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What is Church?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently as I’ve been reading about 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 that the church should be more “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. 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 recently said he wouldn’t change anything about his life, not even his disease that has slowly robbed him of just about every bodily function within the past couple of years. He can’t sit around a table to enjoy a good steak and conversation with friends, he can’t speak to his grandchildren or tell his wife that he loves her. He can’t run and play ball with his grandsons anymore. On a bad day, he can’t even breath without assistance. He has an obnoxious hole in is throat and in the middle of his stomach that hurts and gets infected and causes him to have daily struggles. But he wouldn’t change a thing.

He also wouldn’t change 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 has been a success maybe because he has had joy in the journey. 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 Wee Kids 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 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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I Choose Suffering

Isaiah 51:6 “Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, And the earth will wear out like a garment And its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not wane.

Have you ever felt like a sinking ship being tossed to and fro in a relentlessly angry sea? I have. I feel quite certain that I am not alone, I’m sure there are others that are sinking in the raging waters even now. Sometimes we face the ugly reality of suffering because we have made a bad or possibly several bad decisions, facing consequences that we must resign ourselves to. What happens when the harsh pangs of suffering find us because of circumstances outside of our control, like a ship sailing perilously into unavoidable winds. For the past several years (seven to be exact) our family has been flailing in the open waters of a raging sea, clinging with every bit of strength we can muster to a water logged life preserver. You see, my dad was diagnosed with a monster of a disease called ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). This was a death sentence that slowly robbed him of his ability to speak, eat, move and sometimes even breath on his own. My mom spent her days tirelessly but lovingly caring for him until the very end. The past couple of years of his life were absolutely excruciating for him, he had constant issues with bed sores and excessive weight loss, pain meds were unable to keep us with his dreadful discomfort. He was trapped inside his own torture chamber day after agonizing day. Even in the midst of the myriad of feeding and ventilator tubes in his make shift hospital room in their home, there was a strange peace that accompanied his mighty tempest of suffering. The peace was one that could only be gifted from one source, Jesus. My dad was a pastor before being forced to retire due to his inability to speak not long after his diagnosis. This was a man that had always walked out his faith, he was an unassuming shepherd that loved God and people passionately. His ability to minister to others was done with a uniquely quiet strength that I have never seen in another individual. So, that is how he faced his dreadful last few years, choosing suffering with a quiet and peaceful strength that only comes from God. I learned so much watching his love for Jesus and others around him- even while he was on his bed of affliction, a prisoner in his own body, those who came to visit him would find themselves leaving encouraged and strengthened in their faith.

Life is strange sometimes…

Life is so strange sometimes. I wish my dad wouldn’t have spent the last few years of his life the way he did, I wanted him to be able to throw the football with my boys, to wrestle on the floor and chase them around the house until they were out of breath from laughter. But that wasn’t the life we were given. To say I spent many hours questioning and wrestling with God would be a gross understatement. Somehow through the pain and suffering we had countless holy encounters with our creator, times that only He was able to issue the strength, courage and ability we needed to keep moving on this terrifying journey. My faith was reinforced and even invigorated even in the sadness and constant sorrow of loss. It was an unexpected and divine gift that came out of an atrocious season of suffering. My heavenly father faced suffering I can’t even imagine. My earthly father faced suffering that I could barely find the courage to watch toward the end. Not only did Jesus endure horrible suffering for us but he chose it. He chose it so that you and I could be free from sin. I don’t understand it, but I am so humbled and grateful for it.
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I choose suffering because it was and is God’s plan, I choose suffering because He met me at that place of exhaustion and made me a better follower of Him. He used my dad as a beautiful vessel to teach me and countless others the lesson of loving Christ deeper even when suffering. I live by the ocean. It’s beautiful and frightening at the same time. This life is beautiful but suffering will come, embrace it. Learn from it. Be stronger because of it. Allow Christ to meet you in your most dreadful storm that life will certainly throw at you. My dad did and he taught me to embrace it through the power of our heavenly Father. The Prince of Peace.
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