Category Archives: Devotional
They’re not the same. But if you’re lonely, you may not believe me. I just ask that you bear with me and read on. I’ve experienced both, but recently have been learning the joys of solitude. You can read some background on some of the more recent chapters of my story here and here. It’s raw, but it’s real. Not much different than your life. Really. We all hurt. We’re lonely. We all do stupid stuff. Loneliness may be the cause of more stupid stuff (and pain for myself and others) in my life than possibly anything else.
Loneliness can be scary but solitude can be satisfying
If you’re feeling lonely, you often feel desperate. At least I do. Even though I bear the “only child” status, I am a people person by nature. When I feel like I don’t have a “person”(friend, companion, lover, etc.) it can be a scary place. It can make you feel like you have no purpose–that somehow, you’re undesirable or unwanted. Believe me, I’ve been there. It’s an everyday battle, but I am learning a few things. So here’s what I’ve done. I’ve embraced solitude. It often looks the same on the outside, but it’s a completely different perspective on the inside. It’s a total shift in mindset. In loneliness I tend to think about what I DON’T have. In solitude I reflect on what I DO have. When I have solitude, I have time. I have time to be, to think, to reflect, to write, to create, to listen, to appreciate the world around me. There’s so much out there to enjoy. And here’s a little secret–most of it came about by someone’s solitude. Take a look at the art in your city, the businesses, the culture…usually if not created completely in solitude, it was conceived that way. Sure, most things worth doing take a team to accomplish, but they are often imagined in solitude. That’s pretty satisfying. Take that class. Learn that instrument. Read that book. Just be. It’s ok and it can be quite satisfying.
Loneliness breeds desperation, but solitude breeds confidence.
Some of the most desperate thoughts and actions come from loneliness. Read the most tragic news and much of what you read can be connected to loneliness in some form. People that are generally happy with themselves and those around them usually don’t intentionally harm other people. What loneliness will do is cause you to do almost anything to attract attention, or will cause you to do anything to maintain the attention of people that generally don’t have your best interest at heart. When you’re lonely you’ll do ANYTHING to be with ANYONE. That’s a dangerous place to be.
Loneliness cultivates isolation but solitude cultivates identity.
Out of our need to belong, we can often allow that need to dictate who we are or who we become. I certainly don’t want to minimize the importance of healthy community in our life, but sometimes we can allow community (of any kind) to CREATE identity rather than be FOUND in identity. It’s subtle, but it’s huge. Solitude allow you the time to discover, or rediscover who you really are. What are your interests when you’re all alone? What do you think about? What brings you joy? Focus on those things and see them through. Take the time. Do the work. Don’t anesthetize yourself with hours of social media browsing constantly comparing the best of other’s lives with the worst of yours. Put the smartphone down and do the work. It’ll change your perspective immensely. You may just rediscover who you really are. And there’s a lot of joy to be found in that.
Where I find my identity
If you’re reading this, chances are, you are a person of faith, as my blog largely focuses on matters of faith, art and culture. However, if somehow you’ve stumbled on this, then allow me a brief moment to share the source of my being. I am a Christ follower, and as such, I find my identity in being a child of God, which Jesus made possible for me by faith in his death (payment for my sinfulness) and his rising again (power over sin and death). I often hear his voice through the Scriptures and even in my heart (which may sound crazy, I do understand that, but is nonetheless very real and gives me an incredible knowing deep in my spirit which cannot be described). I will admit that this “advantage” may seem to give me an upper hand of sorts, in that in reality, I’m actually never alone. I also find great comfort in that. The good news for you, is that this same relationship can be yours as well. Follow the link below to see this relationship explained from the Scriptures. Also, enjoy the links below that may help you in your loneliness. They’ve helped me and I trust they can help you as well.
