Friday, February 1, 2008

Casting Crowns

I was extra excited this week because on Tuesday I won tickets to the Casting Crowns concert in Oklahoma City, which happened to be the first show of their spring tour. I am constantly amazed at the music that Mark Hall and crew come up with. I have been a fan since the first CD--there aren't many people that provide lyrics that are not just affirming, but uplifting and incredibly straightforward. I had not purchased the CD before the concert (only because I was out of moolah on my iTunes account) and happened to receive two free copies last night--one from K-LOVE, who gave us the tickets, and one for choosing to sponsor a child through World Vision, but more on that later.

Usually my experience with music has been that either I find a band a few years into the scene and I don't typically like the early years, or that the early stuff is good and they start to lose it as years go by. SO not the case with these guys--each and every song is absolutley amazing, every CD is worth having. Although I love the music, the more important thing is that each song leads back to Scripture and I learn more about and become closer to God by hearing it. I am certain that this is the purpose of Casting Crowns since each one of the songs in the album booklet is accompanied by Scripture that the song stems from.

The purpose of this album and tour is to remind people not to lose God between the altar and the door. Mark reminded us that all too often we feel lifted while surrounded by Christians and worship, but when we leave the presence of those that build us up, we should not leave the presence of God. Our friends and ministers do not follow us home, so we have to rely on our personal relationship with Jesus in order to survive outside of the environment that we are so comfortable in. He mentioned that sometimes we lose sight of who we are when we allow ourselves to be led by men instead of God--we can't rely on others to walk with Jesus for us. This has been something that I have really grasped in the past few years, especially with the music that I listen to. Although others are singing and there are instruments being played, I know that when I sing the lyrics, they are from my own heart. I may not have written them, but they were written so that I personally could connect with God--not the person who wrote them, but with God. I think this is what Casting Crowns is leading people to understand--not that they are the focus of the evening at one of their concerts, but as a whole, we the Body of Christ are each individually lifting our hearts and voices to praise and exalt God with those words.

The Altar and the Door

I don't want to write a review of every song on The Altar and the Door, but I am going to share a few of them so that I can drive home this point:
The first track is called What This World Needs, and Mark cites that the main basis for the song is the book of Galatians. This book was written in order to correct and denounce false teachings in the churches that Paul and Barnabas helped to establish, and then teach how to get back to the basics of the Gospel and apply it to our lives. So the lyrics are "What this world needs is not another one hit wonder with an axe to grind ~ Another two bit politician peddling lies ~ Another three ring circus society ~ What this world needs is not another sign waving super saint that's better than you ~ Another ear pleasing candy man afraid of the truth ~ Another prophet in an Armani suit ~ (Chorus) What this world needs is a Savior who will rescue ~ A Spirit who will lead ~ A Father who will love them in their time of need..." The chorus is longer and there is another verse, but this is the meat of the song: We still tend to look at status or the outward quality of a person and determine what their relationship with God is or should be, but all we need to know is that there is a Savior who HAS rescued us, a Spirit that DOES lead us, and a Father who UNCONDITIONALLY LOVES each and every one of us. It's not about looking the best, worshipping the best, acting the best--it is only about knowing those three principals of Truth and then acting on them to follow where we are led by God and not ourselves or any man.

The Altar and the Door is the sixth track on the album. One of the inspirations is Ephesians 6:7-10 which reads "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free..."
The second verse of the song is "Here at the altar, oh my world is so black and white ~ How could I ever falter ~ What You've shown me to be right ~ I'm trying so hard to stop trying so hard ~ Just let You be who You are...(Chorus) Lord, this time I'll make it right, here at the altar I lay my life ~ Your kingdom come but my will was done, my heart is broken as I... ~ Cry, like so many times before ~ But my eyes are dry before I leave the floor, oh Lord ~ I try but this time, Jesus, how can I be sure I will not lose my follow through ~ Between the altar and the door" We tend to leave the presence of God whenever we open our eyes after prayer or confession--we lose that "good feeling" of having been prayed for or worshipping with others. When we have those good feelings, are they for our own glory, or God's? Do we only feel close to God when we are with others in worship or when we have confessed sin? "But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life." Jude 20-21. We are to build ourselves in faith and prayer and wait in God's love for eternal life--all of the time.

Somewhere in the Middle follows the previous song and the title is exactly what the song is--we are often caught in the middle of who we are supposed to be as children of God and who we choose to be in the world. Mark mentions in the tour booklet that a few of his youth group students introduced him to MySpace some months ago and he found the same things that I did--people often can "fake" who they are when typing messages to friends and the world. MySpace is just a new high to kids with the same side effects in my opinion--you become lost to the person that you mean to be because for that moment the feeling is so good. That is why addictions are so incredibly hard to kick--when you are given the chance to let go, it is hard to say no because you remember how good it feels, the worries that it rids you of, the pain that it takes away. We are too often servants to our personal desires and not to that which we are called to serve in Christ.

Lord, I pray that we can stop losing control of ourselves by giving that control to you so that we may be guided by your Spirit, to always know that you are the only constant when we are caught inside ourselves and that only you can lead us back to God and out of our own desires.

