The kids at camp were singing a song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. It is called “Come As You Are” and you can watch the video above (sorry about the ads).
I truly love the lyrics:
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are.
There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed.
Come sit at the table,
Come taste the grace.
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures.
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure.
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure.
These words put me in mind of Romans 3:20-24
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
What that song says is ABSOLUTELY true. No wanderer is too far from the love of God, but if, when those wanderers meet God’s people, we are cruel or unkind, our attitudes tell a different story. Instead of saying, “Come sit at the table, come taste the grace”, our attitudes can say, “this seat is taken.” The gospel requires us to be “come as you are” people. Through that Romans scripture, we are reminded that the wanderer, the broken, the hurt, and the shamed are all of us. And we can make room at the table.
On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the entire country, coast-to-coast, for the first time since 1918. I set out in writing this to find some great quote that would incorporate the concept of eclipse, and instead found quotes about filming the twilight series movie, “Eclipse”, about teenage vampires and werewolves.
The fact that expectations didn’t meet reality is also why an eclipse is disturbing. You look up expecting to see the sun and it is blotted out. And since the sun isn’t doing what it is expected to do, then you lose trust in the natural order of things. If the sun isn’t behaving, maybe the tide will up and decide to simply stop, or maybe the rains will dry up. We knew it was coming, but for most of human history, an eclipse just came. It was ominous and foreboding.
It is pretty foreboding in the scriptures, too. Eclipse is associated with the blotting out of all sources of earth’s light, the sun, the moon, and the stars. It is always attached to the end of days. But not to worry! The scripture says this about the heavenly city that awaits us: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb”. (Revelation 21:23)
See, even in the midst of the unexpected, the ominous, the earth-shaking, we know the ending written by a faithful God. Frederick Buechner said, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” And he goes on to say, “The worst isn't the last thing about the world. It's the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It's the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
So bring it on, eclipse. Bring. It. On.
“Don’t trust what you see, even salt looks like sugar.”
1 Samuel 16:7: But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’
Today I am at work without makeup, yet again. Sometimes I wear it, sometimes I don’t. I’m in tennis shoes because my feet are killing me from wearing sandals all day yesterday. My nails are chipped and are frankly driving me nuts, but I haven’t had any time to do anything about it.
I’m mostly comfortable being the slightly frumpy but loveable mom, wife, and minister. I accept it out of inevitability because I only have so much time and discipline and don’t feel like spending it on looking pulled together. In part, I also choose it because I like to surprise people. I have often been told that the clothes make the man. However, some people cling to this idea as if Jesus himself had said it. For whatever reason, because of my apathy towards appearance, people sometimes don’t expect too much from me. I have fun proving them wrong.
But even I can get bogged down in the wish for the bright shiny lives I see on television, movies, and social media. My friends on Facebook seem to have perfect children and live in perfect homes and have always just come from a workout class and are about to eat a lovely salad.
Today’s quote was a helpful for reminder for me. Even salt looks like sugar. Sweet lives may only be sweet in appearance. Samuel was reminded of that, too, as he searched for a new king for Israel. Yes, David was handsome, but he was also the youngest, and at the time probably smelled like sheep. He wouldn’t have been what the world expected, but God looked on the heart.
When we see another person, we must challenge ourselves to do the same. We can’t assume someone is sugar or salt just by how they look. And we can’t compare ourselves to others whose lives look so sweet in a few photos. We must strive for our hearts to be sweet to God.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2
During our wonderful book study on "The Forty-Day Word Fast", we attempted to rid our lives of 6 kinds of words, words of judgment, criticism, sarcasm, negativity, complaining, and gossip. That, my friends, left us with a LOT of silence to fill. What do you say instead when you get wilted salad at a restaurant? What do you say instead when you cannot BELIEVE she just did that? What do you say when you just heard the most unbelievable news about Jenny down the street?
Through our time together, it became obvious that if you are going to change the way you speak, you have to re-frame the problem. Instead of changing our words, it is more helpful to change our thoughts and our selves. Here is how Jesus says it in Matthew 23:25-26: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."
Tony Dungy, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, said it this way, "What is down in the well comes up in the bucket. Fill yourself with positive things."
What are you filling your life with? What do you listen to and watch? What kinds of conversations are you listening too from friends? Are they good and acceptable and perfect? Are they helping you transform by the renewing of your mind?
Be sure that part of what you are filling your well with is the word of God. If sitting down with the Bible is difficult for your, consider the online version of Our Daily Bread, which also includes a "Bible in a Year" application.
