Church Service.001This is the second part of a series of blogs related to our mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  As I write these, I’m trying to process the amazing things I experienced as a part of this adventure for God.

One of the things that I’ve found, for me, in worship:  There’s a big difference between leading worship and worshipping.

Here’s what that means for me:  In a worship service, I’m often doing such things as facilitating what happens, keeping an eye on the clock and making sure that the moving pieces are moving.  That makes it difficult, sometimes, to simply let go of everything and connect to God through worship.

Maybe that’s why what happened at 10:30 in the morning at the Congregacion Cristiana Rey Eterno (translates to Eternal King Congregation) was an important moment for me.  I was there simply to worship.

There are all kinds of excuses I hear (and I can give) about why I can’t worship.  Excuses can range from things about preference (music, sermon style, type of worship) to environmental issues (too dark, too loud, too bright, too cold).

So, here we were, our group of 30 “missionaries” and we find ourselves sitting in a church in Santiago.  It’s not like the church that most of us come from.  The church building has a roof and open walls.  It sits next to a volleyball and basketball court and two sets of bleachers.

We sit in plastic chairs lined up to point to the front of the space.  There is a podium, a drum, a keyboard and a couple of speakers so we can hear the music.

There’s no air conditioning to turn up and down.  There are no lights to set and turn toward the stage.  In fact, there’s no raised stage at all.  As we sit there before the service begins we hear the sound of the barking dog walking across the athletic court and the sounds of the rosters crowing at the house beyond that. I don’t have a hymnbook in my hands and there are no words on the screen.

Yet, something amazing would happen in that worship time.

The service opened with a translator helping us to understand the Spanish.  But as the music begins, the interpreter’s job ends.

Awilda Rosario, the wife of the pastor and one the leaders in the church, joins with the others who are leading us in song.  The music is powerful, moving and Spirit-filled.  I am only able to pick out a few words that I understand in Spanish, but I know that they, and the others there, are singing their hearts out to God.

It stirs something in me in a connection to God.

I was sitting (and at this point) standing next to Steven Douglas, Wightman’s Youth Minister.  At some point, I said something to him along the lines of, “This must be a God thing because I’m starting to understand more and more of what we’re singing about.”

There’s a quote from Donald Miller that I love and it comes from his book, “Blue Like Jazz.”  He says, “Sometimes you have to see somebody else love something before you can love it yourself.”

In that day, I saw a group of people who passionately loved Jesus.  And that love of Jesus was able to powerfully break through all of the barriers that might have been in the room that day.  Seeing their love and their passion for Christ was like a dose of spiritual vitamins into my own love of Christ.

The love of Jesus transcends the limits of language.  The love of Jesus cuts through the fatigue that we might have experienced in getting to the Dominican Republic.  The love of Jesus reminded me that my family was much bigger than I could have ever imagined it would be.

There were powerful moments in the service.

One of those moments that brought tears to my eyes came when the musicians began to sing a Spanish-language version of “Revelation Song.”  From the opening notes of that song, many of us connected.  It became a mix of “Santo, Santo, Santo” and “Holy, holy, holy.”

Then, we had the chance to connect through the Table.  A speaker, in Spanish, related to us the events of what happened at the Last Supper.  Then, we were invited to come to the front to receive the communion elements.

We sat back down and held them in our hands as we were invited to share in the breaking of the bread and drinking from the cup.  Once again, my eyes were opened to the power of God to reach across all of the barriers that we might otherwise construct.

One of the leaders from our group of missionaries shared the message that day.  At the end of the service, Steven and I, along with the other adult leaders, were invited to stand in front of the church.  They prayed for us and for what we would be doing.  They asked for God’s blessing to be upon us. They welcomed us with open arms.

When we left the church that day, I felt a few things:

  • I felt overwhelmed.  Maybe that’s what comes when we feel as if we are truly pouring ourselves out in worship. I felt it physically, mentally and spiritually.
  • I felt lifted up.  There’s something about a strong spiritual moment with Jesus.  It recharges you and it pierces us to the heart.  I felt that way on that Sunday.
  • I knew in that moment that my mission for the week would be this church we were attending.  I know that I’ve been blessed in many ways and it gives me the opportunity to be a blessing to others.  Somehow, I just knew that this church was going to play a key role in my mission work for the next week.

