Worship&…Wilderness

Worship in the wilderness of our world is hard.

This past weekend, I led singing for a baptism service.  It was for a man named Troy.  Troy wanted to make a profession of faith about his love for Jesus, above all else. He also wanted to tell his kids that God is a better Father than he will ever be.  “So when I’m gone,” Troy said, “remember this day.”

Troy has an in-operable cancer in his esophagus and doesn’t know how much time he has.  And what time he does have left, he wants to live for Christ.

Yes.  Worship in the wilderness of our world is hard.

Worship isn’t just what we do on the weekend when we sing and listen to a sermon.  Remember when I wrote that our whole lives should be worship to the Lord?  Here is the reality of worship in the wilderness:   our lives DO reveal our worship, but many times it’s the worship of idols.  As the singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan, wrote,

“It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”

We serve our work…grasping for status and money.

We serve the idea of “love”…with someone who “completes me”.

We serve our kids…hoping they prove our parenthood.

And while those things are good gifts from God, they make terrible idols.  They promise the world and give you nothing in return.

So this Advent season, I’m following the example of Troy.  I want to serve God now.  I want to worship God now, instead of idols, in the wilderness of our world.

So I am listening for another song.  It’s the song of God that he sings over his children.  It’s a song I long to sing…a song I’m waiting to sing…

…but that’s for next week.

Advertisements

Spoken Word Psalm 42

This spoken word psalm came out of the staff prayer retreat a few weeks ago.  We had been praying out of the bible and then took an hour for personal reflection.  I realized that I had been overly anxious about the news headlines and my son’s lack of sleep had expanded that fear.  It was coloring the way I saw the world.  During our prayer time, someone had read a piece of Psalm 42 so I went there and rewrote it to help me process my fear and anxiety.  Maybe you have experienced something like that.  Maybe this psalm will help you ask the same question and come to the same answer:  Why does my stomach churn with anxiety within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, my Savior and my God.

As my son screams for streams of

milk in his 3AM bottle,

So my soul cries for you, God.

My soul thirsts for Jesus,

the living God.

Where can I go to meet

with him?

 

My fears have been my junk-food

day and night.

While headlines fill my news-feed

and seed my mind with questions…

“Where is your God?”

These things I will remember 

as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with your people

leading the vocals and band with

the children of God

with shouts of joy and 

thanks among the

ranks of His people.

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

 

But seriously, my stomach churns

and my soul still burns.

Therefore, I will remember you

from the hills of PA

to the chemo for 5 hours a day.

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of headwaters,

all your waves and hurricanes

have swept over me.

But by day the Lord gives his love,

and at night he sings his lullaby over me.

So now, I pray to the God of my life.

So I say to God,

my Rock in the storm,

“Why does it feel I’ve been still-born?

Why must I deal with cancer and death

and a world that crushes thoughts and breath?

My bones ache, my stomach still churns

as the screen taunts me

all day long,

“Where is your God?”

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

Worship itself is a re-presentation of Christ. . . . Consequently, when we worship, the conflict between good and evil that we experience in our everyday lives is confronted and resolved.  We leave worship once again with the personal assurance that the battle is won—Satan has been, is now being, and will be defeated. Because we are confident in Christ’s victory, we experience a great release from the burden of our sin and we become filled with joy and peace.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

DAVID Preview Video!

I have had numerous questions about available video from last weekend’s DAVID show.  Unfortunately, we aren’t going to release the whole thing.  I have committed to perform it for all-for-One Productions in February and we want to save the “rest of the story” until then.  

HOWEVER…

I am going to release a short 11 min teaser from the weekend so you can relive it OR use it as a way to share and invite others to the show in February.  (CLICK HERE FOR TICKET INFO)

Until then, I hope you enjoy this preview video from DAVID!

Performance February 16-18 and 23-25 with all-for-One Productions at the PPG ArtsLab Black Box Theater
300 E Main Street, Fort Wayne, IN.  Ticket info Here!

Spoken-word Psalm 6

I was in the hospital again this week with a friend.  He’s home now and is going to be ok.  I met with another friend over lunch who is struggling with what is happening in his life right now.  Both were struggling so I thought there might be others out there too.

