Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Recipe for a Worshipful Life

Worship is made up of different ingredients.

Worship doesn't look just one way. In fact, it can't.

To be complete, it requires different parts of ourselves all coming together for the same purpose: obedience and awe. 

I found something interesting about worship and what it looks like practically in Ecclesiastes 11:1-4.

"Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls there it will lie. He who observes the wind will not sow and he who regards the clouds will not reap." Ecclesiastes 11:1-4

At first glance, this may not seem very worshipful. Where's the music? The power-chords? The goosebumps? The experience? Well. Let's see. We will get to breaking this down in the original language of Hebrew, but first, imagine that worship begins with an empty bowl.

Your bowl looks different than the person next to you. Some people have porcelain bowls, others have plastic ones. Some have gold plated edges and others just have caked on peanut butter from a poor rinse job. Like mine. However, the bowl isn't the point. The fact that we have one is. Your bowl is a gift.

Look at your bowl a little closer: notice the casing, the color, the texture, the people, the faces, the places, the hallways, the dirty laundry, the sicknesses, the flaws and the warping from years of use–and embrace your bowl. Your life was hand picked to be yours from the beginning of time. Revel in that. Be thankful for that.

How we respond to our bowl is where worship begins.

Now, imagine that inside this empty bowl is your lot in life; your portion.

How we respond to the portion inside the bowl is where worship becomes a way of life.

We all have different portions in this life. We all have different capacities, sizes, callings, addresses, children, husbands, friends, jobs, heartaches, talents and sins. And even though each portion is different, God tells us to use the same exact ingredients to grow into worshipful beings.

So what ingredients are we told to fill it up with? Here's a few I found.

The most common ingredient of worship is singing. 

Here is the most commonly understood form of worship for church-folk. This is the experiential type of worship that happens in congregations or in your car or in your Bible study. Psalms is plastered with this ingredient of worship as are many, many other parts of the Bible. We are told "make a joyful noise unto the Lord, rejoice and sing praise." We are called to sing songs collectively and individually laced with hearts of gratitude.

This is an invaluable and irreplaceable ingredient of worship.

In the Bible we see powerful kings as well as poor, unwed mothers singing songs of God's unbridled goodness to glorify him. Singing is a universal language. When we individually or collectively blend emotion and action we create matter; and this is good. And right. And important. And essential to worshiping the Creator of the universe.

The second ingredient of worship is silence.

Quiet time with Him, sitting alone in His presence, listening for His voice, deep diving into the Scriptures; this is also worship. Seeking His face in the Bible and craving his Word. Not to get anything out of it, but to simply know Him more. These are the times we don't come to Him with our needs, we simply come to Him.

We are busy people. We are rushing to make things and meet deadlines and complete tasks all day long, so the sacrifice of doing nothing can feel extravagant. Almost indulgent. And this worshipful wastefulness mirrors the heart of what Mary did with the nard, the expensive perfume, when she broke it all over Jesus' dirty feet. Time in our culture is what nard was in Jesus'.

Let me tell you a story.

One afternoon, I wanted to slam my head into the wall. My kids were nuts, I was feeling worn out, purposeless, confused, angry and sad. Super sad. I had read in Richard Foster's The Celebration of Discipline, how important solitude and silence were in knowing God more. Instead of choosing to spin out that day, I put on a show for my kids, put my baby down for a nap and closed my bedroom door. 

It was a typical cloudy day and I had no clue how to do this. I laid my face in the carpet and forced myself not to get up. What I really wanted to do was clean the dirt and crud I could see by the slider door. I literally had to sit on my arms. I laid there and did nothing.

It was weird. 

Slowly, I settled in and imagined what it might look like to have Jesus in the room with me. At first, I thought He may be standing up over me, waiting for me to figure out how to do silent worship well. But as the Spirit began to move, I realized that Jesus wasn't standing at all. Instead, I saw Jesus kneeling next to me. He was bent over my frame. I felt his hand rubbing my back, comforting me. In that very same moment as I imagined Jesus rubbing my back, the sun broke through into my room and warmed my entire body.

I sat sobbing with my face in the dirty carpet.

Seconds later, the sun was gone and didn't come out for the rest of the day.

Jesus doesn't call us to silence to punish us, he calls us to silence to comfort us. Worship isn't just giving of ourselves, it is inviting him to give to us. That is how this works. That is the God we serve.

The third ingredient of worship is service.

OK, I know you've been eager to get to the Hebrew in Ecclesiastes 11, so here we go.

In verse 1 it says, Cast your bread upon the waters, and you will find it after many days. 

