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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Valley of Vision - The Trinity

Prayer to the Trinity, adapted for children

Three together in one, One, but still Three - You are God Who saves me!

Father in Heaven, Son Who delights the Father, and Spirit Who never ends,
I love You as One Being, One God in three different persons -
and I love You because You bring wrong-doers to know You and to become Yours.
O Father, You have loved ME and sent Jesus to get me back from the mess I've found myself in;
O Jesus, You have loved me and even became like me when You lived on earth, and still fully understand and exist as a real human person, You gave up Your life by shedding Your blood to wash away all the bad in me - when You did this You took Your own pure goodness and covered over all the ways I fail so often;
O Holy Spirit, You have loved me and entered into my heart, and planted there an unending tree of eternal life - You have shown me how wonderful Jesus is.
Three Persons and One God, I bless and praise You, for loving me when I really deserve no love, and for loving me with such great love I can't describe it, so amazingly, so powerfully - You rescue those who wander away and bring them back and lift them up!

O Father, I thank You that because of Your freely given and great grace - a gift really - You have put me in Jesus' hands, to be His sheep, His precious jewel, His treasured property.
O Jesus, I thank You that because of Your freely given and great grace, You have accepted me, taken me to be Your specially loved child, and securely hugged me tight;
O Holy Spirit, I thank You that because of Your freely given and great grace You have shown me that Jesus is the One Who rescues me, You have put the faith I need to grow right inside my heart, You have won over my angry, stubborn heart, and made me a child of God forever!

O Father, You are on the throne and still You hear all the things I think and ask of You,
O Jesus, Your hand is always open to receive mine and to listen to all the things I ask,
O Holy Spirit, You are willing to help me when I'm weak, to show me how much I need You, to give me words when I have none, to pray when I can't, to give me strength when I can't cope anymore - even when I give up on praying!

O Three-personed God, even though I can't understand everything about how you are three and One, You Who command all that goes on in the universe,
You have told me to ask You for all the things that are in my heart and that concern Your rule over everything.
Let me live and pray like a child who has been immersed in all You are.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Valley of Vision for children

I sometimes pick up the collection of Puritan prayers and peruse its contents and am very blessed by it. Then I wish the language were just a bit more readable for a wider audience. So I decided to re-write some of it for the sake of simplicity and comprehension. I wanted it to be something a 10 year old can understand and an adult who gets tripped up by thee's and thou's can grasp. Here is the first one:

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high above me and holy - gentle and stooping to reach me,
You have brought me to a valley where I can see clearly,
where I live in a difficult place down below, but see You clearly high above;
sometimes trapped by mountains of sin, I can still see You are wonderful and glorious!

Let me learn from you even when things are puzzling -
that the times I am down in the depths, then You are able to lift me up,
that to be low is to be high,
that when my heart is breaking you can heal it,
that the sorry and sincere spirit is one that also rejoices and is glad,
that when I repent I have victory,
that to be without the things I want is to have an open hand to all You give me,
that to bear the cross that You call me to, also means You'll give me a crown,
that when I give I receive so much more,
that the valley of difficulty sometimes clears my eyes so I can see what really matters.

Lord, if I am deep down in a hole and look up, I can see a star in the sky,
and the darker the hole, the more brightly I see those stars;
Let me find Your light when things seem dark all around me,
Give me your life when I lose mine,
Your joy when I am really sad,
Your grace and forgiveness when I have done and thought so many wrong things -
Let me find such great treasure in You when I feel like I have nothing,
Let me see how great, wonderful and glorious You are, even when I am down in the valley.

Forgiveness Part 3

How To Forgive

I realize I tend to just muse out loud here on my blog, and sometimes I just throw my thoughts out, drop them like a bomb and run for cover. Sometimes I fail to address how some of my observations can be remedied. After writing the last bit I thought, 'Okay, I've said my bit, had my gripe about lack of forgiveness, and could say lots more, but some people genuinely struggle to forgive. What hope have I offered them?' And I repented and decided to write some more.

How can we forgive - big things or little things? I believe there are two main ingredients that must precursor forgiveness. Take a look at the following verse:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

from Luke 17

Now, let's for a moment lay aside the part of the repentance - because much of what we have to forgive is stuff people never repent of. There are other verses that tell us to forgive that do not mention repentance! Look at the last part. What did the apostles ask for when they were taught this hard-to-digest truth? Faith! In order to forgive we need faith - and possibly an INCREASED faith. Forgiveness doesn't just happen in a vacant heart. It comes from a heart of faith. A faith that trusts God to deal justly with our grievances and sufferings. How could Jesus endure scorn, shame, abuse, and rejection without stewing in anger and resentment (like most of us would!)? Read in 1 Peter:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

