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Posts Tagged ‘family’

We have been attending our church now for well over two years.  We’ve been members for almost a year (I think, I’m terrible with dates etc, I remember how long we’ve attended because we started in January two years ago).    I enjoy the sermon, and the brief talks we have with people.  We do have some people we are getting closer too.  But, there is no excitement when getting ready to go to church.  It’s not that we ever regret going, we just don’t look forward to it here, unless we’re talking kids, they love it.

We still feel distant.  The sermons are solid, even it seems with the associate pastor.  He gave a sermon on “the law” yesterday, and it was one of the best I’ve heard him give.  Not an easy topic, and yet he hit it.   We are in this church because the preaching is solid.  We are in this church because it has no agenda in terms of promoting men’s books or pastors, it is not even about the lead pastor.  What I see in this church is strong teaching directly from the bible.  I see people who live their lives according to the bible as far as I can tell.

So, why the distant feelings?  I believe there are two definite and obvious possible reasons.  One is that it’s us, the other is that it’s the church.

I think we have been distant ourselves for self preservation.  We came out of a church with problems, serious problems.  I now think our former pastor was a bit of a bully.  I did not like the church being led by Warren, Hybels, and others.  The small groups were less about good true teaching from God’s word that any young church member could run a small group with just a meeting place and a DVD player.  Seriously.     We did learn there, there was some good teaching.  However, there was enough of the bad we had to get out.    But before we really opened our eyes to the problems, I need to say that we looked forward to Sunday.  We were going to church.  There were friends there.  I can think of some specific people, some awesome and wonderful Christian friends (some of whom are no longer there for various reasons, most left because they saw issues too).  We had fun there, we had fellowship there.  Despite all the problems, the goal for many of the people we were in fellowship with was to live the Christian life and was to honor God.  It’s just that the leadership derailed some of that, pushing people into manditory studies of Warren books, or preaching from simple formulas.  Not all messages were bad.   What really drew us back again and again?  The people.  We also enjoyed the music most of the time, and the pastor who lead music always read directly from scripture and included it in his worship sets.

We were also immature and not seriously paying attention, we were responsible for being in a place with bad teaching (again, not most of the time…it was good sometimes).  We didn’t really examine the Purpose Driven Life the first time around.  I understand that people were fighting in small groups over that book.  We were just immature, laughing at Rick Warren’s shirts and generally doing just enough to get by, we were in it.  This makes it hard for us to trust ourselves now, we know we bought it or ignored it ourselves.  We were not really in the bible in our own free time enough, we had a weak personal life with God.   We relied on church time and small group a lot for our own personal study of God’s word.   So, our own faults kept us blind.  Our own ignorance and laziness kept us quiet.

We also enjoyed all the extra stuff our church had for our kids.  There were carnival like events, soccer camps, VBS events that were more like summer camp than VBS.  There were concerts and more.  Most was free for our family.  Even without money, we could get.   Thinking back, that’s part of it.  We had some time when my husband lost his job, and really, financially, we struggled for years after due to his gaining a job with much less pay as we had bought our house when he was employed at a higher salary.  We kept having kids, and sometimes we couldn’t pay our bills.  Our car died, the church gave us an old but working car.  Our furnace died in the middle of the winter, we were struggling to buy groceries, the church paid the bill for the repair.  We were taken care of.  Our kids were taken care of, and were kept busy and entertained.  Our family was given fun in a time when we couldn’t afford it ourselves.  Our family was strong, and we had great friends too.  Our social standing as “poor” in the church didn’t mean anything except we were a couple who could be served.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just take, we did give as Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, and helpers in various capacities.  We tried to be there for the church, and even began to lead a small group with DVD’s and books for a while ourselves.

So now, we’re members in this new church and we’ve avoided mooching.  This is a good thing, but it means we don’t feel the gratitude for all the help.  It means we’re not depending like we did in our former church.  We also avoid small groups because of schedule conflicts, but I also believe because of fear.  That kind of commitment, meeting together, is a risk.  What if small group is the same?  Sure, we might make some great friends.  We did in the former church, and I believe we did meet with brothers and sisters in Christ.  But what if we find bad teaching?  We’ve made a commitment in membership, and I refuse to just leave without a very good reason.  If there is error, we’d have to learn how to properly address it (not sure we properly handled the former church, though we think we did in some ways….).  It’s a risk to get close, to open up.  Not taking the risk though, it means we haven’t spent time with the members to really get to know them.  In fact, our church offers Sunday night activities.  We don’t attend.  We also don’t go to the Wednesday night things because our kids are in activities.   We miss out, and I think has made it harder to get to know people.

