

What a blessing to join our hearts, spirits and voices every week! Loved ones, friends, organizations, churches, states, nations, our “enemies” – Three hours of loving prayer isn’t enough, ever! Enough said. Solo Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

No fog machies,no lights, no drums, no amplifiers, BUT God …

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Sunday morning, Kokomo, Indiana, driving back to Indianapolis, 1700+ miles of driving ahead of us, but we wanted to go to church, so we looked online to see if there were any Evangelical Free churches in Kokomo. Grace Fellowship popped up, so we fairly technologically savvy old timers put the address into our map search and navigated our way to the church.

We arrived early, in time to hear the trio (plus one young girl) warming up before the service. Small sanctuary, no fog machines, no high-tech lighting, just sunshine warmly pouring in through the marbled glass windows, reminding me of the church my family attended up north of Kokomo in my early childhood. No pianist that day, either (on vacation) and no electric or acoustic guitar, no drummer, just voices.

A few regular attenders were scattered throughout the building, so we walked up and took a pew near the front, a respectful few pews from the front row, and enjoyed the music. This church certainly didn’t look like, or have the “vibes” of the 10,000-member church I’d belonged to for ten years, or the 5,000-member church I belonged to for twelve years. It didn’t even look like the lively 60-member church I’d belonged to that met every Sunday in the town library. I could fully imagine that most contemporary American church-shoppers, er, -goers would be “underwhelmed” by the lack of “atmosphere,” but we were there to hopefully hear God’s Word and worship, so we stayed, and boy, were we GLAD we did!

No, the band didn’t suddenly show up, and in fact, the PowerPoint wasn’t working properly that day and we had to rely on our memories for many of the worship songs BUT GOD WAS THERE! Imagine that: the Almighty, The Holy One of Israel, the LORD on High, entered into that little building through the Holy Spirit rising up out of grateful, thankful, worshipful hearts of  maybe 30 people and God DID truly inhabit the praises of His people! We sang and sang, worshiped and worshiped, praised and praised, raised a few hands, and deep joy and warm love filled the room! Then God’s Word and Heart poured out through the obvious passion in the pastor’s heart. I’ve been part of a small group where the same thing happens in a living room every Monday morning, and talk about a paradigm shift!

What? You mean we don’t need the fog machines? We don’t need the dramatic changing colored lighting? We don’t need a darkened sanctuary and projected thrilling landscapes  on three screens up front?  We don’t need a thundering drummer? We don’t need amplified guitars and violins? WHAT KIND OF A SHOW IS THAT??????

Please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying: I’m not condemning drums, lights, or amplifiers, because I have truly worshiped with all of those present. I am raising a question, though: what do we think worship is, and where is it directed? Is worship the externals that stimulate our senses,  or is worship grateful connection and communication from our spirit and heart and being with our Father’s, God’s, own Spirit and Heart and Being?

Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.  1 Chronicles 16: 23-29 NIV

 

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4: 21-24 NIV

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

 

The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations.

Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy. The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. Psalm 99: 1-4 NIV

 

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Isaiah 29:13 NIV

 

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22 NIV

 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV

 

So what I Am saying is that a handful of very ordinary people with nothing but their hearts and humility and voices CAN worship the LORD  in the beauty of His holiness in  simplicity and truth to such a degree that God delights in descending right there in their midst with His Presence – maybe not visibly, but perceptibly nevertheless –  and trust me, GOD is ENOUGH to make simple songs raised by normal voices into a conduit that brings Heaven to Earth.

Would you like to experience THAT on Sunday morning? Have you ever TRULY wanted to see His Kingdom come, and God’s will done on Earth as it is in Heaven, wanted it so much and desperately that your heart would break if it didn’t happen?

Then can I encourage you, next Sunday, or gosh, today in your own house or apartment, to bring an offering of your grateful heart, the certainty that HE is God and you are not,  and humble, glad thanks to God for loving and WANTING relationship with you?  Smoke and lights and drums or just your voice, trust Him to show up and see what He’ll do with your sacrifice of praise!

I’m daring you – and boy, going out on a limb asking God Almighty to prove Himself to you when you do –  to try it right now, wherever you are as youre’ reading this!

 (and yes, lift your hands and see how it feels!)

A”…BUT…”to pray: Father, Holy Lord, Almighty Everlasting God, all I have to give you right now is myself, grace-fully broken, BUT here goes, my words of thanks to you, and I’m trusting You, Holy Spirit, to come inhabit my praises ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And thanks, Grace Fellowship Kokomo!

 

WWJD

princeofpeace13 Do you remember back in the ’90’s how popular this acronym was? Bracelets, necklaces, hats all carried this logo. I wondered then, and I still do, though, did we and do we really mean to ask that question of God and act on God’s answer?

Last Saturday a woman, perhaps 50-ish, sat perspiring on the bench in front of our house, along the street. She wasn’t one of the elderly people who live in this 55+ community, for whom the  bench is a welcome respite from their walks. No, she was there with a much more pressing need. A tiny dog peeped out of her large handbag as she explained that she’d listened to her daughter’s advice to “Go out, Mom!” and had ridden down to the casino with some friends. These friends stayed ALL night at  the  casino,  and when she asked if they could drive her back home around 4 a.m., they told her they wanted to stay longer. She walked around outside for a time, and got in the car when they came out. Immediately she fell asleep, assuming they’d take her back to her house. Instead she awoke around 7 a.m. in the car, parked in the driveway of one of the “friends”, about 25 miles from her house. The door to their house was locked, so she set  off on foot to walk back  home.

She thought she’d  walked about 5 miles by the time she found the bench to sit and rest on.  A total stranger, bloodshot eyes, missing teeth, straggly hair …. What WOULD Jesus do?  Advise her to get  better friends? Suggest she call a taxi to drive her 20 miles north? Suggest she call the police  and ask for help? Say, ”Gosh, that’s too bad. I’d like to help you  out, but I have work to do in the yard”?

