Thursday, September 27, 2007

Walking through difficulty... together

I almost did not write this post. Honestly, compared to many people and the struggles that they are going through, it is hard for me to call my struggles "difficulties". But, there are difficulties in my life. Everyone goes through difficulties, trials, struggles, whatever we want to call them.

Lately, our difficulties have included spiritual struggles, health problems, financial strains, and emotional trials. We've had relationship problems without our family and with those outside our family.

Struggles are universal. Comparatively, some have more difficult lives; some have less difficult lives. But, every life comes with its share of problems. Every person suffers in some way.

There is a difference for us though: we are not suffering alone. For some reason, explainable only as the grace of God, we have been surrounded by people who have helped us walk through difficulties. Only in the last few weeks, God has used (in no particular order) Maƫl and Cindy, Dan and Kate, Stan and Renata, Theron and Cheryl, Lew, Gary, Glenn, Dusty, Rodney and Denise, Jim and Kirstie, Anthony, and many, many other people to speak words of encouragement, to lend helping hands, to ask difficult questions, to offer support, to pray, to listen, to teach.

Recently, I was talking with a good friend who spent some time in another country. This time was difficult for him and his family. But, he also recognized how God provided certain people at just the right time to help them through these struggles.

Talking to my friend reminded me of how often I take these fellow travellers for granted. We are all walking in the journey. God allows us to cross path with many people. Sometimes, we cross paths with people so that we can help them. Sometimes, we cross paths with people so that they can help us. Sometimes, we cross paths because we need one another. Whatever the reason, I never want to take for granted the children of God that he chooses to bring into my life. Many times I find that God gives me the strength to make it through trials through these fellow travellers who humbly and gently choose to walk through difficulties with us. Sometimes, it is through these fellow travellers that God demonstrates his love, mercy, grace, and justice.

I thank God for the brothers and sisters that he regularly sends to walk with us through difficulty. I thank my brothers and sisters for giving so generously of yourselves, your time, your resources, and your energy.

Perhaps you would like to thank God for some people who are walking or have walked through difficulty together with you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking for the Great Feast

Joel Spencer over at the Double Edged Sword, wrote a post called, A Great Feast. In this post he compares church as we know it to eating cold chicken nuggets. So many of us have been raised on these nuggets, we have know idea that they are really nasty. He says,

Let me sum it up like this - let’s say that you’ve spent your whole life eating cold chicken McNuggets every night. You like them, you think that they taste pretty good and everyone around you rants and raves about how great the McNuggets are. You even have meeting after meeting to listen to people talk about these great McNuggets! After all, they do give you some fuel and sustenance. But the problem is, unbeknownst to you, they’re full of preservatives and processed meat and are only making you fat and unhealthy. Then the day comes when you look outside of your window and see a great table set up in the parking lot just outside the doors. It is absolutely covered with the most amazing food that you’ve ever seen. You decide to go outside and check it out. After walking the length of the table a couple of times, someone walks up to you and says that everything on this table was prepared just for you. You’re in awe as you’ve never even known such a fantastic spread even existed. You walk up beside the table and look down onto a huge plate of home-made fried chicken that sits before you. As it’s still steaming, you reach down to grab a piece. As you begin to eat of it, your senses come alive, the smell, the taste… it’s incredible! After hours of eating to your heart’s, and stomach’s, content, you turn around and see the building that you exited from standing before you. You know full well that within its walls are nothing more than cold chicken McNuggets, likely left over from last night. You now have a choice.

One morning my wife and I were talking about his post. She told me how she has realized that she has been eating cold chicken nuggets, she believes that there is a great feast outside, she can smell it. She went outside to look and it was not there. She can still smell it, she knows it is around, she just cannot find it.

I think there are a lot of you out there that are in this same boat. There is a special feast, just for you, but you are having a little trouble figuring out exactly where it is. So what do you do? Do you head back to the cold chicken nuggets? Do you wander away from everything you know in hopes of finding the feast?

