Tag Archives: grace

all things new

I suffer from stage fright. I have for as long as I can remember–well, at least back to my days of violin lessons. One of the objectives of Suzuki method is to get children used to performing by frequent recitals starting at young ages. Since I started at age 9, maybe it was already too late for me. Playing in groups was fine, quartets, great, no problem. Duets…well, uncomfortable. But solo, even with accompaniment, was difficult. As I’ve gotten older, it’s only gotten harder, probably simply because the opportunities are not as great.

This past Sunday I served on our music team at church. This is not unusual; I serve as a vocalist every 4-8 weeks. I enjoy it immensely. I love to harmonize and see myself more as a vocal instrumentalist than a song leader. I don’t think this is how our worship leader has seen me. The past few times I’ve served, he has designated that I should sing X part on X song and asked me to work out with the other female vocalist who will lead a given song. I have always practiced my part and deferred to the other female vocalist. Then came the email for last Sunday. First off, I was the only experienced female on the team. The other woman is completely new. I knew I was going to have to take more of a front seat singing.  Next, there were 3 brand new songs–lots to learn and become competent on. Then came the note attached to the brand new song, “All Things New: “Lisa, I would like you to take the lead on this song.” Bam. Bye-bye peace of mind, hello turmoil.

I applied myself to learning the new music, and Nicol Sponberg’s song especially. All Things New turned out to be an unexpected gift to my preparations. The chorus goes:

So we watch and we wait and we hope and we pray
You will come and make all things new
And we won’t be afraid as we long for the day
You will come and make all things new
Come and make all things new*

As I practiced it began to dawn on me that stage fright is not something God wants me suffer from. I certainly have a lot of responsibility in this area–I need to prepare my voice, learn the music, be able to sing my part when other voices and instruments are assaulting my ears. Then what? I need to rest in the preparations that have been made and ask God to deal with the unnecessary anxiety.

On Sunday, I warmed up my voice, listened to the new music again, drank decaffeinated tea with lemon and honey and prayed “Lord, I’ve done all I can. Please honor my preparations.” During the service, the Lord brought together how I had prepared, His truth about who I am and how pleasing my sacrifice of praise is to Him, and his gracious presence.

At the offertory, I began singing “All Things New.” After a nerve-wracking start (those first two phrases are low!), the truth of Nicol’s words connected with the Lord’s presence within me. Suddenly I had confidence–confidence made possible by my preparations, but coming from Christ’s glorious presence causing me to proclaim the truth of who he is in the offertory song.

Gracious God, thank you for making ME new today. Thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Let me continually seek the newness of your abundant life in this twisted life here on earth, even as it is perfectly manifested in heaven. Amen.

*Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/nicol-sponberg/all-things-new-lyrics/#WdvTiCzfKJALLVPi.99
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Relationships need reconcilation

This is a post I wrote for Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha, WI as part of a Lenten call to prayer for our church. Click here to read the original.

Today I found myself dwelling on this point on our prayer card:

“Ask [God] to help all our elders follow the example of Christ in wisdom, knowledge, compassion, reconciliation and servant leadership.”

Though we’re praying this for our leadership, reconciliation is something we all need, because what matters most in our lives is our relationships–be they with the Lord or with our human family and friends. There’s our relationship and integration into Christ’s bride, the Church, which can also be fractured. These are key relationships, and reconciliation is the mechanism we need to reconnect when we have turned from them in some way. Reconciliation isn’t just about confession of blatant sins, it is attending to what is strained, stressed, fatigued or broken in our relationships.

Let’s look at this first from a positive angle: Any improvement we make in a close relationship makes an improvement in our other relationships. For example, when John scrapes the frost off my car window on Sunday morning, I come to church feeling loved. When I feel loved, I enter more easily into praise and worship of God. Conversely, if after walking the dog, pulling all my Sunday School materials together and heaving them into the car, I still need to scrape my windows, I may or may not feel anything against John, but I may feel “burdened” by this long winter…and that may translate to how I’m feeling about God. Is this fair to either John or God? No, but if John had not expressed his love for me in scraping my car window, I would have had greater difficultly entering in to worship. (It goes without saying that the reverse is true as well–when I’ve felt “met” by God in prayer or worship, I have more patience, love, compassion, etc. available to John.)

