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Comings and Goings

I don’t usually read or watch the news, but every once in a while, something grabs my attention. An online article by Chris Sonksen was one such article today. It was both challenging and encouraging at the same time. Like most people, I have observed people coming, going, returning to my church, depending on reasons sometimes openly and loudly announced, sometimes just quietly and gradually withdrawing. Some simply disappear, others leave in a flurry of discord and disharmony. It has puzzled me since I was drawn back to church in my forties.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic church – in the time when if you lived in the parish you stayed in that church, period – and attended willingly until I returned home after college, and began attending the parish church in which I had grown up. I know the exact reason I left – a priest who interrupted another priest’s mass in order to collect more money. To interrupt what was supposed to be a celebration of God to collect money for air-conditioning didn’t seem correct. That’s the last time I attended a Sunday service, until , as I mentioned , my mid-forties.

When I started attending church again, it began when a friend invited me to her church. Turns out it wasn’t a Catholic church, but a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, pentacostal church. As I renewed my relationship with Jesus, I felt at home and settled. That is, until I met and married my late husband! He was not comfortable with the worship style at my church, and felt more at home in his. After a great deal of drama and tears (all mine, I’m afraid!), we ended up at his church – a Bible-believing Baptist church. Hindsight shows me that God was the one who orchestrated those circumstances and changes. He had a plan for me, both in ministry and daily living.

But this was a church in transistion. The minister who had pastored the church fo over 25 years had retired, the interim pastor would have made a good pentacostal pastor, and the newly-hired pastor was trying to fit in. People hated the change, left in droves, and left chaos in their wake. So much so that the state association sent in a regional pastor to address the congregational issues and an interim pastor whose special calling was developing healiung and reconciliation.

But again, people “didn’t like him” and left. Again. Three long years later and a new pastor is called. But “I don’t like…” raises its ugly head again. What don’t they like? The worship music, or the new service times, or the new worship team, or the youth leader, or, or,or! You get the picture. Personal preference, not Christ, is becoming their doctrine. What I like is mor important than what Jesus teaches.

I could easily have decided to leave after my husband passed. It was hard and painful to be in church every Sunday, and seeing the place where his casket had sat, to hear the songs he loved to hear and sing, to see the people who loved him as they missed his presence. BUT GOD NEVER SAID “Leave. Go somewhere else.” He never gave me permission to seek a new church home. Someday He may, but until that time, any reason I might come up with for leaving would be all about me, and not about Christ and what He wants from my life.

So I challenge you. If you are thinking about leaving the church where God has you, ask yourself, “Who am I trying to please with this decision? Myself or God?” “What is motivating my desire to leave – my preference and feelings, or the Word of God?” If the answer to either question involves the word “I'” then get into some serious prayer and seek out what God wants and not what you want.

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Pharisees and Me

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20 ESV

How can my righteousness surpass that of people who made it their sole occupation to meticulously follow every command of God Almighty (as well as the thousands of other ‘laws’ they themselves created)? The simple answer is, It can’t. Not my righteousness. Only the righteousness that I am gifted by Jesus, when I accepted and acknowledged that He – who lived a perfect life, pleasing God, died to pay for every sin, and rose again to offer eternal life – paid my debt and is the only one who can restore my right relationship with a holy God.

It is not my ‘righteousness’ that God the Father sees when He looks at me, but it is that of His Son, Jesus. Praise the Lord for that, because I am totally incapable if doing anything that would please God, or get me to heaven. It is only the completed work and person of Jesus that can achieve that. That does not mean I fo everything right, ir that I never screw up. It only means that, WHEN I do, if I acknowledge that I have sinned (again) and turn away from that sin (again), then God promises to forgive me (again).

It is only when I refuse either to trust in the redemption that Jesus offers, or stubbornly won’t acknowledge my sins and wanderings that I become like the Pharisees – hard headed, hard hearted, and totally lost! May that never be! Lord, grant that I may always be willing to humbly yet boldly come to your throne of grace in repentance, seeking to be restored to your loving embrace once more!

Investing or Checking?

Some of you know that my favorite, favorite TV/movie/book series is Star Trek, primarily, the original series.  I began watching it the year it began (with much argument with parental rules about bedtimes) and continue to be a Trekker to this day.  In one of my favorite Trek novels, Spock’s World by Diane Duane, Spock, Kirk, and Dr. McCoy are in a discussion (as usual) about the differences between humans and Vulcans. McCoy complains about the inability to translate certain words. Spock tries to explain to McCoy that it is not a word, per se, that McCoy is trying to understand, but an concept – that Vulcans, unlike humans,  have the ‘direct experience of the being or force responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Universe’ and that they ‘experience that presence directly and constantly.’ McCoy and Kirk are somewhat shocked and observe that the Vulcans appear to be in possession of what humans have been seeking for millennia.

In my reading pile just now is a book by A. W. Tozer called The Pursuit of God*.  I have not finished yet, but Tozer’s premise for writing is that Christians have the ability to have that experience as well, to end that seeking.  “The greatest fact of the tabernacle was that Jehovah was there, a Presence was waiting within the veil,” as he writes.  Tozer goes on to say that we, our ‘selfs,’ are the veil that now hides the living presence of God from us.  Tozer shows how “a loving Personality” is evident throughout the Bible – walking in the Garden, speaking with Moses and Abraham, and teaching and calling the disciples and us.

So this is a challenge for each who calls himself a Christian – to seek after that personal, direct relationship with God.  We use a lot of words sometimes to describe discipleship, we often use traditions and rituals to convince ourselves we’re doing it right, but the truth is that we get in our own way more often than not.  Instead of focusing on developing a friendship, a connection with God by spending TIME with him, we rush through our daily quota – read this many verses/chapters, read this devotional in the morning, that at night, prayer for this request or that.  STOP!  Stop and smell the roses!  Friendships are built by investing, not in accomplishing a to-do list.  Slow down.  Savor. Get to know God, get to know Jesus, the same way you got to know your best earthly friend – by talking, laughing, crying together.

The psalmist speaks about this living God, long before Jesus came, died, and rose to live forever:

  As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?  Psalm 42:1-2

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So are you investing your time into developing a close, intimate relationship with Jesus, or are you merely checking off the items on your to-do list?  Only one option with have eternal consequences.  Choose wisely.

*The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer, Tozer Legacy Edition, copyright 1982, Christian Publications, Inc.

Do You?

​Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 

“Do you believe?”  YES and AMEN!