Posts tagged with "church"
Have you noticed that this space has been increasingly quiet over the past few months? It's not that I don't have anything to say. I'm simply in search of wisdom: the gentle understanding of what to say as well as when and how to say it.
My little girl hurt my feelings this morning.
After a short night of sleep (and operating on a hungry tummy), she spat out harmful and embarrassing words when she didn't get her way.
"You are the worst mom! I HATE YOU!"
My laughter (a horrible reflex that happens when I'm embarrassed or angry) must have confused her. It certainly confused the other mothers who witnessed the event. I can only imagine what they thought as they watched me laugh after my daughter spewed such disrespectful ugliness and hostility. One of the other mothers felt it necessary to take my daughter into the other room and explain to her how her actions were in appropriate.
I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. How embarrassing!
Not only that my daughter is capable of such behavior, but that she most probably inherited it or learned it from me!
"The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." ~James
How do I help her learn? How can I help her learn, when I haven't learned myself?
Oh, God, forgive me.
I have exhibited such arrogance and lack of self-control. I have cared more about my need to express myself or for my words to be heard than about how that might have affected Your Kingdom or the hearers themselves. A lack of malicious intent causes no less harm. What evil I have committed and how I have participated with the Enemy! I'm sorry.
'Wounded deep for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. You brought a peace and bought our healing. Now eternally we sing, now eternally we sing.' (Wounded Healer, The Brilliance)
Oh, Son of God, forgive me.
I have caused some of the wounds you died to heal. I have abandoned your call to love enemies, and I have betrayed you with my hypocrisy. I have made it more difficult for others to see You. I have made it difficult for others to believe in You. I'm sorry.
'Rescue me, I am drowning in doubt. I cannot see You. This water's deep, and I've been treading too long. Now I'm sinking. Will you let me see if you are there? Will you rescue me, if you are there?
Comfort me, this fear is dragging me down. Deep in the darkness. Frigid sea, my whole heart has gone cold. I know I'm dying. Will you answer me, if you are there? Will you rescue me, if you are there?' (Rescue Me, The Brilliance)
Oh, Spirit of God, help me.
I have proven that I cannot tame my tongue. I'm begging for You to come and change me, radically. I'm begging You to come and transform me. Grant me wisdom and give me strength. Please help me to learn the power of my words and how magnificently important it is to use them to equip, encourage, and edify. Use me as an example in my precious little girl's life. Spare her from the example I have shown her at times. Wipe her heart and mind clean. Surround her and teach her and guide her. Guide us. Please.
'You heard the cry of our hearts, and you came down. Freely you gave us your love, showing us how.
Make me an instrument of Your Peace. Where there is hatred, let me so love. Where there is darkness, let me shine light.
May Your love cause us to open, cause us to open up our hearts.
May Your light cause us to shine so bright that we bring hope into the dark.
Hope for the hopeless, Your Love is.
Strength in our weakness, Your Love is.
May we love as you love.' (Open Up, The Brilliance)
Unfortunately, other people's opinions of me weren't the only idols I worshiped.
I worshipped my church...and it's ministries...and it's programs. I was so involved in serving, maintaining, preserving, and leading the ministries and programs of the organization that I lost sight of the goal. I got so caught up in the mission of the organization that I forgot something very, very important:
I forgot that Jesus' major emphasis was on relationships...on The Church...on the group of people who followed Him.
Jesus never said that the world would come to know him because of excellent musical experiences, or incredible programs and ministries. He didn't even say that the world would know us because of our good works.
He said, "I give you a brand new commandment: Love each other like crazy. Because of that crazy, unselfish, world-changing love, people will know that you're my followers."
He also said, "Do everything you can to be unified together. Rely on the Holy Spirit working within you. Always seek to love each other in everything you do. That will bring together perfect unity. Your unity will be the proof the world needs in order to know that I was sent by God."
For five years, I invested in my church and it's programs. I spent five years developing relationships with people in that organization.
But at the end of that five years, I realized exactly how worthless it had all been. In a strikingly abrupt moment, it became terribly clear exactly how little relationship I had actually cultivated in my time there. Even the people with whom I had the closest relationships made themselves scarce when we stopped attending their church.
Over the past eight months, I have realized how vital it is for us to follow these commands. I realized how singular our focus must be. I learned that, even though I preached a weekend full of messages on this exact subject, I still missed it for nearly two years.
And I missed out on a lot.