“What you do doesn’t matter,” said that subtle, yet unnoticeably evil voice in my head one tragic Sunday morning last year. Most of the time, in my personal opinion, we give Satan far too much credit for many of the evils in our life that we are more than capable of creating ourselves (unfortunately, I know this all too well from experience). However, this morning was different, but I can only see that in hindsight now. At the time I didn’t know where it came from, but it was clear as a bell and I bought it–hook, line and sinker. Much of the back story of this day you can find in my post here (“When I Lost My Faith”). You see, the day before this, a very dear friend (of the romantic kind) took her own life unexpectedly (having had a rare but recent relapse with the effects of PTSD). Not only was she a romantic interest, but she was a bright hope in what had been an otherwise very trying year for me. She was one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever known. She loved Jesus and she loved her daughter at a depth that I have rarely seen. She was the poster child for inspiring. But she was gone. Even still, her sweet, precious teenage daughter was left without her mom. Needless to say, I was crushed to the core and so was my faith. Even still, the following day was Sunday, and the voice I heard came to me just as I was rolling into the parking lot to help facilitate the worship of hundreds of people that morning.
All I could think about in that moment was “You’re right. Some people will like what is presented today and some people won’t. They’ll all keep their scorecard in our upscale Atlanta suburb and pat themselves on the back for having done their religious duty, go home to their perfect suburban lives, and all the while my heart is shattered and a precious teenage daughter woke up this morning without her mom.” Of course that wasn’t true either, as some of the most devout believers I have ever known would be in that congregation that morning and most wouldn’t think that way, but some did and Satan always has a way of making ten sound like a thousand. Even in our upscale Atlanta suburb, wealth was no refuge to brokenness. Brokenness can exist in any socioeconomic environment and there were plenty of people hungry to see Jesus that day as well. But I bought it (the lie) that day like I never have before. That one lie started a downhill spiral for me that looked more like a negative “G” roller coaster than any hill I’ve ever seen. It stole my hope, my purpose and unfortunately, even my identity. I shouted questions at God louder and faster than any AK-47 ever could. You see, “sovereignty” sounds great in theory until it touches you or someone you love. “God has a plan…” yada, yada. Really? I wanted no part of that plan.
Fast Forward: God placed some of the best people in my life in the days and months following to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to this hurting heart. Don’t get me wrong…it took a while and many repeated attempts (along with some really poor decisions), but slowly God opened my heart to seeing Him once again, but this time with new eyes, and better yet–a new heart. Please don’t misunderstand me. I still struggle with what happened that day. I may never completely understand the “why”. I’m still not convinced that it was “God’s plan” either. I believe a battle was lost that day, but I do know Who ultimately wins the war. I am more convinced of that than ever.
In the days following I found myself several times on “the other side” of the platform as just a regular, wounded child of God struggling for faith in a place where I needed to hear from Him like never before—and ironically, the lie that I believed that ultimately led to my downfall–it was its antithesis that ultimately led to my return. I was moved in worship in the most unexpected places. I discovered that brokenness doesn’t care about the style of music or what the worship team was wearing that day or even how cool the lights looked, but it does care about transparency, truth and grace.
In music there’s a term for sharps and flats that are not found naturally in the key of the music–they’re called “accidentals”. In Jazz, sometimes these are referred to as “blue notes”. It’s what gives a lot of jazz and blues its characteristic sound. A great band leader knows how to use these “accidentals” to create and respond with something more rich and moving than the notes normally found within the key. In American history however, these “blue notes” often stemmed from pain and oppression. While none of us would wish for pain or oppression for anyone (especially ourselves or a loved one), take a moment and think about the beauty and colors that have come from these “accidentals”. What if God can take the blue notes of our lives and in return gives us something more colorful and deep from which to draw? Blue notes in the hands of amateurs can sound out of tune and off color, but in the hands of a Master, they can add a richness and depth to the music that wouldn’t have been there without them. Holding on to blue notes by themselves does nothing—they’re just notes with no context, but if looked at through the song of faith in the hands of the Master, they can have purpose and meaning that you otherwise would never see.
So, worship leader (or ministry leader), what you do does matter and it often is messy, but you are the ones who help people give their blue notes to the Master so He can create something better with them. Only, please do it with excellence and grace as if people’s lives depend on it–because they actually do. But you don’t bear that burden alone. Just show them Jesus and walk with them on the journey, no matter how messy—God will still make the music.
What “blue notes” is God making music with in your life? Share your story in the comments. Someone needs to hear it.
If you or a loved one are battling with the thought of suicide, please seek immediate help. No matter how desperate you may feel, this is not the end of the road and God will use your story for your good and His glory. Hang on and please seek help. You can find help from a friend, a pastor or from one of the resources below.
