Saturdays on my blog mean extra resources for worship. Think of this as the online equivalent of those moments before worship begins on a Sunday morning. Maybe the church is playing some quiet reflective music, or some images and announcements on the screen. Maybe you’re chatting with another in the congregation about your week.
These aren’t random things – they are moments given by God to help you be ready to worship. Maybe that conversation helped you know how to pray for your brother or sister in Christ, maybe the image on the screen was a gift to your soul, maybe the announcement you saw on the screen inspired you to serve in your community.
I hope these resources will help to guide and prepare your heart for worship.
Let’s begin with this Pentecost colouring resource from illustratedministry.com:
My friends Rob and Shelagh managed the hurculean task of getting choir and lay musicians to record parts for #646 Lead me Jesus, I will follow. This song is one of my favourites – it always reminds me of standing on the prow of a boat on the Sea of Galilee in December 2013. The line “down the dusty pathways, all along the sea,” always brings a flood of memories of the Holy Land, and a tear to my eye. Enjoy!:
Lead me, Jesus; I will follow, down the dusty pathways, all along the sea. Teach me, Jesus, to be loving: your disciple, I will be.
Open my eyes that I may see; I will serve you: your disciple I will be.
I came across this, and saved it to possibly include in a Meme Monday on the blog, but I didn’t want to throw it out there without much comment:
You see, I like that very much. But I know I don’t live up to it. I know I take offense when people wrong me (and even more when they wrong a friend or loved one). I know my first, emotional, response is to be angry, to say something careless, to want to lash out.
Sometimes – maybe even most of the time – I manage to keep quiet rather than saying the hurtful thing in return. But I really wish I was better at having wise and loving things to say in those moments.
And then I cam across this “Coffee with Jesus” from Radio Free Babylon:
And that made me feel a lot better (Jesus usually does!).
Part of being a ‘good Christian’ is knowing your own shortcomings. Knowing the ways and the places that that you’re ‘not there, yet.’ And being honest about them. With yourself, but also with Jesus! I am convinced that he loves it when we come to him, honestly and humbly, asking for help with our shortcomings.
Even more, I am convinced that He continues to work on us. To change our hearts. To give us opportunities to act differently. To continue to take steps with us along the road of faith.
So until tomorrow, dear friends, be encouraged. It IS a journey of faith. Sometimes we take steps forward, sometimes we take steps backward, and sometimes we stand in place for a while. But I believe we are all moving, in our own ways and at our own pace, towards Jesus, who leads us.
There’s an exhortation at the end of the letter to the Philippians that I love. Paul writes:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Now, I’ll admit to you, I’m somewhat leery of the idea of just thinking ‘happy thoughts’ to get through dark times. It’s possible for that to be trite advice – shallow and not overly helpful. I believe that we are complex beings, and we have to give ourselves room to experience all the emotions that might bubble up as we live in uncertain and unusual times.
But Paul isn’t simply telling us to ‘think happy thoughts,’ he’s telling us to focus on what is noble, pure, lovely, admirable, right, excellent and praiseworthy. You can’t focus on what is right, unless you know what is wrong. You can’t focus on what is pure, unless you know what is impure. Paul isn’t telling us to never have difficult days, sad moments, or even seasons of despair.
Those times will come. They are part of life. Even Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble.
But Paul IS telling us to not dwell in those times. To not get stuck in them. To fix our thoughts on what is good as a way of finding our way THROUGH the tough times.
Have you ever woken from a nightmare and found yourself unable to stop thinking about it? Your heart begins to speed up, you find you can’t fall back asleep, the more you think about it, the more you realize you don’t want to fall back asleep, in case you fall back into the nightmare.
So what do you do? Well, I’ll tell you what I do. Probably one of the first things I do is cuddle my dog. That might not sound particularly spiritual…but it’s a very tactile way of connecting to love (and to comfort and safety – Koski often lets me know if there’s something alarming happening by her reaction. So cuddling her comfortably sleeping form in the middle of the night, noticing that she isn’t worried or alert or panicked by anything, reminds me that my fear is only in my mind). It’s a way, for me, to focus on what is lovely and true and pure.
