Why Go To Church?

A few days ago, I read a blog by a woman whose husband died last month from cancer. She writes that as a widow, she doesn’t care if her church is trendy or if it has a coffee bar. She is hurting and she needs Jesus.  You can read it here. It’s worth the time. I happen to agree with her.  Even if you don’t, she makes some very good points.  (BTW this is not a rebuttal blog at all.  She got me thinking, that’s all.)

Being in church leadership, I understand why churches are resorting to cafes and hipster tactics. As leadership, we are told again and again how the millennials and everyone else is leaving the church en masse or not entering it in the first place. People think church is archaic and irrelevant in today’s world. They don’t have time for church. People have been wounded by the church and people professing to be Jesus followers. There are all sorts of reasons why people don’t go to church. But hey, Starbucks is full on a Sunday morning. So I get why churches are deciding to incorporate the trendy into Sunday morning tradition. Sometimes you just want to get people to come out because they have to be inside to hear about Jesus. To meet Him.

Thankfully we have the freedom to choose the church we attend. Some of us are visual learners so a video or drama helps us learn better. Some of us learn by writing notes during the sermon. Some of us learn by doodling through the sermon – our hands busy while our minds take in the words. Churches don’t all need to be the exact replica of one type of church. We were all created unique by a very big God. It’s okay if our churches are different from each other.  As long as Jesus is our priority.

Some will argue that no, they don’t need to be in church. They can learn about Jesus elsewhere. In nature. In other relationships. I would agree but just like church, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Our relationship with God is not one dimensional. We need it all; nature, godly relationships and church.

There’s one other thing. I know it’s hard to believe but some people encounter Jesus for the first time ever in a church!!! I know, right?

The one thing that must happen in church is Jesus is preached. The Word of God must be taught and then lived out. Especially by those in leadership. Jesus must be present in order to be experienced.

To be honest though, I’m like everyone else. I don’t always want to go to church. Sometimes it’s just a single Sunday. Other times it’s been for a season. There are a number of reasons why. But after reading this blog, I have to ask myself, Why am I going to church? As a pastor’s wife, I kinda have to. That’s one reason. But that really isn’t good enough for me.

Why do I go to church? That question coincided with my Lent reading from Margaret Feinberg’s #Beloved study of John. I was a day behind so the passage was from John 5. It’s about the man who sits beside the pool waiting for the water to be stirred. He can’t get himself in because he is paralyzed. Jesus comes to him and asks him a bizarre question. “Do you want to get well again?” (John 5:6 Phillips) Really? Of course he wants to get well!

 

Jesus’ question had nagged at me throughout the day. It was a main point in Margaret’s blog about the reading too. After reading the widow’s blog about church, I put the two questions together. Why am I even going to church? Do I want to get well again?  I think the two are very connected.

Even though the church has many faults, God still wants us there. It is a place of fellowship and community that is centred around Him. There is healing and hope in hearing about other’s people’s journeys. It’s one of the widow’s main points about church. She wants to hear about people’s own stories of God not what the flavour of coffee is. She’s absolutely right. It’s through our stories that we get to know God better. That it becomes personal. One of the places this should happen is our churches. (Sometimes the leadership gets their priorities mixed up.)

It also is a place of learning. The pastor has been taught to teach the bible. More than one message I have heard in a lifetime of sermons has cut me to the close. Changed me.

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Do I want to be healed? Do I really? Or would I rather just sit by the pool and make excuses? Put up my walls and shrug, “Oh well, guess that’s not for me?”

Do you want to get well again?  He’s asking us today that very same question.

Yes I do. I think that’s why I don’t leave church. It’s not perfect but at the moment it’s what we’ve got.

It’s also a place I have encountered Jesus more than once. Like in ancient times,when Jesus taught in the Temple, His presence is still in our churches today when we invite Him to come, bringing healing and power. It comes through His Word, through people acting as His hands and feet and through the testimony of His people.  As I head out to church, a part deep inside hopes to meet Jesus there as I stop and sit. I probably will have to surrender my own will. I may have to let people help me, carrying me to the pool. I may have to take down my protective walls, but He’s there waiting.

