Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It Takes A Church...

     The title of this blog has been rolling around in my mind for three weeks now and I haven't been able to write. Every time I sit down to write, my mind is flooded with the many different directions this blog post could go. The problem is, I want to write about all of them! Initially the title came to me as I was reflecting on the people God has used to shape my daughter's life. Over the years God has sent various individuals from the body of Christ...the church to grow her. There were some who patiently drew her out of her shell away from being the four year old that hid behind me, and into being a more confident and social seven year old. Others have prayed her through some strong-willed seasons, no doubt wearing their knees out on her behalf. At times God has used a Christian teacher to affirm her talents and skills so that she would consider using them to bless others. Recently He sent someone else to pick up where that teacher left off and patiently yet persistently, invite her to take a risk and sing on the worship team. God is shaping her and strengthening her through His people...the church. It's a beautiful thing to watch and it's brought to my attention that the church can be God's tool not only for shaping each one of us, but for shaping the world.

     It's this shaping of the world I want to explore for a bit. Our world has taken on quite a sloppy shape lately. It's in rough shape. There isn't a nation on this planet that isn't in some kind of trouble. We've got no shortage of world leaders that have tried to solve the world's problems. They won't be able to. Though countless people look to them to fix things, nothing they do will have lasting success. Even future world leaders can't truly fix what's wrong with us. You can vote for any one of those men or women who have thrown their hat into the ring for president of the United States.The only guarantee you've got from either political party, is that somewhere down the line you will be disappointed! The solutions offered are the equivalent to slapping a band aid onto a main artery that is hemorrhaging. That's because Christ is the only sure solution to anything and the church is the agent who acts on His behalf,  through which He chooses to solve problems.

     The church is the agent through which He chooses to solve problems... I marvel at this thought. Have you been to church lately? The church is made up of humans. The church is made up of people like you and I who don't have it all together and don't always agree on everything. Sometimes we can't seem to agree on anything at all! Yet He chose the church. I would have found this hard to believe some years ago. My experience with the church being an agent through which God chooses to solve problems was this: The church sponsors missionaries and the missionaries go to other countries to help solve problems (such as poverty or malaria) and while doing so, preach the gospel.  Now however,  I have a new frame of reference through which to view this. I have seen time and time again how God uses the church I currently attend to be an agent through which He can offer a solution to a lost and hurting world.

     There are a variety of ways the church I attend does this...too many ways to list but I will highlight a few.  A few years ago, homeless people were sleeping on our church steps. The church could have sent them on their way and suggested other places to find shelter, instead it went through the necessary steps to become a homeless shelter. Now, during the winter months eighteen homeless people have a warm place to sleep. The county we are located in has had a high unemployment rate in recent years and this likely contributed to the many families in need of food. There are several food pantries in our area, but the church decided to be a part of the solution and open its own food pantry. In addition to providing physical food, the pantry provides spiritual nourishment through a sermon and love through volunteers who listen to the guests and pray with them. Most recently, the church learned of the Syrian refugee crisis. The pastors could have just encouraged the congregation to give to one of many organizations out there who are helping the refugees. Instead, one of the pastors bothered to do some research and found missionaries from our denomination, who are on the front lines serving the refugees. She contacted them personally, to find out how we could help. The pastor could have asked us to give a second offering that would be sent to the missionaries to aid in their efforts, but she didn't. No, she took it one step further. She announced that ten percent of the regular offering would be sent to help the refugees. Our pastors chose in that moment to give sacrificially from the general offering, knowing that we are behind budget to begin with for our church's needs. I think this last example really spoke to me in a unique way. In the nearly eight years I've attended this church I have grown accustomed to it being an agent through which God chooses to solve problems in the local community. This time I saw how God can take a church and make it an agent that He can use across the world and this excites me!

     It excites me because so many times I see things on the news that move my heart and I want to help, but I wonder...what can I really do?  Sure, I am aware that sponsoring a child in another country or working with another church in a faraway place to build a school are ways that I can help. However, there was something different for me this time. I had been watching the news for days and reading blogs about the crisis. It has been called the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II! Somehow that made me feel like anything I could do would be nothing more than a drop in a bucket...so why bother. However, by the time the church service rolled around I was ready to help. Even though I am only one person I was willing to add my one drop to the bucket. Here is the beautiful thing about being a part of the church...we are all God's drops in a bucket but when we come together we create a big splash! When the church unites and is willing to be an agent acting on God's behalf...nothing is impossible. We know that  the impact of just one person is significant. Many times all it takes is just one person to stand up to a bully or one person to believe in you, in order to make a difference. Now take that one and add one more...now the impact has doubled. Add one more, now it has tripled...and so on! So it is when the body of Christ unites and takes action on the things that are dear to God's heart...it is much more effective than striking out on our own.

     This is how it's meant to be. The church is meant to be the agent through which God brings life changing solutions to the world. We are His image bearer's. His Spirit lives within us. We know the life changing power of His love and He has filled us to overflowing with it so that it can spill out. Who better to point them to Him...the only One who can change anything for good, than the church? The church has been transformed by God's love and God's love is the secret weapon that He stores inside each one of us...not so we can keep it to ourselves. It's there for us to release because our loving God is the only complete solution for all of the world's problems.

