WELCOMING THESE TRIALS AS FRIENDS!
Welcome to our new reality. A week ago I would never have imagined - that I would be blogging - but hey - here we are making adaptive changes to our lives - 'for the greater good' so I am thinking of ways that I can stay in touch with you all. Thanks to my wonderful and helpful daughter Emily - I have joined the blogging world. (Thanks Em!!!!)
I want to remind us all that we are going to be alright. You are not only going to survive/ but actually thrive!!! . I remind you of Psalm 46 - God is our refuge and our strength, our ever present help in trouble.... therefore we need not fear...... Be still and know that I am God, Be still and know, Be still., Be.....
At the other end of this event - God is there waiting for us! In the midst of this ordeal God is with us.
As your pastor - know that I am praying for you (as many of you have reminded me that we are all praying together)
secondly I want to encourage you. I am determined to call everyone on the list. I am encouraged by the conversations and creative ways and (humorous ways) that you are dealing with this and making adaptive changes
thirdly we are looking for ways to be the community in the midst of this time. We will try different ways of communicating and staying in touch - but by all means please reach out to others as you continue the journey.
I have Included below some links that I think will help you stay current on what is happening.
But also remind you not to over fixate on the latest. Instead let us keep our eyes on Jesus and let us see these trials and testings as welcome friends - helping us to become more and more like Jesus!
I Love you All,
Soli Deo Causa,
Isolating together: Good Afternoon everyone! Are we having fun yet?
I just left a meeting of pastors, (12 of us (even sounds Biblical) from the region. Just to assure you all this was a zoom conference call! So we practiced what we preached and stayed within the government guidelines for socially distancing. We prayed together, we checked in with each other (soul care), we framed our discussion theologically (As theologians are want to to do), we shared ideas and best practices for such a time as this! From this meeting I have come up with a few thoughts for us all.
1. the importance of the gathered body. Extraordinary times, call for extra-ordinary measures. We are doing church differently because we have to. We are thinking outside the box, getting creative, leveraging technology, having community in isolation. But by God's grace this will only be for a time and season. But make no mistake the church is a corporate gathering of all of us together. So don't get use to the idea of not going to church, or doing church from the comfort of you homes. It's maybe fun for a season to go to church in your pj's, and not worry about combing your hair (which I don't understand the need), or getting all cleaned up, not having to deal with crowds. But the Bible says - do not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). If it seems strange not to gather at the same time, at the same place, with the same people It's because it is not natural. Corporate worship is part of what it means to be the body of Christ.
2. The Church in Exile: The church has always been in exile throughout her history. This time of being unable to gather has been the reality of Christ's body throughout history. Whether we are talking about Adam and Eve - east of Eden, or Israel in Babylon, or the the New Testament believers scattered throughout the world, the persecuted church has always been dealing with the tension of living between the 'already and the not yet'. A fitting metaphor to describe our times is that we are like prisoners of war - trying find creative ways of communicating and sharing lives.
3. Family Worship: This will be my final thought (though I have so many more that I would love to share.) I would encourage all of us to continue gathering at the same time every Sunday (9:30 a.m and/or 5:00 p.m.) for family worship (by family - I am not just thinking - dad, mom, and children - yes them but also friends, small groups etc.). Sing Songs, Confess sins, pray together, listen to God's Word proclaimed. We will try to have a 'mini service' put together for Sunday (Go to our Website - racinecrc.org and follow the links ).
Hope you are encouraged today. Enjoy this time and season of growth as God stretches us and challenges us, and forms us by his Word and Spirit, to become more and more like Jesus (James 1:1-5)
Finally - Just thought I'd share the latest photo of our Grandson Calvin, who give us many reasons to smile and thank God in this season of our isolation. Enjoy the pic and please find occasion to laugh and enjoy the new routine.
May God bless you all and keep you healthy in every way!
