Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sleepover at Evie's House!

A few years ago, when I concluded I would never have children of my own, it was my friend Suze - pregnant at the time - who hugged me close to her and said, "I'll share her with you ..."

Suze called me when Evelyn Marie made her first appearance; she sent me the birth announcement, the baptism announcement, pictures of Evie's first Halloween, first Christmas, first day at school. She sent pictures of all her big events. She took me home to meet Evie when I was in Toronto.

Right from the beginning all her emails, cards, letters, pictures, were addressed to "Auntie Karyn" or "Auntie K". And she would tell me what was going on in the world of "our girl."

This week I flew in to Toronto for our annual conference and Suze invited me to stay at her place on the Monday night and drive up to the conference with her on Tuesday morning. "You'll be able to see our girl and Evie will be able to put a face to her Auntie K now that she's older," Suze cajoled me.

As I walked into the house with Suze, a whirlwind of beauty charged at me, thrusting two pictures she had coloured into my hands and saying, "Auntie Karyn, I did these for you!"

And she said, "Auntie Karyn, will you sleep in my room with me? Then if we wake up early we can talk!"

She is lively and beautiful and strong and wise and funny, my little niece.

She is just like her Mommy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New Day Dawning

What a week of ups and downs it had been. Last Sunday was amazing - crowds lining the way, cheering Hosanna! Rescue Us!, hoping that they were seeing their Messiah at last; Jesus looking steadfastly toward Jerusalem, responding very little to the adulation showered down upon Him.

He curses the fig tree, symbolizing what was to come for Jerusalem.

He goes to the Temple and creates a fracas.

He asserts His authority to the authorities confronting Him about His actions, once again leaving them seething and even more determined to rid themselves of Him. There is a price on His head now.

He weeps over the city: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"

He makes arrangements with His disciples for the Passover. Judas makes arrangements with the authorities for the delivering up of Jesus to them for 30 pieces of silver.

The Passover is celebrated and Jesus institutes the Last Supper, telling His disciples to continue the sacrament in remembrance of Him.

They sing a hymn and make their way to the garden at Gethsemane, where Jesus asks everyone to wait but asks Peter, James and John to come a little further with Him.  He asks them to watch and pray for Him; then He goes a little further by Himself.

He pours His heart out in anguish and submission to His Father, sweat falling to the ground like great drops of blood.

Judas brings the authorities to the garden and betrays Jesus with a kiss.

His trials begin; He is pronounced not guilty; the crowds are whipped into a frenzy, screeching "Crucify Him!"

Peter denies Him. Three times.

He is stripped, flogged, a thorny crown jammed onto His head. He is taunted and mocked. There are six trials in all. Finally Pilate relents and accedes to the increasingly threatening demands to crucify Him.

A rough, heavy cross is put together and He is forced - in His weakened, battered state - to drag it to the Hill of the Skull, the hill where criminals were put to death, Calvary.

Nails were hammered through His hands and feet, attaching Him to the cross. A shallow hole was dug and the cross with Him on it was dropped unceremoniously into that hole. It was about 9 o'clock in the morning.

He hung on that cross for six hours. 

Where was His Father during all of His suffering? How could any loving father watch his son hang there in agony and not make any effort to free him? What were the angels thinking, not springing to His rescue?

I imagine that heaven has never fallen so silent. As Jesus cried out in pain beyond pain, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?", the response was a darkness that fell heavily over the afternoon land for three excruciating hours.

I imagine that at first the angels asked if they could have permission to rescue Him. And His Father turned His face away from them. Did they catch a glimpse of tears, tears like blood, falling to the floor of heaven? Heaven's collective breath was held each time Jesus spoke from the cross. Would it be now that He would call for them? They were ready to attack, that great host, that army of heaven. They had been there for His birth. They just needed the sign and they would be there at His death.

Finally, He uttered the words, "It is Finished!" and He died.

And with that all Heaven broke loose.

