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Posts Tagged ‘Church’

This past summer I heard that the first church of my childhood was to be torn down. When my brother shared that the contents of it, as well as architectural features, were to be auctioned off I found myself remembering that place and it’s people.

When I was three, my mother met my soon to be father. From their wedding on, my paternal grandmother took me along to her church each Sunday, for Sunday School, often followed by the church service.

It was a small, white clapboard building, with pine flooring, dark wood trims on the interior, and stained glass windows at (from my memory) almost every entry the sun could penetrate.

The small foyer opened straight into the vestry, where the opening of Sunday School would take place. I cannot remember all of the songs I learned there, but Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children (all the children of the world) and This Little Light of Mine were certainly ones that I learned in that small, but airy room.

Walking straight through the vestry to the back would then open a door on the left, then through the petite kitchen, to another petite room. It was there that I first encountered that classic Sunday School teaching tool, the flannel graph. If I close my eyes, I can still see the lame man being lowered through the roof, by his friends, so that he might be healed by Jesus.

Upstairs were more classrooms, though I only remember being in one of them. They were reserved for the older kids, and as I got older I attended Sunday School closer to my home.

Parallel to the vestry was the sanctuary. A rectangular room, with stained glass windows on one side, and on the other, a magnificent door that rolled right into the wall, separating the sanctuary from the vestry. The front was raised, and the simple pulpit in the middle. An old organ sat to the left, down on the floor. The back of the sanctuary was the most beautiful stained glass window (below).

IMG_1229.JPG

The image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, so gently carrying his lamb captivated by attention, and had me turned around staring in awe and wonder as a child. This image created from glass and lead, was and is who I see when I hear the name of Jesus.

But, the church was not just a building, but a people too.

There was that older lady who I sat behind in the vestry, who had the longest leg hairs ever (longer than any woman or man I have met since). Or the woman who made the cherry and cream cheese sandwiches, rolled up like a pinwheel. Or the kind man who always had hard candies in his pocket. Or the sound of my grandmother’s choral voice (equivalent to that of Lucille Ball). Or the ‘old ladies’ my grandmother picked up to drive to church every Sunday, even until the Sunday prior to her death in her mid 80’s. Or the women who, for a Vacation Bible School, were teaching the story of the loaves and the fishes, and they gave each child five buns and two cookies cut out as fish.

In recent years, the church … where I first met Jesus … had reduced to single digit attendance, and it’s hundred-odd year old building, badly in need of costly repair. It, and the community both suffering the effects of society moving away from the rural and towards more urban centers.

It is sad to think of a church being de-constructed. As the day approached, I imagined the sacrifices that those who built the church had made over the years. The coins in a jar, the roof replacement that was delayed by another year, the cookbooks sold, the pennies from a paper route. How sad that all their efforts would come to such a final end.

Though it is more sad to imagine maintaining a hollow building, with money and time that could instead be spent bringing light to those encompassed by darkness.

That church, as a building, taught me that Jesus was kind, and loving, and the main focus for that holy house.

That church, as a people, taught me that people were important, that I was important. They taught me that to worship God we did not have to have a perfect offering, but to offer what we have.

No place is so dear to my childhood …

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My post today is not one that I wrote, and I do not even know who wrote it, so I cannot give them the credit. What I do know is that I recently heard it, just when I needed the reminder of the message within. So, today, with back to school approaching, I am sharing this post with you, praying that you receive it just when and where you need it.

THE DEVIL’S CONVENTION
Are You Too Busy For Christ?
Keep The Christians Busy
Satan called a worldwide convention.
In his opening address to his assembled demons he said:
“We cannot keep the Christians from going to church. We cannot keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We cannot even keep them from conservative values.

Nevertheless, we can do something else. We can keep them from forming an intimate, abiding relationship with Christ. If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken.

So, let them go to church, let them have their conservative lifestyle, but steal their time, so they cannot gain that relationship.
This is what I want you to do. Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection!”
“How shall we do this?” shouted the demons.
“Keep them busy with the non-essentials of life. Invent schemes to occupy their time.” he answered. “Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, then borrow, borrow, borrow. Convince the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6 or 7 days a week, 10 – 12 hours a day, so they can afford their lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with
their children. As their family fragments, soon their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work.

