Sunday, July 01, 2018

I am weak, but He is strong

 I was reading in 2 Corinthians the other day. in chapter 12, and I suddenly felt a new kinship with Paul. He had been begging God to take away a "thorn in his side". There was some sort of problem that Paul had that seriously limited him. It seems so odd to think of someone we now know of as an enviable man of God feeling held back because of a limitation. The man's writings have continued to hold an important place in Christianity for 2,000 years. People use his words everyday to explain the very basics of salvation. How could this man have ever considered himself limited in what he could do for Christ? Then, I was reminded of my week. The time I spent not feeling well. Mostly, the time I spent frustrated that I wasn't doing what I felt like needed to be done. During that time I used my computer and my skills/talents to work on photographs for friends, graphic work for church, written words of encouragement to others, and a list of other things that I was considering nothing all because I wasn't getting done what I wanted to get done. I am sitting here realizing now that I actually accomplished a lot. I made a difference to several people. I contributed because God has granted me a skill that works around my shortcomings. Maybe it is okay to not be okay. Not being okay gives me opportunities to do things I wouldn't if I wasn't having to rest.

         "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."

Paul had asked for his problem to be removed three time. I think I have got him beat on that front (by a lot). But like Paul, I don't think my issues are going anywhere. If it served God's purpose for me to be healed, I would be. There is not a single doubt in my mind that I could wake tomorrow and never have another stomach issue again. The thing is though, my weakness IS serving a purpose. The strength of God is made clear every time I carry on. I will be up tomorrow, at church, doing what needs to be done even though I am awake at 2 in the morning writing to distract myself from the sharp pain that woke me. It will be God's strength carrying me through, God's gifts to me that will allow me to do things even from bed when I get home and inevitably collapse onto my bed to give in to my physical weakness.

I try not to go on about my digestive disorder too much, part because no one would really want details of what goes on with that (ew, trust me), but also because I don't want people to think it is a daily horror show. I forget how much I have adjusted to all the things that go on until I am around people who don't have to consider every bite they take or make a sort of escape plan for every outing they try to go on. The truth is, the life I have gotten fairly use to is limited. It is actually significantly limited. I just don't like to think of it that way. I'm not dying. I'm not having to go through awful medical treatments. I have adjusted to the diet and discomfort for the most part. This is just my life. Why depress people with how much my daily life differs from theirs? But today, with this post, I am bringing it up because I want you all to know that every time you see me working, getting things done, having fun, being around people, eating food, or writing, it is because God's grace sees me through. His strength is what holds me up. I know because the second He doesn't need me strong, I am a puddle of weak. I am honored He has taken the time to find a use for me around the frailty this world laid on me.     

Case in point, it is now 3 am, my pain is easing and I have a new blog post to show for it. What did you do between 2 and 3 in the morning?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My hope is built on nothing less

I know I kind of left you hanging on that last church post, and I have wanted to update, but so much of starting a church is waiting that there hasn't really been enough to post about until now.
We did vote to start, we have been admitted into a local association, and we finally picked a name.
We are Hope Fellowship, a Southern Baptist Church.
To pick the name we opened it up for suggestions, and like everything else so far, a common thread appeared. Well over half of the suggestions contained the word "fellowship", and the next most mentioned word was "hope". It wasn't a small number. Since church people are notorious for not being able to harmoniously pick a carpet color, it is kind of a small miracle that we managed to pick a name so easily. To go with our new name, we picked this verse from Psalms

Next, we have a mission statement. Typically speaking, church mission statements can get kind of wordy and a bit hard to follow. Instead, we wanted something that boiled it down to what it is that the church needs to be about. This is what we got.