And as I cuddle my dog, I also engage my brain – sometimes I’m not awake enough to pray, so I grasp for a simple praise chorus. In my mind, I sing something I’ve been singing all my life. Because music is excellent and lovely and praiseworthy.
And slowly, the fear in me begins to fizzle, and I find my way back to sleep.
Until tomorrow, dear friends, remember that what you focus on will grow. So take Paul’s very good advice, and focus on what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. (PS…Jesus is a great place to start with all of those things!)
Be a rebel with me, today, friends! Let’s count some blessings, some gratitudes. Let’s say three as my theological side always feels better when we do the Trinitarian thing.
I am so deeply grateful for the blessing of my friend, The Janet. She has faithfully “met” with me (over the phone) every Wednesday since all this began. I can’t tell you how much her insight, encouragement and friendship have meant to me since our Seminary days, but even more acutely during these quarantine days. I don’t know how I would preach without having talked through the scripture with her first.
I am grateful for new music coming this Friday by the country band Old Dominion. I got to know their music through a friend of mine, Tracey. In January and February, I got to see them live (once in Florida, once in Toronto). During the quarantine, they’ve been doing a Facebook Live every Tuesday night. Tuning in and giggling at their antics has become a joyful part of my quarantine routine. Their music isn’t spiritual (except that all music is spiritual!), but it’s a lot of fun. By clicking this link, you can watch a video of my favourite of their songs: Not Everything’s About You. New music is a gift, and I look forward to it!
I’m grateful that the coyote Koski and I saw on our morning walk, passed us by with barely a glance. We’ve been walking later in the day or in the evening, but with the heat wave that Toronto has been dealing with in the last few days, we wanted to get our steps in before the day (and the pavement) became too hot for my sweet girl. It’s the first time I’ve seen a coyote in my own ‘hood, so it was a surprise and made me nervous. But I’m thankful that he wasn’t interested in us at all. Small blessing? Maybe. But felt pretty big to me as we started our day!
Now, it’s your turn, dear friends. Say them out loud, write them down, comment or email. I’d love to know your gratitudes, but more importantly, I’d love for you to give your thanks to the Lord! Until tomorrow – stay grateful!
Do you remember that line from John Donne? It’s something that has been buzzing around in my mind for a while now. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more I begin to glimpse how connected all of life is.
I can’t make it through this on my own. And thank God! I don’t have to.
I have friends and family who are with me on this journey (and am with them on their journey, as well). I am grateful that the rhetoric in Canada has been “we are all in this together, we are all Team Canada.” I am grateful that the idea of cooperation and helping each other has been a major part of our country’s response.
These two images from earlier on in the crisis came to my mind today:
The fact is: we need each other. We were made for relationship with God and with each other.
So today, I just want to thank you for the ways you have been here for me: phone calls and emails, encouraging comments, “likes” on Facebook, sharing a joke or some news that you think might interest me, the prayers that I know you’ve said for me – even though I haven’t heard them myself. Small kindnesses that aren’t small at all.
You, dear friends, are a blessing. Until tomorrow, remember that we are all connected. That the good you do for one, has ripple effects that reach beyond that one. And that the opposite is also true. Be kind. Be generous. And it will be counted to you as righteousness.
Let me just admit to you, dear friends, that writing and, more importantly, publishing yesterday’s post was hard. I almost scrapped it altogether. I was afraid – afraid of making others worry about me, afraid of being THAT honest, afraid of receiving criticism for not being “strong” enough in my faith.
And yet, as my pointer hovered over the “publish” button on the post, as I looked at the delete button, I felt a still small voice inside me say, “just do it.”
So I hit publish.
And then I closed my computer and walked away. I spent some time conquering the mountain of dishes in my sink. And as I finished them, Koski came to the door of my kitchen with a hopeful look on her sweet face. When I asked if we should go for a walk, she did the happy dance. And I laughed and said, “ok, let’s get your leash.” (More happy dancing and barking in joy ensued.)
