Grief – Wrapped in Worship

It happened again this morning. Pastor Dave was finishing up his sermon on Isaiah 6. If I had to summarize the sermon, I would say it this way, “We serve an awesome God who is way bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine.”

At the end of the sermon, Pastor Dave had the congregation sing the song, Holy Holy Holy and do it without instruments.

The singing was powerful.

The song is powerful.

As we started the second verse, the feeling hit again.

The grief hit again.

It has many times since March 23 when my Dad entered heaven.

Not only do I miss my Dad but I also get a very strong sense that when we are worshipping God, when we are gathering as believers, those who went before are somehow gathered and watching and supporting us.

I don’t know if it’s theologically sound or not, but I firmly believe that when we are gathered in worship it can quite often be an opportunity to feel closer to those who have gone before us.

This morning, my Dad wasn’t there singing Holy Holy Holy with us.

But he was. And it hurt. And it was good.

Because God is good.

All the time.

Tom

12 Words – a Powerful Statement

You know, I never really gave it much thought.

It was just part of the Sunday morning worship service. Sometimes the pastor would say it and sometimes the Pastor wouldn’t.

But after a while, I began realizing that no, he didn’t say it sometimes. It was a consistent statement, a solid foundation to build the rest of the worship service and frankly your week on.

It’s a conversation. Actually, it’s more of a testimony.

No matter whether you lost your job or someone you care about lost their battle with cancer or depression….. (We could name a million challenges that you could face in a week.) Even though we hurt, even though we suffer, even though we question, we acknowledge this one true foundation:

“God is Good!” said by the worship leader. One of the church leaders, someone who knows more about the pain that sits or stands in front of them than pretty much anyone in the church up and firmly proclaims that God is good!

The congregation plays an important role in this. They respond, in one voice:

“All the time.”
Even when jobs are lost
“All the time”
Even when loved ones die
“All the time”
Even when hate crimes seem to be on the rise.
“All the time”
Even when illnesses don’t heal.
“All the time”

And then the call is reversed.

“All the time”
“God is good”

What a powerful statement to make in light of the world we live in.

What a powerful statement to make in light of all of the illness, sickness, and death in this world.

What a powerful statement to make in light of the increase of publicized racial tension.

God is good. And we must hang on to that.

All the time. Not only when the going is easy.

All

The

Time

TJV

“GOD is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help, No matter how desperate the trouble.”
Nahum 1:7 MSG
http://bible.com/97/nam.1.7-10.msg

Talking to Yourself

No, I don’t think I’ve totally lost it (though if I have, how would I know?) but seriously, I don’t know about you but I do a lot of talking to myself – but I do it on digital paper. What’s digital paper? It’s the computer screen. I can usually think and type way faster than I can write and so my thoughts to myself make more sense that way.

So back to the real subject that I want to share with you.

I was talking to myself about some of the things that have happened in my family this past year. There have been highs, there have been lows, there have been really low lows. The lows were often a lot harder than we expected they would be. Thanksgiving without my Dad here was hard.c  After my son read a poem in church that he wrote about his grandpa, it was hard and it was good. Hearing Pastor Joy pray a prayer of gratitude for all my dad has done and the people he has blessed. All of this took place in a prayer request time. There were many prayers of thanks but also many prayers filled with sadness.   In addition, I could go on about my medical issues (which are still ongoing), about…..

As I was talking to myself in my journal, I found me saying, “At the same time, I don’t want to stay where I am.”

I stopped, looked at what I had written and said, “How do you mean that?” Do you mean, “I have a plan and here’s the way I want it to go?”

Or do you mean, “God, I don’t know what “all of this” is for, I don’t know why it has happened, I don’t know why I’m still dealing with side effects, rather nasty ones, from a medical procedure for an AVM (Google it if you want to know more), 10 months later when it should have only been two to 4 weeks. What do you mean?”

I don’t want to stay where I am.

But

I can’t seem to see where you want me to “go.”

At that point, the words of Pastor Darrell came back to me from a discussion that he and I had over all of “this.” “Tom, do not doubt that the Lord has you exactly where he needs you and you are right here and right now, for such a time as this. Be still and know.”