Soli Deo Causa,
FASTING IN THE SEASON OF LENT
Trusting and Praying that this latest communique finds you all prospering in every way – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
We are in the Season of Lent, which is a season of preparation and repentance as we anticipate Good Friday and Easter. The biblical allusion is the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness at the start of his ministry. Jesus fasted during his time in the wilderness (See Matt. 4& Luke 4) Historically Christians identify with his suffering by abstaining from particular foods and wrestling with their sins, and even preparing for baptism. The season of Lent invites us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and Celebrating Jesus resurrection.
Now, typically most of us ‘Reformed Folk’ don’t quite know what to do with this season. Yes we love Palm and Easter Sunday’s. We celebrate Maundy Thursday services and maybe (but not always) we do something on, or at least give a nod, to Good Friday. We tend to like to focus on the positive elements of our faith. We do not like to dwell to long in the dark territory of introspection and uncovering and confessing sins. Likewise we react to our Catholic counterparts by not wanting to fixate on Jesus’ Passion and death on the Cross. This may be an overgeneralization, but typically we don’t know what to do with Lent. Sometimes we amuse ourselves with the thought of giving something up – Like, I remember going without out coffee for 40 days, but during that time doubled my intake of chocolate instead. Or I know of people who give up watching sports, but then binge on TV instead. Or I would fast on Friday afternoon, so I could enjoy a nice fish – fry at night
The season of Lent is a great opportunity for us to change our focus. In this season of lack, God calls back those who have become estranged from Him, and by way of extension from His Body – The Church. Suddenly it’s as if God has thrust us in the midst of a season trials and testing that we didn’t volunteer for and in no way desire. Because of the COVID -19 we have been thrust into a season of fasting. We are fasting from our jobs, our routines, our church gatherings, our usual spaces, our normal relationship and even from doing wedding and funerals the way we are used to doing them.
God in his wisdom might be reminding us that we are not in control. I now have time to reflect on what I usually do, my routines, and my motives for doing them. I confess that I am realizing how anemic my prayer life is, how easily I let things slide, because I am just lazy, how shallow I really am in my relationship with God and my neighbors. COVID 19 has reminded me to deepen relationship with God, to be ready to surrender my life to Jesus, who willingly surrendered everything that was his by right, and to take up our flesh and serve the lowest of the low.
As we practice social distancing – or fasting from our ‘same old’ -let us ask God to melt us, mold us, fill us and use us to represent Jesus who took up a towel, took up a cross – to serve others….
Soli Deo Causa,
LIGHTEN UP AND LIVE
Maybe today you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, the novelty of the new normal has worn off a bit and now the reality that social distancing from the safety of our homes could be our lot for a while is settling in and leaving us all feeling a bit unsettled. This is going to be a marathon and not a sprint.
I am not going to lie - It has been a difficult month week for the Veenstra household as well. Sylvia has been waking up ‘Grumpy’ almost everyday, but as of late she is just letting me sleep! (insert winky face emoji here) Truth be known I have been waking up at about the same time every night (2:00 a.m.). The new reality for me is overwhelming. I have concerns for each member of this congregation. I have concerns for my family. My mind is being stretched, learning to post blogs, and having ‘Zoom’ meetings online, and planning sermons for these times and beyond. Yadah, Yadah, Yadah…. So many things to fret about.
I hit my low point earlier this week when Craig and I went golfing (Yes we found a green that was open, and yes we kept our 6’ distance). He got lucky and won the first hole and I had to concede, Your hole, Mr. Friesema! His luck continued at the second hole. Same thing – Your hole Mr. Friesema! And so with the fourth, fifth and sixth. Grrrrrrrrr! (Insert angry emoji here) I kept thinking my game would turn but when it came to the thirteenth Your hole, Mr. Friesema, I was feeling pretty discouraged, and thinking some thoughts very unbecoming for a Pastor. And Craig, bless his heart, sensing my frustration and wanting me to continue playing, tried to encourage me as best he could. “Don’t be discouraged Pastor”, he smugly said, “golf is just a game!” “In the real game of life,”, he smugly pontificated! “I will most likely die before you and you will have to do my funeral. If you think about it, it really is a sobering thought. I should have been humbly chaste by that thought. But at that moment all I could think about was ……………. Sure! And it will still be YOUR HOLE!!!
