A Dangerous Place to Be

A friend of mine shared in a small group that she thought she probably would be safe from idols in an atmosphere alone with no distractions: no TV, no radio, all alone. She said people wouldn’t distract her from her spiritual life and worldly music or television programs wouldn’t do it either.

Listening to her, the concept sounded good. But at that time, my situation was pretty much what she described and I was still in danger of idolatry on a regular basis.

I have an active imagination. I have a good mind. And sometimes I believe they are sincerely out to get me.

Other people I know who are seriously trying to change from lifestyles of addiction to being “clean,” tell me it’s important to change playmates, playthings and playgrounds. To live the life of obedience to Christ, I pretty much need to do the same thing. That doesn’t mean I sequester myself away from the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t engage with people who don’t believe what I believe about God and Jesus. Doing that is hiding my lamp under a bowl. And Jesus says I’m to let my light shine before men.

However, scripture does tell me it’s dangerous for me to wander the playground of my mind without Jesus. I must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Not every thought I have is sinful, but some of them can lead to sin. My addictions are waiting in the sidelines if I fall prey to just one ugly thought. Or a twisted, selfish emotion. As a matter of fact, being alone can be a hindrance in my relationship with God if I let myself get lonely. I need my friends to help me, so I reach out.

A mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste. Sometimes, it can be a dangerous place to be.

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14,15).

Comfort Foodie

An Education

No one educated me as I was growing up about the proper terms used for the various gatherings which occur when someone dies. The only word I was familiar with was “funeral.”

Later, I learned there was also quite often a “visitation.” People went to the facility that was handling the funeral and viewed the body. They spoke in low tones and offered condolences to the bereaved family members. I didn’t know for a long time that this is also called a “wake.”

I became confused the first time I arrived at a funeral and the man at the entrance asked if I was going to the cemetery for graveside services. But I was still learning.

Finally, with graveside services over, we’d gather for the “funeral dinner.”

A Bit of Reality

A little over a month ago, someone who was special to me passed away. And though I’ve been to many funerals during my life, I’m still learning. This wonderful man’s life celebration gave me pause as I sat and watched the people around me.

In the chapel of my church, a buffet luncheon and tables were set up. We filled our plates and sat with friends to share memories or to just have normal conversations. I realized that having a funeral dinner gives a different meaning to “comfort food.” When we lose someone we love, we need to feel, even if for a short time, something resembling normal. We meet over a meal and we’re somehow comforted.

If a funeral dinner happens at a church, the food was most likely prepared by church members in their homes. The food is often simple. Friends and family members help by offering a kind of stability in shaky circumstances. The simpler we keep things, the better. Even silences can be healing.

Last week a long-time friend notified me her husband had died. I didn’t look forward to attending another funeral. But I surely was ready to be there to comfort her. That meant being there in any way she needed.

It turned out that I sat with her and her children, whom I’d watch grow up, at the funeral dinner. We ate some “comfort food” and talked about normal stuff. If I was the betting type, I’d bet that it won’t be long before she and I are sharing more memories over a meal and talking about what’s making life normal again now that she’s grieving.

A Recipe For Caring

We don’t like to admit it, but we know that food seems to make things better.

We get up in the morning and our bodies are ready for sustenance. Food makes that bodily craving go away. “Ah, that’s better.”

Someone’s having a baby and we throw a shower. Food–especially chocolate–makes the occasion better. Weddings include a feast following the ceremony. Because food makes it even better. The Saturday football game at our alma mater begs a tailgater. Except for our team winning, what could possibly make it better?

We celebrate the milestones in life with food, join in conversations at the dinner table with our family, grab some of that famous Mackinac Island fudge while we’re on vacation, and roast marshmallows over a campfire. Because food makes getting together so much better.

An Example to Follow

Scour the Bible and you find many instances in which Jesus was eating with people. Indeed, a couple of his most famous miracles included feeding thousands of people. What we in the Church call communion is based on the Lord’s command during his last meal with the disciples to “remember him.”

