Monday, August 24, 2015

Psalm 116

Sometimes we forget that being a believer in Christ means living a life of spiritual warfare. It's no wonder Sundays make us tired! We're not just 'doing church' but also fighting a spiritual battle to praise, worship, spread the Word of God, and be together as a family in the name of Christ. And Satan wants nothing more than to thwart our every attempt at drawing near to God. It's the best work of all, but it's hard work. It's worth it, but it's wearing on our hearts, our souls, and our bodies. So just stop, take a minute, and read Psalm 116. The Psalmist may have been weary from physical battles but he knew there was a battle for his soul, as well. Remember that the Lord hears your cries and has compassion when you're facing physical and spiritual battles. It's Monday, but the Lord hears you in your weariness.  Call on him. And then return to your rest, soul.

Psalm 116, NIV

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Worship Team Helps by Paul Baloche

Can't make it to a worship team workshop? Great news - YouTube brings it to you! I happened to find a neat resource on YouTube to help your worship team get even better. Orchestrated by Paul Baloche along with other well known worship leaders, this set of videos is great for a range of beginner and pro worship teams. They focus on everything from vocal warm-ups and breathing techniques to mapping out songs for the band and vocals.

The vocal video is long - 2 hours - so you might want to pick and choose the things that your team needs most. But it is definitely worth watching for your own professional enrichment!  Check it out here:

and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Spiritual Formation: Van Devotions

I have a confession to make.

I have a really hard time finding time to do devotions. And that's mostly because I have a really hard time finding a place and a time to really get alone with God. My husband and I have 5 small children. Clearly, I cannot even use the bathroom alone. And since they are all typically awake before 6am, getting up before them is not really feasible. So more often than not, if I want to have devotional time, it's in front of children.

Do you know how difficult it is to have a magnificent, meaningful, spiritual moment of time alone with God in the presence of 5 small children? If you have any children, or know any children, I'm sure you've got a pretty good idea. I love my kiddos  - they are fantastic, amazing, interesting, fun beings who are jam packed with laughter and energy. Meditation is not in their vocabulary. Often times, the best I can do is load them in our mini-van with snacks and electronic devices and sit in a park with my Bible and attempt to concentrate. It's not ideal. It doesn't feel spiritual, especially when I have to holler towards the back of the van to stop the fighting, screaming, and pestering.  It feels frustrating. Annoying. And a waste of time.

But the truth is, it isn't.

God's Word will not return void. It is alive, powerful, and active. And these things are true no matter how spiritual I feel at any given moment. It is God's Word and it has worth in and of itself. So if I faithfully read even when my situation isn't perfect, God will faithfully reward me with Himself because HE IS PERFECT. But there's more.

When we pull up to our favorite park, where snacks and electronic babysitters have become the norm, something else has normalized, too. One of my toddlers inevitably asks, "Mommy read Bible now?"

Yes, darling. Just for a few minutes, Mommy will read her Bible now.

And even though it's hard to concentrate, and it's impossible to feel 'spiritual,' and I get cranky at times when I'm trying to do devotions in my van, my little ones are learning the importance of my Bible, God's Word, no matter what my situation says. I may not be able to get time alone, but I can still make time with God a priority. I might not be able to create an atmosphere that feels spiritual, but God will still meet me there. I might get distracted and have to begin again, but God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. So I'll offer a little extra grace when my children get bored, and give myself some, too, when I get a little bit out of sorts. And focus on what's important: seeking God through His eternal Word.

Let the van devotions begin.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Prayer for the Weekend: The Prayer of St. Patrick

The Prayer of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thought for Thursday: Comforting others

What do you say to a friend in pain?

