Choosing to sing …

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There’s in infamous picture in some photo album in the basement. Siblings and cousins bunched together on the stairs. We were singing, having fun, enjoying ourselves. The moment was captured for posterity. The rest of them all graciously closed their mouths – they look like they’re smiling. My mouth’s wide open, you can practically see my tonsils. I just carried right on singing.

I’m not sure I have that same enthusiasm for worship. (That felt like a moment when I hit the heresy button.) But it’s true. I sometimes worship, full heart and voice. But recently, it’s been held back, somewhat reserved. I’ve felt like I’ve needed some sort of reason to sing and nothing felt like it was a good enough.

And that’s my problem. I don’t need some sort of purpose to sing. I’ve already got more reasons to rejoice than I can ever name. I’m loved – by my God, by my family, my learners. I’m warm – the house is almost too hot, the arena was heated, the heater in the car works, there’s enough warm clothes in the closet to do me for awhile. I’m fed – the pantry, freezer and fridge are all stocked. I’m safe – I sleep with great security. I’m gainfully employed – the job provides me with an opportunity to use my skills and God provides for every need.

And the reasons continue to pour out. I’m chosen – my Heavenly Father calls me by name. I’m forgiven – my sins covered by the precious blood of Christ. I’m redeemed – I am not seen as guilty, the price for my sin has been paid. I’m challenged – to live a life worthy of the calling God has placed on my life. My future is secure – the hope of heaven awaits.

I should never stop singing. I should never run out of gratitude. Complaining and a disgruntled attitude have no place here. There’s more to sing about than I can truly understand.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast:  I will sing and make music.  Psalm 57:2, 7 (NIV)

I call out to High God, the God who holds me together. I’m ready, God, so ready, ready from head to toe, Ready to sing, ready to raise a tune… Psalm 57:2, 7 (MSG)

Hillsong Worship What a Beautiful Name

Each tear …

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There was a service today. A memorial for one who lived life full. Who loved travel and adventure. Who had a crazy sense of humour and deep and abiding passion for God and His people. Her arms were always open and hugs were just part of spending time with her. She love worship and her flags waved often as the words were lifted before the throne.

Her life was celebrated. Tears. Laughter. Joy. Pain. Precious words and memories shared.

I couldn’t help it. The tears leaked out. Those she loved and who loved her are left behind to ache.

Another service is on the horizon. Another who has entered Jesus’ presence. This goodbye has been long. What was once a vibrant mind and body was slowly stolen by Alzheimers. Where joy and vibrancy used to dwell, silence slowly took over. Where eyes once twinkled over a snarky comment or a great joke a gradual dullness invaded. Her home going is the last goodbye, one that has been coming for a while. I anticipate another round of tears. It simply cannot be helped.

I sometimes feel that my tears are a waste. The tear ducts work well. That’s been duly noted on multiple occasions. But the demonstration of that emotion seems like something I would love to be able to control a bit more effectively. However, that doesn’t seem to be God’s intention for me and my tears.

Psalm 56 has been one on which I’ve felt hung up. What, God, do you have for me in that Psalm? David’s a little vengeful at times. He’s plenty accusatory. He reminds himself on multiple occasions that God’s worthy of his trust and that He is the One who is in charge. And then today, on this day when my eyes feel swollen and tired, the Psalm hits home.

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8 (NIV)

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 (MSG)

The aches are part of this life. As much as I do not wish to experience them, they are part of what living is all about. Yes, there are joys – moments of sheer delight. But pain and its accompanying hurts and griefs is a distinctive part of the journey too. God’s love is demonstrated again to me in the ways that He pays attention to the tears that I cry. They are not in vain. They are not purposeless. Instead, they remind me that my God rejoices with me but He also aches with me too. This is the God who pays more attention to me than I can ever understand. Each tear is entered in His ledger…

Lessons from Jesus and a storm

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Too often I look at the life of Jesus and lie to myself. I tell myself, Jesus can’t possibly understand the storm I’m in because He just didn’t face things like I do. That’s a total delusion. Jesus dealt with all kinds of storms. The disciples fought with each other. One of those close twelve betrayed Him. The teachers of the law hated Him and plotted to kill Him. They eventually succeeded. His family doubted Him and the ones He grew up with rejected Him because they’d known Him as a child and where He was from. Storms were just as much a part of Jesus life as they are mine.

