"And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, 'Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.'" (Rev. 4:8 NRSV)
The scene depicted in Revelation 4: 8-11 captures my imagination--what a glorious sight it would be to see all the saints and angels singing before the throne of God and casting their crowns (vs. 10) before Him. "Casting" calls up images of throwing their crowns before the throne—thousands of them! It creates an amazing picture in my head. It must be one big celebration!
Sometime we think of our worship as practice for worshipping in heaven. But that is not the case! Every time we worship, we enter into God's presence, the Holy of Holies. We also believe that we are surrounded by all the saints. This Sunday in worship we will sing "Holy, Holy, Holy." Bring this mental picture with you that Revelation creates. Know that you are singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" with all the saints and all of heaven. Know that God is present with us. Join the heavenly choir in singing. It is one big celebration!
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:3 NIV)
One of my favorite parts of a mission trip to Honduras is early morning at the Heart to Honduras campus in Conchias. I like to take time before breakfast to enjoy a cup of hot tea on the veranda behind the dining hall. The view over the valley with its lush vegetation, the muted rumble of the river below and the iridescent green hummingbirds hovering in the trees is so serene and peaceful. The hand of God is all around me. It's easy to focus on honoring God through worship, prayer, studying the Word and serving others in this setting.
Ideally, this is the attitude I would have all the time – immersed in his awesome creation, talking with God and being his hands on earth. Mission trips are a great way to recharge faith and redirect my priorities. I've returned from each of my visits fired up and vowing to get out of my self-centered rut. Alas, it never quite works out.
I am over scheduled. I rush from one commitment to the next and continuously try to cram just one more activity into my day. That includes Sundays with home projects, sports, work and other pursuits demanding my attention. It's so easy to get distracted.
Today's verse from Genesis reminds us to keep the Sabbath holy. But what exactly does that mean? To our Puritan ancestors, it meant no work of any kind on Sunday. Cooking, cleaning, farming - almost any pursuit except worship and bible study were banned. In our modern society we are a long way from that model.
I don't want to make Sunday a sterile "thou shalt not" kind of day like the Puritans practiced. But at the same time, I don't want to just blow off Sunday with an hour at church and then on to the next activity. The question I come back to is where is my heart?
For me, worshipping God is much more than sitting in church to hear a sermon and sing a few hymns. Although church service at Southwood is an important part of my religious life, it's really not the zenith. Just as important are activities that promote my Christian values and beliefs: caring for people; bonding with family, friends and fellow Christians; modeling the Christian life style; nurturing God's creation all around us; making time to talk with God.
It's a journey. Each time I go on a mission trip or serve someone here in Lincoln in whatever capacity, I take a small step ahead. Sometimes there are setbacks. But I hope and pray that the overall course is forward.
We hear the verse from Matthew 5:16 at every baptism – "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." To me, that's the real meaning of honoring God and keeping the Sabbath holy.
(PS. To check out the veranda at Conchias, enter 14.89608,-87.84603 on Google maps, put it in satellite view and zoom in. The orange roofs around it are all part of the Heart to Honduras campus.)
Questions for Reflection:
- What does it mean to you to keep the Sabbath holy?
- Do you think your Sabbath life style is pleasing to God?
- What can you do to honor God the other six days of the week?
Gracious Lord, your creation is so inspiring, how can I overlook it? Help me to appreciate all of your works around me. Guide me to understand and use your Word in my everyday life. Lead me to be your hands on earth. Thank you for your love and patience as I struggle to be your servant. Amen.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
"The Sabbath was created for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
How would you interpret this verse? When I was growing up, Sunday was always family day. It meant we would attend church. Then, if we were lucky and the bank account allowed, we'd stop at Dunkin Donuts for a glazed donut and head home. In the afternoon we were big on games; outdoor, indoor around the table or at a grandparent's home. Sometimes I thought I was too old for these activities and they seemed silly. Now, I look back and treasure those Sundays.
What I didn't know then, that I do now, is my parents were trying hard to honor the Sabbath. During the week, they hustled and bustled with the best of them. But, on Sundays they slowed down and stayed family focused. Phones were not answered and there was never a TV on during those Sundays.
My father always led the noon prayer and spent a fair amount of time praising and thanking the Lord. As a youngster, I thought he was wasting time. Games were waiting! Now I know, my father was setting an example. He never lost sight of all the wonders God provided. Sabbath is a commandment. It is a part of the 10 that relates to the relationship with and our worship of God. Study, praise and thanksgiving were an essential Sunday ritual for us.
Sabbath means to slow down, learn and praise. Goodness is all around us and we get so wrapped up in the speed of life, we forget to take in the beauty of nature, family, our communities and life! It was created for us by our Savior. That is pretty awe inspiring. He deserves a lot of praise for the love and grace he bestows on us every day of our existence! So take time to learn the Word and enjoy its unconditional love
Accept and honor the Sabbath. Celebrate Christ.
Questions for Reflection:
- How do you celebrate/honor the Sabbath?
- Are there some changes you need to make in your life to spend Sabbath time honoring Christ?
Lord, you have bestowed so much in my life. Please remind me to be still and know that you are God. I pray that your goodness and love that flows through me daily helps me to remind others of your grace and reminds me to take time to give You thanks by reading and learning your Word.
When You Forget about Sabbath on Vacation
Monday, June 17, 2013
Vacations always upset the spiritual scaffolding I've painstakingly established for myself. This used to scare me. I worried that without my morning Bible study, journaling and prayer time, without my church and my community and spiritual routines, my faith would dissolve like sugar in hot tea.
