Thursday, September 29, 2016

What the Church Should Be...

We’d parked underneath the Town Clock on Citadel Hill (downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia). Built by order of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, over the last six years of the 1700’s, the clock was meant to discourage being late for appointments. So, the prince commissioned it to stand atop a four-sided tower in order that townsfolk could see it from anywhere in the city. 

Looking at it, I thought how disappointed the prince would be at the way tardiness has become acceptably fashionable today. There’s certainly a lack of appreciation for the sacredness of another’s time…but that is, perhaps, a blog for another day. I was just throwing out a little historical trivia…for whatever that was worth.

We were en route to visit the oldest church in downtown Halifax: St. Paul’s Anglican.
Considering the big explosion that shook Halifax in 1917, when a French munitions ship collided with a steamer in Halifax Harbor, the city is fortunate this church is still standing. Of course, it lost all the stained glass windows, albeit one. 

Though it has tried to replicate others…

The church itself has some interesting trivia - 
Each pew is a “box seat” of sorts, and if you wanted a decent seat, you “paid rent for your pew…” If your rent-a-pew wasn’t up to date, well…BuMmEr!

The Royals of England had their own pew right up front. As you can imagine, it’s in much better condition than the rest them. The Royals don’t tend to visit church much anymore…

But, while there’s a lot to spin about in that little bit of trivia, that’s not what this blog is about either.

Instead…it’s about a pub. An Irish Pub.
The pub sits on a corner just up about a block from the old church.

It was the sign the struck me…not the pub itself.
The sign read (or so I thought): The Irish TaleHouse

It sports a triad mission statement: Food for the body; Drink for the spirit; Music for the soul.
It’s logo is looped into three circles that look like a triangle. 

The name of the pub rather stuck with me as we walked through the old musty church and around the harbor…so, I had to go back and get a picture.

Pubs and Brewhouses are so popular these days. Even little Pagosa Springs, CO has her fair share of them. The food comes highly recommended, as does the “brew” and the music. No doubt tales are readily spun among the clientele. My guess is that as evenings wear on, and the spirit and souls have been touched, the tales are grander (gotta tell ya, I don’t have much experience in pubs). However, many has been the time that I’ve walked past one on the main street of a town…and with that much laughter emanating, well, I’ve smiled to think about the stories shared. Undoubtedly, they are stories that make the spirit and soul soar with equal satisfaction…

Contrast The Church. 

The church should be the best TaleHouse of them all.
Spiritual food.
Living water to parch a dried out heart.
Musical praise as a sacrifice to the Lord…praise that brings us into His Presence…and captures our soul.

Oh…but the stories. What has happened to the stories?
The vocal narratives that remind us of the Greatness of our God.
The tales that tell of how He still is active - the Hero riding into our lives on our behalf.
The inspiration that comes from hearing that God is still moving.

Where are the stories?

I’m old; and, though I came later in life to the church, I still remember when there were Sunday night services, and Wednesday night prayer meetings. I still remember the times when a pastor would ask for a word of testimony. Even then, there was a gap of awkward minutes until someone stood to speak. The awkwardness is scary. The gap of silence is a bit unnerving. It left us all wondering why we didn’t have a fresh testimony? And, it left us feeling guilty when we weren’t the ones to stand up and speak. WHO LIKES TO FEEL GUILTY?

Or…there was another scenario. The story-teller would go on and on and on and on… We know the type…the people who simply like to hear their own voices. The ones who don’t know when to stop their story, or how… That was HUGELY uncomfortable, as well.

So, over time, the question stopped being asked…and the stories have stopped.

They’ve stopped for those reasons; but, they’ve stopped for yet another. We’ve stopped looking for God in the middle of our stories. We’re not paying attention to where He is in the middle of our messes. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost Him…and, His AWESOMENESS. 

So, OK. I looked at the sign wrong. It wasn’t a TALEHouse…it was an “AleHouse” (you probably noticed that right away); but, I didn’t notice it until I started downloading the picture. Yet, it sure did make me think…and, remind me, oh, how we need one another’s stories. However, may the church (that’s you and me) be the best Tale-House of ALL!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When the Brain Has Nothing

A moment of honesty.
My mind is blank.
Normally, it runs in circles like the cars on the Indy 500 racetrack; however, at the moment, it is curiously quiet. Perhaps all the drivers are making pit stops.

