Easter thoughts

I really cannot imagine how the next generation will hear about 2020, or what they will think about the pandemic, or if they will really laugh that it was toilet paper that was a “hot” commodity for the first 6 months. I know we’re not fully back to our “normal” but we’re getting there in some places. I know it’s had an impact on us in different ways, but I’ll be honest that it’s taken a while to admit to the impact personally.  My kids are out of the house, I have worked remote for nearly 20 years before all this, and I was already going to grad school online….so in my mind, I didn’t have as much adapting to do as everyone. I realize it was a monumental shift for most, and my hat is off to everyone who has to navigate it different than I did!

That being said, I’m an extrovert. So in spite of having worked from home for all these years, not being able to gather – specifically at church – has probably had the biggest impact on me. Not that I don’t know how to seek God or learn on my own – I do. But in gathering, that truly is where I find so much joy, being with others whose lives are also being transformed by the life and way of Jesus. I know doing things digitally and “fellowshipping” remotely has taught us in new ways to be the Body of Christ scattered– and I so much want to hear what we all have learned in the midst of it!

Today, sitting in a common space that once used to be bustling with people having coffee and lunch after church… I realized something. I miss the feeling of all of us having BEEN in the presence of God – and having worshipped and been taught — together. Maybe bored sometimes – sure. Maybe challenged, maybe not. But seeing each other, seeking God, seeking to learn. I miss that.

I miss it because being together is a good reminder that we are not on this journey alone. Some of the videos I have seen this past year of people singing, together, across continents and countries has been just beautiful and healing. This one from Zimbabwe singing the Blessing song just about brought me to tears, especially given much of the hurt our country is feeling over racial things right now. It felt like my brothers and sisters from across the ocean singing healing to our wounded places, reminding us that in Christ… we ARE ONE.

https://youtu.be/OA1tVs7VNcY (you might have to copy and paste this, or just look up “The Blessing Zimbabwe” )

So as we step into Easter this weekend, regardless of whether your church is meeting in person, if you are still watching it at home…. If your church is big or small, or you are one that feels like you are on the margins and have been pushed out of the body of Christ for some reason (you know who you are, and let me remind you – you still belong)…. I offer you this humble thought on Good Friday, when we remember that our lives have been changed forever.

My dear family in Christ:

Remember that we are a force to be reckoned with, when we put ourselves in the presence of our God, then we walk forward in the love and joy and freedom we have found knowing Jesus. There is no depth of love that can every compare. You ARE the city on a hill, you ARE the light that is meant to shine hope and share an anchor we have.

It’s not that we huddle in our little groups and worship (which I’m sure folks think is strange) because we are proud, or exclusive, or want to perpetuate an “us-vs-them” mentality

It’s not that we have checked our brains at the gate, or been duped into believing some tale that gives us an escapist perspective that nothing matters

It’s because we’re willing to admit there is mystery in what we do not understand

It’s that we have been through knock-down-drag-out fights with the stuff of life and are STILL HERE

If we’re still in the dark, still in the hard stuff – it’s that we know there is a way out, because our God is not made of darkness

It’s that in spite of cultural messages that tell us we have to have the latest and greatest to stay relevant – we know we are being made new every morning when we talk to the One who created us.

(I guess that means I’m on v48.353… )…. hahaha!

It’s because in spite of bodies that age and break down, in spite of old injuries or surgeries or glasses or maybe a bout with cancer or two – we know and have experienced the Source of life – and that keeps us young forever

It’s because we haven’t settled for the subtle message that “everything will be ok”. We have wrestled with the God that created us and we know He’s real, and his promise to not abandon us is true. THAT’s why it is well with our soul

It’s because our faith is built on the stuff of wilderness and wandering, of calling back and of knowing we are here to live into a kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, grace

It’s because we too, may have at one time thought we didn’t need God, or his power living in us…But now we know it’s more important than anything else that lasts in this life

It’s because we know this is for everyone else too…. And we know the story isn’t over yet

That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship

That’s why we celebrate a leader, a master, a king….one that is not an idea, or just someone in a history book, or just a moral leader

It’s because the very life that brought him up from the grave brings us to life IN ALL THINGS.

