Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Burned by Church

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

burned-by-churchHe hasn’t been to church since the funeral of his wife. I didn’t think he would. He got burned by church years ago and decided that church wasn’t his thing. The only reason he came nearly every week over the past three years was because of his wife’s determination to go to church, even though her body was giving out, and she was confined to a wheelchair. She needed him to bring her, since she could no longer drive. Out of sheer love for his wife, he did it.

I never understood (until now) how someone can be so burned by church that they will never darken the door of a church building again. I thought that a Christian’s love for God would override the inadequacies of the people from the church, and that love could cover over all sin. I never knew how painful it could be to be falsely accused, and then have the pastor believing lies about you. It’s so wounding that you don’t ever want to put yourself in that position again.

Yes, I finally understood this man, the man who had come to our Bible study for three years, continually encouraging me in my parenting. His words set me free. I wonder if he understands how much his words meant to me.

On the day of his wife’s death, I wanted so badly to tell her that I would make sure her husband didn’t stray from God. I wanted to promise her that, with all my heart, I would do everything in my power to draw him closer to God. He’s 82. He’s set in his ways. Even his daughter confessed to me that she didn’t think her dad would go to church after her mom’s death. She said this right in front of her unconscious, dying mother.

On the day of the funeral, during the food reception, my husband was sitting beside him. I walked up to him with my plate of food and asked him what his favorite food was. He said steak. I asked him what his favorite dessert was. He said sherbert. I asked him, “Would you like to come over to my house for steak and sherbert? My husband cooks a good steak on the grill.”

His grieving face brightened, and he accepted my offer. Several weeks later, he came over for a nice, juicy steak and the best sherbert I’ve ever had. We talked and laughed. We were real. On his way out the door, he shook my husband’s hand, and he turned to hug me. He knows I love him. It’s so obvious in my eyes.

As he left the house to get into his car, I shouted, “Come sit with us at church on Sunday!”

He actually said yes.

I was so happy to see him at church today. People’s faces lit up when they saw him, and they hugged him and shook his hand. As the church service started, I said, “See, everybody loves you here. They can’t help but love you.” He smiled to himself. I hope and pray that he will continue coming, and hopefully the thought of being burned by the church will be a faded memory of the past…

The Pulse of the Church

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

pulse-of-the-churchA week ago when my kids were sick, I went to church by myself and chose to sit alone, even though I’m close to a lot of people from church. A woman sat behind me, also by herself. I enjoyed her singing, and I lifted my voice to harmonize with her. I knew she was a visitor, and I didn’t want her to feel bad for singing so loud. I smiled as I worshiped, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I even lifted my hands.

When church was over, I turned to the woman and said, “You enjoy singing just as much as I do!” She laughed. Then ensued a very long conversation begun by her asking what I liked about this church. I could tell that she was considering becoming a member.

I stuffed down the pain and began by saying that I had known the pastor for over 10 years. “He is a humble man, and I sometimes see the Spirit of God emanating off him. He loves God with his whole mind, soul, heart, and strength. He also expounds the Word of God systematically in a deep, rich way. So the preaching is good.”

I went on to say that I’ve never been at a church where I felt like an artery, where I could feel the pulse of the church in an organic way. I have deeply bonded with the majority of women from my church, I know many of their struggles, and I pray fervently for them. Just the prayer alone has caused me to have such a deep love (and burden) for each of the families at my church.

Even though I invited this woman’s family over to dinner, I forgot to tell her that another reason I’m close to so many people is because I’ve had them over to my house for dinner. I opened my heart to them, and they opened their hearts to me. We used our spiritual gifts, and from the time we had each family over, onwards, whenever we saw them at church, we continued to use our spiritual gifts. In other words, we were one organic body: the body of Christ.

This is the way it is supposed to be. The church. Each member opening up and using their spiritual gifts with each other. Two eyeballs, two ears, a mouth, two arms, two legs. People who leave immediately after the service totally don’t “get” what the body of Christ is about. The equipping part (the sermon) can be gotten online or from a book. Even the worship is replaceable by a good CD blasted in your home while you worship God. But it’s the people… the messy, imperfect people… who make up the body of Christ. It has always been that way and always will be.