The Temple's imposing curtain - 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, 4 inches thick and requiring 300 men to lift its estimated 3 to 4 tons - was torn in two. It was like God Himself refused to be contained only in the Holiest place any more, separated from all His people, whom He loved so deeply, and having only annual contact with the priest offering sacrifice for sins; and with the death of His Son once and for all offering the only sacrifice for sin that would be required from now on He roared forth, splitting the barrier from the top to the bottom. God with us.

There was a tremendous earthquake. Graves opened and saints were risen from the dead.

And this was just the start of it!

On the first day of the week, hours before daybreak, Mary Magdalene - the woman who owed her whole life to Jesus - was in the garden where He had been buried. She had made the discovery that the tomb was empty; she went and told the disciples; but, overcome with grief, with the need to be near the last place she had seen Him, she returned to the grave. Peering again into the empty tomb with tear-heavy eyes she didn't even raise her head when a voice said to her "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"

Mary thought she was speaking to the gardener - who else would be up at that time of the day? - and she begged to be given Jesus' body.

And then He said one word: Mary.

She would have loved Him and believed in His teachings and His forgiveness even if He had remained dead, in the grave.

But the sound of her name coming from His mouth! She knew in that instant that not only did she have a life transformed on this earth, but now she had eternal life in heaven because He was risen.

As she fell before Him in wonder and worship, darkness started to dissipate. Dawn began to break.

And nothing in the history of the world would ever be the same.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Five Down, Twenty to Go!

"But their mattresses are so thin!" exclaimed my 10-year-old friend as she saw the picture of the girls' room at the Children's Home for the tsunami orphans.

I was thinking about the kids again today, and the realization hit me that these 50 young people are not in a holding pattern waiting for someone to adopt them or waiting for a relative to surface and claim them or waiting for their fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and make it all better.

This. Is. Their. Life.

The Home is their home. The minister and his wife are their guardians and parent-figures. Their roommates are as close to family as they'll have in their childhood.

They are here until they get married or get a job and move out. But for the girls, there will be no dowry to offer a prospective husband. For the boys, there is no family lineage to show a concerned family with a marriageable daughter.

I am encouraged that in less than one week we have received enough donations for five bunk beds - already 20% of the kids won't have to sleep on the floor on those little mattresses! I'll keep you posted as the week progresses.

The minister's daughter
translating Dad's message
of God's love

Many of you want so desperately to be able to help, but times are incredibly hard. You have told me you are praying for them, and there is nothing - NOTHING - more important that you could do for them. Pray for their health and for their safety. Pray that they will have nutritious food and that they will excel at school. I truly believe that education will be what unlocks the door for them.

Pray that the nightmares will go away and that the uncertainty in their eyes will be replaced by confidence and eventual joy.

Pray that they will experience love that will heal their hearts.

Thank you for caring for these beautiful little people.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Last Dinner

(I draw heavily from Dad's study on Tuesday, April 12, at Robertson Manor entitled "The Beginning of the Last Week")

As the most important week of Jesus' life on earth was about to launch, we find Him in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus - having dinner with His friends.

Not in the temple, being baited by the religious leaders. Not healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. Not walking on water and stilling storms. Not preaching and teaching. Not even being tested by Satan or in prayerful solitude with His Father.

As He approached all that this week would entail - He was about to ride into the City with all the pomp and ceremony that a donkey and a crowd of rough, desperate people calling out to Him could provide; He was going to observe quietly the goings-on at the Temple and then return to sweep it clean of the corruption that was seething inside it;  He was going to tackle the religious leaders of the day with the strongest language He had used on them yet, those "whitened sepulchres"; He was going to have a last meal with those He had spent the past three years with, His closest followers; He was going to be betrayed by one of those followers; He was going to be the defendant at a mockery of a trial; He would be stripped, beaten, mocked, spat upon, pronounced Not Guilty, and yet be strung up to die - as He prepared for all of this where He wanted to be was with His friends, in their quiet home, drawing strength from their love and acceptance.

Feeling like family.

