Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Put Down the Headphones

Running and I have such an on and off relationship.  Recently I have loved it, but I fully attributed that to me finally downloading good music and buying decent headphones.  The burning in my lungs and the fatigue of my legs somehow becomes fun while listening to "Hey Jude."

 I didn't run for most of my mission team training week because most of the days were exhausting on their own.  However on Thursday my team did not have to meet until 10 A.M.  We were stoked!  My co-leader, Adam, and I decided to have an optional time of prayer at 9 for those overachievers who were looking for a challenge.  I was exhausted.  This was the break my body was looking for.  BUT this was training week which meant my spirit had a much louder voice.

 I decided to wake up early.  I put on my running shoes, grabbed my headphones, and headed towards the door.  That was when I remembered that when I finally downloaded good music it had deleted my Kari Jobe album and I was completely devoid of Christian tunes.  "It's not a big deal," I told myself.  But it was.  I was being intentional about not only avoiding social media, secular music, and anything that could be a distraction.  So I said "Hey God, I am trying to challenge myself by running, but I can't do it without headphones.  Is it cool if I listen to this music?"

He didn't tell me that it "wasn't cool" if I listened to secular music.  Instead, He asked if I would let Him be enough.  Wow.  That was the moment I had to stop making excuses.  God wanted to be my enough.  Well, I'm not a big fan of telling the creator of the universe that He isn't enough, so I put the headphones down.  Instead of jamming to "Say Something", I prayed.  I prayed for each of the members of my team.  It was hard, definitely harder than running with music, but it felt glorious at the same time.

During the 9 A.M. prayer time my team had, I took a moment to write down what God was telling me about each of my members.  Those simple sentences were later used to speak life and prophecy into the lives of my team.  Some of what was shown to me I was privileged to tell them that day, other parts were saved for commissioning night, and some were never told at all.  That's not the important part.  What was important was that I listened.

I will always remember Thursday, May 7 as the day that I listened.  I woke up.  I put down the headphones.  I wrote down what God told me.  These were all three very small steps that set up my day to be remarkable.  In these tiny steps of obedience I learned that for each step you take, the Lord takes a mile.  God is omnipotent.  He has the power to do anything, but I believe that He often waits for us to make a move.  What better way is there for us to show faith?  And love?  And then there are those times where it feels like we keep taking more and more steps and yet we see nothing.  I believe that He is still moving.  That is where true faith comes in, the kind of faith that Jesus mentioned in John 20:29.  Faith in that which you cannot see.

 I learned something else that day.  Okay, I learned a lot of lessons that day, but one that I have to tell you.  Every hour spent with God is an hour spent in victory.  To me, God is not invisible.  I see Him in His creation, in little things like sunsets and tall trees.  These wonders are reflections of their Creator.  Man, if those are just reflections, I cannot begin to imagine the mind-blowing beauty of the Lord.  Every second spent serving this indescribable God is not deserved yet freely given.  And the enemy tries to distract and persuade us away from this!  He uses excuses like being too busy or having time later on me all the time, so I bet he uses it on others too.  He really isn't that creative.  Another way that my time of victory is robbed is when my mind and heart are not fully engaged.  It's like I'm having dinner with God but texting someone else the whole time.  Sure I still eat, but the quality and purpose is completely lost.

 Compared to the insane amount of love and sacrifice the Lord pours on us, He does not ask for much.  However, what He does ask for often seems like way too much in the moment.  Or like it's not a big deal so why even bother.  I am making it a personal goal to look for the little steps I can take, the minor moments where I can say "yes" to God so that when the bigger moments come I already know how.  On Thursday, May 7, I put down my headphones.  It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dancing with Passion

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

I wear a few hats in life. In addition to being the Acts 2 Church administrative assistant, I also serve as the worship dance team leader, and outside of church life, I'm a published inspirational novelist.  I often describe my writing as “lyrical stories that dance with light.” My novels include books like, Dance of the Dandelion, Dance from Deep Within, and Love in Three-Quarter Time. Hmm. Do you see a recurring theme here? Yes, I love dance. It’s a huge part of who I am, how I live, how I write, and even how I relate to God.
I have had the honor serving as a worship dance choreographer and director for the better part of twenty-two years, and I have discovered that dance is at its core, a form of communication. It can be used in as many ways as words themselves: worship, praise, prayer, intercession, warfare, prophecy, evangelism, teaching, and yes, even fun and entertainment.

Throughout my writing, dance becomes a metaphor for life: for the willingness to step beyond yourself, to embrace the wonder about you, to move in harmony with the universe. Yet dance is an actual physical expression as well. As joy and celebration build within, they require an outlet. And so, our hands and feet begin to move, our bodies begin to sing and flow, releasing emotions from our hearts and culminating in dance. Even releasing the heavenlies deep within through our fingertips and toes.

Dance is a fundamental form of human expression. It can be found throughout history in nearly every culture. It can be found in the Old Testament as a form of celebration, praise, and worship. Dance is often a community expression, drawing us together in unity and love. David danced before the Lord with all his might, and God was well pleased. Even Jesus spoke of his frustration with the generation around him by saying in Matthew 11, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.” Yet how often do we stifle this wondrous outlet?

