Luke 19 & Worship Groups

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As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.  When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.

Luke 19:36-40

I was doing a study on this passage last night when I noticed something interesting.

Within this account, there were 3 people groups mentioned. Did you see that? And each group did something different in response to Jesus riding the donkey down the road to Jerusalem.

  • People – they spread their cloaks on the ground  for Jesus
  • Disciples – they joyfully praised God
  • Pharisees – they scolded Jesus and the disciples

What a variety! As I thought more about it, I realized that the behaviors of each pointed to a bigger mindset that they held then. In fact, we can still see echoes of them today:

People

They acknowledge that Jesus is important, maybe even accept Him as their Lord. But their worship is polite and from a distance. Why? Fear, perhaps, or an unwillingness to get out of their comfort zone. Either way, the result is a formal, not very close relationship to God that doesn’t have a lot of  impact in daily life.

Disciples

They have taken the plunge, so to speak. Not only do they acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but they spend time learning more about Him and growing closer to Him. Their worship is bold, vocal, and based on knowing who Jesus is and what He has done. And they want to share the good news with the world.

Pharisees

They see Jesus as at the least, bothersome, and at the most, threatening. Believers in God, they also believe in keeping the status quo. Their worship life is static, following long-treasured routines and patterns. This leaves them a bit judgemental of newer ideas, and over time dries up their enthusiasm.

From this, two questions formed in my mind. First, “Which group would I have fallen into back in Jesus’ time? And then, of course, “Which group do I belong to here and now?

Honestly, I fall between People and Disciple. At times I get really excited about sharing Jesus and worshipping out loud. But in other situations I hold back, for any number of reasons. For me, the key to staying in the Disciple category is to keep up my daily disciplines – reading the Word, lifting up prayers and praises, and seeking fellowship with my brothers and sisters.

How about you? Which category do you spend most of your time in?

Big Decisions

LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”                                        Jeremiah 10:23

This morning I’m taking my son to a college open house. This isn’t just any college, though. It happens to be my and my husband’s Alma mater (I won’t tell you how long ago!).

We traveled to one other school, which he fell in love with – the location, the program, the campus were all really inviting to him. He applied there and actually got accepted. But, he got very little financial aid from them. As you can imagine, he was pretty crestfallen for a few days. Then he got an acceptance letter from “my” school, with a generous aid package.

It’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and I’ve been riding it along with him. So many factors to consider, and he’s doing an admirable job of sorting through it all. Today should hopefully add more pieces of information to the puzzle.

As he ponders, I’ve been praying. When faced with a big decision, I know how easy it is to stay focused on data. In my own life, I’ve needed other people to remind me sometimes to pray. I don’t ever mean to leave God out of the loop, but I get fixated on what’s in front of me.

The truth is, though, God already knows what choices we’re facing. Not only that, He knows what His best plan for us is. He wants to reveal that plan to us – but He won’t force Himself on us. And, as much as we like to think that making up our own mind makes us powerful and independent, we just aren’t. Even when we think we have all the information, our picture is still incomplete.

I’m so grateful to know that our Heavenly Father always knows where we are. And as I walk with my son through the tour today, I’ll be lifting up a few quick prayers that my son would hear God’s wisdom along with the professors!

What big decisions are you facing right now? Are you asking God to show you the way?

Weather Watching

 

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One of my favorite TV networks is the Weather Channel. I usually tune in for a few minutes while I get my breakfast ready, and longer on an active day. Part of the draw used to be the hosts and the format of the AM show. But some restructuring happened a couple of months ago – now it’s more straightforward forecasting with different members on the team.

I’m still tuning in, though. So there must be another pull for me. I’ve been thinking about it – I mean, am I really that interested in meteorology? I’m not even that scientifically minded, so most of the explanations they give just go over my head anyway. “It’s raining because it’s a rainy day,” is more my speed.

So what’s the draw? Well, I’ve come to realize that the biggest reason I watch the Weather Channel is to know what’s going to happen. Sounds obvious, right? In one way it is. But let me restate that one phrase  with more emphasis: to know what’s going on.

