Whatever we are not willing to give up for God is a weakness that Satan will continue to exploit. The best tools of the devil are the things we hold most dear.
We can forget what victory means to Christians. For us, our victory came from the cross. Jesus has asked that we pick up our cross and follow Him. It’s a bit confusing because He took our place, but only from the guilt of our sins. We still have to travel in His footsteps and that journey has its ups and downs to say the least.
So in seasons like this one, we celebrate moms around those who have lost their moms, or had bad relationships, or were abused, or any number of other painful memories. It’s important to find the cross in these circumstances. That doesn’t mean to try and pretend there is happiness where sadness overwhelms. God promised that all things work together for the good of those who believe in Him. Does that mean your pain is good? no! But what is important is that we find that healthy ground where we build our lives on the foundation of God and not on life’s tragedies.
Jesus died for us and we thank Him. We praise Him. We worship Him! But oh what pain He endured. That pain allowed us everything we hold dear today. The reason God can straight face to us that all things will work for good is because He endured the worst of it… and it was for OUR good. We will have our moments. God never said, ‘I will make life easy for you’. In fact, there is quite a bit of scripture that alludes to how difficult being a Christian truly is. Why? Because we will be attacked by the enemy on top of everything else life throws at us.
But we can find the cross in those moments. Instead of loathing the past, we can count each scar as a lesson learned. Instead of bottoming out in loneliness we can tribute loved ones and incorporate their great characteristics in our lives. Here is what happens if we don’t get a handle on our lives during the bad times. We end up living around the holidays. And there are a lot of holidays. Someone died on my birthday, I was injured at Christmas, I was robbed at Thanksgiving, etc. etc. etc. We can shut down, isolate, and run from each and every important date for the rest of our lives….
OR… or we could accept that what is important is God. We made those dates important for our own means. God doesn’t make us more sad on Mother’s Day. It’s just another Sunday. We immortalize the date and subject our souls to personal torment that we create. Find the cross in that day. Yes you have endured much. But next year, there is reason to enjoy the day. We are over-comers. We can’t be victorious if we let dates defeat us each year. Another tool of the enemy is the over dramatization of certain days or times that we give more meaning than others. They have only the meaning we allow them to have.
We can find ways to honor the fallen, learn from the wicked, grow from neglect, persevere through pain, and triumph over all that does not come from God. But to do that, we need to see the cross. That moment when pain and defeat turns to hope and eternity. When “it is finished” turns into “it has just begun”. When the sign over the tomb turns from “do not disturb” to “vacancy”… this is when we find our moments of the cross. This is what the cross does for us. It says that Christians win even when they seemingly lose. It means that even death is not defeat. God’s love has saved us no matter how lost we become.
I felt the need to remind us of two things that keep circling back to each other. As Christians, we will face hard, hurtful, seemingly impossible moments. We should not be shocked or disappointed when these times come. We often mention tests or trials from God. I do not believe that God does mean or hurtful things to those that He loves (to those that He gave His son for). Rather, God will help us and while He does so, we can learn from those moments. And the second thing is that we always have a way back into the light. Look to that empty cross. Recall that empty tomb. And ponder the throne that is occupied.
With God in our corner, today does not have to be a day of sadness. Sadness is not wrong, but its meant to be temporary. If you are in pain every year, every holiday, at every solemn memory… find the cross. There is victory to be had. There are healthy, proud, confident ways to move forward in honor of the past. Don’t concede your future based on today’s pain. If we do not come to terms with our past, it will consume our future. Whatever pain on whatever day, I pray you plead to God for help and seek His out on this side of heaven for the same. We want to celebrate with you the victories that you can turn your near defeats into.
In traffic, I’ve grown tired of getting cut off, swerved at, beeped at, and being run off the road. In short, I decided to stand up for myself. At first it was rare and half-hearted. ‘No blinker, no access’ I would say to myself. I’d beep with all the might my imported hatchback could muster (… “meep”) But the best defense is a great offense. Riding bumpers, reading lane changes, knowing the road. I became aggressive. Anyone nearing my front bumper was the enemy and I wasn’t going to let them have the satisfaction of getting in front of me!
What happened? My heart changed. I’m a nice, quiet, laid back guy (My mom said so anyway). People take advantage of that. At the end of the day, I want them too. Its the whole point of being nice. But something got inside my head and reasoned that it was MY time. And so I listened. Full on road rage has settled in at times. And I realized something needed to change. So I would, every so often, let people over, slow down at on-ramps, and generally try to share the road. But this was problematic. I still hated those people who could have moved over earlier like everyone else. I still questioned motives. I still saw the angles. My heart hadn’t changed back, only my mind had.