It may have to do with the fact that we've been on the go for the last week.
Perhaps, because my body is racing around North America, my mind hasn't quite caught up.

I've crossed three time zones.
I'm in another world, where it's just as common to hear a conversation in French, as it is in English.
Instead of mountains, I'm looking at seashores and rolling farmlands.

Instead of friends I do life in community with, I'm making new friends who feel like they've been friends all my life, I just hadn't met them yet.
We've also reconnected with friends we haven't seen in 25 years...and, it's as if we'd never had a gap in time and distance.

Truly, I've delighted in #operationawspiring...on steroids!
The Lord is AmAzInG!

I'm not complaining.
When my mind is rushing, it's often hard to funnel the thoughts into something that's worth writing.
Now, the opposite is's difficult to find anything to write at all...
I'd opt for a happy balance.
A nice blend of the two.
But, alas, I've got nothing...

Instead, I'll share a few truths that have resonated with me this week (and intersperse the page with pictures I've taken from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island).

* "We are a forgetful people, and, I fear, we have become awe amnesiacs."

* "Forgetfulness is not a minor thing when it comes to God's grace. It robs us of worship, identity, humility, courage, hope, and (I'll add) joy.  Thank God He ordained for us to gather (as a community) and remember."  [It's why corporate worship is so important...we can learn "awe" better by being connected with other believers.]

* "...familiarity causes me not to treasure the gospel of Jesus Christ as I should. When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding my attention, my awe, and my worship, other things in my life will capture my attention instead. When I quit celebrating grace, I begin to forget how much I need grace, and when I forget how much I need grace, I quit seeking the rescue and strength that only grace can give. This means I begin to see myself as more righteous, strong, and wise than I actually am, and in so doing, I set myself up for trouble."

These are not my thoughts. They come from another author, whom I greatly respect, Paul David Tripp, in New Morning Mercies. Here's the thing I'm thankful for: While my mind is not working at the moment, someone else's is. When my mind is silent, God's mind is not. He's working in the thoughts of others, to connect with the truths I've been mulling over myself for several weeks.

The Lord still wants me to keep seeking to understand what it means to fear Him even when my own brain is unable to process

The Lord is still dropping pearls of wisdom into my life to direct my knowledge regarding AWE...especially when it comes to child-like, breathless wonder.

The Lord even gave the worship band (at the church where we spoke last Sunday) the words and the melody to a new song just to remind me of this "adventure" that He and I are on:

More importantly, even when the brain has nothing, the Lord reminded me that He ALWAYS has SOMETHING for me.

And, truly He has driven home the point that I am desperate for Him...bankrupt without Him...and, yes, "thought-less" (literally, not metaphorically) without Him. Not only does every breath come from Him and every heartbeat, but any good thought I've ever had...

When the brain has nothing...God's still engaging with me.  I simply need to keep on keeping on, putting the next step forward, doing the next right thing, staying in His Word, marinating in His truth. Whether rushing about, or stagnant, my mind needs to be filled with TRUTH at all times.


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

(and as a result)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How to Never Lose Child-like Wonder

I've hiked it a million times (ok, that's an exaggeration, probably it's more in the hundreds).
I've stood on the same ledge and overlooked the valley below.
This morning, the sun-angle cast a different kind of glow, giving a different kind of sheen to the scenery below me.
I noticed things I'd never noticed before...
And, of course, I hadn't brought my phone for a camera shot (so an old one will have to suffice).

It happens to all of us at random times.
For some reason, we see things-common just a little differently.

Our eyes are opened to a world generally unseen.
Not unlike walking through a wardrobe door, or falling down a rabbit hole.

I might have quickly let the moment pass, but I'd started a quest. 
It came on the heels of last week's blog, and two simple thoughts that have captured my heart and had me meditating:

I've named the quest.
Operation "Awspiring"...(it's a word I've made up; I rather like it).
I'm taking more time in my day to pay attention:
     To look for wonder.
          To see the gracious hand of the Lord.  
               To be held in be AWESTRUCK!
                      To be enraptured and inspired.
                            To be left breathless.
                                   To learn what it means to fear the Lord.

I've asked the Lord to help me see Him with fresh eyes in old ways.
     In His creation.

          In His Word.

                In the melodies of music.
                     In art.
                           In the folks with whom I connect
                                (especially hearing about His MIGHTY Hand in their stories).

