Tag Archives: worship

Why church?

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, this will be the blog post that assures you I fall short in my faithfulness in so many ways!

True confession time. Prior to January, if you asked me if I thought that weekly church attendance was critical to my spiritual well-being I would have said “eh, not really.” Big moments of spiritual growth didn’t happen for me on Sunday morning; they happened at retreats, where intense focus, study and community for 48 hours straight set my spirit to overflowing. Or it happened in small group Bible studies where there is a measure of safety that allows me to be raw and honest, sharing real truths. Or large conferences where amazing key-note speakers reignited the passion I felt as a young believer and being in a room with 800 other people singing 10,000 Reasons moved me to tears.

Sure, it was important to have a church home, someplace to feel connected. But church for me was primarily an entryway to learning about those conferences and retreats, finding a small group Bible study to join, or getting connected to other Christians. It was a chance to serve and give back (if the area where I served even required me to be there on Sunday morning, which often it didn’t). But Sunday morning service? It was not something my soul yearned for each week. It was just a means to an end. And the truth is I’m not the only one to think like this.

According to “Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters” by the Barna Group, 51% of people surveyed say church is not very important to them, and 40% of that group say they find God elsewhere — outside of church. That means at least 20% of believers aren’t looking to Sunday morning worship to be a source of spiritual growth. And those that do think church is still relevant? Well these days going to church once a month is considered regular attendance by that group, compared to my parent’s generation where 3 or more times a month was considered regular attendance. And I get it, because until very recently I fell into that group.

I’m sure the reasons for this trend of Christians moving away from church are varied, and I don’t proclaim to speak on behalf of any large group. But I do know what it feels like to be hurt by the church. To be disappointed or let down. I’ve been there. I also know what it feels like to be uninspired and unchallenged, walking to the parking lot thinking, “well, checked that off my to-do list.” I know what it feels like to enter the sanctuary doors and just feel like a number. These are all reasons that have caused me to leave a church. And maybe you have left the church, or rarely attend anymore for one of these, as well. But if I’ve learned one thing in my ongoing quest to find the “perfect church” it’s that no church is perfect.

Churches mess up because they are run by people. And people? Well we’re far from perfect and we mess up. A lot. All of us! And as long as we hold our church leaders to higher standards than we hold ourselves, we will be let down. If this is where you are and why you have left the church or don’t attend regularly, I encourage you to forgive and not give up.

Matthew 18:20

For me, despite having been let-down or disappointed in the past, my lack of regular attendance stemmed more from apathy than distrust. Church didn’t challenge me. It didn’t energize me. It didn’t fill my soul.

And this is where I found myself in the last couple of years, feeling like regular church attendance just wasn’t necessary to my walk with Christ.

But that all changed about 7 months ago. You see our church — the one I attended about once a month — decided to expand by adding a second site right in our neighborhood, and our small group Bible study was asked to be a part of the planning and leadership team. On the outside, I was all for it. But internally? I wasn’t sure I was fully on board.

Despite my uneasiness and resistance, I heard God encouraging me to be a part of this. To ride the wave and see what happened.

“Come on, Jelise, this is going to be really amazing! You need to share in this!”

“OK Lord, but I’m not making any promises for the long-term,” I bargained. “You know how I feel about Sunday mornings! I’m not sure I can commit to being there every week.”

So God laughed.

Then He found a way to get me there every week. I became part of the leadership team and my husband started playing in the band. Both of these roles required we be there every Sunday. The first few services, well they were good. I genuinely enjoyed them. But I still didn’t feel impassioned. I was going more out of obligation than some deep-seated desire to be in that chair every Sunday morning.

Then, about the 3rd or 4th Sunday things started to change. I remember standing there as the band played, singing along to the words and my throat started to close as my eyes welled with tears. I felt every word of that song. “Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me. On and on and on and on it goes. It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.” And I was…overwhelmed and satisfied. Then the sermon started and I had a new-found intent and focus to how I listened. I was immersed in our Pastor’s words and I felt like God was using them to speak directly to me. And the next Sunday the same thing happened, and the next, and the next, and the…well you get the point.

Pretty soon it got so that I woke up Sunday morning yearning to go to church! Don’t you love that word, yearn? It so perfectly describes how I began to feel. Going to church was suddenly a must-have, a highlight to my week. It was no longer something I did if I wasn’t too tired to stay home, or a place I went out of obligation. And the work God has done in me and my spiritual growth in the last 7 months? Well, it’s been nothing short of phenomenal.

Matthew 18:20 says, For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus himself tells us that when we gather with others to worship Him, He will meet us there! This is what I have experienced in the past seven months. God has met me there every Sunday, week after week. I just had to be obedient enough to show up!

