Go to the small places {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas with an important message. (Yes, this is Elizabeth talking; I just loved my husband’s post so much I had to put this plug in here.)

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There are three places that make me feel very small.

  1. Standing at the edge of the sea, watching the never-ending motion as water is pulled by the unseen and unrelenting forces of gravity and wind and planetary motion.
  2. Standing at the foot of a mountain, pondering the historical shifting and breaking that pushed stone into sky
  3. And sitting with a client during pastoral counseling, listening as they delve into the deepest parts, the pains and hurts that few see.

In the small places, I feel inferior and inadequate, unable to change much or make an impact. Do you have those places? Truth be told, those feelings of “smallness” are why I love the sea and mountains; that’s why I seek them out. But I don’t typically welcome those feelings on the job, with clients. Maybe I should.

Maybe we all need go to the small places. On purpose.

Finish reading here.

When You Stop Loving the Church

by Elizabeth

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I’ve had a life-long love affair with the church of Jesus Christ. Many of you know that. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But. I almost lost my faith in Christ’s blessed church recently. I was disappointed with His people. Disillusioned even. I felt betrayed by the depravity of mankind.

And then.

I sang the Doxology with my teammates. The words of life set in rich, deep harmonies. Ancient truth, ever new.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost

And then.

I sang Hillsong’s “Glory” with my local church. Words I’d never before heard. Words my spirit desperately needed to hear and to proclaim.

Glory to the risen king, glory to the Son, glorious Son
Lift up your heads, open the doors
Let the king of glory come in
And forever be our God

And then.

I remembered the words of Psalm 29, words that my husband had read aloud earlier that day.

The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In His Temple everyone shouts “Glory!”

And then.

It all came rushing back to me. All along, it’s been CHRIST. Christ is the reason I believed in His church in the first place. Because of Him, and not because of His people.

We are His because of Him, and because of Him, He is our God. Never because of us. For as we used to sing in youth group,

My only hope is You, Jesus
My only hope is You
From early in the morning till late at night
My only hope is You

Human beings were never worthy of my hope. My only hope is in God, and when we’re in God’s Temple, we all cry Glory! Even the believers who disillusion me.

And then.

I remembered more. Standing there with my hands lifted as high to the sky as I could reach, I remembered standing in that same position last year, shouting out Hillsong’s “The Creed” with a shattered heart.

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus

And then.

I realized that my strongest experiences of worship don’t usually happen when life is going well. No, it’s when life is going poorly and I’m in the middle of a storm and I still stand and sing GLORY that I most intensely experience God’s nearness and God’s greatness.

And this praise, this powerful act of defiance against evil and against discouragement and against hatred, it’s something no one and nothing can take away from us. It’s our right and our privilege as God’s children, and it can’t be stolen from us.

God alone is worthy of our hope and worthy of our praise. We proclaim it now, and one day in the Temple, we will all join together, saints and angels alike, to shout GLORY. Forever. And ever.

Amen.

This article was reprinted at both Relevant and Faithit.

You can read all the posts in my Church series here.

This is what I know about spiritual formation (so far)

by Elizabeth

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An Anglican priest ruined it for me. He ruined the phrase “enter the presence of God.”

I was at a Lenten prayer service last year when he said, “Let us become present to the Lord, for He is always present to us.” I knew what he was saying was true, for I’d learned it in other areas of my life (Psalm 139 anyone?). So what he said was more a vocabulary lesson than a course correction.

God is always present and available to us, and I can no longer say with integrity that we “enter the Lord’s presence” during a worship service. In fact, now when I hear that phrase from others, I start to tune out. What I can say with integrity is that we can choose to become present to the Lord.

So with that in mind, here’s everything I know about becoming present to the Lord. In other words, here’s everything I know about spiritual formation (so far).

