Friday’s Worship Walk

cropped-the-holy-bible-14836231.jpg

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

1 John 4:1

To me, this verse is a reminder of how important Bible study is for every believer. We need to be equipped to tell if a teaching or a message or even a piece of advice is aligned with God’s Will. The phrase that comes to my mind is “let Scripture speak for itself,”

Question To Ponder: Is Bible study a daily habit for you? If not, try starting by reading and reflecting on one or two verses each day. Scripture is powerful, even in small bites!

The ‘Why’ Of Meditation

juice-box

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.

O Holy Night

nativity_2One of the things I enjoy most about the Christmas season is the songs. Hearing “Santa Baby” over a store loudspeaker starting right after Halloween is a bit much, I’ll admit. But for me, singing carols and songs is a big part of celebrating the holidays.

I decided to do some research into the background of some of my favorite Christmas songs, and it’s been fun to learn more about a couple of them. In the case of one, “O Holy Night”, how the tune came into being is only the start of a very interesting history.

The lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, the resident poet of a small town in France. He had been asked by the parish priest to create something for the Christmas Eve mass. So, he started by reading through the Nativity Story in the book of Luke for inspiration and the words came to him quickly.

Cantique de Noel, as it’s called in French, was embraced by the Church at first, until it was discovered that Cappeau was a socialist. The leadership officially banned the song from services, but the people loved it, and continued to sing it anyway.

The song got introduced to a much wider audience when John Dwight brought the song over to the United States. During the Civil War he worked for slaves’ rights, and so the lyrics “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother…” caught his ear. The song actually turned into a rallying cry for the North.

Back in France the song became an olive branch of sorts. On a Christmas Eve during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier entered the battlefield unarmed and began to sing the song. After he had finished, a German soldier joined him and sang a hymn from his own country. Fighting between sides actually stopped for the next 24 hours to observe Christmas.

When a song touches that many people, it’s because of more than just a pretty tune or nice lyrics. I think the key lies with where Cappeau started his writing process. He didn’t look at his surroundings or even his own thoughts first – he went right to God’s Word. In scripture he saw the beauty and deeper meaning of Christ’s birth. His words reflect the amazing truth of God’s love for men – and that’s why they’ve resonated so much with people ever since.

I learned more than I expected from this one search. Maybe I’ll expand this into a mini Bible study for next year’s Advent season.

What’s your favorite holiday carol or song?

 

Share The Work, Share The Joy

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.”     Ecclesiastes 4:9

I just got home from a Ladies Christmas Brunch that our church held this morning. Almost 80 women came – many of our ladies brought friends, including me. The room was full of delicious food to eat and yummy cookies to swap. Most importantly, the air was full of shared conversation and laughter.

I was blessed to be a part of the team that pulled it together. I say blessed because it was really a privilege to see the germ of an idea blossom into such a beautiful event.

My part was offering my hands and feet, so to speak. And each tablecloth I put on and every muffin I baked added to my enjoyment of the brunch. I invited a couple of people to come too, and it was fun to tell them about it. So in some ways, the anticipation of today was almost as special as this morning!

My friend who spearheaded the brunch expressed her delight at so many others helping her. Last year, she and only a couple of others did all of the work. This year, she had a pretty big crew, and was so grateful to us. But I think all of us on the team are grateful that we got to share the work with her. Because we ended up sharing a lot of joy along the way, too!

Martha & Mary

Do you know the story of Mary and Martha in the Book of Luke? The two women, dear friends of Jesus, host Him and His disciples at their home. The focus of the story is how differently the two women choose to spend the time that Jesus is with them. Mary sits at His feet, listening to His teaching. Martha, however, is busy and distracted preparing the meal.

I used to feel a lot of sympathy for Martha – she got saddled with the work while her sister got to relax. And then, when she pointed that out, Jesus gently scolded her and defended Mary – that didn’t seem fair at all! But I’ve come to understand both sisters a little more.

Both women cared deeply for Jesus. They each valued the friendship they shared with Him. And they were excited to invite Him into their home, welcoming Him and His disciples warmly. The difference between them is in how they showed their affection for Jesus.

Martha wanted to express her care through action. Providing a meal for visitors was part of the culture, an expected courtesy. And as a woman of the time, Mary naturally gravitated toward that task and was good at it. She probably assumed Mary would join her in the kitchen, so there was no need to discuss it.

In contrast, Mary decided to show her love by giving attention. She bucked tradition by settling at the feet of Jesus. She respected His teaching, and  wanted to soak in all He had to offer. Her focus was so fixed that it didn’t even occur to her that she needed to be anywhere else.

I think Jesus’ words to Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things,” were meant to calm her spirit. And when He said that Mary chose the better part, He wasn’t saying Martha’s situation didn’t matter. He was reminding her that relationships are more important than tasks. 

