True Loyalty

As I thought about how to begin today’s post on the last question in my pastor’s New Year’s Eve sermon, I thought about all the frustration and anger I’ve experienced over the past few weeks and months. If you’re involved in a church or Christian community, you know what I’m talking about. The messiness of life. It’s hard for me to express messiness or conflict. I tend to bury it and try to forget about it, but this has built to the point where I can’t. When I’m considering finding another church, I know I need to write the words down so I can deal with the feelings.

There have been many changes in my life over the past few years, and more changes are coming with my younger son graduating from high school. I’ve written about this before, and I’m continuing to think about and work on what’s next in my life after graduation.

Where my frustration is coming from is how out-of-place I feel at my church. I don’t feel like I have a place to serve or even that I’m wanted, and I want both desperately. I want to feel like I fit in despite all my unique quirks. I want to be able to say the hard words and have things be okay afterwords instead of feeling like I’ve been shunted aside. I want to feel like I can ask questions instead of being told I shouldn’t. I want to feel like I’m where God wants me to be.

Then, there are the failed promises and the ‘It’s okay despite’ statements. The day I felt like a failure taking care of kids and never getting the apologies I was promised. The day I was told ‘It’s okay if you come to a prayer meeting (with elders’ wives) even though he’s (my husband) not an elder. He’s serving in another place.’ And how about the times I was asked to find an elder or an elder’s wife so they could pray with the people who were asking. That one has been the most frustrating of all. I am a Christian woman, a layperson, and I AM CAPABLE of praying. I’m also capable of serving. I know the leadership of the church gets frustrated with the people who sit in church on Sunday mornings and do nothing else, but I’m not one of those people. I want to pray; I want to serve; I want to feel like I fit in with my Christian community, and right now, I don’t.

So, these are the things I’ve been mulling over during the last few weeks and months, and you might wonder what that has to do with the final question. God brought that question to mind yesterday as I was dealing with how out-of-control my life has been. Where is my true loyalty? The answer to that one should be easy. My true loyalty, as a person of faith, isn’t and shouldn’t be to my church. It should be to my Lord and Savior. It should be to the One whose Son died on the cross for me over two thousand years ago. From John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is my true loyalty, and nothing else!

The last statement of the previous paragraph settles my heart in a way nothing else can. God is present in my life no matter where I go to church. He has led me to writing and relationships as a way to express my heart for Him. I don’t know what will happen with the rest of it. I don’t know if I will ever feel like I fit in. My place might be to stay with the oddballs in the background and look at the “cool kids” club with envy. I don’t know if God will lead me to another place to serve Him. I just know that I want to have a heart like His no matter where I worship Him!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

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Inserting my Foot in my Mouth

I took a break from answering the questions from my pastor’s New Year’s Eve sermon yesterday, but I’m back to answer the third one today. It’s quiet here as we are awaiting possible bad weather in the southeastern United States. My patience has wavered in the last 24 hours as we have built up to the big state of emergency my state has declared. I don’t know why having possible bad weather has become such a big deal. When we lived in the northern part of the country in the mid-late 2000’s, it wasn’t such a big deal. We would go about what we needed to do taking the normal precautions. Life rarely stopped just because of bad weather. I can think of only one or two times that children stayed home from school during the four years we lived there, and that was only because it started snowing during the main traffic hour, and the trucks hadn’t been able to put salt on the roads yet. So, as you can imagine, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who get bent out of shape because of bad weather.

You might wonder what this has to do with the questions from the sermon. Let me state the one for today, and then you’ll understand. “Do I speak before considering the context?” Yes, for all of you who get “bent out of shape” or upset about the weather  forecast, I was not considerate of your feelings. No matter what my tolerance level for what the weather forecast is going to be or whether school is going to be cancelled or not, I should have kept my mouth shut or just had a chuckle at the game one of my friends on Facebook set up for the different questions people were asking. But, no, I opened my mouth and was inconsiderate.

