My church, Vineyard Concord, takes a break from many of our activities in July to spend some time reflecting and abiding. My wife, Linda, writes a great weekly blog during this time, and I’ll post the link each week here.
One of the most exciting parts of my life is the relationship that many churches in central Contra Costa have through Church Without Shoes. This is a pretty extraordinary group of people, across denominations who are doing some great things together.
One of those things is an online daily Lenten gospel reading called iLent. Along with the reading are notes from a different pastor each day, reflecting on what they hear God saying to them and what they’re going to do about it. You also have a chance to respond in the same way. I recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a spiritual practice to take on during lent ilent.org
I’ve been holding off on blogging over the past couple of months, but I’d like to share some devotional readings that my wife, Linda, has written for our friends this summer. They’re great, and I think you’ll enjoy getting into them.
July 8, 2012
Summer Sabbath and the Parables.
This summer we are focusing on a few of Jesus’ parables. It will be fun to have all the ages in our services during this Summer Sabbath and the parables explain and confuse things for all ages alike. The parables probably will make more sense and be more easily understood by those under 12 than those over. People under 12 tend to be so much more literal and accepting of truth. And this is where I begin our summer Sabbath devotions this year.
The parables represent about one-third of Jesus’ teachings during His time on earth. He said they were teachings used to CONCEAL the Kingdom from those who didn’t trust in Him and to REVEAL the Kingdom to those of faith. (Matthew 11:25, “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”) This is not comfort to me, and from the gospel readings, I don’t think it comforted the disciples either.
Over and over, after every parable they asked for an explanation. They struggled to know what it was that they were meant to understand from the parables. But the disciples didn’t understand, even with explanations sometimes. And to a large extent neither do I.
So what was it Jesus wanted us to hear and see in the parables?
Jesus used the parables to reveal the Kingdom of God, to reveal the King himself, and to reveal the nature of the King’s subjects (us). And we will look at the parables we cover this summer with this in mind.
Take last week’s parable of the sow-er, the seed, and the soil (Matthew 13:1-23). I’ve think I may have always looked at it from the wrong angle, focusing on my own heart or the hearts of those around me that are hard, rocky, dry, thorny, choked…. wishing I was better soil, they were better, we were better soil. Endlessly disappointed in my lack, our lack of being the followers (or soil) Jesus deserves. Frustrated that we it didn’t seem I/we could ever become good soil and stay that way…
But what if the point more, much more, was to reveal the Sow-er’s heart. To see that the parable is actually revealing more about the sow-er than the seed or soil, that is a new look, a whole different vantage. What if Jesus is pointing out to us that He is the One who sows into our lives. And He is such a generous, extravagant, merciful King, that He sows His love and mercy freely and unconditionally knowing fully that our hearts are at various times and to various degrees, rocky and hard, choked with distractions and anxieties, and even at times more given to be in places where Satan can trounce and steal. Realizing that about the Sow-er WOULD be GOOD NEWS!
The fact that we are varying degrees of poor soil most of the time is not news to us, or shouldn’t be if we take an honest look. And it is certainly not new news to our Lord. But to FOCUS on the love and generosity of the Sow-er, is to see this parable with a whole new purpose, it is to understand that Jesus was revealing His heart about us. This is picture of His covenant with us that He wanted us to have eyes to see.
The SECRET, the MYSTERY of the Kingdom is found in Jesus.
So if you have ears to hear, come near and listen, come near and ask, come near and spend some time being in His Presence. Focus with thanksgiving on His generous love evidenced in our daily life; His merciful grace that has rescued each of us over and over in spite of our hard head, heart or mind; and ask for ears to hear and eyes to see His active love in your life today.
Come near and ask for the revelation of His love, grace, and mercy and for a heart that is grateful.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You.” Ps 143:8
July 1, 2012
Another Summer Sabbath
The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14
Another Summer Sabbath. Here we are again with another opportunity, another season to sit in His Presence, wait and listen. We practice this Sabbath time each summer where we intentionally slow down a bit. Even if the world and our commitments don’t, we purpose to slow down internally, spiritually; to wait and listen, rest and be in His Presence. It’s not natural, it’s not easy, it’s a little squirmy, a little frustrating, even a little bit of an exercise in futility and failure at times. But still. As an ongoing, practicing discipline of our faith, it is significant, it is beneficial, it is important, even crucial. We need time apart. Even if it is just to remind us, fail though we may, that we NEED time apart. Our own pro / con experiences aside, it still has value and is good.
We need to re-set our spiritual clocks. The truth is the best way to work is well rested. Our senses are sharp, our reflexes quick and our mind attuned. And the truth is also that too often we work until we are exhausted then get up and do it again, and again and again, until we drop. Not as productive, not at fruitful, but we work. This can be true with our relationships and our faith as much as our vocations.
So it is, fairly fair to say, a re-boot, a re-winding of our spiritual clocks is, if nothing else, a good idea in theory. But by stressing it every summer for 4 weeks or so, we remind ourselves; and one another that it is just that – a good idea. And whether it fits well with our individual lives or not, it is still a good reminder that we are not immune from over work, over exhaustion, over thinking, over committing, over doing of our lives to the point of numbness, to where we are just going through the motions of life without the fullness and presence it deserves. So that, as we are able, as we can find space in our lives, rest and being in His Presence are something of value, not to be ignored or neglected, what ever our reasoning (too hard, no time, don’t hear, don’t get Scripture, discomfort, failure). And it is humbling to admit we are no different than every saint that has gone before us. We too NEED His Presence, His Wisdom, His Grace, His Mercy and His Love in our lives desperately. And taking time to remember and practice time apart with the Lord and ourselves is undeniably crucial.
