Kind Of Like A First Date

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Credit for Drawing: Audrey McCray

This summer, I did something that I have never done before: I visited a different church each Sunday. Living between two metropolitan areas, I had often wondered about the many churches that I pass by in my normal routine.

Choosing a church to visit has kind of felt like preparing for a first date. With today’s technology, I narrowed down the churches by going online first. Would we be a good match? What do they look like on the inside? I put names and faces together so I wasn’t walking in blind. It gave me a sense of their history and their future before we officially met.

On the day of, I fretted over what to wear. I didn’t want to be overdressed or underdressed for the occasion or the location of our meeting. I thought about conversation starters and prepared my answers. Would we hit it off? Would the first impression lead to a long-term relationship? The pressure was on.

And the result? There is a church for everyone. I don’t buy the excuse that people aren’t in church because they can’t find the right church. I visited a church where animals were welcomed. (I missed the week that the miniature donkey was present.) I visited a church where the stained glass windows and extra-high cathedral ceilings transported me to another era. At  one church, the only decoration was a rough-hewn cross at the front and it was enough.

The Holy Spirit is alive and well in our churches. Together with the congregations, I rejoiced over baptisms, mourned for the death of their loved ones, and prayed for God’s glory to be revealed through their ministries. Each church was a family that genuinely cared for people inside and outside of the church.

I was filled with hope for the future. There was a dizzying array of opportunities for the next generation to know, to grow, and to sow for Jesus: Children’s Moments, overnight “lock-ins,” and weekly programs. I’m not sure when I became part of the older crowd, but I was excited to be alongside the next generation in church.

I heard God-inspired messages from many different pastors with many different personalities. I am encouraged that God can and does use each one of us to bless others. We have the freedom to be who we are in Christ.

From the very first date, Jesus Christ was my soulmate. Church is the place where I can celebrate that perfect match made in heaven. .

Hebrews 10:25

Let 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.

 

Ephesians 2:19

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

 

No More Excuses Please!

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Let’s stop making excuses for each other.

I am referring to how Christians sometimes relate to each other in regards to those often unintentional and little sins that hurt feelings. The excuses seem reasonable. “They have a lot going on in their life right now.” “But, they have a good heart.” “You know that they didn’t mean anything by it.”

As Christians, we often equate forgiveness with a do-over, where we just move on and forget the ugliness. And, yes, there are those times where we simply let love cover over a multitude of sins. But there are also many times when God intends a lesson for us as a family of believers by owning up to the ugliness.

I lost my best friend through a missed opportunity and a lesson left unsaid. I made a comment that upset my friend. We had been friends for years and shared our deepest thoughts as we navigated the parenting of teenagers. I was clueless to the effect of my words, but she wasn’t. And yet, she said nothing to me. By the time I figured it out, there was a palpable difference in our relationship. I verbally apologized. I formally apologized with a handwritten card, but it was all to no avail.

Years later, that loss of friendship is still one of my bigger regrets and one of the most important lessons that I learned. The comment I made reflected an attitude of sin that needed to be dealt with at the time the words rolled off my tongue. I wish my friend would have found the boldness to correct me. I would have learned the lesson much sooner. I would have matured in my faith more gracefully without the collateral damage. And I’m sure we would still be friends today.

Sin is always sin, whether it is accidental or minor in the big picture of the fallen world. Sin of any magnitude can have lasting ramifications. Let’s stop making excuses for one another. Instead, in Christ’s love, let’s spur each other on to the next level of mature faith by calling any type of sin what it really is: ugly and hurtful.

 

 Galatians 6:1

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

 

Hebrews 10:24

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

 

Blowing in the Wind

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From the window, my husband caught a glimpse of paper flying by. Our recyclables sailed over our lawn and on down the street. The wind had knocked over our recycling can and was in the process of emptying it. We ran outside and surveyed the situation. Our recyclables were lying on the street, tucked into neighbors’ landscape, clinging to fences and littering lawns. Not the type of introduction we wanted as the newest neighbors. We ran after the recyclables and traipsed through our neighbors’ yards. It was not fun, but it was the right thing to do. That morning, my Bible study was on 1 Peter 3. Verse 14 came to mind, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” I’m not saying that we “suffered” for chasing after our recyclables during a wind advisory. Nonetheless, the principle of that verse applied to our situation. We did the right thing. We could have ignored the recyclables that were now trash in our neighbors’ yards. How would they know it was us? It wasn’t our fault, the wind was crazy that morning. The paper would degrade over time. Lots of excuses to not do the right thing. What were the blessings? I met a new neighbor for the first time when I asked permission to enter her fenced-in backyard. It was a good reminder to be careful what I put in the recyclables. You never know where your “name” may end up. It prompted us to figure out a way to keep the can closed and secure. It was a legitimate mini-workout with wind resistance. Doing right more often than not, requires more of us: more time, more energy, more money and so forth. The bottom line is that doing right will cost us something. However, the cost and the suffering is not to be our focus. The resulting blessings of doing right serve as our hope and our motivation to persevere. It is Jesus’s way. It is our way as followers of Jesus.

 

1 Peter 3:14

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”

Hebrews 10:36

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

 

Three Questions for 2015

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Holidays are a time to catch up with out-of-town family. Over the years, I have discovered an extra joy: worshiping together in their home church. Being in God’s house away from home, I always learn something new and am prompted to reflect on God’s word. This past Christmas was no exception. In her sermon, the pastor posed three questions:

1. What gift has God given to you?

2. What gift do you give to the world because of God’s gift to you?

3. What is the song of your heart?

These are my type of questions in that they bypass the fluff and get right to the heart of the matter. The first question: what gift has God given to me? Salvation is the obvious answer. Without God’s salvation, I would have nothing of eternal value. But that wasn’t my answer. My answer was hope. The birth of Jesus and the realized promise of salvation fill me with hope. Hope for every circumstance and relationship in my life. Hope for my future, both here on earth and in heaven. And hope for living the life of hope that God has called me to. The second question: what gift do I give to the world because of God’s gift to me? Hmm, as a professing Christian, I should have many good answers. I went with the first one to pop into my head: love. Because God’s hope swells up inside of me, I can express and share God’s love. In a world beset with wars, political divisiveness and bitterness, love is a beacon of hope. Love starts with me in my little corner of the world and can spread beyond my reach through God’s reach to the world. The last question: what is the song of my heart? This was the hardest question. I thought I needed a highly profound answer. I stuck with this one because it is the mantra that motivates me each day. “Everything, even the little things that I do in the name of Jesus, matter to God.” My significance and my influence stem from heeding God’s word in my life and exercising faith daily. Great questions to ponder. May God’s answers spoken to your heart guide you in 2015.

Please feel to share your answers (short or long version) to these three questions in the comments section of this post.

 

Romans 5:5

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 

 

 Hebrews 10:23-24

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.