In this week’s episode, we tackle part 2: What a healthy church looks like. To kick it off, we give a brief overview of the churches we grew up in and a glance at some of the churches we’ve attended throughout our marriage. From congregations of thousands to a mere 35 or so, we’ve experienced a pretty wide range.
Brandy’s upbringing found her in an eclectic mix of people, with a church full of hippies and suits and ties, while Matt grew up in a rather conservative church in a conservative town.
But how do you know if the church that you’re considering attending is healthy? What are some hallmarks to look for as you consider returning to or attending church for the first time?
Join us as we talk about the importance of God’s word being honored and taught, the value of authenticity of believers and the very real need that we all have to find a place where we can serve others.
We also talk briefly about overcoming when you’ve been hurt by the church. We recognize that there are some wounds that are incredibly deep, but also encourage our listeners to seek counsel in order for those wounds to heal.
Scriptures we reference:
2 Timothy 3:16
Here it is, the greatest commandment all summed up: Love God. Love people.
Well, that seems pretty simple. It almost seems passive, really. Like, you just have to have good feelings towards God and people, right?
Well, that’s how I’ve been approaching it more or less and today as I was doing the dishes, griping in my mind about how I seem to be the only one in our home that ever does anything to support the everyday running of our home, including all the times this past week that I’ve cleaned up after the newest member of our household, a very cute and sweet puppy named Milo, suddenly and without warning, God did what He seems to do expertly with me. He sucker-punched me. In the head.
It went like this:
Me: (scrubbing aggressively on a poor, unassuming plate that had done nothing wrong, and in fact, had done it’s job and done it well by holding the food I’d made for last night’s dinner…) Ugh! I just…. I mean…. Why do I have to always…? Ya know, God, it’s just not right! (Continues to scrub overly hard on successive dishes while slamming them into the dishwasher, meanwhile huffing and puffing about how messy our home is, how no one else seems to even see the mess, much less clean it, and about how completely unfair my overwhelmed life is).
God: (Calm, cool and collected in his best James Earl Jones impression) In all that you do, do it unto the Lord. That’s me.
Me: (Stops cold.) Yes, but the dishes, God?
God: Imagine that I’m coming over for a visit. Oh, look. I’m already here.
Like I said, sucker-punched. By God.
So what in the world does this have to do with loving God and loving people? Well, my friends, everything.
We love God as we obey. We love Him as we hear and respond to His voice (even if it’s in the form of a weird James Earl Jones type thing). We love Him by serving…people.
We love people by giving our time and energies to meet their needs. We love them by listening when they need to bend our ear even though we’ve got places to go, people to see and laundry to fold. We love them by being present. We love them best when we sacrifice our own agenda to meet them where they are, the very same way Jesus did as He carried that cross and felt the separation from His Father so that we could know His presence.
You see, I am not especially happy to be in our kitchen. I’ve never been a big cook and honestly, the more you cook the more dishes you have to wash. It seems like a lose/lose proposition to me. It turns out, though, my kids kind of like to eat. And they prefer when they don’t have to fend for themselves, settling on Top Ramen…again.
So I did it. I finished washing the dishes I had left. I washed the countertops and the kitchen didn’t look half-bad. Less than an hour later, though, it was time to create the dinner mess. And I did that, too. It wasn’t fancy…unless you call adding mashed bananas and yummy flavors to pancake mix fancy (in which case, I may be the greatest chef ever). We sat at the table, ate our syrup-drenched discs of goodness and chatted. I don’t think any of us even remember the conversation and that’s okay. The fact is, we had it.
God showed up when and where I needed to hear him – in the middle of my messy kitchen. And, at least this time, I responded to His voice out of obedient love which enabled me to turn around and love the people I am with. Because, let’s face it, sometimes the hardest people to love are the ones you share a roof with. But here’s some good news: if you can love them, you can love other people, too.
And that’s all we’re called to do, friends: Love God. Love People. So, go forth and love.
*Authors Note: The above account is entirely true, except the whole part about nobody else ever doing anything to help. The author would like to state that her frustrated state of mind likely led her to voice thoughts that were not entirely true. Though, Milo the puppy does not seem to be at all interested in making the housework any easier.
“I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.”
– Psalm 119:15-16
It’s safe to say we live in difficult times. No matter what side of the political fence you land on, no matter your socio-economic background, race, religion, gender or favorite ice cream flavor, it is clear that we are a nation in upheaval.
Because of all the turmoil that not only surrounds us but punches us in the face on a fairly consistent basis (anybody else suffering from a mild case of Facebook PTSD?), it’s the perfect time for us, as Christ followers, to keep a few things in perspective.
I admit that I’ve definitely voiced my own opinions on social media. Opinions that sometimes counter people I love deeply and admire greatly. I’ve felt my heart harden a little and heard a voice of judgement and condemnation, if not actually being spoken, certainly in my head. When I step back for a moment and take the time to self reflect, it’s pretty plain to see that I could easily become a part of the problem, and maybe already have.
So how do we counter this? How do we keep overwhelm and anxiety from taking over our minds, preventing us from being effective and joy-filled disciples of God?
I think the answer is pretty simple. Meditate on God’s word. Always.
