At the Altar

Turn down my performance,

Turn up Your praise!

Turn up Your praise … turn up Your praise ….

It was an amazing program.

I stopped and chatted with some of the people who came together to celebrate the music that my mom had enjoyed, arranged, directed and composed. We were gladdened by the strength of her memory, and the joy of sharing it.

Walk, talk. Swipe through my purse for my car keys. Stop, talk … swipe. Swipe. Sigh. Swipe … swipe.

As the church was locked up, we stood outside in the darkness, still talking, laughing.

Swipe. Grr. Swipe.

Turn down my performance,

Turn up Your praise!

Turn up Your praise … turn up Your praise ….

I methodically began to unload my record-heavy purse on the trunk of my sister’s car.

Two paperback books – check.

(Mom’s writing. Great opportunity to share.)

A plate, a dish towel – check.

(Fun skit. You kinda had to be there.)

Usual essentials – check.

Except my keys.

We called my cousin, whose face is pictured in my mental dictionary, right next to the phrase “faithful steward.” Minutes after she’d driven away, she was back to open the church up again. Voiced no irritation. She walks in patience.

I searched the pew where I’d sat. Then I stepped up on the altar, looking around where the microphone had been.

Left, right.

Enough.

Removing the plate and books again, I kneeled and turned my purse upside down, shaking it. Plop, flutter, flutter. Kch, kch.

I think I hear them,” my son said, kneeling next to me, as I kept peering, not seeing. Not sure I was really hearing.

Kch, kch. He revealed the twisted pocket, the only pocket in the purse. Where my search began. Where my expectations are usually stored. The pocket that still held my keys. Kch.

I made my angry face. He helped me pull them out.

Turn down my performance,

Turn up Your praise!

Turn up Your praise … turn up Your praise ….

My sister told her I’ve-done-that-too story. My cousin told her I’ve-done-that-too story. I’m not sure either one ever made someone drive back and re-open a church just for that. But I was grateful for their compassion.

With what I just happened to be carrying at that moment — doing what I normally do, as best I can, just wasn’t enough.

With that particular jumble … ok, and with jumbles I’ve had before – what I can do and what I can understand just wasn’t enough. Not enough to even simply keep moving.

Before my cousin drove away (again), she pointed out something: that I couldn’t really have done all that necessary shaking out, to begin to see what was twisted out of place, to get to the bottom of anything, while I was still out in the darkness. I couldn’t really even see what I was doing.

But once I was at the altar, I got the help I needed.

OK, yeah. So I didn’t leave my stuff there. When I walked from the altar, my purse was still heavy.

But … I was still so much better off.

In the jumble I carried weariness, aches. So much frustration twining through.

In the shaking out I found relief, fellowship. Unlimited divine intervention flowing through and glorified.

When I emptied it all out at the altar.

Turn down my performance,

Turn up Your praise!

Turn up Your praise!

Turn Up Your Praise!

At the Altar

September 2010 photo of lunch-hour pipe organ concerts by my mother Izola Collins

Lyrics from ‘Turn Down, Turn Up’ by Cheryl Crayton. Copyright February 2018

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Turn to dance

On point

Definitions:

1. law —

   Staying on the topic.

2. fashion —

    Perfect.

3. military 

    Taking the lead role.

4. dance 

    Staying on your toes.

Let’s turn to dance.


I took ballet as a preteen. After seeing my friend in recital, I got my mom to enroll me in lessons, and soon, I was dancing on Broadway 

 Broadway Avenue, our city’s version of Main Street, two afternoons a week at a storefront school. 


My mishmosh of memories from class include the gleam of tap shoes, doing the hustle (this was the ’70s), and the unyielding height of the barre.


Decades later, I still remember the lessons on pirouettes. 


Before the spinning starts, you have to choose a focus, a focus spot where you want to go. And with every turn, you have to refocus. Otherwise, the effort takes you far off course, leaving you disoriented, confused … sometimes even hurting and ill. But with discipline to refocus at every turn, there’s guidance and grace.