Disclaimer – Just for the record Craig and I did not actually go golfing. For one – no greens are opened (thanks to Gov. Evers). Secondly, I don’t golf! And thirdly, and most importantly – if I did golf, there is no way Craig would win that many holes (insert laughter with tears emoji here)!
I just wanted to share a bit of humor here because I believe that – though we ought to take this virus seriously, Christians exhibit the joy of the Spirit, on all occasions, but especially in times of crisis. In my conversations with many of you, and reading some of your posts online, I have appreciated the banter and humor with which you are facing these time. Humor is therapeutic. Christians know that we are not in control of our death. We don’t cave in to fear nor foreboding. We realized that the ‘worst’ thing that could happen to us is not the worst thing.
Now is the time for our joy to shine through. Now is the time to demonstrate our claim that the joy of the Lord is our strength! So in the words of Ken Davis (Christian author and comedian) we need to Lighten Up and Live!
Soli Deo Causa,
Hope: when you discover that you are not a super-hero!
Today, I woke up and listened to my 20 minutes of Headline News – (which by the way is the maximum amount of time anyone should be listening to COVID-19 related news – or it will overwhelm and cause despair to cloud your hope) Apparently we are at the start of the most critical 2 week period in our fight against the COVID-19. I felt our Surgeon General, throwing cold water on my hope for a quick turnaround by assuring us that ”this is going be our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11…” Really?
Now I will confess - I’ve always thought of myself as a low-level, volunteer superhero. You’ve heard of Spiderman, Iron Man, and Batman. Well, just call me Invulnerable Man. My superpower? I am invulnerable to injury, sickness, failure, fatigue, and possibly even death. I know in my head this is not so! I understand that every heartbeat I have is a gift of God’s grace. Yet, since I haven’t had any major illnesses or setbacks (By God’s Grace) in my life, it’s hard not to succumb to the illusion of invincibility. But God has way of dealing with that kind of pride, and humbling my delusion of “Invulnerable Man”.
A week ago, after spending Saturday morning in my “Sunday shoes” preparing for and then recording the morning worship service for the next day, I came home, like any decent super-hero. At one point, I turned to adjust my cape and my lower back locked up. I could not even take a step without spasms. It was in that moment that my vision of invulnerability was shattered! I am not nearly as invincible as I thought. A sobering reminder that I, even I, am a mere mortal! I am vulnerable!
The word vulnerable means to be susceptible to attack or harm. Quite literally it means “to be woundable.” How do you live when you discover that life can wound you—physically, emotionally, relationally? How do we respond when life events and circumstances shake the very foundation you thought you could stand on? Life is fragile! Yet we (especially in the West) live with this superhero complex. We live like we won’t grow old and die. We think we can fix and control our lives. We live like our wealth will always be there for us when we need it. We live like we won’t ever stand before a holy and righteous God and give an account for our lives. We are too good for that.
Where do we go when all that turn to is taken away? What is the hope that takes us beyond our delusions of control when our hearts and minds are weighed heavily upon and we struggle to let go of all that burdens us? The Word of God! Of Course.
Lamentations 3:21-24 (You need to read the first 20 verses to appreciate the relevance for our time: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him”
I will work hard to set aside my cape, take something for my back, wash my hands often, maintain my distance, and mostly, to put my hope in God!
Soli Deo Causa,
We are living in times of uncertainty. And that can cause fear! Worry, anxiety, panic… can overwhelm us like a thick shadow of darkness, controlling our every move and decision. So much craziness is going on around us today that can cause us to fear. We know it shouldn’t, but it does! And when ‘life happens’ and we feel the fear rising how should we respond? I want to address this in the next couple of weeks in my sermon series entitled, Facing Your Fears! Consider this blog my introduction to and overview of the topic.
