Beautiful things…

Recently a high school student in our congregation introduced me to a new song, “Beautiful Things” to use in one of our worship services. Ever since I heard the song, I have continued to sing and repeat a line of the song over and over to myself… “You make beautiful things out of the dust…” Yes, it does remind me of God creating Adam out of the dust in the creation account, but the power of those words touch something much deeper in me.

I am reminded of Rahab the prostitute who selflessly protected Joshuah and his men… risking her life for someone who knew the most high God. In return, Joshuah gave her a scarlet chord which would save her life when the city was overtaken. How interesting that her life was then woven into the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1… she was one of the grandmothers of Jesus. God makes beautiful things out of the dust…

I am currently planning a service around the story of Rahab and a friend of mine who is preaching that Sunday highlighted yet another dimension in the story. Rahab is the only female mentioned as a hero in the great faith hall of fame in the book of Hebrews. She also wondered inquisitively what prompted the New Testament writers to include Rahab in such a radical way…

After I read my friend’s email, I could hardly sleep that night as the question and the words of the song invaded my heart and mind… it is as if the writers wanted to remind us that God makes beautiful things out of the dust… He delights in using what we may deem as unusable. Sin, background, qualifications, good-standing, race, gender and even religious background do not limit God in how he might use us… in fact it seems that dust makes a very good medium for God to use for the most beautiful creations.

This gives me such hope and life. In the past, I have felt so hurt by the church at times… because I didn’t have the right last name , because of my gender, or the fact that my father had taken his own life. I was often excluded from using my gifts in ministry because I wasn’t “ready”… when in reality, I think it was more likely that they weren’t ready for me. How heart breaking that along the way the church has lost the message of God making beautiful things out of dust.

When did we start deciding who is in and who is out? When did the church start requiring that people behave a certain way before they could belong? It seems to me that the birth of the church in Acts was all about the movement of the Spirit empowering the most unlikely candidates to minister… breaking all kinds of religious rules. Did we forget that our biblical story includes a beautiful heritage of murderers, prostitutes, sexually abused persons, foreigners, pagans, women, men, eunuchs and children? I don’t know about you… but I feel closer to a God who delights in making beautiful things out of the dust because that is my story.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves as the church if we are really ready for the beautiful things God desires to bring forth… if we are… we might just experience something spectacular…

Here are the words and a link to the song:

Beautiful things

All this pain…
I wonder if I’ll ever
Find my way
I wonder if
My life could really change
at all?

All this earth…
Could all that is lost
ever be found
Could a garden come up
from this ground
at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust

All around
Hope is springing up
from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being
Found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

© worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

What are you running towards?

Recently, I took the time to reread the Easter texts and allow them to sink in more deeply. During Holy week, I often enter the story from a worship planning perspective thinking about how I might aid the congregation in entering the story.

That day, as many pastors often do the week after Easter, I was feeling tired and worn out… I recognized that I, too, needed to personally enter into the resurrection story. So, I reread the text in Matthew 28.

I wasn’t aware that I was practicing Lectio Divina at the time, but as I read through the resurrection account about the women going to the tomb to find it empty and hearing the news from the angels that Jesus was not there, but had risen… a verse began to shimmer. “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

I immediately recognized the shimmer… God’s spirit highlighting something important for me… “Afraid yet filled with joy”. Wow… that was exactly what my heart was feeling… God was more aware of my internal state than I was.

God has been at work in me for a while freeing me from some painful memories and experiences that bind me and inviting me into a new reality, a new freedom and a new way of being. Sometimes these changes can be very scary… even when we know God is leading us toward resurrection.

As I read the scripture and prayerfully listened to God, I became aware that I was afraid to leave behind what was familiar even though it was keeping me in pain and bondage. I was afraid and yet filled with joy as I began to run toward the resurrection experience to which God was inviting me.

As I write this morning… I am aware that many of us share this experience. What freedom to name and sit with our fears and our hopefulness before our God. How comforting to know that our God is present enough in our lives to know the inward journey that needs to be tended to before we are even aware of it ourselves.

completion

Since Harry and I have been exploring the meaning and benefits of the Sabbath over the past several months, I find myself drawn to the significance of Jesus’ Sabbath rest in the tomb.

