Archive for February, 2015

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Lent Day Ten

February 28, 2015

Music is a huge part of my faith and my worship experience. It is through music that I often feel like I connect.

Think about doing something, a hobby, that you really enjoy and look forward to doing. For me, it’s writing. On good writing days I feel myself get in the ‘zone.’ It’s hard for me to describe but I think we all recognize it when it happens to us. It’s as if my internal self absorbs my external self. We perform as one to become even better at writing (or your favorite thing).

When music connects with me, I achieve that same feeling. The music’s power takes me to the ‘zone’ and makes everything clearer for me. It also fuels my creative self, that God-given talent that is unique to me.

In worship, the words and melody speak more clearly to me than reading the words in the Bible. Perhaps that is why from an early age I cherished the hymnal and still do.

Maybe because I’m a lifelong Lutheran, I like both old and new worship music. One of my favorite hymns from a young age has been, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It’s a classic written in the late 1800s. (I also see that our current Lutheran hymnal does not include it.) Equally as much, I like, “Borning Cry,” a newer hymn (1985) as compared to “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

I like some current Christian rock, like, “10,000 Reasons,” and “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone).” Unlike many I know, I don’t listen to Christian music radio stations. I generally don’t enjoy that, which means I may be late to find another current ‘hymn’ that I’d like. It’s the same with classical music. I relish attending a symphony concert, e.g., classical music. But for a few favorites, I don’t care to listen to classical music on the radio.

As a writer and reader, words are among my favorite toys. Both secular and Christian songs have words. A pretty melody without words that resonate with me won’t take me to that ‘zone.’ When I come upon that right blend (for me) of words and music, I expand my faith, my soul, my mind.

According to the online Bible, “music” appears 41 times in God’s Word. I like to think that means God also loves music and recognizes that we can receive His message from many media.

Halleluiah!

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Lent Day Nine

February 27, 2015

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’m a Lutheran preacher’s daughter and stepdaughter, Yes, two years after my parents divorced, my mom met and soon married another Lutheran minister. At times I still wonder how on earth that could have happened and as a teenager, I was certain it was one of the top ten worst things that could have happened to me.

Since then I’ve grown to appreciate the unique experience that gave me. It’s given me a perspective of faith that others may not have.

First, it’s made me feel comfortable in church, particularly a Lutheran church. It is a second home in ways for me because it’s nearly been part of my entire life. My dad’s church was essentially across our backyard. We lived in the parsonage and many days we visited Dad in his church office. I remember him making instant coffee that was awful, by both kid and adult standards. We sipped at it anyway and felt quite grown-up.

Because of that comfortable, relaxed feeling, I don’t take everything about church so seriously. It’s important but it also involves humans and I think that means it’s ok if it’s not all just ‘perfect’ and staid.

I also know that pastors themselves are human. Everyone knows that on some level but I’ve lived with them. I don’t hold them in quite the reverence others may. Pastors heard and answered God’s call, and they know a whole lot more than I do about Hebrew,Jesus and God. But they, too, are sinners.

While my dad was in seminary, I started first grade and began to learn to read, which I immediately loved. Sunday mornings I wanted to read the hymnal and follow along during worship. Surprisingly, I remember my dad patiently helping me with that. That year for Christmas, Dad and Mom gave me my own hymnal. (For any Lutherans reading this, it was the ‘old’ red hymnal.) Since then I’ve bought each hymnal version that comes out so I continue to have my own ‘book,’ as my siblings and I called it as kids.

When you boil it down, it’s a book, in a building like others that I’ve spent lots of time in, with people mostly like me. What’s so special about that? Nothing, except that God, His love and grace, and our shared faith unite us there.  Lent is our opportunity as Christians to reflect on that and strive to increase our faithfulness.

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Lent Day Eight

February 26, 2015

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

For a few weeks now, I’ve set this verse to pop up early each morning so it is the first thing I see on my trusty smartphone when I arise. It comforts me and gives me confidence for the day ahead.

It also reminds me that it is this gift – steadfast, unceasing love – I should contemplate during this 40-day journey. I don’t recall where I found this particular variation. Maybe from a daily devotional email I receive. When I search the online Bible, “steadfast love” appears several times.

Psalm 136 is a wonderful litany with the words, “for his steadfast love endures forever” as the refrain. The Psalm reminds us of the power of God wrapped in this context of love.

He does “great wonders.” He created the heavens. He divided the Red Sea, and “struck down great kings” and “killed famous kings.” The scope of his might is unfathomable for a lowly human sinner like me.

Yet after all that talk of God’s grandeur, the Psalm closes with this message of love.

23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

While I don’t deserve it, I’m not good enough for it and I often take it for granted, God always loves me. And you. He will forever.

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Lent Day Seven

February 25, 2015

Matthew 25:45 (NRSV) – Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Whenever I see someone on a street corner asking for help or money, this Bible verse echoes through my mind. Often I ignore it and the person.

Well actually, most of the time I ignore them. During the 30 seconds or so that I wait at the red light, I have quite a debate with myself. All in my head.

“It’s probably a scam.”

“Could be real. Who am I to judge?”

“I’ve always been able to get a job. He [or she] is just lazy. Plus I’ve heard claims that panhandlers make more money than they ever did in a job.”