In the Hebrew the word shalach, which is "cast", means to say goodbye. To bid farewell. To divorce, even. What Solomon, the author, is saying here is to be recklessly generous. To take your bread, your provision, your food, your meals, your energy, your time and to give it away for good.

Don't send it up the river with a string attached in case no one takes it and you can just pull it back. Or so you can see who grabs it and how that "glorifies God", but really glorifies you.

Instead, we are called to say goodbye to our gifts and throw them on the water, whether it sinks or serves; whether we see the outcome or not. The verse does go onto say you will find it after many days. But that translates into "an abundance of ages". So Solomon is saying,  don't hold your breath.

In verse 2 it says to, Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.  

Divide "your portion". Here we have that same language that we had at the beginning. We are back to our bowls. The portion inside our bowls is not to be kept, it is to be divided. This word divide is nathan in the Hebrew, which means to "give". In this verse we are told to give of our portion 7 times over.

If you were to divide a single portion seven ways, there isn't much left is there? And Solomon takes it even a step further saying we should divide our portion even up to eight times. Which basically is just implying, "So you've divided yourself so many times you don't think you have anything left? Well, just scrape the bowl. You'll find something."

He concludes the section this way, If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. He who observes the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.

It is time to ask an honest question: are you an observer?

In the Hebrew the word "observes" in this context translates into "keeps". Do you keep the wind for yourself? Do you gather rain and store it in barrels so that when you're in a drought you can use it? Or do you pour it out on dry souls around you risking that you may be empty when your day of need comes?

It says here that those who only observe and those who only look at the clouds will not sew and will not reap. That means we won't grow. Our seed won't take. In God's economy the opposite happens when we give, things are multiplied not minimized.

Worship is to serve so much it hurts.

To watch other people's kids. To buy people groceries. To welcome in orphans. To spend extra when you don't want to. To show up early. To stay late. To lean in when you want to pull away. To give away your extra room. To welcome exhaustion. To wipe down dirty feet when you just washed your hands. To go the extra mile. In secret. Where nobody knows. Where nobody sees. Except the only eyes that matter. His. 

Cast your bread on the water and say goodbye. To the glory of God.

Ultimately, worship can be expressed in a three-fold partnership of singing, silence and service.

When mixed together, our bowls and our portions, the giving of our very lives, become a living sacrifice. This echoes the very thing that Paul charges us, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers (and sisters), by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1

A worshipful life is a joy-filled life. As counter-cultural as it seems, to sing and seek silence and to serve others, it is the most potent response to a life that feels dull, purposeless and hollow. This is how we were created to feel when we've gone without Him for too long.

Try the recipe. If know Someone who bet his life that it would be a success. Test it.

We're in this together,
M

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

When Your Heart is Broken

There is a little boy in the ICU right now. 

He had open heart surgery yesterday. He was four days old.

This beautiful little boy was born with a broken heart.

He is my nephew.

And even though I have not met him (his condition doesn't allow for many visitors) I love him with a fierceness I am surprised by. I surge with pride in his strength one minute and am in a puddle of tears the next. I keep my phone by me for the littlest update and am emotionally wrapped up in the unfolding of his life.

This little child: I have never held him. I have never heard him laugh. I have never looked him in the eyes.

And yet, I am a wreck over him.

Watching my brother and his wife wage this war against fear and physicality and progress and setbacks; I do not pretend I am a partner in their pain. I know nothing of their sleeplessness; of their all-consuming cries for help and unfolding horror. But as a bystander, I can say the overflow of utter frailty and unfairness consume my thoughts.

But there is hope.

Because for our family, "better" is more than a possible option. Better is coming. Better is on her way. Praise God. That is a gift that a lot of the parents who've been in the same rooms can't claim.

My nephew will go home whole. It may take time. But he will.

Close friends of mine have walked bleaker roads. Roads where the prognosis wasn't positive; where the hardest nights weren't the ones simply spent waiting for it to get better. The hardest nights were spent holding empty baby blankets and driving away alone. 

None of it sits well with me. Babies born sick. Children with cancer. Babies not born at all. It just isn't fair. 

None of it.

There are a few things that I remember my mom saying to us as kids growing up. Whenever we were fighting or whining over something not being fair, she would look us straight in the eyes and clip, "Well, life's not fair."

It stopped us in our tracks. I never liked her response, but even as a kid I knew I couldn't argue.

But if I stop there, fairness has the final say.

I can't just shrug and throw my hands up in the air and bite my nails in anxious anticipation of what will happen next. I want to be instrumental in what happens next.

And I believe I can.

Prayer is a partnership. It is a spirit led exchange between the God of the universe and our little, small, freckled, wrinkled, tired selves. God invites us to petition for the unfairness of it all. He encourages us to step up and be ambassadors for change. 