Was my personal safety to be my first concern? Should I let a total stranger inconvenience  me? Nobody forced her to go to a casino, and good grief,  she went to a CASINO! She wasn’t family or a friend, so what did I owe her?

WDJS: What did Jesus say?

 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  Matthew 25: 32-45 NIV

WWJD? What DID Jesus do when the bleeding woman (against the ”law” to be in public if you’re bleeding AND for a woman to touch a man)  touched his robe? (Matthew 9: 18-26) What did he do when the Canaanite woman asked him to heal her child possessed with demons? (Matthew 15:22) What did he do when blind beggar Bartimaeus cried out, shouted for Jesus to heal his  eyes? (Mark 10: 46-52) When the Samaritan woman at the well, five times married and on her sixth man, asked him to give HER  the Living Water he spoke about? (John 4: 4-26) When a  despised tax collector who’d defrauded people asked Jesus to come to his house? (Luke 19: 1-10)

It  was pretty obvious to me what I should  do, so I invited her in the house to wash her  face (show her some dignity), have some breakfast (feed her stomach) and a cup of coffee (help her stay awake) , listen to her story (express that she was indeed a human being  worth being heard), feed her little dog (just plain compassion), and drive her 20 miles north to her house. AND tell her – yes, we NEED to explain IN WORDS WHO inspires our compassion –  that it  wasn’t my goodness, but Jesus’ love for me that translated into Jesus’ love for her, that moved me to “inconvenience” myself to help her. I prayed with her before she  got out of the car, asking God to  show her HIS love and HIS presence and provision for her  that day and all week, and  to bring true Jesus-loving friends into her life. Truthfully, her physical needs were the red flag to reveal her deeper spiritual needs, to KNOW GOD is real, GOD cares for her, GOD can work though otherS to MEET HER  PHYSICAL NEEDS TO MAKE AN OPENING FOR GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT TO BEGIN TO MINISTER HEALING TO HER DEEPER SPIRIT/HEART HUNGER AND THIRST. Tearfully she smiled and walked up the gravel driveway to her rented mobile home.

And I drove back home, in awe that God had given me an opportunity to show HIS love to someone who probably wasn’t,  and hadn’t been  for a long time, feeling loved and valued.

PLEASE don’t commend me  for being “holy”! Self-righteousness stinks, and I try to run from it like the plague it is. All I did was remember Jesus, trust to see Him sitting beside her on that bench (with his WWJD bracelet on his pierced wrist) and invite Jesus to invade my morning, upset my plans, and show me out of His grace that He still loves me and likes me and values me enough to ask me to show others HIS love. I helped Carly, but JESUS  blessed me through her need.

This was the third time  in three days that God reminded me He still loves me and is here with in the ongoing spiritual warfare I’m up against. Yes, LORD GOD, YOU are on the throne in all of this, and the story ain’t over  till YOU say it’s over and get YOUR glory and victories. In the meantime, THANK you, thank, you, that YOU still speak and  love in me and through me. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:8-39

A “…BUT…” to pray: Lord, Father God, I’ll be I’ve walked unknowingly right past Jesus so many times in  my life. I know that I’m not to be a “doormat” and I do need healthy boundaries in my life, BUT GOD,  please nudge me, tell me, prompt me, SHOVE me if I need shoving to open my eyes to true needs in the world around me that are opportunities and blessings in disguise, and help me plainly and  in humility TELL WHY I’m showing kindness, so I can be an active agent of YOUR LOVE. I’m asking You today to open  my eyes and my heart as I ______________________________________________________. Thanks  that Your mercies are new every morning, today is a fresh start, and you know the motives of my heart.Enable  me to be bold when I need, to show YOUR love,maybe even to __________________________________________________________________ and always, only by YOUR power and grace.  In Jesus’ name, thank you, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening ____________________________________________________________

 

 

 

WHY SETTLE FOR THE SKYLIGHT WHEN YOU’RE DESTINED FOR THE SKY?

 

img_0808Rose M. Jack200440345-001son © 1994

This is a very old message, first given 24 years ago,  to the women of Community Church of Joy. I had no idea how prophetic this would be for my own journey into a “dis-comfort zone” that has stretched my understanding and trust in the incredible love and hidden purposes of God Almighty.  I never imagined in 1994 that I would be in this place in my life, and it still feels like the “wrong fit” for someone  who often feels more like a canary than an eagle on  many days, but God has proved to me he is  with me every step of the way. My next post will be another early thought, but today I need to remind myself, and very likely someone else  out there, that God is the wind beneath the wings he  gave you and wants you to try as he lifts you up to the purpose He created you for.

 

I heard a bird chirping as I cruised through the mall early one morning on my two-mile walking circuit. It startled me, for though this mall – like most – is landscaped with Ficus and Pothos and other requisite ornamental plants to give the place a quasi-rainforest feel (minus real rainforest bugs, of course) it’s hardly the place you expect to find living creatures. Looking up, I spied a sparrow perched on a mauve concrete ledge just below the skylights illuminating the courtyard in front of a big department store. I speculated that the bird, like me, found its way in, on an early morning. The plant man or the cleaning staff or some delivery person probably had left the doors wide open and empty long enough for the sparrow, fooled by the adjacent windows’ reflections of the world outside, to sail unsuspectingly inside.

Well, I asked myself, was that such a tragedy? Wasn’t it in fact serendipity for the bird? I did a quick mental tally of what the mall provided:

1) It’s climate-controlled. That is, after all, one of the main reasons I walk there. The temperature is always a comfortable 75 in summer, 80 in winter. There’s no pelting rain or, here in the desert, dry, parching wind to deal with. It’s always in the comfort zone in the mall.