That's it. The whole thing. Love God, others, and the lost. All the work that the church needs to do falls under one. or more, of those things.
Our newest fun little line up has been location. It isn't easy to find a place that can function as a church especially when you have barely a months worth of history to your name. After a bunch calls and several scouting trips, we found a local school that could rent to us. It wasn't the first place on our list. In fact, I think it was at the bottom of the list we started with. That's where God comes in again. This school is in a corner of the county that has a ton of neighborhoods but no churches. They have struggled to get sponsors for the school because it isn't near businesses. Compared to the other schools in the area, their extras budget is very low. They need us, just like we need them. The principal is a former preacher's kid herself, and beyond thrilled to be having a church lease space. Once again, everything fell into place better than we planned.
It hasn't all been sunshine and roses. Starting a church is hard. We've had friends who needed to step away. We've hit roadblocks. Patience and flexibility tested. But, at the end of each day, hope and unity have continued to win out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

House Rules and Vacation Pictures

Last week, JD had his big 8th grade field trip. When I was a kid this meant something like we were loaded on a bus to drive to see a community theater play and were home by the time school was out. What this means here is that kids go to Savannah for three days on charter buses. Since Nix had also been on this trip it meant that Rocky and I were the only ones in the house who hadn't ever been to Savannah. We decided that this was not right, and made arrangements to pick up JD in Savannah instead of him riding the middle school bus home.
Nix had just freshly finished her first year of college, and was still in that mode of meeting with friends, job hunting, and general unwinding, so she opted to stay home alone with the cat. Since this was the first time she had been left at the house overnight, I felt it was important to leave her with a few house rules. She mostly followed them all.

While in Savannah, I got a chance to play with my camera a bit.
I took typical touristy pictures.

And, I took pictures of random things that just pleased me.

Savannah is a beautiful town full of history and character that you don't find in many places in the South. I think I could spend a week just walking around, sitting in parks, and soaking in the beauty of it all.
Although the trip itself was an overall wonderful experience, it just wouldn't be "us" if things didn't go wrong. JD came home with a sinus infection and a weird rash from some sort of mystery botanical irritant, and we all have sunburns because the weatherman was wrong, which gave us unexpected time to enjoy the beach. Thankfully, our hotel was close to Walmart because, in spite of being on vacation, I still managed to need something from there every single day. There is just no escaping it.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Another week, another sign

I hadn't planned on posting again this week, but life has been full of things I didn't plan lately, so I am just going to run with it while the mood is striking.
Last week I talked about a rather amusing literal sign on the wall pointing to my post from the week before that. This week I had a different type of sign. 
The group of us meeting to consider starting a new church were all asked to write down a couple of reasons why we did or did not want to start a church. Then, we were going to discuss those tonight, and get a better idea of what we were talking about. Our family sat down and came up with a good list, and then I condensed it into one statement to share with the group. I went in tonight assuming that either I would read that statement or Rocky would, but something kind of amazing happened that changed that.
Our main speaker stood up with opening remarks (if we were a church this would be our pastor, and by remarks I really mean sermon). I marked a couple of things off our list because he covered those points. As people came forward to share what God had laid on their hearts this week, one right after another checked off the rest of our list. In a room of a hundred people, not once was a point raised that made someone stand up and disagree. I don't know how many church meetings you have been to, but in my experience this is a rare event. 
Although no official declarations will be made until after we meet next week, I feel less like this will be a group starting a new church, and much more like us joining a church that God started long before we were aware of it. 
The only thing on my list not shared was a word that has been turning over in my head all week. Sanctuary. It is a word that has gone out of vogue and shelved for the crime of being too churchy. I think for a long time it was used as a name for a room where the choir sung, the preacher talked, and people tired to sleep upright in pews without getting caught. What sanctuary actually means is a sacred place of refuge in a consecrated building set apart for holy worship. Could there be any better word to describe what I am looking for? 
Another definition is a holy place of asylum, which tickles me because the pastor said that the one thing we needed most to succeed (other than God, of course) was to be committed. Committed to an asylum sounds about right for my family.  
The one thing Rocky did add to the open discussion was our family's list of personal costs. These are things that we have to expect will be required of us, and things we need to decide as a family if we are ready for. After talking them out we realized that it is a simple list of basic requirements that are at the same time a tremendous responsibility that we can't commit to only halfway. It is a good list to check yourself with regardless of where you worship.
  • We have to tithe without fail
  • We will have to prioritize attendance
  • Serving will not be optional
  • Our prayer lives and Bible study will need to be solid
  • We will have to be okay with trial and error
  • We need to be ready to open our home. 
  The list seemed almost too easy until I started thinking about the number of times we have slack on one or completely failed at another. Now it seems daunting. Daunting, but totally worth it because it challenges us to be where we should have already been anyway. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Be careful what you wish for