Reconciliation comes in where something we have done or not done strains a relationship. Let’s say that John had not scraped my car window, but rather buried my Sunday School materials under a pile of sound equipment that I had to dig through, making me late. Maybe he did this because he was running late himself and was digging for a specific cable needed that morning and unintentionally buried my materials. It doesn’t matter to me if he had a good reason or not–I am hurt by his actions and must talk to him to clear the air and potentially extend forgiveness to him. After we are reconciled, there is restoration of the trust in the relationship and love can flow unobstructed again.

Our leaders have been working hard to be reconciled and keep short accounts with each other so that God’s love can make its mark between us. Are you doing the same? Are you feeling dissatisfied or distant from someone who should be close to you? Are there any relationships that intrude when you sit down to pray? Do you feel disgruntled with God? These are all signs that something may need mending in your relationships. Pray this prayer and include yourself in it. Look for things you can do that will make love increase between you and others. Where there is a broken relationship, pray and seek God’s healing that love can flow unobstructed again.

All mine?

Recently I heard a sermon about temptation and how, just as we can be lead by God, we can also be lead by Satan–and that Jesus was effectively lead by the Devil during his trial in the desert (Luke 4: 1-13)! When our preacher mentioned this, it made sense logically, but it seemed too incredible to be true. My mind consented, but my heart and soul were skeptics. There was much food for thought in this sermon, so I shelved the idea and chewed on some other things.

This past Sunday, I was preparing myself for church and had picked up The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. I’ve been reading it slowly, a letter at a time, and had come to letter XXI. I read the following paragraph:

Men are not angered by mere misfortune, but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tete-a-tete with the friend), that throws him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. (The Screwtape Letters, Simon & Schuster Touchstone edition, pg 79.)

Ah! Here was an angle on being lead by the enemy that I could understand! Do I make claims on life? You bet! I have a schedule that I keep and nothing makes me feel more stressed than realizing the empty slots–which I subconsciously label as “MY time”–are getting eaten into by additional duties, conversations and engagements which I did not plan.

I had an immediate opportunity to be tested. I received a call that the family that was planning on hosting a meeting that afternoon had sick children, and could we please move the meeting to our home? I would have said “yes” anyway, but as I switched gears from planning to attend Sunday School to picking up the house I had to continually give that sense of infringement on “my time” to God. Next, during the service, I had forgotten I was scheduled to read the New Testament passage. I had to practice the presence of Christ as I rehearsed the reading of a ridiculously tricky translation from Philippians 3, because the stress and worry about not being good enough was threatening to block any ability I might have to find Christ in the scripture. Next, I sat waiting for communion feeling small and defeated, acknowledging to God my inability to gracefully move into these “outside but ordained” events, John touched my arm & signaled. Another woman in the church was frantically pointing to the back of the bulletin and then to me. I was scheduled to pray for people during communion  As I went forward to take communion prior to taking my place, I prayed “Well Lord, you always do your best work through me when I’m feeling the smallest. Just let me get out of your way today.” There were no miraculous healings Sunday, but I do know that I felt free to listen for what the Lord had for those who came to me for prayer on Sunday. There was grace enough for that, at least.

Since Sunday I’ve continued to experience random demands on my time and I continue to struggle with the sense of injury and infringement–particularly in light of the fact that I believe one of the things I’m called to right now is to take care of myself better. These demands are stressful for me to navigate, but getting them resolved internally is an important aspect of taking care of myself.

Today I finished Lewis’ letter XXI and read this:

And all the time the joke is that the word “mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father [Satan] or the Enemy will say “mine” of each thing that exists  and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls and their bodies really belong–certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present, the Enemy says “mine” to everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it. Our Father hopes in the end to say “mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.

The story of Christ in the desert being lead around by Satan isn’t just a vignette  it’s a way we can live our life! Is there really anything that is our own only? Isn’t every good thing we have a gift from God? It is true that if we are not moving towards God, we are moving away from him. Let us resolve again to turn away from the temptations to control our own hungers, our spiritual life and even God himself, and turn back to Him as the only one worthy of our time, our sacrifice, our worship.

Lord, I give you “my time” today. I give you my plans and attempt to release them fully to you. Let me see each alteration to my schedule as an opportunity to do your work, even if it means saying “no” in a way that honors the interruption. Thank you for your grace that provides the cushioning between all of our relationships and fills in the gaps for every one of your children. Amen.