2) There aren’t any predators – another reason I myself walk there.   There are no obvious threats. Sparrows don’t need to worry about the occasional purse snatcher anyway, and I’ve never noticed anyone even paying any attention to the birds, much less trying to harm them.

3) There are trees to nest in. They may not grow very large, and there may not be many to choose from, but they’re there, limbs artfully pruned to be up out of reach, carefully tended to stay green and healthy.

4) There is a reliable water and food supply. Gardeners are there every day to water the plants. Small children, in particular, are certain to trail cookie crumbs, popcorn kernels, bits of French fry, and the occasional entire slice of pizza. The enticement to eat is designed into every mall (don’t I well know, and why is it that I always park so that I have to exit past the cinnamon roll stand as I end my walks?). A food supply – even if not real nourishment – is guaranteed.

5) There is the ever-present elevator music to provide a pleasant ambience and set up a mind-numbing alpha-wave state in the brain. I don’t know if that matters to birds, but it does to mall designers; I suspect it puts customers in a pleasantly detached mental state conducive to spending money without realizing you’re doing it. I use it as “white noise” to help me focus and filter out distractions on my walks, because I use my walking time to do my intercessory praying.

6) There are lots of skylights, double-paned and insulated, to let the sunshine in, so people and birds have a view of the clouds and sun (but not the stars because the lights are never all turned off in the mall). You can see the sky without the bother of direct sun to fade your feathers.

All in all, I reflected, the mall could be a pretty good place for a vegetarian bird. All the basics seemed to be there, with no worrisome predators. To be objective, though, on my second lap I asked myself what wasn’t in the mall. On deeper inspection, I found lacking:

1) The natural cycle of the seasons. Even in a place with moderate winters, like here in Arizona, a bird needs to know when to do what. Certain bird behaviors, notably nesting, are triggered by the change in seasons. Does it leave a bird with a false sense of eternal spring, and upset biorhythms, to live in the mall?

2) The meaningful company of other birds. There are just not that many birds in the mall. I’ve never seen a group of birds perched on a pediment. I’ve never seen a nest tucked into any of the “o’s” or “e’s” of store signs, the way you always see them outside of grocery stores. Meaningful companionship seems hard to come by in a mall. Which leads me to:

3) Limited options. In mates, in only the ubiquitous Ficus Mallius to call home, in room to fly, in diet, all options in the mall are sorely limited. What you see is all you get. If you develop a craving for a nice earthworm in the middle of the night, forget it. Organic food is out of the question. There may be two health food stores in the mall, but, for a bird, healthy food is hard to come by. Nourishment, emotional and physical, is sorely lacking for a bird in the mall.

4) Purpose. In the natural world, birds serve a purpose, whether it is controlling insects, spreading seeds, or, even in death, feeding other animals. Without natural food to search for, predators to evade, and changing seasons to guide it, how could a baby sparrow ever learn to be the bird it is supposed to be? What purpose do birds serve in the mall, other than to arouse the curiosity of people like me? They certainly aren’t filling their God-given niche, or serving their God-given purpose in life. But – here’s the real sadness – do they even know they aren’t truly in the world?

5) Sensitivity. That anesthetized state of “pleasant” induced by elevator music does have its dangers. I discovered this first-hand one morning when, immersed in my own praying, I clipped a corner on a jewelry store too close and gashed my hand, not even realizing I was bleeding until half a lap later. What it does to birds, I don’t know, but persistent “pleasant” de-sensitizes us to danger and pain.

6) An easy way out. Though a wide-open door is a fairly easy way into the mall, there is no easy way back out. A bird has to wait for, and, more importantly, recognize, another open door in order to find its way out of the mall. Someone has to leave the door wide open. Then a bird has to risk closeness to people, the very people who frighten it, to take advantage of an open door out.

7) Sky. In the mall there are none of the risks of the sky, but there is also none of the freedom of the sky, none of the possibilities that exist only within that risky freedom. Outside, the winds may buffet it, the rain may soak its feathers, it will have to spend its days searching for food and water, and someone may even eat it. But outside, a bird will have the winds to soar on, trees and eaves and letters on store signs to shelter in, and a host of its own kind to find companionship with. A skylight is a poor substitute for the real sky.

What in the world does a bird in the mall have to do with you and me? Well, as if you hadn’t noticed, the world is trying to sell us on life in “the mall,” and we are only too willing to buy into that philosophy. I don’t mean the literal mall – though more and more of us seem to spend more and more of our time there – but the attitude that life in the comfort “happy” zone should be our highest goal. This is the state of mind that equates stuff with security. Peace means nothing beyond achieving a mental state of perpetual “pleasant,” undisturbed by pain or anxiety (our own or anyone else’s).   That’s even the first definition of “comfort” in the dictionary: “A state of mental or physical ease, especially one free from pain, want, or other afflictions.”Adversity is to be avoided at all costs. “Sounds good to me,” we reflect, and ask where we go to sign up.

We long for a life with no threats, no changes unless they’re positive, no risks, no unmet needs or desires, and no surprises – unless they’re to our benefit. We want nothing to jar us from our externally and circumstantially induced reverie. But, as wistfully as I yearn for it, is such a “controlled climate” existence the same thing as a life of peace, happiness, contentment, security, and purpose? With a “climate controlled” mind-set, how do I respond when the mall door opens, something threatening or unsettling rolls in, and I realize “pleasant ambience” won’t take care of it? Do I ever consider what will happen to my “peace” when there’s a power failure in “the mall”?