There is a saying that kind people tell one another - that God will never give us more than we can handle. I hate to turn down a comment said with kindness, because I think people really mean well when they say it. But I don't think that statement is correct, it needs to be updated. I don't believe that God sits up in heaven randomly throwing painful things our way because "we can handle it." On the other hand, we do live in a world where bad things happen to all people. If we want to make that statement to be true, it would read, "God will never allow anything to happen to you that HE can't handle." But if I truly want to comfort someone in pain, why say anything at all? A hug, a meal, a listening ear are much more soothing than a pithy statement, no matter how wise. And an earnest prayer is our most effective means of helping others. Who can you give comfort to right now?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Spiritual Formation: Technology and Intercessory Prayer

How many times this week have you told someone that you would pray for them? Maybe it was a Facebook message, a passing conversation, or a telephone call in which someone stammered out a painful problem or stressful situation. Regardless of the situation, I often catch myself replying, thank you for telling me - I'll pray for you. And do you know what happens next? I either pray for them, or shamefully, I forget. My intentions are good, but my harried pace doesn't always lead to remembering things well, even my prayer list. 

I don't want prayer to become a meaningless reply that I use when I don't know what else to say. 

I don't want to use the topic of prayer to end a conversation that I'm trying to hurry out of. I don't want prayer to become something that I say because I don't know what else to say or because the conversation is heading in a difficult direction.  I want to mean it when I tell someone I'll pray for them. 

Whenever it's appropriate, I stop what I'm doing and pray right then and there. The words, "May I pray for you right now?" are surprisingly powerful. Those words alone can soften hearts and words and needs. If I don't know what to pray? Well, I just say that in my prayer, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don't know what to pray. Usually, the person in need just tells me and that's how I direct my prayers. 

If it's not appropriate to pray at that time, I make myself a note. An Evernote, to be exact. I use my iPad for everything, so it isn't crazy for me to use it for my prayer list. I keep an extended prayer list on my iPad using the Evernote App. This app is a gem for organizing your life - you can create individual notebooks (ie personal, sermon ideas, song ideas, worship planning by month, etc). And then create individual notes in each notebook. 

I have one single note for my prayer list, and I have it divided up into 4 sections: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (otherwise known as the ACTS method). Often, I'll come up with an idea for the adoration section during my Bible reading time, from a story I heard, or just from my own daily life. I write it down, and read through it every time I pray (It's getting rather long!) and it helps me focus on the attributes of God and the blessings of God. In the Thanksgiving section, I write down answers to prayer, blessings - anything big or small. Sometimes I'll add dates. It helps me remember all the prayers God has answered, and all the times He has been faithful in difficult situations. And I make sure to thank Him as I read through the list. Then, of course, we have Confession. It's not easy to write down the ways that I sin, but I try to name and seek forgiveness for the things that I do wrong - this section is the smallest, but some of that is because I seem to miss the mark on the same things over and over again. And lastly, we have supplication. This is by far, the largest section. Here is where I write down all of the prayer needs that I have heard or seen or received. And I pray for them as I read over the list. When the prayer is answered, I move it to Thanksgiving. Otherwise, it stays on the list until it's 'expired!' My iPad is always with me, so I can jot down a prayer request at any time. 

If you don't use the Evernote app, any note taking app will do. In fact, if you have a recent iPhone, you can tell my BFF Siri to create a new note - and then tell him/her what you would like to have written down in this new note. You can add alarms and reminders so that you don't forget to pray and add this request to your regular list. 

Does it seem like this technology takes the mystery away? For me, it allows me to be more consistent when I intend to pray for others, and it also helps me see how God has answered or is answering those prayers. And this fuels me to pray all the more, when I see how my prayer time can make a difference in someone else's life. It also helps me remember to check up on those who I'm praying for. It means so much more when I remind someone that I'm praying for them and ask for an update so I can continue to pray. 

I want to be faithful to my words, especially when I say that I will pray for someone in need. The Bible says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective; if I'm not praying, then I am failing to show love to the person who truly needs it. What techniques do you use to stay on top of your prayer list? 

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Monday Blues: Preaching to Myself

Yesterday, I preached a sermon from 1 Kings 18 and 19, where the prophet Elijah experiences an amazing miracle of God on top of Mt. Carmel and falls into despair afterwards. As I worked on the message, I couldn't help but think that this might be the first ever recorded case of the Monday Blues - adrenaline dump! And then Elijah ran away and hid under a bush - some Mondays, that sounds like a marvelous idea!