I caught myself today letting someone over and complaining the whole time. They couldn’t hear me but I spoke out-loud to myself… “nice blinker! oh, and no lights on while raining… kudos for the bad driving trifecta!!!!”. I was angry. Doing something nice for someone brings out joy in both parties. Begrudgingly doing something because we feel forced by religion, parents, authorities, school, or any other reason… that breeds contempt. In a moment of God-sent wisdom I realized that I wanted to make people happy. My true desire was to finish last. When I ‘WANTED’ to let people over, it became fun. When I was having fun doing what I loved (being nice, and graceful to those around me), I knew my heart was back in the right place.
The heart controls our default actions… the ones we do without thinking. If I hate driving, drivers, and travel of any kind, then I’m going to be a jerk on the road. I can fool some people temporarily, but the heart will always stay true over the long haul. If I want to be nice to other drivers, I can’t just want it mentally. Its a forced fit that will blow up in my face soon enough. I have to change the default behavior. I have to have the heart of a nice person first, then I can successfully and meaningfully treat people nice.
I hope that makes sense. I hope that analogy works for you… because this is the foundation of understanding the relationship God desires to have with us. We are not forced. But, some of us try to force it. God doesn’t desire us to do things out of feeling forced. God wants our hearts. We can begrudgingly go to church. We can fake a few prayers. We can choke down scripture readings because we know we are supposed to. All of those get a big red X with a buzzer sound.
God wants us to want to. To desire to. To love to. In other words, our default should be to wake up excited for church. Our standard should crave scripture. Our first response… prayer! And if we don’t, that isn’t a huge, colossal failure… it just means its time to stop changing our mind in a case by case basis and start changing our hearts permanently.
Doing something because we have to is called work, slavery or imprisonment. Doing something because we love to is called happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and many other wonderful things. Hearts don’t change overnight. If you start clinching the wheel the next time a truck approaches, start conversing with God. He is behind all successful transplants. Be patient with yourself through the process. God does not want the tired, weary, burnt out leftovers from your life. He gave the best of Himself so He can join with the best of yourself. Anything less than your most enthusiastic and heartfelt best is a mismatched relationship that needs some work.
Just one more second.
Just one more inch.
Just one more word.
Just one more dollar.
Just one more signature.
Just one more degree.
Just one more step.
Just one more note.
Just one more answer.
Just one more try.
Success isn’t measured by our performance in the moment that matters most. Success is measured in the preparation for those moments. If you needed one more second to succeed, then you didn’t prepare properly. You chose failure when you opted for rest. You picked second place for yourself, when you needed Friday off. You decided to have fewer friends when you were too busy to call someone back. Choices. Not circumstances. Not luck. Not what-ifs. Options. Decisions. Calculated specifics.
You could have done one more yesterday… but you didn’t. Much of life is like a transaction to me. If you pay in reps yesterday, you succeed in an amount based on those reps today. You can’t go back in time and make a payment just because you decided today that you want it more than you did yesterday. Pay today for what you want tomorrow. If you want a million dollars in your savings account, can you get there by putting in 1 dollar a day? NO! Why do we think we can perform miracles and ace tests we didn’t study for, win races we didn’t run, or gain acceptance we didn’t earn?
Tomorrow, you will take a test. Wouldn’t it be neat if we could pick our grade? I’m not going to promise that everyone can choose to get a 100 and then will get it. What I can promise is that if you put in enough effort to get the 100 then you will. Two things tend to happen during the training process. We either procrastinate or we accept mediocrity. Regardless of the path, some of us are still surprised at how we fell short. Can I retest? Will you curve the grade? Did you cover that, this question didn’t make sense (i.e. its someone else’s fault)?
When I read posts like this one I tend to get sad. I regret yesterday. I start the inner dialogue of frustration with myself. But I’d like to encourage us (you too) to try it from the other perspective. While its not yesterday anymore… it’s not quite tomorrow yet either. Why not do something you will thank yourself later for? Train. Study. Live. Love. Do good deeds. Embrace life so that when you can’t anymore, you savor the moments you chose. This is the anti-regret opportunity. This isn’t my only post like this. It won’t be my last. I’ve read countless others. Why? The struggle is real. The Bitter reality hurts. But the remedy is just out of your reach. Will you figure out how to get it?
