Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wind On The Hill

Wind On The Hill

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It's flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn't keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes...
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.

A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six

Duty or Desire?

Reading the last few posts you may guess that I'm confused. I agree. I am definitely a confused person.

This Saturday a group of churches are coming together to help the City and neighborhoods. We'll be going into an area that has a large number of home foreclosures and inundating the area by helping out however needed: raking leaves, pulling weeds, mending fences, etc. Honestly I'm not too sure what to expect but I'm looking forward to it. I anticipate a good number of people from my church attending and I think it'll be fun, and at the same time helping out others and maybe getting to know them a bit more and making a positive impact in the area.

And yet, (yes, there is always an "and yet") I have to admit this is where things get scary for me. I am generally not comfortable interacting with others. I'm fine once I get to know someone but I'm not one to strike up a conversation and become instant best friends with someone. Quite the opposite really!

Right now I'm wrestling with why I signed up. In church on Sunday we learned more about the prodigal son story in Luke 15 and took a look at the elder brother, which depicted in many ways the Pharisees or the "religious" types. Timothy Keller wrote a book about this Luke 15 story titled The Prodigal God where he explores that the story is equally about the elder brother as it is the younger, and ultimately the story is about the prodigal father. It's such a wonderful book, you really must read it for yourself!

"There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good."

I wish to be more than just morally good or keeping the commandments and yet I find myself often doing things out of expectation. I grew up a good (okay, sometimes slightly rebellious) church goer. I like to fulfill the expectations a church has. I enjoy keeping busy with "religious" things. I'll go to any and every event even if I don't even love it. I'm a church addict in some ways. And if I wasn't so negative and difficult I'd possibly be considered spiritual and "good". Indeed, I am faithful and visible and help out whenever possible.

But deep down I wonder what's my motivation? Why am I doing these things? Just because it's church and what's expected? Because I want to follow God's commands? Because I enjoy the appearance of spirituality?

I am not content in doing things just out of obedience, or worse, to hold a high standing in the church. (luckily I blew that a long time ago so that's not a concern: I'm labeled difficult there) Yet even though I fight just checking things off a checklist or doing things out of mere obedience, I find myself often doing things to obey! Or to help out. Or show support. Or not feel guilty.

So as I gear up for this wonderful opportunity to serve and help out this neighborhood of our city with hundreds of others I am once again questioning my motivation. I desire to do this out of love. To love God and His people so much that I can't wait to meet them and serve them in whatever way I can, but I keep coming up thinking that I'm doing this because it's what good church goers do. I've been reading lots of book lately about compassion and living out my faith and I want to do that, but I keep questioning if I love these people and see myself in them, wonderful people that need Jesus like like I once did, or is this just a duty to perform because Christ wants me to? And if this is my motivation, is that really bad? Can God be glorified even if that is my attitude?

I do desire more. I want it to be an outpouring of my faith. So right now I'm just trying to figure that out. Am I excited about this project because I love Christ and therefore love His people? Or because it's just the proper church response?

I'm still not sure.

Oh, and it's not too late if you'd like to come and help out on Saturday morning. I'm sure it will be a great time of fun, fellowship and a time to represent Jesus. and help show them that the church cares about them and their community. I know, I know! I'm wondering if I'm doing things for the right reasons but I do know that regardless this will truly be a Beautiful Day and I'm still happy to be a part of this outreach. If this interests you, contact me or my church.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Enough

"I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please - not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of him to make me love a foreigner or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy,not transformation; I want the warmth of a womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I'd like to buy $3 worth of God, please."

-Wilbur Rees

What more can I offer?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Christianity 101

Have you ever questioned things that you KNOW the answer to? I do this often, I don't know why I choose to torture myself. Lately topics have included: Is there really assurance of salvation? Why were we created? For relationship with God or to bring glory to God? A million questions about The Fall, a million questions about the Resurrection, Questions about prayer, sin, atonement, election, sanctification, what does it mean to be the Church, and even the basic tenet of Christianity: What is the gospel?

