Young people love liturgy, it would seem …

Here’s my quick and cursory contribution to church life in America, on this Monday morning in late 2018.

Yesterday proved a glorious Lord’s Day at Woodland, our dynamic and somewhat quirky little church in the snowy Northwoods of Wisconsin. (By this I mean that we have a church family of nearly 200 souls in a mostly disappeared rural town of 169. By 21st century church growth standards, that’s quirky, fantastical even.) In our rotation of (what is it?) seven worship teams, Scott was “up” leading with classic hymns. Gary played the organ. We dedicated little Eira Kay, looking pristine and classic in her flowing dedication dress made from her mother’s wedding dress. The elders laid hands on Dan, who  this morning is undergoing cancer surgery. The platform was dedicated in a sylvan scene with white lights and long candles, anticipating advent. The whole morning had a touch of formality; liturgy, even. (By dropping the “l” word here, I mean that the worshipping work of the people toward God took on form. That’s what the word means, anyway.) But, there was nothing fusty or traditional about it. This service moved and breathed!

Here’s my big observation, though: We had young people. Oh, my goodness, did we have young people! Young families and singles in their 20s and 30s, the so-called Millennials. (Sorry, don’t want to lump you all in together.) The young people observation wasn’t mine alone. Visitors from Chicago couldn’t believe it. “What have you got here?” What’s going on?” I was asked, in wonder and disbelief.

So, here’s my heuristic guess, my working thesis about liturgy and our newest, rising generation of church leaders. It kinda blows smoke in the faces of consultants and church growth “experts” writing and working for the so-called Boomers, the parents of the rising generation we’re seeing at Woodland.

Young people love liturgy. 

Really … In contrast to the post-institutionalism of their parents, young people want to belong to something. They like baby dedications where parents and congregation pledge in turn to preach the gospel to the growing child, to bring the child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to share the joyfully light load of teaching and discipling and including the child in the form of worship to God that is our liturgy. And, it would seem, young people delight in reaching back to past forms of worship that go deep and strong back to the roots of our faith in the early church that gave primary witness to Jesus and to the events of the Gospel.

That doesn’t sound like come-as-you-are, feel-good stuff to me. That sounds like material for come-and-be-changed. I like it, and I think others do to!

So, those are my thoughts before I get into the matter of the week. I’m excited about where we’re going at Woodland, and about the worship I’m sharing with my (slightly!) younger friends.

Why don’t you scroll to the bottom of this page and toss up a comment on what you’ve observed about our younger people and worship. Do you see what I’m seeing?

Have a great week!

Do His Thing!

You haven’t seen me much on Facebook, have you? I lurk there a bit to see what I ought to know people are doing, but I won’t show you my lunch or make you jealous with pictures of my vacation. Still, I have my show-and-tells, and sometimes  a story has to be shared …

My staycation last week yielded a wonderful artefact of purposeful image-bearing in the shape and form of my authentic Westboro, barn wood and plumbing-flange shelves. (Special thanks to Dick and Viv Angelo for the raw material!) I don’t think I’m boasting here, except on God, but there’s some inventiveness going on here. Barn wood comes in the shape(s) it comes off the barn in. So, the only standard dimensions are unique ones. Plumbing flanges and nipples make the perfect mount, because they can be mixed and switched out individually to fit irregular lengths and depths.

Here’s where things spin off into theology. All this is like what God does. In the work of redemption, God takes all our irregular dimensions, and He adapts us, fits us, and repurposes us for His uses.

Reclaiming us is His Thing!

But, there’s more. Genesis 1.27-28 describes humankind’s creation in God’s image. Then, we’re told that God’s blessing carried the mandate to “be fruitful … multiply … fill the earth … subdue [the earth] … and have dominion …” Significantly, that’s basically what God had just done in the work of creation. So, our first purpose is to imitate God in His creative work. Imitating God in creation and doing good work in Christ is much of what we’re reclaimed by God to do.

Bearing God’s image in creation in imitation of God is our Thing!

Seg back to my shelves. There’s satisfaction here, because such inventiveness (the Latin root means “to discover”) involves careful planning, repurposing, adapting for new and good work, and filling (my house, in this case) with purposeful, creative design.

