Saturday, August 25, 2012

Church Attendance

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23 NIV)

It amazes me that so many people can attend the same service and each one have a different experience!  To one, they get nothing and yet to another it is the most life changing experience they have ever encountered, and there is a gambit of varied experience between these perspectives.  What makes the difference?  Why do some people get so much out of service while others it barely makes a dent in their life?

Perhaps how we view church attendance plays a part in what we get from attending church! 

One may attend church as their Sunday morning ritual.  “We always attend church on Sunday morning!”  This person will endure sitting through the worship and message and feel as though they have done their duty to God and are good for another week.  They have done their religious responsibility by attending church and bringing their children, as all good parents should!

One may also attend church much like someone who reads a self-help book.  They are having some troubles and so they come seeking advice on how to improve their life.  It may be financial, emotional, struggles with a marriage or raising their children, but they are just seeking advice on what to do.  They may even think that just by attending church things will magically turn around with their children, marriage or finances.

There are those who attend church because it makes them feel good as though they were building up brownie points with God.  A kind of appeasement of their conscience, which means they are not as bad as other people they know. 

Then you have those who attend church because it is a part of their relationship and walk with God.  It is an extension of what God is doing in their heart and life through the week. 

I am sure there are many other reasons people attend church, prestige, political, and even being “forced” by their parents, to name a few. But lets just look at what each person from above may “receive” from church based on their perspective of attendance.

To the person performing their religious duty, it is just that, a duty.  They will have checked off a box on their To Do list, completed the task and have one less thing to worry about.  They can now move on and complete the rest of the things they want to do in their day or life.  To this person, they may not receive much of anything from the service except the satisfaction of completing a job, which to some is a good feeling like when you mow the yard and it looks good!  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9

To the person seeking help, Church attendance helps them make different decisions.  It gives them a different perspective they may never had thought of had they not attended.  Often when you are in the midst of a battle or problem its hard to see a solution when the situation keeps vying for your attention.  It sometimes takes an outside perspective to see what needs to be done.  The problem with this perspective is sometimes not having the power to make the changes necessary to solve the problems we are facing. “…’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zachariah 4:6

To the person attending church to build up points with God, it’s different but very similar to the one who attends out of a sense of duty.  This person is concerned about their relationship with God but is going about trying to get on God’s good side by what he or she does.  They strive to do good so as to make themselves feel good about themselves and that God would be happy with them.  The problem with this is that you can never do enough good to make God love you more.  His love is not earned.  This person may feel like no matter what I do, it’s never enough so they always feel bad about their life.  The problem with doing good works like this is that the person is still doing things for themselves instead of for God.  God desires obedience instead of sacrifice.  “So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?  You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years.” Galatians 4:9,10
“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole Law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” Galatians 5:2-4
The last person is the one who attends church because it is a part of their walk with God.  They come to meet with other believers to express worship to God in Praise, service and listening to what God has to say through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.  Attending Church is just a part of them as they grow in their relationship with God.  The works they do are an outward expression of their faith and love for God.  They are confident in their relationship with Christ because - “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:16
People may come to church for different reasons and have completely different experiences in church based on their perception; however, that does not mean people cannot be touched by God.  When a person attends church they are exposing themselves to a place where faith is built and people are encouraged to look to God.  Through the preaching of the word and the worship of believers focus is directed towards God.  When a person’s attention is directed towards God and their heart is open God is able to change a life forever!  Therefore, let’s not judge or criticize why a person comes to church but rather, let’s encourage everyone to open up to God and allow Him to work in his or her heart.  God is the answer for the one who is seeking advice!  He is the one who accepts the outcast and gives us a sense of worth.  After all, God gave his son so that we could have eternal life in His presence.  And to the one attending out of duty, nothing is more satisfying than realizing God loves you and He wants to be in all of their life not just a part!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Celebrate Life!

