March 30, 2012

What Does Worship Look Like?

Throw away the pictures in your head of people standing in orderly rows singing in a church.  Forget about pianos, guitars and even voices.  Right now, banish the mental concepts you've carefully memorized and filed under the category of "worshipping God."

Because I don't want to remind you of what "worship" has come to look like for you, dear modern day Christ-follower, but what it looks like to God.

Picture yourself sitting outside on a comfortable and slightly chilly spring night.  You have a mug of tea and it's kinda burning your hand a bit, but you're just staring out into nothing, making sense of the memories of the day.  Suddenly, based on some new information being radioed in from your sense of smell, all your thoughts abruptly begin to dematerialize and dissolve.  The scent of night blooming jasmine quietly glides into your unsuspecting skull, blazing tranquil and disrupting spiral lines throughout your well groomed brain.  For one divine split second you are able to think about only one thing: flowers.  It is a coup d'etat of tangy calm and pleasure.  Your never ending stream of thought has been successfully subverted.  Sensing you are starting to have a bit too much fun, the brain scrambles to organize a counter revolt and tries to bring you back to stress and worry and demands, but you only use this as an opportunity to figure out what you're smelling.

The scent registers as jasmine and in a thrilling panic you begin to take in gulping breath after breath,  frantically, greedily holding onto the reverie as long as you can. But your tea cools and your body chills and it's time to go back inside.  You enter the house refreshed and moved.

That feeling that the jasmine in my story has brought you as you smell it... the assault of clean beauty... the invasion of speechless, blanketing peace.  THIS, loved Christian, is how God feels your worship.  THIS is what your love does to Him.  It tosses Him down.  Seizes His heart.  Soothing, delighting, tranquilizing, if you will.  Our simple love brings Him pleasure, brings Him calm, brings Him brain shattering delight.

Somehow, God has a sense of smell (I've never seen Him, so let's both use our imagination on this one) and somehow all that we give Him turns to fragrance.  Noah knew it in Genesis 8 when God "smelled a soothing aroma" from his post-flood sacrifice.  The Hebrews knew it for thousands of years- half the point of a burnt offering was in the idea that God could could sense it by our equivalent of "smell" and that He wanted to sense it.  John knew it in his vision as God silences all of heaven just to receive bowls of prayers-turned-incense from His loved, blood bought ones.

Can you believe that we can affect God like that?  Why does He let us do that to Him?  His love- His hopelessly tender heart for us- has cost Him dearly, namely a Son.  He breaks every boundary of mercy and grace in the universe just to make Himself excessivly approachable to us, all for our love to be able to rise unhindered to Him.  How could such a small wisp of affection from us small, imperfect beings be anything worth "sensing" to Him?  And yet, in His wonderfully illogical addiction to us, our feeble love has become His pleasure, His desire.

So now that you've erased all you know from your "This is Worship" file in your head, add back in the guitars and voices.  Add in music and prayers and deeds.  But make sure you burn them.  Set them on fire, releasing their aroma high.  You do not stand in ordered rows and nice clothes singing songs before God.  When you worship Him you stand, in reality, like a bowl of billowing incense, breathed in and savored, pleasing and soothing and very costly indeed before a God who just loves you.

March 22, 2012

Dear Stressmonger Residing Within Me:

You have had quite an influence on me over the years and have become to me so many things.

You have been a plastic, insulated jacket I put on in summer.  I tell myself that your style is flattering and that the air around me should be this hot anyway.  I remind myself that everyone else is wearing one in these conditions so there must be a good reason why.  We as humans are known for how logical and wise we are in groups.

You have been a brainwashed choice I default to.  A hardwiring in my soul that trips switches in my brain.  I  have brazenly yelled,  "Release the powerful adrenaline chemicals, dear Stressmonger!"  No matter if their constant presence destroys me.  If it weren't for you, I might have found some peace and rest when I needed it most... which is a nice idea until I imagine everyone calling me an irresponsible hippy and offering me their own plastic jackets out of courtesy as I walk down the street.

You have made me believe that if I don't hold you high, feel your sway, I will shame my people.  Create a sensation.  Stand out.  

Because of you, I have chosen not to listen to Jesus, who tells me not to fear, not to worry, not to strive.  I apparently have not been ready to trade you for such lofty commands...

Why?  Because I haven't been sure what I would I do without you, Stressmonger.  Who would spend the lengths of time mulling over my treasured irrational fears, rehearsing and reliving them in my head?  Who is capable but you of handling these things so willingly?  I suppose this is why I hold you in such reverence.

But for how often I bow before you, I must confess you have given very little back.

Actually, nothing has been given back.