A woodworking craftsman could have built better shelves. But, anybody, working by faith in Christ, can connect his thing to God’s thing. And, there’s enormous satisfaction in that. It’s worth a staycation even.

How about you? What purposeful work are you doing this summer, or planning to do this fall? How does this work reflect our first purpose of bearing God’s image? How does it reflect God’s further work of reclaiming us in Christ?

Why not hit the comment link and share your thoughts for the good of everybody?

Have a great weekend. And find joy in doing His thing!

Watch it, slow …

Youth baseball has ended in the Northwoods, at least for now. But before we pack the gloves and balls away in the sports tub for the year, I have a thought, and it has something to do with the pleasant month of August.

There’s a saying in baseball (at least they used in say it to me) that when you’re batting you’re supposed to “Watch the ball come in, slow.” So, you anticipate the pitch, and see it (laces and spin and all) as though it were in slow motion. It doesn’t make a world of sense, really. The ball moves just as fast as if you’re not really “seeing it,” but, somehow, getting your mind around the spinning pitch this way can turn a batter into a hitter.

August is a month of goodness. Still, it spins toward us just as fast as any other month—and maybe a little faster, what with everybody breathlessly trying to slip in an eleventh-hour vacation, while getting nervous already and trying not to think about everything rushing toward us in the fall. But, it’s a month with an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to consider our God, the Father of all goodness. And, to “Watch it, slow” … 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (Psalm 36.7-9, ESV).

Do we believe, in this month of goodness, that God is really the source of all goodness? If we do, and press ourselves to see the month of August in this light, I bet we’ll each take some time to ponder a bit—to sit in that lawn chair for an extra ten minutes, to putter in the garden an extra hour, and consciously give praise and thanks to our God of goodness.

We’ll take the time to “Watch it, slow”.

Every Careless Word …

It’s quiet in the chicken house, for once. And that seems strange, because each morning for the better part of a year I’ve started my morning with Pepper, the Barred Rock rooster.

Pepper was an accident, as people sometimes say. A year ago when we picked up our box of peeps at the post office, we’d hoped for all “layers”. But something was different about Pepper. As spring turned to summer and our chicks grew, Pepper found (her?)self often rejected by the other girls and would wander off alone. When Pepper didn’t lay an egg and finally threw back his head and crowed like a lonely adolescent boy, we knew we had a rooster.

Pepper had his moments. In the fall when Grandma Katie’s Yorkie dog, Penny, escaped to pursue Sabel, everybody’s favorite Red Star hen, Pepper gave chase. It was a good picture—Sabel out front, Penny close behind, Pepper in hot pursuit of the dog, and eight-year-old Henry, coming up behind with Coco, the Toy Australian Shepherd on a leash. A lap around the house, through the garden and the woodpiles and Penny caught Sabel, but couldn’t execute the kill before Pepper was there to rescue.

Pepper won points that day, but there was another day. It was the day early this spring when Pepper got proud. He lost sight of who he was, a lowly chicken, after all. His day and night (by now) crowing came to mean, we understood, that he believed he could chase anybody he chose. As Pepper grew proud he began to jump on the hands, and bodies, of those who fed him. Jack and Henry grew afraid to approach the chicken house. Amanda slipped and fell once while fending him off. Then, Pepper came after me. Carrying a load of wood, I caught sight of him coming, lost my balance while spinning to address him, and then, under the weight of the crashing wood, landed in a bed of snow and mud. I fought him off with a six-inch stump of wood that had been broken in two as I’d swung it at the dandered-up rooster. I knew right then we’d reached the point of judgment.

After that—while Pepper crowed, staking his claim to the chicken house, the yard, and everything and everybody else—he was being discussed. We’d sit at the dinner table talking about Pepper. He might have even come up in our family prayers. He appeared in to-do lists: “deal with Pepper”. The universe, and Pepper’s responsibility in it, turned out to be a lot bigger than Pepper ever accounted for.

Then, two Saturdays ago, I took Pepper to a neighbor’s farm and, well—as farmers say—”moved Pepper on”.

There’s a moral lesson in all this. In Matthew 12.36-37, Jesus says, I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (ESV).

