sabbath

Sabbath. We don’t use that word very often, and more times than not we probably clump it in Christianese verbiage that most outside of the church don’t understand. We are bad about that verbiage. We desperately need to communicate the Gospel in a common vernacular.

Sabbath: divinely set apart for rest and worship.

Technically observed as Sundays for Christians and Saturdays for Jewish folks, but that’s assuming God really cares what day of the week you take actual time to just be.

When I was in church ministry, Sundays are never a day for Sabbath…only work, so typically ministry staff that work on Sundays take a different day off. My Sabbath day was Thursday, and I had my own version of rest and worship. Since it wasn’t a ‘normal’ day to gather as a group of believers, there wasn’t any corporate worship in my day. There was worship in community, which is just as sacred. I didn’t have meetings that day. I didn’t set an alarm to wake up. Sometimes I’d go for a swim, and those were incredible times of prayer…lap after lap of chatting with my Jesus. Sometimes I would find a quiet Panera corner and dig into the Bible. God would show up in those moments at Panera, and I would learn things that I wouldn’t normally learn if I hadn’t actually taken the time to grow and be present. Honestly, I had to work hard at keeping that day set apart. Life likes to creep in and take over. If I didn’t work hard at keeping it sacred, and if I didn’t actually block it off on my calendar and commit to keeping it unplanned…it would have been full and I would have been more likely to just go through the motions instead of simply resting in him, however it materialized, in those days.

For some, Sabbath can become going through the motions of what it should look like as a socially labeled Christian with all of the social assumptions: do a quiet time, disciplined prayer, go to church – don’t forget to dress nice and modest as well as act as you are supposed to in church, church council meeting, sing in the choir and volunteer somewhere.

“Quit your worship charades. I cannot stand your trivial religious games; monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings – meetings, meetings, meetings – I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evil doings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” [Isaiah 1:13-17, MSG]

Strong words…blatant words, I think it is why I like The Message Bible version sometimes. It cuts straight through the bullshit. When believers find themselves going to church because they are ‘supposed to go to church,’ they start walking a very grey line between going through the motions and honoring God through worship. God was pissed at the Israelites, because they were going through the motions of religion and didn’t want to connect with him. They didn’t need him. They were giving sacrifices for their sin as a show, and didn’t care about forgiveness. They were ignoring the things God cared about, and it angered him that they were not willing to ‘Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.’

If you are going to church on a Sunday morning only to be seen, and not seek to encounter the heart of God for you and this world…then what is the point? If you are taking communion because everyone else is going to the front and not coming clean with God…what is the point? If you are going to small group to check that off your Christian list for the week, not for community and make yourself Gospel literate…what is the point? If you are joining the mission trip simply because your friends are going and you want to take photos to show people on social media the good you do in the world, because you are a good Christian…what is the point? If you are going to the homeless shelter to serve food to appease your guilt of your abundance…what is the point?

It comes down to your motives. Who are you looking to please when you participate in the life of the church? Are your motives pure? Is it all in expectation? Or are you looking to impress someone with your holiness and righteousness, but spent an hour yelling at your family before you came to church or small group?

Sabbath is not a particular day. Sabbath is not for ‘religion.’

Sabbath is for your relationship with the one who reigns over the universe, and has love so intense for you he sent his son as the ultimate sacrifice. Sabbath is for you to take a breath. God commanded Sabbath because he didn’t create us to do EVERYTHING. He knows we need our connection to him. He knows we need rest.

God’s heart for you is to be whole in him, and that includes a day set apart to seek him and take a deep breath, because for the other days of the week God is very serious about, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” [Isaiah 1:17, NIV]

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layers

Above me is a ceiling made out of a quilted patchwork of multi-colored tarps held together by a myriad of wires, ropes and thanks to some wacky Americans…zip ties.

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*This photo is for ‘sale’ on my photo blog at sojourner4jesusphotography.com. Selling photos is one of the avenues I use to raise money for mission trip travel.

It holds so much beauty in its own right, but then add to it a Holy purpose and all of a sudden it is transformed into one of the most amazing worship areas I’ve ever been honored to worship God under.

The electricity of the Holy Spirit was tangible, and needed no translation among a group of believers speaking multiple languages.

Layers of worship.