A few years back I chaperoned a group of junior high students on a field trip to the Science Museum in St. Paul (that alone is a fearful reality, I mean – what could possibly go wrong with group of junior high students in a science lab, right?). As I was herding these humanoid cats through the various exhibitions, I was particularly intrigued by a station called the “fear laboratory”. It was here that I learned of every imaginable fear under the sun. For example, some people have aichmophobia (fear of needles), others have coulrophobia – (fear of clowns), still others enochlophobia (crowds), or perhaps aviophobia (planes) , you get the picture – there is a fear custom made for every person under the planet.
In a “Peanuts” comic strip a few years back, Linus, was seeking psychiatric help from Lucy. He said, “I’m in sad shape. My life is full of fear and anxiety. The only thing that keeps me going is this blanket… I need help”
Lucy responds, “I think we had better try to pinpoint your fears… If we can find out what it is you’re afraid of, we can label it. She then suggests daunting list of fears including hypengyophobia (fear of responsibility), ailurophobia (fear of cats), climacophobia (fear of staircases), thalassophobia (fear of the ocean), gephyrophobia (fear of crossing bridges). Finally, she suggests Linus might be suffering from pantophobia.
“What’s pantophobia?” he asks. “The fear of everything,” she replies. “That’s it!” declares Linus.
While we might laugh at this, who among us doesn’t fight an ongoing battle with some version of fear? The COVID-19 epidemic has let loose a pandora box full of fears into our culture that seems impossible to quarantine once that lid was opened. People are afraid of contracting or carrying the virus to others. People are afraid about dying or losing loved ones. People are afraid of losing their jobs or livelihoods. People fear losing their retirement 401Ks. You see- Lurking in the shadows of our soul, is fear under the guise of concern or alarm or panic or anger and a host of other pseudonyms for fear.
Now please realize that not all fear is bad, some of it is in fact necessary and healthy. We should be concerned about the health and safety of others and we should in response take necessary precautions. Just like we should be afraid if we ever encounter a ferocious lion on the loose looking for a meal. Our instinct and fear makes us flee and find safety. I would call this a healthy fear. In fact the writer of Proverbs says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (see Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). That’s a healthy fear! As Mr. Beaver says to Lucy in CS Lewis’ novel the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is dangerous, but he is good! Truly wise people have a healthy reverence and awe (fear) when they are in the presence of the Almighty Creator of the universe. That means God’s holiness and weight of his glory should humble us and cause us to be cautious and respectful about being in His presence. In the Bible the phrase Do not be afraid is repeated over and over again (one reminder for every day of the year). I take that fact to mean that there are a lot of things that cause us to fear. Yet I also take that to mean that our final emotion ought not to be one of fear – but trust! When the possibility of or the worst happens, we entrust ourselves to the One who loves us deeply.
The Psalmist (in the context of being attacked and trampled on by his enemies) say, When I am afraid, I will trust in You… In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Ps 56:3,4).
I don’t know how this pandemic will end for me or for anyone of us, but I take courage and comfort from Jesus words, In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 With God’s Word in our hands, His Spirit in our hearts and our lives hidden in Christ, our fears are displaced by faith in our Sovereign God who rescued us and holds us in the palm of His hand. Armed with that knowledge I can face all the pantaphobia’s that come my way in this laboratory of life and I can even explore new ones surrounded by junior high students (Now that’s Faith!).
Soli Deo Causa,
1 Thessalonians 2:17;3:6-7 “ Since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face… But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you-for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.”
It is interesting to me how I can read a verse in the Bible many times and not be moved by it. And then something happens, circumstances change, a particular sequence of events occur and ‘voila’ that same verse suddenly packs a punch, it comes to life in a whole new way and moves me. I know that God’s Word is alive and sharp, and I know that it is the Holy Spirit unveiling the truth to me and not the circumstances in themselves that are the key to me ‘being moved’. Yet the Holy Spirit uses circumstances to move a person.
