Archive for ‘worship’

2013/11/30

Wonder

WonderRecently I was honored to be asked to go to Grandparents & Special Friends Day at a local private school as the special friend of a young lady from our church. I was doubtless filling in for grandparents who did not live close. Plus, when I thanked the sweet girl for her invitation, she honestly said, “We don’t know many people around here.” At least I am blessed to be one of the few.

The day entailed a sweet program where each grade did a musical presentation before we were given tours of the school. The program was progressive from the youngest grades up to eighth grade. As I watched the kids, all uniform clad and many eager to share their hard work, I started noticing more details about the students. The uniforms did not hide the occasional student with unkempt hair, or an untucked shirt here and there. They couldn’t hide the weariness in some kids faces, or the students that didn’t smile as they sang.

I sat there realizing that adults are more like kids than we like to admit.

There’s a commercial out right now which features a dad and his son eating pudding. Dad starts talking about his adult life, and the kid’s imagination takes him into the scenarios he hears described. Suddenly we see the son is balding with a small suit on. He goes through the day, fighting traffic, dealing with jerks in the office, and so on. By the end of his dad’s explanation of why he needs pudding, the son simply hands his cup of pudding over saying his dad needs it more than he does.

It’s cute to see the kid in the commercial walking through his dad’s paces. We adults sometimes like to think we have it all together because we have learned stuff along the way. But in reality, we are messy, and we get hurt. We fall down, and we make mistakes every day. In those ways we are very much like kids.

We sometimes have to deal with bullies in the form of bosses or mean people. We don’t always choose good and faithful friends. We forget to take our lunch with us, and someone has to spot us until we can pay it back. Then we spill the lunch that we had to borrow money for down our shirt and we don’t have an extra one at work. We are like kids.

If only we could capture the playfulness, wonder, and the spirit of joy that kids have this time of year. 

We are at the beginning of Advent, and the new year in our church life. The story starts again–the most amazing story every lived. And we do have the chance to act like kids. We have the chance to approach the next few weeks with childlike faith and wonder as we visit the manger and think about how God changed the world forever with a little baby.

Yes, there will be mall traffic, and school programs, and decorating, and family functions, and so much more to navigate. But let’s act like kids this year as we focus on the coming of our King. Let’s anticipate His arrival by (at least inwardly) jumping up and down, just like kids at Christmas. Who’s with me?

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2013/03/21

More body of Christ

Body of Christ

Body of Christ

It’s one of my favorite stories from my daughter’s toddler years. Our family was attending our first Episcopal church. Our daughter had been baptized there, and Emma’s dad Chuck was in the process of becoming a priest. We were learning the traditions of a church much different than those of our childhoods.

I did not leave the Nazarene church due to any deep seeded angst. I did sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole while I was growing up in the church, but much of that could be explained by being a preacher’s kid and a theatre geek. I left simply for love—love of a new tradition of worship and love of my then husband, Chuck.

I felt if each of us went to different churches our house would be a house divided. So though Chuck studied at Nazarene Theological Seminary, he soon felt a call to be an Episcopal priest. And through my own personal prayer and discernment, it seemed the very right thing to do was to support him and join this new church steeped in liturgy and ancient worship such as I had not experienced before.

One of the traditions that I fell in love with is the celebration of Christ’s sacrifice through communion every Sunday. I simply love how that is the center, the climax really, of most weekly services. No matter the priest, the sermon, or the season, we all come together at the table to acknowledge that Christ died and rose again to save us.

I don’t remember the exact time of year, but our church was meeting in our fellowship hall due to some renovations in the main sanctuary. The space was seemingly less sacred as we used it as a place for lunches after service, weekly meetings, and the annual pancake supper. To accommodate all of the weekly worshippers, chairs were now crowded in row upon row. We sat near the back. With a squirmy toddler on my lap, I didn’t know when an exit would be necessary.

And so it was that on that Sunday in the bottom level multipurpose room of our church, the time for communion came. We went forward to receive the body and blood, Emma in my arms. The customary words, “Body of Christ,” “Blood of Christ,” were issued as I received the bread and then the cup. Then Emma received a wafer. She chewed the remaining bits as I turned us back up the aisle and began navigating the narrow path to our seats.

