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Abiding church?

We live in a very materialistic society.  Everything we experience in life is measured by measurable quality or quantity.  Oftentimes, this is a very good thing.  It is necessary to ensure that when it comes to medical care or food quality, that we are getting something that at the very least will not harm us, and prove beneficial to us.  Other times it may or may not matter as much.  I was in a store the other day and, for the very first time in my life, had the privilege of touching a cashmere scarf.  It was dreamy soft.  I smiled, and then moved on.  I’m glad to have had the experience, but I don’t find it necessary to have that kind of luxury in my life.  I am more laid back than that scarf warrants.  I’m pretty happy with a cotton blouse and a pair of jeans.

Materialism extends beyond, well, materials, as well.  We love to critique restaurant service, hotel stays, vacation packages, concerts, plays, movies, and other experiences.  We, who may or may not have any musical experience at all, may go on and on about how “unprofessional” that particular band sounded, or how much the orchestra simply didn’t understand how Beethoven was supposed to be played.  Speakers are judged by how articulate or relational or on point or succinct or comprehensive they were on the topic presented.  We keep striving for some undefined perfectionism, that often varies from one person’s preference to the next.

Unfortunately, I see this same thing happening in our churches all too often.  We have fallen into the trap of having measurable outcomes to determine whether we are acceptable as a church.  We use the terms “thriving”, “growing”, “impacting”, “relevant”.  We start movements so we can keep up the motivation.  We are “Purpose-Driven church planters who are seeker-sensitive” and can give people what they want and need, with a professionalism that rivals that of any Hollywood or iTunes performer, all while being “real” and imperfect “broken” people.  One could get dizzy trying to figure out which image we really should be projecting.  Am I professional (or perfectionistic) enough to appeal to folks that might happen to walk in off the street, expecting a Chris Tomlin song to sound the way it does on the radio?  But, am I aware of my flaws enough so that folks can feel accepted how they are, without going too far down that road and making them feel like we’re a bunch of hypocrites?  All of the things we chase after in this manner have one goal:  to grow the church.  to bring (or draw, to use a more appropriate term) people in.  To keep people in the pews.  In effect, we are chasing people, instead of Christ Jesus.

It’s funny, but I don’t see any of these requirements in Scripture.  In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the best-looking of the seven churches in the book of Revelation:   To the church in Laodicia, Jesus said the following:  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev. 3:17)  I feel like we try so hard to reach people sometimes, that we forget what we are supposed to be reaching for – JESUS.  “Seek first the kingdom of God….”  “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  Over and over again, we are told to seek Christ first. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that we need to give up on doing well or serving to the best of our abilities…quite the contrary.  What I am saying is that no amount of polishing, practicing, planning, programing, or analyzing will ever meet the requirements of a fickle world, who want their ears tickled one way on Monday, and the other way by Friday.  We’ll never keep up.  But, when we seek Jesus in all we do, He will work through us by His Spirit.  He is the most effective outreach “tool” that we have.  I believe the answer to these dilemmas is to become an abiding church.  As Jesus’ people learn to abide in Him, we will see the results of Him working in and through us.  And then we will see this come about in our churches:  “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  Act 2:46-27 NASB

Seek Christ.  And, keep abiding on, Church.

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Abiding Patience

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 “Good things come to those who wait.”  “(S)he has the patience of a saint.”  We hear a plethora of clichés when it comes to patience.  We even wax spiritual about it “You better not pray for patience; God may just give you a reason to need it.”  It’s easy to joke about it, because patience doesn’t come easily for many of us.  We are taught from a young age that in order to get what we need or want, we need to go out and get it – make it happen.  Patience can often be mistaken for laziness or indecisiveness, as well.

I have learned that patience does not necessarily equal passivity.  More often than not, patience is an active thing.  One can imagine a young mother patiently teaching her young son to tie his shoes.  The mother isn’t just sitting there doing nothing.  She is guiding, demonstrating, and  encouraging her son in this new venture.  Patience has more to do with attitude than action (or lack thereof).

