Tag Archives: relationship with Christ

What you miss by being a Christian

Today as I was walking into the grocery store an older gentleman, with kind eyes, handed me a pamphlet. The front of it said in big bold letters: “What you miss by being a Christian”. As a chronic people-pleaser I have a hard time saying no to people handing out fliers, samples, or anything else that’s given freely and with a smile. So I stuck the pamphlet in my purse and later, when I got back to my office, I pulled it out to throw away. But curiosity got the best of me and I opened it up to see what it said.

In big bold letters it read HELL! (complete with exclamation point). And then it proceeded to list a number of Bible verses that describe hell.

Um, OK. That will get a person’s attention. Although, probably not in the way this gentleman was hoping.

Yes, of course as a Christian I believe the only way to eternal salvation is through Jesus Christ. And yes, I believe in hell, and based on the descriptions I’ve read in scripture, it does not sound like a fun place to spend eternity. But, is that the best message to send non-believers? Is a message meant to motivate with fear and threats really the best way to draw people to Jesus? Forgive me, but if I was a non-believer, I don’t think that’s the message that would do it for me.

I don’t mean to dismiss the truth behind scripture, or make light of it, but I do think there is more to the complete picture of Christianity that needs to be shared with non-believers, and would probably better serve to pique their interest.

So, I decided to come up with my own list of 4 things I miss out on by being a Christian.

  1. Condemnation – Romans 8:1-2 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

    I don’t know about you, but there is plenty in this world already telling me I am not enough — I’m not smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, pretty enough, etc. As a believer, though, I know those are lies from the enemy. I am not enough on my own, but through Jesus Christ I am freed of all my short-comings and sin, and that means no guilt for all the ways I fall-short, no shame for my past mistakes, and no condemnation for the mistakes I have yet to make.

     

  2. Being unloved – “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

    As the Beatles said, “all you need is love.” But so often we believe that love needs to come from a spouse, a friend, a parent, or a child. When we don’t feel like we are loved the way we want, or don’t have those relationships, it can make us feel completely unloveable, or even unworthy of love. But scripture says that I am loved, and you are loved, by our heavenly Father. And he has proven His love to us in the most spectacular way, by giving up His own son in order to save us, to spend eternity with us. Once you know and accept that truth, it’s hard to ever feel unloved again.

     

  3. Fear – Being unloved leads to number three, fear. In 1 John it goes on to say that “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them…Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:15, 18)

    Fear comes in many forms. It can be a fear of punishment, as John mentions in this scripture, it can be a fear of failure, a fear of death, a fear of loneliness, fear for our children’s future, etc. But whatever the source of our fear, it can always, always be declared a lie. Because God’s love has no room for fear. To know Him and accept His love is to accept that we need not be afraid of punishment, failure, death, loneliness, the future, or anything else! His love protects, it has our very best interests, and it will never leave us.

  4. Having to do it all on my own (aka self-reliance) – For me this one goes a little bit with condemnation because when I fall into the trap of thinking I have to “do it all” alone, the guilt and condemnation are usually quick to follow when I inevitably realize I cannot do it all. But this is also about casting aside the loneliness that comes with thinking “it’s all up to me”. Anyone who has ever felt like success or failure was riding on their shoulders knows it’s a lonely place to be. Whether you’re a single mom, the CEO of a company, or just an introverted overachiever (raises hand), it can be easy to feel all the weight and pressure of being “the one” responsible for it all. But God says: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness in an uninhabited salty land. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat  or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

    We have a choice — try and do it on our own and feel like dried up shrubs in the desert, or rely on God and be perpetually replenished, strengthened, and productive. When we become Christians and learn that we are never alone, and do not have to rely solely on our own strength and abilities, then the pressure and loneliness no longer have a place in our lives.

These are four things that I no longer have room for in my life because I know God and have a relationship with Jesus. And I can tell you that I don’t miss them one bit.

Featured photo by Robert Koorenny on Unsplash

Be still and let go of these things

This past Sunday my morning started like many Sunday mornings do for me. The alarm went off and I hit snooze because I was exhausted from the previous day’s activities. After sleeping a good 30 minutes later than I should have, I finally woke up and went to check on the kids. They were leaving right after church to spend a few days with my mom, so they had been given explicit instructions the night before that upon waking they were to start packing for their trip and once that was completed to start cleaning their rooms. Of course, none of this had happened. I was bombarded by whines and complaints the moment I opened my bedroom door. My eldest was completely outraged that her brother had just woken her up by bursting in her room and yelling “time to get up and pack!” My son  was running around in circles yelling “I have no clean clothes!” And my youngest daughter who, to her credit, had at least attempted to pack, showed me her packed bag which consisted of 5 shirts, one pair of leggings and a dirty pair of shorts. We had 50 minutes until we had to leave for church.