Thank you God for loving us so much that you gave us Jesus in order to know you and be alive for you. Thank you allowing this group to spread your love in their music and be near each of them as they travel the country. Help them to remember that you are always with them, and that they are spreading your love to those who know you and those who may not. I pray dear Father that they will continue to believe the words that they sing and that they will cry out to you in times that they feel lost and lonely when away from the families that are not always with them. Lord, thank you for allowing them to remind me to look only to you and to point me back to you through your Word. Thank you for loving each of us as only you do.
In Jesus name, Amen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's My Job to Get You to Heaven

In our house, we disregard any comments thrown our way when the "socialization" issue is brought up. We don't believe that public school is the be all, end all to a way for a child to have peers. We attend church three times a week, and we have monthly fellowship groups with a few families, including children in a similar age group as our kids. We frequent Barnes & Noble, and the kids tend to share books and trains fairly well with the other kids around--as well as a three and one year old do--and Samantha almost always has an older girl following her around and keeping her entertained and busy. When our children are older, we hope that they are interested in scouts. My sister and her husband are "band geeks" and I hope that that too will rub off on Joshua and Samantha.

But, today we were at the library picking up the books that we reserved to begin the letter A unit next week, and we just so happened to stumble into Baby Storytime. At first Samantha wanted to go in, but quickly changed her mind as we entered the room. Joshua, however, wanted nothing to do with any of it. When he was Samantha's age, we tried the Music and Storytime stuff and he did not like it then either. I suppose it is mostly that he is unwilling to quickly adapt to new environments--he likes to ease into his surroundings. At birthday parties, he is usually the last to join in, but he has a blast once he does. At the library, he loves playing with the toys in the lobby, but the transition is too quick into the reading room. I have filled in as a helper in his class at church and until recently, he did not pipe up much when singing songs and helping to recite stories. I pray that his reaction to new, unfamiliar situations grows better with time, but even more so that it will not become a thorn in my side when it comes to the "S" issue and onlookers of homeschooling progress.

Now, I do realize that all children develop at different rates and different personalities, but I feel being a minority to the way today's society views what makes a kid well-rounded socially, and the fact that my Munchkin is a bit shy, will ultimately call for discussion in many situations. I hope that at the those times, I will remember to take a breath, ask the Lord for strength, and point to the Imp that is holding hands with a little girl that she probably met two mintues ago. I pray that the life we strive to model for them is worthy of God and his grace, but I have to remember that I must be understanding of the thoughts and views of others, without judging their character and motives for their comments.

A good friend of mine introduced me to a phrase that she heard growing up and now uses with her three daughters. When put in a situation that usually amounts to a "that's not fair" response from one of her girls, she reminds them, "It's not my job to be fair; it's my job to get you to heaven." I always have this thought at the back of my mind--I think that it is a good way to reach decisions and goals. Is that going to ultimately get me closer to God's will? I think that our choice to homeschool is just simply another way that we can provide unending support to our children by teaching them God's will and using the world as an example for all the blessings that he gives us. They don't need a "storytime room" for that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Writing the Word on Little Hearts

This past Sunday I filled in as teacher in the Kindergarten class at church. One of the young men in that class is homeschooled--he and his brother attend a classical Christian academy where they study two days a week, and are at home the other three working with the curriculum that the school provides. Anyhow, the class has been studying David and Jonathan and I was reviewing the story with one of the children's Bibles kept in the class. Of course, these Bibles tend to be more story-oriented with a note of which scriptures to refer to for the "whole" story (1 Samuel 20). I was astounded when this young man piped-up explaining to me how Jonathan told David to go and hide and about the arrows that he would shoot and tell a boy to retrieve, letting David know whether he should run away or stay. The other children sat fairly still with blank faces while he explained all of this. I happened to sit in front of him and his dad during worship later that morning, and asked his dad about how he studied with his boys.

It really makes a difference in our children to take the time and focus on the Lord. On Monday, I sought out a book that I bought months ago when John and I first decided to homeschool. The title is Teaching Children Memory Verses, Ages 2 & 3 by Rainbow Publishers. Each lesson has an age-appropriate memory verse, Bible story, Bible truth, and step-by-step instructions for the activity. I copied the coloring sheet for the first lesson in the book (the lessons are in order based on the books of the Bible), and other than the fact that the verse is listed incorrectly for the topic covered (The verse is "God created the heavens and the earth" which is Genesis 1:1, but is listed in the book as Genesis 4:7. I have checked several of the other verses, which are all correct, therefore I am guessing this was an editing mistake) I was excited about helping Joshua write the Word of God on his little heart (Deut. 11:18-21).

We gathered around the pillows in our reading corner of our classroom and began by singing some of our favorite songs. Samantha was not entirely excited about having to share the pillow corner with her brother--she thinks that if she and I are there, Joshua should be doing something else somewhere else. However, after the songs, she relaxed a bit and was not thoroughly put out by her brother. We shared a prayer and then I read the story of Creation. When we were finished I recited the verse (well, partial verse as most of these are in this book) to Joshua and we practiced saying it over and over. While we colored our pictures , I quizzed him on things that God made for us. Since he has been studying Creation since birth, he has it down pretty good, but never has he known an actual scripture, just the stories that scripture tells. I followed him around all day saying "God..." and he would recite "...created the whole earth" to which I would ask "created what?" and he would reply "the heavens and the earth, Genesis one one."

By this morning, I could ask him "Joshua, what does Genesis 1:1 say?" and he would carefully respond "God created the heavens and the earth." Praise God for his Word.