Ponder Anew

sunset-401541_1280What have you immersed yourself in this week?

Has God awakened some new idea about His character as you studied your lessons?

Have you immersed yourself in prayer to allow God’s Spirit to overcome a stronghold or to intercede for someone else?

As I’ve been reading, noticing how God’s people immerse themselves throughout scripture, one woman stands out. Let me give you some clues to see if you know who I’m talking about:

  • Wore a blue shawl
  • Rode a donkey

Yep, Mary the mother of Jesus; certainly she was “all in” for God’s kingdom.

Luke chapter 1 introduces her as a virgin, engaged to Joseph, living in town called Nazareth when an angel appears to her with this message,

“Hail favored one! The Lord is with you” vs. 28
But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. vs 29

But once the angel explains God’s favor and His choice of her as the mother of the Messiah, she responds,

“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” vs. 38

She’s “all in,” right?

And God was so pleased with her that her life became easier than that of all the other villagers. She was praised in the streets and given abundant wealth and riches beyond her wildest dreams! Right?

Well, not exactly …

Instead, her fiancé wanted to dump her but, luckily, changed his mind after an angel appeared to him in a dream, thus sparing her from being stoned. Still, no doubt there were plenty of whispers around their village about her pregnancy and maybe even accusations.She goes alone to visit her cousin Elizabeth and help her deliver John.

When she returns to Nazareth, she finds out a census is required and she travels (on a donkey in her blue shawl) to Bethlehem. And being great with child, she delivers Jesus, the Son of God, in a stable. Even in first-century terms, her situation was not ideal.

No sooner had she delivered her baby, then visitors arrive with their sheep … and a story!

Luke 2:9-16 tells the story of angels appearing in glory. Though the shepherds were terribly frightened, the good news of a great joy – the Savior coming as a baby – spurred them on. They simply must find this child and worship him!

Finally (we might think) something magnificent is coming out of this pregnancy. Maybe those angels were going to show up any minute to whisk the little family away to a lovely villa on the shore where they would live happily ever after.

But Mary didn’t seem to get caught up in the magnificence of their story. She didn’t take a selfie with the shepherds or Skype from the stable to the family back in Nazareth.

Maybe she was just too weary from the day’s events. Maybe she was in shock. Whatever the case, the Scriptures tell us,

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

There’s a word that jumps out to me, used twice now in describing Mary’s response. Ponder.

Ponder means to think or consider, especially quietly, soberly and deeply.

It also means to chew over, reflect on, meditate.

In Hebrew culture, their process of thought often involved this act of pondering:

  • Taking in current information and weighing it along with things that have happened.
  •  It’s a deep way of understanding and internalizing what’s going on.

From what I understand, much of our western culture has  been influenced instead by the Greek thought process.

  • It’s linear, more of a cause and effect.
  • We seem to want to add up the facts and move on to a conclusion.
  • It’s arithmetic.
  • It’s keeping a ledger.

I wonder if that’s what makes me strive for instant gratification.This way of thinking seems to drive our culture in this information age. Something amazing happens, so we take a picture, text, tweet.

We try to capture the moment, but in capturing it, don’t we sometimes miss it?

We can look at it later, we say. Really, is that the same? I wonder what we lose by not pondering the moment–just soaking it in and reflecting.

My son caught an amazing, headfirst, diving catch in football last week … just as I was walking into the stands.

I missed it.

People told me all the details, and my son even showed me the replay on his iPod after the game. It was amazing to watch, but I didn’t really experience it.

I didn’t sit in the stands and reflect on how that boy has grown over the years. There was no flashback of all the times he played catch with a plastic football in the living room. Or the time he threw the Wii remote and broke the TV. I didn’t get the chance to recall the good and the bad that layer into his life of throwing and catching things.

I saw the clip and it was amazing, but I lost the opportunity to ponder.

What strikes me about Mary was her practice of treasuring and pondering the activities of earth that collide with the activities of God.

I want to be more like that … to ponder what God might be doing when I experience loss or abundance, when I feel pain or joy.

