What Happens in the Worship Service

On Mondays (my “Sabbath Day”) I spend time reflecting on the worship service. Not so much on how things went (evaluation), but on how I was affected (reflection). On Sunday afternoon or evening I do take time to evaluate the worship service, in order to become a more effective worship leader. But today my concern is how I met the Lord, and how he’s forming me spirituality. Yesterday’s worship service was especially significant for me, and I’m trying to figure out why. In part, I think it was because I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and call people to follow Jesus–my passion and mission. But also because, I think, I simply needed the Lord’s blessing and encouragement, which I received in the worship service. Thanks be to God!
So, how does that work? What happens in the worship service that enables us to receive God’s grace & blessing on a regular basis? As I reflected on this question, I found the following passage from Don Postema’s book, “Space for God” helpful:
We gather around the Word of God to commemorate God’s mighty works and words. In the sacraments we remember and celebrate our belonging to God, our union with Christ. … We are reminded of our dependence on God for temporal life and for eternal life. God acts first, and we accept with open hands. Holy communion is a meal with God where the menu is forgiveness and acceptance. We participate in the body and blood of Christ and become the body of Christ. The bread and wine nourish each of us and keep the body, that community of Christ’s new creation, alive. … The drama of worship telescopes and focuses the drama our spiritual lives. In all these public gestures of thanks we experience, embrace, and express our covenant solidarity.” (p. 76)
Are you discouraged? Do you need a touch from the Lord? I encourage you to worship the Lord in a local church.

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“Gratitude–The Heart of the Christian Life”

As pastor I’ve noticed that there are seasons of anxiety in the local church. For example, the season of Advent tends to be a stressful time. So, why such times of anxiety? It’s hard to say, of course, as the local church is a complex organism. But sometimes I wonder if our lack of gratitude plays a part.
I continue to read Don Postema’s book, “Space for God” on my “Sabbath” days, and I found this week’s readings exceedingly helpful, especially the following quote by Thomas Merton (from “Thoughts in Solitude”):
There is no neutrality between gratitude and ingratitude. Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything. . . . . Gratitude, though, is more than a mental exercise, more than a formula of words. . . . . To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. . . . . Gratitude . . . Is the heart of the Christian life.”
I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear that! So this week I’ve been saying “thank you” to God more often. And you know, I feel more joy and peace.

Jesus Wants All of You (“Covenant”)

Last week I introduced you to Don Postema’s book, Space for God..  I continue to read one chapter of this book every Monday morning (my “Sabbath Day”).  This book is filled with various short readings and meditations to help you reflect on God and enter into a deeper life with Him.  But there’s one reading in particular from chapter one that has stuck with me, and I think you’ll really like it.  Before I give it to you, perhaps this reading is on my mind because it fits so well with the conversation we had at our last young adult small group meeting, at which time we talked about how Jesus wants all of you, and what that looks like.  The reading is called, “Covenant.”

God
knocks at my door
seeking a home for his son.

Rent is cheap, I say.

I don’t want to rent. I want to buy, says God.

I’m not sure I want to sell,
but you might come in to look around.

I think I will, says God.

I might let you have a room or two.

I like it, says God. I’ll take two.
You might decide to give me more some day.
I can wait, says God.

I’d like to give you more,
but it’s a bit difficult.  I need some space for me.

I know, says God, but I’ll wait.  I like what I see.

Hm, maybe I can let you have another room.
I really don’t need that much.

Thanks, says God, I’ll take it. I like what I see.

I’d like to give you the whole house
but I’m not sure. . .

Think on it, says God.  I wouldn’t put you out.
Your house would be mind and my son would live in it.
You’d have more space than you’d ever had before.

I don’t understand at all.

I know, says God, but I can’t tell you about that.
You’ll have to discover it for yourself.
That can only happen if you let me have the whole house.

A bit risky, I say.

Yes, says God, but try me.

I’m not sure–
I’ll let you know.

I can wait, says God.  I like what I see.

by Margaret Halaska. As quoted in Don Postema, Space for God, 27.

Making “Space for God”

Yesterday we kicked-off our Sunday School program and annual spiritual growth campaign. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the sanctuary. It was a blessed worship service and in a way, a family reunion, as some of our members had been away off-and-on for the summer. I felt the joy of the Lord as I lead my people in worship. Then to add to the blessing, in the evening I had the privilege of meeting with the single young adults in a small group setting. A very blessed start to our ministry year–thanks be to God! But also an exhausting start to our new ministry year! I was reminded this morning of the importance of taking regular Sabbath, if I’m going to grow spiritually and make it through another year of pastoral ministry. To help me with that, I started reading Don Postema’s book, “Space for God” (Faith Alive Christian Resources). What a gracious invitation to rest with God and enjoy him! I plan on reading one chapter every Monday (my “Sabbath” Day), and then reflect on the readings through the week. I’m thankful for the encouragement to make space for God in my life. This morning, as I rested in God’s presence, guided by Don, I realized anew how much I love the Lord and want to be with him. A very good thing! So, how will you make space for God this fall? I’d love to hear about it! May you truly experience the rest of God as you make space for him.

Wrestling with God

Tonight we read how Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32). We are reading through some of the main Old Testament stories right now, and it just so happens that we read this story on the first day of school. Now my kids attend a good school, and for the most part they flourish at school–thanks be to God! Even so, they always struggle to return to the classroom. So as we reflected on this story, I thought of our times of struggle. How do we respond when we’re in a bind? Although Jacob had his faults and made his share of mistakes, he does the one thing we often fail to do: he prays. What’s more, he wrestled with God in prayer. I know there are worse things than going to school, but even so, it is an opportunity for my kids to wrestle with God in prayer. To say: “Lord, you know I have to go to school whether I like it or not. But I don’t always like it. And it’s especially hard on the first day after summer break. So, please help me, Lord! I won’t let go until you bless me!” How are you struggling today? Whatever your trouble, I invite you to wrestle with God about it in prayer. You may not get exactly what you want. (Do you think Jacob wanted a damaged hip?) But I trust you will get what you need: God’s blessing–through Jesus Christ our Lord!