Call and Response

We did some gardening this year. We have long held to the romantic notion of gardening but our only feeble attempt was years ago when the kids were little and I didn’t have much inclination about anything except keeping them alive. It also left Rob with an abiding dislike and grudge against squirrels.

But the kids are much older now and we have plenty of friends growing stuff and what with quarantine a few months back and a desire to cover space in the yard to cut down on trying to keep grass alive in Florida, my love built me some fabulous raised beds and it has been one of the greatest things we have ever done.

There has been something very life affirming and soothing about working our small garden. It has also given me a new appreciation for all of the garden/growing/reaping/weeding metaphors found in Scripture…the actual hands in the dirt and watching stuff grow and seeing it all in action I guess.

One thing that stood out to me again and again was seeing the fruit of a plant blooming and blossoming at various stages right next to each other. A barely ripe berry growing right beside a ready to pick and enjoy berry. Same stalk, same nutrients but completely different rates of growth.

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Throughout the New Testament we are exhorted with a whole bunch of “one another” verses.

Be at peace with each other ~ Mark 9:50

Be welcoming to one another ~ Romans 15:7

Bear with one another ~ Colossians 3:13

Love one another ~ I John 3:11

Forgive one another ~ Ephesians 4:32

Serve one another ~ Galatians 5:13

The list goes on and on and on. Basically we are commanded to do life together even when we are in different stages of  of growth. Even when we are maybe further along than those around us in some areas or a little behind in others.

One of the things I love about my church is our liturgy that requires a call and response between the pastor and congregation. Every Sunday my husband calls us to repentance and as we kneel together we confess corporately our need for grace and forgiveness. Every week he will ask us, “Church, what do you believe?” and as a group we will say the creed of our faith.

Together.

Sometimes you can hear someone get a little ahead of everyone else just by a syllable or maybe two. Or someone else is lagging just a bit. Tempos and cadences have to be adjusted and that means we have to listen and know where everyone else is.

Because we are speaking together we can hear when we get a little too far ahead and need to slow down. Or we notice that we are needing to focus despite distraction and pick up the pace a little. It is more than just saying the same things. It’s also about saying them at the same time.

It is a practical way to remind us that we are one body…one voice…united to each other…connected to each other whether still a little green or ripe with color. It is a beautiful way for us to practice being one body despite differences from one to the next, family way to family way. It seems like a gift of grace each week to be reminded that we belong to each other.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  ~Romans 12:3-5

 

 

A Call to Confession

Our church follows a covenant renewal liturgy for our worship service. This means, among other things, that there is a call to repentance in response to our call to worship.

This week’s call to repentance was particularly beautiful to me in it’s reminder that we need to set our sin down. To leave it at the feet of Christ, confess it and believe that it has been forgiven and our lives are rescued in Him, to believe it and rejoice.

“Sin is a burden. And it is a burden that causes us to labor; the weight of it is more than we can bear. It keeps us from joy. It keeps us from peace. It keeps us from freedom. Which is to say, it keeps us from God.

But our Lord says, “Come to me, you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Bring your burden to Christ. He has borne it for you.”

What a beautiful truth that we can bring our sin, our dark ugly heavy burdens, and He takes those dark heavy burdens away from us and gives us joy…peace…freedom.

Confess your sin, dear one, and rejoice because your life has indeed been rescued in Him.

 

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Feasting on the Word daily, consuming it so that it can get deep into our bones, so that we are well versed in our Story, so that we know who our God is and who we are, is a gift beyond measure.

Have you heard of the Keep the Feast Bible Reading Challenge?   It is a reading plan that enables you to read through the entire Bible in nine months along with thousands of other Christians literally all over the world. This is my second time participating in the challenge and I love it. It seeps into my bones and strengthens and nourishes me in ways that I can’t even explain.