Tonight, at dinner, Lazarus was seated at the table with Jesus. Lazarus, who had been dead and then had been raised from the dead by his friend. Lazarus, who undoubtedly would have questions - what do you suppose they talked about? - but was mainly full of gratitude. Lazarus was a celebrity now, because people came over to see him, truly a dead man walking. But none of the attention was important to him compared to being with Jesus.

They were served by Martha. Martha, who at a previous meal had nagged Jesus about speaking to Mary to help out a bit. She was so comfortable with Jesus in her home that she felt free to grumble to him like He was her brother.

Until He brought her brother back to life.

Now Martha couldn't do enough for Jesus. She truly served Him now, not as a chore or because it was expected but because He had given her back her beloved brother and there was nothing she would not do for Him. 

As the meal started to wind down, Mary came forward and unselfconsciously, worshipfully, broke open an alabaster jar of precious spikenard - an extravagant gesture usually reserved for royalty because the ointment was so difficult to procure and therefore prohibitively expensive. She anointed Jesus' feet with this ointment.

Jesus' feet were precious to Mary. She had spent a lot of time at Jesus' feet. The time Martha complained about her to Jesus was because Mary had been at His feet, listening and learning. When Jesus had come to their home after Lazarus died and others were reproaching Him for taking so long to get there, Mary had fallen at His feet and wept. 

And now, as she anointed those same feet with this aromatic spice, the whole house was filled with its fragrance.

Jesus said to the people who muttered judgmentally about the waste of it all, "Leave her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial."

I read up on spikenard and most of the literature agrees that it is a spice that is used in emotional healing. But Wikipedia puts it this way: "Emotionally this oil is reserved for deep seated grief or old pain. It is used in palliative care to help ease the transition from life to death."

Mary was easing the transition from life to death for Jesus.

Did Mary know somehow? Or was it because she had spent so much time sitting quietly in His presence observing and pondering His words and actions, and because she had so recently witnessed the death of one she held most dear, that she was more attuned than most to the treasure of life itself and she wanted to worship the person who had not only restored life to her brother but who had also given life to her own heart and soul?

Regardless, that evening Lazarus sat and fellowshiped with Jesus.

Martha served Him.

And Mary anointed Him.

The great statesman Benjamin Disraeli said this:  "We should never lose an occasion. Opportunity is more powerful even than conquerors and prophets."

Lazarus, Martha and Mary would not have known that this would be the last opportunity they would have to be with Him like this before He died. But all three of them rose to the occasion and were truly present for Jesus and with Jesus at His last supper with them.

All three of them worshiped Him the best way they knew how.

And from this wonderful time of fellowship, from this quiet evening spent with people He loved and who loved Him, He headed toward Jerusalem and faced what was to come.


I've thought a lot about that evening over the past week or so, and my own heart has been challenged. How many opportunities have I been given to serve people, to honour them, simply to be present to them? I may never realize the significance of that time, may never know until too late that it is the last time I will have that privilege. 
And I think about Buck Howe, husband of Jessie and friend of the TH. One Friday afternoon during the months the TH was closed I had bumped into Jessie at the post office. How's Buck, I had asked. "Not so good," was the response. "Funny I should see you today. He was just saying that he missed the tea house, and that he especially missed your chocolate pie. He said he hasn't had a good piece of chocolate pie since you shut down." 
The next day I made a chocolate pie and took it up to the Chateau, where Jessie and Buck lived. Buck was sitting quietly in his big chair, his tired eyes half closed. But when I walked in and he saw what I was carrying, he opened his eyes wide, sat up straighter and beamed. "I don't remember you, but I sure do remember your chocolate pie!" he said.

Such a little thing, a pie, but it turned out that that was the last time I saw Buck. A couple of weeks later he was buried, the day before my mother.

I am so, so thankful I made that pie.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Bunk Bed Project

Many of you, upon reading about the Children of the Tsunami (click here to go back to the account of our visit), asked what we could do to help these children. Specifically, you asked what it would take to be able to get those little ones - and not so little ones - off the thin mats on which they sleep on the floor and into bunk beds.

So I wrote to G.S. Nair, the man who sent some of his students to rescue these 50 children and who set up the orphanage for them; yesterday I received a reply.

