Thursday, December 31, 2009

Birds of a Feather on the Solid Rock

You've probably heard people over the years say, "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian. I can worship just as well in the privacy of my own home.  I don't need to get together with other people to follow Jesus."

I know I've heard it too many times, and although it may ring true on the surface, the sentiment is what spurs the saying, "People who study the Bible alone get strange ideas," but that's another blog for another day. 

I know I used to wonder, why is it so important to "meet together" as the author of Hebrews says? What is it about "meeting together" that is important to my faith and my Christian walk?  Would it be because we need the encouragement and support of our brothers and sisters in the faith?

Obviously, that is the case.  Hebrews 10 says; 

"Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near."

I bought a CD yesterday, Natalie Grant's Relentless.  The CD is a year old, so I'm not exactly on the cutting edge of new-music releases.  Nonetheless, the first track is a song called "I Will Not Be Moved", a heady rock anthem full of wailing guitars and driving rhythms, and a full-throttle vocal performance by Natalie. 

My kind of song. 

Rock anthem aside, what I found when I listened to this song was... it was very encouraging.  I mean, its one of those songs that inspire you, and make you feel like.... yeah, I can do this! I can stand strong, just like the song says:  

I will stumble, I will fall down
But I will not be moved!
I will make mistakes, I will face heartache,
But I will not be moved!

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,

I will not be moved! 

Yeah, I will not be moved.  

Listening to this song, I feel inspired to stand by my faith, my convictions, and my decision, come Hell or High Water, ya know?  Songs like this are encouraging!  I can see why so many Christian concerts result in people deciding to follow Jesus, because they are inspiring!

Which brings me back to the point about meeting together.  God knows us, the fleshlings that we are, very well. He made the design, after all. 

God put us together the way we are, to behave the way we do, based on certain inputs and stimulus.  Psychology, although a somewhat inexact science as yet, depends on the fact that human responses, when taken across a spectrum, are remarkably similar when given similar stimulus and input.  We act certain ways because we're made to.  

So, that being the case, I can see why hangin' with people of similar thoughts and ideas is important.  It reinforces our convictions, gives us courage and strength to draw from, support to depend on, and safety in numbers.  

After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, didn't he? 

Batman had Robin. 

Spiderman had Mary Jane. 

Ok, Superman was kind of a loner, but even he needed Lois Lane. 

So, anyway, back to the song.  Each time I listen to this song, I'm lifted.  I'm encouraged.  I find myself a little bit more "God focused" (see my blog from yesterday).  I find my spirit being a little bit more joyous.  

I find the same phenomenon when I attend church on Sunday morning and sing our worship songs, and listen to pastor preach from the Bible: I'm encouraged, and inspired, and lifted. 

It's no different from athletes on a sports team: they encourage and inspire each other. 

The personal trainer spurs his clients on, encouraging them not to give up. 

The support group gives help and encouragement to those who suffer. 

The church supports and loves each other, encouraging each other to stay the course and be strong in our faith.  

In each of these examples, and I'm certain you can think of others, we "think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds."

If you're a Christian and you don't like going to church, I can understand that.  Maybe you've been to a church that just isn't your style and, lets be honest here, it was boring and dull to you.  Maybe there was no group that fit your age or status in life.  Maybe the preacher wasn't making sense to you, or whatever the reasons, you just didn't like it.

That's cool.  No one church fits all.  

I've been fortunate to find a church family that I enjoy.  I encourage you, if you are "church homeless",  find one that fits you.  

Christianity is not a walk to be walked alone.  Jesus sent the disciples on their first missionary trip in two's, so that they could encourage each other and hold each other accountable.  You can't walk the walk alone and expect to be helped out when you fall into a hole.  You need companions on your journey who will look out for you, and whom you can look out for.  

As the New Year comes around, and 2010 lands on it's feet in front of us, I encourage each of you/me/us to engage/re-engage/re-connect with the Christian family around you.  Look for ways to encourage each other, be it actively suggesting things to do, or simply a kind word now and then.  Listen to the Holy Spirit and let Him inspire you. 

Be filled with joy!