70387830_2453130351420952_2798455533063897088_nRecently, we were having a conversation with Emily,  our second oldest child who is just learning to spread her wings in the adult world. She is trying to figure out how to do life as an adult, school, work, friends, etc. We reminded her that it was good for her to have that perspective, to recognize that she isn’t a child anymore, but to remember that she wasn’t called to do life on her own. That God had placed her in a family within a community. There is a benefit to reading Scripture with literally thousands of people around the world. There is a connectedness and a reminder that we are part of the Church universal, that God’s people are our people. If you have facebook you can join a very active group of women from everywhere and glean from them or if you do not have FB go here and find the reading plan and just follow along or maybe get your mother, sister, or best friend to join you. We all like having company when we feast, right? I will usually plug my phone into the van with an aux cord and when I am doing my carpooling or running errands I listen to the day’s readings. And it is always interesting and encouraging when I am at church or with other ladies in my life who are doing the challenge and a conversation will just spark based on something that we have read recently.

One of the greta things about the challenge is the admonishing to just pick up on whatever day it is so don’t worry about just jumping in. Just do it. You’ll be so glad you did.

The Power of Language and Liturgy

Have you ever considered how amazing the process is by which we learn language?
Somehow, just by the process of hearing, we learn to speak.
As parents we talked to our children from the time they were born. (Actually, we talked to ours the moment we found out they existed.)  Those cute little disruptive balls of humanity had no idea what we were saying but we talked to them anyway.

We told them who we were.

Mama loves you.

We told them who they were.

There’s Daddy’s little man.

We introduced them to people.

Go see Grandma.

Not a word was understood by Daddy’s lil’ man but we sure wanted them to know of our love and we

wanted them to know who their grandparents were, along with the countless other family and friends we named.

And what did our babies do?

They soaked it all in. It didn’t mean much in the beginning but it didn’t take long before the weird sounds we made got connected to real tangible things and understanding began to dawn.

The process happened almost unbidden, with no noticeable effort made to learn the ins and outs of language, the subtle nuances of the tongue growing up unconscious with the maturity of the child.
We don’t question talking to our children or question this way of learning speech. And we don’t dumb it down. I mean we don’t require them to give us the chemical break down of water just because they’re thirsty and in need of a drink, but they do ask for water and they know it will quench their thirst. And at some point down the road they’re going to learn about the chemical make up of water.
The language of the Church, what they are called to believe should be taught to them in the same unbidden fashion.
The liturgy of worship, it’s call to come before God, to realize we can’t go before Him unclean, the answering confession of our need for forgiveness, the way the Word and sacraments nourish us…this is where the foundation is laid for a righteous vocabulary. 
No, the infant or toddler or child in the pew may not fully understand what is being said on Sunday morning. But they are learning who their people are. More importantly they are learning who their God is and what He expects of them.

We shouldn’t underestimate children’s capacity to learn, to be shaped and formed, by our church services anymore than we should underestimate their ability to learn and speak language. They are perfectly designed for the task.

This Week ~ The Yes and Amen of God’s Promise


This week is obviously of major significance in the life of the church and has profound implications for all creation. 

It is during this week that Jesus enters Jerusalem as a triumphant King, weeps over Jerusalem, inspects the temple for the second time and condemns it, and prophecies the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). 

During this week he deals with the disciples’ arguments over who is the greatest, he washes his disciples’ feet, he identifies his betrayer, institutes the Lord’s Supper, gives the commandment of love, predicts Peter’s denial and gives some of his major discourses (the Olivet Discourse and the Upper Room Discourse).
It is in this week that he prays his high priestly prayer in Gethsemane, and is betrayed by Judas Iscariot and is arrested. 

He is brought before Annas and Caiaphas who declares that it is expedient that one man should die for the people. 

He is abused through the night, is denied by Peter three times, and is formally condemned by the Sanhedrin. 

Judas commits suicide. 

Jesus is tried before Pontius Pilate and Herod, is scourged and mocked by the Romans, and hears his own people cry out for his crucifixion. 

