Why Church?

Grew up in church, ran away from church, bounced between going and not going, immersed in church, gradually fell away to not going (again)…. it’s so EASY to sleep in on Sunday mornings, and there are other things going on Saturday nights. Nevertheless,

  “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:1‭-‬6 NIV 

Why Church? 

  “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV

The LORD never intended us to be on our own with no support. As our bodies are dependent on each part, so the church is dependent on each part. The CHURCH is not a building or gathering place, but it is the individual Christians who make up the body. At any given place, the church may be 2 people, or 10,000 people. As long as we are gathered to worship our LORD, we are in church because we are the Church. 

  “For where two or three gather in My Name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20 NIV

It concerns me more than I can put into words at the divisiveness of the Church, the body of Christ. From the beginning if history with Adam and Eve, to the life and times of Jesus, to the current day, we have divided ourselves by beliefs and customs. I expect to see violence from people who don’t have Christ, but certainly not from Christians. I’m not espousing Baptist or Catholic or Church of Christ, Methodist or Lutheran or Episcopalian. I am, however, pursuing the church of the Body of Christ, non-judgmental and welcoming. 
Why Church? Because on our own, we slip and fall and don’t have anyone to help us up. Because on our own, we have no one to keep us accountable. And because on our own, we have no one to fellowship and worship with. It is a mind-numbing separation from fellow believers, and ultimately separation from our LORD. We NEED fellowship and worship, because without it, our souls shrivel. God designed us with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be filled with worship of Him and fellowship with other like-minded people. 

I confess that I have fallen away from attending church. It’s difficult for me to get up and go alone. I imagine it is difficult for most people to get up and go by themselves, especially when a spouse or other significant person shows no enthusiasm or desire to accompany them.  

Why Church? Why NOT Church? 

If you have a church you love, give thanks! If you are currently unchurched, pray, and give thanks for the opportunity to find your new home in the Body. The way to get through the hurt is to make peace with the LORD through worship and fellowship with other believers.

(Scriptures from http://bible.com/111/NIV)

I SURRENDER ALL

I surrender all, 

I surrender all.

All to Jesus, I surrender, 

I surrender all.

All to Jesus, I surrender,

All to Him I freely give.

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His Presence,  I will live.

Growing up in church, we often used this hymn* as the invitation at the end of the service to invite people to come to Jesus and surrender their hearts to Him. Beautifully written, it summarizes what Jesus said to His disciples. 

  “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” – Luke 9:25‭-‬26 (http://bible.com/111/luk.9.25-26.NIV)

It is so difficult for many of us to surrender everything. I’ve surrendered many things over to God, but I still find myself struggling to let go of certain aspects of my life. I don’t get it. I know… really KNOW, that giving everything to God only makes my life better. It may not change the circumstances I am in, but by letting go it changes me. Move the mountain, or move me. Jesus said:

  “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20 (http://bible.com/111/mat.17.20.NIV)

Apparently, even the Apostles didn’t have the “faith of a mustard seed” (I haven’t seen any mountains being moved in the Gospels). However, they did have enough faith to let the LORD move them. A group called FFH released a song in 2000 called “Lord Move, or Move Me.” (You can hear it on Google Play.) I think the lyrics fit right into my life.

“Lord move in the way, that I’ve never seen before 

 Cause there’s a mountain in the way and a lock on the door 

 I’m drifting away, waves are crashing on the shore 

 So Lord move (move), or move me.”

I surrender all. Such a foreign concept in today’s society. Today, it seems as though everyone is concerned with their selfies and “getting real” on social media. It’s all about “me.” Life can never be as good as it can be when our focus is on ourselves instead of God, and that God-focus is exactly what the enemy doesn’t want. When our focus is anywhere except on Christ Jesus, we are listening to the enemy known as Satan, Lucifer, Abaddon (Revelation 9:11), Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24), King of Babylon, Destroyer, and Adversary (1 Peter 5:8), and even as the angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). He goes by many names, and we have to continually be on guard against him. 

