The 4th of July is just around the corner and it causes me to consider how different our country is from the one I called home as a child. In 1967, Detroit burned because of conflict between whites and blacks. I remember my dad taking me to a baseball game in 1968 in downtown Detroit seeing buildings still smoldering because of the fires that destroyed so much of that city. The Kent State riots, the Vietnam War fall-out and the government corruption were all front-page news during my early years. I thought I understood the unrest then. I thought I understood the pain people fought against in that culture. Today, I see a great divide. I see people hating others and not even willing to discuss our differences. We have become a people of hate and anger and intolerance. I still love my country. I still love living here and can’t imagine living someone else, but I wonder where we are heading. I don’t have a solution for health care. I don’t really know how to solve many of the issues we are facing today as a people. But I do know one thing; “if my people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14) As Christians, we can complain and point fingers at the disintegration of our culture, but as II Chronicles tells us, it is the people of God that are to humble themselves, pray and seek the face of God and turn from their wicked ways, then God will act. The burden is on us as Christians to ask God to move in our land.
I have a quote in my office from Dave Jacobs, a pastor, teacher and coach. It says: “Your church is perfectly designed to get the results it’s currently getting. If you want something different, you’ll probably need to do something different.” I like that quote, not because it is about church, but because it is about life. We have all probably heard by now the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So, when I think of that quote, I think much wider than church. I think of life, and how to be something other than what I am right now I must change. If I want to be thinner I need to change my diet and exercise plan. If I want to be improve my reading ability, I need to read books. If I want to be a better hunter, I need to learn how better hunters hunt. If I want to be a better cook, I might need to take a cooking class. Change is difficult because it demands us to do something that is unlike what I have been doing. So how can I become a better cook, golfer, husband, wife, mother, father, child, driver? I must be willing to do something different than what I am doing now. Here is my challenge: pick something this summer that you want to change, and then change your habits in order to reach the desired outcome.
In my last post, we approached the subject, how am I supposed to worship when I am surrounded by so many who think differently than me? Here is the little secret that maybe all of you know, but few of us accept: everyone in the world is different than me. We all think differently and respond differently. So, our response to worship should also be different than everyone around me. Paul uses the analogy in I Corinthians about all of us being a part of the body and no part is more essential than any other part. All parts must play their designed role or the body does not function properly. If we understand how significant that thought is, then we will understand that even though I have a particular set of standards and expectation in worship, I must understand the person sitting next to me has a different set of standards and expectations. I can then come to a worship service not with an expectation that all that happens is for me, but all that happens is for us. Within that concept lies my ability to then absorb all that is odd or different for me and still not allow it to ruin my sincere desire to meet with God.
Since I have a set of rules that I use to govern my life and I like my rules and at times it bothers me when other people don’t follow my agenda; I must learn how to adjust my life to accept those who think and live differently than me. In my ministry life, I have seen the great music conflict arise, subside and arise again. Before we go to much further I must tell you that I love music, but only certain types of music. When I am in church I have a very small package of music types that I enjoy and the rest of them can be used by some other church. My problem, even as a pastor, who picks the music for my church, is, that I don’t get to pick just the songs I want to sing. Each week as I select songs I have to consider what the rest of the church wants. Have you ever tried to pick songs everyone will like? “We sing to many of those hymns”, “we sing to many of those 7-11 songs”, “why do we have to sing at all”, “where are the other instruments”, “they are too fast, too slow”, are just a few of the lines I get on a regular basis. These come from good, godly people who are truly intent on trying to worship God. The problem isn’t our tastes in music, nor is it in our lack of desire to worship. The problem exists when we think our way is the only way. How do I find comfort, peace and joy when I come to church surrounded by people who have a very different agenda than me?
In my last post, we wondered how we got here as a church. Why it seems the focus of church has become more about me and less about us. I finished that post with a question: How did we get here? Here is my feeble attempt at an answer.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have agendas for life. We like to drive a certain way, eat at certain times, watch certain TV programs and vote for certain candidates based on important issues to us. There is nothing wrong with having agendas. We need them to function and perform daily tasks. The problem with our agendas is when we think they should be everyone’s agenda. We get bothered when people drive slower than we want them to. We don’t agree with how other people schedule their lives or vote for the “wrong” person. We want things to be the way we want them to be and the truth is, we should. If we didn’t, then that would mean that what we do and believe is wrong. No person structures his life in a fashion that he believes is wrong and unacceptable. We all govern our existence by rules that we think are right and appropriate. If we didn’t, that would be rather foolish. The problem isn’t our agendas, but it is when we think our agendas are the only agendas. So, what do we do with that?