Pilate gives him over to be crucified, setting the criminal Barabbas free. He is led away to be crucified.
Jesus is crucified, dies, and is buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea with the help of Nicodemus (from John 3) – this is Friday. He will lay in that tome until Sunday when he is discovered to have been raised from the dead.
The events of this week are the crescendo, not only of Jesus’ life and ministry, but of the entire history of everything up to this point, and bring into reality and fulfillment all of the promises of God.

~From Rob’s sermon on Palm Sunday

All Lives Matter

Do they? Are we sure we mean that when we make that statement?
I think that it is good and right for us to push hard for momentum against Planned (Un)Parenthood. I think every legitimate interview, story and video you come across should be shared as publicly as it could possibly be shared. The shroud behind which they operate must be torn down to expose them for what they are.
I agree with Pastor Toby Sumpter that we should pile it on right now and we fight our enemies with truth and grace and we are relentless as we pursue them.
But let us be clear that it is not enough to just save the babies.

Do all lives matter? We say so. But do our actions bear that out? Do they matter as long as their messy train wreck stays away from our dinner table? As long as they stay in their part of town and out of our nice clean neighborhoods?

Those babies come with mamas and the vast majority of them are in situations where they are overwhelmed or ill prepared to deal with their circumstances. And that mama didn’t get pregnant by herself…there is a father somewhere.
What good is it if we convince them that their baby’s life matters if we aren’t willing to do all that we can to show them that their life matters as well?
James 2:16 should echo in our ears as we press forward against our foe.
“And one of you says to them, “go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

Contact your local crisis pregnancy center and ask them how you can help. They need stuff so by all means give them your money…give them all of your money. But also give of your time…of yourself…because what they really need are more people being Christ to the ones they are helping. Because what the babies and mamas and daddies really need is Christ and His gospel.
Because all lives do, indeed, matter.

What I Love About My Church And Why ~ Liturgy

I love my church. We’ve been here for almost ten years and I honestly cannot imagine being anywhere else.

It’s where we’ve been raising our family, and what He has used to grow and stretch our hearts and minds to know Him more. I’ve been pushed gently and not so gently out of my comfort zone.

It’s not a perfect place and it’s full of imperfect people who love God wholeheartedly but sometimes screw it up. There are lots of reasons that I love this place and these people and a single post would be waaaay to long so I’ll probably share some things in a series of posts. I hope it will get you to thinking about your church and what you love about it.

One of the top things for me that I love about our church is our liturgy. Every church has a liturgy (an order of service) whether it is formalized or not. Our liturgy happens to be what most would consider “formal.”  It’s actually known as a covenant renewal service. The layout and progression of the service is designed to reflect the Gospel.

We begin with a call to worship. A call to leave our earthly concerns and thoughts behind and turn our hearts and minds to the One who is worthy. This generally includes a hymn, a short word of exhortation, a call and response greeting between pastor and congregation, and a Scripture reading that calls us to worship. It concludes with a brief prayer that God would cleanse the thoughts of His people so that we’re prepared to worship Him rightly.

Of course our sin prohibits true worship so secondly, we are called to confess our sin. There is a tremendous blessing in corporate confession that is missed in a typical “alter call” at the end of a service. Another aspect that is shared during this time, is the minister declaring God’s forgiveness. Not that he is granting the forgiveness, but he is declaring the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promise to forgive those who have confessed their sin.

The third element of our liturgy is considered a time of consecration. Together, as one body we typically confess either the Nicene or Apostles creed. There is something so very unifying about declaring what we all believe without hesitation and with assurance. It connects us to the Saints that have gone before us and anchors us. During a certain time of the church calendar we actually sing one of them and it is one of my most favorite things in the world.  Because we believe that the Bible is one story with Old and New Testament connected, we have a Scripture passage read from both which relates to the theme of the sermon. The pastor also reads a passage from the Gospels. The first two readings are done from the pulpit but as the Gospel is read my husband moves among the congregation…a beautiful symbol of the way Christ, the Gospel in flesh, moved among us. After the preaching we have a pastoral prayer during which our prayers and petitions as a church are brought before God. This is also a time during which we pray for a specific congregation in our community. Again, I love this because I’ve never been in a church that was willing to pray on a regular basis for other area churches, including ones of a different denomination. We are also given a few moments to pray in silence before standing together and singing the Lord’s Prayer. Then, in response to God’s faithfulness, we offer our tithes and offerings.

