Posted tagged ‘church’

Are You Ready to Let Go?

April 28, 2013

Today started like any normal Sunday.  I was up and ready in good time to make it to church early with the rest of the worship team for warm-up.  Worship went smoothly, and the congregation settled in to the sermon.  We had one of our missionaries in town, so we were eager to hear how his ministry was going.  He took us through a brief slideshow of pictures from his mission field, and we were all ears.

Then he began to share what the Lord had been speaking to him during this last term.  The message he brought back to us was one very pertinent for American Christians, and the church at large.

In his particular field, the natives generally follow animism.  They make offerings and prayers to the spirits of the rocks and trees around them, hoping that by so doing they will win favor and help.  This missionary shared with us that in his own life and in that of the church, we have strayed to this kind of thinking.  We understand the cross was used to save us, but then we live as if after salvation, everything is based on what we do.  We think that we win favor and blessing by our good acts.

That is not what scripture teaches.  We can do nothing that God needs, and therefore anything He sends is not in response to anything we can offer.  Acts 17: 22-31 contains Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill.  In it, Paul expounds on this idea.  We cannot merit God’s favor.  We can only serve Him because as God He is worthy of our service.  His blessings are not tied to our behavior, but flow from God’s grace and goodness towards us.

So the question for the day is, are you ready to let go?  Are you trying to live the Christian life, and by so doing earn a place in Heaven?  Earn a good life?  Earn health and prosperity?  Earn favor with God and men?  Or have you let go of doing and embraced service?

The gospel is not about you.  The good news is about Christ.  He paid the debt.  He transforms us into His own likeness.  He glorifies Himself through us.  As we serve Him, growing in the knowledge of His love, He is able to use us mightily.

It’s all about Christ.

Let’s leave it that way.

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Perceptions

July 17, 2012

“When I first met you guys, I thought you [my parents] must be strict because all your kids were standing so quietly.”  –approximate quote from a friend of my mother’s

Yep, we found out months later that a lady at church had at first thought my parents were strict. Just because all five of us were so well-behaved! So, quiet children equals strict parents?

I would have understood better if she had thought we were intimidating.  My family numbers seven, which can be intimidating all by itself, and then we are all tall – the twins are growing like weeds, but discounting them, five of us between 5’8″ and 6’2″ could appear intimidating to an outsider.

But strict?

We never had a list of rules in my house, and we didn’t have a chore schedule (although we all did help out with tasks like laundry and dishes), but what we did have was relationship and respect.  When Mom asked us to do something, we generally did it willingly because we wanted to help her.  When she told us not to do something, she usually explained why, and we followed her guidelines because we understood (to whatever extent we were then capable of) that she had our best interests in mind.  And no, we wouldn’t have used those words at the time!

One of the first things I remember about going to church as a young girl was being quiet.  While we weren’t told that children were to be seen and not heard, we did understand that when grown-ups were talking, we should be quiet.  For sermon time, Mom usually brought crayons or pencils and paper for us, and we busied ourselves quietly.

It helps that for the most part, all five of us got quiet genes from my engineer father.  We aren’t driven to make ourselves the center of attention, and we are perfectly comfortable with being quiet for minutes on end if necessary.  For some kids, this seems to be a harder concept, although a perfectly reasonable one to learn.

Why should quiet, respectful children (of any age) indicate to someone that the parents are strict?  I suppose this shouldn’t puzzle me, having observed other families, some of which have boisterous children and some of which do not.  The number of rules parents have and the way parents enforce them (or don’t) varies widely from family to family.  But it does make me wonder what other perceptions my family has raised in people’s minds, and whether we are living up to them or living them down!

My Father’s Daughter

June 16, 2010

Many people will tell you their father is awesome.  I’m one of them.  My dad is not perfect, but he keeps trying, and he knows how to help me keep trying too.  I’m my father’s daughter in a lot of ways.  I’ve been told since I was small that I look like my dad; I have his (near-sighted) blue eyes, his curly hair, and his light build.  I’m like him in several personality points as well, but my favorite similarity is our musical talent.

I remember the first time I did special music with my father.  Dad did special music on a fairly regular basis at church (the same one where I was baptized), and one day when I was eight or nine, he asked me if I would like to sing with him.  Of course I wanted to.  I loved to watch him do specials, and I had dreamed of doing one too.

We decided to do “Amazing Grace.”  A very original song choice, I know, but it was my favorite song at the time, and one that I already had almost memorized.  We rehearsed for several weeks.  I remember being nervous in practice because I had difficulty picking out my cue to begin.  You see, Dad had me sing the first verse solo while he accompanied on his guitar.  Then he sang a second verse solo, and we both sang the last verse. 