snooze button
Image source: Shenandoah Country Q102

In fairness to my kids, they had all gotten to bed late the night before because we’d been helping the school they attend pack and move equipment and only finished about 9:30 p.m. with the last load. And because I had spent my entire Saturday helping to move the school and running my kids to a birthday party, I had neglected to do any laundry. But at this point, all I could think was how I needed to be at church early today because it was my job to set-up for communion and if everyone didn’t hurry up and get their act in gear I would never get three kids dressed, fed, packed, and teeth brushed, let alone shower and dress myself in 50, no wait only 45 minutes now! I should mention at this point that my husband had already left for church because he’s in the praise band and has to be there 2-hours before service, so I was on my own with this one. The next hour was a blur of over-cooked frozen waffles, yelling “did you brush your teeth” 500 times, putting hair into ponytails, time-0uts, and pulling clothes out of the hamper that looked “clean enough” to be sent with them to Nana’s house (every mom out there knows, if it passes the sniff test and has no visible stains, it’s perfectly acceptable to dress your kids in dirty clothes).

We loaded into the car 10 minutes later than I wanted to and I felt every bit of tension and frustration that had built up that morning. I started to list in my head all the reasons I was stretched too thin and something had to give. I started to resent the school and my church for the time they were taking (for things I volunteered to do, mind you) and for turning me into crazy, grumpy mom. By the time we pulled into the parking lot I had reached the point where one side-ways glance from someone would have sent me into a full-blown emotional meltdown. Thank God I go to church with the most amazing people and when I walked in I was greeted only with smiles and hellos. No one commented on my being late, and in fact, as if they could sense my stress, two other friends said they’d been having a difficult morning.

Lake Holiday
The lake in our community where we live and worship.

Those of us on the worship team typically gather to go through the service plan and pray about 30 minutes before service starts. Usually we meet in a small boardroom, but this day our Pastor had us follow him outside. I live in a community that has a 240 acre lake nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and we are blessed to be able to hold church service in the community club house which is situated right on the lake. So we walked down to the fishing pier and our Pastor told us he had called us outside so we could take a few moments to just be at peace and let go of whatever we were carrying that morning and have a moment with God. I stared into the clear ripples of the lake and felt the frustration of the morning come flooding back. My eyes welled-up as I was hit with guilty feelings. Guilt for having yelled at my kids, guilt for hitting the snooze button when I knew better, and guilt for feeling resentful of my commitments to serve the school and church when I knew I had asked to do those things. As the hot tears slid down my cheeks I heard God gently say to me “be still.” Two little words, but they washed over me completely. Then I heard it again “be still, my child. Let go of these things and just be in My presence.” I felt such an immediate rush of relief and release at that moment, and I almost laughed out loud because it was such a simple statement, but just the exact thing I needed to hear.

I realized how bringing all of my negative “stuff” in the door was a distraction and could have kept me from fully receiving the day’s message and feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. And I wondered, how many Sunday mornings have I entered the doors like this? (too many) And how often was the enemy using these every-day stresses to get in the way and prevent me from just being still and being with God? (more than I realize, I’m sure)

That night I happened to see a blog post from Christian author Jon Acuff that humorously addressed the fact that right before church was the moment of the week he and his wife were most likely to get into a fight. As I read his blog post and then read through the comments I realized that I’m in good company and Sunday morning conflict and stress is a pretty common occurrence. Well, duh! Of course the enemy is going to try and get in our way and do whatever he can to muddle our hearts, cloud our perspective, and maybe even prevent us from going to worship.

Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But, as my Pastor reminded us during the sermon that day, God has already given us all the tools we need to fight and defeat the enemy; and I believe forewarned is forearmed. There are things we can do to impede spiritual warfare, or at least lessen the impact. For me, I know my number one issue is time. By cutting my time too short I’m giving the enemy more ammunition to use against me. I realize I must start getting up earlier on Sundays so I can ease into the day and allow time for all of the things that might go wrong. Then, maybe, just maybe I can walk through those doors and leave it all behind. I can come in and “be still” and be truly present.

What about you? Do you find yourself consistently stressed, frustrated, angry or in conflict on Sunday mornings? What is one area you can change and give the enemy less ammunition? I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Children and worship: how do we create life-long church-goers?

I recently joined in on a debate on Facebook  that was discussing the value of having children attend worship service with their parents instead of offering a separate service or Sunday school for kids during the same time. While, as a general rule, I try not to engage in debates of any kind on Facebook, in fairness it started more as just me commenting on a friend’s status about the topic and then seemed to snowball from there. I didn’t realize until reading through the responses on Facebook that this is a sensitive topic that is dividing congregations. It surprised me because it seems to me it should really be a choice made by the parents, based on what’s best for them and their children at the time.