I think you and I both know that God isn’t using major life events to bring us back to “where we were.” He’s using them to change us so we can be the change that our communities are.

So may we all spend more time being still, more time listening for God and a lot less time trying to force our plan into motion.

Tom

Thanksgiving:

In spite of sadness

In spite of things that haven’t gone right.

Thanksgiving:

In spite of an empty chair at the table tomorrow

In spite of medical questions with very few answers.

Thanksgiving:

In spite of differences that seem to be much more visible

In spite of the hostility that much of this world shows towards the church

Thanksgiving:

In spite of friends who are struggling.

In spite of misplaced priorities by so many in so many parts of the church,

But……

Thanksgiving:

Because God is God

Because God is here. And God is good.

Thanksgiving:

Because God is bigger, bigger than everything.

Because even though the church is not perfect, the church desires to be used by God.

Thanksgiving:

Because God has given us another day to be.

Because there is someone out there who needs to see God through you

Thanksgiving:

Because no matter how much has gone wrong or has gone different from the way you wanted, we all have something to be thankful for.

You don’t have to be happy to be thankful…….

TJV

Really? Are you?

Isaiah 25:1-5 (portions – highlighting is mine)

God, you are my God.

I celebrate you. I praise you.

You’ve done your share of miracle-wonders,

……Superpowers will see it and honor you,

brutal oppressors bow in worshipful reverence
.

They’ll see that you take care of the poor,

that you take care of poor people in trouble,

Provide a warm, dry place in bad weather,

provide a cool place when it’s hot.

Brutal oppressors are like a winter blizzard

and vicious foreigners like high noon in the desert.

But you, shelter from the storm and shade from the sun,

shut the mouths of the big-mouthed bullies.

Isaiah 25:1-5 The Message

A couple of things that stick out from what the Prophet Isaiah said in this section:

  • God, you are MY God – He isn’t praying to some God somewhere in hopes that maybe he will get an answer.  He’s talking to someone he has a deep personal relationship with.
  • The dictators and evil ones, the terrorists and the drug lords (I could go on and on) are going to get what’s coming to them.
  • You (God) take care of the poor people – providing them safety and shelter.

Now a couple of thoughts that I’m pondering this morning…..

Do you think that Isaiah is saying that providing lodging is all that God is saying needs to be done for those who are less fortunate than us? 

No, I don’t think so either.  I think Isaiah is using those as examples of providing for the daily needs of the poor. not listing the only things that the poor need us to do.

Do you think he’s going to do it through one great big miracle?  “Bam!” Suddenly all of Africa is lush green farmable land and no one in Africa is ever hungry again.

Could he?  Will he?  Yes he can but I doubt he will however, anything is possible.

Jesus and Social Justice – I attended the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in Chicago a few weeks back.  I plan on writing more about it, so I’m not going to say much right now.   But one thing that I knew but I learned again and again and again.

If you look at what Jesus was about, he was about social justice.

If you look at what he did, it was about social justice.

If you look at the people he had in his inner circle of friends, they were fishermen, an IRS auditor, an embezzler  (and that was just in the inner circle.)

Isaiah, in this passage, lays down the framework for Jesus ministry here on earth.  Jesus ministry here on earth is about healing the sick, feeding the hungry and saving the lost.

If you ever sang the song by Fernando Ortega,  “Lord I Want to be Like Jesus in My Heart, or you wore one of those rubber wrist bracelets with WWJD on them, ask yourself a question….

Really? 

Are you really ready to be like Jesus?

  • – because Jesus is about caring for the “less thans.”  
  • Jesus is about caring about the caravan that is soon to reach the Mexico/California border. 
  • Jesus is about attending Kent County meetings protesting their contract with ICE to turn over under documented people.  Kalamazoo did it, Grand Rapids should be able to do it too.

Being like Jesus takes a lot of work.  It’s not easy.  There’s a lot of time when it’s not fun.   But it’s good.

Because He is our God.

And He is good.

TJV