Liturgy is good

I grew up in the Assemblies of God denomination and spent early adulthood in the Charismatic movement - and I'm very thankful for so much of my upbringing.

But I do recall many a direct statement, and many more indirect ones, that subtly mocked the mainline churches for their rigid services that weren't "led by the Spirit".  

The sentiment at the time was that any church service that didn't just go with the flow of the spirit (whatever exactly that meant!) was "religious" (the Pharisaical type, of course) and then the worst of all pronouncements would be made - these churches were "legalistic".

Religion.  Legalism.  Ewwwwwwww!!!

These legalistic churches were at best to be pitied and at worst - to be avoided like the plague.

What would my old brothers and sisters in Christ think of me now - going to a modern liturgical church pastored by an ordained Anglican?  

In response to Jesus' "do this in remembrance of me", churches since about the 4th century have, during the communion service, recited some form of almost the same liturgical rejoinder:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
And so it is in our church.  Every Sunday we take communion and every Sunday we recite that old response.  And I love it - every time.  

And every time, that last line chokes me up - I think because all my hopes and dreams are pointed at that great Day.

Enjoy Andrew Peterson's take on this ancient and beautiful acclamation which makes our story The Greatest Story Ever Told...

"Thank you, Father, that Christ will come again and make all things new..."

He's Always Good

Lisa's really good at making group conversations lively and fun.

She's perfected the art of leading questions - questions that draw out interesting perspectives and otherwise hidden aspects of the personalities in the room.  And so the other day during a quiet pause in the conversation, Lisa asked our brothers and sisters in the faith, "so, what's the Lord been showing you lately?".

Jim related that the Father's been calling him to let go of the reins, so to speak, of a difficult situation in his business - and to trust him.

Our other Jim (we have two in the family, both super-interesting and colorful in their own right) - his answer was in the same vein, something like:  "God is so good.  His grace never gives up.  He just loves us - with a never-ending always-faithful deep-and-wide love.  The more I focus on that, the more I'm drawn to him...".

And Gina's answer was like unto it (!) - "God has been calling me to trust him more and more.  And it's not easy, especially on the days when it feels like you're surrounded by darkness.  But he's always good and I'm finding that more and more - I trust him."

Well, the Spirit has been drawing me inescapably and dramatically to this as well.  For most of my adult life I've struggled with vague nagging doubts and just-barely-conscious thoughts that God was a bit irritated with me and that his intentions for me were, at least at times, not always good.  

But in the last several months, I'm being led to believe what our friends too are being led to believe, that God is always good.

He's always good...  Always good...  Always...  Good...  

Since I can't begin to say it like Andrew Peterson can sing it - I'll quit and let him take it from here.  I encourage you to set aside a few moments, find a quiet place - and play this song over and over and over.  And over - until you find that you're believing it.

And then play it again.

"Father, please give me eyes to see that you're always good.  
Will you help me to trust your intentions for me are still good?  
'Cause you're always good..."


Andrew Murray was a missionary pastor in South Africa during the 19th century, and he wrote a devotional book on the subject of humility that's been a part of my personal transformation process lately.

At first, his laser focus on humility as the secret sauce of all Christian living seemed to me a bit over-wrought.  

I mean - come on - every author and every speaker will tell you that the subject of the book they're promoting or the talk they're giving is the one thing you really need and of course the one thing you're truly missing.

But surely humility, among all the other virtues, isn't the most important, is it?

Well, after spending about 3 months of my team devotions (with men I so greatly respect) going through this book, I'm ready to agree with Mr. Murray.

On many pages I found the temptation to highlight almost every sentence.  My friends and I found multiple discussion points in every chapter - challenging us to think differently, to act differently and ultimately to seek to become a totally different kind of man.

With that said, there's no way to comprehensively review Humility without taking more of your time today than you bargained for - so I'll leave you with just one passage from chapter 12 that has set so clear a direction for my heart.
"In the faith of the grace that is already working in you;
in the assurance of the grace for the victory is yet to be;
stand persistently under the unchanging command:

humble yourself.

Accept with gratitude everything that God allows
from within or without,
from friend or enemy,
in nature or in grace,
to remind you of your need for humbling and to help you in it.

Reckon humility to be the mother-virtue,
your very first duty before God,
the one perpetual safeguard of the soul,
and set your heart upon it as the source of all blessing."
I recommend you get a few copies of this little book and a spend some time with a few close friends looking deeply into it.  I think you'll be happy you did.

"Father, I think I'm ready at least to point my days toward living in humility before you.  Please guide me and my friends in more humble choices and moments - that we may know you and come ever closer to your heart alone." 

Lord, Remember Me

One of God's weekly smiles to Lisa and I comes in the gathering of believers that meets in our home.  We've become like family to one another in many ways.  We eat together, we study the scriptures together and we recreate together.  Best of all we find that we're growing together in fits and starts to better bear God's image in the world.

Last night we talked a bit about grieving loss and pain.  Each of us have lost some things in our lives that were dear to us - perhaps some things we held too dear - but whatever, we've lost some things, some influence, some possessions, some relationships, some vocations or some dreams.  We've been hurt and we've hurt others.

We talked a bit about how to process grief, and how the ancient Jewish poets reckoned losses and hurts they were experiencing with God's great promises to them.  We call those songs "laments".  

A lament simply starts with expression of deep sorrow or grief.  No holds barred and nothing held back.  All the hurt, all the pain - get it out on the table for God and the world to see.  The great lament Psalms as well as many of the prophetic books are beautiful examples of how real people got real with God - no sugar coatings or trite happy sayings or giddy denials of reality.

But because of their great God, and his saving work in their lives in the past - they had faith.  Even still, given their pain and loss - those folks held on to some core beliefs in their all-powerful-always-good God and his great promises of a bright Kingdom future for them.

So their laments ended not in some nihilistic abyss, but with hopeful expressions of their faith.  And thus their souls were soothed.  They made sense of their lives and after the mourning and grieving - they got up.  They got up with the strength of heart and mind to build and rebuild and go back at life again in hope.

That's how laments worked for them, and I'm finding that's how they work for me.

Here's a beautiful lament song that I can't stop tearfully singing.  Andrew Peterson's Remember Me comes from the place of the thief on the cross hanging next to Jesus.

Check out how the song begins in grief.  
"There is none righteous, no not one,
We are prodigal daughters and wayward sons
We don't know the half of the hurt we've done
The countless we have killed"
But then, look how it ends...
"But before the breath there in the tomb,
before our joy sprang from the womb,
You saw a day that's coming soon.

When the Son will stand on the mount again,
with an army of angels at His command,
and the earth will split like the hull of a seed,
wherever Jesus plants his feet.

And up from the earth, the dead will rise,
like spring trees robed in petals of white,
singing the song of the radiant bride..."

Oh man - that's gonna be a good day indeed...

The Greatest Play Ever Written

"What was from the beginningwhat we have heardwhat we have seen with our eyeswhat we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life and the life was manifestedand we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life..."  - 1 John 1:1-2
Have you ever wondered why John listed seeing Jesus three times?