What will it be today? Every thing, every thought, every action, is a choice. I don’t often make the right choice and let God have control. I’m usually being too human…

*The words to ‘I Surrender All’ were penned by Judson W. Van DeVenter (1855-1939) and put to music by Winfield S.Weeden (1847-1908); published 1896. Source: Wikipedia. 

Love Thy Neighbor…

What does He mean when Jesus says that I am to love my neighbor as I love myself? A Pharisee asked Jesus to tell them which of the 10 commandments from Moses was the most important. Here is what Jesus said:

  “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37‭-‬40 NLT

He took a long list of rules and told us succinctly what we need to do. First, LOVE GOD, and second, love others equally as we love ourselves. When a child is traumatized, it becomes a lifetime issue. So many people believe that they are unlovable because of past circumstances and situations, and it can manifest in different ways. How we love ourselves, or self-love, is directly related to that past.

Self-love doesn’t mean egotistical focus on one’s self. A person I know believes these  verses mean that God wants him happy in his whole life, so if someone or something makes him unhappy, he walks away… that includes wives, girlfriends (and boyfriends), children, and jobs. Whatever makes him “happy” is all that counts to him. Lying, cheating, and stealing are all acceptable for him to do if it gets him what he wants, because his desires are all that matter. His is an egotistical self-love that doesn’t leave room for anyone else. On the other extreme is the person who takes this to mean that they are to serve others to the point that others use them and abuse them. 

How, then, do I manage to love others the way God wants me to love them?

 First, I have to LOVE God with my WHOLE heart, my WHOLE soul, and my WHOLE mind. Only then can I know what love is, and how can I share something if I don’t know what it is? Think about that for a minute. Where is your heart right now? Your soul? What is your mind focused on? Until we focus them all on Christ, I don’t believe we can truly love others.

These verses are a great and terrible example of how we can feel about our lives before the Love and Light of Christ Jesus shines into us: 

   “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day – may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it. May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm it. That night – may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months. May that night be barren; may no shout of joy be heard in it. May those who curse the sea curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes.” – Job 3:3-10 NIV

This prayer, taken from the NIV Ragamuffin Bible, is how I want to go forward:
Uncompromising trust in the love of God inspires us to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the nagging arthritis that is so painful, and to pray from the heart, ‘Abba, into Your Hands I entrust my body, mind and spirit and this entire day — morning, afternoon, evening and night. Whatever You want of me, I want of me, falling into You and trusting in You in the midst of my life. Into Your Heart I entrust my heart, feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Abba, unto You I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord.  Amen.’ “

If we pray this prayer, we open our hearts and soul and mind to God and in doing so, allow Him to guide us to truly love others. Make sense? 

  “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…” – Philippians 1:27 NIV

(All scriptures are from the YouVersion.com Bible app http://bible.com

HUMBLED IN CHRIST 

  “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His Love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” – Philippians 2:1‭-‬2 NLT

It’s hard to be humble when you are perfect…. That’s what I thought, anyway. The more that I was told that I was nothing and had my freedom taken away, the more of a control freak I became over what I could control, which was very little. I became more rigid and hard in my attitude. Humble was not in my vocabulary. I know it’s an oxymoron, but those who have been there understand.

  “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the Name above all other names, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the Glory of GOD the FATHER.” – Philippians 2:3‭-‬11 NLT

Is it possible to be humble, when you have been cast aside, cheated on and lied to, and/or mistreated, for most of your adult life? Let’s look again at Jesus:

  “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6‭-‬8 NLT

We need to pay attention to this. Our LORD gave up heaven to live as a human. NOT as an earthly king, not born into a wealthy family, but born into a poor carpenter’s family. Jesus grew up like so many of us, working for a living. That’s pretty humbling. Then to allow Himself to be beaten and abused and humiliated, and ultimately to be nailed to a cross. That’s a horrendous, ugly way to die! The question becomes, how do we become humble?
  “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37‭-‬40 NLT

When we make the choice to love our God the way Jesus answered, it opens us to a whole new level of living. By taking these verses in Matthew 22 to heart, anger no longer controls us. We can let go of the emotional reactions and we become better servants for our LORD. Not to be walked on or abused, but really partnering with God. Maybe we can be less controlling and more humble in the process.