So tonight, may things be surrendered at the cross that need to be surrendered. May we take the cup He offers, however hard, and say “your will, not mine”, knowing our Savior is right there with us.

And come Sunday… oh Sunday……may you worship with abandon, however you do it. May you delight in the body God gave you, however young or old. May you know your worth as a child in a kingdom that has been wrestling to make itself known since the day He walked the earth, but one that will never cease to be built as long as His story is told in us.

Hallelujah!

Another side of worship

I’m in a class on worship now in seminary, and its reminding me of some things I just haven’t talked about much. But I found some old journal entries from about 3 years ago when I was cleaning out a closet, and after reading them I realized one fit perfectly.

I have to give you some background first. I started running my senior year of high school, actually as a psychology class assignment (maybe I can explain that another time). I found I loved it, and I ran all through college. So, needless to say, the entire time I was raising my family, I ran. Three miles turned into 5, then 7 after we moved to Ohio. It became my coping mechanism out of anger, frustration and loneliness. I wrestled with God many times on my runs there. Then it turned into 13 and I realized I like distance. Then we moved to the Chicago suburbs and my goal began to be to run marathons and stay trained for half marathons in the winters. Enter the treadmill, which I hated, but was necessary due to the winters. I acquired lots of winter running gear, needless to say!

There was a distinct difference for me between a training run and a run that I was on just for fun. I liked both of course, but sometimes they felt like runs that I had to prove myself on…. and so the runs I went on just for me, just to get out and enjoy running – were always the best. Eventually I added biking to the mix, and sometimes there were just these long rides on country roads that felt the same way. I was free. It was exhilarating.

Side note: I know this might sound weird to most of you. Jon used to always say he never got it – he’d only run if he were being chased by someone with a machete! But that was my thing. I loved it. You probably have your thing too, where you love it and no one else gets it, but it makes you come alive in ways you just can’t explain. Maybe its quilting like my mom, or singing or playing the guitar, or painting or taking amazing pictures like a couple from my old home group. Maybe its fixing cars or tinkering around the house and making things with your hands. Maybe its planning and coordinating, or cooking or playing hockey… well.. you get where I’m going, right?

Don’t get me wrong – my family supported me and were always there for my races, they thought I was weird but never complained. We’d go on walks together, which I loved! But because I felt like was the only one who liked being outdoors, pushing myself and being active. I have to admit there were times where I felt lonely in it.

I remember the day when the Lord clearly spoke to me that He had made me like this, given me this love of everything outdoors and challenging. That was groundbreaking for me. The thought that God in his wisdom made me with a love of being outside and liking physical challenges??? Woah.

Have you actually every stopped and looked at that thing that you are good at, the thing that you love love love – and considered that it is both a gift to you and a way you worship God when you do it?

Romans 12:1 is always the passage that I come back to when I need to remember that our entire lives are an offering to God. I love how it’s phrased in the Message:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.”

That means everything. The things we LOVE to do, that are uniquely ours and we feel like we were made to do them, and also the day to day mundane things that just have to be done because – well – its life.

Jesus talked about how God was looking for people who would worship in “spirit and in truth”, and my friends, that has a lot more to do with our everyday life than it does with what goes on Sunday mornings. Oh, I know that what goes on Sunday is and should be worship, but we can’t mistake going to church on the weekend for the only way we worship God. You might question “yeah but how can what I do be worship?”

My friends, when you have chosen to walk this way of Jesus, when you are trying to live this life in a way that reflects the reality of God and his grace for others, his love for people around you, and a life where the Spirit of God is evident, you need to know that it is in the very act of the offering that we worship.

And that is beautiful to God.

So whatever you do today, offer it to God.

The fact you tried to get out of bed when things were hard today –

The fact you did your best on that presentation at work –

The fact you made your kids PB&J for lunch or did laundry or watched toddlers and taught them (or tried to teach them) how to share.. again.

