Sunday, May 11, 2014 I was tagged in a facebook post my my daughter:
“So, I’m watching The Little Mermaid and I caught my mommy quoting some of it. #succes #ilovemymother
Happy Mother’s Day Mommy!”
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
If you have a conflict with someone, consider attempting to resolve it, even if it means facing something you regret or are embarrassed about…unless that relationship is one that you actually don’t want in your life anymore. Avoiding conflict, and ultimately the other person, is a surefire way to allow the relationship to fade from your life.
On the flipside, if a relationship is important to you but the other person is avoiding you to avoid working through the conflict, you may have to respect their decision to transition the relationship from friend to acquaintance…or to “someone that I used to know” status.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Came downstairs to see PinkGirl working on a poster board sized map for a geography project due Monday. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast playing DVD. Me: “Why are you watching that?” PinkGirl: “I needed something to watch and not pay complete attention to.”
The other day, someone asked me if my kids grew up “churched.”
The pause before my reply was noticeably long.
I was thinking.
What does that mean? I realize my personal background and filters contribute to my way of thinking, but no definition I could come up with made it seem like growing up “churched” would be a good thing. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
adjective: “affiliated with a church.”
Well. That’s vague.
The word has connotations. Through my personal filters, adding “ed” after the word church makes it reek of religious knowledge and practices, not relationship with Christ.
So, if growing up churched just means my kids grew up knowing the traditions of church – whatever church or religion that might be, then yes, they grew up churched. They know what a call to worship is, they can sing the doxology, they know what to do with an offering plate, they know the different ways to take communion and what an alter call is. They know what the Apostles’ creed is and they know the Lord’s prayer doesn’t end with the words “with liberty and justice for all.” They can follow the verse order of a hymn and even though they both have searchable Bible apps, they can find a scripture in a Bible with paper pages by it’s reference. In more contemporary churches, they know that a worship service usually begins with what we in our family affectionately term a “giddyup Jesus” song, and they know why this video is funny.
So, if all that means my kids grew up churched, then yes. My kids grew up “churched.”
Some might say, “Well, it’s better than nothing.”
Here’s the deal. If all that stuff is a precursor to a personal decision for Christ or an expression of a growing relationship with Him, then yes. It is better than nothing.
BUT, if all those things are part of their life instead of or apart from a growing relationship with Christ, I don’t necessarily think growing up churched is better.
It might actually be worse.
I’ve personally met so. many. people. who grew up going to church and as an adult, have not only abandoned church, but faith altogether.
A few months ago, I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His. (CLICK HERE to read that post – and if you ever think about praying that, brace yourself.)
One clear and constant answer has been the fact that so many people have turned away from faith in Christ without ever really knowing what it is.
Who He is.
Growing up churched has kept more than a few people from relationship with Christ because they think that all those things I mentioned about church is evidence of a relationship with Christ.
Not always true.
That’s what I was thinking during the extended silence that followed the “Did your kids grow up churched?” question.
But when I broke that silence, what did I say?
“uhhhhh. Well. We took them to church if that’s what you mean.”
I am so articulate sometimes.
The truth is that despite all their knowledge and understanding of religious practices, my kids never heard the gospel explained in kid language at the church we attended. Hell was too scary for kids and Jesus was a role model, not a Savior. Discussions about asking Jesus to come into your heart? The Holy Spirit as a helper after you ask Jesus to come into your heart? No. (By the grace of God and through an extended, painful revelation process, we now understand that we need to be part of a Christ-centered church.)
We went to church on Sunday mornings, did a few summers of VBS, went to some fall costume parties, some Christmas breakfasts with Santa and some Easter egg hunts. Sunday school was mostly Bible stories and crafts. VBS was a rotation of Bible stories, crafting sessions and outdoor games interspersed with music, snacks and cute videos with moral and ethical messages.
They learned that God loved them. They learned they should help people. They learned God wanted them to be “good” like Jesus. They learned that they should give joyfully.
But my kids first learned about having a relationship with Christ from my husband and I. Because we knew that our faith couldn’t be theirs by force or wishes, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would draw them to Christ, and we told them about Jesus. Through our lives – our words and our actions – they saw what faith in Christ really is – a relationship. They knew Jesus loved them – no matter what – just like we loved them. We prayed with them, we did family devotions together, we were authentic with them about the lessons God was teaching us, we listened to their problems, their fears and their joys and we continuously helped them to view and navigate all three through faith in God.
By the grace of God, they both accepted Christ at a very early age. By the grace of God and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we did our best to disciple them as they grew in their faith.
We enrolled them in Christian school because we wanted them to learn as much about the Bible as they did about math, science, history, spelling and English. When they moved onto middle school and began building on that Bible knowledge and learning theology, we actively engaged them in discussions that helped them figure out and ground themselves in their own beliefs, some of those beliefs different from what were being taught at school. As my son has grown older and graduated from high school, he’s come to some beliefs that differ from his mom and/or dad. (No surprise, mom and dad don’t always agree either.)
Regardless of the tangential beliefs we each have, we share faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. All four of us depend on the Holy Spirit to equip us for the life we live, striving to follow the Father’s will.
My husband and I are confident that each of our children have their own faith in and relationship with Christ. We pray for those relationships regularly.
But “Did your kids grow up churched?” is a yes or no question. There wasn’t time to think through all that, much less say it.
I thought I could logically justify my faith in God.
You’ll find some Christians who’ll tell you they can do it.
When someone told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable, I bristled. Or should I say, my ego bristled? I challenged them to prove it.
They couldn’t.(Their emotionally charged reasoning was circular and redundant and they completely ignored me when I poked questions into the holes in their arguments.)
But in the aftermath of those discussions, I discovered I couldn’t disprove it either.
Science and logic have limits. There are some things that can’t be understood or explained (and a definition isn’t an explanation).
Like what causes gravity.
Like human consciousness.
Like quantum entanglement(what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”).
Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just means we don’t understand why. Or how.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot that God cannot be completely understood. I forgot that a God I can understand is a God I create. Confine. Any God I can completely understand is limited by time and space and the extent to which I can understand.
Any God who is limited by my understanding is not transcendent.
I was reminded – the hard way – that I don’t want a God I can understand.
It was a season of extreme paradox in my life.
My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more aware of my weakness apart from Christ.
My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more intimately and desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit.
I prayed daily for wisdom and discernment and empathy and compassion. I prayed daily for Him to continuously make me aware of opportunities to be the hands and feet and voice and ears of Christ. Watching and listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit had never been more in the forefront of my awareness. I prayed not only for the Holy Spirit to prompt me when to speak and act, but when to be silent and still.
I prayed for Him to equip me in what I honestly knew to be beyond my capabilities.
The person who told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable asked me a simple question:
If God is sovereign, why pray?
You’d think I would have considered that question before, me being all spiritually “mature” and everything.
Turns out, I had never really thunk it through. I had dismissed it, thoughtlessly citing Biblical platitudes like “I pray because Jesus prayed.” and “I pray because the Bible tells us to pray.”
When I finally looked at the question straight on, my entire relationship with God came to a screeching halt.
I couldn’t pray.
I wanted to turn back the clock. To unthink what I was thinking. I wanted the faith of a child.
I wanted stronger faith.
Suddenly and overwhelmingly, I identified with Philip Yancey when he wrote:
“I envy, truly I envy, those people who pray in simple faith without fretting about how prayer works and how God governs this planet. For some reason I cannot avoid pondering these imponderables.”
What was so different about this question this time? It came at a critical juncture in my life. After arguing with God for months, I had finally taken the terrifying step of obedience by sharing something I believe God was revealing to me. Something I tried to ignore. Something I didn’t want to see: That I was part of a church which marginalized grace, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer and relationship with Christ. That we forgot 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 and were ignoring Matthew 28:19.
I was genuinely repentant and prayed desperately for God to bring revival. Heartbroken, I asked for people to pray with me. I was blindsided by how angry people were, how fast and how much they misunderstood what I said and how vehemently they rejected not only what I was saying, but me.
I had argued with God, finally doing what I believed He was prompting me to do and I was faced with closed hearts, closed minds and slammed doors.
So I did what anyone “mature” in their faith would do. I ran into a cave and hid.
A dark cave.
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:4-9
Go ahead, sing-song it with me.
“Julie and Elijah, sitting under a tree, w. h. i. n. ing.”
and then I couldn’t.
Because God is sovereign and God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.
And then I prayed because I couldn’t help it.
Because a life void of intimacy with Christ and utter dependance on the Holy Spirit was vastly empty. and hopelessly dark.
I prayed because I couldn’t help it while at the same time believing that praying to a sovereign God who’s working a plan and doesn’t need my help was…pointless.
Not logical. Not pragmatic.
And that’s where faith is required.
And where doubt came in.
I never doubted the existence of God. I never doubted Christ or the Cross or the redeeming power of His blood. I never doubted my salvation.
I doubted the point of me.
If God is sovereign, why pray?
If God doesn’t need me, why would He even bother with me? Why did He even bother with me?
And that’s why I say I can’t logically justify my faith.
In my darkest night, when God was completely silent, when the logical, rational and reasonable foundation for my faith was beyond my sight,
This is the 17th post of a series on Christ-centered church. I began writing to work through my personal experience and heart-wrenching burden for my own church but I’m beginning to see these posts as open letters to the American Christian church.
(If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
It’s been 25 days since I published a post in this blog series.
I’ve been praying. and reading past journal entries. and praying. and writing. and praying. and talking my husband’s ear off. and praying.
Today’s post does not come easily. or lightly. (and it’s not short. You might want to go to the bathroom first.)
This is a two-part post. First, a confirmation. Then, some hard truth.
The first thing I needed to do was confirm that these hard things I’ve been saying have absolutely NO basis in my own selfish motivations. I discovered that, after reading the first 11 posts in this series, someone referred to me as sanctimonious.
I admit. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. So I Googled it.
My favorite college professor, Dr. Grasty, taught me a lesson that has stuck with me for decades:
When we are criticized, our tendency is to be defensive. Our knee-jerk reaction is to deny. His sage advice? Don’t be a deluded wimp. Have the courage to look for any truth in the criticism. Strip away any acrimonious language, any selfish motivation or defensiveness of the criticizer and diligently search for even a nugget of truth in the accusation.
Sanctimonious. Are these posts sanctimonious? am I sanctimonious?(If you’re more confident in my motivations than I was, you can skip the next few paragraphs by clicking HERE)
I began writing this series at the beginning of fall last year. And then I spent months arguing with God about whether to publish them. I pulled out my previous prayer journal for some hindsight.
Journal Entry Excerpt, Thursday, August 9, 2012:
“Am I really naive to think that if we focus on Christ, YOU will orchestrate the circumstances and not only give us the “optimal” worship service, but You will overwhelm us with an awareness of Your presence?
…I pray for arrogant hearts – including my own – to be freed from pride. To be humbled and full of compassion. I pray for the courage to be authentic. I pray for the obedience to follow your promptings.
…Please show me – tell me – what you want me to say. Please TAKE from me my selfish desires. Please burden my heart for YOUR message, not my agenda.
…If I have this wrong Lord, please change my heart.”
Journal Entry Excerpt, Sunday, August 12, 2012:
“Lord, please don’t let me read things into this that just aren’t there. Please Lord, reveal to me the truth.
…Lord, please, please, please don’t allow Satan to be an influence over my interpretation of this situation. Please fill my head and my heart with YOUR perspective. Please God, don’t allow me to be unintentionally disobedient because I’m misinterpreting these circumstances and not understanding Your will.
Skip ahead. This entry is eerily prophetic.
Journal Entry Excerpt, Wednesday, November 21, 2012:
“Please Lord, as I write, lead me to find the words which will open minds and hearts – without shutting down the path of communication. Please Lord, help me find the line between honest and accusatory – between challenging and insulting.
