When Church is a Building

When you hear talk about “the church”, what comes to mind?  Is it a building with a steeple with a cross on top?  Do you think of a place for weddings or funerals?  Does a picture of intolerance come to mind? Or, do you think of a group of people who make up the body of Christ?

Most of the times when I hear “the church” discussed, it’s a synonym for “organized religion.”  Over and over, it has been said “I can worship God on my own.  I don’t need organized religion telling me what to do.”  “The church” is seen as another  entity that will try to control the way they think, or dress or behave.  And, in all honesty, that fear comes based on some history.

At various times, “the church” has been identified as judgmental and negative.  Having grown up in the Baptist church, there always seemed to be “nos” that we had to remember.   As a teen, it seemed that if it was fun, we weren’t allowed to participate.  Many of the rules that were laid out were not Biblically based.  When we would question why we couldn’t dance, the answers were vague and very unconvincing.  Alcohol was another hazy area.  We were definitely told “NO!” but all through the Bible, we saw examples of drinking wine.  As a young teen, I was told by a church teacher that the wine mentioned in the Bible “didn’t have alcohol added yet. ”  this worked for a little while with me, but eventually I figured out that this was false.  I don’t believe that my Sunday School teacher lied to me.  She just stated what she believed to be true.   I wonder how many people were dissuaded from following Christ because of the numerous rules and regulations that were enforced by “the church”?  Now, please don’t misunderstand, I believe that there are sins that need to be corrected.  And, I believe that we need to stand up for what we believe.  However, when the message becomes “you have to do it this way to be accepted”, then, we lose the message that God loves and transforms people, and we have a problem.

Too often, we spend out time trying to correct the unchurched and fix their issues.  when, in reality, it’s the people within the walls of the “church” that need to be corrected.  We need to lose our “holier than thou” attitudes.  Once again, I have a confession:  I LOVE big churches and chapels.  I enjoy organ music and old hymns.  I was taught to respect the inner sanctum of the sanctuary:  no running, no jumping, no food, no drinks, etc.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand that God doesn’t stay in the sanctuary.  I’ve learned to worship in a school, a strip center, a movie theater or a gym.  It’s not the place  that needs to be revered, but God Himself.

I currently attend church in a movie theater.  Today, was the 4 year anniversary of meeting there.  The first Sunday, there were 85 people.  Today, we fill the theater for 2 services and that doesn’t count the theaters used for the children.   God meets us there.  He doesn’t mind the drinks and food (yes, sometimes popcorn) in the theater during worship.  He doesn’t mind hearing the sound track from the neighboring movie theater in the background of our service.  He works in spite of it all.  This has been a big change for me.  I’m used to regular services, in a permanent building with Sunday School classes at 9:45.  We have 2 services and Life Groups that meet during the week.  And, we are growing.   We have no plans to build. And, I’m glad.

I’ve witnessed time and time again when churches lose sight of their calling after they become a building.  The time during the funding and building phase is a time of goal setting and dreams.  Everyone is excited about what God is doing.  Miracles often are seen during this time of faith and growth.  Then the building is dedicated.  And, the excitement wanes.  There are arguments about the use and colors.  The struggle to pay the bills and the upkeep becomes primary.  The differing views on what is sacred and what is not causes issues.  And, I think, worst of all it becomes comfortable.  There’s no longer the push to grow and stretch and stand on faith.

The Houston area has had a hard week.  Hurricane Harvey has destroyed much in it’s  path.  This week has been at time to see that “the church” is not building.  The Church is a body of believers that work together to spread the love and forgiveness of God.  We’ve seen examples of this from all over the city.  We’ve seen churches opened for people to come in and take shelter.  We’ve had the opportunity to be a living, breathing example to others in our community, both inside and outside of the church.  We are still being given the opportunity to  be more than a building.

The Church is more than a building.  It’s more than a denomination.  We are challenged to prove to the people around us that our God is relevant, that we are more than an organized religion.  Let’s take the challenge!

 

 

 

 

But, I Want to be Angry!

