Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hilarious, yet true...

This guy cracks me up sometimes!

Alan, where were you tonight???

Can You Hear Me Now???

Or, better yet, can you hear Him?

Back in May of 2006, Keith Brenton wrote a very interesting post entitled, "In Cognito Ergo Sum," which he started by posing some even more interesting questions. He says:

"By the way, how do you know that I exist?

You read my blog. Someone has to write it. Therefore it must be me. Right?

But how do you know it's me? How do you know it's the me that I have represented myself to be, here, with these very pixels? Have you ever met me? Have you ever sat at a table with me and eaten a burger with me? Even if you have, was it enough to get to know me well enough that you'd swear in court that the person you met is the same one who writes this blog?

How do you know I'm telling the truth?

Do you know someone who knows me better than you do? Can you really trust them? How well do they know me?"

He seems to have a point, as he poses questions that we could ask ourselves of almost any of our favorite bloggers. Of the approximately 20 or so blogs that I check on a daily basis, only two of them are people that I know (sort of). I used to work with Alan, we worked together for almost a I could say with certainty that I know him. But even Keith...I've only spoken to him in person a handful of times, all very brief moments. Funny how I can go and visit all of these people's pages and read all they have to say and feel like I know so much about them...but as Keith points out, we really don't know for sure, do we?

I just wonder sometimes about all of the people that I read. All I really know about them is that I can sometimes hear Him through their words. As I read their thoughts, from which I gain so much insight, I wonder who they are. What are their lives really like? What do they look like, those that haven't posted pictures? What do they sound like?

That's a big one for me. As I read someone's thoughts, I try to imagine them saying though they were actually talking to me. Unfortunately, I don't know most of them, so that task proves difficult. It's difficult to hear the voice of someone you've never met, and thus, properly interpret their thoughts all the time. What a blessing it is, though, to be able to know some people's be able to hear their voice in their hearts and thoughts that are posted. I was given such a blessing tonight.

Although I don't really know him, Keith is one whose voice I know, simply because we've met; he works at my church; and he's been in front of the congregation before in worship, etc. However, everytime I've heard him, he always sounds so pleasant! Yet being the creative writer that he is, his posts sometimes have less-than-pleasant tones. They may sound angry, sarcastic, excited, hopeful, sad, you name it. As many different emotions as there are...his writing can convey all of them. So sometimes it's confusing (or at least funny) to read something that doesn't match up to the always-pleasant voice that I hear in my head.

Yet this evening...all I can say is what an experience! In our preaching minister's absence, Keith was one of our speakers! It was the longest I can recall ever hearing him speak. What made it so interesting for me, though, is that he kinda preached one of his blog posts! How awesome it was to be able to hear the words (inspiring enough on their own...I know, I'd read them before) from the author himself. It was just cool to be able to really hear his post like that...the way it was intended to sound.

All of this leading up to some questions of my own...I guess I just wanna ask, how do you all picture me and hear me? Can you hear me in my posts? What do I sound like to you? What emotions am I conveying to you? Most importantly, do I sound the way you think He would have me to? As my subtitle says, I hope, more than anything, that my meditations are pleasing to Him. I hope I sound the way He would have me to. I hope that at least some of what I have to say here comes from Him. And when that happens, I hope you all can really hear the words from the Author Himself...the way He intends for them to sound...because when that happens, what an experience it is!

"He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice."--John 10:3-4

What We I Believe, Part Two--Faith and Values

What We I Believe

In the above linked post from a few weeks ago, I wrote about our elders publishing a document for us as a church, which laid out some basic beliefs for us as a congregation. At the time, I admitted that I was less than thrilled with the idea of such a document, but that I was trying to refrain from forming an opinion about it, as I had not yet had the opportunity to read it.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to study it (click here) and I was even recently able to listen to a recording of that Sunday night service, in which our elders spoke about this document and its purpose (click here).

I will now confess that I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I don't have a problem with anything that it says, although I feel some of the wording was left to be a little bit vague. In listening to what our shepherds had to say, I was encouraged by their leadership, and I believe that this will be a useful document in some situations. I still just am not sure I like the idea completely.