How do I call attention to the pursuit of Christ without people getting caught up in defensiveness to the point they shut off the message?”
Skip ahead. The day before I published the first post.
Journal Entry Excerpt, Sunday, February 3, 2013:
“Lord, please give me courage. Bless me with wisdom and words of grace and unflinching honesty. Please Lord, place your hand at the small of my back and guide me. Please place your hand of restraint on my shoulder when I am overcome by pride or anger so I won’t say things that are unedifying. Please, please empty my mind of distractions and open my heart to your presence. Help me to focus not only my eyes on you, but my hope also. You alone can redeem this seemingly hopeless circumstance. Please bless me with encouragement, Lord. Please, please, please – don’t let me fail to understand and do my part in Your perfect story.”
In my last post, 25 days ago, I asked if you would PLEASE PRAY WITH ME. I asked you to pray that the Holy Spirit would bring revival to my church. And I said that because we are doers and fixers, the question that usually follows that is:
“But what else can I do?”
I hold steady to my answer: NOTHING else. We can’t bring revival. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
So please. Please PRAY. Pray for revival. Pray for God’s will to be done.
I BELIEVE that prayer is more powerful than ANYthing we can do on our own.
no. I know I am less, not more.
And here comes the hard part. the part I prayed about for 25 days before I published this post.
As a unified body of believers, my church doesn’t want revival. My church doesn’t want change. My church doesn’t want to rely wholly on God. My church doesn’t want to pray unreasonable prayers. My church doesn’t want to pray for unreasonable lengths of time. My church doesn’t want to pray with unreasonable persistence. They don’t see a need.
they are fine.
They want to continue doing things they way they do them.
On their own.
Here’s a question my husband posed to me:
“Consider all the man-hours involved in doing all the things we do at our church. From admin to ministry, from service to worship, from study to fellowship. Consider how many man-hours – Church staff, lay leaders, members, volunteers – are involved in activities and ministries both on and off the church campus.
MrYehbut: “EVERY man-hour can’t be Christ-centered.”
yes. They can.
If the WHY and the HOW of WHAT we do is centered on Christ.
Brother Lawrence was a 17th century monk. His job at the monastery? He was a cook. And his job was Christ-centered. Because he strove to do everything “as unto the Lord.”
“…he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was cook to the society); there having first considered severally the things his office required, and when and how each thing was to be done, he spent all the intervals of his time, as well before as after his work, in prayer. That when he began his business, he said to GOD, with a filial trust in Him, “O my GOD, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.” (emphasis added)
EVERYthing we do at our church can be – should be – Christ-centered.
But that’s not the case.
So. many. reasons.
But at the core, this seems to be the looming, pervading, deep-rooted reason:
We don’t trust God.
MrYehbut: “If we change, people will complain.”
yes. some will.
MrYehbut: “If we change, people will leave.”
yes. some will.
MrYehbut: “If people leave, giving will go down and the church might not survive.”
God told Abram to leave his home and go to “the land I will show you.” He promised Abram He would bless him and make him a great nation. So Abram packed up and went. Turns out, there was famine in “the land I will show you.”
But God had promised. “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you.” Famine? There’s nothing great about famine. It is NOT a blessing. At least from not from Abram’s point of view. So Abram went to Egypt, and despite God’s promises, he asked his wife, Sarai to do him a favor:
“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
Because the Almighty GOD isn’t able to protect Abram. He needed his wife to protect him. By lying.
Why did Abram ask her to do that?
He didn’t trust God.
And motivated by that lack of trust, he took matters into his own hands and made what seemed to be a reasonable and effective decision. Abram was afraid to surrender his will; his idea of how things should be. He didn’t want to risk any suffering. Because surely, God wouldn’t want him to suffer.
What if the people of Christian churches everywhere surrendered their idea of how things should be? What if we trusted God, even if it meant we might suffer? What if we STOPPED? And evaluated EVERY. SINGLE. THING. we do. And honestly asked, for each and every ministry, each and every decision:
“What’s the goal?”
“Is this Christ-centered?”
“Does this lead to the development of intimate relationship with CHRIST?”
“Does it actively provide a witness to salvation through Jesus Christ?”
“God, what do YOU want?”
What if we STOPPED asking each other “What can we do?” and started asking God “LORD, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THROUGH US?”
Do NOT tell me that is semantics. Not when I’m inundated by reasonable lukewarm mediocrity. It is only language if the prayer is perfunctory. But when we are face down on the floor, palms up, sincerely humble and desperately expectant in prayer it will NOT be semantics.
This subtle change in language, combined with a transformed heart, an open mind and a sacrifice of will, would have infinitely HUGE implications in application and fruitfulness.”
Instead, we regularly dismiss the need to consistently pray and ask God to reveal His will, to guide us as we decide what to do and equip us as we do it – from worship services to programing to service to ministry.
One heartbreaking reason? Because too many people don’t believe we will be able to discern God’s answers. Because they haven’t experienced the kind of intimacy with Christ that is necessary to hear and discern His voice.
There are some people mocking me right now. “How sanctimonious. God talks to her. Isn’t that special.”
I believe God DOES speak to His people.
I believe it IS possible to experience the kind of relationship with Christ that allows US to hear and discern his voice.
Am I saying I know what God wants?
NO. I’m saying, PLEASE, CAN WE ASK HIM? TOGETHER? and WAIT on Him to answer? and TRUST Him?
I trust God to do WHATever He wants at my church. Even if it ends in the kind of death that results in empty rooms, no electricity and plywood on the windows.
MrYehbut: “That’s easy for you to say. You have nothing to lose.”
There ain’t nothing about this that’s easy. I’m acutely aware of what I might lose. of what I’ve already lost. and it’s been wrecking me for nearly a year. wreck. ing. me. It invades my days, interrupts my nights and fills my prayer journal.
MrYehbut: “You want our church to die?”