Staying on your toes, as defined by a believer in Jesus Christ, is not about mental agility or physical prowess. It means realizing that your statement of faith is a daily necessity, before leaving the bed. Worth interrupting your own agenda setting, grocery-list making, physical assessment and dream analysis — to seek to abide in God first. Thinking about who God is and why you worship Him. 


Even before we turn our wide-ranging thoughts into requests before God, we need to turn from all that’s on our mind, so we can speak directly to Him … about Him


And long after we’ve sat up, stood and shuffled from the bed, we need to be ready to interrupt all those things again — not only to seek God’s agenda at every turn, but to abide with Him more and more often during the day.  


We need that, and God delights in it. Reason enough.


Ongoing spiritual warfare provides even further reason.  Before we engage in battle, we need to choose that same focus, and then constantly refocus.  Otherwise, our thoughts, words and actions become confused and take us far off course, stranding us in our pain and hurting others.


Turn, turn, turn. To prayer. To praise. To petition. To devotion.


To stay on point as God defines it, turn often to God’s Word — 2 Chronicles 20:15 b, Ephesians 6:10-18 — for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 


To stay on point, keep your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Find guidance in grace. God makes it available to you daily, and it was never meant to be hoarded or rationed out. 


To live on point is to live extended to the utmost —  the utmost patience (1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:2); the utmost perseverance (2 Timothy 2:15, Philippians 1:20) and the utmost generosity (2 Corinthians 8:3-15) — all with a willingness to go beyond your personal resources. 


The history of dancing en pointe traces a movement to a dance style that disregarded the body’s natural alignment; it was a way of dancing that followed the fashion of its time. S
piritually speaking, living on point follows an everlasting standard, based on God’s nature instead of the stances that come naturally to us. 


Our natures, when placed in God’s hands, are redefined and then refined daily. He provides us with extensive practice to develop a strength that reaches beyond our own ability.  


God has taken on our perfection as a lifetime project.


To stay on point, turn and take God’s extended hand.

The Sharpest Sword

I had seen what it could do. Now it was my turn.

We were at a festival that celebrates the Renaissance period of history, with food and events that match the theme. While chewing on a huge turkey leg and watching a jousting match, we’d gotten a fresh surge of energy, and now we were exploring the shops.

My husband had admired the range of swords, and a worker at the shop invited him to try out his favorite. Behind the shop were bundles of reeds standing up in water barrels. They’d been soaked overnight, and the thick bundles were now dense and heavy.

First, the shop worker took aim. And swung, slicing in one steady, fluid movement. He showed us the swiftly dissected bundle, and reviewed what made the sword so effective and efficient. After giving us a lesson on careful use, he then handed it off to my husband, who readily did the same.

Sword

Now I had the sword in my hand.

I’d been fed. I’d been taught. The sword was sharper than we could have imagined. All I had to do was understand what it could do, and then choose to use it.

There’s a sword that is so sharp it can divide bone and marrow, soul and spirit. You have this sword. And it’s been placed in your hand.

You’ll want to be fed first. The good news is that God’s Word is a sword, and at the same time, God’s Word is a daily bread. You’ll want to be fed with that daily bread. Meaning that you’ll want to taste and see that the Lord is good, first sampling what God has to say to you, and then coming to savor it. And then, when you’re ready to read more than a verse or two, and begin to choose larger portions, you’ll want to sit down to make a meal of it, and then another. You’ll become filled with His love and His wisdom for your life. And you’ll realize with each meal that the joy of the Lord is your strength.

You’ll want to be taught. You can get a lesson on careful use of the word of God, if you seek a conversation with God.

Your prayers may begin with seeking God’s intervention in the circumstances of your life.

As you pray, you will want to remember how God has already intervened in your life, and take time to be thankful. Not only will gratitude honor God as He is due, but thankfulness will renew your mind as to what God can and will do.

