Faithfully Thinking: When the church disappoints you

The Church has disappointed me, time and time again. By The Church, I mean the Christian Church.

I have stood in offices of private Christian schools and overheard gossip about others within the school; gossip that never should have been repeated. I have been told information I should never have been told by Christians who never should have known it, let alone shared it. I have heard Christians run down people who are struggling with cancer, mock people who were struggling with parenting, and betray people who were supposed to be their friends.

I have listened to people who call themselves Christians speak sarcastically and condescendingly to other Christians. I have been rejected by many Christians and I have been pushed to the outside of circles because I wasn’t the “right kind of Christian.”

And I have also done some of these things in the past myself.

I have been disappointed in myself.

I open my mouth or use my fingers at times I should not. I get annoyed and instead of praying, walking away and asking God to seal my mouth, I blurt out that annoyance. I have a quick tongue (and quick fingers) that God has been taming and has tamed in the past, only for me to lose control again. It may not seem like it to some, but I am so much better than I used to be. If people only knew how far I’ve come, they’d be so proud of me, even though I never recognize my progress and am rarely proud of myself.

That’s the issue when we judge people from only what we can see. Sometimes we see where a person is and not how far they’ve come. Trust me, I am very, very guilty of this.

The bottom line is that it is almost inevitable that at some point in our life The Church will disappoint us.

Its’ members will hurt us.

We will hurt them.

They will make mistakes.

We will make mistakes.

They are humans and we are humans and the only way for us all to get better is to commit to trying our best to live like Christ.

Church is not a place for perfect people.

It’s a place for hurting, broken, struggling, and failing people.

The people who hurt, break, and fail us.

No matter how many times The Church or its’ people disappoint us, God will never disappoint us.

Humans are ever-changing.

God is never changing.

I find that fact that God never changes comforting in the moments when I fail; when I fall off the wagon of keeping my mouth shut and get myself in trouble – once again.

I am not proud of those moments, but I know that even in those moments God loves me.

He knows I’m human and I’m going to fail.

He knows I want to change and I want to make amends where I can.

And he knows that The Church, his imperfect people, are simply learning as they go and they may hurt each other but that he will never hurt us and will always be there to comfort and hold us in our pain.

Don’t let the pain and hurt the people of God’s church have inflicted on you keep you from the never-changing love of Christ.

He’s with us even when The Church isn’t.

 

Faithfully Thinking: The little girl who brought a community together

*feature photo credit: Brown Photography

I generally skip past blog posts with sad stories, especially those related to childhood cancer so I would certainly understand if you skip this one. What is different about this one, though, is that there is some hope mixed into the story: hope for humanity, I suppose you might say. Or at least it restored within me some hope for humanity.

Back in the fall, probably Septemeber or October, we started to notice Christmas lights on houses in a tiny town we drive through to get to my parents and my husband drives through to get to work. In addition to the Christmas lights, Christmas decorations were starting to appear — like inflatables of Christmas related characters and Frozen characters. It’s not uncommon for Christmas decorations to remain on houses in our areas for months after Christmas, but this was a bit unusual to say the least. My husband soon learned the lights had been put up to cheer up a little girl in the town who had been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive brain cancer. The community had joined together to hang the lights for her to see when she came back from treatments.

One member of the community had even gone as far as writing the little girl’s name in lights on the side of his barn. For a full two months, I cried almost every time I drove through the town, amazed by the kindness of the community and the way they had gathered together to encourage this little girl in her battle. Not only did residents hang the lights, but businesses and the township also decorated in her honor.

Last week the family was told there is nothing more the doctors can do for her and a candlelight vigil was held for her at the tiny park in town. Members of two other communities, one where her church is located, another about 20 miles from Ulster, also held vigils, praying for her and singing her favorite song, “Let It Go” from Frozen.