from Chapter 2

From this passage we gather that Jesus is our example and calls us to trust His Father when treated unjustly. This goes directly against the grain of human nature. We read from Luke 17 last night as a family, and Caleb, who is 10, said, "This doesn't make any sense!" And we said, "Exactly. Much of what the Bible teaches goes against what we would naturally think is fair and best." So, how do we forgive? We entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly and release others from the debt we feel they owe to us. In fact, it goes a lot further than that, but that is a good starting point. It requires faith - that's why the apostles said, 'Lord, increase our faith!' - because up until this time, going on what the law seemed to indicate, there wasn't a whole lot of instruction about forgiveness. I noted that in the 10 commandments there isn't one saying we must forgive. This is something that was radically different about Jesus' teaching. They were used to 'an eye for an eye' and 'a tooth for a tooth'. Kind of like the pound of flesh in the Merchant of Venice! And I think much of our Western identity is founded on those exacting principles, and hardly any of it on Christian grace and forgiveness. Let's learn to reject the cultural values that are directly opposed to what Scripture teaches!

The second element I believe is essential for one to forgive is humility. Philippians 2 instructs us to in humility consider others better than ourselves. Romans 12 tells us to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. I am not meaning to propogate a 'worm theology' that diminishes our great worth and dignity in the eyes of God. I am meaning to propogate a lowliness of heart and mind and spirit when it comes to our interactions and relationship to others. We must revel in the great esteem we have because God loved us enough to send His Son to redeem us! But if we revel rightly in this great truth, it will also result in great humility before our fellow brothers and sisters! That God needed to send His Son to rescue me from the filth of my sin and wretchedness should make me a lot softer, kinder, more forgiving of the slights done to me/against me by those I rub shoulders with! At the root of unforgiveness is pride - plain and simple. Perhaps that is why the Amish are so good at it - because the highest sin they disdain is that of pride! When we refuse to forgive we are really saying, "I am better than my offender. They owe me. I cannot relinquish them from my condemnation. I am in the place of judge and jury. I withhold my self, love, mercy, kindness and grace from this person because it is my right. I am on the throne!"

Faith and humility are starting points. To forgive we must recognize that in myself I am nothing, have nothing, can do nothing, can be nothing. Only by God's grace do I take my next breath. If I deny these truths I may slip into unforgiveness because I think I am master of my own life.

There is much more to be said. But I'll let that sit for now.

Forgiveness Part 2

I was thinking again on this subject and had more thoughts to share.

I write this blog from an entirely Christian, Bible-based perspective. I just want to clarify that before I begin, because I know I have a wide range of readers who may or may not agree with my beliefs about God, the world and us who inhabit it! Regardless, I am thankful and honoured to share my thoughts about matters that apply to all of us, no matter how we encounter God in our lives. I do believe that He seeks to draw all of us to Himself by His great mercy and love.

Because of His great love for us, He calls His children to forgive. This is a high order for some, but when a follower of Christ really considers it, it is not such a big deal. We would like to think it is, but that is merely a form of nursing wounds.

Forgiveness is puzzling to consider when we look at the foundations of our western culture - it's values, core beliefs and traditions. It is a counter-cultural idea to most all cultures, but I think especially so in a western culture. Let me illustrate this a bit.

If any of you have lived in other countries, that do not respect rights, efficiencies in bureaucracy and the equality of all members of society (or at least attempt this!), you will find great hurdles to cross in something as simple as renewing a drivers license. In certain countries, you will wait an entire day, then be told to come back with some obscure paper, then be told it got lost and do it again and then have to endure a day or two or more of more waiting before someone kindly decides to process your request. What does this have to do with forgiveness?

Well, I think that people who are used to having their 'rights' ignored, who live in selfish bureaucracy states, who readily see that they are not treated equally with others (like perhaps those who willingly bribe officials to speed up the process), learn to forgive and let go of slights a bit easier than those of us in the West. On the other hand, maybe they don't. Maybe they stew, fume, boil in anger, protest, stomp off in a huff and sulk. Maybe they expend enormous energy writing to newspaper editors, campaigning politicians, complaining to their spouses and cursing at crazy drivers on the road. Maybe they do all that and die early deaths of heart attack from increased blood pressure due to their own inability to let it go and exist within a corrupt system. Who knows. But I do think forgiveness, patience and tolerance make life more livable when up against a brick wall.

Here in our beloved U.S of A, we tout rights - we proclaim and claim them. We demand them. We expect them to be honoured. We complain a LOT. We seek retribution. We sue. We litigate. We murmur. We yell at other drivers. We gripe about laws, restrictions, regulations. We blast our elected officials. We feel free to denigrate any higher official who differs from our views and operates with different principles. We do not value, appreciate or understand forgiveness, at all.

Now, that is all about the public sector stuff. Let's bring it down to a more personal level - and here I begin talking specifically to Christians.

It is one thing to be in this culture, informed by it, shaped by it, a part of it. It is another to directly ignore the directives of Scripture, and what God says to us, simply because our culture has a greater hold on us than the Word of God.