But if God allowed it, I would still trust Him. I would mourn the death, but I trust Him to work it for His good. Even if I don’t understand. Even if He doesn’t provide a way for me to see the good.
DO NOT tell me I don’t understand. I get the seriousness of the situation. I don’t like it. I HATE it. I understand that if we were to truly give God EVERYthing in this Church He might allow it to die.
He might prune it to a stub.
Will people leave if we have the courage, motivation and obedience to trust wholly in God?
Will people leave if we intentionally enter into and strive to maintain an intimate relationship with Christ?
Will people leave if we dedicate ourselves to seeking his guidance and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?
Will people leave if we submit everything we do to the will of the Father?
YES. SOME PEOPLE WILL LEAVE. People who GIVE and support the church financially and through their service WILL LEAVE.
And we need to let them go.
I’m going to say another hard thing.
Because we don’t focus on Christ and depend wholly on the Holy Spirit to guide us and equip us people – some of those same people we are afraid of losing – people who GIVE and support the church – ARE ALREADY LEAVING. I know some of their names and faces and heartaches. Some people who GIVE and support the church are dying. The elderly and the sick. It is only a matter of time until the people we are trying to keep – and keep happy – are gone. or dead.
The death we fear, the death of our church, will come. We will have only prolonged the inevitable. Because eventually, we’ll all be gone too.
Our absence will make us no less responsible for the death of our church.
This is why God is making me say these hard things. In wrecked love for the people of my church. In a spirit of edification. Against my own selfish will. Because it would be so much easier…
so. much. easier.
to just leave.
“…when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave…
…’From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him’
(John 6: 66).
Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing…As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: it wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.”
Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus
by Kyle Idleman
This is the 17th post of a series on Christ-centered church. If you want to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
This is the 16th post of a series. In my previous post, entitled “church: THERE. IS. MORE.” I drilled down to the core of the issue. Today, I’m clarifying something I think may have gotten buried.
(If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
and prayin. and prayin…
I said something in my previous post, but I’m not sure it came through. I need to try again. If you got it the first time, bear with me.
There are people in my church who understand what I’m saying when I talk about being Christ-centered.
There are people in my church who are experiencing abundant life in Christ through an intimate relationship with Him.
Are YOU one of those people? Is YOUR faith in Jesus at the center of your life? Are YOU experiencing abundant life in Christ through an intimate relationship with Him?
But what about our churches?
At my church, as a unified body of believers,
We profess belief in God. We pray to God. We give offerings to God. We learn how to live good, moral, Christian lives. We learn about discipline and character. We sing praise to God. We serve others in the name of God. We love each other. We support each other. We encourage each other. We help others. We serve others. We accept others.
WE, as a unified body of believers, are not Christ-centered.
WE, as a unified body of believers, don’t view the heart of the gospel as the foundation for everything we do.
WE, as a unified body of believers, don’t even have a common understanding of what the word “gospel” means.
The definition of the word “gospel” isn’t limited to: “Jesus saves!”
To share the “good news” of Jesus Christ is to declare the excellencies of Him from every Scripture and perspective possible – NOT just the fact that He saves sinners from eternity in Hell.
THERE. IS. MORE.
Jesus is the VINE and everything we do as a church should branch off from that Vine and be fruitful:
I’m praying that OUR intrinsic need for Jesus would be at the heart of our church culture,
– because more often than they should, our affinity for each other, our acceptance of each other and our service supersede a shared acknowledgement that the greatest thing we have in common is our need for Christ.
I’m praying OUR corporate prayers would articulate that we know we are the body of CHRIST and that we are utterly dependent on Him for everything we need;
– because when we aren’t intentional, we tend to pray as body of believers who need and love God. In general.
I’m praying OUR understanding that it is Jesus who makes Christianity distinct from every other religion would be at the forefront of our collective focus;
– I’m praying that a visitor would never leave our worship service without a clear understanding that we believe and worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, not just “God.” In general.
I’m praying OUR love of Jesus would fuel our passion to know Him intimately and to understand the depth of His love for us;
– because I believe too often our love for Him motivates us to strive to live a good Christian life. So He’ll love us more?
I’m praying that as people become active in our church, there would be some specific, consistent but comfortable time and place we intentionally ask them how they came to their faith in Christ;
– instead of asking them how they came to our church, so we would have an opportunity to hear their testimony rather than just their church membership history.
I’m praying that OUR desire to share Jesus would be the underlying reason for every single ministry;
– as we provide for the temporal needs of others, I’m praying we also make sure we share how our discovery of the Bread of Life and the source of living water has changed our lives and given us the hope that is within us.
I’m praying that teaching the Bible-encompassing redemptive story of Jesus would be the ultimate goal of all our classes;
– not just some. I’m praying that even classes on personal growth, discipline and character development would be clearly grounded in Biblical wisdom and the concepts taught would be intentionally recognized as an outgrowth of our relationship with Christ.
I’m praying that OUR collective gifts would freely and sacrificially overflow from our gratitude and knowledge that Jesus is enough;
– because when we have unwavering confidence in Christ, we can begin to give without fear – and find JOY in the giving.
I’m praying that the proclamation of the Gospel – declaring the excellencies of Him from every Scripture and perspective possible – would be THE clear and unmitigated reason for every. single. Sunday morning service;
– because we never know who is listening or how God is moving in someone’s heart, mind and life that particular day.
I’m praying that WE, as the body of Christ, would consistently, cohesively and clearly evidence a commitment to Christ-centeredness – in ALL we do;
– and if something we are doing doesn’t evidence a commitment to Him or allow us to be witnesses for Him, we would re-evaluate why we’re doing it – and whether we should be doing it at all.
I’m praying that as the body of Christ, our corporate worship services would evidence a deep commitment to and complete reliance on CHRIST. I’m praying that, in every interpersonal interaction, we would be witnesses to how we’ve been transformed by our relationship with Christ. I’m praying that witness would be crystal clear to any visitor who attends our Sunday morning services.
