Do you go to church?
We know that today people in the church are leaving in near droves and with that decision also leaving behind more and more empty pews than ever before. Some folks jump up and down with outrage and upset yelling that those people need to "get over it" and realize if they aren't happy with church then that is their problem, they need to look inward… that they are perhaps expecting something out of church instead of walking in with the intent to give… then there are the folks who point fingers at the church and state it's hypocritical, it's political, it's this or that. Both sides may certainly have valid points and more than likely in many cases the views of both apply.
I was baptized as a baby and attended a Presbyterian church for Sunday service and pre-school. My parents actually taught the Sunday school class for three year olds… which to me is so incredibly odd considering we never read the bible growing up, prayer was non-existent, and Jesus was never spoken of. Their teaching Sunday school lasted one year… my dad chose to quit the church after he discovered that the woman from the church making home visitations to my grandfather stole the handmade dolls my late grandmother had made. These dolls were valuable and naturally had sentimental value as well. Upon learning of what had happened my dad and grandmother made a visit to the church and told the minister what had happened. He wouldn't help them, wouldn't intervene on their behalf and the woman wouldn't return the dolls so my parents stopped attending church. My grandparents only attended on Easter and Christmas. Years went by… I was probably in fifth grade and my family found another church to attend… a Methodist church. It was awkward and strained going to church service… we didn't go every Sunday but sporadically and yet it never felt natural. My dad always seemed angry, my mother weepy and no one talked… it was like walking to the guillotine… going in and then returning to the car… it was robotic like we just went through the motions… no one spoke and voiced their favorite hymn, no one talked about the sermon, no one chatted excitedly about their faith, about Jesus and their love for him or what verse spoke to them. It was uncomfortably silent. That eventually fizzled out and we stopped going there as well. Years later I married a man who didn't go to church but had a life application bible… unfortunately I didn't even recognize the fact he was not applying it and being the sheltered naive young nineteen year old I was I fell for him hook, line and sinker. Hindsight is always a clear 20/20. I believed in Jesus but I didn't follow him either… I didn't know him. I didn't even really know anything about him nor did I believe for a minute God loved me.
It was after my sister at the age of twenty-two in 2008 passed away due to a drunk driver that my desire for a relationship with Christ seeded and began growing. That horrific loss was the defining moment that brought me to God and wanting a relationship with him, to know him and realizing his love for me. I began watching Joyce Meyer nightly, (some people have issue with Joyce Meyer due to the prosperity gospel which I've done a post on you can read here; I started with her sermons then discovered Tony Evans and Andy Stanley) I began praying and repenting, reading my bible, devotionals, anything I could get my hands on, I read it. I joined a church with my husband and children. I have found that this path of following Jesus is hard and hard isn't even really an adequate word to use… because frankly, I mess it up, a whole lot. Maybe you do too. In the midst of "oops, oh, man, I didn't handle that right…" or "gee, THAT was embarrassing… " I have learned there is a huge difference between conviction/healthy guilt and then the false guilt we beat ourselves up with or worse the dreadful shame the devil happily serves you up that just makes you want to disappear into the floor, that makes you believe that you just aren't cut out for following Jesus, that you're not doing good enough...
Jesus died for our sins, our debts are already paid,
we don't have to earn his love
We want to delight in following him because we love him so much
but THAT is where grace comes in, thank goodness. Grace for ourselves and others. We are all on a path of learning here…learning the lessons in the bible and how toapply what we've learned to real life… and that is the hard stuff. We miss the mark, we may question what to do, we say the wrong thing, were impatient, were impulsive, we react instead of respond, we struggle, we are not a neat and tidy package, we are so incredibly messy… as we read his word and love him more we will change more, closer to his image… delighting in following him.