But I couldn’t seem to figure out where to come in. 

I would start the first verse too early, or I would be late.  Finally, Dad began giving me a visible signal, dipping his guitar toward me just a little so that I would know when to start singing.

The day we did our special, I was pretty excited.  I don’t think I remembered much of the rest of the service that day.  I was too focused on being ready when it was our turn.  We had checked out the microphones before Sunday School, so that was all set, we just had to walk up, and Dad had to get his guitar ready, and then we could sing.  That was plenty of time for me to get nervous, however.

We weren’t going to a huge church, but it was big enough to be intimidating to me.  I looked at the congregation and was glad I wasn’t up there alone.  As it was, I suddenly developed nerves.  But Dad started his introduction, and I turned my head enough that I could see his signal when it came.  I certainly didn’t want to miss that in front of all those people!

I got through the song just fine, and I became more comfortable as we went on.  Once it was over, though, I think I felt like running back to my seat.  Several people said nice things to me afterward, but I was so shy and nervous that I could make little response.  I did want to know that people liked it, but I wasn’t sure how to respond.  After all, this was new territory for me.

I’ve done quite a few specials with my father since that first one.  Our specialties are hymns and some old choruses.  These days I usually have my guitar too.  Yes, I learned to play from my father, using his old guitar.  We’ll have a double duet, my father and myself, and Betsy and Marie.  I used to wonder why my sister got her tendency to name everything; I don’t wonder after I learned that my Dad named his guitars. 

My singing sounds much better now (especially since I’ve been taking singing lessons), and Dad sometimes will sing harmony beneath my melody.  I have to smile sometimes because I may carry the melody in the vocals, but Dad definitely has the cool guitar part.  I just keep the rhythm going.  Still, I know I’m contributing in both ways, and it sounds pretty good to me, even though I don’t hear it in the correct balance because I’m one of the performers.  For our latest special, I even sang solo with Dad accompanying on his guitar.  Singing solo has been a major hurdle for me, and I’m glad to have finally made it over.

I’m my father’s daughter in another way; I seem to have inherited his songwriting gene.  Dad has written a dozen or more songs, some of which I like to play with him and others which he sings alone.  I sometimes feel like I have a song simmering inside me, but as yet, only a few have come forth.  For every good song I’ve started at least three that I couldn’t get right.  I doubt that my songs will ever end up on the top 40 list, but they are one more way that I express my joy.

Some of my favorite times have been playing guitar with my father, learning new songs and coming up with different arrangements of old ones.  Thanks, Dad, for giving me a new outlet for the music in my heart.

Plain Piano

April 30, 2010

Why is it that some people look at the piano with awe and others with dread?  I’ve met some people who think they could never learn to play, even people who play another instrument.  I’ve met other people (including one of my relations) who hate the piano.  Each likes to hear someone else play it well, but would never go play themselves.

I’ve had a conversation or two lately about how hard it is for parents to know when to encourage a child to pursue an instrument (or a lot of other things for that matter) and when to step back and let them alone.  I only know that my mother did a good job with me.  I may not be a concert pianist, I may not be much good at chording, and I may be shaky on expression, but I truly enjoy sitting down at the piano and pulling out some music to play.

I started with piano in third grade.  Mom had played the trumpet when she was in middle school, not piano, but she bought a couple of books and we worked through the lessons.  I would practice for a week on a piece, and then she would listen to me play.  If I hadn’t gotten the piece down in a week, I worked on it for two.  Mom even kept up with me for a few months, learning the lessons herself.  That didn’t last because she just didn’t have the time, with three kids on her hands, but it was an encouragement to me that she thought it was worth the time to try.

From the beginning I had trouble with keeping a steady beat, but we didn’t have a metronome, so I just did the best I could with my foot.  Mom had me practice three times a week, making sure to warm up with some exercises and a few old lessons before I started work on the week’s assigned piece.  Even with the simple stuff I was doing I got frustrated because I couldn’t play it like I thought it should sound.

So Mom had me take a year off.  In fourth grade I did a variety of different instruments and other types of music.  When it came time for fifth grade, I was ready to go back and give piano another try.

This time I remained patient and worked hard to improve.  I liked to play songs and sing along, but we didn’t have a lot of songs that were easy enough for me to play.  The music in my lesson book tended to be silly little songs, not the hymns and children’s songs that I knew.  So I worked toward a day when I could sit down with those songs and sing along.

