Monthly Archives: August 2015

Worship, Daily Life, and Inconvenience

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:10) NASB

Several times I have read Ken Boa’s excellent book on Spiritual Formation titled “Conformed to His Image.”  At least one, I studied one chapter each month (conveniently, there are 12 chapters) and considered the basic aspects of how God forms us into the people He desires us to be.

Of course, there is way too much to summarize in a short devotional, but one passage is important when we think about our lives of “busy-ness.”  We often are disappointed when the demands of life interrupt the plans we have to practice a little, or take a break, or meet with friends, or read a book.  People, work and circumstances seem to run interference with our plans.

I don’t know about you – but it’s really annoying when I have to change my plans or get thrust into something unexpected and unplanned.

Let me share a quote from Ken Boa’s book:

We know that we are in a formative process and that God is not finished with us yet, but we must also remember that we cannot control or create the product.  Furthermore, we cannot measure our ministry or impact on others in this life.  If we forget this, we will be in a hurry to accomplish significant things by the world’s standard of reckoning…Henri Nouwen used to ask God to get rid of his interruptions so he could get on with his ministry.  “Then I realized that interruptions are my ministry.”  As servants and ambassadors of the King, we must be obedient in the daily process even when we cannot see what difference our obedience makes.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to encourage you (and myself) to relish the moments you find yourself in throughout the day.  Is it an untimely phone call?  Is it the need of a child or grandchild?  Is it overtime hours at work?  Is it a sick band member?  Is it a broken down car…or mower…or hot water heater…or a broken guitar string?

These needs reflect those good works Paul mentions in Ephesians.  God has them prepared for us.  We may have all kinds of grand plans and schemes ourselves, yet He knows His own workmanship in us, and has created us for a purpose.  Often we are looking for some BIG THING, but God is asking us to live life each day, to notice what He puts before us, and then do it!

It is within this daily obedience to His will that He builds our character.  So many people ask what God’s will is for their lives, yet fail to notice the many opportunities each day to fulfill His will by walking in the good works He has prepared for them.

No matter what, the unexpected circumstances of life often become Divine Opportunities to be obedient in the path of life God has placed before us.  We can be disappointed in the change of plans, but let us also have a grateful heart for what we have right in front of us!  Let’s not miss what is right here, because we are distracted with what is out there.

Heavenly Father, thank You for working in me and through me.  Help me to see those good things you have placed in my path each day, and help me to do them.  Grant me the vision to see what the future might be because of where you have me today.  Amen

 

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Worship with Awareness

 

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4:32) NASB

Looking out the window early one morning, I noticed a raccoon moving across the back yard.  This daytime sighting was unusual, considering the nocturnal nature of the animal.  Abruptly, the raccoon stopped and twisted its head to look behind it.  I wondered if a predator of some sort was ready to chase, since there seemed to be tenseness in the movement.

In the next moment two smaller raccoons stepped out from behind a tree and began a dash for what I now knew to be their mother.  The tense manner of the mother was a bit clearer now, and if I had to guess (it’s hard to read raccoon body language), she seemed a bit stern in her look backwards.  Apparently the youngsters were misbehaving.

After the children caught up, the re-united family began the journey across the lawn once again.  But, only a few steps later, the mother once again flipped her head behind her with that stern, tense look.  I thought, “What did they do now?”  Well, it wasn’t them, but a third child ventured out from behind the tree.  This one must be the rebel of the family.  Once this final member of the family caught up, the four of them turned and made their way into the woods.

As I reflected on this incident I found it interesting how aware the mother raccoon was of her surroundings.  I can imagine that she made herself clear to the children before leaving the protection of the tree that they were to follow her in the journey across the yard.  As she began, within 20 feet she knew they weren’t behind her, yet she hadn’t turned around to notice.  She was simply “aware” of her surroundings – and what was missing.

Without trying to give this raccoon human characteristics, it was still noteworthy that there was a tenderness in her actions and care for her children.  A firm devotion that led her to both venture into the wide open yard (during the day nonetheless), balanced with a desire to protect and keep them from harm.  She was aware of her surroundings, and the needs of her babies.  She was kind, firm, loving and forgiving.

This short episode reflects our text in a concrete fashion.  Sometimes, in frustration, we might turn around (literally or figuratively) having to wait for people to “catch up.”  But if we follow the example of the raccoon mother, and the pattern displayed in this text, our hearts will soften with love and kindness toward those for whom we must wait.  This softening and tenderness is a very reflection of what God, in Christ, has done for us.

When that vocalist struggles with her part.  When the guitarist learns a new chord.  When the drummer can’t seem to keep a steady tempo.  When the sound tech fights to keep the feedback down.  It is at these times, when we must allow our hearts to soften and love that person.  Are they deliberately struggling?  Are they trying to sabotage the efforts of the group?  Not likely.  They are human – as are we!  We must be aware of their efforts, and aware of their need to grow and learn.

A firm commitment to turn, wait, encourage and forgive in these circumstances will come a long way in having the same tender heart that God has for us in Christ Jesus.  Our awareness of the needs of others, and of the full situation that surrounds us, is an important part of being a community.

Father, help us to reflect your love in our tenderness toward one another.  Give us awareness of our surroundings, to understand more deeply the needs of the moment.  Thank you for your forgiveness, and for giving us the chance to pass that along.  Amen.

 

In Worship, Harmony is More than Just Singing

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 15:5-5 (RSV)

It seems very simple to me:  the rehearsal starts at a specific time.  Each member of the worship team knows what time that is and has the responsibility to be ready to start at that time.  Simple.  Straightforward.  Clear.