I'm not trying to be critical, just analytical. (That is why I've posted links, for you to go read and listen for yourself, and form your own opinion, if you so desire.) In fact, rather than being critical, if anything, I am grateful to our shepherds for the leadership with which they guide and teach our congregation, especially at this time. Our congregation at PV is in the process of making some changes in the near future, and this is causing concern among many of our brothers and sisters. So in dealing with this, our elders have overflown with patience, love and care in addressing these concerns, in an open manner. If I am not mistaken, the night that the "Faith & Values" document was handed out, they encouraged our members to bring them any questions or concerns they may have. Then last Sunday night, they took some time to stand before the congregation and, with love and encouragement, answer the questions and address the concerns. The reason I post this information is in an effort to be fair and allow you to have a clearer picture of this document and of what is going on at my home congregation.

In my previous post about What We Believe, I also let you all know that I would be working on writing my own, personal statement of faith. However, if you notice, my wording is hesitant..."it may take me awhile," and I "might post it here for you guys to read." I am, indeed working on it, but to be honest, the task seems a little bit overwhelming. There are so many things on my heart that I could write about what I believe; seems the main challenge right now is organizing all my thoughts into something that makes sense. I will also confess that I'm a little nervous about posting it, and even more so after I actually received a comment on that post...that means someone really is out there reading all the stuff I put on here!

When I started blogging (which was actually just a few months ago) I admitted that it was mostly for my own benefit, and that I didn't care too much whether anyone read or not. That's still true, for the most part. It is very encouraging to know that someone is reading, but it is still mostly for my own benefit...makes it easier for me to share more openly. So why am I nervous about posting this up-and-coming statement of my beliefs? Awhile back, a couple of our shepherds were in our Singles class on a Wednesday night, attempting to explain to us their decision to hire a worship minister. That night, one of them said something that has stuck with me. "Christianity is personal, but it is not private." I think that's difficult for me, because I can tend to be a private person sometimes. But he's exactly right, it's not private, it's something we should be able to share. Indeed, this blog is, in a way, an effort of mine to be more open and less private.

Also, in our Singles class, we've recently been studying evangelism, as our Singles minister takes us through some of what he learned from the book, "Just Walk Across The Room," by Bill Hybels. Especially this morning, we discussed being able to, in 100 words or less, share your story. Well, my post on what I believe will most certainly not be 100 words or less, but I hope that as I am writing it, drawing on both scriptures and my experiences with God in my life, that my story will be evident through my faith and beliefs that I lay out for you all to see. So I am telling you now, with certainty, that I will, indeed, post "What I Believe" for you all to Jesus, it is coming...and soon...

Much love.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Powerful Song...

Hey guys, just wanted to pass this on to you, in case you haven't heard it yet. There's a new single by Casting Crowns (off of their new CD, "The Altar and The Door"--to be released in late August) entitled, "East to West" that is playing on the radio right now. I think I first heard it a few weeks ago. It's a very powerful song about forgiveness.

Sometimes we, as Christians, forget that God not only forgives, but also forgets about our sins. For us, as humans, I believe it is impossible to forget such things...when someone wrongs us...and especially when we mess up. We sometimes continue to live with the consequences of our sin, or just the guilt of our sin, and that makes it more difficult to realize that God really does remove our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west. This song is a beautiful expression of those emotions, and a reminder that He does, indeed, "know how far the east is from the west." Not only does His forgiveness allow me to stand before Him "as though I've never sinned," but He is not going to leave me the way He found me...His grace has the power to transform me into what He would have me to be.

If you have yet to hear this beautiful song, click here!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Welcome Home

I'm finally home, and I promise I'm working on a blog post to summarize my experiences at camp this year! But in the mean time, hear this...

Yesterday, I attended church, as is my usual custom. On Sunday morning, we had a sermon about being imitators of God in our community. The title for the sermon was something like "The Church on Monday Morning." That's what we are to be...not just the church of Sunday, but the church of Monday, and Tuesday, and every other day that ends in 'Y'. It was a really good lesson on how, by being the imitators of God that we are called to be all the time, we can have an impact on our community. I went home, ate some lunch, did a little bit of laundry, but mostly just relaxed and recovered some more from camp. Went to church Sunday evening, where we got to hear our elders speak a little more about the concerns that are facing our church right now (more on that later, too!) and they let us know a little bit of what to expect in the coming months. After worship, I saw a friend who gave me a hug and a sincere, "Welcome home!" I just said, "Thanks, it's good to be back." After church I went to Moe's for some yummy Mexican food w/some of my friends from our singles group. All in all, it was a great day!