Before the storm surprised the disciples, the all-knowing One in their midst knew about it. He knew it was on the way and He got into the boat. He didn’t try to get around it. He didn’t attempt to escape it. He didn’t cut it off at the pass before it arrived to ensure the disciples got a easy voyage. The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The disciples were obedient. They followed Him. Men who had fished on this lake all their lives were reduced to fear at the severity of the wind and the waves. Had they known what was coming their way, I’d guess they would have opted out. But they followed. Their master got into the boat and so did they.

In the middle of the storm, when all was reduced to chaos around Him, Jesus slept. The waves crashing on the boat, the wind howling – none of these things kept Him up. He was able to find perfect rest in the midst of the circumstances.

I think of my life and the storms that swamp my boat. I hear the waves, I see the storm and the anxiety of my heart causes my palms to sweat, my mind to race, and my heart to pound. Instead of sleep, I’m awake – wide awake. Worry wins! Fear plays the trump card and I’m down for the count, discouraged and downtrodden.

But Jesus is able to sleep in the middle of the storm. His confidence in His Maker did not change the storm, but it definitely impacted His perspective.

Jesus, I worry. I am often afraid. I let my circumstances stress and strain me. I convince myself that You can’t have been in them, I must have missed Your guidance and direction. But this boat story proves that’s not true. You knew about the storm and You waded in, proving that You are in charge regardless of what happens. You bravely waded in, reminding me that there is blessing in obedience. You waded in showing me that You will not shield me from or prevent storms but You will walk with me in them and through them. When doubt’s waves ride high, I pray for eyes that look to Yours. You can be trusted, You are faithful and true. Your peace is there for me. I may not see it, I may not feel it, I may not know it, but that doesn’t mean Your peace isn’t there. Open my eyes again to the peace You have for me. May I sleep the rest of one who knows You. May I sleep knowing that You are with me in every moment. I choose to rest in the arms of the One who knows me best. The One who has never let me go. The One who is the Lover of my soul.

Bebo Norman’s God of My Everything

To learn

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As someone who is in the business of teaching, I think I have a handle on what learning looks like. There’s an attentive gaze, book open, pen poised and ready to write. The notebook is open, a fresh page at the ready, words waiting to be transferred from head to paper.

But some learning looks like none of those things. Paper is not enough. Written words not good evidence of having acquired the lesson. It’s fairly commonplace to say something and mostly mean it. It’s a further test to say something and actually follow through on it. It’s even more significant if it’s said, put into action, and then followed through on consistently.

Learn to do what is right … Isaiah 1:17a (NIV)

This is way more than the Nike slogan of “Just do it.” This is a constant acquiring of knowledge. However, it’s also about the intention of the knowledge. It’s not about being puffed up and full of facts. It’s not about knowing what the right thing is. It’s about learning what is right and then following through on it. It’s knowing and applying the right thing. This is knowledge that shapes and guides. This is knowledge that instructs its learner and corrects. This is knowledge that causes action and results on behalf of someone or a situation where all is not right. This is knowledge with the intention of making a difference.

So, what am I learning? What do I know?

I know that I am on a journey of obedience. I have much to learn. I desire to be attentive to the Spirit of God. That I will learn what is right and then do the things that He is asking me to do. Obedience to His voice and His promptings, this is a longing of my heart.

Stumbling Feet?

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I stumble often. I tip and turn. I lose my footing. I get lost in the shuffle, the list of things to be done, the guilt bag that’s waiting to be tackled. And it’s not just the stuff around me that causes me to stumble. I am often the cause of my own stumbling too. I forget to look where I am going. Easily distracted, I keep moving without attending to significant details.

And it’s not just my feet that stumble. My soul does too. At times it’s distracted, my spiritual gaze darting all over the place. It’s sometimes bogged down in the reality of circumstance, heart ache and grief. There are times when it has felt broken.

There is always a reason for my soul to be stumbling. My eyes are often avoiding the One who would have me fix my gaze on Him. Too often, I try to “fix” it on my own thinking my “solution” will be better than His. Frequently, I am caught up in the doing and then I am in the place of busy rather than of presence.

If I would just take His advice and place my attention on Him, my soul would calm. His presence would satisfy. His peace would still my soul. Instead of stumbling, my feet and my soul would find purchase.

He’s never intended me to stumble through life. He’s never desired me to be overcome by circumstance. My good Father made me to be sure-footed, sure-souled in Him. That’s His love pouring through, that He would take this feeble individual and equip, encourage, sustain and restore. He yearns for me to be in His presence. I can’t get there on my own. Instead, my God is the One who draws near to me in the middle of my stumbling and falling. He picks me up, sets me on my feet again, dusts me off and welcomes me into His presence. If He was waiting for me to get it all together and be perfect, I’d never make it. Instead, He extends grace, forgiveness, mercy and hope and so I choose to enter in with joy and hope.