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Me. You. We just need to come.

Do you want to get well again?

Lent: Learning to be #Beloved

Lent has begun. I skipped pancake Tuesday because well, I hate pancakes. Too much sweet and honestly, it’s breakfast for supper which I despise.

However, I decided to join Margaret Feinberg in reading through the Book of John and colouring and doodling my way through her book Beloved: 40 Days in the Gospel of John. I went through the New Testament with Margaret a few years ago during Lent, which I really enjoyed.  This year’s idea intrigued me.

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To be honest, I haven’t participated in Lent recently. Bible reading had become a chore and a have-to-do and so I stopped. What was the point if I was just going to be fake about it, right? So I read when I felt like it but mostly I didn’t engage in daily devotions. There I admitted it.

By the end of 2016, God was nudging me. It was time. I picked up Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I had read it before and liked it. It appealed to me. It was short but meaningful. A good start for a prodigal bible reader.

I’ve kept it up too because at some point you have to stop going by feeling and instead go by faith. But I felt the need for more.

Then, I saw Margaret’s book and decided to order it and work through it for Lent. I liked the idea of marking the text in colour and the creative aspect of working my way through scripture. I hoped it would help me to love reading God’s Word again or at least ignite a spark.

Margaret admitted to starting early because she was so excited so I admit I cheated a bit too and read the scripture through yesterday and started to circle the verbs in red. I was in a bit of a panic because I wasn’t sure I could spend that much time in the Word. I doubted myself as I read. What was a verb again? (Hello, English major here!) I thought to myself, “I can’t do this! It won’t be perfect!” But I made myself start.

I’m glad I did because today was not a good start to Lent. I was grouchy. The basement has a leak that we can’t find. It rained all night. Life happens and I forgot about Lent and reading Beloved.

I saw the email in my inbox after dropping the boys off at school. A reminder. I realized I didn’t really want to do the day’s reading. I wasn’t feeling it. Ironically, Margaret has suggested asking ourselves at the end of the day’s reading, “What do I most need to read but least want to hear?” Welllll today I just plain didn’t want to read God’s Word, any part of it but it’s what I most needed. Maybe not a great way to start Lent but for me, today, it is what’s happening. It’s what’s real.

The good news? God meets us in our very real places. Once I got reading and marking and colouring, I had fun! It’s the best time I’ve spent in God’s Word in a long time. It was just for me. No studying for a message or any other agenda. It was just time for me and God. I felt lighter for it.

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I’m pretty sure I’m going to be challenged by both scripture and the discipline of sticking to the readings, this Lent season. I have let these muscles atrophy. But already I have learned that God doesn’t expect perfection. (Thank you Margaret for making that point!) I don’t need to mark up my book perfectly to learn from it. I just have to do it! He graciously and generously fills in the rest.

What are you doing for Lent this year? It doesn’t have to be complicated. I think if you just take the step forward, He’ll meet you wherever you are. Because that’s His character and He loves you so very much.

Here’s a link to find out more about Margaret Feinberg’s Beloved study for Lent.

 

TURN to that Echo

Lately, God’s been trying to get my attention. He may have been trying for more than a while, but it’s now hard to ignore. Because it’s so obvious and blatant.

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My experience with God has mostly been gentle, subtle nudges. As I write that, I am surprised. Because of late, I may not have described God using those words. Gentle.  Subtle.  That’s not been my opinion of Him in recent months.

