Tag Archives: winter

Cross Purposes

22 Mar

????????

Yesterday spring found a chink in winter’s armor.

My cheeks are still warm from a full day of sunshine, reminding me on this 35-degree morning that yesterday was really real.

Wanting to be outside and last fall’s undone garden chores intersected beautifully under the blue sky. I like working hard, especially when I can step back and see results, so I plunged in with a happy heart.

The first to go– dead stems from the perennials that will grow anew and be covered in color again this year. Next up were the branches pruned by the blades of the fierce windstorms that blew through the midwest this winter. The ruthless gardener had not been neat, and they were scattered cattywumpus all over the yard, on the roof, in corners by the chimney, and inside the shrubs.

At first I had a hard time determining which branches were legitimately part of the bushes and which were dead windfalls from the tree above. They looked practically the same without leaves to tell them apart.

A crooked branch caught my eye. I looked more closely and found lots – enough for a good start for a bonfire! The bush’s branches were all going the same way–  from main stems toward the sky. Dead windfalls were scattered in at cross purposes with the bush’s branches– ones that would soon welcome spring for real by putting out tiny pink flowers.

Being involved in church life, and specifically worship ministry, is never dull! Glorious times of worshiping God together are interspersed with difficult situations – criticism, arguments about musical style difference, and others’ expectations. It’s easy to get discouraged and give in to distractions that lead away from the main thing.

Last week I overheard someone say that not every difficulty we face is spiritual warfare. I’ve been thinking about that comment, and I’m not sure I agree.  We live in this temporal, physical world, which does make seeing what’s happening in the spiritual world difficult, but the heavenly world is just as real, and vastly more crucial to every situation, than this one. Everything in this world – every conversation, decision, thought, situation – is also intrinsically of eternity.

Everything is spiritual warfare. Not every difficulty is demonic or a spiritual attack, but every situation is part of eternity. Until we are in heaven, there are opposing values, ideas, and perceived realities in conflict.

If you’ll allow me a pun in the midst of a serious thought… the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven are at cross purposes.

One is interested in self, the other in Jesus.

———-

READY FOR SUNDAY

In the big conflicts of life it’s easy for me to discern which kingdom’s value structure is driving the situation. In re-thinking everything– even the more mundane and seemingly inconsequential– from an eternal perspective, it’s tougher.

  • In a conversation with someone from the congregation who doesn’t like the musical style of our worship– what is really going on? Self-centeredness?  Further conversation and several questions often reveals that there is a lot more to the story. Sometimes, however, it was simply a thoughtless remark.
  • Making a decision about which songs to sing on Sunday– do I choose the one I just wrote or go with a well-known standard? What’s my motivation– self-aggrandizement or allowing people to worship God with Truth. Maybe my song fits better.

These are just two examples of many, many ordinary opportunities for me to have a positive affect eternity as I live in both kingdoms.

The question is: how do I discern what’s going on?

How can I be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”? 2 Timothy 2:21

The answer: look for direction.

Is the heart-motivation going toward Jesus? Toward the cross of selflessness?

Or is it a dead, crooked branch that will be lifeless come spring, and only good for a bonfire?

Everything pointing somewhere besides the cross has to go. The first part of 2 Timothy 2:21 calls us to be cleansed from everything that is dishonorable.

Direction is everything.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Blowing Chunks

15 Mar

????????

Winter has been brutal in the Midwest this year. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE winter… in places that are equipped for it.

I like my snow measured in FEET, not inches, in a town boasting a fleet of ginormous plows and snowbank snowblowers.

Here in the city we have temporary plows fastened to the fronts of pick-up trucks. Winter laughed at them this year!

But now the trucks are emerging from winter’s hold like insects wrapped in a spiderweb losing its stickiness. The Northern hemisphere is tipping toward the sun, reversing the frozen grasp that has seemed so very permanent. Ice is cold, and hard, and unyielding… until sunshine returns.

This week I was driving into the city for a worship service. I was late and unprepared due to a tough, unforeseen situation. As I drove, I tried to pray and keep it under 70. Watching the speedometer was easier. I was so distracted by this issue and frustrated that I wasn’t prepared!

God often uses my environment to speak to me when I’m like this. Behind the truck in front of me what looked like puffs of smoke blowing across the road caught my attention. I sped up to see what was going on, kind of like Moses checking out the bush.

The truck was dropping ice bombs that exploded into snow-puffs when they hit the road.

The mud flaps (or should they be called snow flaps this time of year?) concealed the truck’s underbelly where I suspected the ice chunks were coming from. All I could see were little explosions of celebration every time one fell off. Even the biggest and toughest pieces of ice couldn’t weather a drop onto concrete going 70. Every one was obliterated. I laughed, imagining that the truck’s mileage will get better this week after winter falls off.