I don't claim to know how this works. But I have been doing some serious praying these last few days. And so have people in our small world.

I have not prayed the whimsical wafer prayers that you sweetly unpack and share. I've been getting gritty. Angry. I've been unloading the gutsy prayers. The ones where you call God out; where you beg Him to show up; to be the God he says He is; and you demand it with authority, because He tells you to.

He invites us to call upon Him in Romans 10:13. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

And again in Psalm 50:15. Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you. 

And then again, John 14:13-14. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

And there are many more.

But I want to land in Psalm 91. Because it is here that we find refuge language. Fortress language. Protector language. The type of language we need to clothe ourselves in when the walls have fallen down.

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.

The terror of the night. 

The arrow that flies by day. 

The pestilence that stalks in darkness.  

What David, the author, is describing here are absolutes. Terrors of the night are inevitable's. Flying arrows are simply collateral damages that come from living in a fallen world. The pestilence that stalks in darkness includes the sickening reality that some beautifully perfect babies are born with imperfect hearts.

But what I see here in Psalm 91 is a love letter. A scared, yet worshipful man detailing all the beautiful ways that a not-distant God has shown up for him, and how He will continue to do so.

I see a confident petition for protection. I see someone slamming a snare shut while walking away unscathed. I see someone small and weak covered by muscle-bound wings that span as wide as heaven itself. I see the author hunched down in a dark corner, while shadows scratch at his back and there's a snake at his door.

I read something that can only matter to those "who know His name." Something that is life to those who believe He is protector, not a punisher. That He is a rescuer, not a grim reaper. Who believe he can satisfy us even in the middle of IVs and tubes and oxygen levels and swollen scars and blood tests and unanswered questions.

And those who do know his name slowly, but surely, graduate from unfair to inescapable. But even then, He meets us.

When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.

He answers us.

He's with us.

He rescues us.

He satisfies us. 

And here's the daring question, the one that breaking hearts must ask in the face of ugly realities: could this suffering be an inroads to beauty inescapable?

If we could bypass the pain, if we could skip it, what would we be missing? Or more accurately, who would we be missing?

The Bible talks a lot about bringing beauty from pain. The ancient language is rich with imagery like bringing flowers from thorns and sewing together gorgeous headdresses from ashes and turning sorrow into joy and mourning into song.

Is this just metaphor? Is this just some kind of heaven thing? Some kind of transformation that we won't get to experience until we stand at those pearly gates and empty our pockets and hand over any liquids over 3.4 ounces?

I say no.

Emphatically no.

This is for us. For today. For right now. For the hurting. For the broken. For the busted. For the blacked out. For the broken up. For the back of the bus-ers. For the bottom feeders. For the brand new. For the bingers. For the beautiful people. For the beggars. For us all.  

These verses about calling on His name don't include healing. They don't include a hall pass for pain. They don't guarantee a seamless life that doesn't throw your stomach into the blender. But He does promise us Himself. He does promise us that we can trust Him. That ugly isn't the end. That He is doing something beautiful.

So we must take him at His word. 

We must surrender and see Him stitching together something incredibly unexpected; a beauty that can only be revealed when it is filled with ache.

We must allow our eyes to see that a weak and tired soul is the only vehicle right now that can transport us into strength that is stronger than statistics.

Our God is a God of life, never death. A God of hope, never hate. And our God is a God who hears our gutsy prayers over broken little baby boys.

So please join me in praying gritty, petition filled prayers. Ambassador prayers. Prayers for change and progress and healing and wholeness.  

Because all of us just need to get through one more night, and then the next, and the next before better comes.

And believe that better is coming. Because He already has. His name is Jesus.

We're in this together,
M


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

To the Mom Who is in the Trenches

To step into the mental corner of my brain right now, you might see me strapping on a bullet proof vest and trying to asses the war zone that is my life.

The target: my kid's craziness. Their ages waterfall from 6 to 4 to 11 months. They are wild and wonderful all within an hour. Ok, within milliseconds.

And on the mornings after the wild days win, I wake up on a mission. I am battle weary and yet overly obsessive in recommitting to my consistency in training. Because in my mind, if I get this parenting thing right more often, my kids will be better. Life will be easier if I can just get them to fall in line.

And yet, I know. Deep down, I know. When the sinner is training the sinner, there's only one result: sin.

I am not a mathematician by any stretch. And even I know, that my doubled efforts won't result in a different outcome.

This verse popped into my mind when I went looking for help. But at first glance it didn't seem too encouraging. "Train a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it."

