Lent for the Family: A Simple Guide


Lent begins in less than two weeks! Of all the seasons in the Church Year, Lent always seems to be the most spiritually formative for me. It must have something to do with the death of self it calls us to through intentional sacrifice and repentance. When I give myself to the practice of Lent, not only do I remember his death, but I actually feel crucified with Christ. I can't help but believe that this embodied cruciformity is the kind of life that Jesus calls us into as his disciples. And when we enter fully into his death, it is then that we can truly experience the joy of his resurrection.

My friend and digital illustrator Jeremy Stout and I have been hard at work the last couple weeks on a Lent resource for families and churches. Lent for the Family is a user-friendly, ready-made resource to lead followers of Jesus in a simple practice of Lent. We think that both those who are newer to Lent and long time Lent practitioners will find it instructive and helpful. Families with kids, empty nesters, college roommates, those who live alone, small groups, and entire churches can benefit from this resource. (The image to the right is a centerpiece we designed and give instructions in this resource for you to make and put on your table.)

Here's a blurb with more details about what is included in the packet:

Lent for the Family: A Simple Guide
A ready-made guide to lead your family, group, or church in a simple and meaningful practice of Lent. Contents include:
  • A brief Introduction to Lent: "What Is Lent and Why Should We Practice It?"
  • Ready-for-Print files of guide cards to hand out to your people
  • Ready-for-Web files to post on your website
Card 1 is meant to ease people into the season. It includes directions in discerning a practice, instructions in creating a table centerpiece, and a short daily prayer.

Card 2 consists of an in depth, yet still very simple, prayer and scripture guide to lead us into the Story of God throughout the remainder of the season.

May this resource help you enter faithfully into the death of Christ this season, so that your joy in the resurrection may be complete!

Click here to download the PDF file of this 10-page packet.

If you like it and choose to use it, would you consider making a donation for our work? I normally wouldn't ask, but I am going down to part-time at River Valley Church and will be doing more of this kind of thing as part of my new vocation. We so appreciate your generosity. My PayPal email is reformworship@gmail.com.

Click here to send money using PayPal.

Or, this resource is also available at WorshipTraining.com, so if you are a paying subscriber, feel free to download the file from there. They will compensate me for every click.

Click here to download from WorshipTraining.com.

Finally, if you're interested in learning more about Lent and why I think Christians benefit from practicing it, here is a post from last year: Preparing for Lent.

Peace.

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How to Connect with God in Worship

(Christ Redeemer: Milwaukee, WI)

I read a tweet yesterday by someone who attended a recent worship conference that said:
I love seeing worshipers so disconnected with the audience and stage and so connected with God."
I understand the sentiment of worshipers longing to be in the presence of the Lord with abandon, not getting distracted by what's happening around them. I myself long for the presence of the Lord, and I am prone to distraction, especially technological. BUT, I think comments like this epitomize the individualism of the contemporary worship culture. I think the commenter is making an accurate observation, I just wish he didn't love it. It grieves me that our practices reinforce individualism.

I submit that the way we connect with God in worship is precisely BY connecting with others in the worshiping community. If we're not connecting with others, including the people on the stage, in worship, I don't see how we can connect with God. It's more likely that we are connecting with something our emotions have conjured up. We really have no way of knowing.

Our identity as followers of Jesus is primarily communal. We don't know who we are as individuals until we are part of an embodied community. Our individuality flows out of our communality. (This is very difficult for our Western minds to comprehend.) We gather around the Lord's Table each week, because it is here that we our formed into the body of Christ, and it is from here that we are sent into the world as missionaries.

In our homes we connect with others most naturally around the dinner table. We establish and grow relational connections by opening our tables to our neighbors. We do this because we are human, yes, but it means even more for us as Christians, sent ones, who have been given the responsibility of helping others connect with God. Just as Jesus is present with us in the bread an cup in the corporate gathering, we are present in body and blood with others in our homes, inviting them into relationship with us and so with God.

This is not to say that we don't connect with God on an individual level, too, but I feel we are setting ourselves up for failure of private devotion unless our personal connection to God flows out of our communal connection to his body. Do we have an imagination for this?

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Entering Fully into Advent

Advent begins this Sunday. From the songs to the symbols, the lights to the loves, it is by far my favorite time of the year. In years past I've suggested ways to lead your family (church and home) faithfully and meaningfully into the story of the season. I really don't have anything new this year, but I thought I'd list a few links to past posts and some other helpful resources that may stir your imagination.

You may wonder why we should observe Advent at all. Here are a few posts giving reason as to why it is a good practice:


If you are like how I was a few years ago, having never observed Advent before and really having no clue what to do or how to lead my family, here are a few very practical resources that may help you:

And finally, I thought I'd take this opportunity to plug a very fun Christmas music collective that has been gaining some traction the past couple of years.

Here is a video of the story behind my song "Glory in the Heights" from Merry Christmas. Good Night. 1. I intended for this video to be a Call to Worship or sorts. May we enter fully into the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent.

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The Sunday Gathering: Formality or Formation?


The Sunday worship gathering is the greatest point of tension among the leaders of our church. Just about every conflict that arises among staff members and elders has something to do with the Sunday gathering. Some of the tension is rooted in our differences of stylistic preference and interpretation of cultural context. Some of the tension has to do with numbers: attendance is down and we have a large budget to uphold. But I would say that all of the tension comes out of the chasm between where we currently are and where we could be, in terms of how we view ourselves in worship.

Several years ago we came to the realization that we had gotten really good at doing the Sunday morning thing, but something was missing. We were good at facilitating newcomers and attendees, but our vision didn't really extend beyond Sunday morning. The Sunday gathering was the be-all-end-all of spiritual life for most people. The spiritual identity we reinforced in people was convert and churchgoer. Worship life consisted of going to church and inviting your friends to come to church so they can get converted. Conversion and going to church are good things, but if the vision is limited to this, if Christian worshipers see themselves merely as converts and churchgoers, then worship can only amount to formality, "the rigid observance of rules of convention or etiquette" (according to my dictionary widget). If the goal is to make converts and go to church, then worship will be reduced to formalities. Ever look at your congregation on Sunday and think, "Boy, we are really good at rigidly observing the rules of church convention and church etiquette, but where's the life?" It may be that your people don't have a spiritual imagination beyond conversion and going to church.

