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What is a Successful church?

successful
[suh k-ses-fuh l]
Spell adjective
1. achieving or having achieved success.

2. having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like.

3. resulting in or attended with success.

I’m not exactly sure how to measure a successful church based on Webster’s Dictionary’s definition.  It just doesn’t seem to accurately articulate what the body of Christ is capable of through the power of the Holy Spirit and our obedience to His Word.  Webster’s definition captures what success looks like here on earth, but falls short of capturing an eternal perspective of what success should look like as we follow Christ and His commands as the church.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently as I’ve studied Paul and his missionary journeys and the development of the New Testament Church. The older I get the more I’m convinced it’s not about numbers or the latest and greatest in ideas or technology. I have a sense of the church being a back to the basics, grass roots ideology that we are here to point the lost in the right direction. It’s a simple concept, but it’s our mission. We, as believers. are the church.  There are many styles and formats to get people on our campus and in the building, but once they’ve entered the doors of our sanctuary, it is really time for the Holy Spirit to do the work.
I’ve been convicted and challenged as Ive been studying Acts and the purity of Paul’s heart as he bravely entered each town along his journey with a heavenly message. His fearless proclamation of Jesus’ love for all people, even as they hurled jagged stones at his body time and time again, is mind blowing. I’m so comfortable in my nice home and familiar surroundings, my life is scheduled and I rarely deviate from my daily routines. My fear is that I’m not being an effective Christian and using my time wisely on this earth. Paul never found comfort in his quest, but he always had joy. His joy was pointing the lost in the right direction…the direction of Jesus.
Paul’s success of spreading the gospel came with a lot of hardship and ultimately his death. Are we there as a church? Am I willing to be uncomfortable for Christ? Am I willing to put others needs before my own? What does it mean to be a true servant? Will I love someone enough to speak the truth into their life, even if they don’t want to hear it?
Do I have a faith as strong as my dad who once said he wouldn’t change anything about his life, not even his disease that slowly and tragically robbed him of just about every bodily function and ultimately took his life. He couldn’t sit around a table to enjoy a good steak and conversation with friends, he couldn’t speak to his grandchildren or tell his wife that he loved her. He couldn’t run and play ball with his grandsons anymore. On a bad day, he couldn’t even breath without assistance. He had an obnoxious hole in is throat and in the middle of his stomach that hurt and regularly became infected, causing him to have daily struggles. But he wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing?
He also wouldn’t have changed the over thirty years of ministry where he pointed people in the right direction, scrubbed toilets, comforted those who were grieving, opened his home to strangers, provided for those who couldn’t provide for themselves, visited those in jail and the list goes on. So many of the back to basics human needs we find Jesus and the disciples doing as they went from city to city, household to household and pointed people in the right direction. My dad’s life was not perfect but I think he found success because he had joy in the journey as he pointed people to Christ. He wouldn’t change a thing, good or bad.
What does this mean for the church? I think we have to have joy in the journey, even when faced with our own personal struggles, and still be able to put others’ needs first. I remind myself often that it’s “not about me” when I’m down and want to give up. I’m here to point that wayward teen or single mom that is at her wits end, the wiggly three year old that can’t sit still during a Sunday School lesson in the right direction. What do people do once pointed in the right direction? I don’t know…That’s personal, it is really up to them. What is our responsibility as the church? I think it’s simply to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can do the work and people will leave feeling something they’ve never felt before. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus daily to a hurting and lost world.  We need to point people in the right direction then we have a responsibility to help keep them on track through discipleship and study of God’s amazing Word.
Something beautiful…
something life changing…
something real…
Maybe that’s success, maybe that’s just “back to the basics” Christianity. But whatever it is, it is essential and life giving and our responsibility as the church and as individuals to fulfill.

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Jesus is Enough

Jesus is Enough

Today is the anniversary of my dad meeting Jesus face to face. What an impossibly glorious thought of what this past year must have been like for my dad as he worshipped his creator in his new and perfectly whole body, now living in paradise. My heart is overjoyed at the thought of my amazing earthly father residing with my all powerful and perfectly holy Heavenly Father. I find myself longing to be in such company, along with the angels and all those that have gone on before us to their eternal glory worshipping the one true Creator.

Life if full of ups and downs, highs and lows. It just is. Everyone will face moments of absolute joy, finding delight in beautiful moments gifted to us by God, but there will also be devastating set backs and heartache to endure.

I have experienced both. Joy and heartache, delight and devastation. Jesus is in them both. His presence should not be taken for granted, lost or forgotten in either circumstance, good or bad.

As I’ve wrestled with my faith the past couple of years I am profoundly strengthened and encouraged because of the wrestle. I’ve been embarrassed and felt ashamed when my reality was one of incredible doubt and endless questions. When I’ve wavered and asked God the tough questions, God was not mad at me. He did not get offended or flee from me. He showed me absolute mercy and grace when my foundation seemed to be crumbling.