Case in point – I have read 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13 many times. I have even used it as the basis for prayer. (Lord make our love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone… Strengthen our hearts o that we will be blameless and holy in your presence when you return…).
Yet when I read this in light of our current circumstances – I can keenly relate to Paul’s longing in way I have not previously done so. I do feel torn from you- my brothers and sisters in the Lord! I also have a great desire to see you face to face. I felt that longing keenly when I saw the Apostles Creed and Psalm 23 being recited by the congregation. In the reports that that I hear from the elders and deacons and in my own conversations with members of this flock, I have indeed been comforted by evidence of this congregation’s faith in Jesus. My longings are at least strengthened by the evidence that the Spirit is at work in our midst, no matter difficult this season may be.
I have often been asked in the course of my conversations, “Pastor, How are you doing? Or how is your family doing?” When I am not trying to sound spiritual and all put together, I will honestly answer, I have bad days and I have good day, I struggle just like everyone else, I need the sufficient grace of God to get me/us through.
It was tough not to go to Michigan and be with Justin as he went through an appendectomy. It was hard to tell my nephew and his fiancée that I would not be able to officiate at their wedding. It strains my heart not to be able to visit people in the hospital, to read God’s Word and to pray at their bedside. It is heartrending to grieve with people who are mourning, when all the usual ways for mourning are taken away. These are some of the challenges that make up my bad days.
But I have also experienced a lot of God’s sufficient grace over these past several weeks. I have been inspired by many wonderful conversations I had with God’s people, who are not only surviving but thriving in every way during this pandemic. I have been humbled to watch the testimony of those who are experiencing loss, and yet, by God’s Grace, are trusting God with joy. I have had a front row seat to see the leadership team (elders and deacon) lean into their calling to ‘care for the flock’. I have had the privilege and joy of working with the staff, worship coordinators, praise team members as together we labor for the glory of God and the building up of God’s people.
In the difficult experiences my faith has been tested and refined. In the grace displayed to me I have been comforted and inspired. In this time of separation my love for God’s people has grown and my heart has been strengthened to trust in God even more. And in this short time of separation, my heart will grow fond until that day we gather again as God’s people in God’s house.
Soli Deo Causa,
PS. On a practical level – here are some of my ‘go to’ resources that have given me perspective and have kept me grounded in these uncertain times.
The Process of Writing this Blog and Prayer:
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
I need to be candid with you. Blog writing is not my forte – The deadline of having to write something brings stress to my life. All week I have had a kink in my neck which I attribute to trying to find inspiration for my next blog. Besides that I honestly don’t feel that in the cacophony of articles, blogs, tweets and facebook posts that crowd for your attention, I have anything fresh or inspiring to say on any subject. Yet at one time someone thought this would be a great idea (I don’t know what I was thinking). I don’t know why I thought it would be a great idea for Emily to build my web page. She built an impressive blog page and all that’s left is for me to fill it up with impressive thoughts. Thus the conundrum!
So to get some inspiration I went to Robert Frolich’s fine blog page which I would highly recommend. Just click on this link https://robertfrohlichauthor.com. Bob can make an ordinary trip to the grocery store sound exciting, or feeding birds and squirrels something to put on one’s bucket list adventure. He description of fixing pipes makes me want to take up plumbing as a hobby (probably less stress than writing a blog). When led to reveal “the secret” of his inspiration – Bob wisely told me to “write what’s on my heart.” That sounded like a good starting point. OK Anson – what is on your heart? Well the heart is exceedingly wicked above all things, who can know it says Jeremiah the Prophet (17:9). Now I am stressed again (tightness in my neck is flaring up again) I don’t think I should write about what is on my heart at this moment.
But maybe I should stop stressing and just tell you what has inspired me and what has become the basis of my prayers for this week.
