"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The power of lament...

lament |ləˈment|
noun - a passionate expression of grief or sorrow

One of the most famous expressions of grief and sorrow found in Christian hymnody is the timeless "It Is Well With My Soul," written by Horatio Spafford. Spafford's wife and four daughters were making a trans-Atlantic crossing in the 1800s when their ship collided with another and sank within 12 minutes. Tragically, all four daughters drowned. Spafford's wife was, miraculously, one of very few survivors. While making the very same trans-Atlantic crossing to be reunited with his wife, Spafford experienced a sustaining comfort from God as his ship passed the approximate place his daughters drowned that allowed him to write these words:
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll - Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’"
These beautiful lyrics, penned in the midst of unimaginable grief, serve as a powerful reminder that God’s love and comfort can indeed be found within the trials we face and beyond our sorrows.

Today, as we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, where we were and how we felt, we are starkly reminded that we all experience trials and sorrows that, as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it, cause us to descend into states of “disorientation.” In our disorientation, we lament and have raw conversations with God, where we articulate our hurt and anger as we raise to Him the cries of our wounded hearts. We sometimes even question our faith.  King David, who is responsible for most of the Book of Psalms, was fearless in his expression of hurt and anger with God.  In fact, Eugene Peterson estimates that around 70 percent of the content of the Book Psalms is based in lament.

Still, most of the time, the lament expressed in many of David’s songs are followed by thanksgiving and praise.  Why?  Well, herein lies the beauty of the lament.  The lament, the cry out to God, invites Him into our circumstances. Brueggemann writes this: 
“Where the cry is not voiced, heaven is not moved and history not initiated. And then the end is hopelessness. Where the cry is seriously voiced, heaven may answer and earth may have a new chance.”
Seriously voicing our cries becomes an act of worship that also leads to remembrance of God’s faithfulness to us in the better days of our past, which in turn serves to remind us of where our hope is found. Thus, we too are able to move from lament to praise, from a state of disorientation to orientation.    

I wonder though if worship music in the church today has lost sight of the lament. The market is saturated with songs of “orientation.” Songs of joy, hope, peace, love, and assurance of God’s continued presence in our lives. Upbeat songs like “How Great Is Our God” and “Our God Is Greater” and “Oh Happy Day.” Not that these songs don’t bear important truths, mind you. But aren’t churches filled with broken people suffering under the weight of hurts, habits, and hangups? And if they are, should they really be expected to sing “You are good all the time, all the time You are good” when they’ve just lost a job or are losing their house or are fighting with their teenagers or are going through divorce or are mourning the loss of a loved one? I would argue, no. 

But we can acknowledge that sometimes the sun shines down on us and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes the world is all it should be and sometimes it’s just not. Sometimes we walk roads marked with suffering. With that in mind we help people learn to sing: 
“Every blessing you pour out, Lord, I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.” 
That song is a modern lament, a real gift to the church, written by Matt and Beth Redman well over 100 years later than “It Is Well With My Soul” but written from a similar place. It was written from their grief and loss associated with numerous miscarriages. It also happened to be written a few short weeks after September 11, 2001. In a sea of countless songs about the sovereignty and majesty of our Almighty God (of which we certainly MUST sing), this song stands out as one of very few reminders that in the often harsh realities of human life we also need to know how to lament.  

Singing songs like “It Is Well With My Soul” and “Blessed Be Your Name” and praying the psalms of David teach us how to lament. It would be a tragic thing indeed if we ever find ourselves in emotionally dark places we would rather not be, like 9/11, and be unable to truthfully say, “It is well with my soul.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The other six days...

