A Liturgy for a Tender Heart

Oh Lord, my Savior.

Today my heart is so very tender.

I don’t want to feel, Lord, but today I feel so much.

Around me swirls heartache

and fear

and injustice

and trials of every kind.

It seems that we are being crushed from every. single. side.

It’s nearly unbearable the pain that I can see in my neighbor’s eye.

It’s beyond heartache to watch my colleague’s jaw tighten and throat clench as she holds back one. more. tear.

Pain, our pain, our earthly pain, is unavoidable. This, Lord Jesus, we know.

Our fallen world has given us gifts that are not from You. No, they are not of you, for you give us good gifts.

Instead of seeing your good gifts, we receive from the world and suffer alongside our brother.

Father, help me.

In all of my tenderness, in all of my feelings, help me to see.

Help me to receive your good and gracious gifts.

For even grace is a gift.

Lord, for my family, for my friends, for my neighbors,

grant them peace.

And hope.

And love.

And light.

Heavenly Father, as I sit in the hard, the tough, the tender,

may I only look to you for hope.

And may that hope come from you.

For you are the creator of all good things.

The giver of all good gifts.

Your compassion never fails,

and your mercies are new every morning.

How far have we come?

I don’t like video games. I mean, maybe I do, but not ones where you have to keep playing that same level until you beat it. I’d probably rather just play Wheel of Fortune with the old folks. I also don’t read novels more than once. I don’t like to rewatch movies, either. I know it’s an unpopular concept, but I just think, “why?” You’ve been there, done that. Why do it again? Especially when you know how it ends? I like new adventure, fresh ideas, new concepts. Not the same stuff I’ve heard before.

Only. Only, I’m learning, there is value in remembering. Remembrance does something. It reminds us of where we’ve been. It shows us how far we have come.

Right now I’m studying through the book of Deuteronomy. It’s a little on the heavy side, and I don’t always understand everything. But one thing that it’s taught me so far is how valuable it is to look back and remember what God has done.

See, Moses starts out recounting all of the things that happened to the Israelites. And, throughout the first part of the the book, he continues to do the same. Deuteronomy even means “second law.” It’s Moses telling Israel’s history. He tells the good, the bad, and the ugly. See, here he stands in front of this new generation. Many years have passed, 40 to be exact, and the generation of Exodus essentially lost their right to enter the promised land. Yes, even Moses. Because of one sin, even though he was called “servant of the Lord,” he was prevented from entering the promised land.

So, now is his chance to urge the Israelites to follow the one true God. To keep His commands. To love Him with their whole hearts. Here, Israel, is where we were. This, O Israel, is what we’ve overcome. And this, this promised land, is why we should continue to follow, to worship, and to obey.

Do you ever resonate with Israel? Do you experience God’s hand in your life, and then forget? And by forget, I mean turn away? Have you experienced a blessing so great, so profound, that you know it was from the Lord? Yet, when life started to get back to normal, to that everyday grind, you seemed to not really recall that blessing? Do you remember where you were, what you have overcome, second chances that you have been given? But, man, life so easily took something away. You began to struggle financially again. Your loved one died. You lost that job that you worked so hard for. So, you forget. You forget that God has done it before and even though in your heart you know He can do it again, it’s so much easier to grumble. It’s so much easier to complain. It’s so much easier to name all that we don’t have instead of continuing to count our blessings and follow the one true God.

I’m learning that remembering isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s really great. It’s so good to remember the day that I got the good news. It’s a blessing to remember when my loved one could walk again or when I realized that my family member had so crazily escaped death. It’s a good thing to remember the person that I once was because it makes me more clearly see who I am now. I am different. I am changed. I am new. But, I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t take the time to remember how far I’ve come.

May you sit back and remember today. May God grant you a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come. May you continue growing because you just can’t forget what God has done for you so far. And, friend, it isn’t over yet. The promised land awaits.

Savor the Moments

I do not like unpleasant things. I don’t like hearing kids be teased or hearing harsh words among adults. I don’t like friction and negativity. I’m disturbed by violence, and have been warned by my family to not watch certain movies (cinematic masterpieces, even) because I can’t “handle it.”

I’m not frightened by these things. They don’t cause actual fear in me. They don’t make me worry. I know that no one in my real life is going to get his leg blown off as he jumps a cliff. Or that just because two friends spar with hurtful, derogatory words online does it make those statements true.

I guess I just want a little piece of the Kingdom here on earth. A little bit of how the world is supposed to be.

But it isn’t actually all that pleasant sometimes. And that’s a lesson that I’m learning each day.

See, I avoid pain in my personal life, too. I’m absolutely notorious for moving on, tuning out, or not dealing with painful situations. I’d rather not, thank you. If you don’t mind, I’d prefer not to sit still with only my thoughts. If it’s ok with you, I’d love to fill my time with fun and dinners and parties and friends. Let me know what time to show up. I’ll bring an extra dessert or something.

What I’m realizing, though, is that pain and joy can be held at the same time. (Didn’t Inside Out teach us that like, 6 years ago?) There is a tension between pain and joy that can be acknowledged and even useful. And pain may actually be where we find the joy.

As a pastor’s wife, I find myself sitting in the stories of many friends. I realize that over the last year and a half, we have all lost something. We, as a society, are sitting in collective grief. Some have lost weddings and funerals, ceremonies and recognition. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve lost money and vacations. Our kids have missed out on some of the greatest things that we remember from our formative years. Summer camp, sports, plays and programs were all taken from us. Some of us worked hard, right inside our homes, side by side, but never able to escape the constant tug of the next thing, the notification, the email. Others lost their job, their livelihood, their reason to get out of the house and serve others. When we were experiencing these things, right in the heart of it, we couldn’t even hug our own friends and family to tell them it would be all right.

How do you deal with grief? Do you? Have you? How do you look back and look forward at the same time? How do you hold in one hand the anxiety that you’ve never, ever felt before and in the other hand the peace that passes all understanding?

I’ve seen what can happen when we don’t sit in the pain. I’ve seen what happens when the ache is filled with something else. Instead of grieving, instead of feeling, I’ve seen people fill the void with other things. Things that are harmful. Alcohol, casual intimacy, affairs, drugs, gambling, and more are often choices people make when facing the pain becomes too much.

Or maybe it’s nothing big, nothing outside of you, but that not acknowledging hard things makes you sink inward. You now feel depression, anxiety, lack of excitement, blah.

I’m realizing that maybe what God wants for me is to just sit in the junk. Not forever, but today. Maybe tomorrow. Lament. Acknowledge. Pray through the pain. Grieve. Feel the hole, not fill the hole. Recognize that I have some pretty big wounds from living in this fallen world that need no patching from things other than God. Maybe my job for today is to just be. Maybe today God has me in a place of lament because I know what was and He’s told me what can be. I have much to look forward to. I have a hope and a future. After being refined by the fire, I will have a faith of greater weight than gold.

So, this morning I sit. I pray. I grieve. Then, I leave those things at the feet of the only one who can take them away. The only one who can heal my pain and take my sorrow. Will the daily grind still be tough? Of course. No one said it wouldn’t. But, can I handle it? Yes. Can I deal with it? Yes, if I really, actually “deal with it.” I encourage you to open up today. Bring to the surface some of the hurts that you’re holding on to with tightened fists. Open your hands and let those hurts be given to someone who can help you move on to the bigger and greater things that you have in store. I am in your corner. I see you and your hurts. I get it. And, I’ve also seen the other side. We can get there together.

Who is your neighbor?

It seems like every day I’m in conversation with someone who has a hard time with their friends, neighbors, co- workers, or acquaintances who think differently, vote differently, worship differently or act differently than they do. I feel like I’m constantly hearing people tear others down for a simple thought or belief. It’s like it costs us something to be in community with others who are different, when truthfully it should be enriching.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the good Samaritan, right? In the Bible, in Luke 10:25-37 Jesus tells a story. He was tested, see, and when he qualified the greatest commandment as loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself, he was asked one more question. “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus went on to tell the story of a man attacked by robbers. A priest didn’t help him, a Levite didn’t help him, but a Samaritan did. Now, Samaritans were not looked upon well by the Jews of Jesus’ time. They were of a mixed race and called derogatory terms like “half breed.” A Jew would not travel through Samaria. They would actually walk longer to avoid going through Samaria.

But, even though there was discord between the two people groups, even though they disliked and maybe even hated each other, the Samaritan helped this man. He realized that this man was his neighbor.

Helping the Jew cost money. I mean, he bandaged him up and poured oil and wine on his wounds. He put the guy on his donkey and went to an inn. He gave the innkeeper money and then also told him that if it costs more to let him know when he passed through in a couple of days. That comes with a cost. A financial cost.

But, when speaking with my neighbors who are quick to judge, to hate, and to name call do you know what comes to my mind? Do you know what the real cost was? A really heavy cost? This guy, this good Samaritian, had to go home. He had to tell his wife (He spent some money 🙂 ) or his buddies or co-laborers to watch out on the dangerous roads. He saw this guy who was beaten and robbed. They took everything. They left him for dead. He had to help. He probably explained what he did, or how he helped. And maybe they asked who he helped. Somehow it had to come out, right? Somehow, in the conversation, he had to have mentioned that this was a Jew. That probably cost him. Maybe more than the financial burden. At the least, he may have been ridiculed, teased. At the most, he could have lost friendships. “You helped who?” “What?” “Really?” The cost could have been high. And, being a good neighbor might come with a high cost for you, too. But, I’ve never heard anyone say that the Samaritian did the wrong thing. Jesus himself said that this was the right thing. This was what gives a man eternal life. (Luke 10:25)

Why are we so quick to judge? Why is it so hard to love our neighbor? Why are there toxic battles happening on social media every second of every day? Are we not willing to pay the price of loving our neighbor? Are we afraid of someone thinking that we are on the wrong “side?” Are we like the Pharisees, trying to “test” Jesus? Because, man, I would prefer to be on the wrong side of people than the wrong side of God any day. I would prefer to have people a little riled up because I’m doing the right thing than being disappointed in myself for doing the wrong thing.

How about you? Have you been one to incite trouble on the socials lately? Are you someone who easily calls your neighbor an “idiot” and dismisses them? Is it hard to truly love your neighbor?

Let’s give ourselves a re-do. If you haven’t been loving your neighbor as yourself, today is the day to start over. Today is the day to heal wounds. Today is the day to begin again.

How will you love your neighbor today?

Resurrection Sunday

Today we CELEBRATE! We celebrate God who became man and, for a while, lived among His people. A man who laughed with them and wept for them. He’s a God who went to parties and changed water to wine. He loved fiercely. God in the flesh fought for the poor and marginalized. He rescued those in despair and gave them hope! This God, Jesus, fought injustice at every turn. Jesus loved all of the wrong people and spent time with those who didn’t seem to be quite good enough according to the other religious leaders of the day.

This Jesus we celebrate today was like no other. He gave people hope. He encouraged change. He didn’t deny someone the rights to His kingdom because of where they were born or what color their skin was. He stood up for women and children. He touched people who were looked upon as dirty, unclean. And when people touched him? They were healed.

Jesus came to earth for one purpose; to reconcile a relationship between us and God. That relationship had been kind of broken. Sin got in the way of that pure, perfect relationship in the garden, and Jesus came to restore it. To restore us. To restore me.

Man, people loved Him. And they hated Him. But he really just had one mission. To give up His life for mine. To die so that I could live. To pay one price for everyone. And so He did. His friends didn’t get it at first. They didn’t understand in the moment. But, then they got it. In the end, they got it and they lived to tell the story. His story. My story. The story of His death on that ugly cross that dark day. The story of crooked soldiers casting lots for His clothes. The stories of the taunts and the jeers and the freeing of a murderer. So many stories within the story.

But the best came on Sunday. The very best part of the story is what we celebrate. He was dead, and now he’s alive. He was buried, but the stone was rolled away. Because He won the victory over death and darkness, I can live. I can be free. His death, burial, and resurrection was for everyone. The price has been paid. For me. Sweet victory. This is why I celebrate.

No Pressure

Hollow Easter bunnies are a mean trick. I mean, spend another dollar to ensure your kid doesn’t get broken chocolate and enjoys the experience, right? I don’t love chocolate, so as a kid my basket would always be the one with the white chocolate bunny. (Distinctly different taste for a kid who doesn’t like chocolate.) I remember getting those hollowed out ones and watching as they often came out broken with that weird candy eyeball staring you in the face.

Solid bunnies, on the other hand, kept their shape. They didn’t come out all goofy after a little pinch. You had to really try to break (or bite) off a good piece. Superior to say the least.

We just surpassed one year of pandemic craziness. One Year! Sometimes I can’t believe all the weird stuff we’ve been doing has been going on this long! I remember the decision to close the office and work from home. What a struggle it was to decide if the church would meet in person on March 15, 2020. I remember the first time I had to wear a mask to the store, and then to work. It all felt like we were living inside a movie.

But then it started getting hard. Really hard. We started grieving. Grieving the loss of prom and high school graduation ceremonies. Grieving loss of life and loved ones. Grieving loss of jobs and interaction and touch. And the list goes on really, doesn’t it? Think about what you’ve lost over this last year.

