Sunday, May 16, 2010

Changing Churches

* To my friend whom this is about, bear with me as I continue to sort through my feelings on this matter and don't get frustrated with me, please.  I'll understand eventually.

We go to a great church.  At the moment, there is no obvious sin that needs repenting of (which for me is the most important criteria, considering our minister growing up was sleeping with one of the married women).  People love each other and are in each other's lives.  We try to get together regularly to read the Bible and pray (which is more or less successful, given our busy lives as mothers at the moment).  However, a friend of mine left the church to go to another one because ours was too dull - not enough inspiration, not enough life in the room, not enough talk of the Spirit.

Last Sunday we had a visitor who is a psychologist, a faithful Christian for many years, and about to become a grandfather.  I've heard him speak before and trusted his view on the matter so I asked him if my preoccupation with people leaving our church was normal, or .... something to be repented of .... or - why does it bother me so much and is that wrong?

His response made sense to me.  He said that it's not wrong to be upset that people leave.  What kind of family would we be if it didn't matter whether people came or left?  And sometimes people do leave for the wrong reasons.  If the only thing we're looking for is inspiration, then we're missing a very big part of what church is about.  (I am not saying this is the case with my friend).  He personally believes that church is most effective in small groups, although he currently goes to a church with 2000 members.  He said when you go to a church that size, you can almost only look at whether or not you're inspired by the message, but when you go to a house church, you don't really think about being inspired, you think about the family.

But all in all, he said not to miss the big picture.  It's not like I think that friends who leave are less spiritual than those who stay, are any less saved, are going to be any less nourished than they would be going to the same church as I do.  But he said that God sees things differently, a bigger picture - he sees his people in families everywhere and moving from one group to another doesn't shake him because it's overall the same family.

This was helpful, although to be honest, it's not because I suddenly saw the big picture.  I have some more growing to do for that.  It's because I was able to put a finger on why it bothers me so much that people leave.  For me, a church is only about the family.  To me, the inspiration comes from loving one another differently than the people in the world do.

In John 13, Jesus says,
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Hebrews 10 says,

24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This is how people are impacted by Christ - when they see this being lived out in the church and the lives of the disciples.  Awhile back, I knew some friends who stopped going to our church and started church-hopping. At the time it was not so they could find the right one for them (perhaps that has changed), it was so they could take a little from each place.  I expressed in so many words that I thought it was selfish.  Part of our being in one body is so that we can give to it, not just take from it.  Jesus didn't say to look for inspiration wherever you can, he said to love one another as he loved us.  This implies commitment.

Colossians 3:

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

How can we do this if we are not invested in one church, one body of believers?  

Granted, my friend expressed that she didn't really see that in our church anymore - the speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  To her credit, she is seeking a body of believers where that is the case.  That's fair enough.  But for me, in my staunch, loyal family point of view, we don't abandon our family to find that - we inspire our family to be that.  I cannot say whether she or I are right, but I know God can work in both strongly-felt beliefs.

As Philippians 3 says,

 15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained."

We're not going to have all of our answers here on earth, but we have to live up to the best of our understanding.  It goes on to say:

20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Chapter 4 1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

The person I spoke to in order to get some perspective on the issue, said in the end that sometimes we simply have to say, "I'm sorry we won't be seeing you anymore on Sundays, but when else can we hang out?"  

Since losing my friendship is not even an option, that seems like the best approach.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Young Lady is great at prayer.  She says things like, "God, you're so pretty and big.  You're so smart and wonderful.  And I love you."

Big Boy is less eloquent, "Thank you God ..... in Jesus' name, Amen!"  (This spoken with a giggle).  But occasionally he's a barometer for his parents' spiritual lives, like the time he prayed (at night) (in his bed) "God, please give us a great parking spot.  In Jesus' name, Amen!"  

Mr. Welcome confessed later with a gulp that he had better up his prayer life if that is all Big Boy is retaining.  More recently, after getting a scare, Big Boy prayed, "Jesus, I want you to come here in our lives."  He pronounces "here" with a guttural "H," compliments of our Arabic friends, with whom we spent a lot of time before they moved to England.

When I was little, I remember praying that Jesus would come sleep on my pillow, and I even moved over to make room for him.  That was before I forgot all about God, and that's "forgot" with a capital "F."

But sometimes I think he saved me just for who that little girl was, before things got all jaded.  At the moment when I was at my lowest with everything stripped away (intensive drinking getting me into trouble, the house I grew up in sold in my parent's divorce, my brother's suicide, a car accident that should have killed me, but instead left me with a crippling depression, and one too many international moves to try and escape everything I was feeling ....)