But what a difference a day makes! This morning, as I walked into the office, I heard those same words..."Welcome back!" Except they were spoken with more sarcasm than sincerity, as I walked into the credit union where I am employed, only to find that both of our member base systems (that is, the main systems we use to do transactions for members) were down, I was having difficulty logging onto some info that I gotta get off the internet everyday, our teller supervisor was not there, our printer that we use to print checks for members was not working and about 15 checks had been messed up and needed to be re-done. When I did finally get to start on my daily work (at about 9:30 a.m.) I discovered that there were several accounts outta balance, things posted incorrectly, that I had to hunt for to find the errors and correct. I could go on...

But then I was Monday morning. As I recalled Jeff's sermon, I remembered that on days like today, I am called to be a child of God and set an example for Him, even when it may not be easy to do. So I tried my best to face this Monday, my first day back from a fun, but exhausting vacation, with a positive attitude, trying to help others around me with their computer problems, member service problems, etc. It's sooo not an easy thing to do. A part of me was like "I wish I was still at camp!" For at camp, we spend most of our day in Bible study, prayer, and worship. But, as Jeff pointed out, we are not to be just the church of Sunday morning, but the church of Monday Morning.

How was your Monday? Hope it was good. Have a great week! Much love!--mmlace

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hitting the Road...

As much as I love camp and look forward to it EVERY SINGLE YEAR....I HATE having to pack for it. It seems like I always take more and more stuff to camp each year! When it comes time to pack, it's a challenge to see how much stuff I can actually shove into my little bitty Nissan Sentra. It's pretty full right now...and I'm about to hit the road! I won't have internet access for the whole next week...I'll miss reading your blogs, all you people out there!!! And I'm sure you'll miss my comments! (Or maybe you'll be relieved to have a week w/out having to read my opinion on everything you have to say!) I'll catch up with you guys next Friday evening! Much, MUCH LOVE!!!--MMLACE

Lessons from James--Week 5, Chapter 5

Well it is....


I leave for camp this afternoon and I am SO EXCITED!!! But, before I go, we must finish up the study of take one last look with me...

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you."--James 5:1-6
-----Wow. Those are some pretty harsh words. But they are directed to people who have done some pretty harsh things. I may be wrong about this, but again, like in chapter 1, I believe this passage is no so much about having wealth. Wealth, in and of itself is not sinful. But the love of money...that's what Jesus said was the root of all evil. James has harshs words for some people who have valued their wealth above their fellow man, not treating other people kindly. People who, rather, should have been storing up treasure in heaven.

"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its vaulable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No' be no, or you will be condemned."--James 5:7-12
-----Rather than being obsessed with the wealth of this world, we are to wait patiently and with perseverance for the coming of the Lord. We're given excellent examples of how to do this, as we're told to look at the prophets and Job. Also, James gives a little more advice on how to treat each other...we are not to grumble against each other, and we are to be trustworthy people of our word.

"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? he should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three an da half years. again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and th earth produced its crops. My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."--James 5:13-20
-----One of my favorite passages of all time. I love that James reminds us of how important and how POWERFUL prayer is!!! Because he knows that when we are trying to be patient and persevere, we will definitely need the power of prayer in our lives.

Okay, I suppose that's all I've got. It's been fun to read through this book again and just think out loud. I've gotta finish getting ready for camp now, I need to leave from here soon! If you have a moment, pray for us...for our campers and for us counselors, that God will bless our week together. Much love!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What We I Believe

In May 2005 "A Christian Affirmation" appeared in the Christian Chronicle, signed by several leaders in the Churches of Christ in North America, as a type of statement of some of the beliefs generally held to by members of the Churches of Christ. The signers did say that it was not meant to be comprehensive and they did not mean to be judgemental of those who did not subscribe to these particular beliefs. Rather, they wrote it in an effort to "strengthen the Christian identity of Churches of Christ" and to "seek through discussion with our brothers and sisters a deeper understanding of God's saving truth." Although somewhat disappointed in what it had to say, I have to respect their intentions in writing it, because they are people that love the Lord and are trying to do His will.

