life, Light

A House of Worship Where Worshipers Arise

The first thing I noticed when the hub and I walked into church Sunday morning was the joy. The place was abuzz with joyful greetings and  joyful conversations.

We were visiting the church affiliated with the Christian school at which the hub is an administrator.  It was their first Sunday in their newly remodeled worship center so we went in support.

The second thing I noticed was the diversity.

Diversity of color, diversity of socioeconomic status, and I suppose diversity of political opinions.

But I heard absolutely no political talk.

And that was refreshingly welcome.

The words, “I’m blessed” came from the lips of those who have a lot, materially speaking, and from the lips of those who have little.

It reminded me of the wonderful diversity at Saturday morning BSF leaders’ meetings.  Everyone is “blessed” there, too.

How is it that both these diverse groups can meet on Sundays – and brutally early on Saturdays – black, white, comfortable, struggling, liberal, conservative – with such joy?

I pondered and concluded that the joyful gather around a person – a Savior – rather than an ideology.

Or a need.

Studying John 6 these past few weeks, I noticed that some who were following Jesus wanted a political leader, they wanted to make him king. Others wanted free bread and fish.

They wanted Jesus to provide for their political and physical needs while all He wanted to talk about was their spiritual needs. So they started grumbling.

And many quit following.

“You don’t want to leave, too, do you?,” Jesus asked the Twelve.

“Where else would we go?,” responded Peter, “You have the words of life.”

Ah, to spend a couple of hours worshiping with those who want nothing from Jesus except life.

The pastor, who was reared in Africa – the son of medical missionaries – lived and served 22 years of his adult life as a church planter and leadership developer in Uganda.

“Worshipers in Uganda wouldn’t like these screwed down seats,” he said, “they’d want to be able to push them aside and dance.”

He was preaching Psalm 100:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
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.

He pointed out that the Hebrew word for “Know” here is not restricted to mental activity. It is a visceral knowledge that goes deep into the emotions, into the “deepest stomach.”

That’s the kind of knowledge that elicits push-those-chairs-aside-and-dance worship.

The kind of knowing that the Lord is God that causes a diverse people to all feel blessed. To stand together joyfully.

In peace.

Toward the end of the sermon the pastor mentioned his little granddaughter.

What kind of a world will she grow up in?, he wondered.

And worried.

But then he caught himself.

She’ll grow up in a world with God.

God never changes – even as the world changes.

The same God who was with him and his family while they were living and ministering amidst wars in Uganda will be with her, too.

She’ll experience God in ways that he has not because she’ll experience Him in a different culture, a different context.

I liked that thought.

I like the idea that the same God is moving just as faithfully and just as powerfully in every generation, but in new and different ways, come what may.

It’s His story, not ours.

His story.

So why are we demanding, grabbing, protesting, threatening, terrorizing, accusing, slandering, backbiting, worrying, panicking when it’s His story?

May we simply gather in church and, God help us, as a nation around the One who created us all.

P.S. Spent a couple of hours this morning cleaning gum off the bottom of lab tables.  Ew. Don’t stick your gum under your desk/table, youngsters, ‘cuz one day somebody’s momma is gonna’ have to scrape it off.

#elicit

 

 

 

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church nonsense, Jesus

Manipulators of Men

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I read a short, encouraging article today. It reminded me of a scene from Blue Like Jazz. I hope you have a minute to read it.

It kinda’ goes along with what I was thinking about after church yesterday.

I used to be a member of a conservative church. Everyone, as far as I knew, was like-minded. So much so that I assumed all Christians were like-minded.

Because everyone was like-minded, the pastor thought nothing of inserting political commentary into his sermons. He didn’t mention anyone by name or violate tax-exempt laws in any way, he just assumed everyone agreed.

From there I began attending a politically diverse church. The pastor may have leaned liberal but the large congregation seemed to be a fairly equal mix of Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Centrists and Conservatives. There were Independents who lean left, Independents who lean right (me) and Libertarians scattered about, too.

Discussions in the Thursday morning women’s Bible study were uplifting. Because we were aware of the diversity of viewpoints, all political comments were made carefully and with respect. As a result we were able to actually hear one another and even broaden our perspectives. It was easy to love those women – even the ones with whom I disagreed – because their respectfulness loved me back, because it was obvious that our Christian sisterhood was more important than our viewpoints. I miss them.

These days I attend a mostly liberal church.

Sitting in the pew yesterday I thought of any liberal-leaning people who may have been in the audience of that first church years ago. And as I sat in their shoes (shoes that probably walked far away) I missed the mix of the second church.

I missed being where a diversity of opinions was assumed and even appreciated. I missed knowing that at least half the congregation saw what I saw.

As I was walking the beagle the other day God reminded me that half the country sees what I see. He brought to mind the county by county map of the US I saw on election night – the one that was almost completely colored red.