I am beginning to avoid reading anything from the news to social media these days.  Everywhere I turn, someone is tearing down someone else.  It’s bad enough when it’s people that I do not know, but when life long friends take to social media to bash other life long friends (either openly or passively), I cringe.  I’m not going to weigh in on the “controversy du jour”.  It really doesn’t matter what the issue is or is not.  The reason changes weekly if not daily, but the voices, the criticism, the anger never change.  I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that there are some who are just angry and need to have something or someone on which to focus that anger.

I believe in free speech.  I believe in candor and honesty.  I also believe that a little tact goes a long, long way to promote the unity of opposing sides.  I enjoy a healthy debate.  I think discussions are pivotal to a healthy community and world.  But, mud-slinging and name calling are not be part of it.  Social media does very little to foster productive discussions and usually just fans the flames of both sides.  My opinion may not matter to you, but it does to me.  I have been known to adjust my views when presented with a calm and rational argument.  Continuous bashing and belittling of others’ convictions or opinions (right or wrong) are perceived as anything but calm or rational.  I had a supervisor who mentored me in my younger days to pick my battles carefully.  I learned to take a deep breathe and step away for a bit to collect my thoughts BEFORE I bulldozed through the issue.  I discovered that I usually got much better acceptance and cooperation this way and the outcome was often what I wanted in the beginning.  The path to get there was just a little different.

So, take a breathe.  Calm down.  Anger is debilitating to the bearer and often counter-productive.  As many old grandpappies have said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Gray is not for Cakes

I have always loved the color PURPLE!  I’m drawn to the color in everything from clothes to décor.  I have my favorite purple sweatshirt with my name on the front.  My dad helped me paint my trombone case purple.  I had a purple furry coat.  I just loved the color.  And, I still do today.

When I was about 10 years old, my parents and younger sister took an October trip to the Ozark Mountains.  My brother and I stayed with my grandparents and my Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me.  My birthday was very near this time, so Ruth and I decided we needed to make a birthday cake.  And of course, I wanted a purple cake.  We did not have access to the myriad of food coloring products that are available today.  We had the box of 4 basic food colors from the grocery store: red, green, yellow & blue.  My aunt was in Junior High, so we knew that we could mix the red and the blue to get a beautiful color of purple.  We mixed the cake (from scratch) and then added the food coloring.  The cake was more lavender than truly purple, but that was okay.  After transferring our batter to the pans, we decided that swirls of color would be even better.  So, we added drops of all of the colors to the cake in the pans and stirred it around.  We stirred a little too much we would discover later.  The  beautiful purple cake I had envisioned was more gray than purple.  There were flecks of color here and there, but over all, it was a gray cake.  It tasted great, but it was not very appealing to the eye.

I am going the Bible chronologically this year.  Recently, I’ve been in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  The various kings for both Israel and Judah are listed and their history is recorded.  I found it interesting that each account included one of these statements:  “as far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life” or “in God’s opinion he was a good king” or “… did what pleased God for as long as he lived (even so he did not . . .)”  There were several kings that were just bad.  They worshiped other gods and led the people to do the same.  There were a few kings that did what God decreed and destroyed the other temples and led the people to worship Jehovah only.  And then there were the kings that lived the way God decreed, but allowed the people to continue to live in sin by worshiping other gods.  These were the “grey” kings.  If you kept your eyes closed or didn’t look too closely, they were good kings.  But, they didn’t follow God completely.  They failed the people they were chosen to lead.

When I look at my own life, I wonder if my life is “gray” when God looks at it.  I don’t think I’m living a bad life where God is concerned.   But, do I live in a way that pleases God?  Am I a royal purple follower of Christ and His commandments? Or, do I slip into the “grey” area that encompasses too many things?  Have I become so desensitized to the sins around me that I just don’t realize it?  Is political correctness the center of my focus or is God’s word?  Do I show compassion to everyone or just to the people I “like” in that moment?

I think we all like to believe that we are on the side of right.  I don’t know anyone that deliberately takes a stand that they believe is wrong.  However, we can’t all be right about everything.  Just as the early kings of Judah and Israel condoned the sex-and-religion worship by allowing temples to be built to worship the gods of fertility, we condone everything that makes us uncomfortable by NOT speaking up.  It’s just easier to live our own lives and ignore those around us.  I’m not advocating throwing stones at others.  I do firmly believe that we are to be kind and compassionate to those around us.  But, do those around you know what you believe?  Do they see someone who God is blessing when they see you?  Do you take a stand on a daily basis or is the act of attending Sunday and/or Wednesday services enough of a witness?  Is your relationship with God based solely on the current crisis in your life or do you spend time with Him daily regardless of circumstances?