Since having our first child 11 years ago, my husband and I have attended churches that offered a “children’s church” or Sunday School during the main worship service, churches that only offered a nursery, and even one church that had children’s church only for pre-schoolers, so I think we’ve had a good sampling of the different methods and we know what works for us and what we want for our children (more on that later).

praying childWhen I was engaged in this “friendly” Facebook debate, one of the points I made was that I wanted church to be a place where my children wanted to be, not something they had to do every Sunday. The response I received from a well-respected Pastor friend of mine was that “have-to” isn’t such a bad thing. As he put it: “Have to do is not as evil as it’s cracked up to be in modern parenting circles. You have to stay out of the road as a toddler playing with your blocks. You have to practice the piano if you want to take lessons. You have to eat food that’s good for you, you have to get that cavity filled, you have to learn to share, and on and on. Kids catch on really quickly that they ‘have to’ do the things that their parents value, and isn’t parenting our shot passing on what we value most?” Fair point here. Sometimes as parents we make our kids do things because we know it’s what’s best for them. Certainly if you are raising your children to be Christian this should include regular times of worship. But if it’s our job as parents to make sure that our children are experiencing worship and time with God’s word, what is our role as church leaders?

Recent studies tell us that one in three young adults are unaffiliated with a church. This doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God, just that they’re not real interested in attending church.  According to Focus on the Family, 22 million Americans say they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church. There have been numerous studies and reports on why people are leaving the church or aren’t interested in attending in the first place and most of them report reasons along the lines of : church goers are judgmental and hypocritical, churches rebuke anything secular, Christianity is too closely linked to certain politics, etc., etc.

Whether these opinions have been formed by personal experience or by reputation…either way the church has a big problem on its hands. The reality is churches are not immune to sin. Some churches (regardless of denomination) have judgmental people sitting in the pews; they have ministers in the pulpits who are leading double lives; they have fundamentalists that will tell you your music is evil, or your politics are sinful. These things happen and they happen because churches are made up of and led by people. Loving, well-intentioned, flawed, sin-filled people! So how do we keep today’s youth from becoming part of that number in a few years? I believe it comes back to a personal relationship with Christ.

I have attended churches with the aforementioned problems and left churches with lesser problems. I have seen politics and back-stabbing, extra-marital affairs between church leaders, and mismanagement of church funds. So what keeps me from losing faith in church all together? What makes me seek out a new church when I see too much sin infiltrate a place that has been an extension of my home and family? What is keeping me from becoming a part of that 22 million Americans? My relationship with Christ.

I was very fortunate that in my high school and college days I developed a very personal relationship with Christ. This relationship developed through Bible studies, service and missions work, friendships with other Christians, and some amazing worship experiences. Like any relationship, my journey with Christ has seen its ups-and-downs, but throughout the last 23 years of my life it has been there, this burning desire to have a relationship with Christ, to know Him, to be closer to him. And so, I continue to attend church.

Yes, I have been angry at church, I have taken long breaks from church and I have questioned if there is such a thing as  the “perfect church” (reality-check: there isn’t!). But each time I’ve been hurt or disappointed and felt I could not continue where I was, I have laced up my shoes and started the “church shopping” experience again. Because I know that in order for me to grow closer to God and continue to be strengthened in my faith, I need church. I need people more experienced and different from me to share their thoughts and perspectives. I need to participate in live worship with singing and praise. I need to be surrounded by friends who will pray for me when I ask and even when I don’t ask, who will help keep me accountable and lift-me-up when I’m feeling down.

So, now to get to the point and come full circle. As a church leader, I believe our responsibility to children is to cultivate relationships with Christ. To teach our children what a relationship with Christ feels like — the joy, the grace, the love. To create in them a desire to be in relationship with Christ so deeply that even when (because it will happen) they are let down or disappointed by a church, they won’t give up on the church. And I believe the best way to do this is to reach the children on their level. Speak to their young, immature hearts about God’s sacrifice and Christ’s love for us in a way that they can comprehend. Create in them a desire for the Lord and to be in relationship with Him.

If your church can do this during a single service, that’s awesome! I personally don’t think that my young children will get the same out of the sermon that is shared during the main service as they will out of the children’s service our church offers. However, when one of my kids asks if they can sit with us for a change, I usually say yes. I want them to try different ways to hear God’s voice and experience the Holy Spirit. But most of all, I want them to love the Lord with all of their heart and I want them to want to be at church because of this love.

So while I agree that “have to” is an important element of parenting, and I may find myself telling my kids they “have to” attend church at some point, I know that one day they will be out of my care and will have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to go to church. It is my prayer that the choice will be easy.

(And should that Pastor friend of mine happen to read this little blog post, I want him to know that while I might not entirely agree with, I completely respect his thoughts and experience on this topic, both as a pastor and a father.)