One bunk bed costs between Rs. 7,500 and 8,500 (around $200). They would need 25 bunk beds.

Can we raise $5,000 to get these kids some beds?

I was thinking about what I could do personally to help, about where I could find some extra money (what IS that, "extra money"?!) to purchase a bunk bed or two for a couple of these kids who have so very little. Then it came to me that I have a group of men who gather at Nilgiris every Monday morning at 7:00. They always tip me for allowing them to meet in the TH. Why couldn't I put that money toward the project? It wouldn't be too many weeks before I'd have enough $5 bills to turn into a comfortable place for someone to sleep.

Does anyone want to join me in this? If you want to write a cheque, feel free to email me at and I can give you details about how we can get the money to this orphanage; I'm also going to set up a container in the TH for those of you in Trois Lumps who want to throw in a few dollars when you can.

There's nothing in this for you - you can't even get a tax write-off  - but for those kids, it shows them that people know about them, that people care for them.

And in the words of the One who cares for these children more than they will ever know, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these My [children], you have done it unto Me."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Decoration

Remember my utterly irresistible friend Abishai? When we were in India last month we were privileged to be able to visit him (and his parents and grandparents and the college they founded!) once again.

What's changed with Abi is that he's a little bit older (he's 5), a little bit smarter and a little bit more charming - if that's possible ...

You'll recall that last year Abishai had helped me in the kitchen any time I cooked. Back in Calgary we found the perfect gift for him:

He eagerly put the chef's jacket and toque on, carefully arranged all the utensils in the pockets, got his mother to write his name tag ("Chef Abishai"); and then he looked expectantly at Debs and me. "What are we going to cook?" he inquired.

And cook we did: roast chicken with fluffy mashed potatoes and roast beef with golden roast potatoes, sweet and sour chicken with fried rice, soup and Dad's baking-soda biscuits with golden syrup, cakes, custards, pies, cheesecake and a large sticky toffee pudding with rich caramel sauce drizzled enticingly over it.

"I think I'd like to be a cook or a preacher," Abi confided.

"Grandpa Ironside can do both," I countered. "Maybe you could too."

"I could try," he replied doubtfully. "But my girlfriend will help me cook."

Last year Abi wanted to find himself "a little wife." This year he realized that he was "too young for a wife, but I'm going to have a little girlfriend by the time I'm 10."

This year he sees "bad guys" ... "Guys who can come through the walls and the window glass, and all you can see is their legs, just like Sponge Bob," he said fearfully.

Going shopping. Abi loves Fanta.
One day he had got himself one,
then I gave him money for Debs
and me. He came back and handed
us bottles with slightly low levels:
"They were too heavy, so I had to
drink some," he explained with not
even a hint of guile ...
Debs and I stole away for one afternoon of pedicures with Abi's beautiful mother, Salome. Then we picked up Abishai and went shopping and a more patient, good-natured child would be hard to find.

On our way back to the campus late that afternoon, one of Salome's sisters called her from the States; and while they were chatting on the phone Abishai told Auntie Debs that the area under one of his eyes was very sore. He had fallen off a stool in one of the stores and Debs asked him if he had bumped his eye as he went down. No, he answered, it had started to pain him before that.

"Did you tell your mother about this?" Debs asked him.

"Yes, but she's not listening to me; she's not even responding to me!" he mourned, looking every inch the tiny tragic hero.

A truly civilized country:
if you're shopping when it's tea time,
this shop serves it to you!

Abi drinking his tea

Debs, Ashleigh and Abi painting rocks
 One of Abi's new expressions is "Don't think I don't know ..." He wanted to do a craft, so Debs sent him and his friend Ashleigh to collect interesting rocks which they then proceeded to finger paint. "I've painted with a brush before - don't think I don't know how to paint with a brush!" he insisted.

The other thing that's changed is that now Abi has a little brother, Micah. And how he loves his brother! They play together well and he shares almost everything he cherishes with his baby, who will soon weigh almost as much as Abi does ...