She finished the bread and then without warning yelled out, “More body of Christ!” Everything seemed to stop as all eyes landed on Emma and I. Then throughout the hall laughter from our friendly congregation erupted, and smiles were exchanged as communion continued, believers celebrating Christ’s sacrifice together that day amidst linoleum floors, fluorescent lighting, and folding chairs.

As Lent draws to a close, I know I am not the only one eagerly anticipating the celebration of Easter. I pray that even with it’s reverence and awe, as we honor days such as Good Friday with the solemn and rightful digesting of the price that was paid for our sins, that we will feel a true rush of joy at Easter. And like the words expressed by my little girl many years ago now, I hope we feel that Easter once again marks a day where we encounter a desire for more of Jesus.

When we celebrate with our families and friends whether over creamy deviled eggs, ham, and carrot cake or fried fish, hushpuppies, and homemade cobbler, may we enter into the season of Easter—which goes beyond that one Sunday—to a place where we cry out, “More body of Christ!” And may we share our enthusiasm for the One who has saved us with the people we love and everyone around us. Amen.

2011/07/31

I want

I want.  Yo quiero.  It’s a phrase we are all used to saying. We order the delicious items that call out to us on a menu by saying, “I want.”  We take off for the mall, cash in hand to buy the things we want.  We make plans and create strategies spending our lives pursuing the things we want.

As I grew up, my sole dream and desire was to be in love.  Like many young girls, I dreamed of a prince and being treated like a princess with a fairy tale wedding and life.  As I got older, my vision changed, but I’m not sure I traded those fairy tale dreams in for the more realistic stuff of falling in love with a real person versus some superman on a white horse.  But I always wanted a family and a home, and at the center of my dream was the relationship I would have with my spouse.

This dream was very powerful in my life.  Looking back I would say that above anything else, including God, (though I wouldn’t have always recognized or acknowledged that fact) I wanted a deep, loving relationship with someone.  That dream was so strong for me that I know I made decisions along the way solely based on the very narrow vision of what I wanted.

As life has happened and as I have changed, I have come to realize how much I took care of that dream to the detriment of other parts of my life.  Most importantly, I’m very aware today of how much that dream came between God and I.  I know that I did little to make sure that dream was built on the right foundation.  Looking back, I feel I was like an Israelite who heard the words of Moses saying, “Love the Lord with all your heart; fear Him; keep his commandments; put no other gods before Him…” but the way I was living you would have thought I just heard, “Blah, blah, blah.”

Scripture is filled with the idea that loving God and putting him first is the key to prosperity and the desires of our hearts coming to fruition, but I really need the story of the Israelites to remind me of the lifetime journey I’m on to defeat the idols in my life. In Deuteronomy before Moses hands over his leadership to Joshua, he reminds the Israelites over and over of this very thing, and in chapter 30 he basically says that if the people will love God with everything in their being that he will restore their riches and gather them all back to ultimately give them the promised land.

It’s great to think about God in unconditional love kinds of terms, but we don’t like to focus much on what is required of us when there might be pain and sacrifice involved.  Here’s just one reference to it from Deuteronomy—emphases mine:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts (ouch!) and the hearts of your descendants (not my kids too!), so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” 30:6

Life—that’s what we all want.  And I’m not just talking about the act of living of course.  When we define what makes a good life, certain images come to mind based on the desires of our unique hearts.

But what happens when our dreams are idols that we put before God? Circumcision.  Yeah, I know it’s not a pretty word to use, but it fits.  God has circumcised the dreams of my youth, the ones that kept me from his true promises.  It’s been a painful—oh so painful—but necessary part of my faith journey.

A few years ago, I stopped uttering, “I want,” and it wasn’t because I’m some super spiritual person.  It was because I couldn’t really even lift my head.  I was in a valley that overcame me for a time.  I was taken to that place beyond thirst to a place of survival, and amazingly I realized that only God could get me out of there.

I think he is still in the process of doing that, and now I’m more attentive now to his presence.  I’m desperate to live the life he wants me to live.  I know I won’t get it all right.  I know I need to constantly be reminded not to put idols before him.  I know it would be so easy to go back the way I came into the wilderness of old plans and dreams.  But that’s not what I want anymore.

