If you'd like to sing yesterday's worship songs during your work week, you can play them from this playlist. Enjoy!
If you enjoyed the songs we sang together on Sunday, you can sing them all week with this playlist:
I'm currently sitting at my kitchen table, working. Soft music is playing in the background in an attempt to add some tranquility to this room and my second third cup of coffee is sitting next to the computer. I have a to do list longer than there are hours left in the day, and life is just not slowing down - I'm sure I'm not the only one. Right in the middle of it all, God just whispered to me "Look Up" so I did, and this is what I saw:
Have you ever stopped and looked around? I'm sure you know the old adage "stop and smell the roses," but have you actually done it? Have you actually slowed down to take it all in?
Well, today I did. The Lord's still small voice told me to look up. So I did. I saw my daughter in our playroom. There she is, sitting in the floor playing. She's clean, fed & content. She is surrounded by so many toys that she can't decide what to play with (thanks to her super loving grandparents!) so she's carefully taking it all in. The Lord gave me two specific thoughts in this moment of observation. Am I clean, fed & content? Am I slowing down enough to see my surroundings? Herein lies my lesson today. I hope it's one that will encourage you as you read. So let's dig into these two questions ...
Am I clean fed and content?
Clean - I was reminded that I'm not perfect. Ouch! But, neither are you. We are in need of cleansing forgiveness daily. When we mess up (like speaking harshly to my husband this morning because I was tired when that cute girl in the picture woke up at 4:30am) we need to confess. He will forgive, every time, not matter what. That's a relief and it's humbling.1 John 1:19 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Fed - I'm not always studying God's word. Life is busy and sometimes personal study falls away. But when I do make that a priority, I'm healthier. That spiritual health overflows in all areas of my life positively (i.e. patience with my early rising infant). When you eat good food, it sustains you. So God was telling me to prioritize my personal time with Him. To read and "chew on" the truths in the Bible daily. John 15:4 says, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." Content - There I was worried about my long list of things to do & the Lord spoke to me in two words, "Look Up." He didn't give me a list of ways to accomplish my list in one day or a step by step guide on how to make that child sleep past 4:30am. Nope, instead He reminded me what Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God." His character brings peace, He is all I need.
Am I slowing down enough to see my surroundings?
On the table in the corner, you might have noticed in the other pictures, we have some marble jars. They are a reminder to take captive our time with our girl. Each Sunday, my husband and I move a marble from one jar to the other symbolizing one week less until she graduates from high school & is off to college. It reminds us to keep the end in mind. You see, when we see how much time we have left, we'll make what matters matter more. The things that matter to us are simple, to raise her in a gospel centered home where she is pointed toward Jesus as much as possible, to love her unconditionally while teaching her right from wrong, and to have fun! We're in the beginning of a life full of parenting through all kinds of phases and reminding ourself of the things that matter can't get lost in the hustle & bustle. It's easy to say, "Its just a phase!" and work harder next time. But before we know it, without focusing on the now, we'll just wish her life at home away. We don't want to do that ... especially since time is flying! So now, we try to say, "It's just a phase, so don't miss it!"
Well, today, I think the Lord wanted me to apply that concept to my personal life. It's not just a concept for raising children. He wanted me to keep the end in mind for my life too. What matters here, is sharing about Jesus. Revelation 22:7 says, "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." He is coming back! Jesus came to this earth to rescue us from our sin - our separation from God. He lived a perfect life, died in our place, and rose from the dead three days later. Today, He is alive, and preparing a place for us to be with Him again one day. We don't know when He is coming back, so while we wait, we share. This is a message worth sharing. But, in all these busy life activities, I'm not slowing down enough to really see who around me needs to hear this message. God wants me to slow down and build margin in my life to share this good news message with those around me. Building in margin will take sacrifices, and they'll be worth it. This busy phase in my life will pass so I don't want to miss the opportunities I have right now to share just because I'm caught up in the hustle & bustle.