God wants us to think before we speak. He wants us to show the character of Jesus to all the people who are a part of the world we all inhabit. From the clerk at the grocery store to the nurse at the doctor’s office to the waitress at a restaurant to our work colleagues to our friends and family, He wants us to treat everyone like Jesus would treat them. That means using the freedom we have with prudence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom recently. With my younger son graduating from high school in May, my life will change drastically. No more will I be a homeschool mom. I will have the freedom to pursue interests that I’ve not had time for before now. I will have the chance to write and see where it takes me. I will be able to pursue the heart of my Lord and Savior. All of which are good things and things I am looking forward to with anticipation.

I find though that people are wanting me to fall into a role. A role of waiting for grandchildren to be born and doing things that women traditionally do. I recoil against this kind of thinking. Like I said yesterday, it puts me into a mold that I’m not certain God wants me in. For a long time, I stayed in that mold in the hopes of gaining acceptance. No more. I’m going to be the person God wants me to be no matter what anyone else thinks about it.

That doesn’t mean I need to be ugly or demeaning towards the people who are upset with me for being true to myself. It means I need to consider the context before I open my mouth and use the freedom I have with prudence. It means I can be kind in my dealings with others and move forward in the direction I believe God is wanting me to go in. It means asking God for the courage to try things for the first time to move His kingdom forward even if a woman has never been involved before. It means fully believing I am God’s daughter and believing He has my back for what He wants me to do for Him!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

The Least of These

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time is familiar with the phrase I chose for today’s blog post title. They are words Jesus actually spoke in Scripture. The least of these. We read the words and tell ourselves we help the people rejected by society or rejected by church society, but more often than not, we really don’t. We get so busy and caught up in our own lives that we forget people who are alone or the people who are carrying burdens way too heavy for the rest of us to think about. We go to our jobs, spend time with our spouses, and parent our children–all of which are good things, but aren’t part of the business God wants us to be about.

Before I go any further, let me quote the Scripture so you can see the words. From Matthew 25:34-40: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

This Scripture goes on to say that those who did not do these things for the least of these would go on to eternal punishment while those who did would go to eternal life.

Now, I’m not trying to say we have a work-based faith. Far from it. The verses that are featured in this blog are just as true today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. God prepared us through grace to do these good works–not before we are saved, but after as it says in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

These words of Jesus did get me to thinking though. How tolerant are we of the least of these in our churches? Oh, we’ll go out and help them. We’ll feed the homeless, volunteer in a pregnancy crisis center, give someone a place to stay, or visit the hospital. But, how tolerant are we of the people who think differently or who are the least of these in our churches? Are we tolerant of the person who appears poorer than us? How about the person who walks in alone? How about the person who is a different race or gender than us? There can be an element of shame involved among those of us who are different. Don’t believe me? Let me go through some examples.

How about the statistic that the Sunday morning worship hour is the most segregated hour in America? This statistic was first quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we celebrate today in the United States. Ashamedly, so many years later, a poll finds that 86 percent of church congregations are composed of mainly one racial group. (LifeWay Research). We want to worship with people who look like us and have no interest in changing it. Reading those statistics brought me to tears.

What about differences that can’t be seen? I have a friend who runs a ministry to people whose career is not desirous in our churches. She invited some of these people to come to a particular church. At first, it was all right, but then their career became known, and she was asked not to bring them back. It’s not like they had dressed for their career to come to church. They were wearing clothes like the rest of us wear. But, people were still uncomfortable enough to not want them there. I’m pretty sure Jesus cried when that happened, and I did too. Another lost opportunity to bring people to Jesus.

Now, to bring the differences a little bit closer to home. I had a relative in the 1960’s who became a widow with the early death of her husband. She became different from the other people in her church. Different enough that people didn’t know what to do or say, and her family was left by the wayside. That abandonment traveled across the generations, made it so I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and still affects me today. Yes, things have changed for women in a lot of ways, but if a woman wants to serve in a church and is not married, she is relegated to serving with other women or with children. What happens when a woman is called to more than that like I think I am? I believe Jesus expects a woman to fulfill her calling whether she is called to something in the church that is traditional for women or something that is not so traditional.

