Walking into Church Alone

I started talking about this in my last post, but thought I would expand on it today. It is a scary thing to walk into a church alone. In a lot of churches, it seems like people have more respect and are more welcoming to a new couple or a new family than to someone who is alone. When I was in my teens and twenties, I walked into a lot of churches alone. I will never forget that “gulp down in the bottom of my throat” fear stepping through those doors and wondering if people would judge me on superficial factors and not get to know the person I was inside. My experiences have been positive, more than not, though I could tell you about some negative experiences that made me wonder whether theses churches truly wanted people to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Yesterday, I named some categories of people who might walk into a church alone. They included people who have never been married, whether old or young, people who have been divorced, and people who have been widowed. I want to add one other category to that list. It would be a person who is married, but whose spouse is not interested in coming to church for whatever reason. I think that one would be the hardest one of all because what do you tell the people you meet. You’re different from them, but you’re not different either so it’s hard to know where to fit in.

So, what does the church do about that, if anything? I think the first step is to recognize when people walk into our churches alone and make sure they are introduced to people who will sit with them during the service. That would go a long way towards increasing people’s comfort level with being in a new place. And then, then, if they are interested in knowing more about the church, give them opportunities to find out what the church is all about–opportunities to learn, opportunities to serve, opportunities to become a part of the church family despite the fact they are alone. People who walk into our churches alone are just as capable of serving God as those who are married or those who have families. It’s about time our churches realized that.

God’s blessings on you today!

 

The Most Important Relationship

Today’s post is going to be a two-parter with the other part coming tomorrow. In Christian media today, there is a lot of support for marriage and for the family. Think about the last several Christian movies you’ve seen. They’ve all been about the family, haven’t they?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. There are so many families who are broken today that it’s important for those of us who are of faith to talk about how we can support marriages and families. Most of us who have said wedding vows remember the phrase, “til death do us part” and consider it important when we talk about marriage.

So, what is the problem then? Well, the problem is when we put our marriages and our families before God. We put them at the top of our list, and we put our relationship with God second. We talk about and do things for marriages and families in our churches, and we forget about the people who walk into our churches alone whether that be the person who has never been married, the person who has been divorced, or the person who is widowed. We don’t notice these people when they walk into our churches, and they’re not really given an opportunity to serve because they are single.  I resonate with this because when I was a teenager, I walked into church alone. I didn’t have a family who came with me.

God doesn’t want us to put others before Him including our families. There are examples of this in Scripture. In Luke 2, it talks about when a 12-year old Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem. Once Joseph and Mary realized he was missing, they went back to Jerusalem and found Him in the temple listening and asking questions.  When they asked Him why He had stayed there, He said in verse 49, ” ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ ”

Jesus also says in Mark 10:29 – 31, ” ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ ”

Our relationship with God is to come first, and all of our other relationships are to come after the most important one. May I never place any relationship above my relationship with my Lord and Savior. Tomorrow, I will talk more about the people who walk into church alone.

God’s blessings on you today!

Reconciling Our Relationships with People with Our Relationship with God

In my last post, I talked about how I had trouble finding value in God and in God alone. Refer to this link, http://wp.me/p4LK9Q-4N, if you missed the post. Today, I’m going to talk about how God still wants us to have relationships with people even though we are all messed up and broken.

This one is a real struggle for me. I could easily spend an hour or two or more praying, reading Scripture, singing worship songs out-loud (much to the chagrin of my kids), or just meditating on God’s goodness. Then, I would be happy and satisfied in how I was practicing my faith and wouldn’t feel like I needed to do anymore. Why should I worship with other people when all we do is mess each other up?

But, that’s not what God calls us to do. He calls us to find value in each other as well as finding value in Him and in Him alone. A dichotomy, right? A dichotomy that I have so much trouble understanding. And because I have trouble understanding it, I have trouble fulfilling it. I have trouble being vulnerable and real with people because of the fear of rejection. I have gone to the cross by myself more often than not because I knew I would not be rejected by God where I might be rejected by other people. Silly, right? But, fear is one of my big issues too. Fear of not being valued and supported by other people.

Once more though, there are examples in Scripture that state we are to worship in community. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Another example would be from Acts 2:46 – 47. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

And finally, from Hebrews 10:25. “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit  of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Some of you would say that these examples are from the first century and not really relevant to today. I would disagree. God calls the people who are believers to worship in community and be vulnerable with each other in community. We don’t want to be vulnerable though. We want to come to church, put in our time, and leave.  We put up our shields and won’t let them down. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be in a community where I feel comfortable being vulnerable and where others feel comfortable being vulnerable with me.

One of my prayers in 2016 will be that I get to a point where I understand this dichotomy of finding my value in God and in God alone while deepening my relationships with other people.

God’s blessings on you today!

Getting Our Value from God and from God Alone

There’s no escaping it. We are all messed up and broken people. Messed up and broken people in relationships with people who are also messed up and broken, and none of this will be fixed until we are with heaven with God and with Jesus. That is the place where there will be perfection. Not here on Earth. Not here on a world messed up and broken by sin. I think that is the reason a lot of us can’t see our value and our worth in God. We don’t think we deserve it. I know I don’t deserve it.

This is where grace comes in. Grace is part of the title of this blog, and the verses from Ephesians at the top are also about grace. I’ll repeat them here so I will be able to reference as I type. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works so that no one can boast.” I look at these verses, and I read them, but then, they don’t permeate my being the way they should. I still try to get my value from other people–members of my family, my church family, my friends, my possessions, the plans I have for my life. Ouch, those last two hurt! Because, you see, when we, who are Christians, ask God into our hearts, we’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to let God have the rudder, let Him be in control of our lives.

My pastor had some interesting things to say about this on Sunday. He spoke of a “game” called theopoly (Yes, this is a made-up word.) where people try to set their own agenda, make money their bottom line, attempt to secure their own futures, and brag about their own successes. Ouch, again! Even we, as Christians, struggle with this. And, if don’t have the money we think we should have, we worry about not having enough.

That’s not what God wants for us though and to live in the way I just stated, ignores some fundamental rules of life which, if you’re going to play this game, cannot be relevant to your life. Number one–life is fleeting. Number two–God has power over life.  And number three–in God’s book, if you’re going to win, you need to lose.

This is aptly demonstrated in Scripture. Matthew 20: 26 – 28 says, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Another reference is from Matthew 23:11-12. “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I understand all of this, and I’m trying to live my life this way. My problem though, for the last little while, has been understanding that my value is in Christ alone. Not through my husband, not through my children, not through my church family, not through anyone in my life. Only in Christ! So, this week I’m going to do several posts reconciling all of that and trying to figure it out because, you see, for a while, I’ve felt out-of-place and out-of-sync with my faith. God wants me to be brave and step outside of my shell and using this small platform that I have is going to be my way to do exactly that.

God’s blessings on you today!

Alone at Church

I could also entitle this post, “When there aren’t enough volunteers”, but I digress. First, I need to clarify something. I’m not really at my church alone. My husband is usually serving behind the media desk, and my sons are usually sitting with their friends, but I think my experiences over the last several months have been realistic enough that I can write this post.

Now, I think we can all agree that every church depends on its volunteers. And there are many who do volunteer–from the people who sing, to the people who serve on the media team, to the people who serve in the children’s area to the people who pass out communion and the offering baskets, to the people who serve on various committees, to the people who are elders, to the people who are on the greeting team, and I could go on and on. These are all valid jobs within the church, and I don’t have a problem with any of them. I serve on the greeting team myself.

There is another side to this though where spouses and families are encouraged to worship together. I don’t have a problem with this either except for one thing. What happens when spouses aren’t able to worship together? There is exactly one volunteer job at my church where spouses aren’t able to worship together at least for some part of the service. You might see where I’m going with this. That job is serving behind the media desk, and that is where my husband serves. He is good at this job. It is the calling God has given him. So, when I feel alone at church, I feel guilty. When I feel awkward about asking if I can sit with someone else’s family, I feel like an impediment to my husband’s ministry. God and I have had a lot of conversations about this. I don’t want to interfere with how my husband serves God. I want us to serve God together, and I want to support what he does. But, I will admit these last few months have been deeply discouraging for me because there haven’t been enough people available to keep him from having to be back there.

I’ve realized a few things though. One is that the awkwardness I feel in talking to people and being around people is a part of my personality. It has nothing to do with how I minister, and it’s not something God means for me to feel guilty about. The other thing, and the more important thing is that there are people who walk into our churches alone, who don’t have anyone at all to sit with, and who are waiting for someone to ask them to sit with them.  So, I think God is issuing me and all of us a challenge. A challenge to make sure we are careful with our language in talking about how families should worship together and a challenge to make sure people who come into church alone or who are sitting alone always have someone to sit with.  Who knows? You might be Jesus to someone who needs Him.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Being Thankful

November is the month when people talk about being thankful especially since Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of the month. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be thankful though because we think about all the things we don’t have or the people we think live this life better than we do. The question we should be asking though is, “What does God say about being thankful in Scripture?”

It turns out He says plenty about being thankful.  Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Another example would be from Hebrews 12:28. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

There are quite a few examples from Psalms. Here are two of them–the first being from Chapter 106, Verse 1 “Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

The second example is from Chapter 107, Verse 1. “Give thanks to the Lord. for he is good; his love endures forever.”

And finally, from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

There are many more where those came from. I usually don’t post that many examples, but my fingers just started typing, and it’s come to mind why God wanted me to find so many examples of being thankful. Sometimes, I look at other people, and I see how much better they are at living the Christian life than I am. I am broken, the worst of the worst, and I am completely inadequate. I know this. It is not a surprise to me. But, God is in my heart, and I have the Holy Spirit in my life. He gives me the strength to live bravely for Him. To be the person He wants me to be, not anyone else. To use the gifts He gave me–to do the things that are familiar and to try new things too.  And He wants me to be thankful for all of it. I will do another post that states exactly what I am thankful for on Thanksgiving, but I wanted to write something today that showed what I had learned from God about being thankful.

God’s blessings on you all today!

Letter to God

Dear God,

I know you want us to be real and honest when we talk to you so that is what I’m doing with this letter today. I know, in my reading of the Psalms, that David was very honest with you so I am hoping you will hear me.

What do you want from me, God? For the last several days, I have steeped myself in music that declares your majesty. Declares your love for us. It calms my spirit when I do that. But, then, I think of relating to the outside world, and I am terrified. Is this a result of my depression? My introversion? I don’t know. I just don’t feel like I’m contributing, and I feel like I’m a disappointment to you.

I should have the capability to leap past this like so many others I know do, but I just don’t. Not today, anyway. Maybe it’s the grace part I’m having problems with. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” These verses can even be seen at the top of this blog.

But, today, God, today, I hurt. Today, I wish I was done with my journey here and in heaven with you though I know it is your choice when my journey is done and not mine. I know when I’m in heaven I won’t hurt anymore. I won’t wonder if I will be missed. I won’t wonder if my life counted. I won’t think or express what I consider to be bad emotions. Why did you make us with good and bad stuff anyway? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to make us with good stuff? Or did the bad come in when sin entered the world? I have no idea. I guess that will be another question you’ll answer later.

Back to the main question I had when I started writing this letter. Does it count as worship when I hurt, when I’m afraid? Is that what you mean when you say trust me? I know you are working in my heart. I know the Holy Spirit is present in my life. I just wish I could get past the idea that, to be an authentic or good Christian, my “church face” needs to be on or my shields need to be up. I wish that I didn’t feel awkward about asking for prayer for myself in person about things that other people don’t consider important. Do you truly see all my tears, God? I hope so.

At the beginning of this letter, I said I knew I could be authentic with you, and I am trusting in that. In the meantime, I will worship you. I will worship you even if I have tears pouring down my face because that is how much I love you.

With Love,

Your Devoted Daughter

Stewardship

Another year has rolled around, and it is almost Commitment Sunday at my church again. I thought about pulling my post out from last year and re-posting it, but I realized I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in my understanding from last year. I decided I wanted, no, I needed, to write these words down so I would remember what God has taught me.

Over the last few weeks, the Bible class lessons and sermons at my church have been on stewardship. I’ve learned things I never knew before. One thing in particular startled me.  There are several words we are used to seeing in Scripture. Words such as believe, praylove, and give, along with many others. Out of those words, the word give appears the most times, 2,162 to be exact.

I would have thought some of those other words might be more important. Like believe, maybe. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  This verse from Scripture is considered the go-to verse for those leading others to Christ, and it has the word believe in it. So, how many times does this word appear in Scripture? Only 272.

What about love? There are so many examples of this I hesitate to post examples for fear I would miss something, but here are just a few.  1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This example, of course, comes out of the famous love chapter in Scripture where the word appears many times. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”  And finally, one of my favorites from 1 John 4:9. “We love because he first loved us.” There are many more examples. But, does this word appear in Scripture more than give? No, it appears 714 times.

Finally, here’s an example of the word pray in Scripture. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Prayer is something Jesus talks a lot about. It doesn’t appear more in Scripture though than give. It only appears 371 times.

So, what is it about that word give that is so important to God? I probably should give some examples from Scripture first. You’re familiar with the words from Matthew 6:11. “Give us today our daily bread.” Here’s another example from Luke 14:33. “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”  Proverbs 25:21 is another example that a lot of us cringe at. “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” And finally, from 1 Thessalonians 5:18. “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

God means for us to give. He does not mean for us to be focused on ourselves. That is why the word appears so many times in Scripture.  Let me repeat myself. God wants us to be focused on others. This is a hard thing to hear in today’s me focused society, and all of us who claim Christ face that challenge of where our focus should be each and every day. We should want to meet that challenge though and defeat it. We should want to show Whose we are to the world around us, and we can do that by what our giving priorities are whether that be money or time or a combination of both. Showing Whose I am by my giving priorities is the desire of my heart, and I pray that it is the desire of yours too.

I am going to quote some of what I wrote in last year’s blog post because I feel it even more strongly this year.

“Do we really want to win our world for Christ? Or is church and what we do at church just something to check off our list and not even the most important part of our list? I don’t want church or my faith to be something to check off a list.  I want my life and my money to show what I really believe in. I want people to see Jesus in me. I might not be able to give as much money as someone else, but, from what I can give, money, as well as time, I want people to see  what my priorities are.  And my very first priority is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

God’s blessings on all of you today!

It is Well with My Soul

It’s been almost a month since I wrote in this blog, and something big has happened since then. My husband has found full-time permanent work. We will not have to leave the city we have learned to call home over the last four years. We will not have to leave our friends, the people who have become our family. It is the first time in a long time that I have felt optimistic about our future.

The optimism though doesn’t come from anything my husband or I have done even though my husband was the one who got the job. It comes from our Lord and Savior who is the ultimate provider. I realized that God had to bring me to the point of saying, like the song, it is well with my soul, even if my husband didn’t get the job.  And I did. I knew that God would be with us no matter what. When I was able to say that, things came through, and it all happened.

God’s timetable is never the same as ours, and that is the main lesson he has been teaching me through all of this. I recalled one other thing last month. It had been a year since we had started praying for full-time permanent work for my husband. I had lost sight of that when he got the contract job and then with everything he and we had gone through while he had the job. When I remembered this, I began to connect the dots.

God has taught me so many lessons this year and has poured out so many blessings. He has given me a strong desire to cement my knowledge of the faith I claim which I will talk about more in the months to come. But, for now, I will finish with the words from the song “It is Well with My Soul”

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.

    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Just Show Up

God has taken me on a journey this week that I wanted to share with you all.  If you’ve read any of my most recent posts, you know my husband has been out of work. We are approaching the two and a half month mark, and I won’t mince words. This has been hard. A lot of what I have dealt with has been in my mind. (Spiritual warfare is alive and well, thank you very much.) From worrying about what people think of us, to wondering how things were going to get paid for, to making sure our needs for space were met, to teaching my 10th grade son and adjusting to our college aged son being gone, we have had a lot on our plate. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether it’s been too much. And then on top of that, I’ve wanted to make sure I didn’t lose my heart for giving and showing that we were depending on God for our provision and stability.

I think that’s where I ran into a problem, and it’s where my journey started. I started thinking that the only kind of giving that counted was financial giving. I should have known better than that. Being willing to give runs the whole gambit, and it’s not just financial. Not by a long shot.

So, back to the journey. We’ve been waiting this week on news from a second interview. The job sounds like it would be a perfect fit for my husband. He had the interview at the beginning of the week, and now, we’re sitting here at the end of the week, and he hasn’t heard anything. I don’t know if any of you have ever been in that position, but it can mess with the mind as it has messed with mine. God didn’t leave me alone though–through the tears, through the prayers, and through the things He encouraged me to read.

Through all of that, He brought the important way to give to the forefront of my mind. It’s the one I think most people would consider the most important, but is done the most rarely because of the busyness of our lives. What way of giving is that? Being present or just showing up and doing what’s needed. After God gave me that realization, I thought back over the last ten weeks. Countless people have just shown up and done what was needed. From the man who called my husband last week to ask if he wanted to ride down to see our son at college, to the couple who bought us tickets to the movie War Room, to the people who sat with me and prayed with me while I blubbered on Wednesday, to all the people who have been on their knees praying for a job to come for my husband, people have shown up when we’ve most needed them. There’s not any magic to this. It’s just a commitment all of them have made to live in community with their Christian brothers and sisters. To just show up whenever and wherever needed.

Just showing up is something I need to recommit myself to doing. To being aware of who is and what is going on around me. I think that is just as important, no, more important than giving money because you see, I think that’s what Jesus did during the time He was here. He showed up to the people who needed Him the most.

God’s blessings on all of you today!