As I get ready to prepare another round of holiday dinners, I’m hoping to find just the right balance between ‘Mary’ and ‘Martha’ thinking. Then I might just take a break from stirring and chopping to treasure being with my guests, even before the meal!

 

The Answer To Self Condemnation

As a young Christian, I dealt with a lot of guilty feelings. Accepting Jesus when I was 30 years old meant I entered my new life having made a lot of mistakes and bad choices. And each one left a sense of remorse behind, like a layer of sticky residue.

I’d only been to church a few times over the years, and had never read the Bible. Once I got settled into a congregation, I began to be tutored and discipled. And that’s where my struggle with guilt really kicked in.

You see, up until then I’d “gotten away” with sinning. I might have felt bad about hurting someone, or regret that I’d gotten myself into a bad situation. But I’d find all sorts of ways to avoid and ignore facing my responsibility head-on. The result was temporary relief, followed by a lingering feeling of “wrongness”.

The more I started to learn about God, the worse I felt about me. All I could see was how far I’d fallen short of His commands. The memory of every faulty thing I’d done came to haunt me, each a reminder of how hopeless I was. But I wasn’t hopeless – I was being misled.

The truth is that guilt can serve a very useful purpose. God uses it as a tool to help me realize when I’ve sinned. But I always took “good guilt” to the next step, into self-condemnation. And that is a favorite tool the enemy uses to discourage us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”                          Romans 8:1

I think Paul understood the temptation to fall into self-condemnation. Earlier in Romans chapter 7, he lays out the ongoing battle we all face with our sinful nature. He ends up exclaiming “What a wretched man I am!” But Paul doesn’t stay there. He goes on to give us the way out – “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ…”

Do you ever feel weighed down by guilt? Go to God. When you confess your sins, He not only forgives them, but removes them from you. Because of what Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are gone, separated from you forever. And when He’s done, you are clean – no sticky residue left behind!

A Special Meal

I subbed yesterday at an elementary school here in town. It just so happened that they were holding their “Celebration of Family Day.” All the students had invited their parents to come and eat a Thanksgiving-style meal and do some arts and crafts with them. The kids were so excited!

While I sat for a bit in the Teacher’s lounge, I saw various staff and PTO members setting up. Each of them took their roles very seriously, whether it was manning the sign-in station or serving turkey.  it was fun to see the anticipation they felt, and the sense of joy they showed in their work.

It reminded me of the Veteran’s Dinner that was held at my church a couple of weeks ago. The menu was also Thanksgiving-themed, but instead of doing arts and crafts, the attenders swapped stories about military service. The spirit of cheer was as infectious at this meal as it was at the school, though.

At both these events, it was clear that the organizers wanted to make the the guests feel warmly welcomed. From the decorations to the dessert, all the details were carefully planned and carried out. And the main goal seemed to be to create a special time of fellowship that would be treasured long after it finished.

All that made me wonder – do I put as much thought into the atmosphere of a regular, “every weekday” kind of meal at home?  

I simply can’t make a roast and fixings every dinner. And my kids are too old for making paper hats. That’s fine – those things are only elements meant for certain occasions, anyway. I’m thinking that the most important way to make any meal special starts with having a genuine desire to honor the people coming to sit at the table, and letting them know how much I always value their company.

Fearfully Made? Who, Me?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”                      Psalm 139:14

At my women’s Bible study last night, we talked about how creative God is, and that He made us to be creative, too. When I asked the group to write down a couple of their gifts though, some seemed hesitant. They said it seemed like boasting to talk about their own gifts.

Do you ever feel that way? I can relate.

It’s definitely easier for me to notice another person’s gifts and talents than it is to focus on mine. It is much more comfortable for me to recognize others than to get noticed myself. Why? Well, I think the concern about boasting is one reason. There’s a second, less noble reason – I’ve had trouble accepting the gifts I’ve been given.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often compared myself to others. The habit started early on the elementary school playground, and over the years got rooted in my spirit. I used comparison as a way to measure myself: Gail can jump rope really well, so I should be able to.

The tragedy of thinking that way is not only how much pressure we put on ourselves, but how we discount our own abilities in the process. I was so intent on copying someone else that I lost track of my own unique set of talents and gifts. Though I didn’t have the athletic skills to jump rope like Gail, I could write and perform little skits for our class that she enjoyed, for example.

In Psalm 139, David gives us “inner comparers” a healthier way of looking at ourselves. His words seemed very bold to me at first, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” As if that weren’t enough to challenge us, David goes on to say that God’s “works are wonderful.” He means each of us!

Naming our gifts doesn’t have to lead to big ego trips. And it doesn’t mean settling for less than what someone else has. I’ve come to believe that God intended me and you to accept, celebrate, and use our own unique set of talents. I don’t want to insult the One who created me by dismissing how He made me. How about you?