When I pulled into the parking lot we share with a liquor store, I sat there for a few minutes to let some chunks fall off me. I was still distracted, but as I looked at the outside of the church my heart grew light knowing that God would work in our hearts that night– he has every night we gather in community, and I knew he would again.

The prep was already underway in the kitchen (we have a meal together before the service), so I went straight to the dining area to run through the night’s songs. I love Jesus, and I love to sing; the combo is often cathartic, but that night I heard God singing back to me as I worshiped him. The day’s chunks melted off my heart and the residue blew away as I worshiped.

The ministry that God did that night was amazing! A woman that is seeking God stayed late, and we talked about freedom in Christ. A couple of weeks ago she made a pact with the devil, but now I could see the enemy’s web losing its grip as her eyes communicated understanding of grace that we’ve been praying for for so long. There are a few ice chunks still clinging to her heart, but many more melted off. For the first time she can see the path leading to Jesus.

What has seemed like an endless winter is powerless when spring sunshine returns. Every piece of ice will melt.

What had all the makings of a fiasco-night developed into a divine worship service that glorified God that began when my rehearsal tipped over into praise and God removed the crusty ice from around my heart.

That would have been enough.

But God also let us watch as years of suffocating bonds fell away from a tender heart.

———-

READY FOR WORSHIP

As people enter our church buildings tomorrow, many will be carrying junk from a broken world. Some will bring hard issues deep in their underbellies that no one can see. Others will be wound with a sticky web that constrains their worship. Many will be distracted by the pressures and pace of life.

All of them will be entrusted to us.

God works through several aspects that intersect our temporal physical world with the eternal spiritual realm – the primary ones being his word, prayer, and worship. We can plan, lead, and deliver a perfunctory event using all of these.

Or we can invite him into every facet and watch him work. That is my prayer for all and each of us tomorrow.

Spring has come back to the Midwest; all the ice will melt.

Jesus came into the world to break every chain and make all things new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
.    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
.    and rivers in the desertIsaiah 43:19

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  Revelation 21:1-7

Increasing Measure

4 Jan

snow fall

Winter has arrived in the Midwest. Snow storms and sub-zero temps create a frozen wonderland using tiny crystals of the most common compound on our planet– H2O. Water.

Water frozen in the air is full of artistry built on 60 degree angles. Starry geometric masterpieces-in-miniature, almost undetectable by our eyes, construct massive structures that defy natural laws.

The Angle of Repose combines the properties of material being piled and the force of gravity (and a LOT of geometric equations!) culminating in how high granular substances can be piled before sliding to the ground. When snow is shoveled into a heap for instance, different types of piles can be formed depending on the snow’s moisture content. Heavy, wet snow can be piled almost straight up… or rolled into balls that can be piled to make a snow fort!

But when temps are as cold as they are today and the snow is very dry, snow shoveling turns into snow throwing as the snow’s angle of repose is very shallow. Tossing a shovelful on top of the bank only creates a cascade that flows back into the driveway. Sigh.

On a still night when the wind sleeps, however, the six-pointed flakes slowly pile up as if they’ve never heard of the angle of repose. Like a reverse game of Jenga, the formations grow by micro-inches and macro-wonderment.

Even when the wind is awake, it drives and pushes the snow stars into arching walls that stand tall on their own. Their fine edges sculpted by windy fingers pinching the edge of a hat brim from one side to the other. These artistically detailed drifts belie their strength. They are densely compact and hold their shape even as a shovel removes large sections.

—————

More than any other time of the year people are looking toward the future– setting goals, making resolutions, wanting this year to be different. And our Western-enculturated mindsets want it now! We want to scoop up the snow and toss it into an instant snow-fort. We want our one hour of shoveling to produce a sparkling sculpture with razor-thin curves.

That’s not how snowdrifts and straight-up piles are created. They take time and one-at-a-time snowflake placement.

Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8

In increasing measure. One-at-a-time snowflake placement. That is how beauty is constructed– not with a shovel tossed beside the driveway. Ever increasing toward becoming like Jesus. One tiny bit, followed by another, and another.

—————

READY FOR SUNDAY

Tomorrow people walking into our worship services will have already failed at their resolutions. Maybe you are one of them. Becoming like Christ apart from God’s power is impossible.

As we lead others, we must rely on Him for these qualities to increase in our lives in order that what comes out of us when we’re leading, and when we think we’re not, people see God and His deep love for them.

Interestingly, the very people we lead will mostly likely be used by God to transform us into His image. Look for the opportunities – most of them will be small, hardly noticeable, and within the common events of ordinary days. Some days will seem like a blizzard, others a gentle dusting. In both cases the small changes over time will add up to incredible beauty and glory for God.

%d bloggers like this: