Finding Fingerprints in Many Places

I have fallen behind in blogging as I visit churches. Weeks 12 – 18 are getting a “catch-up” treatment here. This summary post touches on lovely moments noticing God’s fingerprints in my local community at churches including:

  • a small Nazarene fellowship
  • a crowded Episcopal service
  • an independent “Bible Church” of about 200
  • a large evangelical Presbyterian congregation
  • a medium-sized United Methodist gathering
  • a small Assemblies of God service
  • an American Baptist service of around 150 folks

Finding Fingerprints Week 12

Finding God’s fingerprints:
(in no particular order)

– an “adopt a student” ministry that takes the names of college students who are living away from family, assembles care packages for them a couple of times each semester, and has people designated to pray for and encourage these young adults while they live far from home while pursuing their education.

– an unapologetic budget report included in the bulletin showing a significant deficit in moneys available to support the ministries of the church. The transparent, black-and-white numbers being shared on paper weekly rather than vague pleas for extra giving showed me humility and a dependence on God to provide. It’s interesting to note that NO mention of this deficit was made during the worship service; it was a matter of fact to be reported (like any other announcement in the bulletin). No one’s arm was twisted. The need was simply acknowledged in print.

– a tone of service that felt comfortable and intimate even for a first-time visitor. I was reminded of small group Bible studies from the church in which I was raised. Folks spoke out from their pews testifying to answered prayer so we could all thank God with them.

– a gathering of believers at the front of the sanctuary, sitting and standing together around the table before the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Intimate and friendly, but not casual or disrespectful, the celebration of the bread and the cup was something of a family dinner.

– a pastor who shared with the congregation a need for prayer as a family from the church faced the imminent death of a loved one. Before the sermon he led us in prayer. He prayed with a simple, beautiful sincerity that made it easy to agree with his spoken trust in the God of all comfort who would allow us to intercede for these brothers and sisters. His prayer did not beg God’s mercy, but instead was thankful for a merciful God to whom we are invited to pray.

– a follow-up conversation with someone I never even met at the service I attended, encouraging me in my Finding Fingerprints adventure and asking me to be on the lookout for other local congregations with a heart to reach the Muslim sector of our community for loving and respectful times of discourse. This is not an “inter-faith” effort; the person who emailed me has a longing to see Muslims encouraged to faith in Christ for salvation. But after years of living in a predominantly Muslim country, a respect for the Muslim’s worldview and a gentle understanding of the need for personal relationship with individuals BEFORE trying to share about spiritual things was expressed.

– a soul-stirring special music offering by a soloist that sounded nothing like a performance and entirely like an act of worship.

– a concrete, articulate explanation of the significance of celebrating the body and blood of Jesus Christ, including a step-by-step invitation to the congregation to first acclaim faith in a holy God who brings together justice and mercy in His own blood shed for the remission of sin, then a time for confession of sin in prayer and celebration of our assurance of pardon in Christ, and then a joyful participation in communion with the bread and the cup.

– a chance to re-affirm our baptism as we remembered the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan, the outpouring of the Spirit of God at that time, and the chance His word gives us to be a part of that in our own act of obedience in baptism. This experience was really moving, and I’ve continued to chew on all that my baptism means since that service.

– a musically awkward piece that was shared with such sincere enthusiasm of spirit that I was convicted to get over my big, bad musical self and make a joyful noise with all my heart.

– a friendly laid-back welcome-center greeter who seemed to enjoy the chance to make a first-time visitor feel truly welcome but not intruded-upon.

– a church that decided to just have the contemporary and traditional songs “take turns” in the service rather than trying to force musical puzzle pieces to fit together where they do not…or to make any pseudo-holy statement about “the right way” to include music in corporate worship.

That brings the adventure up to date….hooray for Naza-Evangepiscopal-Assembly-of-Baptists-and-Bible-Methodists!

And during this time I’ve begun reading about early church history, the origins of the Roman Catholic Church, and the historical pieces of the Protestant Reformation. Let’s see what I can find in all of the tangled roots in our family tree!

 

Week Two: Finding God’s Fingerprints on Stained Glass Windows

Week Two of my Finding Fingerprints adventure. I’m visiting a different church every week to see all the cool things that God is up to in the various gatherings of believers in Jesus in my community. John 17, baby — Let’s find that unity that Jesus wanted for us!