Here is a psalm that I re-wrote for you when you’re tired, hurting, sick or just emotionally worn out.  It was originally written by David because he struggled with the same kinds of things…and he wrote this to God…for himself…for you…

Lord,

don’t hammer me in your anger
    or whoop me in your wrath.
Please have some mercy, Lord, for

I.

am.

tired.

    Heal me, Lord, for my stomach’s on fire.
My soul is delving deep in darkness
    And my heart is a liar.

Turn, Lord, so I can see you;
    save me because of your animating love.
The numb no longer know your name.
    Who praises you while staring at the TV screen?

(Remote control:  click, click, click…)

And here I am worn out from…everything

All night, I sit like a vegetable with arms
    and mumble many mono-syllables.
My eyes grow heavy and hurt;
    and then my nose

starts

to

run.  (snort)

Get behind me, sarcasm,
    (And yeah!, the Lord has seen my selfishness and…that sarcasm too.)
The Lord has heard me “hello?” for help;
    the Lord accepts my pathetic prayer.

All my insecurity will be overwhelmed with holy dreams and sleep;
    as my will repents and prays,

“…the Lord my soul to keep”.

Prayer by Dana Gioia

I discovered this poem and it touched me deeply.  I don’t know the situation or the circumstances that birthed these words, but I resonate with them.  The joining of grief, art, faith, lament, hope…

Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.

Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.

Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,

in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore

and the harsh falcon its flightless young.

Cancer and Resurrection

It’s the beginning of April.  This time every year, as we see both snow and 70 degree temps, I am also thinking about something more than Spring Break.

I’m thinking about cancer.

I was diagnosed with cancer on April 5th over 10 years ago.  I remember getting the news from the ER doctor who walked in after my x-ray and blood work.  I had been in chronic pain for over month and was still feeling it’s bite even with a full dose of Vicodin.

“I’m sorry.  This is the part of my job that I don’t like,” the doctor said, “but you have cancer and it’s extensive.”

I was sure at that moment that I was a dead man walking.  The doctor had just said the “C-word”…malignant cancer spreading to my abdomen and wrapping around my right kidney and main artery in an attempt to squeeze the life out of me.  I could envision the surgeon cutting me open during surgery and surveying my internal organs that now looked like a grey gelatinous mass.  “Sew him up and send him home with morphine,” he’d say, “There’s nothing we can do…”

Cancer.  The word feels like a death sentence, because for so many it is.

chemo chair

But I didn’t die then.  In fact, in a couple hours later another doctor walked into the room.  This doctor was an oncologist and she said, “It’s serious, but we can handle this.”  I had faced death and suddenly I was given…hope.

Death and resurrection.  That is the theme for our church this year as we start a new series called “The End and the Beginning”.  This is also a theme for me. Because of what Jesus did?  Yes.  But also because over 10 years ago, I saw death starring me in the face.  Death.  And resurrection.

And that is also the theme of the next week and a half.  We proclaim life, but also death.  Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Our death and resurrection.  That is the story of our faith.

Jesus died.

Jesus rose again.

Jesus will come again.

And because he did.  We will too.

I remember sneaking in the back of the church service during my 12 weeks of chemo.  My hair had fallen out.  My fingers tingled because of nerve damage.  My blood vessels were burned.  I didn’t have enough strength to talk to people, but I wanted to be in church.  I needed to be in church…surrounded by God’s people singing.  And so I would sing with tears in my eyes.  Despite the pain.  Despite the cancer.

I

Would

Sing.

chemo me

And again, that is what we do.  We sing in the face of pain and death.  This is one of the things it means to be a disciple.  We are made new.  We bear His death and resurrection in our bodies and because of that, we sing.  Jesus died and rose again.

So this weekend, we sing.

This is not the end.

We sing.

LET THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST DWELL AMONG YOU RICHLY…SINGING TO GOD WITH GRATITUDE IN YOUR HEARTS. –COLOSSIANS 3:16

The Long Road

15975100_1306750902718959_3993548380385717691_o

We are still sleep-deprived and happy after the birth of our son.  He was born two weeks ago so I’ve have had a small amount of time (mostly around 3 AM in the morning) to reflect on what God has been up to over the last two years.