What Keeps You from Church?

Monday, April 4th, 2011

what-keeps-you-from-churchI flopped on the bed and said, “The kids are fed, and they’re ready for church. Technically three of them are sick with a cold and are probably contagious. But if we sit in the back and leave right after the service, they should be fine.”

My husband replied, “It’s not considerate to take sick kids that are contagious to church. I’ll stay home this time.”

I got up and told the kids to change out of their church clothes. My oldest son was disappointed, but my second son cheered. The other two had no reaction. I went back into the bedroom to tell my husband the reaction of our two older sons, and how disturbed I was by the reaction of our second son, who normally loved to go to church.

“Can I play Wii?” shouted my second son from the next room.

“No,” I said flatly. I told my husband that he needed to talk to our second son, since the Wii was obviously the idolatry that had trumped his desire to go to church.

I said good-bye, and off I went to church. When I came home, my husband told me of the conversation he had with my second son. He made my son ponder how much time he spent in the Word of God compared to how much time he spent on the Wii. This would show him what his true love was. My son stopped and thought about it. He has had a soft heart to God for years now, and as parents, we want to make sure that his heart is never hardened by the things of this world. Apparently he took it to heart.

For me, on the other hand, what keeps me from church? Knowing I have to face people who have hurt me, when I see that they still haven’t repented and probably never will. Knowing that the pastor isn’t perfect. Knowing that if God prompts me to speak up, I will get in trouble for obeying God.

And yet there’s something compelling about being with God’s people. Even with all the flaws, something burns inside of me when another believer is talking to me about the things of God. It’s like the people walking on the road to Emmaus, when they knew that Jesus was with them. The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is there, displayed within each person as they use their spiritual gifts. If I’m an eyeball, I can’t hear and I can’t walk without them. God says I need them. That’s why no matter how I feel, I must return to the beautiful fire, the fire that hurts and purifies, before my ember goes out.

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 (KJV)

Is Raising Hands in Church a Distraction?

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

raising-hands-in-churchYears ago I came across many Scriptures that had people raising their hands to God in prayer, like Solomon dedicating the temple and David crying out to God in praise in the Psalms. Over and over again, I saw people raising hands in the Bible.

I have always attended churches where it is considered a distraction for people to raise hands, even when a song said, “I will raise my hands.” I always thought that was silly, like singing the song, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” while remaining seated. (This actually happened at my friend’s church!) Sometimes one or two people would raise hands at my church, but by and large, it felt uncomfortable to do it. I didn’t want people to stumble by being distracted, so I didn’t do it. Besides, it was weird.

One day I decided to open my hands, facing upwards, but with my hands at the level of my stomach so it wouldn’t distract anyone. This position made me feel vulnerable before God, and I realized that my worship was much more intense as a result of it. It was almost as if the Holy Spirit filled me up in a fresh way. I felt a wonderful sense of freedom. I felt clean and peaceful.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband was in charge of the sound system, and I sat alone with my children a few rows back. As I was praising God, I decided to open my hands to God, but with my body blocking my hands. I knew the song, so I closed my eyes and sang with everything in me. As the song ended, I opened my eyes to see my five-year-old daughter with her hands raised straight up in the air. So much for being incognito! I smiled at her as I quietly lowered her hands. I didn’t look around – I didn’t want to know if someone had been distracted.

Then I realized something. Who cares? In fact, if my raising my hands makes me feel closer to God, then it might encourage someone else to raise their hands to praise God, too. And maybe that other person would feel the presence of the Holy Spirit just like me. Maybe it was a sin for me not to raise my hands, if the reason I did so was fear of what other people would think of me.

So today I did something bold. I actually raised my hands for real for the first time. I sang with all my heart, and I felt so much joy that tears streamed down my face. I felt the words of the song deep in my soul. This time I didn’t care that my daughter was copying me. I noticed that the worship leader’s wife was smiling at me as she raised her hand, too.

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