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?

The Whole Story

Do you have a childhood dream that still sits in your heart and mind? That you go back to when you daydream?  Since I can remember, I have wanted to tell stories. Then it morphed into writing and then into writing articles and books.

I fulfilled part of that dream recently. I wrote a book and it’s being published next month. I wrote it with pastors’ wives in mind but it’s for anyone who ever felt they didn’t fit the role they were in. Pastor’s wife, ministry leader, mother…

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I set out to write a guide because I felt so lost as to what it was I was supposed to be doing as the spouse of a pastor. (Seriously, seminaries need to offer courses for the spouses! But I digress.) The book did not turn out to be a guide.  I never really figured out what I was doing so how could I instruct others?! Instead, it’s about how God can use each one of us, even when we think He’s made a mistake in choosing us because….you fill in the blank.

It took over ten years to write it. I began the project when my boys were teeny tiny. On Mark’s day off, I would head to his office for a couple of hours to write. On the way, I’d grab a Tim’s (that’s Canada speak for coffee), a bagel and cream cheese (those were the days I could eat cream cheese). Then I’d sit, savouring the food, the coffee and the quiet. Then I’d get to work.

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I didn’t own a laptop so I’d write old school or I’d borrow Mark’s laptop and then email my document to myself. I lost a whole chapter once. It wasn’t always easy or convenient but it was important that I carve out that time.

Many of those years were tumultuous and the writing was a cathartic exercise. It provided a way to put a voice on the last few years of ministry, marriage and motherhood. It provided me an outlet to vent my frustrations, anger and sadness. It opened a door to look for God in it all. It maintained my sanity.

I have a gem of a husband who not only encouraged me to go on his day off but insisted on it if I tried to get out of it. He knew I was a better mom and wife when I had time to myself, to do the things I loved. I realize that not everyone has this. I am so grateful.

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I tried to walk away from this book, this message, so many times. I didn’t always want to be the messenger.

I finished most of the writing a couple of years ago. I tried unsuccessfully to pitch the book with publishers but they felt it was too much of a niche book.

Last spring I heard about a Canada wide contest for non-fiction faith manuscripts by women. I decided to enter.

I didn’t win but I placed as one of the four finalists. It opened the door to publishing. And here I am. Scared out of my wits and crazy excited at the same time.

It’s been a lesson in perseverance. We want what we want right now. We are impatient. I am one of the worst. I am surprised that God stuck with me because honestly, I’ve been a bit of a brat over the years. But then, that’s grace, right? We are given what we don’t deserve. That’s love. That’s God, I Am.

If you have a dream, a vision, something laid upon your heart and you think there’s an expiry date, stop. As long as you breathe, there is no expiry date on your dream. Keep taking the next step.

The end result is worth it, but it’s the journey there, that gives it value. It’s in the journey that the message on your heart gets it’s first student. (You.) It’s the path there, that teaches the lessons, sustains growth and prunes the rot. In the end, you reach your destination (book, dream, etc.) which is totally awesome, but really, you are the prize.

Because along the journey, you have matured, deepened your relationship with God and are that much closer to being who you were created to be.

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It’s an awesome experience to see a dream fulfilled. It is humbling to put something you created out there for people to read, dissect and judge. They may love it or they may hate it. I have freaked out at both aspects. It’s taking me way out of my comfort zone.

In the bigger picture, beyond my comfort,  I am excited to see what God is going to do. This is not my book. It’s not my message. It’s His and I’m anxious to see where He’s going with it. I want to see Him do what He does best.  Work the impossible.

I’m going to enjoy this gift while it lasts, but I’m also looking to Him for the future, for the next adventure.

What We Should Be Fighting For

Dear Bride of Christ (aka the North American Church),

The church is the beloved Bride of Christ.  God’s plan to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Yet here in North America, you make me sad. As the world continues to get more confounding, I find you do too.
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I don’t understand all the fighting. In case you aren’t active on social media, with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, there has been a growing disagreement amongst believers in North America over going to church on Christmas Day.  In one corner, we have the Go To Church or You are Bad. In the other corner are the If You Don’t Go to Church You Love Your Family More. Does it really matter?

Is there a right or wrong here? You do what’s best for your family. If you’ve got twenty dinners to attend on Christmas Day and going to church is going to wipe you out, is it sinful to skip it? If going to church will make the day even better, does that mean you love your family less?

I admit, I started to get swept up in it too. It’s so easy to make swift judgements and proclamations. But why does it matter what someone else is doing? Why are we fighting about this? Is it really going to matter when we stand before God whether we went to church on Christmas?

It got me to thinking as I thought about this more…The fighting might be an issue. It’s a stupid thing to fight about and the joke’s on us. There are people who look at the church and chalk it up to one more thing Christians do that makes absolutely no sense. Especially at Christmas! Why would they want to come among a group of people to celebrate love and peace when those same people can’t seem to get along and aren’t very nice in the process? It makes me sad because the church was meant to be so much more. We are the Bride of Christ. Instead it seems in North America we tend to fight and judge and turn on each other too much of the time.

Now I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that this is not every church or every Christian. Some are doing it really well. But others….

If we are in a fighting mood then here’s what I think we as the church should be fighting for:

– all the children who are starving in the world. The children who forage in the dumps for a crust of bread. It might be the only meal for the day. If they’re lucky.
– the widows and orphans who are fighting to stay alive. Every. Single. Day.
– those who are alone, depressed, alienated and lost.
– those who are suffering because someone they loved is no longer here.
– those who are sick and hurting.
– all the people who live in nursing homes and never have a visitor.
– those who have so much stuff they can’t see what they really need.

Who’s fighting for them?

Beloved, we are the ones who have been given the task of bringing the Good News of God’s love for his people, to those around us. It’s inside us to give that gift not in a pushy, self-righteous, I’m right you’re wrong way. It’s inside us to give that gift in love, in relationship, in humility.

Christ left his Father in Heaven to come down and be here with us. This is astoundingly good news and yet we are fighting about whether it’s right or wrong to go to church on Christmas Day, among other things?

We are given the task to be the hands and feet of Christ. What would happen if we as the church actually did that on Christmas Day and on into the new year?

It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe it’s a kind smile along with helping to shovel snow for an elderly neighbour. Or some extra cash given without strings or a tax receipt to someone who needs it more than we do. What if it’s being kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it but probably needs a good dose of love right about now? Or putting down our phones, or work or books, and being engaged with our children? How ‘bout seeing someone who feels invisible?

Maybe, just maybe, could we set aside ourselves for a minute, and go, be the Bride of Christ to those around us? Mirror Jesus to those who are begging for just a glimpse of hope this Christmas and new year.

He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
Micah 6:8 NIV

Summer Rest

Jesus sent out his disciples two by two, for a time, to do the work of the Kingdom.  After they returned to Jesus, “they reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Mark 6:30-31

Jesus knew all about ministry.  He also practiced rest.  He understood that his disciples needed a quiet place to unwind, debrief and rest.  I think a quiet place with Jesus right about now sounds good.  Although I haven’t been all that regular blogging this summer due to a variety of reasons, this next week I am resting so there will be no blog.   I hope wherever you are in the next week, that you make some quiet time to be alone with Jesus to rest, debrief, and unwind.  Whatever your ministry, whether it be in the home, at a church or in the workplace, it/they will benefit greatly if you take a respite from it/them, even for a little bit of time.  I’m looking forward to hearing God’s voice in the quiet.

Happy Resting

Jen