If you read that list and thought, “I already do all the things she’s praying for.” and “None of that applies to me.”
That’s EXCELLENT. And you’re right.
Absolutely, unequivocally RIGHT. None of it applies to YOU.
I am NOT talking about YOU. As an individual.
I’m talking about my CHURCH. As a body. Made up of many, many, many individuals.
If, in that context, you understand and agree with anything in that list, then PLEASE PRAY WITH ME?
That the HOLY SPIRIT WILL BRING REVIVAL to our church.
Because we are doers and fixers, the question that usually follows that is: “But what else can I do?”
NOTHING else. You can’t bring revival. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
God is Able. Prayer is more powerful than ANYthing we can do on our own.
If you disagree with the things on the list, if you think I am flat out wrong, please…give me a few more minutes of your time. A few months ago, I took a quiz and I want to invite you take it too.
Resist the tendency to answer as an individual. Step back. Try and answer as a member of your church.
Even more difficult and uncomfortable? Step back even further. Try to look objectively through the eyes of a visitor and answer.
Review all ten statements and apply a number equal to that element’s frequency in your church. [emphasis added]
1. Expectant prayer frequently before, after, and during the actual service. God’s grace petitioned for healing work at every level: mind, emotions, and body. Where stories of healings of all kinds are regular and verifiable as God’s response to prayers of faith from His people. (James 5:14-16)
2. Powerful “thus says the Lord” biblical preaching where people have a distinct sense of hearing God speak with authority into their souls in a way that brings Holy Spirit conviction they cannot deny or dismiss.
3. Where people line up at the doors long before the service starts and rush to the front to get the best seats for passionate, expressive worship where the voices are loud, hands are raised, tears are flowing, minds are expanded, and hearts are moved as Christ is adored by every one in every corner of the room, from the very first note. The passion of their praise testifies to the reality of God’s presence and melts the hearts of those attending who do not yet believe. (1 Corinthians 14:24– 25)
4. Where individual salvations proportionate to the size of the church regularly and continuously occur in large numbers because people want their friends to experience what they have. Salvations flowing from all walks of life— from the businessman who discovered his millions as worthless to the derelict or prostitute who looked up from his or her addiction and despair to experience the total transformation of their now and forever. (2 Corinthians 6:2)
5. Where racial, economic, language, and generational diversity is growing because what we have in common in the Lord is far greater than the things that separate. Where the white guy covered in piercings and tattoos sits beside the black businessman and the babe who is inappropriately dressed but everyone welcomes and embraces her because they remember when they were like that. (Galatians 3:28)
6. Where the majority of adults gather in smaller groups to stir up and spur on and support the weight of walking with God. Where relationships flourish and follow the biblical pattern of grace and truth. 57 Not the shallow grace of mutual enablement but the truthful grace that fights for God’s best in each other, one relationship at a time. And Christians love and forgive and forbear and carry one another’s burdens from house to house. (Acts 2:26, Galatians 6:2)
7. Where elders lead, discord is not tolerated, and people are held to account. But where leaders also listen and learn, loving the people and letting the unity of the Spirit be enjoyed by all who persevere in working to keep it. (Ephesians 4:1– 2)
8. Where Christ reigns and is exalted increasingly as Head in the hearts of the people, so that gratefulness overflows into graciousness and generosity so that Christians become disciples and disciples become leaders and leaders are frequently sent out so that churches are planted nearby and around the globe. (1 Timothy 2:2)
9. Where the needs of the poor are met and those in prison are visited and aliens are welcomed as friends and strangers are served as brothers and widows are not neglected. Where these priorities are not a program or a phase but the lasting overflow of God’s abundance in our hearts.
10. Where all of these things are manifest. As in, everyone sees it and knows it and feels it and delights in it. Manifest means visible, obvious, undeniable activity that cannot be attributed to a person or a place or a program and is totally disproportionate to the ones who experience this abundance with overflowing joy as glory comes down when they gather.
Add your boxes for a total that helps you evaluate your current Verticality.
40– 50 = A Vertical Church to the glory of God— keep it up and spread the word.
30– 40 = More Vertical than most— review the survey for areas of improvement.
20– 30 = Feeling the heaviness of your horizontalness? Much to follow in this book will help you.
10– 20 = Your honesty is good, but it’s time to get on your knees and deal with what hinders.
0– 10 = We will deal with your kind of church in chapter 4— God may have a new plan.
Let’s just say I immediately skipped ahead to Chapter 4. And I didn’t have to do any math first.
but over the last month, I would have to bump myself up to the 10 – 20 range. Because right now?
#2 is a FIVE.
I believe God is still moving. I’m desperately, persistently praying He’s not finished here yet.
desperately. persistently. not exaggerating.
“…a huge difference— the difference between knowing the gospel and being consumed by the gospel, being defined by the gospel, being driven by the gospel. It’s one thing to see the gospel as an important facet of one’s ministry. It’s quite another to hold firmly to it as the centerpiece for all a church is and does, to completely orbit around it.
The gospel. Though such a glorious thing, it’s also such a simple thing— so simple we almost overlook it. Such a basic thing, we’re tempted to feel as if we’ve somehow graduated beyond it. And yet without this simple thing, this basic thing— without the life-giving gospel driving and defining both us and our churches— there really isn’t much of anything that makes us distinct and alive, nothing that other people, groups, and organizations aren’t already doing…
…In your heart perhaps— if you’re being very honest— you sense a loss of awe for the gospel, a failure to connect its power to your entire ministry…
…So here at this place of recognition and regret, we meet together to start a fresh journey into the heart of the gospel, prepared to be newly amazed by it, resolved to let its principles begin shaping how our churches worship, serve, and operate.
Too often, Christian churches today are not what they were originally intended to be.
Too often, they are social meccas, driven by self-preservation and focused on service.
Too often, Christian churches today are more like clubs, whose leadership is firmly claimed by the kids who contributed the most materials to build the tree house.