Just as God created the heavens and the earth and then rested because it was good and complete… God’s love for creation and humanity were made complete when Jesus died on the cross… nothing more could ever be added to God’s final expression t of love to us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It was complete. Once again, the Son of God rested, hidden in the tomb, waiting for the dawn of a new day. Read more

a practice to remember…

Tonight, many of us will meet together to practice remembering the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Some traditions will host love feasts, foot washing services and communion while others will simply take time to fellowship over a meal and remember together the significance of the events that took place so long ago.

This ritual, though very diverse, is rich with multi-sensory ways to engage more deeply into the words Jesus shared with the disciples gathered around the table. We touch the bread that represents the body of Christ… the white color reminds us of the Lamb of God, without blemish, who took away all sin from the world. We recall that Jesus willingly broke the bread and gave thanks for what it was and what it was to become. He invited the disciples to eat it… to fully take in and digest that his body would be broken for them. He would become the bread of life so that we may all have life.

He invites us to remember.

We feel the weight of the cup… the very cup that Jesus agonized over in the garden later that evening. The cup he said, is the blood of the New Covenant. We see the deep red fruit of the vine and it becomes a poignant reminder of Christ’s precious blood poured out for the world… We taste the warmth of God’s healing and salvation as we drink from the cup and remember.

We continue this practice because Jesus encouraged his disciples to remember and recall the significance of the things he said as often as they would eat the bread and drink the cup. It was to be a truly contemplative moment… a moment to more fully awaken every part of ourselves, every God given sense that we have , to the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Tonight, as we engage in this prayerful act of remembrance, may we slow down and take it all in. May we become aware of each sensory message that the bread and the cup hold for us. As our feet are being washed, may we be reminded and touched by God’s care for us… and may all of these things produce a soul felt “Thanks be to God” welling up from the depths of our being.

Listen for the whisper

There are some of us that worry… I happen to be one of those. It is not a trait that I am proud of especially since Jesus seems to say over and over to his disciples, “Do not worry”. Sometimes, my mind is so busy working through the possible outcomes of each day and each situation that it presents, that I find it very difficult to be still and centered.

It was that way for me this morning as I found myself hurrying through scripture with my mind filled with all kinds of questions… at one point I even found myself composing a letter in my head that I needed to write later on today. Ridiculous I know, definitely not very holy… but hey, I am being vulnerable here.

Thank goodness for Grace that is able to interrupt my many thoughts and feeble attempts… all of the sudden I arrived at Matthew 10:26-27. It reined in everything I was thinking and feeling and poignantly spoke life into my spirit. Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to go out and minister to persons:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

The “do not be afraid” grabbed my attention, but it was “what I tell you in the dark” and “what I whisper in your ear” that really spoke to me. I can worry myself to death weighing all of the possible outcomes, calculate and recalculate life decisions, programs, worship services, sermons and outreach… but the most effective work I can do is listen to the quiet whisper in the dark… that is how Jesus will guide me.

This is not an invitation that I learned growing up… I was taught to fill my mind with scriptures and studies… to seek more and more information, understanding and to master the word. There is nothing innately wrong with that… but, this quiet invitation to hear the whisper is something very different.

My Old Testament reading this morning was also about Moses going up to Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord… another model of God speaking to Moses directly and giving him instructions on how to give guidance to his people.

The invitation to the disciples as well as to Moses was to withdraw to a place that was dark… I would call that a quiet, non stimulating, and still place. In other words, we are to give ourselves a really good chance to hear the whisper. We are invited to trust that the Savior is indeed whispering in our ears, and as we recognize his whisper, we can learn to trust in His guidance.

Perhaps the words of an old hymn, “Be still my soul” offer a prayer towards this quiet place of holy encounters:

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain
Leave to thy God
To order and provide
In every change
He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence
Let nothing shake
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below

God is tweeting everywhere

For those of you who are not familiar with one of the leaders in Social media and communication, Twitter is a network of persons who give a short status update in less than 140 characters. The goal is to share information, feed and point your twitter community to things that you find beneficial. The status updates are called “tweets”. I, for one, am fairly new to Twitter, but after a year or so of my husband telling me I should try it, I finally gave in. I will confess that I am enjoying following, connecting and learning from persons in my Twitter community.

A week or so ago, as I spent time with God in the morning, I heard God say, “I am tweeting everywhere”. Well, my first reaction was that I must be overly involved in this social networking stuff that it has made it this far into my prayer time. But, after reflecting on the idea, I must agree… God is tweeting everywhere.