I believe we want a church that reflects we are real people. We are not drones or robots or programmed to fit into a certain look or group… we are a mix of sweaters and pearl, tattoos and rough, a culmination of liberal and conservative, we are the square peg in the round hole wanting to be chiseled, we are not perfection on a silver platter nor are we strolling into church with clean pasts… we want to be able to walk into a church if we sold our bodies for money to buy food to eat without looks of condemnation, we want to enter church with humble repentance that we committed infidelity but a delighted heart to serve Jesus, we want to be able to walk into church to open arms if we lived a past we aren't particularly proud of and want a start fresh, we want to be able to pour our hearts out to our Pastor without appraising looks of "please keep that to yourself"…. we want to enter a sanctuary without whispers because the church believes we belong there out of love not of the superior thinking: "it's about time you got here, you need it, alright"… we are the folks with bandaged hearts, we are filled with regrets and past hurts… yet in that same hurt we are undeniably over comers (!)… we are a beautiful, yes beautiful mix of damage and guarded wounds with strength and love shining through… we are possibly someone who at one time didn't believe had a need for Jesus, didn't care to know him and filled their life with everything but him… who have been knee deep in sin but now want to love Jesus with their whole heart, to love the outcasts, the downtrodden and homeless, who want to help those who are hanging by their last thread of hope… who want to give of their time and money because Jesus has blessed them… who want to love Jesus with abandon and yearn for that intimacy with him.
We want to be radical.
And yet we maybe don't even know where to start.
We need guidance in our steps.
We can't get there if the church is standing there telling us all the right things (or maybe not) but it's eyes are looking at us like were from Mars and need to head back there… if they don't want to hear about your depression, about your gang rape, about your abusive sociopathic spouse or your divorce… if they don't want to truly hear about the nitty gritty then yeah… you'll leave. And you don't just suffer… but the church suffers… maybe not even realizing it… but they do and not just from a lack of warm bodies in pews and tithes.
Since my divorce I left the church I'd joined… for many reasons that maybe admittedly weren't justified but I struggled in it (still do) and I believe many others have similar struggles. I now attend a different church on a semi regular basis… the bible states we are to worship with fellow believers, as Jesus Christ is the Head of the church… we are to come together, we are the sheep and are to flock together, being subject to the Good Shepherd. When we as sheep stray, when we leave the fold we become vulnerable, defenseless. Of our own accord we risk getting ourselves into a huge pickle no doubt. We as believers, followers of Christ are certainly not as effective on our own sitting at home… but we become more powerful when assembled together as a whole, a body of people to serve, pray, and praise Christ together.
So what is the solution to people leaving the church?
I believe it involves people and the church.
Some of us want churches who are willing to take on the controversial, the ugly, the wretched sins of people… that's life… some of us want churches and pastors who aren't going to shy away from the real, that aren't going to say "I'm not touchingthat issue with a ten foot pole from the pulpit…" We don't want lip service, we don't want glossed over. A large number want churches that are going to spend more money on helping those truly in need in our communities instead of fancy new additions and buildings. We want churches who put people first. We want churches that are assembling prayer groups and ministries to help the distressed, the hungry, the poor, homeless and create or find jobs for people in need. We want churches that focus more on how to have a close relationship with Christ and applying the love he has for us out into the world in real life situations than being passively preached a warm and fuzzy feel good.
Everyone has a different opinion for sure…
As John Lynn points out…
here is where he believes some of the issues arise within the church…
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled “judgmental.” The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.
This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the Body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for.
Maybe we need to be less concerned with the songs played, the band, with the decor, the light shows, with the sermons, etc… we need to focus on what trulymatters… not the superficial bells and whistles. Were not going to church to be entertained. We're not wanting to stay stagnant. Ed Stetzer gets down to what is important in how he explains that to Pastors…
Your hearers need a clear word about exactly who God is in His character, work, and will. People have come to worship with assumptions, presuppositions, and all kinds of religious baggage that wrongly has informed their view of God’s character and what He wants from us. It is only the Word of God rightly explained that can show them the truth and confront these misunderstandings.
No matter who we are and what we've done we want to enter church mask-free and without condemnation. No matter how conservative, how old school, how old fashioned or whatever we look on the outside we all come to Christ with stains. We yearn to know his character and pursue faithfulness... we want churches to realize that yes, we want loving, grace-filled guidance... so on Sunday's when we leave church we are equipped, we can go out into the world and share the good news, the gospel and love Christ has for us... with others no matter who they are and where they've been.