Do you feel like removing the ed from needed? You can if you opt to get out of the past and live for the future. Can you do one more today? Can you go further? Will you work harder? Can’t you go faster? Don’t you want to be sharper? Those decisions are born in moments all around you. Grab that moment and make it your success story. Make it your time. Make it yours. Make it. Choices come and go so quickly. Stop pondering and start choosing. Stop blaming and start excelling. Stop excusing and start winning. In all matters of life, YOU are the one that can conquer defeat and make tomorrow a great day.
All I NEED is to choose right now that tomorrow I’m not going to regret anything.
I have feint memories of what my mom did to bring me to church prepared. This took much thought and work before leaving the house. I was young, fidgety, and had issues with attention. I never really saw the work that went into her preparations, but I enjoyed the fruits of her labor (which sometimes was real fruit). At various points of the church service different things would make their way out of the bag. Raisins, grapes, the universal staple… animal crackers. Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes markers, but the activity book always had places to draw. She always knew what to bring and had just enough to get me through the service… so that everyone else could get through the service.
Now that I’m 40, I guess its time to make my own preparations for church. I’ve noticed that we all prepare for church differently. I’m going to point out 3 styles I’ve witnessed (I’m sure you have seen others).
The first group shows up to church empty handed. No Bible, no bag, no books. They pull out their phones, but they don’t have Bible apps or study guides on their phones! You might wonder if they would have come at all if some reason hadn’t dragged them or forced them in some way. Worship starts and they seem somewhat attentive. They may even join in at some point, but with a massive asterisk if they do… It’s not their job to worship. They showed up, and they expect the church to do its job and either worship for them, or create worship in such a way that it involuntarily jump starts their soul into worship without their consent. These are the parents that expect school to raise their children. Trainers must teach their pets and almost everything in life is someone elses fault. They will come to church, but whether they worship or not is the church’s responsibility.
The second group fully intends to experience God, but they don’t always manage to catch Him while He is there. They will sing, pray, listen. But they have to get warmed up. The right songs at the right beat, with the best prayer might just work. Its usually a slow build, but they will get there most of the time. The big difference between the first group and this one is that this group really wants that experience, it just doesn’t always happen. This group will say things like, “I just didn’t feel it that time”. Or, “ohhhh, I got that warm fuzzy worship feeling this time!”. If they don’t experience this good feeling enough, they may start to look for another church home or complain about the song choice, praise team, preacher, etc. Similar to the first group, they may blame others when church feels ‘boring’.
The third group will approach worship like my mom did with me (only perhaps, the more grown up version). They will wake up in the morning with worship in mind. They will pray. They will pack. “What should I bring to worship?”, this group will ask. Bible (or hip phone app), pen and paper for the sermon outline, breath mints for hugs and close prayers with their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Seriously? Why not? Its this type of thinking that allows for the final ingredient. God? Check. Here He is. And then they leave home en route to the church building. This group knows that the house of God is not the church building. They start the day off in preparation of worshiping God and they bring Him with them. How much sense would it make to have a party honoring someone and you don’t invite the person being honored?
This group shows up and has a servant’s heart from the first handshake with the door greeter. They aren’t just ready to start worship, they already have been. And so they interact with family rather than church going acquaintances. They see visitors as potential in-laws (the good kind) rather than strangers fighting for the back pew. And when all are seated and the first word spoken… you are already there: engaged with God, your Father, ready to praise Him for what He has done… and maybe even work out some issues between the two of you.
Worship isn’t something that happens to us, its something we do. It’s an act. Its a verb. It’s a sacrifice of time, emotion, honesty, confession, repentance, acceptance, and so much more. It starts the moment you wake up in the morning and greet your God and, quite honestly, it should finish when you say ‘good night’. If you show up to church and the last time you spoke to God was the last time you were at church… you don’t have the relationship that God wants to have with you.
I had some animal crackers very recently. You never grow out of them. They taste plain at first (no chocolate, no toppings, no fillings, just… animal shapes and carbs). But they are a necessity. They filled a void in my stomach and kept my mind where it belonged. Today, Jesus fills a void in my soul and keeps me close to God. I couldn’t imagine trying to go to church without taking Him with me. Without first talking with Him in the morning. Reading His words, and possibly even singing along the way. He is the reason I go to church, how could I leave Him behind or expect someone else to bring Him?