87863466_1424714851044622_7209998532218978304_n
Little Ariah being held by a friend at the vigil in her honor. Photo credit: Brown Photography
DSC_8212
Photo Lisa R. Howeler

I know you can think of stories like this one, maybe in your own community or in a community near you. Ulster, Pennsylvania isn’t the first small town to rally around one of its’ own in a time of trial and tragedy. The story is not unique; it isn’t terribly unusual. I think, though, that we need to hear these stories no matter how many times they happen, to remind us that all hope is not lost; that the anger the media shows us has not permeated our world as much as they tell us it has.

There are still good people.

There are still kind people.

There are still loving people who recognize that, yes, indeed it does take a village to raise a family.

And there are still people who recognize we were not created to be alone but to be part of a community, a family tied together not by bloodlines but by our common humanity.

DSC_8233
photo Lisa R. Howeler

It is these people who show us that though there are things in the world that will bring us to our knees in grief, it is still true that”the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Ariah’s family showed this weekend that they believe and understand that the moment Ariah’s spirit leaves her earthly frame it will be in the presence of Christ.

 

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Musicians sang in the pavilion that night:

I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies
I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief
I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody
I raise a hallelujah, heaven comes to fight for me
I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you’re gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!
I raise a hallelujah, with everything inside of me
I raise a hallelujah, I will watch the darkness flee
I raise a hallelujah, in the middle of the mystery
I raise a hallelujah, fear you lost your hold on me!
I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you’re gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!

The niece of a woman I knew passed away a few years ago from cancer. She was very young, I don’t remember the exact age. She told her mother, as cancer made her weaker and weaker, that she was going to heaven. Her mother, of course, was distraught, not wanting her little girl to leave her.

“Heaven is closer than you think,” the little girl told her mother.

It’s so hard to sing in our storms.

It’s hard to sing in our unbelief.

It’s so hard to raise a hallelujah in the face of death.

It’s hard to raise a hallelujah in the face of fear.

It’s hard to raise a hallelujah when all hope seems lost.

It’s hard to understand the idea that our loved ones will be gone from earth but alive in heaven.

Even though it was hard, the people of the community raised those hallelujah’s this weekend.

They raised their voices because they believe that one day hope will arise from the ashes, that death is defeated and that the spirit of a little girl who fought so hard for her life here on earth will live in a heavenly realm we can not even imagine, a realm closer than we think it is.

DSC_8240

Faithfully Thinking: Which is more real, new or old time religion?

Church isn’t what it used to be and that can be both a good and a bad thing.

Yes, it’s good that the pastor’s who screamed hell and damnation at every service is fading out of the mainstream, but I’m not sure that it’s a great thing the pendulum has swung entirely the other direction and now we have pastors telling people to do whatever makes them feel good because God loves them anyway. God does love them no matter what, but I don’t know telling people to do whatever they want is the message God wants them to be pushing.

Today church is like going to a full-fledged concert, complete with fancy lights and singers and dancers and sound systems and a complete stage show leading up to the headliner – which is of course the pastor presenting the sermon.

Up until this past Sunday I thought these halftime-show type of churches was only something found in bigger cities, but while looking up an old college friend online I learned there is a copy cat style church near us, complete with fancy backdrop and professional sound system.

I watch a church service based out of Charlotte, N.C. every Sunday and it’s one of those churches that holds a 30-minute worship concert before the pastor, dressed in ripped jeans and a trendy shirt, comes out to preach. I actually love the pastor at the church and feel the worship is heartfelt and truly “worshipful” and not simply entertainment. To me the pastor is very honest about his doubts as a Christian and his awareness that many Christians don’t always feel good enough but pretend they’re fine. In my opinion, he is not at all the caricature his detractors paint him out to be. I’m impressed that he never ends a service without an altar call and always asks for everyone to stand until the Word of God has been read.

old or new_ (1)

Still, I sometimes feel uneasy with the slightly staged feeling of the service overall – the way you know when the sermon is going to end because the keyboard and base players appear in the background to begin playing the pastor’s “background music” to accentuate the emotional, serious final sermon point; how they break away during the music so they can show someone being “spontaneously” baptized in a big tub/pool in the lobby; and how you can see customers at the the merchandise store behind the commentators who talk about the sermon on the Youtube channel after it’s over, making sure they commemorate their visit to the church that now has their own touring worship band.

