Think On These Things

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;

hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons,

for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.

So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
 for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters;

they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.

For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.
He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.

And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in;

they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.

By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish.

When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow,

he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks.

The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Psalm 107

What You Ought To Remember

You know what’s embarrassing? Slamming the toilet lid down in a public restroom because you forget that all toilet lids are not self closing like the ones at home.

You know what’s painful? Forgetting that you chopped jalapeños a few hours ago and rubbing your eye.

You know what is not embarrassing or painful? God’s forgiveness. The teaching of Scripture is that when we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us. Not just forgive either but to cleanse us from the dirt and mess of our sin. And if that were not enough, we are told He throws our sin away as far as the east is from the west.

You know what God doesn’t forget?

Us.

Me.

You.

He remembers our frame. He remembers that we are His people and He is our God.

He remembers His promises.

So many promises! But this morning I woke up thinking about forgiveness and Psalm 139. Such thoughts are, indeed, too wonderful.

You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it. (Verses 5 & 6)

I hope you begin your week thinking of the promises God gives to His children. And may you walk in them.

Happy Monday y’all.

Telling The Story He Is Writing

One of the greatest lies we are tempted to believe is that we can write a better story than God. For ourselves. For our loved ones. For just about the whole world, really.

It can be innocent enough. We see someone we care about suffering and we immediately want to rewrite that chapter. Someone struggling financially and we wish for more disposable income to make life easier or better for them. A friend faces adversity and we yearn to smooth it out and remove the problems.

Sometimes it’s not so innocent though. Sometimes we want to rewrite someone else’s story because it doesn’t read like we think it should. Or because we feel like the paragraph they are currently in should be ours. Or we simply want to make someone do something the way we think it ought to be done.

The narrative begins in our heads and we produce rewrite after rewrite so that our own story, our own chapter and verse that we find ourselves living at the moment, makes more sense. Or we’re trying to rearrange our reality to what we think it ought to be.

It’s ridiculous though. To think that with our limited knowledge and foresight that we could possibly craft a better love story, a better adventure, or a better triumphant story than the One who authored the greatest love story of all time, penned the grandest adventure known to man, and accomplished the most miraculous triumph in the history of history, is in fact pretty ludicrous.

It’s like inserting our painfully pathetic middle school poetry in the midst of a Shakespearean sonnet. Or lifting a chapter from Moby Dick and dropping it into the middle of Pride and Prejudice.

Rob recently preached a sermon series on conflict that lasted several weeks. One of the Scriptures from really stood out to me, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:3

Ouch! The reason we seek to change and control our story, and the stories of those around us, is because we think we are something when we are not. At it’s root, all of our rewrites and all of our attempts to script each other’s lives, is pride.

Here’s the thing. That verse is set right in the midst of several verses where Paul is telling us how to handle conflict and/or when someone is in sin. And I’ve shared before that we all need proofreaders in our lives. So it’s not like God has called us to some passive existence that just allows life to unfold and happen around us.

But we have to be careful not to impose our own plot into the story line. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. I think we fail to offer genuine consolation and sympathy when we are so busy looking for ways to make things right or better. And unfortunately we probably miss out on sharing in a lot of joyous paragraphs because we’re wielding our red correction pen with such vigor.

The verse in Galatians proceeding the one I quoted above says that we are to bear with one another and so fulfill the law of Christ. Sometimes we’re a little further up on the page than another, or sometimes in a completely different chapter altogether. Regardless we need to love the story we’re in.

Because the Author knows how it all comes together to tell a remarkable and timeless story that is for His glory and our good.

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.

Equal Need

There is a great leveler in our worship service. When we kneel during our confession time we are all on equal footing. I am there beside my children as their sister, equal in need for grace, equal in standing as a child myself. In one sense this truth is always…well, true. I’m never not their sister. Even as I mother, I am their sister.

I can see the back of my husband’s head as he too turns and faces the cross. As he steps apart from his role as Pastor, as Shepherd, and kneels just like me, like our kids, like our congregation, he is there as a brother, equal in his need for grace, equal in standing as a child.

Friends take part in this glorious exchange. No older or younger, in some ways no wiser or more foolish, all equal before a Holy God. All equal in our need for grace, in our standing as children.

No one is better off than another.

No one has more need than another.

In that moment we all need.

We need grace.

We need mercy.

We don’t sin a little or a lot so there isn’t a sliding grace scale. He doesn’t evaluate our whispered “Please forgive me for _________” and parcel out forgiveness in an appropriate and equal measure.

It’s not a waterfall of grace in row three, fourth seat from the left, and a thimble passed on to the person in the sixth seat on the second from the front row.

Because we are all there, side by side kneeling in our need, we lift our faces to the shower that pours down with overflowing grace. Its abundance splashes out into our dry and sin cracked places. It floods our hearts and hydrates our minds and washes our souls clean.

And, like little children dancing in the rain, we find joy.