Sunday #2, Sept. 14, 2014

A large Presbyterian Church with about 300 in attendance at the traditional service

Message: Matt. 18:21-35 “The Power of Forgiveness”

Finding Fingerprints on Stained Glass Windows

Fingerprints:

First observation this week:

The sanctuary itself is beautiful. A vaulted wooden ceiling, stained glass, wonderful acoustics for the organ and bells that open the service. God made creation beautiful, and He placed in us the ability to make things beautiful.

The visual beauty was an unexpectedly effective call to worship for me.

In spite of the formality of the sanctuary, the pastor was friendly and informal in his greeting and opening remarks to the congregation. The members of the congregation were very friendly, and I felt genuinely welcomed. The passing of the peace of Christ was no rushed ritual; people were warm and chatty and seemed genuinely glad to greet one another and share the unity of the body of Christ.

The music was so enjoyable for me. I got to hold a hymnal and sing a written harmony line. I got to sing all 4 stanzas, and some of them had words like “Thine” in them. I didn’t realize how precious more traditional church music is to me. It felt like genuine worship, it just felt like a different kind of worship.

The responsive readings/prayers and the congregational affirmation of faith gave me a chance to join my voice with others in the proclamation of truth, and the written record of those words went home with me in the bulletin so I can look at them again in my personal devotional times.

The pastor’s message was both well-researched and personal. He shared about his own struggles with keeping a record of wrongs. His 20-minute message was simple but challenging. And his charge and blessing to the congregation at the end of the service was a strong and clear reminder that we step out of the doors of the sanctuary into a mission that God has given us to share Him with the world.

Personal Notes:

Again, it was not easy to get out the door to the service. I have had a lot of emotional and relational work to do with people close to me in the last week, and that combined with a busy few days of physical work left me struggling to get up and moving this morning. In addition, I had a situation with one of my kids hanging over my head, and was trying to decide whether to go ahead and address it in the morning or just wait until after church. Fred is working today, so I had to go by myself – but oddly that ended up being much easier than I had anticipated once I made up my mind that I was going. I think that instead of worrying about how he was feeling about the visit to a strange congregation, I was able to just take care of myself and any uneasiness I felt.

For the message to be about forgiveness when all week I have been hurting over the brokenness between us and some folks in our life was the grace of God. The word was a timely blessing and challenge to me.

We had Gathering (a small group that meets monthly with no particular agenda except to share with one another what God is doing in our lives by His word, in prayer, and through circumstances) with the Culleys and the Smythes last Thursday evening, and Kym posed a great question to me:

“What would it look like if the Bride of Christ DID unite in love, focus on commonalities instead of differences, and honor their uniqueness while refusing to exclude those who worship differently?”

I realized that Jesus Himself gave the answer in John 17:23 – The world will see and know that God sent Jesus and loved the world even as He loved His own Son.

How about you? Any place you noticed God’s fingerprints this week?

Finding Fingerprints – Looking to see what God is up to in my community

2013 was a year in which I couldn’t balance the rest of life with blogging here.

2014 was a year of making changes so that life was in much better balance.

And now it is fall of 2014 and I am finally embarking on an adventure that has been in my heart for over a year. Finally the time is right. Finally God’s call was clear to both my husband and me. Finally I am ready to go out…

Finding Fingerprints.

Sabrina Justison Finding Fingerprints

I am looking for God’s fingerprints.

I want to see what He is up to in groups of believers all over my community.

I want to find Him in liturgical worship services.

In casual house gatherings.

In contemporary mega churches.

In medium-sized traditional services.

And everywhere in between.

The followers of Jesus Christ spend a lot of time comparing notes to find the places where we disagree. I would like to focus my attention for a bit on noting all the places where we DO agree.

I want to find God’s fingerprints in places filled with pipe organ music and stained glass. In warehouses filled with folding chairs. Outside under the open sky. In someone’s family room.

I want to worship the God who is so BIG that He never runs out of ideas for making new people, each one unique from all those who have been born before.

I won’t agree with every member of every congregation on every little thing. But I will pray before I enter their doors. I will worship while I am among them. And I will write to the glory of Jesus who prayed for us in the garden:

John 17:21-23

“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”

Merry Christmas, Whether You’re Into Christmas or Not

Jesus LoveChristmas depression?  Been there.