Though there are parts of the service that make me uncomfortable, I feel the pastor and others associated with the church are sincere and believe what they preach. There are times the Holy Spirit does seem to be leading the service such as when the main pastor swerves off script and prays or preaches a little longer than he should (he has to be careful because he preaches and they broadcast two morning services so he doesn’t let the Spirit get too out of control).

But then there are the churches trying to copy the church I watch or similar churches. The local church that I watched a little of this weekend featured frightened-looking women with large, fake smiles plastered on their faces saying things like “Tell Jesus you love him this morning. Okay? That’s right. We love Jesus.” without even blinking. Creeeepy.

The churches that have worship concerts to kick off services are mainly aimed at the younger crowd, who apparently need constant entertainment to feel like life is real. Maybe I’m an old fart at the ripe age of 42, but sometimes the inability to present the gospel without a light show is disconcerting to me.  I love worship bands and worship singers possessing long hair, tats up and down their arms, and recording contracts, don’t get me wrong. I believe many of these worship leaders are anointed and aren’t after the fame. There are others, though, who are just the opposite. As Christians we have to be careful and weed out which is which; not always an easy task.

000005_DSC_6658

I miss when we went to church and there was a little lady up front playing piano and the congregation joined their voices together and could be heard, instead of being drowned out by the pounding drums and the singer showing off his or her vocal acrobatics. I miss the pastor simply preaching to preach, not to make sure he produced a Twitter-worthy quote or an Instagram-story worthy clip. I miss people trying to save souls instead of reputations. I miss when a relationship with God was personal and not an effort to seem popular.

DSC_4623

Can there still be the personal outreach and the intimate connection with God in a church that uses a light show and a sound system to dazzle our eyes and tickle our senses? Of course there can be and, of course, I still feel God is moving in a church that sometimes seems preoccupied with appearance. Even with the show, with the light, with the perfect color-coordinated advertising campaigns, there is definitely some real preaching going on in some (the keyword being some) of these types of churches.

But we can definitely get lost in all the perfectly crafted moments and lose sight of the simple, uncomplicated, God we are here on Earth to worship and fellowship with. God doesn’t need our light shows or YouTube Channels. He doesn’t need our new clothing lines with the names of our churches emblazoned on T-shirts and beanie hats. He doesn’t need big buildings or big screens and he doesn’t care about subscribers or followers.

All he wants is to have a relationship with us and we need to be careful that the pounding drums and the raging guitar and the pastor’s catchphrase don’t drown out his voice.

 

Faithfully Thinking: God isn’t a vending machine

Recently I’ve noticed a couple of things about non-Christian, and even Christians, views of God. Mainly, the view that  “If I didn’t get what I wanted there is no God.”

I’ve held this view in the past, so believe me I understand it. What I don’t always understand as well are the people who don’t follow God but then put in their orders for what they want in life and expect them to fall from the sky simply because they asked.  They deny God, or curse God, almost every day of their life, but when they need something, suddenly He’s real and if they don’t feel those prayers are answered, then He doesn’t exist again.

Yes, the Bible does tell us to submit our petitions to God but it does not say He works like a vending machine.  We don’t put our coins of “good faith” into it and pull a lever and wait.

000023_DSC_0627-2

I know of a person (I don’t know them well, even though they are related to my family) who posts photos all over social media along the lines of “God says you’re going to have a miracle today” or “God says you will be blessed today” or “God says today all you’ve gone through will be worth it.” This is coming from a person who lives their life for them. They base decisions based on what will benefit them the most.

They don’t live their life as someone who believes in God until they want something. This is a person who texted me the morning they were having surgery asking for prayer the morning of it. I sent a prayer over the phone. The surgery went well. Two months later I never heard from the person again and that was over a year ago.White Red Beauty Quotes Pinterest Graphic

Cha-ching. Prayer submitted, prayer received, move on until the person needs something from God again, I guess. I don’t know that for sure, because only God knows the personal relationship between himself and his children, but it is how it seems from where I stand.