Too many additions and too little knowledge/experience, made my birthday cake grey.  I don’t want my life to be gray.  I want the knowledge that comes from reading the scriptures.  I want to experience everything that God has to offer.  I want to follow Him completely and to exclude anything that is outside of His will.  That’s doesn’t mean I wont make mistakes.  (I can promise you I will make plenty of them!)  It does mean that I will stay aware and correct any mistakes with God’s help.  It does mean that I may have to give up some things.  I may have to get up a little earlier to spend time with God.  I may not get to sleep in on Sundays because I NEED to be in church worshipping with others.  I may have to give up my reliance on “finger-crossing” and “quick prayers” to really spend time with God to learn what I need to know.  I may have to learn to be part of the crowd and not in the spot-light where others can see me and comment on how wonderful I am.

Gray is a popular color for walls.  But, I don’t recommend it for birthday cakes.  Or life.

 

 

The “F” Word

It’s not what you think.  It’s not THAT “F” word.  It’s the “F” word that we fear, that we try to escape.   And, it’s the “F” word commonly accepted and used in our own self-talk.  To which “F” word am I referring?  FAILURE!  No one sets out to be a failure.  To fail is not acceptable in most areas of life.  Yet, how often do you or I accept failure as a way of living?  Why do we allow our own minds to attach failure to so much of our lives?  Why?

I struggle with depression.  I’m also an “overachiever”.  After my late husband’s death, feeling down became “normal.”  Just being able to get out of bed or a day without tears was a good day.   I learned to cope.  I convinced myself I was okay.  Because, I needed to be okay.  To be anything else, was to be weak.  I could not and would not be weak.  That was failing.  I read the books.  I did all the things I was told I needed to do (except counseling!) I moved on with my life.  I didn’t excel at life, but I was living.

Do you know some symptoms of an overachiever?  These taken are from John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement.

  1. It’s all about the outcome:  Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves
  2. You secretly think you’re not good enough:  While some people will “self-sabotage” when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
  3. There is a short list of things you want to be good at: and that list only includes things you know you’ll be judged on.
  4. Criticism is the worst:  It all goes back to the fear of failure — overachievers’ public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something.
  5. You’re very future-focused:  Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future — and as a result, often neglect the present.
  6. You feel anxious a lot:  Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress.
  7. You’re a perfectionist:  Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home.
  8. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs:  They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices — all in the name of a strong college application.
  9. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions.  All parents, to some extent, feel the need to “do it all” for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big — attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child’s teacher — because they care so much about being the best parents.
  10. Crunch-time is the worst time:  When the stakes are high, “the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they’re so concerned with the outcome.

I never quite live up to the ideals that I picture for myself.  The smallest glitch can send me into a tailspin:  I’m not a good mother, I’m failing as a wife, I’m just not good enough.  I struggle with the fear of being utterly alone and unloved, of not being good enough to earn the love of those for whom I care so deeply.  I’m caught in a whirlwind of needing to be the best and feeling like a failure at every turn.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate.  I have a husband that is constantly reassuring me.  I have friends that love and support me and are always there with words of encouragement.  I have a counselor that listens to my irrational fears and helps me see the truth.  I don’t want to be a victim of the “F” word.  I struggle each day to see value in myself and my actions.

I’m encouraged when I read  that others in the Bible suffered bouts of depression.  David wrote in Psalm 38: 21-22:

Don’t dump me, God;
    my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
    I want some wide-open space in my life!

There are several scriptures that talk about anxiety and trust.  Believe me, I’ve read them all.  I go to those verses when I’m overwhelmed with the daily concerns of life, when I am confronted with my lack of perfection.  I don’t want to fail.  I will not fail.  God is with me every step of the way.  I must look to His strength and remember it is through His love that I am made perfect.

Invisible

invisible

Do you ever feel invisible?

Are there times your voice is not heard?  Is it because you do not speak up?  Or are the other voices and sounds drowning you out?