*Resources for PTSD and suicide prevention:
1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Today I got an unexpected phone call from an old friend. We talked a lot about faith and in the course of that conversation, I verbalized some things that I’ve been beginning to realize new and fresh in recent days. In a recent post (“When I Lost My Faith”) I talked about the journey I’ve been on the last year or so, the events that led to a crisis of belief for me and my intellectual and willful journey back. Though I made many realizations and began to accept some hard truths, I still wasn’t “there”. Don’t get me wrong, we never fully “arrive” when it comes to our faith, but what I’ve known and experienced in the past has been an ongoing inward desire even though I wasn’t always perfect in the way I lived that out. I wanted that again, but knew I didn’t have it. I read a lot about it. I know that true faith is a gift from God, but if it’s a gift, what do you do to get it?
You Can’t Get It
A lot of our experience in life can be a simple numbers game. That’s true in sales. If you hustle and make enough contacts and follow the right processes long enough, eventually you can make things happen. Ask enough girls on a date and eventually one will say “yes” (“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”–thank you Jim Carey). Anyone can do that. That’s the American dream, right? But what if the thing you want can’t be “hustled” for? That can be a frustrating place to be, can’t it? That’s where I was. Here’s what I realized–Most of the time I didn’t have it, I didn’t really want it. I was done. I was angry. I was hurt, wounded and frustrated. My story wasn’t being written the way I thought it should be, so I took the pen back. Yeah, that worked like a champ.
The more empty I became, the more I realized what I used to take for granted. I knew there was more. I had experienced it many times before, but I tend to have a really short memory. Most of us do, if we’re honest. What I had experienced before was also in the context of a fairly untested “bubble”. I had it good but I was very out of touch, yet we get very angry if anyone tries to mess with that “bubble” (look at how many people of faith act in the political arena when their views are threatened as an example…or just try to change the music in your church even slightly and watch how “Christ-like” people respond). I say that in jest, to a certain extent, but unfortunately it’s all too true. None of us like change, really–unless it’s our kind of change, whatever that is. So, bottom line–my bubble burst and I didn’t like it.
But, You Can Have It
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8).
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” (Colossians 2:6)
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11).
Somewhere along my journey back, I prayed a very raw, but honest prayer that sounded something like this:
“God, I know you’re there because I’ve known You before, but it’s not because I feel You now. If the truth be known, I haven’t felt You in months, but if You’re there, I guess You already know that. I want to believe You but just don’t feel like I can anymore. BUT, if what the Bible says is true, then faith doesn’t really come from me, it comes from You. I sure don’t deserve it, but I guess that’s what grace is all about. So here’s the deal…if you could find a way to give me faith once again, as best as I can tell, I believe I would gladly receive it.“
The conclusion of that prayer wasn’t fireworks and flashes of light and it certainly didn’t come immediately, but I had a quiet assurance in my heart that if I really wanted it, He would give it to me again….and He did. One day I woke up and sensed His presence once again, perhaps like never before. Many inward concerns and worries, seemed to fade in the light of that Presence. I’ve already blown it, but that faith is still there–so is His grace.
So, you can blame God for the injustices you see in the world and the seeming injustices of your own life and you know what? He’ll even let you for a while. I’ve spoken to God with more raw disrespect than I’ve ever spoken to anyone in my life. I don’t say that as the magic formula for a thriving prayer life, but in His grace God knew that allowing me to get that out, was enough to let Him in. After all, I wasn’t screaming at the wall, my car, myself, or some other deity–I was screaming at God, which proved one thing–I knew He was still there. Eventually, by experience, I came to know the truth of this: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
So if you find yourself without faith today, ask yourself this question: “How much do I really want it?”
You may be surprised by the answer.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.
For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.
My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.
So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing. It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time. Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.
So, what has brought me to this place?
I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.
When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.
I cannot ignore my past experiences with God
If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”. It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.
I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible
The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:
1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.
I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus
In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?” If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.
If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”² It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too. At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.
I can’t ignore the power of genuine community
When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose? Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.
Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you? I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too.
“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.
With Thanksgiving approaching, you may find yourself in a place where you are wondering what in the world you’re going to be thankful for this year. For you, this year may look very different from last year–it certainly does for me. Maybe you find yourself on the mountaintop or maybe you are wondering what in the world you’re going to do next. Maybe you’ve lost a marriage, a family member, a love, your job, your sanity or maybe all of the above.