Grinchy years?  Yup.  Sometimes there’s a reason the Whos down in Whoville get on your nerves.

Merry-merry years?  Absolutely!  Love ’em!

Whatever kind of Christmas you’re having this year…

Whatever circumstances you are facing while the world is jingling bells and decking halls…

One thing is certain.

JESUS.

He is God.  He is good.  He loves you.

Stand on what’s true.  Ignore the rest if you need to.

And consider yourself hugged (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Merry Christmas!

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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

This is from a message I shared at my home church a few weeks ago.

It’s my passion.  It’s the reason for the name of this blog.  It’s changed my life.  I  believe it will continue to change my life going forward as well.  I pray it will change yours, too.

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Read Revelation 4.

Here it is in the NIV (thanks to Biblegateway.com):

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[a] of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’[b]

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

Is it just me, or does that all remind you of the scene in the movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion enter Oz’s great and terrible emerald throne-room?

Can’t you just hear the booming voice in your head?  “COME FORWARD!”

I have loved that Oz story for a long, long time, and I could spend several blog posts telling you all the reasons why, explaining all the symbolism that exists in it for me (regardless of L. Frank Baum’s intent).  But I won’t today.

Because today the point is this:  most of my life I read Revelation 4 and saw God’s throne through Dorothy’s eyes, and subconsciously played the scene forward to…

DISAPPOINTMENT.  Betrayal.  Confusion.  Despair.

There was no great and powerful Oz.  There was only a man  behind the curtain, a man who hoped we would not notice how small and weak he was…hoping we would not find out that he was a humbug.

This is the experience of so many people who go to church looking for God.

They enter through the glass doors thinking that’s the way to enter the throne room of God.  They have a need that must be met; they tremble in fear of what will happen to them, and they receive orders to carry out difficult tasks so that they might receive blessing and provision.  (Read your Bible more, give to the poor more, bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West…)

At every moment they fear that Toto will pull back the curtain to reveal that it’s all humbug, just a show, and they will be left in despair.

The truth is that many people ARE betrayed…because they don’t realize that they are in the wrong throne room.

The organization called the church is not the throne room of God.  It was never intended to be.  You are no closer to God in a formal church service than you are all the time because the Spirit of God dwells within you if you are born again.  We do not come to church to meet with God.

We come to church to meet with EACH OTHER so that we can encourage one another to stay AWARE of GOD’S PRESENCE in our lives 24/7.

For many people, the confusion over entering the presence of God, His throne room, leaves them feeling betrayed.

If you believe that coming to a church service is the way to enter the throne room of God so that you can be close to the King, you will be disappointed every time the worship team hits a sour chord, every time an elder prays with you and you are not instantly, miraculously healed, every time the pastor’s preaching doesn’t quite touch your heart.

So, what IS the throne room of God?

The throne room of God is YOUR HOME.

It is where you were designed to live.  When you begin to spend more and more time there, breathing as He created you to breathe, you will find power to live like you have never before experienced.

The church will no longer be the place you come to meet with God.  It will become the place you come to encourage your brothers and sisters by sharing all that God has been doing with you all week.

What does Colossians 3 say about this throne-room-home of ours?

(Thanks again, Biblegateway.com.) (NIV)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

If we do not have to come to a church service to FIND the throne room of God, if we actually LIVE THERE, let’s explore it.

The door is open (v.1).  We ask, seek, knock, and the door is opened to us.  There’s a voice like a trumpet – it extends an invitation, a plan.

Immediately we are equipped to obey (v.2).  “At once I was in the Spirit…”

(v3) The Person on the throne is even more riveting than the incredible throne itself.  (Quite the opposite of the humbug of Oz, hmm?)

Who else is here?  If this is my home, I want to be familiar with everyone who lives here.

Twenty-four Elders (v4) who may represent the Sanhedrin…the 12 tribes of Israel….the 12 apostles….WHO CARES?  Regardless of what they represent, they are clearly named “ELDERS.”  They are respected, worthy of my attention, forefathers equipped to direct other younger followers of Christ.  I should learn from them.  I should imitate them as they live in obedience to Christ.