On that Sunday in Santiago, I was reminded of a few things about worship:

  • Worship is bigger than any barrier we can create.
  • Worship is more powerful than the words that are being spoken or the lyrics that we are singing in the songs.
  • Worship connects people across the globe.
  • Worship is rooted in the powerful reminder of grace and mercy that come through Holy Communion.

And most of all, God reminded me of just how much I need and long for the chance to connect to the Holy Spirit through worship.  It was nothing short of a life-changing moment.

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AirportThis is the first in a series of blogs related to a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  It will be my way of sharing as I try to make sense of the many things that happened during this time.

I believe that there are things that just happen in life.  There’s a series of connected decisions and moments that lead to events that can interrupt our lives.

But despite those events, we have a promise.  God can take all of the events that happen in our lives and God can redeem them for a higher purpose.

The series of events started on the Thursday that we were to leave for the Dominican Republic.  There’s a hurricane spinning off the East Coast.  Flights out of Atlanta are starting to get delayed.  Flights out of New York are starting to get delayed and canceled.

We arrive at the Columbia Airport in the middle of this and prepare to board the plane for the first leg of the journey that will take us to the Dominican Republic.  We hit a snag that leads to us going home for the day and coming back at 5 AM the next morning.

We try again and we make it from Columbia to Atlanta and then to New York.  Then, we hit the snag again.  Because of all the delays the cancelled flight, our flight from New York to Santiago is massively overbooked.  In our party of 10, only four have seats on the plane that is boarding to head out.  Others who are in the same predicament stand around the counter.

It’s easy to become angry and frustrated and to wonder why God would let something like that happen.  I was angry and frustrated and so was everyone else who was standing there hoping to get onboard the plane.

We were standing there with a group of teens heading to a mission trip and we couldn’t split our group up and send four now and six later.  It was all or nothing for us.  The only option was to come back on Saturday and to make the flight to the Dominican Republic.

So the four of us with tickets gave up our seats on the plane.  It felt like for a moment that I was handing over my hope.  I didn’t like this.  We had been led to believe as early as Columbia that morning that we would have no problems making this flight.

So, here’s when God steps in and the redeeming begins.

When I handed over my ticket, it went to a man who was trying to get home to see his young daughter.  (As a father with a daughter, this one tugs at me).  When the Delta employee handed him the boarding pass, he said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” as the tears streamed from his eyes.  Another of our tickets went to a mother whose young son was already sitting on the plane in a seat.  It allowed a family to travel together and to make it home.

I was still frustrated in that moment.  Maybe we all were.  It’s no fun to send text messages to those back home that we are going to be spending the night in New York.  But, here we were, in New York, on the Fourth of July.

Delta gave us a hotel room to stay in and we were still dealing with the baggage issue.  But a quick check found that eight of the 10 in our group had never been to New York before.  We rode the Air Train and the the Subway to Times Square.  We had a chance to see massive firework displays going off all over the city.  Some of our group stood with their mouths open at the overwhelming site of Times Square.  Some of us ate hot dogs from a street vendor.

The experience on the way there and back gave me a chance to see our group interacting together and becoming a family.  We laughed a lot and picked on one another.  We saw a completely different world and we had conversations with people about why we were there and where we were going.  In fact, we started being “missionaries” before we ever made it to our “mission field.”

I don’t know really where I was when we started to leave on Thursday.  I had other things on my mind and issues swirling around.  Over the course of those three days of interruptions, I was able to turn my mind away from those things to start to prepare myself for what happens next.

Maybe it was because of all that we went through that I arrived in the Dominican Republic with a new heart and a new mind.  I was appreciative to be there.  I was ready to begin this work that God had brought us too.  I was more open to God as God spoke through the people we met and the worship service that we attended.

That journey there could have put a blemish on the entire trip.  Instead, by opening myself up to the new possibilities that the interruption offered, I was able to see things in a new way.

God truly can take events and circumstances, tough moments, challenging moments even interruptions, and redeem them for His Higher Purpose.

James 4:7-10: Humbled

Posted: December 12, 2013 in Book of James, Devotions

Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. — James 4:7-10 (CEB)

Sometimes in life, you reach that point and place where you know you’ve made a mistake.  Maybe you went a little too far in something that you said to someone else.  Maybe your actions hurt another person.