It's a pretty amazing story - how Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a duel. Each party prepares a sacrifice to their god, and then calls upon their god to light the sacrifice on fire. Of course, Baal's sacrifice didn't burn. Elijah's sacrifice, which was drenched with water, burned up completely, including the wood, stones, dirt, and water. Then Elijah had all 450 prophets of Baal killed. When the King and Queen failed to turn their hearts to God after this miraculous event, Elijah felt like a failure. Even though Elijah had experienced God's power and miraculous works first hand, he still became tired and afraid.

There are so many things we can learn from these 2 chapters - how God tenderly cares about our discouragement and depression, how He graciously met Elijah on Mt. Horeb even though Elijah had taken a detour from God's plan. We learn that God doesn't always speak through miracles - sometimes He speaks to us in that still, small voice. Always, He speaks to us in His Word and we can depend on it to be His Words. I learned that God is faithful to us, even when we aren't totally faithful to Him. And I learned that God is not disappointed in me when I think I've failed.

Something else that I learned from this passage is that even superheros of the faith are just ordinary people like you and me. And if they fail, if they get weary after a ministry event, if they need time to refuel, and if they need to hear the voice of God, how much more do I need those things? God knows our humanity first hand. He knows our weaknesses. He knows when we wake up Monday morning, exhausted. Even Jesus pulled away from the crowds from time to time to rest, refuel, and spend time with his heavenly Father. I think Jesus had the right idea, How do you? What do you take away from 1 Kings 18 and 19? How has it touched your heart today?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Prayer for the Weekend

The Prayer of St. Francis 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
where there is injury, pardon; 
where there is doubt, faith; 
where there is despair, hope; 
where there is darkness, light; 
where there is sadness, joy. 

 O, Divine Master, 
 grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
 to be understood as to understand; 
 to be loved as to love; 
 For it is in giving that we receive; 
 it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
 it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Celebrating disciplines

In college, I read Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and Dallas Willard's Spirit of the Disciplines. I loved them both - in theory. But I found the practice difficult. I pictured the disciplines as dry, lifeless, a sacrifice that the Christian must undertake to get to God. Somehow, I lost the point.

Fast forward a few years, a happy marriage, a gaggle of kids, and a lot more schooling, and I discovered Nathan Foster's book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint. And now I am inspired. To me, The Making of an Ordinary Saint is Nathan's autobiography of his attempts to put into practice the disciplines that his dad talked about in Celebration of Discipline.  And this time, I got the point.

Disciplines are not magic formulas, but rather, a training ground in which to cultivate our relationship with God. It is an opening of ourselves to the ways of God, of letting Him have His way in our hearts. It is a pruning session, to get rid of the things getting in the way, and a growing session, to become more Christ-like. Some disciplines are hard, revealing the junk we try to hide away in our spirits, but they bear fruit that only God can give. Disciplines take a little effort, a little planning, and a little elbow grease, but it is a wholly different than I tried to make it in my early days of undergrad study.

I love this book because it is an honest, sincere, messy, gut-wrenching, real life version of the disciplines for my ordinary generation, for those of us with hectic lives interspersed with work, and minivans, ministry and mowing the yard, kids, technology, and an imperfect Christian walk. My struggle with the disciplines was that I thought I had to do it perfectly for it to 'work' but Foster shows another way. He shows how God showed up in his efforts, even with mixed motives, messed up attitudes, and a messy life. He showed how God changed him through his celebration of the disciplines. I laughed, I cried, I was relieved, and inspired to do this discipline thing again. And how very cool that God would carry on Richard Foster's amazing work in his son.

If you're feeling like your relationship with Christ needs a boost, if your Christian walk has become dry, if you feel like you failed when you read Celebration of Discipline,  maybe its time to try again.
The Making of an Ordinary Saint.

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