And Please join us for worship at 11am on Sunday to continue filling yourself with the word of God, lyrics of songs that bless our hearts, and time to reflect on God's movement in our lives.
Blessings on filling your well!
‘You are the light of the world. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14,16
I visited the Spring Valley Bruderhof last week for a meeting of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. The Bruderhof is a community of Christians who share all things in common and live in simplicity and community. We were welcomed with smiles and warmth. We were greeted with gift bags, including a hand drawn card by the children of the community and a package of delicious cookies.
When our meeting had concluded, we were welcomed to view a display of books that the Bruderhof publishes. All of them were offered to us free of charge because of our shared common ministry. We then had lunch with the community, interspersed among the families to talk and laugh together. The meal began with singing, and was plentiful, simple, and delicious. I felt Christ's presence strongly in that place.
As I was reflecting on this experience, I came upon words written by the founder of the Bruderhof communities, Eberhard Arnold. In his book, Salt and LIght: Talks and Writings on the Sermon on the Mount, he writes, “Even the sun directs our gaze away from itself and to the life illumined by it.” I realized that their simplicity was about directing their gaze. It allows them to look on the reflections of God's beauty and grace around them instead of being focused on the daily details of life. More importantly, because of their simplicity, their focus is not on themselves but on being of service to their community and the world.
As lights of the world, we are called to live in such a way that God's glory shines through us. Yet, much of our attention is taken by the daily problems and concerns of living in the modern world. I wonder what we could simplify in our own lives so that our attention and the attention of others could be given to God's goodness?
On a recent visit to Indianapolis, I sat for some time in the chapel of Christian Theological Seminary listening to their baptismal font. This font is like a fountain. Set into the ground, water flows over the edge continuously. I noticed that the water wasn't flowing evenly. It cycled from rush to trickle and back. Our spiritual lives can be that way, too. I don't think the flow changes, but like a pipe with a valve, we open ourselves to the living water sometimes more than others.
Feeling the presence of God is a grace gift to us, not something we can earn. However, Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, "...when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart." Our openness to Christ matters in our awareness of His presence.
Moments when we experience the loving presence of God in a powerful way were called consolations by the ancient church. They are certainly to be sought out and they can be life changing. A.W. Tozer in "The Pursuit of God" writes, "The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face."
Are you seeking Him with all your heart?
Be a fountain, not a drain.
former NBA player.
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
John 7: 37-38
During my mother's recent hospital stay, there was a period of time when she was not allowed to eat or drink anything. Sure, they gave her those little sticks with sponges at the end to try to ease the discomfort, and of course they were giving her IV fluids to meet her bodies need for water, but the thirst she felt was painful to watch. It was especially painful to know I wasn't allowed to do anything about it.
I've run into this problem a lot in the thousands of hospital rooms I've been in during my ministry. And as a society overall, we seem to be getting thirstier. After all, there are over 150 brands of bottled water world wide, and that doesn't take into account energy drinks, sports drinks, sodas, lemonades, juices and teas, much less alcoholic beverages. My yes, we thirst.
Maybe we aren't thirsting for water. The deep thirst for liquids is typically confined to those hospital rooms or workout rooms, but there is a spiritual thirst I find almost everyplace I go. And unlike being thirsty for water, people don't always know what is wrong or what to do about it.
Many folks already know the scriptures about Jesus being the living water that never runs dry. And we know that when our spirits thirst, it is time for some Jesus time. However, the last part of this scripture from John 7 often evades us. As we partake of the spiritual gift of Christ, we are then called to become living water to the world!
Rex Hudler perfectly defines what are only two options really are when it comes to how we related to others. And believe me, the world does NOT need us to be a drain. Nor are we called to be. Being a fountain, however, doesn't come from our own sunny dispositions, our boundless energy, or our innate wisdom, it comes from having Christ at the very center of our hearts. We become simply a delivery system for the quenching of other's souls! Commit to being a fountain today and to continually refreshing your own spirits in the living waters of the living Christ.
As a minister who has been involved in church all her life, I spend a lot of time thinking about why people don't go to church and why, if they attend worship, they often don't get more involved (I'm thinking about all churches, not just the one I serve). I talk with people who believe in Jesus but have no interest in church, and it feels like I'm trying to sell fresh air to a fish. How can I need something so badly that they don't seem to need at all?
