This has been an amazing weekend. Yesterday Jerry's older brother was reunited with his 11 year old daughter that he hadn't seen since she was a baby. They all came over to our place. It was great to be a part of that. And since his brother doesn't have a car and lives an hour away, Jerry went to get him. And we had a Christmas party to attend last night, so they stayed the night and Jerry's brother Ricky and his 4-year old daughter went to church with us this morning. This brother hasn't attended church since he was a child, but seemed eager to go. So we didn't know, but there was a healing evangelist speaking today. I was working in the nursery, so didn't see what was going on, but as we were walking to the car, Ricky says, that he was embarrassed to say anything during the service, but he got healed. I guess he told Jerry that he wanted to go forward for prayer. (Ricky said he was on the edge of his seat the whole time during the message.) So he was up there with tears rolling down his face, and he said his back just popped, down the line, without him doing anything. Then he said he felt a pain in his left foot, which hadn't been giving him any problems, but then it was gone. And he realized that the pain left through his foot. He was so excited to go back to our place and tell his girlfriend what happened. She told us he had scoliosis and checked his back, and said his spine was straight. So so exciting!!! Ricky does not (even close) live the life of a believer, although he grew up knowing and at one point said "the prayer." So we are praying this is a life-changing experience for him and his family. I think Jerry will start going and getting him (them) on weekends. He was saying before we even left that he has to bring his girlfriend back. His daughter did great in class. First time she has even been in an environment like that.
My heart breaks this morning over my family (in-law). There are some crazy things going on. I feel a heavy need to intercede. Personally we have had some amazing restoration happen in the last few weeks, but since have seen more devastation. I am glad our relationship was restored, but God has a lot more work to do in others.
We tried out that church from last week and the answer between us was a resounding no. The message was not one of love, but one of fear. I saw no hope in what was said. It makes me want to get up and share the GOOD news. That although it is true we can nothing on our own, not even turn to God, that with him nothing is impossible.
So I was very glad to also go to church this morning and hear a message of hope - that in the garden, God was giving Adam and Eve a chance to repent and restore relationship... that he wanted relationship with the Israelites, but in their fear they chose law... that Matthew 5 shows us how much we need God, and should lead us to cry out, "Jesus help me!" and how God desires we come to him as children who believe all the promises he has given us, even when we can't see how.
We drove up to Carlsbad to go to the Bethel church plant: The Awakening. It was a small church and met in the senior center (as do 2 other churches). The people were so friendly. God moved - well stirred me up at least. We sang 3 songs - it took an entire hour. Then we prayed and worshiped for about 20 more minutes. Then the message. Afterward we visited with people in the church and it was 3 hours from when we arrived to when we left. That sounds about right. ;) But my poor husband missed most of it. He got only a couple hours of sleep before having to get up and work to put in a full day before we drove the 40-45 minutes to church. So he hung out in the lobby to keep from cutting zzz's in the service. I think we both liked it, but felt it was a long drive for church, especially with Jerry's schedule. They did tell us about another church that is much closer that is similar. We hadn't heard of it, so we will probably check it out next week.
Looking for a church is never easy. The concept itself is a paradox - you go into a group of people you've never met and who are coming to worship God and learn from his Word and judge them based on what you see and hear. We are looking for a church, but not trying to judge them, but still find which one is right for us. It is a difficult task - there are some things we can easily look at - beliefs, mission of the church, ministry types which will tell us some important basics if we belong there or not. Then there are the trickier things. So you go into church and see people raising their hands during worship - great, they like to praise, but how does that translate into relationships with other people. It seems silly, but all these things go through the brain when evaluating a church.
But there are other things that are more telling about a church. Is the presence of God there? This is mostly something that can't been seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. But it is certainly essential in a church.