I want to reflect on what God has done in the past and lay that on top of what He’s showing me right now.

I want to go deeper in understanding His WAY with me.

What about you? What might you treasure and ponder in your life this week?

What Worship Means to Me

credits: harold.lloyd/flickr

credits: harold.lloyd/flickr

During our opening time on Tuesday Mornings this Fall, we will  be having a series of guest speakers address the topic “What Worship Means to Me.” If you missed this week or had to come in late, I know you will be challenged by these words from Renee Meyer.

I have a LOT of thoughts about what worship means to me, but since this is our BIBLE STUDY, I thought I’d start with what the Bible has to say about WORSHIP.

It would be so fun to dig deep and study all the Word has to say on this topic together. But we don’t have even a smidgeon of the time we’d need for that, so I’m going to share the highlights of my study, and then, my thoughts.

I started with a little word search, and through the magic of the internet, read through a list of all the places where worship is described or commanded in the Old and New Testaments.

Some observations:

First: I  noticed the word for “worship” is regularly combined with several other words and concepts:

  1. “Worship and bow low”
    • For example, in Exodus 4:31 “… when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.”
    • This tells us there was a physical element to worship–a body piece. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a hand raiser, or that the only way to pray is on your knees or prostrated. BUT it does remind us that throughout history, God’s people have used physical positions to demonstrate heart realities. Including a physical element to our worship can be very meaningful.
  2. Worship and serve
    • Deuteronomy 11:16  “Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.”
    • There is an active element to worship, an element of service to what or whomever is being worshipped. If you worshipped Baal, you served Baal. If you worship Yahweh, then you served Yahweh. Worshiping God and serving God go hand in hand.
  3. Worship and sacrifice
    • 1 Samuel 1:3 (Regarding Elkanah and Hannah, the prophet Samuel’s parents) “Now this man would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh…”
    • This was religious service, doing one’s religious duty. It was public and regulated by tradition. We might consider public displays of religion and worship governed by religious tradition negatives, but both have been elements of the worship of God’s people throughout history and can be meaningful elements of worship.

Second, in the context of the cultures in which the Bible was written, worship was the natural response to kings and deities. Worship is what is due a God or King. When people saw God, they fell on their faces and worshiped. Worship is the natural response to God’s character and position.

Finally, we have a choice of who (or what) we worship. Nearly half the OT references to worship were commands or reminders not to worship idols or lesser gods.  We CHOOSE who or what to worship.

None of the verses on my list really defined what worship is – and the actual words literally translate along the lines of “to kiss the hand (of a sovereign.)” So I checked a couple of Bible dictionaries. My favorite Bible dictionary has a note in its definition that I found really helpful:

 The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the verb shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deeds done in such acknowledgment.

Worship is something we do in response to the truth of God’s character–together and on our own. But worship is also a way of life, an attitude of the heart, a responding to God in all the parts of life.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

According to this verse, my worship is to offer myself. My whole life is on the altar. My whole life is His. That is my worship: The offering of my very SELF.

To flesh that out in practical terms, I made a list of “What worship means to me…”

Worship is… singing and saying truth to myself and to God, with others and by myself.

Worship is… believing God, trusting Him.

Worship is… living under God’s authority. I believe this is not merely about obedience, but also implies BELONGING. He is over me because I am HIS. I belong.

Worship is… being honest with God, living a confessing life, responding to the Spirit’s conviction.

Worship is… being who God made me to be, rather than comparing myself to others. Embracing who I am, rather than trying to be someone else.

Worship is… sharing His heart, letting His love invade my own, even when I’ve been hurt, or find others difficult to love.

Worship is… embracing His will. Whether that is marriage or singleness, motherhood or barrenness, loneliness or a crowded life. It is worship when I embrace my circumstances, welcoming them because He is WITH me.

Worship is… loving the hurting, the outcast (because Jesus says when we serve the hungry, the lonely, the imprisoned, the least of these, we serve Him.)

