Church Shopping

Church shopping. It’s a little like church hopping, but not really.
Church hoppers are never truly interested in committing to any local body of believers. They want to leave their options open just in case another church starts a new program that might benefit them in a way their present church doesn’t. Church hoppers don’t like to settle into any one church for too long. Church shoppers are different. I know. I am one. Now. And I’d like to say unabashedly that it stinks. Usually I love shopping, but it’s not my choice to be a church shopper. How did I become one?
My husband has served in ministry for twenty years. In that time our family has always attended the church that provided his paycheck. Church shopping was not necessary. Even when we moved to a new town, it was for him to take a new church position. No shopping. But when you resign one church position, and move to a new town without a position to go to, poof! You’re a church shopper. Maybe you’ve moved, or decided for one reason or another that you should attend a different church, and found yourself in this position. If that’s the case, I am truly sorry.
My husband has spent years and years designing worship services that make people feel comfortable walking into, and then leaving feeling as though they have truly experienced something unique, and doing it with excellence. Now we are on the other side of things.
Now we are the ones walking in, and we notice everything. Are we welcomed warmly, but not overly so? Is it easy to figure out where to go and what to do? What do we think of the worship style or the pastor’s message? How well are they using media to grab the attention of this techno savvy generation? Are the children valued, and provided age appropriate teaching in a safe environment? What about the youth? Are they allowed to serve in meaningful ways there? Is the coffee flavored, and are the doughnuts fresh?
It’s a bit like shopping for a swimsuit.
There are a lot of areas that need attention. What seems to fit fine in some places leaves huge bulges in others. Tug one side down, and it exposes far too much flab somewhere else. I don’t like shopping for swimsuits any more than I like shopping for a church.
There are a plethora of churches to choose from. And the people in all of them are God’s people. There are small family type churches, larger more corporate type churches, and then there are the mega churches. There are more flavors of churches than flavors of ice cream Baskin Robbins ever served up.
So far the churches we agree with theologically seem to be stuck in a time warp stylistically. They have one foot planted in traditional worship, and the other reaching for contemporary, and they aren’t doing either one exceptionally well. I truly don’t mean to offend here, but I actually noticed one local church marquee advertising three different services each one offering a different worship style.
How can that possibly work? I’m thinking of the saying, “Jack of all trades, and master of none.“ When a church seeks to please everyone, no one is pleased. It’s called “No man’s land”. For the love of Pete, choose a style, and do it with excellence.
We have found a couple of churches whose worship is good. We are partial to full on, no holds barred, guitar driven, drum beating, toe tappin’, hand clappin’ worship. You can’t get too loud for us. We like to think heaven hears, stops, looks down, and gets their groove on, too.

We like to think heaven hears, stops, looks
down, and gets their groove on, too.

So far while the music has been pretty good at a couple of places, we don’t fall in line theologically, and when you are married to a theologically conservative seminary graduate, that’s a non-negotiable.
What all this shopping has done for us, other than thoroughly frustrate us, is it has given us a new appreciation for all those folks who once walked into our services looking for a church home. We can truly appreciate the awkwardness of not knowing really where to go or what to do. We can appreciate the questions about what a church believes, what the mission and vision is, and do they even know?
If you have a church home, count yourself blessed.
Don’t be a church hopper. Be committed to your part of the body, and be a vital part of it. Only leave if it is God calling you to go. If you are church shopping let me encourage you. I know how hard it is. I know that to stay the course until you find a church home is challenging. Committing to a local body of believers is a serious thing.
The local church is the way God is choosing to reach this dying world. If we are going to be a significant part of that, we can’t be shoppers forever.

The Way

Do you ever feel like you are in the way?

Moms like to talk about their kids. It doesn’t take long for our conversations to work around to our kids. We share in our children’s joys as if their joys were our own, and we are brought to our knees over their sorrows as if their sorrows were our own.