Let me get away from the concept and be specific. Last night we visited a church. I was really excited to go (despite the headache I had all day). Jerry brought this one up the day before and it seemed very promising to me. First, it has a Saturday night service, which is pretty much necessary for us since Jerry works Sunday mornings. Second, they believe in healing. We really want to see this happen. I have never regularly attended a church that believes in this to the point they have a healing center. That they actually see these things happen. I have fallen in the lukewarm middle of believing in something, but never seeing it. So I want to see it in person! Third, it is like 5 minutes away! We were considering driving 30-45 minutes to try out a church. This is much easier.
So what did I think? Pro's & Con's...
*I'll start with the con. I felt that the preacher was yelling at us. We was very blunt in what he had to say, and even the things that were kind, he seemed upset about. It was weird. I felt like I was getting a mixed message at times between the words and the tone of voice.
*Pro's - everything else.
**The worship was just that - worship. It wasn't the best team in skill, but not bad. I didn't know a lot of the songs, but that didn't keep me from talking with God.
**The pastor came up and greeted us before the service. That was nice.
**In the information they gave about the church to first-timers, it said they have mentoring ministries for both men and women. That got me excited, because we need mentors in our lives. It is great (& unique) when a church has a way to set up that kind of relationship and not just hope or expect that will happen in a small group setting.
**Okay, this is going to sound odd. There was a guy who came and sat in the front row (we were in the 3rd) just after worship started who clearly didn't fit into regular society in his appearance. Yet, like most people who I have observed like that, he seemed super friendly and oblivious that he was "different." The fact that this guy was there told me that this place was friendly and welcoming, because he wouldn't have been there if it wasn't.
**Lastly, and this is my favorite part... after the message, they have a time of worship and ministry, where they open up the front (there was a lot of space) for people to come up and pray and respond to whatever God is doing in their lives. He invited people up for healing, to accept Jesus, or whatever they needed. I was amazed at how quickly people poured up front. We went up as well and prayed individually. I sat there talking to God and felt like I was the only one there, with tears streaming down my cheeks.
So in conclusion. We both agreed that we will try it again. There are two senior pastors (who I believe are brothers) and maybe the other guy has a softer tone of voice. ;-) That time at the end was amazing. I love that they leave time for God to speak to our hearts and for us to respond. He said when they started doing that it changed the church, and I can imagine so. I hope we like this church enough to go regularly. I really want to find a church where I feel at home, and see this as a possibility.
Just because a man sells a million books, doesn't mean the favor of God is on his life.
Sometimes the devil uses Christians to distract us from our purpose.
"A believer with a clear focus is the most dangerous thing in the universe."
It is really easy to strengthen the voice of that which competes for your affection. What makes a voice strong? The attention I give to that option empowers it to appeal to me. Say yes to something (God) so completely that everything else is a "no."
"It is possible to say yes to the big picture so strongly that all things that enemy uses bounce off like a bug on a windshield... you got to get the windshield clean now and then, but it doesn't stop the progress."
Romans 12:11 "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."
I love this verse, but have always struggled with understanding it 100%. As I am learning more about our relationship with God and the difference between being a servant and being a friend it is strangely clearer.
God first calls us servants, and although he still desires obedience out of us, he wants to be more than our master, he wants to be our friend. I like this idea of progression, and it helps me to more clearly see how I am seen by God and how all those verses of who we are fit together.
The thing that always got me hung up on Romans 12:11 was that I was seeing serving as a draining activity, not something that would increase my excitement and give me zeal. Yes, I have enjoyed doing things for God, but as we heard at church this last weekend, those activities are the fruit of our relationship with God. It is the relationship part that is exciting - but as the verse suggests, it isn't enough in and of itself to keep zeal. It is when we share that relationship with others that we are doing God's will and serving him and that excitement is what keeps the fire alive.
At least that is what I am finding for my life.
So here is my excitement that I want to share. When I got married I gained 4 brothers and 4 sisters. (that's a lot more than the one brother Jerry gained) They grew up in the church, but it was the kind all about rules. (Well actually some of them are still there) Jerry didn't understand why Jesus died until he was in his late 20's since he never saw grace demonstrated in his family. He didn't know what it was like to have relationship with God. So now he has a big heart to reach his family so they can experience God too. This week I caught some of this passion. I did not realize that they had no understanding of being in relationship with God. No conversations with him. No idea even on how to spend time with God. Wow! There are so many times when I have felt alone in my life and only had God to turn to. I couldn't imagine what it would be like not to have that. (and especially being a Christian.) I see how much they are missing out on.