This quest began because I, personally, desire to fight fear with fear.
Then I realized that to fear the Lord is much broader. When we stand AWSPIRED by the Lord many things change (as you read the list, you'll see, who wouldn't want this to be said about them?)! 
I'm wiser.
     Make better choices.
            Develop a more intimate relationship with my Lord.
                 I'm more confident...
                      I'm a bolder witness.
                           The motivations of my heart are purer.
                                I can rest untroubled by trouble.
                                     The Lord, not people, direct my path.
                                          There is peace about me.
                                                My worship is purer.

And...though I've tried, there is no other way to say it, so I'll just use the Lord's words:

Oh, that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep my commandments, that it might go well (to be good, pleasing, joyful, to be well-placed) with them.
(Deut. 5:29)

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord...
(Psalm 128:1)

This, then, sums up the prayer of Operation Awspiring's quest, perfectly:

"May we never lose our wonder. Wide eyed and mystified may we be just like a child staring at the beauty of our King."  (Bethel Music, Wonder)


Thursday, September 8, 2016

1 Way to Fight Fear

It sneaks up on you.
Before you know it, it has iron clad fists around your heart.
You're paralyzed.
It's hard to think practical every-day-common-ordinary thoughts, let alone make life changing decisions.
Your mind feels a bit like Hurricane Hermine has hit the coast. 

It may start in the brain (which you wish you could shut off), but it quickly turns physical:
- heart palpitations
- sweaty palms
- sleepless nights
- inability to focus
- nauseousness
- difficulty breathing

But, then, there are spiritual side-effects, as well, that leave you totally confused and left wondering if Jesus is sleeping somewhere in the back of your boat. 

You just can't locate the ability to find rest for your soul. 

You know Jesus has promised it, but it's like He's hidden it from you. On top of that, we have to mention the guilt that comes, because if people really knew what was happening inside your soul, they'd brand you "one of those." You know, the "oh-you-of-little-faith Christian..." 

It never makes sense. It hits at random, and, always, inappropriate times. 
It answers to several names, you take your pick:

No matter what you call it - it's the same beast.
A giant who has crossed the battle line and is now invading your personal space.
It taunts, mocks, and tries to call you out. 
Sometimes you feel particularly spunky, and you march out with your sling and stones, but the rocks fall short. The giant doesn't die. He just walks off laughing, and once again, you feel defeat.
His specialty is torment.

I get it.
I've been there.
I still hear his laughter - an echoing ghost from my past.
However, the problem is greater. 
He still steps over my personal red line from time to time.

Not dealt with, this giant starts bringing his brother to the battlefield: Depression. 
Put the two of them together, and you're not only outnumbered, you're pretty sure you'll never see daylight again.

Jesus always contrasted anxiety and fear with faith

I've known that, but something deeper and more practical (& maybe more powerful) is rising out of Scripture as a new weapon of choice. A bigger stone to put in my sling of faith: Fighting fear with fear.

This verse caused me pause this week:

The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied...unshaken (Proverbs 19:23)

Right there. 
Promised rest.
Promised contentment and peace for the soul.
It's in four little words.

One way to fight fear is with fear.
(Please note, I said one way. Not the way, or the only way...)
It takes the right kind of fear, however.
Fear of God.
Meaning...a great respect; deep reverence;'s a better word - AWESTRUCK!

Satan is sneaky.
If he can't get us to give in to blatant denial of God, he'll get us to take God for granted.
Reduce His majesty.
Put Him on a more human level.
I've heard myself say it before, at the risk of being repetitive, I'll say it again: When we lose our wonder, we lose our worship.

I looked again at the story where Jesus calmed the storm after the disciples finally woke him in the back of their boat. Here was their response:

And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27)

The disciples marveled over Jesus. That's another way to say they were AWESTRUCK. Jesus left them breathless with wonderment. 

Oh, sometimes, I'm caught off guard by him. Sometimes, I'm thoroughly intrigued by his manifestations of grace toward me. But, it's not often I'm left breathless....and I wonder why not?  After all, the God who paints the skies, orchestrates my life.

The God of Creation cares about every detail of my world. I'm falling into that trap that Satan has set...and I desperately need to fight fear with fear. Otherwise, boldness, confidence, decision-making, even life-fun-events will allude me. I will be the one to miss out. I will be the one with regret. I know this, because I often do. I often am.