I have a friend who is in a unique position as a mom. Her kids are grown up and out from under. They are young adults out in the world. I used to think our maternal instincts would lessened to a degree at that point in the game, but those moms whose kids have flown from the nest know this is not the case. My friend’s unique position as a mom comes from the fact that her son, James, is blind. He developed a condition as he neared adulthood that caused him to slowly lose his sight. My friend had to watch her son’s visual world slowly fade into darkness knowing there was not one thing she could do about it.

There are remarkable aspects to my friend’s story about her son.

Against all odds, her son finished college, and with the aid of family and his humongous guide dog, he lives on his own. For a while his accomplishments brought him a small amount of local notoriety. It seemed that in spite of his disability, the road ahead of him would be paved with opportunity. But that was then. Now when I ask my friend how her son is fairing and what is going on in his life, she can only seem to shake her head and dab at the tears that come to her eyes. I can almost hear the breaking of her heart.

It just seems like every door of opportunity slams shut on him, one after another. For a while they were taking these setbacks in stride, believing that an open door was coming and would be held open for James. But lately I am afraid they are losing their grasp on the hope they held for his future. He depends on family for many things. James cannot drive, and so his family takes him where he needs to go. With tears in her eyes, she recently told me that her son feels he is in the way. Looking into her eyes, I knew that nothing could be farther from the truth.

I stood before my friend with not one word to say. I am rarely at a loss for words, but as hard as I tried no words of platitude would come. She is right. The situation stinks. All I could give her was a promise to continue to pray for her son.

As I turned and left my friend, the thought that stayed with me was that James felt in everyone’s way.

I know how I feel about things that get in my way. I am annoyed and frustrated by them. I can only imagine how it must feel to think you are what’s in the way. Yet the more I thought about those words, the more I began to wonder if James could use those hard words to his advantage. How could he turn being “in the way” into a positive? Of course, first, he would have to modify what he means by the phrase.

In New Testament times, being in “the Way” or a part of “the Way” could buy you a lot of trouble. If you were a follower of Christ you were part of the Way. That’s what Christians were called back then. Saul, before he was the great apostle Paul, was a persecutor of those who were a part of the Way, and many lost their lives by Saul’s hand. Jesus referred to Himself in John 14:6 as “the way”. The expression is adapted throughout the New Testament, where we read of “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17), “the way of God” (Matt. 22:16; Acts 18:26), “the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:25), “the right ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:10), “the way of peace” (Luke 1:79; Rom. 3:17), “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2), and “the right way” (2 Peter 2:15).

Fast forward to today. We still use this word, “way”. You know what I mean. You say something unbelievable but true, and someone says, “No way!” To which you respond, “Way!” The word still means truth!

I understand that when James thinks of himself as being in the way, he is not thinking along the lines I’m considering. It is my wholehearted prayer that he soon will. Maybe standing in “the way” is exactly where God wants him. James faces challenges in life that I cannot fathom. Neither can I grasp the challenges that faced those early followers of the Way. All I can say is I am so eternally thankful that they did face those challenges. It is through their sacrifice and wild belief that I can stand as a full-fledged member of the Way today.

It is my prayer that James is always in the way. It is my hope that his life is given to standing in the way of unrighteousness and using the wonderful gifts God has given him to point others to the way of Christ. It’s not a fanciful life. There is precious little glitz or glamour. Standing in the way demands determination and a goodly amount of fortitude. It’s no place for sissies. But if we stand in the way wonderful, God sized, things begin to happen. It is James’ limitations that cause his feelings of being in the way. But it is through his (and our) limitations that God gets big. Our weaknesses do nothing to stall the Heavenly Father.

It is in our weakness that He is made strong, and our faith and usefulness to the Kingdom increases.

In what ways are you standing in
“the Way” in your own life?