I doubt very much they realized the bread and wine were “comfort food.”

But I’m still learning and I know. It’s why we say we celebrate communion. In community we celebrate, we remember, and we look to the future.

Loving Father, I pray we always know the way to celebrate life, even when we face life without someone we love. Help us to make each moment precious and to create communion–community–whenever we meet with people. Thank you for the gift of food and the many ways it sustains us. Thank you for the simplicity it can offer in a grave situation. Help us to find our ultimate joy and purpose in you and to realize Christ is the bread of life. Thank you, Jesus, for being the comfort food that will never leave us hungry.

Storefront Churches

Recently, while driving on a remote street in my fair city, I had the opportunity to see a sign outside a church declaring what I’d hoped to see on a church sign for a long time.

“Jesus Is Lord”

Convinced (by people better than me) that a church sign’s purpose is for outreach, I still believe a statement as simple and true as that one indicates where that church’s heart stands. In fact, an auto shop where I have work done on my van boasts this same statement on its sign out front.

Years ago, I saw the movie “Because of Winn-Dixie” at the theater. The film is adapted from the children’s story of the same name. A 10-year-old girl moves yet again to a new town with her father, a preacher. The story is funny, touching and full of wisdom.

The preacher and his small congregation meet in what used to be a convenience store, the Pick-it-Quick. Early on in the movie, Preacher is trying to make a joke about their location to keep things light (tough crowd) and says, “I don’t see anything wrong with making church convenient.”

winn-dixie-at-churchI’m familiar with churches meeting in places other than a traditional church building. And while it’s great to have a nice building in which to meet, I don’t think God cares as much what the building looks like as what our hearts look like.

Imagine some church signs or slogans for churches that meet in former businesses. No irreverence meant here. We can take God seriously and still have fun. But fair warning: I used to be in advertising and I enjoy good puns.

  • Laundromat: “You can be washed whiter than snow”
  • Library: “Lending a good word”
  • Insurance Sales Office: “The Gospel is our strongest claim”
  • Grocery Store: “Hungry for something more?”
  • Beauty Shop: “You can leave here a new creation”
  • Hardware Store: “New tools for living found here”
  • Music Shop: “We sing God’s praises”
  • Book Store: “Come curl up with the Good Book”
  • Video Rentals: “Rated F for Families”
  • Dollar Store: “More than you bargained for”
  • Cell Phone Service: “Get connected with God”
  • Used Car Lot: “Turning lemons into lemonade”
  • Secretary of State: “Get your license to thrive here”
  • Gym: “Helping you jump-start your spiritual fitness”
  • Medical Office: “Healing hearts is God’s specialty”
  • Dentist’s Office: “For a message with some teeth to it”
  • Optometrist’s Office: “Your eyes will see the glory”
  • Office Supply Store: “Loving people file in here every week”
  • Furniture Store: “We have a chair just for you”
  • Coffee Shop: “Enjoy our unique blend of truth and grace”
  • Computer Store: “The only software needed is an open heart”
  • Restaurant: “Taste and see that the Lord is good”

Outreach? Hmm.

We can meet with God anywhere. Our hearts are His favorite place to meet us. The sign we can put out front is a simple “Welcome.”

Nothing silly about that.

What Do We Have To Sing About?

Praise and worship in the form of hymns and contemporary music are a long-honored tradition in Christian churches. Whatever style of singing a church offers, the purpose is always the same: to glorify God.

We worship him for who he is and praise him for what he does.all about him

Ever notice there are specific themes in the songs? Here are just a few.

Salvation The greatest gift of God is his Son, Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his Son to die for us and we praise him for giving with immeasurable love. Without salvation, we cannot approach God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have him as our go-between.

Dependence We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of value or eternal purpose without God. We are weak and tend to wander, but with God’s power and our willingness to surrender to him, all things are possible.