Hey, I said the answer was simple. I didn’t say it was easy.
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, and maybe even if you haven’t, what’s the first Bible verse or passage that comes to mind when you think of someone dying? I’d wager it’s Psalm 23, yeah? ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.’
Why is that the scripture we all think of? Because it’s the one we’ve heard time and again in that set of circumstances. Whether you’re standing bedside, keeping vigil over a loved one as they breathe their last breath or you’re standing graveside saying your final goodbye to their earthly presence, these are often the verses that are recited. They resonate with us. They remind us that our days are held in the hands of God.
Similarly, how quickly can most of us recite John 3:16? ‘For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. That whosever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’
Again, it’s written on our hearts because we’ve heard it so many times.
As we read and re-read scripture, as we hear it taught and as we apply it to our own lives, it grows in depth. It begins to penetrate in places that are secret, so that when our hearts begin to tremble because we hear of wars and rumors of wars we are reminded to ‘Be strong and courageous’ because the Lord will not forsake us (Deut. 31:6) and that ‘The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent’ (Ex. 14:14). Or, as we find ourselves struggling with the things of this world that strive to collapse us, we are reminded of Paul’s exhortation to the church in Galatia, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).
It’s important – vital – that God’s word be so etched into our hearts that if owning a copy of scripture should ever become a crime, we will not be shaken because His teaching is inextricably woven into the very core of who we are. Even if that possibility never comes to pass on American soil, and I pray it won’t, how much better off are we when we can call upon the word of God at a moments notice without having to flip to the concordance or hope the Wi-Fi connection is strong enough to access an app?
I want to know what God has to say. I want to know His heart. I want to be so in tune with His word that I always have a scripture at the tip of my lips.
I’m not there yet. But I’m closer today than I was a year ago. Walking with God is a journey of a thousand little steps. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There is sweet reward in deepening this relationship with the One who made me and knows me best. In the words of David, the man after God’s own heart, let us “taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed [are we] who take refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:8).
My life is littered with journals. Seriously…it’s kind of ridiculous.
A Love is Born
It started when I was about 10 and was given, as so many young girls are, my first diary. It was hard bound and featured Hello Kitty on the cover, in the classic red and white motif. I loved Hello Kitty, so I loved this diary. I wrote down everything: who I loved, who I hated, what horrible things my parents were making me do (the dishes…I mean, really!), the teachers I believed were secretly witches and those I adored. My diary held all my secrets, fears and hopes.
As well as the journals and diaries I’ve kept over the years I am also lucky enough to be the caregiver of the journals of both my grandmother and great-grandmother, both of whom were prolific writers and lovers of words.
But what is it that compels us to capture our lives in this way? What prompts us to put pen to paper and write down our hopes and dreams, fears, failures and deepest longings of the heart? We inscribe these knowing that one day they may well be reviewed by the very people we have written about. So why do we do it? And why should we?
A History Captured
Personally, I find it fascinating to read historical diaries. Looking at what the pioneer women wrote as they crossed the plains, as they buried their loved ones alongside the trail, as their cattle was stolen and their prized possessions were discarded to save weight as they climbed mountains and crossed rivers gives us a glimpse into the hardships they endured. My own great, great grandmother crossed the plains in 1851 as a young girl and wrote about one particular time that was especially harrowing, where-in a young man in their wagon train ‘jokingly’ sold one of the girls to an Indian chief they had crossed paths with. Needless to say, this joke ended horribly, with men on both sides dying and the pioneers having to abandon half of their possessions because they’d lost so much cattle in the showdown. She goes into great detail and as I read her account of it all, I am transported to that time and place and can almost taste the dust in my own mouth and feel the fear they experienced as arrows began to fly, guns were drawn and wagons were set on fire.
This account would be lost in our family history had Kate decided it wasn’t worth writing down for posterity sake. Fortunately for us, she took the time to write about this and other events, giving us a connection to her experience as a young woman over 150 years ago.
A Spiritual Legacy
Likewise, if we look to scripture we see something of a diary there too, when we read the Gospels or Paul’s letters to the many churches throughout the east. Consider what we would be missing had his disciples not written accounts of the events preceding Jesus’ arrest. We wouldn’t know of the emotional anguish that he suffered as he cried out for God, pleading for another way for man to be brought to salvation, a way that didn’t involve his torture and death and separation from his Father. We wouldn’t know of Jesus’ proclamation to Peter that he would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. We wouldn’t see the look of pain on Jesus’ face as that third denial was made and Peter cried out, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about! (Luke 22:60)”
We each have a different journey. The twelve disciples who were with Jesus day in and day out for three years all had a slightly different perspective of the events they were a part of. They each had a different relationship with Jesus because they each came to him with different experiences and desires and fears.
So we, too come to Christ. Each of us are different. We’ve got different upbringings and life experiences that shape how we perceive the world and our place in it. As we take note of the ways and times that God has met us individually in our needs, whether they be physical, emotional or spiritual, we begin to see how uniquely God approaches us. We realize that we are not cookies cut from the same form by a cookie-cutter God, but that we are uniquely and wonderfully made, being molded by God’s very hand.