Grace for the grumps

Yesterday was Sunday, the day set apart to rest and to meet God. I was invited to participate on the music team, which is a gift to me. I enjoy it so much and don’t get to do it very often–we have so many talented musicians at our church, and truth be told, I am only an average singer, if that. I was so looking forward to it. Then, as I prepared to hop in the shower, I got a call from my husband, asking me to bring his gig bag to church. “Wait,” I said, “Is music rehearsal starting at 8:30?” He confirmed, and I flew into a tizzy. Fast shower, got dressed, brewed my tea, grabbed the gig bag, my purse and flew out the door….locking myself out with no car keys. After a panicked call to my husband, he reminded me that we had put a set of keys outside for our dogsitter, I got back into the house, got the car keys, shoved off to church, arriving 20 minutes late to rehearsal, dragging my husband’s gig bag and suddenly realizing I had left the beautiful Ash Wednesday flyers on the dining room table.

Needless to say, I was not practicing the presence of Christ.

As we rehearsed, it was clear I wasn’t the only one who was off. The other vocalist was having trouble getting her voice warmed up, the young man playing guitar couldn’t find the downbeat, my husband had to keep getting up from the drums to adjust the sound system, which was on the verge of feeding back.

Somewhere in the midst of this I began to realize I was in a bad way. I began to commiserate with the other vocalist, exercising some of the frustration of the morning. I indulged in some “grmphs” and “harumphs,” attempting to release them to God rather than aim them at any particular person. I started to pray a non-verbal prayer that would have sounded a bit like “bblaaakkkk.” By the time those leading the service had gathered for prayer, I was able to earnestly pray for grace to overcome the black cloud of the morning.

…And somehow, within the first two songs, we were all worshiping God together.

Lord, thank you for your grace which overcomes our grumpiness, our black clouds, our petty inconveniences. Thank you for doing this not just for our selves, but for the sake of others. And thank you again that people aren’t always in my head to know what I am thinking. Amen.

Bribery

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! –Romans 7

I am paying bills. Actually, I am not paying bills, I am writing a blog post. And actually, I wasn’t just paying bills. I was removing them from envelopes, reviewing them, complaining to my husband about them, recycling the extraneous paper and calling our banker. No bills paid yet.

I hate paying bills. The past few years have included difficult financial circumstances for us. Paying the bills often means a dance of debt, deciding who to pay what amount, who we can put off, getting creative about repayment. This is draining for me; a place that seems to squeeze any godliness out of my being. After getting through a bill pay session, I am anxious and cranky at the very least, angry and crazed at the very worst.

My own attempt to remedy this situation is this: to bribe myself to pay the bills. When I open the bills, I get to knit for an hour (yes, it takes that much knitting to motivate me to open the bills). After strategizing with John how to deal with the loudest items, I get to write my blog post (more of a break than a bribe). Next, I will actually pay the bills, and probably give myself another knit session. Then the bill paying will be done for this month. I will wipe the sweat from my brow, take a deep breath and try to be a Christian again.

The biggest problem with my bribery solution is that God still isn’t in it. It’s a way of coping with the financial stuff, not a way of transcending it. Ultimately, transcending the stress what I want–but I’m not there yet. Practicing spiritual disciplines like the Jesus Prayer in stressful situations often turns those good practices into coping mechanisms as well.

I thought Paul might have something useful to say on the subject; Romans 7:25 seems to be the antidote for Paul: thankfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. There are no “how to’s” from Paul. Simply put, it is Christ’s presence that puts the sin of selfish, tunnel-vision living not only in perspective, but obliterates it. It is truly an anti-dote. The only clue we have on how this to put Christ into the situation is Paul’s thankfulness–a completely counter-intuitive suggestion. Do you think you can be blatantly thankful in midst of the most stressful, freaked out areas of your life? I certainly can’t. I guess this is another area of dying to self to be alive to Christ….in other words, to live in the fullness of Christ’s grace.

Lord, give me an outpouring of grace as I tackle the miserable things I hate to do. Thank you for your transcendent presence even when I am oblivious to it. Help me to move from bribing myself to do the things that must be done to reveling in your presence which gives true perspective on all the problems of this life on earth. Amen.