So Charlotte wrote a fantastic article on why we go to church when we don’t want to and I couldn’t help but be pulled into the conversation.
My husband and I come from very different theological backgrounds, and I mean VERY different. He was raised in the Dutch Reform sect and I was brought up in the Salvation Army, later becoming accustomed to a very progressive Alliance church.
Needless to say our differences played a significant role in our relationship, it created a platform for continuous conversation in order to ensure that we are on the same page when it comes to our beliefs. We didn’t have to agree, there is still a major disagreement that we have to date (predestination vs. choice), but we had to be able to understand where the other was coming from and respect their opinion. These differences also played a different SUPER SIGNIFICANT role in our personal walks with Christ when the time came that we were engaged… why’s that? Well, we had to decide on a home church. He came to my church and I went to his for a few Sundays, both of us vowing to enter each building with an unbiased opinion and open heart to see if God would call us there. I don’t know why we ever thought we could do that, I mean come on, there was a reason we were both so attached to these communities and why we both LOVED getting to church every Sunday. Doug was training to be a deacon and I worked at my church in Children and Youth Ministry… so there was no way on God’s green earth that we would be able to attend the other’s church without the inner thought of “Well, I’ll just get through this ridiculous service and then I’ll go on making my case for MY church”….
Neither of us had any intention of going the others church, as much as we wanted to believe we did. We were both planted with deep roots in churches that brought us out of where we were in life to a life where we would thirst for Christ day in and day out. It was clear to us after a few months that we would have to find a new church, to keep the playing field fair, no one would have the home court advantage. We were lucky enough to only have to try one church before finding a place where we fit, after six months of attendance and consideration. We prayed hard with heavy hearts for God to show us where he wanted us… not necessarily where WE wanted to be. This six month journey of ours outlined many important things that we needed to consider, as a couple, when finding a church. But what we discovered more so than what we “wanted” to see in a church is the things that we THOUGHT were important but turned out to be superficial. We ended up coming to the conclusion, three actually, that would change the way we looked at church altogether.
1. Church is not for us.
Newsflash. The moment you start going to church to simply fulfill your own needs, you’ve missed the point of church altogether.
Do we hear the word and grow from it? Hopefully.
Do we go to fellowship with other Christians? Naturally.
Do we drop our children off to hear the word of God? Obviously.
Do we feel the spirit in the music? Yes.
Is this the reason(s) we go to church? Absolutely NOT.
So what is the point of church? For the Lost to be Found.
If you are a Christian for more than 10 seconds your role is to no longer be served at church but to serve others as Christ did. My favorite example of this appears multiple times in the New Testament, Jesus would get down on his hands and feet and wash the feet of his disciples, and get this, at a home that wasn’t his! He went to other people’s HOMES to SERVE other people. We go to church to serve those who have yet to have found their relationship with Christ (whether you believe that He finds you or you choose Him).
2. Church style is preferential… not a necessity.
This was the biggest lesson for my husband and myself. As we tried each other’s churches initially we found ourselves nitpicking the things that we didn’t agree with. The music was too much of a production or there wasn’t enough thought or feeling put into the music. There is not enough structure or there is too much structure. The church is too big or the church is too small. I can’t believe people drink coffee in the sanctuary. If another person opens a candy wrapper during the sermon I will swat them. And on and on and on and on.
It came to a point where we were finding reasons to not go to church. It took us some time to truly realize the necessities when it came to finding a church for our family, and for us it was three things.
- Children’s Program: We needed a place where we could see our children flourish with opportunities to learn and serve God in their church
- Community Outreach: We needed to see a place where the gospel is being played out in the community, not just the building. Mostly we had to ask ourselves “If the church was removed from the community it was in… would anyone notice?” If the answer was yes, then the church is fulfilling its duty.
- Sound Biblical Teaching: With us this was difficult, since we both come from opposite ends of the spectrum in theological thinking. We had to remind ourselves that theology is not the definition of the Bible in its entirety but the opinion of people who have studied the Bible and have come up with an interpretation of the grey areas. So as long as the pastor was preaching sound and studied Biblical theories and that if there was a difference in theology that we would still be able to serve in the church… then we can work with that. It turns out that the church we currently attend is in the camp of predestination (God chooses us), which I am not in that camp. This being said, I’m not the only in the church that thinks this way, and the only “restrictions” I had because of my theological beliefs is that I’m not able to teach the theology class. Which I wouldn’t be able to teach in good conscience anyways. So, I’m a happy gal.