Psalm 18

 4 The cords of death entangled me;
       the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

 5 The cords of the grave [b] coiled around me;
       the snares of death confronted me.

In my early faith, I remember standing at the window in my room, looking across the rooftops of Paris, and simply saying, "God."  At that moment, the sun broke through the clouds and danced across every rooftop in my view, warming my heart and bringing a joyful grin to my face.

 6 In my distress I called to the LORD;
       I cried to my God for help.
       From his temple he heard my voice;
       my cry came before him, into his ears.

And then he saved me - so swiftly, so obviously.  In my early faith, every prayer was answered, every reassurance that He was there was given me.

7 The earth trembled and quaked,
       and the foundations of the mountains shook;
       they trembled because he was angry.

 8 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
       consuming fire came from his mouth,
       burning coals blazed out of it.

 9 He parted the heavens and came down;
       dark clouds were under his feet.

 10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
       he soared on the wings of the wind.

 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
       the dark rain clouds of the sky.

 12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
       with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

 13 The LORD thundered from heaven;
       the voice of the Most High resounded. 
 14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies ,
       great bolts of lightning and routed them.

 15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
       and the foundations of the earth laid bare
       at your rebuke, O LORD,
       at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

 16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
       he drew me out of deep waters.

 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
       from my foes, who were too strong for me.

 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
       but the LORD was my support.

 19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
       he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Like the most protective of parents, he doesn't like to see his children attacked - He brought me to a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

I have to remember, in my often jaded view as an older Christian, who is often weary of life and effort ...

... that he still delights in me.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Battle for Faith

When I wake up, the world is not full of promise anymore.  It's full of duty, of finding ways to escape boredom - or work, of finding ways to pass the time until television at night, and then bed.  It's worse when I don't have anything good to escape to.  I have no good book to read, no engagement I'm excited about attending, no little project that fills me with joy.

I don't think it's a lack of hobbies that keeps me uninspired, nor is it a lack of friends.   It's a lack of motivation to own my life, and to keep busy doing good.

Yesterday we had a little house church and my husband prepared a short message on Micah 6.

The LORD's Case Against Israel
 1 Listen to what the LORD says:
       "Stand up, plead your case before the mountains;
       let the hills hear what you have to say. 
2 Hear, O mountains, the LORD's accusation;
       listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
       For the LORD has a case against his people;
       he is lodging a charge against Israel.
3 "My people, what have I done to you?
       How have I burdened you? Answer me.
4 I brought you up out of Egypt
       and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
       I sent Moses to lead you,
       also Aaron and Miriam.
5 My people, remember
       what Balak king of Moab counseled
       and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
       Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
       that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD."

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Balak and Balaam, you can find it in Numbers 22-24.  Balak was the king of Moab and he had heard that whoever the prophet Balaam blessed or cursed, so it would be done to them.  So he commanded him to curse the Israelites and promised him a large sum of money in return.  But every time Balaam went to curse the Israelites, the Lord caused him to bless them instead.  (It infuriated the king, and Balaam, who was no innocent, also got rebuked by a donkey).

The point is, God cannot help but bless his people.  In all the ways that I grumble against him - Mr. Welcome has to travel too much, he didn't get the promotion with the big raise, Peanut didn't get a spot in the nursery, the workers are not finished with our house, I don't have my driver's license here, etc. - I have to wonder why I bother grumbling because God cannot help but to bless me.  It wastes my time and insults my God.

And instead of just wiping us out when He has a case to bring against us, He actually reasons with us.  "My people, what have I done to you?  How have I burdened you?  Answer me."

I remember what my life was like before I was brought out of Egypt.  I was loud, boastful, drunk, prideful, controlling, immoral.  The list goes on.  The only thing I was not, was dishonest, and I knew I couldn't stand before God.

Micah goes on:

 6 With what shall I come before the LORD
       and bow down before the exalted God?
       Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
       with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
       with ten thousand rivers of oil?
       Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
       the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
       And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God.

What do I have to do to get forgiveness, either for the way I used to live or for my current lack of gratitude?  A sacrifice of fasts?  Give everything I own to the poor?  Beat my body?  Do I need to sacrifice my first born son?  It's unthinkable.

No.  God already did that.   His blessings might not be all the material things I hope for, but he already gave me what I needed most - forgiveness for my sins and eternal life with him.

If I'm struggling to find joy in the everyday, it's probably because I am dissatisfied with God in some way.  I am grumbling because my life is not as fun as I'd like it to be, or because I have the same struggles as I've always had.  But today, let me face the day with a new attitude.

Act justly. Love mercy.  Walk humbly with my God.