As you recall what God can do, God can reveal to you that what He has done reflects who He really is. As you seek to give God a role in your life, God can help you recognize that His role reaches beyond intervention, to sovereignty; that God was meant to be Lord of your life.

And as you realize, in greater and greater detail, who He really is, you realize that all of what He is, is what you need and want most. Realizing that God himself is what your heart is missing, your prayers can then become about seeking His presence – God himself.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 KJV

Understand that God’s Word can divide soul and spirit – defining your spirit as your truest self, which is restored fully by your saving faith in Him; and defining your soul as your mind and emotions. Just as marrow gives life and function to the body’s joints, your thoughts and feelings were never meant to reign over your life, but to be given life and function by your spirit. Your soul, which needs daily healing and restoration, needs to be led by your spirit, which is the essential innermost substance of your existence. And your spirit by faith has a perfect connection to the perfect leadership of God’s Holy Spirit.

In Ezekiel 37, a prophet in ancient Israel shares his vision of what God will do with His people regardless of what state they are in. He gave an eyewitness account of divine restoration far beyond human capacity when God restored dry bones, in a valley of death. In Psalm 23, another prophet named David shares the relationship with God that preserved him and his life, regardless of the valleys he walked through. Here I share my witness to what God can do. I relay to you that hope is never lost, when you place your hope in God.

What happened when it was my turn with the sword? I said I was ready. And I focused – more on what I had learned, than on what was before me.

I took aim, and sliced steady. The bundle fell to the sharp sword.

Take your turn.

Receive the Gift

GiftIt was ready. Long before I toyed with agnosticism at age 10. Long before I ever chose my adult value system and methodical reasoning as substitutes for seeking, exploring and following singularly triune Truth.

Long before I was lovingly anticipated or lovingly welcomed into the world, and long before I had ever disappointed, hurt or angered anyone, the gift was already ready.

And long before I had a name, my name was already on it.

It was my salvation, prepared long before I entered the world. My salvation came with redemption, justification and sanctification.

Salvation meant I would be freed from ties to sin; I would not be sin’s servant. Redemption meant sin would not own me because of my debts, my transgressions, because those were now paid off and forgiven. The wages of sin – death – would be replaced by an inheritance, as a new child of God. And my value, set by God treasuring me, could not be reduced.

Justification meant that long before God’s enduring law had defined what I lacked, God was ready to share his holiness with me. Sanctification meant that sharing God’s holiness would immediately and ultimately redefine me.

All these riches, gifted to me in Jesus’ name, were prepared long before I ever existed. Long before I knew my need, and long before I was ready to receive them.

All these riches are labeled by multisyllabic words. They only begin to define God in the human mind. When all is said and done, we must know for ourselves that God is love. And that He loves passionately and compassionately – long before we ever choose to love Him.

If you have yet to receive them, receive them today. By faith, turn from sin and all its shortages to receive your God, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

If you received these gifts long ago, invest them today. Recall that they were never meant to nestle back in tissue paper, and that the lid will not set back in place. Because these gifts were never meant for storage out of sight, out of mind.

Our actions and words will reflect God’s ways, while presenting a reminder that God’s ways are not our own – or they will be unproductive, bearing little fruit. We can choose day by day to invest and be further enriched by our gifts, or let distraction and discouragement stash them aside.

You are part of your Father’s business. You – and those you either pass or do business with – are your Father’s business. When you were commissioned to the work of sharing Jesus and His gospel with the world, you became His empowered hands and feet in the world. With each day, your face continues to take on resemblance to Him, and so you represent Him where you go.

Receive God’s immeasurable gifts. Invest them to His glory.

Fingerplay

ThanksIt’s been a year, marked from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving.
It’s been full. It’s been fast. To measure the time, I stop to count my blessings.

I can do that starting with my thumb. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with my pointer finger. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with all my fingers. And before I get to my pinkie, I know I have more blessings than I can count. But I have to.

Because God is just so good.