Then I notice the young man in the old, beat-up car next to me, reach into his back seat. As he raises his arm, I see a quart-size Ziploc bag filled with a pair of socks, a bottled water and maybe a granola bar and a few other items in his hand.

Wow. I can’t miss that message, can I?

I hear God saying, “See, that young man who makes much less than you, is doing to the ‘least of these’ as I commanded.”

I’m ashamed and disappointed in myself. Once again, my weak and sinful self did not do to the least.

Thankfully God’s never-ending grace gives me another chance. I repent and have another chance to be the person God wants me to be. Maybe this is the thing I need to ‘take up’ this Lent.

It’s time for me to stop by my neighborhood big-box store tomorrow after work to pick up some socks, water and Ziploc bags.

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Lent Day Six

February 24, 2015

Amazing grace. God’s gift for us all only because we believe. Nothing more. A gift given to us without cost on our part that our Almighty God lovingly gives us.

It is also the name of hymn I think most people know and one I’ve loved for most of my adult life. While I don’t have a good singing voice, I do love to sing and love music. Often I sang “Amazing Grace” to my precious Sarah when she was a baby and toddler – before she recognized that I sounded more like a wounded animal than a soothing mommy.

Just three or four years ago, I heard a new-to-me and more contemporary version of this powerful, melodic message. By Chris Tomlin, it’s called, Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone). I heard it by accident one night, I believe on NPR of all places. Since then I purchased it and we sang it a couple of years ago when I attended the Florida Bahamas Synod Assembly.

While I love the melody of both the original and updated versions, it is the message of God’s grace that stirs  me whenever I hear it or sing it. Grace is the kind of gift that becomes more meaningful as I get older. I don’t know that I ‘got it’ when I was younger and less experienced.

Grandma used to say, “There but for the grace of God.” I adored Grandma so I knowingly nodded my head but really had no idea what she meant. All these years later, I do understand and my prayers thank God that my life is what it is.

But for the grace of God, I could have been born in a war-torn land. I could be homeless and hungry. I could be alone and unloved. I could have illness or disabilities that restrict all that I can do in this life He gave me.

That is not to say that God’s grace and gift of eternal life is unavailable to people in those situations. It absolutely is and I should be helping spread that Good News. What I’m saying is that I am thankful I do not face those difficulties. I’m not sure why God spares me and not others. That’s a question people have asked for centuries and will continue to ask.

God’s grace is a powerful and maybe intimidating gift to accept and to understand. Maybe we weak and sinful humans can’t ever understand it. Accepting it is the easy part for us because God offers it without conditions other than our faith. Amazing.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NRSV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

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Lent Day Five

February 23, 2015

Matthew 4:1-2 (NRSV) – The Temptation of Jesus
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

Forty days. What was I thinking? Forty days of blogging about Lent? In a row?

Much as I say I want to write, doing it every day (beyond what I do at work) is an aggressive goal. I probably don’t even know that much about Lent.

How did Jesus do it? Fasting forty days in a row. No way! Only to then do battle with the tempter, aka, the devil.

I struggle to come up with a daily blog topic. Finding inspiration each night so I’m ready to post the next morning is hard work. What if nobody else really cares about what I’m writing? I write these so quickly that maybe they’re not as well-written as I think or have typos? What was I thinking?

Wait. Could it be that my struggle too involves the devil? Are those negative thoughts the evil one tempting me to stop sharing my personal faith experience in this way? Dare I like Jesus say:

“Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Matthew 4:10 (NRSV)

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First Sunday in Lent

February 22, 2015

God’s call. Many talk about hearing God’s call. Ministers especially talk about this and it should be an important part of their process to become God’s servant.

For me, I often wonder how many times I’ve heard – and listened – or missed God’s call to me. For example, deciding to write a daily blog post through Lent 2015. Was that God calling me or was it my ego saying I should do this? I’m not sure.

I’ve had times when I know for certain God spoke to me. One I distinctly remember was driving to work early on a still-dark and wintry morning. Something, God, told me to slow down and watch out for a pedestrian ahead on a road that didn’t usually have folks out walking around.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, a person was ahead of me walking across the street. Had I not heard and heeded that voice, I would have hit that person and tragically changed both of our lives.

Whenever my church has asked to me to serve, I’ve questioned whether it is God’s call to me. When the pastor or a council member asks me to serve in specific way, is it God’s voice?

On a Sunday evening six years ago, a dear woman, Joan, from our church asked me to chair the Fellowship Committee. That very morning during worship, I felt called to work with the youth in our church. Instead, Joan asked me to do something that had not entered my mind. Huh?

What should I do with that? The church-y answer is to pray about it. I do but even then I’m not sure I get a clear answer. It’s a mental and emotional struggle for me to reach these decisions.

In the end, I said yes and enjoyed my two years, which gave my husband and I the chance to meet many more people in this new-to-us church. It also led to me saying yes, again, to the pastor at the end of those two years to being council president for the next two years.

I’ll always continue to seek God’s call and slow myself down to be able to hear it. In gratitude I ask God to continue to be patient with me.

Lord God, be my vision and my guide and open me up to what it is I need to see and where it is you are calling me to go. Drive me, dear Lord, to be your servant in this world and empower me to be your hands and feet. Amen

Romans 2:7 (ESV): to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life