I still had to practice at least three times a week, but Mom mentioned that if I wanted to get better, I’d need to practice more often, so I started playing more.  Even if I didn’t run through a lesson, I would sit down and try to plunk out a tune that I knew; sometimes with better success than others.  I’ll always be grateful that Mom didn’t make me do scales.  I think she has wondered sometimes whether she ought to have, and I’ll admit that I would be much better with chording and a few other things if I had drilled over my scales.  However, I am sure that if I had felt forced to do my scales every time I practiced, I would have come to dislike piano very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my scales, or at least most of them, I’m just rather slow at playing them.  The reason I’m sure that I would have balked at too much scales is that I balked at the metronome.  When I was eleven, we got a digital piano to replace our old keyboard.  The new piano not only could sound like several different instruments and record your playing, it had a built-in metronome. 

I hated the metronome.  My rhythm had not gotten much better over the years, and I was forever falling behind or going too fast.  Usually falling behind.  Mom had me practice with it for a few weeks, but I got so annoyed at that metronome that she quickly decided not to force the issue.

Thanks to Mom’s hands off approach, I stuck with the piano.  I wasn’t into a classical music much, but I taught myself the “Fur Elise” for fun, when it was actually a level or two beyond my skill.  I even memorized it at one time!  Now, I don’t memorize anything very well, except the words and tunes of songs that I sing, but I memorized the “Fur Elise.”

Eventually, I began playing at church.  Some of the other young girls often played something for Offertory, and the church pianist asked me to help out.  After a few years, I took over scheduling the Offertories and playing whenever I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play for a particular week.  By then, I was also playing for morning services every so often.  I even played a few pieces with my sister.  Four-hand piano music (played by two people at one piano) can be tough to coordinate, but I had improved my skills enough to use the metronome sometimes in order to help me stay with her.  We only did that a few times due to limited music choices, but it was fun.

I don’t play fancy piano.  While I have had fellow church members compliment me by saying that it sounds like I have three hands playing, I do only have two, and they really aren’t playing difficult music.  I’ve seen a few concert pianists play, and I come nowhere close.  I don’t even keep up with my brother 3G, who taught himself to play the piano after he had already taken the clarinet to a great height.  He has more musicality than I’ll ever have, so even if he is not as quick at sight-reading the whole staff (clarinetists usually only have to read one line of notes, while piano music often has four or more notes to play at once), he has much more expression than I have.

At the same time, I like the way that I play.  I don’t have to play fancy piano.  I just like to be able to sit down and play the songs that I like to sing: hymns, choruses, and some contemporary stuff.  I can play quite well enough to do that.  I began taking singing lessons this spring, and my mother says that has actually improved my piano playing, as has teaching TJ and BP to sing.  I’ve got more expression than I had before, so maybe I have a chance to play as well as 3G someday.

Maybe.

Right now, I’m just happy to play plain piano.

Memories of My Childhood Church

April 28, 2010

Lately I’ve thought quite a bit about the church I was at as a child.  I remember the first day we attended there, back when I was four, and how panicked I felt at going into a strange Sunday School classroom full of strange people.  I can’t recall how fast that feeling wore off, but I know that the teacher for that class, a college student at the time, quickly became a favorite with me and with my younger siblings.  I have fond memories of the times she babysat us.

I remember that I thought the coat racks were weird.  They were built into one wall of the entryway, and there was a second tier which seemed too high for anyone to reach.  Now, I was pretty small then myself, so I’m not sure just how much of that was perspective, but I don’t recall seeing coats on that bar very often.

Directly opposite as you walked in the front door was the pastor’s office.  I went in there sometimes when my mother used to be in charge of doing the church directory.  Otherwise it wasn’t a place I was encouraged to play.  I remember when they build the sound booth off one corner of the office, with a window cut into the back wall of the sanctuary so that the sound guy could see the worship leader.  I always thought that was so cool.

I remember helping Mom do some of the gardening work out front.  She wasn’t the only one at church with a green thumb, and someone else eventually took over, but for a year or two my mother was the one who had the time.  Being a homeschooling mom, she had a flexible schedule!  I learned quite a bit about how to plan out a flower bed to the best advantage, something I’ve turned to good advantage in other arenas as well.

I went back to that church a couple of years ago for a wedding.  They’ve added a new wing onto the building, creating a new sanctuary and fellowship hall.  The old sanctuary has mostly been broken up into smaller rooms for offices and things, but I took a peek inside what was left.  The baptismal was still there, right where it was in ‘96 when I got baptized.