This post will not make a whole lot of sense if you didn't read my last one. To sum up, I talked about rocks and church and a craving I have for simplicity and honesty. This week I found myself sitting in a room with a group of people where the topic was how many of us were feeling that same pull. I want to be completely clear that this meeting was not my idea in any way. I did not suggest it, organize it, or set the tone at all. I was merely one of the people who showed up. It turns out that just as Rocky and I were getting uncomfortable where we were, several others were also feeling called into some sort of action. Those of the group that are of the organizing sort, got us all in the same room.
I am not typically one for looking for signs, but I couldn't help but laugh when I looked around this room and saw this.

That is literally a sign talking about the types of rocks. And, what is at the top?  Obsidian! It has been less than a week since I said that I wanted to take the fire I had burning and form some obsidian. What are the odds? I seriously do not get superstitious. I am not at all implying that God hung that poster in that room to speak directly to me as a way to say I was on the right path. I am pretty sure that a teacher hung it because it ties in with the class lessons and is a good teaching tool. What I am saying is that it made me smile. It reminded me of why I was there. Seeing it calmed me, and I am thankful for little things that surprise you like that. 
As a result of the meeting, I have made a commitment to pray about the road ahead. A commitment to spend the next two weeks really searching for God's direction for our family, and what we are called to do. To be specific, are we led to create a new church? Scary words. If God is not in it but we try anyway, then we are doomed to fail before we begin. If God is in it and we decline, then we will not be satisfied anywhere else. I can not say for certain what will happen, but when I step back and look at all the parts that were moved into place in just this one week, I am excited to see what God is going to do with two.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What kind of rock?

This week our pastor preached a sermon about what an ideal New Testament described church would look like. He wasn't wrong at any point, but I don't think I got the message he meant to give. My brain took a left turn. The scripture he started with was from Matthew 16:18, which says in part, "upon this rock I will build my church". For those of you who knew me as a kid, you might remember that I was a bit of a rock nerd. I still enjoy a good gem and mineral show. Rock identification was my "sport". So, when the statement of "upon this rock" comes up, my brain defaults to "What kind of rock is it?" What kind of rock is your church built on? Is it a sedimentary rock made up of layers of a bunch of things that settled together? Weak, with lines of division?  Is it a metamorphic rock that has changed under the pressures and influence of the world? Or, is it more like the igneous rock, forged in the fire of a volcano to bring about something hard and new from ashes?
This is not even close to what the sermon was on, but because my brain took this turn, I began to think through how we "do" church. What the modern church looks like verses what the Bible calls the church to be. I thought through some of the churches of the Bible that were doing things the wrong way as well as the ones that were doing it right, which lead me to some hard thinking that I am still pondering over. I think my goal in writing this out is to see if anyone else has wrestled with this, and where you came out, or to give comfort to anyone who struggles now to know you aren't alone.
So, here goes.
What if we are doing church wrong?
What if instead of bringing people in so the pastor can tell them about Jesus, we equipped our church members to go out and witness to people themselves?
What if instead of telling people they should serve, we expected everyone to serve? If you have been in church long at all you have probably heard the 80/20 rule. There are 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. Why? Shouldn't membership come with an expectation of contribution? And that is both financial and service. Every other club requires dues and service hours. Why are we okay giving that to the Beta Club but not to God?
What if instead of handing people a standardized aptitude test with spiritual buzzwords to "find your spiritual gift" Buzzfeed style, we actually encouraged and instructed people on recognizing where God has blessed them with talent?
What if instead of worship wars (that is where you fight over music), everyone picked their top ten favorite songs that inspire them to a meaningful worship of God? Then, even when you were forced to sing a song that annoyed you, you would know that one of your church family was getting to enjoy one of their favorite songs making it harder to be upset if you truly love your family.
What if instead of trying to make a production out of church we just came in,  sat down, and studied God's word in a way that compelled us to mature?
What if we stopped treating children like they wouldn't understand what the grownups are talking about, and invited them into the service to worship and learn beside their family? After all, what's harder to understand, the book of Psalms or Shakespeare? We make kids read the bard in school, but don't require them to read the poetry of David because it might not seem relevant to them? You underestimate your child and the thirst for the knowledge that is found in real Bible study.
What if we stopped trying to be relevant and were just boldly honest? Honest about the good, honest about the bad, and unflinchingly honest about what God wants us to be.
What if instead of being hypocrites we told the truth? Instead of fake smiles and pretty words when life gets hard we told our church family that marriage is hard or money is tight or that I struggle with a specific sin every single day of my life.
What if instead of events and parties and socials we had prayer meetings and outreach and mentoring where no one brought food? That's right, I said without food!
I have attended some great churches, but if I am being honest, I have never been to that church.
I am in no way saying there is anything wrong with food or fun or even buzzword heavy programs (well, maybe that last one is a little wrong), but what I am saying is that all of that needs to take a back seat to cultivating maturity, discernment, and service among the people who commit to being part of the body of Christ.
What am I going to do with this fire that was lit in me? I hope I can help turn a little ash into obsidian.   