Worship is intentional, purposeful, specific, and directed straight to God. It’s personal between the two of you. It’s not passive, and it’s rarely done with dry eyes. Even more so, it also involves a community of believers… and if they aren’t seeing genuine Christians delivering worship to a beloved Savior, then I start to understand why they don’t want to be a part of the church.
When I first found my faith, you were there. I remember it. At first, it was questionable, but every day as I grew firmer in grace you came closer. When my heart was wholly in God’s hands you had become a regular addition to my life. You were even a little predictable. When temptations didn’t work, you moved on to family and friends. When they wouldn’t waiver you worked outside the box. Illness, stress, relationships, even loss of loved ones.
You liked to work on my temper, my social issues, and how hard it was for me to say no. I loved it when I found you in the middle of my mess. Like a baby deer in headlights you leapt away knowing the name of Jesus was just behind my lips. But, to your credit, you never came back with an old trick… at least not the same way. You are the king of subtlety and calling audibles. Slinking back before I could finish laughing at your escape, I barely noticed how you changed your advances.
When we were constantly at odds life felt complete. Everything made sense. Good versus evil, good always wins, it just felt right. Like Wile E. Coyote you would scamper away, the victim of your own disobedience, while my Savior protected, healed, and loved me.
True to your name, I never even saw how you did it… That day, when I stopped turning to God for help. It was so casual and uneventful. Life calmed down and that rut felt like a comfortable groove. Church days brought extra rest, Bible time became TV hour, and Prayers were things I did to make myself feel better. They were more like checklists and observations than any semblance of conversation. And since I didn’t care to really converse, He didn’t choose to answer. Days turned to weeks and weeks stole away months before years finally ravaged a significant portion of my life away.
You did it. I let my guard down, I guess. I thought I had you all figured out. But your trickery dismantled my dreams, my hopes, my life, and my heart. Kudos on how slow and methodical you approached the situation. A violent attack would have been deflected and I always saw those coming. But you pulled the long con. Years and years passed while the pot slowly boiled beneath me. And to be honest, there were a few times where I actually noticed things weren’t quite right, but I preferred the new sauna I was simmering in. I was certain of my full downfall when I saw the truth in it all and reasoned that it would be tomorrow’s problem. ‘Tomorrow’… the battle cry of the defeated.
I did learn something that I somehow always knew. Once you had everything you wanted out of me… you didn’t want me anymore. All the drama, all the fights, all the cruelty of life diminished. Living just became a gentle sunny day. Sure, I was in quick sand, but it was slow and breezy and warm. It felt like being at the beach. Your absence was noted as much as His. With my soul no longer aligned with the Savior’s your time was better spent on someone else. We spent so many nights fighting. Battling. Maneuvering each other. And then, poof! You have better things to do.
This isn’t the first time you turned your back at the worst possible moment. Do you remember the cross? You turned your back on Jesus with a smug grin on your face. And you left Him to rot in that tomb for 3 days before you realized that you blew it. Not just literally, but eternally. And now you turn your back on me before your work is fully done. The man that blew away that stone has grabbed my hand again. I’ve found His footsteps. And His grace was fully prepared to accept one such as I back again. He doesn’t care where I come from or what you and I were up to. He just welcomes me back with open arms. I must say, coming back is different than the first meeting. This time… I ran to Him.
Have you ever hugged Jesus? I guess not, or you wouldn’t hate Him like you do. It’s incredible. And it reminded me of something. And I think it reminded you too. Because once we embraced, you shrieked. You showed back up in my life again. Years of your absence while I floated through life in a waste of inevitable doom and now I finally have something you want again. Forgiveness, hope, love, a Friend, a Father, a Lord, a God. You want those things, don’t you. Because here you are.
When I say, “I’ve missed you”. I mean that I noticed your absence. I observed how you only show up to take, destroy, ruin, and then move on. And here you are. I see you in the shadows. I see that hate and fuming regret drizzling from your teeth. I see resolve in your eyes. You want this bad. Just like Jesus, you had me… but you couldn’t hang on. I don’t want you back in my life, but I welcome what your interference means. If I didn’t have something good for you to take, you wouldn’t be here.