Stopping to think about it, I may have been hasty. I projected my feelings onto God instead of trusting who He is.  Who I know He is.  Anne Graham Lotz in her book, Wounded By God’s People, warns about not being fooled by thinking people’s behaviour is an indicator of God’s.  It’s not.  Neither should we trust our feelings.  If we are irritated, angry or hurt, we sometimes let our feelings colour how we view Him. How He deals with us. She’s right.   I know I do that. So I’m a little surprised that I wrote that; gentle and kind.  But it is truth. He has been that and so much more even though I’ve been anything but. Stubborn and hostile would be better adjectives to describe myself.  Thankfully God doesn’t stoop to our petty levels.

Even now, it’s not a head bashing he’s given me to get my attention. It’s still a gentle nudge with a little force behind it. Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not. If you’ve had  personal interaction with God and been a little strong-willed at all, I’m guessing you know what I’m referring to.

The other thing that’s different this time is it’s relentless. That echo.

Margaret Feinberg calls it The Sacred Echo and she wrote a wonderful book about it. The Sacred Echo is when the same message keeps coming back to you. It may be through a song, a book, scripture or even a meme. (It happens, yes even through FB.) Ir can be anything.

The message stays the same even though the messenger may change. Or the message and the messenger can all stay the same.  It’s unique to you.  Because that’s how He made us.

These “Sacred Echoes” are all around us if we choose to listen to them. To open our eyes to them. That is what Feinberg shows us through her book.

For me, personally, it is one of the primary ways God communicates with me. I think because I’m stubborn and strong-willed the echo works for me, because it takes me a couple of times to see it and then it may take a few more echoes to actually get me moving. Or believing. Or stopping. Or TURNING.

TURNING towards those echoes is always the best way to go. You know that too. Although we don’t always do it. Or want to do it. But when we do, it always leads to blessing, fulfilment and contentment. When I write and say those words, I’m not talking about an easy life or material gain. Sometimes that’s a bonus if God desires it for us.

Instead, it’s an inner peace. A knowledge that we are in the exact spot where He wants us. It might be a hard spot but we aren’t alone.  That our relationship is good. A feeling of delight that we are in His Will. Of being unshakable in an eternal sense.

TURNING towards that echo, opens the door to all kinds of spiritual blessings, victories and journeys that honestly, I don’t think we are capable of understanding in this earthly realm. It would blow our minds.

So today, if you hear something and then hear it again, maybe you should stop and TURN towards it and listen. It may be a message to go. It may be a directive to do. It may be an I LOVE YOU, YOU AREN’T ALONE hug. Whatever it is, it’s important enough, that He is willing to keep sending it until you TURN.

The Hidden

If you kill the good girl, then you at some point, you have to figure out the girl who is left behind.

It’s a lot more difficult to do than it is to write it down here. It’s easier to hide behind the imposter. Or insert a new one. Walk away and leave the hidden original buried. Hiding and invisibility have been a couple of “sacred echoes” as Margaret Feinberg calls them, that have been weaving in and out of my life for a while now. You know those messages that keep repeating themselves in books, movies, conversations, etc. For me, it usually means God’s trying to have a conversation with me about whatever it is that is echoing down the corridors of my life. You’ve had it happen too.

Last week, my husband and I went out and saw the movie Joy. (Fantastic movie!) In the movie, one of the themes is hiding. At one point Joy realizes that she had been hiding for too long in a long list of responsibilities. She’s killed off a part of herself that was vital to her not just living, but thriving. (Killing off this part of you is not the same as killing off the good girl/imposter. It is just the opposite.) Joy realizes that sometimes in hiding, you hide from yourself. For those of us who have hidden parts of ourselves away, we know that it can kill joy (pun not intended) as well as creativity, fun, hope, etc., etc..

We hide behind the roles we are given. We hide behind the truck load of responsibilities we all have. We hide behind our work. We hide behind our front doors. And we hide behind the imposters and the masks.

But if you kill the imposter, whoever she/he is, then it’s time to stare down the real person hiding and drag her out into the light.