How did you handle the pressure? Because if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that if we’re not solid the pressure can make us crack. Just like those hollow Easter bunnies, if there’s nothing solid inside of you, you’re going to break. And, honestly, maybe some of us have. And now we are picking up the pieces.

I know there have been moments where I have been broken, where I’ve cracked a little, where I just wasn’t strong enough to shoulder everything that was coming at me. That’s when I had to find my strength.

How do you do it? How do you find your strength? How do you withstand the pressure? The difficult times. The grief. The despair.

I think this comes through small, everyday rhythms. Little practices that we implement into our lives on any given day. Things that make us stop and reflect and grow. Habits, practices, rhythms, these are the things that fill us. That strengthen us. That grow and stretch us. Let me share some of my favorite rhythms.

1. Have a time of daily reflection and meditation.

I am a person of faith, so for me this means time in God’s word. It is so important to me to be in the Word every single day. I’m an early bird, so for me it looks like getting up before everyone else to read and meditate. But, I also love to wrap things up at the end of the day with something like the Examen. (Which we’ve discussed in earlier posts.) Morning or night, who cares? Get yourself in the habit of enjoying this time to read, reflect, pray, meditate, whatever.

2. Surround yourself with people who will edify you.

This world is too crazy to be spending our time with people who have their heart set on protecting their point of view and fighting endlessly and needlessly in places like social media and group settings. I have seen too many things that are contrary to scripture, contrary to the teachings of the church, and frankly contrary to Jesus come from the mouths of people who claim to be believers. It saddens and disheartens me every time I see someone spout angry, demeaning, troubling, or racist words with their mouths (or keyboard) but the evidence shows that their hearts are far from God. Friends, you can’t “unfollow” these people fast enough. Where will the arguing take you? What’s the point? To “stick it to them?” Because if that starts to be your point, you’re only becoming like them.

You need to surround yourself with people who will lift you up when you are discouraged, not tear you down.

3. Choose to be a river, not a marsh.

What?

John 7:38 says, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Rivers flow. They have a water source, and they flow into others. Have you ever seen a marsh? Here in the midwest it’s like a swamp land with tall grass and stagnant, stinky water. Who wants that? Don’t create a dam in your life. Don’t hoard the blessings that you have received until you have enough. The freshness of the water is in the flow! I want to be the kind of person that receives every blessing with open hands, willing to pass it on if called to do so. Are you willing to let blessings flow? To break up the dam and freely give as you receive?

4. Be a grateful person.

I know that I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but I do. I know this because I’m continually telling myself. It seems like everyone has done a study on the benefits of being grateful. But, studies are good because it means that there’s proof, right? Actual, real, mathematical, scientific proof. Gratitude improves our health. It improves our physical, mental, and emotional health. It also improves your spiritual health. To keep yourself strong during the hard times, be grateful during all times. Keep a gratitude journal.

5. Cultivate a healthy prayer life.

It goes without saying that sometimes we just need to get things off our chest. Sometimes we need someone to listen. Sometimes we need to be the ones listening. Sometimes we just need stillness.

This is where the rhythm of a healthy prayer life is invaluable. There will be times when prayer is the only thing you have. There will be times when letting it all out in sadness or anger or frustration to God will change your entire perspective. You need to begin a healthy prayer life to be able to cling to it in the darkest of times. So, start now. Start today. Develop a rhythm that works for you. Do you have a few minutes in the morning? Do you have some time before bed? Maybe you’ll learn that the car is your favorite place of prayer. Wherever it is doesn’t really matter. What matters is starting to develop the habit.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve given you just a few simple ways, simple rhythms, to build your strength. These things will strengthen your faith and make hard days (or years, am I right?) more bearable. They have been so important in my journey, and I pray that you find them encouraging for yours.

May God bless you in unimaginable ways!

A Liturgy of Encouragement

Father God,

Thank you! Thank you, Father, that your mercies are made new every morning! Your faithfulness is great, and your love never ceases. For this and more, I am grateful.

Thank you that I am being renewed day by day! What an encouragement to know that I need not lose heart. I am grateful that this momentary pain, this momentary suffering, is preparing me for an eternal weight of glory! When it looks like all is falling apart in and around me, you are making my life new on the inside.

Thank you, Lord, that you can do immeasurably more that I would ever think to ask or even imagine!

