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worshipToday, the worship set began with a message of freedom, that God provides an environment in which we can be free of bondage that has held us in the grips of sinful behavior. The first song promises true life in Christ as we praise and worship God.

The second song was about surrendering control to God, the one true comforter, who transforms our lives, if we allow His will to reign. Cry out to God who hears our and sees our pain. God is sovereign and an anchor in every possible storm.

The third song echoed the theme of the sermon by focusing on hope, breaking free, joy, a surrendered heart, and all breaking forth in an expression of pure confidence in Christ, “on top of the world.” As long as we identify with Christ and live that reality, the Spirit will be expansive within us.

The last song of the set, called us to trust, no matter what the challenges may be, even the greatest of ocean waves cannot or will not overwhelm us. God is greater and stronger than any storm. We must keep our eyes on our Sovereign God even in the deepest waters, for God’s love is unfailing. We are asked to surrender and trust. Fear not. If God calls, then we can “walk on water.” Stay in God’s Presence.

The message had these main points: Our Christ-based Calling can be eroded by losing our confidence in Christ. To maintain our confidence, we must maintain a clear conscience, a caring community, and a commitment to consistency.

So, that’s our service touched (related briefly here) on the attributes of God. But what about me and my life? Am I an example or a testimony to these things? In some ways, I believe I do exhibit confidence that God is in my life. I am comfortable in my faith and I am not ashamed of speaking of my faith openly. I work toward being loving and kind, seeking to look for the best in a person, breathing out the worst.

But I am still holding back. I am still trying to balance what I want to do with what others teach I could be doing to fulfill my God-Purpose. I suppose, I am not really “all in.” That’s a confession of sorts. I know what my gifts are but I also know those gifts are useful in a variety of settings, not just the church.

trinityIn my prayer life, which has been resurrected after a very dry period, I do surrender daily to God and I cry out for God’s Kingdom to indwell me daily, for God’s Will to prevail, for a spirit of forgiveness to wash over me for a rather longish list of people. I cannot “balance” or choose anymore. I believe my journey is ultimately in God’s hands, no matter where I walk or stand or pause. Whether I move quickly or slowly, God is ther.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord. [St. Patrick]

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restore-logo-and-tagThe first homework assignment for this session on theology is match our church’s belief statement with a variety of areas (big ideas in theology). Here’s a brief review of what I found.

The Summary Statement: 
Our Core Beliefs are intended to be a basis of fellowship. There will always be peripheral doctrines that committed Christians disagree upon, but the core beliefs of Christianity are non-negotiable. Below is a list of our core beliefs: The Bible is the Inspired Word of God There is one true God Jesus Christ is the Son of God The Fall of Man The Salvation of Man The Ordinances of the Church The Church and Its Mission The Holy Spirit The Final Judgment.

Areas this statement addresses:

The Bible: The inspired Word of God, infallible and the authoritative rule of faith and conduct for mankind.

The Nature & Character of God: One true God, called by many different names because of the different dimensions of His personality. God is super-dimensional and eternally self-existent (Jn. 8:54-59). God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1&2). While God is one, He has revealed Himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

The Reality of Sin: The Fall of Humankind brought sin into the world; Humankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, humans disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). Disobedience had repercussions: humankind was excommunicated from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23), a curse was pronounced (Genesis 3:14-19), the process of physical death began (Genesis 2:17), and humankind died spiritually (Romans 5:12-19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11-18) and left humans in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23).

The Nature of Jesus: The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the second person of the Trinity, eternal. The Scripture declares his virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23); His sinless life (Hebrews 7:26 & I Peter 2:22 & I John 3:4,5); His miracles (Acts 2:22 & 10:37-38); His substitutionary death on the cross (II Corinthians 5:21 & I Peter 2:24 & I Corinthians 15:4); His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:1-6 & I Corinthians 15:4); His exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 1:9,11 & Philippians 2:9-11).

Salvation: The only means of salvation is Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 & John 14:6). He died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins (I Peter 2:24). He offers each of us a pardon for our sins (Hebrews 9:26) and wants us to become children of God (John 1:12). More here.

Person & Work of the Holy Spirit: The second “person” of the Trinity. Our “salvation” includes our becoming the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 6:19); The nine fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are the by-product of a Spirit-filled life and evidence of spiritual maturity. The nine gifts of the Spirit are different manifestations of the Spirit to build up the body (I Cor. 12:1-11). We are instructed to diligently seek the gifts (I Cor. 12:31, 14:1), but they must be exercised in an orderly way (I Cor. 14:26-33) in the context of love (I Cor. 13:1-13).

The Church: The Church is the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27) and has a three-fold purpose: To evangelize the world (Acts 1:8 & Mark 16:15-16), to worship God (I Cor. 12:13), and to equip for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16 & I Cor. 12:28, 14:12).