(v5) The throne itself is crazy – lightning and thunder – and there are blazing torches that are the 7 Spirits of God.  Again, there’s hours worth of study we could explore about these spirits, but suffice it to say for now that there is power and life abounding, the presence of God in fullness.

(v6) A glassy sea in front.  That means the floor is a glassy sea.  That means when I stand at the foot of the throne of God I am walking on water.  Too cool for words!

There are the four living creatures.  Again, without digging too deeply into all that they represent, let’s acknowledge the basics:  they are knowledge (eyes all around), personality (faces), power (wings) and voices (speech).  And all they do, all the time, forever and ever is say:

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty

who was and who is and who is to come.

And what do our role-models, the Elders, do?  They fall down in worship, throw down their crowns (their own awesomeness), and cry “Worthy!”

When do they do this?

Every time the four living creatures say, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

And when do the living creatures say that?

Day and night, always; they never stop.

So when do the Elders fall in worship?

Day and night, always; they never stop.

They don’t fall down, hit the floor, get up, pick their crowns back up, sit back on their thrones, then fall again a minute later.

Somehow, unfettered by space and time, they PERPETUALLY FALL in worship.  They never hit the floor.  They never put their crowns back on their heads because they are perpetually taking them off to throw at the feet of the Lord.

And they are my role model. 

I was designed to be perpetually falling in worship.

The throne room of God is my home.

The praise of God is my native language.

There is no man behind the curtain; this throne is the real deal.

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How would your life look different if you meditated on this truth for a moment or two every day?

Lessons I Learned at Drama Camp 2012 – Part 1 New This Year

This year’s cast….21 fantastic young people, ages 12 – 18.

Every year I direct a Drama Camp. Here’s a quick overview of what that means:

* Some time after Christmas I seek the Lord about the theme for the script. I begin taking notes and outlining over the next few months.
* Some time around March I have a serious outline pulled together. I begin collaborating with my alumni team and my choreographer to choose the songs that will serve as “bookends” to each Act.
* Some time during the spring I write the first draft of the script. I run things through my alumni team for feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. I also publicize the camp via social media and take sign-ups for the 20-25 students who participate each year.

Marked-up scripts after script workshop this year.

* Some time early summer I hold a script workshop night where the staff for this year’s camp and a few alumni gather for a meal at my house, and we read aloud the script while sitting around the table, making notes about dialogue sections that don’t work, holes in the plot, areas of dead wood that need to be cut and the like.
* I finalize participant information packets and try to get the other areas of my life under control so I can give Drama Camp my full attention when it begins.
* Once Drama Camp begins on Monday morning, I live, eat and breathe it until it ends two weeks later with clean-up after the Sat. closing performance.

Curtain call at preview this year…Jesus gets all the glory!

This schedule was new this year.  That’s the first important thing I learned at Drama Camp 2012.

We simply must allow God to change the way we’ve done things in the past, even if those changes make us uncomfortable.

Drama Camp had never been 2 weeks before this year. 

–  I was afraid to carve out that big a slice of my summer calendar. God showed me how much lower my stress level was by holding a two-week camp instead of a one-week.

–  I was afraid the kids would lose the intensive experience that makes Drama Camp so spiritually significant.  God showed me that they had MORE ability to focus on the work He was doing in their hearts when they weren’t so worried about memorizing their lines.

Drama Camp had never had a script completed this far in advance before.

–  I was afraid to start too far ahead for fear that I wouldn’t be fully in the “Drama Camp groove” until closer to camp.  God showed me how much more I was able to joyfully anticipate the camp this way.

–  I was afraid to work with others on the script before the camp, fearing that my writing wasn’t strong enough on its own for evaluation, that it needed to be brought to life under my direction to show the depth of the message.  God showed me that He had given me every word on the page, and the message rang loud and clear as soon as we held our script workshop.  The comments and feedback from the team helped my edits immeasurably.

Next post…Lessons I learned beyond the change in scheduling.

Love – Verses for praying fruitfully

Here are some verses I go to when I notice LOVE is lacking in a situation:

Psalm 145:8  The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

I can pray it like this:

Lord, You are gracious.  You are compassionate.  You are slow to get angry.  You have oodles of love overflowing to us.  I am not seeing those qualities in myself right now.  But Your Spirit lives in me, so that means these qualities are meant for me, too.  Thank You that you have made me to be gracious instead of harsh.  Thank You that I can have compassion on ______________ and treat her gently.  Thank You that my fuse is long instead of super-short according to Your design.  Thank You that Your love fills me up so much that it splashes over onto everyone around me, even onto ________________.

