Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Worship

Don't you love how a song takes you back to specific places and times in your history?  I do!  Now that I'm 30, I can turn on the basic, light rock station in our area and hear songs from high school.  This makes me feel old every time, but that only lasts a second before I immerse myself in songs, mindsets, and memories from the 1990's. 

As I participated in worship at church Sunday morning, I was whisked back to my freshman year of college with "Open the Eyes of My Heart."  That freshman year of college was when I discovered contemporary worship music.  Those songs are old now, but they take me back to a place of spiritual growth, struggle, and richness. 

When it comes to worship music, I don't really have one style that I like.  As a kid, I attended a very large Baptist church like you can only have or understand south of the Virginia state line.  You put 100 people in a choir, 100 people who can and do sing their parts, 10 of whom are phenomenal solosits--all belting out a hymn like "Majesty" on Easter morning.  Wow.  I remember being quite young and being profoundly moved by such worship music.

As that little girl, my favorite song was, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."  Want a quick way to bring tears to my eyes (They're there now.), play that song.  Imagine a 9-year-old, blonde-haired (If you know what my son looks like, picture hair that color), blue-eyed, very petite little girl singing that song and meaning every single word.  That was me.

Fast forward to college, and I devoured worship music CD's from Third Day to Sonic Flood to Wow Worship--yes, really.  Then, there was Sammy's friend, Ryan Newcomb.  Give him a guitar and a mic, and I'll stand and worship all day.  I distinctly remember his covering Delirious' "Did you hear the mountains tremble?"  We were in the mountains of Lynchburg when we sang that song, and yes, I heard them tremble.

Then, there are the countless vocalists at my present church who can guide me to transcend my first or second row seat and to enter the presence of God.  Beth, Lindsay, Kevin, Sandra (even though she's not here, I can dream), Paul...and then there's Sarah Brawley.  Bring out the tissues, please. Give that girl a mic, and once gain, I could stand and worship..and cry...all day.

I cannot sing at all.  My husband, who can carry a tune, sincerely and kindly says I'm tone deaf.  I don't doubt it.  But I do enjoy worshipping God with music.  Give me hymns and pianos, or a single voice and a guitar, or a full band.  I like it all.  The dancer in me loves the rhythms, and more than once I'll be in a church service wishing I was dancing to a song.  The reader, writer, grammar policeman in me loves the words.  And I MEAN THEM.  My biggest pet peeve with corporate "worship" is mindless repetition of words in a hymnal or on a printout or on a screen.  I simply cannot stand it.  We are worshipping God, singing words to Him; He is our audience.  If we're mindlessly repeating words, or saying words in song that we don't mean, then we are lying to God.  So, I'll sing just about any kind of song to God in worship.  But I will mean the words I say.  Sometimes, that means I keep my mouth shut during a line, or a verse, or a chorus, or even a whole song. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Desires of Your Heart

Psalm 37:4—Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
During my college years, I knew a girl who often put this verse as her IM away message (when AIM was the dominant collegiate network).  This girl was crazy intelligent, fun, a gifted leader, the kind of girl people wanted to be around.  She was the student leader of her college’s Baptist ministry that was 200-strong.  One of the desires of her heart was a God-fearing, God-loving, Bible-reading man with whom she could be equally yoked in life, marriage, and ministry.  She thought she’d found him. 
Unfortunately for her, the man she’d found was the God-fearing, God-loving, Bible-reading man who was going to be my partner in life, marriage, and ministry.  She didn’t know that yet.  Neither did he.  (Well, he had known, but he forgot for about a year…)
One of the things people seem surprised to learn about me is how competitive I am.  I’m not sure why that is.  I think people who strive for grades, awards, and recognition like I do are often competitive.  A few years ago, my boss told me that I was the most competitive female he’d ever known.  My response was, “That’s because you don’t know my twin sister.”  We’re both competitive, and that’s what has often brought us success.  Put two competitive, type A girls in a house, school, dance class, cheering squad, and college dorm together for twenty years, and you end up with college GPA’s of 4.0 and 3.98 respectively and a long list of accolades.
So, when this godly collegiate woman was delighting herself in the Lord thinking he was giving her the desire of her heart in the form of Sammy Frame, she had no idea that she was wrong, or who she was up against.
I did not have the strong background of faithfully following God that this girl had.  I was kind of new at the whole personal relationship with Jesus thing, much less the ministry thing.  But I was seeking God like I’d never sought Him before.  And I knew Sammy Frame.  I knew how to make his sweet tea, his homemade sugar cookies, and my mom’s chocolate chip pie.  The other girl knew how to make pizza.  I knew how to shower him with sappy, heartfelt, meaningful words, because that’s his love language.  I knew how to drive to his college on weekends, dropping everything I was doing to be with him, because that matters to him.  I also knew how to make him droul, but seeing as how I was seeking God at this point in my life, I couldn’t rely on those finely-tuned skills.
The three of us ended up in a spiritual battle, each seeking God’s direction and guidance.  It was a heart-wrenching endeavor for all of us.  I think we all cried lots of tears, prayed lots of prayers, and sought wise counsel.  I may have gotten a little catty once or twice.  But largely, we were all reading Scripture, praying, and having the “define the relationship” talks with hearts that sought God.  We all desired a mate who would grow and enhance our faith and our ministries.  We all eventually saw that desire fulfilled.  She’s now married, and I have no doubt the man’s a spiritual giant, because that’s what she deserves, and she wouldn’t have settled. 
Now, when I read this verse, all of these memories come back.  Through it, I learned that if one delights in the Lord, she will receive the desires of her heart.  Sometimes that delivery looks just like she expects—as was my experience.  Sometimes that delivery takes longer and doesn’t look like she expects—as was her experience.  I hope that when I’m the one who needs to be open to a package delivered in a different time and a different way, I’m open to that and remain faithful to God throughout the process.