Do you ever want to be, maybe even need to be,  invisible?

When I was newly widowed, there were many times I felt invisible.  I didn’t fit into any group.  I was no longer married, but wasn’t quite single, either.  My friends were still in the married group.  I moved from “part of the group” to “third wheel” status in the blink of an eye.  I didn’t know how to be seen.  Others seemed to look through me, not ever seeing the ME that stood there.  I didn’t know how to be seen, because I didn’t know how to see myself.   I watched as others buzzed around and wondered how I could be so lonely in a such a busy group of people.  I didn’t know how speak up,  it was easier to fade away than to endure the pain of living in the world in which I no longer belonged.

One can be invisible for lots of reasons.  When another’s need to be recognized  is louder and more aggressive than your own, their need pushes all others out-of-the-way.  I feel the shutters begin to close in around me.  My opinion doesn’t matter.  My voice in not important.  Even the facts and information that I know are dismissed and discounted if they are not in agreement.  I am forced to disappear within myself to avoid further conflict.  It is often that very need to avoid conflict that pushes me further onto the sidelines.  When I am helpless to change anything, when  I’m caught on the carousel of life and there’s no way to regain control, I disappear.

There are times when I try to blend into the background.   There are other times when I need desperately to be heard,  to be seen.  But, I’m  invisible.   It’s as if I’m speaking in an unknown language or wearing the cloak of invisibility.  No one is listening.  No one sees me.  Regardless of how hard I try, I cannot break through.  I begin to believe that I’m truly invisible, that I truly do not matter.  And, that is the real problem.  I accept the invisibility.  I stop trying.  I fade away.

We need to be aware of those invisible people that surround us.  The invisible person may be that homeless person that has become a part of the background.  The invisible person may be the senior citizen that tells the same stories over and over and over again.  The invisible person may be the widow that reminds you how fragile life is.  The invisible person may be a friend or family member that refuses to see things your way causing you to rethink your own ideas or decisions. Invisible people surround us.  They work in the deli’s in our offices.  They stand on the street corners.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our family.  We need to put on our “X-ray vision” and find those invisible people.  We need to see them.  Listen to them.  We need to care.

God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139 :1-12  MSG

 

 

Joy

beau.jpg

Beau (aka Travis) waiting for his morning belly rub.

Travis was rescued from death.  Literally.  Estimated to be about 7 months old when he was found at a construction site, Travis was so sick they didn’t think he would survive the night.  He had hookworms that had drained most of his lifeblood from him.  He had an injury to his left eye that left a cloudy ulceration.  He couldn’t lift his head.  He received transfusions for 3 days.  For weeks, he wouldn’t even open his injured eye.  He was kept in isolation since he was weak and couldn’t see very well.  He was given food and water, vitamins, eye-drops, worming medication.  He began to recover.  He willingly took his vitamins and sat very still for his eye-drops.  Given any opportunity to snuggle up to his rescuer, he did.  He craved attention.

 

I first saw his picture on the PUPS website.   I was hooked.  I talked to his caregiver and got the information she had: his estimated age, his size and temperament with other dogs, and his house training.   I found out that Travis would be neutered on Tuesday and available for adoption the following Saturday.  I was at the Petsmart that Saturday to meet  him as soon as they were setup.  And I took Travis home with me that day.

Travis is now called Beauregard (Beau for short).  It didn’t take him long to make himself at home with our other fur-babies.  His eye is healed and after a few visits with the vet, he’s up to date on all of his shots and worm free.  He has a tag with his name and my phone number on it as well as a microchip, so he cannot be lost.  He is a little ball of energy.  He rolls and plays with the other dogs.  Every morning, after his potty break outside, he comes back to my room to find me.  I can hear his tags tinkling together as he runs down the hall and comes and lays at my feet.  When I call his name, he rolls over and wiggles in anticipation of the belly rub he’s about to receive.  I pick him up and cuddle him and get my morning kisses and then he’s off to breakfast.