As evil as you are, you have a good tell. You don’t waste time on people who aren’t a threat to you. So now I know two things. I know that Jesus has taken me back and I know that you want me. You don’t want me back. You want me away from Him. I’ve become a threat again. A target for your cause. Where once I was afraid, now I can grin safely in my Savior’s arms. You want what you can’t have. Jesus won. You can’t ever undo what happened on the cross or in the tomb. While my soul may still be ‘in play’, I’m telling you that you can’t have that either. Because to take it, you have to go through Him… and we both know how that will end.
I know this won’t stop you, and we will be seeing a lot more of each other as I choose the light of the world. But one thing is different this time. I’m not just trying to save myself. Because I have already been saved, I will be trying to save others. I’m not ashamed to say His name anymore. I’ll speak it freely. The timid boy you once knew has a sword and shield. Where once I hid behind religion I now stand tall behind THE God.
I know better than to taunt you or tease you. No insults or threats here. I just wanted you to know that I see you have returned. And to be honest, it feels good. The world is right again. I am by my Savior’s side and you work tirelessly to pull me away. What a compliment you give. That I might be a threat to you. I know its not me you fear… but you know what even most Christians won’t acknowledge… That Jesus works through those that allow Him to. He isn’t bound. He just chooses to work were welcomed. And He is MOST WELCOMED here!
I never chose you, but you tricked me once. I do not welcome you in my life, but now I understand why you try so hard. You know given the choice between a hateful, spiteful, selfish, evil, demon and a loving, saving, forgiving God you wouldn’t have any volunteers. So you pervert the game. You obscure the rules, and you confuse the players. You corrupt and rot because you don’t have the ability to compete fairly. God creates and heals. You make the valley of dry bones and God resurrects. You spread disease and God cures. You dismantle families and God reunites. You cheapen and God restores.
Who would choose you? Not me. Not again. I’m taking the narrow path. The one you have hidden behind lies, manipulation, and coercion. And until I go, I’ll be showing it to others. Signs, lights, markers, whatever I have to do. I’m not worried about me any more. It’s them that need saving. So stay with me. Send your worst. I can’t handle it, but my God can. And while you piddle around with bad days, corrupt governments, illness, money issues, and any other obstacles you can conjure up, I’ll be too busy carrying the lost away from you to notice. I’ll take your temporary misfortunes and hurtful accusations. I’ll take poverty and loneliness too. I’m just not interested in this world anymore. And that is all you’ve got. You can’t offer ANYTHING that won’t burn away.
I’m going home… and I’m taking them with me!
If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. – ‘The Circle Maker’
Consider a few scenarios:
Someone in a wheelchair approaches and asks if you could open a door for them. No problem, right? Most of us would be happy to. What if a healthy adult man stopped short of the door and asked for the same help?
What if a child asked for help tying their shoes? No problem, right? What if they keep asking when they are 16 years old?
How about when a beggar asks for money? While this may not be as black and white of an issue, lets contrast that to someone who clearly doesn’t need money. If the man on the street corner wore a suit, held a briefcase, cell phone attached to one hip and designer sunglasses snugly donned across the bridge of his nose. Would you give your money to the second man?
We don’t mind helping people who can’t help themselves. In fact, for many of us, we enjoy helping them. But all that changes when people ask for things they can do for themselves. Consider your prayers to God. The almighty God. The maker of the world. The creator of mankind. The superior being who allowed His Son to die on the cross. God. You have His attention. You have approached His throne and He allows you to ask for your heart’s desire. What would you ask?
Perhaps lets look at it from another direction. What miracles did Jesus perform? Were any of them trivial? Did Jesus change deserved test scores? Did He snap His fingers and change His clothes? Did money grow from trees? Jesus didn’t conjure up mediocrity. He didn’t see fit to perform underwhelming miracles. No flying and no light shows. Jesus fed, healed, restored, resurrected, and created faith with hope. He did the impossible. At least for us.
We don’t have that power. But God does. My favorite conversation between God and man in our Bible can be found in Genesis 18: 16 – 33. God informs Abraham that He is going to destroy the evil and corrupt towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asks God, essentially, if He thought this through: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?” God agrees to spare the entire city if only 50 good people are found. But Abraham doesn’t stop. He wants to know how specific God is being. ‘what if only 45 righteous are found…. would you kill all those people for just being 5 short?’ 6 times, Abraham asks God to reduce the number down to 10.
And God agrees that if only 10 righteous people are found, that He will spare the entire city. Abraham approached God, spoke boldly, and changed the thoughts of our maker. This is how we should pray. We are to pray with faith. Faith isn’t found in the easy or the common. Faith is born in the impossible. Faith is knowing God can make things happen that His creation isn’t capable of doing. When you combine creation’s faith with the creator’s love… impossible happens.