This article was brought to the forefront of my mind about a week ago, after seeing my church's Order of Worship for this past Sunday evening:

Faith and Values
5:30 PM Worship July 8, 2007
--Welcome / Opening Comments / Prayer--Elder of the Month
--Opening Song 4 - “To God Be The Glory”
--Song 66 - “Doxology”
Hearing From Our Elders: How We Got Here / Why Did We Draft This Document?
--Scripture Reading - Ephesians 4:1-6
--Song 528 - “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”
Hearing From Our Elders: What This Document is Not
--Song 449 - “Thy Word”
--Scripture Reading - Colossians 3:12-17
Hearing From Our Elders: The Purpose of this Document: For Our Own Internal Benefit
--Song 705 - “A Common Love”
Hearing from Our Elders: The Purpose of this Document: As A Tool For Outreach
--Song 68 - “Give Thanks”
--Song 777 - “Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer”
--Scripture Reading As Prayer -Romans 15:5-7

I'm thinking, "Okay, obviously, our elders have drafted some type of document for us as a church. I wonder what it's about." And, to be honest, I'm not sure how I felt about it. The idea kinda rubs me the wrong way for some reason. I suppose I have a problem with a few people, whether they be elders or not, laying out beliefs for many people. Because, undoubtedly, there are just as many different beliefs on some things as there are different people in our church. Unfortunately, I was unable to be at church this past Sunday evening, so I'm still wondering what it's about. I did, however, call one of my friends and ask her about it. She said that they had printed a type of pamphlet that they handed out for us to use and to give out to others; it basically stated what we, as a family at PV, believe. After hearing that, I'm still not sure how I feel about it. However, I respect our elders' intentions in writing it, because I respect them as leaders, and I know that they, as well, love the Lord and are trying to do His will. So I am trying to refrain from forming an opinion about it until I have the opportunity to read it.

Something else that was brought to my mind by this was one person's response to "A Christian Affirmation." He decided to write his own, personal affirmation of beliefs, and encouraged others to do the same. And I can't seem to shake some of what he posted in the comments section of his affirmation...his words keep coming back to me. He said, "'s just an extraordinary experience writing one! It's a great way to distill your interpretation of the creed that never changes in scripture. I wish I had written one 20 or 30 years ago so I could compare it to what I'd write now. I'd see how much I've grown spiritually. It'd be like the pencil marks on the door labeled with each birthday!" The emphasis there is mine. Since I fall into that category (being approximately 30 years younger than him!) I've decided to take the advice of one a little bit older and alot wiser than myself.

That's right, I feel challenged to write...or at least attempt to own, personal statment of faith. And if it turns out to be any good, I just might post it here to share with you guys! But it may take me awhile to turn out something blog-worthy--we'll see. Just wanted to share that with you guys. I'll be working on it. Stay tuned!

And thanks, Keith.

Much love to you all!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Lessons from James--Week 4, Chapter 4

Lessons from James--Week 3, Chapter 3
Lessons from James--Week 2, Chapter 2
Lessons from James--Week 1, Chapter 1

Yes, yes, I know...technically, it is no longer week 4, but the beginning of week 5. Unfortunately, I was unable to write this at the end of last week, because I went to my parents' for the weekend for my nephew's birthday party (pictures to come!) and whenever I'm there, I don't seem to have time to accomplish anything. So...sorry, it's a little late, but here it is...

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot hav what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."
-----It looks like, to me, that here, James is giving more practical information on how to live our lives on a daily basis, still tied to his theme of "earthly vs. eternal." He's telling the people that they shouldn't be fighting and quarrelling, coveting and killing. But, more than just recognizing the symptoms, James diagnoses the real disease. "You do not have because you do not ask with the wrong adulterous people...friendship with the world is hatred toward God." WHOA! That's pretty intense. Adulterous...hatred...those are some pretty ugly words. I think that's what makes James' message so emphatic...YOU CAN'T SIT ON THE FENCE. You may find this strange, but for me, it kinda brings to mind God's sentiments for the church at Laodicea, as James tells the people, who are claiming to be Christians, that they CANNOT BE FRIENDS OF THE WORLD. For our God is a jealous God, and as we learn over and over again from the history of the Israelites, to participate in idolatry, putting anything of the world above God Almighty, is, indeed, adultery. Then James once again proceeds with some practical advice on how to overcome this obstacle. They are to repent...humble themselves...submit to God. And God will lift them up.

"Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor."
-----More extremely practical advice. Some things are just so much easier said than done. But this is it, guys. James just reminded them of the need to humble themselves. This raises the question, "Is it possible to be passing judgement on your brother while, in humility, considering others better than yourselves???" I believe James's answer is a resounding NEGATORY!

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."
-----Along the lines of humility, there is no room for boasting. For in being humble and submitting to God, we realize that it is, indeed, God, not us, in charge of the mist that is our lives. A mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes--this phrase just remains with me. It comes to mind more often for me than for most people, I think. I recall the death of my 12-year-old cousin several months ago...I believe the events of that weekend have ingrained these words into my mind and made them all too real. But in dealing with that, and the questions it raised, I learned that the only place to find comfort and answers for those questions is through God. That is precisely James' point. In humility, we rely on God, and just continue to do what we know He would have us to do, regardless of the circumstances.

This concludes my commentary on James chapter 4. But I'm most definitely interested in hearing your commentary...if you have anything you'd like to share! Much love!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Our Fathers' God

A while back, there was a post on brother Mike Cope's blog that seemed to stir up quite a bit of controversy. He questioned the appropriateness of the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in worship, and the comments started flying! Honestly, I was shocked; I had no idea so many would be offended by this concept. Yet, there were those with the opinion that it was wrong to pledge allegiance to anything other than God, so I must respect the reasons why they hold to that opinion, why they would be offended by the reciting of the Pledge or the singing of patriotic songs in worship.

However, whenever I've said the Pledge of Allegiance (although I admit I don't believe I've ever done it at church) I've just always done it with the understanding that I will be loyal to my country so long as it doesn't require me to be disloyal to my God. I can, with good conscience, pledge a lower level of allegiance to my country, than the allegiance I have for my God. I just assumed this went without saying. So I'm not sure, but I believe this is why I'd be okay with the reciting of the Pledge in church. This is why I have been okay with singing patriotic songs in church.

Still, on this Independence Day, I wanted to take a look at what God has to say about some of this. After all, the main thing that we celebrate in reciting the Pledge or in singing a patriotic song is the liberty, freedom, and justice of our great nation. So what does God have to say about such a concept as freedom? I believe it is evident, all the way from Genesis to Revelation...let's take a look...

"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'"--Gen. 1:12
---God originally created humans to be free. He wanted us to have the authority and freedom to enjoy this world in which He placed us.

"Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord."--Ex. 6:6-8
---Here we see the start of a big example of God's love for freedom and justice. He has compassion on the Israelites, who are being oppressed by the Egyptians. He keeps His promise to their forefathers, by bringing them out of slavery and into the land He promised.

"Give the One who remembered us in our low estate and freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever."--Ps. 136:1a,23-24
---This is only one of many of the Psalms in which the writer either is praying for or praising God for freedom from his enemies.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"--Isaiah 58:6
---In the context of this passage, God is declaring to His people that their fasting has been unacceptable to Him because their hearts were not right. They were simply going through the motions. Rather, He says that He would desire freedom for the oppressed and the end of injustice. Again, only one example of many similar verses found in the writings of the prophets.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."--Isaiah 61:1-2
---Here is yet another one of Isaiah's prophecies that speaks greatly of freedom. Freedom is the first thing that is mentioned as something for His people to look forward to in the year of His favor.

"He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'"--Luke 4:16-19
---Amazing. Here, in the New Testament, we find the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy about the Lord's favor in the coming of the Messiah. That's why He came. To free prisoners and the oppressed, to give sight and preach the good news.

"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' They answered him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?' Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."--John 8:31-36
---Here we get to see Jesus elaborate on His mission to set people free. He has come to set us free from sin, to make us children of God, and to give us a permanent place in the family of God.

