Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Body language

"Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." Psalm 95:6. This one verse has been in my mind continually since Sunday, and I am still processing what happened in our church that morning.

We don't bow down to anyone. It's the American mindset. Besides, it's culturally foreign to us. The most we might do is stand up to show respect--a standing ovation or rising when the national anthem is sung. We might stand in church when God's word is read. I know kneeling is common in the Catholic church, but not in ours. In ancient times people were accustomed to bowing down to kings and to idols. Sometimes this was mandatory. Picture Americans bowing down to George Bush! I can hear my sons' choice words to that idea.

Let's look at what it means to worship. (This is from my sermon notes.) The word "worship" in this Psalm means "to cast yourself prostrate on your face." Not exactly what we think of when we hear the word. This posture expresses humiliation and surrender. Our director of music filled in as pastor on Sunday. He said Psalm 95 traditionally was a public call to worship. So falling on your face was done publically? Who in this day and age would do that, even in church? We might mess up our clothes. What would other people think?

When was the last time you fell on your face before God, even in private? Maybe we should. Is he worthy of that kind of worship? "For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." Psalm 95:3. "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise." Revelation 5:12. Are we serious about our surrender to this God?

"Bowing down" expresses humility and respect to someone greater than we are. It shows we are indebted to someone. Kneeling is a position of submission and receptivity. It is acknowledging that we have been blessed and given gifts. Do we regularly bow down or kneel in prayer? We could do this to show we appreciate what God has done for us and to be ready to listen to him.

We were invited to worship in whatever way we desired during the service, in a long, silent moment with our own director of music in his fine suit kneeling with his face to the floor in front of us all. I wish I could have torn off my inhibitions and fallen prostrate to the floor. I don't know if anyone did. People did kneel, a mostly strange concept in our conservative church. It was a very private moment and yet a very public declaration. I felt freedom in giving my body to the God I love. I thought of Peter when Jesus was about to wash his feet and Peter said no. Jesus said, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Peter then said, Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well." John 13:8, 9. Take all of me, Lord.

Does God care what position our bodies are in when we worship him? He does care about the position of our hearts. Maybe our bodies reveal our hearts. Or maybe our body posture can change our hearts when we throw off our pride and allow ourselves to be broken. Then we would be ready to hear from God. I will end for today with a quote from our director, "My body tells the reminds me in whose presence I dwell and who I worship." What is your body saying to God?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What are you wearing?

One last word on the trash truck incident. I called our phone company so we could get an adjustment on our bill. To me, it was outrageous that it took a whole week to restore our service. We are valuable customers. Shouldn't the company be trying to woo us back in its good graces, making up for our loss? Well, that didn't happen.

When I explained our position, the clerk wasn't sympathetic at all. In fact, he was rude and defensive! He said the company was being gracious to credit our account (all of $17) and that I should be grateful we weren't charged for the repair. I was angry! No, I didn't yell or curse, but I did not respond in a way pleasing to God. I was still quite indignant into the next morning until I read Colossians 3. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Vs. 12, 13.

Was I compassionate, kind, humble, gentle or patient with this man? No. I was the opposite-- arrogant, harsh and impatient. "You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander..." Colossians 3:7, 8. When the pressure is on, I still revert back to my old nature, which unfortunately is still with me.

That clerk in customer service? Jesus died for him too. No telling what his life circumstances are that contributed to him talking to me the way he did. I had an opportunity to extend kindness and grace to him, but I did not. So what should I do now? Ask God to forgive me, of course. And...oh, no, please don't make me do that, Lord! Not the man on the phone! Well, I tried but I was not able to talk to him again. He had no extension and they could not connect me with him.

A couple of days later a quality assurance rep called to ask about how the phone company handled reconnecting our service. This time I explained the situation politely. I declined to tear apart the man I had spoken with. Without God's convicting words to me, I most surely would have.

What if Jesus had been indignant and angry with the way he was treated? There would be no hope for any of us. "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus..." Romans 12:13.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Shadow of his wings

We've taken a long look at Psalm 63. Let's concude it today with verse 7. "Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings."

Scripture uses many words to illustrate God's protection: refuge, fortress, stronghold, rock, tower of strength, sanctuary. "Shadow of his wings" is my favorite and the most meaningful for me. The image of God as a bird? It seems kind of strange, but listen to what Jesus says in Luke 13:34 as he cried out about the future of the city of God and his people. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"

When I was seriously ill a couple of years ago, I memorized Psalm 91. The first four verses say, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."

Just these few verses use the words shelter, shadow, refuge, fortress, feathers, wings, shield and rampart to portray a place safe from danger. Where is this shelter of the Most High, so I can live there? How do we rest in his shadow? To be in someone's shadow, that person would have to be very near. Is this shelter the very presence of God? We know he doesn't dwell in a particular place. He is everywhere we invite his presence.