There are also differences in thought, differences in how we think things should be done in our churches, and differences in sins committed as well as many different ways we can be the least of these. In other words, we are all different people who don’t fit the mold some churches say we should fit in. It’s almost a relief to type these words. God made us all differently, and we need to reflect that in our churches as we minister to the least of these. I pray that God gives us the courage to break out of the molds we have set for ourselves and bring more people to a saving relationship with Him.

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Safe Place

Last week, I started a series related to the questions my pastor asked in his New Year’s Eve sermon, and I thought I would continue it today. Last week’s question was “What does this trial expose in my heart?” (https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/refined-like-gold-and-silver/) It brought out a lot of good words and uncovered some things that needed to be exposed in my heart. Just like I’m sure this week’s question will.

So, without any further adieu, here is this week’s question. “Am I a safe place for hurting people?” I would like to think so. I’ve experienced many hurts within the church over the course of my life, and I would like to think that people could talk to me without worrying what would happen to their words.

But, then the question spurs more thoughts. Thoughts I’m not comfortable dealing with. Thoughts I’m not sure how to deal with. They begin with an offhand comment someone gave me after service last week. A friend of mine had gone up after service wanting prayer. I knew she had been struggling so it was a no-brainer. I went up and laid my hand on her shoulder as our pastor prayed as did a few other people. I hugged her when he was done and went back to my seat. After the service was over, another friend said she had noticed I had gone up and that I was a real prayer warrior. I wasn’t so sure about that. I’m not as comfortable when I don’t know the person wanting prayer, and sometimes, I feel like they wouldn’t want my support because, well, they have the support of the staff or the elders.

These thoughts brought me back to a few years ago when someone didn’t want me to pray with them; they wanted me to help them find an elder. I wondered why. Wasn’t I just as capable of praying? I know I am now, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with my own prayer life over the past few years. People still have their opinions though. If they’re at the church and want prayer, they would rather have someone on the staff or an elder pray for them. It’s like people who are lay members and want to serve don’t even exist. I don’t understand.

This brings me to more thoughts, and they are more of the selfish kind. I’ve watched people go up wanting prayer, and they were surrounded by a sea of people. It’s almost like I was seeing a popularity contest come alive right before me. And I wonder why I don’t get that kind of support when I ask for prayer. Before anyone says anything, yes, I know that’s a selfish thought. I’m just wanting to explore it and put it back in the place it needs to be. There are a couple of reasons, I think, that this happens. One, yes, there are people in the church who are more popular than me, people who have a better handle on their faith than I do. They are held up as an example to the rest of us, and I can understand why people flock to them. Two, people have a tendency to flock to trauma. If they know something bad has happened to someone, they want the person to know they are praying for them. Three, there is a request for people to pray over someone who is leaving the church for whatever reason, and many people tend to go up for those kind of prayers.

Now that I’ve explored why many people go up to pray for certain people, I want to state why I think some people are prayed for alone. One, no one knows what is going on. How do you support someone when you don’t know what’s going on? Two, some people have an innate sense of privacy that keeps them from wanting other people to know what is going on. Three, some people just have a need for someone to pray with them, and they don’t care if anyone is with them or not. I’m not sure what category I fall into. Sometimes, it’s two, and sometimes, it’s three. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three.

I’ve gone far afield of the question I first presented, but it was necessary to explain my thoughts to get to the conclusion I’ve come to. I think my best service to God is not going to be in the church. It’s going to be in the relationships I form and the writing I do. God wants me to put my words about Him and about my faith out there so people will know I’m not perfect. So people will know that I am a safe place. I shared a quote from an article on my Facebook page last week that I want to share here. “My desire now is to be the woman that God calls me to be. No more. And no less.” http://yellowhammernews.com/faithandculture/called-childlessness-surprising-ways-god/  I wrote this in response to the quote. “Though I did have the opportunity to be a mother, this spoke to me greatly especially now that my children are grown. The church expects women and men to fit a mold that they were often not made to fit. Thank you, Jesus, for being a mold breaker!”