There are many reasons why prayers go unanswered. Asking God for something that He already blessed you with the ability to obtain is one of them. Look at our examples in the Bible. Consider Abraham. Remember Jesus, His son, with whom He was pleased! Pray big! Pray bold! The fight isn’t over yet. The war for souls wages on. God is listening. What would you ask of Him?
The new TV seasons are slowly cropping up to finally deliver on that promise they left us all with so many months ago… What will happen next!!!!????!??!
As I’ve been pondering some of the more clever (and cruel) cliffhangers we have been left dangling with… Who shot JR?, Ross saying ‘Rachel’ at his wedding, ‘not Penny’s boat’… I wonder how we would be affected if we binge-watched the life of Jesus.
He’s born… lots of gifts…teaches in the temple… makes some enemies… heals, prays, travels, yada yada yada… He dies.
“It is finished” he speaks out loud, as it actually is… finished.
Well, it can’t end there. There wouldn’t be another season. The cameras are still rolling. My wife will look at the clock and see there is still time remaining in the final episode of the series. That just wouldn’t make for good TV anyway. The cliffhanger is an art. You have to leave the viewer wanting more, but “wanting” is not accurate. The viewer must crave. The proper cliffhanger creates enough anger (yet not so much the viewer will quit the show) mixed with enough emotion and stirred in with the proper amount of enthusiasm, so that when the time comes to pick up the story… you can’t be found anywhere else but glued to the TV soaking in what happens next.
Killing off Jesus is a mixed bag. Some were devastated, some cheered. The line in the sand didn’t move, it was erased. Victory, defeat… depends where you stood, but it doesn’t matter because the story is over if its truly finished. So they put Jesus in a tomb. Still no plot twist. Oh, I hate it when they do this. They killed off the main character and then for 3 more episodes they go on some side plot that no one cared about. They know, each week, we are going to tune in to check on the main character only to find out, yet again, they decided to put a pin in it. Not just 3 shows, but it was during the super bowl, so you go like 5 weeks salivating at where the plot could possibly be going.
Then you happen to see the camera pan by that familiar tomb. They alluded to it for months, but we didn’t think much of it. Just another sad reminder of what they did to our hero. Wait, why is the big stone gone? Don’t they know that… hold on! The garments are neatly folded on the…. !!!! and then it happens.
… To be continued
That is not the end. That is a cliffhanger. The story isn’t over. Jesus’ part of it is mostly done. But now comes the payoff. The big reveal. The final moment where we take over in our own lives and decide what it all means to us. The credits won’t roll because we haven’t all decided yet. It’s not “finished” because WE STILL HAVE A CHANCE! Can you fathom that? The writers have collected their checks. The producer has left the set. The crew is packing up cameras and props while loose script pages are being swept away. Yet… the show isn’t over folks. One thing still remains. Our part is yet to be decided.
The stone was rolled away… queue the person reading blogs on the internet, its time for them to make a decision. Can you step up under the heat of the stage lights and respond to the story laid before you?
The stone was rolled away. The burial garments folded and left behind. The tomb is empty…. “ACTION!!!”
Let me ask one final question. When Jesus does return, where will you be? Will you still be trying to learn your lines? Or, will you be glued to the Bible, waiting on the return, so you can finally be a part of what happens next?
This picture sums up better than I’ve ever been able to with words, how God’s word, His law, and His expectations are lovingly freeing to those obedient to Him.
God doesn’t desire to put us in a boring box. He yearns to be near us. To protect us. And even those that fully understand this start to feel trapped at times. “I can’t do this, I can’t do that. Why is God smothering me and keeping me from fun?” It doesn’t happen overnight. But eventually, it makes sense to us that we need to get out of that cage.
Look back at that picture again. This is more like God’s point of view. He will allow people to come and go… but He really, really wants you to stay. He loves you, wants to keep you safe, and knows that predators literally hide above, below, and on all sides of your life. The enemy is ruthless, cunning, and knows how to work through friends, family, loved ones, businesses, and even strangers on the road.
What is life like inside of the cage? It’s wonderful. I’m safe. I’m loved. I’m accepted. I gave up bad habits that were only holding me back. Now I can go farther. Did you catch that? I have MORE freedom in God’s embrace. He is with me wherever I go. Like children learning to walk, we aim to get further away from the parents that want to keep us on the ground. Do they hate us? No, but they don’t want us to fall either. They construct cages and barriers of all kinds for our safety. If it were up to us, we’d wander into traffic out of sheer curiosity.