But there's more to our identity than this. Jesus doesn't tell us to make converts who attend your church. He tells us to make disciples and to follow him in God's kingdom mission. When we begin seeing ourselves as disciples and missionaries, the Sunday gathering will be all about formation. Formation (according to my handy widget) is "the action of forming or process of being formed." Christian worship is formational encounter with God. We give ourselves to the actions set before us, fully expecting the Spirit to meet us right where we are with transformational power. Our posture is not one of consumption, but one of self-giving. Worship becomes the service of the people rather than to the people. Volunteers begin to see themselves as leaders with the empowered responsibility of discipling others. And attendees become missionaries who are equipped in the Spirit and sent out in Jesus' name. Rather than the Sunday gathering as the be-all-end-all of church life, it becomes part of the whole, one of our rhythms of discipleship. We are missionaries who gather weekly for worship. See the difference? If disciple-missionary is our identity, the Sunday gathering will be for spiritual formation.

Lots of paradigm shifts, I know. But this transition doesn't just happen. We don't think ourselves into new ways of living; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. Some churches react to this identity crisis by stopping the Sunday gathering altogether, or by stripping the gathering of its form. But if you take away the form, you've removed the -ation along with the -ality, not to mention you've just replaced it with another, probably less grounded, form. There are significant theological reasons we do the things we do in worship. Can we figure out a way to allow God to transform us through our existing forms of worship from mere convert-churchgoers to disciple-missionaries?

Have you experienced the Sunday gathering as formality? Do you think it is an identity issue? How do we live into this new way of seeing ourselves, from convert-churchgoers to disciple-missionaries? What role does the Sunday gathering play in this process?

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Who Does the "Work" in the Sunday Gathering?


"Liturgy" means "the work (or service) of the people." The idea is that everyone in the weekly worship gathering works (or serves). Of course there are leadership roles, but the job of the staff and volunteers is simply to lead all the people (or servants) into doing the work. It is NOT the job of the leaders to do all the work themselves. But I think this is precisely what is happening in much of the church, at least in perception. Many churches seem to have removed the work from the people and put it into the hands of pastors. Volunteers come alongside the pastoral staff to help them get their work done. Over time a split has developed between those who "serve" on Sundays and those who don't. It's usually an 80/20 or 90/10 split. It's fueled by a culture of consumerism that bombards our lives from every angle.

The question I have is this: What does "service" mean when we gather for a worship service? What is the "work" we intend to do when we gather for worship, and who does it?

First, I think it's important to note that no amount of work on our part is worth doing unless God is working first. God acts first in worship. God calls, we respond. God acts, we re-act. Even Jesus did only what he saw his Father doing. We must imitate this. When we get ahead of the work of the Spirit, we derail into the realms of worldliness. Our actions in worship reveal the cultural narratives we've adopted as our own, and those same actions cement us further into their accompanying false identities: consumer, spectator, individualist, etc. This is why Christian worship is a counter-culture. Through the worship service--the work of the people--God actually transforms us into a new kind of people: a community of self-giving participants. The world finds us peculiar, because we go against the grains of culture. And many will find us refreshing and will be drawn to the Story that defines who we are. Worship is primarily about what God is seeking to accomplish in us. The work of the people starts with the work of God!

To serve during a Sunday gathering is different than to fill a leadership role, such as communion team member, band member, or usher. Only a small percentage of people can fill these roles. The goal of full participation is not to find a role like this for everyone who gathers. Serving is different than leading. Leaders create space for the people (for everyone!) to serve. Another way to say it is, leaders lead the people to serve. Leaders create space for God to act, to encounter us, so that everyone can serve God.

There are about 300 people who gather for each of our weekly worship gatherings. Out of these 300, there are about 10 musicians/techs. There is 1 reader, 1 preacher, and 1 other facilitator with a microphone. There are 8 communion servers and maybe 6 hospitality folks. These are the people who are scheduled to “serve." In all, it is about 10% of the people gathered. When you count all the kids and students gathered elsewhere in the building and all the staff and volunteers for those ministries, it comes to about 20% staff and volunteers who are "serving." I’m suggesting that although these folks are indeed serving, it is better to think of their role as leading. If they are thought of as the ones who are serving, then what does that mean for those who haven’t “signed up” to serve in one of these roles? What work are they doing? I suggest that it's better to think of the ones who sign up for these roles as leaders who create space for the “service of the people.” What they do is indeed a service, but it is more a leading of others into service.

What kinds of things are included, then, as service on Sunday mornings? Simply showing up is an act of service. Whether conscious of it or not, anyone who attends worship on Sunday has responded to God’s call to come. Standing when invited to stand, sitting when directed to sit, and following other simple instructions such as these is an act of service. (Submitting to the leadership of others is very counter-cultural, by the way, in this every-man-for-himself, no-one-tells-me-what-to-do world.) Lifting our voices together in song and corporate prayer is a service of the people. Listening to the words of Scripture read aloud, searching our hearts for our messy realities and receiving the proclamation of the Word right there is a service of the people. Coming forward to partake of the body and blood of Christ at the Table is a service of the people. The people who are scheduled to serve communion that day aren’t the only ones serving. (Really, they are leading!) We are all serving the Lord and one another by actively participating in these practices.

So when we gather for worship on Sundays, who are the servants, just the ones on the microphones and schedules, or all of us? I think if everyone began seeing themselves as servants, then active participation would naturally happen, the “worship service” would be embodied as “the service OF the people” rather than “the service TO the people.” This paradigm shift would help to shape us out of the 80/20% dichotomy we've fallen into (80% congregational consumers of goods and services / 20% staff/volunteer producers/providers of goods and services), and help to shape us into the fully participating body of Christ that God envisions us to be, where every man, woman, and child serves the Lord and one another through the simple practices of worship.

These are just some scratchy thoughts of mine, but what do you think of this distinction? Am I way off? How might people act differently if they saw themselves as servants instead of consumers? What might leaders do differently if they saw themselves as leaders of servants rather than service providers?