It presents a moment of choice.  Do you keep on keeping on?  Do you act as if nothing has happened?  Or, do you go to that person?  Do you humble yourself?  Do you ask for forgiveness?

We can also experience that same thing in the most significant relationship we have in our lives.  The writer of “James” is pushing us to see that in our relationship with God.  Throughout the book, we’ve been reminded of how we can say and do things that do not reflect God’s presence in our life.  We can show favoritism.  We can tear others down.  We can hurt others with the things we do and say.

But we can do something about it.  We can submit ourselves to God.  We can confess our sin.  We can humble ourselves before the God who loves us.  And when we do, we get the chance to experience the God who stands beside us in all that we go through and experience.

There’s power in “humbling” ourselves before God.  Humbling means that we realize our place, our position before God.  We realize that we worship and serve God and that we don’t and can’t compete with God.  When we humble ourselves before God, we remember who were created to be.

Singer Jason Gray has a song called, “Remind Me Who I Am.”  The lyrics for that song say, “When my heart is like a stone, And I’m running far from home, Remind me who I am. When I can’t receive Your love, Afraid I’ll never be enough, Remind me who I am.”

So, in the words of James, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Help us to come to you, God, to submit ourselves, to surrender all that we are, to confess and seek forgiveness.  Help us to see when we have fallen from the path.  And, God, in the process remind us of who we are in your loves, mercy and grace.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

4-6 You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” — (James 4:4-6, The Message)

Over the past few weeks, a post was making its way around social media outlets.  It was a list of things that would change in your life once you became a parent.  I totally identified with some of the things that you would find on this list. But one of them made me laugh.  Parents have to sneak to eat candy.

That’s right, eat some candy and come within a few feet of a child and they are going to figure it out.  Children have a sixth sense that’s simply related to candy.

So the way you combat that is to eat candy when the kids aren’t around.  It makes you feel like you’re cheating on your child to get a Tootsie Roll.

James follows up a set of verses in which he painted us as spoiled children trying to get our own way with this tough statement.  “You’re cheating on God.”  Now, I would imagine that most people don’t get up in the morning with the intention in their mind that today is the day I’m going to cheat on God.

It just happens.  It’s a series of bad choices, a few moments of talking about someone else.  It’s looking at what someone else has and getting jealous.  It’s a string of little fibs that lead to bigger and bigger lies.   It’s trying to think that I can do this, that I have it covered, that I don’t need God’s help in getting this done.

And we end up, maybe even unintentionally, in turning our back on the true source of love and life.

James’ advice for us?  Stay humble.  Stay connected to the God who gives love and grace and mercy.  Stay grounded in the God who forgives.  Don’t get so proud in yourself and your own abilities.  Stay true to God.

Almighty God, forgive me for the times I slip and think that I can do this on my own.  Forgive me for the times I turn my back on you, even unintentionally. Forgive me for the times I’ve cheated on you, God, by trying to find what I need in a world that can’t supply it.  Help me to stay connected to your love.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lou BrissieI take a break tonight from writing devotions to share something I wrote a few years ago.  I read online that former Major League pitcher Lou Brissie died today.  I had the chance to talk to Mr. Brissie a few times and always appreciated his willingness to share stories from his life.

Leland Lou Brissie  may have been one of the most improbable pitchers of all time. Brissie suffered a severe leg injury suffered during the war in Europe that would have probably ended the sports careers for most individuals.

At 16, he was pitching in the textile baseball leagues in Ware Shoals. He was impressive enough to attract an offer from the Dodgers, but his father urged him to turn it down and work out in front of Connie Mack. Later, he pitched for two years at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC.

Brissie’s life and career in sports changed on Dec. 7, 1944. On that day, while serving in Italy with the 88th Infantry Division, Brissie was hit by artillery fire. The shell shattered his left shinbone into more than 30 pieces. He also broke his left ankle and right foot.

The doctors wanted to amputate Brissie’s leg, but he somehow persuaded them to send him to an evacuation hospital.

Three years later, Brissie overcame that injury and near loss of his leg to begin his career in major league baseball.

The left-hander made his Major League debut in 1947 with the Philadelphia Athletics. Because of the injury, Brissie pitched in a leg brace, but still managed to finish his career with a 44-48 record in 897.2 innings pitched. He also had 436 strikeouts and a 4.07 career earned run average.