© gps-gracepowerstrength.blogspot.com ~ 2014
Those close to me know I'm likely to get misty-eyed or outright bawl over anything that pulls at my heartstrings. The sentimental, nostalgic, idealistic, romantic, etc… whatever you may call it… some of us cry over even the smallest bits of endearment that cross our paths… whether it be a commercial, a quote, or a movie… there may be tears that ensue. I bawled at the end of the movie Safe Haven… big boo hoo's that required like half a box of Kleenex… I get tears every time I watch The Holiday scene with the little girls tent. My eyes wet listening to Gary Allan sing on the radio… his country songs sum up how beautifully bittersweet life can sometimes be… I shed tears when I hear of someone killed by a drunk driver on the late night news… because I know part of the hell and pain that is impending for their family.
Two years ago when I walked my old neighborhood one late afternoon I encountered an elderly man in his nineties who was raking leaves. He was a frail man with beams in his gray eyes but he was sharp as a tack. We struck up a conversation about his life… his time serving in the war, his job… and when I asked him if he was married his eyes glazed over with sweet recollection and he smiled sadly and said "She passed away three years ago." I told him I was sorry and gave him a comforting pat on his arm, noticing he still wore a gold wedding band. I commented on it and he smiled at me like a dear that he even had to explain and said "Well, yes I do… she's not here but I still love her." It began raining, I bid him goodbye as rain drops speckled my face and shoulders and I bawled the whole way home… where were men like that? In some odd sense he was like a sweet beacon of hope and promise. I sniffed as I wiped my nose like a three year old with my lightweight jacket sleeve.
I didn't have my daughter for Christmas this year so I spent the day in… catching up on things I had been wanting to do… baking brownies, watching some movies, organizing all the important papers that seem to take over in the most innocuous way and finally settling on the couch to read a book I had been wanting to read for quite some time. Maybe you have read it…
In Chapter 3 it talks about Jesus having dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee and the prostitute that attends that dinner to see Jesus… she had no invitation extended to her but she was so determined to see Him because she realized now that God loved her and wanted to forgive her… that He would put the broken pieces of her life back together…
Picture the scene. Jesus is reclining at the table. Instead of using chairs they would lean on an elbow that was propped up by a cushion. Their feet would be away from the table. This woman approaches and stands at the filthy feet of Jesus. The table grows silent. Everybody is watching. Everybody knows who she is. What is she doing? She looks around at the guests. She feels from some that familiar glare of condemnation. Others keep their eyes down, embarrassed by her presence and the awkwardness of the moment. But when she looks at Jesus, he seems to know what has happened in her heart. He gives her a warm smile. He seems delighted that she has come, and he looks at her with the eyes of a loving father watching his beautiful daughter as she enters the room. She has never had a man look at her that way before. She is so undone by this that the tears come, just a few at first, and then more. She falls to the ground and begins to kiss his feet. Soon, the tears are just pouring down her face. They begin to drip onto the dirty feet of Jesus. As she looks at the muddy streaks she suddenly realizes that his feet haven't been washed. She can't ask for a towel, so she lets down her hair. In those days women always wore their hair up in public. For a woman to wear her hair down in front of a man that was not her husband was considered grounds for divorce. She lets her hair down in front of Jesus and there was likely an audible gasp. She begins washing the feet of Jesus with her tears and drying them with her hair.
At the end of the story Jesus says to Simon:
Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn't offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn't greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
Luke 7:44-46 NLT
Here, then, is the question you and I have to ask ourselves:
Who am I most like in the story?
When is the last time you had a moment with Jesus like this woman in Luke 7 had? When's the last time you've poured yourself out before him? When is the last time the tears streamed down your face as you expressed your love for him? When is the last time you demonstrated your love for him with reckless abandonment?
I am not asking if you know about him, I am asking if you know him.