Also:
*Super-stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear that still small voice.
*Entice them to play the radio or cassette player whenever they drive, and to keep the TV, VCR, CD players and PCs
going constantly in their homes.
*See to it that every store and restaurant in the world blares secular music constantly. This will jam their minds and break
that union with Christ.
*Fill their coffee tables with secular magazines and newspapers.
*Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day.
*Invade their driving moments with billboards.
*Flood their mailboxes with junk mail, sweepstakes, mail order catalogs, and every kind of newsletter and promotional
offering, free products, services, and false hopes.
*In their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their recreation exhausted, disquieted, and
unprepared for the coming week.
*Do not let them go out in nature to reflect on God’ s wonders. Send them to amusement parks, sporting events,
concerts, and movies instead.
*When they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled
consciences and unsettled emotion.
*Let them be involved in soul-winning, but crowd their lives with so many good causes they have no time to seek power
from Christ in prayer.

Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family for the good of the cause.”
Convention Aftermath
It was quite a convention. The demons went eagerly to their assignments causing Christians everywhere to get busy, busy, busy and rush here and there.
Has the devil been successful at his scheme? You be the judge.
How about this definition of BUSY: Being Under Satan’s Yoke.
Author Unknown

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It was a Sunday morning when, although I was fighting a miserable cold, the joy of singing in corporate worship to my Creator was such a joyful experience and privilege.

Until, I started to look around the sanctuary. I was dismayed to see many people not worshiping. There were people standing with their mouths closed. There were people sitting reading their bulletins. There were people sitting … staring straight ahead. There were people standing, looking around the room … oups! That was me too!

I found myself to be very critical of those who I was watching. Until I realized that maybe there were reasons for their non-participation in worship.

Maybe some of them were dealing with sorrows so deep, so dark that they could not open their mouths to sing the words. Or maybe they had been dealing with illness or physical conditions that are so debilitating that they could no longer sing songs of joy. Or maybe there were those who were facing their own private financial crises, with their demise, the demise of their family just around the next corner. Or, maybe they simply cannot sing … now that I can so relate to (well, my family can relate to my lack of vocal abilities).

So, I turned my head towards the lyrics of the song on the screen at the front of the room, and continued my own participation in the corporate worship:

“Blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord”

And I thought, oh how I love this worship song, because it parallels the biblical story of Job … the man who God allowed Satan to take away all that was of earthly value to him. Job was inflicted with painful sores on his skin, his lively hood was destroyed, his children and wife died. And, through all of that, how did Job respond? “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

But wait, that means that Job had suffered sorrows, illness, financial crises and earthly loss of family members … just like the possible reasons (excuses?) I had guessed that people in church might not be singing.

But wait!

There is one difference … Job kept praising the Lord.

May I not forget that despite all that Job lost of what he loved, despite the pain, the sorrow, the loss and the personal crises that Job faced, he never stopped praising the Lord.

“Give to the Lord the glory due to His name;

worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness or in holy array.”

Psalm 29:2

“I tell you, if they (you … His disciples) keep quiet,

even the rocks will cry out.”

Luke 19:40

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Holy, Holy, Holy

I wrote this on a Sunday, three years ago!

It has been many weeks of ‘church visiting’. Hubby has been away from his ministry position, on sabbatical, since mid-February. And, my easily bored, need for the adrenaline rush of anything ‘new’, undiagnosed ADD personality has thrived with all of this change and variety!

I have been to amazing churches that have made us feel welcomed, transported my mind to heaven, and taught about spiritual things … kind of sounds like how  ‘Woodstock’ has always been described to me 😉 (there was not stripping at ANY of the churches I visited … just for the record, after my Woodstock comparison).

And today, like the rest, left me feeling well fed (ah, the story of my life). But, not just well-fed … if left me, us, feeling nurtured.