When one half of the country is yelling f- you, it’s easy to feel like you’re in the minority.

When you sit in church and hear a faint f-you from the pulpit and feel a silent f-you in the pew next to you, it’s easy to wonder if you are in the wrong family.

I know the incoming administration wants to make changes to the Johnson Amendment to the tax code, but that could become a nightmare for the church.

Fishers of men could become manipulators of men.

I hope not. I think I might do a little research, weigh the pros and cons.

In the meantime my pastoral friends, a sermon that indulges in even the slightest bit of partisan commentary is a sermon that has just lost its power; a sermon that has just clogged the flow of the Spirit.

At our ritual after-church lunch my daughter shared that one of her friends resurrected his LiveJournal account back when they were in college just to post a rant about this very thing. He ended by saying how much he appreciated that his pastor back home just said what Jesus said and left it at that.

Amen.

#aconservativefishinaliberalsea

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Food, Jesus, Michigan

Sparkle and Roar & a February Fix

Sundresses, cotton skirts, khakis, good jeans and tidy shorts were streaming toward the Tabernacle. Our casual beach clothes were swimming against the current, heading for the beach.

“I’m starting to feel kinda’ like a heathen,” I whispered.

“I’m not,” she replied with confidence.

“It’s not so much that I feel like a heathen,” I corrected, “it’s more that I kinda’ feel like they might think I’m a heathen.”

“And I feel like I’m dissing my people by walking right past them.”

“Why?,” she asked. “You don’t care about ‘dissing your people’ any other Sunday.”

True, I thought, funny how I consider fellow Christians “my people” when I don’t know them, when I’m out of town.  They look so much shinier and friendlier as strangers. I think I just like the Christians I don’t know better than I like the Christians I do know.

“Maybe it’s not the people, maybe it’s the music, the call to worship. We’re walking right past the call to worship.”

“God is calling me to the beach,” she said with certainty as she steered me toward the path that leads to the lake.

In order to get on the path you have to walk right alongside the Tabernacle, with its open windows and full pews and wafting music.

The walk of shame.

“Must have been an intentional design,” I said, “back when the church was that way: ‘Sure you can go to the beach instead of to worship, but we see you. And we’re praying for you.’”

“Good, they can pray for me,” she quipped, “I’m going to go be dazzled by God.”

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And we were.

I recorded the surf for about five minutes. For a February fix, when it’s -2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here, you can have 35 seconds of it, in case you need it in February, too.

The sparkle and roar of the waves is as much a call to worship as any man-made song. I love the way the waves hit the beach and then scurry sideways along the shore.

After I made my movie,  I thumbed through a couple of books. My daughter, Stephanie, and I were away for the weekend on a personal retreat. The retreat center had a library, which was great because I forgot to pack something to read. If there had been WiFi or a decent cell signal, I would have read you, my blogging friends, but, alas, I borrowed a biography on Hudson Taylor and one on George Sweeting.

“Never suppress a generous impulse.” – George Sweeting

Every waitress and barista we encountered for the rest of the weekend benefited from that quote.

So did the panhandler and the street musician we encountered on Monday. Except it kind of bugged me afterward that I gave the same amount to both. I should have given the musician more. He, after all, was contributing something beautiful to my day.

We encountered a panhandler on Saturday, too, and I didn’t give him a dime. 1) I hadn’t yet been inspired by George 2) I felt no impulse toward generosity 3) He annoyed me.

I probably would have given him a dollar if he had just simply asked me to help him out. But he gave a long, annoying tale of woe about being from Chicago and being left by his buddies and it costs $15 for the megabus and his buddies were arrested in their hotel room and his story went on and on and changed as it went.

If we had been a scene in a movie, I would have held up my hand to stop him and said, “No, ‘cuz I’m not liking your vibe.”

But in real life I’m nicer so I just listened and nodded and, when he was finally finished, said, “Maybe I’ll have some change on the way back.” Knowing I wasn’t going that way back.

In real life I can be a tiny bit of a liar.

After spending the morning on the beach, we headed to town for lunch.

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lunch with legends

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Can you identify all four?

After lunch Steph ducked into a public restroom before our long walk through town, along the canal and out to the end of the pier.

She returned with a story:

Senior Lady 1: “I’m so glad I brought that chair with me, it puts NO pressure on your body.”

Senior Lady 2: “Oh yeah, when we walked over to the other bathrooms we saw those chairs everywhere.”

Senior Lady 1: “I didn’t want to be rude to Mary, but they only hold up to 250 pounds.”

Senior Lady 2: “She shouldn’t buy one.”

Restroom fell quiet for a minute.

All of a sudden one of the senior ladies started singing “Blessed Assurance” to herself in the stall.

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The pier at sunset on Saturday.