3. Church is not a building.
You can dress it up and put lights on it but a building does not make a church, people do. That’s right, people make the church. In Jesus’ day there was no such thing as “church” in the definition as we know it today. Church was an essentially a small group, meeting in someone’s home, sharing life together and teaching the gospel. There may or may not have been music, but if there was I promise nothing was amplified. There were no stained glass windows (in fact no windows at all), no special banners with motivational sayings on them. There were no expresso machines or coffee urns during the pre or post fellowship time. There children’s ministry was the parents modelling what it is like to be a Christ follower . Find people that you can walk with in your journey, people who will hold you accountable to your faith, and you have found the body of Christ. That is what church is, the body (or family as I like to call it) of Christ.
So now, how do I bring it back to “Why we go to church when we don’t want to?” Simple. When you see church as a mission field, a place to serve others, and a ground to which we live out what we are called to do… then there is no choice. You just go. Knowing that your presence, you volunteering your time, and your tithe to the church contributes to others finding Christ. HELLO?!?!? Did you hear that? Your attendance at church plays a part in the lost being found! Who knew you were an evangelist eh?
We go to church not because we need to… but because others need us to.
It’s funny how we get so caught up in our own lives - our own plans. And by “we” I mean “I”. Maybe I mean “we”. I don’t know. I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for me, so that’s what I’ll do (and maybe it’ll help a little).
I have this perfect idea of what my life should look like: now, and in the future. And trust me, it looks flipping awesome. If only you could fathom my imaginative powers…
But things tend to come along that interrupt these intentions. Little hiccups along the way cause for some disarray in my carefully cultivated contrivances.
But why can’t we embrace that change? Why can’t we recognize that it’s changing us - growing us? If life were exactly as we expected it to be, we would remain the same static person forever.
That sucks. But instead of cooperating, Cole usually loses it. He goes crazy. He stresses out. Maybe you’re like Cole. Maybe you’re that red personality who needs everything to go your way; as soon as it doesn’t, you feel as squished as grapes at a winery (as squeezed as a lemon on a juicer, as sour as a rotten orange in vinegar … apparently all of my similes involve fruit).
But why can’t we embrace that change? Why can’t we recognize that it’s changing us - growing us? If life were exactly as we expected it to be, we would remain the same static person forever. Now THAT would be boring. That’s like being Ted Mosby: a character who doesn’t change for 9 entire seasons (I’m still not over that show).
What if we let that change shape us? What if we allowed the diversity to evolve our reality? Why can’t we trust that this could be good for us? C.S. Lewis has a great quote:
"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."
Let the change shape you. Your plans are probably awesome, like mine, but trust that what could be is better. Expect God’s plans to mess yours up.
We can’t stay eggs forever. Though we like the idea now of staying inside our sturdy cocoon of a shell, we could do so much more as a bird. We have no idea the potential we have to fly and be free! If we stay eggs, we’ll just inevitably rot. Or, get blended into some meathead’s protein shake. I’m not sure which is worse.
I assume you’re like me and you can’t see the future. If you can, there’s a completely different conversation that you and I need to have. Otherwise, we don’t know what is to be. We like to think we do. I know I do. I’m pretty good at convincing myself what can and should be. But do I really know? CAN I really know? I can’t. I can’t comprehend life outside of my inferred integument: my egg shell. Not until I experience it. So I have to trust that what is outside might be better for me. I have to have faith that the plan God has for me is good. Why? Because He loves me. So even if it sucks at the moment, I can expect a substantially superior state of being in the end.
Let the change shape you. Your plans are probably awesome, like mine, but trust that what could be is better. Expect God’s plans to mess yours up. He’s a pretty smart dude, and though we don’t always see the end right now, we can know that what He has in store for us is for our good. Accepting and welcoming the change is infinitely better than staying an egg.
by Charlotte O
I remember when I first heard this song on a friend’s Facebook. By the time it got to the bridge, I had stopped what I was doing, put everything down, stopped multitasking and just listened in silence and God touched my heart. Now over a year later, that song still has the ability to speak to me, especially when I hear it during a worship service. There is something about this song. Something about the music, the lyrics, the heart of it all that reaches me, and many others I’ve talked with in deep places. The more I thought about it, the more I saw how this song connects deeply with people of this generation through many of the common struggles and experiences we as - I almost cringe to say it – millennials have gone through.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
In a generation where we’ve been told from a young age – you can do whatever you want, just dream it and you can do it; in a generation called spoiled, entitled, and ignorant of how tough it was for those who have gone before us, in a generation with greater access to the world, knowledge, and other humans than ever before, there is a new kind of fear. There is a fear of failure. I know it well. With all these expectations, with all we’ve been given, with all that is available, how dare we not succeed? But at what? The fear of failure can be paralyzing. The indecision can be overwhelming.
There is something so freeing about admitting that you may fail. Something so liberating about acknowledging your weaknesses to one who can carry them. When we step out into the waters, we don’t know what will happen, we don’t know if we will sink, or walk on water. When we step into careers, relationships, and ministries, we feel like we are in uncharted territory. At 32, my peers are leading churches and departments, joining pastoral search committees and choosing teams to complete projects. These are the kinds of responsibilities we always imagined the ‘older people’ would be carrying out. But here we are, maybe secretly feeling unqualified, taking it one step at a time. And in those times, that is when we most need something bigger than ourselves: A God with a purpose who is calling us out and promising to equip us.
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
As our culture moves away from modernism, and we realize that there is more to life than what we see, we are drawn to the mysteries. We are hungry for an experience of God. Not just something packaged and sold to us because we fit a certain demographic. A lot of people who have rejected institutional religion are still embracing spirituality. A lot of us who are more educated than any other generation in our families are realizing that faith and not learning will carry us through. We may not want to be tied to a certain denomination, we may not want the borders and rules that come with traditional church, but we do want God. We want a God who moves oceans and empowers us to change the world.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
We have failed ourselves, and have been failed by others. We have so many voices calling out and telling us what to do and where to go. We need to stop sometimes and listen. When we hear the voice of grace calling through our failures, we realize there is hope. We know that no matter how much we have failed God, he will never fail us. We are longing for that guiding voice, that guiding spirit to move us toward our destiny. When we truly cling to God, we can face all things.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
The bridge of this song is almost a song in itself. I’m one of those people who loves the bridge. I want to live on the bridge. Those building moments of power that make worship songs so distinctive—those are the moments that inspire me. Maybe they are manipulated, but that crescendo causes a similar movement in my spirit. This bridge is a cry for help, a cry of surrender, and declaration of trust. We acknowledge that we long for greater things, that we desire fullness, and that we cannot do it on our own. When we truly surrender ourselves and call on the name of Jesus, we will find hope, strength, and rest.
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
This brings me to the chorus, which expresses the deepest longing of our souls: belonging. More than success, more than money, popularity or anything else, at the heart of it, we all desire to belong. We want to be part of a family, relationship, community, or vision: something that matters. This desire for belonging was created inside of us by a God who wants us first to belong to HIM. So sing this song with me, and sing it loud. Call upon his name and be saved from yourself. Let him lift you above your fears and failures, no matter how far you feel yourself sinking. Find yourself with strengthened faith and a sense of belonging, or if that’s too much, then just lift your hands and keep your eyes above the waves until you get pulled out.
As a kid I was always a small little runt. I was short and quite skinny. My grandfather had a nickname for me that he would endearingly say with his broken english: "chicken wing". To give you an idea of how skinny I was, as a teenager my forearms were actually bigger then my biceps, which is when I gained the nickname Popeye. I had a very high metabolism and it seemed I could eat anything and I would loose weight.
When I got married I weighed a total of 133 pounds and my forearms were still bigger than my biceps. But at some point my metabolism took a vacation and all the McDonalds, Pop and Pizza of Youth Ministry caught up with me. I had gotten to a weight of 190 pounds at a height of 5'7 with a long list of health concerns.
I could see that I needed to make a change and with the warnings of various doctors I knew that things would only get worse, but most things in life are easier said than done. I tried dieting and exercise, but with a busy schedule and being a new father, I found it quite hard to find any motivation let alone any real traction towards lasting results. But at the age of 29, with only two months left before turning thirty, I finally said enough is enough.
My wife had just started working for a friend who ran a weight loss program and as I sat through her introduction videos of the program, I decided I had no good reason not to do it myself. I resolved that I would do it with no cheating (since the more I cheated, the more it would cost and the longer I needed to be on the program and I didn't want to spend even an extra day longer than I had to--it was hard) and I lost up to 25 pounds in one month.
I had gotten my weight down to a healthier state and not only that but cured many of the health issues I was facing like high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
Things have not been roses and puppy dogs since. I have realized that maintaining this can be just as much work and I have had to make some major changes in my life. Even the discipline of exercising regularly can be hard. But with all things in life, be it right eating, exercise, positive thinking, spiritual development, etc. it takes hard work and all things take time and need to start somewhere.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. // 1 Cor. 9:24
If you are going to run a marathon, you don't just get up one morning and line up with a number and run that marathon. You get up and start by running around the block, then you run the block twice, then you run the block three times and so on and so on. You always have the goal in mind of winning that race, crossing that finish line, reaching that goal and you train and run that race like you are going to win. But every race starts with us learning how to walk.