A certain lifeline

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We’ve just come through Advent. I should be all pumped full of Emmanuel, God with us. That part of my heart, mind and life should be overflowing.

But it’s January. The days are short. The skies dark. The snow hasn’t stopped. Indoor recess (all day) happened again. My Emmanuel tank hit empty.

It’s not that I don’t know He’s with me. I do. It’s not that I have my eyes closed. I endeavour to be watching and looking for where I see Him showing up.

Sometimes circumstances win. Honestly, I let them win. I let them determine my attitude and my demeanour. I let them dictate my God attentiveness or lack thereof. I choose to allow my God-with-me tank to be depleted.

But my God is faithful. He reminds me in the least subtle of ways that He is with me.

God is at their side; with God’s help they make it. This, Jacob, is what happens to God-seekers, God-questers. Psalm 24:5, 6 (MSG)

He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Psalm 24:5, 6 (NIV)

And just like that, my Emmanuel tank fills up again. Regardless of circumstance, my God is the One who is with me. I don’t just need Emmanuel reminders at Christmas. I need it all year long, especially in January.

Surrenders, not resolutions

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I am the worst New Year’s resolution person I know. I’m horrible at making resolutions. I don’t even know where to start. Then, keep that resolution – that’s an even more insurmountable task. Invariably, I forget about the resolution I’ve made. Or I give up on it. I’m a total resolution quitter.

So, when Jesus woke me up with a song this morning, I wasn’t surprised. Songs of the Morning are a blessing that comes frequently. But the song He left today, that was hard to miss. The tune and lyrics deeply implanted themselves into my spirit this morning.

I surrender all, I surrender all, All to thee my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.

Instead of resolutions, I feel challenged to think about the surrenders that need to occur in my life.

Typically, resolutions help people (clearly not me) make strides in their lives. Workouts are resumed or at least started. Diets are undertaken. Bank books reconciled more often. Paper filed more regularly. These are all good things but are definitely in the self-help section of life.

Surrenders. That has a totally different connotation. The image of a white flag flying. The give up, I quit, I said “uncle” seems to carry an attitude of self-defeat and hopelessness. And surrendering usually happens under some sort of duress. Someone demanded that I give up and give in. Because that feeling of quitting and giving up so often resonates in my soul, I have sung I Surrender All with a begrudging spirit. My mouth sang the words but my head and my heart didn’t really agree.

Instead of surrender being something that happens grudgingly or under compulsion, I sense Jesus asking me to open my hands and to trust Him. The surrenders He is asking of me are not about an exercise in power or persuasion, but a testament of love and devotion. He knows my life. He knows its complexities. He knows the aches and pains that are a part of it. He knows the moments of joy and pleasure. He knows it all. He knows the parts around which I’ve clenched my fists, firmly believing that I know better than He does. Sometimes, He’s let me hold onto that piece of life until its crumbled into dust and, at the last, I’ve admitted that I bungled it all and He did know better. Other times, He’s gently pried my fingers back giving me glimpses into what He has planned. The times that are best are when I hold my life with open hands welcoming and allowing His hands to shape and form each part as we journey together.

I have much to surrender.

My time – I spend my time all sorts of ways. Some of it productive, some of it completely lazy. However, each moment is precious and a gift. I have been given much.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

My plans – I make all kinds of plans. Events to attend. Trips to take. To do lists for all sorts of parts of my life. The plans always work best when they have been prayed over and committed to the One who orders my steps. Walking in step with Him is the best plan I can make.

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Psalm 33:11 

My hopes – My life does not look the way I once imagined it would. I have choices about how I view it. I can live upward looking with my eyes fixed on Jesus, the ultimate Hope Giver. Or I can wallow with downcast eyes drowning in rivers of doubt and discouragement. I choose to pin my hopes on the One who is my Good Father. The One who has stood with me in every single part of life. He has never forsaken me. He is Faithful and True.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56: 4

I choose to start 2017 with open hands and surrenders. I don’t know what journey Jesus has for me this year. I choose to walk holding tightly to His hand. His way is best.

Passion’s White Flag

“I Surrender All” Music and Lyrics by Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter and Winfield Scott Weeden Public Domain