Right, Pure, and Holy

I heard a story about a young mother who one day ran out of gas in her car.
Looking around to find a container to put gas in, all she could find was a potty chair she had in her trunk. Her oldest was in potty training mode. Armed with the potty chair, she walked the short distance to the gas station and filled up the potty with gas. I’m sure it was quite a sight. After filling the potty with enough gasoline to get her to the station, she walked back to her car and proceeded to put the gas in the tank. Now don’t do what I did at this point in hearing the story. I got lost wondering how in the heck she pulled that off.
You see, I have also on occasion run out of gas and have had to be a bit creative in getting some gas in the tank. Unless you are prepared for such an eventuality and have an approved gas can in your trunk, it is quite a trick indeed. And chances are, if you are the type to run out of gas to begin with, you probably are not the type to carry along such a container.

I was pulled back to the story in time to hear the ending.

A man had pulled over and commented, “I have to admire your faith, ma’am. But putting the contents of that potty chair into your tank probably won’t get you very far.” I got it. He thought she was putting the normal contents of a potty chair into her tank. Cute. Stupid, but cute.

I was recently riding in the car with my teenaged son. We were listening to the latest CD from one of his favorite bands. I happen to like this band, too. Neat, huh? I’m either really cool, or he’s really not. One song came on, and my son commented how that song made him depressed when he heard it. Listening more closely to the lyrics I had to agree. It was depressing. I know that music can really get into your soul. Listening to songs with unhealthy lyrics can certainly influence your thought life and your mood in an untoward way. The reverse is true also.

Case in point: it is impossible to listen to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and continue to be sad or depressed. It’s my antidepressant of choice.

We are faced with choices every day regarding what we allow to enter into our minds. Let’s face it; we’ve all got some unhealthy stuff bouncing around in there. Sometimes we find there are things in there we never intended to have, and they choose to rear their ugly heads at really bad times. That’s why Scripture warns us against allowing our minds to be focused on what is not the best for us.

I once led a group of second grade boys at church. I sometimes had as many as sixteen boys in one room. Uh huh. It would have been pure chaos except these kids were just the greatest. I love seven year olds. It’s a great age. I had one little boy tell me he had been allowed to watch a rated ‘R’ movie. Ouch. It was a statement that my oldest son would have labeled “random”. Meaning it came from out of nowhere. As I paused in search of a response I could say out loud, he stared up at me with those big brown eyes just waiting for me to find my voice. I think he was probably enjoying the moment.

Suddenly Philippians 4:8-9 came to mind.

Whew! So I told my little charge what the Bible had to say about being careful regarding what we allow into our minds, and that we must guard them and save them for right, pure and holy things. After I finished what I thought was a very clever response, he simply said, “Okay.” And it was done. See? Seven is easy.

But it got me to thinking about my life, and the things I allow into my mind and heart. What am I reading? What am I watching on television, and listening to on my iPod? The man who thought the young mother was putting poop into her gas tank, and expecting the car to start had it right. We can’t expect our hearts and minds to serve us well if we are feeding them a steady stream of garbage.

The challenge is not an easy one. If it were, the lure of nasty wouldn’t be such a big problem for us. There’s certainly enough nasty out there to go around. Finding right, pure, and holy—now there’s a challenge. For me it’s putting down the murder mystery novel in favor of a heartwarming story, or even resisting the temptation to check out the news online for the latest current events. (Since when is there ever anything uplifting in the news anyway?) Simple things, really. But with competition out there for our very thoughts, we can’t afford to be on autopilot.

So what are you feeding your noggin?

Not sure? Well, how do you feel? Are you tired, sad, depressed even? Maybe just a little? How’s your attitude about life in general? I know mine’s been a little off lately. So I’m paying a bit more attention to what I’m feeding my brain, and what’s seeping into my heart. I’m also going to listen to “Mr. Blue Sky” several times today. Just to be sure. Then stand back, and watch God work you into his most excellent harmonies!

Eternity is a Really, Really Long Time

Eternity. There is so much wrapped up in that one word. I often misuse it. I say things like, “I waited an eternity in line at the bank today.” Or “It seemed like an eternity before they called me back at the doctor’s office.” I tend to use it when I want to describe how long I’ve waited for something when I think I’ve had to wait a very long time. But I’m not the only one who does it. I had to go renew my drivers license this year at the DMV and my friend said, “Take a book, you’ll be there for an eternity!” — I was.