One of the things I do is a full body work out three times a week. Trust me, it isn't much, I don't have a lot of equipment and for what the routine entails, it isn't very impressive in comparison to what you can see in any fitness magazine, but all things start with humble beginings. All to often, I think we forget that the people we look up to, be it the giants of the faith, the musicians and artists who master the craft, the guy down the street who is building a successful business started somewhere.
We live in a microwave culture that looks for the easy fix, the immediate results, the easy path. But most things that are worth it, take hard work and that hard work starts somewhere. Even if we are not disillusioned to think there is a magic pill, we often obsess with the end goal result and spend too much time thinking how far off we are to the ultimate result and how much farther we have to go.
Let me encourage you: If it is eating healthier, losing weight, exercising, working on relationships, learning the guitar, kicking a bad habit, fighting the temptations of sin, reading your Bible, deepening yourself in the discipline of meditation and prayer, realize that all things start with small steps. Instead of beating yourself up about where you wish you could be, ask yourself, what can I do today? What small steps can you take today? What small thing can you change today? Start somewhere... anywhere. Don't wait until the perfect time, cause that time will never come. If you fail, get back up and try again, or try at it at another angle. Let your life be filled with oh wells instead of what ifs. Look at the possibilities for today, simply take the first step and let tomorrow worry about itself. Remember, before we can run, we need to learn to walk.
July 4th was one of those gorgeous nights where one could turn off the Air-Con and open the windows and let the wind blow a sweet cool breeze through the house to sleep. So I did. I go to bed fairly early, even if I don’t fall right asleep, it gives me time to reflect, think and meditate and pray. As I lay in bed last night I could hear gunfire and bombs bursting in air. Of course they were fake, just firecrackers, M-80’s and fireworks, but I reflected on the sounds of war. No bullets, no collateral damage on the streets of Lancaster, but for hours (actually until 2 AM), I could hear the mimetic sounds of a war celebration.
Last night, all across America, cities and peoples engaged in a ritual, an annual ritual whereby we played ‘pretend war.’ We purchased pretend bombs and lit them off. And I wondered how come we don’t ever play ‘pretend peace?’
I considered how independence often comes through violence and how virtually all national independence is born in war. I sought to enter into the spectacle through the eyes of a child, how as a child I loved fireworks (and in some ways still do), the beauty and awe of a really good display. But I also felt somewhat disconcerted in the fact that had these sounds been accompanied by real ammunition, had tanks been rolling in the streets, had the populace experienced street by street fighting, how that joy and awe would have transformed in a nano-second into extreme fear and anxiety.
Last night, all across America, cities and peoples engaged in a ritual, an annual ritual whereby we played ‘pretend war.’ We purchased pretend bombs and lit them off. And I wondered how come we don’t ever play ‘pretend peace?’ How come peacemaking and being a peacemaker is seen as the wimpy way out? How come Jesus’ admonition to ‘turn the other cheek’ is mitigated through torturous hermeneutics? Where have all the flowers gone? And is the answer really blowing in the wind?
Rarely in life does 'One Size Fit All'. Let me tell you a little story of two close friends of mine.
Jigar was born in India into a Hindu family, spent a good portion of his childhood in the UK and his family eventually ended up in Canada where he still lives today. Through an honest journey of seeking and asking hard questions, connecting to a community that he felt he could belong to and be accepted, having a supernatural spiritual experience, Jigar became a follower of Jesus and to this day is on a journey of what that all means for him.
Jon grew up near a small community in Alberta, on a farm in a Christian home. He was taught from the beginning about Jesus and His Story and through his journey had to make his faith his own by being convinced of the truths he was taught, experience this faith for himself and began a lifelong journey as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Can we accept someone else's story and see God working differently in each one of our lives, and even learn from those people, or must we only listen to people who hold our own perspectives?
When I think about both these stories, they couldn't be any more different. Born literally worlds apart and living very different lives (one's journey was built on the foundation of a Christian upbringing and the other still wrestles with what it means for a Hindu to follow Christ) both choose to follow the way of Jesus Christ and His Story, but how both came to this place and how each lives out their faith journey looks drastically different.
I deeply appreciate both these men and both have challenged me and helped me to grow in more ways then I can count. What a tragic shame it would be for one of them to deny their experience and claim their journey to faith was invalid solely based on the fact that it didn't look like the others. But the sad truth is this happens much too often.
One's personal spiritual journey rarely looks like another, and there is no 'One Size Fits All' approach to spiritual development.
