Our pastor and his wife, Kenny and Valerie Dean, talked yesterday about marriage. Central in there discussion was how hard marriage can be. I don’t think it matters how “in love” you are with your spouse, there are times you just want to quit and walk away. All through the Bible, marriage is used to show how much God loves us.
“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 MSG
“No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:29-33 MSG
As I considered yesterday’s message, i understood that people often treat their marriage the same way they treat God. We expect our marriages (and God) to be exactly what we want: all fun and happiness with no rough spots. Life is a beautiful rose garden with a fairy-God granting our every wish. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that the roses have thorns. God loves us, but He loves us through the trials. It’s only through the struggles that we learn trust and commitment. When marriage is all about what makes ME happy, the rough spots are inevitable. By loving my spouse IN SPITE of my feelings, I learn what true love is.
In our fast food, microwave culture, we have forgotten how to wait. If things don’t turn out the way we want, we find another option. We don’t have the patience to wait on God, so we stick around just long enough to glimpse the truth and then jump to something else. When I’m not happy in my marriage, I find other ways to get pleasure. The divorce rate in our country is indicative of this. If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy” I will scream! That’s a lie. Happiness is a decision not a right.
Time and time again we see evidence of the messes we make trying to “help God”. The unrest in the Middle East has its origins in such a debacle. Sarah helped God by giving her servant to Abraham. Ishmael was born the result. Sarah was mad when Hagar became pregnant and abused her. Hagar ran away to die.
“The angel of GOD said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael; for GOD heard you, GOD answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.””
Genesis 16:9-12 MSG
How many times do we cause issues because we aren’t willing to wait? We jump from one partner to another trying to find love and happiness. We cheat and take what we want and then wonder why there is suspicion and heartache in our relationships. Sexual promiscuity is acceptable and dangerous. You have no idea what you will be exposed to in a single moment of pleasure. When you have convinced yourself that variety in partners helps you to grow into a better lover, you rob yourself of a truly intimate relationship.
“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
1 Corinthians 6:16-20 MSG
I serve a jealous God.
“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”
Exodus 34:14 NLT
If my marriage is to be a picture of a my relationship with God, then I cannot venture outside of my marriage to find happiness. My joy and my happiness will be realized through serving God and loving my husband regardless of what’s going on in our lives. Through the good times and the bad, through the fun and the sadness, I will honor my marriage vows. I will honor my God.
. . . “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Ruth 1:16-17 NIV
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!
I had a friend describe this weekend’s service as intense. I think that’s a good description of the entire weekend: intense.
This was the weekend of “Unwrap the Bible” with Women of Faith. I heard Beth Moore, Lisa Harper, Priscilla Shirer, Shelia Walsh & Christine Caine speak and worshiped with Kari Jobe leading. Intense would describe any one of these ladies individually. Pack them all together and the intensity is multiplied. God truly spoke this weekend. And, honestly, I’m worn out. I’m still processing all that I’ve heard over the past few days.
I’ve been going to conferences like these for years. It started with Youth Evangelism conferences in junior high and high school. In college, it was BSU conferences. After coming to Westland, I’ve attended several Arts Conferences. Add Women of Faith to the list. I had a kind of epiphany after this weekend: I’m not always encouraged after the conference is over. I really enjoy them. I really respect the speakers. And there’s always A LOT to learn. But too often, I come away feeling insignificant, not worthy and questioning my place in ministry. I know that’s not the intent or the purpose of any of these events. They are designed to encourage the attenders in ministry, to give additional training and ideas and to help encourage us to go out and stand strong in our Lord. But, my insecurities tend to kick in at full force when I walk out the door. I look at all of the talented and gifted people around me and wonder: “What am I doing here?”
In all honesty, the first time I felt the need to run away and hide instead of being encouraged to move forward was after an Arts Conference. I get included under the flag “artist” because of my singing. And I can sing and harmonize pretty well. It comes easily to me. But, I have NEVER considered myself an artist. My husband was an artist. He could write skits & plays. When he was on stage, I would forget it was Terry and be transported into the moment he was creating thru his acting. I sit in amazement and awe and friends that can just create music. They can write and transpose and mash songs together and make beautiful music. That’s being an artist. An artist creates. I only copy whats already been written. I recreate. I’m a musician and a singer. I have learned to nod my head and not to argue about the term artist, but it’s not a word I use for self-description. At this particular conference, they showed a video of Bill Hybels talking about artists. And he talked about how grateful he was for the artists in his church. And then he went on to talk about himself as a non-artistic person that works well with numbers and logic and planning. Any one that has been around me, knows that I’m a numbers person. I am a linear thinker. I work well with numbers and problem solving is like a game to me. I don’t know that I’ve ever admitted this. But, from that point forward, I’ve questioned where I should be serving.
A few years later, I attended a Beth Moore simulcast conference at my church. Travis Cottrell was leading the worship in music. He began to talk about the different types of music and different issues that churches have with the musical style that we use. I can’t remember the exact words. But, I do remember going home that afternoon and emailing my music minister that I was going to take a break from the Praise Team at our church. There were a lot of things going on in my life at the time. My kids were super active in school and there never seemed to be enough time to do everything. I was having to choose between our weekly rehearsal or attending my kids football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling or track events. Anytime I missed one of my kids events, I felt guilty. And I began to resent practicing during the week, to only seemingly rework everything on Sunday morning. Our music minister was very kind and encouraged me to sing even if I missed rehearsals and I did that for a while. But, I didn’t feel it was fair to the others in the group to just show up on Sunday mornings. So, I said I was taking a break. But in reality, I was quitting and walking away. It would be five years before I ventured back into leading worship.
This weekend was great. The speakers were inspirational, the music spoke to my heart as only music can. I tried to turn off my analysis of everything and just be in the moment.
We were encouraged to believe that our God is a God of miracles. Nothing can stand in His way. We can do ALL things thru His strength and power. We are to stand in His abundance and strength, not stay bent over in our insecurities and fear. It all sounds so right. And then I walk out of the door and back into life, and those little voices start in on me once again. “How do you dare to stand up and try to lead others in worship?” “Who do you think you are? You’re too old and not nearly cute enough to stand in front of people.” “There are others that can do it so much better than you. They just haven’t found them yet.” “Nobody really loves you. They’re just being nice.” And, I struggle against the urge to throw in the towel and cut myself off from everyone.
There’s a danger in being open and vulnerable to hear the word of God. The enemy is waiting for any way to get in and twist things around. When I’m at my most vulnerable, it is too easy to begin to doubt and to listen to the negative self-talk I’m so good at. I’m trying to squelch the negative chatter. I have wonderful friends that remind me that I am valuable and loved. I continue to struggle with self-doubt. I know that God is in control of everything. He can use me wherever He needs me. So, I continue to pray daily for His direction and guidance. I’m not going to quit going to conferences. But, I am going to work on accepting the teaching and encouragement I receive to stand strong and move forward.