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Are we dying? Where are we going? I don't understand.

On Palm Sunday afternoon, while the children were napping upstairs, Melissa and I decided that we would take the kids to church in the evening for Journey to the Cross, an event the high school students organized for the kids. After naps, Melissa told Lily, our 5-year-old, that we're going. She was super excited and ran downstairs to tell her little brother. “Liam! Liam! We’re going to Journey to the Cross!” Liam, who was cuddling with me, sat up quickly, somewhat startled, collected his thoughts, and said, “Are we dying? Where are we going? I don’t understand.”

My first thought was, “Oh, how cute. I gotta facebook this.” Moments later I began to realize how profound my son’s response was. If I’m honest, I don’t want to die this week. I don’t want to "go there". And I don’t understand. This morning's reading from Isaiah helped shed some light on my predicament.


I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

—Isaiah 42:6-7

When I read passages like this, my tendency is to read myself into the text as the protagonist. In this case I assume the righteous role of the one called, grasped, formed, and sent by the Lord as a light to free the prisoners. I assume that other people—unrighteous, lost, wicked, unbelieving sinners—are the blind prisoners in the dungeon, and it’s my job to save them.

But as I reflect a bit more deeply on this passage and on what my son said, I am confronted with the reality that I am one of the blind prisoners in the dungeon of darkness. I am an unrighteous, lost, wicked, unbelieving sinner. Jesus is the called One in Isaiah; the One grasped in the Lord’s hand; the begotten One who is set as a covenant of the people; the Light sent to free the blind prisoners from the dungeon of darkness. I forget this. Holy Week beckons me to sit in the dark and miserable dungeon of my sin again. It is here the Savior will come and rescue me.

Are we willing to "go there"? Can we die to our own righteousness this week? What will that look like for you?  I invite you to listen to this song.  The words were written by Martin Luther.  "In Devil's Dungeon Chained I Lay." As you sit in the dungeon this week, may you experience the Father’s love, the Savior’s rescue, and the Spirit’s comfort.







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New FREE Music: Good Morning. Happy Easter. 2

Don't let this spoil your Lent, but here's some FREE Easter music that my friends and I put together.  You may be familiar with our little Good Night & Good Morning, Christmas & Easter collective series.  This is our fourth record now!

On this record you'll hear a mesmerizing rendition of the Resurrection as experienced by Thomas by my friend Jess Strantz, which happens to be my favorite song on the record.  This record also introduces Levi Smith with his incredible take on "On Christ the Solid Rock," the end of which will sweep you away into the heavens with our ascended Lord.  My contribution this time around is a folky, quasi-bluegrass version of "Crown Him With Many Crowns."  Also, many thanks to Sean Carter and Jeremy Dunn for making this happen.

We hope you enjoy.  If you cannot view the widget below, just click this link and follow the instructions to download: http://noisetrade.com/goodmorning/good-morning-happy-easter-2

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Turn and Trust

For the Fourth Week in Lent, here is another short Lenten reflection by my friend Scott Erdenberg of Church of the Shepherd in Hyde Park, Chicago. This will probably work best if you give yourself about 10 minutes away from hustle and bustle. Maybe you could ask someone to join you. Begin by reading Psalm 27, followed by the reflection.  Then ask yourself the questions at the end, which are meant to take this exercise from reflection to action.  Peace to you as we draw closer in our Story to the death of Christ.

Turn and Trust 

Psalm 27

Every time I’ve encountered this Psalm I’ve been faced with an unrelenting question: do you honestly trust God completely, or do you prefer to be in control when life or circumstances send your mind and heart into a nosedive? The psalmist has surrendered any confidence that he has reserved for himself and instead put all of his chips on the fact that God will vindicate him. At the same time, the psalmist has refused to make his trust and confidence passive or assumed. Over and over he turns and fixes his eyes on God, pleading for his help, asking for his guidance, and waiting with active expectation.

As we walk through this season of death and repentance, we are called over and again to examine where we have sought our own comfort or placed our confidence in our own efforts to make it through stressful days. God invites us to pray with the psalmist as he reorients his heart to face God and seek his face. We are not called to ignore our problems, adversity or stress – instead, we are encouraged to pay attention to all of these knowing that God has our back.

How about you? When you face adversity in life, is it your natural response to turn to God in trust, or do you try to manage it yourself? Describe the outcome of both? How did Jesus respond to adversity in his life? How could you cultivate a deeper sense of God's presence with you, even in the midst of conflict?  In what tangible way could you turn and trust in God, to repent and believe the Good News, today?

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"You're Just Setting Yourself Up for Failure." Yeah. And?


"You're just setting yourself up for failure."  We're all familiar with the expression.  It usually comes as someone's last ditch effort to get you to rethink doing something stupid.  But it rarely works, because the stupid thing you're about to do is driven by such a deep desire, ain't nobody gonna stop you.  In fact, you're well aware that you're probably gonna fail.  But you do it anyway.

I have been fairly unsuccessful in my main Lenten practice this season.  But there is a less prominent "practice" I've given myself to that is a constant, itchy reminder of God's grace in my life.  I don't have to try to grow a beard.  I have no control over it.  What can I say?  God has blessed me (nearly up to my eyeballs, as my sister pointed out to me yesterday) with hair.  It may sound silly, but my beard reminds me of God's grace in my life.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness, in my inability to control myself.

A friend of mine recently tweeted, "failure is where we live grace."  We're in Week 3 in Lent now.  For those who are practicing Lent, renouncing and re-ordering our rhythms into Christ, failure is part of the deal.  Otherwise we wouldn't have much need for a Savior, would we?   I suspect one of the reasons some Christians don't practice Lent, whether conscious of it or not, is because they don't want to fail.  But I think inevitable failure is one of the best reasons to do it!  Failure might be the best thing that could happen to you this season.

When you fail, what comes out of you?  How do you respond to failure?  What does is look like in your life to freely receive the grace of Jesus?