In October 2009 Sam and Salome asked Dad to dedicate Abishai to God as they committed themselves to bringing him up with love and kindness and godly instruction. This year they asked Dad to dedicate Micah.

Abi overheard them talking. "I want to be decorated too!" he exclaimed. "We are brothers; we should be decorated together!"

Sam explained that Abishai had been dedicated a couple of years ago but maybe had been just too small to remember. Abi looked like he was about to take exception to that answer when Dad spoke up: "The whole family should be together for this occasion," he decreed. "Abishai, I'll need you to come up as well."

"I will," promised Abi earnestly.

Listening to Grandpa Ironside
 And so it was that at the end of the graduation ceremony Abi went solemnly up the steps onto the stage and, with his mother and father and his grandmother and grandfather, was a vital part of the dedication service of his brother Micah.

Decorating Micah, who kept
reaching for the microphone
and talking - another preacher
in the wngs?!

The prayer of dedication

"The greatest gift you can give your two boys,"
Dad said, "is that their parents love each other."
"I love my brother, but I don't want any more,
and I DON'T want any sisters!"
 I have thought almost every day about Abi and his little brother, about how they truly decorate the world around them. They are full of life and beauty and bring joy to all those who come into contact with them.

And I'm reminded of the children's hymn by William Cushing and taken from Malachi 3:17 - "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” - that we used to sing in Sunday school:

Ready to be decorated!

When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.

He will gather, He will gather
The gems for His kingdom;
All the pure ones, all the bright ones,
His loved and His own.

Little children, little children,
Who love their Redeemer,
Are the jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.


Like the stars of the morning,
His brightness adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Cost to Travel

I'm looking at prices for a flight to North Carolina in June. The airfares seem reasonable; it also looks like I am doing my bit to put a dent in the volcanic debt spewing forth from our neighbour to the south.

Is that the taste of ash in my mouth?!

Price Summary

Passenger Type                                                                          Adult
Departing Flight -Tango Plus                                                      $311.00
Returning Flight -Tango Plus                                                      $311.00
Surcharges                                                                                $15.00
Canada Airport Improvement Fee                                                 $33.00
U.S.A Transportation Tax                                                             $31.92
U.S Agriculture Fee                                                                        $4.90
Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC)                                             $12.10
U.S Passenger Facility Charge                                                         $4.41
Canada Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST #10009-2287 RT0001)        $1.04
Canada Goods and Services Tax (GST/HST #10009-2287 RT0001)    $33.71
September 11 Security Fee                                                             $2.45
U.S.A Immigration User Fee                                                            $6.85
Total airfare and taxes (per passenger)                                        $767.38
Number Of Passengers                                                                          1
Grand Total - Canadian Dollars                                                                       $767.38

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scenes From the Marketplace, Part 2

It was getting time for us to go for breakfast, and so we slowly wended our way out of that area of the market, away from the mysteries and colour and nooks and crannies begging to be explored. But on the way out, a few more scenes of wonder caught our eyes:

Temple stall
We arrived in Bangalore during the Holi Festival; you can see the exquisite cones of coloured powder waiting to be bought and thrown lightheartedly at friends and strangers ...

Holi cones

The little clay pots used to burn oil for worship

As we surfaced back into the bright, hot light again, we saw that other people were also done for the day:

Everything in balance!

The promise of the
best orange juice ...

The market was just the start
of his day - now he's off to
peddle his wares in the street

Preparing to load the vehicle ...

Produce truck about to leave

... and he's ready to go!

Just a few more minutes
'til breakfast's ready, guys ...

Seriously - are you driving away
with that on the roof?!
(Yes, it turned out!)


What a wonderful morning!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Still a Young Lady!"

Our beloved Martha turned 102 last Friday, April 1.

It's been a bit of a tough year for her since we celebrated her birthday last year. She broke her leg near to the hip she had broken when she was a mere 98 1/2. She was in and out of emergency, in and out of the hospital, a little bit more this past year.

And with the hard, hard winter we lived through, she was less and less able to come to our Tuesday morning meetings at the Manor.