 

1. Regular, private devotional times with God.

I’ve talked about this a lot before and how it’s changed my life, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ll just summarize my low-pressure method for cultivating intimacy with God:

  • Don’t feel guilty for short times with God
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t keep up with a fast-paced Bible-reading plan
  • Don’t feel guilty for deviating from your plans
  • Don’t feel guilty about skipping times.

 

2. Meeting with other believers for corporate worship.

The Church has been key to my spiritual growth. I go into a worship service expecting God to speak to me through songs, sermons, and prayers. And He does.

I’d like to quote Misty Edwards here on the mystery of corporate worship: “Musical worship involves a physical voice, physical sound waves that actually move through the air and strike your ear, go into your mind, into your emotions and spirit.” She also noted that “Musical worship is how the Body becomes One.”

I cannot downplay the importance of the Church in my spiritual life; neither can I downplay the importance of my private devotional life. I need both.

 

3. Small group Bible studies and other intimate forms of community.

I’ve talked about this before, but for years in the States I was part of a small ladies’ Bible study. I learned so much about life and faith from those (mostly older) women. They empathized with my struggles and prayed me through some of my darkest days. Most of what I know about Grace, I learned with them.

These days my teammates function as my small group. We share sorrows and joys together and pray for and support each other. I’m so thankful for people who listen to, accept, pray for, and advise the “real me.”

 

4. Getting counseling.

Sometimes personal devotionals, corporate worship, and talking with trusted people are enough to work through my issues; sometimes they are not. I’ve had several key breakthroughs in my life because of counselors (both licensed professional counselors and pastoral counselors), and I cannot overstate the importance of sometimes getting outside help. I would not be where I am today in my relationship with God and my relationship with others without the help and intervention of those counselors.

 

Well there you have it, everything I know about spiritual formation (so far). What would you add to my list?

I am a Worshipper

by Elizabeth

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I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath.

Psalm 104:33

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I was nine years old when I attended my first week of Bible camp. I came back singing. The preacher’s daughter (who provided my transportation) told my parents this story about our four hour return trip: if I wasn’t singing, I was sleeping, and if I wasn’t sleeping, I was singing. And I’ve been singing ever since.

Years later it became a sort of joke in our youth group that “Let’s sing!” was all I ever proposed doing. And sing we would. Our church building had a back stairwell where the sound of our voices reverberated particularly beautifully, and when we wanted to sing, that’s where we would go.

I remember learning new worship songs at the Tulsa Workshop. We still used overhead projectors back then. Nowadays we have Zoe Group for teaching us new acappella songs, but when I was a teenager, the only group singing acappella worship songs was Free Indeed, and boy was I in love. They still produced cassette tapes back then. I remember collecting those tapes and singing my little heart out to and from school in a massive maroon Mercury Sable.

I was always singing. I took voice lessons. I was in choir at school. I sang in the shower. I joined the church youth group choir (Go CYC!). I wanted to be like my singer/songwriter hero Twila Paris — though this probably had more to do with my pride than anything else. In college I sang on the worship team at our campus ministry, but after a couple years of singing into a microphone, I quit. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my singing up front was too much about ME.

I may not sing on a stage anymore, but I can’t get enough of worshipping God through song. It’s one of the strongest ways I relate to God. I crave it, whether it’s in a large group with modern worship anthems, or a small group singing “camp songs” around a fire, or by myself, picking out simple hymns on the piano or blaring worship music through my tiny purple iPod shuffle.

Worshipping in song is still my favorite part of a Sunday (or anyday) service. It’s where I most often and most consistently meet God. It’s what takes me “past the outer courts into the holy place,” and I can’t get enough of it. I get crazy excited singing songs about God’s worthiness and holiness, whether it’s Jesus Culture’s “Alleluia,” David Brymer’s “Worthy of It All,” Brandon Hampton’s “There is Only One Found Worthy,” or Kari Jobe’s “Forever.” Worship never gets old for me.