I will be the first to admit how much I like to be prepared. I wrote about that a little in terms of holiday dinners – how I’d plan, then prep for days ahead of time. Yes, it made for a good feast for the table. But that routine – making the shopping list, mentally rehearsing the schedule, etc – also fed my need to be in control.

So what does this have to do with the Weather Channel? Well, seeing a map of the entire country and hearing what weather is coming over the next few days gives me that same sense of control. If I know what’s headed our way, I can start planning and preparing for it. Do I need to do extra shopping? (bread, milk and chocolate of course) Do we need to get the shovels out and ready?

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Being prepared for a special meal or a storm is important, no question. A certain amount of planning keeps us stocked and safe. The trouble is when I lean on advance info and my own planning for a feeling of security. I think the mental process goes like this:

  • hearing about an upcoming situation
  • jumping into planning for the situation
  • satisfaction I’ve prepared for the situation and all possible impacts it will have
  • Yea me!

But when I approach things that way, I’ve forgotten one important thing – I’m not in control!!

How do I find the balance between prep and providing for myself? It has to start with God’s Word. There I’m reminded that all things are under His control, and that He is the One who will provide my security through those things. The Book of Psalms is full of promises He’s made to us:

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.”   46:1

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand.” 121:3-5

A winter storm is headed up the East Coast this weekend. Last I heard it won’t hit us that hard here in CT. But I haven’t checked in with the Weather Channel yet – I’ll get to it later…

Powerful Worship Songs 1

“God sees, God knows, God loves the broken heart

And holds, and binds, and heals the broken heart”

Who Sees It All by Graham Kendrick

That’s the chorus of one of my favorite worship songs. It’s inspired by Psalm 147:3 – “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Graham Kendrick, the composer, uses each verse to emphasize the point that God sees everything about us and loves us anyway.

 

“Who sees it all, before whose gaze

Is darkest night bright as the day”

 

One of the things I admire so much about Kendrick as a songwriter is his mission to not only lead us in worship but to teach us about God’s character, and in this case, our own. For Kendrick goes on to hint at  some of our worst behaviors, and show us a God who is aware and deeply affected by what we do.

“Who sees it all, the debt that’s owed
Of lives unlived of love unknown
Who weighs the loss of innocence
Or feels the pain of our offence”

By the middle of the song I always feel convicted, and I think that’s what Kendrick wants. It’s important for us to understand the depth of our sinfulness. But thankfully, he doesn’t leave us to simply stew in self condemnation. The final two stanzas are the balm for our stinging spirits.


“Whose anger burns at what we’ve done
Then bears our sin as if his own
Who will receive us as we are
Whose arms are wide and waiting now

Whose broken heart upon a cross
Won freedom, joy and peace for us
Whose blood redeems, who ever lives
And all because of love forgives”

I can’t read those lyrics or hear them sung without being overcome again with how fully we are loved by our Heavenly Father. Sending His only Son to live with us, to die for us and now to intercede for us makes no earthly sense. Yet, it’s all true.

To me, this song is a prime example of the power worship music can have, partly because it comes right from scripture. God is so good!!

In The Midst Of Chaos

While getting ready for church this past Sunday, I stopped and lifted up a few prayers. I was feeling overloaded by things going on in and around me, and wanted to be able to really  worship once I got in the doors.

After some deep breaths, I realized how tired I was – so I started with that item first. Next I poured my heart out about how chaotic I felt life had become lately. And in the midst of expressing some serious angst about that, I got what I affectionalely call a “God nudge.”

Do you ever get those? “Aha” kind of moments where pieces of truth you already know come together to form a whole new insight? They usually hit me right between the eyes (in the gentle way only God can do it), and this one was no different.

Here it was: God answered my cries about life feeling chaotic by reminding me of two qualities He has.

I am a God of creativity and I am a God of order.

That stopped me in my mental tracks and switched the direction of my thoughts. On the heels of that statement came a rush of examples from scripture where He demonstrated both qualities together.

  • When He created the Earth, He brought order to it.
  • When He created the nation of Israel, He laid down commands and laws.
  • When He established His church, He established elders to lead.