I turn to my other hand. I can count with those fingers, just in this past year, times of intense strain, struggle, sorrow, grief, fear. I touch fingertip to fingertip, hands together. And I thank You, Lord.

You’ve been so good to me. Through times I would never have chosen. Through times I would trade nothing for.

Together I touch my gathered fingertips to my face, and I praise You for every comfort and every comforting. You are the same in all seasons, Lord, for in everything you give me life abundantly, above more than I can ask or think.

In every year I can recall, and in years that others recalled for me, I can count more and more blessings like these. As I do, I find myself fully in gratitude’s grasp.

I could do the same at St. Patrick’s Day, or National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, if I celebrated either. On any date, I could measure off a year of God’s goodness, both humbled by his touch in my life, and enthralled to witness it in others’.

Our lives are graced by seasons, given to help us mark the times, but wonder has no season.

Jesus began his ministry on this earth with this message:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1: 15b

The kingdom of God is within your reach. Give thanks and receive God —  again today, and then every day you’re given.

The time is at hand.

Fingerplay

ThanksIt’s been a year, marked from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving.
It’s been full. It’s been fast. To measure the time, I stop to count my blessings.

I can do that starting with my thumb. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with my pointer finger. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with all my fingers. And before I get to my pinkie, I know I have more blessings than I can count. But I have to.

Because God is just so good.

I turn to my other hand. I can count with those fingers, just in this past year, times of intense strain, struggle, sorrow, grief, fear. I touch fingertip to fingertip, hands together. And I thank You, Lord.

You’ve been so good to me. Through times I would never have chosen. Through times I would trade nothing for.

Together I touch my gathered fingertips to my face, and I praise You for every comfort and every comforting. You are the same in all seasons, Lord, for in everything you give me life abundantly, above more than I can ask or think.

In every year I can recall, and in years that others recalled for me, I can count more and more blessings like these. As I do, I find myself fully in gratitude’s grasp.

I could do the same at St. Patrick’s Day, or National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, if I celebrated either. On any date, I could measure off a year of God’s goodness, both humbled by his touch in my life, and enthralled to witness it in others’.

Our lives are graced by seasons, given to help us mark the times, but wonder has no season.

Jesus began his ministry on this earth with this message:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1: 15b

The kingdom of God is within your reach. Give thanks and receive God —  again today, and then every day you’re given.

The time is at hand.

Return and Rest

Pasture     He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

I smile, and breathe a deep sigh of ease, looking at a picture of my husband and younger son relaxing in our back yard.

It is surely one of those green pasture moments. My son is playing with his pecan-tree-branch walking stick and our fuzzy small dog. My husband is sitting on the porch steps, savoring every spoonful of his ice cream cup. And the sun sets slowly enough to illuminate everything.

And this is another green pasture moment. I sit on the plane, headed to vacation. Both sons sit behind us, still enjoying their reunion after the firstborn’s return from freshman year in college. Husband has his audio book and a nap. I have time to play with my phone, to actually change the wallpaper all by myself, to find the golden sunset picture. To be soaring here and there, all at once.

The next day I am praying to God, glad for rested sleep and strengthened body, the fullness of the day previous and the newness of the current day, letting thank you fill me until I feel it in my soles. This is green pastures too, taking a longer gaze at my Shepherd.

And in my prayer I trust him with the times He’s led me through and rested me from. As I pray, I am freed from wearying myself all over again when I remember them, and how they tried me.

And I trust him with the times He’s leading me to, where my soul will be called to remember Him and His green pasture. To return to rest not only in summer, but daily, and throughout each day. Not to commit entrance to his green pastures to memory, but to frequent His presence, to seek Him and enter fully into His rest at all times — instead of being stranded by the situation. To feast in His presence in the presence of my enemies: distraction, frustration, offense, pain, weariness and fear.

To become rooted there. Tended there. To be reminded that nothing in God’s green earth bears fruit from great concerted effort, but rather yields it.