We preach to ourselves through our worship music. Laura Hackett Park puts it this way: “Sometimes you gotta sing your way into the truth.” Singing the truth tends to penetrate my heart much faster than someone simply instructing me — that’s especially true if I’m in a spiritually resistant phase. Singing is more participatory than preaching, and if feels safer too, as though I’m choosing to believe and obey instead of being ordered to believe and obey. A song might send the same message as a sermon, but it speaks to my heart instead of lecturing to my head.

Worship music opens the door for hearing God’s voice. That’s why we must make space for worship in song. We have to take the time to let the words sink deep into our souls and allow God to speak to us there. Some of the most important things God says to me happen in worship. Weird, unexpected things happen to my attitude. And they are holy moments, these times when I invite God into my heart in order to change it.

I’ve come to realize that my role in calling believers to worship may not be through “my” music or “my” singing, but it will be through sharing my experiences in worship. It will be through encouraging the Body not to neglect both private and public worship.

I may never be a worship leader or lead singer the way I used to dream. But may I always and ever be known as a Worshipper. May I be someone who calls people to worship. We must be a Church full of worshippers. The world needs to see us loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And honestly, when we worship? It’s just a little taste of heaven.

So I will be a worshipper. I will worship alone, in the secret place, and I will worship corporately, with other believers, and I will call the saints to worship even more deeply than before.

I will be a worshipper.

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Other posts in The Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

Authenticity is Not New

A Few of My Favorite Things {August 2015}

by Elizabeth

Good stuff from this past month. It’s heavy on music, because that was one of the biggest ways I encountered God this month.

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BOOKS

From Good to Grace by Christine Hoover. I finished this book this month. I continued to underline almost every word of every chapter, it was that good. Just brimming with truth about grace, receiving God’s love, the proper place of work in our lives, and how listening to the Holy Spirit eliminates comparison and competition. Do NOT miss this book. I repeat, do NOT miss this book!

 

BLOG POSTS

Convicted but not Condemned by Renee Swope.  I was in a big place of self-condemnation when I heard a sermon differentiating between Holy Spirit conviction and enemy-inspired condemnation. Conviction brings hope, while condemnation brings hopelessness. That was a freeing, new idea to me, and I almost wrote a blog post about it. Then I read this one and figured I didn’t have to. Christine Hoover’s book also touched on these ideas.

The Other Side of Achievement by Chris Lautsbaugh. On his site, Chris writes mainly about grace, so it makes sense that he would write a post about another idea that was discussed in Christine’s book. (It would seem I found grace everywhere this month.)

Sometimes Ministry Sucks: Theology for Wounded Hearts by Anisha Hopkinson. As anyone who’s been in ministry (or church) longer than 5 minutes knows, it sometimes hurts. What to do about the pain? Always, always, always, the answer is to go back to Jesus.

Rested, Restored, Forgiven by Rachel Pieh Jones. Absolutely love this piece. Though I first read it awhile back, something reminded me of it this month (can’t remember what), so I went back and re-read it. I’ve experienced it myself, and I love the way Rachel tells her story. Do not miss this one!

Harmonizing Sadness and Joy by Craig Thompson. One of the things I get to do as editor at A Life Overseas is to read posts before they publish. When I went in to this particular draft to read it ahead of time, I cried through the whole thing. It so perfectly describes the way I mourned the loss of my Grandma this past month.

(See my comment on Craig’s post for a longer explanation of intermingling joy and sadness, and see my comment on this post for another gift from the Father during this time of sorrow.)

I’ll transition into the music section here, because grieving from afar is tough, and aside from Christine’s book, words didn’t do very much for me this month, not even the Bible. Rather, it was music that spoke most deeply to my soul and helped me connect with God again.

 

SONGS

With Everything by Joel Houston. We sang this song at church the first Sunday after my Grandma died. Not very many songs get my hands lifted high, but this one did. My hands reached to the heavens as high as they could when we got to the chorus.

So let hope rise, and darkness tremble in Your holy light,
And every eye will see Jesus, our God, great and mighty to be praised.

With everything, with everything, we will shout for your glory.
With everything, with everything, we will shout forth your praise.