As a young man, I was very convinced that I had the majority of this life and faith thing figured out and saw it as my duty to convince anyone who didn't see the world as I did to come over to my enlightened side. As I have grown older and had the honour of working in pastoral ministry, seeing real people with real lives dealing with real life issues, it has become increasingly clearer that one's personal spiritual journey rarely looks like another, and there is no 'One Size Fits All' approach to spiritual development--Uniformity is not the same as unity.
Imagine what would happen if we allowed God to work through our own journey and realize that we all have our own story, our own struggles, our own victories, our own gifts and things we can contribute and share? What if it was less about seeing people as either in or out, but instead we invite people on a journey with us as we walk closer towards Jesus and building an intimate community together.
As we journey through life together, I suspect we will run into people we disagree with or their journey will look very different from our own. The question is: can we accept their story and see God working differently in each one of our lives? Can we learn from those who look very different from us, or must we only listen and journey with people who hold our own perspectives?
“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, now I know all you have to do it say yes.” This is a quote from one of my favourite speakers, Bob Goff. Now I used to think that, all the time. If I did this then God would be more proud of me, if I do this then God would love me more and let me do more things in his work. It is such an incredible and liberating to be told that God wants you and wants to work with you, regardless of what you are going through and dealing with. God wants the able and the strong, but he also loves and wants the weak and broken. I am coming off what was a crazy, tumultuous year and the whole time I had strength from God and my church. That is the only way I can describe it. I would come on Sunday morning and sing my heart out and really focus on the message, and then the week would be this stressful, upsetting time and somehow I made it through.
You can be blessed with this wonderful thing and waste
it by saying no to all the adventures that pass you by,
or you can open your heart and say yes.
Every week I would leave on Sunday, struggle until I made it to Friday nights when I got to back to the Church and speak to our youth group. I would become inspired again seeing God working through the lives of my young people in the group. It was also encouraging that even though I was in the time of deep distress he was letting me work through the lives of these kids. I wrote a blog about why I work at the Church every Friday night, but I did not really get into what it does for me. I know that I am a living face of God and the Church for them, which I am so happy and proud everyday that I get to do that, but it at the same time has had an effect on me too. I get to do life with these kids. I am so honoured to be some one who they ask question of and to really have some answers for them. I have an incredible love for these kids.
Which is how God has used me this year, I came to Gateway as this broken person and was asked to work with these kids and he let so much love balloon into my heart for these kids. I say kids because even as an Air Cadet staff member I called them all my kids, but we have 'kids' that are now graduating and growing up and what a pleasure to be involved in that process! God lifted me up to be a source of life and love for these kids when I didn't even have love for myself. I can't say that my church saved me necessarily because I have been a Christian for quite some time, but I can say that they did indeed rescue me. How in the world did the youth pastor know the first time we met that I needed so desperately to be involved with this group of leaders and youth. I didn't even know that the time. But, God works through love.
The Kingdom of God is a party
and everyone is invited!
God works through things all the time in your life and it's your decision to say yes or no. You can be blessed with this wonderful thing and waste it by saying no to all the adventures that pass you by, or you can open your heart and say yes. When my youth pastor asked me to work with the youth, I could have said that I was actually overwhelmed in my own life and moving and had too many changes happening, or say yes and just go with it. I can't imagine what state I would be in without this team and the love and support that they gave to me over this past year. Of course working with and being a role model for these kids is daunting and seemingly intimidating, but the benefits far, far out way anything else.
The title of Bob Goff's Book that the top quote came from is called 'Love Does'. Now, I'm sure that to some of you that seems like a simplistic title of some happy go lucky Christian book, however, It is his own account of his life and how he goes above and beyond to make his life incredible. How every day you are presented with options and it is up to you what to do with them. At the end of the day, Love does some really great things but its up to you to be paying attention and answering yes when you are faced with them. If love Does and our God is a God of love, what do you have to lose?
Jesus Stalker: Someone who goes to church and bible study and learns all they can about Jesus and then never puts it into practice.
The Kingdom of God is a party and everyone is invited! That is a statement that gets used a lot at my Church, that when we get together we are in fact celebrating God and his love. I used to think that being a believer was enough, but now I know Jesus wants us to participate no matter what condition we are in. Bob also talks about what is called as a Jesus Stalker. Someone who goes to church and bible study and learns all they can about Jesus and then never puts it into practice. What if you just spent your life studying the people you loved most instead of doing things with them and bonding with them and creating a relationship? You could never create a meaningful life with someone by not “doing life” with them. You wouldn't read books about your grandparents if you could go and take them out for dinner would you? I don't know so. Same goes for Jesus, he is teaching us a life of love and if they are teaching us a life of love and everyone is invited to the party, why wouldn't you come?
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