(http://bible.com/116/NL)

Betrayed

Have you ever been in a situation where you are surrounded by people who act as though they are your friends, but they are just waiting to hurt you? My last job felt that way…. there were a few people there who weren’t that way, but those closest to me hurt me deeply …. I can’t explain it, but King David knew how it felt.

  “They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere. All who hate me whisper about me, imagining the worst…. Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.” – Psalms 41:6‭-‬7‭, ‬9 NLT

How is it that we become so bent on promoting ourselves that we don’t have a care for those who are with us? I am guilty of many things, including gossip and being judgmental, and in my past I probably tried to use gossip to make myself look better. The truth, though, is that when we attempt to make someone else look bad so that we look better is that the opposite happens. It may not be immediate, but everyone who lies (and gossip is inherently lying) will be caught out. Gossiping is a base kind of betrayal, and will only cause disharmony. Being a gossip is like trying to pet a wild animal. It may be soft and cuddly for the moment, but when it turns on you it is all teeth and claws. I know, because I have been bloodied and bruised. James addresses the issue in a letter to the early church:

  “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it…. Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s Law. But your job is to obey the Law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, Who gave the Law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” – James 4:2‭, ‬11‭-‬12 NLT

Even those who got to see Jesus couldn’t resist the urge to scheme and gossip, making trouble for their friends and neighbors! It is imperative that we fight the enemy in this area. James went on to say this:

  “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” – James 3:5‭-‬6 NLT

“The tongue is a flame of fire…set on fire by hell itself.” That statement is BRUTAL. When it comes to gossip, we often attempt to disguise it. “We need to pray for so and so, because their spouse cheated…” or some variation. Someone says “please pray for me, I’m going through a difficult time…” and we immediately zoom in with questions for details. We DON’T NEED DETAILS, we just need to lift them up in prayer. If the person asking for themselves wants to provide specifics, then it’s their choice, but it’s not for us to give the details to anyone else. When you hear a rumor, or gossip, go to that person and ask them. Betrayal is painful, and gossip and rumors are the worst kinds of betrayal, especially from Christians. Let’s work on being real friends.

(http://bible.com/116/NLT)

Me or Jesus 

It must be important when two very different Apostles quote Jesus this way:

​  “Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men Lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’  But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” ” – Luke 22:25‭-‬27 

  “But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world Lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” ” – Matthew 20:25‭-‬28 

Servants. Not exactly the job title most of us want. In fact, I would be surprised that anyone would willingly take on that role – and yet many do it daily. From the highest paid surgeons to the lowest aide, teachers of all sorts, the clerk at the corner store and the waitress at the diner, these are all servants. The greatest servant role belongs to mothers, especially single ones, and single dads. Whatever your job or occupation, chances are you have found yourself in a servant role at some point in your life. I’ve been in a number of servant roles throughout my life. Many were quite unpleasant, while others – the ones I chose, were even enjoyable. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to choose our situations, but wherever we are, we need to have faith that God is with us.  

  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His Will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” –Proverbs 3:5‭-‬7 

In the most unpleasant situation, God wants us to rely on Him. I confess that if rarely looked for God’s Will during most of my adult life. There were occasions when I turned to Him, but it was mostly to ask Him to fix whatever bind I had gotten myself into since I didn’t bother to ask Him about it beforehand. Obviously, I was quite impressed with my own “wisdom,” and my choices were rarely very smart! Have you ever done that? Be honest; you know you have!

