Love for the Local Church

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I knew the Church long before I knew Jesus. It’s where we were first introduced. His name whispered humbly and reverently in the prayers of His people. His name boldly proclaimed in petitions and healings, and shouted with enthusiasm in worship and song. Yet, I did not know what it meant to call Him mine until many years later. I didn’t know what joy and love would be found by calling Him my friend. The peace and gratefulness I would own by proclaiming Him as my Savior. Nor did I know the hope and boldness that would come with obedience to my King. I know and treasure all these things now, largely because of influence of the Church and the faithfulness and struggle of a bunch of imperfect people who love and strive to follow Jesus with their lives.

For forty years, the local church has been woven into the very fabric of my life. Less about a building and more about the people, it’s been a special place that has brought me warmth and familiarity, irritation and conviction, and firm grounding with love as I have grown in my faith and as a follower of Jesus.

Just as with any relationship, the Church and I have had a long, rich, complex one. I’ve experienced seasons and degrees of willingness, activeness and involvement. I’ve been stubborn and ungrateful, a complainer and a critic . . . a consumer. At times, I’ve gone to church for the wrong reasons with wrong heart intentions and sat through many services with wrong thoughts. And if you know my story, you know that I never wanted to be a pastor’s wife.

Often the things you never wanted are the very things you are to embrace. And you might just find that the very thing you never wanted to do is the very thing you love and are called to do – as you allow the Holy Spirit space to work. All those years, all those church services, the influence of so many faithful people, so many Bible studies, camp devotions, rededications, worship songs and hymns, forty years of prayers prayed over me, for me and by me have cumulated and forged in my heart (and life) a great love for Jesus, His people, and for the local church.  I love the local church.

The local church with all its faults, imperfections, and humanity is a very unique place.  It is a place where I have found the importance and value of being connected in a community with believers who are also working out their lives of faith and learning to love God and love others. It’s a place where I have been encouraged, equipped and challenged to figure out exactly what I believe, why I believe it, and what to do with this transformational truth I carry. It’s given me space to grow in my faith, helped me learn patience and practice extending grace. The church is not perfect because people are not perfect, but I see a desire in the local church to do better, to figure these things out. To change the perspective of what church is.

But most importantly, I love the church because it is where I met, fell in love with, and surrendered my life to Jesus. And the more deeply I fall in love with Jesus, the more I love what He loves. Jesus loves people. He loves His church. In Acts 20:28, the Bible tells us that Jesus loves the church so much He bought it with his own blood.

This motivates me to want to be the best shepherd I can, and advocate for my local church. With so many options, worship styles, changing culture surrounding how we “do” church, it is important to continually remember that God has placed us here together in this time as his local family of believers.  We gather together to worship and proclaim Jesus, encourage each other in his mission, and bear witness to his forgiveness, reconciliation, and the transformational power of hope, love, and joy found in Him.

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On Sickness

We had made it three steps into the store, when my son began making an unpleasant but familiar retching sound. I didn’t even get a chance to think. He had already thrown up all over me and the floor of Rite Aid Pharmacy. Helpless and stuck in a puddle of sickness, I was not sure what to do next.

Almost eight years as a mom and this was a first for me. I had been ignorantly hopeful that I could escape a public display of sickness by one of my own.

My thoughts were interrupted by my crying son who was vomiting a second time, this time all over the store’s New England Patriot’s holiday merchandise display. Standing behind me, my daughter looked on in both horror and shock. I could relate! My composure and confidence were gone. I wholeheartedly yelled for help.

Out of the aisles, from every direction, a team of people came.  The first responder was a friendly, emphatic cashier. She spoke to my son in a soothing and comforting voice, “It’s okay, honey. Everyone gets sick sometimes.”  A stout, unemotional, authoritative manager came next. With her she carried an empty, plastic candy container which she tossed at me with skill and the authority as to say, you are a mom, you know what to do, now do it.  The third team member was a pleasant young man rolling a mop and bucket towards us with a smile. Cheerfully and dutifully, he cleaned up the mess with no judgments or a bad attitude, making small talk as he mopped.  When the cleanup was complete, our $300 + damaged merchandise bill was forgiven, and we were sent on our way with our souvenir plastic candy container. What had just happened???

Unfortunately, this was not the only sickness that I have been dealing with. From the outside I seemed a little tired but otherwise healthy. But in the weeks leading up to the pharmacy fiasco, I have been struggling with sickness of my own.  I had let my guard down and allowed lies, self-doubt, discouragement, lack of faith, joy, and hope a place to take hold and grow in my heart and mind. I was tired, some days in a very bad mood, and everything seemed just plain difficult.  I tried to pull myself out of it by halfhearted prayers, routine Bible readings, and depending on the prayers of others on my behalf.

I kept trying to heal myself with everything I knew how to do.  And I wondered why I wasn’t “getting better.”  It wasn’t until I was completely helpless, sinking down in my own puddle of sickness, not knowing what else to do, when I called out wholeheartedly to God, “HELP!”

Out of bends and corners of my heart and mind, the TEAM emerged. A peace that I had prevented myself from receiving started soothing the cracks of my weakened heart and mind. I heard the conviction of the Holy Spirit telling me,  you know what to do, now do it!  Verses and Bible passages that I passively read before, beckoned me to take a second look.  I reread passages about joy and thanksgiving through suffering, identity in Christ, faith, hope and love. I let the words linger and impress on my heart.

It was work. Some days were very hard.

I am still working on it. Some days are still hard.

But with God’s help, I am shifting my perspective and working on setting my eyes to see the good things happening around me. That means even in the sickness, sleepless nights, the hard stuff, the humiliating stuff there is always, always good stuff to see and blessings to be found.  Blessings like emphatic cashiers and cheerful, throw-up-cleaner-uppers.

I am persevering through doubts and lies by repeating and dwelling on the truths that I read. I am constantly resetting my mind to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8.) I have decided to surround myself with people that are uplifting, loving, and that have my best interests in my mind. And I am working to let go of control- my failing, imperfect, human strength and working on holding on to the perfect, all-powerful, never-failing strength of God.

There really is no I in TEAM. Whatever you are struggling with today, I hope you take a moment to surround yourself with a team of loving people, a God who cares deeply for you, and depend on the Holy Spirit to convict and guide you.  Shift your eyes to notice the good things. Find laughter in the difficulties. Come away from life’s situations with souvenirs of peace, joy, and thanksgiving.