Our Purpose: To be in fellowship with God and one another. The mission of Restore Church: We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.  Our mission will be unleashed by: Meeting people where they are. Connecting people to life changing relationships. Serving people with no strings attached. Fulfilling the mission of God will not only result in new ministries or programs, but a movement of disciple makers, impacting the world.

Sometimes people think, because our church traditions appear loosey-goosey or outside the norm of traditional Sunday services, that this church is not rooted or grounded. But clearly, much thought has gone into the bedrock theology of Restore Church.

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theology-cartoon

Theology is a word I have mostly avoided until starting quarter three of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church, Havre de Grace. I mean, it’s not a “bad” word,  it just seems, on the front end, as being one of those words coupled with “religion,” which has gotten a pretty bad rap in recent years.

But honestly, theology is just a study of the divine, a study of God, a study of the big questions and how they impact our every day life. In some form or another, we have all grappled with some of the big questions: forgiveness, sin, justice, salvation, etc. And as we engage with others, we will be asked along the way, “why do you believe what you believe?” And if we have spent any time at all studying or searching (as in research) for the answers, we are theologians too. So, for this season, I will be embracing this idea of being capable of theological curiosity and adventure. 🙂

The biggest impact of a big topic that has impacted my life directly is my understanding of the sovereignty of God. This simple truth has sustained me through the loss of my husband and the a host of circumstances that could be perceived as negatives. From Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” to Isaiah 14:24, “The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, . . . ” God is God.

Another personal study I took upon myself was many years ago as I search for the “secret place” of God, referenced in Psalm 91. I wanted to “hear” from God and I wanted to “dwell” with God and so I went looking. And although I could not live there 24/7, I did have a taste of heaven and entered for that Holy of Holies.

If we don’t pursue understanding through study, we may actually mislead others or worse, allow ourselves to be misled. I remember, as a younger Christian worrying about teaching that could take me off the mark. For instance, I followed a very popular but conservative teacher who was adamant that theater and music when “performed” in a church service was not worship but prideful etc. Another time, I remember visiting a church that called on the congregation to imagine that a microphone stand was Satan and to laugh at it [him]. And during the heyday of charismatic movement, there were many many abuses of implied miracles like gold dust manifesting from the hands of the anointed.

The Bible remains the foundation (having stood the test of time) for any study and from it, we can build our understanding and confirm our faith. I like the idea of the Canon of Scripture being translated as a “measuring rod.” That makes a lot of sense. But in order for the Bible to be a successful measuring rod, there must be understanding and, I think, wisdom. The tendency by many is to cherry pick the Bible for the parts that support an intention and discount the rest. This is flawed theology. But one thing I have learned with certainty from my lead pastor, Jess Bousa, the bible must be read in the light of the culture in which it was written. It will never be true for our culture if it was not true for them. On the other hand, there were cultural biases for them, that cannot be overlayed our own, like dietary laws, punishments, and medical assessments, just to name a few. We must be willing to reason together.

In the end, we must embrace and acknowledge the power, existence, and revelation that comes through the Presence of the Holy Spirit, all of which will/should align with the Bible. Let us take care not to blast and judge others before we have searched diligently for common ground first.

The Bible is a tool for personal study, personal revelation, and, like an onion, has layers within it. What we learn at first blush is different than what we learn after multiple readings, corroborating commentary, and preaching/teaching. It’s a living, breathing process.

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characterBasic definition of character: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing”. But there are others and among those definitions is “an account of qualities or peculiarities of a person–“. In this election year and climate, character has been a constant topic of conversation, from good to bad, true or false, kind to selfish, dependable to undependable and so forth. We are all, looking outward, asking, “do we see fruit in the lives of the candidates that reflects their true nature, or their character?” But perhaps, it’s time to ask these same questions of ourselves. 

I have always maintained, put a microscope on someone and you’ll always find something, some tarnish or blotch, some surprise or another. Can I tolerate the same? Not hardly. So, who am I kidding? This public evaluation will probably be somewhat cursory at best.

So what is the question? How do I stack up to the “image” or character of God (as in Genesis 1:26, made in God’s image)? The list I was given only had 24, alphabetically, we only go through the letter “F.” I found another website that lists 49 character traits. My guess is that the list could go on and on and on.

Let me pick three then, that I can somewhat safely say I have demonstrated: endurance, initiative, and thoroughness. Notice: I had to go all over the alphabet list. Here’s what happens when I try to identify a positive character trait, I name one and the first thing that comes to mind is the time I didn’t reflect that very well. And then another and another. So, scratch that one. Oh, well, just look at the overall feature, my mind says, but still I can’t get past it, the murmur of “liar, liar.”

image-of-godI can claim these three just because they speak to the last two years of my life, reinventing myself as a widow, enduring the loss and the sorrow, initiating new routines and lifestyle (even selling and buying a house), and then tackling all the little jobs that are now all mine, working to make those efforts the best they can be. But have I embraced the Presence of God in the midst of these traits as I walked them out? Not as much as I should have. Much of these are part of my nature (my family background and the influence of my mother). I know that. And yet, I also know, then the gas ran out in my energy, God was there, filling up my tank. Things might have been easier had I used God’s gas all along. Hindsight reveals much.