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The Way of the Cross: Artwork by Michael O'Brien and Music by The Brilliance

A longstanding tradition during the Lenten season is to journey with Jesus on the Way of the Cross.  Many churches pray through the Stations weekly throughout Lent.  This is a practice in which the Church renounces and re-orders its rhythms into Christ.  Those who go on this journey identify with Jesus in his agony, betrayal, accusation, denial, condemnation, mockery, abandonment, forsakenness and ultimately his death and burial.  And if we are honest, we realize that we are the ones inflicting this pain upon him, joining with the crowd: "Crucify Him!"

The depictions in the video below come from John Paul II's Biblical Way of the Cross, which is a variation of the traditional Stations of the Cross.  Michael O'Brien is the artist.  I loved his work so much that back in 2009 when the booklet was first published by Ave Maria Press I contacted Mr. O'Brien and asked permission for our church to print and use his paintings in our worship space.  He was incredibly generous to send me the digital files to enable us to do so!

The music in the video comes from the song "Mercy" by The Brilliance off of their self-titled record.  At the end of the song is the beautiful (and eerie) refrain, "Kyrie eleison," which means "Lord, have mercy."  I think it complements O'Brien's artwork nicely.

I invite you to take a few minutes to watch this video.  As you're reflecting on this part of the story, consider your own participation in the death of Christ.  How are you entering into the sufferings of Christ?  What in your life needs to die?  Who in your life are you inflicting with pain or even murdering in your heart?  How can you take up your cross and follow Jesus more closely this season?


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Lent Reflection: A New Exodus, a New Temple, and a Coming Kingdom

This is a guest post by my friend Scott Erdenberg. Scott is a fellow lover of worship theology and struggling practitioner at Church of the Shepherd in Hyde Park, Chicago. This Lent Reflection (and another to come) is one way he is faithfully leading Church of the Shepherd and readers of this blog to renounce and re-order our rhythms in Christ this season.



A New Exodus, a New Temple, and a Coming Kingdom

Luke 9:28-36

In this famous passage often called “The Transfiguration” we discover a brief glimpse at what Jesus intends to do as he walks to Jerusalem to face his passion. In verse 31, Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about his “departure” – the exact word Luke uses here “exodus”, which Jesus was “about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem.” Just as God delivered his people from bondage and death in Egypt, he once again planned a new exodus – this time for all people.

Peter’s exclamation seems to make more sense in light of this fact – he suggests that they build three “tabernacles” (or “shelters”) on the mountain for God to dwell with his people once again. During the exodus God intentionally inhabited a temporary tabernacle as his people journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was in this tabernacle (and later the temple) where heaven and earth intersected in a unique way – it was there where God was fully King, and invited his people to be agents of his kingdom to the rest of the world. Upon hearing Jesus, Elijah and Moses discuss the new exodus, Peter wrongly assumes that this would be the new place where God will dwell with his people again.

God here interrupts Peter for the very best of reasons – instead of building a new tabernacle here, Jesus intends to replace the temple with his own body. In him and through him heaven and earth would again intersect in a unique way – and through his exodus (his death and resurrection), God’s kingdom would finally defeat the powers of death and evil that stood in rebellion to God’s kingdom being all in all. God urges Peter, James and John to listen to Christ in the following days as he marches to Jerusalem to claim his rightful place as God’s true presence in the world.

Here we may stop and reflect together – where is God inviting to deliver you from sin and death? In what areas of your life are you being asked to pray that God’s kingdom would once again break-through into our world, that his “kingdom would come, and will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” And how is God acting through you by His Spirit to embody His kingdom and invite others to dwell in his presence?

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Preparing for Lent

"Ash Wednesday" by Carl Spitzweg

Not unlike most mornings, I woke up this morning feeling anxious.  The first thing on my mind was, of all things holy and blessed, Facebook.  I have found myself the last couple of weeks participating in (even provoking) some controversial conversations.  I don't handle these kinds of conversations well, let alone have the time for them.  They oftentimes keep me up late into the night and disable me from being fully present with my family.  It's no wonder I'm a ball of anxiety.

What Is Lent and Why Should We Practice It?
Lent is the season in the Christian year when followers of Jesus walk with him to his death and burial. The season lasts forty days (not including Sundays).  It begins Ash Wednesday and ends Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday).  It is a time for the church to re-order its life once again into the Story that defines who we are.  We do so by simplifying our lives, centering on Christ and joining together with others while we do it.  Glenn Packiam spells it out nicely here.

Lent is about rhythm.  We are rhythmic creatures.  We do things in sequences and steps, marching to the beats of drummers.  The problem is, as Jesus constantly pointed out to his disciples, there are lots of drummers out there, pounding away to capture our attention, calling us to follow them and submit to their story.  Lent is the Jesus drum, calling us back into the left-right-left of God's Story.  If it's not Jesus' drum that we're marching to, it's someone else's.  If it's not the Story of God that we're submitting our lives to, it is someone else's story.  I promise.  So Lent is also a time for the church to renounce all the other stories we have lived into, and to submit singularly to God's Story.

But this is not a robotic submission.  Robots don't have hearts.  We march to the beats of drummers because we actually like the music they're playing.  We desire the life they present to us, and so we follow them.  With every beat and subsequent step we are being formed to look like the drummer we're following.  This is why it's so important that we get in step with Jesus.  We want to be like him.

In a phrase, Lent is a season to renounce and re-order our rhythms into Christ.

The Practices of Lent
Renouncing and re-ordering our rhythms takes practice.  Practices shape us into the kinds of people who love certain things.  The practices of Lent are intended to spiritually transform us, to re-shape our desires toward the things of God.  Lent will only do the work it's intended to do if we submit our hearts and bodies to its practices.  There are both communal and individual practices.

The communal practices of Lent are pretty straightforward.  You could call them the "family traditions" of our faith that great men and women in history have discerned and laid our before us.  Your local church may also have some practices that the leaders have discerned to fit your unique context.  The communal practices of Lent allow Christians to unite together in prayer as one body.  It begins with Ash Wednesday, when the church gathers to consider our mortality: "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return."  The communal practices continue throughout Lent as we gather around the table in our churches and homes, centering our lives on Christ, strengthening one another.  And finally, we enter fully into the Passion Story by corporately proclaiming and re-enacting the events of Holy Week.