I'm being bold here and going to admit that lately I've been wondering what really is the Gospel. Oh, I can rattle off an impressive illustration. I can walk you through scripture, citing it as my source to "prove" my points. (and hope you believe that the Bible is truth and an authoritative source)

One of my Book Clubs is reading Jerry Bridge's The Discipline of Grace. (wonderful book, by the way) and in it Bridges wrote of a survey taken in 1993 at a "large Christian convention attended by several thousand people." On the survey was the question: "What is the gospel? Many answered but only one gave the correct answer.

I have read another book by Ravi Zacharias and he also made the point that Biblical preaching was important, and challenged churches to ask the youth in their church to "take a Bible and show you from Scripture, the path of salvation." and said that that could be difficult for most. And I ask you: What is the Gospel?

So that's part One. A reflection of what is the Gospel. Is it systematic? Is it personal? Can you describe it? Can you explain it? Can you tell someone why it's important? What would those words sound like? Individual and personal? Factual and sterile? Is it necessary to use the Bible to back up your assertions? Is it necessary to use words at all to tell the gospel story?

Think about it: What IS the Gospel? And yes, I do want you to comment!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I am fortunate to attend a church that thinks prayer is important. I know, all churches feel that prayer is important; all churches pray several times in its church service, all churches stress the importance of prayer, all churches welcome prayer requests.

Most churches, like mine, make it very easy to communicate prayer requests. There's email, fax, an "iCard" with space on it to request prayer, and you can even phone in a request as well. There's even a prayer team willing to pray with people immediately after church service. My church offers a prayer time on Monday evenings, as well as early Wednesday mornings, that anyone can come join in and pray.

I have never requested a prayer request on an iCard, nor have I sent in a request via phone or fax. I have never gone forward to have someone pray with me after service. Yet I do attend the Wednesday morning prayer time.

I began attending this small prayer group in August.. Initially I was hesitant; I'm not a prayer warrior. I pray, of course, but am not one to "feel" the Holy Spirit, nor do I feel He pays any special attention to my prayers. I hear often of miraculous things that happen to friends that are a direct result of their prayers and I'm amazed by their stories. God has answered my prayers but nothing significant the way others describe. Still, I decided I'd go check it out. Early morning is easy to do, it just takes a bit extra work to set the alarm clock. Oh, yeah. And get up when the alarm goes off!

The first time was difficult and awkward, as I was relatively new to the church and really did not know many people, but I felt welcomed there and I left really enjoying prayer time. I enjoyed how my day just seemed to be more vibrant, I was aware of so much more and aware of others. At the beginning Wednesdays were my "magical" days.

But here's the catch: Though I make an effort to attend "corporate prayer" with a small group of other Christ followers every week, I don't pray out loud. I have perhaps done so 3 times in the past 11 months that I've been attending, but typically I choose to pray silently. We pray for a myriad of things: The church, surrounding churches, surrounding neighborhoods, our country, etc. I feel part of "the group" despite the fact that I don't pray audibly. I am generally not teased that I remain silent. (generally)

Today something happened that shook up my happy world of silence: I guess it can be considered encouragement, but it stung a bit. The assumption that I don't really know how to pray out loud. I can see why my friend thinks this, as the few times I have prayed out loud I really was horrible at it! I stumble, I say all the wrong things, I don't make any sense at all, I stammer and all this lasts about 20 seconds before I struggle to recall the words "InJesus'nameAMEN" Really! It's that bad. So it's no wonder why my friend thought I simply did not know how to pray. He offered up some excellent advice: Picture Jesus in the room with you and just tell Him what's on your heart. He even mentioned how when he taught 3rd graders he'd tell them to "picture santa claus". All excellent advice but ultimately, unhelpful.

See, it's not that I don't know how to pray. I do. I grew up Church. I once could pray elaborate, beautiful prayers. The problem is twofold: There are too many "right ways to pray! I have read countless books, I have started "prayer journals" I have attempted to log and track every prayer request and update with the answers. I have prayed aloud, silently, in small groups, even large groups. I have prayed with my hands raised, I have prayed holding hands, touching someone shoulder, on my knees,etc. I have studied the Lord's prayer as a model, read Kay Arthur's Lord Teach Me To Pray in 28 Days, have been in Bible studies about prayer, etc.

