Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Ways of a Farmer

I am grateful for farmers!  Farmers who plant in the ground or who raise livestock of various types are heroes to me.  They work very hard, are very skilled and they have been in demand throughout all of history.  We are far removed from farming in the urban and suburban areas of the world today.  Few have ever had to cultivate the land, sow seed or tend to the crops or the herds.  And then there is the business of harvesting.  Whether it is the cutting down of crops or butchering of meat, few have ever experienced these segments that are required in order for us to drive to a store, put food products in our baskets and tote them home for consumption.  Most have no idea of the toil and strain, the patience or trust that goes into the producing of food.

Farmers may have a lot of experience and knowledge of their craft, but they are certainly at the mercy of the elements and surprises of life.  Every farmer needs a deep sense of trust in the ways of God in nature and a full reservoir of patience.  Listen to these words from book of James;

"7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient ; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged ; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful."  James 5:7-11

The persevering trust in God and the development of patience in the experiences of life are qualities that farmers must have if they are to see the fruit of their labor.  Followers of Christ also need these qualities developed in their lives but many (most?) tend to not like the route necessary for trust and patience to be developed.

We are wise to realize that God always has our best in mind.  He is always about developing those who follow Him to be more and more like Him.  Learning to trust God and to have patience in life often takes place in the droughts, bug infestations and the weeds that seasonally occur in our lives.   God most often develops us through these situations in a community of people, a church family.  The transformation from being full of ourselves to being fully others centered (Philippians 2) takes a life time to develop.  A deep trust in this truth, that God always is about our good, needs to be cultivated in the community of Jesus followers.  James 5:7-11 is a passage on a community of people developing patience and trust together over time.  As a modern day American, this passage can easily be understood that individually we must be patient and trust in the process, but I believe we are created for this development to happen in a group of strong spirited friends.

There is a deep connected relationship between the farmer and the land, between the farmer and his herd.  There may be certain sequences that happen in farming that can be predicted with any parcel of land or herd of animals, but the 'knowing' of the farmer and the soil or the herd is vital for the best health and fruitfulness.  And so it is with our development.  We all need to see patience and trust mature in our hearts and God expects this to be done in the close community of believers.
James 5:9 seems to indicate that being together over time will naturally bring issues that can lead to complaining about each other, but we are not to do so.  We are to work through the seasons of relational hardship, not run form them.  To run from them would not allow for patience to develop nor a deeper trust in Jesus to mature us.  As we move forward with faith and patience, we should be reminded of those saints (prophets in this context) who have gone before us and have endured and matured as they waited for the Lord's return.

As we begin 2012, spend some time listening to the voice of God for you and the develop of your patience and trust in God in the context of community.  Fruitfulness, the result of patience and trust, often is missed because of moving on from issues instead of working through issues.  Good farmers wait for the precious produce of the soil being patient, waiting for the early and late rains (James 5:7).  I hope 2012 will bring you a greater sense of trust in God and a development of patience in your life as you pursue Him in the midst of a strong, lively community of fellow strugglers. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thoughts on Worship

Music moves our souls like few experiences can.  The first few bars of Benny and the Jets by Paul McCartney and Wings can whisk me back to times in my high school gym.  Sandi Patti's song, Another Time and Another Place takes me rapidly to Highway 1 along the California coast on a car ride with my wife.  Chris Rice's Untitled Hymn beckons me back to my Grandmother's funeral while many worship songs remind me of sweet times of tears, just me and Jesus. 

When people talk about the power of music in worship, there is much truth.  That is probably why so many people use the style and quality of worship as a high criteria for the church they will choose to worship corporately...but I wonder if this is good thing.  Allow me to share four brief points regarding worship.

Worship is a way of life.
Worship is often coupled with music and for good reason, however, worship is so much more than music.  Worship can take place in a sunset or sunrise, worship can happen in a conversation or while drinking in the beauty of a painting.  Worship often takes place in our minds, all alone, as we think of all the God has done for us.  Worship can take place in the midst of sadness or in the middle of a time of stretching our faith.  Worship can happen in isolation, with a few friends or in the midst of thousands.  We are instructed to worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24).  Everything in our lives should bring glory to God (Col. 3:17).  Worship should be our way of life.
Worship is not for you...it is for Jesus.
When we choose to attend or leave a church because of the worship style or quality, we are headed down a slippery slope.  To begin with, we must remember that times of worship are for Jesus.  Times of worship are NOT for you.  I like good music as much as the next guy but if I need a certain kind or quality of music to worship Jesus, then maybe there is something wrong with my perspective.  When we choose or leave churches based mainly upon the worship style/quality, we are doing so based upon 20-30 minutes of a meeting.  I hope church is much more than this to Christians.  If we would choose churches based upon whether a community of saints is or isn't a family, the type/quality of music wouldn't enter into the discussion much of the time.  Always remember, worship is for Jesus, not for your musical tastes. 

Worship will be 'hot' and 'cold'.
Unless you are part of a larger church that has professional or quality musicians each week, you can almost count on weeks that are really inspired and weeks that are definitely flat or off.  But that is only talking about the music itself.  Even with professional or quality musicians, worship can be flat if the spiritual life of the leaders are experiencing a less than stellar week.  We must all learn to worship when things are wonderful in our song times and when things are musically or spiritually challenged.  To expect to be 'inspired' by the music at church each week is a set up for disappointment.  

Worship quality depends much on your heart.
I know that the quality of my worship experience (whether in music or life) is often determined by how much I am living out my faith in robust ways.  When I am flat in my faith, my quality of worship is usually challenged as well.  When I am filled with the Spirit and living out strong stanza's of life for Jesus, my heart is swollen with passion for my King.  This passion will not be curtailed by style or quality or lack of music, it will have to burst out.  My life will overflow with praise and worship for Jesus in everything I do.

Worship is meant for Jesus; to lift up His name, to speak/sing about what He has done, to declare to everyone that we are in love with Him, to spend ourselves in imitating His life.  When we have lives of worship, not just services of worship, the world will experience a depth of love that music can't communicate.