The Heart of Worship

Worship. The Lord has been speaking to me a great deal lately about worship, asking me to search my heart and know if I’m going to church for the right reasons. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I go to church because I’m afraid of what people will say about me if I’m not there. All pastors wives worry about that just a little bit, because we’re all held to a little bit higher standard than everyone else in the pews. I’m not implying that it’s good or bad; it just is, and we’ve all known it from the time we were kids. Sometimes I go because I want to set the right example for Reagan. There’s nothing wrong with that on its face, I guess. I want her to learn from us that church is important. Some people attend church because it’s good for their business; they make marketable contacts at church. Some go to gossip about the others in their social circle. Some attend worship services to find a social circle, to be seen by all the best people and find a way into that oh-so-important societal niche. Some people attend to please their parents, and so on. You get the idea.

The Bible tells us that there’s only one right reason for going to church, and that’s to worship God. If we go to church for any other reason, then we’re there for the wrong reason. Our focus should be, should always be, to spend time praising Him for the blessings He’s given, for the mercies He’s extended to us, and then to hear what He wants to teach us during the course of the service. The worship aids that we employ are there to help us do those two things – praise and learn. Everything else is worthless. Pointless. If we’re guilty of making it anything else, then we’ve lost sight of what it truly is and why we should be there in the first place.

I’ll admit that I let a great many things distract me, things that don’t matter in the least. I let the attitudes of others have far too much influence on my own attitudes. I’ve always struggled with that, but I hope I’m allowing the Lord to teach me that to do so is wrong. I hope I’m becoming more and more attuned to what He’s trying to teach me. If I focus my thoughts, and my heart, on Him, everything else falls away. If I let myself truly worship, then there’s no distraction great enough to pull me away from that place of sitting at His feet.  That’s what I want to get better at each Sunday – to sit at His feet and hear His voice and know I’ve been obedient to what He’s asking me to do. If I’ll do that, then I don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks. I don’t have to fret that Reagan might not see how important church is in my life. She’ll see my passion for God in how I worship and she’ll understand, with God’s help, that I’m there because I love Him and I just can’t be anywhere else.

Jesus is the heart of worship. Always has been. Always will be. Is He at the heart of your worship? Or is something else going on in your Sunday mornings? Do you need to examine the reason why you gather on Sunday mornings? It’s a freedom unlike any other just to sit at His feet and feel His presence, His comforting, loving, admonishing, glorious presence. Don’t miss it because He’s no longer at the heart of your worship. He’s waiting, and He’s faithful.  I’ll meet you there.

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You can fly!

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about children – mine, my students, those lost in Newtown just a few weeks ago. Their outlook on life is filled with joy, and wonder, and questions. It seems that I spend a great deal of my time at school correcting misinformation that has been gathered by the students in my classes. Many of them challenge me. They’re sure I couldn’t possibly know of which I speak; their friends told them something different, after all. Reagan questions me when I give her information about something she’s asked. Am I sure? That’s not what she heard from one of her friends. How do I know? My response usually includes the words, “Because I’m older than you. Because I’ve been to college, I’ve read about it. Because I love you and I’d never lie to you. You can trust me.” Usually she requires some pretty definitive reassurances, especially if it’s something that has her troubled.

Isn’t that just like our relationship with God? We go to Him with our concerns, and then follow up with, “Are you sure? How do you know? Can I really trust you on this one, God? You wouldn’t be giving me the wrong information, would you?” Often my prayer lately can be reduced to the few small words, “I trust, Lord. I trust.” I repeat it like a mantra until the words have sunk into my spirit and are more than just words. It’s too easy to get caught up in the impossibilities of the situation rather than focus on the mercies and goodness of God.

One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs is an oldie sung by a man named Barry McGuire. The title is “Cosmic Cowboy,” and the lyrics include the words, “Lookin’ up I saw that we was high up on this ridge/ He took me by the hand and led me straight over to the edge/ Hey, I was so scared I couldn’t find a single word to say/ There was 10,000 feet of empty air just about an inch away/ But, a million miles was out beyond the waving of His hand/ I was lookig through His eyes right into another land/ He said, ‘This is my Father’s land as far as you can see/ He made it out of nothing – every branch and every tree/ the stars, all the mountains, the rivers and streams, the oceans, and fountains, the valley of your dreams/ I know that place you’re looking for, that place you long to be/ Truth is, I’m the only door; you’re gonna have to pass through me’/ Bending back I tipped my hat to look Him in the eye, but He just smiled and gave me confidence to go ahead and try/ It was now or never, and I knew I had to start, so I took that step and I went falling straight in through His heart/ The first thing that I noticed coming out the other side/ All my fears had vanished/ He’d taught me how to fly!