Honestly? It makes me a little sick to my stomach. The shallow relationships, the lost years, the missed opportunities, the hurt, the wounds...
And now? I'm determined not to repeat my mistakes. I'm begging God to help me, heal me, show me, lead me. I'm asking Him to teach me how to love the people around me (and those not around me) with a radical brand of love. I'm asking Him to teach me, anew, what it means to follow Him.
And I'm realizing that it has very, very little to do with going to church...
Well, I've only re-written this post a hundred and twenty four times.
The first 123 versions came off a bit, um, preachy. (and that was only the first five or six sentences...)
I don't know about you, but I hate being preached at.
So I stopped, and I prayed, and I came back again.
This time, God said, "Don't tell them about the problems. Tell them about your problems."
For most of my life, I have equated pleasing people with pleasing God. The Bible tells us to honor our parents and spouses, respect our elders, and "be at peace with everyone." For most of my life, following God consisted of little else than obeying my parents, teachers, and other authority figures.
At a certain point, however, that should change a bit. There should come a time when we stop relying on other people to tell us what to do. We decide to pray and seek God and follow Him of our own volition...not because someone else told us to follow Him and not how someone else told us to follow Him.
I got halfway there. In college, I decided, on my own, that I was committed to Jesus Christ. Period.
But I didn't complete the process. I didn't stop to evaluate how and where and in what way God wanted me to follow Him. I just decided to join a Baptist church, because that's what my parents had done. I got involved in a Baptist college ministry, because that's what was familiar. I even switched my church membership (despite feeling very strongly that God had led me to my first church), because the ministry director asked me to.
And that pattern continued, by and large, for the next 10 years. I consistently followed the advice of other people or the comfort of my religious traditions, even when I was fairly sure God had spoken differently. Most of the time, when I felt God leading me in a direction that could cause disruption or discomfort, I just stopped praying about the issue in order to keep the peace and be submissive.
And, even though my motives were mostly born out of a desire to be obedient to God's commands about authority, I can't deny that I simply got tired of rocking the boat. I got tired of being called a trouble-maker. I got tired of trying to dig deeper and push farther.
On some level, I decided that, for me, it was more important to please the people around me than to follow God at any cost.
And that's called idol worship. Anytime we place greater important on something other than God (even "spiritual" things), we are worshiping an idol.
For many years, I have worshiped an idol.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you more about my life as a pagan.
I am a people-pleaser.
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah... I just heard you snort.
But it's true.
Over the past eight months, I've realized that whether or not you actually succeed at pleasing other people *doesn't* determine whether or not you're a people-pleaser. What determines whether or not you're a people-pleaser is the effect pleasing others has on your self-image.
And, let me tell you...
When I fail to please others, it has a NEG-A-TIVE effect on my self-image.
So...what does this have to do with church attendance?
I can't tell you how many sermons I've heard based on Mark 10:45, urging me to volunteer in the nursery or chaperone the next youth trip or serve in the kitchen ministry or... I've heard numerous sermons preached about the importance of tithing 10% of my money to help fund the church's programs or pay the church's bills. I've heard sermons preached about 1 Corinthians 12, encouraging me to view the "lower" gifts like serving in the nursery as equally valuable as the "higher" gifts like preaching and teaching.
Studies tell us that 80% of church goers hear these sermons and continue to attend church each Sunday without serving in any capacity or donating any of their money or desiring to use any of their gifts for the church's benefit.
But I'm in the 20. When I hear those sermons, I feel a compulsion (obligation, duty, urgency) to fulfill these needs within the church. I feel a literal sense of guilt whenever any need in the church is not being met. And, often times, I step in to try to fulfill the needs. And, often times, I fail. Horribly.
Because I'm a hand. And when I try to see, instead of touch, things go crazy. And sometimes people get hurt. But all the time, I end up feeling like a failure. Literally, crying myself to sleep at night.
But who cares about my delicate little emotions?
The bigger, *much* bigger, issue is that I get so focused on pleasing other people (my pastor, my church leaders, my friends) that I stop focusing on pleasing God. I get so focused on helping to support the programs and accomplish the mission of the church that I forget to stop and ask God what He wants me to support and accomplish.
This is dangerous. And it's not necessarily the church's fault. But it is something that I needed to learn and see and surrender.
More on that tomorrow...
I was born on Wednesday, September 15th, 1982. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I went to church for the first time on Sunday, September 19th, 1982. And I've missed very few Sundays since. I've also attended countless Wednesday Night children's programs, youth programs, and prayer meetings. And Sunday night bible studies, small group bible studies, Christmas Cantatas, Easter programs, and missionary meetings.
