Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Balance in my Life

I just finished reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan a couple of days ago.  My wife and I are going to be leading a small group based on the book, so this was a reading exercise in 'advance preparation' for that.  I hadn't previously read the book and it honestly went a
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
different direction that I thought it was going to go.  Its going to be an interesting small group this fall!  :-)

I had no problems with the first couple of chapters.

However, starting with chapter 4 'Profile of the Lukewarm' and moving onto chapters 5 & 6 'Serving Leftovers to a Holy God', and 'Your Best Life.... Later', I started to get unsettled.  Francis was saying great things - stuff I actually think about quite often - and I began to wonder about him, and about myself, and doubt my salvation...   Well, not quite, but almost.  It shook me up enough that I did a quick study on the whole 'Once saved, always saved' issue.  I had no idea that was such a contentious issue for some people.  See a great discussion on it I found here

Fortunately, I pushed through and finished the book because Francis provided the balance that I needed to hear in his last couple chapters.  I get easily motivated to do things like 'sell the house, quit my job, and move to India and build an orphanage' after reading chapters 4, 5, and 6.  Chapter 10 brought me back to 'centre', and I loved this paragraph:
"Most of us use 'I'm waiting for God to reveal His calling on my life' as a means of avoiding action.  Did you hear God calling you to sit in front of the tv yesterday?...  the point isn't that watching tv is wrong, but that we are quick to rationalize our entertainment priorities but slow to commit to serving God."
Considering all of this, how do I work out my salvation and my calling to serve God with 'fear and trembling', and yet cultivate a relationship with Him that motivates me to serve Him?
  • Trust God to show me the right way.. and validate it by keeping an eye on the fruit in my life...  Are my choices bearing good fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.)?  
  • Remember the things He's doing in and through my life here and now and stop comparing myself with others!  
  • Balancing my 'calling' with my 'responsibilities'.  I felt for years that I was not using my music ability to its full potential.  Family responsibilities got in the way.  When I brought the problem and my frustration to God, after a while He directed me to use my music in ways I hadn't thought of before (outside of a church in a hospital & and school) that were super meaningful to myself as well as to people on the receiving end, and I didn't have to shirk family responsibilities.
  • Remember that God has perfect balance - while He's motivating us with the messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, He's ALSO drawing us to Himself with encouragement like Ephesians 1:4: "Long before He laid down the earth's foundations, God had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His Love."
  • Remember the balance between Doing & Being (I wrote about that recently here)
  • Remember that Jesus came to the earth "...full of grace and truth."  John 1:14.  Pastor Rick said this to me some time ago and I've never forgotten it.  Balance in grace and truth.  Not just balance, but FULL of both at the same time!  How does that look?  What was Jesus like for John to have written that? 
    The fact that Jesus and others in the Bible (John in Revelation) used fear as a tactic in their messages to motivating people to change has bothered me for some time.  But when I consider that through the context of John 1:14, it changes.  Jesus was full of grace as well.  God speaks and He allows us to hear what we need to hear, if our hearts are humble and open.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

Doing or Being?

I had the title and some notes for this post written down, but when I went to actually write it, something else came out.  You can read about it here.  It is kinda related to this post, but they are quite different, so I'm going to try and write 'Doing or Being' now, here.

Both posts started out with pretty much the same opening paragraph....

I usually take a bit of a break from volunteering over the summer because I'm pretty busy over the course of the school year.  However this summer, our church was needing some help with music (people going on vacation, etc.) and I felt God telling me to help since we had no major vacation plans.  Bible verses like 'Don't be weary in well doing...' Gal. 6:9, 'Cast your bread upon the waters...' Eccl 11:1, and the idea of 'scattering seed' Matt. 23 kept bouncing around in my head.   I agreed to help, and ended up being busy almost all summer - either playing or leading.  I don't take these commitments lightly - there's practice and preparation involved before each week.  For the most part, I enjoy doing it.  After everything is over on Sunday afternoon, I'm wiped.  I think I'm getting older.

...and here the posts diverged....

Considering my 'tiredness' further, there's more to it than my advancing age as I'm not that old.  Two years ago I started working at a 'Start-Up' (new IT company).  They paid quite a bit less than I was used to getting remunerated as an IT contractor, so to supplement my income I used the majority of my vacation time to teach courses at SAIT.  As a result, I haven't had a significant vacation/break in a while, and I think I'm feeling it.
Time slipping away?  I'm getting more tired...
Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

I've also discovered that I am more susceptible to getting depressed when I'm tired.  When Friday has rolled around lately, I'm not much good for anything except an argument... and that's no good.  And then towards the evenings on days when I'm quite tired my thoughts tend to head in a negative direction that cause me to pause when I reflect on them later.  Thoughts like....