Two years ago I wrote a piece about the memory I have of that day.  It doesn’t include anything about the nerve wracking experience of telling the pastor that I wanted to be baptized, or the Sunday when I, shy seven-year-old that I was, stood up front with the pastor at the end of the service while he announced the baptismal to our large congregation, but it does give a pretty good account of the day itself.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost

The month was in November,
just before I was eight.
I remember the baptismal,
I was dressed in white.

It felt surreal to slip out of service,
before the closing prayer.
I didn’t do it often,
but my mother was along.

I changed out of Sunday best,
so I wouldn’t get it soaked,
but I forgot to take off my necklace,
so I wore it through the wet.

We actually used the back stair
of rough planks, lined with storage.
I’d always stood in awe of it,
because Mom didn’t want us there.

The waiting seems quite short to me,
in retrospect at least,
but I think it took much longer
when I stood upon the stairs.

Finally Pastor W.,
with fishing waders on,
finished talking to the watching eyes,
and called me to come down.

Scared of water I was still,
but gently on I came.
Wet was okay on my feet,
my stomach, then my hands.

He helped me stand upon the box
before he spoke the words
I closed my eyes and grabbed my nose –
and came up spluttering.

My feet hadn’t found the box again,
but they somehow found the stair.
Pastor W. smoothed it over;
I was like my father, he said.

Dad, it seems, had done the same,
only a few years before,
and when I think that he was grown,
I smile a little now.

Dad had been a Christian
since he was in his teens
but he didn’t travel through the wet
till I was small but ‘ware.

I have a vague remembrance
of watching Daddy slip.
I like to think that Dad and I
share a baptismal tale.

A dripping girl, but smiling,
I went with Mom to change.
‘Twas then I found my necklace
had gotten baptized too.

A card, I think, and gift I got
from a friend so dear to me.
I don’t remember more because
I was smiling in a dream.

And ever after, that simple chain,
with cross and flower upon it,
has special been, and special is,
and special always will be.

Run The Race

April 9, 2010

Sitting in church on Sunday, I wrote the date on my notes, and my memory immediately jumped back six years. I am fifteen again, dressing for a play on another April 4th.

*   *   *   *   *

We were at a small country church then, and the girls put their costumes on in the pastor’s office upstairs.  I was supposed to be pregnant, so my mom had to help me into the “belly” we had rigged up.  It looked pretty convincing once my robe was on.  Mom had made a blue robe and head scarf for me because none of the other costumes were long enough for all 5’8″ of me.  Then it was time for make up.

Some of the other girls were putting some make up on too, to look a little older.  One girl was playing Rahab, so she needed to look like a harlot; she definitely couldn’t have pulled that off without the make up, she’s too sweet.  Me, I needed to look very old.

Mom had experimented a little in the week before the performance.  We used baby powder to whiten my face, then grayish eye shadow to create some crow’s feet.  To top it off, I slid my glasses a little down my nose.  Not that they wore glasses in Bible times, but I figured since I had to wear them I might as well use them to help create the old look.

The play was about a young girl named Jan.  She is staying home from church because she didn’t feel well (or amiable).  She grudgingly reads a couple of verses in Hebrews 12 before giving up on ever understanding and going to sleep.  Then two angels wake her up and tell her to put on a pair of red shoes they’ve brought her and start running.  To her question of where she is going, they respond that she will know when she gets there, just to stay on the path and run.  Putting on the shoes and picking up her backpack, Jan the pilgrim follows their instructions.

She runs into Cain and Abel as they sacrifice to God, then Enoch as he is about to be taken up to God (and is she ever surprised to turn around and find him completely gone!).  Next she meets Noah and his wife, played by 3G and a friend of mine, who are watching the animals board the ark.  She bewilders them by telling them about a rainstorm she saw “just last week” and mentioning that she remembers hearing about them in Sunday School.

In the next scene, Jan comes upon a group of women, and asks one of them what is going on.  The girl replies that Sarah is getting ready to have a baby, and Jan is eager to help out.  Imagine her surprise when she sees that the pregnant woman is ninety years old!  I still laugh at the face she made at me.  Of course, I react as any pregnant old lady would, trading insult for insult and commenting on the “camel’s hump” she wears and on her lack of toes.  The servants quickly intervene and help me off to my tent while they detain Jan outside.   I interrupt their conversation a couple of times with some painful screams, and Isaac arrives in time for Jan to see him before she leaves.  Hebrew women are quick at delivery you know… especially when the baby doll is waiting on the organ seat!