It took some divine intervention to get me to start going to church every week, but once I did? Boy did I realize how wrong I was about the impact the church has on my spiritual well-being. I have been re-ignited. Each Sunday leaves my soul filled to the brim and overflowing with joy, peace, and desire to get into The Word.

If you feel like I did, that being in church every week isn’t critical to your walk with God. If you’ve been hurt, disappointed or uninspired by the church and feel like it’s become irrelevant and unnecessary, please, I encourage you, don’t put it off any longer. If you don’t have a church, find one. If you have one, but don’t attend regularly, commit to going every week for 8 weeks and see what happens in your life. I guarantee, God will meet you there.

 

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Small moments, Big impact

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “what is my legacy? How am I making a difference in this world?”

I think for some people it’s very clear. Pastors, missionaries, humanitarians and aid workers — these people can see how they are influencing lives and doing God’s work on a daily basis. For the rest of us, it may be hard to look at our lives and know how/if we are leaving a mark. Sometimes the way people touch our lives and impact our spiritual journey is bold and immediate, like a large rock being thrown into a pond, making a huge splash, and maybe even displacing us. But more often I think it is the small interactions, the bits of encouragement or truth that are said in passing, that end up staying with us, like quiet raindrops on the pond, slowly filling us up and over time changing our core substance.

Over the last 15 years I have been a youth group leader, confirmation teacher, Sunday school teacher, and led adult small group Bible studies. I can’t say that in any of those roles I’ve witnessed anything I said or did causing a big splash in someone’s life. But I certainly pray that my words, or perhaps even just my mere presence have contributed drops of hope, encouragement or truth that has stuck with them.

I know there are several instances of these small blessings in my life that have had a lasting impression. They were seemingly insignificant  at the time. Simple conversations or gestures that likely the givers don’t even recall. But they have had a huge impact in my life and stayed with me.

small raindrops

I’ve already written about how my dear friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape when I was 13, which began my 25 year love affair with his music. It might sound silly, but that gift really changed my life. It came at exactly the right time to get me through an incredibly difficult period of life, but more than that, it introduced me to the world of contemporary Christian music and how good music can have a significant impact on the worship experience. I am not much of a musician — despite 7 years of piano lessons I can’t really play anything more difficult than Ode to Joy (the easy version), and the three years I played clarinet I spent as the perpetual third chair — but I know and appreciate good music. I know that it can change the entire worship experience, and can surpass language and cultural barriers to bring people together. I have experienced the Holy Spirit through song. And my most profound worship experiences have been set to music.

Today, I have the pleasure of working with the worship leader at our church to recruit and schedule musicians, evaluate potential songs, and help plan and create additional creative arts elements that go into our services. Despite my inability to sing on-key or play an instrument, I have a way to influence and support the worship experience because of my love and understanding of music, and it all started with that “Go West Young Man” cassette.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school I was eagerly planning for college. After a trip to Appalachian State to interview for some scholarships and tour the campus, I came home and excitedly relayed to some friends all the reasons college was going to be totally awesome! (said in my best 90’s voice) As I told my friend Cara, who was a year younger than I, about the campus and the facilities, she asked,”did you look at any churches while you were down there?”

“Well, no, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet.”

“Don’t you think that is important? That you find a church you can attend while you’re there?” Cara was clearly wise-beyond-her-years. While I had been so caught-up in the campus life, looking at dorm rooms, checking out the football stadium and the coffee shops, I had not once considered looking at churches or finding a Christian student-group.

After that conversation with Cara, I contacted the school about the Christian student groups and ultimately joined the Lutheran Student Association (LSA), which had a HUGE impact on my spiritual formation during those four years. I also found the local Lutheran church to be my home-away-from-home. The pastor and his wife became like family to me, and in 2000 I was married in that church.

I’m sure my friend Cara didn’t know the impact her simple question would have on me, and probably has forgotten it ever happened. But 25 years later it still remains in my thoughts.

The last story I’ll share is more recent. In my 15 year career as a marketer, I’ve had the joy to work with some fantastic managers and mentors, many of whom have become personal friends. When I first started working at my current company I had two managers, one of which was in South Africa. Soon after I started in the new role I got to travel to Johannesburg to meet her, and we spent a good bit of time getting to know one another on that first trip . Ironically, we shared bits about our personal lives that might not have come up so soon if we worked in the same office. Over dinner my second night there the topic turned to our personal beliefs and we found out we were both Christians and our faith was a big part of our lives. This bit of early knowledge, I believe, really shaped our professional relationship and personal friendship because we could be very candid and honest with one another and didn’t worry about crossing any professional boundaries.