However, we couldn't let her birthday go unnoticed! I called the wonderful Heather Gillespie, Manager of the Golden Hills Lodge, where Martha resides; and Heather herself wheeled Martha in her chair over at 10 o'clock this morning for our weekly hymn sing and Bible study ...

When it came time to sing "Happy Birthday," after we had sung the regular chorus Dad paused and then remarked, "I guess we can't sing the verse about 'May you live to be a hundred', can we?!"

And Dad brought a wonderful devotional about how God remembers. He remembers us. This deserves a post of its own, so I won't elaborate now except to say that one of the verses he referenced was Jesus' words about the lilies in the field, and how Solomon in all his glory couldn't touch their beauty. Dad asked us what the difference was between Solomon's beauty and that of the lilies. None of us got it, so he had to elaborate: When Solomon was done being king for the day, he would take off his crown and his royal jewels. He would get out of his ceremonial robes. And there he would be, just a man, possibly with a paunch (oh Dad!!). His beauty was extrinsic, coming from outside of himself.

Lilies, on the other side, never divest themselves of their beauty. Their beauty is intrinsic to them - it is impossible to separate the beauty of the lily from the lily itself without destroying the flower.

I thought immediately that this was a good picture of Martha. Our Martha is a lily, her beauty such an integral part of her that you cannot separate the two. Her beauty comes from a life well-lived. She graduated from Prairie Bible Institute in 1936, and the words given to her that day were Proverbs 3:5-6:

Martha's magnifying glass - how she reads now -
over her favourite Bible verse ...
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."

And what a path her life has taken! She was all set to go be a missionary when her mother became gravely ill. She felt called to go home, not only to care for her mother but also to help raise her younger siblings. She was there for a number of years, until her mother passed away.
Words from Martha's favourite song

After that she went overseas, and in 1948 she ended up in Ireland, working for 13 years with World Missions to Children. At the end of the 13 years she turned 65 and they retired her. However, she didn't feel ready to retire, so when she got a call from the Bible Club Movement in County Kildare, she went and worked with them for another 13 years! (How short-sighted of the first mission!) Two of "her" kids from the Bible Club Movement came to Prairie and both went on to serve God, Tony in Alaska and Philip as a Presbyterian minister back in Northern Ireland.

Telling Lester and Dad that she was
"retired" by the mission at age 65!

When she returned to Canada to "retire" officially at the age of 78, she became involved with missionary work and prayer, and that continues to this day. Each day she meets with people to pray, to exhort and encourage them. When Dad and I would go visit her in hospital this past year, she would encourage us with scripture and with stories and with memories of Mum, one of her prayer partners.

One time she was telling us of the time of her own mother's death and funeral, which was when Martha was 26. It was a terrible winter and her mother would have to be buried from the family home. Two ministers came out for the service, a Lutheran and a Baptist one. She could remember the name of the Baptist one; but when it came to the first name of the Lutheran one, she was stumped. Try as she might, she could not recall the man's first name. "Do you think I'm losing it, Allan?" she demanded of my Dad - she was 101 at the time, and 75 years away from the funeral! She held my hand when I told her how much I miss Mum. "My mother died 75 years ago and I still miss her. You never stop missing your mother," she said softly.

"Jacob lived to be 130 ...
 As Dad was closing the study for the week, he read the story of Jacob's words to the Egyptian Pharaoh in Genesis 47:9: "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of my life been ..."
... you're still a young lady!"

"Why, Martha, you're still a young lady!" he exclaimed, and was rewarded with one of her deep chuckles.

"I'm looking forward to living a few more years, God willing," she retorted, "unless He comes back first and then I want to go with Him!"

Ahh, Martha, we want you for as many years as we can have you! But in the meantime, We'll praise Him for all that is past and trust Him for all that's to come!"

We love you. Happy Birthday.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Heart of Worship

(I write the following with great reluctance because I am writing about worship in churches and I myself am often involved in helping out with worship. Everything I say here I say first to myself.)

The Sunday after returning from India I went to two different church services - after all, having come off three weeks of listening to two sermons in the morning and two in the evening, it seemed odd to hear just one!

