Monday, February 22, 2010

So why go to church at all?

Last week we had a series in chapel: Call to Wisdom, where different people in my office addressed different subjects.  Now it wasn't only people in my office, we could partner up with other people, and that is what I did - partner up with a pastor friend.   I took the why go to church and he took the how to choose a church  aspect of our workshop- relevant to our audience of young people, many of whom will be settling into their own homes and choosing their own church, perhaps for the first time.

So, to the why go to church thing:  I spent hours studying this, trying to discover what church was and what it should look like and why should we go.

The first thing I noticed is how like a family church is supposed to be.  Just we have in our human family a father and siblings - brothers and sisters, so we do in our faith family.  Just as we have distant relatives in our human family - people to whom we are related but whom we do not see because they live so far from us, we have relatives in our faith family, who live a great distance from us. 

And just as we anticipate going home to our family because it is a place where we are loved, missed, and even needed in a variety of ways, we are to go home to our church family.  God designed for us to function as a family.  He is our Father; for most of my students, I am their big sister, and for some in my church, I am still a little sister.  I need family, my faith family, as a place of safety, where I can love on people and be loved.

When you read the books of Romans through  II Thessalonians, you are reading letters written to local churches, small local bodies; these letters meant to be passed around from family to family, bodies of believers then meeting in homes primarily.  The writer was dealing with family issues, sometimes telling them how to resolve problems, and sometimes how to build better relationships. 

We are in that same family, the larger family (Church universal) as our distant relatives were back two thousand years ago, and those instructions about family life are meant for us as well.

Just as family members love on, miss and need each other, so the local church family is to be that intertwined.  Sometimes, we are the one giving the love and support and even admonishing, and sometimes we are on the recieving end of it all.   Did you know that there are over 34 one another commands and at least nine "do not do to one another" commands?  God means for us to be involved with each other, and the local body is the place for that to happen.

Now, just as there are many dysfunctional human families, after all we are marked by the fall, there are dysfunctional churches.  But, we have not given up on the human family, we keep trying to get it right, so we must not give up on the faith family and the local church.

Instead of walking away, we must seek after that local family and be that local family where our brothers and sisters can find rest and safety.

As I near the end of this little piece, I must say that another blessing, and not the least because it is the last, is that in a local body, a local manifestation of the greater family, we get to see evidence of the reality of our Father at work.  I stood in the back of church a week ago, not because I came in late....well, that's another story, but as I stood there looking over hundreds of heads, it occurred to me that they are evidence of the living Spirit of God at work.  They are here in my faith family home because they are responding to God's call to come home, that they are loved, and needed and missed, that without them, this body has a hole.

Scripture tells us that  we are members of the whole body.  And though our roles in that body, like the arm or leg or eye differ one from another, each one is necessary to the healthy functioning of that body.  So, I guess it all comes down to this, do I go to church for what I can get, like the visitor who comes invited as a guest to my house,  or do I go to church because that is where I belong, as a family member?  And just as family members work together to make the house a home, so should we in our church.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Discouragement?  Like a virus, it can lurk unseen, then strike bringing a sense of being absolutely overwhelmed.  And allowed to run its course, like any virus, it can take you to your knees in exhaustion.

That's the way I felt the other day when my husband suggested that I take on a specific new ministry project.  Now, this ministry project is right down my alley, but at the moment, I said only, could we not talk about it until Saturday afternoon, after the Bible study I am leading (and physically feeding) is over?  And I said that feeling as though if he pressed it, the only juice he was going to get was my tears.

Everyday this week brought more challenges, and there seemed no end in sight when he asked me that.  But God!  Don't you love the "But God" moments.  But God intervened smoothing out situations, bringing blessings where I didn't expect them, and meeting me every day there between that rock and hard place.

Well, the week is almost over.  I have brunch to shop for and handouts to prepare for tomorrow, an ordinary work day to get through, and about fifteen hours of grading to do between now and Sunday night, but God!  He did it again.  This morning as I was reading, meeting God where I do every day, I came across this cool reminder in Luke 18:1 and I will give it to you from the NASB - Now he was telling them a parable to show that all times they ought to Pray and not lose heart. 

It was the connection between those two thoughts that caught my attention: pray and you will not be discouraged.  This is not the kind of prayer, being talked about here, that we pray thoughtlessly, like the grace we used to say at meal times when I was growing up.  It is not the list of people or situations that we work our way through. 

Instead, I think it has to be that know that your are talking to God thing.  He loves you.  He knows your every thought and deed and still loves you.  His plans are for your good and not evil.  You matter to him, and he pays attention to your voice, when you really talk to him, and that is different than talking at him.

How can we lose heart or be discouraged when we are having a conversation with God, our Father, who loves us unconditionally, who is constantly looking our for us, and who really, really knows what is best for us?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Prayer: What is it?

Prayer: just what is it?

P. T. Forsyth says in Prayer and Worship , "Prayer is an act, indeed the act, of fellowship" In the same book, Douglas V. Steere says "...prayer is awakeness, attention, intense inward openness." H. A. Ironside says, "Prayer is first of all, communion with God."

In scripture, there are several Greek words translated prayer, all with different nuances meaning everything from prayer addressed to God, a place set aside where there is plenty of water for washing of hands before prayer, to seeking, entreaty, a coming together, that for which an interview is held, a petition or supplication...well, you get the idea.

In Scripture, prayer always refers to a communication between God and a person, the content of that communication varying, sometimes praise and thanksgiving, sometimes personal requests and sometimes intercession for other people. But it always refers to a coming together, as Forsyth says, "the act of fellowship."

What a different perspective, at least for me. I feel like I was taught that prayer was more done from a kneeling submissive posture, with the emphasis on the distance between me and God.  It was a place where I had to warm God up with praise and thanksgiving. Then, and only then, I could tell him what I wanted or needed.

And maybe there is truth to some of what I said here. However, as I reflect on the character of God, and as I rehearse that He loved me first, that he sought me out to bring me to himself, that kind of love, I am not so sure that He cares as much about form as I thought.

Considering prayer as an act of fellowship gives me an entirely different perspective. Certainly prayer and thanksgiving should be part of that fellowship, just as I would tell anyone who had ministered to me that I appreciated their kindness and mercy, but prayer is so much more - that slowing down of life to an awareness that I am in God's company.

It makes me think of what happens when someone stands in my doorway or comes into my office. There is no fellowship until I stop tapping away on the computer, stop reading letters on the screen, stop attending to phone calls, my to-do list or calendar. No fellowship can come until I look into that person's face and attend to them - really taking time to listen and read between the lines, considering our history and all that I know about them - because every conversation brings with it a context.

So is prayer - a conversation, communion, communication between two people in the context of relationship. God loves me, he cares about what matters to me, and he wants fellowship with me, and you.