Tag Archives: church

Bigger than Myself

With my younger son about to start his final year in our homeschool, I have been thinking more of what I want to do next. More of what kind of legacy I want to leave. For years, it has been what do my children or what does my husband need to the exclusion of what I need.

This has even been true in the church from the activities my children have participated in to the ministries my husband has been involved with. And if I express a need, well, it’s called selfish, if not out loud, then in my own head. So, I have buried my own longings of doing things I’m good at or having a chance to participate in something for Jesus.

People might think my expressing these longings have thrust me toward the feminist camp, or they might think that I’m more of a traditionalist because I’ve stayed at home all of these years, but I don’t think I’m totally either. I’m a daughter of God praying about and looking to see the next thing He wants me to do when this phase of my life is over. I don’t want to be pushed aside because I’m a woman or told to sacrifice something just because I am a woman.

I’ve been struggling with how to voice all of this especially since I don’t want to be selfish either. I want everyone in my family to be doing the work God wants them to do. I watched something earlier on one of my favorite TV shows that has given me a voice to express this longing. It wasn’t a Christian show, but it had a message God wanted to send me.

One of the main characters on this show had been imprisoned with his son, and they were facing death within the next day. This guy was one of the main bad guys, and there was no attempting to gloss over that fact. He was telling his son to kill him in their upcoming fight (which their captors had scheduled) so he would make it out. He wanted his son’s life to count more than his life ever did. I don’t know any parent that could argue with this. He was very convicted of the bad things he had done, but thought that, if his son lived, he could leave something bigger than himself behind. And that was the phrase that leaped out at me–in blinking neon lights. “Bigger than himself.”

That’s what I’m trying to find–something that would leave an impact bigger than myself. Something that would be meaningful to the Kingdom of God. Because, I don’t have that right now. People miss my husband if he’s not at church; they miss my kids if they’re not at church, but they don’t miss me. There are things I would like to be asked to do, but other people are selected over me. Sometimes I feel like I’m the quiet kid shunted over to the corner so people can get the talent the other kids bring–my husband’s ability with the media board, my sons’ youth. I do things to satisfy others, but never myself. I look at these words I just wrote and think to myself, ‘There I go again being selfish. Whatever I want should be at the bottom of the list. Isn’t that what being a good Christian wife and mother is supposed to be? Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do?’

I’m not sure about the answer to the first question, but I know the unequivocal answer to the second is yes. I think a caveat needs to be added though. There are several verses in Scripture that talk about God’s plans.  Verses such as Proverbs 16:3. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Then there is Proverbs 20:24 which says, “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?”

“Directed by the Lord.” When a person’s heart and mind are centered on God in prayer, He can give us longings and desires. That might be considered by some to be a cop-out especially if it’s a woman wanting to make a difference for God, but hear me out. How does a person know they’re supposed to preach? How does someone know they want to develop their musical talent in order to lead worship? What about the person who wants to work with children or teenagers? What about the person who has a talent with numbers? These are all God-given desires that He wants us to act upon. So, how is that any different than someone who is trying to find a ministry focus or a new avenue to leave something of themselves behind? I don’t think it is, but there is an important thing to consider. Are we just doing it for ourselves, or are we wanting to do something that we have prayed about and that will bring glory to our Lord and Savior? If it’s the latter, may I suggest that it is a God-given desire we should do our best to act upon and not let Satan discourage us when he throws obstacles in our way.

And, there is the solution to my struggle. I’m told I do a good job of writing my way through problems to get to a solution. This was a God thing though. 🙂 Right down to the Scriptures I found earlier. So thankful for my God who has given me this writing talent. May we all keep our eyes on Jesus so we will know what He wants us to do!

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Cliques in Churches

This might be uncomfortable or even a painful thing for some of you to read. You might even be saying to yourself, ‘There aren’t any cliques in my church.’ God is calling me to write this though, and I think your eyes might be opened by the time you finish reading.

First, here is the definition of the word. A clique is a “small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.”

Does that sound familiar? Eleven years ago, my husband and I were considering pulling our children out of public school to homeschool them. There were many reasons. Our children didn’t fit in public school. One was gifted; the other was being bullied. As we did our research, we found so many pluses to this mode of education, we decided to take the leap. It worked out well for us. One of our children has graduated from our homeschool and is on the president’s list at his college and the other is a junior in high school.

Their achievements though are not the focal point of me writing this post. As we got involved in the homeschool community, both online and in real life, we found many people who had been wounded by the public school system. So many, in fact, that they formed their own clique. They didn’t want to be involved with anyone else but homeschoolers. That felt funny to me, but I wanted to be accepted so I didn’t say anything.