The individual practices of Lent require a different kind of discernment.  God is doing a unique work in each of our lives, and each of us is responsible for our own heart and actions.  But before we know how to act, and to ensure that our hearts are engaged (that our actions aren't merely robotic), we must hear what God is saying to us.  So as you're discerning what to "give up" and/or "take on" as an individual practice, I invite you to reflect on these questions, first listening for what God is saying to you, and then responding accordingly.  You may want to invite others to help you discern a practice.

  • Why should I "give up" or "take on" something this season?  How will this re-order my life in Christ?
  • Am I willing to submit to the practices of Lent?  If not, why not?  Could I make it my individual practice to submit to a communal practice?
  • Is there a "drummer" in my life that I need to renounce?  What small step could I take to begin marching to the beat of Jesus?
  • What activities are already part of my daily life rhythms? How can I be present with God more fully in the midst of them?
  • Is there something I tell myself I cannot live without, but I actually can live without?  Can I abstain from it for a season and replace it with another practice?
  • What rhythm (or spiritual discipline) have I always wished was a vibrant part of my spiritual life? Why isn't it?  Could I replace something in my life with this rhythm?
  • What in my life makes me anxious, angry, or afraid?  Why?  What could it look like to surrender this to God?
I hope this is helpful.  I haven't discerned an individual practice for myself yet.  I will submit this to my wife and a few friends and see what they think, but my practice might involve laying off the Facebook and perhaps giving myself over to more healthy rhythms of sleep and family time.  May God bless you as you enter faithfully into this season of renouncing and re-ordering your rhythms into Christ.

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Congrats to Sean Carter! GMA's Songwriter of 2012

I remember back in March listening to the scratch track of "Passion Song," a new song Sean and his buddy Tyler whipped together for our Wild Pear Easter collective, Good Morning. Happy Easter.  As is his custom, he asked for my critique, and as usual, I hesitantly gave it.

I love the storyline!  I love the first-person perspective of John the beloved.  Have you considered coming back to the "Hosanna" later in the song, making this more of a Palm Sunday song?  How about replacing "chest" with "breast"?  "Chest" is too predictable.
I'm glad he didn't take my advice.  The song turned out perfect.  At least that's what the judges of the 2012 GMA songwriter competition think.  Congratulations to RW's very own Sean Carter and equal kudos to Tyler Ellison.

Be sure to "Like" Sean's facebook music page.  Here's a video of the song.  Enjoy!


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The Book of Mormon Is Changing My Life

This post really doesn't have much to do with the main topic of this blog (worship), but I really wanted to share this, and this is my blog (despite its neglect), so here goes.


The Book of Mormon is changing my life.  We had our Mormon friends, Elders Anderson and Davis, over for dinner again last night.  We have enjoyed getting to know their stories.  Melissa and I decided from the beginning that we would not try to press our beliefs upon them, but rather that we would simply get to know who these two young men are.  This is very difficult for me, because my default is to try to convince people to think and believe the way I do.  That’s changing, though.  Lately, I have been seeking to understand what others believe, which requires an entirely different posture and approach to relationships.  I am dying to myself, and I believe it is here that the Good News can be proclaimed, not with words of my own that seek to persuade, but the word of Christ that is able to transform.

It’s hard to explain, but I don’t even desire to get them to believe the way I do.  Of course I don’t agree with what they believe, but that’s not the point.  If it was the point, all I would need to do is argue my points with them, show them the answers, and convince them that they’re wrong and I’m right.  And that’s what I’d typically do.  But I’m learning how unhealthy that way is.  It just pits me against them, exclaims that I am “in” and they are “out,” and ultimately defines myself based on what I believe instead of who I know.  The Person Jesus Christ is big enough to bring his kingdom in anyone’s life, no matter what they believe.  Heck, I’m sure my beliefs are whack as hell, and he still breaks into my life.

So, after dinner when the elders asked us if they could share a message with us, my heart started racing a little, but I was committed to the kind of posture that seeks unity instead of division.  It was hard for me to sit there and listen to what they were saying so affirmatively.  But from the onset they were clear that they would not try to force us to believe what they do, but rather that they would invite us to prayerfully consider what they believe.  They asked what we knew about the Mormon Church.  I said I’ve read some things and heard things here and there, but I told them (reminding myself) that all I’m here to do is seek to understand what they believe and to be their friend.  I want to hear what they believe from them--actual Mormons.

They went first to Ephesians 2 and said that Joseph Smith believed that the ministry of the gospel, namely the priesthood, was given to the twelve apostles, but it ended after them.  We see this in the epistles to all the churches who couldn’t get it right.  Jesus’ message changed, and the priesthood was lost.  Joseph Smith as a fourteen year old boy in upstate New York noticed how divided the church was and how everyone had a different interpretation of the Bible.  He asked for wisdom from God, as the Bible instructs, and God in the person of Jesus Christ met him in a pillar of light, revealing to him that the priesthood had ended after the apostles, that all the churches have been preaching the wrong message for nearly 1800 years, and that there are hidden tablets that will reveal the truth to him.  Joseph Smith was called as a prophet to restore the original message of Jesus, and the whole account is in the Book of Mormon, which has an equal level of authority as the Old and New Testaments.

Of course, with every Bible verse that they opened to, I had another Bible verse that contradicted what they were saying.  But what was I to do, sit there and argue with them after breaking bread with them?  Tell them that Peter, on whom the Church of Jesus Christ was built, is the one himself who says that we are a royal priesthood?  Tell them that just two chapters later in Ephesians Paul talks about how people have been give to the church as gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers?  Was I to ask them why all of a sudden, in the1800’s God decided to restore his original message after nearly two millennia of everyone else in the world getting it wrong?  Was I to get into a hermeneutical argument with them about why they are using the Scriptures as God’s answer book instead of a Story?  Everything in me was pulling me towards that.  Everything but the Spirit.

