Sing to Your Soul

These days we find ourselves locked at home, physically disconnected from friends, family, and community. It’s been difficult. Challenging. Our work is strained. Our relationships are tested. We’re managing — or at least trying to. We’re making the best of our circumstances.

But Sunday Worship is the time for the church — even if we’re scattered on Zoom — to reset. We gather to realign ourselves to the truth of the Gospel when all week long we may have aligned ourselves with other goals: scarcity, loneliness, helplessness. But one thing we lose in this day of online virtual worship services is the real feel of the community encouraging one another in the Gospel. This is especially apparent when we gather to — online — to sing.

How easy it is to watch the singing on the screen rather than participate.

It might feel awkward to sing in our apartments, especially if we’re just one of a handful of voices — every out-of-tune note or early-entrance-become-solo clearly heard by all. Maybe we think it’s easier just to listen to those in the call singing. But don’t give into that. Sing!

Surely, I can remind you, “God cares about it.” Or I can tell those of you who are parents, “Your children are watching and learning about worship from your example.” These are both true. But I’d put forward to you that…

Your soul is listening.

There’s a well known refrain in the psalms (scattered throughout Psalms 42 and 43) that goes like this:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Here the psalmist is ministering to his soul. This part of us is really all of us. It is in our soul — our very being — that we are united with Christ. But our souls are “prone to wander” as the hymns put it. And now, when all is stripped away from daily routine, our souls are raw. Every grim announcement and every sliver of hope tugs our souls this way and that; they toss us to and fro in the stormy waves of our present situation.

So as we gather tomorrow to worship; resist the temptation to sit idly and watch. Sing! Remind your soul where our hope lies. Remind your soul that even if all gives way, there is a sure Anchor that keeps us steady in the waves. It’s the Anchor that we can never lose because He holds onto us.

Sing! So your soul will not despair.

Sing! They your soul may know the Hope that keeps us even now.

Lent 2019: Fasting that sees

We are excited to explore the Lenten season this year as a church. It is a season that postures our hearts for Easter through practices of fasting, prayer, and generosity. Join us as we ruminate in this season together and share reflections every week.


After this first week of Lent, much of my conversations with you all have centered around fasting — what we have decided to give up — and how that has affected our devotional and prayer life. But in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking about how fasting and prayer ought to connect to the third practice of the season: generosity.

To be honest, it is much easier for me to practice fasting and prayer than it is for me to practice fasting and generosity. 

Fasting and prayer is safe; I can do it by myself. But that is not the fasting that scripture calls us to practice. Isaiah 58 calls to question the kind of fast that I safely practice:

Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the LORD?

“Woe is me because I can’t have ice cream / fried chicken / bubble tea” is incomplete. There’s no doubt we will feel the physical affects of fasting, but it should not end there. The LORD continues through Isaiah’s words:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

It’s that last line there that gets me. Generosity involves people. People are complicated. Their situations are messy. The truth is I’d rather hide from others in pain. Avoid eye contact. Walk away from the stench. Go to the next subway car. Move to the far side of the sidewalk. New York has trained me to turn a blind eye. I’d rather not see them. I have contentedly grown a heart of stone. 

The invitation to practice generosity in the Lenten season is an invitation to transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is not merely cutting a check for a good cause (that may be a practical part of generous living but it is never the heart of it), but cutting our hearts to be shaped more and more like Christ’s heart. Jesus placed himself with broken people to see their needs and let them know they are seen. 

John Ortberg writes, “Allow yourself to see need and eventually you’ll want to help. Maintain your distance and you probably won’t.” As we seek to be like Jesus, may we enter into generous giving not only of our finances, but also our time and presence to be with others and see them.

Prayer:
Lord, help us to see. Forgive us for walking around our city blind to our own flesh crying out for justice. Enable us by your Holy Spirit to follow in the footsteps of your Son to walk alongside the marginalized. Give us generous hearts to love others as you have loved us in Christ Jesus. May your name be glorified in us. Amen.

Lent 2019: Ash Wednesday – formed from the dust

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. We are excited to explore this season together for the first time this year as a church. In the next few weeks we will welcome some new voices from our church body to share their reflections during this Lenten season.


For much of my life, I’ve always put the invisible parts of faith first: theological doctrines, understanding of grace and salvation, acceptance of Jesus as the savior, etc. But I gave very little attention to actions and the physical and tangible dimensions of faith. In fact, I stayed away from it.

