Order or disorder

Anyone’s who’s been around me for more than 5 minutes knows I’m a very organized person. A couple years ago I posted a devotional written by retired CRC pastor Dale Vander Veen about the virtue and occasional vice of being organized. He accurately expressed how I feel in that piece and has now done so again in a recent devotional titled “Order or Disorder.” I reprint it here with Dale’s kind permission.

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Two verses in the same chapter speak of order: “God is not a God of disorder, but of order… Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” I love order – in my flowerbeds, in my study, in my car, in my finances, in my sock drawer, in my closet, on my bookshelves, in my planning for the future.

Recently our son’s family was at our home and I wanted to check on someone from a church we served some years ago. I left the room and returned fifteen seconds later with that church’s pictorial directory. My daughter-in-law exclaimed, “Who but Dad would know that he had that directory – and exactly where it was?” Why wouldn’t I know? What are filing cabinets and folders for anyway?

Graphic found via Google

I think deep down inside that I’m not searching for order as much as for peace. Some people find that too much order robs them of peace, confining them in the anxiety of organization. And I must apologize to those upon whom I have foisted order beyond what they could bear. To such dear friends and family members I say, “Let there be disorder in your life if that brings you peace.” For myself I say, “Let there be order in my life so I may have peace.”

Peace is of greater value than order. I must admit I changed the last word of 1 Corinthians 14:33 above from peace to order. Paul actually wrote, “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.” God’s ultimate desire for us is not order, but peace. How much better to do what God wants me to do, and let him bring order as he sees best. Even suffering (a disordering experience for most) advances God’s sense of order and peace, for suffering brings perseverance which brings character which brings hope. And it is the God of hope who fills us with all joy and peace.

Let there be order, but above all, let there be peace – the peace of God!

The awkward part of the worship service

Not until I read Thom S. Rainer’s blog did I realize how contentious the greeting time in a worship service can be. In each service at Trinity CRC, after we receive God’s greeting, we take a few moments to greet and encourage one another. Usually we simply say “Good morning” or Mutual greetings at Parker Memorial Baptist Church, Anniston AL. Photo from The Anniston Star, found via Google“Nice to see you” to one another; occasionally we more formally pass the peace and say “The peace of Christ be with you,” extending God’s blessing to one another.

According to an informal survey, Dr. Rainer discovered that the mutual greeting time of worship is a big turnoff for people, particularly guests. Reasons for disliking it abound:

  • Some introverts would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a meet and greet time.
  • It exposes the hypocrisy of people who say “Hello” during the mutual greetings but ignore you any other time.
  • Shaking hands with someone who just wiped his nose with his hand is gross.
  • It feels awkward to be told to say something kind to random people around you.

Because this practice can be awkward at best and hypocritical at worst, Dr. Rainer proposes in a subsequent blog post alternatives to the time of mutual greetings including ending the service on time so people have time to chat afterwards if they so choose; putting friendly, extroverted people in key places; and deploying roving greeters.

Around the same time I read Dr. Rainer’s blog, I was reading A Primer on Christian Worship by William A. Dyrness, and – wouldn’t you knowA Primer on Christian Worship by William Dyrness it? – he devotes a paragraph to the practice of greeting one another in a worship service. Dr. Dyrness admits that he, too, sympathizes with those who find this part of the worship service distasteful. But then he takes a step back and observes something valuable in this moment of worship. In his words:

A part of me says, What hypocrisy! Why should I greet these people who I don’t know and who probably aren’t interested in greeting me? But each time I stretch out my hand to a stranger or hug a friend, something happens. I am reminded by [this] practice … of … the kind of people we are becoming in Christ. Whether I feel like meeting someone or not is irrelevant. Our life in Christ has this particular conciliatory shape to it. As a result, this is a community in which sharing and conciliation are core values, and, by the practices of worship, these values are being formed in me.

What I think I hear Dr. Dyrness saying is this: Even when it’s awkward or fake, we practice greeting one another so that we can get better at it which will make it more natural and authentic. We already are and yet still are becoming a community in Jesus Christ; greeting one another helps us work at getting it right even if we don’t at first succeed. In worship, we speak kindness and peace to one another so it becomes increasingly natural to do so, especially after the service is over and during the week.

I like to be sensitive to introverts (such as myself) who dread the mutual greetings. And I simultaneously hope I can convince them (and myself) that the tradition has merit: It gives us a moment to show in a practical way the love that the Holy Spirit is growing among us in Christ as we love and worship Him.