But out of this list, what do I really need to develop? With a conscious choice, what can I put in front of myself, like a post-it, if necessary, and say to myself: go here first.

pooh-contentmentContentment. This is not about never trying or working toward a goal, but it is saying yes to now, today, this moment, this life.
Gratefulness. And so, along with contentment must come gratitude, for what has been given and what will be given.
Patience. With some hesitation I bring this forth. Everyone says, never ask for patience, for the circumstances that demand patience will come in a flood. But, honestly, hasn’t that already happened? And isn’t patience the sister of contentment and gratefulness? I think so.

Where do I see these traits practiced? Here’s the worst confession of all. I’m not sure I know people well enough to know if they are operating in these qualities day to day. I know the courage of several acquaintances who went through challenging cancer treatments, I saw in them these qualities wrapped inside the fight for life. What charges me up is their ability to be bold and yet patient at the same time, to be confident and yet grateful, to be determined and yet content with truth.

CGP are not passive at all. That’s the clue I have about them. They are conscious. They are a choice. They are a team. And I choose to be in. Some call this mindfulness and to some degree, awareness as well. Stay awake!

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helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

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John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

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murphyThat’s me. I’m a bit sheepish to say I started acting like one of the disciples yesterday. And why? Because nothing went the way I thought it would or should. As others might say, Murphy was busy. (If there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard of the adage, Murphy’s Law, it goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy was not a believer, for sure.) Wikipedia says this attitude has to do with a belief in the perversity of the Universe.

And although it may be true that a fallen world may be a challenge, my response to my circumstances is supposed to be different. I should have learned by now. I could have been grateful and expectant; I could have been trusting and at peace in the now. I could have pulled out this scripture:

rejoice“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  [Philippians 4:4-7, NIV]

But I didn’t. Oh, maybe I tried for a little while. The first several hours, I put up a pretty good face, but by Midnight, the perverse universe scored.

So, what did the universe hand me that was so dreadful? Nothing serious, more like a constant buzzing bee. At 9:30 am, I started out on a much needed vacation to a long awaited destination (Alaska). I was driving to the airport and realized I did not have my phonephone. For those who know me, the missing phone is one of my beleaguering habits. My mantra: “Have you seen my phone?” I had to go back home to get it and I lost 30 minutes of a 1.5 hour trip to the airport. It would be close.

I was traveling on a buddy pass. It’s also called “non-rev” by the airline industry (meaning non-revenue), which a dear friend gave me. We would meet halfway and go the rest of the way together to Anchorage. But the hour was not enough. The Philly economy parking lot was maxed out and the bus picked me up at “A” and traveled the entire alphabet. At ticketing, I was shuttled from one line to the other to get someone to print my “quasi-boarding-pass” also known as a seat request for standby. Too late. Too late. I missed the plane.

I could still make it if I could get on the next flight, a couple of hours later. Listed, waited, but missed a seat by one, a captain needed the hop.

The next plane to Minneapolis was scheduled for 6 hours later, there was some hope I could pick up the last flight to Anchorage, or try another connection. My friend suggested I switch to Salt Lake City and then go to Anchorage from there.

Then the weather hit. Somewhere. Not in Philadelphia, but somewhere and as a result, every flight was delayed by one to two hours. Not one flight could connect me in time to Anchorage. Which way to go? Back to the Minneapolis plan or stay with Salt Lake plan?

minneapolis airportAfter several phone calls, we opted for me to head to Minneapolis. I could possibly stay with a friend, not so bad, and just accept the loss of the day. So, I changed and got hit with the fee for re-booking. Then that flight was delayed further. By the time I got to Minneapolis, it was after midnight. And my friend, it turned out, was vacationing in, of all places, Maryland.

Should I stay on the airport floor (they offer mattresses and blankets in plastic, like one might find in an emergency shelter) or bite the bullet and pay to stay in a hotel/motel (are there any motels anymore?) But of course, as one would expect, all nearby hotels were booked. I ended up in a town 15 miles away. Whatever money I saved on my buddy pass was consumed by a night’s stay and a $50 cab ride.

My friend made it to Anchorage fine. And off they have gone to their first moose adventure today. Or whatever it is that people do for fun there.

Rejoice in all things.

I’m at the airport now, waiting for the next flight, the next day and 36 hours after leaving home. Will I make it on the flight? Who knows? Does it matter? In the bigger scheme of things? Not so much. As my pastor says, a lot of my anxiety is caused by FORO (Fear of Running Out . . . of money).

letting goRejoice. Trust. Breathe. It’s all out of my hands. Pretty much, all of it was and is. Except for the phone. That doggone device has got us all hopping doesn’t it? I wonder now, could I have lived without it? If I had gone forward instead of back, could I have done vacation without being “connected?” Was that the real lesson? I think maybe it is so.

That is a lesson that will probably come around again.

 

 

 

 

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