Sadly, we never grow out of this reflex. To test our limits and see how far, high, and fast we can go is seemingly born within us. Helmets weren’t invented before the first fall. They were thought up after incident after incident. Eventually someone thought, there has to be a better way. Wear this! It will protect you. God’s love and protection is little different. It’s not just in case… It’s to save eternal lives.
Consider what Jesus has done for you. What lengths He went through to save you. Measure that against His wisdom. It really is freeing to forgive others. It truly is satisfying to not judge others. Telling the truth? Why, its the healthiest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t have to bother with alibi’s, details I may have forgotten, or cross checking stories with others. I’m hoping the next time I’m tempted to wander outside of the cage, I remember how wonderful it really is inside. That Satan wants us out and he will tell any lie he can to get us out from under God’s shield.
And if I can’t remember that, I hope this picture helps. It’s a reminder of how ridiculous the thought is of trying to leave in the first place. And for what? So I can gossip a bit more? Or to make sure my politics are heard? Or I just don’t feel like anyone in here gets who I am? lies, lies, lies. This picture tells the truth of what is outside. I hope you can see it too.
This may step on some toes. I pray that it steps on the right ones. I also pray that everyone will honestly evaluate themselves in their current relationship with God and make adjustments to bring Him more into focus at the center. Amen!
Church can bring out a lot of emotion.
For some, its pain. Christians are sinners and even in corporate church, we make mistakes that can leave scars.
For others, its discomfort. Jesus prayed to God that we would be united. He knew how we would fight. If it isn’t politics its church politics. In my life I’ve seen churches split over chosen songs, dress codes, overhead projectors, hand clapping, instruments, and many other seemingly trivial issues. So why bother?
Especially when very few churches get it right? The church isn’t where the Christian goes to be built up… its where the sinner goes to put God first. Think about that for a moment. How many scenarios exist, where the person in the wrong shows up and dictates how the event is going to play out? When the sinner shows up and bows humbly before the loving God… church happens. Everywhere else is, sadly, people vying to be the next pharisee. To me, its an issue with definition. ‘The Church’ isn’t that big building. It’s the loving God that sacrificed His Son for us, so that we might gain, should we choose to do so. Our acceptance of that sacrifice doesn’t come with judgement or condemnation. It comes with us loving back. The Bible says that God is love. Shouldn’t the church be love also? It is. And where it isn’t, it can be. Why bother? Because when it is done right… When God is the focus… the world begins to function just as God (it’s creator) intended it to. The sick are healed, relationships are repaired, bridges are built, and love is shared freely. Lives are strengthened and when we walk out that door, its a new world to face. This may sound silly to some, and to those I claim its because you’ve been unfortunate in your church experience.
For those who don’t understand church, or for those who feel lost in one, or for those who have tried and left running out the back door: I’d like to offer 10 simple rules to measure by. If many of these don’t hold up well, something needs to change, as its not what God intended.
1. Does your church consistently hold its values and beliefs in line with the Bible? Do they do things because a church leader said so, because an established family said so, because their grant said so, or because the Bible said so? (note the words ‘values and beliefs’. Obviously, leadership will need to ‘lead’ in clerical, business, and logistical matters).
2. Are the songs, prayers, and messages building up the members or are they praising God? There is certainly scripture that gives validity to building up the members. But what is the core purpose of worship? “Worship”. Reverence… adoration… thanksgiving. That has to be first and foremost and consistent.
3. Is your church growing? Or trying to grow? The issue isn’t about butts in the seats, its about souls. Does your church’s message care and even yearn to save the lost? Are you fired up and sent out on a mission after church?
4. Is the money going to God? Either in future planning, current budgeting, or missionary spend, is the church making the most of the money? Are they following the Biblical examples to stretch each dollar, grow each cent, or are they effectively burying it until needed?
5. Is the message consistent? One simple example, I’ve seen over and over again: Does your church accept an offering every Sunday, but they don’t have the time to offer communion as well? What an odd priority. With PayPal, credit cards, websites, donation boxes, and even snail mail to the building… collection is the one thing that can happen outside of corporate worship. But when leadership justifies that it can’t… I see a red flag.
