A Lesson from an Older Couple

I try to avoid myself writing about specific visits and conversations, especially right after they happen. I don’t want the party to think that I’m reacting to them or talking about them. Same in preaching – hopefully I don’t preach “to someone” because of something they’ve done or said.

However, I’m fairly confident that the subjects of this blog won’t read this blog, but I’ll reveal nothing here that I didn’t already tell them.

I had a wonderful visit this morning with a dear senior couple in our church. I called and asked to visit and they graciously hosted me for about an hour – the first time I’ve got to visit them. And we talked, and shared. Got to know each other. Heard about the things in our lives – where we’ve come from, where we’re at, where we’re going. This particular couple, though they have been attending church for a bit, acknowledge that they are unable to serve with the enthusiasm that they once served with. She’s 88 (she told me) and he didn’t volunteer his age, but I assume he’s within a reasonable distance of her age. They said something though that piqued my interest.

“We just sometimes feel like we’re just taking up space.”

I gathered that they have this notion that because they are unable to physically serve, that they are somewhat useless to the local Body of Christ. And you better believe I started protesting their notion and reminded them of just how wonderful and valuable they are to their pastor, their church, and the Kingdom. But still, I can’t help but to wonder how many apparent “pew-warmers” end up not serving because they don’t want to, but because they are unable to. And additionally, how many of those folks feel as if their spiritual stock has been lowered because the years have gone by, and have taken away from them the ability to do as much as they once did.

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It’s little secret that the culture of the church has changed in the last 20-40 years.

Sunday night services are disappearing (and contrary to popular belief, the presence or absence of a Sunday evening service is not an indicator of that church’s worth and obedience to God).

People don’t wear 3 piece suits to services anymore.

Not everyone brings their Bible to church.

Many who come don’t come to other church activities, including discipleship groups like Sunday School.

Many who come don’t volunteer in needed areas, like choir and childcare.

This isn’t unique to my church or to your church. Our church culture has changed. But I think some of the changes are good changes.

40 years ago, the church “wouldn’t put up with that.” In many cases, you had to adhere to a certain set of expectations to be in the church. And if you broke rank in those expectations, you could expect to be ostracized, even shunned.

Today, many churches are safer for people who aren’t like us, but who Christ still came to save. True, it is easier to come in and just occupy a pew on Sunday mornings. True, it is more possible to “slip between the cracks” and to avoid small group discipleship. There are pros and cons to the way church is now.

One thing I was taught by many people growing up was to “dress my best for God” and to “be in the church every time the doors were opened.” But the negative side to those teachings that were so common up to about the 1980’s there was that I began to associate those things with my own spiritual health and well-being. I could never be “good enough” to go to church, let alone know Christ.

I would perhaps say to myself, “Mr. Smith isn’t here every Sunday. He must not be a good Christian.”

“Mr. Jones lets his kids wear jeans to church. They must not be good Christians.”

“That dude is wearing a hat in a church building!! Someone take him away!”

And while those things may seem far-fetched to some of us today, we have to remember – that was the way many of us were raised. And it has been difficult enduring the culture change of the church.

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And so today, I was in the living room of a couple who, like many people, were feeling down on their own spiritual walk because they can’t teach Sunday School, be at Christmas productions, and sing in the choir. Because, in essence, they can’t be in church every time there is an activity. And I encouraged them as much as I knew how, because they are more valuable to our Body than they know! They are prayer warriors. They are model Christians to young people. They have a model marriage to young married couples. They are a model of a life lived in service to God, and lives that have been blessed by God.

And not only that, they are truly loving. Instead of being bitter about the culture change, and instead of lamenting the “demise of the church,” as many people call it, they are still excited about what God is doing. “I pray for my Sunday School class, the church, and my pastor every day” she told me.

A church’s health isn’t about whether it has a Sunday evening service, a large choir, frequent productions, a ministry for every age group, or a vibrant preacher. A church can have every one of these things and still be missing it. Those things can be good, but they aren’t what we’re after.

A church’s health is about its desire to surrender both corporately and individually to God’s will. And though our church isn’t trendy, we don’t have fog machines, we don’t have a worship band, we don’t have stage lights, we don’t have a coffee shop, and we don’t have a Krispy Kreme in the foyer (God help us if we did!), we have one thing that is bigger, better, and greater than all of those things! We have people who are serious about giving up what we want, in favor of what God wants. And they are teaching me how to do so every day.

So thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Subjectofthisblog. Thank you for having a humble and willing heart to say, “I wish we could do more”  even though you know you’re unable to. Thank you for allowing me to visit. Thank you for allowing me, as a person less than half your age, to say to your statement, “You aren’t useless! In fact, you are valuable, you are loved, you are precious, and you are my brother and sister.”

I would rather have 10 of you than 100 “cool people.”

My prayer is that we grow because we follow Jesus Christ, not an entertainment experience.
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If Only…

Hypothetical situation: if a pastor would stick to only preaching half/distorted truths such as – God’s will is for us to always be successful, experience deliverance from and in every situation, never be sick, never be down, never be discouraged, I bet he’d have a huge church!

I also bet Christians would buy it hook, line, and sinker.

I feel better now.

False Gospels are easy to believe. They look good and smell good. They are inviting and warm and fuzzy. They preach what we want to hear. Don’t fall for it. The Christian life is about following God, not self. About the abandonment of self’s desires, and the seeking with the whole heart of His desires for us.

How easy it is to reach back and find the self’s former desires, and to rationalize them and paint them all pretty and try to stamp “God’s Will” on them.

Luke 9:23-25:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

That verse sure looks different than some of the things I read from “popular Christian culture.”

Eating Crow – a Follow-up to the Facebook Post

I am going to eat crow a bit.

My blog post from the other day…

Why I am deleting facebook this month and what it means for you

…indicating that I was going to drop facebook instigated such a number of lines of communication with both old and new friends, that I felt pretty bad for making the post in the first place. People I haven’t spoken to in years made meaningful contact with me, and I was so overwhelmed (in a good way!). I also felt pretty guilty for not having made more effort to keep up with great friends myself. It reminded me that there are indeed some friendships which are so strong, they just don’t need as much maintenance, even after long periods of time. There are indeed people who can “pick up right where they left off” even after many years have passed. I am grateful for those people in my life!

After trimming down the friends list yet again, I am going to keep facebook just for the messaging/communication options alone, at least for the time being. I don’t want to cut off a potential way of staying in contact with those I care about (and vice versa). And far more of you use facebook private messages exclusively now I learned – more than email than I realized!

So yeah. I’m backtracking on that. So pray for me as I endure a round of “I told you so’s” from various protagonists, possibly including one that I am married to.

Trimming the friends will help me avoid some of the things I can’t stand about the site.

I still believe, as that video stated (see the end of this post), we should be careful to not collect friends like stamps, using facebook as a place for self-promotion instead of selfless interaction. I also still believe in regards to friendships – quality > quantity! So I guess, in summary, while I stand by the original context of the first post, that too many people I care about are using facebook as their primary means of communication for me to consider distancing myself from it right now. I’ll give it a few more years. I think we’ll all be leaving it before too many more years pass!

Thanks again for the great conversations this week. I haven’t even responded to them all yet!

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“Not as I will, but as You will…”

Why is it that so many are so quick to substitute false promises in the place of true ones? To substitute our own will in the place of God’s?

Look at the promises we have from God. They are so many. Here’s a few, and this is just a brief, non-exhaustive list:

 

Supplication (Phil 4:19)

Sufficiency of His grace (2 Cor 12:9)

Help with temptation (1 Cor 10:13)

Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:7)

A Master Plan for our life (Romans 8:28)

Forgiveness can be granted (Mark 16:16)

Eternal Life (John 10:27-28)

 

And these are just a few that I summarized from another list. And there are many more. And yet, instead of dwelling on these wonderful promises, we (I) often tend to make promises up on our own, as suits the situation, according to what we need or are experiencing.

I haven’t felt very well today. I chose to rest today, to let my body keep up to my recent pace. Which brings me to the first of the two areas that I constantly see, hear, or read about being misstated in regards to Christians seeking the will of God.

 

 –Are you sick? It is easy to think that God promises physical healing, but in reality, He promises that He will always be with us no matter what happens. Sometimes he marvelously takes care of our earthly illness, but unless the Lord fetches us – we gotta get to heaven one way or another. And sickness sometimes is a vehicle to the eternal healing – however I manage to get into my heaven, I’ll be beyond-words-grateful to be there! When I was younger, I would “claim” healing. My prayers would almost be a demand from God when I prayed for myself or someone else. I shudder when I think about praying arrogantly to an all-powerful God. I may not be wise, but I’m nominally smart now that when I pray for the sick, I still pray for healing – you bet…But I recognize that I don’t understand God’s will in every situation. So my prayer for the sick is, “Father heal them, but even more importantly, “thy will be done,” especially when my will isn’t in tune with the Father. I’ve been chastised for praying for God’s will instead of for complete healing for someone. Who am I to know the will of God? May God not call me home til I am 105 years old. But if He does when I am 45, in his perfect plan, praise the Lord (Lord, if you’re reading this, please wait til I’m older!). Some of the most spiritually rich people in history have been physically ill.