Trusting the LORD can be hard. There are so many situations that we find ourselves in that are quite out of our control. If you have ever been in a robbery or break in, you know first-hand how helpless it feels. Rape victims know helplessness. Veterans in combat know the out of control feeling of being vulnerable to attack. Life is full of instances of helplessness, and I think everyone experiences them. Through it all, know this: “The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good.” – Proverbs 15:3. He is watching the leader who lies and cheats, the person with authority who abused their position, the abusive spouse or parent….

Here is our Hope:

  “Arise, O LORD! Punish the wicked, O God! Do not ignore the helpless! Why do the wicked get away with despising God? They think, “God will never call us to account.” But You see the trouble and grief they cause. You take note of it and punish them. The helpless put their trust in You. You defend the orphans. Break the arms of these wicked, evil people! Go after them until the last one is destroyed. The LORD is King forever and ever! The godless nations will vanish from the land. LORD, You know the hopes of the helpless. Surely You will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them.” – Psalms 10:12‭-‬18 

We have the LORD’S Promise of justice. It may not be immediately, or even in our lifetimes, but justice, REAL Justice, will be served upon those who hurt others. That’s worth remembering. 

(http://bible.com/116/NLT)

“IF I Can???”

We continually question whether God can do the things we ask of Him. 

  “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Mark 9:23 NLT (http://bible.com/116/mrk.9.23.NLT)

If you believe that God created everything, from the smallest components of the atomic to the stars and galaxies (and I do believe!), then why do we have problems believing He can take care of us? When Jesus spent His time on earth, He did countless miracles. He turned water into wine, He healed the sick and the lepers, the blind and the lame. He brought Lazarus back from the dead!

  “A huge crowd kept following Him wherever He went, because they saw His miraculous signs as He healed the sick.” – John 6:2 NLT (http://bible.com/116/jhn.6.2.NLT)

IF He can? It is so difficult for us to relinquish that control we think we have over our lives, when the reality is that we never had any control since we were old enough to realize right from wrong. WHY would I say that? Through God’s gift of free will, He gave us the choice to follow Him or the world – and remember that for now the world belongs to the enemy. When we choose the world, we reject God. Harsh? Maybe, but it is Truth. When we think that we have control, it isn’t us but Satan who is running our lives. Scary, disgusting thought.

Believe me when I say I’m not judging anyone! For most of my adult life, I rejected God’s Grace. I knew I didn’t deserve it. In fact, I was convinced that I deserved every ugly, wicked, underhanded thing that I got. I was a loser with a capital L. Loser. My heart knew better, because I knew the scriptures and had given my heart to Jesus when I was five. My head, however, focused on the wrongs and the words perpetrated against me by others, and Satan began the campaign against me that pulled me away from God. Through it all, my family, and especially my parents, prayed for me. I am so incredibly blessed to have parents who never gave up on me – although at times, I’m sure it was difficult for them to keep Hope. It was only through the Grace of God that they held on. I wish every person had parents who loved God and their children enough to never give up, but unfortunately there are many parents who are so lost they don’t have any love to give to anyone. My heart cries for those people. 

As Christians, we should be in constant prayer for “those” people. It could be your best friend’s sibling or coworkers; neighbors, or the person you just passed on the street. Outward appearance doesn’t tell us who they are. 

Jesus, Son of the Living God, and the Holy Spirit living within us can change a person, if we let them. Who knows where I might be today if I had clung to my faith when I was a young adult instead of turning away. That falls under “should’a could’a” and living in the past, and we need to be facing forward instead of looking back. I do know this: I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through the darkest valley, and I wouldn’t have the testimony to reach others that I have now. Even so, it isn’t my testimony, but God’s.  

  “Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.  So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” …. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.” – John 3:5‭-‬8‭, ‬16‭-‬17 NLT (http://bible.com/116/jhn.3.5-17.NLT)

THANK GOD!