Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Clinging vs. Surrendering

Life is difficult. (Thank you, obligatory cliché.)

So why do we insist so vehemently on making it even more difficult?

Sunday morning during worship, I intentionally engaged. Our church starts with four worship songs, then announcements, then sermon, then 2-3 more worship songs with communion. During the first three songs, I thought about the words, I spoke them to God, I raised my hands. Then the fourth song started: “The Stand” by Hillsong, and I felt myself withdraw a bit, because it’s a song that historically I haven’t felt much connection with. But the pre-chorus and chorus gripped me in a new way.

So what can I say?
And what could I do?
But offer this heart oh God
Completely to you

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul, Lord, to you surrendered
All I am is yours

“What could I do, but offer this heart, oh God, completely to you?”

“My soul, Lord, to you surrendered. All I am is yours”

Those two lines in particular rang loud in my soul. I felt myself doing just that, asking the Holy Spirit to help me surrender myself completely.

Here’s the surprise kicker: it was easy.

Well, at least a lot easier than I would have expected.

I could feel the tension and tightness of clinging to control of my life releasing. (Even now, scarcely a day later, I can feel it creeping back)

The questions of “But what if…? How come…? Why…?” faded away.

My questions were irrelevant.

All that mattered in the moment was that my King is in control, and I was giving myself completely over to him. It’s a pity that it is such a fleeting glimpse of true unity with God. Maybe if we lived in that moment long enough, perhaps a fiery chariot would swoop down from Heaven and take us up.

Actually, that would be kind of cool.


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Baby Steps

Remember the movie, “What About Bob?”. Richard Dreyfuss’ character writes a therapy book called “Baby Steps” and puts Bob on the program. Much to his chagrin, it works marvelously.

Silly though the movie may be, I find myself thinking “Baby Steps” whenever confronted by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. There are a lot of goals I have in my life, that are daunting – at best – when I look from here to the conclusion.

  • Get to 170 lbs.
  • Break an 8-minute mile
  • Run a marathon
  • Finish (and publish?) a novel
  • Travel more
  • Become more like Christ

Obviously, some goals (and this is just a small sample) are precise and measurable, while others are a bit more intangible and realistically, will take a lifetime to work towards. The key (in my mind) is taking Baby Steps.

When I am discouraged by the fact that I’ve only gone jogging once so far in January, well hey, that’s one more than zero. Baby Steps.

When I write 51,000 words of gibberish (no where near the criteria of earning the name “novel”), that’s okay. At least I’m writing and getting better and have a rough draft to work with. Baby Steps.

When I feel like I’ve succumbed to temptations more times in a week than I care to remember, but I showed love to someone or spent time in God’s Word one time….that’s a step in the right direction. A Baby Step, to be exact.

You get the idea.

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Thoughts on Worship

Heh heh…remember how a month ago I said I would get back into blogging? Whoops. Anyways, I had some thoughts during church today that I wanted to get down, so here they are…

I felt a little restrained in worship at first today, but as I released and sank into it, I was a bit overcome by the revelatory thought: “Right now, I am experiencing more fully than at any other time what I was created for. This is the closest experience I can engage in in this life that resembles what heaven will be like.” It was awesome in the sense of what a blessing it was to 1) experience it and 2) have enough awareness  to realize it. Yet it was also sobering to realize that I spend such a tiny fraction of my time/energy living like that.

So my goal this week is to pursue hard after God and try to live in that “Heaven here and now” experience more often.

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Lunch with Habakkuk

So today I felt like reading a minor prophet during lunch, and settled on Habakkuk. So here’s what I picked up on…

The nation of Judah is about to get pounced on by the Babylonians in judgement for turning to idols. Habakkuk questions God, asking how long He will let evil go unpunished, and why he will use the wicked (Babylonians) to punish a more righteous people? This struck me as similar to the way Job spoke to God. These are men of the Bible who were considered righteous and apparently had a close relationship with God. Is this something we should hope to attain? A relationship with God that is so close and real that we can talk to him like a brother?

I like that God doesn’t drop the hammer on Habakkuk as hard as he did with Job. Instead, he gently but firmly reminds Habakkuk that He will bring judgement in His own timing, and that we are to wait for it and live by faith and trust Him. At the end of His response to Habakkuk, God says, “the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” God is Holy. He is in control. He rules. We are to be silent. Humility and reverence seem to be the proper frame of mind to keep.

Habakkuk responds with praise and worship and reverence. He ends by saying that regardless of circumstances, even when there is loss and seeming lack of provision, “Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” (3:28)

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Sorry…this is a lengthy one. I’ve tried to make it a little more narrative so it’s easier/more interesting to read.

So, until tonight, I’ve never had any experience with feeding the homeless. I suppose it’s the typical mixture of lazy, selfish, scared, “waiting for the right opportunity” etc. But the paradigm shift that began in me at retreat is changing my philosophy from having good ideas and good intentions, to being a person of good actions. I’ve often (read: almost always) meant to do things like this, but never have. More and more now, when I feel a nudge from God about something, I try to act on it ASAP, instead of waiting till I have a plan, or think about it, or whatever. Acting in obedience instead of over-analyzing and procrastinating.