When we started this journey, we thought that we would have a baby in a year.  Then, at the end of 2015, we had a meeting with a birth mom and ended up in the hospital with her caring for a baby.  As you know, we didn’t come home with that baby, but also knew that God had other plans.  Later in April, it happened all over again and we began to wonder.  I didn’t say much out loud, but in my spirit I was murmuring and complaining just like the Israelites in the wilderness.  “God, if you loved us so much, why did you place this desire for another baby in our hearts, give us so much support from our community and then leave us to wander around without one for a whole year?  Why?”

It came to a head towards the end of the year when a well meaning person asked about our adoption process.  I explained everything that had happened and that we were still waiting for the “right baby for us”.

“How do you know that this is God’s will for you?” she asked innocently.

At first, I was taken aback, but I stammered an answer about Sara and I praying about it separately and then coming together with the same desire.  I talked about how we had the support of our family, friends and church community.  I also talked about the amazing financial gifts and messages from all over the country that had surprised and overwhelmed us.

But even as I talked, I wondered the same thing.  Had we missed something?

Now that Zion is born and in our home, it’s easier to talk about this journey.  It’s easier to admit that like the Israelites, my tendency is to doubt God.  I am “prone to wander”.  But, I also see God’s grace in taking us around by the long, desert road.

God knew that I would have these doubts so he gave us the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt.  They had just seen God show off his power through the plagues and the death of all the first borns in Egypt.  And yet Moses writes this:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” -Exodus 13:17-18a NIV

We know how that turns out, don’t we?  God shows up again and parts the Red Sea so the people walk through on dry ground.

What strikes me, is that God knew that the Israelites couldn’t handle the short road so he took them down the long road.  He took them down the road so they could learn to trust and wait on the Lord.  He took them down the long road so they could learn again and again that he would never leave them or forsake them.  The took them down the long road so they could truly see His glory and learn his direction for their lives.  He took them down the long road because they weren’t ready…

And I wasn’t ready.

It was God’s grace and mercy that he made us wait 2+ years for this little boy.

It was God’s grace that he led us around by the long road.

15994404_10154959977841133_6088601670891611646_o

**Photo credits go to Abbie Phillips Pebble of Delivering Memories {Photography}.  She is our cousin and offered to take these amazing photos of our little man.  Thank you, Abbie!

 

 

 

Are You Excited?

“Are You Excited?”

I don’t know how to answer that question.

…And I wonder if the people I talk to are more excited about our adoption than I am.  Or at least, that’s what you might think based on my reaction to this question.  It’s been such a long wait for us (2 years since we started the paperwork!) so lots of people are excited about the possibility of the Wards having a baby any day now.

Sidenote:  we are matched with a birthmom and she is due any day now…thus the excitement!

But for our family, we’ve been through a year of 3 failed adoptions.  We’ve been in the room for the C-section, blood on the floor, and walked away with nothing.  We’ve taken care of two babies in the hospital, changed diapers and rocked them to sleep, and walked away with nothing.  We’ve changed car tires in the rain, for one our birth-moms, and walked away with nothing.

Or you would think we had nothing if you didn’t step back and see God’s hand at work in our lives.

This past year has been incredibly hard, but we’ve learned the wisdom of waiting on the Lord.

This week, my daughter brought home a bible verse to memorize.  It comes from Isaiah 40.  She only has to memorize the last verse, but reading the larger passage myself I found it to be a message from the Lord…

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
does not become tired or grow weary;
There is no searching of His understanding. [How soon I forget…]

He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who has no might, He increases power.

Even youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly, [And I’m not as young as I used to be!]

But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him]
Will gain new strength and renew their power;
They will lift up their wings [and rise up, closer to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun];
They will run and not become weary,
They will walk and not grow tired. -Isaiah 40:27-31 AMP

It would be easy to look at our family and assume that we’ve survived a year of “nothing”, but the opposite is true.  We have been tired and weary.  We have been searching for understanding.  But through expecting, looking and hoping we are seeing the LORD work…we are rising on wings like eagles…closer to our God.

And who knows…maybe we’ll have a baby soon!