Tag: Worship

Once a year we have our Sunday worship gathering in a park. It’s intentional though started by necessity. It began by needing to vacate our building that shelters a maximum of 100 men for at least six hours while the electricity was turned off to install a generator. The generator is needed in the event of power loss from a hurricane. (Since hurricane season is one of our two seasons in South Florida.)

We’re no dummies here and quickly learned we needed to make this an annual event. We book the largest pavilion in a state park. Our kitchen orders up food for 150 people, fills coolers with drinks on ice, and totes all the parts needed for a picnic lunch.

We take the dominoes, cards, chess game, football and volleyball. All the toys we can gather to play with before and after our time of singing and sharing.

We pick a Sunday in late February or early March. A time when rain and high humidity are less likely. We’ve had two years where we bundled up in our jackets and hoodies and stayed in the sunshine longer as the morning greeted us with 40’s and 50’s. Or, what we call winter. This year the temperature was lovely but the winds a bit fierce keeping swimmers out of the ocean that is just over the dunes.

Always, we’ve enjoyed the sunshine. The literal one shining overhead and a warmth generated by the Son that shines within.

“You don’t get to decide to worship. Everyone worships something. The only choice you get is what to worship.”  – Timothy Keller

Maybe like you, I grew up thinking worship was done inside a church building on Sunday mornings. Even though we had church on Sunday nights and Wednesdays, it was Sunday morning that we worshiped. In my mind and life, worship was defined as singing and praying with others in church.

At some point, I realized worship couldn’t be contained to place or posture. Worship was more than music and prayers. It was just more.

Changing our physical surroundings seems to free the expression of worship. Sitting in the open air we notice the creation and recognize the Creator. The wind blew strong as if God’s spirit was saying, ‘look, I’m here’.

For some, they see their service as worship. Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or teaching a scouting group is one aspect of their worship, they’re giving to God.

My friend Judi worships with her art. Sometimes she paints during their church gathering but anytime she paints it’s part of her worship. She is praising God with the talents He’s given her.

I believe in the importance of worship together for regularly scheduled gatherings. It builds community among believers. But worship is much more.

The New Oxford Dictionary defines worship as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity”.

I want to throw off the confines of my old beliefs and embrace a posture of worship that looks for opportunities to praise God. I want to express reverence to the most high God when I’m at preparing our meals, thankful for abundance. I want to show my adoration for his grace when I hear U2 singing about justice.

As Timothy Keller says, everyone worships something. I want my worship to be focused on Yahweh God because he alone is worthy of this devotion and glory.

faith grace Salvation Army

Our pianist has only been with us a few months. She’s an outsider to our community and our church traditions. A church woman herself, she answered the ad we placed for a pianist needed: Sundays, 8:45 – 10:15 a.m.

She walked through the doors our first Sunday of Advent, greeted me as I said, “it’s Advent, you never know what’s going to happen so hold on.” I’m not sure if I detected the look of confusion or fear on her face.

Surprise, and a bit of a mess, is often what you get when you corral a group of folks not accustomed to church. For some, it brings back memories of their youth. There is a divide between generations and cultures when it comes to church though not always what I expect.

Look closely below to see Sally cat behind the figures.
Look closely below to see Sally cat behind the figures.

The room is set. Randall has placed every single one of the 100+ pieces of a grand nativity on the table in back of the chapel. In all of it’s beauty, honestly, it’s too much for me. But it’s not for me. The figures tell a story so they remain.

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He’s set our simple Advent candles at the front and a lovely tree sits to the right of the platform, dressed in muted tones to complement not take over. The externals have been planned and arranged. That’s the easy part.

We’ll have different men read the Advent parts each week. They’ll stand in front, on either side of the candles, pass the microphone back and forth adding a pause in their readings I’d rather not have. Many will look confused when it comes time to light the candle and fumble with the lighter provided so they’ll dig their Zippo out of their pocket and light a candle, maybe two and I’ll sit in the back of the room shaking my head and smiling. Smiling because does it really matter what lighter they use? Does it matter that it’s the second Sunday of Advent and they’ve lit two candles in addition to the one already lit so we have three? (I breathe out a sigh of resignation)

Our first Sunday they got the candles right. Right candle, right lighter, right time (with a nod from me). And then the order fell apart. The song we were to sing following this was skipped as was the prayer and music solo. Somehow, the simple outline clearly printed on a program and handed to everyone was ignored? Forgotten?

What a mess.

There was a time this would have frustrated me. How could people not follow the simplest of directions? How would they learn how Advent is suppose to go? Order is part of God’s design and plan and, really? A Bic lighter dug from your pocket to light that purple candle?!