Those are striking words. They mean that there’s coming a day when each of us will have a conversation with God about His evaluation of our lives. In the context of Matthew 12, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had just stamped their judgment on Jesus: “Jesus isn’t from God, not worth listening to … from Satan, even.” This they crowed out in their own little chicken house while God the Father waited at the family dinner table, taking notice.

And so it is for us. God’s evaluation of our lives will be solely about how we’ve responded to Jesus. Did we ignore Him or abuse Him, starting in our actions, moving to our casual speech, extending to our thoughts even? Romans 2.16, speaking of those who don’t even have God’s law in the Bible, indicates the scope of God’s evaluation of our lives: … their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them, on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Every bit of our lives (actions, words, thoughts) will be used as evidence of what we’ve made of Jesus. Sobering, isn’t it? … But even that isn’t the point.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1)

That’s the point, and the Goods News! What redemption there isn’t for a rooster gone bad, there is for us. My actions, words and thoughts will be taken into account, but they’ll be covered by Christ’s work. And that I receive by faith. That’s the Gospel!

So, while the kids enjoy the chicken house now turned hen house, and while I wake up under my own power and listen to the morning quiet, these moments of  tranquility become their own pictures of my peace in Christ.

And that is truly a thought to wake up to!

 

“Taking advantage of every opportunity …”

White out!

And, just like that, the preparation of a week is buried in what, by tonight, will be several feet of Northwoods April snow.

This is a first for me. I’d thought, if ever church were snowed out, that I might be relieved to rest, to have a spare message in the hip pocket. But, I’m not. I’m disappointed! Sunday morning is the high point of the week. And, this week, we hoped to follow the momentum of last week’s baptism. This week we were looking forward to hearing Liz and Paul Bowman, here from Spain. This week, Tim and the worship team were ready; the slides were all done. Both Bryn and Lauren’s moms were here from Iowa to celebrate Lauren’s baby shower, rescheduled for the second time … White out!

But then, this morning as I was skiing the two miles down the Pine Line to check in at the building to intercept any who didn’t get the cancellation message, a line from the morning’s message crossed my mind: Look carefully then how you walk … making the best use of the time … (ESV). Or, as a looser translation might say, “taking advantage of every opportunity.”

Now, here is an opportunity, this April white out. I thought of how, just an hour before, Amanda and I had (maybe for the first time ever in our married lives) made coffee, sat in bed on a Sunday morning and talked about what God has for us in the next season of our lives. Been looking for a chance to have that conversation, haven’t we, Dearie?  I thought of other married couples at Woodland who might have benefited from the same break in the routine.

Then we arrived. (Katja and Henry came up behind on snow shoes). We weren’t alone. A couple elders and a few others joined us. We made a circle, right where all the singing and sharing and teaching would have been, and we, well, made the most of the opportunity. We let our minds run over how God is the one doing the work at Woodland. While we pressed ourselves to prepare our parts for a service that was not to happen, God spent the week preparing a snow storm, so we’d have opportunity to “take advantage of the opportunity,” to pray for our Woodland church family, to have those over-due conversations, to rest even.

God is about 10,000 things at Woodland, isn’t He? We’ll take advantage of every opportunity, but let Him do the work.

And then, this coming week, we’ll go right down into the crisis of the week (there’s always one, you know), and we’ll trust Him to draw us together on Sunday, once again and as next week’s very own work of grace.

Spring, … “around the edges”

Karen said it, said it to Amanda, who brought word back to me: “In the Northwoods, spring comes, but you have to look for it around the edges.”

Poetic, we thought, so poetic we had to pause and think about what it means. When much of the country has been in flip-flops for weeks now, we burn our woodpiles in single-digit nights and wait for the sap to thaw; so we can make our syrup, of course.

But, spring comes. What had only to be believed before can now be seen. Living things warm with the life within. Snow recedes from trunks of trees. Drips of sap tremble at the tips of the taps, and then drop—perhaps once each minute—into waiting buckets. Groves of pines now reveal their harvest of needles, dropped in a former season. The life, always there to be believed, grows to be seen.

Psalm 27 contains a favorite refrain of mine: I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living (:13, ESV)

“The land of the living.” That’s where God lives. And, the psalmist (take a look at earlier verses) had to believe that despite “evildoers” and “adversaries” God’s goodness was there, and he, the psalmist, would one day live in God’s land.