 

-Are you poor? Well, you don’t have to look very far to hear or see preachers saying that your poverty will end! That promotion is on the way! The car is coming! You’ll enlarge your worth. Again, this is false promises. The Scripture teaches over and over again that there are far greater blessings than material gain. This one really gets my goose, because it is such…an…obvious…lie that American christians hang their hat on. Again, sometimes the Lord may choose to bless us materially – whether that be financially, career-wise, or whatever. I believe in many cases, He chooses to bless some in order to bless others. But these material blessings pale in comparison to the blessings of the kingdom. How can we believe for a second that God promises us earthly gain when Jesus so clearly states for us…”Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21). Some of the most spiritually rich people in history have been poor.

 

I was recently asked, very privately, if it was ok to pray for the Lord to take someone. They were referring to someone was very old, very ill, and in an immense amount of pain. I inferred that this person was deciding whether or not to feel guilty for not having enough “faith” and “believing” that this person could be healed. I mentioned times in my own experiences where the death of someone who was in pain or who had lost many things in life was as much as a relief as it was a matter of grief. We’ve all known someone who we didn’t understand why they were suffering for such a long period of time. I think it is as appropriate for us to pray “Lord, take them” in these cases as it is for us to pray “Lord, let us keep them a while longer” in other cases. Regardless, not our will, but His – even when we don’t understand it.

 

God knows, if one of my precious children are sick, I will pray, pray, and pray more. I will relate my will to the Father as often as I can. But whether concerning my health (or someone else’s), or my lot in life, financially speaking (or someone else’s), we must realize that there is always a “Will” that is higher and greater than ours. Sometimes, our will may be the same as God’s in a situation. But just as often (or more often, it seems), God has a different plan, a different way of doing things, and a different timetable than we have. And instead of being concerned of enforcing our will upon God, we should be about surrendering our will to His. Even when it is difficult. These are easy words to type, and difficult ones to experience on a personal level. But He will help us. He will be all the things He says that He is to us. May God bless each of us to never have to put this lesson to the test – the lesson of surrendering our will to God even in the gravest of situations. But many of us have experienced this, and some of us will one day. Which brings us back to relying upon God in the first place.

 

Even Jesus Christ surrendered His will to the Father as recorded in the scripture.  He put the will of the Father ahead of even His own – “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).

If Jesus Christ modeled the submission of will to the Father, then we as Christians need to acknowledge that we need to do it way more often than we do, on a daily basis. And I believe we will become more like Him, and more attuned to His will as we begin to experience what it truly is in our lives. Sometimes, as Daniel did, we may be led to pray for the same thing for a long period of time. But at other times, sometimes we might need to do a self-examination, and see if we are pursuing God’s will, or our own. The person who claims to know God’s will the most is often the person who sees it accomplished the least in their life. Surrender to Him, and Him only!

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Why I am deleting Facebook this month (and what it means for you!)

Edit 8/20 4:35 – of my own accord, I changed a little of the language, as I thought it could read as harsher than I intended for it to read.

 

I have decided – it is official (please pretend there is whooping, hollering, and musical fanfare behind this post) – I am leaving facebook at the end of this month! Yay!

Here’s a little bit of why.

The best I can reckon it, there are about 4 types of people in my life.

Type #1 – I’m related to them. Whether I like it or not, we are closely enough related that we see each other, whether we want to or not – ha! But seriously, on all sides of my family I have wonderful family members, and even though sometimes there is tension, I’ve been blessed to have wonderful blood relatives and wonderful in-laws.

These are the people that, if I was eaten by a shark, would be devastated and would have to decide what to do with my stuff.

Type #2 – my actual friends. I have a pretty strict definition of “friend.” A friend is someone who wants to invest in my life, be a part of it, interact with it, or receive any of those 3 actions from it. They want to be around me. If it were not for connecting circumstances – i.e., if we did not work together, were not related, did not used to work together, did not used to go to church together, they would still want to connect with me. And that is a friend. The connection may happen more often for closer friends, and less often for not-as-close-friends, but there is a connection there that is selfless – the interest and investment of another individual, without the motivation of self-gain. It goes both ways, too!