Evangelism Christ has given us a mission to make disciples. With so many who haven’t heard the gospel, it’s a big responsibility. It’s an individual responsibility. “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love” is a great attitude to have. Even better to put it into a loving action.

Suffering We all go through trials, but God provides strength to get through them even if he doesn’t remove them. We don’t praise God for the trials. However, lifting up his name as our source of strength is good for us. It helps us to remember his faithfulness.

Holiness In John’s revelation, he describes a scene in which creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” God is holy; we recognize this and worship as they did. Our own holiness is another topic of many songs. God said because he is holy, we must be as well. Again, we can do it only with his power working in us.

The Holy Spirit When we sing “open the eyes of my heart,” we’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us see spiritual truth. We humbly ask for his aid because we can block God’s word through various means. Even standing in church with the body of believers all around us, it can be difficult not to let our attention go elsewhere. The Holy Spirit desires our hearts be open to receiving God’s truth and bearing fruit.

Peace and Joy Two things Jesus said he gives to us which are not of this world. His peace. His joy. When we’re worshiping God for who he is, we can’t help feeling the peace and joy he gives. Acknowledging all of his attributes–from his holiness, justice and sovereignty to his mercy, love and forgiveness–we know we have a God and Savior who can bring peace and joy no matter what’s happening in our lives.

cat singing worshipLove We sing about God’s love for us and we sing about our love for him. The former is praise, the latter is worship.

Gratitude Being always thankful to God is another excellent way to worship him. Gratitude doesn’t have to be sung, but when voices are lifted up to praise God with our mouth saying, “Hallelujah!” God hears and is exalted.

We have many things to sing about when it comes to our Father in heaven. Don’t have a great singing voice in your own opinion? Be assured that God doesn’t see it that way. He gave you that voice.

So lift it up in worship.

Why I Go To Church

In a recent post, I talked about Why I Don’t Go To Church. Today is a good day to tell you Why I Do Go To Church.

To Worship God
During the week, I have my private times of meeting with the Lord. But on the day I go to church, it’s a different venue. The atmosphere creates in me a desire to worship God for who he is and to praise his works in a corporate setting.

As An Act of Obedience
Jesus showed us that he meant for us to be a body of believers when he welcomed everyone to come to him. Certainly, he had a few people who were in his inner circle, as I do, but he also ministered to and taught multitudes at one time.GodCallHisChildrenToUnity

To Fellowship With Believers
Besides being able to meet one on one with my best Christian friends, at church I’m able to greet those who don’t live close by. The ones whom I wouldn’t see unless we both made a point of going to church. I don’t know everyone who attends, but I’m meeting more of them all the time. We often discuss things we might not get a chance to talk about if we didn’t see each other weekly. They help me; I help them. I know that in the midst of this congregation, we’re loved, prayed for and supported. Many times, we know each other’s messes and successes.

To Serve
The ways in which I serve are not up-front like some. But what I do is a service to someone. I never know when what I’ve done will help plant a seed for an individual who’s looking to go deeper in his or her relationship with God.

To Hear Spirit-Filled Teaching
I need to hear the full counsel of God taught to me. Aside from my own Bible study and small group study, my pastor can open scripture to me in supernatural ways when he allows God to use him. Then, if I take that home and apply the wisdom to my life, my desire to worship, to obey, to be in community, and to serve have also served a purpose.

Most of the reasons I go to church should be, first of all, outward focused. I do get a lot from going to church. But in the body where I attend, faith, love and acceptance are flourishing. I believe it’s for the benefit of everyone who walks through the doors.

Why would I not want to go to church?

One More Word on Mental Illness

Earlier this month, I posted some thoughts and information for Mental Health Awareness Month. Today is the last day of the month and I hoped to speak to the issue of mental health/illness one more time.

its time w ribbonMaking my own efforts to educate people about mental health/illness issues is one of my passions. I’ve known so many people who struggle with some sort of illness. I’ve shared the pain of many of those people; I don’t speak from observation only.

