the paradox

One of the greatest mysteries
is the revealed
and the concealed, in life.

We serve a God of mystery and concealment,
but also a God of revelation,
who longs to reveal himself
to us.

But life continues to be filled with the juxtaposition of paradox.
We live in the mystery.
We live in the concealed.
The veil.  We live behind the veil.

Life is simple.  We can choose to live in faith, or we can choose to live in fear.
One of the great paradoxes.
Because if we do not actively choose faith
by default,
we have already chosen fear.

Our world wants to live in fear.  In the “what ifs?” and the “maybes”.
In the “30% chance this” or “1 in every 8 people that”

But the truth is we are all dying.  One way or the other.
Every breath is a second chance.

I’m beginning to see life differently.
It wasn’t that I chose fear in other times,
but there have certainly been many times that I did not choose what I should have:
Faith.

So, I choose to believe.
No matter what the outcome
no matter what the percentage
no matter what the cost.
I’m choosing faith.

Faith that HE is bigger than my humanity
Faith that mountains can be moved
Faith that HE is right beside me
Faith to believe HE has me exactly where I’m supposed to be

We walk by faith, not by sight.

a God of miracles

We serve a God in the business of miracles.  I don’t mean like creepy whatever, I mean like real miracles.  Like we pray and get on our knees, and God provides.  We are left at a dead end, and he does something.

Like raising a knife to kill your son because you believe so strongly that even if your son was to die, God would raise him.

Like becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

But, I want to talk about real life miracles, that happen even today.  Two women in particular who live by faith, and have seen God provide in miraculous ways, even through difficulty, extreme difficulty.

My friend, (I’ll refrain from using names) #1, I have known now for 2 years, and she is amazing.  I have no other words.  She has faced her worst fear over these past few months: pre-cancerous cells found in her body.  “Stage 0” breast cancer.  This person is one of my heroes, but her miracle came in a not so unexpected way: modern medicine.  She is incredible, and went through surgery, a single mastectomy.

I sat there, looking at her just today and thought, I can’t believe it.  She is 30 years old, never married, no children, and she just went through an incredibly huge life change.

Miracles.  God provided those doctors, who have provided a miracle, and she will live a long full, cancer-free life because of this.  And it takes faith.  Faith to know you’re making the right decision.  Doing the right thing for the future, even though you cannot perceive what lies ahead of you.

Now, #2, I’ve known now for about 4 years, she and her husband were unable to get pregnant for 8 years, and finally 3 years ago, resorted to spending thousands of dollars to get pregnant by in vitro fertilization.  God gave them miracle number one: a healthy (and SUPER cute) baby boy.

But they just felt like the weren’t done having children.

In the midst of this, the other two frozen embryos, from the previous treatments, were found not viable.  So, they would have to start all over again with fertility treatments, saving thousands more to go through the entire process again, without even the guarantee of being able to actually get pregnant again.

By a miracle, somehow, someway, they conceived, on their own.  After all the pain and tears, they now have a beautiful baby girl, who I just got to hold tonight, and is now one month old.  My friend sat and teared up, even again about it all, how God answered their prayers for another baby.

Miracles.  Prayer.

We all have our mountains we face, you know exactly what your mountains are, I know mine.  But, do we actually trust God with these things?  Do we trust him that if he wants, he can intervene in just a moment, and everything could completely change?

Let’s face it, we don’t always know best for ourselves.  But, when we face these trials, they are to grow our faith, and these stones of remembrance become a testimony to the world: we serve a LIVING God who delights in his people, who loves to bless us, who desires our attention and worship.

I think of the book of Daniel, I read recently.  Do you believe we serve this same God?  Who can protect us from being burned in the furnace?  Not only that, but walks with us in it?  Or the God who shuts the mouths of lions, protecting our lives?  We can never know all the ways God’s hand of grace and mercy is spread wide over our lives, but we must trust.  What else can we do?  Where else would we go but into his arms?

I hope and pray my life will be the same testimony as these women, that I will stand firm in my faith, even as trials come my way.  We serve a God of miracles.


A weekend to remember.

This weekend is one of those weekends that will forever be etched into my memory; forever tucked away into my heart.

I was practically born in the nursery here at First Baptist Church of Medford, Oregon.  My story, as the stories of many others, is weaved into FBC, and our stories make the story of this church.  But the beauty of it all is that none of this is about us, it is all about Him.