I want what he wants for me.

In May I stood on Mount Nebo.  I looked across the Jordan valley into the Promised Land just like Moses did when he begged the people to remember to put God first and no other.  What a view I had from up there.

I was in Jordan on a theatre in missions trip with Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA)—a dream trip that God miraculously and unexpectedly gifted me with.  Our mission was to work with Muslim and Christian high school students in Amman.  After we left Jordan, we toured several towns in Israel performing scripts at many of the biblical sites we visited.

Our group’s collective journey was very meaningful, and to this day I can’t really believe that I was so blessed to go along.  Being in Jordan and Israel gave me a perspective on my faith that I’m not sure I would have gotten any other way.

My favorite days were in Jordan.  I loved waking up too early and sharing breakfast and conversation with Anna over a delicious bowl of cereal with dried strawberries in it.  I loved sharing food together and reflecting over the amazing things God was doing through our group with Tom.  I loved the late night silliness with Morgen and the prayers we lifted up for one another.

My roomie for the trip was Bev.  Bev has a wonderfully rich soul and lives life with rare vigor and earnestness.  She does not give up easily, though her life has thrown her a number of curve balls.  And she helped me to learn about 5-bar experiences with God—those moments when the communication with him is so full and rich like when all the bars are lit up on my iPhone and everything is clear and unencumbered by interference.

Music was a part of our mission trip as our group worshipped together in the mornings sometimes on our bus.  For Bev and I, both being Anglican and away from our respective churches brought up chats about some of the hymns unique to our tradition.  Once in a while we would just break out into song in our room.  We discovered that we both loved one of my favorite hymns.

Bev and I didn’t have a hymnal or a good internet connection to find all the lyrics while we were on the trip, so we did the best we could scribbling a line or two along the way when one of us would remember, adding up to maybe one or two full verses and the chorus by the time it was all over.  Like bad karaoke we would sing with fervor the parts we knew and then hum the rest until we got back to a familiar word or line.  When I got back to the states, I found my hymnal right away so I could fill in the blanks:

V1:

I want to walk as a child of the Light.  I want to follow Jesus.

God set the stars to give light to the world.  The Star of my life is Jesus.

REFRAIN:

In Him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the Light of the city of God.  Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.

V2:

I want to see the Brightness of God.  I want to look at Jesus.

Clear Son of Righteousness shine on my path and show me the way to the Father.

V3:

I’m looking for the coming of Christ.  I want to be with Jesus.

When we have run, with patience the race we shall know the joy of Jesus.

This hymn is my prayer of the year.  It speaks to all that I hope I’m living out right now. I want to follow Jesus.  I want to look at Jesus, and I want to be with Jesus.  Though I don’t consciously want to hurt, I don’t want to be so far away from the pain it took to get here that I forget that sacrifice and even circumcision are necessary parts of a life dedicated to God.

I stopped saying, “I want” when I went to that desperate place.  But he has lifted my head and helped me to walk again.  And in the stillness he has begun to let me know that it’s okay to ask again.  It’s okay to dream again.  He is whispering to me, “What is it Kim that you now want?”  And from this new place with new perspective, I humbly pray for the desires of my heart.  Psalm 37:4

Lord, may what you want for my life be always what I want.  Amen.

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light composed by Kathleen Thomerson  (lyrics) © 1970 Celebration.
2010/02/24

Baptism

It was my first Sunday singing in the choir, and I did pray on the way to church that worship would flood my very being that morning.  I prayed that I would be an agent to help others come into that place of reverence and awe before the God of the universe.  Then I hit the parking lot of the church.

“Where did all these cars come from?” I wondered aloud to my daughter in the back seat.  “Really!” she quipped back.  We had not seen the parking lot this full since before the holidays.  I found a spot behind the deserted police station beside our church’s lot and gathered my bag holding my non-shiny black shoes.  My snow boots would not be proper attire for underneath my robe, so on a plus note, I was at least that prepared.