Worship is… serving God and others.This is going to look different in different seasons… but as Jesus people, we worship God by SERVING. Serving those we work with and for, serving our families, serving whomever is in front of us is a form of WORSHIP.

For those of us who are mothering littles, for all of us who have menial tasks, I would love for us to think of those things as WORSHIP. That doesn’t mean I need to try to FEEL worshipful cleaning up poop or whatever – but I can recognize that when I serve others, I AM serving Christ. I can make it my act of worship to serve whomever is in front of me– the Son of Man came not to be served, but to SERVE and give His life as a ransom for many.

To sum up: For me, worship is saying yes. It is living my yes to God.

I thought about ending there. Giving you a card to write down what your YES to God would be this week. Because saying YES to God is where life is found. But I feel like, as women, we are very quick to turn things that are life-giving into SHOULDs, and adding them to our “try harder” list.

I don’t want you leaving this morning with another “should” about worship – I should try harder to have an attitude of worship; I should say yes to God more; I should try to worship as I’m cleaning toilets…or meeting with that grouchy client…or taking that boring seminar. I should… should… should.

I think our issues with worship go deeper than that, actually.

Remember what I said at the beginning? Worship is the natural response to deity. It is the natural response to the truth of who God is and what He’s done.

If I am not worshiping God, it is because I am not seeing Him clearly.

We don’t worship God because we don’t know Him as He is – or because, without realizing it, we’ve believed things about Him that aren’t good or aren’t true.

So when we feel the Spirit nudging our hearts in the area of worship, let’s not respond by should-ing ourselves. Let’s not try harder. Instead, let’s ask Him to reveal Himself to us more deeply, more fully. Let’s ask to KNOW Him better. We can ALL know Him better.

As we spend time in the Word and in our Bible studies and in corporate worship and in living our lives in this creation that reveals Him…let’s make those things a treasure hunt. What if we were on the lookout for reasons He is worthy of praise? Reasons He is worthy of adoration? Reasons He is worthy of worship?

Deeper worship requires deeper love. To worship IS to love.

The Lord of the universe is infinitely worthy of our love. Let’s be watchful for reasons to fall more deeply in love with Him.

What if that were the GOAL of our Bible studies? Not to know more, or to be better people, but to LOVE Him more today than we did yesterday? There are unending reasons to love Him more. Are we looking for them?

That’s what I’d like for us to do for our offering today. I’d love for each of us to write out the top reason (or reasons) why we are in love with our Jesus today (give examples– He is my Shepherd…He SEES me…He is healer…He never leaves me).

We’ll leave those as our offering of praise to the Lord. This is our act of worship.

Hope: A Confident Expectation

credits: Pam Brophy//creativecommons.org

credits: Pam Brophy//creativecommons.org

Tuesday Morning we were blessed to have Carey Helmink and the worship team lead us during our opening. If you missed this week, feel free to click HERE and sing along to one of the songs they shared. Then, take a moment to read the message Carey had for us on hope. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few minutes of a rainy day.

“I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word. I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, Yes, more than sentries long for the dawn. O Israel (or dear sisters), hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows.”                         Psalm 130:5-7

The world’s definition of hope is different from God’s definition. The world’s definition could be described as “wishful thinking.” We hope that certain things will happen but we have no guarantee that they will. This type of hope isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we can hope for things that are good and right. I hoped that my son and his wife would be able to reconcile their marriage . . . but they didn’t. I hoped that my dad would never have cancer . . . but he does. I can hope for certain things until the cows come home, but that doesn’t mean they will come to pass – no matter how hard I wish or how badly I want it to be true.

People who take their own lives often do so because they have run out of hope. We desperately need hope to carry on in this life. Thankfully, we can access a type of hope that is guaranteed. Hope from God’s perspective is a sure thing; it is the confident expectation that what He says will come to pass. Our hope is in the Lord and in his word – it is the only “sure thing” in this life.

This mindset is very simple, but it is not very easy. Like so many things, it is a discipline – a decision of my will to “hope in the Lord”.