I've taught Sunday School, sung in the choir, performed Special Music (oh, yeah, I said it), led worship, taught bible studies, taken care of babies and toddlers in the nursery, brought food for meals after funerals, taken meals to families in need, cleaned the church bathrooms, served as the church secretary, taught VBS, been a counselor at summer camp, served on Youth Leadership Teams and Adult Leadership Teams, and I'm sure I've done other things that I've forgotten over the course of 28 years.
But you wanna know something really, really interesting?
There are two seasons in my life when I've felt supernaturally close to God, when I've witnessed my character transform into something more like Christ's, when I've seen things happening in my life that are miraculous: whether it's the birth of my son who was sentenced to death, or being full of forgiveness and love despite deep, life-changing betrayal and hurt.
Both of those seasons have happened when I have not been attending church. For three-and-a-half months, I was on bedrest. My foot never graced the doorstep of a church building a single time during that season. But I had faith like I'd never experienced before. People were being introduced to Jesus Christ, and their lives were changing. I experienced a real-life-can't-explain-it-away-miracle. And you all witnessed it.
For the past eight months, our family has been "out of church." By that, I mean that we have not been a committed, active member of any church. This is, by far, the longest stretch of time that Mike and I have been in this position ever in our entire lives.
And it has been... Interesting. Challenging. Encouraging. Enlightening.
I plan to share much of what we've experienced in the coming days. Due to my 500-word limit on blog posts, however, I'll be starting with that portion tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Yesterday was Compassion Sunday at Elston Family Church. It started out with a simple e-mail to my pastor, asking for permission to do a small, quick presentation about Compassion International and set up a Sponsor Display in the lobby. He granted permission without a moment's hesitation. Within a week or two, Compassion Sunday @ EFC had grown into a much larger event. Instead of a five minute presentation, Pastor Randy asked me to help him coordinate an entire service focused on God's Heart of Compassion for the world.
We ended up presenting a *ton* of information yesterday. I talked about Compassion International. Two families in the church talked about their adoptions, which are in the final stages. They introduced their new children (Welcome, Micah!! Welcome, Addai!!) to our church family. And then a good friend and I talked about our upcoming trips to Haiti.
Leading up to yesterday, I felt uncomfortable. I had really planned on giving a quick five-minute presentation that people would be able to easily ignore, if they so desired. Instead, it ended up being a 90 minute service focused solely on certain realities and what we, as a church family, can do. It seemed a little harsh.
It didn't feel very easy to say things like,
"One-third of the world's children live in extreme poverty. One out of every five people on this planet live on less than $1 per day. That's an annual salary of $365."
It felt a little inappropriate to say things like,
"Each year, 1.2 million children, children, are trafficked for sexual slavery or cheap/free labor."
It felt mean to say things like,
"Today, 1600 women and 10,000 children (mostly infants) will die from diseases and complications that could have been easily prevented by an antibiotic or an immunization."
I mean, what if there were visitors in the crowd? And what about the new Christians? The "baby" Christians? Wasn't this a little heavy for them?
It felt cruel to say things like,
"By spending $40/month, Mike and I are able to keep Pracidia from being one of these statistics. I know that seems steep, but it's less than your cable bill. It's less than two trips to the restaurant each month."
And, to rub salt in the wound, I showed them her picture.
I was especially mean to the first service. Without any warning, I was overcome. I just started bawling. And I said, "I feel silly, because I've never met her. And I probably never will. But I just love her so much."
I was so careful to tiptoe around. I was so sensitive not to hurt anyone's feelings or offend anyone's senses.
And, at the end of each service, I stood next to my Sponsor Display. People walked by to look at the pictures. Some even took brochures or asked questions. But at the end of the day, my table still had the pictures of fifteen children sitting on its surface. Not a single child had been sponsored.
To say I was disheartened wouldn't be false, but it wouldn't be completely accurate either. I was simply a little less hopeful. I planned to set up the display next week, as well. And I was still hopeful that at least one child would be released from poverty in Jesus' name.
I had no idea what God had in store for the afternoon.
I already felt drained. I already felt like I was lying on the floor in a million pieces, my heart hurting for the lost. My heart beating for the poor. And I felt so alone. Out of 200 people who attended yesterday's service, not one could sponsor a child in need? I felt a little crazy. Am I just an extremist?
We came home and hosted our small group, led by the Skidmores. Sarah told us that she had a video series that she'd like for us to do as a group, but she wasn't sure if we should do it or not. She warned us that it was heavy, and she told us it was called, "What the Gospel Demands."
We told her that we'd at least like to start it.
He said some really hard things, and you could tell it weighed on him. Things like:
"There are over 4.5 billion people today on a road that leads to hell."
"Today, over 30,000 children will breathe their last breath due to either starvation or a preventable disease."
"We are not inconvenienced by extreme poverty because those stricken by it are not only poor...they are powerless."
From the screen, he obviously could not tell that I was in tears and barely breathing, because he went on to say things like:
"If I believe it [the Bible], if this Book is true, then that has radical implications for my life."
"God measures the integrity of our faith by our concern for the poor."
"It is hard for the wealthy to get to Heaven...and we are rich. Everyone in this room is rich."
"Jesus said, 'Anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.'"
When he finished preaching, the room was very quiet, and Sarah said, "So, what do you think?"
And I said, "Can we meet every week instead of every two weeks?" And then I got self-conscious. I mean, obviously, this resonates with me. I've been thinking and praying on these things for months, if not the past couple of years... So, in my insecurity, I said, "I mean, it's okay if the rest of you don't want to do this. It may just be where I'm at right now. I don't want you all to feel like I'm pushing you toward it."
And my dear friend, Tim, emphatically stated, "I NEED THIS! I want this. This is what I'm searching for. I mean, there's got to be more than this...more than just paying the bills and going to work."
And, all of a sudden, I knew I wasn't alone. But this wasn't even the greatest revelation of the afternoon.
Just a few minutes after this exchange, one of our members said, "So, are you telling me that I have to give everything up to follow Jesus? Is he saying that all Americans are going to hell?"
And I said, "I don't think that's the point of what he's saying. I think he's saying that, those who are truly seeking after the heart of Jesus, truly seeking to follow him, they won't be rich, because they'll be giving it all away."
"To what extent?" he asked.
And I said something that seemed totally practical at the time, "I don't know. God will tell you that. When you're following him, he'll tell you when to give and what to do. This isn't something that we'd challenge a new believer with. This isn't a message for "baby" Christians."
And that's when Revelation came. That's when a shift happened in my life. That's when Jesus spoke to me more powerfully than he has ever before. (I'm not exagerrating. This has radically changed my thought process in the past 24 hours.)
Tim looked at me and said, "Why not?"
He continued, "I mean, Jesus didn't do that. Jesus didn't save this stuff for the 'mature' followers. These are the things he said to the huge crowds. This is what he said to people who were coming to him and asking to follow him for the first time."
My goodness. What have we done to our faith?? What has "Christianity" done to the following of Jesus Christ??
He was so absolutely right. This is not a graduate level course in Christianity. This is a BASIC principle of following Jesus Christ...being willing to give it ALL up for Him and His purposes.
You see, it's not about the poor. It's not about charity. It's about following Christ wherever He goes...following Him wherever he tells us to go.
And that's probably not going to be pretty or comfortable. I mean, look at the first move Jesus ever made:
He chose to leave beautiful, perfect Heaven and come down to despicable, imperfect Earth for the glory of God...so that God could be made more famous.
Am I willing to go there? Are you willing to go there?
We've gotta answer that question before we can go *any* further in following Christ.
And I know my answer. My answer is, "Hell yes!" Am I scared? Infinitely so. Am I concerned about what it will cost me? Absolutely. Do I think I might be embarking upon the absolute hardest time in my marriage to date? Without a doubt. Am I afraid that people will think I'm radical/extreme/foolish/etc...? A little bit.
But I truly, truly care more about going after Christ. I truly, truly care more about getting connected to His heart more and more...all for the glory of God.
And I am unapologetically radically changed forever more...
Would you like to do this study with my small group? If so, let me know. I'd be willing to figure out how to start up a chat board or a message board on this site so that we can go through this series together. If you wanna follow Jesus like this, I wanna help you in that endeavor. Just let me know.
This is the highlight video that I made for Elston Family Carnival 2008, an annual event hosted by Elston Family Church here in Lafayette, IN. Lindsay and I were unable to attend this year, but we hear that there were over 400 people there. That's awesome! Hopefully some of these people's lives will be transformed as a result.
Today we had a celebration cookout for our church at Colombian Park. It was a fun time with many of our friends from church and their children. I've posted the best pictures on our site here.