A Sinner Walks into a Church

I love God’s rhythms. Maybe seasonal rhythms, cow, or sparrow rhythms I notice around the Barnyard of Heaven. Or, especially, rhythms I participate in with others at a church service. The rhythms we take part in which shape our loves.

No need to tell me what you really love? Just show me your rhythms.

I can’t pinpoint when I fell in love with the ancient rhythms of a church service beautifully orchestrated by my pastors. It simply grew with repetition. Maybe it was the crescendo I felt moving me in a Gospel reenactment toward the climax – a meal with God.

Maybe it was the discovery that God was working inside the rhythms, top-down, to transform my heart. A worship service wasn’t a place for me to explore creative new ways to express myself to God, though I did. It was more like a dance between lovers where neither partner feels compelled to impress each other. But oh, the intimacy flowing between us!

After hundreds of repetitions, I’m still stunned by the order of the first two elements of the ancient rhythms passed down by our spiritual fathers. First element: God Calls Us. Second element: God Cleanses Us.


Shouldn’t these elements be reversed? God knows, and I know, that I’m dragging myself into church a sinner, poor and wretched, weak and weary, sick and sore. But that’s okay. I join my fellow worshippers with a greeting of peace, recite together a Psalm, pray, sing a song and hymn of praise.

Then, God cleanses us as we confess our sins corporately and individually, punctuated by a scriptural reminder of God’s promise of forgiveness.

Gone are the days of trying to perform, behave ourselves, or pretend we’re not filthy. He wants us. He wants to hear our praise. But leave the cleansing ‘til later. He’ll get to it. He’ll be the one to do it. He’ll take a basin and towel and wash our dirty hearts. Whoa!

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17, KJV)

Prayer: My beautiful, dynamic, loving, Triune God. I hear Your call to worship. Your acceptance of me is astounding. You call be by name. I respond to that call with praise. Thank you for cleansing and healing my body and soul. Amen.

Photo Credit: Pharisee and publican

Asaph and Miriam Got Rhythm

Sparrows look alike. I can distinguish male from female due to distinctive markings, but not individuals amongst dozens lining the rafters of a milking parlor.

There are two exceptions. Sparrows are creatures of habit. In this case, the habit is the location where they roost inside the parlor structure. Stretching across the milking parlor pit, about six inches below the ceiling, is a small cable along which slides a tarp used to keep warmth from escaping between twice-daily milking shifts. Slide the tarp open. Wait patiently with occasional glances over the next 20 minutes. There he is. Asaph.

I don’t know where he’s been, but he always shows up, day or night.

If there’s milking going on, Asaph shows. Doesn’t matter who’s milking that shift, he shows. Asaph’s got rhythm.

I call him Asaph because, during a six-hour milking shift, he chirps out birdsong praise that pierces heaven. Yes, I know. Sparrows are worthless (except in the eyes of God). But to me, sparrows are sacred precisely because, to most, they go unnoticed. Yet they splendidly declare the glory of God as individual’s part of something grander like a choir or a symphony. I could think of no one besides David, a name too common for this occasion, more skilled in uttering praise than David’s co-psalter, Asaph.

I started my own little rhythm, a little liturgy. I catch a shadowy movement out of the corner of my eye. Asaph silently glides past to ascend to his roosting/praising perch. I grab the tattered, iodine-stained church bulletin from Sunday’s service out of my back pocket, greet Asaph a good and fine morning, and ask him to join me in reading the Psalm printed in the God Calls Us section. Asaph always nods approvingly, rearranges a few feathers on the black napkin which garbs his upper chest, and interprets my English phrases into bird-praise.

I mentioned there were two exceptions to my sparrow ID limits. After a month of noticing Asaph’s methodical visits to the cable perch, I spotted a female companion joining him. Sparks sizzled between them. I feared this new acquaintance might whisk Asaph away to her perch in another part of the barn, but Asaph remained resolute. His little rhythm of “showing up” was undeterred.

Joining him, with grace and devotion, was this new little tweeter I call Miriam.

Moses’s sister Miriam, you recall, led the women in song and praise with tambourines as the sea closed over Pharaoh’s chariots. Now Miriam, arrayed in a traditional feathered gown, sings forth praises in the same tradition.

Beneath the cable perch is a silver-dollar-sized hole in a rusted tin structure enclosing pipes near the ceiling. Voilà, the perfect entrance for a nest. For over 2 years, during “special sparrow seasons” in both Spring and Fall, I’ve watched Miriam and Asaph’s relationship blossom. Asaph and Miriam got rhythm.

