Just Can't Catch a Break?
I have asked God, "why does it seem to snow every Saturday night?"
We can have a cold but bearable week, then come Saturday the snow starts to fall. And as we all prepare to gather for worship Sunday morning, either setting up microphones or dressing a herd of children, what is on our minds and hearts is snowplows rather than grace and growth. I hate to even mention it, but there is MORE snow forecast for this weekend. As the wind chill dipped to -35 last weekend I asked myself, would I go out to church first thing in the morning of a messy snow if I was not preaching? And of all the days, why does it hit every single Sunday?
In the religious tradition I grew up in we did not talk about spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is the reality, as Marissa describes, "no good deed stands unopposed". It is more than a mythical devil in a red suit trying to make you trip in life; there are real spiritual powers and principalities that are working against the good work of God in this world - from the beginning of time. We all know from experience this is true. Just when you feel you are making progress have you ever felt like something or someone went out of their way to slow you down?
Maybe you have taken some steps to follow Jesus. Prayer is more consistent. Generosity is growing. Communicating in your family is starting to actually take place in a healthier capacity. Then all of a sudden, almost out of nowhere, something happens that not only slows all that down but puts you back further than you were before. "Just when I feel I am am making progress something happens that wants to make it worse." I hear that all the time as your pastor.
Now I do not think weather is necessarily the devil incarnate (maybe ice and snow on my driveway is, but you get what I am saying). Yet, I do believe we are at a critical time in the life of our church and in the spiritual life of people who have come to faith at Big Life C.C. In ways large and small, each one of us will have something apply pressure to us, to attack us, in an attempt to move us away from Jesus, away from mission, and away from others who need us... especially in the framework of being part of a new church. That is a simple reality in the work we do. If you are moving towards Jesus, make no mistake, something is trying to and likely succeeding in moving you away from Jesus.
So what do we as believers do about it? Our solution is not to apply more of our own will power and work ethic. Our hope and strength is trusting in a God who will go to battle for us with a power bigger than our own - every day long. Will you join me in prayer this week for all the ways that good work stands opposed in your life and in the life of our church?
We pray God's courage for those confronting an ethical question at work. We pray God's words for those facing conflict or thinking of inviting someone to worship. We pray God's provision for those wanting to trust Him with their money. We pray God's energy for those who are bothered by the hassle of weather as they are trying to seek God through worship. We pray conviction for those who do not want to join the habits of gossip and putdown going on all around them. We pray tenacity for business owners who are believing the petty voices telling them their made a mistake starting this company. We pray for you in choosing to move another step closer to God through difficulty rather than to take the easier course and move back away from God.
What is it for you? Where do you need God's strength to deal with the attacks coming your way? Your struggle is real. Feel free to drop me an email and leaders in the church will take the time to lift you up before God in prayer.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The Importance of Connecting
We live in a very independent world, often not even knowing our neighbor’s names or what they do for a living. Or, for that matter, knowing the names of the people we worship next to on Sundays. Turns out, that is really doing some harm to us physically. Who knew??
There’s been some discovery of the importance of connecting. It turns out that a simple handshake, eye contact, or hug releases a chemical called oxytocin that wards off depression, reduces anxiety, helps heal wounds and reduce pain, wards off excess weight and increases generosity and sympathy for others. Sounds almost too good to be true from a simple act of connecting. So I think we should experiment at big life. Let’s shake some hands, look at people in the eye (not in a creepy way!), and offer hug appropriate hugs and see what happens.
I used to think I was alone in my fight against worrying. But I’m not. I hear it from everyone: worry about kids, jobs, people’s opinions, body weight, weaknesses, parents, lack of control. The list goes on and on. It isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the phrase “do not worry” is mentioned in the Bible 365 times. That’s one for every day of the year. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
My favorite mention of it is in Philippians, a short book that was originally a letter a man named Paul wrote from prison to a church in Philippi. He wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Sounds like an offensive pat answer “don’t worry, just pray about it.” But the key, I think, is the last phrase: thank him for all he has done. Worry tends to move us to think about all the “what ifs” and terrible possibilities. Thankfulness grounds us in the good that is actual. And there is an amazing change in our thinking when we move from the fears of what isn’t real to the gratitude for what is.
"Every time we think, 'somebody ought to do something about that' chances are, that somebody is you."
I hated that quote when I first heard it 20 years ago because it means I cannot merely suggest what I think someone else needs to do. It means I must take personal responsibility for my faith, my family, my community, and my church. It is easy to make suggestions. It is difficult to engage. But I am sure each of us have had a "someone need to do something" moment recently.
It might have been at home. Family is often a series of "ought tos" and "shoulds," and we sure think we know what everyone else's family is doing wrong. Why not start with your own contribution to your family? Maybe something as simple as a more streamlined morning routine to learning how to pray together as a family would bless your family. If something should be done in your family that will bring you closer together, why not do it?
