What Story Do You Tell About Church?

design-21Anyone who has ever been a part of a church has a story to tell and the story we tell tells a lot about us.

Some tell stories of grace and support and growth.

Some tell stories of boredom and disconnect and departure.

Others tell stories of insult and offense and hurt.

The stories we tell are a narrative of our experiences. When we publicly share the events of our church history, we give a glimpse into our spirits. If our stories are sweet, it’s a clear indication that we had a good history in church and we are presently in a good spiritual place because of it. When our stories are bitter, our past has not been good, and our current spiritual condition is suffering as a result.

But anyone who has been part of a church has had both bad and good experiences in church. Upon which do we focus?

If your story features a crooked preacher, a lying leader, a gossiping deacon, or a corrupt Elder, you focus on the bad. In fact, through our stories, some of us reveal that we are deeply hurt, bitter and wounded. This is tragic. If your story features supportive leaders, honorable pastors, godly deacons and compassionate members, you focus on the good.

But interestingly, some who have been exposed to the same experiences tell different stories. Some who tell good stories have been brutally hurt in the church.

What’s the difference? While it is not good to compare ourselves to others, some choose to heal while others choose to remain hurt. And you can hear it in our stories.

You don’t necessarily choose your stories (some things happen to you) but you definitely choose the stories you tell.

If your stories reveal that you have been hurt – and we have all been hurt – find healing and the ability to forgive and move forward. Then your story will reveal a spirit that is whole.

What story do you tell about your church? It’s really more a story about your heart.

God’s Will has Nothing to Do with My Feelings

personal-1

We sometimes mistakenly think that God exists for the purpose of making us happy. Be aware, however, our comfort is not God’s priority. While He is not into inflicting pain on His children, we cannot equate our good feelings with His plan.

I was challenged with this thought yesterday when we said goodbye to our 20 month-old granddaughter, as her parents were taking her back to the Guatemalan orphanage that they direct. It hurts to see her go. If I had the power to choose a different plan, I would. Yet we are absolutely convinced that they are within God’s will for them. His will for them results in a broken heart for me and my wife every time they get on that plane.

I can never make the mistake of thinking that because being away from my family hurts, God must be displeased. I think He is very happy, not with our pain, but with our obedience. He hurts when we hurt. He hurt when Jesus died on the cross, but He was pleased with His obedience.

Obviously, the presence of pain is not an indicator that we are within the will of God. We simply must not make ease of living or comfort in our emotions the litmus test for the fulfillment of God’s will for our lives.

If you are right smack dab in the middle of God’s plan for your life, and you are pain-free, congrats! For most of us, it costs a little more.

And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But, no, Lord, no, that never shall be, rather
I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine.

I pray Thee hush the hurrying, eager longing,
I pray Thee soothe the pangs of keen desire—
See in my quiet places, wishes thronging—
Forbid them, Lord, purge, though it be with fire.

Amy Wilson-Carmichael

you have no idea what you are praying for

Ten years ago, I was involved in a several month series of prayer walks around a particular community. We were praying for a new ministry that was starting. Well, the ministry didn’t survive 6 months. However, five weeks ago, I moved into a house that is on one of the streets that we walked up and down. Irony? I think not. The thing is, I had no idea that I would ever live in this state again, never mind on the very street we were praying for! We moved away 8 years ago only to return in an unexpected fashion. But God knew the whole time.

He knew that when I was praying for the neighborhood, I was praying for my neighborhood. He was fully aware that I was sowing spiritual seeds in a field that would come back to bless me. I did not one time ask him to bring my family back or give me one of the houses to live in – but he did both.

When we pray, we are connecting with a God who already knows what is going to happen. We have no idea what we are praying about, but He does. That’s why prayer is so important. We probably ask too small, believe too little and limit Him too much.  We rely too much on our words and understanding. We pray small because we know so little. Let’s start praying big.

When you pray, remember:

God is bigger than your imagination.

Open minded prayer is the way to God’s will.

Once you realize what God is up to, don’t fail to come back – with thanksgiving.

I wonder, had I refused to do the prayer walks, would we have ended up back here? Only God knows.

where’s the passion?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes referred to as Passion Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and extending to Easter, we recall the Passion of Christ, the road He walked that led Him to the cross. It’s a great time for Christ-followers to get re-focused on matters of faith and worship.

Leading into this season of ministry, there are many times that I ask the question, “where is the passion?” Obviously, Christ cared enough and was committed enough to do whatever it took to save us. But it seems, at times, that there is a lack of response on the part of those of us who have been saved. Allow me to explain:

On any given Sunday, during music and worship, I am amazed at how many people have no response. I mean they either just stand or sit there, expressionless, unmoved. They don’t sing, or in any other way engage in the music. I realize one can worship by listening but there is no getting around the idea that we are told in scripture to sing, clap our hands and worship God. Outward worship is simply a way to express love for God, it is a “spilling over” of what is in our spirits. I wonder, do these people sense anything in their hearts? Are they, in any way, moved in their spirits? Sometimes I preach about God’s love, His sacrifice, His intense desire to know us…and there are times when there is no response. In these times, I have to ask, “where is the passion?” This explains why the average Christian will not be in a local worship gathering at church tomorrow.  Recent research indicates that church attendance doesn’t mean what it used to for Christ-followers. Where is the passion?

The real issue isn’t with what is happening or not happening in corporate worship gatherings. I think Sunday is just a snapshot of the rest of life. I believe that the cares of life have acted like wet blanket on a fire. Stress kills passion. Pain has a way of burying it. Distractions prevent us from feeling and discouragement prevents us from expressing love for God.

One of the more disconcerting parts for me is, people don’t seem to hold back in their passion for other things.  Tonight’s NCAA Basketball Final Four will blow up Facebook and Twitter. This certainly is a season of political posturing – most people will gladly let you know where they stand on the issues. But spirituality has become taboo for many people in our culture – including those who have been saved from hell by God. It just shouldn’t be this way.

I am asking you to reconsider your approach and response to God, especially during Passion Week. He gave everything for you. How does that make you feel? Can you contain those feelings on the inside without outwardly expressing them in some way? God doesn’t need your passionate worship, but He wants it – and certainly deserves it.

Tomorrow, I will preach a message at Cross Community Church entitled: Pasión por la Vida. It will describe how passion for eternal life for you and me drove Jesus to the cross. And I plan to challenge the people of our church to be passionate in their response to the Passion of Jesus. Join us if you are able.

think layers

Our relationship with God is designed to grow. We are in a building process. We should not have to start from scratch every day. This requires consistency to the process and loyalty to God.

It helps to consider your life with God as a wall that is being built. Good materials, the right tools and sound construction principles are required, if your wall is to stand.

I love the way Peter states it: “Add to…”

2 Peter 1

5b “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (TNIV)

He is saying that if we have faith but stop there, we will fail. If we add goodness and knowledge but leave out self-control, our wall will fall.  Get the concept?

Think layers. Keep “adding to”.

Here are few challenging questions for you to consider and answer if you like:

Is your relationship with God stronger today than it was last year at this time? How about last week?

Which of the 8 elements listed above may you be lacking?  How may you add that element(s)?

What layer do you plan to “add” today? How will you do that?

Verse 8 explains that, if we layer these items in our lives, we will be effective and productive.

Now read verse 9: “But if any of you do not have them, you are nearsighted and blind, and you have forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins.”

That explains why so many of us struggle – we are making no spiritual progress!

Think layers!