Years passed, and we moved to the state we now live in. I was more confident as a homeschooler, and we started forming relationships with people who were schooled differently. I remember the first year my older son played baseball. Even though he had not played for several years and was a homeschooler, he was warmly welcomed onto to the team by his coach and his teammates. The only thing that mattered to his coach was his work ethic. He worked hard that year, and in subsequent years, and became a better baseball player. Those boys are all in college now, but I have fond memories of a group of boys from different backgrounds coming together to play the game of baseball. Not a clique in my book.

But, there were and still are cliques in our current city, and a lot of them have to do with money. They consist of people whose children go to certain public or private schools who think they’re better than everyone else. These students have the attitude of their parents and think they are entitled. They behave badly and think the adults around them should pick up the pieces of their mistakes. And they are exclusionary–both students and parents, a fact brought painfully home to me when my son was given ugly stares last weekend when he was taking the ACT at one of these schools. I’m not trying to say that every family who has students at these schools is like this, but enough of them are that I count these schools as having their own cliques.

Now, to the saddest part of this post and the main subject–cliques in churches. I have experienced cliquish behavior in churches more times than you can count. Conversations that stop when I walk up. Implications that I’m not as good as other people because I can’t do certain things. Attitudes that imply other people are better than me because my child doesn’t go to a certain public or private high school. I gave up on God, for a time, many years ago because of this behavior. If other Christians couldn’t love me, how could God love me? I don’t believe that anymore. I refuse to give up on God or His love for me again just because other Christians are cruel!

If I did, what would be the point of these verses? I John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

How about I Thessalonians 3:12? “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

Here’s another one. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

And finally, the verse all of us can probably quote by heart. 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.”

“Whoever believes in him.” Not whoever believes in him and makes a certain amount of money. Not whoever believes in him and has a nice home. Not whoever believes in him and has a certain color of skin. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Jesus accepts everyone who comes to Him.

But, we still have cliques in our churches, and that is heartbreaking. No wonder people come in and don’t want to come back. They don’t see Jesus’ love in the people who are already there. These are people who long to be loved and accepted, who need to be loved and accepted for who they are, by us if they are going to see Jesus’ love. And many times they are not. Instead, they see activities that cost money. They see people who don’t understand the situation they’ve come out of. They see people who are going on cruises together. They see people whose children all go to the same school huddled together in a small group. And they see exclusion from church activities or opportunities for services because they’re not considered desirable enough. So, then I’m left with the question, ‘Can Jesus’ love really be seen when we divide into cliques?’ The answer is obvious, and it is sad.

I’m not perfect with this, not by a long shot. I remember my early years of homeschooling when I would trash public and private schools because of how we had been wounded and because I wanted to be accepted in my homeschooling group. God has convicted me in a big way though especially with behavior I’ve seen in recent weeks and how it has wounded me. We are to love everyone in Jesus’ name and not be a part of cliques in the church. May we all remember what Jesus did for us on the cross this week!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

Exploring a Question

The Internet can be an amazing place. I was reading another blog from a writer who lives halfway around the world the other day which stopped  me short. I try to read as much as I can because I feel like it makes me a better writer. Anyway, back to this blogger. He spoke of a situation he had encountered in his own country which was really bad. What he wrote to start with would be something you and I would consider to be a rant. I read it and was astounded. No one who lives in a first world country would put up with the sort of situation he was describing. By the end of his post though, he was calmer and said something I’m not sure I could say. He said he was going to take the situation and use it to grow his character as a Christian. Use it to learn how to forgive and how to endure. He wasn’t going to quit standing up for justice and what was right, but in the absence of said justice, he was going to use it to grow in his faith because, after all, that is what was most important.

I say all this because it relates to a question I’ve been puzzling over. No, my question is not as severe as the situation my blogger friend is having to deal with. First world problems, after all. But I’m thinking the resolution he came up with for his situation is something I need to consider for my own problem.

Here’s the question. When is it okay to say no in the church? Is it okay to say no, you don’t feel called to do something? Is it okay to say no, I feel like I’m burning out at this task, and I need a break? Is it okay to say no when you feel like you’re being taken for granted? Is it okay to say no about doing anything? Or is it okay to feel excluded when you are shut out of something you wanted to try?

Part of the problem with all of these questions is that there is a big problem in our congregations today with getting people connected and getting enough of them to volunteer for all of the tasks that need to be done. There are also, I hate to say, tasks that are more desirable than others and more a part of the “power structure” of the church. I think some of this might have led to my exclusion from the thing I really wanted to try.