"You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness...because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."--Rom. 6:18, 8:2
---I hate to pull these verses out of their context, since one is from chapter 6 and the other from chapter 8, but they seem to be the most powerful and to-the-point verses in this long passage about being freed from sin. Unfortunately, I don't have time to sit here and type out all of Romans 6-8. If I did, I would. Instead, I highly recommend that you read through it. Paul goes into much detail, explaining how Christ did, indeed set us free, as He said He would in John 8. Paul, instead says that we are "slaves to righteousness," yet this is different, because it is a slavery that "leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."--Gal. 5:1
---Once again, I hate to pull this verse outta context, please do go read some more of Galations as well to learn more about our freedom in Christ. Paul is encouraging the church members not to try to conform to the ways of the law, to which they used to be enslaved. He reminds them that Christ died to set them free from that law, and that it is only through Christ that they can be saved.

"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctifiy them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant."--Heb. 9:13-15 .
---Seems the Hebrew writer also explores this concept of Christ setting us free from the old law which leads to death, and giving us hope under a new covenant.

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom."--James 2:12
---James, as well, encourages people to live according to the law that gives freedom. As he is encouraging his readers to be "doers," back in chapter 1, he is encouraging people to listen to the word of God. He says that the word, this perfect law, gives freedom.

"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.--Rev. 1:5-6
---Here, we see John, the one whom Jesus loved, also recognizing that Christ has made us free by His blood. John reminds us that freedom doesn't come free. There was a Price that was paid.

Much like the freedom that we celebrate in this great nation. No, I don't think I have a problem celebrating the freedom of our nation by pledging a certain level of allegiance to my country, or by singing patriotic songs of our freedom. For our country is based on one of the ideals that is so prevalent throughout God's word.

In fact, my favorite patriotic song to sing is "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." The reason I love the song is the beauty of it's last verse. Does anyone know the words to that verse???

"Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King."

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..."--Heb. 12:2

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sunday School Stress???

You may be saying, “Huh? What on earth could be stressful about Sunday School???” I’m kind of wondering the same thing. Not that my Sunday School class has been bad or anything—we’ve just been having what I would consider some difficult discussion, both last week and this week. And I suppose what concerns me is the fact that we’re having this conversation in the first place.

If this post ends up not making sense, I apologize. But if you can’t tell yet, I like to use my blog as an online journal, and I see it as a place where I can sort of think out loud, without too much fear of what you guys think of me. So that’s where I’m going with this, you may choose to bear with me if you so desire.

Last Sunday morning, with the announcement by our elders that we are hiring one, Jerome Williams, to be the new worship minister at our church, our Singles minister decided he wanted to take some time to discuss worship. So both last Sunday morning and this morning, we’ve spent talking about many different aspects of worship. We’ve talked about different kinds of worship…vain worship, ignorant worship, self-imposed worship, and true worship. We tried to figure out what Jesus meant by worshipping “in spirit and in truth.”

We discussed the idea that worshipping in spirit has more to do with spiritual things, as opposed to worship in the Old Testament, which very much appealed to the physical senses. We discussed the idea of worshipping in truth. Hans made an interesting point, one that I had never heard brought out before, at least not this specifically. He said he believes that the contrast is not true worship vs. false worship, but that the contrast there is real vs. shadow. The “physical” worship of the Old Testament was a shadow of the real “spiritual” worship that we get to participate in today. (Take a look at Hebrews 9—better yet, read all of Hebrews; it’s my favorite—the “book of better things!”)

Then he asked us a question, which kind of changed the route of the discussion, “What is your opinion on bringing some things that may seem ‘physical’ into our worship service?” He referred to the idea of videos (which have been used at PV) and praise teams (which we don’t use, but I guess he implied that the idea has been looked at and discussed).

This question raised several others.

“Is worship for us or for God? Does God want us to worship because He wants to hear us worship Him or because He knows it’s good for us? Or a combination of both???”

“Why are we changing? Is something broken that needs to be fixed? Is there something that we’re doing wrong? It seems that there are so many different things that are being done right, and the Lord is greatly blessing our work here at PV. So what, exactly, are we trying to accomplish?”

“Who draws the line, as far as what is ‘acceptable’ worship for the congregation as a whole? How has that line moved, even over the last ten years? And what are the influences that are causing this line to move?”