Well the youngest sister, who recently turned 17, broke her ankle. I know God doesn't cause his kids harm, but oh how he makes the best of our situations. She is always so busy, and now with no school and no physical activities she is spending a lot of time with "what to do?" Like I said, she's a teenager - so she is on facebook A LOT. We had her over last week and watched a video on how much God loves us. Then she posted something that sounded like her heart was needing some care. So I spent Saturday with her. I shared some of my heart journey with her and gave her the opportunity to do the same. She said she couldn't talk about it with out crying and was not comfortable crying in front of others. She eagerly went to church with me that night and found it enjoyable as it kept her attention! So that night I emailed her and asked her about her heart and fears - making an opening for her to share without my seeing the tears. We wrote back and forth a few times, and it was through this that my eyes were opened to what she was missing out on. Both Jerry and I ministered to her, and she ate it up. We shared worship music and she loved it. Then even had her over again this week for another video on God's love. In just this week I have seen such a change in her.
She had been having trouble sleeping. Now she doesn't go to bed without spending time in the Word, and has been sleeping through the night for days in a row. God has given her an opportunity to share the gospel with a friend she has known all her life, but who hasn't know God. I love reading her posts on facebook and it just excites me with the verses and the words of encouragement and worship songs. She is so hungry for God and it is exciting to see and be part of. I can't share everything, but I know God is using us in this way, and we have been praying for that for a long time.
So this is the service that brings zeal. Keep it coming God. Let's bring more of this family to knowing you personally. Woohoo!
I'm going to leave you with a recent facebook status from my little sister:
... okay two... here is the latest "People keep asking me what made me change. The answer: I just finally decided to live for Christ instead of myself."
... and the one I was looking for:
"so, I'm bored. I have nothing to do and no one to talk to...so I thought for a split second. Then I realized, who better to hang out with than the one guy who is always with me no matter what?! I think I'm going to go spend some time with Jesus for a while. I like Him! He is definitely my FAVORITE!! =)"
Isn't that the best I'm bored response from a teenager?!
As promised - here are my thoughts on accountability.
When my hubby Jerry and I were getting to know each other, we had a lot of wonderful discussions that centered around our understanding of the Christian life. One of them was on the topic of accountability. After a while, I realized that we were talking about different things. My definition of accountability was not the same as his.
Jenn's thoughts: You talk to your close friends about the struggles you are dealing with. A lot of my experience is making sure that you are doing devotions, reading the Bible. Accountability is what kept me in the habit of quiet time.
Jerry's thoughts: Accountability is something you have with close friends to encourage each other to make the right decisions. You admit when you slip up and the other person helps you to forgive yourself and make the right decision the next time. Accountability is not to shame you into doing to the right thing, but to build up and give strength. It is not focused on discipline, but on life and grace.
While both definitions include something about struggles, one is more about the tally of success and failure and the other is about working through the failures to have more successes.
I don't know how much sense that makes, it is certainly not eloquent. But it was a fresh perspective of grace on a daily basis for me. Which leads me to my second topic. Introspection. I thought it was a good thing - to examine how one is doing on the way towards leading a godly life. But what often happens is that we spend our time focusing on ourselves instead of focusing on God. If we focus on God and pursue him, then we may stumble, but instead of stopping and staring what tripped us us, we move on. We go on, closer to God and the next opportunity to follow his direction. I am learning that the Christian life is not about doing good things and that when we focus on doing what is "right" then we miss the point. (Linda, your blog entry on being a good parent fits right into this.)
I was listening to this song earlier and the words in the verse hit me. This was the same idea - that his love is greater than what we are going through. And when we focus on God and his love, everything else fades away.
"When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me. "