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (see above) is one of Paul’s many wonderful prayers. On Monday of this week I decided to make it the basis for my prayers. I think that you may find it helpful also. You can do what Eugene Peterson does in his translation – Just capture the spirit of the passage and make it your own. Here is what I pray:
O God and Father of My Jesus – I pray that you would clear the way for your gospel to come to ___________(insert name). May Your love increase in ____________ and over flow so that it spills out to others. Strengthen their heart (in Christ) so that they will be without blame and set apart for your work until the day you return or call them home! Amen
You might be able to come up with a better paraphrase and I hope you do. The important thing is that we pray for one another. And what better fodder for prayers than to use the very words of Scripture.
That’s all for now (until I begin the next cycle of stress inducing blog work….)
Soli Deo Causa,
Oh, And One More Thing About Community…..
I was closing the books on Sundays, message (The Fear of Being Alone based on Psalm 139:1-14 and Parts of Genesis 1-3) and thinking about some of the things I wanted to add. (I think blogging might be my new way to shorten my sermons on Sunday and still get more content in). Here is one more element to my message that I would like to expound.
In life we often enjoy confirmation and encouragement and celebration in community with others. I think of all the special weddings, birthdays, graduations, or anniversary celebrations that have occurred or are being planned during our “Safer at Home” lockdowns. Even though we are socially distancing from one another, we still have an impulse to invite others to share in our joy. Imagine how such major life events would be different without anyone to share them with you (even virtually). Theoretically you could celebrate alone but the occasions ring hollow and feel incomplete (As our graduates may soon find out).
Yet this is what it is like for many Christians as they navigate the Christian life with very few meaningful relationships. This does not necessarily mean people don’t attend a local church, read Christian books, or even have a commendable discipline of time in God’s Word and prayer. However, they largely do so without the ongoing relationships that God has for them in their local church.
As I mentioned in my message last Sunday, God has created men and women to live in community with others. He created Adam and Eve to be in communion with the most complete community of all – Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From Adam’s being provided a helper suitable for him, to Moses’ being given the partnership of Aaron, to Jesus’ choosing twelve disciples to live with and learn from Him during His earthly ministry, the movement has always been from the one to the many, from the individual to the community.
Unfortunately, our culture glorifies the individual community of me, myself and I. The Western mind prizes autonomy and values privacy, and this has greatly affected how many Christians think about their relationship with other Christians. We so easily forget that the Christian life is personal but not private. When we accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we were welcomed into a family of new siblings, all of whom have the same Father. We learn each other’s names, took on each other’s burdens, learned from each other’s lives, and we encourage one another to press on for “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
But don’t misunderstand. This sharing in community with other is not just a command to be obeyed, (like doing chores, taking out the trash, cleaning the kitty litter, etc), but a reality to be enjoyed. When we are in community with each other there is real joy! Christ is not only the object of our joy but also the fountain of joy. The joy that we have runs through the Church – The Family of God. There is the joy of having others to look to as examples of Christlike living. There is joy because of others’ expressing concern for you, joy because we have others to carry the load of burdens and affliction we may be shouldering, joy because others are watching our blind side for sins, joy, because we never have to walk alone etc.
It was Eric Bancroft (a Pastor in Indiana) who noted that “The gospel is the source and fuel for our joy. As a log burns hotter in a pile of other wood, the Christian knows greater joy in the tight community of the local church. This joy comes through the mountain highs of rejoicing with those who rejoice and the valley lows of weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). How? By seeing how God’s hand sustains His people, how His Word is proven true, and how the Holy Spirit turns people away from their own self-interests to the care and compassion of others in their local church family.” Well said Eric! I like burning logs and so that picture resonates with me.
So, what I should have added to yesterday’s message is not only that God is everywhere present (He is) and not only is Jesus always with us (He is) but also Jesus is present most visibly in the Church (us together).
That means we need to be in community with one another. Just having your name on the membership role is not community. Just showing up to worship services occasionally is not community. Just showing up every Sunday is not community. Saying a few prayers and giving a few dollars to the collection is not community. All these are certainly part of the evidence of the Spirit in our community. But real Community for the believers mean we represent the very presence of Jesus to one another and to the world. We do this when, following the example of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit, we strive together to obey the Word of God, are led by the Spirit of God, and display the fruits of the Spirit.