Beau reminds me how I should react to time with my Father.  I was saved from death by the blood of my Savior.  He has taken care of me and prepared me for life in this harsh world.  It is through God’s loving care that I have survived the grievous events in my life.  I allow the world to suck the very life out of me.  I struggle to see where I am headed. But, I don’t always go to my loving Father with excitement, anticipating His loving attention.  Many times, I’m distracted by other “things” in my life.  I don’t have time or I’m sure I can handle this one myself.  I forget to spend time with Him.

But, He comes to my rescue, time and time again.  And I remember His tenderness and His love.  My name is engraved in His book of life.  I will never be out of His sight.  I realize that it is time with my Heavenly Father that I crave.  I spend time in His word.  I pray and listen for His guidance.  And, yes, I beg, plead, cry and complain about all that is “unfair” with my life.  He’s always there to correct me when I’m wrong, to provide for my every need and to always love me.

It took a squirmy, cuddly rescued puppy to remind me that I just have to go to God.  He’s waiting with every thing I can need or imagine.

I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart,
    I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
    I’m singing your song, High God. 

Psalm 9:1-2 MSG

Eagles

Life can be interesting. It is often a conundrum. We seek peace and calm and then complain of boredom. We look for fulfillment in our spouses and our children while blaming them for the bumps and difficulties that we face. We look for happiness in every moment, but destroy opportunities for joy along the way.

Humans are supposed to be at the top of “the ladder.” We are above all of the animals. We have opposable thumbs. We think and have the freedom to make choices about our lives. We control our own destiny. At least, that’s what we like to believe. And yet, when I watch a pair of eagles work on their nest and raise their chicks, I have to wonder. Are we really better? Eagles mate for life. Occasionally, a young female will attempt to steal the nest and the male from a pair. But, that doesn’t happen often or very successfully. The claws come out (quite literally) and the fight ensues. The established female will fight to the death to protect her nest, her chicks and her partner. Why are we humans not willing to fight to protect what we have? Why is it so easy to just walk away?

I’ve not been in the situation where my spouse walked away. My husband died. There were no second chances. During our marriage we fought. We fought with each other. We fought to stay together. We fought to raise our children. There were many times that I would not describe as “happy.” But, we had a life-long commitment to work through the bad times. We were willing to fight for our marriage and our family. I guess that’s why I love to watch the eagle-cams on the internet. I can relate to the pair of eagles as they work together to protect and nurture their family.

I was blessed with a good marriage to a Godly man. For eighteen years, we worked at keeping our family together. We laughed and cried together. We faced fears and illnesses. We coped with extended family issues. There were times that we both entertained the idea of walking away. But, the promises that we made to each other were real. We were together until “death do we part.” We were committed. And all too soon, he was gone. No do overs.  There were no more options for us. As a result, I don’t have any tolerance for the common excuses for breaking marriage vows: “I deserve to be happy” or “We’ve just grown apart.” No one deserves to be happy. You choose to be happy. You choose to grow together.

Now, I’m engaged. After 9 ½ years of widowhood, I’m planning a new life with another wonderful, Godly man. And, honestly, I am scared to death! I’m also extremely happy and blessed. As we make plans to blend our lives and our families, I am so excited about what the future holds. I never dreamed that I would get a second chance at love, a second chance to build a marriage and a new life. I know there will be challenges. We are not in our twenties. We have children (and a grandchild) and all the baggage that comes with a more mature life. We have dealt with death and divorce in our past marriages and as a result we face trust and security issues. But, we are committed to building a strong marriage on Godly standards. We will face life together and weather the storms that come.

During the ice and snow storms last winter, there was a video released of a bald-eagle sitting on its nest, covered in snow. At first, it was hard to see anything but the snow. Only the eagle’s beak was uncovered. Then the snow began to move. The eagle emerged from under the covering of snow and tossed it aside with its strong wings. While inspecting the eggs that were protected from the cold, the partner eagle flew down and brought food and relief. They were a team. That’s the marriage that I want to build. Again. No matter what problems seem to cover us up, we will be together. No matter what storms approach, internally or externally, we will stand against them together, supporting each other. When one partner is covered up, the other will be there with the support that is necessary and needed. No one walks away, grateful for the happiness but seeking the joy that comes from a marriage established with God as the center.

This year will be exciting, happy, stressful, scary, fun and joyful. And that’s what makes life so interesting: the Ups and the Downs. Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a ride to remember!

“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV