Church, Why Bother?


In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations.  The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places.  As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc.   For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation. 

I grew up in church.   I was on the cradle roll.  I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter.  Church on Sunday was normal and expected.  I never really questioned why we went to church.  It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination.  We had  Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning.  Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service.  Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service.  I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals.  I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week.  There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September.  We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth.  I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week.  (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.)  And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals.  I spent a lot of time in church related activities.  I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.

As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship.  There is a big difference.  I spent most of my life attending church.  Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life.  People worship in lots of ways.  Some are very quiet and private with their worship.  Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience.  Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship.  Some believe you have to worship on your knees.   However you worship is between you and God.  I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart.  It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship.  Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services.   I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services.  But, rehearsals were different.  I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One. 

As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area.   One in particular comes to mind.  It was a small church in a changing area of the city.  No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive.  It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music.  I sat through service after service and starved spiritually.  This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them.  Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda.  The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church.  We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids.  I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life.  It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.

As an adult, I am very involved with my church.  Things have changed.  I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building.  My church meets in a movie theater.  There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools.  Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world.  People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena.  We see it every Sunday at the Bridge.  It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building.  Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center. 

I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church.  While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups.  They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth.  Life Groups provide a more relatable group in  which to learn  and to grow.  It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group.  Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance.  They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered. 

Music has definitely morphed through the years.  We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music.  I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal.  It was blue.  When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement.  There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”.  People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”.  (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”)  I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them.  But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list.  No matter what is provided, someone is not happy. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”.  I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer.   This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological.  In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information.  Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many.   Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems.  Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information. 

While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano.  A full band is now expected.  In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church.  Now, its guitar or drum lessons.  Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now.  My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services.  He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship.  Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services.  We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering. 

With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP.  It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations.  How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other?  How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship?  Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong?  Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians: 

“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG


Where Is the Joy?

I admit it, I struggle during the holiday season.  There was at time when I loved getting ready for Thanksgiving.   Planning the perfect meal.  Visiting with family and friends. We even went to the big parade in downtown Houston.   I think I was more excited than my kids about Christmas.   I loved the excitement and the fun of the holidays.  It was a wonderful time.  There are many wonderful memories.

But grief changed all of that.  The idea of planning and cooking became a chore.  So, we started eating out.  It took a few years before I could face putting up a Christmas Tree and even then it was totally different from what had been our “norm”.  Instead of red & green, it was pink, purple and lime green.  We used feather boas instead of tinsel.  It was as far away as I could get from the memories of Christmas’ Past.  I couldn’t seem to entirely enjoy the holidays because I was haunted by what “might have been”.

Three years ago, our holidays changed once again.  We now have a blended family.  We now must consider all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and their schedules.  They have other interests and families to consider.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of fighting for time.  And the holiday events become competitions instead of joyful celebrations.  Quality family time is lost in the quest to get to every house and every meal.

Honestly, my response can be much like the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:  feeling sorry for myself and expecting to miss the fun and excitement again this year.  It’s too easy to  feel that no one cares.  It’s very convenient to focus on “ME” instead of looking at the larger picture.

I’m really trying this year.  I want to be excited about the holidays.  I don’t want family quarrels to overshadow what should be a joyful time.  I don’t need to feel like I’m placing 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) in a competition that doesn’t even exist.  I’m trying to accept that perfection should not be my goal this year.  And, I’m focusing on building special memories wherever  and whenever I am able.  It may be a quiet meal with just my husband on Thanksgiving Day or a bigger, busier meal with most of the crew over the weekend.  Both, are times to create memories.

I know there will still be tender places.  Putting up the holiday village that belonged to my late husband or unwrapping his Santa collection will be bitter-sweet.  I’ve already got a new Santa Ornament to add.   Pulling out the old ornaments from the early days of our children will unlock some emotions, both good and bad.   I’m on the lookout for a 2018 snow globe to add to the collection I began in 2015 on our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs.  Douglas. And, I’m prepared to accept the critique of “too much purple” on the tress.

This year, the big tree will go up early (at least for me!)  I’m working on handmade angel ornaments for a smaller tree.  I’ve already planned a Holiday dinner for my co-workers and I look forward to sharing our home and hospitality.  Christmas gifts won’t be flashy, but I hope that they meet a need for the recipients.  We will be baking goodies and sharing with the neighbors (and trying not to over indulge in the sweets.)  There will be carols and hot chocolate and I  will try to be present in the moments as they occur.

This year, I will strive to give thanks for the numerous blessing in my life: my family, my job, my home, my church and so many more that I tend to take for granted.  I will try to remember that the excitement of Christmas is not about the gifts we give, but about the love that was gifted to us through the birth of Christ.  I will remember that time spent with our friends and family is precious and not waste it wishing for something different.   This year, I will accept the emotions as they arrive, deal with them and move forward.

This year, I will find the Joy in MY holiday season.

 

Do I Really Matter?

When I read newspaper articles or posts made on social media, I become overwhelmed.  There is so much going on in the world around us.  I do not understand the ugliness that seems to have become the norm.  We’ve just finished the mid-term elections.  I’ve seen this meme posted several times:

adult

Today was the first time I saw someone take issue with it, however. I have to admit, I kind of understand from where the person’s angst arises.  Within relationships, we find things in common.  On the flip side, if I’m supporting something that is harmful to you or your family, we are probably not going to remain friends.  I understand that.  I can even accept that.  But, does that mean we have to agree on EVERYTHING!  If so, I’m in trouble.  And that’s when I begin to feel overwhelmed.  How can I make it in a world when I’m going to find differences with everyone?  Am I doomed?  I can feel the panic rising as I type.

I have mixed feelings about a lot of issues.  And, I feel strongly about some issues as well.  As I have progressed in this life, I have become more conservative in my views.  Well, I don’t know that I’ve become more conservative, I’ve just been more willing to voice my opinions on some matters.

  • I’m not a feminist, but I do support women in the workplace.
  • I think all people deserve to be protected regardless of their race, personal partner choices or beliefs.  But, I don’t think any of these categories should make one group more important or relevant over any other group.
  • I am right to life.  I do not support abortion as a form of birth control.   I believe we need to step up and understand the responsibilities and consequences that come  as a result of the “free love” agenda our society teaches.  We have to find a better way to support the mothers in finding homes with loving families.
  • I believe ALL lives matter.  There are bad people of every color, race and sex.  As the Jackson 5 song said “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch”.  We have to stop teaching hate to  people.
  • I don’t support socialized government.  Nothing is free.  Ever.

As I consider all of the angst and hatefulness that has occur in the just the past year both locally and nationally, I am prone to think “Do I really matter?  Is there anything that I can do to make a difference in the world? Do I have the right to make decisions based on my own values without being judged?”

I can’t change what happens anywhere but where I choose to plant myself.  In the Houston area, we saw amazing things happen after Hurricane Harvey.  People worked together and made a huge difference in the lives of others.  We saw all kinds of people unite, not because their ideals or beliefs matched.  They united because there was a need and that was what needed to be accomplished.

I can make a difference in my country and my city.  I can vote my conscience.  I can be part of the community by caring about the needs of my neighbors.  I can make myself aware of what should to be changed and support the good that is being done in and around me without throwing stones (or arrows.)  I need to be an accomplice of change, not any ally.  An accomplice is one who acknowledges there is a problem and then commits to stand in the gap without hope or expectation of reward. An ally is passive; an accomplice is active.

I can make a difference in my home.   I can teach my children and my grandchildren. my belief system as well as my own views.   And, then decide love and support them as they develop their own path.  My adult children haven’t made the same choices that I did or that I would have preferred in some cases.  However, I am only responsible for teaching, guiding and loving them. The consequences of their choices, good and bad, are totally on them.  I will not “disown” family members for taking a different stand than my own.  (I’ve seen it done.  It doesn’t work!)

I can make a difference in myself.  I can expand my horizons by reading and considering the views and opinions of others.  I can stay centered and calm in the midst of the chaos of life, taking only “small bites” as I can along the way.  I can choose to be happy and content where I am instead of chasing the “next good thing.”  I can accept the consequences of my choices and refuse the guilt of not being “good enough” for others.  I can trust in my God (and this is most important for me) to show me where and when and how to live this life that I have been given.

I don’t know where you stand on any of the issues, political or moral.  I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind on the issues.  I do, however, request you to respect my right to have my own view and opinions.  I will never agree with everyone on everything.  I have an inborn need to disagree on some level.  Our disagreements  and differences in viewpoints are what make us who we are.  It’s what makes us interesting instead of boring.  What do you think?  Can you make a difference?

Do I really matter to you?

If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face;
    confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins.
So don’t waste your time on a scoffer;
    all you’ll get for your pains is abuse.
But if you correct those who care about life,
    that’s different—they’ll love you for it!
Save your breath for the wise—they’ll be wiser for it;
    tell good people what you know—they’ll profit from it.
Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God,
    insight into life from knowing a Holy God.
It’s through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens,
    and the years of your life ripen.
Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life;
    mock life and life will mock you.

Proverbs 9:10-12 MSG

 

 

 

 

Marriage: Jackpot or Pothole

I recently saw an article titled “If Your Husband Does These 13 Things, You Hit the Marriage Jackpot”. As I read through the 13 items, I was quite pleased.   I DEFINITELY hit the jackpot with my husband!

  1. He encourages and inspires you.
  2. He can comfort and calm you.
  3. He still flirts with you.
  4. He works hard.
  5. He loves spending time with you.
  6. He loves and respects his mother.
  7. He complements you often.
  8. He is selfless.
  9. He says “I love you” often.
  10. You are his #1 priority (after his relationship with God.)
  11. He surprises you.
  12. You are a team.
  13. He admits when he is wrong.

As I looked at the list, I began to wonder: Does my husband believe that he also hit the jackpot, or do I tend to be more of a pothole?   A Jackpot is something we all want.  We avoid potholes.  They cause damage and expand with every contact.   I want my husband to see how deeply I treasure him.  At times, I may require more than I offer, but  I will strive to be the “jackpot” wife he deserves.

What about you? Are you a jackpot or a pothole?

jackpot

Decisions = Consequences

Decisions are an everyday part of life. And every decision results in a consequence of some kind, good or bad.  If I decide to turn off my alarm and sleep an extra 30 minutes, the consequences are rushing to get ready for my day and leaving the house a later than usual.  For every 5 minutes later that I enter the freeway, I reap an additional 10 minutes in Houston traffic.  Was that extra sleep really worth the added stress to my day and drive?  Honestly, it depends on the day.  But, usually, I regret that decision to stay in bed.  And yet, I have this conversation with myself every single morning.

We all make decisions. We decide to do the dishes tonight or wait until later.  In school, it was when (or maybe if) I would study for a test or do my homework.  Every interaction with others begs a decision:  will I be kind and respectful, distant and unattached, or pushy and rude? Sometimes a decision to NOT decide becomes your decision by forcing another to make the call.  At least that way, I have plausible deniability, right? It’s not really my responsibility, because YOU decided this one.  Why is making a decision so daunting at times?  Even when it’s a “good” decision, we seem to fear the consequences of our very actions.  Why?

Maybe this is what we fear: ME.  My “personal preference meter” isn’t a very reliable source for making decisions.  When MY happiness, MY comfort becomes more important than how it affects the ones that depend upon and trust me, the consequences may be difficult to live with on a long term basis.  Our society has become more and more focused on doing what is makes “me” happy as the optimal decision bias.  Even though reality proves that the “happiness” is fleeting and this temporary enjoyment could very likely lead to long term misery.

We’ve seen evidence of this all throughout the Bible: Eve chose to eat the apple;  Abraham had a son with Hagar;  David gave into his desire for another man’s wife with Bathsheba.  There are examples in our lives every day:  telling the “white” lie to cover-up; condoning gossip and back-biting in order to be accepted; sneaking around outside of your marriage to get some “excitement”.  We have come to believe the absolute lie that we deserve happiness.  Truthfully, no one deserves happiness.  Happiness is a daily choice, NOT a destination.  You can chase happiness, but you will not find it.  And when our decisions are based on finding happiness, the consequences will be empty and quite often painful.

So, in this carnival we call life, when we choose all the fun and exciting regardless of personal morals or conscience, consequences can be overwhelming. Much like too much time on the Tilt-a-Whirl you are left off-balance, dizzy and maybe a little ill.  When the excitement wears off and the happiness is no longer palpable, guilt moves in to fill the void.  You can’t go back and undo your actions or unsay the words.  You can only live within this moment.  Eve chose the apple and mankind would forever have sin in our lives.  The consequences of Abraham’s choice to have a son with Hagar are still being played out in our world.  In an attempt to cover up his wrong decision, David would go on to commit murder and saw his own son eventually turn against him.  But, in each case, these people continued to seek God.  They were now on a different path in life and God would use them anyway.

We’ve all heard the saying “You made your bed, now lie in it.” The consequences will be there, even after forgiveness.  We must choose to make better choices and decisions.  Decide to move forward toward God’s will and plan for your life regardless of the current situation.  Avoid getting caught up in the endless whirlwind of running toward the next “ME” moment.  Accept the consequences and work through them.  Look out for those who depend upon you and put their needs first.  Make the decision to be happy today, where you are, even if you can’t understand how that could possibly happen.  You won’t make an instant difference, but you will invest in the future.

Consequences, both good and bad are what we reap. Make your harvest one of which you are proud.

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“Well, you’ve made your bed – now lie in it; you wanted your own way – now, how do you like it?” Proverbs 1:31  MSG

The Lord God Made Them All. . .