Too often, sermons are inspirational messages, motivational speeches or dry academic lectures.
Too often, the sermons delivered in Christian churches today are so vanilla they could easily be delivered in a Mormon Temple or Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall without changing a single word and without offending a single person.
Too often, pastors are motivated to keep the peace along with their job security.
Too often, churches today are too soft.
Too soft on sin.
Too soft on Christ.
Too soft on their members. Including me.
Have you been a member of a church like I’ve described? ARE you a member of a church like the one I’ve described?
12 years I’ve attended my church.
Why have I not noticed any of this before?
Because I thought it was normal.
Consider this analogy. In a way, churches are like families. And when our family culture is all we know, we think our family is normal. Until we’re exposed to another family culture. It may be through a book, a movie, TV show, or a visit to someone else’s house. And as we notice the differences, we realize. What we thought was normal?
If we live in a vacuum, never questioning the way things are, operating on assumption and never challenging those assumptions, we can spend years going along with the way things are.
We can fall into a deep complacency.
The real danger is when we slip into autopilot and start going through the motions.
Because after a while, complacency becomes normal.
But sometimes, by stepping outside of our comfort zone, by stepping outside of what we have come to view as normal, we come face to face with problems we never saw before. We realize we’ve been oblivious.
On autopilot. Satisfied. Comfortable. Complacent. Going through the motions.
In my case, 12 years.
My relationship with God has grown stronger over those 12 years, especially since 2007, when I entered into a deeper level of intimacy with Christ than I’ve ever experienced before. But my church hasn’t played much of a part in my spiritual growth.
How did I become aware of that? If you’ve been reading this series, you’ve already seen a little bit of how God revealed it to me.
Now? I can’t un-see what I’ve seen. I can’t un-know what God has revealed to me.
It’s the difference between living “a good Christian life” and experiencing abundant life in Christ.
I’ve discovered there’s MORE than “a good Christian life.” And while I personally know some people at my church who also experience abundant life in Christ, there are too many people who have no idea what I’m talking about. There are too many people who are completely unaware that it’s possible to experience abundant life in Christ. There are too many people who are settling for that “good Christian life.” Too many people who don’t know that in addition to salvation by grace, through faith in Christ the “more” I’m talking about is also the strength to make it through a day, the ability to serve in His name because He equips us for that service and for the freedom to forgive themselves when they fail to “be good” – because He first forgave them.
The question is, knowing all that, what do I do? Do I stay and strive to be a witness to that “more” in spite of the seeming preference to continue with the comfortableness and safeness of the status quo? Do I stay and strive to be a witness to how abundant life in Christ is transforming me? In spite of a barrage of rationalizations and excuses? In spite of attempts to belittle me or dismiss me?
Or do I abandon my church and the people I’ve come to care about and find a place where I’m more challenged. and more uncomfortable with my sin?
Because the thing is, God never promised me “comfortable.”
Do I stick around? Can God use me here? I know He doesn’t need me, but can He use me? I know it won’t be easy. God didn’t promise me “easy” either.
Thankfully, God finally got through to me on this one: I’m not responsible for the outcome.
“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Do I know what He will do?
I don’t get to know the mind of God as some sort of precursor to obedience. What whatever He does, He will do it. Not me.
Thankfully, I know what I need to do. I need to be faithful in the small things. Even though some people won’t like it. Even though some people find me annoying.
“Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16
I know it would be more convenient if I kept my mouth shut. More comfortable.
It’s okay. God is equipping me for this task.
I found myself watching this:
This post is the sixth in a multi-part series, written mostly in early autumn 2012, published now for the first time.
the Word: Then Moses said to Him “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)
Lord, I don’t want to go – or STAY – anywhere if you aren’t there. I pray your forgiveness for finding long lasting delusion and comfort in places that only hold the appearance of dedication to You. Forgive me Lord, for being satisfied with serving others instead of abandoning my will and my ideas of what service looks like and allowing YOU to use me – however you see fit. Please forgive me for settling for appropriate and acceptable instead of wholeheartedly and unashamedly living out my faith in Christ, even when others see my thoughts, feelings and ideas as inappropriate, insufferable or naively dismissive of cultural norms. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the disapproval of people who don’t know me to dampen my enthusiasm and derail my dedication to live a life examined through the filter of Your Word. Forgive me Lord, for allowing so much time to pass before I found the courage and motivation to honestly face and process the reality of my surroundings and circumstances. My affinity for your people blinded me to the growing undeniable evidence that You are more an icon than THE reason we exist and gather. I want to be where You are. Please God, lead me to that place.
“Whether you are 15 people around a candle and a coffee table or 150 people in a tired building trying to turn it around or 1500 people on the rise with plans for another service – regardless of size: if you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it – what we were made to long for; what makes us a true church of the one true God – you have everything you need, no matter what you lack.” Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“I don’t want to go somewhere, if I know that You’re not there. ‘Cause I know that me without You is a lie. And I don’t want to walk that road, be a million miles from home. ‘Cause my heart needs to be where You are. So I don’t want to go.” I Don’t Want To Go by Avalon
1. Of course it is and
2. Of Which I am the Greatest
For nearly a decade, I’ve volunteered to work my church’s annual Whale of a Sale, a gymnasium sized garage sale. The last two years, I served as its co-chair. Every year, two Saturdays before the event, we unload PODs (portable on demand storage) into the gym and for two weeks, we sort and price literally thousands of items while continuing to accept additional donations and offering free pick-up for large items. This past year, on the Saturday before the sale, we had scheduled about ten pick-ups and had put out a call for men and trucks to come and help with them.
I arrived that Saturday morning to find a group of about ten guys waiting for me. One gentleman in particular surprised me. He was overdressed for the occasion in dress shorts and loafers. As we entered the gym, I greeted him with “Well good morning! Are you here to help or to donate?”
In front of the other men who had come to work, he replied “I’m here to buy.”
Not to work. Not to donate. To buy.