 “In Christ alone my hope is found,

He is my light, my strength, my song;

This cornerstone, this solid ground,

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

Where fears are stilled, when strivings cease.

My Comforter, my All in All,

Here in the love of Christ I stand.”

“In Christ Alone” Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music

 

I will never forget the first time I heard that song. It was Curt Lehman’s funeral and his whole family stood in the front row singing that song with their hands raised in worship to the One who was their hope. Hope makes all the difference as we navigate life in the shadow lands.

Where do you need your fears stilled today? In what area of your life do you need to cease striving and put your hope in the Lord?

“…Dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”             Hebrews 10:19-23

Amen and amen.

 

Immerse Yourself in Prayer

prayer groupConsider this quote about prayer:

        “It begins out of desperation – it grows into a discipline – and becomes a passion.”

That desperate beginning certainly rings true. Who of us hasn’t hit–knees to the floor–and cried, “God, help!”?

And that last part about being passionate for prayer? I love the way that sounds. Seems like a peaceful, wonderful place to be … ahhh.

But that middle part – grows into a discipline – huh?

Who wants that? How does that work? Can we skip the rigors of discipline and get from desperation to passion in one big step?

I don’t know about you, but my experience has been that most of the Christian life takes place in that middle part of prayer – growing into discipline.

I’m not desperate every day when I pray – thankfully.

And I’m not very passionate most of the time either … (sigh).

Being immersed in prayer requires an attitude of focus and discipline.

And we’d love to help you with THAT on Tuesday Morning. If we can equip you to focus your prayer life, we believe you can grow to become a more passionate women of prayer.

Here’s how we aim to help:

  1.  We will carve out time each week for you to be part of a small prayer group.These are your praying friends during your class. Your group’s a safe place that’s confidential and caring.
  2. We will provide a prayer journal – Legacy of Prayer. This is a great tool to instruct and guide your small group time as well as your personal prayer life. In the column to the right is a link for you to get your own e-book. Simply click on the praying hands icon.
  3. We will teach a pattern of Prayer that’s outlined in the journal:

Upward Look  – praise and gratitude to God

Inward Look – confession of how we are not like God

Outward Look – intercession for each other

  1. We will commit to walk with you through the process of growing in prayer.

You will have a trained prayer group leader who wants more than anything for you to grow in your relationship with Jesus. She will pray for you throughout the week, as will other members of your group. These groups are the heart of our ministry.

Each of us starts today at differing comfort levels. Perhaps you’ve prayed out loud in a group for years; perhaps you have not. Let’s be mindful that not everyone is at the exact same level and strive to make the prayer groups a comfy place for everyone.

Meanwhile, here’s a little added inspiration on prayer. Enjoy this video that we viewed together on Tuesday Morning: Prayer Inspiration.

For What It’s Worth

contentment-praying-woman-ocean-465x300Equipping you to worship is a tenet of our times together every Tuesday Morning.

In WORSHIP you give worth or value to something; it’s excessive admiration, reverence, and respect.

Some of the ways we commonly worship look like large groups singing praise songs or moments of solitude in the beauty of nature.

Jesus offers a unique perspective of worship: As a sinless Creator, living in a sin-soaked world, He shows us how to live holy – not soaking up the values of the world, but instead giving worth, value, reverence to God.

Jesus worshiped in many ways, but one that has struck me most recently shows up in the final days of His life recorded for us in the gospel of Mark. The earthly ministry of Jesus has been rolling along as a highlight reel – seashores, hillsides, feasts, miracles, healings, traveling the road from town-to-town.

Until the last week. Then the details pile up on each other.

  • Sunday: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people worship with “Hosanna” and Jesus weeps for Jerusalem.
  • Monday: Jesus drives out the money changers in the Temple. With the same fervor that He began the ministry, so He cleans house again.
  • Tuesday: Jesus is questioned by the religious elites who try to trap Him and look for a reason to arrest Him. He stops speaking directly to them, but uses parables.
  • Finally, He shares this caution with the crowd that has gathered to listen with delight (Mark 12:39-40 ):

“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

Sounds like He’s upset with what’s going on in His Father’s House, doesn’t it?