I sat there and listened.  I even read a passage from the Book of Mormon aloud when they asked me if I would.  They asked if I would read the entire book and pray about it.  I said I would.  Now, if I thought the Bible was a book with magical powers that gets into my bones by osmosis, then I might fear reading the Book of Mormon as a demonic source that would do the same.  But I don’t think that way (anymore).  And in order to further seek to understand my friends’ point of view, I will honor them by reading it.  I will even prayerfully read it.  Does that scare you?  It would have scared me a few years ago.  But things have changed.  I’m committed to my friendship with them.  I’m learning that there is no dividing wall between believers and unbelievers?  We’re all unbelievers.  So why do we insist on defining ourselves based on what we believe.  “Well, the gospel is at stake,” you might say.  Yep.  So why do we keep denying the gospel with our angry lashings out at people who believe differently than we do.  Christ is big enough to bring his kingdom into anyone’s life, not matter what we believe.

So, when they were finished with their somewhat nervous message, they asked what I thought.  Again, I told them (reminding myself) that I have different beliefs but that I would not let that interfere with my relationship with them.  (BTW, the kids were pretty needy and rowdy this whole time, so Melissa and I were taking turns keeping them occupied.  She ended up missing most of the conversation, but she was happier that way.  She’s much more easygoing about these kinds of things, able to provide unhindered hospitality and show love to anyone and everyone.  Me?  Not so much.)  I told them that I believe the truth is a person and not an idea, and that when we make it into an idea, that’s when relationships are broken, because everyone believes different things, and we’re not defined by what we believe but who we know.  And I told them again (because I kept needing to remind myself) that I’m committed to my relationship with them.

I actually learned a lot from them, not only about the Mormon faith, but also about how to invite people to consider things for themselves.  They stuck mainly with invitational language (scripted at times) with a few moments of assertiveness.  But what else would you expect from tie-wearing nineteen and twenty year olds.  I could tell that it was uncomfortable for them to share what they did, but I could also tell that they believe in it with every fiber of their being.  What else would you expect of two young men who have breathed Mormonism in and out their whole life, one of whom lives in a town that is ninety-six percent Mormon?  It makes you think about our children and what kind of narrative we are giving them.  I don’t think we’re nearly as committed to leading them in our faith narrative as the Mormons are in theirs.  At least the ones on mission.

One more pretty significant thing happened when they were finished.  I asked them how I could be praying for them.  Again, God is at work in their lives (he’s at work in everyone’s life), so I asked them what they are struggling with.  They didn’t know what I meant.  So I said that we’re all human, we all have struggles, and asked if they would share.  One of them didn’t admit anything and said he’s a pretty easygoing person and at peace pretty much all of the time.  The other one sort of half opened up and said that he hurts for people who don’t know the truth, because it’s a matter of eternity.  Even though his confession was a bit masked, I could see through to the root of his pain, and I have a pretty good idea how to pray for him…and it’s not, “God, please change his beliefs,” but “Lord, meet him right where he is at with your love.”

As they were leaving I asked them if I could share some of what I believe with them next time.  They were welcoming of that.  They were reminding themselves of their desire to seek to understand the beliefs of others.  They modeled it pretty well for me, so I’ll try to do the same with them.

And that’s how the Book of Mormon is changing my life.

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FREE Music: Good Morning. Happy Easter.

Friends, it's been one of those seasons in life when you have so much to write that you don't write anything at all. I have, however, had time to contribute to this new music sampler with my friends. You may remember our Advent/Christmas EP called Merry Christmas. Good Night. Well, here is our Lent/Easter EP called Good Morning. Happy Easter. Download it for FREE below. May these final days in Lent prepare you to enter fully into the death and resurrection of Christ.


Here is the link to the EP on Noisetrade in case you don't see the widget above.

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Why Advent? 2

In my last post we took a brief look at Mark D. Roberts' e-book Discovering Advent, in which he suggests that Advent helps us grow in faith and align with Christ.  In this post we're going to take a look at an excellent article by Debra Dean Murphy entitled "The Advent We Hope For: A Modest Proposal."  I recommend reading the article for yourself, but I will offer a few of my own reflections here.

First, I feel I should confess that I myself have failed to properly observe this Advent season.  I am almost already sick of Christmas, having prematurely immersed myself in Christmas festivity.  I'm sure it has something to do with all the Christmas music I've been singing and listening to these past couple weeks, along with all the Christmas movies we've been watching and introducing to our kids.  And it doesn't help that just about all of our gift-exchanging that has already taken place, having given in to the pull to make sure everyone gets their Christmas cards and gifts before Christmas Day.  We've already held our worship ministry party, participated in three carol sings, and "done Christmas" with my side of the family.
Why is it so hard for most...to really embrace this season fully? We give it a wink and a nod, observing a kind of pseudo-Advent even as our Christmas celebrations—ecclesial, civic, and familial—are in full-swing.
Like Debra Dean Murphy, though, I refuse to beat myself up over this. In fact, failure might just be what I need to enter more fully into what the season calls for. She goes on to suggest that despite our giving in to the pressure the culture puts on us to half-heartedly enter into Advent, many Protestants actually desire to be led more fully into all that the season calls for.
Most people in the pews are up for the challenge—the mystery, the drama, the strange satisfactions—of Advent. ...In my experience, lay people are interested in church history and liturgical practice. ...They sense the poverty of worship when so much of it mimics the banal culture around them. They long for beauty. They’re game for change. ...Our jumping the gun on Christmas...is regrettable not so much because it violates a hard and fast rule regarding liturgical propriety but because it robs us of the gift of inhabiting fully a season of deep and necessary paradox—a lack in the life of faith that many church-goers feel keenly.
After talking a bit about the necessary and often overlooked Advent themes of judgment and hope, Debra makes three suggestions for helping us recover (or discover) this season in all its fullness. I was particularly convicted by her third suggestion, which has since helped me to loosen up and take more of a lighthearted approach to leading our church in Advent worship.
1. We can’t talk about Advent only in Advent. Habituating worshipers to the rhythms of the church calendar requires a year-long (years-long) attentiveness, regular reminders that we occupy time differently, ongoing catechesis about the patterns and practices that shape Christian identity. This truth can be taught in a variety of ways (studies, sermons, and all the rest), even as worshipers embody its reality Sunday after Sunday. But it’s not absorbed by osmosis; intentionality is key. 
2. Make changes slowly but resolutely. Decide long before Advent (and invite congregational reflection on) what the shape of the season will be. Maybe you’ll resolve to learn the Advent hymns you never sing; maybe you’ll organize a December study that goes deep into the Advent lections. Hopefully blowout Christmas celebrations will be saved for the twelve-day-long Christmas season. 
3. Maintain a sense of humor. There really is nothing quite so obnoxious as a know-it-all who insists on liturgical correctness at the expense of harmony and goodwill. The journey out of our cultural accommodations in Christian worship is an arduous trek that takes time (see suggestion number two); not being so hard on ourselves can lighten the load and bring others along.