You may have more to be thankful for than you know but it may look very different than you think. Don’t stop. Keep looking. I’m looking too.
Many know the story of the beloved gospel song “It is Well with My Soul”, and have found comfort both in its message and the story behind the song. Horatio Spafford, a friend of the famed evangelist D. L. Moody and prominent attorney in Chicago in the 1860’s, penned the words of this song. In 1870, a series of family tragedies began with the death of he and his wife Anna’s only son at the age of four. About a year later, Spafford’s extensive real estate investments were destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago.
Two years later in 1873, the Spafford family decided to holiday in England hoping to catch up with D. L. Moody who was preaching a series of meetings there. Delayed on business, Spafford sent his family ahead of him and while crossing the Atlantic their ship sank from colliding with another and 226 people lost their lives including Spafford’s four daughters. Anna, his wife was spared in the tragedy and sent a telegram back that said “Saved alone.” Spafford set sail for England and approaching near the location where his daughter’s lost their lives, he was inspired to write the lyrics of this well beloved song.
It is Well with My Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It is well (it is well)
with my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Each verse seems to track a very normative response to tragedy as often experienced through the eyes of faith. There is no question of the reference to his great family loss in verse one and then there is the reference to what is often perceived as spiritual warfare as we continue to reel from the effects of life’s tragedies. Much like a predator who can sniff out weakness, Satan often comes in to finish the job, whether he can be credited with starting it or not. Then, Spafford, much like many of us, comes to realize though “life” may have taken turns and experienced loss none would anticipate or desire, we realize how we too, are sinners saved by grace and even in great loss, we realize we have for more than we could ever deserve in this life or the next–mainly our freedom and forgiveness from sin! Then, in that we realize that as difficult as life may be, we have hope and assurance that it will not always be this way. One day, ALL will be restored and we will see our Savior face to face and in complete fulfillment, all will be well with our souls.
Enjoy this rendition from Jeremi Richardson (of Avalon) and the great folks at Northland Church in Orlando, Florida.
What songs have helped you express your faith walk and why? You can leave your comments below. (Click “Read More” to open the comments box).
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Rom 15:13
Hope. It’s such a great word, isn’t it? It tells us that though all is not right in the world, things are not always now as they one day will be. You don’t have to look far, though, to notice that hope is something that’s desperately missing in the world we live in. Christ followers aren’t exempt from the hurts of this life either, but we do have a hope that only God can give and a future that only faith can see. It ’s these “intangible” truths that provide the fuel for us to keep going when the going is hard, to keep trusting when the circumstances seem to tell us otherwise, and to keep loving, because in the end, that’s all that matters and love, ultimately, is all that will last (1 Corinthians 13). Since these “intangibles” are the only things that truly last, whether in this life or the next, maybe they’re more tangible than we often think.
The beauty and gift of pain in this life is that it reminds us that this is not all there is. C. S. Lewis said that one of the plights of humanity is that we are far too easily pleased. He says we’re like the child content with making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. When life is “good” we tend to settle. When life is painful, we tend to hope and long for what is better. Paul gives us this encouragement so that the miracle of hope would overflow and be visible to those around us. Hope implies something better is coming. The good news is that we don’t always have to wait for heaven to experience the “betterness” of God. He longs to give us so much of Himself even now. A favorite passage that is often quoted in reference to heaven actually speaks of the life that we can even now begin to experience through the Spirit of God. “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’– the things God has prepared for those who love him– these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” [1Co 2:9-10] What could possibly be more “deep” in this life than a peace that passes all understanding (can’t be explained–only experienced), and a hope that is secure? (Heb 6:19)
So let’s join together with expectation of an outpouring of His Spirit that we may all experience the Kingdom that is “now but not yet” in all of the fullness available to us today. We hope, we long, we yearn for that overflow.
I grew up in a church tradition that did not recognize much of the Christian calendar with the exception of Christmas and Easter. However, I did spend my childhood in the Northeast where Catholicism dominated the religious landscape. Coming from the “free church” tradition, most of the church calendar seasons were explained away as “empty rituals”, void of any real spiritual vitality, and for many, they were. I have discovered in recent years, however, that this does not necessarily have to be the case. Incredible spiritual vitality can be found in many aspects of the liturgical church calendar.