Yes, it’s possible it’s our fault, very possible.  What if it’s the church though?  They do reach out and offer all these activities.  They introduce themselves to new people.  They speak to us.  We’ve gone to some church wide events, but we still feel like strangers there.   We have not been invited to people’s houses for dinner, or even out to dinner.  I attended a women’s retreat, and it was okay.  I had my little one with me and she my priority.   One woman was exceptional in her contact, but we don’t really intentionally call one another or anything regularly, we’re just friendly at church.  We do have a few families we knew before we went to this church that we have deeper relationships with, but not the people who were there before we got there.

Some of it might be that the church building itself is basically a big sanctuary with a hallway and entry lobbies on two sides.  There are small classrooms, and is no  real formal meeting area besides.  There is not space to stand around and talk really, it’s clogged in transition time in and out of the church.  There’s no place to really sit and enjoy.   There’s no big kitchen (I think there might be a very small stove there), so meals are all pot luck and it’s mostly picnics.  There’s not a real “fellowship room.” The teen  Sunday school  room is used for this, but it seems there’s not really a place in the church to get together other than the sanctuary (which is more like a gym with a stage than an actual church sanctuary…chairs come up and it’s a basketball court).   People do chat there, but it’s not easy to just sit somewhere and really seriously talk.

So, our issue is trying to figure out what involvement we need to do in order to be connected to the people.  Likely, we need to find ways to be more involved.  We also need to be willing to serve.  I am helping with VBS this summer, that will at least put me with other women who are helping.  We really need connection to other families too, people who feel safe with a large family.  I know some of it is that my home is not really a hospitality haven, because we could be very active in inviting others over for dinner, which would be less intimidating than having people invite our large brood over.   Some changes can be made that are practical.  But if we make the effort and still feel distant, what then?  Good preaching, no fellowship in our hearts?  I still feel we’ve made a commitment…

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The best way to prepare and protect my children from wolves in the church is to do what I need to anyway.  I should be helping them seek Christ.  I should be giving them and understanding and respect for God’s word.  So, what can I do?  No matter what church I attend, or how great the teaching is for children, my husband and I can teach them at home.   It is actually required of us as parents to train them up in the way they should go.

For us, though we’ve been less than consistent, it means reading scripture to them and discussing it or explaining it as we go along.  It means praying with them daily.  It means setting up times in their day to study the bible on their own.  It means using teachable moments to turn their focus on Christ and what is acceptable behavior.  It means asking forgiveness when we’ve wronged them, and modeling grace to them.  It means disciplining but also giving mercy when they really deserve the heat at times.  It means being the kind of parents God wants us to be. 

If there is false teaching in the church, a good sign you’re doing what you are supposed to with your children would be them telling you before you get to point it out to them.  That didn’t happen in our case, but once we did begin to ask what was going on that they were uncomfortable with in church, they were able to give very amazing answers.  They mentioned the use of entertainment rather than teaching, the lack of depth when the bible story time was given, the behavior of preacher’s kids (funny, this one is a long time issue anyway), the mention of things irregular in prayer etc.  Once we started attending a church with expository teaching, our kids were able to say they actually learned more in the last 9 months there than they had at the other church for seven years.  They could point to the hymns, scripture reading in Sunday school, and the inclusion of children in the regular service as examples of why they knew more.  They also stated that sermons in the former church provided memories of the illustrations, jokes, and stories, but they couldn’t seem to remember the biblical messages.  For example, a pastor spoke about transformation in the “Red Zone.”  He did quote scripture, but what my kids recall was that he spoke of touchdowns in the end zone.  This is years later.  They cannot recall anything biblical about that.  Now they know they are reading in John and can recall the events recorded and the reasons they are important.  Big change. 

Best way to protect my children, teach them the bible.  Plain and simple.

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I remember all the altar calls in the Nazarene church when I was young and living with an aunt and uncle.  They’d have a message, they’d have the songs over and over again, people would go up to the altar as the pastor said, “just one more moment, Jesus is waiting…”  I went up many times.  I recall one time as my conversion moment.  I really do believe I did trust Christ and was saved, though I will say I’m not sure it was a moment in time so much as something the Holy Spirit did in me.  I was already a kid who believed in Jesus and had some understanding of Him and what He did as well as in my sin and how much I needed Him as my Savior.  I did pray often, did think of Christ being with me all the time.  I had a child’s understanding, and I must say my faith was strong.  I needed my faith to be this way when I was a child, I had it hard (I know many of us do…and many have it harder than I ever did).  I was shuffled from family to family, house to house.  I was abused by my aunt and uncle, and yes, wire hangers do hurt and leave welts.   Still, I believed and prayed to Jesus daily,  was convicted of my sins and frequently prayed for forgiveness.  I was pretty humble as a child as I think back.  Through moves into different households, through step parents and divorce, through it all, I knew I was saved.  So, how to share this with others?  I did get some opportunity to tell others about Christ as a teenager.  I recall speaking with a girl who was very depressed, I went with her to lunch instead of church actually.  I had been going to church in my small town and they had small bible study groups in homes before service.  She was there and had expressed some scary statements, cannot remember exactly what.  I spoke with her and prayed, I think.  I don’t know if she ever expressed faith in God, but I feel I did the right thing that day. 