What does that mean to you? What do layers of worship look like? If you could peel back every layer it would have the same core of the God we serve, but each of those layers look different based on where you are worshipping.

I’ve worshipped in gilded Russian Orthodox churches to the makeshift sacred space of classrooms in China to mud floors and rusted tin walls in Guatemala.

But layers of worship gained immense meaning for me in Haiti in May.

Our teams’ task the first two days on site at Olivier Methodist Church in Haiti was to transfer the rocky rubble of the earthquake torn church building to the back of the compound where it became Holy ground for the church pews on Sunday morning.

Setting aside my general awe of the beautiful way most other countries use everything while we toss aside things that are perfectly good…God opened my eyes to the layers.

On Haitian ground covered with the earthquake rubble of the past building sat the pews in groupings and rows expectantly waiting for a community to come together under the shade provided by colorful tarps, woven together behind a church building slowly being put back together.

The community could have fallen apart. Haitian community is based around church gathering places. When the church buildings collapsed, the community had nowhere to gather that was protected from rain and sun. Our first night after working there was a major rainstorm…the next morning we found half of the tarps sagging under ponds of water from the rain.

The community could have relocated. Many had lost their homes and others their ability to earn money.

The community could have said ‘There is no God. If there was, why would this have happened?’ But the beauty of the Haitian people is their ability to turn their hope toward eternal life and life beyond this world.

The community could have said it’s not worth it. We have natural disasters all of the time why would be rebuild.

But the community is strong and stubborn in all the areas it should be.

Instead the community holds onto the ‘espwa’ of Jesus. (‘espwa’ is ‘hope’ in Creole.) They cling to the strength community brings as one whole instead of each alone. Their songs of worship are yelled to their Savior as their hands sway in the Holy Spirit saturated air. And they stand together as one community seeking the one true God in layers of worship.

sing

This week is literally kicking my ass. I feel like I should be walking around wearing a sign that says, ‘Pre-apology: If I snap at you…it has nothing to do with you.’ Then I apologize a LOT. For being late. Snapping at people. Messing stuff up. My ‘in the zone’ look makes people think I am angry…which results in more apologies.

It’s a vicious cycle that can only be fixed with one of two things: coffee or iced tea.

Completely kidding…kinda.

After a Mach 5 kinda week, how do I refocus and align back up with my Savior, who is constantly recreating my asshole-self into something better than sinful me.

Prayer. Study. Mission…worship.

Be forewarned if you ever travel long distances with me, or really any distance…the music will be LOUD. I’m known for it, just ask my friends. And some of the best worship I’ve had at times is singing at the top of my lungs in my car.

I grew up singing. I remember being about 6 years old, hiding out in our duplex basement singing Whitney Houston songs at the top of my very young lungs. Some of my best memories of high school are being in choir with my friends, quickly followed by a worst memory of the choir teacher telling me I wasn’t any good, and I was lucky he was letting me stay in choir.

Then with joining my first Christian community came this beautiful awareness that together we sing, and that is worship to our Lord.

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We sing. Alone or together. And God moves among his people. His Spirit speaks. We are one with our Savior.

All because we lift our voices, our souls and sing.

Not sure where to start? I have this spectacular tab at the top bar for worship that God has been using to speak to me, and help me realign to his vision for me on the weeks that kick my ass.

I also leave you with lyrics from an amazing song by All Sons & Daughters called, ‘Called Me Higher.’ There is another one that is alternating with this one by Jordan Howerton Band called ‘Move Me.’ And yes, these songs I sing at the top of my lungs like God is deaf. Sing it like ya mean it, people!

I could just sit
I could just sit and wait for all your goodness
Hope to feel your presence
And I could just stay
I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel you
Hope to feel something again

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You change me from the inside
And I could be safe
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down

But you have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I will go where you will lead me Lord
You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I will go where you lead me Lord
Where you lead me
Where you lead me Lord

And I will be Yours
I will be Yours for all my life
So let Your mercy light the path before me

Now go sing, friends. Sing at the top of your lungs like God is deaf and worship your guts out! Because I guarantee that a few moments of worship will change the week from kicking your ass to you completely kicking its’ ass.

roots

CLEARING CANON 009There is a stunning, tangled web of beauty at the base of each tree that stretches to the ocean of blue above. But the most beautiful part we can’t even see. It’s hidden beneath the surface, going so deep that if you tried to pry it out it would take hours, if not heavy machinery, depending on size.

