Friday, July 26, 2013

The Worship of a Child

My little one loves to sing.  She loves to clap.  And she loves when we worship at church.

She stands on the chair with her hands held high, clapping wildly while the arms of others lay dormant at their sides.  She sings loudly and off-key when she can't even read the words, soliciting the glances of those around her.  And when the song ends and everyone sits, she breaks the still air with her eager inquiries - "mommy, can we sing more?"  And while my heart rejoices to hear her song, my fear of others can quickly take over.

My impulse is to quiet her.  Restrict her.  Sit in the back where we are out of sight from others.  Because what if she's a distraction?  What if others question my parenting? What about those who believe children should be "seen and not heard?"

And in the midst of my wrestling, I need the reminder that God commands our worship, and worship that is most pleasing is worship that delights in Him.   And my daughter delights.  She knows and enjoys the freedom of worship to her Creator that often I forget.

The Scriptures have much to say about orderly, intelligent, thoughtful, Christ-centered worship, which I do not want to forsake in an attempt to mimic my daughter's delight. I DO think we should understand the words we sing; and many times, thoughtful reflection is far more appropriate than boisterous singing.

But as her mother, I must encourage, not quiet, her worship and her delight.  Because when she worships, something significant happens.  Something eternal.  Something cosmic.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.
Psalm 8:2

Because for me, worship can become more about appearances and less about our posture.

More about fitting in than bowing down.

More about going through the motions than going to the Throne.

More about a making a beautiful sound than having a beautiful heart.

More about the people around me than the sole Recipient of my praise.

And these responses are what our Enemy longs for.

Because the Enemy longs for me to love myself, to love my comfort, and to crave the approval of man.  He delights when I take a service of worship to our Creator and turn it into a venue for self-glory and personal "feel good" gratification. He revels in hearts that grow cold, listless praise, self-focused harmonies.   But the songs of children stop Satan in his tracks.  Psalm 8 says that when children declare praise, the ENEMY is silenced.

For when I see hear the melodies of my child, when I see a child dance, as I listen to the babbles of the infant behind me, I am reminded of the glorious purpose of worship -- that God, in His infinite wisdom and glorious splendor, would stoop to rescue His helpless creatures.  And I am convicted of my shallow vision.  I am grieved by my self-focus.  And I am drawn to worship more fully.

The enemy is silenced.

And the King is lifted high.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Longing for Normalcy

I felt the heat creep across my face as I sat in the waiting room, trying to busy myself in my book and avoid all eye contact.  Every time the nurse walked through the doors, I prayed that my name would emerge from her lips.

A scaly, itchy, ugly, poison ivy rash had taken over the left side of my face, causing my eyelid to swell, my eye to droop, my skin to puff out.  Raw, red, blistering bumps had sabotaged my usual creamy complexion.

At first, it wasn't a big deal.  I reminded myself that beauty is fleeting, and my hope is in Christ.  But all "truth" was forgotten, when I sat down in an empty chair the waiting room, and the woman next to me immediately stood up and moved several seats away.  My insecurity started mounting.

Part of me wanted to chase her down, rub my scaly cheek all over her perfect, blemish-free arm, and tell her that it was terribly, terribly contagious.  But most of me just wanted to hide.  Ashamed.  Embarrassed.

Did I stand out that much?  And did my face look that different, that "unclean," that I warranted the retreat of others?  My "abnormality"  was alienating, and more than anything, I just wanted to feel "normal" again.

My mind flashed back to several months prior, when my daughter and I sat in different waiting room. A small girl, 5 years old at most, approached us.  Eyes glazed and speech slurred, she was loud, disruptive, and desperately wanted a hug from my child.  And though I smiled politely and stayed put in my chair, I pulled my daughter closer to me to keep her from this girl that didn't quite fit in.

Only later did I realize that I was teaching my child to favor "normalcy --"  to avoid, retreat even, from that which is different, unpredictable, uncomfortable -- to crave "normal" people, with normal IQ's, normal functionality, similar beliefs, and cling to predictable people and safe relationships.  Was I inadvertently teaching my daughter that she too must BE normal, socially appropriate, and culturally relevant, at all costs?

Because Jesus Christ came for those who were abnormal.  Those who were outcasts.  Different. Sick.

I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; 
but the fat and the strong I will destroy..."
Ezekiel 34:16 (NASB)

In a culture where the "abnormal" and unclean had to remove themselves beyond the city limits and could intereact with no one, Jesus moves toward them, touches them, takes their place.  He didn't just love the abnormal, He BECAME the abnormal.

Parents, how might you be showing favoritism by celebrating normalcy and avoiding what is different?  How might you be encouraging your child, either intentionally or unintentionally, to pursue "normalcy" rather than godliness?  

Teach your children to praise God in their weaknesses.  Teach them to praise God for their weaknesses.  There is beauty, blessing, hope, and dependence when we rest in the Savior who came for the broken.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Cleaning Up the Mess We're In

She has been singing so contently in her bed for over an hour -- I eagerly climb the stairs to surprise her with a "post-rest time adventure."

But as I walk into her room and flip on the light, the scene surprises me.

Belly-down on her sheets, still singing, she lies a pool of her own vomit.  Her bed drenched, outfit stained, and face covered, she looks at me and smiles.  "Hi, mommy," she says sweetly, then continues her melody.  She remains unaware, and unmoved, by the filth that covers her.

My heart breaks. I am not surprised by the mess.  This is normal.  But why wouldn't she call?  Why would she lay there for over an hour without once crying for help?

It is possible to get so accustomed to our own habits that we fail to see the mess we sit in?

I lead her to the filled bath and cry as I wipe away the remains of her lunch.  Her breath reeks of acid and her hair is matted down and she remains unaffected.  Playing happily.

I caress her hair and dress her in clean clothes.  I wipe down the stained walls and remove the soiled blankets, and I am reminded that I too was once this way.

Ephesians 2 says that, without Christ, I was just the walking dead.  Walking, yet unaware that there was no real life within me.  I sat in more than just vomit.  I lay in a gravestone. 

The Bible regularly highlights our propensity to blindness, to self-deception:

There are those who are clean in their own eyes, but are not washed of their filth.
Proverbs 30:12 (ESV)

Unaware. Unmoved. Uncaring.  Unaffected. 

But God.

Merciful God.  He sees us in our filth and He intervenes.  He vows to bring us out of it, even while we are content and unaware.  He makes us alive. 

And now, even now -- alive in Christ! -- I can turn a blind eye to my sin.  I can ignore my habits, excuse my pride, brush off my self-absorption, forget my idolatry.   But God, my Faithful Father, has committed Himself to my cleanliness.  To my washing.  To my perfection.  And he promises to see it through.

He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Then, and still now, I need a Faithful Father who sees my mess and vows to bring me out of it.

And my role as a mother is to see the filth, the mess, the destructive patterns of my children, and intervene.  Show them the filth, then refresh their souls with the gospel.  The better way.  It images a greater Father who has done this for me.