Picture it: You are a tiny, defenseless baby bird in a nest set high above the activities on earth. Soft feathers over your head conceal you and soothe you. In the shadow made by these great wings spread over you, it is dark. But you are not afraid. You are protected and safe. We sometimes associate darkness with something bad, but maybe what appears to be a black cloud hovering over is really just the shadow of his wings. We're in the shadow of his very presence. That was what I realized when I was sick. Outwardly, life might seem gloomy and hopeless, but I was safe, cared for, and tended to by Almighty God. In that, all of us can sing for joy and say to God, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings until destruction passes by." Psalm 57:1.

"Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." Psalm 62:8. "May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, ...under whose wings you have come to take refuge." Ruth 2:12.

We come into God's presence in prayer. As we end Psalm 63, may I make a suggestion? Read verses 1-8 as a prayer to God--aloud--with arms raised. Invite his presence and rest secure in his faithfulness.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Night watches

Not long ago damaging thunderstorms passed through this area. My children naturally were a little frightened by the thunder and lightening and the darkness when the electricity went out. As Liana said her bedtimes prayers, she drew on her memory of Psalm 139. "Lord, even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day. Darkness and light are the same to you." It comforted her to know God can see just as well in the dark.

I was thinking about this after the trash accident when we were getting ready for bed by candlelight. A crowd of men were gathered on our street right outside our bedroom window. They planned to work through the night to restore our electrical power. It was eerie to lie down to sleep while others labored so near. We couldn't forget they were there--their generator rumbling, lighting up the broken poles and wires. But it was strangely comforting to hear them clanging and pounding. We slept and didn't have to concern ourselves with fixing our electricity. The night crew took care of that and we could trust them to do their job. And they did, right on schedule.

Nothing happens that God doesn't see. He's at work behind all the scenes of our lives, preparing and fixing, building and restoring. "I think of you in the watches of the night." Psalm 63:6. Just as we think of him, he is always thinking of us. He can be trusted. Whatever our darkness, it doesn't scare God. No problem is too big to fix. Just because we can't imagine any solution doesn't mean God can't find one. He works all night for us, so we can sleep.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Seek his protection

We stood watching the tow truck trying to pull the trash truck up the hill. "What ifs" began to fill our minds. My neighbor said her elderly father usually walked up and down the street at that hour. Yes, we all agreed, we see him often. But he hadn't taken his walk this day. A teenager usually had her car parked right in the spot the pole fell. Not today. The truck could easily have crashed into one of our houses built on the slope. It was aimed toward a house with a stay-at-home mom with two preschoolers. There was the immediate danger of the downed power lines, too, before the electric was turned off. But no one had been outdoors.

An idyllic day could have turned to disaster. Sometimes it does. Accidents, hurricanes, terrorists, tragedies, are with us. Life is precious and fragile. We always live with this undercurrent of uncertainty about life. Some are able to tune it out while it consumes others.

What do we do with the fear and anxiety that life as we know it will someday end? Some block it out, don't even think about it. Some live in a hyper-vigilant mode, seeing danger at every turn. (Guilty.) Some can accept whatever happens knowing nothing comes from God uncensored. He has already filtered it and allowed it.

"My soul clings to you..." (Psalm 63:8) We pray for God's protection and we trust him with our lives. "...Your right hand upholds me," even on the day we pass from earthly life to life eternal, whenever that might be.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Trash crash

The girls and I had a wonderful Saturday. In this glorious summer warmth we went to a 4-H fair and enjoyed seeing children displaying various animals they had raised. I was secretly hoping Arielle and Liana would not suddenly be fascinated by animal husbandry and want their own goat or chicken--or worse--a pig. But no, the best part for them was the quilt display and fabric sale--a dollar a bag for all the scraps you could stuff in a bag. We also found out about practically free sewing lessons for kids. God is so faithful to open new doors when the old ones have closed.

We drove home in a jovial mood, making plans for the fabric treasures--furs, corduroys, fake suede and double knits. (What in the world do you make out of double knits??) The girls envisioned their dolls with dozens of new outfits. With those thoughts, we came home to a disaster on our street.

A crowd of neighbors stood watching a tow truck grappling with a trash truck. Two telephone poles had crashed down across the street, one of them directly in front of our property. Power lines were strewn across the yards, ripped from their mountings on the houses. Shattered electrical equipment littered the area. Police ribbons prohibited us from getting close. While we were gone, chaos and violence visited our little street. A trash truck lost its brakes. The men all jumped out as the truck careened unmanned from the top of the hill. The truck crashed into one pole, which pulled down the other and disconnected us all from the phone and electricity.