In a purely miraculous way, my faith was being restored and strengthened, the struggle and wrestling forced me to deconstruct my faith and start the construction process back to my first love. Jesus has not changed, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He’s not afraid of my struggle and insecurities, He’s right there…in life and in death.

I’ll never forget the moment I got the phone call about my dad’s passing. His death was expected and we had gathered with him for months just about everyday thinking it was the end. We actually joked about the fact that we had said our “good byes” numerous times, my poor dad was probably tired of hearing our “It’s ok to let go” speech. He had a fabulous sense of humor and I think that’s what I miss the most.

Those days we watched my dad slowly and painfully lose his battle with ALS were long and terrible, they were gut wrenching. But I have learned many lessons, I have grown in my relationship with my God and my family and the brave friends that stood beside our family when we could barely function. Most of all I learned that Jesus is enough.

My dad knew that Jesus was enough. He served him faithfully even to the end. I know it wasn’t easy for him, I know that he wanted to be strong for us. I also know that he chose God even when he may not have felt like it – the end of his life was heartbreaking. It just was. You can’t sugar coat the ugliness of disease and isolation of death. He wasn’t able to speak, but I know he would have proclaimed that Jesus is enough. I know this was not what he wanted the end of his life to look like, I’m sure he had disappointments. There were tears and there were times of uncertainty but… Jesus is enough.

If you are struggling with grief, if you are experiencing a terrible life altering circumstance please know that it’s ok. The struggle is ok. You will grow in the struggle. You will grow in the devastation. You will have questions and will struggle with your faith. Your faith will be strengthened. Please don’t feel guilty but know that God loves you and most importantly that Jesus is enough.

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ELOHIM

Elohim is a hebrew word for God, it means mighty one, creator of the universe.  As we have started a new year, I’ve been so focused on the holiness and power of God.  I love that just as we are starting a new year on our calendar, the Bible starts with Genesis and the story of the creation of the world.  Genesis 1 is a powerful account of God making our universe, our planet, our entire world.  That’s pretty amazing, I often take for granted the absolute power of Elohim, our Creator, the maker of the earth.  Elohim stands above all others, He’s the picture of perfect love, wrath, justice and complete sovereignty.  He has no equal.

Do we adequately fear God?  Our culture is consumed with love for ourselves and our comfort, acceptance of any philosophy and doing what makes us happy, trying to be constantly politically correct.  God is none of those things.

I love how C.S. Lewis illustrates God’s power through the character of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  When Mr. Beaver tells Susan that Aslan is a great lion, she seems surprised and seemingly intimidated.  She expresses that she is nervous about meeting a lion and asks if Aslan is safe.  I love Mr. Beaver’s response: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.  He’s the King.”

To be a just God, He must be good.  He must be a God of Love but He must also be a God of wrath.  Administration of perfect justice requires both.  It defines and separates right from wrong. I often find comfort in the goodness of God but probably don’t focus on the absolute holiness of God enough.  Our God, the maker of heaven and earth (Elohim) needs nothing from us, but because of His goodness and love for us, desires to have a relationship with us.

I am learning to respect the holiness of God, to have a healthy fear of Elohim and His power.  I am also falling more in love with my creator and desiring to be closer to Him in my day to day routine.

The fact that God, in His ultimate wisdom and compassion for His children, sent His Son to die for us so that we could experience eternal joy is absolutely mind blowing.  Cling to God and His love for you.  Respect the holiness and wrath of our sovereign maker, develop a healthy fear and reverence for Elohim.  Draw near to Him.  My prayer for this new year is that I would recognize God’s holiness and serve Him because He is perfect love.

…and because He is good.

Psalm 96:12-13

12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

 

John 1:1-5

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Romans 2:3-5

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Prince of Peace

The word PEACE is often used in our vocabulary as the absence of conflict but in the context of scripture it means complete or whole, a state of completeness.  To make complete or to restore.  The Jewish people thought Jesus was born to bring them political restoration.  Jesus’ plan was much bigger, His purpose was to restore mankind to Him.

Unfortunately, I try to find peace in this troubled world in my own wisdom and strength. Instead of just trusting in the fullness of Christ, I want Him to fix my earthly problems, much like the Jewish people in their hopes that He would overthrow their government.  I’m so busy focusing on the here and now that I don’t see the bigger purpose, the eternal plan.

Last Christmas our family was clinging to the last few excruciating weeks of my dad’s life on earth.  Only then, almost a year ago, as we gathered each day in my parent’s bedroom around my dad’s hospital bed, did I finally learn what true peace was.   Even in our struggle and trauma that life can bring to us….Jesus is enough.  As we watched my dad slowly slip away day by day, there was nothing we could do.  In those moments, we only had Jesus, and that was all we needed.  Somehow in the sadness and desperation of our situation, Jesus gifted us with His powerful peace.  I don’t understand it, I struggle to articulate it but the restoration and wholeness of Christ brought miraculous peace into an otherwise devastating circumstance.  As terrible as those last couple of months were, I  am humbled and thankful for God teaching me the true meaning of peace and the shift from an earthly perspective, to a heavenly one.