My calling to ministry came at a young age, and a dream was born in the halls of my middle school as I began being a ministry leader at age 13.  This weekend I got a chance to look into the kind, yet more wrinkled eyes of my dear youth pastor from those years, and as I told him, “I think of you guys all the time”, he kindly smiled and said, “Meridith, I pray for you”.  Nothing else mattered at that moment.  It was humbling, and gave me strength.

This weekend FBC Celebrated 125 years of ministry, and it made me grateful for those who have gone before me, and paved the way, and gave me an even greater understanding of my place and calling here at First Baptist Church.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Haddon Robinson, a former Associate Pastor of FBC in the 50’s, and he later went on to be a Professor, and author books on the subject and topic of preaching.  And let me tell you, he did not disappoint, He knows what he’s doing.  At first glance, this elderly man of perhaps 80, or so, gives no spectacular impression.  He is someone’s grandfather, some woman’s husband.  But as he slowly, step by step climbed the steps on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday morning, the audience was captivated.  You could have heard a pin drop in the building, and you couldn’t help but lean in and closely listen to every word he spoke, filled with wisdom of a long life lived serving the Lord.

“Habakkuk 2:4b “But the just shall live by his faith”, and in the faithfulness of God.”  He repeated.

Another theme of the evening was a short paragraph read that a woman wrote in the 1920’s, reflecting on where the church had been, and what was to come.  It spoke of the fact that things had not been done perfectly, but by God’s grace the church would continue, and that they would perceive even greater opportunities for the future.  How timely those words were.  There were individuals in that building that night who needed to be reminded: we must forgive.

Many things spoke to me that night, I wish I could tell you about all of them.  Even Sunday morning.  I confidently walked onto the stage as a prayer was being prayed, and I fully knew that I needed to proceed with the confidence that God has placed me here, at this church, for his purposes.  I knew full well as I glanced over the faces of closed eyes, that some of the people in this building had come with preconceived ideas of how our church was in the past, and how it was now, especially in regards to worship and music.  I knew that many had doubts in their minds that a woman could be standing on stage, guitar in hand, and be leading this congregation in worship.  But, I pushed the doubts and questions aside, and prayed that God would fill me with his Spirit and with the words he wanted me to speak.

I educated those on worship, in an interesting way yesterday.  If you were there, you probably had no idea what was running through my mind, but as I began to exercise within my calling and skills, I had no more fear.

I was struck, as I looked at the words of some of the old hymns or songs sung in the 20’s and 30’s, as we had several worship folders from that time, preserved.  It is profound thinking that those before us sang the same words and prayers that we sing even today.  This was the heart of what I prayed people would see on Sunday.  That we can look at the past, honor those who have paved the way for us, but to also function in the current culture, and find a profound humility that our God is unchanging, and we can sing those timeless things to him, even know.

I teared up as I looked out and saw how people sang with their whole hearts.  “Oh, praise Him, Oh, praise Him!  He is Holy!  He is Holy!”, right after singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”.  It was beautiful to see voices being lifted up to our God, and hands raised in surrender and agreement with words of truth.  In that moment, I knew my job was done.  People were worshipping, and they didn’t, by any means, need me to do that.  It was beautiful.  My heart was touched, and it was reaffirmed in my heart that: this isn’t about me (even though there were a NUMBER of things trying to distract me and cause me to be selfish about MY title, and MY position, God humbled me really quickly about that!).

Here are a few pictures, and a partial video of the song we did.  I love the words: “Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say, yes our hearts can say.  Never once did we ever walk alone, never once did you leave us on our own, You are faithful, God You are faithful…”

I’m sure there will be more to share about this weekend, but for now, that’s what I got!

Here is a link to a short piece I wrote on the stones of remembrance (Joshua 3, 4), that also shaped part of Saturday night as well.

YOU

YOU hold it in your hands
YOU carefully watch every move
every breath
YOU whisper: words of life
into every heart and soul

breathing in and breathing out
saying YOUR name unaware
grace upon grace
mercy upon mercy you say:
you are MINE and I am yours

we spout words of discontent
sentences of our “all knowing humanness”
YOU smile, YOU see, YOU hear
but we cannot see things the way YOU do
we cannot understand the workings of YOUR hand

we can never see all the ways
YOU cover us with your unending grace
the ways we divide and kill
the ways YOU cover us still
blind to YOUR covering grace, we are

YOUR light breaks through the darkness
as i stand facing the light of day
facing the light with the past behind
how could i ever not see YOU
how could i ever forget YOU?