It’s hard to believe there’s much of an atmosphere for worship at all in this place.

If I were there, I might leave and go elsewhere to worship. I’d probably take everyone along with me. I’d certainly want to caution people not to set foot in this corrupt place.

Doesn’t that seem like the holy thing to do?

Here’s what Jesus did: Mark 12:41 – 44

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.

Many rich people threw in large amounts.

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only the fraction of a penny

What struck me when I read this most recently wasn’t so much that her gift was small, but that Jesus let her go ahead and give. I mean, really, considering the corruption and nastiness of the administration in the Temple, why didn’t He step up to her in line and whisper something like – “It’s okay, go ahead and buy a little bread with those coins. Feed yourself. Don’t give here”?

But Jesus didn’t stop her. Quite the opposite. He huddled his friends and made her the example of true worship …

“Calling His disciples to him Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’”

Jesus let her give her last red cent. When that small little “clank” hit the bottom of the can, that was it. What difference could it have made in the Temple? Who would miss such a little bit?

For the first time in this week of Jesus in the Temple–His last week in the Temple–He points out holy ground. Can you feel the sacredness of that moment? Can you feel their wonder that it’s a poor widow who stands in the place of worship?

Jesus didn’t deter her from giving, or go up and shake her hand afterwards. For all we know, she simply walked back home wondering where she would find her next meal.  (Won’t it be great to hear the rest of her story when we get to heaven? Does anyone else think that’s what glory will be like … a chance to get the rest of the story?)

The widow valued God above her own needs … and even when it appeared she was too extravagant for her own good, Jesus let her give.

He let her heart soar with the giving,

He let her reflect worship to the disciples then, and even to us today.

I’d say she got a lot more value from those 2 small coins than all the treasury that day.

Do you worship like that?

Do you give anything – money, time, emotion, energy – to God with the extravagance of the poor widow?

Every week we’ll give you a chance to enter into worship here. We’ll give you the time and the space to offer your heart to God. Here are a few ways you can express that:

  • Blank cards on the table to reflect with words (or pictures) what you would offer to God from your heart.
  • Monetary gifts that help us offset the costs of our ministry .
  • Silence and stillness before God during the prayer & reflection time. We will give you time to pull away from the busyness, inviting the Spirit of God to speak to you.

Mind if I pray?

Precious Jesus ~ our hearts are bowed before you as we notice the way you appreciated this poor widow’s gift. You saw her heart! Please see what we offer of ourselves as well. May we be the kind of worshipers who give extravagantly of our time, emotion, gifts, and resources without holding back. Amen

Immerse Yourself

What do you think about when you see a large bucket of ice water?ice bucket

In the past month or so social media has been flooded (pun intended) with the ALS ice bucket challenge. What makes us want to dump ice water on our heads, video it, then challenge our friends to do the same?

Is it because we want to immerse ourselves in something BIGGER … to show that we are ALL IN?

I happen to think God knows this about us … that He even gave us this desire to be sold out to something BIGGER than ourselves.

Not simply to jump on the bandwagon of the latest cause (even when it’s a good one), but to step into the BIGGEST thing … living sold out for His Kingdom!

Last April, when 14 of us gathered to pray and plan for this year, we read these verses in 1 Timothy 4 about what God would have us IMMERSE ourselves in:

Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed – keep that dusted off and in use. Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes!  Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.

 1 Tim 4:12b-16, The Message (emphasis mine)

Can I challenge you today to join us in something BIGGER?  Immerse yourself this year in God’s Word … in God-worship … with these godly women!

Mind if I pray?

Generous Father, You fill our lives with all we need and more than enough. I confess that I forget Your goodness when I look for an activity or sacrifice apart from You to fulfill me. Help my motives to be pure when I seek to pour myself out for others. And let me humbly accept Your Word, becoming a woman who worships You with my whole heart. Amen.