I see unforgiveness has crept into the Church - the people who should be most forgiving of all. Sadly, the greatest examples of forgiveness in our day and age are a Christian group - a fringe group - that lives in such contrary ways to the culture that even their forgiveness is remarkable. I am speaking of the Amish, who live, or attempt to live by how they read Scripture - and they do not ignore Christ's call to forgive. Their simple willingness to let go of great injustices and loss in obedience to Scripture awes the general public and the Church at large - alike! But shouldn't this aspect of their devotion to Christ characterize all Christians?

Should there be any sitting in our Church pews who:
refuse contact with a relative over some grievance?
refuse to eat a common meal with anyone in their congregation?
withhold friendship from someone who has offended them?
bear grudges against neighbours for some perceived or real slight - as small as: not mowing their lawn enough, letting too many weeds grow, leaving too much clutter in a window?
complain regularly about other drivers on the road?
dishonour politicians who don't agree with our values?
bear ongoing grievances with others for any and every reason whatsoever?

Should these be inhabiting the pews and congregating with those who claim the Bible as their authority? Should these be left unconfronted for these attitudes? Should they continue to consider themselves followers of Christ when they continue to ignore what Scripture teaches?

Now, that may be a bit harsh of me, because we all miss things and fail in many aspects of applying Scripture. I do understand that and don't mean to step on too many toes here. I just want to bring to light what I am beginning to observe - that sometimes we say we believe things and then act as if we don't. I believe: belief determines behaviour. If I say I believe something, and then don't live accordingly, I betray that I lied. I don't really believe something I don't do.

If my core value says, unforgiveness is okay, I can hold grudges, it is my right, I am due more than I got, I can be a Christian and expect God to forgive me even if I don't forgive those who sin against me - I will live according to that belief. And I believe many people do live this way. But they fail to admit it. So I'm calling them out on it. Sorry for my bluntness.

Almost everyone of most faith groups is familiar with the Lord's prayer, so I end with this quote:

Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Becoming a Better Worshiper

We know that in some sense, all of life is in one frame or another, an act of worship. It just depends what we are worshiping. While I hold to this concept, I do not want to minimize what Christians do when they gather together in order to corporately worship - solely focus their hearts, thoughts and being on the person of Christ, the greatness of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. This, I fear, is attempted often times, but often falls short of what it aspires to do. Why is this? I think habit can deaden the senses. No matter what the habit. Be it liturgy, dancing in the aisles, old worn hymnals... any habit can become boring. At the same time, the heart of the worshiper can be so moved by the familiar, by these habits. The heart can be engaged by both variety and by familiarity. So, regarding corporate worship gatherings I have an idea. And since cyberspace is where I toss my ideas and then run for cover (what a blessing!) here I go.

Why not have a group - be it a Church group, or a group of members from various Churches (all the better - to display unity and love) - whose interest is to increase the magnitude of worship in the hearts of worshipers, as well as to specifically seek to honour, glorify and exalt the name and nature of the God we all worship. Then, this group would establish a specific time-frame - say 4 times a year (on 5th Sunday evenings, of which there are almost always 4 in a year), to 'practice' developing worshipers - this would be an open event. There would of course be preparation. This would be specifically a worship service, but the feel, genre, type of setting would be different each time. In this way, all who attend would be fine tuning their hearts to sing His praise. Themes could be:
Celebration of Children and families in worship:
'And infant voices shall proclaim, their early blessings on His name.'
There would be kids choirs, poetry, prayers, Scripture quoted etc. Youth 18 and under would lead. There would be original songs written - 'Sing a new song to the Lord.'

Celebration of Traditions in worship:
'You have given me a goodly heritage.' Hymnals would be used. Instruments like organ and trumpet might be utilized. I'm all for a good hymn-sing - but even the best hymn-sings can get old and tired. Hymns would be re-written to provoke thought of the words (this is one of my hobbies, re-writing old, forgotten hymns that have amazing words that no one sings because the tunes are so drab).

Celebration of Culturally Diverse Expressions of worship:
'All the peoples of the earth shall praise you.'
It could be one evening devoted specifically to African style music, dance and worship styles.
Either an entire other evening could be devoted to Latin style or one night could cover a variety of cultural expressions.

Celebration of Drama and Dance in worship:
'David danced before the Lord.'
This could be with a few talented ones performing worshipful vignettes of dance that illustrates the wonders of God. It could include dramatic presentations and songs by those who know how to do that kind of thing.

Celebration of Communion in Worship:
This would be a specific remembrance meeting where communion is shared, and Christ specifically is the theme of worship. 'Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, 'til all the world adores His sacred name.'

There could be many more - those were just a few off the top of my head...

Now, someone else can run with it. And let me know when and where - I'll show up!

One thing I think this could do is expand our horizons for what worship is. And it would perhaps minimize complaining and criticizing no matter what worship setting we tend to follow.