Their procreation instincts make this cowboy blush.

Next, their duel-effort nest construction begins. They masterfully weave wheat straw, abundant in a barn, tiny twigs, and curiously, shreds of royal blue baling-twine strands into a shell. Finally comes the lining of soft, fluffy down plucked from deep places hidden beneath shielding feathers.

Miriam disappears for 12 days to incubate the 4 eggs stashed in the hidden refuge. Sometimes, I see her quickly pop out of the nesting hole and wing-bump Asaph, her tag-team partner. Asaph wriggles his way into the hole to warm the eggs while Miriam quenches her thirst. Once the small, dull-white and brown, mottled eggs hatch, the two of them begin a steady convoy of worm delivery to the triangular beaks eagerly protruding from the hole in the tin.

Let the flourishing begin!

Take a Deep Breath of Remember: We need a rhythm inventory. What rhythms, what habits of remembering can we weave into our schedule to enable us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Our rhythms reveal our loves. They shape us. Sometimes unknowingly. Are there rival habits or rhythms competing for our supreme love?

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I feel the strong pull toward loves that promise fulfillment but leave me empty. Forgive my wayward heart. Turn me toward You, my supreme love. By your grace, become so beautiful to me that my highest desires burn for You. Amen.



Liturgy and the “Good Life”

Ok, So What’s Liturgy?

Liturgy sounds churchy and religious, doesn’t it?  Something practiced on a Sunday morning in a few churches that haven’t figured out how, or better yet, chosen not to let go of ancient outdated practices, customs, and traditions.

Well, yes, it’s that.  But it’s so much more.  We are all immersed in liturgies; those practices, habits, rhythms, routines, schedules that make up our daily life. Everybody has liturgies.  Expand your attention beyond a church service and notice how you move through a day and you will perhaps get a glimpse of your liturgy.

Eugene Peterson refers to the Eucharist, for example, as a ritual.  “Jesus’ most honored command produced a ritual – an ordered arrangement of actions and words the Christians reproduce wherever and whenever they want to ‘remember’ and ‘proclaim’ salvation.  There is more going on than I am aware of or can be responsible for.  Reality is larger than me.  A ritual puts me into the larger reality without requiring that I understand it or even ‘feel’ it at the moment.  It keeps us in touch with and preserves mystery.  For reality is not only larger than me and my immediate circumstances, it is also beyond my understanding.  Rituals preserve that mystery, protect certain essential aspects of reality from being reduced to the dimensions of my interest or intelligence or awareness.”[1]

So why is it so big a deal?  Because our liturgies shape us, often subconsciously, into who we are.  They reveal what we love, what we long for, crave for, as our ultimate objective.  Some version of what we call good life.  This immersion in liturgical practices extends far beyond the order of worship in a church service.  Becoming aware of that may enable you to take stock both of desirable liturgies and those liturgies that compete for your loves.  Our liturgies work on us at the level of the heart, the gut.  Your liturgies are determined by a master.  “Show me your schedule, I’ll show you your liturgy.  Show me your liturgy and I will show you your master.”[2]

A Story About the Good Life

Ever been passionately pursued?  Ever come stumbling toward home tarnished from the pigsty, staring at the dust rising from your bare plodding feet, rehearsing your excuses?  Your best hope is to be counted among the hired hands.  Then you glance up and see him.  Without need for dignity, he comes running toward you, both hands clutching his robe so he can sprint.  It’s your Father.  He’s been waiting for you.  He throws his arms around you and lifts you off your feet.  He kisses you and orders his robe to cover you.  Cover you from your nakedness, poverty and rags.  He means to do you good.

That’s an example of a story I can place myself into, allowing the images, the sensory stimulations to move me, bend me shape me toward a relationship I crave.

As human creatures, we are more than what we know, think or believe.  Yes, we have intellect and rationality, but we are more than ‘brains on a stick.’  We are what we love.  My loves are directed toward my version of the good life; how I define human flourishing; and are shaped and bent and formed in me by my little liturgies.

St. Augustine gives a glimpse of the good life that can be found only in God and is initiated by God:

“You have prompted him, that he should delight to praise you, for you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.”[3]

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, pg. 205, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005.

[2] Pastor Jeff Hamling, From a sermon, “What is Your Liturgy?”

[3] St. Augustine, Confessions, pg. 3, 2007, Published by Barnes and Noble Books.