Sunday night we watched The Joy Luck Club on my laptop because there are no tvs on a personal retreat. I’m going to have to read the book now because I have unanswered questions.

I wondered whether there is some thing I should tell my daughter, something that will free her, show her her worth.

But I couldn’t think of anything.

It was beautiful in Grand Rapids on Saturday.

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That’s my lemongrass, rose, holy basil iced tea third seat from the left.

But it was really hot and steamy on Monday.

We thought it would be a little cooler along the river.

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It wasn’t.

We got coffee as soon as we arrived in GR Monday, right after putting our names in at our beloved Wolfgang’s.

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repurposed

I don’t like coffee shops or restaurants that are new and shiny.

I like coffee shops and restaurants that are old and re-purposed.

And good.

There are so many good restaurants and coffee shops in Grand Rapids. Especially in Eastown.

If they ever re-purpose a bank or some other cool old building into a boutique hotel, we’re staying there. We’re going to park ourselves in Eastown for a whole weekend and merrily eat and drink coffee.

Back home now listening to the rumble of thunder in the distance and the soothing sounds of my sleeping beagle right next to me.

Hopefully the coming rain will cool things off a bit.

Life is good.

P.S. If you find yourself in western Michigan:

The Electric Cheetah

Madcap Coffee Company

Snug Harbor

Electric Hero

Hearthstone

The Sparrows Coffee, Tea & Newstand

Wolfgang’s

 

 

 

 

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Jesus, Light

Love, Regret & Pure Rapture

My heart was caught up in a beautiful rapture this morning.

The hub and I were standing shoulder to shoulder singing one of my favorite worship songs when I noticed the elderly gentleman sitting in front of us was quivering. My heart was drawn to him. The quivering increased to what appeared to be silent crying. I didn’t know whether he was in distress or whether he was just moved by the song.  Often when I went to church with my dad, he would cry during worship, so I knew being moved to tears was a real possibility.

But just in case, I put my hand on his shoulder and said a prayer.  Almost in unison, the hub put his hand on the other shoulder.  Then his sweet wife noticed and took his hand. The beautiful clasp of their long-married hands is one for the memory album.

That precious snapshot was the prelude to an even more beautiful moment.

We next sang, Come Worship the Lord.

The young worship leader’s rich, able voice stirred the air as we sang the chorus again and again:

Come, worship the Lord,
For we are His people,
The flock that He shepherds.
Alleluia.

And I thought about my sister, Laura.

I thought about one of the last conversations we had before she died.  She asked me about my church. I told her I hadn’t been going.  She looked alarmed. “We’re just taking the summer off,” I assured her, “we’re going to start visiting churches in the fall – look for one that fits us better.”

“It’s the singing I miss,” she said.

Many years earlier she attended an Assemblies of God church with my dad. Back then I attended an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but I would come and worship with them occasionally, especially when Laura was singing a solo.

She had a beautiful voice. The only one of us seven sisters who could sing.

Then she remarried and no longer went to church, hadn’t been, as far as I know, in about 25 years.  She told me, once, that she wanted to, but her husband wasn’t willing.  He was interested in more of a Native American spirituality which she adopted, and which gave her much comfort, in her battle with cancer.  And she never stopped believing in the God she worshiped in church.

She missed the singing.

And as I stood in the midst of the rapturous, glimmering, Spirit-filled air this morning, I wished it had occurred to me to say, “Let’s sing now.”

I’m tone deaf, so I would have sung along very quietly.

The two of us all alone in her house singing as many worship songs as she could remember.  Perhaps they would have stirred the air, enrapturing both our hearts.

I went to the funeral of a stranger.  I witnessed his family gather around his casket, which stood in the center of the aisle. They laid their hands on the casket and they kissed it and they prayed.

As I watched, I thought, “I would entrust my funeral to these people, to this pastor.”

This morning I wished Laura’s funeral had been entrusted to them.

This will likely offend some in my family, if they were to read it, but there is a deeper, higher, broader, sweeter, whole other layer of spirituality in worship and in the gentle giving of last rites and in prayer that my sister missed out on. Perhaps she wouldn’t have wanted it. Perhaps she would have asked for it if she did. Perhaps she didn’t know it was available for the asking.

I didn’t, until I witnessed it at that stranger’s funeral and until I was so moved by it today.

All I know is that Laura missed the singing and, if I had that afternoon in her living room to do over again, I would sing.

I want my death to have a soundtrack.  I want to walk to the gate with music playing – music that reminds me that I am one of His flock, and He is my Shepherd; music that affirms that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He’ll never let go of me.

I want this song on my dying breath:

 Worthy is the, Lamb who was slain, Holy, Holy is He…

I want to be surrounded by those who will sing it with me. Or for me, if I haven’t the strength or the consciousness to sing.