I guess that last group of questions is the one that really gets to me. The answer, obviously, is that the elders, as our leaders draw the line, at least congregationally speaking. However, as one always-insightful guy pointed out, people as individuals will still draw their own lines. There will unfortunately be decisions that the elders make that will offend some people, and they will, no doubt, decide not to worship with us anymore. That thought is the one that is stressful for me. Because I am, for lack of a better term, very liberal. Few things in a “worship service” offend me, because I simply don’t believe that they are issues. When we look at what in the Bible is considered “unacceptable worship,” we must look at why that is. What is it that makes worship “unacceptable” to the Lord??? In just about all of the examples that are in my mind, it had very little do with the actions with which the worshipers approached the throne of God and much to do with the heart with which they approached the throne of God.

So it bothers me that we have to have this discussion; and it bothers me that no matter what direction our elders feel led by God to go in, there will always be people who will be so offended as to worship elsewhere. It just makes me sad for the few in our congregation who may feel that way.

And I know that this is not a topic that just our Singles group is looking at, because this past Wednesday evening, in the absence of our minster and singles minister, one of our elders, brother Jimmy Cone, taught our Singles class, and he spoke to us in a similar manner, though not specifically about worship. With him, we spoke about convictions and preferences; what the difference is between them; how we form them; what conclusions they lead us to; whether or not the conclusions we end up with are based on what God has told us; how we approach the Bible; and how the way we approach the Bible affects the formation of our convictions.

Obviously this topic is currently on the minds of many in our church right now, as these questions are being asked and as decisions are being made. In this week's bulletin was a portion of a post from brother Keith's site. I'd like to close with his thoughts...because I suspect he may be onto something...

"I'm no expert about worship. Frankly, I'm not sure I 'get' it at all.Sometimes my heart is engaged. Sometimes I'm just going through the motions. Sometimes I'm focused. Other times I'm distracted. Sometimes I'm with others. Sometimes I'm by myself.But these are a few of the things I suspect about it:
---God wants us to worship Him because it's good for us to realize how much we should depend on Him ... not because He needs to hear it.
---Worship was never meant to make us comfortable. Frankly, the whole idea of sacrifice at the heart of it makes me really uncomfortable, because it pounds into my brain that sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath; that graceleadstolife graceleadstolife graceleadstolife; and that despite all of my best efforts I am going to be and imperfect, bumbling, pitiful failure at the morality game. And bringing up sacrifice only weekly, or just at Easter - instead of daily - makes it a bit more comfortable for me.
---Worship has to come from the heart, not from an indexed book of rules with check-mark boxes beside each one, legislating every conceivable "thou shalt" and "shalt not" with regard to the way I express my bewildered awe of the Creator.
---Worship in spirit and in truth - despite all the ways I've heard it explained - is a concept that still somehow eludes me, and I wonder if that's intentional. When Jesus brought up the subject of worship in spirit and in truth, it wasn't a command. It was a prophecy. For some it has already come true. For me - and I'd bet a lot of others - it's mostly yet to happen.
---Worship can't be forced. If it could, there'd be a lot more rules about it. Sure, quote your Old Testament chapters at me all you want. Underlying them all is still the plain fact that people need and should want to worship God; to understand that He is a jealous God; to feel that He is a loving God; to accept that He is a just God; to be drawn closer to Him as a Father God. And that it calls for extraordinary effort.
---Some ways that you worship God are probably really different than some ways I do. A few of mine wouldn't make sense to you or "speak" to you at all; and vice-versa. My guess is that I don't have a right to require you to adopt mine any more than you should expect me to adopt yours. The final arbiter on any given point would be God, wouldn't it? Wouldn't pleasing Him be the goal? Wouldn't it please Him for me to feed you by participating in the ways that nourish your spirit, and for you to reciprocate for my hunger? Could that be why He calls us to dine together in the first place?
---Seeing, hearing, experiencing God's activity in the world persuades me to want to worship Him. Walling myself off from God's activity with anything - especially my own activity - has the opposite effect.
---Worship is virtually impossible when the name of Jesus isn't even mentioned, except maybe to close a prayer or a casual reference in communion. He's the Go-Between. The Intercessor. The Mediator. The One whose Spirit interprets the groanings of us pitiful would-be's to the incomprehensible language of the Great I AM.

--Keith Brenton