I suspect that the need for what the church can offer is still there in many who were raised in the church, but the barriers have grown too high. Much of that has to do with what the church is. Of all we can say about the church, the one thing that is most true is that it is IMPERFECT.
People long for the fellowship they felt at church, but have been hurt by unkind words. They long for a genuine experience of God, but have been dissolutioned by the judgement they've felt on Sunday mornings. They long for the sense that their gifts were valued and utilized on committees, but the bickering in the name of Jesus surely isn't the work God called us to. They long to engage in something that they know makes a difference in the lives of others but they watch the church slowly become irrelevant to the world becasue it refuses to change and grow.
The most encouraging words I've found on the subject come from Dutch theologian, Willem Visser't Hoof: "Be part of the church that is for the sake of the church that ought to be."
Each of us who love Christ is called to help shape the church into His image. We are the body of Christ because we belong to him and because we long to see the church become a reflection of the love and hope we've found in Him.
My great hope is that the folks who have become disenchanted with the church are the ones who will most fully engage with it starting RIGHT NOW. Romans 8:28 says, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." and it is my hope that those who hold up such a high vision for the church and have been disappointed by the reality of the church will use that experience for the GOOD of the church by being part of the church that is for the sake of the church that ought to be.
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The right question is deeply important as we turn our attention to 2017. As we look to the future and wonder how we are going to make it better, or make it at all, we should keep a singular question in mind. It is a question well illustrated by the following story by David Boyd.
"I first began to play for church at age 16. That first Christmas Eve service, just a few weeks since I had begun "performing" in church, the Pastor and those leading the worship met in the pastor's study for prayer before the service began. When I first began to play the organ for church I shook. Not just my hands, but my feet and my legs. And not just while I was playing-even before. I remember my pastor then-Rev. Barry Wolfe, a young man in his late twenties who shared that he used to get really nervous before he preached. "Yeah," I replied with great interest, "how did you get over it?", hoping he'd give me the secret. "Someone asked me the right question," he said. I waited with anticipation. Maybe he was going to give me that silly time tested strategy, "Just picture them in their underwear..." After the longest pause, Rev. Wolfe looked at me warmly and asked, "David...who are you playing for?" There was silence. He didn't say another word, nor did I. Neither of us needed to. I knew the answer, and he knew that I knew. I had stopped shaking.... "Go, play the prelude. God's waiting."
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, " So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God."
As we approach the new year, let us do so with boldness because we're asking the right quesiton, "Who am I doing this for?" If we answer that before we make our choices, 2017 will be filled with joy, purpose, and love. God bless you in the New Year!
When thinking about what it means to be a small church in the looming shadows of some of the largest churches in Pittsburgh, terms like small batch, artisinal, and hand-crafted seem to invade those inner conversations.
I found the above photo when looking for a cute logo to pair with these thoughts. I thought it was a joke, at first. And it is, sort of, but also true. You really can go to www.artisanalpencilsharpening.com and order a hand sharpened pencil with a certificate for $500. The artisan, in this case, is David Rees, who has written a book on how to sharpen a pencil. It is all a way of poking fun at the cultural movement of going back to traditional methods of cooking, crafting, and producing everything from pickles to pints of beer.
There is probably plenty to poke fun at in that movement, and certainly things have gotten just about as silly as paying $500 for a hand sharpened pencil, but the original thought behind the terms is still valid. Do things slowly, on a smaller scale, with loving concern for excellence.
As a church, there is a Biblical model for this. Churches of the 1st century were home churches, with probably just enough folks to fit around a dinner table. The scripture encourages us that there doesn't have to be a full house to invite the most important guest to church.
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Paul also calls us to do everything with that same "hand-crafted" care when he writes,
"Let all that you do be done in love."
Through the small, loving steps we take with Christ at our side, Brightwood Christian church is positioned perfectly to help brighter days to come to the hearts of our members, our neighbors, and the world. Call it what you want, artisinal, small, batch, hand-crafted, or boutique, this is the little church that can, this is the small community about to make a BIG difference.
Wherever you are in life, whatever you are going through, or how tall the mountains are you need to climb, or how long your to-do list is, remember those words from the scripture. Gather your community around you in the name of Jesus, do the right thing, and do it with love. There now, you are officially a hand-crafted Christian!
Rev. Jana Quisenberry is the minister at Brightwood Christian Church. She's an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN, She now resides in Mt. Lebanon with her husband, two children, and dog, Sookie. Pastor Jana loves the church, science fiction, and coffee.