"God, look at the things I've done for You!  Remember how I gave all of my life in the prime of my life for You?  And there's a potential that all my 'good works' will burn up in Your refiner's fire?  What am I doing this for, then?  How do I know I'm not wasting myself for nothing...."

Doing or Being?  This is definitely a challenge I've wrestled with for a long time.  The Bible has scriptures like the ones above that encourage us to 'DO.'  They seem to connotate several things:
  1. You're actually doing something in each case.  Works - 'Well doing'....   'throwing bread'....  and 'casting seeds.'  
  2. Time is involved - something easily forgotten in this context.  Time you could have been spending with family, or on vacation, or educating yourself further with your job, or just resting.
  3. Hope is involved.  The sower isn't guaranteed that every seed will grow into a harvest.  Casting your bread on the waters doesn't guarantee a fish or a duck supper.  
  4. Even more than hope, faith must involved.  I tend to get caught up in the task itself, comparing my work with others, and forget to apply faith.  As soon as faith leaves the picture, I get into that tizzy of thoughts above because throwing resources away doesn't make any rational sense.
The Bible says that 'without faith it is impossible to please God', and 'whatever is not of faith is sin.'  Chapters 3 & 4 of the book of Hebrews also talks about how faith helps us find rest in God.  I think part of the balance between Doing & Being (resting) is found in faith.  Listen to this from Hebrew 4:1-3:

"For as long, then, as the promise of resting in Him pulls us on to God's goal for us, we need to be careful that we're not disqualified.  We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn't do them a bit of good because they did didn't received them with faith.  If we believe, though, we'll experience that state of resting.  But not if we don't have faith..."

The question for me then becomes: How to grow and maintain faith so when I actually 'do' things, my attitudes and thoughts don't go down the drain?

I can think of several ways:
  1. Remembering that its not religion, but relationship.  Its not about doing things to get ahead or get in 'right standing' with God.  There's nothing I can DO to help that - He's done it all.  When I understand His heart for me and for the people around me, and I do things for Him from that position and context, He can work in me and through me - faith automatically becomes infused in what I do.
  2. Reading the Bible and meditating on it.  The Bible says "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" Romans 10:17.  I need to watch what I feed my mind with.  Its like eating and the old adage - you are what you eat.  In this case though, its what I choose to feed my mind and my spirit with.  Proverbs 15:14 says "A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while a fool feeds on trash."
  3. Remembering what God has done for me.  When I remember that God has done things for me in the past - how He's moved in my life - I believe it keeps my faith alive and growing.  This was an important exercise for the people in the bible.  I'm trying to do that here.
  4. I have to trust God.  Hebrews 12:2 says He's the 'author and perfecter of our faith.'  Its not the amount of faith I have that matters, its Who my faith is in and what He can do.  That's a comforting thought.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Worship This Summer (2018)

I usually take a bit of a break from volunteering over the summer because I'm pretty busy over the course of the school year.  However this summer, our church was needing some help with music (people going on vacation, etc.) and I felt God telling me to help since we had no major vacation plans.  Bible verses like 'Don't be weary in well doing...' Gal. 6:9, 'Cast your bread upon the waters...' Eccl 11:1, and the idea of 'scattering seed' Matt. 23 kept bouncing around in my head.   I agreed to help, and ended up being busy almost all summer - either playing or leading.  I don't take these commitments lightly - there's practice and preparation involved before each week.  For the most part, I enjoy doing it.  After everything is over on Sunday afternoon, I'm wiped.  I think I'm getting older.

Leading worship from my Roland RD700GXThe band's schedule was ironed out as the summer progressed, so I didn't actually know what my full engagement level and responsibilities would be over the course of the summer until the second week of August.  As summer began, I had been asked to lead the band earlier in July, which I agreed to.  I ended up getting a nasty cold at the beginning of July that hung on all through the month and wore me down a bit.  I could sing, but I tired easily.  After leading on July 15th, I wrote in my journal '...and while the band did well, I didn't think or feel like worship was anything special.  No one said anything about it.  So I let it go and was fine with never leading worship again at church.'