I hope you can be encouraged that you aren't the only one who has trouble finding extra time, or getting things on your to do list done. I hope that you can be encouraged that you aren't the only one saying "It's just a phase!" or "Time is flying!" The best encouragement to me, though, has been knowing that God is with me through it all and that He is all I need. He will give me patience when I'm up at 4:30am, He will forgive me when I confess my mess ups, He will nourish my soul when I prioritize my time with Him, He will give me peace in my surroundings when I recognize who He is, and He will help me find margin to share with others what He has done for me in the gift of His son Jesus. He rescued me! Oh what joy!
What about you?
Will you seek Him in all the time you do (or even don't) have this week? Will you confess wrongdoing? Will you dig into His word? Will you "be still" and depend on His character? Will you tell someone what He's done for you?
And guess what? It doesn't have to be something else you add to your to do list! This is the best part! These things can be built into the regular rhythms of your day. For me, reading the Bible might look like listening to the Bible app while I drive on a busy day. We all have drive time! Confession might happen through prayer while I get dressed in the morning. We all have to get ready for the day and I don't know about you, but my mind is usually wandering during this time! There's also bath time, playtime, down time, bed time. What about your times ... which ones can you take captive in order to "Look Up?"
I am still in the process of learning and growing into much of what it means to do and be a preacher. I do know this: preaching is, at the very least, observing the ancient Biblical text, observing the current culture, and applying the former to the latter faithfully and appropriately.
Sometimes finding where the two cross paths can be tricky. For example, explaining how God’s instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-27 applies to our lives can take some work. At times like those the preacher becomes an archeologist carefully and painstakingly sifting through the fine dust of the past to uncover the beauty within.
At other times the modern relevance for an ancient Biblical text is readily apparent. On those occasions the preacher becomes more of a trauma surgeon applying his skill to the readily-apparent issue(s) at hand in a way that needs to be straightforward, effective, and efficient.
This past week I felt like a trauma surgeon.
The sermon Sunday was on Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as the Beatitudes (if you would like to watch the sermon you can find it here). Verse 9 reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
As I sat in my office last Friday my sermon manuscript was on the computer screen in front of me, while the Presidential inauguration was on the TV screen to my right. As the day wore on, I wore down.
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
Protests erupted on the screen to my right, virtual protests erupted on the screen in front of me. Gauntlet-throwing rhetoric spewed from the screen to my right, gauntlet-throwing posts spewed from the screen in front of me.
ALL OF YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG!! ALL OF US ARE TOTALLY RIGHT!! It didn’t matter which side people were on, the tone was the same. WE’RE SICK AND TIRED OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU, AND WE WON’T STAY QUIET ABOUT IT ANY LONGER!!
Blessed are the Peacemakers…
I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’re a culture that thrives on polarization and the demonization of opposite “sides”. In the arms race-like struggle for ratings the actual news has been supplanted by opinions about the news. The need to fill 24-hour content cycles has devolved sports TV and radio shows into an endless progression of “hot takes”. Film and music awards shows are increasingly used as public square platforms. Comment sections are filled with people who read the headline, skipped the article itself, and jumped straight into offering their opinion. The plethora of on-demand content sources means we rarely have to listen to anyone or anything other than what has been customized to our personal preferences based on past choices.
The resulting echo-chamber of homogenous perspectives contributes to a lack of empathy for and understanding of those with whom we may disagree. Inevitably, Google’s Third Law of Internet Dynamics kicks in: For every hashtag there is an equal and opposite hashtag.
#BlackLivesMatter begets #BlueLivesMatter which begets #AllLivesMatter
#NotMyPresident begets #Snowflake
#AmericaFirst begets #AlternativeFacts
And the thought I could not shake was, “Where are the Peacemakers? Where are the sons and daughters of God?” We’ve got plenty of points and counterpoints. We’ve got plenty of cynics. We’re all stocked up on finger pointing, blame shifting, and spin. But where are the peacemakers? Where are the gospel-saturated, Spirit-empowered, neighbor-loving, Christ-like peacemakers?