Actually, you take from me all the time.  You shorten my life.  You wreak havoc on my physical body and splinter my soul into whimpering pieces, stealing all the strength I might have used to revolt against you.  You exist where there is dark unknown and pride to protect.  You exist where I must have control or I will surely die.  You are my own private masochism.  And no one can help me because I see your plastic pressure jackets on every person around me.

Except for a few Christ followers I know...
Just a few.
Yes, I remember now.  They are so impervious.  They brim over with stillness.  I'm addicted to their presence.  They don't even strike me as "irresponsible hippys."  They pay their bills and work regular jobs and they give of everything they have and somehow there's always more to give.  I never feel like I'm taking up their time when I'm with them.  The air around them is redolent of grace.   It's funny how I am a Christian too, but have not understood what these people have... that maybe Jesus meant what He said with all that "fear not" business.

Stressmonger, is it possible that you've been lying to me?  That I can choose against your tyranny?  Is it possible to shed your choking heat for clean trust.  Because that's what this is about, isn't it.  You live off my self-trust.  You live off my pride.  But He, Jesus, says these are things I can spend.  Things I can trade.  The pride and the self trust are the price.

And compared to what I'm starting to see of you, trading my pride and control for the peace that exists where you AREN'T is not seeming so crazy anymore.

Ah!  But it's so radical.  I feel like an extremist.  Like an hesitant revolutionary.  I will surely lose all my friends and my job.  I will then become homeless and no one will believe that I am better off without you.  They will shake their heads and cover me (bless their hearts) with their own plastic jackets as I lie sleeping in the street.

I have told this to my Jesus and to my Christian friends, Stressmonger, and they tell me it isn't so.  That I will be so glad to let you go.  I would not be able to hope that I could safely get away from you, except I have seen it so clearly in the eyes of people who have let Jesus own and protect them.  It's so radical but it's so true.

I'm writing you to finally say this: I'm convinced we were never meant for each other.  Please take all your baggage and leave my soul.  I'm sorry, but Someone better has come along.  Someone outside of me.  Someone with grace and freedom in His intentions.  He is the opposite of you.

I probably should have broken up with you before things got out of hand and you were controlling every single part of my life, but Jesus reassures me that it's not too late.  He isn't afraid of the extent of your damage to me.  And frankly, He's just better company.  I'm sure you understand.

Cheers, my sad, controlling friend.  I expect you will try to seep in, someway, somehow, but know you will have my relentless and jealous Savior to handle if you do.

And now, I will know it too.


March 16, 2012

I love when

the post office runs over my mail and punctures the book inside.

They're just so good at maiming... it's almost poetic.

March 14, 2012

Including you.

He creates a stage.
He creates light (before the sun begins to exist, mind you).
Separates water from land and makes the land heave into green.
He turns His attention to the sky where He sprinkles strong and weaker points of light, like it's nothing to cast a sun into sky.  As easy as putting away the dishes.

He spreads His attention out to the heights and the depths- the deep waters and deep skies suddenly redolent with life.

Closing in from the outskirts, He lets things that walk on land abound.

And closing in even more, He makes one He patterns after Himself.  Later He will make another.

There is so much order in how God does things.  Peace and control and wild creativity, all under the sway of profound order.  He lets me spy on what creation on His terms looked like because He knows it will incite interest in my disarrayed soul.  I want to look at my life that He is creating each day- adding new things, conquering more and more darkness with the addition of light- and see it as ordered and under control.

I want to have a clear headed moment where I remember that God does not sit there with a hopeless, blank stare on his face when He looks at my life or the injustices of this world.  The blank stare and the sense of incurable inadequacy are all mine, not His.

If I know He's conducting this symphony we all woke up in with His characteristic order and peace, then there is nothing left to do but to breathe and follow.  Keep up with the music and the prompting.  Follow along with this song that sings to the world of abject love and salvation.  Simply play when my turn comes with whatever instrument He has placed in my hand.

Scary, awful things happen to all of us.  If we aren't careful we will start to believe that this life is just a roller coaster nightmare car that we are thinly strapped into and mercilessly intimidated by.  But I remembered that I have a Driver for this clunky jalopy and I look over at Him for hope.  He lacks the sallow panic I am fighting back.  He is relaxed and collected and has not changed since the beginning.  And no wonder- looking at Him changes the experience.  I suddenly feel like I'm slowly driving to the store with my over-cautious grandma in her huge Volvo.  I ask Him why the speed, why the hurry, why the perceived threat and He answers back that He's actually quite confident that the car is not careening out of control at all.  He answers back very simply that He loves me.  How could I not be satisfied with that?  How could I not see the art?