Birds get into the mall by accident, but people long for and actively look for a way into the perpetual comfort zone that I’ll refer to as “the mall.” We long to wake up in an ever balmy, no-sweat life, where the only one who notices changes is the maintenance person (God’s new job description) who makes the seasonal thermostat adjustments needed to keep us in our comfort zone. As for “seasons” in our lives, we’ll stick to the changing window displays that give us fair warning of Christmas four months in advance. We’d prefer a superficial seasonal change something like changing window displays – new furniture, the latest development in plastic surgery, or a new place to vacation – to those nasty seasons of failure and frustration, thank you, and don’t even mention the wrinkles on my face or silver “snow” in my hair unless I have some guarantee that the winter of my life will be as blissful as a Bing Crosby musical!

How hard we work to maintain some sort of permanent “white noise” to help us screen out the rest of the world and focus on ourselves! In the world of “the mall,” we covet the meaningful company of others only if they’re as carefree as we are, with their messier or more demanding needs already met. I admit, though not to my credit, that I draw back before pursuing relationships that may demand too much of my time or energy. Sometimes it is honestly because I recognize my time and resources are limited, and I want to live up to the commitments I do make, but my reasons aren’t always so honorable. Sometimes I simply don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes I’m just afraid that my own deficiencies will be revealed. I pull back from people who have significantly less money and education than I do – good grief, I even pull back from relationships with people who have significantly more!

I was shocked to discover how severely my comfort zones can limit my blessings shortly after we moved to a new town. The first people we met at church were a friendly couple, Jack and Kathleen, newcomers themselves, who were starting a small group in their home. Our son had a chorus concert on the evening of the group’s first meeting, so I went to the concert while my husband represented us at the small group. When we both got home that evening, my husband said he’d had a good time. He told me nothing about Jack and Kathleen’s house, except to note that they didn’t have a swimming pool. We did have a pool, and since Jack and Kathleen had two children, my husband thought it would be nice if we’d invite them over for a cookout and a swim.

“Sure, that would be great,” I replied, excited to have new friends to share with, so Jack and Kathleen and their two children came over for hamburgers and a swim. I gave them the tour of our house and told them to make themselves at home.   We really enjoyed getting to know them better, and I could tell Kathleen and I could be good friends.

A week later we went to the second small group meeting at their house – and I was horrified. You could put our house on the first floor of their house and still have room leftover! I felt so embarrassed, thinking of how I’d given them “the tour” of our modest house when theirs was palatial by comparison. Why hadn’t my husband told me before we invited them over? Why had he let me “make a fool of myself”? Then I realized – even more horrified by my shallowness – that if he had told me they had a lot more money than we did, I never would have felt comfortable opening our home to them. The difference in our income levels and my desire not to look “poor” by comparison would have kept me from experiencing the depth of friendship we soon came to share with them as we honestly opened our lives to each other. Staying in my “comfort zone” would have walled me off from so much goodness! I have to wonder how many significant friendships I miss in every direction when I’m uncomfortable with economic and ethnic differences.

How much we miss out on when we restrict our life to “the mall”! Does such a place really exist, and what would I lose from spending my time there?   Would it be a healthy place for me to live and grow?

I’d find no meaningful interaction and relationships with others – in short, no real love. No changes in my life would mean no growth. Now before you tell me I’m sounding like your mother and “growth” is just a euphemism for “unpleasant and painful”, consider this honestly:

No growth means I’d never develop discernment, wisdom, good judgment, or faith, or compassion for others that comes when my life doesn’t go the way I want it to.

I’d find no true peace, for genuine peace doesn’t come from the absence of conflict or fear.

I’d never learn endurance, and I’d never exult in victory, for victory implies a contest and the possibility of defeat.   I’d never fulfill my purpose, with all the unlimited-in-God possibilities my life could hold.

We can learn that from the life of Jesus. Knowing the cruel ordeal he was about to face, Jesus nevertheless assured his disciples during their last meal together:

 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

With the dread and anguish of heart and mind that must have warred within him, recognizing what must come, how could Christ possibly have peace for himself, much less peace enough to give away? Yet he did. It came from something other than his circumstances. It came from the presence of God in him in his circumstances.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.                                                                               Psalm 29:11

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”                                                                                                    Isaiah 26:3

The peace and confidence Jesus had and gives to us doesn’t depend on living within some white-noised, “there is no pain in this world” problem-free zone where we always look like we have life together. Peace and security don’t come from our circumstances. The peace of Christ that “passes all understanding,” understands and trusts in the faithfulness, goodness, mercy and power of God to give peace within our circumstances.

True security doesn’t come from how much stuff I can amass as a shield about me, or from sailing through life with no troubles, or from surrounding myself with “happiness” and only people who “make me happy”, or from projecting the image that I have my life together. Stuff can disappear overnight, as Jesus pointed out to the crowd listening to him on a mountaintop, and problems are part of the reality of life.   If our security is in our portfolio, then we have no security.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust to not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”                                                                                       Matthew 6:19-21

Besides moths, rust, and thieves, today Jesus could add to the list downsizing, layoffs, identity theft, and plunges in the stock market. But if stuff isn’t security, then what is? What, or who, won’t leave us?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                                                                                                                                            John 16: 33

Real security is anchored in the promise that Jesus is bigger than our problems, that it’s who we are in him that matters, and that he will never leave us.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’”                                                                                              Psalm 91:1-2

What better security can we have than knowing that God is always present with us, the victor for us?