But, that’s neither here nor there. I’m really wondering when or if it’s okay to say no. I know Jesus called us to share our gifts in the local body of believers, and I believe in that wholeheartedly. What happens though when you are the only one or one of a very small group of people who has a particular gift that you are expected to use week after week, not ever getting a break to study or get filled up with the Word? Are you ever supposed to say anything, or do you work until you are burnt out and ready to slam the door as you leave the church never returning to its doors?

There’s not an easy answer for this question. Many people do want to serve God and their churches and feel called to be in their positions to the point of being burnt out. They don’t want to admit they need a break. They think it’s wrong to say no.

For me, part of being a writer is asking the difficult questions and trying to figure out answers. I think if more of us actually shared our gifts with a local body of believers this wouldn’t be as much of a question. There would be resources to cover for someone who needs a break from sharing a particular gift.

But, in absence of a way to make everyone march in lockstep and do the things we want them to do (Would we really want that?), I need to figure out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to deal with my fatigue and with my feelings. And that goes back to the story I shared at the beginning of this post. My blogger friend, who is dealing with a situation no one should have to deal with, is using that situation to grow his character and his faith as a Christian and to learn how to forgive and how to endure. How can I do any less?

Praying for God’s blessings on you all today!

Writing through a Fog

This is an entry for the Writing Contest: Writers Crushing Doubt hosted by  Positive Writer.  http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-2016/  I post this here because Christians rarely discuss depression, and it is just as worthy a topic as any other illness. So, without further adieu, here is my entry.

 

Four and a half years ago, my family and I moved to a new city for my husband to take a job. I had tried my hand at some fan fiction over the previous year and had received favorable feedback. My plans of participating in a novel-writing contest though were derailed when I lost our third child. Oh, I said I wasn’t going to stop. I said I was going to keep writing, but something settled over me. A thick, black, dark something I couldn’t define. We barely knew anyone in the city, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to put words to paper. Tried to write stories, but they all sounded wrong, sounded nothing like what I had written earlier.

I moved through the first part of 2012 barely managing to keep it together, but then the question came that would change all of our lives. My son asked if we could find a church in our new community. Something inside me broke a little, and I decided to say yes. Meeting the people at the church lifted my spirits, but there was something still there. It was a fog I couldn’t get past in my attempts to write. This fog made me doubt my ability, made me doubt I had something worth saying, and in late 2012, I was considering putting up my notebooks and my pens for good. I didn’t want to. Something in me was yearning to break free, but I didn’t know how to make the fog stop, how to make the pain stop.

Through speaking with the pastor of the church we had been attending, I finally realized at the beginning of 2013 I was suffering from depression. It had crippled me to the point where I could no longer see the good in my life. My pastor offered to counsel me, and I accepted. It didn’t take long for him to get clued in as to how I coped with the world, and he suggested I journal what I was feeling and be completely honest about it. See, that was something I was afraid to do—be completely honest. I did what he suggested though because I trusted him, and the fog started lifting. I had a place where I could be completely honest with myself, and it was a place I didn’t have to share with anyone else.

Since that time, I have filled many journals and written blog posts and stories. None of my stories have been published yet, but I know that is only a matter of time. I am grateful for the fog of depression and doubt lifting and look forward to encouraging others who have experienced the same crippling doubt about their writing ability.

Walking into Church Alone

I started talking about this in my last post, but thought I would expand on it today. It is a scary thing to walk into a church alone. In a lot of churches, it seems like people have more respect and are more welcoming to a new couple or a new family than to someone who is alone. When I was in my teens and twenties, I walked into a lot of churches alone. I will never forget that “gulp down in the bottom of my throat” fear stepping through those doors and wondering if people would judge me on superficial factors and not get to know the person I was inside. My experiences have been positive, more than not, though I could tell you about some negative experiences that made me wonder whether theses churches truly wanted people to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Yesterday, I named some categories of people who might walk into a church alone. They included people who have never been married, whether old or young, people who have been divorced, and people who have been widowed. I want to add one other category to that list. It would be a person who is married, but whose spouse is not interested in coming to church for whatever reason. I think that one would be the hardest one of all because what do you tell the people you meet. You’re different from them, but you’re not different either so it’s hard to know where to fit in.

So, what does the church do about that, if anything? I think the first step is to recognize when people walk into our churches alone and make sure they are introduced to people who will sit with them during the service. That would go a long way towards increasing people’s comfort level with being in a new place. And then, then, if they are interested in knowing more about the church, give them opportunities to find out what the church is all about–opportunities to learn, opportunities to serve, opportunities to become a part of the church family despite the fact they are alone. People who walk into our churches alone are just as capable of serving God as those who are married or those who have families. It’s about time our churches realized that.