Because we have been called to worship, and because we have confessed our sin and He has changed us through the reading and teaching of His Word, we are invited to come and eat at His table. Every. Single. Week. Oddly enough, this fourth component of our service causes people the most angst. Generally argued against as being too catholic as if that somehow explains something. But just about every church I know of sings every week, prays every week, and takes an offering every week. We don’t reject those based on possible bad teaching and misunderstanding…why would we reject Christ’s table?

Because our service has already led us to a place of confession we do not look at this as a time of morbid introspection. We are already prepared and ready so it’s a time when we remember His death and celebrate the life we now have together in Him. Not only do we enjoy this meal together each week, but we talk during it. Speaking freely with one another, as well as participating in the passing of the peace.  As we pass the bread we say to each other, “The Lord be with you” and upon receiving the bread we respond with, “The Lord bless you.” With the passing of the wine/juice we say, “The peace of Christ be with you” and upon receipt we say, “And also with you”. I’ll be honest, this part of our service was very awkward at first. But it quickly became something that added depth add richness to our communion with each other. It takes a very hard and bitter heart to hold aught against husband or wife, child or sibling or friend and at the same time bless them in the Lord and declare that the peace of Christ be with them.

Singing is a major part of our service and is threaded through the whole day. (There will be a separate blog post about singing and music.) At this point in our service we stand, and hands raised sing the doxology, praising God who is the source of all blessings. We recite a prayer of thanksgiving together and sing a hymn of response for the renewal of God’s covenant with His people.

Numbers 6:24-26 blessing benediction

The final characteristic of our service is the reading of the Great Commission as a charge for us to go out and be faithful in carrying out its command to declare Christ’s authority over all the earth. A closing prayer is shared and we once again lift our hands, this time to receive the benediction “…the Lord bless you and keep you…”

Now we turn our hands outward, and with voices lifted we sing,

Glory be to the Father, 
And to the Son, 
And to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning,
Is now, and ever shall be,
World without end.
Amen.

Rob will then offers one last word of benediction as we conclude, “Go in peace, the Lord be with you” and as one the congregation responds, “And also with you.”

In our area this type of service is not common, especially in a Baptist church. But true worship should reflect the gospel interaction between God and His people, not a specific denomination. Each aspect should highlight the relationship between the believer with God and each other.

Not every church service must look and sound like this. But the components…the call to worship, the call to confess our sin, the consecration of God’s people though His Word, the communion with Christ at His table and with each other, and the commissioning of His people to go and declare His authority as LORD and King to all the earth…these are the foundations of worship that is rightly focused.

May you look for, and find them, in your church as you worship.

Why I Should Be Critical

It’s been so quiet here on the blog lately, hasn’t it? Not for lack of words or ideas and stories; I have those in abundance swirling around in my brain. So much so that I am having a hard time keeping them from running into each other and becoming an incoherent mess. As I typed that out it dawned on me that what I need to do is write it down and sort it out. But, like most of us, I find it easier to let it all rattle around in my head without actually committing to one train of thought and following it through to a conclusion. I have greater success in creating my reality, whether correct or not, when I keep all my thoughts jumbled and incomplete.

But that really isn’t helpful, is it? Or profitable. I’m reminded of the prayer found in Psalm 19:14 ~ “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight…” It sounds good to say that I am spending a lot of time thinking about gracious living and what that looks like but if I am not willing to really sort out what that means, and sincerely look at my life through the lens of true Truth and not just my own rambling thoughts, then my words and thoughts probably aren’t very acceptable to anyone, much less a holy and just and gracious God who calls me to live a holy and just and gracious life.