What else would I miss in a climate-controlled life? I’ve noticed that malls offer plenty of stores to choose from, but they tend to offer just numerous variations on the same theme, whether shoes, jewelry, books, clothing, or fast food. Despite a veritable glut of stuff, often I’m unable to find what I really want in the mall, and I have to settle instead for something that only partially satisfies my need or is approximately what I want to find.   The same is true of life in our comfort zones: it’s an approximation of joy and freedom, superficially close to the real thing, but not at all what we really need. Jesus, on the other hand, offers us what we truly need and want to long for, if we trust him enough to fly out of “the mall”:

“I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance – to the full, till it overflows. ”                                John 10:10 (Amplified Bible)

Abundance, breadth, broadness, completeness, entirety, profusion, totality, vastness, and wholeness: these are a few synonyms for fullness. That hardly sounds like the narrow “everything going my way” constraint I mistakenly think I’d like to impose on my life.   Have you ever muttered, “Lord, I didn’t ask for this,” only to recognize that you have, in fact, asked God for strength, compassion, purpose, and victory? The very word “victory” implies overcoming an obstacle, threat, or challenge. My problem is that I want victory without the battle, meaning without the challenge! But Paul’s’ words remind me that God desires more than pseudo-abundance for me:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”                                                       Ephesians 4:1

What is the life “worthy of the calling you have received”? It is:

“. . . that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”  Colossians 1:10-12

This is what a life worthy of the calling of Christ looks like.   How does that stress-free, planter-boxed happy artificial scenery compare? As a friend of mine bluntly phrased it, God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. After I wince, I examine that truth and realize it is a loving truth, because the character of Christ is what I really need to fill the landscape of my life with exciting, meaningful, overflowing abundance.

I do want more from life than my own ease and pleasure – or at least part of me does. Another part of me gets very nervous when I feel the draft from the door God’s just opened. Let me clarify that I’m not talking about God calling me to dig wells in Africa. No, I hide in comfort zones much closer to home. I am appalled, in fact, to recognize how narrow my comfort zone truly is and how slight a shift it takes to make me anxious. The two “malls” that most often entrap me are “What will people think of me?” and “I don’t want any interruptions in today’s schedule.” Do you regularly visit to either of these?

Not long ago God challenged me to pray for people on the spot, as soon as I learn they have a need, even if it is in public. My first thought was, “But God, what will people think of me? They’ll think I’m a nut or some kind of religious fanatic.” The breeze was unmistakably blowing, though, so I mentally committed to pray out loud, in public, the very next time someone told me they had a need.

It happened the next week in the check-out line at Wal-Mat, and you can’t get much more public than that. When I politely asked, “How are you?” the clerk told me her husband was in a nursing home, recovering from serious surgery. She deeply longed to bring him home for Christmas but was afraid she wouldn’t be able to take care of him, even for a few days. My usual response would have been, “I’ll pray for you,” but I sensed it would be a shallow blessing if that was all I offered. Instead, I nervously asked, “Would you like me to pray for you right now?” My stomach knotted when she sighed, “Oh, yes.”   “Oh, no!” was my instant gut response, but I took a deep breath, willed myself to ignore the line of shoppers behind me, and prayed out loud for the clerk and her husband right there.

The look of peace that spread across her face told me Jesus was there for her with strength and peace in that very moment – and to see that, I didn’t care what the people behind me thought. She was encouraged, and I was free and flying!

Similar things happen consistently when I “fly with” interruptions in my days. In my normal “mall” state of mind, interruptions destroy my peace along with my schedule. Recently I had my busy day neatly arranged when the phone rang. “Oh, no,” I thought – my internal red flag that my comfort zone is about to be breached. I considered just letting the phone ring, but picked it up anyway. On the line was a friend from church who had moved out-of-town, just calling to say hello. At least that’s what we both initially thought the call was about. I still don’t know how the conversation shifted, but she was struggling with a painful issue that she had no idea I had also experienced in my life. The Holy Spirit suddenly powerfully filled my living room – at least that’s how it felt as we talked and prayed together. I was stunned once again with the realization that God moves across miles and through minutes to bring healing and hope, and if I cooperate instead of nesting stubbornly in “the mall” of my own agenda, I get to be part of his powerful purposes. I confess that I still cringe initially when the phone rings or a neighbor knocks on my door, but feeling God’s hand in mine as I take part in his purpose in each encounter refreshes and renews me.

I do (I think…) want to try my “wings” to find my purpose and fulfill it fruitfully, to grow in my knowledge of God, to be strong and persevering through all the seasons and circumstances of my life, to be a thankful, joyful, patient overcomer, no matter what comes my way. That means moving outside of the skylight world to a place where challenges will come. When I face that open door out of the mall and begin to see God’s world outside my own contentment, convenience, competence and complacency, sometimes I get nervous. No, let me be honest: I get scared, because it’s not a “safe” place out there. People who reject or abuse my efforts to love them can hurt me.   I can attempt an avenue of ministry or a challenge I’ve never tried before and fail. I may stand up for Christ and be cut down by people who scorn Christianity. It may cost me. The truth is, I usually feel more like a sparrow than an eagle. But like a bird in the mall, I won’t find the room to become more than I am now, or the place that’s truly my home if I never leave my comfort zones. I won’t learn what God is capable of if I never dare beyond what I know I can achieve myself.

But does that mean I must live without comfort? Not at all, and this is where the other definitions of comfort apply: “Relief from sorrow, distress, etc.; solace, consolation. One who brings ease or consolation. Help or support;” The Counselor whom Jesus said God would send, the Holy Spirit, is our Parakletos, which is Greek for intercessor, consoler, advocate, and comforter.

So how do I break free from that skylight-deluded mindset? A bird in the mall may have to wait a long time before it recognizes an open door. My problem isn’t the open door; I usually don’t have to wait long to feel the whoosh of God opening an opportunity to move me out of my comfort zones. “Donate cans of food for the food bank? Sure! But help serve a meal in a dining room for the homeless? Now wait a minute, God! It didn’t feel as weird as I expected the day the homeless lady hugged me outside the grocery store after I bought her some food, but do you actually want me to get to know one of these people?” No, my problem isn’t in finding an opened door; my problem lies in recognizing the emptiness of a climate-controlled life, the fullness and purpose of living in God’s daily call on my life, and God’s faithfulness to me when I do “fly out the door”.