I was September 6 when a bony, sad faced dog walked into our life. He just collapsed in our front yard. He didn’t seem dangerous, but I wasn’t sure what to do with him. I already had 3 dogs to care for on a daily basis. I lived alone and Gracie was just home for the weekend. There was nothing to be done on a Sunday afternoon, so we gave him food and water, put him in the spare crate that we had and put off making any decisions. He seemed grateful for food and water and a safe place to stay. We decided to call him, Baxter.
baxter2009
Baxter was tired and sad. He wasn’t chipped. But, he had been neutered and was well behaved. He was crate trained and so very smart. After just one day, he was responding when I called him Baxter. He was so skinny, it was hard to tell what breed he might be. Sydney drove him crazy. She was Tigger to his Eeyore when I walked them each day. I posted his picture on Facebook, hoping to find a home for this sweet boy. Soon, my friend contacted me. She wanted to meet Baxter and give him a test run at their home. So, on September 12, 2009, I took Baxter and all of his accoutrements to the Gasdia’s. I kissed the top of his head and watched as he following Sonya to the backyard that would become his fur-ever home.
The next time I saw Baxter, I hardly recognized him. He had blossomed into a beautiful golden lab mix. He seemed to remember me and walked across the carpet (which was a no-no) to greet me. Through the years I was privileged to watch him enjoy a wonderful life. He got to ride in the truck and go play in the country. He was able to go on walks and runs. He was home! When Tim and I moved to Brookshire, he would come and stay with us whenever his family went out of town. At first, he was a little nervous, but he soon came to enjoy his “country” get away. He would explore the backyard and each of our little guys would greet him, some more enthusiastically as others. In the evenings, when he had taken all of the together time he could, Baxter would pick up his baby (a stuffed alligator ) and head to the master bedroom and put himself to bed. In the morning, he would greet Tim with a cold nose and two ears ready to be thoroughly scratched! We loved Baxter.baxter & puppy
We’re not sure how old Baxter was when he arrived in our lives. Two years old or less was the best guess. For a little over nine years, this gracious dog blessed the lives of all who came in contact with him. He never hesitated to rub against your leg to get an ear scratched. He was friendly, but protective. He loved his friend, Sonya. His excitement when she would walk into the room from a vacation was palpable.
We will never know what happened to Baxter before he came into our lives. But, I know the last 9 years were amazing. You could look into his eyes and see that. As Cecil Frances Alexander said in his poem:
“ All things bright and beautiful,
  All creatures great and small,
  All things wise and wonderful,
  The Lord God made them all.”
Farewell Baxter. You were a true friend and companion. You will be missed.

Three Years Down, More to Come

wedding2015

Today, is my 3rd anniversary, the end of one year and the beginning of another in our marriage. I still have moments when I can’t believe that I am Mrs. Douglas. I get to watch him work around the house. I hear his wonderful piano playing. I spy him coaching my daughter how to install cabinets or floors or plumbing. I see him sleeping next to me and say a prayer of thankfulness for this journey in my life.

Our marriage hasn’t been smooth sailing. There have been lots of bumps along the way, some bigger than others. And we have survived. We have learned that their are friends that stick with you through thick and thin. And sadly, that there are others that are just along for the fun and disappear during stress. We’ve endured snide comments and remarks both before and after our wedding. And, through it all, I am so glad that we are together.

I’ve learned that happiness is a choice. No one person or thing will make me happy. But, our marriage has offered numerous opportunities for me to choose happiness. I’m am reminded that love can be hard. However, the benefits of loving another so completely are without measure. I know that blending two families offers immense challenges. And, I adore all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and the effort it takes to get us all together. It’s worth it all!

As we begin the 4th year of our marriage, I am thankful for the wonderful man that is my husband. He is kind and generous. He never meets a stranger. He shelters me and treats me as if I’m made of glass. I love the compliments he gets for pulling out my chair and opening the door for me, acts of chivalry that are not often seen these days. He says what needs to be said and not just what I want to hear. He listens when I disagree or just need to talk it out. He loves me deeply and expresses that in so many ways. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.

I look forward to all the things that God will do in our lives. I KNOW that He has a plan to use both of us. I KNOW that we are loved and cherished Kids of the King. I KNOW that we will have difficulties in the days to come. And, I KNOW that I serve a God that answers prayers so I continue to pray for the miraculous and the wonderful in our lives as well as those that surround us.

His words are kisses, his kisses words. Everything about him delights me, thrills me through and through! That’s my lover, that’s my man, dear Jerusalem sisters.           

Song of Solomon 5:16 MSG