I've always read this verse in Proverbs with a militant undertone. Train a child. It seems straightforward. Training requires rules. Discipline. A strictness. A regimen. A battle plan. A firmness in execution. This type of tactic training will end in ultimate victory. Right?

Hmm. I'm not so sure.

In Hebrew, the word train is chanak. Which means dedicated.

Dedicated to what? To the way.

What is this way? In Hebrew, it is derek, which means distance. Or journey or course.

The verse in it's original context means to be dedicated to the distance.

"Be dedicated to your child's distance/journey, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

This verse is a long game verse. It actually has nothing to do with the bullet proof vest and the day ahead, and everything to do with the life course our kids will take, and the journey we have been asked to take with them as their parents. It isn't saying that if we train our kids right, they will never depart from our training. It's up to them ultimately to put on the tool belt, but if we show them how, it is far more likely that they will.

It is saying that if we are dedicated to going the distance with our kids, in grace and truth, despite the holes in our shoes and burdens on our backs, then they will have all the tools they need to be able to stay the course too.

They won't skirt the hard road. They saw mom walk it. 

They won't jump the median. They saw mom fight to stay within the borders. 

They won't crash. They saw mom slam on her brakes when she was barrelling towards the ditch.

We are called to be line leaders. Not drill sergeants.

Proverbs as a whole is a book written to help instill governing morals. It was intended to give guidance to some of the very first believers in the God of the Bible. These people had no clue. They were pre-cross. No Gospel. Not only that, but they didn't have parenting books either. My sweet Lord, they didn't even have that Facebook lady who "drops some serious truth bombs."

So imagine when they first heard this. We have to do what? Commit some of our precious time to these kids? Our property? Children were less than second class citizens. They were considered collateral. A man's total net worth would include how many children he could breed from his loins.

Lovely. 

So the fact that Solomon, who was king, even mentioned that these parents needed to come along their children and to be a dedicated guide was new. So no, there is no war zone when you peel back the Hebrew, there is no battle line, there is no subordinate and superior–instead it looks a lot more like a running track and we are the ones setting the pace with little monkeys on our back.

That's why pacing with Jesus is so important.

There is no urgency in the matters of this day to get it right, because in God's grace, this isn't a drill. It is the dedicated way of love.

You get do-overs when you go the distance.

I've heard Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seahawks, repeatedly say that games are not won in the first quarter. Nor the second. Nor the third. If you are a mom to young kids, you are in the first quarter. Pace yourself. The road is long.

But no matter the age of your kiddos or what quarter you are in, this loop of love constantly folds back into itself. We wake to find another round of distance training that will increase our own strength and endurance, and ultimately our children's.

Too often, in young motherhood, I keep waiting for halftime, or when it is my turn to be tagged out. I daydream about sitting on the bench and catching my breath. But spending my active duty days on the bench isn't what is wise. That isn't what the Bible teaches.

So for those who are truly in the trenches, I know that we are looking for concrete answers. Real solutions. How do I make this switch practically? How do I get on board with this type of distance mentality?

Go read Hebrews 12. All of it. And then hang on some of the verses that pull at you. It is a powerful section. But a few highlights.

Hebrews was written for doubters. It was written for those who were either considering reverting back to Judaism and denying that Christ was the Messiah after all, or they were just trying to do both traditional legalism and wrap it up with a non-essential Jesus bow. Either way, they needed a gentle reminder of why they believed what they believed.

And so do we. 

Hebrews 12:1,"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross."

We've got a cloud of witnesses my friends, with sticky fingers and never ending needs. 

To run the race with endurance is to "lay aside every sin that clings so closely" and to "look to Jesus". Sin. It clings. It clutches. It digs its nails into our flesh. It wont let go. So we need a little help.

We need to ask God to point out the places that we're caught. Places where we are weak and bordering on injury. We need to ask for reproach. It is to ask for the very thing that we think our children need. Which they do. But again, we're the line leaders.

Even though Proverbs is talking about being dedicated to our children's journey, Hebrews injects Jesus into the mix explaining that dedication really begins with going the distance with God ourselves.

In verse 12 it says "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed. " (NAS)

We have lame limbs.

Nice. 

We are not whole.

Truth.

We need him to straighten the path we keep trying to make crooked.   

In proper dedication and training for our kiddos, we have to admit that we are running the course with a lame limb. Maybe a whole bunch of them. We are perhaps doubled over with a side ache. Maybe we are lying face down in the trenches with a busted rib.

I read once, that the best athletes "play hurt". Isn't that the truth? The best moms play hurt too. But if we are Believers, we don't run it alone. We don't hurt alone. We don't hobble alone.

Play hurt. Don't pretend your not. The battle is already won.   
 
We're in this together,
M