A different way to worship

I was taught to do my best at everything. I was taught that when I did my best, it would be enough because I was also taught not to quit until it was enough. I was taught to pull my own weight and help others pull theirs, when needed. I was taught to play well with others and work well with a team, but mainly, I was taught to be self-sufficient.

Those are good things.

In fact, if I had a child, I’d probably make sure I taught them the same lessons. Mixed with my own natural stubborn streak, those lessons have pulled or pushed me through when others around me didn’t see how it was possible. I’m grateful for those lessons. And yet…

Those same lessons can be misapplied, as well. I know this because when I look back, I see that I often took those lessons about my physical life and tried to put them to work in my spiritual life, as well. Don’t get me wrong. Some of those lessons–especially the “don’t quit!” one–have probably been beneficial from a spiritual angle, but they don’t always translate so well. That self-sufficient thing can get me in trouble because I’ve been known to try to fix things on my own instead of asking God to do things His way. (And right now, you’re probably thinking, “Mercy! I’m so glad I’ve never done that!”…right?!…right.)

I’m still taking my time reading through Matthew. This morning, I read Matthew 15:21-28…again. This is the passage where a Gentile woman came to beg Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter…and got ignored for awhile. She persisted. The disciples begged Him to do something just to make shut her up and leave. Jesus’ response seems more than a bit rude. She begged some more and His response appears even more harsh. She persisted all the more…and “Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

At first glance, this seems designed to reinforce my stubborn streak and applaud the level of my persistence…but not really. Here’s what caught my heart this morning as I went back and reread verse 25: “Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'” (NKJV)

Wow. This lady with a problem that was way more than she could handle on her own WORSHIPED Him by asking for help. Let that sink in a moment. Yes. Oh, my.

At the heart of it all, to worship is to ascribe worth that is due; to acknowledge the weight of something; to truly see and respond appropriately to the core value of the object of the worship. That’s what this lady did. When she asked for help from Jesus, she worshiped! She saw the core value and the worth of the One standing before her and she needed some of THAT in her life because she had discovered she could not fix it by herself.

Maybe you’re like me today. Maybe there’s something you can’t fix, either…and you’ve tried. Maybe you need to worship with me today and ask for help from the only One who can really fix it.

Father God, I’m coming to worship you in a new way today. I’m coming because I desperately need YOU to show up and fix it. I align my prayer with the woman in Your Word today and I am begging: “Lord, help me!” I am in need of things that only You can deliver. I need this handled. And if, by some measure I’m wrong about WHAT I believe I need and I am requesting what is not your best for me, then I still need, so please give me an accurate assessment of what I DO need and help me to turn to You for that, as well. Amen.

 

Worship Break

I was driving down the road at the end of the week, listening to great music and telling God what a great job He had been doing in taking care of us. As I listed some of my blessings–and I’ve got a LONG list!–I thought, “How can you NOT tell people how good God is every time you get an opportunity?!” I mean, that seemed like a no-brainer! (It still does, by the way.)

Not many hours later, I received a call from a friend who had a friend who was in charge of an upcoming women’s conference and one of her speakers was suddenly unavailable…and it was a whole week away! Would I consider stepping in to help out? Oh, and by the way, they’ve got a LOT of women coming!

Well. Really? What other answer could there possibly be except, “Yes, of course, I would be delighted to do that!” Seriously. Delighted! I think I may have actually laughed out loud and said, “Really, God? This soon? You’re calling me on it THIS soon?!” I mean, He already knew that I was scheduled to do the devotional portion of our Ladies’ Bible Study for most of the Tuesdays in September.

Yes, indeed, He knew that…and yes, indeed, He was calling me to do this new big thing, too. The theme for the conference is to be “Broken Into Beautiful,” after all, and Mike and I commented that if ever there was a theme for our lives, that one would have to be close to the top because we are always broken…and He is always beautiful.

So, I gulped really big and started thinking about how I should prepare this week. The phone rang. I answered.

“Becky, my co-teacher and I are both going to be out of town this coming Sunday and after we heard you speak on Tuesday, we just looked at each other and said, ‘She’s our person for the job. Would you be able to teach our Sunday School class this coming Sunday?'”