My post Not A Unicorn told a little of my own story because I wanted to ‘come out’, so to speak. I felt a need to be honest about another aspect of who I am. Today I want to simply give more information so those who read my blog can be better educated about issues regarding mental health/illness.

Whichever illness is named, from anxiety to schizophrenia, those who have a mental illness need others to understand as best they can. We can learn the difference between one illness and another. (Schizophrenia isn’t multiple personalities for instance.) People need to know that having a mental illness isn’t sin. The brain is a mysterious organ and even experts don’t know everything there is to know about how it functions. We can, however, try to get insight so we don’t put people in boxes.

Boxes end up being like cages.Do you honestly think...

In a recent Facebook post, I included a link from Ed Stetzer’s blog. Stetzer is one of my favorite bloggers because he doesn’t tend to be a Fraidy Cat. He speaks truth and speaks it well, without throwing stones. His post addressed how the Church needs to better handle mental illness issues inside and out.

Last week, I had the privilege of listening to my pastor preach on depression in the sermon series Insomnia: What Keeps You Up at Night? Pastor Bray interviewed a local Christian counselor, a member of our congregation. I can say there have been few times in the almost 18 years I’ve attended my church when I felt as grateful as I did that day for God speaking through his people.

I hoped that from their interview, which was grace-filled and educational, everyone present would take away at least one fact that would help them to better understand depression and other mental illnesses.

My church isn’t so unique. I’m sure there are others that extend grace to people who struggle with mental illnesses.  We need the Church to come alongside us.

If you want to educate yourself on mental illness, the Internet is a fount of information. Simply do a search on mental illness or a specific topic you have questions about. Listed below are some links to help you get started.

BringChange2Mind

Mental Health America

National Alliance for Mental Illness

 

 

Unity and Love: What Jesus Prayed For

Thom Rainer blogs every day about leadership in the church. Many times his topic is meant for the whole body, not just leaders.

That’s the case with this post. I felt compelled to share it, because when we consider our membership in a local church, it should be apparent that in some way, we are all leaders. Jesus meant for us to be examples reflecting Him in the world.

Mr. Rainer has many years of experience in church leadership and assisting churches revitalize and deal with change, something the Church needs today. His posts are always thought-provoking for me and that’s why he’s in my blogroll.

God bless you and may you be a blessing to someone today.

Riding It Out Together

Our group’s annual picnic was at a local state park one year and a couple of the young girls had been riding their bikes along the trails for a good part of the day. They invited me to come along. Having heard how challenging the trails could be, I wasn’t easily convinced.

But I went. They promised they’d watch out for me.

Taking the lead, the two youngsters were true to their word. As we biked our way up and down the hills, I’d hear them call out, “Bump!” “Curve coming up!” “Watch out for the loose sand!” Because they’d been down the trail so many times before, they were familiar with each hazard.

God gives us the gift of Christian friends to play the same role those girls played for me that day. Together, in faith, we can travel the road. But we need people who can help us when we encounter the bumps and curves.

I remember on that day at the park, the first thing those girls did was convince me with a promise to take care of me the best they could. Friends who help in our faith walk do the same. They pray for us, point us to God’s truth, rejoice with us when things go well and mourn with us during tough times.

In addition, we’ll meet people who have experiences and knowledge we don’t have who can warn us of possible hazards we wouldn’t see.

At one point during our trek that day, the girls decided we’d stop and rest. “It’s just a little further to the end,” they told me. It was a call to persevere. The ride was almost over. Likewise, as Christ followers, we’re encouraged to remain confident. We’ll be rewarded if we persevere and do the will of God. We’ll receive what God has promised.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10: 35,36)

By the end of my trip on the trails, I was tired. But when the girls asked me if I wanted to go again, I said, “Yes.” I had faith in the beginning that they would help me along the paths, and now I was more familiar with the way.

What was true that day at the park is true of sharing a spiritual journey with other disciples. If not for their encouragement, I might never go in the first place. If not for their help, I might fall many times on the way.