The only thing I know for sure is that God wants His people to pray. God listens to the prayers of His people, and that prayer is powerful. The hows and intricate details to me are unimportant. I think that God can hear my small silent prayers as easily as a person who is praying out loud. I even think he is fine with my small, ungainly attempts at praying out loud.

But that isn't the reason I pray silently. If I were to be quite honest it is because I know I'm not good at it. When I pray silently my prayers seem good but as soon as I open my mouth the words just become so difficult to say. My thoughts form easily but the articulation is difficult. Plus, I'll spend the entire prayer time thinking about "my turn" to pray and what I want to say and how to say it. I realize I'm among friends in an safe environment but I've just given up praying out loud. There's no purpose. My friends I am with pray beautiful prayers, their very voices are full of confidence and love for God. They can be vulnerable as well as wise and trusting. It's uplifting listening to their prayers and I definitely see the value of praying out loud with others; I feel even more blessed as I realize more though my friend's prayers.

I don't know what to do about this: I know it's for God and not others, but that just leads me to think I don't need to pray out loud. I know it's not about "how good" a person is at praying out loud. I know that "practice makes perfect" but I really am horrible at this and really don't see myself ever feeling comfortable praying out loud, and is it really necessary? Does God really care if I pray out loud with others?

The drawbacks are many though: a perception that I don't know how to pray out loud. I guess they'd be right but theoretically I "know" how to pray. It just doesn't come out right. And which is worse? The perception that I don't know how to pray or that I am just really horrible at it and make a judgement as to my intelligence or spiritual walk with God?

I don't know my answers. I guess ideally I'd love to speak insightful, beautiful touching prayers but that won't happen. So the other two options are: 1. To continue to pray badly and not care what others think and the fact that I'm "ruining' a perfectly good prayer time, or 2. Remain in silence and not care if others think I just can't pray or aren't spiritual.

Is any of this even of any importance?

Yet it has made me a bit sad in my day. Prayer is such an important, vital aspect of the Christian faith, to admit it's just something I'm horrible at saddens me. It's like Christianity 101: Even my 4 year old speaks beautiful prayers to Jesus at the dinner table and bedtime. It's real, heartfelt and sometimes even a bit profound.

If you are thinking to yourself, "Oh, she can't be that bad." Trust me. I am. I'd tell you to come join me at prayer on Wednesday mornings to find out but I have no plans on praying out loud again!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Diet Coke Addict?

A friend of mine gently chided with me several weeks ago that I perhaps was addicted to my computer. Not wanting to be addicted to ANYTHING I thought long and hard, becoming very defensive about it but then realize that while I would still not call it "addiction" (and yes, some would say I'm in classic denial) there are several routines and habits that I have structured my life around. Does it inhibit my relationships and interaction with others? To me, I feel that when it comes to my internet use it only strengthens my relationships with others. So.... my verdict? I'm not addicted.

And yet, sad to say, I couldn't bear to think of not bringing my mac on vacation with me. Whenever I'm standing in line somewhere I'm checking Facebook on my iPhone. I try to resist the urge to check my email at stoplights) I definitely twitter in church but only when I can do so inconspicuously and without distracting others. WiFI has definitely become a key part of my lifestyle.

I concluded that I wasn't addicted to the internet, my mac or my iPhone. I'm no junkie! (But lets not take away these toys, I mean, tools, as they are indispensable to me) But then I got to think about the other things that I do every day, and I have quite a list.

Most notable is diet coke. Sometimes popcorn. Addicted? And even if I am, does it really matter? I'm not sure.

I don't wish to further expound in this post about my thoughts towards all this. It would either come across as denial, rationalization or worse. But i have challenged myself to drink more water this week. Maybe water will become my new addiction. And then, in a few weeks we can discuss at length what is addiction and what constitutes it and if all addiction is bad. But not yet. First let me cut back on diet coke so it won't be a blog post attacking poor me. ;-) Then we can enjoy a calm, rational discussion about what it means to be addicted and is someone really an addict to something even if it doesn't harm them.