You go with me. You will never leave or forsake me. You are my light! You are my salvation. You are my stronghold. Thank you, Jesus, for encouraging me to be not afraid. Why, Father? Because there is no fear in love. Love drives out fear, and you are love.

If you, my God and my Father, are for me, who can be against me?

May you, the God of my hope, fill me with joy and peace. I trust you. Let me overflow with the hope that only comes from the Spirit.

Let this be so. Amen. Let it be.

(This was taken from God’s Holy word. The following scriptures were used: Lamentations 3:22-23, 1 Corinthians 4:16-18, Ephesians 3:20, Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 27:12, John 4:8, and Romans 15:13.)

Refining Fire

We’ve all seen the memes. And the jokes. Even the Christmas ornaments. 2020 was a dumpster fire. I have to admit, I’ve laughed. I’ve played into it. I’ve probably even said it. But is it true?

I believe that this last year had been hard. I know it has. It’s been hard on us physically, emotionally, and mentally. We’ve been lonely. We’ve lacked contact with others. It’s been hard on small businesses. It’s been hard for teachers and parents. It’s been hard on my single friends. It’s just been plain old hard.

But, you know what? Despite getting Covid, despite being quarantined twice, despite missing out on basketball and school activities, my 12 year old has told me numerous times that 2020 has stretched her. She’s learned and grown. If kids are saying these things, I think we need to listen.

In fact, I really want to propose something to you. I’m not sure that 2020 has been as much of a dumpster fire as it has a refining fire. 1Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. “

In facing the facts, we have been grieved by various trials. Collectively. Whether it’s death, job loss, financial struggle, relationship strain, or something else collectively we have been tried. We have grieved. And, trust me, our faith has been tested.

Never in my lifetime has our country been so divided. I don’t remember ever feeling like there’s so much us vs. them. Never has there been such a lack of nuance and understanding. It’s hard to even know what to do, how to react, or even how to feel.

But if this is a refining fire, what does that mean? What does it mean to be refined by fire?

God knows what your faith is like. He knows how much or what kind of faith we have. He doesn’t need to test us to figure that out. But sometimes we have no idea of what our faith is like. We need to see the results of our refined faith to realize what’s been there all along.

I have gone down some serious rabbit trails of gold refining videos. It’s so interesting and there can be nuance. But, you know the main drill. Take the gold, burn it with fire or chemicals, and watch the impurities separate from the gold. That’s not unlike us in fiery trials. Take one of us, put us in a trial, shake us up a bit, maybe stir the pot. . .and viola’. We discover what was there all along.

How has God been refining you in this time? Maybe you lost your job and you’ve had to rely on Him for finances. Maybe even for your literal daily bread. Maybe you got sick. Covid has affected you, and you’re still not physically the same. You’ve had to learn to slow down. You’ve had to rely on Him to pay your bills or take care of your children. I’m sure some of us have spent too much time inside, with our families, and we feel that we are lacking as parents. We’ve been refined and realized that God has provided this special family time to strengthen our bonds and make us better people.

Whatever it is. However you’ve been squeezed, walked through trials, or refined by fire, remember this. It is not in vain. It is so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold, will be found to result in praise and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus. It’s all to bring Him praise.

Study

I always looked at the story of 12 year old Jesus getting lost at passover as more of a call to keep yourself close to the Father. He asks his family, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) But Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Verse 46) Yes, people were amazed at his understanding, but he was listening, learning, studying.

Study is a spiritual discipline that we all should practice. The art of study isn’t just for intellectuals. It’s not just for our ethereal friends who enjoy that kind of thing. It’s for everyone. And it’s for our good. Jesus did it. He showed us by example not just how important it is to be near the Father, but how important it is to study His Word. I now see that 12 year old Jesus as practicing the art of study. He shows us how. He sets the example.

Study is a discipline for you, as well. From the most overstretched, tear stained, weary stay at home mom to the corporate business man to the server who just can’t catch a break, there is a time and a place to be in the Word. We make time for what matters, and I tell you this matters. It matters so much that Jesus himself did it. If you don’t think that fellow was busy, you’re mistaken. People were after him so much that he had to sneak away to catch a break. You can do this. Find a time.

Psalm 111:2 says, “The Lord’s works are great, studied by all who delight in them.” Do you delight in the Lord and in his works? Study them. It’s easier than you might think.

A leading in Lectio Divina

This was used during our church’s worship service this morning. It’s a little long, but I’m wondering if it might help you on your journey. This is a very basic example of, and leading through, Lectio Divina prayer. If you’ve ever been curious, give it a go.

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