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Why Advent? 1

I've been thinking a lot about why I am so drawn to the season of Advent. Is it because it's so fresh to me, having not observed it for the first twenty-five years of my life? Is it because it's the trendy "Ancient-Future" thing to do? Is it because I'm super mellow, which fits nicely with the mood of the season? Is it even necessary at all?

Instead of taking the time to write a dissertation of my own defending Advent, I'd like to share a couple resources I have recently come across that have helped me identify and articulate why this season is so important to me. I'll do this in two separate blogposts.

The first is a short, very accessible e-book written by Mark D. Roberts, entitled Discovering Advent. In the book he talks about how he wasn't always a lover of Advent, but grew to love it. Just before spending the last half of the book laying our some practical guidelines for observing Advent, he hits on one of the most common responses he (and I) get when we talk about our intentional practice of Advent: "But Is Advent Biblical?"

He begins the chapter by saying,
In fact, you can't turn to a place in the Bible and find specific teaching on Advent or a command to set aside the days prior to Christmas as a season of waiting, hoping, and yearning. Of course, you can't find in Scripture any instruction on celebrating Christmas or Easter either. ...Some Christians believe we should only use in our worship and devotion that which is specifically commanded in Scripture. This eliminates not just Advent, but the other popular Christian holidays as well.
He goes on to say,
I believe that we are free in Christ to do many things that are not specifically taught or modeled in Scripture. ...Yet, I do want to live my life in a way that is consistent with biblical teaching. Is Advent biblical in this broader sense? Could the observance of Advent help you and me grow in faith in a way that aligns with biblical revelation? (my emphases)
This last question, to which I answer with a resounding YES, is why we are leading our church into an intentional observance of Advent, both in our corporate worship and in our homes. Growth in faith and alignment with Christ aren't things that naturally happen in our lives without order and effort. We observe Advent (and the rest of the Christian Year) because it aligns us with the story of Jesus. It provides a framework for us to draw near to God, where we can be transformed. Otherwise, who are we drawing near to? What are we orienting our lives around this season? We can't not be giving ourselves over to something. We are always spending our time and directing our desires toward something or someone.

Mark Roberts then walks us through several passages of Scripture that call us into practices and postures associated with the great themes of Advent: waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah. We do the things we do during Advent, focus on the things we do, because the Scriptures lead us in this way, and because it makes sense to us (and to the early believers who began our Advent practices) to do so during this time of year.
So, though it's correct to say that Advent itself is not taught in Scripture, and therefore Christians are free to observe it or not, it is equally correct to say that the emphases of Advent are thoroughly biblical. If the traditions of Advent help us focus more on the Lord, get in touch with our need for him, replenish our hope, and celebrate Christmas with greater meaning and depth, then I'm all [for] it.
How does intentionally observing Advent help you, your family, your church grow in faith and align with Christ during this time of year? What kind of resistance to Advent do you experience in your own heart or in your conversations with other Christians?

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Merry Christmas. Good Night.

Advent Shalom! Some good friends of ours just compiled an EP of new Christmas songs, including fresh recordings of "Glory in the Heights" by Yours truly and "Repeat the Wondrous Story" by Sean Carter. It's FREE through Noisetrade if you invite five friends. You probably know how it works. Thanks and enjoy!


Here is the link to the EP on Noisetrade in case you can't see the widget above.

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The D's of Ancient Future Worship

I just returned home from a wonderful time at the Wild Pear gathering of artists in Franklin, TN. While there I had the privilege of sharing a few of my reflections--a Wild Pear Bite--on "Why Ancient Future Worship Is Necessary." Of course I felt as though I was merely a vessel through which Bob Webber himself spoke to the group of thirty-five or so passionate artists and worship thinkers. I can only hope I did him justice. If I sounded like a heretic, then I succeeded.

Briefly, Ancient Future Worship (AFW) is proclaiming, enacting, and singing God's story. We find ourselves in God's cosmic narrative--creation, incarnation, re-creation. AFW centers us in the truth of Gods Story, a Person who descends to us, not an idea to which we ascend. AFW centers us in the present time, calling us into a participation NOW in the past death and resurrection of Christ, and calling us into a participation NOW in the future restoration of all things in Christ. AFW trains us in real life rhythms, spiritually transforming us right where we are, and ushering us into an everyday lifestyle of God-worship.

I could write a book fleshing out the above paragraph (or you can read anything Bob Webber wrote throughout his career, especially his five-book Ancient Future series), but instead I'd like to share something that the Holy Spirit orchestrated quite beautifully during the weeks leading up to Wild Pear and during the minutes leading up to my talk. Here are the D's of Ancient Future Worship--a list of words that describe some of my own struggles in leading this kind of worship. Ancient Future Worship is:
  • disciple-oriented, not seeker-oriented
  • dynamic, not static
  • directed, not produced or programmed
  • different (radically), not like this world
  • demanding, not supplying
  • dialogical, not a one-sided conversation
  • dirty, not pristine
  • declarative, not explicative
  • daily, not once-a-week
  • denial of self, not self-help
  • deep, not superficial
  • dinner-centered, not sermon or song
  • doxological, not self-serving
  • devoted (single-heartedly), not double-minded
  • disciplined, not effortless
  • determined, not lazy or passive
  • disruptive, not flawless
  • discerning, not flaky
  • difficult, not cozy and comfortable
  • down-to-earth, not abstract
  • discussion, not study
  • deliberate, not trendy
  • desired, not obligated
  • dangerous, not "safe for the whole family"
Worship is a messy thing. Anytime people work together, which is the definition of worship (leitourgia), we can expect imperfection, conflict, and messiness. If none of this is present in our worship, we're probably doing something wrong. If we're trying super hard to avoid this in our worship, we might want to rethink what worship is for. We design our worship for disciples, which means we must design it for broken people who are serious about offering themselves to God. I believe Ancient Future Worship is necessary to lead us in this path of faithful worship.