It's almost always true in your faith. Many of us are hungry for God in new and fresh ways. Nothing is preventing us from opening the Bible to read and explore, opening our heart to pray in new ways, and opening our eyes to see where God wants to us to share his Word and his heart around us. You are supped to grow closer to God, so why are you waiting for someone ELSE to do it for you? Never let fear-filled phrases like "I don't know where where to start" keep you from taking the first step. Asking God to grow you is a prayer He will always answer.
We live in a unique community here in Oswego. There is both wealth and poverty. There are first generation immigrants and children who are so privileged all they have in life is money - and nothing much more. If you see a need in our community and are waiting for something to be done by someone else, you might be waiting for years. Why not ask God what it is he wants you to do, and then find the faith to follow through.
One of the things I love about God is the gift of imagination he has given each of us. When we begin to pray and imagine (often the same thing) how life, family and faith could be different and better we are breaking through with an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to invade our lives. And once God gets ahold of a willing human heart, heaven is the limit!
What is it you thought someone else needed to do this week?
That someone is you!
Checkout Lines and the Church
Are you opening new lanes to be the Church?
Sunday I told the story of standing in line at Wal Mart during Christmas. It was frustrating. The man in front of me took his items out of the cart one at a time and doubled checked each price before he handed over the next item. It about drove me crazy. But the universal experience we have at Wal Mart has much less to do with the person in front of us in line as it has to do with the lack of access to opportunities to check out. How many times have been you standing in a long line while there are more than a dozen checkout lines closed without a cashier? Why is it that at the peak hours there are at only a couple lines open and moving? Why can't they simply open more lanes?
Several things happen when there are not enough lanes open. Shoppers get frustrated. The likelihood of a return shopper and positive shopping experience diminishes. And more than once I have seen someone leave their cart full of groceries in line and walk out the door. I am not proud to say I did that very thing many year ago in Texas.
The same is true in church. For the first year in our church, there were just a couple lines to move into into the life of the church, to connect with what this really is. And what we have done has worked extremely well to start the church, to share faith, and to create a congregation of people who felt outside of faith prior to experiencing Big Life.
But we can't keep doing what we've done if we want new results - new growth, new steps in people's faith, and new relationships. If we do not add more 'lanes', the relational lines will back up, faith will not be grown, well-intended efforts that used to work fine will become frustrating and worse - someone who does not know faith or has an immature faith may just walk right back out into the cold. The warm welcome you received months ago simply will not be available to welcome others if we do not open more 'lanes'.
Each time you connect with someone before and after worship, you are opening more lanes of welcome and connection - and I am not talking about just the role of the door greeters. When you have your head on a swivel each week, looking to welcome someone you don't know, you are opening more lanes to welcome newcomers to the church - or simply people you don't know yet. When you join a small group where you know others and are known by name and missed when you are not present, you are opening more lanes for connection and real relationship. And when you have courage to invite someone to worship personally, their connection to the church extends far beyond a marketing tool, a single worship experience, the music on a given day, or the pastor/ staff's work. This is really less about church programs and more about you choosing to engage in the empowering from the Holy Spirit to truly be part of the church.
I have visited churches in which no one in the congregation welcomed or engaged visitors - other than the staff/ pastor. And I have visited churches where warm welcomes were normal and anticipated throughout the body of Christ. I have been part of churches where people cared about others intentionally. And I have been part of churches without that care or connectedness. It is not a mystery which ones lived out the mission of Jesus' church and which ones just felt awkward and stilted...at best.
This week at Big Life we continue our series "It's (Not) Personal" as we talk about how "Word Matter." What we say and how we say it are critical issues to a well-formed, mature, and loving faith. I look forward to seeing you this week as each of us grow in our ability to be the Body of Christ.
Are You Canceling Church?
Last weekend was the first time in my ministry career that I have had to cancel church! It was not just a first for Big Life C.C., it was a first in my 20 years of working in the church!
But was church really canceled? While there was definitely too much snow to gather on Sunday morning at Churchill Elementary, it is not as if we canceled "Church." Church is more than a single gathering, a place, or a worship style built on your or our preferences. Church is the people of God living for God. In that sense, no matter the weather, the location, or the convenience, Church is never canceled if you choose faith in Jesus lived out by loving the person in front of you.
When you reach out to a lonely friend in a snow storm, you are the Church. When you stop replaying the dramatic fight and start to forgive, you are the Church. When you take 10% of what God has given you and entrust it back to Him through offering, you are the Church. When you find the strength you didn't know you had to understand your spouse's point of view, you are the Church. When you take the simple, but sometimes monumental step of inviting a friend to worship to experience faith with you, you are the Church. Church is really only canceled if YOU cancel it.
Similarly, the Church is only as strong as you. The Church is only as generous as you. The Church only grows as you grow. Our internal drift to canceling Church in our daily lives will always seem less dramatic than a snowstorm, yet it is far more damaging. When we cancel Church for ourselves it damages our family, reduces our ability to love, robs us of forgiveness, and justifies our lack of generosity.
Church worship services will not be canceled this weekend. We are about to hit a warm front! Yet the real question is, how are you canceling Church within your heart? Or are you doing your work, investment, and faith to grow the body of Christ within yourself?
Have a great week. We hope to see you - and a friend - this Sunday at 9:30 or 11.