We originally chose the church we went to today, because our son has a friend who attends there, but, he and his family were not there today. We were greeted warmly by people we knew, and by people we did not. There was a line up to enter the church! (when does that happen?) The worship music was not spectacular, but it was good. The message was not spectacular, but it too was good. There was a ‘family feel’ in the place, but not a blood-relation-family-feel … (although, as Christians, it is a blood relation … from the events of Good Friday), so much as a we-chose-to-be-a-family-family-feel.

Maybe, for me, the morning was solidified as good, when we sang an old hymn from, well, forever-ago! I remember singing it EVERY Sunday as a prelude … my friends and I would mock it, because we were so familiar with it … singing it with our faces contorting as though we were singing opera. We HATED it! (I admit, I LOVE ‘classic’ hymns … not all though, some should be filed … permanently. And I love the new worship music … but if it is 10 years old … it is not longer ‘new’ for me)

But now, as an old church lady … (okay, so maybe I’m not quite a ‘lady’ yet), when I hear it, when I sing it … the tears flow as though it is my whole being … heart, mind, body and soul, singing to my creator what I was was created to sing … praises, and confessions, and, once again reminders that the God who reigns, always has been, and will forever be, praised by all that He has created. And that, is not dependent just on my will to sincerely praise Him, because I was created to praise Him, as all of His creation will praise Him.

I was good to go to the house of God, and to feel part of something bigger … just because I showed up … and He did the rest.

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false_advertising-img-685I remember well the day that my oldest daughter was faced with the realities of false boasting of advertisers.

It was the Butterfly Barbie. She was shown on the TV advertisements flying through the air (not a hair out of place), her sparkling wings looking gossamer soft. What we brought home from the store required human assistance to soar, and her soft-looking wings had a plastic backing. A great learning opportunity that purchase was for this budding consumer.

False boasting of advertisers have always existed. Whether it is a toy, a hamburger, wrinkle cream or weight loss plan these cons are everywhere, leading people, and their hard-earned money, astray.

It is such a relief that false boasts do not exist in the Christian community …

Go visit a Christian book store, and you will find the equivalent of a ‘self help’ section. Attend a Christian conference, and you will leave believing that ‘you’ can do anything. Show up at a Christ-centered church on any given Sunday, and you will be reminded of the boundless power of the Holy Spirit within you.

So, are those examples of (well-intended) false boasting?

Lets check the king of understanding what it is to boast …

The apostle Paul (I like him),  he was a man who refused to boast about what he did, what he would do or what he could do. As a matter of fact 2 Corinthians 12:5 tells us what he would and would not boast about :

“I will not boast about myself,
except about my weaknesses.”

Hum, ever been to church and heard someone get up and boast about their weaknesses?

Ever been to a Christian conference where the key note speaker addressed weaknesses?

Ever bought a how-to book at the Christian bookstore that explained how to share your weaknesses?

I’m doubting that any of us has experienced that sort of boasting.

Maybe this is why, when non-believers are asked why they do not go to church, a common response is hypocrisy. According to and article in USA Today, a “survey of U.S. adults who don’t go to church, even on holidays, finds 72% say “God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists.” But just as many (72%) also say the church is “full of hypocrites.””

Are we being humbly real?

Or are we pretending that we have it all together?

Our friend, Paul, goes on to explain his rationale regarding boasting about his weaknesses in verses 6-10 :

“Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Don’t we all have a thorn in our flesh?

We do not know what Paul’s thorn was, but we know that Paul used this painful (thorns hurt) thing to keep him depending on God to be his strength in weakness.

I’m not sure that I could have such a positive perspective on pain … I’m not sure that Paul did ALL THE TIME … but I do know that when I am struggling, when I am in pain, when I am hurting, it is then that I rely more on God.

Maybe others need to see, not the lie of perfect lives, but the reality of pain …

and that it can draw us to our heavenly Father, so that His “power is made perfect in weakness”

Boast in this :

we are weak

He is perfect

There’s nothing false about that!

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struggle_of_the_two_natures_of_man1355813125107

Last Sunday I featured a guest post here called, Struggling To Love Her, about the difficulty to sometimes love the church (small ‘c’ church … as in the local church). I was amazed at the responses I got, in terms of readers, but also in terms of personal comments, messages, emails). It is obviously a hot topic!