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

Refined Like Gold and Silver

This past Sunday, on New Year’s Eve, I heard a sermon that brought up questions we should ask ourselves as we go into the new year. They were good questions, and I typed them into the notes section on my phone. Yesterday, I looked at my Facebook memories, and those exact same questions were used in my pastor’s New Year’s Day sermon from last year! This is not a pastor bashing post though. 🙂 I think too much of him to do that. But, it did get me thinking this morning. I was considering what my first set of blog topics was going to be, and the questions were the first thing that came to mind. So, today’s post will be my answer to the first question.

It is a given that all of us who are Christians will go through trials, some of them being more difficult than others, but still…trials. No one is immune. Jesus even says in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

With that being said, it makes sense for the first question to be, “What does this trial expose in my heart?” Wow! I almost don’t want to answer it because of the shame involved, but I promised to always be honest in this space, so honest, I will be. Many of the trials I have endured over the last few years have exposed a lack of trust in my Lord and Savior. This one is tricky for me though because I have experienced hearing evangelists on television and pastors of large churches say that, if I would only give them money, I would be wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I know that’s not true now, but the wounds of being devalued in the church and having my faith shaken because of my financial status still remain. I also know that God is not going to give me money just because I ask for it.

Where does that leave me in trusting God? I know someone who does well with this. Her family was stuck on the interstate the other day in cold temperatures, and she and her son managed to walk to a gas station. She posted that they needed help, and someone came to help them shortly thereafter. This same person has also talked about being behind on bills and trusting God to get them paid. She is a real straight-shooter about her faith and probably has no idea what an example she is to me.

I want to have that kind of trust in God. I want to know that He will be there for me no matter what happens in my life. I do have trust, but I don’t think it’s the kind of trust God wants me to have. It is a process asking more and more of me each day. That is why, I think, He is putting these trials in my path. He wants to refine me like it says in Zechariah 13:9 and grow my trust in Him. “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.'”

He wants to make me into the best version of myself that is already loved and adored by Him. I am God’s daughter, and His Son, Jesus, died on the cross for me! It can’t get any better than that.

So, this year I will work on trusting God in each and every circumstance. I will trust the people He puts on my path. And I will work on having a heart like His!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Goals for 2018

The year that starts on Monday is “the year” for me in many ways. It’s “the year” my son graduates from high school, and homeschooling is completed. It’s “the year” that having an empty nest becomes a reality. (It won’t really be an empty nest since my son is staying in town for school, but it will be different since I won’t be teaching him anymore.) It’s “the year” that things change for me, and I enter a new phase of my life. That being said, I thought I would write down some of my goals for this upcoming year so I would have a written record that would hold me accountable.

My first goal is the one that holds some immediacy for me since it is related to my son’s graduation. I need to get his grades and transcript done in order to submit them to the head of our cover school so he can graduate. It’s not like I haven’t been keeping records all of this time. It’s just the matter of pulling everything together. It also hasn’t helped that I don’t need to submit a transcript to his college until it’s complete so it’s been easy to procrastinate. But, I will get it done before the last day. It’s my promise to myself. And once it’s done, I won’t ever need to do home school record-keeping again. Yay! Well, if I’m being honest, only part of me is happy about that, and the other part…not so sure.

My second goal is how I’m going to practice my faith. When I was younger, I attended churches that made a point (whether subtly or not so subtly) of saying that you could only serve God if you were married. Women were also relegated to serving in certain parts of the church–with other women, children, or in the kitchen. I recoil against both of those attitudes. Women have a lot to give to the church, and it’s time we realized it and allowed it to happen. I was able to write this in my journal earlier, and it showed me how far I’ve come in 2017. “I am a daughter of God all on my own! No one else is necessary for me to practice my faith!” Now, as far as my goals go, I have identified an area of service that I plan to get more involved in this year. I feel God calling me to it. I also will go to a Lifewalk group by myself, if necessary, to get the Christian community I want and desire.