Scripture often talks about patience, especially in waiting for God.  One of my favorites is Ps. 62:1-2 ” My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.” – Psa 62:1-2 One translation reads like this:  “I stand silently before the Lord, waiting for Him to rescue me, for salvation comes from Him alone.”  But what does it look like to wait for God?  Do we quit our jobs, leave the kids to their own devices, ignore the household needs, and piously kneel by our bedsides waiting for God to do something?  Of course not.  The answer is in abiding in Christ.  When we wait for something, we are expecting something.

When kids wait for Christmas morning (or Easter or a birthday, or some other important event), they don’t sit quietly by with their hands folded in their laps doing nothing.  No.  They plan.  They pine.  They wiggle.  They EXPECT.  Faith is a huge part of the process.  Children have a lot of faith.  And, because of that faith, they really know how to wait – with eagerness and anticipation.

How is your patience today?  Are you simply enduring?  Are you sure that your patience has been tried and found lacking?  Or are you eagerly anticipating what God is going to do next?  Are you actively, patiently waiting?  We are called to an active state of patience.  Diligently seek Christ, and abide in Him.  God bless you.

Oh – and thank you for your patience with me as I haven’t written much for a while.  Until next time, keep abiding on.

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Christ, our healer

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him.”             Isaiah 61:1-3

God is in the business of healing and restoration.  Do you believe this?  It is often hard to believe this when we are in the middle of a trial, especially if it is ongoing and/or long term.  We can tend to become so used to living in turmoil and anxiety that coming back into a non-threatening situation can feel strange, and even uncomfortable. We can fall into the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality. Unfortunately, this type of thinking, while understandable, can slow the healing process.

So, how do we get unstuck?  Sometimes just “getting over it” not only seems difficult, but completely out of the realm of possibilities!!!  Well-intentioned friends who try to help can end up seeming like heartless enemies – enjoying your misery, and rubbing in the fact that it should be easy to get over it.  Scriptural promises can sound trite in the face of overwhelming heartache or strife.

I was thinking about this today, while talking with a friend who has been dealing with this very thing.  I was reminded of the movie “What About Bob?”.  In this movie, the main character deals with a debilitating phobia of almost everything.  He goes to see a psychiatrist who doesn’t have much time for him, but hands him a copy of his new best-selling book “Baby Steps”.  Bob latches onto this book and the advice it contains, and through a hilarious series of events, “baby steps” his way into a confident life.  This movie is a comedy, but it illustrates a way to deal with struggles we may have in life.

I remember a period of time in my life when things were so overwhelming and painful that I would wake up in the morning and say – out loud- “just put one foot in front of the other.”  If I could manage even a low level of activity, I was doing well.  During that time, I had a small band of sisters in Christ who would call and check in with me daily to see how I was doing.  They would come see me at the first suggestion that I needed them.  They would spend as much time as they could afford listening to me and talking me through a particularly rough spot.  They would come pick me up and take me to their houses when I felt I couldn’t be alone.  They lifted me to Christ in prayer every single day.  Like Barnabas, they continually spoke encouragement and truth to me, even when I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hear it.  It took a long time, and a lot of patience on their part (that I am convinced came from the LORD Himself), but I  gradually got stronger.  And, as I did, it became easier to hear the truth, and have come to a place of healing.

Here are some lessons I learned from that time:

  • Sometimes healing is gradual.  That’s OK.  Even though we may want everything healed all at once, that may not be the best thing for us.  Learning to see the small victories help us to realize that God is still at work.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t always need to be  sought in order to be given.
    •  If we keep waiting for people to ask for forgiveness before we are willing to forgive, we set ourselves (and the other person) up for failure.  We subject ourselves to harboring bitterness, which can weigh on our hearts and emotions, and become an almost insurmountable mountain of pain.  We subject the other person to the seemingly impossible task of re-earning any amount of our love for them.  This becomes a vicious cycle of fear, doubt, rejection, anger, and insecurity on both sides.  Not the best way to promote healing.
    • If we are willing to forgive, it frees us to love again.  Sometimes we need to keep  safeguards in place, especially where there is a lack of repentance, but forgiveness releases us from bondage to pain, and also makes an allowance for repentance from the other person.
  • Addressing smaller issues first, and seeing healing in these things can make addressing larger issues a little easier.  Even in the case of an illness, a clean pair of pajamas can help to alleviate some of the discomfort of a fever.  So it is with emotional pain.  One burden relieved can give renewed strength to face the next thing.
  • Keeping things light is a good thing!  When things are so serious and so painful, sometimes we can forget how to have fun.  We need to learn to play and laugh, even when it is hard to do.  “a cheerful heart  is like a medicine”.  How true those words are!
  • Moving forward from the point we are at can be more healing than trying to “solve” every painful instance from the past.  Sometimes, continually looking back can keep us in the cycle of pain and discouragement, never allowing us to see hope ahead.  The enemy can win a great victory if he can keep us thinking “remember that time? or remember when?”, instead of listening to and standing on God’s promise to “give us a future and a hope”.
  • Perfection and healing don’t equate – that is why grace and mercy are needed!  Having a bad day or a setback in something doesn’t equate to hopelessness, either.  Jesus Himself says we will have trouble.  But in the same sentence, He tells us to take heart (have hope) in Him.
  • A friend loves at all times.  Not always in the way we think we want to be loved, and certainly not always perfectly.  They will say hurtful things sometimes, they may tell us things we don’t want to hear, and they may seem like our enemies sometimes.  But, the proverb comes to mind “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
  •  The thing I learned the most is that God is still faithful, and His mercies really are new each day.  He does heal, though we may not see healing in our preferred timing or our preferred way.  But, when we stand on His promises, and learn to rest in the arms of Jesus, He will give us the grace we need to face each day.

I pray that if you are struggling today, that the love of Jesus will minister to you even now, and that you will begin to see the light of hope that He brings.  May you, even if it’s one step at a time, keep abiding on.

 

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Times of Sorrow; Times of Joy – The Abiding Life of the Body of Christ

1Cor. 12:26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

I have been on vacation, visiting dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  It’s been an amazing journey in many ways.  I have had time to thaw out from the very long winter that we have had, time to think, time for fellowship, time to pray.  I love these folks.  It is marvelous to me how people from across the globe can have so significant a connection as Christ.  The love of believers surpasses all boundaries – cultural, economic, racial, social.  I have met believers that use the material riches that God has given them to encourage those believers who don’t.  I have witnessed believers that have next to nothing minister powerfully to those that look like they don’t need a thing.  I have seen cultures that should clash come together as one in the name of Christ.  I have seen racial divides come crashing down because of the bridge that the blood of Christ provides.

But I’ve also seen the burdens that need to be borne.  My list of people to pray for keeps getting longer.  I have seen tears of sorrow on many faces as they face things that are just so hard.  Sometimes we might wonder “How can they do it?  How can they stay so strong?”  Other times we may wonder what we can do for someone who is falling apart.  “What can I do?  I don’t have the words to say.”  “I don’t have the resources they need.”  Sometimes, we just need to be a little resourceful, and meet needs where we can.  But sometimes, our best resource is the One Who owns it all.  I honestly believe that God answers prayer.  All.   The.  Time.  Sometimes we don’t see His answers, or don’t acknowledge them as coming from Him, or simply don’t like His answer, but He does answer.  Knowing that He answers us when  we call to Him should encourage us to come to Him often on behalf of one another.  It is such a privilege to lift another person to the throne room of grace.  Whether we are praying for saving grace to meet someone so they can know the Father for the first time, or praying for a saint that is struggling in illness, or praying a brother or sister in Christ through a time of crisis, God has given us the privilege of sharing together in the hope that Christ can bring.

Likewise, we can share in one another’s joys.  Weddings, baptisms, births, and blessings are all times to spend together, rejoicing and praising the Father.  In these times, there is no room for jealousy, because we are all one in Christ!  We can rejoice together, having seen evidence of the mercy and grace of God in these situations.  Every Sunday is a time to celebrate Christ together.  When we join together in the praise and worship of Jesus, the bonds of unity are strengthened.

To abide means “to remain with”.  We need to abide in Christ (to remain in Christ), and to abide with (remain with) each other.  So, today, go ahead and meet with a fellow believer.  Talk about your Savior; seek Him together.  Cry together over sorrows.  Laugh together in the joyous times.  Love each other through the difficult times.  Show grace and mercy when it’s needed.  Spur each other on when  necessary.  Pray for one another.  It will do your heart and your body good.

Keep abiding on.  Together.

Gal. 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

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