I think what I need to cultivate is a critical eye. We shy a way from that word as if  “critical” has become the new “judgmental” and the whole taken-completely-out-of-context “judge not lest you be judged” is applied the same way. The word critical has fallen on hard times in our society but it’s helpful, I think, if we push it into the I-do-not-think-that-word-means-what-you-think-it-means spot light.

The definition that we’re most familiar is, of course, negative – one of disapproval and judgement. That’s not the critical I am speaking of. Unfortunately this is the critical that comes most naturally to us. Our bent, because of sin, is toward the six foot log in my own eye but all I see is the teensy weensy splinter in your eye kind of critical.

But there is another way of interacting with being critical; a way that is healthy and profitable. It’s being able to assess the good and bad of something. When I do a family’s pictures I practice this kind of critical when I go through their images later and determine which ones I will give them.

It falls more under the realm of critical thinking and our culture is not real big on that. We leave that to the egg heads, the more studious and analytical types. The average person focuses more on how they feel about something rather than any kind of critical (thinking) evaluation of circumstances or things.

Is there a way to be critical that is bad? Of course there is. We are a magical people with a boundless capacity for turning something good into something bad, and equally good at hypnotizing ourselves into believing that it’s all good and not bad at all.

One critical is looking for perfection to it’s own standard and pounces with a mighty “Aha!” when it sees perceived sin. The name of the game is control and getting things they way we like it.

The other critical is careful judgment; for the purpose of refinement or, if there is sin involved, for the purpose of restoration. Because sometimes it’s not sin. Sometimes it is just immaturity and a rightly critical eye will learn to look for and know the difference.

As a parent I want to turn this kind of critical eye on my children. One way that this looks in my life is our Sunday afternoon lunch at church

each week. When we’re getting ready to eat, are my girls looking to help with the younger kids as they go through the line? Are my children always first in line? Is Claire taking only the food and amount of said food that she can and will eat? Are they helping in the clean up afterwards?

I want to assess these things not so I can tell my children they are being selfish and rude, but so I can steer them into the better way of being part of the community. I want them to be thoughtful participants within our church family.

I need to  turn that critical eye on myself as well. Am I being a thoughtful and kind member of our church family? What about within my home? One of the biggest ways that I can do this is by being charitable in my thoughts of others. Am I willing to assume the best behind the actions of others? Or am I immediately taking offense at something said or done?

Being rightly critical is a skill long neglected but surely needed in our world. It is a powerful tool that used correctly can strengthen and encourage the body of Christ.

The Cost of Hospitality and Community

toddler feet messy floors happy babies

Last week’s mom’s group was a little bigger than normal since we had several families with kids out of school for spring break. It was a little bit louder and a little bit crazier.

And somehow, in the midst of the chaos, Sarah’s computer screen got busted into lots of little bitty cracks.

Now there are several different scenarios that could have played out at this point.

Sarah could have been over the top sad and/or angry about the broken computer. She worked her first real job all last summer to make that major purchase. For many in her position pitching a fit would seem entirely justified.

Instead, after her initial shock, she checked the extent of the damage and was thrilled to learn that she could still access her school work. More than that she said she shouldn’t have left it on her bed.

The mama’s could have scooped up their babies and made excuses. Instead, even though they weren’t sure who was responsible, they all apologized for not watching their kids closer. More than that, they’ve all offered to help defer the cost of the repair.

It would have been easy for everyone involved to overreact and shift blame but instead everybody owned their piece of it. We all recognized that we could have and should have done a few things differently.

There will be a somewhat costly end to this incident for all of us but not nearly as expensive as it could have been. I am not talking about money either.

Sometimes it’s not a computer screen that gets broken but rather the relationship and when that happens it is usually far more costly than anyone is prepared for.

It costs something to practice hospitality and it costs something to be in community.

Sometimes it’s literally your stuff and sometimes, spiritually speaking, it’s your life.

Your heart is bound to be bruised and your feelings are guaranteed to be hurt at some point along the way.