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Bringing the Lord's Prayer Down to Earth

Over the past couple of months I have been teaching my kids the Lord's Prayer. It's amazing how fast they pick these kinds of things up. They've already got "The Doxology" down, as well as the first verse to "Be Thou My Vision" (the most requested bedtime song these days) and "Bless Us, O Lord" (the mealtime prayer). And even though they have no idea what some of the words mean, I do believe their hearts are being shaped by the practice. I know mine certainly is.

I have to admit that up to this point praying the Lord's Prayer has not been a regular practice in my life. I have given mental assent to it, studied its contents, and recited it in corporate worship on occasion, but it has never blossomed in my heart like it has recently, especially this past week.

I would venture to say that the Lord's Prayer for most of us is an abstract, in-the-clouds sort of prayer. Many of the words that make up the prayer--like heaven, kingdom, sin, and forgive--have been so churchified that they've lost any and all sensibleness and relatedness to our everyday lives. This cannot be what Jesus had in mind when teaching his disciples how to pray. To those first followers of Jesus this prayer was as down-to-earth as was his physical presence; these words were as basic as the language of two and four-year-olds.

This is what the Lord has taught me in teaching his prayer to my children.

Ow Foddo en evan, ho-yee is yo name

Our Daddy is with us. We are his little ones. He loves to gently scratch our back, kiss our face, and sing us a bedtime song. He holds the world in his hand, but all the power in the universe would be worth nothing to him if he didn't have an intimate relationship with us. We who have been touched by our Daddy cannot help but love him with every fiber of our being. We cling to him and depend on him and look up to him in every way. He is the most important person in the world to us.

Hear, O children, Daddy is your one and only love. Nothing and no one compares. Love him with your entire life--in your gut, in your thoughts, in your feelings, in whatever your body is doing--and love each other in this way, too.

Yo gingdom gum, oh wiyo be dumb en oaf as im evan

Our Daddy is actively involved in the lives of his children and in all creation. If our life is all about loving our Daddy, we watch him as he works and listen to him when he speaks. We follow his instructions and join him in his building project--the world's largest restoration project. It's nowhere near complete, but we've never seen something so beautiful. More and more people are helping, too. In every vocation and every place on earth, we are working with our Daddy to make all things new.

The most beautiful part of this project is the growing bond of love between Daddy and his children and the growing network of love between us kids. The more days we spend resting and working with Daddy and listening to his voice, the more we love him; and the more time his children spend alongside each other, the more we grow in our love for one another.

G'busta bay ow dayee bed

Daddy feeds us. As children, we don't think about where our food comes from, we simply trust our Daddy that it will be there. We take it for granted, and that's okay, because he's the one who freely grants it. We smell the bread even before we see it. We take it with our hands and eat it. The crunch enters our ears as the bread works its way into our blood.

The multiple-times-daily act of eating is one of the most physical and mundane things we do as humans. We don't have to look outside of our normal life rhythms to find Daddy. When we eat we are giving thanks to him for his provision and nearness to us. It is always a communion. We are never alone.

Fogib ow sins us we fogib ow dead-os

There are times when we do not care to join in our Daddy's building project. We refuse to see what he's working on or hear his plan for the day. We see taller buildings going up and better food being served, so we go taste and see. This takes us out of loving relationship with our Daddy and one another. It turns all our affections in on ourselves. Our actions may not be heinous and overt, but especially our small actions and negligences, our "harmless" words and imaginations, keep us from Daddy's love.

When we lose sight of Daddy's restoration project, we are looking out only for ourselves, and suddenly everyone is against us. We become victims of everyone else's offenses. In this lonely, selfish posture, we are unable to receive and give love. Instead of loving our brothers and sisters, we hold grudges against them. This is what we need to be relieved of. Our Daddy relieves us of this miserable way of life, and realigns us with the first three parts of his prayer, where we thrive in loving, resting/working/eating relationship with himself and with one another.

If anything, sin is what takes us out of our natural, down-to-earth element. Sin is living in the clouds of fantasy. The forgiveness of sins is not about praying a prayer so that one day we can escape from our evil, fleshy bodies. The forgiveness of sins is about perfecting our humanity, restoring the Daddy-child relationship and our relationships with one another. It's about resting in Daddy's love, joining in his work to restore the world, and enjoying communion with him and all his children.

An leab a snot indo demdation, budelibo us fum evo

If we are truly living out the prayer up to this point, we're REALLY going to need this last part. Living in loving, resting/working/eating relationship with Daddy and one another means we will be spending most of our time physically present among messy people in messy places. One of the most prevalent places in this world where Daddy's children are lured to participate in evil activity is the church. Here we find some of the most judgmental, self-righteous people on earth. It is easy to get sucked up into this miserable way of life. That's why he teaches us to pray this prayer.

As Daddy's children we are led into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and markets, where all kinds of self-seeking activity is going on. If we are going to overcome evil, we must be attentive to what our Daddy is saying and doing, we must join him in his building project, and we must do it together.

Overcoming evil at times will involve fleeing from it, but real deliverance is about making evil things good things. We may be tempted to rid the world of evil people, but Daddy is interested in taking the evil out of the people, not taking the people out of the evil. If we do not have a vision for restoration, and instead think the goal is to be delivered from our evil bodies and this evil world, the Lord's Prayer doesn't make sense.

I do not care to comment on the rest of the prayer (the part Jesus didn't teach us to pray :). I do hope you see how everything in this prayer is down-to-earth and is meant to help us sensibly relate to our Daddy, to see what he is up to in our everyday lives, and to respond accordingly.

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