You can not only trust Jesus to hold that mall door open for you – you can trust him to be the door for you, offering you the freedom to trust in him and “fly.” He wants us living freely and fully the broad, vast, whole life he promised – not captive to the counterfeit of the mall and the skylight. Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is what God surely desires for us all:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. . . .”                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Ephesians 1:18-19

The “skylight life” is a poor imitation; genuine life is in God’s abundant, risky, exhilarating, liberating adventure for us when we’re willing to fly out into the open skies. Will you take a deep breath, look afresh through the eyes of your heart, and trust God to be faithful in the adventure to which he’s calling you? Don’t settle for the skylight when YOU are destined for the sky!

Questions for you to  ponder with the Holy Spirit:

1) What defines your “comfort zones”? What stresses, misconceptions, or deceptions tempt you to wish for or actually head for the “climate controlled” life?

2) From time to time we all do need a place of rest, but  is the absence of stress the same as the presence of peace and rest?

3) God asked Moses to move WAY beyond his comfort zone. Read Exodus 33:12-17. Where can you find real peace and rest? ( also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Psalm 116:5-7)

4) Why does God call us out of our comfort zones?

Philippians 1: 3-6

Ephesians 2:8-10 3:16-19

5) Do you need to be afraid of what’s outside “the mall” of what the world calls safety, peace and meaning?

John 16:33

Jeremiah 29: 11

Romans 8:28, 38-39

Now the  big question:

6) In what area do you hear God calling you to “fly out” of your comfort zone this day, this week, this month and fly free in his calling?

 

A  “…BUT…” to pray today:

Litany of Wings

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,

For my soul takes refuge in you;

And in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, Psalm 57:1

For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. Psalm 63:7

For it is you who deliver me from the snare of the trapper,

and from the deadly pestilence.

You will cover me with your feathers,

and under your wings I may seek refuge. Psalm 91:3-4

You make the clouds your chariot and ride upon the wings of the wind;

you make winds your messengers Psalm 104:3b

Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;

I will mount up with wings like an eagle,

I will run and not get tired,

I will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you Psalm 116: 7

Be at peace as you fly free in his calling

 

Funk & Wagnalls+ Standard College Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls, a Division of Reader’s Digest Books, New York: 1966, 270.

Ibid.

 

Check “OTHER” – GOD is NOT Just a Good Idea!

Today is a replay. Given all the shaking and winds and waves not only in the physical world, but in governments and the political sphere, I  think I need to reiterate this thought. Thank you, Francis Chan,  for nudging me to agree with your message today! First, Francis:

 

I strongly suspect we take God’s mercy lightly. Evidently we think God sent Jesus because we deserved it. Nothing could be further from the truth. We deserved God’s wrath. He sent Jesus because HE is worth/deserved it: God deserves a people who walk in holiness and purity, fully aware of his glory, majesty, holiness, purity, splendor, reality, presence, being, and fully aware of what GRACE means, the price paid for us to come into relationship with him,with his love, BUT aligned with his righteousness. The Blood that HE shed for us is the costliest fluid in the universe, and I need, speaking for myself, to be aware of the value of that Blood.

I picked myself up off the floor this morning long enough to share this with you. I pray God’s manifest presence enters and covers your life, your day, our nation, and the world today, and yes, I have a tiny idea of what that really means and the consequences of what I’m asking: reverential fear, awe and awareness of and reverence for WHO we’ve been “messing and trifling with” to flood our lives, and our personal and corporate realignment and recalibration with HIS Word, HIS will, HIS worship.

Back to the floor ……

The check box “OTHER” has often been my answer of choice on surveys and sometimes on standardized tests when none of the choices or answers seems to fit quite rightly. When I did analogies on IQ tests in school, I could often see relationships between more than one of the answers, and I always wished those tests had a “free response” section so I could elaborate on connections I saw in multiple choices.

“For He is like ….” In writing about the passage in Malachi 2: 17-3:6, John Piper writes:

“He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire.”

“God is like …” – I read analogies about God all through the Bible, yet still I sense the need for a check box of “OTHER” when I try to grasp all of the Being of God. Sometimes in frustration I’ve wished I could step out of the skin of my humanity with all the physical limitations of my cells, amino acids and proteins, to truly behold God in all of His Glory and Presence. So far, all I’ve experienced are flashes of God’s Presence that literally made my heart skip beats, shut my mouth to any possible conversation or exclamation, and sometimes dropped me to my face on the floor.

And all those experiences did was make me hunger and long for more of them.

Somehow I sense that I the modern-day American evangelical church we have focused so single-mindedly on God’s grace, mercy and love that we have completely overlooked His Holiness, His “OTHER”-ness.

Deity is not an easy concept to grasp. We know nothing of it in our everyday lives, in the realm of the natural, and until and unless we come into a true relationship with God through receiving his Son Jesus as Savior, the only receptors/detectors we’re equipped with are our five senses, totally inadequate for grasping the HOLY.

Some religions reduce God’s Deity to human terms by claiming God “came down” physically and was sexually intimate with Mary to conceive Jesus. How we try, in our finite understanding, to bring God down to human terms we can grapple with or, worse, elevate our status to godhood! God alone is Deity, God alone is Holy, and it is nothing less than truly supernaturally miraculous that through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, God sanctifies our humanity. He does not make us smaller versions of Himself. God’s Holy Spirit comes into us to make us figuratively sanctified, cleansed and honored just as the cups and utensils in the Tempe were. In effect, God’s Spirit connected with our spirit by a means undetectable to our five senses, but very much felt within us, means God chooses to reside within our hearts and spirits as He did in the Holy of Holies in the Tempe in Jerusalem.