If anyone ever prescribed a spiritual discipline to follow, I would easily slap a “LEGALISM!” sticker on the practice and declare, “This isn’t in the Bible!”… and that’s how I originally approached this season of Lent. 

This is more work.

This is a system imposed on my freedom.

This is works-righteousness!

I imagined that those who enslave themselves to Lent-like constraints must be the saddest Christians in the world. But I had not experienced the power of those words that are pronounced upon believers at the start of the Lenten Season:

All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 
—Ecclesiastes 3:20 (echoing Genesis 3:19b)

To return to the dust is an invitation to rest, not to work. To live into the words we love to sing in In Christ Alone:

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

We cease trying to “make it” for ourselves, and we put into practice a kind of surrender that recognizes that it is only on Christ that we stand. Every day we are trying to make ourselves; we want to shape our own lives and define our own success. Yet the invitation to return to dust is to allow Christ to shape us; to surrender our efforts and allow his perfect effort to conform us into his image.

The ashes we receive is not merely a smudge, but it is shaped into a cross, recognizing that only in our surrender to dust that we can be made in his image. As we enter into this season together, it is my hope that we will see how he is shaping us to be more like him.

Prayer:
Loving Father, give us rest as we enter into this Lenten season. Holy Spirit, help us lay down our burdens; free us from trying to be something apart from you. May we welcome you to form us again from the dust into the image of your Son as we follow him in his death that we may realize his glory. It is in his name we pray. Amen.

Living into the life of Jesus

We’re doing something new this year: we are moving through the liturgical calendar as a church. Well… the truth is that it isn’t “new.” In fact we’ve been practicing part of the calendar already through the years with Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and a few others. But for us as a church, these were independent holidays and seasons; we selected bits and pieces that seemed important, but we didn’t see how they fit together as a whole for our formation as a people — the the church. This year, we’re hoping to bring more of this historical practice of the church into view and discover how it can shape and form us.

What is the liturgical calendar?

“What is the liturgical calendar?” you ask? The liturgical calendar is gift from the church to the church, inviting all her members to participate in living out the story of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the calendar is not to impose rote practices upon us, but to help us remember the story and life of Jesus in all of our living. Just as we may say a worship sanctuary is holy and thus are called to “take off our sandals on holy ground,” when we practice the liturgical calendar together, we recognize that time itself belongs to the LORD — it is holy — and we remind ourselves to take the our spiritual sandals off our feet for we are bathed in the presence of God in time.

Approaching Lent and Easter

We are nearing the beginning of Lent (it starts on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019), one of the great seasons in the liturgical calendar. Historically it is a season of penance where we remember the Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13), who gave up all worldly desires to obey the will of God — an obedience that led to the cross. We move together into the practices of prayer, fasting, and giving as a way to lead our hearts to the cross and prepare for Easter.

All too often we only think about “giving something up” for Lent (we’ll get to that below), yet we are also called to engage more deeply in prayer, and open our hands and our hearts in generosity to our neighbors. During this season, pray with one another, consider practices that can shape our hearts to sacrificial love for our neighbors. Share with one another in your community groups how God is speaking to you and calling you to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Some notes about fasting…

First thing: as with any practical discipline of faith, there is the danger of thinking that we accrue favor with God through our obedience. We are not more or less loved based on our obedience or severity of our fast, but we are seen through the person of Jesus Christ who imputes to us his righteousness.

Fasting should never lead us to think more or less of ourselves or of one another, but always point us to see more and more of our savior, Jesus Christ. 

Don’t know what to fast?

  1. Give up something that will affect your day to day and by its absence remind you to remember Christ’s presence with you and move you to pray and love your neighbors.
  2. Don’t give up something you shouldn’t be doing anyway. (e.g. “I’m gonna give up stealing from my boss”… you shouldn’t be doing that anyway!)
  3. Some, instead of giving up something, take in a new practice or disciple. e.g. Setting aside every afternoon to volunteer at a community organization. Some have discovered, through such a taking on a new way to live into their faith that continues after the Lenten season.
  4. If you still have no idea, ask your friends; they can often see us better than we can see ourselves and may be able to vocalize what we may fear to fast for Lent.
  5. Some common suggestions: alcohol, sugar, red meat, bubble tea, social media, video games, tv shows, etc.

All in all this is a time to move into the basic movement of Christian life: to deny ourselves, turn to Jesus, and follow him.

In our community groups, we will be practicing a fast together and then breaking that fast together on Easter Sunday. It will be a way for us to move together as a church and point one another towards Christ during this season and prepare our hearts to remember Christ at the cross and resurrection.