The title of this blog post is borrowed from a wonderful book by R. Paul Stevens that bears the same title. I explained a few blogs ago that the name for my blog, Every day, ordinary worship, was inspired in large part by Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the apostle Paul's words in Romans chapter 12, verses 1 and 2. You should know that the crux of Stevens' book served as inspiration as well.
Of what it means to do what he calls people theology, Stevens writes:
"So a theology of the whole people of God must expound the unity of the people of God, exploring the meaning of the dispersed life, as well as the gathered life, of the people of God." (p. 9) 
I remember sitting in a small group book study in my church several years ago (before I discerned my call to ordained ministry), struggling with the meaning of my "dispersed life." I felt like I didn't know how to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ in my workplace and that in the busy-ness of my "other six days" God was getting what was leftover from my life.  

I think that is why I now find myself so particularly drawn to the idea of my "every day, ordinary life" playing such a significant role in my worship of God.  Nearly anything I do, except sin, can be done in a way that brings glory, honor, and praise to God.  We are called to love God and love neighbor, right?  So, if we love God through our work (faithfully performing the tasks set before us and giving thanks to God for the provision we are given in return) while loving our neighbor (our co-workers, customers, etc.), doesn't that honor God? Can we go so far as to call it "ministry"? I think so. 

Consider also these words from Stevens:
"It is holy ministry to play with one's children or to listen to a friend." (p. 104)
I LOVE that! If playing with our children or listening to a friend can be considered "holy ministry," think of all the other things we do in our every day, ordinary lives that might also be considered "holy ministry."

It is my fervent prayer that the people of God I am called to share life with come to realize that they are all ministers of the gospel and that they embrace their "holy ministries" with the whole of their every day, ordinary lives.  I pray that, as my dear friend Steve Harper recently wrote in his blog (which I encourage you to read here), our journey together as the people of God "allows us to find and follow God's will in the daily round - the grace which enables us to experience God in the ordinary."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Foto Friday

I love this picture. My brother-in-law was on an early morning walk while on vacation in Italy and captured this moment.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor of love...

This weekend I spent some quality time with very dear friends and colleagues in ministry at a holy place (Warren Willis Camp) having holy conversations (seeking to connect ourselves with God's dreams for our church).  One particular passage kept entering my mind, from Jesus' prayer for his disciples in the garden before he was arrested:
"And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." (John 17:11, NRSV)
Jesus obviously knew what he was praying when he asked for our protection and that we "may be one" as he is one with the Father.  I believe that Jesus prayed specifically for our oneness because achieving the kind of unity he had in mind is the most difficult work of the church in the world.  This is because we live in a culture where vast amounts of energy and resources are spent to stress what divides us, rather than celebrate what unites us.  An election year can sure go a long way toward helping you realize that disheartening truth. 

Stress, disunity, and tension are things that broken people bring with them from outside the church, as they come seeking refuge from the pain and suffering they have experienced in the world.  Little do they realize that if they stick around long enough, if they take the initiative to go deeper in their faith and get involved in the every day life of a community of faith, they may will one day experience stress, disunity, and tension inside the church.  This is where the real work of the church begins.

The church, as the body of Christ, must lead the way in demonstrating the sheer power and beauty of forgiveness and reconciliation.  If we can't get this right for ourselves, if we can't prove to those in our midst that relationships inside the church can be made whole even after they have been fractured, how can we possibly expect people to go home and restore relationships outside the church, such as broken marriages, broken relationships between parent and child, or broken lifelong friendships?

Jesus said this about reconciliation:
"So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24, NRSV)
It seems to me that Jesus is saying, "Before you do anything else, if you have a relationship that is broken, go and deal with it... be reconciled."  As the church, we are called to do a great many things; but this passage leads me to believe that demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation should top the list.  After all, isn't this the whole point of the gospel, the  very reason for God's saving work through Jesus Christ on the cross?   

Thankfully, I've experienced the power of forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships both inside and outside the church.  To be sure, this work of forgiveness and reconciliation was by far some of the most difficult and emotional work I've ever participated in.  But it was so worth it, proving to be a genuine labor of love.

As you rest today, I encourage you to pray for relationships in your life that may be suffering.  Then, go and be reconciled.