Most churches today that incorporate contemporary choruses sing songs about dance. “Dance with me, oh lover of my soul.” "Dancers who dance upon injustice.” “We will dance on the streets that are golden.” “Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace.” The list goes on and on, but do we take it seriously, or do we stand still and sing the words, hampering our bodies from becoming living, breathing expressions of praise. 

Romans 12:1 instructs, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Of course this scripture has many applications, but I prefer to take it quite literally.

I encourage you, in your church, at home, in your prayer closet, and throughout your life to offer up your bodies as living sacrifices of praise. Embrace and enjoy the wonder of dance. Take time to relate with God through this amazing form of expression. And join me as I explore the unforced rhythms of grace. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Get Off the Sidelines

by Pastor Bill Heffelfinger

 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  ~ Matthew 28:19-20

I’m a huge sports fan. I think some of the greatest life lessons are learned on the fields and courts of our society. Sport, in many ways, is a fascinating parallel to the church. On a playing field, you’ll have a few different roles.  

There are the coaches: Encouraging. Uplifting. Correcting. 
There are the players: Running. Jumping. Working. Sweating. Giving their all.
There are the referees: Keeping order. Enforcing rules.

Then, there are the fans.  They are the most interesting.  Many of them believe they have all of the answers.  If the coach would just say this or use this strategy. If the players would just work harder. If the referee would just be better at his job. Frankly, if everyone else did just what I say, this entire event would be better off.  Fans seem to have all of the answers.  They don’t necessarily want to put in the work required to secure the victory, they don’t necessarily want to be held accountable when things go awry, yet they continue to offer up “ideas” through their vocal displays of displeasure.

Sadly, I think we have too many fans in the Church. Few feel “called” to do ministry.  Fewer still feel a calling to lead others. But, many have plenty of ideas on how to “make church better.”  Many church suggestion boxes and Pastors’ inboxes are filled each week with suggestions to do a particular Bible study, a particular missions trip, or volunteer opportunities in a particular neighborhood.  Yet, far too few Christians want to be the actual players in the game.  The bible study is a good idea, if someone else leads it. The missions trip would be awesome; as long as it doesn’t conflict with my vacation. Serving that community could really be impactful, but I wanted to plant flowers and you’ve decided to paint houses.

I think many pastors simply get tired of hearing about good ideas for the church. It’s not that pastors don’t want to hear of new ideas.  Most do.  But, we need more players and fewer fans. The ideas are great, but it’s wholly unfair to expect the Pastor to implement every idea on his own. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”   New ideas are the easy part. We must, as James 1:22 tells us, become “doers of the Word.”  Scripture is full of action words. Go, do, speak, exhort, oppose. Yet, so many believers passively approach applying scripture to their lives. 

Brothers and sisters, the time of simply spectating is over.  It’s time to get off the sidelines and get in the game.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Thoughts on Meditation

 by Bryan Stevenson

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. ~ Psalm 104:34
I’m not writing about anything new. It’s not even new to me. One of my pastors, Marty Angell, gave a message about meditation many years ago. He explained how Christians would often question meditation because of its ties with Eastern religions, but instead we should embrace it as a vital part of a Biblical life. That stuck with me. I’ve had the head knowledge, and I’ve intermittently put it into practice over the years. However, our recent trip with The Center for Short Term Missions, and Jaron’s trip with Global Expeditions, have made the concept more real to me than ever before.

One of the benefits of leaving your home town for a missions trip is that it forcibly pushes you away from your daily routine. It encourages introspection and spirituality, both things that are lacking in a typical American week. So, while in West Virginia we woke up, had breakfast, and then spent an hour or so reading through a study, reading the Bible, and having “quiet time.” (I think the term “quiet time” was invented by American Christians as a substitute for the more uncomfortable feeling word, “meditation.”) Jaron also spent time each morning journaling and reading Scripture. We don’t do this in our daily lives. Personally, I pray every day, typically while walking into my office, or as I fall asleep at night. I’m obviously not very focused, nor am I giving my best.

My Indian co-workers tell me about the rigors of Hindu meditation. Those practitioners take it seriously. They will often set up a shrine in their house, sometimes in a separate room. The sole purpose of that room is for meditation and prayer. There is something to this idea of setting aside a time and a place in our lives for the spiritual. There was a small prayer room at the Baptist church I attended in high school. I always felt a sense of the sacred when I went into that room. The atmosphere set the stage for an encounter with the Divine. I’ve had similar experiences in nature, out on a small boat in the Atlantic, standing in an icy stream just after dawn, watching the waves crash to shore with the sun setting behind my back, or sitting on a patio in the mountains drinking a cup of coffee with Dad. Those times of quiet reflection will lead to personal growth if we allow them to take hold.

The missions trip gave us two things that helped focus our meditation. The first was purpose. The second was location. Now that I’m back home I recognize that I need to set up those same two ingredients. The purposeful setting aside of a time and a place to meditate on the Lord, Scripture, the world, and my place in it.

I’ve thrown the idea up against the wall … now let’s see if I can make it stick.