Community is on display when we “hang out” with each other after the service on Sunday (have to be creative on this one during the pandemic), when we are involved with a Bible Study with others, when we identify and use our God given gifts to build up one another in the family of God, when we continually pray for each other in our walk with Christ, and when we intentionally encourage others inside and outside the fellowship of believers.
This display of community will be accompanied by joy as the evidences of God’s grace will be clearly seen in and through us all (we worship). In that final communal celebration when our day comes, that great cloud of witness will be there to welcome us home to our forever family. On that day, everyone in God’s family will know true community and everlasting joy. “O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight.”
Soli Deo Causa,
“Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of Thee,
let my first impulse be to worship Thee, let my first speech be Thy name,
let my first action be to kneel before Thee in prayer…”
So begins the devotional classic The Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. Such rich, powerful, transformational words. I read prayers like that and think – “Wow! I wish prayers like this could just flow from my heart every day, in every season of life”. My sister, Anne, called me a few weeks ago. Apparently as an under-employed hair stylist she is making the most of the state of California’s “safer at home” directive by focusing on her prayer life and habits. She asked me questions about my prayer life: What was my practice? What do I do with list, how long do I keep praying etc. Kudos to you Anne for making the most of your internment. But it was a humbling conversation me. I realize how many of my prayers are rote, routine, sporadic, canned or borrowed. (Probably not something you want to hear from your pastor, eh?)
I do not feel I am alone in this. Most Christians are convinced that they should pray more than they do. But it’s hard. It can be frustrating. Some don’t pray because they don’t know what to say. It can seem that the best praying is done by super-spiritual types who have command of some sacred vocabulary (Like the aforementioned Mr. Baillie). Others pray with the idea that if they do it correctly – it will yield results. If we should pray because prayer works, then by that same logic, we should stop praying if it doesn’t work. And many have. What can be done to jump start, revive, and encourage our prayers to be Bigger and better?
I do not have the “corner” on the market of BIG prayers, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to become a larger pray-er. I try to think through how I can pray differently so that I get out of the prayer rut I naturally make for myself. I recently purchased a book by Alistair Begg (one of my favorite pastors, Lead Pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland and head of the Truth For Life broadcasts). The book is entitled Pray Big – Learn to pray like an Apostle. It focuses on Paul’s prayers in the book of Ephesus. It basically shows how Paul was a great big ‘pray’er (Spoiler alert – I know. Right?). Like Paul, we do our best praying when we pray beyond our personal needs and persistently pray toward the great things that God has purposed to accomplish in history. Like Paul, we do our best praying for others when we envision and intercede for the good things that God has desired for them. Like Paul, we do our best praying as a people, when we unite and focus on God’s word.
To pray like Paul, I need to “unlearn” a few annoying tendencies, change unholy habits, and exercise the muscle of prayer. It is important to set aside a specific time to read and meditate on Scripture each day. That happens best when I get plenty of rest, the night before and prepare for my time so I am ready to go.
I feel that it is important to have a plan. Our best prayer is something we will learn by being corrected and encouraged by reading the prayers of the Bible. I personally use the Guide to Prayer Series published by Upper Room books. I currently am using the one entitled A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk With God. There is a Psalm for the week (this week it is Psalm 26) and then suggested additional daily scripture readings (today it is John 15:12-17). I try to use these Bible texts as a basis for my prayers for the world, others and self. I then turn the scriptures I am reading into a prayer. I also like to sing or read a hymn or song that may or may not correspond to something I have read (This week I am singing The Blessing [which was suggested to me by Jon Falk last week]) Instead of using prayer as a quick-fix procedure that will supposedly get results if performed correctly, our prayers need to become a way of seeking God’s Kingdom first and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33)
I want to pray bigger and better. I want my first thought every day to be of God, my first impulse to worship, my first speech to be His name, by first action every day to be kneeling before my Jesus in prayer…
Soli Deo Causa,
My mind is going a thousand different directions as I try to write this blog. Here are a few of them.