In college, I was in Navigators.  I learned the bridge illustration.  Basically, you draw two sides of a canyon with a wide seperation.  Man is on one side, and God on the other (represented by the words “man” and “God.”  We were taught to use verses like, “the wages of sin is death” and those which show the seperation from God.  Then, you draw the cross as a bridge.  There are verses like John 3:16 and others showing that you must believe and receive (the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord).  You can ask the person where they are on this bridge…are they far, far away on their side of the canyone?  Have they taken any steps to being close to the bride?  Do they believe but maybe haven’t received?  Somewhere in there is an opportunity to pray, and ask forgiveness for sins. 

I tried this immediately my freshman year on a friend of mine from high school that was visiting.  I told her about heaven and hell, we talked about her place on the bridge.  I ended up scaring her to death, she thought I was in a cult, and she NEVER came back to visit me.  It wasn’t that I told her some deep truth, I gave her the fly by gospel really.  Then I pressured her. 

I don’t know how to evangelize properly, really.  My best experiences have been in just being friends with people, and writing online.  People have read my journal elsewhere and some argue and are offended, others are inspired.  I’ve had some “try” Christianity.  I have presented my life and often have written songs and scriptures I like.  I have shared experiences in miscarriage, job loss, friendship issues (without names) and church issues.  I have wrestled with topics of faith.  All of this just dumped in my online journal.  My joys with my kids, my struggles as a mom.  I try to encourage friends and other Christians in their walk.  I try to serve when I see a need.  I try to be a friend, to be a decent neighbor, and to live my life well hopefully in God’s sight though I know I fail.  I have given to missions when I felt I could. I have talked to agnostic/nominal church goers in my family about my faith, and I have taught my children as best I know how.  I know it’s likely I have still failed to do all I need to, all that I should to show I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  I learned bad methods to begin with, and find that some of evangelism is about how you live, some is about just being faithful to the God I love and serve, and some is about serving others with out complaint.  Much is about teaching my children well, and being ready when people ask questions or get into conversations about faith.  It’s also about being willing to make the most of the opportunities God gives.  I think it’s important to share your life with others so they can see God working in you, and it’s also important to know God’s word in scripture when talking or writing to others so His gospel can be presented accurately. 

Beyond this, I do not know anything more for me to do.  Maybe God will convict me otherwise, but for now, this is all I know.

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We have realized many people in the church we now attend used to go to our former church.  One such family attended when some of my little ones were in Awana at the former church.  L was the Cubbies game time leader, and he always made it fun for my children.  J was the song leader (I don’t remember if she was in Cubbies, but she did it with older kids).  J also helped with children’s choirs and likely in other areas.  Both are serious about their faith in Christ and about raising their children in a Christian environment.  They left a few years ago.  I have since learned some of the issues for them involved their children.  They wanted a sound Biblical foundation and it just wasn’t quite there at the former church.  You have to actually go to a church with a good Biblical teaching sometimes to see the difference, and they say they have.  J is not only a servant to children in the church, she also is a public school teacher.  The children adore her, she’s a wonderful teacher.  

 J has leukemia.  It’s been a battle, and L says J hasn’t been able to attend church since Mother’s Day last year.  She’s had ups and downs, and the doctors have fought for her.  The family has gone out of it’s way to also not expose her to germs, sometimes not visiting her for fear of making her ill.  They have taken every precaution possible.  Now J is loosing her battle and has been given a few weeks to a few months to live.  Her body is fighting with host cells, and it’s caused damage to her bowels.  They stopped treatment, and of course the cancer cells are showing in tests.  The doctors are now at “we cannot do anything but keep her comfortable.”

The family has been visiting J and spending all the time with her they can.  So far she is actually feeling a bit better given that treatments have stopped, but this will not be for long and better is relative to how terrible she felt before.  The prayer L passed on is for the girls, that they will not weaken in their faith in the Lord because of this.  I have no doubt actually that they will be okay, but it’s his prayer.  I also pray for the family that they will have great times in the last weeks ahead.  If God would provide a miracle, wonderful!  We can pray for that.  However, if He decides to go ahead and allow J to die, I pray for her family and their adjustment to seperation from such a great mother and Christian woman.

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http://downloads1.revivalgodsway.com/15/SID15607.mp3

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We are seeing signs of stress in our home.  My oldest is not doing well in school.  There’s a lot more whining from the younger ones, a lot of comments about missing friends.  Changing churches is a pain, but better this than what we saw coming…

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