Yet, it happened again.  Band rehearsal started with only the keyboard player, the drummer, the bass player and the tech guys.  As we worked through the first set of songs the rest of the worship team trickled in.  Some were apologetic, others confused about the time, still another offered the classic excuse, “I’m usually on time, but this week was hard…”

Well, being the compassionate, others-focused leader that I am (in case you missed that, I was being sarcastic!), I went ahead and unloaded on them.  Now, I’m not the kind that raises my voice, but when I’m irritated people usually get the idea.  So, for the next few minutes I helped raise their awareness of the necessities of arriving on time so that the rehearsals could proceed and we could cover the necessary material.

We continued our rehearsal and worked through each set of songs – though cutting short on some details because we had run out of time.  There was tension in the air, and the irritation bounced from person to person like a super bouncy ball in concrete room.

As I’ve reflected on this incident, I’ve considered the self-centeredness of each one of us and how that shaped our view of the situation.  Those of us who were on time felt inconvenienced and disrespected, while those who were late felt wrongly accused and were never given the chance to explain their situation.  From each person’s perspective, there was validity in their feelings.

Considering the verse quoted above, however, there was a breakdown in the “harmony” of our group.  God had granted that we could “live in harmony with one another,” but we failed to walk into the reality of His gift on that morning.  We were selfish – each of us – and that focus on ourselves and our own inconvenience and excuses caused the breakdown.  We may have performed together that day, but I have a hard time believing that we were “together with one voice.”

When we deal with these situations, and the differing personalities and life habits that team members have, there are better ways to resolve the issues that arise.  It seems that those who are late could consider more carefully the stress others feel because of time constraints and details that must be overlooked.  Those who are normally early must be willing to see the people and their needs first, before assuming others don’t care about the task at hand.  Either way, the focus must move from “self” to “one another.”

If you notice the verses again, you’ll see that the point being made about unity is expressed in musical terms.  To sing in “harmony” and with “one voice” we must be aware of what is happening in the lives of the other members of the team.  We must be willing to listen, forgive and pray – as well as pursue opportunities to help each other do better and managing our time and expectations.

The whole point, after all, is to glorify God.  Glorifying Him is not just singing some nice songs and sounding pretty, it’s about how we live with each other and how our love overcomes difficulties.  Glorifying Him is holistic and encompasses each part of our life and relationships.  May we do so with greater care for those around us.

Father, You’ve granted to us the gift of living in harmony.  Help us to experience that harmony in each of our relationships and together glorify You as our Lord and Creator.  Amen.

 

Corporate Worship is grounded in Personal Growth

And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.” (Psalm 1:3)

I was awakened one night at 3:30AM by a loud “crack.”  I could tell it was outside, and thought it was too loud for a gunshot.  I wondered if it may have been a car running off the road into the ditch, since the roads in our area are lined by ditches on both sides.

After getting up and peering into the darkness outside, I determined that whatever the sound was could wait until morning and daylight.  There are farms nearby, and the cows that inhabit the barns are always causing noises that seem unexplainable.  I assumed, since I heard no sirens and saw no movement outside, that everything was OK for now.

Upon recalling this incident the next morning, I found that no one else in the family had heard the mysterious noise.  I decided to do some more investigating and searched the area from our deck.  I noticed the branches of a tree on the ground behind our shed that had not been there before.  As I investigated further and stepped behind the shed, I saw that a fairly large tree had been blown over in the wind.  There before me stood the trunk, still in tact up to about 12 feet from the ground, but no further.  Another large piece of the trunk (about 10 feet or so) lay on the ground nearby, while the rest of the tree had been shattered on the ground, in the midst of the other trees.  Obviously, this explained the noise and the windstorm of the previous day claimed a victim.

This reminded me of our verse from Psalm 1:3, “And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.”  The Psalmist refers to that person who “plants” himself or herself in the things of God and drinks deeply of the knowledge of God, spending time with Him regularly in His Word and in prayer.  This person will not be shaken by the winds of change, or error, like this tree had been shaken by the windstorm.

However, the tree I saw in my backyard was only about 20 feet from a stream.  How odd, I thought, that it would have a supply of fresh water so close, yet deteriorate to such weakness.  Surely some kind of disease or parasite had infected this tree.  The appearance of the tree did not reflect the health of the tree.  It was near water, but somehow was not “firm” in its reliance upon the life-giving flow of water nearby.

And what about you?  Is your appearance different than the reality of your relationship with Christ?  Do you look good as you perform and help lead worship, does it seem like you have it all together, while at the same time the strong winds of difficulty are ready to blow you over?  Is the water of the Word and prayer close by, while your spirit suffers dehydration?  Is there some parasite that has latched onto your soul, draining you of spiritual vigor?

Being near the water of God’s Word is not enough, it must be in you.  You must drink deeply to understand Who He is – and who you are in relationship to Him.  This deep drinking must happen on two levels:  in a personal way between you and God directly, and in connection with a community of believers that can sustain you and encourage you.  This pursuit of God must be daily and consistent.  It is in these things that we can become “firm” in our planting.  Our roots will grow deep, and the strong winds will buffet us but not knock us over.

It’s easy for those of us who are “up front” to lose sight of the unseen reality of our faith.  Our successful performance of another worship set can lull us into believing that it also represents our internal spiritual condition.  Let’s not get caught in that trap, but consider what it is to be “like a tree firmly planted.”

Father, we can so easily pull away from our firm roots.  Give me the strength and will to seek You daily in Your Word.  Give me the privilege to talk with You each day through prayer.  Amen.

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