On the positive side, the message and service for this week are ‘in the books’ early, due the wedding of Casey and Andrew. (Congrats to the happy couple! By God’s grace keep your budding relationship rooted in Christ!). The final product for this weekend’s worship service are in the editorial hands of our very capable videographer, bass guitarist, keyboardist and ‘all around’ gracious guy (Is there anything he doesn’t do well?), Kevin Leisner. Also, it’s a beautiful Sunny day! The neighborhood is bustling with activity, garbage trucks roaring by, a neighbor building some sort of a fence, Sylvia cleaning windows and here I am in my office trying to write a blog (insert sighing or whining emoji here). There is a yard that needs to be mowed. I am so eager to get out there and get it done.
On the bitter sweet side- We have seven young people associated with this congregation who are graduating from various high schools. What a great accomplishment, what an odd way to finish. But what a milestone non-the-less. My heartiest congratulations to Adriana, Sophia, Logan, Haley, Molly, Jason and Sawyer for this accomplishment. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus as you take the next step on your journey. We are so eager to see where God will lead you in the future. This year also ends a chapter in the life of the Veenstra family as Justin graduates from university. For 8 years we have been making treks to Grand Rapids to celebrate college graduations with our children. This year was the oddest of them all. We watched some congratulatory words online from President LeRoy and some professors, took a few pictures of Justin with his graduation cap and tassel, went through a drive through, and helped him move out of one apartment, then went home (insert ‘what just happened?’ emoji here). The plan of Calvin is to have an ‘official’ commencement ceremony in October. Congratulations to all of you who this reached education milestones!!!
On the negative side, In Minneapolis (and other places) there are riots, looting and violence in the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd. My heart grieves over this tragedy. I don’t even know where to begin to respond to what is going on as many respond to this (maybe an exposition of Romans 1-7 might be a start). So sad to see how quickly things can unravel in this fallen and broken world. It’s sobering to realize the truth in that line -“Were it not for the restraining grace of God, there go I”. In the 90’s Saturday Night Live had a segment called “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey”. I like the way they pondered truth with wit. Here is a sample of one such clip – ‘I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they'd never expect it.’ Sinful human nature takes advantage of others, just because we can. (If you want to see another take on this just google “Bambi meets Godzilla”). The Bible is clear about the condition of the human heart. The human heart is deceitful above all and desperately wicked, lamented the prophet Jeremiah, who can understand it? I pray for the family of George Floyd, I pray for justice, I pray for radical love in response. The kind of response Jesus displayed when he hung on the cross and cried Father forgive them. I also pray for the police officers, their families and the store owners. There are so many layers involved in this. I lament with the words of Psalm 13 “How long oh Lord, How long will the enemy be exalted…” I also realize the truth of Psalm 14 – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is one who does good…” I pray for mercy for all of us.
On the ‘forward looking’ side: I am excited to gather for worship again next week (DV – which comes from the Latin “Deo Volente” meaning God willing; if nothing prevents it.) I have missed the live worship and the regular interaction with young and ‘vintage’ worshippers. I have also realized that part of what it means to be the body of Christ – is gathering physically. God has been gracious to us during these twelve weeks of isolation. But we need to be physically present with each other taking in the regular means of grace (The preaching of the Word, the Celebration of Sacraments, corporate prayer and faithful discipline that holds us accountable to and for each other). This happens best when, by God’s grace, we intentionally gather together. My prayer is that when we return, we will not just go back to ‘church as usual’ whatever that entailed for us pre-corona. My prayer is that having been humbled by the hand of God, we will return with a new appreciation for what it means to be a part of the family of God and a renewed commitment to regularly attending and appreciating one another as brothers and sister in the Lord who not only can – but need to be in fellowship with each other.
Soli Deo Causa,
Pastor Anson Veenstra, Racine Christian Reformed Church