Our God who is governing us is known for both drama and peace, ravaging beauty and meaningful hardship.   For precise choreography and scrupulous organization.  Most of all He is known for victorious endings.  All He does is fantastically original- we never know what will happen in the story!  But we can be excited that His faithful motif of peace and order override it all.

Including you.

Let's have some more prints!

you got it.

linocut relief print

linocut relief print

linocut relief print

March 12, 2012

Isles and Inlets

Apparently the tide came in like crazy yesterday.  I have to admit, I was not excited about what I saw as I got out of my truck at the beach to survey my running terrain.  The saltwater had worked greedy fingers through every level part of the wide shore, leaving confused water trails very far from the wind blown, raging ocean with no promise of return.  The pools of water marooned on the mushy sand as far back as the dunes meant running on the beach was going to feel like running through a world made of porridge.

While I tried to find a shred of willingness within me to run on such slumpy footing, my mind wandered to God's history with the world and floods.  How He promised to never destroy the earth by deluge ever again.  How He promises us He's got the ocean handled and we don't have to worry about it overflowing onto the whole oxygen breathing world's living space.   What once overtook, is now bound in and reigned by His decree and this fact is very comforting.  If anyone asked us, we would say that we truly believe the promise, that the water will not go past His decree.  And for most of the year that decree is nicely placed in a predictable part of beach with no sign of changing.  But when the water comes where we didn't expect it and wretchedly alters the path we walk, did it disobey or did He decree it?

Has God lied about setting bounds for the ocean and screwed up my workout and  made me waste a bunch of time and gas?  I'm terribly willing to take this personal, God, I hope you know that.

O, how emotional and incriminating we are towards our caring God.

We have two options as Christ-followers and we must decide, trial by trial, which one we believe.  Either God decreed this inconvenient and seemingly random change in the landscape, or the elements of the world are more powerful than Him and were able burst His established boundary.  If the sea was able to break His bounds, then He really isn't in control and thus really isn't God like He says He is, and we might as well throw in the faith-towel now because He lied about the whole thing.

But if God did decree this temporary touch of water to land (I'm gonna go with this option), then the question becomes one of motive:  Is He is out to get us with this newfound struggle that feels so out of control, or out to prove us?  Is He out to take us down or to strengthen our resolve?

Judging from a million verses in the Bible, I have to assume that He is out to better us and our faith.  All us Christians nod our head and mentally assent that God always "works all things out for good."  That is, until we forget that fact in the throes of any type of pain and confusion and start thinking in our deep souls that God is up to no good with us.  We habitually and zealously resist struggle of any kind and heartily fear it, mostly because it's scary and we don't truly see the same value in it that God does.  "There must be a different option than the cross offered to us," we imploringly chant in haunted tone, while the truth that we know and fear and say we believe meets our escapist call in a strong and rhythmic response.  "Faith cannot grow except for faith strengthening challenges," it sings back to us.  "How does a muscle increase without being torn and taxed?"

This concept of living perpetually in God given learning experiences can still be wonderfully depressing and comfortless because we're still standing at the beach with our running clothes on and a sinking feeling in out stomach.  We're still focused on how awful it will feel to travel the road ahead and without setting foot on it, we've already decided we don't like it.

"But I drove all the way out here and wasted all this expensive gas and I made a mistake in coming here, I'm sure of it," I whine.  Because it won't be easy I am now free to automatically assume that a mistake somewhere along the line has occurred.  But I know what He would say if I turned my offended, childish complaint to Him.   How neither one of us, the beach and I, have made mistakes by coming here: both have come by loving decree.  And how a difficult life or path does not equal an unloved-by-God life or path.

LOVE!  That's what I've forgotten about.  Love that lasts past my temper tantrums and disbelief.  Love that has vowed to do what is best in and all around us, no matter what it feels like in the daily minutiae. This is the crux of all struggle because not only has God  promised to keep the ocean at a distance from us, He's also passionately promised that someday, in the end, we will be finished and refined.  We will become different than we are now, down to the very fiber of our blood bought souls.

This body of water that's supposed to be so "Pacific" has managed to refashioned it's environs into a completely different world.  But that doesn't change the fact that God has got the ocean handled. The world has not gone down in another flood.  I'm still standing on dry land breathing oxygen.  God has still done what He promised.

The ocean has been led a little higher towards us today, that's all.  And I, so that I can become stronger, have been brought to it's shore.  We have more in common than I thought, the ocean and I.  We are at the mercy of a sublimely wise and loving will.

When our nicely memorized, carefully coddled world feels more water and more wave than we prefer.  We hate it that we have to pick our way through a landscape made more difficult to traverse by what seems like a sudden mistake on the topography.  Why is this water here?  It's never been here except for today when I decided to drive a half hour to take a run on this beach!  Why is this struggle here?  I thought things would be one way and they are another.