This time I shook my head and smiled. The one learning is me.

I’ve learned the order, the lighter nor the candles matter. Only our honest expressions of God’s grace and love will make a real difference. That’s what is always on display. And I sigh again wondering if I’ve given my best at that.

David Crowder’s song continues to remind me that our messy lives is just why Jesus came.

In the middle of the mess, there is majesty
In the middle of my chest, is the King of Kings
While the world was waiting on
A change to come along
Light broke in
Coming like a song

All this glory, all this glory, all this glory
In the middle of the night, after all this light

Jesus, God with us
Jesus Christ has come and I’m undone

Maybe next year we’ll have the Messy candle.Somewhere between Hope, Love, Peace and Joy we’ll acknowledge this mess of a world, of a life, to which Jesus brought his majesty.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,”
John 1:14 a the Message

faith grace Salvation Army

We came as visitors, in town for a pastors conference. We gathered at a true community center for Sunday morning church.

Her name was Shalene. Her hard ‘r’s’ and sweet tea accent made me think she’s native to this part of Georgia. She took the stage to lead the Praise and Worship part of the service. The name the church has given to songs played more on guitar than keys, where words are repeated and hands lifted.

I wondered if she was nervous. There were at least 50 uniformed visitors seated in front of her today, a good bit of us strangers I’d guess. But then we think the uniform makes us family and not strange, not in that sense of the word.

Her spirit of enthusiasm captured me as she led these two familiar songs wholeheartedly. I’m not sure how anyone could help but be compelled by her sincerity.

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There was the usual stuff that makes up our style of church meeting: hymn songs, scripture verses read, the collection plates passed through the aisles.

Not so typical in some denominations is the brass band. This smallish town had put together a nice little band, a few of the visitors sitting in to fill out the sound.

On ‘Happy Song’ a woman a couple of rows in front of us trilled the tambourine she was holding. I recognized the experienced way she held it, only letting the heel of her hand, that part of the lower thumb just above the wrist touch the hide of the instrument. She played it in the right spots and kept in still in the others. A pro knows when and when not.

A friend/co-worker/pastor/officer gave the sermon. He’d been here before. This was once his town to pastor and be the face of The Salvation Army. He’s a tall, southern speaking man himself with a voice as deep as a barrel and heart as big with a softened patina. ‘He done good’, they’d say.

The screen flashed the name “Freddy” someone was going to give the benediction. The man I’d only seen from behind as he waved the conductor’s baton leading the band, shuffled to the podium. He had to be in his 70’s I decided and his gait not one of ease.

“We love you Lord”, he started the prayer, “And we’re just so thankful you love us too.”

We don’t get to this part of the south much and maybe that’s how these folks are made up here. Their hearts are open and their words spilling such warmth and love all over us.

I was taken in by Shalene and Freddy. Blessed by these two everyday folks not part of a ministerial team but whose lives are about serving with a joy that is worn as new garments, all clean and begging one to ask, “Where you’d get that?”, because you wanted to wear it too.

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his is also The Salvation Army. Serving in places like Augusta, Georgia where every day folks take up the task of following Jesus and leading the way to joy.

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When I walked in the chapel there were white towels on the back of every chair. I didn’t know why but I knew they were a sign that someone was prepared for their participation and how proud I am that they take care of every detail.

I had the outline for our Palm Sunday service drafted before we left two weeks ago. I texted the dancer while we were away to make sure he remembered this was the week he was performing and E confirmed with me the song he was singing. We were in Georgia, they’re in Florida and despite the ability to text and message I felt disconnected. The notion came to mind that I was basically leaving the outcome of two key elements of the service to men who were messed up three years ago. The kind of messed up that drugs do to a person. Yep, these guys were in charge and I felt complete peace about it.

I had the wrong song cued up and made a total mess of it on screen as E’s voice led them to worship. No matter, I saw some rise spontaneously and hands waving with emphasis as they sang

Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
who was and is and is to come

E’s voice was full and big and sounded like it was made to sing these words and I was pulled in by the spirit that was moving throughout.

Sean’s been doing a monologue throughout Lent called The Simon Peter Chronicles and this week was stirring as the words reached out and pointed to our our weakness and convicted our pride. I never expected the lines of these 4 minute vignettes to be memorized, but he has. Every word as he looks us in the eye, every word he makes us believe has come from his heart.

I heard some of the men wondered if these white hand towels signaled there was going to be feet washing going on. It would be fitting this time of year. The scripture flashed by on the screen, the one where Jesus took the towel from his waist and used it to the dry the feet of his disciples as he knelt before them. He knelt, this servant leader.

T and D walked in, one in military uniform and the other in fatigues, both having white towels at their side. One took their place up front and the other in the back in a kind of face off.