Once on a mission trip to Galveston, we were tasked to dig out the root system of a tree that had been taken down by the hurricane. I worked on one section of the root system all morning. It did NOT want to come out. I dug, I pulled, I dug some more…then pulled some more. I even got ‘blessed’ with a large cockroach in my pants for all my efforts. That was not a beautiful surprise when I used the bathroom. Texas does grow them biggest. Several more hours after lunch, I was starting to think the roots were really not coming out.

All of a sudden I was on my ass with a root as tall as I am, and about 3 inches in diameter. It had a dirty dampness to it’s rough surface, and if it could talk, probably pretty angry. I looked at that thing in amazement. I’d put so much time into digging it out, and it had put so much time in growing in that one place. I wouldn’t have wanted to come out either!

A bit later, I heard a roar of celebration…a group of students had successfully gotten out a massive root system from the front of the house.

There we were, all celebrating in our own ways…our vicories over roots. Ironic, right? They had invested so much time in that one place, allowing their tree to have a stubbornly, strong base and we took it from them.

As the crappy caretakers of this world, we think we know all about what should be where, and how long it should be there. What if those root systems were supposed to stay? What if they were going to sprout a new tree, more beautiful and stronger than the last that succumbed to a hurricane?

We dig roots up and throw them out, or we dig roots out to transplant somewhere else with much authority. But we are not the ones who planted them in the first place…

Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” [Matthew 15:12-14]

No surprise that Jesus wasn’t really talking about roots. Also, no surprise that I wasn’t trying to stick with a earthy theme, either.

Right before the disciples asked Jesus if he knew the Pharisees were offended, Jesus had just quoted the prophet Isaiah:

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” [Matthew 15:8-9]

Read that again…conflicted anywhere?

Honor me with their lips. It is so easy to be that Christian around Easter. Do what is expected. Dress nice. Be nice. But if your actions are not matching what is coming out of your mouth…you are doing an incredible disservice to Christ’s sacrifice…and his resurrection. You never know who is overhearing you, and you never know how you actions will be perceived by that person. Which is why you heart should be aligned with…

Their hearts are far from me. Sometimes it’s amazing the show we put on so people see what you want them to see. But you cannot force yourself to be close to God. You have to make an effort, and put work into it. And that takes time. I know I’ve grown a lot closer to my heart being more like his in the last few years, but some days I am absolutely guilty of being consumed by this world and not in the ‘I am a missionary to this world’-consumed. So many distractions to separate my heart from his, and I allow them let my heart drift away from him.

They worship me in vain. I love worship. I feel very connected to my Savior through worship. But the idea that worship HAS to be in a sanctuary, or on Sunday morning, or even in a building is complete crap. Make your worship true. Seek your Abba. Break out of the worship ideas that shackle you to what people have ‘always’ done. Sadly, some worship experiences are so consumed by tradition and performance I have trouble feeling the Holy Spirit. I’m not judging, but that seems pretty in vain to me.

Their teachings are merely human rules. Do you live by the Spirit, or do you live by mandates? Do you live by faith, or restriction? Do you expect the laws of this world to enhance the laws of God’s Kingdom? They are not meant to. We are a set apart people, and we are not held to human rules and regulations. Kingdom rules lay groundwork for love, not hate. For acceptance, not exclusion. For grace, not guilt and judgement. For transformation, not status quo. Kingdom teachings cannot be contained…they are meant to be shard.

What Bible are you reading? Has God planted you? Do you cling to his roots? His roots are trustworthy, and strong.

We are a stunning, tangled web of roots when planted by God…made into beautiful trees. Will you live as though you are planted by him, or will you be a blind guide? If  I am only a blind guide, I am doing a garganuan disservice to the Gospel message. So I better damn well make sure I am planted correctly, and that no one tries to tear me up as I cling to his even deeper roots.

surround

Our father…all of heaven roars your name. Sing louder, let this place erupt with praise. Can you hear it? The sound of heaven touching earth…

God purposely creates moments of praise in places you would least expect. Sometimes surrounded by people you would least expect as well.

That is the most beautiful thing about the Holy Spirit…(whisper)…it’s everywhere…

Spirit break out. Break our walls down.

