March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the church holiday where Christians remember Jesus' triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem to begin the Passion Week or Holy Week, the week leading up to the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ (or Messiah). The story from Matthew 21:1-3 says, "As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. Go into the village over there," he said. "As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will immediately let you take them." 

It is a weird day, really, because very few churches celebrate Palm Sunday with palm fronds or branches. I remember growing up, and I always loved this day because it meant that we would receive small palm frond crosses as bookmarks for our Bibles. Sometimes they had pins and you would pin them to your dress or suit. Those were the days when ladies and girls wore "Sunday best" clothing to church. Men and young boys wore suits. Today, you find just about every kind of clothing, from short shorts and mini skirts to flip flops. Styles have changed so much since I was a child -- church itself -- the way we do church too, has changed. 

I went to Paradise Church today, after a very long hiatus. It felt bitter sweet in some ways. I mean, it was nice to be back, but something was missing, something was not the same. I missed my friend, Bobbi, who was our lead worship singer for over a year. She and her husband moved to WA this winter, and while the band still plays the same music, it is just not the same dynamic. It is weird, that is all.

I have blogged about my challenges in finding a church home before. I am a member at Paradise. I have been worshipping there for now on 8 years. My parents attend this church, and my son used to be part of the worship team. He has now moved over to my former church, SBC, and he seems settled to be part of the praise team. I miss him so much, really so much. I miss seeing him play keyboard or drums every Sunday, and I miss spending time with him on Sunday afternoons. He is almost 22 now, and he has his own life. Still, there is a part of me that feels so sad that he is growing up and growing away from me. I feel so alone some days. I feel so lonely.

Our pastor preached a good message today. The music was okay, different, but not great. It seems like so much of my life is in flux these days. My church is not the same, my life is not the same, and my home is not the same. I feel like a person out of step, out of time, out of tune. Why is this? Why do I feel this way?

The message was on the triumphal entry. It is a common message for pastor's to preach on Palm Sunday. I would say that it wasn't anything special, meaning that our pastor didn't really share anything new with me. What was unique was the conversation I had with the Lord RIGHT before, DURING, and AFTER the service. Let me explain...

I entered into the main worship center a little before 10:30. The house was sparsely attended, which made me wonder how many people were still attending the second service. Once the music started, however, more people showed up, and then by the end, the place was pretty full. Anyway, there was a new girl leading worship, and I didn't recognize her from church. I think she was visiting. Well, she started to sing that sort of "Hillsong" way, and then was all over the place vocally. I mean, she had a nice voice and all, but she was singing in a key that no one in the congregation could sing, and she was scatting her notes so the congregation was up when she was down low. On top of that, she was shouting at us "C'mon, lift your hands and praise Jesus! Worship the Lord!" Okay, a bit pentacostal for my tastes, and even though I would describe myself as quasi-charismatic (in worship style - I do lift my hands to sing), I don't like being told to how to worship. The majority of people in our congregation are staid, and not "holy rollers." There are some of us who clap, sway and lift our hands, but we are the minority and not the majority. What bothered me most was the way she was prancing on stage. Bobbi, our former lead singer, was very bluesy in her style. She had this way of bringing you into the music, and creating a worshipful atmosphere. This lady seemed to be upset that we weren't expressing ourselves the way she wanted us to do it. I felt embarrassed for the other people. I felt uncomfortable, and I usually don't get uncomfortable at church. She just seemed to be yelling at us, trying to make us worship a certain way. I didn't like it, and I couldn't wait for her to finish her performance.

Our pastor came on after and like I said, preached a good message. He is a nice man, just temporarily preaching for us, but still a Godly man with a love of the Word. I was feeling lonely, missing my boy, sitting all alone in the middle row. A couple people waved and said hi. One friend hugged me before running off to her own row. I sat down, took out my bulletin and wrote these words: Lord, help me to understand the next steps of my life.

As I sat there listening to the pastor preach, this is what I heard the Lord say to me.

Q1. Will you go?
Q2. Will you go?
Q3. Will you go where I send you?
Q4. Will you do my work?

I heard these words, questions really, in my head as the pastor was teaching from Matthew. At one point in his message, he said that there were different responses to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. The first response was from the disciples who were with the Lord. Their response was to obey His command, to submit to His authority, and to follow Him without question. He noted that they had questions, but they kept them to themselves rather than ask them directly (they did this sometimes, and sometimes the Lord answered them before they even asked Him anything). The key thing was that they had questions, but they didn't wait for answers before obeying the Lord. He said "they went wherever Jesus sent them. If Jesus said to 'go,' then they listened and they went." My heart was cut to the core because I have heard the Lord telling me to 'go' before, and while I have not literally (physically) gone, I have agreed to go wherever He wanted. The kicker was that our pastor described the difference between a disciple and a follower this way:
  • A disciple believes so completely in His master that he willingly follows after Him.
  • A follower believes in what the Master is saying, but questions the why's, the what's and the wherefore's before he will follow.
Then he asked, "which are you?"

I sat there in silence listening to these words, and thinking to myself that I am not a disciple. I am a servant, for sure, but not a disciple. At least, not yet.

The Lord knows I am willing and agreeable to follow Him. I ask questions, though, all the time. I question His authority, His integrity, and His directives. I constantly beg Him for reasons, for rationale, and for logic. I want to know why...all the time...why?

As the message drew to a close, I couldn't pull myself back to the moment because I was deep in thought. In fact, all through the offering, the closing song (which was better), and the blessing, I was focused on my response to the Lord. Am I a disciple? Am I willing to go where He sends me?

I wrote out the answers to the questions I heard in my head.

A1. Yes.
A2a. No. Why? Because I cannot see the way. 
A2b. Yes, because when it comes down to it, you are God, and I trust you, I believe in you, and I want nothing but what you are to me.
A3. Yes. There is no place I can go where you will not be.
A4. Yes, Lord.

So I sit here today, no closer to finding out the plans the Lord has for me, other than to say that I am a complete and utter failure when it comes to obeying the Lord. I am willing, and I am agreeable, but I won't go --> why? I won't go because the cares of this life consume me and keep me from letting go of them. I have my parents. I have my son. I have my work. I have all these things holding me here in Phoenix. In fact, this has always been the case. I have heard the voice of the Lord telling me to "go" for many years now, and our conversation always comes back to this very sore point. I simply will not go. I am like the man who asked the Lord if he could go and bury his father BEFORE following Him. The Lord replied "let the dead bury their dead." His meaning, that there was nothing the man could do for his father now that he was dead. Jesus was calling to him to follow after Him. 

I am like this man. My parents are alive, but they are not well. I don't know how long they have to live, only the Lord knows that timing, but I don't want to leave them behind. I am not afraid to go after the Lord, no not at all. I am simply trying to understand why the Lord would ask me to leave my parents now, I mean, at their age. I know my father will not move away from Phoenix. My mother is not well enough to go, certainly not now with her dementia getting worse. My son is in school, not close enough to graduate, so there is that worry. Why now, Lord? Why now?

I know what you are thinking because I am thinking the same thing: the timing of the Lord is perfect. It is true, really, it is true. I know this is the case. There is nothing I can do on my own, and if I am really His disciple, then I go where He sends me, when He asks me to go.

It is done.

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