I have to tell you that, at that point, Mike and I both broke out into full-scale laughter! It took a little bit for me to answer because we were both laughing so hard! I am absolutely certain that the sweet lady on the other end may have decided that she had called the the wrong person after all. And what could I possibly say, except: “Yes, of course, I would be delighted to do that!”

And just like that, I had four preps in one 7-day period of time. Fortunately for me, God has been gracious and provided such overlap in study topics that it has been much simpler than I could have ever planned. I don’t have to address the whole conference at once, just do a couple of hour-long break-out sessions–and, truly, I guess it’s good they’re giving me a time limit because I could do an hour of how God has worked beautifully in my broken life while standing on my head! The Sunday School lesson is on a chapter that we’ve just been studying in Bible Study and the next devotional time…well, God’s already got some ideas for that and, while I know some of them…I’m still waiting on the rest. I guess it’s a good thing that it is 4 days away from now. (grin…there’s still time!)

It’s been a week of prep time, now, and I’ve got to tell you that I’m tired. I’m ready for a break from words and yet, here I sit, typing away. My grass looks like its been taking steroids and there are all kinds of house chores that have been put on hold this week, but I’m getting ready to go worship tonight with what we hope will be a big group of ladies who are meeting at our church tonight for a coffee-dessert-and-worship experience that they’ve entitled, “Thirsty.”

SONY DSCI love that. Thirsty. Even after a week of recounting blessings and being in the Word and talking to God, I can’t wait for this. In fact, I almost feel like it is my reward for the week. It seems like an answer to prayer to go and just rest before the Father and hear praise set to music and worship while we munch away.

Even in the telling of our blessings, we need to take time to just rest, you know. Tonight, that will be my role. Someone else will take the mic and lead…and I will just worship.

Oh, I wish you were here to go with me!

Grace & Peace! (oh, yeah, and WORSHIP!)

 

The Talk

Author’s note: Last evening I was given the privilege of being one of four speakers at the Ladies’ Night Out Advent dinner at our new church. (Well, we’ve been here for several months now, so maybe it isn’t really new anymore.) Anyway! We each had a topic assigned to us that fit in with the Advent theme. I was given the topic of Hope. Because the majority of my friends and family live elsewhere and were unable to attend, I was asked to share here what I shared last night. Those who have walked this journey with us and prayed so diligently for us will recognize that this is very much the pared-down, bare-bones version of our story…but seriously, I only had about 10 minutes, so I tried to fit in as much of it as I could. God is SO good, so very faithful, and regardless of whether or not those of you who will hear/read this for the first time understand this, I am STILL the most blessed person I know–mainly because I’ve been blessed to know my God in such personal ways. I don’t wish our story on anyone else, but I certainly would wish what we’ve learned about our God and His faithfulness for each of you. I hope that this will encourage you to seek to know Him more intimately and that it will spark an Advent-attitude that will stay with you throughout the coming of the season and celebration of the Coming of the Christ.

SONY DSCHOPE

My topic is Hope. I’m telling you that up front because some of what I will share later doesn’t sound very hopeful at times.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…” That’s the start of the 6th chapter of Isaiah. While those first 7 words sound pretty mild when you just read through them, Isaiah’s words had a far different story to tell.  It was a time of loss, shock, and grief; a time of unknown outcomes, a time of chaos and changed plans. Things had been going so well for God’s people…and then disaster struck.

It is safe to assume that almost everyone in this room has had at least one such experience. For us—my husband Mike and I—it started in October of 1997. It had already been a big year for us. I had changed jobs, we had moved and he had required surgery. We got that out of the way and proceeded with our plans.

You see, I’m a planner. I’m generally well-organized and I tend to think ahead. Up to that point in my life, things had pretty much gone according to the schedule I’d set for myself when I was just about 12 or 13. My plan was “simple”:  High school, college, grad school, leave MS and find a job in Atlanta, find the man I would love forever, get married, settle down and make sure the careers were established so that by the time we’d be married for 5 years, we would have a stable home and be ready to have children. Easy, right?! So far, so good.  Everything was on schedule…until we were about 5 months away from our 5th anniversary.

Too many details to go into led up to a quick and slightly panicked Thursday night trip to our local ER with the possibility of heart symptoms where they declared Mike’s heart to be “functioning just fine…but there’s something near it on the x-rays that we need you to get checked out.” Four days later, he was told that it was almost 90% certain that he had cancer…and our normal suddenly vanished.

They weren’t wrong. It was cancer, wrapped around his heart and extremely aggressive.  According to x-rays , it had more than doubled within the past 5 months…and it had been missed on the x-rays prior to his earlier surgery. Because of the location of the tumor, he was told that with treatment, his chances for survival were less than 30%; without treatment—less than 15%.

We did everything right that was within our power. We had great Drs. We had the elders of our church anoint him with oil and pray. He was on prayer lists literally around the world and so we began the adventure God had chosen for us instead of the plans we had made. There were many extremely difficult days. It was during this time that I managed to have the absolute worst day of my entire life.

At the end of what had been an ugly-long and beyond-challenging day, I stood in my living room and I felt that on that day, I had not managed to do a single thing to make a positive difference on any front. I was so tired I hurt. I wasn’t a good wife. I wasn’t a good employee. I couldn’t fix my husband and I couldn’t make anyone (including me!) do what they were supposed to do with the great attitude that I just knew that God expected us to have. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was exhausted because I had taken on God’s job to “fix things”. I was trying to make things as perfect as I could for everyone else in my life so that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by what was happening to my plans…and quite frankly, for perhaps the first time in my life, my best just wasn’t going to be good enough.

As I stood there with tears rolling down my face in utter defeat, I remembered a verse I’d read long ago. I was so tired that I couldn’t begin to think about where the verse could be found, but deep within my soul, I heard it out loud…just a thread (maybe from the Psalms?) that reminded me that God inhabits the praises of His people. I needed Him more than I ever had before, but I couldn’t begin to think where to start on a praise list, so I just stood there and sang. I started with a song we’d learned at our previous church home: “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord!”

In the beginning, my version wasn’t very loud and it wasn’t joyous and it wasn’t even very pretty, but all of a sudden I understood that song in a brand new way. Sometimes praising God IS a sacrifice. Sometimes praising Him doesn’t feel natural. Sometimes it isn’t even fun, but when you do what God says even when it doesn’t make any sense, He still honors the obedience. Standing there, I made the deliberate choice to praise Him even though…no matter what…because I needed Him and I needed Him to show up. And you know what?  He did. He showed up and gave me comfort.  He gave me strength. He reminded me that I was His and that I was not alone. He reminded me that HE was in charge and that He had a plan…and it was for my good whether it looked or felt like it right then or not. In short, He gave me hope.

Over the next year, we became the poster children for hope to people we didn’t even know. God used our Drs to send us to places we had never seen…ostensibly for treatments, but in fact, because God knew there were people there who were hurting and they needed some hope. Sometimes, they called or came looking for us—even at work! Sometimes God’s Name was never even spoken, but we were both given opportunities to share our story and our peace and help fellow patients, spouses and family members find better or more practical ways to handle their own similar news.

This past August, we celebrated Mike’s 15th year of being completely cancer-free! He is living proof that God is able to do whatever He chooses. So, why am I sharing something that happened all those years ago with you tonight? I do so because our battles didn’t end there. In fact, they had just begun. Within 6 months of his being declared cancer free, Mike was part of an economic downsizing at his company and we lost his job. God—in evidence of His never-ending humor sent us back to MS–to my very own home town I’d been so determined to leave, and where there were no jobs in my field! He kept us in place there for almost 15 years. Again, not part of my plan at all, but definitely part of His.

While the treatments were successful, they also meant the end of our ability to have children naturally and because of Mike’s medical history, we were not considered as viable candidates for adoption.  Additionally, within the past year and a half, he has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure which we are told is the much-delayed, but direct result of the very treatments that God used to keep him here. We will go this coming Friday for another surgical procedure to help him manage some of the possible side effects of our current challenge.

Through it all, God has remained faithful and allowed us to use our faith and our experiences to help others and point them to Him. While it is often tempting to ask “WHY ME?” in times of difficulty, we’ve chosen to ask a different question: “Why NOT us? Who better to show the world that God is real, in control and that He is still on the throne–that Joy and HOPE are more than possibilities, they are a REALITIES!–than two of His children going through whatever He chooses to send their way?

You see, we already have the Hope of Christ inside of us! We get to CHOOSE to access it, CHOOSE to display it, and CHOOSE to share it! No matter what else we face, no one can take that away from us! We get to have HOPE no matter what we face because HE is our hope.

Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…”

I say, “In the times of shock and pain and trauma and through the death of many dreams—in the changing of all my plans—on the good days and on the bad ones and on the in-between days, too—EVERY SINGLE DAY–I SEE the Lord and He is high and lifted up and the train of His robe fills the temple…and He gives me hope.”

So far…

It’s been a pretty busy year so far…

  • I’ve emptied what feels like a thousand boxes and there are still more to go and
  • I managed to survive without internet here at the house…until Valentine’s Day night…when the UPS man delivered a package really late in the night containing our new modem and my husband sprang into action to get me hooked up because he knows how hard it has been for me to be here and not tell you every little thing about it. (grin)

And today…

  • I’ve played Billy Joel music and missed my sister who loves listening to him sing and
  • I sat in the chair that my grandmother used to sit in at Christmas and open presents surrounded by family from all over while I talked with the neighbor who crossed the road to tell me “thanks!” for the thank-you note I sent after she dropped off cake. (Yes, God has truly dropped me off in one of the last bastions of true Southern hospitality and gentility. Grin.)
  • I accepted her compliment about my massive bouquet of pine branches in the old crock on the front porch and laughed as I told her that God sent them to me in the snow storm so it seemed a shame to waste them.  (That’s what you do, you know…you make the best of things in the carnage after the storm passes so others can see that you’re aware that God sends you blessings even in the storm.  Don’t forget to look for them!)
  • After she left, I checked the mail which contained cards of congratulations for us as we celebrate 21 years of marriage tomorrow and thought about all of the storms we’ve weathered during these fast-flying years that still seem like they were just yesterday and
  • I dragged even more large limbs back to my burn-pile-in-process (I’m creating a huge pile and ringing it with old stones and broken pieces of concrete left from the carnage created by people in the past (yes, that lesson above still holds true even for things left in a jumble by people you don’t even know) and
  • I came back inside and patched holes in walls and painted over them so you can’t tell they were there while I thanked God for these walls and this place and
  • I made a batch of my mother’s recipe for homemade pimento and cheese using Duke’s mayonnaise (just like my grandmother did before my mother did) and
  • I listened to Moonlight Sonata as I stirred it all together and prayed for the new little family member who arrived yesterday and
  • I thanked God for continuations…of life and blessings and traditions and family and work and the deliciousness of accomplishing things for yourself and
  • as I bagged the trash and took it to the road for pick up and removal never to be seen by me again tomorrow, I thanked Him for taking all the trash of our sins and putting them so far, far away that He won’t even remember them.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  Psalm 1-3:12 (NKJV) 

So far, so far…

It has been a pretty full day, so far…and there is more to do, so—in the meantime—take a moment to reflect and see how far God has brought you, as well.

Brrrr!…Thank you, Lord!…Brrrr!…Thank you, Lord!

The thermometer said that it got all the way up to 28 degrees Fahrenheit today and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that!

They said it wouldn’t happen.

They said it wouldn’t be even close to that.

They said it would be overcast and dreary and that there would be ice on the road from the rain last night and that there was the real possibility that you-know-where might actually be freezing over if it was this cold this far south. (grin)

Oh, how I dreaded this day of their predicted weather!  I sat on my sofa last night and dreaded what they said and I mourned the loss of time painting before the movers come and I dreaded that they were saying the same thing–except that it would be even worse!–for tomorrow.  I sat and I fretted and fussed inside right up until I started remembering something.

I remembered that the same God who provided the house controlled the weather.

I remembered that the same God who loved me and was in control of the weather also controlled the time and that He was well aware of all that needed doing…here in my new place and here in my heart.

I remembered that He was the same God who had provided me with Psalm 138:8 over and over and over during these past few months and that He was still in charge and that He was still in the business of perfecting what concerns me.

And guess what?  My attitude changed while I was sitting right there on the couch.  I started praising God for being in charge and for perfecting all the things that concern me (both those things that are about me AND those things that are concerning to me) and I had my own little private worship service right there in my heart and you know what happened today?

They were wrong.