Lock-in

I’ve only been in ministry for about eight years.  In those eight years I’ve experienced various seasons.  There were seasons of naivety and of jaded cynicism, seasons of prayer and of silence, seasons of popularity and of criticism, seasons of personal growth and of personal anguish, seasons of ministry growth and of ministry anguish. 
During some seasons, you’ve got little to offer.  You’re exhausted, burnt out, having trouble in your personal life, or just expending all your energy in other areas of your life.  You get the job done.  You do the best you can.  You get up and do the same thing the next day and every day until this season passes.
During some seasons you’re broken.  You’re humble.  There’s lots of tears and praying on knees.  God works in you and molds you.  He uses others around you to pick up your slack and help do your job for a while.
During some seasons you’re on fire.  You gobble up the Bible.  You submit yourself to God in prayer.  You seek Him.  You pursue him with your life and your ministry.  You’re ready to charge the mountain, to sacrifice sacred cows, to take risks.
Over the last few months, I’ve enjoyed getting a taste of that last season again.  I’ve felt a renewed commitment to my faith, to my God, to my ministry, to my family.  Instead of settling for the best I can do; I want to do better, be better—in everything.
As the 2011-2012 school year approached, meaning a new “year” in student ministry, I had a renewed passion.  We re-arranged, re-decorated, and re-purposed our physical space.  We adopted a more ambitious programming schedule for 2012.  I wrote small group curriculum again; something I love to do that fills me up and combines my gifts, talents, skills, and education.  We got a logo.  We started more small groups.  We empowered our student leaders to step up and do more.  We asked, “What could we do that we’ve never done before that could reach teenagers we’ve never reached before?”  “What could we do that would have PHS buzzing:  ‘Are you going to that thing tonight at that church?’”
The resounding answer in my head and from my student leaders was actually quite simple:  a lock-in.
There’s nothing earthshaking about a lock-in.  Churches of all types and sizes have been doing youth lock-ins for a long time.  But I didn’t envision the kind of lock-in that all types and sizes of churches have been doing for a long time.  I had ideas.  I met with my team of student leaders.  “Seriously?!  Seriously?!”  “That’s gonna be tight!” were their reactions to some of my ideas.  They were excited; I was excited.  Overarching, upholding, and interweaving our planning meeting were the questions, “Will you invite your friends to this?  Will they want to come to this?”  Yes!  Yes!
Then, shortly before the lock-in, I found myself in the middle of a conflict I never envisioned.  It was about the lock-in.  I was a wreck.  The other person was a wreck.  All the anticipation and excitement stalled, actually crashed around me.  But, I held onto Psalm 51:10:  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  I prayed about the lock-in, about the specifics of the lock-in, like I never anticipated I would.  I prayed for the conflict and those of us involved.  I confronted the conflict, not combatively, but with a heart for reunion and reconciliation.  The other person also submitted to God in prayer.  God worked in us.  God brought about reconciliation. 
Then, I got sick—the kind of sick when you feel like you’re dying.  The crying out, smacking walls, ‘cause it hurts so bad kind of sick.  As I camped out all night in the bathroom, and then in the bedroom floor with my also-sick son, I prayed.  First I prayed that my family wouldn’t get sick, too, but it was too late for that.  Then I prayed for the lock-in.  God reminded me of some words I’d written at the beginning of the week, “I’m taking care of myself this week because if I get to the lock-in an exhausted wreck, it won’t be good.”  God reminded me that this lock-in wasn’t dependent upon me.  It was his lock-in.  There’s nothing like puking about 15 times (I wish I were exaggerating) to remind you of your own weakness. 
So, the lock-in came.  I was an exhausted wreck, more so than I had feared.  As my student leaders, chaperones, and I convened, expressing our doubt over whether teens would show up…they showed up.  They kept showing up.  And kept showing up.  148 of them.  I had planned for 50-70.  I had hoped for 80-100.  I guess God had a statement to make to me about the size of my hopes.
Now, I continue to pray.  They came for a fun event.  Will just five of them who hadn’t come before come back?  Will they seek community here?  Will they seek God here? 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not sure I've ever kept a New Year's Resolution.  Most years I don't resolve to do anything.  Getting through my normal routines at home and work usually exhausts all mental, emotional, and physical energy I have.  For some reason, I feel compelled to make some resolutions this year, with little confidence that I'll follow through.  That's the way to start, right?!

First, I'd like to claim a few Bible verses for myself this year:
1.  Hebrews 3:12-14:  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

2.  Psalm 51:10-13:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

The resolution I'm making regarding how I think and live is #3:  I will stop critiquing.  I constantly critique.  Critiquing and criticizing are not the same thing, and I really do lean towards critiquing instead of criticizing.  But, for now, I'd like just to stop.  I have plenty of my own junk to work on without identifying how others' junk could be better, too.  I was recently in a setting where I felt like everything about me was being critiqued--my food and drink choices, my parenting choices, my clothing, my appearance, how I spent my time, what I talked about, how and with whom I related.  Nothing mean was said or done, and there was no malintent; I'm confident of that.  But even still, it was emotionally exhausting.  I am sorry if I have caused anyone else such exhaustion from well-intended, constant critique. 

#4.  I will journal some of my kids' milestones, their favorites (books, songs, videos, toys, foods), and the hilarious things Tristan says.  I have not done this before, and I've undoubtedly already forgotten priceless tidbits about my kids first 3 and 1 years.

Happy New Year!