Have you found the feast? Are you looking for your feast? Have you been through this?

I would love to hear your stories. I know it would greatly encourage my wife and others on this same journey.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Outsiders

Have you ever felt like the "outsider"?

Here is a story of a couple and their recent experiences with the church.

Right now, my wife and I feel like outsiders. Some people in the group we meet with on Sunday mornings seem to treat us, especially my wife, like we don't belong. Why? Well, our best guess is that we do not meet the "good Christian" standards.

You see this really all started a few months ago when the vocational pastor came to us to say that he has been really burdened for us. At the time we had missed a few Sunday meetings. We had wonderful excuses for missing them (not that they were needed), but we were out of town, my wife was sick, we decided to rest on one Sunday, etc. I suppose he was trying to be polite, caring, even loving. Truthfully, it seemed more condemning than anything.

Since then things have been worse. My wife says she gets awkward looks. I do not tend to notice these things, but I sense that some of the "leaders" think of me as a type of nuisance. I have a tendency to understand things a little different than they do. We have not been able to attend regularly at all this summer, and that is probably a big part of it. But we have had some major family obligations that have kept us literally out of state every weekend for about a month.

We have been around for the past two weekend though. What really gets us is that they planned and held a family fun day a few miles away from us (within our subdivision) and they never called told us about it, or asked us to come. The vocational pastors wife at least told me that she told him to call us... he said that he thought we were out of town again.

Are we wrong to feel like we're being treated like outsiders?
What do you all think? Have you experienced similar things? Are you in the midst of these feelings? How are you handling it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Heart of God

Last week, three friends of mine prayed that God would provide them opportunities to serve him by serving other people. Within the week, God answered all three prayers. In each case, God answered in a way that was not orchestrated or initiated by the people involved. These examples seem to illustrate a very important concept that I find in Scripture: God cares about people. This is the heart of God.

Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets depend upon a two-fold commandment: Love God and love others. John tells us that we demonstrate that we are God's children when we practice (not confess) righteousness and love others. Paul says that the Holy Spirit produces his fruit within us, and that fruit begins with love. Love for people is the heart of God.

As we live our lives - as we attempt to follow the Spirit and live according to Christ-likeness and bring glory to God - many things and situations and circumstances cross our paths. Often, these things distract us from acting according to God's heart - that is, from responding out of love for other people.

According to Jesus, we are distracted or hindered from loving other people by sin in our own lives, which can be manifested in pride, self-centeredness, love of money, love of position, love of authority, and even tradition.

How can we ensure that we are living and making decisions in such a way that we demonstrate that people are more important to us than other things? How can we live according to the heart of God?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Journey West

Well, I want to share with everyone a little about the past month in my “Life in the Journey.” Last month, my family moved from Wake Forest to San Francisco for my husband, Ed, to begin work on his PhD. We lived in Wake Forest for three years, welcoming our first son into the family and being involved in an awesome church family.
We did have our reservations about moving away from our church family, but we had always been pretty open to change and thought it would be a fun adventure. We weighed the options of staying in Wake Forest or moving to San Francisco, and decided that we would move. I didn’t want Ed to regret not taking the chance to work on his PhD with a professor he really loved. Plus, if Ed wanted to pursue a career in teaching, he would need to get the degree.
It has been a month now since we moved, and we feel more homesick now than ever before. We are feeling very alone and isolated. There are other couples here on the campus, and we have gotten together with them. I’ve made a few friends. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I am so sad. We are both feeling it, and we talk daily about what we should do now that we are here and wishing we were back home.
I asked Ed if he thought we made a mistake in coming out here. We both agreed that it was the right thing to do. God had opened the doors for us to be out here, with Ed studying under the professor he really wanted. No, we don’t feel like we made a mistake in coming here. But should we stay? We don’t know.
As I pray about this, I’m reminded that I need to be asking, “What’s God teaching me in this?” I don’t want to miss out on how the Lord is leading me through this. The problem is, I don’t think we’ve figured it all out quite yet. Ed and I agreed that we have learned that our focus and our hearts’ desire is to be molded by Christ. We have felt a lot less emphasis on “what we’re going to do in life” and a lot greater desire to be the man/woman, father/mother, husband/wife that God desires us to be. And we’ve learned just how important family is to us. We miss our church family like crazy. And we miss my family as well.
I’m not sure what the future holds for us. And I guess we are learning that we have to continue to trust in the Lord for that. We are scared to “give up” and go home. Ed doesn’t want to feel like a failure, and I don’t want to let him down. But I know in my head that we shouldn’t be afraid of what people will think about us. God reminds me of the Scripture to “fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith.”
I don’t have any great conclusions, because I don’t feel like I’m at a point of conclusion in any of this. We’re definitely a work in progress. But I want to be transparent in what God is doing in our lives. We’ll keep you posted…