Over time, though, I've realized that's not exactly the way it works.
I tucked my Bible and journal into my suitcase before we set off for Utah. I had every intention of carving out a quiet time each morning for prayer and reflection. In fact, our hotel's grounds offered the perfect spot – a bench about halfway up a small hill dotted with prickly pear and sage, with a view of the rising sun streaking Zion's formidable canyon walls. But it didn't happen. Not a single morning. I slept in instead.
We also blew off church two Sundays in a row. It never even occurred to us to find a church in Utah. Not only did I neglect to honor the Sabbath, I couldn't remember what day of the week it was for ten days straight.
As you might know from past blog posts, I take my pledge to honor the Sabbath pretty seriously. When I realized on the drive home from Utah that I hadn't given the Sabbath a second thought for two weeks running I grimaced a bit.
But then, I let it go. I didn't fret about my lack of prayer or Bible study or even the fact that I skipped over the Sabbath, because the truth is, I finally realized that my faith can stand alone, without all the accompanying accoutrement.
Like Jesus told the Pharisees when they accused him of breaking the Sabbath law, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the needs of Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) We practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study and honoring the Sabbath not only out of habit and routine, and not just because Jesus suggests we do so, but because of the way they enhance and deepen our relationship with God.
We practice spiritual disciplines not because we have to, but because we want to.
I may not have picked up my Bible, darkened a church doorway or uttered a traditional prayer the whole time I was in Utah, but deep in the canyon, as the frigid water swirled around my ankles and the sun slipped through a sliver in the skyscraping rock walls, I praised our awesome God again and again. Not in words. Not in ritual. Not in any of my regular, everyday ways. But from a place far beyond language, in the very center of my being.
Questions for Reflection:
- What spiritual disciplines do you regularly practice?
- How do you feel when you drop the ball?
- How does your spiritual life look different when you are on vacation?
Lord, You know in my preoccupation with rules and rituals I lose sight of You. Please help me continue to use these spiritual practices not to prove to myself that I'm "doing everything right," but as a way to grow closer to You. Amen.
Sunday, June 23 at 11:00 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall
Two of Southwood's members, Dr. Sean Leach and Dr. Beth Lau, had the opportunity to travel to Haiti on a Medical Mission Trip. It was an "Awe Inspiring" and "Faith Walk" experience for them. While in Haiti they had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jean-Gardy, who is doing amazing work in Haiti.
We are excited to be able to host Dr. Jean-Gardy next Sunday during the 11:00 a.m. service in the Fellowship Hall. Come to learn more about the recovery from the earthquake in Haiti and how Dr. Jean-Gardy is making a difference.
Below Dr. Beth Lau shares information about Dr. Jean-Gardy and some of her reflections from her trip:
Dr. Sean Leach and I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jean-Gardy on a recent medical mission trip to Pierre Peyan, Haiti. Dr. Gardy has an amazing personal life story that started homeless on the streets of Haiti as a young teenager and has progressed to his current role as Physician staffing a clinic today. He co-founded the public health organization OSAPO about 6 years ago in Haiti. This serves a rural population of nearly 50,000 people and has been so successful that other worldwide organizations (Doctors without Boarders & Oxfam) have come to study it.
I would strongly encourage you to come and hear him tell his story, describe his vision for Haiti's medical future, and see how God is working through so many people, but especially this man. I'm confident you will find his story moving and inspiring. If you've ever considered participating in a medical mission, or you are just curious to know more about what is happening in some of these third world countries, I urge you to come and hear him.
—Dr. Beth Lau
You will not want to miss this opportunity and we hope that you will leave inspired to serve using your talents where God is calling you to serve as Beth and Sean did in Haiti or be a part of one of Southwood's Missions in Honduras or Tanzania.
Director of Missions
Saturday, June 15, 2013
"Spread for me a banquet of praise, serve High God a feast of kept promises,..." (The Message)
We often pray in desperation when we really, really need something; something totally out of our control; something only God can affect. Psalm 50:14 reminds us to pray to God not only for what we think we want or need, but praise Him for what we have right now. Every morning, we could thank God for being able to wake up to another day; for our families, near and far; for those who have gone before us, whose lives and deaths have molded us into who we are today.
Sometimes we can't see or hear God's gifts right in front of us.
For me it is the "gift" of how people know when I'm nearby. What? Me? What could they be talking about? Yeah, I know...it's my boisterous, one-of-a-kind laugh. I have been told it can be heard from up to a mile away. I have also been told that it can light up a room and make anyone smile - and help my husband find me in the middle of the grocery store! But, I have felt embarrassed by that laugh since I was young. It can be abrupt, cut the silence in a room, and can even scare babies.
Someone recently opened my eyes and helped me see it differently, though. My laugh can light up a room and make just about anyone smile. It's just the vehicle for a contagiously good mood. And, why would I be embarrassed about that? It really IS a gift from God. One that I can't hide and just need to share, and share often.
God wants us to share everything we have - no matter how big or small; tangible or intangible. I must share anything I have, including my laugh - and everything else He has given me - with everyone around me. And by sharing my gifts with "the least of these," I am also sharing it back with God. It is a feast of kept promises.
Questions for Reflection:
- What are the defining characteristics of your personality that you may never have considered a gift of God or have taken for granted?
- How can you share these gifts with others?
God, please let me see your gifts in all that I am and in all that I do here on Earth. Once I have recognized those gifts, may I find ways to give them away to others. I share my gifts in Your name and in order to carry out Your will. Thank you, God for all that you give me, for you are a truly wonderful, amazing, and awesome God. Amen.