We hustled to the door and to the warmth of the inside.  Emma was dragging behind a bit, and I turned to see if she needed help since I was leaving her in the dust.  She still had her headphones on.  “Sweetheart, you need to take those off before we go inside,” I reminded.

“OK, mom.”

We passed Sunday Schoolers in the hallway and headed upstairs.  I just needed to find a robe and gather my music.  First robe, too short.  Second robe, too long.  Third robe, juuussst right.  All robed up and ready to go with non-shiny shoes on feet, I inadvertently interrupted a meeting in the choir room, and hid out with the music library out of sight until it was over.

During our warm up which had been cut short by fifteen minutes by the meeting, thoughts raced around in my noggin.  I needed to check with someone on where to sit and other particulars I had no idea about for the service.  Though I had been in the congregation and watched the choir numerous times, I was not familiar enough with the routine to be confident that I could do everything seamlessly.  It was definitely going to be different sitting on the other side of the altar.

As service got started and we were a couple of numbers in, I felt that my grand plan for being an agent of worship was a bit unrealized so far.  With all of the busyness of my getting acclimated, I hadn’t had time to breathe, much less relax into the rhythms of worship.

The sermon and the service centered on baptism: first Jesus’ and then our own.  The minister talked about how we now often view this act with calm formality, but that historically baptism came from a plunging, an immersion below the surface of a body of water.  At its core, the act of baptism is an act of vulnerability and surrender.

The minister told a story of how a boy had drowned and died while a dozen or so adults that witnessed him falling and struggling in the water did little to help.  See, the water was very dirty and had been infected by a local industrial plant up the way.  They did not want to risk their own lives in such disgusting liquid even to save a helpless child.

That brought back my own memory from a few years ago.  It was a summer party—adults were chatting, kids were swimming.  I was settling into a chair when I noticed that little Benjamin was having trouble in the shallow end.  You could tell he was on his tip-toes working hard on the logistics of keeping his head above water.  But there were taller kids all around, oblivious to his struggle.  These kids inadvertently were splashing around him and making the situation worse.

I managed to get some of the kids’ attentions and asked them to watch out for him.  They helped him back to a more shallow depth, and I went on with my conversation with whoever was sitting nearby.  But a minute or two later, I noticed Benjamin was back to that same spot as before, and that now he was taking on some water.  He had gotten in just a little too deep.  I hollered to the children around him so that someone could grab him and move him back to safety.  No one heard me.

I only let a few more seconds pass before I jumped in.  Usually people do not jump into a pool in their clothes unless the party has gotten really good, so needless to say, my act disrupted things quite a bit.  Benjamin was safe and the host led me to get dried off and into some borrowed clothes.

When I returned to the party, I was of course asked to tell the story over and over.  Though his parents were very thankful, I could see in some of the other guest’s eyes that they thought my choice to jump in and “save” Benjamin was a little dramatic.  With so many people around, they didn’t see how my heroic measures were necessary.  “He would have been fine,” they thought.

But they didn’t see what I saw. They didn’t see Benjamin swallowing water instead of air.  They didn’t see how he really didn’t know what to do, much less how to fight to get back into safe territory. They didn’t witness the panic in Benjamin’s eyes, the true terror of knowing he was not in control of the situation, and how helpless he was for those few seconds.

How often in our lives, do we have those moments too?  Many times and in many seasons, though a crowd of strangers or our closest family is around us, no one but Jesus sees the real panic in our hearts.  Because he made us, only he can feel with a true purity and clarity what we are facing and battling in the water.  Sometimes we feel utterly beneath the water, hopeless and helpless, terror in our eyes.

But Jesus jumps right in.  He’s not afraid of the muck in the water, even if we are the very polluters that made it so dirty.  He’s not afraid of tragedy that befalls us.  He’s not afraid of our ridiculous, poor sin-choices.  He’s happy to be right there with all of that.

And so today, I re-affirmed my baptism while others were being baptized for the very first time.  But more than that, I remembered that God did not send a professional crew, or a messenger, or a paid agent, to rescue me from treacherous sin and hopelessness.  Rather, he sent himself to be with me and to save me.  With an award-winning cannon ball splash, he enters in and turns the liquid around me from filthy sludge to living water the moment I invite him in.  Amen.