I love that song. I stood in the wings and watched Barry sing it i concert and was struck by the irrepressible grin on his face. He couldn’t stop smiling as he sang the words to that song.

We ask our children to accept a great deal of what we tell them on faith. When you’re a little child the world can be a big, scary place, and they know so little about it. That’s why as parents we do everything we can to reassure our kids and show them that we can be trusted to know what’s right. How much more does God want to do that same thing for His children? When I have taken those leaps in my own faith journey, I’ve known what it feels like to fly. The Lord has answered my prayers in ways that still rock me to my toes, and still, I don’t always trust as I should. That’s my prayer for the new year, in my own walk with HIm, and in our church. There’s a wondrous new world out there beyond the waving of his Hand, for all of us. Are we willing to take the leap? Do we trust? Will we accept the challenges He’s holding out to us, or will we hide and refuse to believe, refuse to try something new, refuse to let Him lead us into a place only He can see? I’ve been on that ridge more than a few times in my life, and the Lord has never let me tumble over without His hand guiding me. I know it’s the same for many of you. Maybe 2013 will find us willing to take one more leap, jump one more time. Do we trust, Lord? Do we trust?

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Counting for Eternity

For months after my mom and dad passed away I wanted to tell everyone I saw something about them.  I wanted to stop strangers on the street and share what remarkable people my parents were.  During those dark, grief stricken days I felt that if I didn’t talk about them all the time with anyone and everyone who would listen then somehow the lives they lived here on earth would somehow be diminished, would be forgotten, and I couldn’t let that happen!  See, in my haze of sorrow I had let Satan whisper to me that now that Mama and Daddy were gone, their lives had been meaningless.  For a while, I believed and I panicked.  It took me a while to remember, to let the Lord remind me in spite of my grief, that they were not forgotten at all, and their lives were certainly not lost.  Because of Jesus, they were still alive, and I would see them again one day.  Because of Jesus, their lives had counted for eternal things that I could never fully know or understand on this side of Heaven.  I had known that truth all of my life, but until I lost my parents I had never been faced with the need to believe it with all my heart.

I think about that each time someone else I’ve known and loved is called home.  I’ve found myself thinking about it a great deal this past few weeks.  Barbara Smith and Bill Chapman are gone from us, for a time, but the faith they lived in their lives while here on earth not only fulfill God’s promise that we will see them again one day, but the daily obedience they practiced has left an eternal stamp on all of us who knew and loved them.  I think about Bill’s capacity to love and his faithfulness to Virginia and his kids through even the most despairing days of Virginia’s illness.  That great big heart opened up once again for a new love, and Phyllis shared his life and knew something of his faithfulness.  Barbara’s faith manifested itself in a woman who knew what it was to be hospitable to everyone.  She was welcoming and gracious to everyone she met, and we were all warmed by her gift for making everyone feel at home.  No one was a stranger around Barbara, because, to quote a favorite song lyric of mine, “Love had made His home there in her heart.”  

Maybe by the world’s standards our lives are less important than those of the wealthy, the famous, the noteworthy, but I’ve been reminded yet again that God’s standards have much more important consequences.  The lives of dear people like Barbara and Bill, and Ray Garvey and Jeff Ragan and so many others whom we have all loved and for whom we have grieved, have made a difference for eternity.  Their lives also remind the rest of us that we need to make sure what we’re doing counts for eternity, too, because In the long run, that’s really all that matters.

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The March Hare’s Approach to Christianity

Have you ever been caught unaware at a traffic light and missed its turn from red to green?  I have, and I can testify from personal experience that one nanosecond equals the amount of time it takes from the moment the light turns green for the car behind you to honk.   Everything these days is instant.  Instant coffee, instant tea, instant information from our computers, i phones, and every other gadget available to us.  We can’t stand sitting through a commercial; we grab our remotes and start flying through the channels for something else to occupy our attention.  We want instant solutions to problems, instant answers when we ask a question, instant responses from those with whom we do business.  No one seems to have any patience any longer, for anything or anyone. 