One of Brissie’s biggest seasons came in 1949 with the Athletics. Brissie finished with a 16-11 record, 118 strikeouts and a 4.28 ERA, in 229.1 innings pitched.

Grantland Rice, famed sportswriter who coined the Four Horseman nickname for Notre Dame’s football team in the 1920s, wrote about the courageous performance of Brissie in an article in Sport magazine in 1948 on the stars of the Textile League.

“Venerable Connie Mack came up with one of the real finds of the year,” Rice wrote. “Lou Brissie, a 215-pound southpaw, has captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere by his courageous triumph over a severe leg injury and by his performance on the mound.”

“There have been many stories of servicemen who barely escaped death and returned to play ball again. Lou Brissie’s case puts him on top. Brissie’s left leg was all but torn away by shell fragments in the Italian campaign. Only his great determination to play baseball again saved Brissie from losing the the leg. With the help of a heavy protective brace, Lou returned to the mound, winning 23 and losing only 5 in the Sally League last year.”

Brissie was June 5, 1924 in Anderson, South Carolina. He graduated from Ware Shoals High School in Ware Shoals, South Carolina. Today, Brissie lives in North Augusta, S.C. Following his career in baseball, Brissie became the national director of the American Legion baseball program.

In 1994, he was inducted into the South Atlanta League’s Hall of Fame.

Book of James.0011 What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2 You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings. — James 4:1-3 (CEB)

By the time we get to Chapter 4 of James, the writer has already taken on the role of a spiritual cardiologist.  And now the message points again to the heart and to what is going on there.

Have you ever been involved in conflict?  Have you ever wanted what someone else has?  That’s the question that James is asking.

I was introduced to this passage in a new way during a counseling class in seminary.  The professor asked us to read it in the following way (and I challenge you to do this too!).

What is the source of conflict among in my life? What is the source of my disputes? Don’t they come from my cravings that are at war in my own life? I long for something I don’t have, so I would go so far as to kill for it. I am jealous for something I can’t get, so I struggle and fight. I don’t have because I don’t ask.  I ask and don’t have because I ask with evil intentions, to waste it on my own cravings. (Based on James 4:1-3 from CEB).

And when I think through it that way, I realize that I have a heart problem.  I desperately need Jesus to help me with that heart problem and I need to know that Jesus is with me each and every day.

Sometimes you need a good spiritual cardiologist to give you the news.

Gracious and Loving God, forgive me for the times that my desires and my ambitions lead me to sin.  Forgive me in the times and moments and places when my jealousy gets the best of me and I want to do things that will harm myself or others.  God, thank you for forgiveness, for mercy and for your presence to help me through it.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Book of James.00113 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts. — James 3:13-18

I love worship.  I absolutely love worship.

But I love worship that is real and authentic.  I love worship that at times is rough and raw.  I love worship where people take the skills that they have and they simply offer them up to the God who loves them.  And, in doing so, in humbling themselves before God, God does amazing things through their gifts.

It reminds me sometimes of the lyrics to the song, “Heart of Worship.”

I’m coming back to the heart of worship / And it’s all about You / All about You, Jesus./ I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it/ When it’s all about You/ It’s all about You Jesus 

It’s that sense of humility in worship, a humble offering of everything that we are, that comes to my mind when I read these words from James.

It’s an interesting position for a statement such as this.  They come just on the heels of a verses describing the power of the tongue to either bring praise or bring destruction.  And now there is this image of wisdom.

When we’re connected to the wisdom of God, it will undoubtedly flow from the heart.  And when it’s flowing from our heart, we see such things as peace, gentleness, obedience, humility, love.

But there’s another side to the picture too.  When we don’t have a sense of humility, when we’re not connected to the wisdom of God, it’s also going to show up in our actions.  In that case, we’re going to be jealous, sinful and filled with bad ambitions.

Maybe that’s why the heart is so important.

What’s your heart connected to?  Is it the heart of God that we find in true worship?  Or is it the heart of the world?

Maybe we really do need to get back to the heart of worship.

Loving God, forgive us for the times that our hearts connect to the heart of the world. Forgive us for the sins of our jealousy and our ambitions that do not match up with your heart.  Instead God, fill us with a sense of peace and humility.  Connect us to your heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.