I read that passage and bawled.
Because it really speaks to how important Jesus is.
I was reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman
The question if we know about him or know him cuts right to the point… right to the heart of our relationship or lack thereof with Jesus. So I ask you as well… are we fans or followers of Jesus? It's a good question for us to ask ourselves and reflect on. It forces us to look at the relationship we have with him (or believe we have with him) with fresh eyes and close scrutiny. It has made me re-evaluate with close analysis. If you haven't read this book, it is a must read… Kyle is someone who tells it like it is… his writing is infused with humor yet sobering reflection and honesty.
I want to be moved by life… not embarrassed by it having a tender affect on me. I want to know that the enormity of having a relationship with Jesus, him wanting that relationship, his dying for my sins brings tears to my eyes, that it moves me… because if anything in this world should move me to tears, to a stirring, to action, to gratitude and praise... it is Him.
© gps-gracepowerstrength.blogspot.com ~ 2014
Years ago I bought a black and white print that says "Follow Your Heart" and in it's sleek contemporary black frame and shiny glass I hung it in my bathroom by my sink.
That print now sits gathering dust in a closet. It's funny and bewildering how our perspective can change over time and maybe what we at one time thought was a viable even valid quote now rings as empty to our ears and not bearing fruit. When I overhear women discussing whether to stay in a relationship or not and one of them advises "Follow your heart…" I cringe.
Twenty years ago I myself would have naively and erroneously thought "Oh, how sweet. So true." But now… not so much. What about weighing patterns, observing actions, determining maturity, compatibility and partnership and if you actually like, admire and respect a person? What about determining whether they are a follower of Christ and their life reflects it? Aren't those all oh so importantly vital? Follow your heart wears out, follow your heart means fickle and changing like the wind… because follow your heart means relying on emotions and if my emotion is swell right now… what's not to like? Full speed ahead with following my heart (!)… until one day I wake up and look over at this person and realize I settled for what I wanted right then instead of holding out for who was best suited long term… <gasp>, maybe what God wanted. It's risky following your heart as it leads to loss and heartache, not fruit and life.
I wish I could go
back and tell
my twenty-something self
all this but it's too late.
I believe one of the worst things
we can ever utter to a teenager
or twenty something year old young woman
or man is:
"Follow Your Heart."
If we look to the short term like following our heart we can incur unfinished results, maybe even devastating outcomes… we get bored with of-the-moment-hobbies, we get lazy with projects, we become disengaged. But following what is important to us? Or who is important to us? Meaning following Christ? Following something worthwhile that will bring positive longterm change to one person or to many? Doing something with passionate joy that will bring glory to God? He and those are what matter and are for the long-haul.
Following our heart means:
this feels great, what the heck, let's just go with it, YAY!
Following our heart when it comes to love can lead us astray and into a terrible mess. Following our heart can lead to choosing spouses and marriages that aren't really right for us… leading to divorce, broken families and disarray. Post divorce we all perhaps feel a bit banged up, some more than others… hindsight may be 20/20 and part of us may really want to find someone special at some point… but that as we all know can bring many challenges. Men and women may both take one path post divorce that entails swearing off the opposite sex, deciding it's just not worth the effort and the risk of getting burned again… or they may go the opposite direction… and jump in the deep end, following their heart again… and like some sort of chaotic bumper car recklessly bounce off from one relationship to the next trying to "make something work." Or maybe they step out with caution not really sure what to do… comparable to attempting to finding their footing on uneven land.
I dipped my own toes in a wee bit by signing up for a few dating sites post divorce and some of the mere messages I received on them left me hanging up my subscription about as quick as I signed up. One of the messages I received was from a guy stating he was looking for a princess to live in the castle of happily ever after with him. For a moment I wondered if he mistakenly thought he was on a site that recruits characters for Disney but came to the conclusion that wasn't the case.