Our hearts they cry, be glorified, be lifted high, above all names.
For You our King, with everything, we will shout forth your praise.

Great is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Obediah Chisholm. We also sang this classic hymn that Sunday morning. (It’s much better when sung congregationally, but I couldn’t find a modern rendition of this hymn that captured what it felt like to sing it that Sunday morning, so this Chris Rice solo is the best I can offer you.) That morning especially, I needed to join all creation in praising God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the pain.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Holy Spirit by Bryan and Katie Torwalt. This song hit me hard. I heard it when we went to another international church to hear one of our teammates preach. While I resonated with the idea of longing for God’s glory and His presence, I also stopped and asked myself the question, what do I long for? What am I hungry for?? The answer: Transformation. I’m hungry for transformation in my own life, in the lives of those around me, and in my host nation. So hungry it hurts sometimes. This Kari Jobe cover of the song best captures the feel of that Sunday morning. (“Feel” is kind of important to me apparently.)

Holy Spirit You are welcome here,
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.
Your glory God is what our hearts long for,
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.

Salvation Belongs to our God by Adrian Howard and Pat Turner. As I sat hungering for transformation, this song came to mind, and I substituted “transformation” for “salvation.” Sometimes when I blog honestly about my struggles (and I’m about to get really honest here again), the floodgates open, and other people to tell me their stories, both publicly and privately. I listen to their stories, I absorb their pain, I feel their sorrow. Then, weighed down with grief, I worry over how best to respond. I start to take on the responsibility of fixing their pain with my words. But that’s too much pressure. The idea that transformation belongs to our God lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders. I can love people through my words, but I don’t have to transform anything or anyone. That’s God’s job.

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston.  We sang this Hillsong classic after the Holy Spirit song. I just love it. It speaks of one of my deepest core beliefs: that God’s light will shine when all else fades. And above all else, I want to lose myself in worship of Almighty God. (But sometimes I forget to.)

Your will above all else my purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing You praise
Everlasting your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending Your glory goes beyond all fame

Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes. Another classic, but one that never gets old. Just love to declare that He’s my God. We sang it a couple weeks ago at church. (This is Hillsong’s version by the way.)

Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God

Alleluia by Chris Quilala et al. I first heard this Jesus Culture song two years ago at an International House of Prayer conference and fell.in.love. I thought I’d been transported to the heaven. Earlier this month I was feeling really spiritually numb, and when I turned on my worship song mix, this was the song that played first. I remembered all over again that worship is the point of this life, and I started longing for heaven all over again. Also, I didn’t feel numb any longer. I don’t think you can listen to this song without worshiping or longing for heaven.

All the angels cry out, Holy is the Lord God
All the earth replies, Holy are You

Forever by Brian Johnson and Kari Jobe et al. Jonathan had raved about this song to me, but until I sang it in church a couple weeks ago, it just didn’t have the same power. (Congregational singing is also a thing with me, apparently.) I wept through this song. Wept. Jesus is beautiful. What He did was beautiful. You better believe my hands were lifted high on the Forevers and the Hallelujahs.

Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated

Forever, He is glorified, forever, He is lifted high
Forever, He is risen, He is alive, He is alive

We sing Hallelujah, we sing Hallelujah
We sing Hallelujah, the Lamb has overcome

 

KIDS STUFF

My God is Powerful from Group Publishing’s Everest VBS. If your kids have never attended a VBS from Group, they are missing out! Group writes new theme songs each year whose lyrics somehow always bring me to tears. They also record a few modern worship songs and an old hymn or two, and they set everything to choreography (for the kids). I love the depth of the messages my kids hear over and over again in these songs — lessons I myself need to re-learn.

His Power moves the earth and sky, takes me to the highest heights

My God is powerful.

His power can forgive and heal, crushes darkness, drives out fear

My God is powerful.

Other favorites from this year’s VBS:

I Sing the Mighty Power of God by Isaac Watts (love this hymn!).