Writing down our journey allows those who will come behind us to see the transformative power of God. Listen, nine years ago, my life was mess. It looked nothing like it looks now. The one thing that changed is my willingness to submit to God. Be sure, I am still a mess, but that mess looks a lot different than it used to. It’s a benefit to me to be able to look back at where I was, to remember what my pit of destruction looked like, and how God lifted me from that pit and set my feet on solid ground. It’s a lot like the memorials that the Israelites would erect whenever God did some thing that they wanted to be reminded of. Journals are a marker of sorts; this is where you were and this is where you are.
We can see God’s faithfulness in our lives only as we look back. We see the countless times he has proven himself trustworthy and compassionate. Without writing these markers down, we have a tendency to forget just what he’s brought us through.
Additionally, in the same way I treasure looking back over the written accounts of my ancestors in order to gain perspective on the lives they lived and the legacy they left behind, I hope that my children’s offspring will be able to look at my journals and see a life that was transformed by a loving and gracious God who knows me intimately and personally. I want them to see that while I struggled regularly with sin and worry, ultimately I have lived a life at the feet of Jesus.
Who Tells Your Story?
We each have a story that is uniquely our own. When we’re gone, that story will shared with those we leave behind. If we take the time now to journal, to write about the thoughts that consume us, the faith that frees us and the God we love, we leave behind a marker for the next generations to see and be reminded of our faithful God. It’s up to each of us to erect that memorial and we do it one word at a time.
I’ve been thinking a lot about intentionality lately.
There are so many areas of my life that end up getting the ‘left-overs’ of my time, thoughts and action. I think some of that has to be with being a stay at home parent. It’s easy to get sucked into reactionary living – preparing meals when kids are hungry, driving everyone to their classes and activities, comforting a broken heart and helping to navigate a child through the difficult teen years. Not to mention breaking up fights, disciplining sass and saying ‘No’ to a toddler more times in a day than even seems possible.
I also tend to be highly gifted at the art of procrastination. I am currently writing this in the library with my daughter across the table working on her school. This is the first day we decided coming to the library might be a good place to do our work, as we’re both prone to distraction. I’ve been ‘meaning’ to write for days, yet there is always something that demands my time and attention. Sometimes that thing is Netflix, but that’s another topic for another day.
Needless to say, unless I am FOCUSED, DISCIPLINED and INTENTIONAL even basic things like laundry and dishes end up getting piled high before I think to do them. It needs to hit a critical ‘we-have-no-clean-underwear-or-spoons’ level before something will get done.
Now, I’m sure there are a bunch of pyschological things going on inside my brain that keep me stuck in this cylce of procrastination – anxiety, depression, fear of failure, fear of success, laziness, overly ambititous to the point of ineffectiveness – I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. What I KNOW though, is that I’m not alone. I have heard the word ‘intentional’ tossed around for the past several years. Clearly there are other people wrestling with how best to use their time to make the most of the life they’ve been given.
Recently I’ve begun the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. I exercise daily, eat more whole foods and am drinking water…at least I’m trying to, but let’s be honest, the siren song of coffee is real and I am captivated by it. I’ve also started writing out a routine for household chores. One would think that 20+ years of marriage would mean I’d have that figured out by now, but it seems that every new season of life uproots whatever system I’ve incorporated and now I find myself back at square one.
But the intentionality that I most want to pursue, that of a deeper relationship with God, seems to somehow elude me.
What does it mean to be intentionally relational with God? Is it daily Bible reading and prayer? Is it journaling? Is it volunteering my time at a shelter or in the church nursery? Is it weekly Bible studies or fellowship groups?
I think it’s all of those things and more. Honestly, if I evaluate my life, I’m doing most of those things on a fairly regular basis. I’m plugged in at church, both in serving and with small groups. I read the word and pray daily (honestly, the reading isn’t quite that consistent, but close). I have friends that call my bluff and don’t let me get away with things. And yet…
I still feel like something’s missing.
Listen, this is a journey, I know. That’s the nature of relationships – they are ever-changing and growing. I just don’t want to get stagnant or complacent in my pursuit of God. I want to know Him more. I want to hear His voice more clearly and see the works of His hands more evidently in and through me. I want to be ever-awed by His amazing grace, weak at the knees when I think how far He’s brought me and how far we still have to go. I want more.
Maybe that’s the first step of being intentional. Just the simple desire for more – more order in your life, more energy for your body, more depth in a relationship.
I’m going to spend some time over the next several months exploring this idea. I really don’t have any answers or insight right now, just a desire to invite you on the journey with me. What do you do as an intentional pursuit of God? What areas do you think you need to grow in (reading, prayer, fellowship, giving, etc)?
As for me, I am wanting to incorporate other spiritual disciplines into my life, beyond reading the Bible through and praying. I want to have a solitude retreat, to fast, to memorize scripture and hide it in my heart. I want to use my artistic bent to journal my walk with God.
I’ll definately come back to this topic again and give y’all an update. In the meantime, drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts. I’m open to suggestions if you have any spritiual disciplines you practice that have been beneficial to you. Also, why not lift each other up in prayer?
After all, we’re all on this road home together. -Brandy