That’s a comfort, in all of life. While our lives slip from us, God’s goodness, always there, always to be believed, grows to be seen.

Where do you see God’s goodness? If you’re with us in the Northwoods, let our spring that thaws its way in from “around the edges” remind you of God’s goodness: Wait for the LORD; be strong, let your hearts take courage; wait for the LORD! (:14).

So, believe what you see, around the edges. And have a good week …

 

 

Thru the Bible in … a bit longer than a year!

It’s that time to begin again. There’ll be lots of talk in the next few days about New Year’s resolutions. Then, after a week, or so, you’ll not hear much about these fresh starts, did you ever notice?

While I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, I do like to start new things.

Here’s one … Last year I discovered the 5 Day Bible Reading Program, put out by Lower Lights and available at www.BibleClassMaterial.com. (Since they encourage us to reproduce the plans, everybody attending Woodland will receive one in her bulletin).

This is the Bible reading plan I’ve always wanted. Basically, the entirely of the Old and New Testaments are broken into five readings per week for 52 weeks. There’s little bubbles, so obsessive types like me can ink in the circles at completion of each day’s reading. When an entire week’s reading is complete, there’s another column to record the date when that week’s reading was finished.

Important for me, I’ve found, is that you keep pressing forward. Don’t go back to read material you’ve missed! Save that for the next year. So, now at the beginning of 2018, I see that I competed the first three weeks of January in 2017, but then, “Ah, oh,” I got behind. No worries. I’ll just start on the fourth week of January in 2018, and try to keep ahead. If not, no worries again. I’ll just pick it up in 2019. The idea is to keep moving through the material.

Another important idea: when I come to hard-to-read, arcane writings, I need to move quickly and not get bogged down. I’ll recognize all those genealogies and codified lists of rules, but I’ll read for the big picture. Scan even, sometimes. This is Bible reading, not detailed exegesis. If ever I teach through Leviticus, that will be a different matter. For Bible reading, I want to keep going.

So, there’s your picture of me in the winter months … Early mornings in my basement, favorite chair in front of my Woodchuk stove, coffee in my blue mug (reminds of the winter sky), and with my ESV and 5 Day Bible Reading Program.

Why don’t you grab your own reading program at the site above? Join me, and let me know how you’re doing, after all those resolutions have faded away.

Eye Apples and Dolly Tea …

Keep me as the apple of your eye … pleads Psalmist David of God (Psalm 17.8)

… he kept him as the apple of his eye, Moses writes of God’s care for His people, Israel (Deuteronomy 32.10).

keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye … the LORD instructs His people (Proverbs 7.2).

School has begun, in our little house in the Northwoods. And, while other schools convoke the new school year with a dance or homecoming football game, we mark the beginning of the academic year with … the dolly tea-party!

It works like this: The girls—led by Lead Teacher, Mommy Amanda—prepare cupcakes and other delectables. Children personalize nameplates and table settings. Preparation lasts several days. It is to be a sumptuous affair.

Daddy Bryan (school principal) inaugurates the event itself by painting the girls’ nails, in the driveway. Then, the boys help one another into black suits and—bringing select stuffed animal guests (the famous Teddy for Daddy, Prancer for Henry, Baby Tiger for Jack, though he’d now prefer you didn’t know about it)—the boys approach the formal front entrance to the house. Girls hands are kissed, and we all sit down to tea. Greta Grace’s Emma and Sara likewise attend—thus, the dolly tea party. After tea and cakes, we all dance. Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, that kind of thing. When the fun has been had, the boys depart till the next year, and lessons begin the next day …

There is history to all this. In the summer of 2013, following a season of great loss for our family, we determined to celebrate what we had been given. We had dollies and stuffed bears, no doubt, but we also had one another and every opportunity to celebrate outrageously, and in ways that young children can understand.

The connection to our home learning goes something like this: if we as parents desire our children to take God, His Word and His world seriously, we’d better understand something of the Father’s great love for His people. A beginning to this life-long study might just be to learn what it means to be dear to one another. And, if that love for one another be so great, then Oh! how much more must be the love of the Father for His children! And, if the hurts and loss known to every family might be so redeemed by parents who drop to their knees to create and discover and play and heal, then how much more must be the riches of our great Creator who gives us all things to enjoy for our present and eternal good and His great glory. So goes the formation of our imaginations in truth.

And so, we’ve begun again … the good, the true, the beautiful. And, it all begins with eye apples and dolly tea!

Original dolly tea, 2013

Goodness … and Swiss chard

Real life conversation between two Westboro eight-year-olds—overheard by parents at older brother, Jack’s, baseball game, some weeks ago:

Dean: You’re kind of small for your age. How old are you, anyway?

Henry: Eight

Dean: Eight! You could be seven, or six … or five, even …

Henry: Uh-huh …

Dean: You need to get some veggies in that belly, like Swiss chard, or something. If you do that, you’ll grow—like—eighteen inches before I see you next. 

Not everyone can live in a place of obvious goodness, where Swiss chard comes up among eight-year-olds in ordinary playground talk. But, this year, we do live in such a place.

Goodness is abundant this time of year in the Northwoods. And, while our farms aren’t as big as our neighbors’ in the southern part of the state, ripeness too visits our fields, forests and gardens. For us, in the moment, this means the time of berry picking—strawberries, blueberries, raspberries—is just about past. Vegetable produce rolls in daily, enough to share, for sure. Apples await. Like the birds who by-pass our feeders for want of need, because of the abundance of food in the wild, we too look at our tables and say, “Wow … that all came from the garden. Praise God for this!

That last thought reminds me of Jeremiah’s word from God, spoken over Israel in light of His judgement, but in anticipation of future salvation:

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more (31.12, ESV).

Those who rest in Christ know this abundance today, in essence. All who know peace with God through Christ will join Israel in fullness at Christ’s return.

Till that day, we say, Praise God for this! And, we harvest from the fields and forests and gardens, and receive all this as a picture of God’s present and future … Goodness. 

Really? You want … chickens?!

This weekend, we passed the first anniversary of our first Sunday at Woodland, our interview weekend.

Previous to that memorable time, we met the search team on webcam. Dear friends all today, they were (mostly) strangers then. And, it was really something when we connected to see a roomful of people in the church’s welcome area, a place now familiar to us.

“Why could you see yourselves bringing your family to Woodland and Westboro?” the team asked us, naturally.

“Well,” we said. “We’d like to serve in a place where we could have … chickens.”

Not to make light of the process that was thorough and good, but “chickens” must have been the answer they were looking for. One lady in the foreground of our webcam screen seemed especially taken with our response. “Really? You want chickens? … We can get you chickens!”

That was Wendy Budimlija (Ba-dim-u-la). And now, one year later, Wendy (and Randy) have delivered. We have chickens!

It started with the henhouse that had to be repaired. We closed ourselves inside on a bright day, and marked the daylight. A board slapped here and another slapped there was enough to darken the innards of the place. We discovered fence nails, and a bit of chicken wire served to re-enforce any weakness, real or imagined. Randy came over to inspect my carpentry. “It’s a chicken house,” he said. “You’ve done fine.” I needed the encouragement. If I’m a mink or a weasel, I can still get in, but we’ll make the varmints prove they’re serious.

Wendy and Randy returned again to bring a heating lamp, bedding, chick feed and food and water dispensers. Then, a gift from the Budimlijas: the chicks arrived at the Rib Lake Post Office! We drove the seven miles, all in a dither, and picked up the peeping packet. Twenty minutes later, we opened our box on the lush, green lawn, right in front of our very own chicken house. We gave them their first drink. Two Barred Rocks, two Silver-Laced Wyandottes, two Red Stars, an Americana (that’s the “Easter Egger” that lays the green eggs) and one Buff Orpington.

Since then, our “girls” have become young ladies. And, they’ve gone free range. Since they remind the kids of fancy women shopping together in a fancy department store, they’ve given the ladies mature names—Matilda Mae (Tilly), Missy, Hazel, Stella, Mabel and Sable (the Red Stars), Gertrude (Trudy) and then Pepper, whom we suspect to be a rooster.

If we’d seen ourselves a year ago!

Woodland and Wendy have made good. It was a search process to remember. And, “Chickens” was the right answer.