Let me set this up for you. The sale was a week away. Pre-shopping privileges are offered to Whale volunteers as an incentive. If, while they are working, a volunteer discovers something they would like to buy, they are allowed to purchase it before the actual sale. Two people – neither one the buyer – price the item. Expensive items are researched and we aim for approximately 25% of retail.
“I’m here to buy.”
I said, “Let me get these guys going on their pick-ups and I’ll be right with you.”
Before I could open my mouth to relay a single address to one of the pick-up teams, he continued, ignoring my response as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “SoandSo told me there was a donation of a thingamagig and I’d like to buy it.”
I looked him in eye and said, “Do we need to do this right now? These gentlemen are waiting on me.”
Without missing a beat, he thrust a twenty dollar bill out and said, “Is it worth twenty bucks?”
I immediately and firmly said, “YES.”
He thought I was agreeing that the thingamagig was worth twenty bucks. I had no idea what the thingamagig was worth, I hadn’t even laid eyes on it. What I knew – and what the men who were listening knew – was that I meant it was worth twenty bucks for him to LEAVE and take his coveted thingamagig with him.
And then there I was, holding a twenty dollar bill. We have rules about money. I wasn’t supposed to just put it in my pocket. Besides, even if I bent the rules and temporarily put the money in my pocket in front of all those people, I knew I would get busy and forget about it. I told the men I would be with them in a few minutes, hightailed it to the other side of the gym, spent a few minutes unlocking a door with an annoyingly tricky lock, fetched the hidden key to the cabinet holding the cash box, secured the twenty, locked the cabinet, hid the key again, and crossed the gym back to where all the guys were waiting on me.
At first, I was indignant. But then I realized. He did this in front of at least nine men of the church, three of whom were impressionable teenage boys who got up early on a Saturday to come to church and volunteer with their dads. This man had made it clear to everyone in earshot that he viewed his time as more valuable than everyone else’s time. He got what he came for, but he was completely oblivious to the fact that he had made a terrible impression and lost the respect of those who witnessed his behavior. He was the only church member during the entire two weeks of preparation who bought something without working. Later, hearing about the exchange, another man commented that the man had traded his reputation for twenty bucks.
It’s sad and wrong. But unfortunately, it happens in churches just as often and as easily as it does in the secular world. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. And because I knew that doing the right thing would have caused all those guys to wait even longer – because I valued their time – I unfairly afforded one person a privilege that I didn’t afford to anyone else. In the church environment, examples like these are the cases in point when someone says they’ve been jaded by the church.
I personally used this particular situation as a teaching moment with my kids. I stepped through what happened and asked them for their opinion. Thankfully, they didn’t view this as an example of how powerful men get things done. Instead, they identified behavior and reasoning they didn’t ever want to emulate (my daughter used the word copy).
The question is, other than use it as a springboard for teaching my kids about character, what am I going to do about it? Do I give up on all churches because of the selfish actions one person? Am I going to hold a grudge? Am I going to allow someone to have that much power over me? Am I going to allow a person for whom I’ve lost respect to drive a wedge between me and God? Are you? Because make no mistake, unforgiveness is a big ol’ wedge between you and God.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 (ESV)
And here’s the harder question. What have I myself done to leave another person with a terrible impression? It’s highly improbable that I have a stellar reputation in the church or anywhere else. What things have I said or done to damage my reputation and evidence a horrible representation of Christ? Who, when relaying how they’ve been jaded by the church, has told a story about something I’ve said or done?
If I’m honest with myself, I am not without guilt. It’s extremely difficult to face and take ownership of the things I’ve said or done that I’m ashamed of. I believe it’s difficult for any Christian to face and accept the possibility that we’ve done something to damage the cause of Christ by providing fodder for the “they’re supposed to be a Christian” rants of people who find it much too easy to discredit Christians who behave badly.
In my case, it was exactly one week later when I said something I’m ashamed of. Only 7 days following my episode of indignation before I myself was a poor representative of Christ.
It was the last hours of the sale and I was making announcements about discounts over the loudspeaker. Just as I finished saying “Everything in the boutique is negotiable.” a woman approached me.
Woman: “That’s not true. They’re not negotiating in the boutique.”
Me: “They should be. They asked me to make that announcement.”
Woman: “Well, they’re not. I want to buy some teacups and they’re not negotiating.”
Me: “Okay. Show me the teacups.” (me, in my head: “I could not care less about teacups”)
We crossed the gym and entered the boutique. She headed straight for the checkout. Three unmatched teacups with their saucers were in a box. All three had their original price tags on them, but all three also had blue painter’s tape with a lower price handwritten on them. The cashier read the prices on the painter’s tape, pointing to each teacup as she spoke.
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “You asked them to lower the price and they have.”
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “What price did you have in mind?”
Woman: “I was thinking two dollars each.”
Cashier: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
Woman: “Actually, you can.”
You could have heard a pin drop. This was not her first negotiation. and then,
Cashier: “No, I can’t. I didn’t set the price…”
Woman, interrupting her: “That’s not negotiating.” (me, in my head: “stop saying that.”)
Me: “The person who set the price has the option to retain any items until next year rather than sell them below their value.”
Woman: “You said the prices were negotiable….”
When I interrupted her to say “Give me a few minutes and I’ll talk to the lady who set the price” I knew I was completely over the teacup conversation.
The woman turned and walked into the gym. I spent a few more minutes in the boutique and discovered the woman had been at the sale the day before and had scored a name brand pantsuit at a discount by saying she was out of money. That, combined with the already reduced price of the teacups and the fact that unmatched English teacups are not a necessity for living, led me to back up the pricing decision of the volunteers. I decided I didn’t need to drag the person who priced the teacups into this “negotiation.” If they wanted to retain the teacups for next year’s sale rather than see them sold for less than they were worth, it was their call.
I walked into the gym and was immediately approached by the woman.
Me: “We can’t reduce the price of the teacups any lower than we already have.”