So if not now, soon, and often.
Just a reminder.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Vineyard Concord is hosting Art and Vine; a fundraiser for Fostered Youth in the Concord area. There will be work from local artists for sale, wine tasting and live music.
Okay, so I’m aware that the word “lament” is a buzz-kill. Nobody wants to listen to complaints. We all know someone who seems to be walking around all day, every day, under a smog cloud of misery. I want to be cheerful and encouraging. Sometimes, I don’t genuinely feel that way. Sometimes, I need to complain to my Father. Things aren’t going well, and I need to sit with Him and tell Him about it.
Over and over again, I’m drawn to John 15, where Jesus talks about us being pruned so that we can bear fruit. I’m also reminded of the need to “abide” in Him, spending time each day just to listen to what He has to say to me. Then I need to do something about it. My relationship with Him is based on honesty. He’s always honest with me, I tend to hedge the truth to make myself look like a good Christian. Part of growing in my friendship with Him is admitting that I just don’t get it. Why are things not going well? Why are my friends going through hellish times? There’s a longing to see more of heaven breaking through in our lives.
With that in mind, my wife, Linda and I decided that it was time to write a song that dealt with the feeling of sadness and confusion that comes when we don’t see God’s kingdom break through, in the way that we hope for. When words aren’t enough to express what is going on deep inside. This was 2 years ago. We wrote a song called Cry Out Loud, and then let it sit there, not being sung, because it just seemed too dark for the worship settings where I usually lead.
Well, last night, out of the blue, Linda tells me that she thinks it’s time to bring the song out. She sensed that people needed a way to express their pain to God together. So, I taught it to the band today and we did it. I think it was the right thing to do. People seemed to be relieved and free to let loose emotionally. It did the same thing for me. Here are the lyrics. We’ll be recording the song on our next record.
Don’t be afraid to lament. It’s a way of reaching out to God. He reaches back with grace and mercy.
If You are speaking
Then why can’t I hear You?
Is there some reason
I don’t see
I still believe, but lacking
Hope and comfort
It weighs my chest down
When I breathe
But I’ll stay, I’ll stay
And cry out loud because
The words won’t come
Whom have I in heaven
And earth but you?
My strength is draining
And my soul is desperate
My eyes are tired
From the strain
Watching and waiting
For my only refuge
One word from You
Would stop the pain
I’ve heard strength comes from waiting,
And living in the truth
A soft heart anticipating
The morning’s hope is new
But there’s no mistaking,
My confidence is shaken
Until I hear from You
I’ll cry out loud
Because the words won’t come
Cry Out Loud- Dave and Linda Foster, (C)2010
I find that I don’t come across many forms of music that I don’t like at least a little bit. I think the reason is that I have a lot of respect for people who commit themselves to the almost impossible road of making a living making music. Most musicians that I know are introverts. The musicians who push through and do thousands of hours of solitary rehearsal to go play at bars and coffee houses have my immense respect.
I grew up listening to pop music on AM radio; KHJ in Los Angeles and KFRC in San Francisco. Pop is short for popular, and popular is popular because people like it. I love to watch the Grammys, because I love popular music. There, I said it!
I was moved by Adele and Foo Fighters this year. The joy of making music really is greater than the bottom line. But, I’d have to say the moment when I heard God’s voice was when I saw Glen Campbell, an extremely popular and talented artist, who was my main influence to start taking guitar lessons. Glen has Alzheimer’s now, and is on his final tour, along with making his final album. He obviously gets a little bit confused (if you’ve faced Alzheimer’s with a loved one, you’ve seen the early signs), but he is still out there, doing what God made him to do, with obvious passion and joy.
I mentioned that God spoke to me when I saw Glen. I was reminded that one thing I’m here to do is to write songs, no matter what. It’s not about making money (although I’m open to it), but about bearing fruit in a gift that God has put in me. I’m about 20 years behind Glen (and I’ve been told I look like him) so I figure I’m going to put songwriting back on the front burner and see what comes of it. It’s a matter of knowing the identity that God has given me and being obedient to use that gift to speak to Him, my friends and friends I haven’t met yet. So, I’m putting songwriting and collaborating on my calendar.
What is the thing God is saying for you to do? Sometimes the hints are more obvious and less “spiritual” that you think. Once you know that, how will you put it on the front burner?
I spent the past week at the Vineyard Worship Leaders Retreat in Cannon Beach, OR. For the past many years, I’ve treasured being a worshipper and worship leader in the Vineyard movement. It’s great to have time set aside to make and maintain friendships with people who really get each other and come at the same vision from so many different angles. I came away refreshed, excited and really wanting to mine deeply into my Vineyard music roots. A simple, deeply heartfelt song goes a long way. All that’s really worth spending any time on is what’s genuine and true. Before God and people, that’s how I want to live.
I’m having a great week with my friends at the 3dm Learning Community at Saint Matthew Church in Walnut Creek. The content and interaction are incredible, and it’s a lot of fun leading worship with a group that is so engaged
I’m thankful for you. You that sing along with me. You that stop me in the grocery store or on the plaza to tell me that a song has touched your heart and strengthened your faith. You are very encouraging, and I hear the voice of God in your words. I’ll keep trying to listen and write songs that convey what you need to express or take in or meditate on, or just to say thank You.
I’m about to get together with my friend and producer, Jason Bendickson, to start charting our upcoming record. We worked together on Iron back in 2008, and are looking forward to making this one. As sort of a preview, here’s a link to one of songs we played live a few months ago; Abide in Me. I’ll keep posting as we move along.