Sometimes everyone involved will own their piece of the fiasco and forgiveness and restitution will be sought and given. Other times you may find that you are having to bandage your own broken heart and work to make sure that the infection of bitterness isn’t allowed to fester.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this though. We follow an example of the greatest act of hospitality mankind as ever known…a life given in death to create a holy community. We are asked everyday to imitate what Christ did…it’s who we are and it’s what we do in our families and in our churches. Our death to self nurtures that holy community and it changes the world.

Tell His Story

Stepping Into Community

As part of our twelve days celebration last month Rob gave me a pair of slippers. More as a joke than anything, they were leopard print and fuzzy. And, as it turns out, warm and comfy so I wore them all the time. I also washed them frequently and needless to say they didn’t hold up well so I had to get a new pair. Sadly the feisty print was unavailable and I ended up with somewhat the same style only in pink and not fuzzy. They’ll do I suppose but I liked the fuzzy warmth of the other pair and truthfully the sassy print was fun to wear.

I’m not really a good shoe shopper. I know what I like when I see it on other people’s feet but I really don’t have a great perspective when looking at them on my own feet. Then there is the whole fit thing. Some shoes will be just darling but the hurt like crazy…just uncomfortable. Others are so cute they make me wish I was the kind of person that could wear them but frankly I just look silly in them. Like those high top Converse sneakers. I think they are so cute but I just can’t pull them off…they’re not me. Or cowboy boots. Love ’em on other people but no way could I wear them without knowing that I was wearing them every moment they were on my feet and they would be the only thing I was thinking about. Then there are the ones that I like and they fit but there’s still that initial newness that has to be broken in for them to be a really good comfortable fit. Of course once in a while you find a pair that is the perfect fit and feels like a dream on your feet from the first moment.
Our church is about to do a study on community and friendship. It’s already generated a lot of helpful, and somewhat uncomfortable, conversations. I’ve been thinking that oddly enough finding community can be a lot like finding the right pair of shoes. I’ve come across some communities that, while I can see how other people fit there, I know I just don’t. I’m not comfortable there even though I can see the beauty there. 
Other communities I am really drawn too. I love peeking into different worlds and maybe even stepping into them for a bit but they aren’t me. I don’t belong there and like the cowboy boots if I try to make a place there I pretty much can’t even walk a straight line because I am starring at my own feet.
And then there is the community that does fit. Where I do belong. Only it’s not that slide your foot into the shoe and it’s like walking on a cloud perfect fit. Because, let’s be honest, that doesn’t happen all the time. That kind of fit is rare and should be treasured. It’s the fit between a husband and wife or that very best friend that is as close to you as it is possible for a friend to be. 
I’m talking about the kind of community that you look around and see it’s good. Solid and well made. Sturdy and ready to help you climb the mountains of life with sure footedness, slog through the mud in the valleys, and dance in the meadows. But there’s that slight stiffness up front. Not the kind that comes from an ill fit, but more the kind that comes from being new. It’s the give and take as your foot finds it’s place and the shoe conforms to it’s shape. It takes a little wear to smooth it out and make it the comfortable place that it can be.
It’s the kind of community where on the surface there may not be much in common…different walks of life, different stages of life, etc. But there is just good stuff happening. There’s love and fellowship that goes deep despite those differences. It’s the kind of community that makes you a better person because it encourages and it confronts. It forgives and it nurtures.
It’s the kind of community that’s worth the work of fitting in.

Titus 2 Tuesday

Union With Christ

In the liturgy, our words and actions are not merely those of individuals, but of the body. We speak together, sing together, pray together, listen together, and eat together as a body. At first it seems weird to us to worship like this – and this is, I think, for two reasons. 

First, because of the fall we are inclined to think primarily of ourselves. We are self-interested, self-focused, self-absorbed. 

Secondly, it is because this way of being has been sewn into the fabric of our culture. We are conditioned by our culture to be opposed to anything that causes us to conform to others. 


Liturgy, like union with Christ, forces us to realize that it isn’t about us, 
and that being a part of the body is where we find our true identity.
As we do all of these things together, we are pushed outside of ourselves, 
and we become more truly who our Lord wants us to be.