"Princess" Defined by Urban Dictionary is:
a girl who has been sheltered, spoiled and pampered
That definition also eerily resembles an odd hostage situation
that takes place in a hair and nail salon to me
Are Disney movies and fairy tales closely linked to telling girls it's okay to follow their heart? Belle fell in love with a beast, Jasmine married a thief, Ariel physically changed for love. What are these messages sending our girls? And to boys? That both sexes will accept anything?
"We have to declare
a princess-free zone.
No tiaras, no Girl's Gone Wild,
no pretending we can't carry things.
No fairy tales, no waiting around
to be rescued and absolutely
no playing dumb."
- Shauna Niequist
Applause and Amen to all that.
"As women God doesn't want us to follow our heart on some whim because it feels good, or it gets us hot and bothered in all the right/wrong places or use our female body parts as some sort of super power wielding weapons of sorts… nor sit passively with pampered entitlement under a crown…but to stand up straight and tall in modest fashion and strive to be the strong, charitable, kind, hardworking and spirited women He made us to be."
- Jennifer Gafford
Just the other day while shopping I rearranged the Barbies at my local Target, giving Detective Barbie, Soccer Barbie and Chef Barbie primo real estate on the shelf and tossing Princess Barbie to the back. Back in the 70's or 80's growing up Mattel had a commercial that sang "We girl's can do anything, right, Barbie?" I wish they'd replay those. Girls benefit growing up knowing they are perfectly capable of making choices that reflect strength and purpose not passivity, making wise choices in dating that reflect God's desire for them not fruitless whims or following their reckless hearts.
Dating is challenging for anyone, both sexes, no doubt. Specifically for single parents, dating is an entirely different ballgame than if sans children. Now we have little people to consider and how will this new person, really any potential new person affect the existing dynamic? How will they fit in? Will everyone get along? Plus dealing with the periodic painful times that crop up where your children are still undeniably dealing with the loss of their original family unit definitely factors in. Divorce wounds us all… it wounds us as adults and can shatter our confidence, breeding uncertainty and may keep us from moving forward. We may come to a somewhat entitled conclusion from all that pain that "we've had all we should have to endure" if anything out of broken exhaustion and believe it should be "easy street" from here out in terms of finding a compatible Christ-following partner. But, yikes, not likely...
We want to make wise, healthy choices… we want to make sure we aren't repeating negative patterns by following our heart, we want to make sure we are following what God would want for us, not what feels good in this heated moment… we don't want to latch onto toxic individuals like we've already been with or re-play unhealthy dynamics that eerily resemble those from a noxious childhood. It's imperative we take things slow and are cognizant of any warning signs… to not push them away or attempt to justify them no matter how tempting. Here are a few things to consider if you're single and beginning to date again…
5 Tips For Dating:
1. Take it slow… seems to be a no-brainer but with emotions, attraction and libido's in high gear it can be so easy to jump on the expressway to exclusive and then want to put the brakes on. It's next to impossible to get back to where we were once a relationship's progression has gone too far whether it be emotionally or physically.
2. Look for consistency and patterns… are their actions consistent? Are there any negative patterns jumping out at us? Look to actions not words. Our hearts are deceitful but following Christ we can never go wrong. Having Christ as the center of our relationship will keep us grounded and look to the long term not the immediate.
3. As single parents keeping our dating undercover… it's upsetting to children to parade around a new person, especially too soon. It makes them feel insecure and anxious. The best time to (slowly) introduce someone were serious about is after it's established were together. Regularly giving children reassurance that they are loved even though we are seeing someone affirms they have great importance in our life.
4. Letting our children openly express their feelings about our dating… how do they feel about the changes? Do they like the person? They don't have to immediately accept the person were with and putting pressure upon either the person were with or our children may backfire. Let everyone take the time they need to adjust.
5. As parents we are ultimately the role model for our children. We can set the example of using wisdom and caution in who we choose to date or we can fly by the seat of our pants like a teenager high on the hallucinogenics of following the pitter pattering of our fickle wayward heart and like that print in my closet unfortunately accumulate a lot of dust and debris along the way.
© gps-gracepowerstrength.blogspot.com ~ 2014