For my own sanity, I’ve made a decision to no longer pick up the phone when people like this call, looking for me to support their vending machine mentality. For a long time, I was the vending machine for a lot of people – needed a place to stay, pull lever; money, pull lever; need someone to watch the kids, pull lever. I finally put the “out of order” sign on the machine and walked away. Surprisingly, I haven’t heard from these people since.

Now my goal is not to look to God to be my vending machine; to practice what I preach.

000007_DSC_0584 (5)

God does want us to submit our requests to Him, but he also wants a relationship with us. He wants to give us the desires of our heart, but sometimes He knows those desires are not what is best for us. Ouch. I didn’t even like writing that because I have some prayers submitted these days that are not being answered and it hurts. I don’t understand why I’m in the places I’m in (I mean the places I didn’t get myself stuck in, of course), but God does and one day He will reveal it all for His glory. That’s what I have to try my best to remember even as I struggle with the why questions.

Today I heard a sermon and the pastor encouraged those listening to say throughout their day, as a prayer to God: “You are good. And you are with me.” We need to remember that He is with us, even when we don’t know why we are in the place we are, or maybe we know how we got to a place in our life, but we don’t know how to fix it.

He is good.

He is with us.

But he is not our vending machine of desires.

Can you give me a sign, Lord?

Reading the Bible as a reference for a story I’m working on, (Plus I should be reading it more anyhow) I noticed there are a couple of different times it is noted, at least in the NIV version, that Jesus “sighed deeply.” I’m not sure if this translation from Hebrew and Greek is correct or not, but it cracks me up. I can actually see Jesus rolling his eyes in his particular part from Mark.

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.” (Mark 8:11)

In my head, this is how it went down: “Seriously? A sign? Why do you people always want a sign?”

Mocking tone: “‘Give me a sign and then I’ll do it.’ It’s like you just want to procrastinate in doing what you know my Father is asking you do to. Just believe it or don’t. Don’t wait for fire from heaven. If it is God’s will you’ll begin to see your path clear, if it isn’t, the path will be closed. I really don’t have time for this. I have others who listen and don’t ask me for signs. Disciples, let’s blow this village.”

And then he pivoted on his feet and walked away.

So anyhow, I have these decisions to make in my life and I need a sign. You think God will give me one?

 

Trying to be still and remember He is God

Some days life is all topsy turvy. The world seems upside down and turned around these days. What was once up is now down and what was once frowned upon is now applauded. Those who say they love children and babies only protect them once they are born, not before. Those who say they support women don’t support them if suggest we respect ourselves by not dressing inappropriately. Those who say they respect life are murdering others. The other day every story in my Facebook newsfeed seemed to want to remind me of what foods and vitamins can kill me and what my children shouldn’t be doing that I once did because now it’s dangerous instead of fun. (Side note: I’m on a Facebook break for my sanity).

It makes my head hurt and the other day it found me shutting off Instagram and FB and just about literally huddled in a fetal position while I nursed my daughter to sleep for her nap (by the way, I’m not supposed to be doing that either, whether it feels right and natural to me or not). I closed my eyes against the tears and all the voices in my head and I heard a still small voice say “Be still.” That was weird. I said, “Huh? Why did that thought pop into my head?” It sort of creeped me out, but I heard the words again. “Be still.” And I then I heard, “Be still and know that I am God.”

It happened again a few days later as my mind raced with worry about another situation I’m currently facing. I kneeled to wash my daughter’s hair and as my thoughts raced from worry to worry to worry I heard the words “Be still..” again…

I often tell God, “Lord, I am awful at being still, at least as far as my mind goes. You know this. Yet you still urge me to remember that you are God. You are in control of my finances. You are in control of my health and that of my children. You are in control of the world, even when it seems out of control. Please, help me to not forget and please keep placing those words in my mind.”

Psalm 46:9-11 “…9He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. 10″Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.”