Several thoughts here:
  1. We have a lot of good worship leaders at church.  I was a little surprised to be asked to lead, but I always try and do my best.  Writing that journal entry, I was more resigned to the fact that I'm getting older, maybe a bit out of date, and there is a new generation that is more motivated.  I was OK with letting go dreams and desires of being involved in church in the capacity of a worship leader - that is more what that written comment was about.
  2. I read an interesting post on the 'Worship Leaders Collective' Facebook group this morning that went like this:
          Random church-goer: "I didn't really like worship today"
          Response:  "That's fine.  We weren't worshipping you"
    That's not meant to be a dig at any one individual or a group.  For me its a good reminder not to look at the outside response.
  3. Its a bit disturbing how easily I throw out absolute thoughts and/or words like 'never'.  A similar word that my wife often catches me with is 'always'.  I think/speak in exaggerations like this to make a point, but I think sometimes they cross a line.  I need to be careful with what I say and think!
Ironically, a couple days after writing that journal entry, I was rather surprised when I got asked to help lead again - two more Sundays in August.  I agreed again.  With both of these I wasn't entirely sure what kind of band I'd be playing with as schedules were getting juggled, which added a bit to the burden.  In situations where things happen that are outside of my control, I've come to a point where I just commit everything to God and leave it in His hands.  I do my part and let Him take care of the rest.  If the mid-week rehearsal is cancelled because the sound guy is on holidays, I try to come more prepared on Sunday.  Even then, I later wrote in my journal after one of the services:  "I don't know if I've ever felt more inadequate before leading a worship service."  That's a good place to be though, given what Paul said in 2 Cor. 12:10.  "That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, ... in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 

Its been amazing to me how God comes through when I let go and learn to trust Him.  I'm realizing that my perspective of 'how things went' is not something I should focus on.  God has His own way of using lyrics and words to impact His people... He places ideas and thoughts into people's minds based on their experiences - things I'd have no idea about - that end up having a greater influence and influence than I could ask or even hope to accomplish.

Its funny.  This post was supposed to be about 'Doing or Being' but I got totally side-tracked writing about something else.  Guess I had to get it off my chest.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Prayer Weeks

Our church is in for a dramatic change!  We're amalgamating with another church and getting a building.  Our first Sunday together is Sept 9th.  In preparation for that we've been having joint prayer meetings every night for the past two weeks.  I haven't been able to go every night, but I've gone to a number of these meetings and they've been good.  We've had a different focus every evening, (the harvest, social injustice, who God is, etc.) with a time of worship and personal reflection/preparation to start.

I felt like God spoke a couple of things to me during these prayer times.
  1. A scripture that was used in one of the meetings was 2 Chronicles 7:14 'If my people,
    The trees in our backyard on a cloudy day
    The trees in our backyard on a cloudy day
    who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.'  The phrase that stuck out to me that evening was 'seek my face.'  If I remember right, the Israelites in the Old Testament believed that if they saw God's face, they'd die....  so why would they want to seek His face?  Or why did He ask them to seek His face?  I thought it was an interesting irony, so when I got home I looked it up.  It turns out, 'seeking God's face' is more literally translated 'seeking God's presence.' 
        Being present in this moment for God.
    Last night I was struggling with just that.  Distracting thoughts kept coming.  When someone isn't physically present with you, its a faith exercise to 'stay present' with them.  One easy way I've found to manage this is to offer those distracting thoughts to God - just turn them into prayers.  I'm not sure why I didn't completely take advantage of it last night.  
  2. It was windy yesterday and I was looking out our back window at the trees blowing in the wind.  It was also sunny out (the picture above was from a day later when it was cloudy) so the shadows of the leaves were dynamic on the ground to say the least.  The wind was so boisterous the phrase that came into my mind is 'the trees are dancing.'  And then I noticed all the different types of trees and how they moved in the wind.  The willow trees were moving vibrantly - whole branches were bending up and down.  Our neighbour's younger trees were leaning away from the wind in sweeping dips.  Our spruce tree, on the other hand, was wiggling stiffly, not making big sweeping motions.
    It struck me how, if the trees were people dancing, God would love and accept each of them and their dancing just the way He made them.  He wouldn't expect the spruce tree to move like the willows - they are made totally different.  I think its similar with us when I consider prayer and worship.  We're all made differently and we've experienced life differently.  We're going to pray and worship God in different ways.  I believe He accepts that.  I need to as well.  I shouldn't compare myself to others and think 'perhaps that's the way I should be praying'.  I also shouldn't compare myself to others and think 'Whew, at least I sang better than them.'  Little children don't compare - they don't give what they are doing a second thought.  They are just 'present in that moment.'  
God, help me to be present in this moment, for you.

Prayer and Love - Even Better? Journal Entry July 2024

 I'm travelling for work this week to Vilnius, Lithuania.  On the flight from Amsterdam to Vilnius yesterday, a mother and her son (who ...