The best part of the worship service

It’s certainly not the longest and maybe seldom the most memorable part, but giving and receiving God’s greeting has got to be one of the best parts of a worship service, imho. It’s near the beginning. People stand. I raise my arms. “Grace and peace to you…” I say.

Grace and Peace graphic found via Google

These are not my words. And these are not words from Trinity CRC’s leadership or from church history. These are Biblical words from God Himself. As a pastor, there’s a simultaneously awesome and humbling thought right there! Think about it: Using my voice, God is welcoming you, expressing His pleasure that people have responded to His call to corporate (that is, group) worship.

The Worship Sourcebook says that these words of greeting “establish the lines of communication in worship. God always comes to us before we come to God. So it is fitting for worship to begin with Scriptural words that convey God’s greeting to us” (p. 56).

As we gather for worship, one of the first things that’s affirmed is that God has graciously brought us together, and that He is mysteriously yet wondrously present whether we come in joy or sorrow, praise or doubt. I certainly cannot think of a better way for the worship experience to begin each Sunday morning!

My colleague, Leon Johnston, has also been reflecting on
God’s greeting
at the start of the worship service.

A different kind of King

At Christmas,
Jesus comes not with great honor,
but in deep humility.

He comes not arriving in a luxurious palace,
but in a manger for cattle.

He comes not to wear a crown of gold,
but one of thorns.

He comes not to be loved,
but to love;
not to be served,
but to serve;
not to grasp and grab,
but to give.

He comes not to be dragged down by sin,
but to be exalted to the highest place,
not to receive honor from one country,
but to hear all creation confess Him as Lord.

He comes not rich in money and wealth,
but rich in grace;
not to spread fear,
but to impart joy and hope;
not to bring war,
but to bring peace.

He rules not from a throne made by mere mortals;
He reigns at His Father’s right hand for now and eternity.

Image of cradle and crown of thorns found via Google

The true King of kings is coming for me and for you.
Do you see Him?
Do you know Him?

I will listen

“I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for He is speaking peace to His faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to Him.”
– Psalm 85:8 (BCP)

Though you probably don’t say these words at breakfast on Sunday mornings, you could – and their energy might take you right to church; open your ears to prayer, hymn, and sermon; sign you up to teach Sunday school; even get you back there for the Tuesday night Bible study.

God’s speaking will not be limited, though, to churches. Once we are ready to hear, God will use the most mundane moment at the office, a chance encounter with a stranger, even our own image in the bathroom mirror, to teach us, to “speak peace” to us.

The peace of which, and with which, God will speak may not comfort. It may distinctively dis-comfort, painfully prick our conscience, drive us to sacrifice confident prejudice for risky tolerance, even force us out into yet another battle with old familiar evils. God’s peace can move us into forgiving, even loving, a cherished enemy. God’s peace may empty our bank account, open our spare bedroom, fill our days off, amaze us, delight us.

God’s peace-speaking will open our ears and turn our hearts to hear more. May the energy of that peace recreate us in God’s image, ready to do God’s will.

Colossians 3:15 calligraphy by Tim Botts


I read this a while ago in Forward Day by Day
and discovered it afresh last week.
Calligraphy by Tim Botts found here.

Anxious

Anxiety is contagious.  When I am anxious about something, my posture and mannerisms will put people on edge even if I haven’t said anything yet.  Oftentimes, though, I don’t even realize I’m having this effect on people because I don’t realize anxietythe effect anxiety is having on me!  Anxiety affects my behaviour before I realize it’s affecting my behaviour!

Anxiety is fast-growing.  My imagination is capable of taking existing facts and creating all sorts of scenarios with negative outcomes.  Just because something happened badly in the past, I’m quick to assume that it will always happen the same way in the future, even if other people tell me how they experienced a different outcome.

Anxiety is ubiquitous.  Every transition I make – whether from work to home in the afternoon or from Telkwa to Rock Valley in a couple months – comes with anxiety.  Both big changes and little changes throw things up in the air, reducing what I can control and increasing my anxiety.

These are things I was reminded of during one of the presentations at the recent Sustaining Pastoral Excellence pastor couples retreat Monica and I recently attended in Vancouver.  We were also reminded of the apostle Paul’s cure for anxious hearts:

Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus.

Interestingly, in the context of these verses, Paul pleads with two of his friends – Euodia and Syntyche – to resolve a dispute they are having.  It sounds like an anxious situation to me.  So Paul’s words addressing anxiety are being spoken into an anxious situation.

I believe it worked for Euodia and Syntyche.

I think it will for me, too.

Graphic from anxiety-symptoms-relief-secrets.com.