YOU are everywhere and in my every breath
YOU are peace when all around is madness
YOU are joy (and my joy) when i have lost happy
YOU are grace covering every word and every move

YOU are.

seasons

There are all sorts of seasons we encounter in our lives.  The good, the bad, and the ugly; sometimes we never know what is coming until it hits us in the face, but fortunately, the definition of a season is that it only lasts for a period of time.  This is part of life.  The ebb and flow of how life is lived.

Though we never walk alone, I’ve been in a season of solitude for some time now.  I don’t ever really feel lonely during these times, it is just as if God draws me into his presence, and I simply don’t desire to spend a lot of time with other people (no offense my friends, but seriously, I love these times of solitude).  I enjoy just taking off for a few hours on a run or walk, or coming home from work to cook dinner and just be alone.. well, you know what I mean, spend time just listening to God and thinking.

As I’ve been reading recently, we cannot fully experience an emotion, feeling or season without also experiencing the opposite of that, whatever it is.  When we walk through seasons of brokenness, solitude, and sadness, only then can we fully embrace and experience those seasons of wholeness, community and JOY that come out of the opposite season.  Sometimes the brokenness seems like too much, yet the psalmist says that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and later he also says that our tears are counted and kept in a bottle, and that he sees “tossings” (Psalm 56:8).  I don’t know about you, but even if I am experiencing a difficult season, I’d rather have the Lord close and with me than have times be good and not feel his presence.  The KJV reads like this:

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: [are they] not in thy book”

It’s interesting, the Hebrew word “tellest”also means: to number, to take account of, rehearse, recon…

And the Hebrew word “cepher” for “book” also is translated as an official record book, not just any random book, but a book for God to hold records in.

If you don’t believe me, check this out : http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Psa&c=56&v=8&t=KJV#conc/8

Psalm 126:5 says (KJV) “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy”.

The same word for tears is used in this verse, but what I found interesting was the verb “reap” in Hebrew “qatsar” which actually also means “to shorten”, not just “to reap, or harvest”.  And the word joy, I just love this:
1)
ringing cry
a)
of entreaty, supplication
b)
in proclamation, joy, praise

A RINGING CRY.  Not just feeling joy, but an actually expression of joy!!  WHOA!

These are just a few verses out of many that tell us how much God cares about our feelings and emotions.  I’ve talked about this a lot it seems lately with friends, because I know I tend to rely on my emotions for so much, but seriously, God is near to us no matter what we go through, but he wants us to experience the joy that can be found in him.  Not only that, but the word “reap” also meaning “to shorten” tells me that though we will experience times of sadness and tears, he wants to SHORTEN those times, so that we will reap a time of joy.  So, we sow in tears and sadness only to reap those times of joy.  Two separate experiences, but one cannot be fully experienced without the other.

I say all this because though I still feel I am in a season on solitude, I have been coming out of a season of grieving.  Grieving for a relationship, and I had to give that time.  I had to invest in the healing process, and the grieving and sadness so that now, on the other side, I can truly say, “God you are good”.  And I can taste, see, and experience that goodness, not just read about it.

I feel it all around me.  I also feel is joy.  It’s never left, but I feel it more deeply now that before.

May my prayer

      “May my prayer like incense rise before You
The lifting of my hands a sacrifice
Oh Lord Jesus turn Your eyes upon me
For I know there is mercy in Your sight
Your statutes are my heritage forever
My heart is set on keeping Your decrees
Please still my anxious urge toward rebellion
Let love keep my will upon its knees

To all creation I can see a limit
But Your commands are boundless and have none
So Your word is my joy and meditation
From the rising to the setting of the sun
All Your ways are loving and are faithful
Your road is narrow but Your burden light
Because You gladly lean to lead the humble
I shall gladly kneel to leave my pride”

Worship and running. It’s all training.