I had read the lyrics to this song, Never Wave My Flag. I’d sampled the sound. T told me how he thought this was a song for them, a song to not give up, to not surrender to hardship and addiction and I said, ok.

But this, this was more than I could have imagined. This was powerful. This was an experience. This is something you need to see.

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2 flags

This was a room full of 100 people waving their “flags” represented by white towels from our sorting room. Don’t miss this point. These towels were someone else’s leftovers, discarded items, unwanted by them and these became our white flags to wave in the face of difficulty and say, we are not defeated.

On the day that represents Jesus coming to Jerusalem in triumph, the beginning of the hardest journey of his life on earth, His surrender to the will of His Father was not one of defeat. Because of Him, we can surrender, but only to Him.

He is our triumph. He is our victory.

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Today is the day many will gather in churches big and small, with and without traditional sanctuaries, dressed in suits and dressed in tattered jeans, today is the day calling all who believe to wave palm branches or the singles fronds, to shout in song and voice calling out as did the crowd in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago did,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Today I find the meaning of this word Hosanna. The word I thought to be a recognition of the Kingship of Jesus, a praise above all praise shouted to the one who is finally being recognized as the Son of God.

It is a recognition. And a plea, as in Hebrew this one jubilant word means: Oh, save now!

We say it again, a bit louder today knowing that you are the only one who saves…

Oh, Save Now!

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It can get so routine. Life. To the office, meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, allergy shots on Thursday mornings, grocery shopping Thursday evening or Friday morning, breakfast at Panera Bread Saturday and church Sunday where someone will read scripture, pray, most of us will join singing in the songs, some will not. A message will be shared, another song, another prayer and we leave. Routine.

It is too easy for me to fall into this malaise expecting someone or something, other than me, to wake me up. To stir the emotions often associated with the new, the fresh, the exciting. It’s as if I’m entitled to that and only need to wait for others to do that for me.

I lay in bed, awake too early for a weekend but my mind was stirring, thinking about Sunday’s program and what had been planned. This wasn’t routine. We planned a celebration of sorts and invited the Alumni, those who’ve completed our six-month recovery program and are living that good life of freedom. I was going over what I’d planned when I realized they were just that: my plans.

When did it become mine? The service that, yes, is my responsibility to plan, but when did it stop being offered to Him? To the One we pray will speak through our feeble attempts, will use the old hymns few know to hit a chord inside our hearts.

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Alumni group

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On this day, as so often is the case, God works in spite of me. He is bigger than my plans and I will always be grateful for that.

We filled our chapel, had to bring in extra chairs, and more than 20 men stood in front to encourage others in their journey of recovery. Two of the men shared some of their story and I’m sure next time we just need to let Carlos preach because that’s what his words do. He has a smile that shows his gratitude and he tells us “God is the God of all or not at all”.

Alumni Sunday

 

Alumni Sunday

It is God who is praised and his spirit filling us as we sing:

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I worship Your holy name

Truth is expressed with urgency in this song:

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?

We are thankful people. We are blessed and we are a mess and we are loved with an everlasting love by a faithful God.

Yes, God is in charge of this gathering. It may have been my thoughts about the songs to include and where to insert the scripture but it is God’s spirit, living, breathing, in us, all of us, that brings these times to life.

 

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The first week we worshipped in our renovated chapel, when we finally left the tables and chairs, clatter and awkwardness of the dining room, we had no sound on a video. A 5 second clip to be the “big” intro to the sermon – silent! The face of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady on-screen but nothing came out of the new audio visual equipment.

The second week we met we had figured out the sound and when this week’s video illustration was played, it was so loud it could have been heard on the street outside and my volume control was not working. Another video fail.

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Yesterday, our third week in this room that is no more significant than any other room, its walls made of the same material, some plastic “stained glass” to diffuse the sunlight and there isn’t even a cross yet, we had the audio glitches worked out. We think. 

Things happen when you name a room “chapel” and your intent is to gather for worship, to share in prayer and songs and learn together, give together. And in spite of it being incomplete and still learning the new equipment and all the humanness we bring to this time, the offering doubled, men come forward to kneel in front of their peers, some heads till nod off in disinterest but a fresh Spirit is moving. The new chairs and coat of paint, the improved lighting and we are just ready to be in this room again. An ordinary room but where we gather for more intimate sharing of God’s grace. 

All the newness will be meaningless if our hearts aren’t made new by our Maker. Our songs empty and prayers hollow if we don’t come to the Most High God with open hands willing to receive His love.