The Bible is full of God tweets… just think about Daniel and the writing on the wall! Or some of our favorite verses in Psalms such as “the heavens are telling the glories of God” or my favorite in Romans chapter 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

God is the Master tweeter! He surrounds us with updates pointing us to Him, His activity in the world. The problem is, we are too often too busy to notice or even ponder what they mean. As my own spiritual awareness grew from this concept, I began to reverence these heavenly tweets by simply naming them as I saw them and giving thanks to God.

This past weekend, we took our son for a college visit. He planned to try out for a full scholarship on one of the worship teams there. We decided to leave early so that He would be sure to get on the audition list since it was a first come first serve basis. When we arrived, early, we found ourselves in a line longer than any ride at Disney. There were an overwhelming 2,000 people there registering for the weekend.

My son and I took our place in the long line while Harry went to find the nearest restroom. We noticed that he was gone a really long time. We thought he might have gotten lost or something. When he returned we asked him what happened… he said that the first bathroom was  being cleaned and he needed to find another one. Wouldn’t you know, that the other one was right by the table to sign up for the worship team auditions! The spots were being taken quickly and he was able to secure our son a time slot… God is tweeting everywhere we said to each other with a smile.

After his long awaited audition, we chatted with our son on the way out to the car about how it went. He seemed unsure … we tried to encourage him because, of course, we are his parents! Just before we made it to the car, a young lady stopped us in the parking lot and said that she was part of one of the teams and had sat in on our son’s audition! She went on to say what a great job he did and what a good musician he was! Wow… another God tweet.

Our weekend with our son was full of God tweets… it is not that God was saying that our son would definitely get into this program or get that scholarship. God was just simply reminding us that he was with us in the journey.

Our lives are indeed full of God tweets, God saying to us, hey, I am with you. As we become aware of God’s encouragement to us, God’s pointing us, and God’s presence all around us, we realize that God is closer than we think! Thanks be to God!

Coincidental or could this really be God?

“Coincidental , or could this really be God?” I asked myself as I stared in disbelief at my Dove Candy wrapper. Just yesterday, God gave me a profound invitation to play with Him during my time of centering prayer. I saw us playing on the beach, making snow angels and skipping… I felt so carefree and lighthearted in the vision. As soon as the prayer time was over, it occurred to me how difficult the concept of playing was for me.

My childhood was not very playful. My dad died when I was only eleven years old and this tragedy turned my innocent world upside down. As I think back, the last time I remember truly playing was just before he died. Perhaps his death initiated me into the adult world of responsibility too soon.

As I reflected further, I realized that many times, maybe because I am a firstborn, I feel the need to figure everything out ahead of time. Instead of delighting in the day and its surprises, I can become regimented and guarded. Delighting and playing are indeed a stretch for me.

Later on that day, I found myself in a meeting where we were talking about the wonderful things God is doing in our church; a fresh movement of the spirit. I noticed that I along with others felt the need to organize it, theologize about it, anticipate the outcome and plan it. At that moment, I remembered the poem I had written to capture the vision from my prayer. I pulled it out along with a piece of Dove Chocolate. I ruminated over the invitation to delight in this new thing God was doing… to be playful. At that point I glanced down to read what my Dove Chocolate Wrapper had to say on the inside… “Forget  the rules and play by your heart” Coincidence, maybe, but the child inside of me that is learning how to play thinks it may just be God.

The Enchanted Forest?

Well not exactly, at least not in the way that our pop culture would describe it. Most of us are familiar with the term “enchanted forest” that appears in folklore, fairy tales and Disney movies. The idea being that the forest is where strange, magical and transformational things might occur or unusual people might appear. In Abraham and Sarah’s forest, strange and transformational things did happen. Meeting up with the three visitors from heaven changed the direction of their lives and caused them to live differently. So in this case, you might really say it was an enchanted forest.

I am reminded of the recent Disney movie that came out several years ago called “Enchanted”. In the movie, Princess Giselle leaves her cartoon world to visit earth. During her stay she meets up with a lawyer from New York City. At first, her strange behavior of always looking on the bright side, naively believing in true love and inviting others to sing and dance with her in the park seems, well, psychotic and dangerous to him. But as the plot unfolds, he is drawn to this strange and wonderful way of viewing life and his heart is warmed.

As Christians, we are also invited to live in an enchanted world… Read more