I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.

One Thing Remains by Brian Johnson and Bethel. Never get tired of this one either.

Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me
On and on and on and on it goes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid, one thing remains

International Children’s Bible Field Guide. Based off the translation my parents bought me as a child, this book goes chronologically through the Bible. We got it from our Sonlight curriculum, and we read it for our evening devotionals. It stimulates tons of questions and really in-depth conversations and is a really theologically balanced book, giving room for variations in non-essentials. (Which super-impressed me, honestly.)

The Darkness Deepens

by Elizabeth

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In church we sing

Lord reign in me, reign in your power, Over all my dreams, In my darkest hour.*

We proclaim our determination to say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” even

When the darkness closes in.*

And sometimes — though less often in the modern worship era in which we now live — we sing

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

I used to think phrases like these meant I could cling to God when everything around me was falling apart. I thought the darkness was outside me. I thought the prayer was for help in walking through human suffering.

Last year in my piano time, I happened anew upon the hymn Abide With Me. I was in a dark time, and it caused me to question my original understanding of this song’s meaning. I wondered if it’s not really talking about the darkness outside, but rather about the darkness inside.

Maybe it’s when the darkness rises within me that I need Him most. Maybe this hymn is a prayer for mercy when sin starts to overtake my heart. Perhaps it’s a plea for His abiding presence when my mind and heart wander from His light.

Abide with me, fast falls the even’tide.

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O, abide with me.

 

I need Thy presence every passing hour.

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

 

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 

My mind can be a dark place. And when I’m in that dark place, I can take any Biblical truth or reality you might offer me, twist it, and spew it back at you with venom. I can fight each statement of truth with self-made lies.

Psalm 18:29 declares, “My God, you make my darkness bright.” Earlier this year I prayed, along with Common Prayer, “When I walk in darkness, Lord carry me through.” Perhaps those, too, are prayers for the darkness within, rather than the bleakness of my external circumstances.

Thankfully I’m not in a dark place now. I have been before, and I’m sure I will be again someday. When that happens, when the darkness closes in, when the darkness deepens, may I search deep within the pockets of my memory and remind myself that I triumph still, if He abides with me. When I pass through dim, cloudy days, when I feel helpless to fight the lies within, when I stumble along in a darkness of my own creation, may I call out for the Lord and beg Him to Abide.

 

*Lyrics from the songs Lord Reign in Me by Brenton Brown,

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord by Matt Redman,

and Abide With Me, by Henry F. Lyte, respectively.

“God is Disappointed With Me” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today, continuing her series on Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). Whew! These last three lies are intense. Don’t miss the end of the post where she offers several resource ideas for combating these lies.

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I grew up hearing sermons about the “goodness and severity of God” and about God not hearing the prayer of the sinner. Girls Bible study times were filled with questions like, “If women are to remain silent in church, is it a sin to whisper in church to ask someone the song number if I didn’t hear it announced?” and “How long should my shorts be?” So by the time I entered ministry at the age of 19, no one had to tell me I needed to be perfect; I already knew I needed to be perfect. And not only did I know I needed to be perfect, I knew everyone else needed to be perfect as well.

At the same time, I knew everyone wasn’t perfect. As a teenager, I knew my church friends were being physically and sexually abused at home, but no one would ever dare talk about that at church, where their dads were leaders. This taught me that the families around me weren’t perfect; it also taught me that they needed to appear that way. Furthermore, it taught me that the rest of us needed to treat them as though they were perfect. The appearance of perfection mattered more than actual righteousness.

Those are my stories; your stories will be different. Yet our collective stories may have taught us something dark and devious: that ministry and missionary families are (or should be) holier than everyone else. Our stories may have taught us that in order to serve God, we need to be super human. At the very least, our stories may have taught us that we need to project an image of perfection. Sometimes we extend this expectation to others and become judgmental of their non-perfection; other times we require it only of ourselves.

Finish reading the post here.