This demand for the instantaneous has seeped into our Christian faith, as well.  Too often individuals seek out church because they want an immediate answer to prayer, a rescue from God right this moment, a Johnny-on-the-Spot solution to what ails them.  They want to feel better in that moment and then get back to their regular lives.  We seem to have forgotten that faith is a journey.  We don’t begin a new career automatically knowing everything to do and say to be excellent at our jobs.  We don’t ride 20 miles the first time we get on a bicycle, or run a marathon the first time we tie up our running shoes.  Results take time, and patience, and a daily willingness to put in the hours necessary to learn and get better. 

Faith is also a relationship.  If we’re truly seeking to know Jesus and learn how He wants us to live our lives, then we need to spend some time with Him.  Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in a marriage knows that getting to know one’s spouse takes time, and patience, and a daily willingness to put in the hours necessary to learn about this person to whom we’ve made a lifetime commitment.  How could we give Jesus any less? 

One of the characters in my new book, Miss Beulah Mae, is patterned after Bertha Heger.  When she talks about living to be over 90, she remarks, “When I cross over Jordan I want to know Him so well that I’ll recognize Him immediately once I get there.  I’ve got so much to thank Him for, I figure I’ll need to get started right away.”  Do we want to know Jesus that well, or does He get our leftovers, our extra five minutes when we’ve got nothing better to do and suddenly think of Him? 

If we spend our lives caught in a whirlwind of doing and going and running and . . . well, you get the idea, think about what you’re missing.  The glory of a sunset. The joy of sitting quietly with your trusted animal friend curled up in your lap.  Taking a drive and seeing the autumn leaves after they’ve been burnished.  Listening to a trusted friend share a burden, or a joy.  Praying with a loved one.  Hearing Jesus call your name, just to reassure you that you are loved.  Don’t settle for instant church, instant just-when-you-need-Him Jesus, instant faith.  He’s waiting; give Him the time.

 

 

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A Little Patch of Heaven

Summer camp.  It’s that time again.  The crepe myrtles are beginning to bloom, the water sprinklers are hissing and snapping in yards all over town, and the kids are breathing great sighs of relief at another successful school year finally come to an end.  It’s that time of year when we all can look forward to long-awaited vacations, picnics at dusk, swimming, the Fourth of July fireworks, icy cold watermelon dripping off our chins, the smell of barbecue eddying on the summer breezes, and spending a week at camp.  I loved every single minute I spent at summer camp.  Some of my sweetest moments with the Lord happened during my camp experiences.  It was at camp that I experienced unconditional love (outside of my family) for the first time, when my spiritual gifts were affirmed for the first time, when I watched with wonder as strangers gathered as one family in the Lord to worship together, learn together, and challenge one another to grow and stretch our faith.  I made friends during those weeks at camp that I still hold dear today, more than thirty years later.  I took my first fledgling steps as a teacher and couselor at camp as I reached out to the other kids in my group, and then later as I led small groups as a sponsor.  I followed the examples set for me by the camp pastors who taught us about sportsmanship, cameraderie, and the power of encouragement.  I perfected my skills as a prankster at camp!  I think I still hold the record, along with my co-conspirators, for the most tricks pulled in one week without being found out!  (If any of you need instruction in short-sheeting a bed, I’m your girl!)

More than any of that, though, I saw God at work in the kids around me, listening to their struggles and confessing my own, sure in the knowledge that I was in a safe place, that I wouldn’t be condemned for my honesty or my uncertainty.  I held the kids in my group as they prayed for hurts in their lives and in the lives of those they loved back home.  I prayed with kids who met Jesus for the first time and wept with joy at the miracles that took place during those heat-soaked, sun-filled, sultry days.  I learned of the value of every human being created by the Father and celebrated the differences in each of us as we came together for that short span of time.  I learned to be bold in my witness and open in my caring, because I saw what a difference it can make to someone who’s hurting. 