6. Is the entire message taught? Jesus is a loving Savior who gave up everything to get to us. But He is also jealous and can be angered. He keeps His promises, both good and bad. (i.e. the floods came when promised just like relief comes when promised). The life of a Christian is a hard life filled with self sacrifice, scrutiny, and persecution. God hates all sin and we are not to judge. Christians are supposed to look different from the world, not following it and /or adjusting our beliefs… etc.
7. Is every member involved? Another common malpractice I’ve seen quite consistently is a tiered version of church, where one group will be the leadership of the church and the other group will be the spectator. Almost divided like classes, an entire group of people will go to church on Sunday, never serving in any capacity and never being asked to. This feels eerily like how the Pharisees practiced their faith. They were the ‘in’ crowd. This isn’t God’s church. He asked the fisherman, the commoner, the family-man. ‘Leave it all behind and follow Me’. (he roughly said). Jesus came to save everyone… so church is FOR everyone.
8. How welcoming is the church? This has to do with each and every member. When a visitor walks in, how many people will they walk past before they are jubilantly greeted? How long will they sit alone before someone joins them? How long will they attend before being invited to a small group, a meal at someone’s home, or an event to get to know them better? We are all some level of shy, awkward, and uncomfortable. The ‘church’ (meaning God’s real and intended church) will bury those feelings behind the genuine excitement over seeing a new face to potentially join the mission with.
9. Is the story current? Is everyone still talking about the good ‘ole days? Are you always hearing about the last pastor or some amazing family that moved on or has passed? Churches doing the will of God will have new stories to tell. New souls, new testimonies, new prayers answered. It’s OK to reminisce on the past… but we can’t live in the past. Just like your car, your stomach, and your wallet… that tank has to be filled again, and again, and again. Jesus didn’t perform one miracle and then go back to heaven. He spent a lifetime serving the Father and then finally gave up His life as well. He gave it all! Not just one thing, 15 years ago.
10. Are children leading? Jesus said we are to be more like children. When the disciples tried to stop the children from coming to Jesus, He corrected them. “let the children come to me”. Why would the church not follow this example? They may not be able to execute perfect exegesis of Revelations but they do know love. And in many cases, they know love in ways that we have long forgotten. Not only do they need to be trained, they need to be mentored and allowed to serve as any other member of the church.
No church is perfect. But there is a clear distinction between those trying to be a perfect church and those trying to serve God perfectly. If you don’t know the difference yet, I sincerely promise, you want the latter. I want to encourage you to stand firm. You will walk in and out of buildings filled with sinners. When you find a place where the sinners are working with God to live a life of thanksgiving to Him… stick around. I didn’t provide this list to shame existing churches or to start an argument over semantics. This is for those searching. I searched for over 20 years. And I’m so thankful that I didn’t give up. It’s far too important to abandon. In some cases the church will be wrong. In some cases you will be wrong. I could easily write about all of the wrong expectations we bring into the church. (and I might in the future :p ). For now… encouragement. Don’t give up.
An often overlooked scripture in the Bible is when Jesus told His disciples to wipe the dust off their sandals and move on when people didn’t receive the message. Many, many Christians need to hear this scripture and stop trying to force God on people that aren’t ready for Him yet. But I also find a broader meaning here. This verse is about freedom. We aren’t tethered to a location until success occurs. We are simply asked to try. Give it all you’ve got. If it doesn’t work, move on. Never quit. There is never a quitting reference in the Bible unless its a tragic story. Move on? Yes! Quit? Never. Jesus never quit. Paul never quit. Martin Luther King never quit. Some of us find ourselves wanting to live life among those great and precious names, but only as long as things are going well. (reread point 6). If you are a threat to Satan (i.e. if you are doing church right) life will not be going well. He will attack. But thank God you will be prepared with God at your side and a loving church at your back.
If you feel compelled to visit church on Easter Sunday… GO! But think about why that is. Think about what you may be missing throughout the year. Consider why so many keep coming back week after week. Talk to some friends that may be stronger in the faith. Talk to someone at the church of your choice if you go. One advanced step you can try in the privacy of your own home is to turn off all distracting devices (TV, radio, PC, etc) and speak to God. You don’t need special words, you don’t need any scriptures. Just chat. Tell Him what is wrong.
God doesn’t want you in church… He wants you in heaven. But the church is such a valuable tool, we often get the message lines crossed. I don’t want to see you in church because there are some bad churches out there. I want to see you accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior!!!!! And that… will put you in search of a good church, serving Him. God bless!