The Twelve Days of Christmas ~ How We Celebrate

Seems like a weird time to do a blog post about Christmas, doesn’t it? For many Christmas came and went almost two weeks ago but for some of us we just celebrated the last day of Christmas this past Sunday.
Last year I shared this blog post that described a little bit how our family celebrates the holidays. It’s short and to the point about why we do Christmas the way that we do but I still got some questions this year about a change that we made so I thought an end of the season follow up review might would be helpful. If nothing else I’ll have a written record of the first time we started this tradition 🙂

In a nutshell, our children receive a gift from us on Christmas morning. Usually this is the biggie, the main thing that they have been asking for. Then they will receive a gift of some sort each day for the next eleven days. Not anything major and sometimes it may be as simple as a family trip to the local frozen yogurt shop. One year there was a shoe day and everyone got a pair of shoes. Another favorite is a trip to Barnes and Noble where everybody is able to choose a book. Last year a dear friend of mine crocheted all the kids hats and scarves. (We did an exchange of services…her work for family pictures. Bartering is the best!) The final gift is always their Christmas stocking.

The last several years have been fun and the twelve days combined with the Advent season has, I think, made our celebration of the birth of our King much more meaningful. But last year we still felt like there was something missing that we wanted to include.

Being a good gift giver doesn’t always come naturally. And by good gift giver I mean more than just being generous in the giving department. God didn’t just send any old gift to us. He sent the Perfect gift…the One that would suit us, be what we needed, that would bring lasting joy. Obviously there is no way we can equal God in the gift giving department. But we can train up and teach our children to mimic His way in giving.

We want our children to be good gift givers. To give gifts for the sake of the one receiving the gift and not for the sake of giving just to be giving if that makes any sense at all. The point to God giving us Christ wasn’t just to give something that would fix the mess we had made of the world. He gave Christ for us, for our good and our joy. Now, like I said, there is no way we can match God in gift giving but we can learn to give the way He did (and does). We want our children to give generously and thoughtfully and…here is the biggie…deliberately.

To that end we took five of the twelve days, one for each child, and called it their giving day. They didn’t receive any gifts that day. Their gift was to delight in the joy of choosing and giving a gift to each of their siblings. They also got to choose one meal that day and cook it and serve the family.

For our first time doing this, I’d say it went very well. I do think we will budget differently next year for it and also incorporate jobs to earn some money for their purchases so that they can be a little more generous and creative in the gifts they choose. But all told, it went very well and it is definitely a part of our Christmas tradition now.

For the record, we sprinkled the five giving days throughout the twelve days and Samuel may or may not have given two of his sisters bags of coal as a joke before giving them their real presents.

On a different note, our church celebrated the final day of Christmas, Epiphany, this past Sunday with a feast after our worship service. We roasted a whole pig and everyone brought  tons of sides and desserts and we played games and generally enjoyed each others company all afternoon. It was a fantastical end to a wonderful Christmas season.

The Great Autumn Debate

It’s that time of year. Leaves are beginning to change colors and fall from their trees. Sweaters and fuzzy socks are closer to becoming the reality than sunscreen and swimsuits. The cooler weather brings about what I call the great Autumn debate and it isn’t whether you want a tall or venti pumpkin spice latte. In a few weeks there will be laughing and squealing children in all manner of attire running up and down the street knocking on doors and asking for candy.

That means it is also time for finger pointing and lines being drawn in the sand, pronouncements of self-righteousness and mission mindedness or heaps of condemnation thrown in for good measure.

Trick or treating.

Halloween.

Do we or don’t we?

A mockery of a defeated foe or a night belonging to the devil?

We’ve been on every side of the issue. We’ve just done it because that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve turned the lights out and pretended to not be home. We’ve only passed out candy. We’ve let the kids dress up but not as anything scary and headed to the local church “Hallelujah” night. We’ve dressed up and gone around our neighborhood like a Charles Dickens’ beggar.

Have I forgotten any position on the subject? We covered them all I think. And you know what I also think?

Who cares?

Now, I know there are people who say it is a big deal and that it should matter. That this is hill worth taking a stand on; one that possibly alienates people and breaks friendships over at worst or at the very least sets up some serious boundaries and restrictions on those relationships. I know others that say get over it already. It’s no big deal and harmless; let the kids have some fun and eat candy for crying out loud.

Want to know what else I think about all of this? If you’re still reading I am going to assume so and tell ya.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Say what?

If you do indeed feel that it is not right to participate in such festivities then please, by all means abstain. But know that there is a right way and a wrong way to abstain. Imagining that you are somehow more spiritual or holy because you disdain such nonsense certainly gives no glory to God. He is honored by your obedience that is faithful and humble.

If, however, you feel that there is nothing wrong with costumed panhandling for sweet confections then by all means knock on those neighborhood doors. But know that there is a right way and a wrong way to take part. Do not assume that you are somehow living a more enlightened missional calling because you’re dressed up like Glenda the Good Witch passing out Snicker bars. God is honored when you enjoy the simple and good things with thankfulness as coming from His hand.

In the above mentioned passage the Apostle Paul exhorts his readers to not seek their own good but that of their neighbor. I’m convinced that whether you abstain or take part you can be a blessing to those around you if you are choosing to abstain or take part for His glory and not your own.

As for our family?

We’ve chosen to see this time as an opportunity to practice some neighborhood hospitality. We invite any of

our church members to come and eat hots dogs and macaroni  & cheese with our family. Their children are welcome to dress up and meander up and down the street with our own, knocking on doors and getting candy.  While that’s happening I’m standing at a table at the end of my driveway passing out cups of hot cocoa and chocolate dipped jumbo marshmallows and chatting it up with people that normally I just wave to in passing. It’s what we have discovered through the years that works for us and we believe is a small way that we can display God’s great hospitality and generosity to us.

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.