It’s not about reinventing yourself. It’s about discovering the person who has been there all along. The person you thought wasn’t good enough to be seen by others. The person you probably thought wasn’t worth the time or effort. Who was too much or too little. It can be a little disconcerting to be suddenly left with this person who you no longer really know or understand. Reacquainting yourself is gonna take some time and effort. It’s worth it because it’s life giving.

The funny thing is that Jesus never lost sight of him or her. Jesus always saw the real person. He saw the man hidden behind the legions of demons. He saw the woman behind the false bravado and reputation at the well. He saw the heart of a disciple behind the tax collector. The courageous leader behind the fisherman. He sees the entrepreneur behind the mom struggling to look after three, under the age of two. He sees the leader behind the gang banger. He sees the artist behind the bookworm. They were all hidden but Jesus saw the real them, right from the start. He cut through all the lies, the layers of identities and covers. He knew them because He’d created them.

He created them for a purpose. He’s waiting for them to show up. So is the world. Because they have a job only they can do.

I’m reminded of the song i used to sing as a little kid. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

The little light we were created with, it isn’t with the imposter. It’s inside the real person who we sometimes hide away. It’s time to get to know him or her and find the light and let it shine.

Matthew 5:15The Voice  Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house.

What’s your ‘sacred echo” today?  What parts of you have you hidden away? Why?

Mary’s Faith

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.    Luke 1:45

Reading my Advent Devotional by Margaret Feinberg this morning, I came across this verse.  It burned into my mind.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, was exceptional.  Told she would have a child, although she was a virgin and he would be the Son of God, she did not freak out.  She was troubled and she asked for clarification.  Which is different from doubting.

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Zechariah, who was married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, was much older than Mary and a priest no less, doubted the angel’s words that his wife, who was beyond childbearing years, would have a son.  He did not believe what the Lord told him would be accomplished.  He saw only impossibility.

I wish I could say I’m like Mary but it’s Zechariah that I mirror.  It’s that last part of the verse that’s the kicker for me.  I can believe in God but honestly I don’t always have faith that what He has said will be accomplished.  Instead I feel confident that some parts of what he said will happen.  I readily accept that it won’t come about like I thought or hoped.  Which is a cop out for me because then I don’t have to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

Oh I believe in the big stuff.  Salvation.  Forgiveness.  It’s the little mundane stuff that I have trouble with. The individual visions, he’s given us.  Callings that he’s asked us to pursue.  My faith is weak on this point.

Sometimes God works in the ways I’ve described.  We get to see pieces of the pie but not the whole thing.  He doesn’t give us an answer to our “why”.  Other times he does.  He works in mysterious ways.  Ways that we don’t understand and things come about very different from we imagined they would.  Better than we could have dreamed. Other times we need to change our perception and accept a new way that we certainly didn’t think or want to occur.

None of this is bad.  We can never perceive how God works.  He is the creator of the universe.  He sees things that we don’t and never will.  He is God.  The issue is my attitude.  Is it yours?  We doubt so we won’t be disappointed.  We’re skeptical because we’re too afraid of what will happen if it is accomplished.  We sabotage our faith.  What would our lives look like if we truly believed that what God said to us would be accomplished?

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Mary had faith in God.  She believed he would be as good as his word.  It carried her through some extremely tough times.  To the birth of Christ and then onto the cross.  I think in some ways Mary knew that what God said would be accomplished, went way beyond nine months.  Maybe that’s where the fear comes instead of faith.  We know that what God has told us is more than an event, it’s going to go on for years.  It may be painful.  We don’t want that to be accomplished.

But the alternative?  Zechariah doubted and was mute until John was born.  Why mute?  Maybe Zechariah needed to be silent so he could observe God at work.  Become more in tune with him so that he would believe God. Period.  Not being able to talk would give one a very different perspective on life!

Is our skepticism causing some kind of muteness in our lives?  Maybe it’s missing out on a deeper relationship with God.  Maybe doubt is causing other things to become silent because there’s no faith there to keep them alive.  Or it could be they are muted because we need to hear God before and more than anything else.