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Craft!

Normally I post about the horrors that have fallen on my family for Valentine's Day, but I thought I'd go a different direction this year. I was in Hobby Lobby yesterday picking up a specific doohickey for a specific project, but somehow found myself in the jewelry making section where I discovered a sudden need to make Nix a Valentine's Day present.
I wanted to make tags for a necklace, and I wanted the tags to have a couple of key words from Bible verses. The thought was that when Nix gets fidgety and starts to play with the necklace, the words will trigger the memory of the whole verse, which will then calm her spirit and ease the stress.
First up is "Be Still" Psalm 46:10
"Be still, and know that I am GOD"
I paired it with a compass because I know that one of my biggest struggles in seeking God's direction is just being still and waiting for God to set the path.

Next up is "By Grace" Ephesians 2:8
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of GOD"
This one is just a good standard reminder. We have been given a gift of salvation. We can't be good enough to deserve it, or bad enough to lose it once we accept it. It has a cross charm with it to be reminded of what giving that gift cost God. 

Last is "But God" 2 Chronicles 20:15
"Do not be afraid or dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's."
I bet you were expecting something different there. The phrase "but God" is actually used closed to 50 times in the Bible. Over and over we see men making bad plans, but God stepping in to fix it. We see people intending harm, but God showing up for protection. We see the world falling, but God sending His Son. The phrase "but God" shows love, mercy, protection, grace, guidance, strength, life, and resurrection! It is paired with an anchor because life will toss us about, but God is our anchor.
I recently heard someone say that obtaining craft supplies and using them are two different skills. This is definitely the case here. A few years ago I bought a cheap set of metal letter presses from Harbor Freight with the idea of trying this at some point, but just never did. Seeing a set of tag blanks on clearance reminded me of them, and set me on a mission to get it done. I am very pleased with the results. If you want to do it "the right way", craft stores have a small section of proper tools and kits to make it all come out perfect and even, Since I am not perfect or even, I think I will stick to my cheap tools for now.

For those of you who are dying to know, yes a family member did have to visit the hospital today, but for a pretty basic test and nothing too scary, I did have a stomach issue hit me during the middle of the concert I took Rocky to, but I survived without having to leave early, and the flu has been in our house, but seems to be clear now. The day isn't over, so I am not prepared to let my guard down just yet.