We get so comfortable when we are surrounded by other believers. We fool ourselves into thinking worship can only happen a certain way, and it has to be in our comfort zone. What we rarely think about is how worship surrounds us in so many ways throughout our day.

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I’ve been with Woods Chapel families this weekend, and tonight I listened to their stories about the places they served today. Kingdom House, Crisis Nursery and The Bridge in St. Louis all had part of our team working with them today. Each family has incredible stories! Each family served their Lord with all of their energy and strength.

And each one worshiped today surrounded by people whose lives have been transformed through the grace of Jesus.

King Jesus…your name we are lifting high…we wanna see your Kingdom here.

I pray you are surrounded by all kinds of people with a myriad of ways to worship, experiencing the fantastic power of the Holy Spirit. And in that moment your ears would be graced with the sound of Heaven touching earth.

(lyrics from Spirit Break Out by Kim Walker Smith)

happy

mar 11 - happy Strength

Today I am happy.

An unnatural happiness, actually.

It could be because a week from tomorrow I leave to go see my amazing best friend in Utah. (Photo on right from the last time we got together in Utah…expect greatness in a few weeks!)

Or because our church was so full of vibrant, beautiful life last night at the Bible Series viewing party.

Or I could be still on cloud nine from Duke beating North Carolina last Saturday. (If you missed that game…I’m sad for you. No really.)

Or because my friend just accepted a dinner invitation, and she knows how much I love being in community around tables.

Or because I am looking forward to meeting with the zaniest group of ladies who are on fire for serving others and spreading what I like to call the ‘propoganda’ tonight.

Or it could be because I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Or maybe even because this slice of pizza I am eating right now has extra olives. It is always the small things, after all.

But today those things are just happy contributions to my Monday.

Today happiness comes from the pure, sweet Holy Spirit filling my soul.

Laughter bubbling easily from my lips.

Easy going nature fully restored.

Songs are heard through my office door as I cannot contain my worship. (I’m not sorry if I’m annoying you! Worship with me!)

This Lenten journey started 27 days ago…27 looooonnnng days ago.

Before this journey started I never imagined I could stick with blogging every day. It takes its toll, and at times I want to throw the towel in…ok A LOT of times. Then my stubborn side kicks in and I get my blog posted before I go to sleep for the night, which I count as that ‘day,’ by the way.

But over halfway through this Lenten journey there are so many amazing things happening.

I am in scripture more and I am LOVING being in God’s word again, with passion instead of obligation.

I am listening more. God still speaks…we just never make room to listen.

I am worshipping more, since I gave up ‘secular music’ for Lent. Check out the ‘Jammin’ tab at the top of the blog and you’ll see what I’ve been worshipping to this Lent season. I’ve actually been jammin’ today all by my happy little self. (My boss walked by and said, ‘Well, aren’t you the songbird today!’)

I am uttering prayers more consistently than usual.

I am being more intentional.

I am being more like the person God desires me to be…and that feels pretty damn good.

Endnote: I was going to find the ‘perfect’ scripture for the Rethink Church word today, ‘happy,’ but then I decided God’s people reflecting his joy is the best visual of ‘happy’ scripture out there.

night

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Night brings quiet.

Night brings peace.

Night has an unmistakable, crisp scent.

Night brings darkness and fear, but night brings stars. A light in the darkness.

Since I was a little girl, as soon as the sun disappeared my lips could not contain the endless flow of words. My best conversations have all taken place in the dark of the night.

Life choices. Friend despair. Kingdom thoughts. Beautiful dreams. Revelations.

All under the cloak of night.

I’m not sure why daylight brings mistrust and suppression of words. You would think it would be the opposite, but not the case for me. Night has brought some of the most profound conversations I’ve ever had.

Under that deep cloak of night where others feel fear and oppression. I feel freedom, clarity and safety.

Deep breathes of night air fill my lungs, and wonderment of what’s beyond stars ignite my imagination. Suddenly the veil between God’s kingdom and earth becomes thinner.

Even phenomenal, spirit saturated worship experiences seem to fill the dark of night. Last summer on a youth trip we were on top of Mt. Evans near Denver…it was one of the most memorable times of worship many had ever experienced. At one point the moon broke through cloud cover, and flooded the mountain top with light. Every person there will tell you they felt the presence of God. A moment marked on each soul blessed to be present.

All under the cloak of night.