Woman: “I think it’s just that one girl.”
Me: “The girl who told you the price is not the person who set the price.”
Woman: “Well then, what’s her name?”
And here’s where it went south. Here’s where I had an opportunity to do the “right” thing and caved to the easy thing instead. And I even took a few seconds to think about it before I replied.
Me: “No. I’m not going to give you a name. If you would like to buy the teacups at the reduced price that would be fine, but I’m not going to give you anyone’s name.”
Woman: “Why not?”
And then I made it even worse.
Me: “Because I don’t do drama and I’m not going to nail my volunteers.”
The woman’s jaw dropped and her hand flew to her chest like I shot her: “I don’t need this!”
Me: “Need what?”
Woman: “You REALLY hurt my feelings!”
Me: “I’m sorry I hurt your . . . ”
Woman, interrupting: “I don’t need this! I am NOT causing drama!” (me, in my head: “this isn’t drama?”)
Me: “I think you may be overreacting.”
Woman: “WHO is in charge here!?!?”
I took way too much pleasure in this one: “Me.”
Woman: “And who is in charge of YOU?!”
Me: “My pastor.”
Woman: “I can’t believe you’re being this way over teacups!”
Me: “This has absolutely nothing to do with teacups. This is about people. And I’m protecting mine.”
Woman: “I don’t need this!”
Right then, another shopper interrupted us to ask me to price something for her.
As the first woman left crying, the shopper who interrupted us said, “I didn’t really need a price, I just wanted her to leave.”
I looked over her shoulder at the door and the shopper patted me on the hand and said, “I saw what happened. Don’t give her another thought.”
But I knew. While I did the right thing by backing up the volunteer’s decision and definitely did the right thing by preventing the woman from initiating a confrontation with the person who priced the teacups, I did it ungraciously. I didn’t get emotionally upset, but also didn’t extend an ounce of compassion. I was very . . . factual.
Stating facts without grace and compassion can easily be interpreted as meanness and insensitivity. And nobody had to convince me that the “I don’t do drama/not going to nail my volunteers” comment was uncalled for and out of line.
I stood there a few minutes, replaying the entire thing in my head, knowing what I should have done:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 ESV
And then her husband was standing in front of me. A man who was able to extend the graciousness I had abandoned. He told me that his wife had come running to the car crying and that she said I was very upset with her. His wife was crying and he was asking me if I was okay. I assured him I wasn’t upset and that I was sincerely sorry that his wife was upset.
Then he told me that he had been out of work for a very long time. And that their son had been killed recently in a tragic accident. He told me that because of these two things his wife was oversensitive. I apologized again and offered to follow him outside and apologize to her in person if he didn’t think that would make things worse. He told me he would tell her what I said and then he left.
And here’s the thing. She was rude. She was confrontational. She was arrogant – while she was aggressively going after what she wanted. But when I confronted her, she immediately became a wounded victim, unjustly accused and unfairly treated. I’ve seen this behavior before. I know to react with grace when I see it.
And I didn’t. I took the easy way out. The “right back atcha” way out. It was wrong and I knew better. My past has equipped me to respond to this type of behavior graciously, but my circumstances led me to react dispassionately. Unkindly.
And I knew why. It had been days since I had spent dedicated time alone with God. The Whale of a Sale hours were demanding and I was exhausted. I wasn’t hungry and if people hadn’t brought me food during that last week, I wouldn’t have eaten. I went through an entire carton of Epsom salts and used way too much hot water, I was taking too much ibuprofen and not enough Nexium. I was physically and mentally worn out and spiritually bereft.
I had spent so much of my time serving God, I had neglected to be with God. I was operating and making decisions from my own limited view of my circumstances instead of striving to see the bigger picture through God’s greater perspective. My intuitive decisions were selfish instead of stemming from the Holy Spirit’s presence within me, not because the Holy Spirit had left me, but because I couldn’t hear God’s voice above all the noise – the external stimuli, my non-stop and easily distracted thoughts, my screaming muscles. I needed to STOP. To take a few minutes to talk to God and, just as importantly, to listen to God. To abide in His presence. Because I hadn’t, I needlessly hurt someone. If I had been spending dedicated time with God every day, would I have given the name of the person who set the price of the teacups? Would I have overridden her and reduced the price of the teacups?
no. and no.
But I would have been much more gracious about it. I would allowed myself to be the hands and feet and ears and voice of Christ.
Thankfully God can use hypocrites. Especially when they learn from their mistakes.
Although it may sound like my experiences in church were stumbling blocks in my spiritual growth, I believe everything I experienced in the churches I attended as I grew up were stepping stones which led me to the place and person I was when abandoned my fear and compartmentalized life in exchange for an intimate relationship with Christ that tends to evidence itself in my life in a transparent, and sometimes vulnerable way.
(If you’ve been around Compendium before, you know those weren’t the only two books I was reading at the time. When I’m learning something, I collect a stack of books on the subject and saturate myself with information from as many different perspectives as I can find. I take the information that resonates with me, that I can identify with, and it becomes part of me. I discard the rest, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.)
When FirstHusband and I began attending a Methodist church 12 years ago, we already had a firm theological foundation and truth be told, we still say we are Baptist when asked, because our beliefs are more in line with Baptist doctrine. We were just trying to learn more about Methodist doctrine when we first began attending. We also believe the Methodist church has Biblical and theological foundation, it was just challenging to follow the bread crumbs. Now we know where to look (Book of Discipline).
When it comes right down to it, we wish the Methodist church were more evangelical. (see? there’s that Baptist showing again.)
But even if we had continued to attend Baptist churches, I think the active, prevalent faith I live out today is something I had to find on my own. I’m so thankful for Keith Miller’s book (and Brother Lawrence’s Practice the Presence) for opening my eyes, mind and heart to the idea that a relationship with Christ could be such an integral part of my life.
My goal now is to try and let others know how an intimate relationship with Christ can become an integral part of their lives, no matter what church they attend – or don’t.