Camp brings kids from every walk of life together with leaders and couselors who love them even before they ever set eyes on them, and when God is leading the way there’s not enough time to tell of all the miracles that take place.  Camp has been a mountain-top experience for me every time I’ve had the privilege to attend, and when I revisit those times in my life, I’m on that mountain-top again.  What a blessing that is!  I hope you can look back on a special camp experience in your own lives and be grateful.  It’s my prayer that no young person miss out on an experience such as that. 

 

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So There!

I recently read someone’s opinion about teaching, having been more than a little curious since I are one, and found myself staggered by this guy’s colossal arrogance.  To briefly summarize, he feels that teachers are overpaid, spoiled, pampered, and so far below the lofty nursing profession as to barely deserve a brief mention.  Can you see the smoke coming out of my ears?

Please understand that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the nursing profession;  some of my dearest friends and family members have careers in nursing and they do their jobs with great care and dedication.  I wish this guy could have extended that same generosity of feeling to those of us who teach.  It may be true that we aren’t in the business of pulling dying patients back from the brink on a daily basis, but I believe with all my heart that we do our own bit of ‘life saving,’ if you will.  I’ve seen young people over the past 20+ years of teaching who had given up on themselves.  Their home lives were so horrific that they’d turned to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, petty crime, and even attempted suicide in order to find a way out, and I’ve seen my fellow educators work miracles in those lives.  Teachers are nurturers, care-givers, encouragers, proxy parents, counselors, and best friends to many of their students, and his small-minded, ignorant insults don’t even begin to understand the true nature of the teaching profession.  Most of us have few benefits, lousy, insurance, minimal pay, hours of lesson plans and paperwork at home every night and over the weekends, classrooms filled with supplies for which we personally paid, and summers laden with workshops and plans for the upcoming fall semester.  I also have no union negotiating for me, nor will I ever have, and my teaching is not influenced by any sort of political agenda.  I teach because that’s the call God placed on my life when I was still a kid in school myself, and I continue to do it because nothing else has ever made me as happy or as fulfilled.  And, I have no doubt that some of us in the teaching profession are at least a little bit responsible for those dedicated individuals making the decision to enter the nursing profession in the first place!  How does that guy manage to speak a word with his size 16 foot so firmly shoved in his mouth?!

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And the winner for “Best Nagging Mother” is . . .

I know I’ve written once before about not having much in the way of spontaniety. That character trait also extended itself to the way I approached school. I wanted to be done early whenever there was a project or report that needed doing, a book that needed reading, a deadline that was looming. I was happiest when I attacked the assignment the minute I got home! Most of the time I sat and worked on something until my mom had to force me to get up and do something else. I’d forget what time it was, that supper was on the table, that anything else was going on. Once I got started nothing was going to get in the way of my finishing, that same day if possible. I realize that there is some merit in not being a procrastinator, but I often carried it to extremes. I have had to be reminded many times that all 125 Christmas cards don’t have to be done in one day, that the entire garage doesn’t need to be overhauled in one weekend; yep, I’ll admit to a little compulsive behavior. I’m not always proud of it, but I’ll admit to it.

I got a lesson recently in that very same compulsiveness. You see, my daughter is not the compulsive being her mother is. She is content to wait until the last night, the last minute, the last day before something has to be completed before she’ll tackle it. She generally manages to accomplish what she sets out to do, but while she’s setting her own unhurried pace I’m quietly breaking out in a sweat and scratching the hives I feel popping out on my arms. It drives me crazy! My response to my irk up until lately has been to remind her, poke her, prod her, and generally nag her until she got angry and poked back. A few of our evenings have been less that harmonious, as I’m sure you can imagine. It took me a while, and more than a little prayer, to realize that I had indeed become the nag I swore I’d never be to my daughter. I have had to consciously practice trust the past couple of weeks – trust in Scott to keep her on the path (He helps with her Math more than I do), trust in Reagan to do the right thing, regardless of my arbitrary timetable, and trust in the God who made her the way she is to work in her to perfect her according to His will for her life.. It hasn’t been easy. I still feel a bit of an itch from time to time, but I’m working on it. With any luck, Reagan and I will both be all grown up someday, and I’ll look back and realize I was worried for nothing. In the meantime, I think there’s some calamine lotion somewhere . . .

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