The fact you sat at the hospital with a friend or loved one going through a hard time.

That nice thing you did for someone that no one will never know about.

Those are all ways we worship, when we offer our lives to God.

So offer. Thank God for what you have, right where you are, and offer your life.

Burned on like a Tattoo

Songs. Specifically worship songs. I know we all go to different types of churches, and there are such different styles of music we like or don’t like. For some of you, hymns are familiar and remind you of the faith in which you walk. For others, you resonate more with the upbeat style. Either way, it always amazes me how much music can move our soul.

I love worship songs.. especially those that are not simply repetitive, because they tend to capture the nuances of the soul and really give you something to sing that you believe. Know what I mean? Yet sometimes, I have a hard time connecting with a song and singing it like I mean it.

Anyone with me?

Not everyone feels like being all happy and joyful the minute they walk into church or turn on the radio. Life toughens us up, we all run a million ways, and it’s hard to switch gears and so sometimes we just “go through the motions” and sing songs because they are in the hymnal or on the screen. Yet like tenderizer to steak, or lime juice in a marinade, worship has a way of softening us, if we will let it. At least, that has been my experience. It has a way of wooing my soul to be willing to let down its guard and just BE. It helps me be willing to hear what God wants to speak, or what I need to learn. I didn’t know that at the start of my journey, but I know it now.

Then there are these times where I sing songs and I don’t resonate with them, but I know they are truth and so I sing them with as much conviction as I can at the time. I remember doing this with one song called “The Desert Song” that a friend would play at my church in Illinois. The lyrics are strong: they declare believe in a God who provides when everything is dry, a God who refines our lives in suffering or pain, a God who brings triumph when the battle is still underway. I remember singing that, thinking of smaller battles in my life God brought victory over, dry times I had experienced thus far.

The bridge is probably the most declarative of all:

“…All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship…”

But singing it on one side of life doesn’t compare to when you sing it on the other side.

I don’t know how to say it any other way. I remember singing this before things got really hard with my younger daughter’s depression, in the middle when my older one was struggling, and I remember singing it after, when I had stood in faith for both of their lives and believed God had more for their stories. The words were sung first in faith, in the middle as clinging to a promise, and on the other side, in triumph.

It’s like those lyrics were burned into my soul as a tattoo, a choice I was making to worship no matter what.

I realize making a choice like this is not always easy. It defies everything the world tells you. It’s nuts to anyone. They think you are just avoiding dealing with reality, or they think you are trying to pretend what is going on is not real. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Making this kind of declaration in worship, or in prayer, or in your car singing to the radio, or in talking to a friend and finally saying what has been rolling around in your soul for a while – it makes a difference.

The reality of this hit me again today in church, when we sang the song “Who can compare?” By Jesus Culture. I remember hearing this song for the first time when things were rough last year as Jon and I started the divorce process. The words were like water for my soul, declaring just what I needed at that moment:

“… You take my hand, and You guide me on. You show me the way to life. And You lift my head, and You give me hope. You show me the way to life…”

That is EXACTLY what the Lord proceeded to do, and the next months were so healing I can’t even begin to put them into words. So when we sang it again today, over a year later… this time it was a sweet reminder of how faithful our God is. Because I am healed. I am full of hope at what He has next for me…. and I know my life still has a ton of fruit to bear in this next season.

So why do I share these two stories? Because I know in faith there are times we walk without proof or assurance that God is really with us, that He is going to do what he said he would do. It’s hard. It can be frustrating. It can take forever and we can lose hope. We will question his goodness, His faithfulness, His purpose…. we will even question His people.

But when you hold onto the truth of who He has said He is, when you defy logic and reason and negative or condemning voices, declaring you will trust Him no matter what….. on the other side of the trial – your faith is refined, and the words you once sang not quite being sure of BECOME YOUR TRUTH.

So.. next time you go to church, or hear a song on the radio.. pay attention to the lyrics. Pay attention to what you sing. What you proclaim. Determine to make it yours. Because when you do…

You will be unshakeable.