I recall one conversation in particular, about 5 years ago, when I was considering going back to school to get my Master’s Degree. I was lamenting to her all the reasons I was afraid to make the commitment. She said to me, “Yes, but God does not want us to have a spirit of fear. We are called to trust in Him.”  Wow! Convicted, this girl right here, thank you very much!

Again, that one statement –that little raindrop — struck me to my core and has stayed with me. Whenever I start to get caught-up in the fear and worry of branching outside of my comfort zone, I remember Jo-Anne’s words and I turn to God to take away my fear and give me strength.

This past weekend at the She Speaks conference, keynote speaker Lysa TerKeurst reminded us that it is not about our words, it is about The Word.

His word.

When we speak the truth to all who come across our path, God will use it to change hearts, encourage the hurting, and create a lasting effect — whether it shows up as a big splash or a tiny drop. I try to remember this and trust God that He will use my words to encourage others and shine a light on the truth.

Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear how someone has said or done something in your life that’s had a lasting impact on your spiritual journey. Please share either through the comments section or on my Facebook page.

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” – John 7:18

What is your Goliath?

I wrote earlier this week about how my Sunday morning didn’t get off to a good start. Thankfully, with some Godly intervention, I was in a much better frame of mind once worship service started. A good thing for me because it was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. We’ve been studying 1st and 2nd Samuel this summer at GCC North, and most recently the story of David. This Sunday the focus was on 1 Samuel 17 which chronicles the well-told story of David and Goliath.

David and Goliath is probably one of the best-known stories in the Bible. It’s the original under-dog story, and Hollywood should thank Samuel for providing the plot line for 50% of all movies ever made. But honestly? I’ve never really found it all that applicable to my life. I mean, it’s a great example of putting your trust in the Lord, but I’ve just never been able to relate to the young shepherd boy who defeated the giant warrior with nothing but a slingshot and a prayer. This Sunday, though, my friend and Pastor, Lee Reams, managed to give us a fresh view of David and Goliath as well as some practical application.

Lee set the tone for the sermon by presenting David and Goliath…MLB style! Check out these awesome trading cards he made for our antagonist and hero:

goliath_front goliath_back
david_front david_back

On paper, David might seem an unlikely foe for the colossal warrior. But David never had any doubt he could beat Goliath. His faith was so strong, and his trust in the Lord so steadfast that he almost seemed matter-of-fact about the whole situation when speaking to King Saul. Lee broke it down into five things (a metaphor for the five smooth stones David picks up before going to the front-line) that equipped David to feel this way. They were: Perspective, Experience, Identity, Knowledge, and Child-like Faith.

Perspective – “David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). David’s faith in God allowed him to be able to look at Goliath with a different perspective. He saw him simply as a mortal man defying an all-powerful God.

Experience – “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death” (1 Samuel 17:34-35). David’s experience as a shepherd gave him strength and confidence to battle Goliath.

Identity – “He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:40). David rejected the armor Saul offered him. He knew he was a shepherd, not a soldier, and relied on the tools of his trade.

Knowledge – “And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:47). David knew that God was in charge of the situation and would protect him.

Child-like Faith – “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him” (1 Samuel 17:48). David didn’t hesitate, or weigh the pro’s and con’s of fighting Goliath, or try to plan out a detailed strategy. He just ran straight to the battle-line with complete faith that God was in control.

While all of the above are valuable tools that God has equipped us with, the one that stands out the most for me is perspective. How often in my life have I experienced challenges, struggles, hurt, or conflict that could have been avoided if I had simply altered my perspective of the situation?

Then Lee asked us to think about what “Goliath(s)” we were facing in our lives. What are those things that we feel are too big, too unbeatable? It could be an illness, a broken relationship, an addiction — anything really. I wrote down four: stress, lack of patience, the future, and my health. What startled me about my list is that it’s all me. My adversaries are all internal and they are things that (with God’s help) I can change or overcome. Do you know what that means? I am my own Goliath! And for at least the first three of my items, a little perspective could have a HUGE impact. So to help me maintain that perspective, I decided to create my own trading cards and keep them in my Bible as a little reminder. Here they are:

Jelise's trading card
Scary Jelise trading card

Stressed and impatient Jelise is not a pretty sight, huh? She’s my Goliath…looming large and scary, seemingly undefeatable. But the reality is that God has equipped me with all of the tools I need to beat her.

What is your Goliath? How can a little perspective, knowledge, experience, identity, or child-like faith help you to defeat your biggest, scariest struggles?

 

[A very big thanks to Lee Reams for allowing me to steal his sermon and use his trading card images for my blog!]

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.