Anywho, so today at work, we had lunch catered from “On the Border” (Mexican food). After everyone had their fill, we still had only eaten half the food. Usually what ends up happening is a few people take some home, and whatever’s left gets tossed. So as the afternoon wore on, I felt like it would be better if the leftovers could be given to someone who was hungry and needed it.

“Not this stuff.”
“There’s hardly any meat left…just rice and tortillas and chips”
“Wendy needs you at home”
“You’ve worked some long, hard hours this week….you deserve to just go home and rest”
“What if you can’t find anyone?”
“What if someone ‘corners’ you on a God/life question, and you choke!? You’ll make things worse!”

Etc….plenty of thoughts, questions, and doubts entered my mind before I even left work.

“Bite me. I’m doing it.” Maybe not quite those words, but that’s the answer I gave to my misgivings. As this pattern of behavior of acting immediately to the Lord’s promptings becomes more common and comfortable, it gives me a resolve knowing that I’m just gonna do whatever I feel like He wants me to do, even if it doesn’t makes sense or feel “comfortable.”

A couple people at work noticed me taking ALL the leftovers, prompting questioning glances or comments.
VICTORY #1: The door is opened for me to share about Christ – why I’m doing this.

As I left work, I thought “Well….tortillas and rice with the little bit of meat that’s left is ok, but they’d be better with cheese. And what about something to drink?” So I stopped at the store to get cheese and a flat of 2 dozen water bottles. When I got within a couple blocks of the park, I pulled over for some final preparations: reading a few verses of the Word, and praying that God would give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and words to say. I’m not the kind of person who likes going into something without a plan, but I decided to just trust that God would handle the details.
VICTORY #2: I consider this a victory, because already I sense that God is molding my character and teaching me how to let go of control of my life and learn to trust Him.

I pull up to the curb at Acacia Park. A friend from church who has experience with homeless ministry (shout out to Sarah!) had suggested I go there. It’s surrounded by a high school, a YMCA, and several local businesses. I had heard it was a place many homeless frequented. As I get out and start getting my load of stuff ready, I glance around the park….ummm…hello? I had built up an expectation in my mind of dozens of homeless people milling about everywhere. I saw a couple of clusters of what looked like high school kids hanging out, and one or two other people by themself.

Re-enter the doubts:
“There’s no homeless people here: FAIL!”
“You’re too early, there won’t be any until after dark.”
“What are you gonna do with all that leftover food, genius?”

I carry everything over to the little outdoor amphitheater, and notice 2 people that sort of look “homeless?” (That feels like such a judgemental thing to say, but really how do I approach someone to offer them dinner unless I assume they’re homeless?) I start by asking if they’d like a bottle of water, and the woman says no thanks, she’s set (showing me her large bottle of whiskey). Then I realize: they have bottles of alcohol, a pizza, cell phones, and bicycles. Maybe not homeless.
VICTORY#3: How’s that a victory? The woman says that was sweet of me to offer. Somehow, I feel encouraged and ok to keep going.

I’ve got everything lined up: all the trays with tortillas, taco shells, rice, beans, meat/veggies, bag of chips, and bottles of water.

It’s 5:42.
I wait….and wait….6:00 rolls around. I’ve watched as different clusters of teens walk around talking to each other. A family walks through the park to their car. An older guy with a beard and a cammo jacket – maybe he’s??….no he’s not.

By now I’ve gone through my mental list of options a few times: maybe the homeless folks really don’t show up until late at night?, do I take everything back to my car and try again tomorrow?, am I being impatient and need to wait longer?, do I need to walk up and down Nevada and Tejon to search for someone who “looks” homeless?

A couple minutes later a teen walks up.
“Hey, what’s goin’ on? You givin’ out food or something?”
“Ya,” I say, nodding; wondering if he’s a local high school kid looking for a free meal, or what.
“Cool. I’m just waiting for somebody,” he says walking towards a group of other teens.

Then a guy rides up on a bike at about the same time a crusty-looking guy with huge backpack complete with bedroll walks up. While they’re talking to each other and rolling cigs, I tell myself what the heck, give it a shot, and walk up to them and ask if they’d like anything to eat or a bottle of water.

They do.
VICTORY #4: Finally…what feels like affirmation that the trip wasn’t a waste.

I meet John, the guy on the bike. He’s friendly and genuinely appreciative. The other guy is listening intently to his hand radio and doesn’t seem like he wants to talk. As they start getting their food, the teen I spoke with before comes up, flanked by three or four others. A couple of them ask if they can have a water.

“Sure,” I say. If they are high school kids who don’t really need a free meal, it feels like a waste, but then again, I’ve only had two takers so far anyways, so why not?
Then a girl asks me if I work for a church. I tell her no, but I go to church.

“Awesome!” she exults giving me a high-five. “You’re the first person who doesn’t work for a church that’s ever come down here!”
In my head: “Whaaaa?? That doesn’t seem likely.”
Out loud: “My pleasure.”

She tells me her name is Skye. Then I meet Vaughn. Then Matt. Then DJ. Then Mike who goes by “Twisted M”.