We ventured out into the world – walking the sidewalks of the neighborhood behind our condo complex; enjoying the warmth of the sun; smiling at families and couples who were out for a walk; noticing the flowers and the leaves on the trees; and just breathing and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
When we got back home, I found an email from a friend, kindly admonishing me for saying I’d accomplished nothing during the day, and enumerating the things I had accomplished. And then I began to get some other responses from the blog – and you know what? My post resonated with people. Somehow I’d put words to what a number of people are feeling.
I have always ministered out of vulnerability – it’s important to me to speak about faith from my own experience and to acknowledge that I don’t have it all together. I have struggles just like anyone else. And being up front about those struggles has often helped to strengthen my own faith, while also connecting with and encouraging the faith journey of others.
So let me make a couple of pledges to you:
1) I will continue to be vulnerable and honest about my struggles, and trust that my readers will respond with kindness and compassion.
2) If I get to a point where I’m worried about my mental or spiritual health, I will reach out for help (that’s really hard to promise, because I’m intensely independent and I hate asking for help! But I’ve seen others in crisis ask for help and receive it. I’ve been humbled by their strength and courage in doing so, and I will take a page from their book when and if it becomes necessary).
3) I will (and have been) program downtime into my week. I have implemented Meme Mondays for this very reason. Pre-pandemic, Friday was my day off. During the pandemic, it’s been harder to find a day off. But the routine that has emerged over the last couple of weeks, and seems to be working, is that on Friday I pre-program Saturday, Sunday and Monday’s blogs (at least the framework and available elements for Saturday and Sunday) so that by the time I post my “some assembly required” Sunday Worship blog, I am able to take the rest of Sunday and all of Monday as some downtime.
What can we take from all of this? Well, I hope you have people with whom you are able to be vulnerable (my friend, The Janet and I call these “safe people” – those who you can trust to love you even when you’re not at your best), I hope you are able to ask for help when you need it (it is not a weakness!!!), and I hope you are able to find downtime for yourself. You may not be working, but you still need a break sometimes. Maybe from the news or maybe from being in the same place all the time. Go for a walk, or a drive, read a book, listen to some music or take a nap or a bath. Whatever your way of giving yourself a break, make sure you do it!
Until tomorrow, dear friends, be honest, be kind (to others AND yourself) and trust in God’s love.
One of the things I know I have been struggling with during this pandemic, is the fact that in the stretch of any given week (or any given day or even any given hour), I feel a bunch of different things that are contradictory.
Today is a gorgeous day in Toronto – the second day in a row that has been pure sunshine, warm temperatures and and that wonderful sense that Spring is finally here, and summer is just around the corner. There’s so much beauty in the natural world right now, that it’s kind of shocking. It’s a great time to get out for a walk, enjoy the leaves that are bursting open and the flowers that are blossoming.
Intellectually, I recognize all of that. Emotionally, I’m having one of those days when I just haven’t moved off the couch or accomplished anything.
You see, I can feel grateful for sunshine and warmth and beauty, and still struggle to participate in it. I can be thankful for all that I have – a safe home, a great dog for company, technology and entertainment, plenty of food, clean water, a comfortable bed – and still worried about all the unknowns that surround us right now.
That’s part of what it means to be human – we are complex and capable of feeling contradictory emotions at the same time.
And I wanted to write about that today because sometimes we get into this mindset that our emotions are black and white – we are either perfectly happy, or we have no happiness at all; we are either at perfect peace or drowning in unease; we are either fully optimistic or horribly pessimistic.
That’s neither true, nor helpful. Most of our lives are lived in a shade of grey – somewhere between the extremes. Ever been at a funeral and found yourself chuckling at the memories and stories of the deceased shared during a eulogy? I know have! Sometimes with tears streaming down my face, I have found myself laughing and remembering the joy of the person lost.
All of this to say – be gentle with yourself. Don’t set impossible emotional goals (i.e. “I must be happy or else I’m not living my faith and trusting God.”), but also don’t get so fixated on negative emotions that you think they are all you will ever feel. Trust your ability to feel many things at once, because is how God made you.
And on those days when you might find yourself unable to sort out all that you’re feeling, trust that sometimes it’s ok to not be ok. You are still strong, you are still beloved by God, and this, too, shall pass.
Until tomorrow, dear friends, know that God is with you, no matter how much you might be struggling with contradictory feelings.