God’s blessings on you today!

 

Alone at Church

I could also entitle this post, “When there aren’t enough volunteers”, but I digress. First, I need to clarify something. I’m not really at my church alone. My husband is usually serving behind the media desk, and my sons are usually sitting with their friends, but I think my experiences over the last several months have been realistic enough that I can write this post.

Now, I think we can all agree that every church depends on its volunteers. And there are many who do volunteer–from the people who sing, to the people who serve on the media team, to the people who serve in the children’s area to the people who pass out communion and the offering baskets, to the people who serve on various committees, to the people who are elders, to the people who are on the greeting team, and I could go on and on. These are all valid jobs within the church, and I don’t have a problem with any of them. I serve on the greeting team myself.

There is another side to this though where spouses and families are encouraged to worship together. I don’t have a problem with this either except for one thing. What happens when spouses aren’t able to worship together? There is exactly one volunteer job at my church where spouses aren’t able to worship together at least for some part of the service. You might see where I’m going with this. That job is serving behind the media desk, and that is where my husband serves. He is good at this job. It is the calling God has given him. So, when I feel alone at church, I feel guilty. When I feel awkward about asking if I can sit with someone else’s family, I feel like an impediment to my husband’s ministry. God and I have had a lot of conversations about this. I don’t want to interfere with how my husband serves God. I want us to serve God together, and I want to support what he does. But, I will admit these last few months have been deeply discouraging for me because there haven’t been enough people available to keep him from having to be back there.

I’ve realized a few things though. One is that the awkwardness I feel in talking to people and being around people is a part of my personality. It has nothing to do with how I minister, and it’s not something God means for me to feel guilty about. The other thing, and the more important thing is that there are people who walk into our churches alone, who don’t have anyone at all to sit with, and who are waiting for someone to ask them to sit with them.  So, I think God is issuing me and all of us a challenge. A challenge to make sure we are careful with our language in talking about how families should worship together and a challenge to make sure people who come into church alone or who are sitting alone always have someone to sit with.  Who knows? You might be Jesus to someone who needs Him.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The Praying Church

In my last post, I talked about how God had blessed my family in the last several weeks.  It seems the blessings have also come in the way of blog topics for me. This topic comes out of a discussion I was in last night during a women’s Bible study I attend. Among this group of women, my sisters in Christ, there is a longing to see more collective prayer time in our church. More time on our knees praying for needs, praying for the will of God to be done, praying for our community and our world.

When did that stop? Not just in my church, of course, but in the collective church of today. Yes, there are some churches that are very good about prayer, but, for the most part, I believe the church of today does not understand the true power of prayer. There are many people more theologically literate than me that could explain this better. This is my take on it though. One reason that churches might be distracted from prayer is the number of distractions in our world today. They have multiplied exponentially from even when I was a young person. (though my son does say I’m old) Our society tells us that there are things we all need to be doing or should want to be doing, and if a person, a Christian, is not careful, these messages can drown out what God is telling us we need to do.

Another reason could be that we don’t understand how to pray. Prayer is just a conversation with God, but so many people don’t understand this. They believe that God wants to hear elaborate words, that our prayers need to be said a certain way.  It’s not the case at all. Now, I haven’t always understood that myself. Don’t get me wrong. I used to think you had to pray like that to get God to notice you.  But, I don’t think that way anymore. My relationship with God, especially over the last two years, has become more personal, more rooted, and that has helped me understand what prayer is supposed to be.

Prayer needs, at times, can also be overwhelming. There can be so many things to pray for.  So many needs. So many things to do to assist with those needs. But, if those needs aren’t bathed in prayer first, they might be met, but they won’t be met the way God wants them to be met.

So, what can be done to become more of a praying church? I think we need to realize that we, as Christians, need to live in community. We need to trust each other, and we need to trust that the wounds we have won’t be judged by our Christian brothers and sisters. I know that is a hard one. I could tell you of the many times I have been wounded in the past because I was judged by someone who claimed Christ as Savior. It has brought me to a true understanding now though of how we are not supposed to judge each other. Of how we are supposed to love others in Jesus’ name no matter how they have been wounded.

We also need to be willing to change. If we are not relating to someone on their level, if we are only loving someone in a way that’s familiar to us because we don’t want to love differently, they will never see Jesus in us, and that would be the saddest thing of all.

And finally, we need to remember God gave us prayer for a reason. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  Powerful things happened in Jesus’ name during the time of Acts. There’s no reason they can’t happen now if we, as Christians, would only recognize the power of prayer.

God’s blessings on you today!