I cannot tell you how uplifting it is to have someone reach out to me, unwarranted – “just because.” Few things in life are more special than when someone “checks up on me.”

And few things are more sad to me than when someone stops doing so. That is one reason that it is difficult going from one church to another. Because many move from “friend” to the next level down – “acquaintance.” That is part of life. I thank God that many of our relationships from Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee stood the test of time! But I always have regretted that many have not.

There are the people that, if I was eaten by a shark, would cry, and would attend my funeral or send flowers to my family.

Type #3 – Acquaintances. These may be friendly, but they are not friends. (Edit: These are not bad people! I have wonderful and great acquaintances!) These are most of my facebook friends. These people and I make no effort to be a part of each other’s life. They are the folks that I’ve not made an effort to connect to, either. Sometimes the acquaintance is mutual, and we share something in common – but the key point is that there is no real investment into each other’s life.

Sometimes, friends make an investment into my life, and hopefully I see this and acknowledge it and am grateful, and return in kind. But when I miss it, I’m guilty of treating them wrongly and they deserve better.

Sometimes, I, on the other hand, attempt to communicate to these people, and there is no return.

That is what facebook is, isn’t it? A platform for us to present ourselves to other people, and all the time hoping they’ll notice and take the small action of clicking a “like” button? What a small reward for what a friend is supposed to be.

In some cases, these can be the people that have no reason to invest into my life, unless they are wanting something in return. They want to be heard, not to listen. Or they want the satisfaction of their own desires, and treat me as a step to attain personal satisfaction in some way. The calls are only when convenient, or needed.

In some cases, these can be the people that are only cordial when you agree with them. I’ve not had many of these people over the years, but I’ve had some.

You choose to be friends on your terms and someone else’s – it is two way! Acquaintances are relationships only on your terms and timing, however.

These are the people that, if I was eaten by a shark, would not find out, or would briefly hang their head, sigh, and then go about their day.

 

Type #4 – Strangers. These are, obviously, people I don’t know.

If I was eaten by a shark, they’d not find out, or perhaps would read about it in the news.

I’m fairly convinced that no one stays in a static position on my list, or on yours. We are either developing a relationship with each other (even if slowly), or we are letting it dissolve.

I recently deleted 100 friends from my facebook. I expect that not one has noticed yet, or will notice (how I would love to be mistaken on that!). They were acquaintances. And I got the feeling that I was desperately waving photos and snarky status reports in hopes to impress these people. And I just have no desire to do that anymore! If we did in real life what we did on facebook, we would all be desperate, miserable people.

So, I am going to say goodbye to the remaining 493 facebook friends. And I’m smiling. Do you know why?

The ones who are still related to me will still be related to me. They have no choice! muahaha….

The ones who are truly my friends won’t stop being my friends. They’ll just have to, along with me, choose to continue developing our mutual relationship in a different forum. Phone calls, cards, seeing each other. My guess is, a third or so of my facebook friends are these folks.

The ones who are my acquaintances won’t notice, probably won’t read this blog, and won’t have their life positively or negatively affected by this decision. And that’s ok 🙂 They aren’t bad people! We just aren’t in each other’s life right now, for good, bad, or ugly!

The ones who are strangers will still be strangers.

Will you miss my unbelievably witty statuses I post from time to time? Then we’ll have to speak!

Will you miss my photos? Then you’ll have to actually lay your eyes upon those things which have previously been in my photos!

Will you not miss anything at all? That’s ok too! We can only pour our lives into so many at a time, and I understand that.

I, for one, would rather spend more time developing less, but more important relationships, than to spend less time on each individual, and many non-signifcant relationships. And so, I’m “outta here” at the end of this month.

Friends will still be friends. I don’t see how facebook can separate a friendship anymore than it could build one in the first place.

So if we don’t keep up much, but you’d like to stay in touch, would you let me know?

And if there are any of you I have ever treated like an acquaintance and have thus offended, let me know that too! Relationships are some of the most important things we have in this world. I’ve been convicted that I should put more time and energy into living, breathing human beings that the Lord has put in my path.

(All of this isn’t even to begin to mention the privacy concerns, the public access of one’s information, or the lack of respect facebook has for the individual consumer.)

Here’s a neat video that’s sort of related to the topic. Make sure you watch this video! It is fantastic!

http://vimeo.com/70534716

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And I end with this appropriate picture from the movie “Sharknado.”

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