The other three goals are directly related to the creative side of myself and will help me, I think, in deciding what comes next after May. The first of these goals is related to my crocheting. I want to learn how to crochet a prayer shawl. I have learned and been successful with two different stitches. I’ll probably need to learn more stitches, but I think crocheting a prayer shawl is a worthy goal for the year. It will help expand my creativity too.

My second creative goal is related to my writing. I need to be reading more so I can see and emulate good writing styles. Reading different genres will expand my horizons and will help me in my quest to use the creativity God gave me.

And finally, my writing goals. I think I was pretty consistent this year with blog posts. I wrote a lot about my faith and the questions it brought up. I was able to clarify my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as well. I also got a start on the novel I want to write before I got stuck. So, for this coming year, I want to get unstuck on my novel, write some short stories and articles, and start submitting. I will never know if I’m good enough if I don’t try, and I finally have the confidence to try. I’m looking forward to writing more and learning more about the trade of writing through submitting my pieces.

In conclusion, I hope that all of us, myself included, reach the goals we set for 2018 and that it’s a year of much blessings for all!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

A Heart Like His

My sons have often asked me why I want to know something before everyone else does. I suppose it could be the natural inclination of wanting to be the first to tell someone information they don’t know. Or it could be the chance to tease someone about it. Did you ever say these words as a child? “I know something you don’t know.” This usually resulted in your friend pestering you until you told them whatever information you had. We all have a natural inclination to want to be first so thinking this would be my reason is plausible.

But, for the most part, this isn’t my reason for wanting to know something first. As a writer, I have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world that demands time for me to think and process what I learn about my world. I need that time to process new information so I can write about it. Some of that writing is just for me, and some of it, I share with the world. The more time I have to think about and process a topic, the better my writing usually is. I understand the topic better as well, and it becomes rooted in my heart. Not only can I write about that topic specifically, I can use my knowledge as I write stories and blog posts further down the line.

I think it’s going to be that way with what I found out yesterday. I went to a ministry leader, shepherd, and staff meeting at my church. I’m grateful that these kind of meetings are open to all whether a person holds one of those titles or not. But, I digress. Yesterday, I found out what our theme for 2018 is going to be. A theme which all the sermons and Wednesday night classes are going to be intertwined with. A theme which, I think, will be beneficial to my own personal faith walk. And before the suspense gets to be too much, let me reveal the theme–A Heart Like His. How do we develop a heart like Jesus’ heart? Interesting question, right? We’ve spent the past year looking at Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus, and this year’s theme will deepen that idea. It’s a good theme, and one I will have a lot to say about in the coming year.

But, for now, some preliminary thoughts. Does having a heart like Jesus mean doing the increased amount of dishes that comes with having everyone home without complaint? Or scraping gum off the church carpet yesterday though I know I looked funny sitting there while people were walking out? What about being willing to sacrifice someone you love to a form of service in the church because there aren’t a whole lot of people willing to volunteer for that particular service? Or being content with what I have and not wishing I would have taken a different path twelve years ago?

I’ll remove the suspense. All of my questions come with “yes” answers, and those answers bring me closer to the heart Jesus wants me to have. Why do I wonder though, and why do I want to be selfish especially with my family’s time? Sin nature, I know, but still, why is it so hard to be the person Jesus wants me to be? Why doesn’t doing these things come automatically to me like they do to so many others? Why do I feel so deficient with my faith when I look at others who seem perfect? We all know these kinds of people. The people who never seem to have anything wrong with them. The people who never wonder. The people who never seem to struggle. The people who are never curious about the things they think are wrong. The people who never think differently.

I think that’s why God gave me that sense of wonder and curiosity though. He wants me to ask questions. He’s not afraid to dialogue with me, and He doesn’t want me to be afraid either. I have to tell myself that over and over, and some days I am more successful than others. But, as 2017 closes and 2018 beckons, I am going to do my best to move forward each day and use the gifts God gave me to bring my heart closer to His.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!