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Posts Tagged ‘friends’

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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For a week or so some of the people I really enjoy reading and listening to entered into a conflict with one another.  I spent time confused, and also contacted both parties.  They are both busy people with busy online lives as well as having full time offline lives.  Both have been strong in discernment ministries.  I am not as confused, and have decided that there may possibly be error on the part of both individuals.  I refuse to “take sides” but instead am observing and figuring out what is going on.  I am not wise, and am not perfect.  I am sinful, a worm, a needy sinful worm.  I am just a regular mom and Christian out here.  My time is precious to me, and spending time reading and listening to radio shows to benefit my education on biblical issues and discernment is getting mucked up with this thing.  But that doesn’t matter, I can and should always look to Christ first, not to men and women.  You see, whatever wrong that is happening I can commit, I can easily do myself.  Even if there is not a sin involved, any thing I perceive or just imagine may be happening, I could do myself. 

It is my understanding that the parties have been in contact with one another.  It is also my understanding that there is not a resolution, it may mean one of the two is wrong, is disobedient to God in their actions.  It’s not about being loving because attempting to pull a brother or sister in Christ away from error is a deep love.  Speaking the truth is love.  I pray that even if I do not ever figure out who is right or wrong, that God will be glorified.  I will also hope that I do not sin in this situation any further than I already have in thought or deed. 

It hurts to see people who were once on the same side line up against each other.  I believe there is a good reason and God will allow the truth to prevail.  Christ will prevail.

On another note, a friend of mine has discovered she has breast cancer.  She’s young (33) and has 5 children.  She spent two nights last week talking to me…both nights were all nighters for me.  This doesn’t help me homeschool and get things done.  I don’t want to neglect my family, and yet know I needed to be there for her on the days I was able to.  She will find out more this week.  If you read this please pray for her.  She’s scared as her kids will likely end up in a public school though she has deep convictions she should homeschool.  She also has been told she’s bipolar, and has been taking medication.  She is repetative in this extreme situation, telling people the same thing over and over again.  I spent over 4 hours one night listening to her repeat the same story over and over again…maybe 2-3 times an hour.  She is not handling things in a way others can understand.  It’s hard to know what to do for her.  I pray, I listen, that is all I can do right now.

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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 visited a family for a New Year’s party, and saw many people from our former church. The friends still attend, and know our stance, and don’t agree with us but want to remain friends. They have chosen NOT to cut us out and in fact have gone a long way to keep us in their lives. They run a float trip/camp in the summer and we have helped with this camp. Our kids are friends also. Of course, because they attend our former chruch the house was full of people from our former church. When the door was opened, the first people we saw were our former pastor and wife. It wasn’t the lead pastor, but it was the one who had been frequently quoting emergent and contemplatives in his sermons. They were actually on their way out as we were coming in, but I had intended to speak with them in a kind way. I am sure they would have been kind to us if given the time to do so. We also found out another couple left, we don’t know for sure why. It was awkward when I was speaking to three women, and one asked if we would come back ever. I said, “no.” I waited, and she said, “I am not going to ask why…don’t you hate it when people are always asking why you left?” I didn’t say anything as the woman beside her had left, and she was open as to why. I didn’t really pick at it at all. A the third woman said, “some people break ties with all friends from the former church and I think that is very immature, very!” I wish I could have said something, but was trying to be discreet for the moment knowing I could easily get worked into a very frustrating moment. I wanted to say, “it’s immature to break ties if it’s for spite, but sometimes the ties are broken for you.” I know that the lead pastor is not a man I would engage in conversation with more than a polite hello. He basically called us evil, and probably sees us as liars. The tie is cut because we stood up.

What would I have said to the pastor and his wife who we ran into at the party? I would have said, “we really love you and we miss you.” That’s really it.

We did enjoy seeing the music pastor and wife who just had their baby. I felt the privilage to see their newborn was a treat we may not deserve. That pastor was the one who encouraged us to tell the staff why we left, and read our letter before we submitted it. He wanted us to make sure our letter was strong on what we saw. He still remains in the church holding out hope for God to be glorified there. He has been working so hard. He made it clear he’s not seeing himself as some warrior there, so I think he goes as far as we did in terms of seeing the danger of spiritual formation. He may not yet be completely aware of the danger there. He clearly was aware though of the problem with emergent theology seeping in, and also seemed to understand the concept of man centered vs. Christ centered church. We pray for him and his family often. Hopefully, he will be able to do what is right in this situation. He sure has kept a cool head about him.

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Prayer

A friend of ours knows exactly what we are going through and how hard it has been and is for us to be transitioning out of our old church.  She sent along what she is praying about for us as well as a few scriptures…

 

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.  The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.”  Psalm 138: 7-8

 Romans 3:3:
“What if some were unfaithful?  Would their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?  By no means!  Let God be true though everyone were a liar.”

Glad to have someone praying and focusing on God’s word and not the muck.

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This comment comes up when we run into friends from church.  We’re honest, and we say we’ve left.  Usually that is followed by the awkward, “uhmmmm, can I ask why?”  I personally now have a faster answer that is not so…whispered.  I simply say, “the pastor’s sermons have gotten to the point where they are using strange new age terms.  Also, if you research what transformation, spiritual formation, and other terms they use mean you might find some things that aren’t Biblical involved.”  That says enough.  I usually get a blank stare.   One friend the other day said, “well, I’ll be listening carefully then.”  That’s the answer I hope for.  Not the “we’ll leave right away” but “I’ll pay attention.”  It’s much better not to follow someone blindly trusting, but to look and listen for yourself and see if the person is saying something correct and true.

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