I grew up Baptist, went to Baptist theological schools, did my graduate education at a Pentecostal school, and now serve in a Methodist church (and I continue to have many friends in all of those “camps”). You may look at this and think that I have no real theological convictions, or you may conclude that I will just be very happy in Heaven! Either way, having broadened my theological understanding and my denominational exposure, I have come to appreciate much of what has traditionally been referred to as the “Christian Calendar”. Here’s why:
It helps me realize that my generation is not the only one to name the name of Christ. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, instant information and the realization that just about everything I use in my life begins with “i” and is nearly disposable (iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc.), it is healthy to realize that I am not the only one who has attempted to live this Christian life but that I am connected to a much greater “we” that has lived, died and often been martyred for Christ—those whom I will spend eternity with! The Church Calendar is a great reminder that there have been generations of faithful Christians who have gone before me.
It helps me identify and bring myself in unity with others who name Christ. Unity is vitally important both in our local congregations but also even throughout Christendom. Often we speak of unity, but yet dismiss any notion that we could or should join with other Christ followers in celebrating or honoring a holiday or period of time together that would actually both unify us and help us set our attention on Christ. Observing the Church Calendar is one way for us to have a shared experience with others who also identify with the Gospel and is a fulfillment (even if only partially) of Christ’s prayer that we would be “one” (John 17:21-22).
It helps reinforce the story of Christ into my daily life. Throughout much of Christian history we must remember that most believers did not have ready access to the printed Scriptures and illiteracy was the norm for much of the world up until relatively recent times when compared to over 2,000 years of Christian history. The Church Calendar was developed over time to help reinforce the story of Christ into the rhythms of everyday living. When looked at fully, we realize that the calendar outlines the Gospel into specified times throughout the year. It begins with anticipating His arrival in Advent, celebrating His birth at Christmas, His revealing during Epiphany, humbling ourselves in repentance as we join His fasting in the wilderness during Lent, reflecting on His love and sacrifice during Holy Week, remembering our sin and the atonement that He provided on the cross on Good Friday, celebrating the resurrection of life at Easter, marveling at His giving of the Spirit during Pentecost, and trusting that the presence and power of that same Spirit is with us still during the rest of the year as well (Ordinary Time). While none of these aspects become more or less true during other times of the year, each season provides us an opportunity to revel in and be reminded of the vast privilege and responsibility we have in also being invited into God’s story of redemption.
So this brings us to Lent. What are the opportunities for worship during this season? First of all, in the church that I serve, we have crafted a guided time of prayer and service that will help us prepare our hearts and minds for the ultimate celebration of Christ’s triumph at Easter (you can find this by “liking” our Facebook page www.facebook.com/mountpisgahumc). Many will also join in a time of fasting. This may range from a complete fast of food to simply giving up a comfort, convenience, or repenting and seeking forgiveness of even what might have become a “weight” or besetting sin (Heb. 12:1). There is also something very powerful in substituting something that may be harmless, harmful or destructive for something that is hopeful, heart-felt or constructive and developing new habits that will help us to more faithfully live out Christ’s story in our daily lives. This does not negate being yielded to the constant work of the Spirit in our lives, but allows us to form better habits that help shape us while being more conscious of His working within us at increasingly greater and deeper ways as we grow in Him.
As is the case at any time, worship is ALWAYS a matter of the heart. Just as anything else, any ritual can become trite or be done out of selfish motivation. However, there are seasons of the year that lend themselves well to denying ourselves and forming new habits that can help form us more into the image of Christ. I have found that Lent can be such a season and I look forward to seeing Christ formed in me and others as we make a more concerted effort to focus ourselves on Him.
Do you plan to observe Lent this year? Is it something you will do on your own or will you be joining a local community of faith in a shared experience? What ways could churches from both the “free church” and liturgical traditions better enable their people to have more meaningful shared experiences outside of gathered worship? Click “Read More” to leave your comments below.
For more information about the church calendar or the Lenten season:
The United Methodist Book of Worship (link to Abingdon Press)
Discover the Mystery of Faith by Glenn Packiam (link to Amazon.com)
Worship: Old and New by Robert Webber (link to Amazon.com)