When I stop and think about what the word eternity really means, and not my little selfish use of it, I am completely awestruck.

The word eternity has latin origins and means without beginning or end. So I am surprised at how surprised I was a couple of years ago when my preteen daughter had such a hard time wrapping her brain around the idea.

Bedtime at our house can be quite a long endeavor. It can last an eternity. (Grin) I still tuck the two younger ones in each night. By the time a path to each bed is cleared of toys, clothes, and shoes, (Martha Stewart does not live with us) pj’s are put on, teeth are brushed and bathroom visited, it’s time for the fun part.

There in the darkness, my children share their deepest thoughts and concerns with me. I learn about friendship troubles and school worries. I learn about their fears and their hopes. For a few moments each night they have me all to themselves without interruption. Many times our discussions turn to their spiritual concerns.

One such night, my daughter and I were talking about what heaven was going to be like. It was a nice talk. Or so I thought. About thirty minutes after I was back downstairs and hooked into my favorite TV show, she came downstairs crying. She was shaking uncontrollably, and could barely form words. When my husband and I could finally make out what she was saying, we were both shocked. For the last thirty minutes she had been up in her room pondering eternity, and the thought of it totally freaked her out.

Matthew looked at me and with concern in his voice asked, “What did you tell her?”

Defensively, I told him we had a nice talk about heaven and how great it was. (At least that’s the conversation I remembered having.) We came to find out that was not what was giving her the problem. It was the eternity part. The forever-ness of it. She was trying to wrap her brain around infinity and was having trouble making the stretch. I would like to say we were able to calm her down, and help her to see that eternity was nothing to worry about, but no. Since that first night we had this scene repeated again a couple more times.

The last time we had an episode like this, I tried a new tactic with her. I told my daughter that eternity was not an event that was to come sometime out in the future. It was not something she needed to look forward to or to dread. It was something she was living right here, right now. I told her that one day we would all pass from this life into the next and keep right on trucking. That forever started the day God created the world. I started to listen to what I was saying and realized that maybe I had stumbled onto something. I do that sometimes. It’s usually quite unexpected. So while I was hoping to help her, God was trying to say something to me, too.

I remember as a child, hearing fervent preachers at southern revivals question us, their captive audience, about where we were going to spend eternity.

I remember as a child, hearing fervent preachers at southern revivals question us, their captive audience, about where we were going to spend eternity. With sweaty brows, they referred to eternity as a time and place somewhere in the future: a time after we stopped inhaling and exhaling for good. But if we consider that we are living out eternity in the here and now the question takes on a new meaning for us. At least it did for me. The preachers from my childhood still asked a relevant question, but if you view eternity as a place you currently reside, it takes on a more urgent tone. Where am I presently spending eternity, and what am I doing about it now?

Proverbs 8:23 tells us, regarding wisdom, that God fashioned it at eternity, before the world began. Eternity is not some time or place out on the horizon; it began when God established the earth and continues now and forever. So I ask myself, what am I waiting for? When I am ninety, will I look back and be disappointed with what I’ve done for eternity? Or will I look back and see a life that had purpose and meaning. I can’t sit around on my laurels and wait for eternity if I believe eternity is now.

If I am not careful, I can lose huge amounts of time where I have done nothing significant for eternity. Oh, I have been busy, very busy, but I have been like a hamster on a wheel: running for my life, but getting nowhere fast.

I expect we may have more of these discussions about eternity with our daughter. I hope and pray that she can grow to understand that while forever is, well, a really, really long time, she’s already there. And God is there, too. So if we take it one day at a time, focusing on how we can better serve Him, one day we’ll look back over a life that will have meant something for eternity.

Do you ponder eternity? Do you believe eternity is now, or some other time or place? Does the thought of eternity overwhelm you, or encourage you?