And above all, resolve to Not Be Moved.  

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,

I will not be moved! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In God We Live and Move.... Just Be Careful Around the Diapers

Back when I was facilitating Sunday school class, I subscribed to an e-mail list authored by a James Jackson. The e-mails topics are in conjunction with our Sunday morning curriculum, and are intended to help facilitators and teachers think about and keep a focus on the upcoming lesson. 

I still get the e-mails, and although I don't give them quite the thought I used to, an e-mail today really caught my attention. The author put into words something I've felt for a long time, so I thought I'd share a little of his thoughts, and see if they resonate with you, too.

The focus verses were Ecclesiastes 1:8-11, talking about how there really isn't anything new under the sun.

"Everything is so weary and tiresome! No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

"History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. 

"What can you point to that is new? How do you know it didn't already exist long ago? We don't remember what happened in those former times. And in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now."

The author then went on to compare the endless cycle of history repeating itself to the cycle of dirty diapers.

Yup. Dirty diapers.

And I thought... cool.

"You know how it goes," says Jackson.  "It's and endless cycle of messes - both 'wets' and 'stinkies' - and they have to be changed.  And as soon as you change one, there's the inevitable prospect of changing another one. So the cycle goes. But here's an amazing truth - you can find God in the dirty diapers."

As I read this, I started to get excited.  I was thinking "this guy gets it". One of the biggest concepts my dad has tried to teach me is that God is "in" life all the time, everywhere.  Each moment, each day, every place and every time, God is there.  The BIG truth is God CAN'T NOT be there.  He is in all of creation, He IS all of creation, therefore He is everywhere, regardless of what we think or feel.

Jackson goes on, "Brother Lawrence, a 15th century monk, spent his days in the monastery washing pots and pans. And in the midst of doing those dishes, he began to realize that there was no such thing as a common moment."

How often do we go about our days without so much as a thought of God, of His presence, and His work.  And I'm talking to my Christian brothers and sisters on this one.  I can understand those that don't know or care about God not giving Him any thought, but those who call Him Father? Those who claim to know Him and love Him?


"If we truly believe what the Bible says," says Jackson, "that God is always with us, that the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, then it means that wherever we go God is there.  Whatever we do God is there.  No matter how routine, how ordinary, or how monotonous a task or or situation might be, it has the potential of becoming a holy moment.

"Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that certain moments are reserved for God and certain ones are not.  Every moment has the potential of being a holy moment because God is there in the ordinary.  The question is not whether He's there; the question is how cognizant we want to be of His presence."

How cool is that? God is with us every moment.  Every moment is a moment we can be aware of God's presence. 

In Acts 17, Paul talks to a group of philosophers in Athens, and after noting their idol to "the unknown god", Paul tells them of this unknown God, saying  "His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist."

What an amazing concept, to live and move and exist in God's presence, His mercy, and His grace.

I encourage you, dear reader, even when in the midst of deep despair, of draining toil and burdensome trials, as well as great joy and gladness, remember that God is there.  Each moment that we can acknowledge God's presence is a moment we can unburden ourselves just a bit and let God carry the load. 

Acknowledge God while driving down the highway.....

while watching TV......

while doing the dishes......

while working.....

while talking to our children.....

while at the coffee shop.....

while showering or bathing......

while getting a haircut.....

I think you get the point.

And I'm not talking, and I don't think Paul or the e-mail author Jackson, is talking about being constantly on our knees in prayer, praising God with every literal breath and thought, with hands raised all day in reverence.  We all have to work, eat, and do the daily things it takes to survive, so common sense rules that nonsense out.

I'm talking, and I think Paul is too, about a radical life reorientation, where we move from "making time in my life for God", to "making my life's time, the very way I live, about God". 

The more we "live and move and exist" with God, acknowledging Him in all things, the less we are focused on ourselves. We tend to look to others more, and consider their needs instead of being self-focused.  This, my friends, is the "love one another" thing Jesus was talking about.

In Matthew 22, Jesus (says), " 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment. 

"A second is equally important:  'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."

"Live and move" in Him! There is great freedom there.