The rest of the story will have to wait, as I write from the library with two girls at my feet.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Seek intimacy

We've taken a wide detour from Psalm 63 into the land of discontent. So let's review.

"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:1-5.

The question was--what are we to be seeking? God's presence, to remember his blessings and be grateful for his gifts, big and small. That led to seeking contentment. Let's read on.

"On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." vs. 6-8.

Your bed is an intimate place. Guests aren't invited there, not even your closest friends. It is a place where we are most comfortable, most uninhibited, and also most vulnerable. If we're married, we share a bed with our husband. Maybe you share your bed with your small child on occasion. Your bed is a private place. Is God in your bed?

In this Psalm, David sounds like he has insomnia. What do you do when you can't sleep? New moms are awake a lot at night. At an older age, women tend to have more problems with sleeplessness. The night can be a time when our circumstances look most grim, when fears take flight and swoop and soar, when mistakes rise up and condemn us. The enemy can have a heydey--or we can spend this time with our Lord.

Arielle used to sleep with us when she first came home because she was terrified to be alone. In the dark and fearful night she needed to be enveloped between her loving parents in the most secure of all places, our bed. She clung to us and we sheltered her and kept her safe. Being alone with our thoughts when darkness descends on us can also be terrifying. But we can cling to Jesus. Invite him into the deepest parts of your soul. Pour out your anxieties, fears and regrets. He will be there to comfort you and fill you with peace.

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8.

I love the old hymn "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." Michael Card has a beautiful version of this song, first written in 1740 by Charles Wesley. Here are the first two verses:

"Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high,
Hide me, O my Savior hide,
Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide, O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee,
Leave, O leave me not alone, still support and comfort me,
All my trust in thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring,
Cover my defenseless head, with the shadow of thy wing."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rx for contentment

So why are some people content with their lives and others never satisfied? I know of an elderly woman who recently lost her husband to a devastating disease. She is nearly blind and lives alone. Yet she is not depressed in or despair. She doesn't complain. How can this be?

Maybe some people are just naturally optimists and others are pessimists. It's a personality thing.

Or maybe it's how we are raised. Someone credited her parents for teaching her that true value is not found in possessions. (What are we teaching our children?)

Another said she has so many "creature comforts" that she's satisfied with life. It's an easy road.

Or we're content as long as there are others worse off than we are.

Maybe it's society to blame. I read that our culture creates in us an insatiable desire for more. We are daily bombarded with advertisements that stir us to covet what we don't have.

Maybe contentment is a gift from God?

I found the cure in Philippians. If we follow Paul in his letter of joy to the church at Philippi, we will discover the prescription for contentment. What is amazing is that he wrote this letter from prison. Philippians is called the book of joy because the words "joy" or "rejoice" appear 16 times. How could Paul be joyful while he was locked up, not knowing if he would live or die? For best results, read the whole book and let the Holy Spirit direct you to the source of your discontent. Then take your medicine. Paul says, "Join with others in following my example, (sisters), and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." Philippians 3:17. There is so much that I can only touch on it. But here are some practical ideas we can begin to apply immediately:

Be thankful for the people in your life and pray for them. "I thank my God everytime I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy..." 1:3,4.

Know that God will complete his work. Be patient with yourself and with others. "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." 1:6.

Look for opportunity in your circumstances. "Now I want you to know, (sisters), that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel." 1:12.

Rejoice and have hope because others are praying for you. "Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope..." 1:19, 20.

Accept difficulties as part of God's refining. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him..." 1:29.

Be humble. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." 2:3-5. Jesus gave us an example of humility, servanthood, and obedience to God.

Rely on God to give you the desire and the strength to do whatever he's called you to do. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" 2:13.

Don't complain. We already talked about this one. 2:14.

Be a witness and allow God to use your life as he sees fit. " shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering..." 2:15-17.

Guard your heart. "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you." 3:1. (What are we listening to, watching, and reading?)

Make it your life mission to know Jesus more deeply. "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them but rubbish, that I may gain Christ...I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." 3:8, 10, 11.

Forget the past. "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." 3:13, 14.

Look ahead. "...many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ..." 3:18-20.

Don't worry--pray. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 4:6, 7. This beautiful passage sums it all up. We can bring to God all our fears, all our problems, all our tears and anguish, and he hears us. He cares and he listens and he answers. Then the peace comes, and it is a precious gift from our Heavenly Father.

Think good things. "Finally, (sisters), whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." 4:8. Our attitude, our words and our actions begin with our thoughts.

Accept the season of your life. We discussed Paul's secret of being content whatever his circumstances. We can do anything God calls us to do through Christ who gives us the strength. 4:11-13.

Help others with their burdens. "Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles." 4:14.

Rely on God's promises. "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." 4:19.