Even the way we were each formed follows this pattern – God created our bodies, which are an intricate balance of organs and systems that have to work together.

I found this whole idea not only very interesting, but very comforting for a couple of reasons. If I am living in obedience to God, there may be a new way of looking at times where things feel totally out of control:

  1. Chaos may actually be a part of God creativing something new in my life.
  2. God will sooner or later instill His order into my life.

Though I didn’t get any specific answers or advice, I entered church that day with a sense of having gotten a peek into God’s mindset. And I truly did feel stronger for it.

 

 

The ‘Why’ Of Meditation

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As we consider the discipline (and art) of meditating on God’s Word, it’s easy to focus mostly on the how of it. Of course, we need to learn the basics and some practical ideas for approaching this time. But just as important as the how of meditating is the why.

Like I said, for many years I had no idea that God not only approved of meditation, but that He calls us to do it. When I understood that, I plunged into learning the proper methods. I tried so hard to think about scripture that my brain hurt, and each session left me a little tired. That didn’t seem right.

What had happened was that I was so worried about “doing meditation right” that it was nothing more than an  exercise for me, a box on my list of duties that I needed to check off.  The how of it had become my focus, but I also needed a vision as to why mediation was important.

Joshua 1:8 clearly lays out for us both the command to meditate on scripture and what it will do in us and for us as well:

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

This verse really describes a process:

  • Treating God’s Word as important
  • Thinking about God’s Word continually
  • Following God’s Word consistently
  • Experiencing the blessings God’s Word brings into our lives

 

What kind of success should we expect? Well, it’s not so much worldly gain, although when we do things God’s way they tend to go better for us. Think more of the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ the Apostle Paul mentions, like peace, joy, and contentment. This kind of prosperity is longer-lasting and more satisfying to our hearts.

Do you see both the how and the why of meditation? If so, are you setting aside time to practice it?

More On Meditation

 

the-holy-bible-1483623In my last blog, we looked at what it means to meditate in the Christian way – namely. putting our focus on God’s Word. So, is it just a matter of sitting and repeating a scripture over and over again? Well, that can have some benefit. For one thing, you might actually end up memorizing it, and having scripture tucked away in your mind and heart is always a good thing.

But there are other methods of meditating that can be powerful learning tools. One general thing to keep in mind is that you’ll do better with smaller “bites” of scripture – one or just a few verses as opposed to a whole chapter. Many passages are rich in both language and meaning. Trying to handle too much at one time may cause you to miss something valuable.

Once you have a passage to ponder, take some deep breaths to settle yourself. You can close your eyes, or find a scene out your window to watch as long as it doesn’t distract you. I’ve had some great times of meditation sitting out in my backyard. Read through the passage a couple of times, either out loud or to yourself, letting it sink in. Then the fun can begin! Ask yourself some questions:

 

  • What is the litteral meaning of this passage?

 

Some verses, especially narrative style, are pretty self-explanatory. But others are a little harder to define. That’s okay – this is just a starting point to make you more aware of what you’re reading. I sometimes jot down quick notes alongside the verse in my Bible so I don’t forget them.

 

  • Are there any words or phrases that stand out?

 

Scripture contains unfamiliar sayings, poetic imagery and strange prophesies. Rather than letting those scare you off, let them be an invitation to explore the language a little. I often look words up in the Merriam-Webster or Bible dictionary for more clarity.

 

  • Is there a lesson in this passage for me?

 

This step is about applying what you’ve learned in the actual passage. For me, it’s the best way to really understand and remember scripture. God’s Word becomes much more personal and real.

When I have time, I finish up by doing a journal entry. I’ve found that part of the importance of meditating is when I go back later and review all that scripture has revealed. And it reminds me of how much our Heavenly Father wants to give us wisdom and encouragement.

 

Meditation

bible-heart-1178881What do you think of when you hear the word “meditate?” I’ll be honest, my thoughts used to run along the lines of sitting cross-legged and chanting a mantra. That was how I heard the word used most often growing up. So it was a revelation to me to learn that meditation is mentioned in scripture.