The sun was out and the clouds cleared and I traveled roads that were ice-free and I traveled safely and spent the day taping off walls and baseboards and painting and rejoicing in my heart and stopping every now and then to just say, “THANK YOU, GOD!”  I completed more than I had hoped to do and still had time to do several other tasks that needed doing, as well.

Because my God is in control of everything…and He is never wrong.

Merry Christmas 2013

SONY DSCI thought I’d missed it already…what with all of the move details and the recovering from illness and the traveling back and forth and only a beautiful fresh-greenery wreath hand-made by my mother for decoration in this less-than-half-furnished impersonal apartment.  I had already decided earlier in the month that this would just be “the Christmas that wasn’t” for us.  It wasn’t going to be a tragedy or anything.  After all, we were getting a new house two days after it was all over.  This was just the price we were going to pay for making such life-altering decisions at this time of the year.

But God had other plans. 

He has made me rejoice in the beautiful decorations hung in quaint small-town squares and along tiny urban neighborhood streets, in the simple strands of lights hung on the balconies of neighboring apartment balconies and in the multitude of cheery “Merry Christmas!” greetings of store clerks and fellow shoppers.  I was every day reminded that we would be with family for the day and that we (my husband and I) were together in one location again and that was a blessing big enough for the entire season.  I was content, if not wildly happy about this season of cheer.  It would be enough for this year and I was already looking forward to decorating the new house for the season … next year.

But God had other plans.

Christmas came earlier this morning.  I was seated on the carpeted floor surrounded by cats who were vying for the best tummy rub and purring to beat the band, listening to Chris Tomlin sing “Emmanuel” when it happened.  Christmas arrived.  In song words that told me what I already know, but had somehow overlooked in all the living it out this season:  Emmanuel…meaning GOD WITH US.

GOD… WITH us…

TO us…

FOR us…

IN us…and not just today, but EVERY day.

Seems like I just might be ready to get a jump on Christmas 2014…starting now!   Merry Christmas, everyone!

Grace and Peace…and lots and lots of Emmanuel.

Have an extra minute?  Click on the link below and listen to Chris Tomlin’s “Emmanuel” for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q6PywxAWyw

Lesson #7–The value of a faith family

Lesson #7—The value of a strong faith and a family of believers

I spoke with one of my prayer partners the other day and poured out my heart…again.  God bless her, she’s been with me for longer than my husband, so she knows me pretty well by now.  That is my blessing.  I can always call on her to pray…no matter what, no matter where, no matter when.  She is my sister in Christ.  We are family way beyond blood or legal definitions even though it has been years since we’ve seen each other in person.

I’m blessed to have more than one of these amazing prayer partners in life.  Some of them have been with me through years.  Others are much newer, but no less valued.

As we talked, I told her about how much I was missing my home church family.  I told her how grateful I was for the years of study and knowledge that I have within me already so that I can draw strength from that in this time of waiting without.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to do life without what I already know about God and His goodness to me.  It is difficult living in limbo between places and not having a proper church home.  I’ve grown accustomed to that luxury…so much so, that I’ve often taken it for granted.  I’ve had days when I chose not to attend in order to do other things or to simply rest.  (You, too? Imagine that!)

These past few weeks, however, have shown me the value of gathering together with fellow believers, being united in our worship and choosing to learn more about our God corporately so that we can incorporate that knowledge individually.  In this time of waiting, God is giving me the gift of a renewed love for His church and His people.

I miss my Sunday School class members and I still tear up when they include us in the weekly prayer list.  I miss the faces of the people I usually sit near on Sundays and the hugs and smiles we share during our welcome time together.  I miss hearing their voices as we sing praises to God.  Most of all, however, I miss hearing the Word of God preached by a pastor who has chosen to spend his life bringing God’s word to life personally and in ways that allow others to know and understand God better in their own lives.

Radio teaching is fantastic and that has been my church over the past few weeks of traveling back and forth, but it is no substitute for the real thing.  I have raised my voice and my hands in praise along with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and I’ve listened to valuable insights by the like of Chuck Swindoll and John MacArthur.  Amazing worship.  Amazing teaching on the Word of God.  NOT the same as being there in person. Not by a long shot.

I can’t wait to get settled, find my new church family and begin that part of the Georgia journey.

What about you?  Have you joined in where you are?  Are you in need of a church home today, too?  Make a renewed commitment to join in where you are.  There are others out there who need you, too!

 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)