Then another girl asks if anyone has told the rest of the group that there’s food. I see her indicate a group of people at the other end of the park that I had assumed were more high school students. Within minutes I’m surrounded by about 20 people queuing up for food.
VICTORY #5: Woah! I just had to wait a few minutes longer than I expected for things to “happen”!

10 minutes ago I was worried about what to do with all the leftover food I was going to have on my hands, now it doesn’t look like it’s nearly enough!

Skye has taken it upon herself to tell everyone, “Hey guys – Josh was nice enough to come down here and feed you all, so be sure to say ‘thank you’!” And everyone is very polite and appreciative. A couple guys make it a point to thank me 2 or 3 times. Very appreciative.

I exchange comments with several of them, but most get a few bites to eat then walk off. A few stick around watching and waiting to see if they can get seconds. Pretty soon, it’s all gone except for the huge bag of chips. Everything has happened so fast I almost forget to watch for the opportunity to talk to them, look for that open door to share Christ. (Side note: aside from feeding homeless, evangelism is the next thing I’ve never really done, or felt comfortable trying)

But then I strike up a conversation with Mark. He tells me a lot about what’s going on with him, and also fills me in on the others. Most of the teens here either “camp out” “couch-hop” (staying at different friends’ houses) or stay at shelters. He says that this kind of thing helps a lot. He tells me how most churches and other organizations have stopped coming to help out, seeming pretty disappointed/miffed about it. I’m trying to take everything with a grain of salt, not wanting to dismiss everything he’s saying, but not everything he’s saying quite jives.

At any rate, I find out he lives in an “efficiancy apartment” (which I’ve never heard of), and he and his wife are barely living on food stamps. He said he had spent all day today scrounging for change on the street corners nearby. He gives me his address and asks if I can find any household items or food for him that I can bring it by.
VICTORY #6: I connect with someone. I feel like it’s the beginning of building relationship – which is the cornerstone of how Jesus did ministry (same for Vanguard)

I tell Mark I’ll be thinking about and praying for him, and that I hope to see him next time I stop by.
I head back to my car.
That hour went by pretty quick, actually.
Wait…..I had fun!
Something I didn’t expect: I want to hang out with these people more! As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think “This could be my new hobby!”
VICTORY #7: I get a sense of the compassion Christ has for people. I feel fulfilled and changed – and I want more.

Such a long post, I know. Sorry…but my heart’s pretty full right now, and I want to get my thoughts/feeling out while the fresh and undiluted. I’m excited about doing more of this, and I’m hoping I can find some ziploc bags, food containers, milk, other foodstuff to take to Mark soon.

Added to my prayer list: Mark, Skye, John, Twisted M, Vaughn, DJ, Matt, Adrian

Matthew 25: 34-40
34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

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Experiencing God

Title = Not related to the book or study….just a short phrase that captures what the Men’s Retreat weekend was in a nutshell.

This might be a long post, so maybe print it out and read on the train…or by the pool…or in bed…or whatever. Thus far, I feel like I have been pretty much an open book as far as what is going on in my head and in my heart in relation to life, God, etc. and intend to be just as transparent and vulnerable about this very special weekend. So take it all with a grain of salt, this is my (limited) perspective and not authoritative Truth. 😉

Leading up to the weekend, the major themes playing in my life’s background have been 1) Prayer – how to do it; why I don’t do it as often as I know I should; faith in believing it matters, etc. 2) Calling – there might be a variety of connotations of this word, but it’s the one that speaks to me the most often, and basically is related to the question: What should I be doing with my life? I’ve often thought of this in a vocational sense (What job am I getting paid for?), but have widened it to include all areas of my life: family, church/ministry, etc.

I knew to expect that God would do something on retreat. I tentatively hoped for “answers” or at least a little more illumination on my path. Oddly, however, as we were driving up, checking in and heading off to the campfire, I felt slightly disconnected. Like I didn’t feel any anticipation of something good happening, or at least a mild ambivalence. I was a little concerned by that, so as worship began, I asked God to soften & open my heart, to start being able to engage and “get my hands dirty” in the Spirit.


I’m sorry to do this…but I’m going to have to break this up into segments…otherwise, I may never get this posted, as the entirety is a bit over-whelming. I’ve been up since 4:00am this morning. That’s the second time this week. It was fairly productive again, in the sense that I was able to connect and build in a relationship with a friend who was up at the same time, and started working on the “Cleansing” sheet that I will describe later.

I will give the utmost effort to completing the Retreat experience rundown over the next day or so, probably in manageable, small-ish chunks like this.

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Men’s Retreat 2009

This is tough. I’m sure most of you can relate to the quandry of experiencing something so amazing, then trying to put it into words to try and share it with others. This is one of those times. It’s been a little over 24 hours since getting home from the weekend, and I feel like at times I’m still reeling.

There are so many stories and epiphanies and insights and experiences that I wish I could convey what it felt like, and how they’ve impacted me. Alas…I waited till after 10pm tonight to start this, and I’m tired and need to go to bed.

I promise I will try to write more tomorrow.

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