Christian meditation differs from the eastern version, though. Probably the most important way they differ is in where our thoughts are meant to be focused while we do it. Someone following the eastern style would use a mantra (a repeated word or phrase) or a visualization, to help the mind clear away distractions. The result would be an “empty” mind, and concentration on the act of breathing itself.

In the Bible, however, we see that God has a very different method and purpose for this discipline. These scriptures give clear direction about what we are to focus on:

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”                                                                                                    Joshua 1:8

“Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”                                                                                                                   Psalms 48:9

“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.”                                                                                                Psalms 119:99

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”                                                           Psalms 119:48

 

Did you catch all the things we can focus our thoughts on?

  • His Law
  • His love
  • His statutes
  • His promises

And how about these: His promises; His deeds; His wonders; His miracles: HIM! And the result? A more joyful heart and a stronger faith – much better than being empty, right?

So don’t shy away from the idea of meditation. It was used in God’s Word even before it took on it’s more popular associations with eastern religions. Set aside some time specifically to focus your mind on your Lord, and watch what happens.

Random Thoughts?

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Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”               Colossians 3:2

January is here, and with it the first bite of winter weather. I wore 4 layers out on my morning excusion with Marcie, and still shiverred my way through the yard. As I stood waiting for her to sniff over the leaf pile, I couldn’t help but see my breath, which only added to the sense of utter cold.

It occurred to me in that moment how quickly a single thought impacted how I felt. Seeing the steam led to a grumbly “Man it’s cold!”. Saying that made me more aware of the unhappy situation, and I ended up really focused on it.

Joyce Meyer teaches that our thoughts have power. I’m going to amend that a little and say that we can give our thoughts a lot of power. Basically, how we think often has a lot of sway over our mood and attitude. And I wonder – if that works for the negative, as in my example from today, couldn’t it just as easily work in a positive way?

Yes, it can. And the key lies in what thoughts we’re concentrating on. That sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many thoughts we have that we aren’t even aware of. Any one of them, when strong enough or repeated enough, can take root in our minds and then our hearts. This isn’t a random design flaw in us – we were actually created this way.

The more I understand this truth, the more grateful I am for God’s mercy in providing His Word. From promises to proverbs to parables, scripture is filled with things to think about that bring life and joy. So why would I choose the alternative?

 

The New Will Come

 

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”                                                                          2 Corinthians 5:17

 

This verse is talking about how when we accept Christ as our Savior, God starts to renew us from the inside out. But these words take on a new meaning for me as I think know over the changes I‘ve faced these last couple of years.

Before that, I was quite happy to be nestled in familiar routines. My daily schedule, my meal plan, even the ministry I did at church reflected my desire to stay firmly planted in status quo. Change, as I shared before, was always unsettling, a negative experience. With a mindset like that, God didn’t have much room to work!

As I look back, I see a list of both expected and unplanned circumstances that came my way.

Physical, emotional and financial issues have hit, some in combination. And most of them were things I never would have asked to happen. Can you relate?

In a way, it would be understandable for me to feel overwhelmed, even angry – and believe me, I’ve gone that route a few times. But when I do that, my vision is narrow. What I mean is, I get so wrapped up in whether a change feels good that I don’t bother to ask if the change could ultimately be good for me. After all, one of God’s promises is that He works all things for good, right?

Okay – I can see that, for instance, in the case of my daughter graduating from high school and spreading her wings. It’s bittersweet for me, but definitely healthy and right for her life. But what about my RA diagnosis? How could that be considered a good change? Well in itself, it isn’t. RA can be challenging and painful – an unwelcome change. But when I think about all the adjustments I’ve made, like a healthier diet and more consistent exercise, I have to admit that positive, even beneficial things for my body are taking place because of having the disease.

It’s not easy for me to make such a big turn in my thoughts. But I’ve realized lately that hoping to live without being touched by any changes is very unrealistic. Even more importantly, I miss out on the new things that God wants to do In and through me. This year, my first major goal is to pray for my Heavenly Father to give me a heart that can let go of the old and look for the new He is bringing in. A tall order, but I think He’ll honor it.

NOTE: Just a quick FYI that I’ve decided to change my blogging schedule from every day to 3 times a week. Look for my newest posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays now!