But not yet.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's So Important?

I've been thinking quite a bit these days about, well, everything! But one thing that has fascinated me is the Church. There are so many books written about the church: Church history, "doing" church, how to grow your church, how to feed your church, what to look for in a church, why churches are important, why churches are in decline, etc.

I wonder what is the most important part of a church; if one were to set out to join an "ideal" church what would it look like? What would be the one thing above all else that would make you choose a church over another?

Is it the programs, youth group, music, people, facilities, sports offerings, cafe, (yes, some churches have them and even 'food courts') a gym (again, some churches have 'em) creative arts, drama, kids choir, adult choir, good coffee, or great band?

Is it Biblical preaching? The Pastor and staff? I was amazed this morning while in conversation to hear from a former worship pastor that he received all kinds of emails complaining about the music! Music! To me, this is a non issue, but in conversation later with my husband, he pointed out that there have been major divisions in the church stemming from music. It's important!

For me, if someone were to have asked me what was most important a few months ago, I'd have said Biblical preaching. I anticipate listening to a great sermon and I do enjoy it when it's told creatively but beyond that I want to listen to good preaching where I am asked to open to a chapter and verse and glean truth from the Word through the study of the Pastor.

And yet... is that the main point of going to church? I don't know anymore. Recently in the area I live a well known pastor who has authored several books and has a radio ministry decided to be head, or teaching, pastor at a local church. I don't know all the details, all I know are rumors but supposedly over 600 new members joined the church before his arrival. I've heard that he's only going to preach about 65% of the time. (not sure if that's correct) and since the church is large, I wonder how many of the congregation he's really expected to get to know? Even to hear excellent Biblical preaching from a person who was famous, I'd not leave my church. First, I'm fortunate enough that my pastor is an excellent preacher. Secondly, because I now realize there is so much more than just a great or inspired teacher. WIth the internet and itunes, I no longer need to even set foot in any church; I have access to some of the best Biblical teaching around, all free. If its only about excellent expository preaching then I don't even have to step outside my home to enjoy that.

So, if it's not about the preaching being the most important thing, what is it? What makes your church so wonderful you want to stay? Tell me; I'm interested.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Music To My Ears

Like nearly everyone, I love music, and not just any music; I like to think I enjoy really good music. I was one of those mommies who played classical music for my kids, before they were born and afterwards, but not because I thought it'd make them smarter; I did so because I like classical music.

A bit of background: I started playing flute when I was in third grade. A year before on a trip to see my Aunt, she gave me the flute she used when she was in elementary school. I fell instantly in love with its red velvet case, lovingly putting together the three pieces and trying to make any type of noise I possibly could, and it turned out I was pretty good at it. My flute was a hand me down when my aunt had it, so this instrument is easily fifty years old and I soon discovered that it was made of a a different metal than all the other flute student's instruments, but it just made me love it more. (It's a bit shinier than most flutes)

I played flute or piccolo from third grade up through some of college, even after I married. I still know the piccolo solo for Stars and Stripes Forever, my High School's fight song, and Dvorak's Slavonic Dances.

All this to lay the groundwork that I like real music.

When my children were born, I wanted them also to enjoy "real" music. Nothing annoyed me more than music that was sung by kids and marketed to kids. The original version is always better, so why not expose them to the original, better artists? So I did. And life was good. I'm not cruel; I bought them some CDs geared for kids but sung by real artists: Elizabeth Mitchell, Lisa Loeb, The Jellydots, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. Really brilliant artists. And they never complained, and I was happy because I got to listen to really good music instead of cringing to really bad music.

A few weeks ago in a Happy Meal the toy was a CD of Kids music. Katie was so excited and I thought it'd be okay to indulge her and put it in the CD player. It has not left! All three of my kids think it's the best CD ever! How can it be? I've exposed them to such great music of all types of styles; how can they be so enamored with this? Really; it is quite painful to listen to. Yet, within listening to it twice they were singing along, they had nearly every song memorized.

I have decided it must be the kid's voices that is so compelling to them, so i have decided to give in and perhaps buy them a few kids cd's. Any recommendations?