Then there was the sermon. It was one of his last in a series on the Apostle’s Creed.  The pastor explained the meaning of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints – including that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us.

And again my thoughts turned to Laura.

When Abraham and Ishmael and Israel and others of the Old Testament died, Scripture says they “breathed their last and were gathered to their people.”

I’ve always loved that phrase, “gathered to their people.”

Shortly after my sister died, I had a dream about her. She was sitting under a tree with an open book in her lap.  From a distance it looked like the hardcover yearbooks we purchased in high school. People were sitting and milling around in the background, blurred, and she was sharply in focus in the foreground.  The scene looked and felt like a family reunion from our childhood.

Laura looked down at the open page and said, to no one in particular, “I really like her.”

It was as though she was being introduced to her people, sitting there under her family tree.

I know she’s fine now and I’m fine, too, and this morning my heart was full of love and regret and pure rapture.

Holy, Holy is He.

 

#breath

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Jesus, Light, Revelation

Enraptured

Just when you think you have Him all figured out, everything’s gonna’ change:

I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Revelation 3:12b

Revelation 5:9 “And they sang a new song… every tribe and language and people and nation.”

I love, love, love how so many nations/languages are represented in this performance. Perfect!

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Jesus, life, Light, Revelation

Singularly Sensational

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The hub is up north fly fishing this weekend.  He sent a text last night reporting that he caught seven salmon.

“…Beautiful day in a great river.  I forgot how tiring it is to wade in current over rocks and logs.  Will sleep like a log tonight.”

So I’m home alone this beautiful, sunny Sunday morning watching leaves from a giant oak drift, dance, catch an updraft and then float gently to the ground. Listened to some Josh Garrels and some Micheal Card and now I’m reading the opening chapters of Revelation again, the sound of my slumbering beagle a soothing backdrop.  It’s worship enough for me.

His words thrill me:

“I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever.”

They are among the first words He said to His best friend on earth, and they are the words He keeps saying to me.

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

I’ve read those words small so many times, but they aren’t small at all, they are huge.

Maybe they’ve been huge this week because my sister died.   Maybe they’re huge because I’m awaiting the results of a biopsy.  Maybe they’re huge because they’ve ALWAYS been huge, I’ve just been reading them with small eyes all these years.

My thoughts keep jumping ahead to the opening scene of chapter 5:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”  But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne…  

He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.

John wept and wept.  No one was worthy.  No one anywhere was worthy.  It looked completely hopeless.

And along came a Lamb…

…looking as if it had been slain.

I mean, can you picture the scene?  Can you feel it?  I makes me weep.

Was this a glimpse of what happened in the throne room the day Jesus was crucified?

The day He rose victoriously?

Did He arrive on the scene fresh from the cross – like slain meat still bloody?

There was a hush in the room.  The Lamb, looking as if He had been slain went and took the scroll…

… and suddenly heaven swelled with the sound of thousands upon thousands of angels bursting into song.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

Am I coming anywhere close to conveying it?

He said, “John, Julie, I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever!

Write this stuff down!”

This morning the daily post asked, “If one experience or life change results from you writing your blog, what would you like it to be?”

I would like someone to think about Jesus for a minute.

I want Him to thrill someone. I want Him to thrill YOU!

And I want your day (or night) to be as perfect as the day is here – Crisp, cool, and sunny, with a bright blue sky.  A glass of sweet cider and a warm cinnamon spiced donut day.

A sun on your face long walk day.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Singular Sensation.”

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church nonsense, life

Something’s Wrong

200127_1863212696847_822020_nMy husband is at church alone this morning.  I stayed home to worship through writing.  I began my “service” the way I’ve started each day this week – by praying with Anne.  And just like every other morning this week, I whispered a salty amen.  And as I did, I realized that that few minutes of prayer did more to refine my sin-dappled heart than an hour at church ever does.

I sit in my well-respected mega-church and I am unmoved.  My mind is impressed with the well-rehearsed and well-staged music,  with the cool graphics and visuals, but my heart is unmoved.

I listen to the announcements and to the boasts of how awesome we are in all that we are doing and I feel like a spectator.  Like my only role is to give audience (and cash) to someone else’s vision.  To be a bricklayer in the building of an earthly kingdom.  But I long to lay bricks in the heavenly Kingdom.

I listen to the sermon hoping to hear from God.  It is a nice, generic, one-size-fits-all message.  It begins with some promise but it lacks Spirit.  It does not challenge me to love better, behave better, think better, relate to God better.  It just pats me on the head and sends me on my way.

I leave disappointed, frustrated and, if there were any visible threads of misogyny showing that morning, irritated.

Something is wrong when going to church does more harm than good.

Anne preached more in a week of prayers than my pastor has preached all year.  And she moved me much closer to who God wants me to be.

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