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Homosexuals and the Church

Many of you may have heard of High Point Church in Texas. They have made some headlines, because they refused to allow a homosexual's memorial service in their church. The American Family Association has linked to an article called, Texas church refuses to host memorial service that would have glorified homosexuality. Here is a link to the High Point Church statement regarding this issue, High Point Church Could Not Allow an Openly Homosexual Service in the Church.

A member of this group had an ill brother. When he passed away the Church offered the use of their building for a memorial service. They were in the process of putting together a video of the mans life when someone noticed some openly homosexual pictures. After alerting the pastor, they decided that they need to withdraw their initial offer. They could not allow them to use their facilities for a homosexual memorial service.

The statement reads, "The issue was not whether we would hold a memorial service for someone in a lifestyle of sin. We have assisted many families in this regard. The issue was whether we would allow an openly homosexual service that celebrated and emphasized homosexuality in our church. . . . We will not allow homosexuality to be glorified in this house of worship whether it is in a memorial or in a wedding."

But they did not leave the family high and dry, the statement continues, "To assist the family in securing another location, an alternative venue was paid for - which the family declined. We produced for the family the memorial video they requested without the inappropriate photos. We also prepared and delivered food for the family and one hundred relatives and friends."

After reading these articles I sense that the major issue was the building, not the man who had died. They could not allow a man who lived in open sin, and a service that promoted that sin, to exist inside of their "house of worship." They felt that this act would show that they condone homosexuality. Yet, they had no problem offering to pay for the use of another building for this man's memorial service.

Now, I believe that homosexuality is a sin but is it possible for an open homosexual to be a Christian?

Do you think they made wise decision by withdrawing their offer?
Do you think they made a wise decision by offering to pay for another building?

What do you think Jesus would have done in this situation?

Personally, I do not think Jesus would have owned a building, but he probably would have gone to the memorial service to teach, disciple, discipline, and heal.

Have we put the institution, the building, above the people?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Would you trade your life for someone else's life?

For those who have not heard, on Sunday, August 12, 2007, a gunman entered a church building, killed three people, wounded five others, and held several hostage until he finally surrendered to police. This is one account of what happened during the incident:

Witnesses told police that Saimon held a gun to one man's head and asked if anyone in the church was willing to trade their life for the man's, an investigator said. After no one stepped forward, the gunman shot the hostage, he said.
Now, this is a witness' report to police. Is this the way it happened? We don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. But, these two sentences have caused me to stop and consider a very important question: Would I trade my life for someone else's life?

As I talked about this with my family, we all agreed that there were some people that we would give our life in order to save. Of course, it is easy to say this when we are not staring down the barrel of an automatic handgun. I think Margaret's (my wife's) response was the best - and I have to admit that I did not think of it first. She said, "I especially hope that I would be willing to give my life for someone who is not saved."

But, what about you? Would you be willing to give your life in exchange for someone else's life? Is there someone - are there some people - who you would not sacrifice yourself to save?

If we are not willing to give our lives from someone (anyone), what does this say about our understanding of death, life, and love?