Easy?  Yeah, I think so, too!

Okay, here are some more verses I like to personalize and pray for the hard-to-love situations that trip me up.  I have these written in a little notebook that I carry around in my pocketbook.  I’m working on memorizing them when I go walking.  I pull them out at stoplights when I need a quick attitude adjustment.

Proverbs 17:9  Whoever would foster love covers over an offense.

Song of Songs 8:7  Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.

John 13:35  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 15:17  This is My command:  love each other.

Romans 12:10  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.

Ephesians 4:2  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

I Thes. 3:12  May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other.

I Peter 4:8  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

FRUITful Prayer

Galatians 5:22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

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The hard question is this:  Can I say, “But the fruit of Sabrina’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”?

If not, I’m apparently not letting the Spirit of God run the show; I’m doing it.

This is not a novel concept; I’ve heard lots of messages on it over the years.  But it bears repeating because it’s a great “quick-check” to see whether I’m accepting the Lordship of Christ in my day-to-day living or not.

Praying the fruit of the Spirit is something I haven’t heard a lot about, however.

A couple of years ago I was studying Galatians and the Lord showed me how praying from this verse was important and empowering.  If I know that this fruit is what results when the Spirit of God is in charge, then I can thank Him for producing that fruit…even before I see it happen.  That increases my faith.

Here’s an example:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love.”

Perhaps my darling little angel of a teenager isn’t enjoying our bond of parent-child much recently.  Perhaps I’m not either.  Perhaps he is pushing hard against my authority.  Perhaps he is developing an attitude and making my teeth itch the moment he starts to talk. 

I know that when the Spirit of God is in charge of our relationship, there will be love.  Love is produced by the Spirit.  If I’m not experiencing the love, I need to yield more of my lame excuse for love (I’m his mother; of course I love him!) and receive the real love that comes only from God.

I pray:

Okay, God.  Junior and I do nothing but fight.  He opens his mouth to draw in breath and my hackles go up ’cause I know what’s coming. 

But that’s not Your doing.  You said that the fruit of Your Spirit is LOVE.  So thank You for creating love in my relationship with Junior.  Thank You for loving him through me.  Thank You for loving me through him.  Thank You for giving us loving words to say to each other.  Thank You for giving us eyes to see one another the way You see us, with love and grace. 

I know You’ve already done all of those things because You are here in the midst of the mess we are making of things right now.  I want to get out of Your way and let You complete the good work You’ve already started.  Thank You that my relationship with Junior is full of love simply because YOU are there.

 

Why a Personal Blog Site?

I blog regularly for http://www.7sistershomeschool.com.

I blog sporadically for http://www.nbcfchurch.org.

I am often crazy-busy.

So why a personal blog?

Because my time with the Word of God always makes me write.  Typically, that writing goes into a spiral notebook on my shelf.  Often, that writing gets dragged out and re-vamped into Bible study materials for others.  I decided to streamline this process with a personal blog.

For the most part, this blog will be

* scripture I’m reading,

* responses I am having to it, and

* prayers I’m praying as it is applied to my heart.

Feel free to use anything I write here if it’s a blessing to your Bible study…your worship…your life….your cats and dogs…whatever.  Permission granted to copy away from this blog (my stuff at 7 Sisters is copyrighted, however); just please by nice and throw my name in there, if you don’t mind.

It will be authentic, and you may not always agree with me or like what I say, but

it will not be shallow

…except once in a while when I am feeling authentically shallow.

This blog is called PERPETUALLY FALLING because I am amazed by the idea that the elders around the throne of God fall down in worship EVERY TIME the living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and is, and is to come“….and “day and night they never stop saying” it. (Rev. 4:8-10)  I want to figure out how to do that, to perpetually fall down in worship as I’m going through the ordinary tasks of life.  Doesn’t that sound like a cool thing to be able to do?

Wanna read along?  Feel free to chime with a comment, as long as you are polite about it.  Everybody be nice to everybody else all the time; that’s the rule.