I have been in church ministry now for nearly 30 years. I have heard, seen and experienced many difficult things during these years. Presently, I know of two local churches that are having a difficult time and it breaks my heart to see such trouble. I have had my own share of stress while leading a church. As I reflect on these times, I find myself wondering why these trials happen? Maybe it is because we have a misunderstanding of what church is. I wonder if we have made our church an idol? I wonder if we no longer see church as a place to ministry to sick people, and only see it as a place to care for my own soul. Have we made our church a place we protect, guard, elevate and demand personal action from? If so, it is our idol. Church was never meant to be a place for me, but a place for us. It was never meant to be a place where I get fed, but a place where we get fed. It is a place where we come together and worship God, renew our spirit in serving God, and pray for those who need God. Somehow and somewhere along the way we have turned it into a place that caters to my needs. How did we get here?
On Sunday, April 30th I will be preaching on the role of government in our lives. As I scan my FB account, I am amazed at how people talk about our leaders. I certainly have my political bias, but I also understand a Biblical perspective that is far more significant than what I think of the decisions made by our elected leaders. I have never met anyone who does exactly what I think they should do in every situation. I have never met anyone who agrees with me on every possible topic. So how do I respond to those in government who have very different standards than me? I submit to their authority because they are established by God. When I understand that God is on the throne and no one, I mean no one, can act outside His sovereignty, then I am at peace with the world. Do I wish all decisions were made to accommodate me and align themselves perfectly with my beliefs? Sure, but I need to understand that, it is not my will that I long to have done on this earth, but His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
- Pastor Doug
I read something this morning that me chuckle, “Easter attendance is the most overrated statistic in the world for small churches”. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved that our church had more people in it on Easter Sunday than it has had probably since last Easter. I loved the sound we made as we sang, I loved to see new faces listen as I preached and I loved the energy the large crowd brought to our auditorium. But it was just one week. This week we will be back to just the regular attenders, and some of us will feel discouraged because we will remember what Easter was like.
I think that feeling has been happening ever since the first Easter. How different do you think the people felt two years after Jesus rose from the dead? They no longer had that amazing feeling of seeing the resurrected Christ. Now they were living their lives with the daily activities of working, paying bills, raising children, gathering for worship and remembering what Easter was like. We, too, can fall into that trap of being discouraged or disappointed about church when we’ve had a taste of how good it could be. “I remember” is a dangerous phrase.
What if every Sunday could be like Easter? What if every time we went to church, there was a full house, happy faces, loud singing and great energy? What if we could go to a church that made you feel joyous every week that Jesus is risen? Well, I think that is possible. I think Easter should be the norm not the exception. How, you may ask? Why not bring a friend this week? Why not reach out to a neighbor and bring them to church with you? If the only time our church is full is when our family from out of town visits, are we doing our best at reaching our community?
As we noticed last week, the church is filled with all types of people. Some are happy and content, while others play one role in public yet privately they struggle with guilt, pain, loneliness and an assortment of other issues. Some play this part because they don’t want people to know the real them for fear of abandonment or lowered position and prestige. Some come to church to find something that is lacking in their lives. Last week we saw that the church can offer them peace. This is just one component to why I love the church.
I love the church because it is a place where I can gather with others and encounter God. I can sit in a seat (it may or may not have my name on it) and allow the troubles of my daily life to seep into the fabric as I discover God. I can take these moments of worship and focus my attention on the God of the universe and realize He knows me, is with me and is for me. The Sovereign over all is here to care and provide for me. No matter what the week has done to me, I can come to church and find that God is here for me. I don’t have to worry about what other people are thinking of me, nor do I have to worry about how I look, or what else is happening in the world. I can simply re-discover that God is for me. I love that each week I can leave the building, but not leave my God. I have been reminded that I do not walk alone. I do not walk unaware or blindly into the next week. I have God who is with me, for me and ahead of me.
I love church because it is a place that reminds me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I am not alone.
Did you ever notice how messy church can be? All you have to do is spend a few weeks in a church to discover the cracks in the system. You see people hold on to past hurts and others who dwell on past successes. You see people live very different lives outside of the church than they claim to be living while inside the church. You have a Pastor who is flawed and often has a family that is as dysfunctional as yours and you wonder how he can get up front each week and call people to a behavior he seems to be struggling to implement himself. You notice that some people wander in and out in such a casual manner while others have their names etched on their seat and no one should ever attempt to disrupt their routine. You hear people sing, some hit most of the notes, while the loudest ones are always a little off key. You see people laugh and hug and you know that they are hiding a great pain and you think why isn’t this a safe place to share your agony. When the service is over you see people rush for the door wondering what is the hurry? You see others stand on the outside hoping someone speaks to them today while others seem preoccupied with conducting business or making sure they look and say the right things to the right people. As you leave you ask yourself, what was this about? Why do these people come here? What were they trying to find? Here is the answer: peace. The church is filled with imperfect people all with their own history, baggage and needs. They come to meet God and trust that through this encounter they will find peace. If you come to church expecting to see people cleaned up, perfect in pitch and dress, you will be disappointed. What you should find is a group of people who are all struggling to be who they know they should be and hope the week ahead gives them victory.
Next week we will look at more of why I love the church.
Keep reading, keep growing and keep following the King!