Could you take a song and make it thine
From a crooked heart twisted up like mine
Would you open up Heaven’s glory light
Shine on in and give these dead bones life
Oh shine on in and give these dead bones life

– David Crowder, O Great God

Hear this, my prayer.

 

faith Salvation Army

They weren’t pews but not chairs either. Some kind of wooden folding seats with two hooked together. Were it not for a photo of my 5-year old self sitting next to little brother  I’d not remember what we sat in that makeshift chapel in the early 60’s in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The building had seen other uses and been condemned is how the story was told. It became the first Salvation Army outpost in that small town south of Little Rock. A chapel that wasn’t a chapel but I remember Sunday nights in that small building. Sunday nights were different because the songs were faster and there was a lot of clapping. It was the old hymns and the people loved singing them. It seemed every week we sang “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop…”

In concert with Phil Laeger

In concert with Phil Laeger

The platform was cleared for the grand piano to take center stage. This chapel, large, light-filled, padded pews. A departure this week, a joining with the congregation down the street, graciously hosting our guest and allowing more room than our little place.

In concert with Phil Laeger

This week, fingers commanding every key, a voice that is more like a heart singing and we’ve come together expecting more. This is why we gather. This is why the Word tells us not to neglect the coming together as a community.

A voice behind me sings out, not a note in key, but their heart was full of joy and I know his voice was like an angel as it reached its intended destination. I looked at faces and many looked absent in some way and I have no idea how this was possible except to know how many times I am absent in this moment. Focused on the mechanics and time more than being open to a moving from God.

In concert with Phil Laeger

Something about that singing when I was a little girl stayed with me. In a condemned funeral home, songs of praise and promise rang out from feeble voices and proclaimed life. It wasn’t the skill but the hearts because I knew they were singing with whole hearts.

In concert with Phil Laeger

In concert with Phil Laeger

A row of little ones were behind me. I am the older one now. They don’t know the songs, aren’t old enough to read the words projected on the screen but paged through the books as if they could. Just listen, dear children. Just listen to the hearts around you. Hear the ones singing with their hearts because this is the music of love.

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As always, I’m linking up with hundreds of other writers on Lisa-Jo Baker’s blog for Five-Minute Friday. To join or read more takes on this week’s prompt, click here.

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I wonder what others think I worship?

Is it the technology I reach for before getting out of bed and typically are reading from before going to sleep?

Is it appearance?

Maybe it’s manners or hard work or art or intelligence?

If what I worship is determined by what others see me do more often, then I’m doomed. It’s over. I’m failing at doing what God has created us to do and that is to worship him with our very lives.

It sounds so much easier than it is but how do I make doing worshipHow can it be understood that worship can be more than singing songs in a church on Sunday morning?

We walk along the ocean’s edge while our feet sink in the soft sand and the foaming bits of surf wash over our feet.

This is worship. My heart cannot escape the grandness and magnificence of this masterful creation given by The Creator.

A man, clean two years now from his addiction sits in my office talking about his new life and all I can do is smile and thank God for the life he is restoring. This is worship.

My husband pops his head around the screen where I’m Skyping with the granddaughter and her face bursts into the biggest smile and we are thankful to God for his continuous blessings.

This is worship. Give me a life that will always and only worship YOU, my God, my Savior, my All.

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They weren’t singing last night. Not to my liking. I looked across the room of 90+ men and saw too few voices mouthing the words to the song playing, the words projected on the screen. Words proclaiming God’s love for us and their faces were tired, disinterested. I had them stand to sing because I feared they fall asleep otherwise.

Is it because we’re still meeting around tables in the dining room and this isn’t a place they equate with worship? More likely, it’s the body enjoying the cool air conditioning after many working in the heat of the day.

Everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me

We pressed on. Singing another song and then all six men who attended bible conference with us last week came to share about their mountain top experience. They amazed me with their composure standing behind the microphone, speaking to their peers. Men who live with them and have seen them at their lowest. Some who are judging their every action now seeing if there is any change. Testing God through humans (never a good idea).

Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Saviour
The hope of nations

Henry came up to pray. He always prays boldly to God, sharing his heart and praying blessings and truth for these men. It was what he said first that captured me. He stood there and said how much he needed to sing those songs. He said he didn’t care if anyone else needed it, he did. It was our first day back from our mountain top too. Our first day catching up and being hit with renovation delays, new table tops not fitting their bases, complaints, employee issues and plenty of messages and mail to go through. And he needed this time, the time singing songs to God our redeemer and savior.

So take me as you find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again

We all needed this time, whether we knew it or not. Needed a time to stand together, singing or not, interested or not, praising or not, we needed this moment. To hear another claim their need reminding us of ours.

Our God is mighty to save!

 

faith recovery Salvation Army