By Heidi Baumgartner, communication director
The Altar Project that you’ve been enjoying all month long almost didn’t happen.
One week before launching, I almost pulled the plug because we only had a third of the contributions needed. A few too many details were flying, and it all seemed impossible from a human perspective.
A quick brainstorming and production session later, we had the majority of devotional entries ready or committed for encouraging us all to Be Still in God’s presence. We had exactly enough! Nothing more. Nothing less.
Typically, we have 100-200 participants who commit to Alter the Altar with family worship time. This year, we’ve had 700-900 people regularly opening the daily emails! Plus more friends following online. Many have shared daily email responses about how much they’ve resonated with the stories, devotionals, activities and prayers.
In the midst of producing The Altar Project, I wasn’t feeling very peaceful. My soul was far from being still and I felt like a hypocrite.
During our Washington Conference staff retreat at our beloved Sunset Lake Camp, we were invited to spend 30 minutes outside on our own or in a small group of two or three. This was our time to be still. My soul needed this time!
I walked initially without purpose or direction. And then – I spotted a beam of light brightening up the green veins of a fern frond. It was stunning and beautiful and picture-worthy. My purpose solidified: it was time to chase the light around Sunset Lake and photograph whatever detail caught my eye.
A few steps into my journey, I reflected on a favorite phrase from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”
This reminded me of the time 15 years ago when an old preacher stood in front of the congregation and opened his sermon: “You’ve probably read the twenty-third Psalm thousands of times and heard hundreds of sermons on this passage. Well, today I want to focus on two key words for the Christian experience: Green pastures.”
Green pastures, he explained, were meant for feeding. For grazing. For filling up. For enjoying and savoring. We don’t eat meals occasionally. We eat meals regularly.
The same is true, he said, for our spiritual life. We need daily spiritual food to sustain us through the dark valleys, the tables set by enemies, the times of quiet waters and everything in between.
Another time, a sage uncle stood before hundreds of gathered family and friends to remember and honor the cut-short life of a pastor’s son.
“Every person has a life battery,” the uncle said. “We typically find healthy ways to recharge this battery, to keep going in life. But sometimes the battery gets too low, and we need extra help. And still other times, the battery just cannot recharge from its dangerously low level.”
Our green pasture time in scripture is one of the tools for recharging our life battery, for recalibrating our thoughts, for recommitting ourselves to Jesus.
This green pasture time to essential for having enough reserves to withstand the darkest valleys. As I rounded Sunset Lake, I found rock piles that I associated with darkest valleys. The sunshine I had been walking in had disappeared into early morning shadows. The forest pathway was noticeable cooler. Yet, glimmers of morning light still shown through the forest canopy offering little reminders of hope.
Some of the steps were muddy. Some stumps were gnarly. Some leaves crunched underfoot. The far side of the lake, near the gazebo, gave a moment of reflection, of introspection, about how far I’d come in my spiritual journey. A respite of hope.
The further I walked, the more light came upon my path illuminating my way once again. One of the final stops: the sign for Church Bowl. A symbol of the value of Christian fellowship.
In church, we sing songs of hope and deliverance together (among other discipleship activities).
I started singing in my head a favorite song of my maternal grandfather:
In God’s green pastures feeding by His cool waters lie; soft in the evening walk my Lord and I. All the sheep of His pasture fare so wonderously fine; His sheep am I.
Back at Timber Lodge, I opened my computer and brought up the following medley. While you listen to this audio recording, it's worth closing your eyes and picturing the most beautiful green pastures that God created in our world!
Chasing the light. Treasuring green pasture time. Recharging my life battery.
Whatever metaphor speaks to your heart, it’s all about spending time walking with our Lord. Singing with worship in our hearts. All this works together to bring moments of serenity, peace and calm.
As we begin to wrap up our Altar Project experience, my prayer is that you will continue to find your green pasture time in God’s word every day – as individuals and as families.
Your family is going to read Psalm 23 and then make a "Green Pasture" jar! Each family member gets 3-5 slips of paper (at least 1" x 5") where they can write (or tell an adult to write) their favorite healthy activities to calm down and enjoy God's presence. Be creative! Use your imagination!
Fold the slips of paper in half and place in a Mason jar or upcycled and cleaned food jar (pickle jars work great!). If you want, create a label and attach to the rim with a ribbon or thread.
For future family worship times, pull out a slip of paper for a "surprise" Green Pasture activity!
Lord, every day we have reminders that we are like sheep and are in great need of You as our Shepherd. Guide us to the green pastures and still waters we need. Restore our souls. Lead us in Your paths of righteousness. Walk with us through the valleys of life. May our spiritual cups run over with your goodness and mercy all the days of our lives. Amen.