Do I “get it”? No. Do I believe it? Yes. Not me, not by my effort or merit. “OTHER.”

God is not in every tree, but every tree is OF God’s creative power. God is not contained (limited) in me. I am an image-bearer, but the image I carry within me because of my relationship with Jesus is a partial reflection of the character and nature of God, a reflection only of someone outside of myself.

One day, quite innocently and unaware of what an answer would do within me, I asked God to give me his heart for a person I was having trouble “loving.” I cannot humanly explain what happened, but I came into contact somehow with a love deeper, more passionate, more understanding and enduring than I had ever before experienced for another human being. “OTHER” is the only way I can describe the encounter.

Since that day I often see a beauty within people that I know I missed before. This ability did not come from me, generate from some goodness within me. I can only describe it as Holy.

I long to give this experience to others, but I can’t. Only God himself can transform so profoundly. I long for others, for you, to know God’s Presence, his Holiness. Periodically I have to take myself out of the “God is my friend” mentality that is true, but isn’t wide or deep enough to accommodate Deity in my perception., and restore God in my thinking to his Holy, Divine, Majestic place as Deity and the sole right focus of my worship and obedient surrender. I am compelled to not give in to those people who demand or expect me worship them. I can love them, but I can’t worship anyone but God Almighty.

Worship is defined as reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred; adoring reverence or regard. It is both an act and, more importantly, an attitude toward.

Perhaps today it’s time in your life to try to take in, apprehend, or at least acknowledge God’s Holiness, Majesty, Splendor, worth, Divinity, OTHER-ness.

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20: 3

Which of these titles belongs to you, my fellow human being all too often ensnared by narcissistic, selfish tendencies, desires, and expectations of others?

God is an all-consuming fire, A Refiner’s Fire. A crown of beauty. A Great High Priest. A Jealous God. A Hiding Place.. A Scepter. A Strong Tower. Alpha and Omega. Creator. King of kings. Lord of lords.

Adonai-Jehovah — The Lord our Sovereign

El-Elyon — The Lord Most High

El-Olam — The Everlasting God

El-Shaddai — The God Who is Sufficient for the Needs of His People

Jehovah-Elohim — The Eternal Creator

Jehovah-Jireh — The Lord our Provider

Jehovah-Nissi — The Lord our Banner

Jehovah-Ropheka — The Lord our Healer

Jehovah-Shalom — The Lord our Peace

Jehovah-Tsidkenu — The Lord our Righteousness

Jehovah-Mekaddishkem — The Lord our Sanctifier

Jehovah-Sabaoth — The Lord of Hosts

Jehovah-Shammah — The Lord is Present

Jehovah-Rohi — The Lord our Shepherd

Jehovah-Hoseenu — The Lord our Maker

Jehovah-Eloheenu — The Lord our God

In my emphasis on God’s love and mercy, do I forget God’s Holiness?

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes…. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Deuteronomy 10: 12-20 NIV

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalms 8:1

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalms 29:2

Psalm 93:1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalms 95:6

Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Psalms 99:5

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4: 21-24 NIV

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6: 1-4 NIV

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Revelation 4:10-11

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and Earth are filled with Your Glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest!

Pray a “…BUT…” to God: Lord God Almighty, I bow before You and I confess and gladly say that You are __________________________________________________ and I am not, BUT because I belong to you and Your Holy Spirit lives in me, I am ____________________________________________________________. I want to experience You more as__________________________________________ and please, God Almighty, make me aware of __________________________________ Help me to live in greater recognition and wonder of _______________________ every day and help me to see You in __________________________________________. Help me to bear your image in this situation where I struggle to live as I know you want me to live __________________________________________________________ You ARE Holy and wholly OTHER, and I ____________________________________. I rejoice in You and Worship You! In Jesus’ name, Amen! Holy Spirit, I’m listening _________________________________________________________

God is NOT a good idea!

IMG_1401God is not a good idea. I took that thought apart when I helped Dr. Walt Kallestad write a book on understanding the basics of Christian faith. If God were simply an idea, a mental construct, a convenient way of thinking to explain the Universe or the sense of moral order, right and wrong, that exists in most people –at least the emotionally and mentally healthy – then we’re all in big trouble. I think of how many “good ideas” I’ve had that failed, but more terrifying, I think of the “good ideas” men have had over history that have wiped out entire villages and decimated nations. No, if God is only a mental abstraction, then there is no help or hope for any of us, no existence beyond seven or eight decades of getting up every morning, raising children or going to a job, to what end?

I vividly remember taking a shower one Saturday night when I was seventeen, when the thought of a universe without God struck me. The bleak emptiness and total senselessness of a universe, a dark lifeless vacuum, void of God sank me to my knees on the wet tile, my head in my hands. The moment of terror passed, and the next morning I was singing in the choir about the great love that’s ours in Jesus. I worshiped, reaching in my heart with thanks and gratitude that God is very much alive, real, and a Being of indescribable power, love, creative splendor and intimate relationship far beyond any “thing” I can imagine!

We were Methodists, of the traditional John Wesley “heart strangely warmed” variety who acknowledged God’s Spirit as a very real and immanent, personal presence in our lives. Perhaps my love of worship stems from the fact I was born, after a long labor, late on a Sunday morning. My father rang the bell in the steeple of the church in our tiny town every Sunday morning, and that January 22, after a tedious night with my mom in the hospital in the County Seat quite a few miles away, Dad drove back to church, rang the bell, then drove back to the hospital in time for my long-awaited debut.