This truth has formed in my heart and mind this week: The greater my AWE of God, the less my fears have potential to control me. 

It's time for me...perhaps you? reclaim, recapture, relearn the grandeur and wonder that is my God. It's time to recover, reform, yes, redeem my ability to be AWESTRUCK, to live with childlike-wonder.


PS. Just FYI, I'm old enough now to know that fear will never be eliminated this side of heaven. There will always be heart-racing, breath-holding situations that arise. But, what I do with them, who I look to when the storm needs to be calmed - that is critical. For then, instead of freezing, or fleeing, in the face of fear, I'll fight back, and, like shepherd-boy-David I will learn to say:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How to Approach Life's Changing Seasons

It's noticeable.
The summer season is slowly slipping into fall.
My backyard-aspen have a tinge of gold.
The mornings are cool and the days warm.
The squirrels are bustling about from tree to tree as they build their nests and prepare for winter...and it's only September 1 (could be evidence of a hard winter!).
There are signs the elk are moving down from the high-mountains.
Archery, and Muzzleloading, hunters are arriving and clogging up the aisles of my grocery store.
Mossy-oak-covered-everything is for sale in every sporting goods department in the state.
The zucchini in my garden is close to being harvested.

Only a few more days and all my grand-treasures will be back in school (some have been there for weeks).
I have a gnawing hunger \ thirst for something pumpkin...anything pumpkin...ok, all things pumpkin.
A pot of curried apple butternut squash is simmering on my stove for lunch.

Scarecrows and sunflowers are gracing my yard.

My favorite fall mugs sit on the to them is a bowl filled with candy-corn-dry-roasted-peanut mix (yum!).

I love fall.

But, then, I love winter...and, then, spring...and, then, can hardly wait for warm summer days.
I just like changing seasons.
It's partly why I love Colorado.
We didn't get seasons like this in Kenya...and, definitely not in Arizona.

Life is filled with seasons.
Several years ago, I remember reading through Chuck Swindle's devotional, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life. 
Honestly, I didn't think much about those seasons at the time.
I was still young.
Still full of energy.
Still, prayerfully, raising small children...and trying to spin a lot of plates without dropping them.
This looks like me, back then...

I didn't notice there were changing seasons, literally, or metaphorically. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

But, I'm recognizing the signs of the seasons now.
Just as I'm watching them change outside, I'm seeing them change all around me.
In the last month, several dear friends have "graduated" on to heaven...too young and too soon.
Others are facing unexpected, disruptive diseases...
Still others are in financial crises...
Many are in relationship disasters...
Some are empty-nesters for the first time...
Some, who thought they'd be empty-nesters, have their children moving back in for multiple reasons, all explainable and necessary...
Others are in places of calm and quiet...
Some are finally able to catch their breath, following a swirling storm...
And, there are those who see a tornado on the horizon...heading right for them.

I see the signs, know what's coming, but to be honest, I haven't learned to love those kinds of changing seasons. It seems like I'm not as prepared for the Seasons of Life, as I am the literal seasons of my world.

So, this week, the Apostle Paul reminded me of the answer to that preparation. It's found in comparison. 
I was surprised by this.
Caught off guard.
Comparison - not, as in the comparison of my life to someone else's.
That kind of comparison is a joy-robber. Teddy Roosevelt was right.

So, nope, not that kind of comparison...
When we see the signs of a changing season, we must compare what is temporal to what is eternal.
When winter is coming, and it seems that it will be a harsh one, remember that in comparison to what is heavenly, our struggles are nothing more than "light momentary afflictions."
When the leaves start turning color and dropping off the trees of our lives, look otherworldly at what is FOREVER.

In that place, there is glory beyond compare.
At the end of every trial, there is hope.
The weight of the trial, can't begin to compare, what awaits at the other end.
In the season of hard, there is a God who Reigns Sovereign.
In the midst of our changing seasons, it's easy to forget that there is an "immeasurable weight of glory" waiting, for which we are being prepared.

Every season has a purpose.
Every purpose is for our good, His glory.

I pray I learn to love each coming season. No matter how hard.
I pray I learn to quickly surrender to each one, knowing that the outcome will be more than the day.
I pray I start learning how to compare - and put my focus there.
In that place there is courage to keep my head up, my faith strong, and my hope steadfast.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18