Jan travels onward, till she finds the ground shaking beneath her.  [We told her to imagine she was stomping on ants, and she did a great job at it!]  Rahab pulls her within her house just in time to save her life.  After leaving Jericho, Jan encounters Ruth, who tells her about her wonderful husband-to-be.  Jan, of course, asks if Boaz has a brother, which he doesn’t, but Ruth assures Jan that God will provide her a husband and all other things that she needs.

Weary of running, Jan finally falls to the ground, weeping.  She feels as if she cannot run anymore.  Then each of the characters she has just met comes up to her and points her forward, encouraging her not to give up, for the end of the race is in sight.  Jan’s tears are drying as Jesus takes the stage, calling on Jan to look to him, the author and finisher of her faith, put away the weight she carries (her backpack which she’s been carrying all this way), and come to him. 

In the final scene, Jan’s mother has returned from church and is waking her up.  Jan excitedly begins to tell her all about her dream and the people she met.  Her mother is happy that the grumpy girl of the morning is gone.  She suggests that it’s time for lunch, and Jan quickly hops up off the couch where she has been napping.  Her mother stops her, though, and asks, “Jan, whose red sneakers are these?”  Jan looks down at the shoes she is still wearing, then smiles a sheepish, wondering smile at the audience . . . as the curtain falls.

*   *   *   *   *

Sister did a wonderful job as Jan, and I had plenty of fun pretending to be 90 years old.  I have to laugh at myself, because as I went to take off my costume, I passed two girls who were new at the church, and they gave me odd looks when I smiled at them.  As soon as I saw myself in the mirror, however, I realized why.  I had forgotten how old I looked! 

Participating in that play was a great way to internalize the message of Hebrews 12:1-2.  You know how they say that the surest way to learn something is to teach it?  Well, I think acting it out works almost as well! 

So, are you running with a load on your back, weary of the road you travel?  Or are you looking unto Jesus?

Power in the Blood

April 4, 2010

Resurrection Sunday

Isn’t it awesome to consider that God came down to earth in the form of a man, died though he did no wrong, and rose again the third day?  Easter is a time when Christians rejoice, and I’m as happy as any.

I’ve heard quite a few Easter sermons in my 21 years, but never one quite like the one I heard today.  My pastor taught on the man Peter.  You see, Christ didn’t just rise from the dead; he walked among the disciples for forty days (according to Acts chapter 1), and one of the things he did before ascending to the right hand of God in heaven was to reinstate Peter. 

You remember Peter, the disciple who denied the Lord three times.  Think about it.  How would you feel if you had told your hero/boss/leader that you would follow him to prison and death, and then later that same night, you denied that you even knew him?  I know I would feel unworthy to ever be called a disciple again. 

Chances are that Peter thought his ministry was over.  In fact, in John 21, Peter goes back to fishing.  It could be that he was just filling in time, but in the circumstances, it looks rather like he had given up on being a disciple.  He probably thought he’d crossed the line, gone too far for Jesus to take him back and use him.  Not that he did not believe anymore, just that he was not fit for use.

Jesus didn’t see it that way.  He asked Peter three times during one breakfast whether Peter loved him.  And each time Peter responded that he did, Christ commands him to “feed my lambs.”  Christ was telling Peter that he still had work for him to do.  We know that in Acts, on the day of Pentecost, Peter was the one who got up and explained to the confused multitude why his friends could talk and each man understand in his own language.  That’s a wonderful story in itself, but we’re talking about Peter.  Peter who made a big mistake, sinned greatly.  God could still use him, and he can still use you and me.

I’m no closer to perfect than any of you.  Nor am I any better than Peter, though I have not denied my Lord in the way that Peter did.  Maybe I don’t always claim the name of Christ either, though my denials may be more passive than active.  I make no secret of being a Christian when someone asks me, but sometimes I keep quiet about it and miss my chance to share my testimony.

What might have happened if Peter had claimed Christ in the courtyard of the high priest?  Might he have been thrown into prison?  Sure.  Might he have been killed also, perhaps by the kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off?  Certainly.  Might someone have asked Peter why he followed Christ, allowing Peter to share some of the things Christ had done?  Absolutely. 

A host of “might haves” don’t get us any closer to Christ, though.  God is bigger than our pasts.  We can leave the past with him and move through the present toward the future.  With God as our strength, we can overcome, and we can be useful vessels again.

The resurrection power of Christ doesn’t end with raising us from our dead selves to life eternal.  He can also raise us when we fall into trouble, difficulty, and even sin, and he can make us more like himself.  It’s called sanctification, and he takes a human lifetime to work it out.  There’s a whole lot of power in the blood of Christ, both to save and to sanctify.


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