I recall some of the very traditional liturgy, or form/pattern/ingredients of worship, I grew up hearing in the services every Sunday with a grateful heart that somehow the Responsive Readings, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and weekly singing of the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…”) after the Bible reading and the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”) after the offering never became mindless repetition to me. In fact, I look back on those elements of worship with a warm glow in my heart and do miss them in the Sunday services of the non-denominational church I attend now, where lively and deep praise songs take center stage in worship.

I miss them, but I don’t worship them. I don’t worship the old structure, but at the same time I don’t worship the absence of the ”traditional” structure and presence of “tradition-free” services. I agree with the comment I heard one Sunday that the only difference between a rut and a grave is how far down you dig. God never meant real worship to be a rut or a grave, mindless and heartless routine completing a required ritual, like checking off boxes on a to-do list. I strongly suspect God created worship as a vehicle to carry us right into God’s love for us, the Holy of Holies itself: God’s heart. In true worship my heart meets His and becomes the room, the space for the Holy of Holies. How can I bring an angry, judgmental,selfish thought into That Presence?

I enter the Holy of Holies;I enter through the blood of the Lamb.

I Enter to worship you only; I enter to honor I AM.

Instruments or voice only? Sitting or standing, arms raised or decorously in laps? Oh, please, what’s the difference, if truly loving hearts are encountering the fiery heart of God and praising his love for them? Enjoy the beauty, forget condemnation, and see the splendor in the Lord, not the “faults” in each other’s styles and forms! I need moments of silent, wordless reverent awed awareness down on my knees, and I need  the exultation of laughing and dancing in the midst of unconditional love.

Worship isn’t about what or how; it’s about Whom! I don’t worship a form, style, tradition, or experience; I invite God into my life by running into his presence to be lifted and honored and revered and enjoyed. God inhabits, lives in, the praises of His people, and yes, I dance right in the ”pew’ when I feel overjoyed by my Father God’s love for me. Look away if love disturbs you, or join me in a happy dance if you don’t care what anyone but your Daddy thinks.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:1-3 NKJV

Worship in its truest and most satisfying is real heart-felt, in the present and Presence praise, recognizing God is God and we are not, God is good, God is real, alive, personal as well as holy, God is here wherever here is, approachable as well as completely lofty and apart, and wants intimate relationship with us, with ME, with YOU! Whether I worship in my own house, worship while I walk the dogs, or worship in a church with others, it’s healing, comforting, depression-countering, en-couraging, and powerful as a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. Psalm 96: 1-9 NKJV

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. Psalm 47: 1-2 NKJV

I don’t cling to tradition and disdain contemporary, but I don’t disdain tradition as irrelevant. There is beauty to find in it all, every expression because our God is beautiful.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100_ 4-5 NIV

Hearts sang with passion when Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World” erupted as radical praise and worship in 1719, and we feel that when we sing it today. I find such freedom in worship, such delight in connecting with God and praising, even when I attend a different church or different denomination. In one church I loved being part of, the arts school affiliated with the church regularly brought dancers, singers, artists and even aerialists to add beauty, awe, wonder, joy and life to our worship. I keep my hands at a respectable height yet raised about mid-body in more conservative churches, raise them high in others, kneel on kneelers in some fellowships, kneel right on the floor in the row of chairs in others when I feel the weight of God’s holiness and goodness, repeat the written prayer along with the priest or pastor and everybody in some churches and offer up my own words along with everyone else after a particularly moving “7-11” contemporary song in others, seven words sung eleven times and nobody gets tired of singing!

Our family spent two months in Beijing, China in 1984, and “church” there meant meeting with Christians from literally all over the world in one of the embassies. The International Fellowship had no pastor that summer, so individuals from the congregation took turns leading worship and giving a message. If one of the Africans was preaching, you could count on being there for two hours. If a European or American spoke, we were likely to be out sharing lunch within an hour. What fun to meet and enjoy being God’s kids together, singing songs that might be unfamiliar, praying silently or out loud, in unison or each in our own words, but recognizing and drawing close to the same Lord, Father, Savior.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3: 7-18 NIV

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It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92: 1-4 NIV

The truth is that I don’t worship God because I’m required to, or because a narcissistic God demands praise and worship. Honestly, I worship God because I NEED to! I need to connect with the reality and person of God, to encounter His love for me as I reach toward him, some days to dance ”in His arms,” some days curled up in His lap in my wing chair, some days with my feet splashing in a stream, some days flat on my face on the floor in my bedroom, but as often as I can in the company of other Christ Followers, whatever their denomination, tradition, or “flavor,” in the power and joy and reverence of our combined love, gratitude, and communal vision and passionate purposes before our mutual Father God.

To You belongs silence [the submissive wonder of reverence], and [it bursts into] praise in Zion, O God; And to You the vow shall be performed.

O You who hear prayer, To You all mankind comes. Wickedness and guilt prevail against me; Yet as for our transgressions, You forgive them [removing them from Your sight]. Blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near To dwell in Your courts. We will be filled with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. Psalm 65:1-2, 4 AMP

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Palm 42:1-5 NIV

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, help me look inside myself and see if and where I’ve been rigid, mindless, heartless, judgmental, relegating worship to some archaic practice out of touch with today, or decrying the freedom of expression in other churches. Show me where I’ve been judgmental about Believers who enjoy tradition for the richness they feel. Where do I need to re-think worship, Holy Spirit? _____________________________________________________________________I truly want to worship and praise you, God, but some days it’s hard. Some days I feel dry as a bone and no praise can give life to me. BUT on days when I’m dry, and feeling empty, Holy Spirit, come and refresh me. Remind me WHO you are, God, remind me of your love, Jesus, and broaden my vision of praise and worship. I want to be alive in you, God! I know you want that, too, so as I say amen in Jesus’ name, Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and I’m willing to __________________________________________________________________________ as you stir me, whether I think I might look silly or not! Come, Father God in the power of your Presence and let’s together _____________________________________________________________________________