The thought I could not shake was, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
With that (admittedly extended) background I offer the following thoughts on what I believe is a dire need in our culture right now:
Why strive to be a peacemaker?
What does peacemaking look like?
What are the peacemaking pitfalls?
Where does peacemaking start?
Peacemaking starts when people love God and their neighbors more then they love themselves. “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The conflict in our country isn’t new and it isn’t unique to the United States. Last week we saw a transition of power that led to protests. Other countries have coups, genocidal civil wars, and decades-long dictatorships. I’ll take hashtags and memes.
But, at the same time, I’m grieved by the trajectory of the tone and the temperature of conversations (real and virtual) in our country.
I’m going to try to be much more intentional in the days and months ahead to be sure I am not adding to it. I’d like to learn to be more of a peacemaker, and I hope you will to…the culture needs it.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The physician-turned-historian Luke wrote the most well-known of the accounts of Jesus's birth. If you have spent any time at all in a church around Christmas time (or even if you've watched Charlie Brown Christmas) you have likely heard Luke 2:1-20 read aloud and perhaps even remember verse 7, "And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."
Joseph is a pretty sympathetic figure in the birth narrative. Can you imagine how his year had gone? First he finds out his fiancée (who is a virgin, mind you) is pregnant. Then the occupying foreign power (Rome) demands he travel to his ancestral hometown to be registered (i.e. sign up to be taxed). Then, once they get there they find there is, "no room for them in the Inn." I don't know about you, but I would be in a seriously sour mood!
I doubt Joseph could have conceived of the reality that 2,000+ years later people all over the world would recreate that night's scene during church plays, and on their mantles, dining room tables, and front yards. No, I imagine Joseph was just feeling pretty inconvenienced, maybe disappointed, and perhaps more than a little frustrated.
I thought about Joseph this week as I explained to person after person about how King's Cross Church wouldn't be having services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. See, all Charleston County School facilities are closed on Christmas (as, by the way, they should be; it is important for CCSD employees to be able to be with their families at Christmas). I resonated this week, to some small degree, with Joseph's sense of displacement. Our church doesn't have a "home" yet, and when we do gather on Sundays we do so just outside the part of the city we want to be in long term. And so, perhaps for the first time in my life, what has jumped out of the Luke 2 passage to me was the little detail, "...there was no place for them in the inn."
And yet, unlike Joseph so many years ago, I know what happened after Luke 2. I know that God was doing something glorious. His plan was perfectly on track. God wasn't caught off guard by the lack of accommodations for his Son's birth; He wasn't scrambling for Plan B.
And the same is true for our Church. God is not concerned that we're "missing" a Sunday morning. He isn't frustrated with CCSD. God's plans for King's Cross are perfectly on track. He knows exactly where we will be this time next year, and exactly who will be a part of our church in December of 2017. He knows how many lives will be changed, how many marriages will be saved, how many people will hear and understand the gospel for the first time. He knows how many babies will be born, adopted, and fostered by members of our Church. He knows how many funerals our pastors will preside over. He knows how many baptisms we will celebrate, and how many parents we will commission. He knows which countries we will visit to support missionaries, and in which cities we will support new church plants.
God was doing something glorious that night in Bethlehem. And He is doing something glorious in and through King's Cross Church right now. How can I be so sure? Because I believe the same power that was at work that night in Bethlehem is at work in the world today! And I believe God is able to do far beyond anything we can ask or imagine!
So, how about you? Are you feeling a bit displaced this Christmas? Feeling like there's no room for you at the metaphorical "inn"? Maybe you're feeling inconvenienced, disappointed, or even frustrated with the way things are going? Can I speak light, and hope, and peace into that place? Friends, Christmas is a reminder that God is always at work, often in the smallest of details!
So, I'll rest easy on Christmas morning knowing that I'm not the first follower of God to be displaced and I won't be the last. But I'll rest with an eager expectation and longing to see what comes next knowing that God is working to glorify himself in my life, in our church, across our city, and around the world!
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)