The first service I went to had a worship team of six people, plus three people running sound and the equipment that projected the words onto the screen at the front of the room. Keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, vocalists were pounding away relentlessly on the stage. 

Hardly anyone in the congregation was singing.

The songs were unfamiliar for the most part; and the music was pitched to the range of the music team leader, impractically low for 98% of any given congregation. Even the one traditional hymn that was sung had enough variation on the well known tune and timing to make it painful to try to follow.

The second service had piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, vocalists. More of the songs were familiar and the pitch was selected so that people could sing along; but as song followed song, chorus followed chorus in a stream of sound that got muddied and stretched on for far too long, people who had started the morning singing joyfully started to taper off.

And to add insult to injury the words of many of the newer songs spoke little if at all to my soul.  They seemed trite, shallow, focusing a great deal on Me and what I want, need, believe, think.

I was left feeling exhausted, drained, frustrated, irritable.

I was left feeling muted.

The ensuing sense of discouragement I had for the remainder of the day perplexed and troubled me enough that during this past week I have thought every day about what is worship. I have mulled it over with other people - discovering that I am far from being alone in my thoughts on this topic - and have realized that last Sunday is not untypical for services in North America these days.

My observation is that in today's churches' ongoing search to remain relevant, to be au courant and not to lose the gnat-like attention span the younger generations are purported to possess; in their overwhelming desire to "engage" the congregation, what has been lost sight of is the worship of God, one of the chief reasons we are at church in the first place.

The teams have clearly spent hours practising; so much so that they seem to have rehearsed any spontaneity right out of the music. It has often become a performance and they are playing their parts. The music vies with the preaching to see which gets the most airtime rather than the music being the lead up to, the complement to the message. The preacher dares not ask for a closing song that might illustrate the point he has made because it's "not on the list."

What has been pushed to the side is the faith - and the words that describe that faith - of our fathers and mothers, those members of the diminishing older generation who are the cornerstones of the churches we are attending. These people who are spiritual giants, prayer warriors, generous contributors to their churches, now sit there in polite confusion, trying earnestly to sing the new songs that sound so thin, that are so unmelodious to ears who have been accustomed to hearing anthems of praise ring out strongly.

We continue to sit in our seats, following along to words that flash in front of us but rarely opening our mouths. We sit there getting colder, waiting for the "worship" to be over so that we can at least hear the pastor's sermon and find something that touches our souls and restores the joy.

New is not always better. More is often less.

Finally what was troubling me became clear to me when I watched a clip of a song I taped on my little camera. The song leader, Mung No, has no formal training in music. The pianist has taught himself to play the piano. There is no thought of a worship team trying to lead the congregation to worship ...

... because the congregation doesn't need to be coaxed to worship! Their hearts are overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what God has done for them. Everyone knows the song and almost everyone knows what the song means. No one is self-conscious, but rather is conscious of who God is and how good He is.

This doesn't mean that there are not difficulties and extreme hardships in the lives of many of the worshipers. Mung No has himself undergone terrible suffering and uncertainty in recent years. There are people in that congregation who don't have freedom to worship when they return to their own places. There are people who are sick and can't afford to go to a doctor. There are people who can't afford a candy bar much less a trip home for the summer. There are people who have nothing.

Nothing, that is, except for God. And they rely on Him and lean on His word and promises. They have not forgotten the joy of their salvation.

So with hearts overflowing, they sing willingly and with gratitude while the slightly out-of-tune piano rings out with praise and the song leader holds the reins lightly and with reverence.

Worship teams and leaders have a sobering responsibility in a service. They set the tone of what is to come and can draw individuals together to worship God in unity. They can lead people to the very feet of Christ.

The congregation has a responsibility too. Genuine worship reflects a walk with God that is central to a person's life, not just an added benefit.

Click on the link below. Forgive the poor quality of the video. Turn up the volume.

This song might be considered old-fashioned, maybe. But its words are timeless, its joy is infectious and it contains the heart of worship, which has very little to do with "Me" and everything to do with the One we praise.