Will you unite with the rest of the body of Christ- the church, and be His agent?
   

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Altar...

     The altar is my favorite place in the church building. It's one of the places that I feel God's presence and love for His people most profoundly. It's a place of surrender. The altar holds the sweetness of hearts laid bare before the Lord. Those who kneel there will not return to their seats the same. Being in the presence of God changes us from the inside out and there is nothing sweeter than kneeling before Him in His sanctuary.

     God uses the time spent at the altars of our lives to transform us.  Whether or not we are physically kneeling at an altar or we are simply kneeling at the altar of our hearts, it's a place of transformation. The nature of the altar requires us to come humbly in recognition that we need God.

     The way we come..humbly is only the beginning. We have to come honestly if we are to be transformed. To come honestly requires us to speak the truth in our hearts as well as to God. There's no need to keep our thoughts, feelings, emotions, expectations, and view points to ourselves. It may be tempting...especially when we are fairly certain that they are not right in God's eyes. Regardless  of this it's best to talk them through with Him honestly. When we speak the truth in our heart this way, spend time in God's presence, and then leave the altar...we are certain to find that we are not the same. Something will have shifted. Those thoughts, feelings, expectations, and viewpoints that were not right in God's eyes will have changed. After spending that time with Him, we will come to see things the way He does.

     Psalm seventy three illustrates this beautifully. The Psalmist writes about how he came close to stumbling because he was envious of the wicked. He was envious of their prosperity. In verses 12 - 14 he writes, " Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning."   He's frustrated because it doesn't seem fair that the wicked are doing so well and have it so easy, when he is trying to do what's right and is experiencing trials. He's actually starting to believe the lie that there is no point in him keeping his heart pure. As we read further we will find that eventually his thinking about the wicked changes. Verses 16-17 explain how, "When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end."  His thoughts didn't change until he came into the sanctuary...until he had spent time with God at the altar.

   I don't know about you, but I am ever in need of transformation. I need daily time at the altar...heart laid bare, kneeling in His presence.  Without this time at the altar I will be like the Psalmist was...falling prey to inaccurate view points of the world around him, susceptible to believing a lie. You see, whether we're physically kneeling at the altar or spending time with God at the altar of our hearts, it's the exchange there that transforms us. If we're honest at the altar, we'll exchange our burdens, our thoughts, our hurts, our hang ups, and our frustrations for God's healing, God's thoughts, and God's ways. When we allow God to make this exchange with us we leave transformed. We leave lighter for having been in His presence and lifted by His love.

     The altar is one of the places that I feel God's love for His people most profoundly. It's because of His great love for us that He even bothers to transform us. The question is, do we love Him enough to kneel at the altar and let Him work?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Shell...

     They had been searching the ocean floor for days. They'd already found plenty of shells on the beach but they knew that the big ones were on the ocean floor. They stood in waist deep water, goggles on, and looked straight down to the ocean floor. The sun was shining, the water clear, and the waves manageable.  They had some successes... a piece of drift wood, a pair of glasses, a set of goggles, and some medium sized shells...so there was hope.

     My husband joined their search around the fourth day. He enjoyed it for a while but soon gave up and decided to ride the waves on his boogie board. In between the search and the waves he stepped on something. Curious as to what it was, he reached down and picked it up. From the beach I heard shouts of "No way! I can't believe it!"  I looked to see what the fuss was about and there he was holding a very large, whole shell up in the air. It was the size of a grapefruit!   Everyone wanted a look at this shell. They couldn't get over how they had been searching for days and he had just stepped on it.

     I've been thinking about this shell for a while now. It reminds me of life. Everyone is in search of something. We search the world over in frustration for treasure. We search for the treasures of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and freedom to name a few. We stand in the waist deep waters of the ocean of life, braving the waves life throws at us, with the hope of finally finding that one thing that makes all the difference. The waves knock us around and often our efforts prove to be futile. We don't realize that this treasure we search for is right under our feet!

    God is like that sea shell everyone was searching for. He's been there waiting for us the whole time. He's the treasure we can't seem to see at the bottom of the ocean, even though He is right under our feet. Once we've stumbled upon Him, we can't help but share our excitement with those around us who have also been searching for treasure. Then everyone wants a glimpse...wants to understand how you seem to have stumbled upon Him so easily when they had been searching so hard. They had been searching so hard...but they didn't truly realize what it was they were searching for. Perhaps they admitted that they were searching for the treasures of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and freedom...but didn't realize that what it came in the form of was Jesus dying on the cross for their sins. Just like the waves of the ocean can blur the search for a shell, the waves of life can blur the search for a Savior.

     This is where we who have stumbled upon the great treasure of a relationship with God, have an opportunity to show them what we have found in Him. Like my husband who was so excited to have found the shell that he held it up in the air for all to see, we can do the same with Jesus. Our lives, our words, our actions, can all be used to lead others to the great treasure that is a relationship with God.  That's the thing about treasures...they are never meant to be hidden away. They are meant to be shared for the benefit of others.
      So what are you doing with your treasure today?