This was an article I wrote for our church email newsletter last fall, but I was reading over it as I’ve begun training now for the Bangkok Marathon, and reminded of the discipline in our lives it takes not only for physical things, but also in our expression of worship… (October 15, 2010)

FBC weekly

Staff Corner
Meridith Johnson, Director of
Worship Ministry
One step at a time.
     Many of you may have heard or knew that I ran the Portland Marathon this past Sunday, and the only way that I was able to accomplish this life-goal of mine, was to run one step at a time.  The last few miles of the 26.2 mile race I verbally repeated to myself over and over, “it’s almost over, I’m almost done”.  And then, before long, I did finish.  I ran the race.  I accomplished a goal.
     Now you may ask, “I thought this report was about worship?”, and yes, it is, let me get to that.  You see, I’ve never been an athletic person, I was a cheerleader in High School, and could hardly run a mile until I was probably 21.  But with perseverance, practice, and discipline, I trained for shorter races, and soon the distances I once thought were hard and unbelievably long, became easy and didn’t seem as long as they seemed to be.
     Worship is something we will never really understand, or comprehend, but through Scripture, we see that as God’s people, it is an act we are commanded to do.  Something happens when as a church, we gather and corporately praise God and verbally sing, say, and pray what we know to be true of our God.  Just like the marathon I ran, I had no idea what the experience would be like until I began training, and working at doing something I wasn’t comfortable with.  Worship I would say is the same in many respects.  When we ascribe that our God is worthy (where we get the word “worship”), sometimes it is uncomfortable and sometimes we don’t feel like worshipping, but the end result and goal is always accomplished when we are willing.  God is always lifted high, and his name is glorified.
     During my months of training, some mornings I would wake up only to see it was way too early for anyone to do anything on a Saturday, then eventually I would stumble out of bed to run.  Sunday mornings, or all mornings our worship may feel the same way to us, like a chore.  But when we worship, Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits the praises of his people.  Other translations for this Hebrew word yashab are “to dwell”, “to remain”, “to sit” or “to abide”.  This verb implies God’s action on his part to dwell and be among us when we worship him.  There is something uncomfortable about the idea that God dwells with us when we worship, the living God, among us, his people.  The experience is indescribable, but worth the effort of our time and attention.
     Now, many of you have never run a marathon, and maybe never will, but you can choose to work at your personal worship and as a body our expression of praise corporately as a church.  This weekend, may you worship God in every word, activity, and breath, and on Sunday, every Sunday, may our sacrifice of praise be authentic, and change our hearts and lives.

sometimes it just can’t be spoken…

..it must be put to music.  Or in the words of another…

You say to us seek Your face
Our hearts reply, Your face we seek
And come teach us Lord, reveal Your ways
Anoint us for the greater things

We have gathered with one thirst and hunger
We’re here to drink of glory and wonder,
Here to cry out
Come and fill this place
Come and fill this place

And our single wish, our sole desire
To gaze upon Your beauty God
We will not rest, nor will we cease
Till with our eyes, Your face we see

We have gathered with one thirst and hunger
We’re here to drink of glory and wonder,
Here to cry out
Come and fill this place, this place
Come and fill this place, this place

We wait for You to come and show Your glory here today…

Alleluia come, Alleluia come, Alleluia come, Alleluia come!

mercies new i knew

your mercies are new every morning
fresh as a morning breeze
as real as the wind i can only feel but never touch
your mercies i knew

forgiveness, hope, healing
along with mercies
a cup of cool water rushing to wash away my fears
your mercies i knew

strength to leave the past behind
hope to begin to see a bright tomorrow
a breath of fresh air and a pool of peace to swim in
your mercies i knew

faith to put on my eyes to see
that the darkness cannot exist along with the light
and desperation for you and who you are is better than despair
your mercies i knew

trust to firmly take your hand and walk
beyond the shadows and the lies
the things i once believed to be true, are exposed in you
your mercies, i knew, i know

whispering a gentle “be still”
holding my heart in the palm of your hand
rushing toward me and wiping my tears away
your mercies, i now know

move

Life has been really challenging for me lately.  The balance of what “could be” and what “should be”.  Redemption.  Reconciliation.  I just don’t get it.  It’s so hard.  Trying to follow God, but seriously, seriously having so many doubts I can’t even begin to name them right now.  Challenging puts it lightly.

I have so little faith it’s not even funny.  How could it be funny?

What am I doing and where am I going?

Then this morning, a song from the distant past started playing on my playlist.  I cried.  I was moved.  Dare you to move.  Move.  Don’t be still.  Don’t just let it all happen.

“Dare you to move.  Dare you to move.  Dare you to lift yourself up off the floor…

The tension is here, the tension is here, between who you are and who you could be, between how it is and how it should be…

Maybe redemption has stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell, but when you run to escape from yourself, where you gonna go?  Where you gonna go?  Salvation is here.”

I don’t know what to say.  But salvation is here.  You can pick yourself up.  And move.  I can pick myself up and move.  Toward God.  Toward hope.  Toward peace.