Maybe what God told us He was going to do has become an idol.  It’s about the endgame not about the God who will do it.  We have focused on the result instead of letting the journey there bring us closer to the Father.

The Father, who sent His Son, the salvation of the world, so that we could have relationship with Him.  This is what it’s all about.  He set out to have relationship with us.  Doubt holds us back.  Belief draws us close.

Be not afraid, only believe.  Mark 5:36

 

Potholes, First Response and Lent

 

I’m not sure about where you live but our roads are full of potholes!  Ones that make you go ouch! and hope and pray that your tires and underside are still there!  The deep freeze of 2014 has caused major upheaval on our roads.  Potholes can bang your car around, cause major damage to tires among other things and basically trip you up.

I hate the potholes that life brings too.  Things that may seem minor but can cause deep lasting damage.  The effect of going over too many.  Wearing you down.  I’m tired of being banged around, blindsided and then reacting to them.

My goal: respond rather than react.  Much harder said than done, if you have always been a reactor like me, not a responder.  Two of my sisters have been ER nurses and one is married to an ambulance attendant.  They are called first responders for a reason.  They go in prepared.  They don’t react to a crisis, they respond.  They’ve trained so they know what to do when a situation arises.

I want to be a first responder not a first reactor.  First reactors cause a bigger mess, more damage.  I’ve done it a hundred times.  Yuk.

I’ve been thinking about Lent.  I know, how does this have to relate to potholes and first responders, right?  Stay with me.  I have really been trying to respond not react in my life.  Be a participant rather than a bystander, just letting life happen.  So many holidays go by and I feel empty.  I haven’t prepared for them in my heart.  It happens.  I get it.  But I’m a little tired of it happening to me.

I felt God nudge me to walk more intentionally by his side as the new year approached.  One area that needed attention was confession.  I admit, I blew through my “I’m sorrys” if I did them at all.  I didn’t really sit down and take it seriously.  I didn’t have time.  I didn’t really examine my heart.  God was telling me it was time to grow up in this area.

As I’ve been on the journey of confession, on the horizon appeared Lent.  It got my attention.  Unlike Advent, I was open to the idea of Lent.  Advent felt like a HAVE TO but Lent is a I WANT TO.  This is partly due to the fact, I’m in a bible study this winter, studying the life of Jesus.  My heart is open not closed.

The other reason is a book, Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg, I read last spring.  She has a wonderful chapter on prayer and Lent.  Margaret writes, “Maybe instead of asking, What are we giving up for Lent? we need to ask, Who and what are we trying to receive through Lent?”  (p. 82)

I really like the shift of focus off my self-denial and onto the One who Lent is really about.  That doesn’t mean self-denial isn’t part of it but the focal point is off my personal martyrdom.

In those forty days of Lent, I want to walk beside Jesus, like the disciples.  As we’ve studied Jesus in our study, it’s been interesting to see how much of an effect Jesus has on those who draw near Him.  His Holiness, His Majesty, His Love, His Truth reveal people’s hearts.  Those whose hearts are open to Him reveal gratitude, love, reverence, to name a few.  Those whose hearts are far from Him, reveal judgement, fear, pride, hate and self-preservation.  I want my heart revealed this Lent. I want to be affected by Jesus in these forty days.  Then the potholes won’t trip me up because I’ve trained alongside Him and I can respond rather than react.

Can this happen in forty days?  Honestly I feel a little afraid, doubtful.  My faith is immature when it comes to trust.  “Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) I whisper.  My head knowledge is telling me that God is faithful.  I’ve seen it again and again in the scriptures.  I think I just need to take the first step.

How to accomplish this?  I’m praying about reading through the new testament with Margaret Feinberg through Lent.  (see widget on sidebar)  The New Testament in forty days?  That’s a commitment and a sacrifice of time.  I’ll have to be intentional about it.  Not let the potholes of life distract me.

Do you practice Lent?  If so what are you doing?  If not, why not?