My inspiration, or guest was Amber Haines, who writes at www.therunamuck.com and www.incourage.me.

Toward the end of her post she said,

Once in a while you find yourself in the arms of your broken church, and she looks exactly like THE church, and THE church looks like Jesus. It’s worth pressing on, going to commune with the homesick ones, going to find a hand to hold, a bag to carry, wine to taste.”

And it is here where I want to start … where is the struggle to love her?

I have heard it said that more than the style of worship, more than the way that scripture is delivered, more than whether the pastor wears gowns, or jean or a tie, more than the programs that a church offers, more than whether the coffee served is free trade …

the one thing that will decide whether a church will survive in the coming years is …

drum-roll-please

… is it real?

Are those welcoming people into the church service, welcoming from their hearts … or playing a part?

Is the pastor preaching from how God has moved in his life?

Are the people in the pews, in the chairs, prepared to take you home for lunch?

Are people using their God-given gifts to spread the good news of Christ’s love for them, to meet the needs of people in their community (not just those in their church community)?

Are people praying for each other, more than just Sunday during church?

According to Thom Schultz, in the book (Why Nobody Wants Church Anymore) he co-authored with his wife, Joani, the four top reasons why the majority avoids church are :

1. they feel judged … aka not perfect
2. they don’t want to be lectured … reminded they are not perfect
3. church people are a bunch of hypocrites … people who act like they are perfect
4. they feel God is irrelevant to their life, but they’d like to know there is a God and he cares about them … they know they are not perfect, and want to feel loved in spite of their imperfections

That all pretty much boils down to … they want what is

real

People, both Christ-followers, and Christ-deniers, want life to be real, want relationships that are real, want people to accept them for who they really are … want church to be real.

We are not living in the garden of Eden … perfect is left behind.

We humans, and our human lives, and our human churches are :

messy
dirty
wrecked
flaw-filled
sin-filled

And it is in being who we really are
(flawed, pimpled, grayed and scarred)

and being able to look at, and Sunday sit-with

others,
(who are just as wrecked as ourselves)

and feel, and be accepted … just as we are.

But, that is not all!

If we are being really real, we do not just love others as they are,

we love others enough to not leave them where they are …

in the mud, mire and dirt of life
in the dark, blindness and deafness of the present
in the middle of their mess, their heartache, their

sin.

We can be really real enough to stay with them, to support them, to do what is practical, and to do what is immaterial, spiritual. To do more than just keep their head afloat, but to also teach them to swim in stormy waters, when no lifeboat is in sight.

To point them to the lifeguard who is always on duty, and to remind them that we are His flotation device.

Come on church,

let’s get

real.

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designall

Church is for the weak …

It is a sentence, a belief, an experience …

a truth.

I have no problem with owning up to that statement as reality for me, personally. I have no problem telling others that I go to church, that I believe in the crucified, dead and buried Christ who also rose on the third day, and that He is coming again …

because I am weak.

I have the hereditary disease called sin. It affects every part of who I am, and how I live. It is a guaranteed death sentence.

It may not have been me (or you) who said yes to that fruit of the tree in the garden (if it was an apple, and if it was me who was tempted, I would have said yes even more quickly than Eve), but we still carry the genetic markers for sin, because we still make mistakes, we still mess things up, we still say and do ridiculous things … we still die.

John 3:16 states, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” You see I … we, were all conceived into sin, all conceived with a destiny with an end. But Christ came, just as the perfect young lambs that were slaughtered in the Old Testament stories. It was through the sacrifice of this spotless lamb, in the form of Jesus, that our sins were erased … our life here on Earth had a purpose … that eternal life was made available.
That does not mean that we have it all together. Every breath we take provides yet another opportunity to sin all over again, but, in the eyes of our Creator, that sin was erased … before we even thought about it.
I recently read the following:
“Satan knows our names, and calls us by our sins,
Christ knows our sins, and calls us by His name.”
I am a sinner, but, through the grace of God, I am cleansed of that sin by the blood sacrifice of His Son.
I am weak, but God’s grace is greater!
And it is in church where I am reminded, regularly, that the prescription for my weakness has been paid for, administered, and it is a once and for all application.
“Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

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