The following two paragraphs are my mom’s words about our time as we, as a family, had the privilege and holy experience of watching God usher my dad into His presence and the peace that we felt in such an unexpected place…

Somewhere along the line of our journey with ALS, our bedroom became transformed into a hospital room.  All the equipment needed to care for Gary took over the room more than we liked but it was all part of the process.  Our master bedroom (turned in-home hospital room) became our place to live, read God’s Word, pray, sing,  greet friends, laugh, cry, worship and fall more in love with each other and Jesus.  We also learned to be more eternally minded rather than focused on earthly things.  Learning to cherish every moment given and doing the best to make the most of each minute of every day.  Our bedroom became a sacred place where we lived out those last precious months with Gary.  It was where we held hands and remember our lives together.  We shared our love for one another and our hopes and dreams for our children and grandchildren.  It was in that room that we said our goodbyes and shed many tears as God ushered Gary into His eternal presence.

It was strange after Gary was gone how quickly our bedroom was transformed back to it’s original purpose.  The hectic daily routine of nurses visits, aids giving showers, medications being administered, tube feedings prepared, and visitors ceased and it was as if my life stopped along with it.  Now our home is quiet and feels so very empty.  No more hectic daily “care routines” or the sounds of the struggle for life.  Only stillness and loneliness fill the void.  Life will never be the same again in that sacred room.  Neither will the battle for life there be forgotten.  Yet in that room I still meet with God and cry and rejoice over life and it’s challenges.  God has given us a promise of hope.  He tells us we will be together again for all eternity.  So you see, our trials here on earth are but a vapor…  Here one moment and gone the next.  Our promise is for “eternal life” with our God and King.  It’s like Gary said when he was given his diagnosis…”We are all terminal”.

orange star bokeh light
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“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace”

(Isaiah 9:6).

As Christmas approaches, let God in His eternal completeness bring you miraculous peace.

Jesus is enough.

 

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Let It Be…Mary’s Assignment from God

Obedience when it doesn’t make sense

Luke 1:26-38:

Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

nativity scene table decor
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

What could have possibly been going through Mary’s mind during such an unplanned interruption by an angel with a very non conventional holy birth announcement? First off, the Bible tells us she was “troubled”. As we read the text, it also goes on to tell us that Mary’s final response in verse 38 is: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your ‘word’”.

This story is amazing to me, how can in just 12 short verses we see Mary go from “troubled” to being seemingly fine with this whole scenario. Who was Mary? This very young lady was ready to jump into this new adventure with both feet, with complete obedience and trust. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Mary. The Angel Gabriel uses phrases like “Highly favored one,” “the Lord is with you” and “Blessed are you among women”. But why? What is special about Mary? What it does tell us is that she is a virgin betrothed to marry Joseph and she lived in Nazareth. That is really not much information. It doesn’t say anything of her coming from a wealthy family, being of royal decent, wise beyond her years, beautiful in appearance…what we do know of her is relatively underwhelming. But God, in His divine wisdom, met this precious young girl right where she was and had a plan for her life.

This is encouraging.

It is encouraging because I don’t have earthly riches, as far as I know there is no royalty in my family heritage, I went to Bible College for a bit but I’m certainly no theologian. It encourages me because Jesus died on a cross to meet me right where I am, no strings attached. He not only died for me and granted me access to the Father and Eternal life in Heaven but has entrusted me to do His will while here on earth.

I have to pause when I think of this virgin teenage Mary and her willingness to be obedient to her God that sent His angel with, in my opinion, an overwhelming calling. A calling to give birth to the Son of God. A calling to love and to nurture Him, to kiss his boo boos, to patiently instruct and correct Him at times. To watch Him grow into a man and perform miracles, to spread a message of hope and forgiveness to all people. And finally to watch her beautiful baby boy be tortured then nailed to a cross while bearing the sin of all mankind as he slowly slipped into eternity in front of her eyes. I don’t know that there is anyone worthy or could have ever been ready for such a task. There wasn’t anything extravagant about Mary’s background, but she was willing and obedient to trust that God knew what He was doing.

If our young ordinary friend Mary can say, “Yes” to this Heavenly calling in 12 short verses, I can certainly say, “Yes” to the calling Christ has set before me in my journey. I can certainly trust that He knows what He is doing and absolutely have confidence that my future is secure in Him. I feel certain that Mary wept many tears and faced unimaginable obstacles along her journey that only she could traverse, yet she was still obedient and stayed the course. Are we willing to be servants of the Most High and just as Mary declared: “Let it be,” as we start this new year?