     She walked into the room and your eyes were drawn to the large vibrant purple, pink and lavender colored flowers outlined on the black background of her festive elegant long dress. Her hair was wrapped with a long piece of lavender colored silky material tied ever so carefully to outline the smooth rich brown complexion of her face. The shimmery silver see-through material draped over her shoulder accentuated her outfit that said today is day of celebration! Today we celebrate life! She was from Nigeria and this was a traditional outfit used for special celebrations. There were other people gathered on this special occasion to celebrate the 50th birthday of a prominent godly man in their lives, each one dressed in bright festive outfits in shades of purples, blues, greens, yellows, and reds. Despite the differing patterns and colors you knew, they were from Nigeria as well! Sometimes you can tell where a person is from just by looking at them.

     People also recognize those who have been transformed by God and abide in his presence. Psalm 87 talks about groups of people looking at someone and say, “This one was born in Zion.” In verse 5 it even states, “Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.”People recognize when you have the Spirit of Christ living in you!
     Psalm 87:7 “As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.””
    Ephesians 5:19 “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”
     John 7:38 “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
     As we go through life singing to each other and God, allowing the rivers of living water to flow from us to other people, people will recognize that we are born of God. Therefore, celebrate life extravagantly! Celebrate Life Eternal! “…Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20b

Monday, August 08, 2011

Graduating to Toilets

Cleaning toilets and Children’s Ministry have a lot in common, if either one is messy, people won’t return.

The kingdom of God has often been described as the upside down kingdom. If you want to be great you must become like a child or a servant.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Mathew 18:1-5, NIV)

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44, NIV)

Recently I have had the privilege of doing some custodial work in a church. I say privilege because of the lessons that you learn and the people you are able to minister to by serving in this capacity have been eye-opening. For example: Did you know that people will overlook a little dirt in the sanctuary quicker than a little dirt in the restroom? It’s true! I have had people tell me they judge a place by the cleanliness of a restroom to determine if they will return no matter what they have to offer.

It’s also amazing what you learn about people by what they notice. A detail oriented person notices the fingerprints on the piano. A visionary likes to see clean windows. There are also those that are a mixed bag of conflicts, like the ones who wash their hands and are careful not to touch the door handle while exiting the restroom by using the paper towel to open the door, then drops the towel on the floor for someone else to pick up their germs. People are so fascinating to watch as you get to know them and each one is different!

The Bible talks about believers being part of the body of Christ. There are some parts that are more honorable than others yet each one is important! It also talks about some who are dissatisfied with their role in the body of Christ. Sometimes people get themselves into conflict or trouble by trying to be a part of the body they were not meant to be. Everyone cannot be the eye, etc. Just like in today’s society we have a glut of armchair coaches, we also have some who try to be pew-sitting pastors, people who criticize a pastor and say things like, “If I were the pastor, I would never...” It’s funny but I do not find “pew sitting pastors” as one of the parts God gave to the church for the edification of believers. Envy of other’s position because it looks more fun or is esteemed with greater honor is a problem in some churches. Fad ministries drain resources from mainstream ministries. Just because something is new and popular does not mean that God is switching you from the current ministry for which He has called you. The key to being happy and satisfied in a church is for each person to be the part God has made him/her to be. I Corinthians 12:18-20 “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Just as in the body some parts have more honor than other parts, there are some ministry opportunities that have more honor than others, but each one is important. The pastor of a church seems to have the highest honor followed by others in a varying hierarchy depending upon the makeup of the church. Often the low end of honor falls on those working in the nursery of a church. After all, who wants to spend their time changing dirty diapers and wiping snotty noses? Kind of like the custodian who has to clean toilets. Children’s ministry is sometimes the last place people want to be involved and yet it is in children’s ministry where you will see some of the most dramatic growth in a person’s life. With children you are a part of molding their beliefs from the very beginning. When a child feels welcomed and loved entering a nursery his/her concept of God is one of being welcoming and loving. Children and some adults tend to think church and God are synonymous. As they grow, their understanding of God grows beyond the four walls of a building.

It’s amazing what people look for when they visit a church. Most families will look to see what you have to offer for their children upon entering a church. If it seems not much attention if given to the children or if the rooms are messy and disorganized and the teacher is haphazard in their efforts to teach the children they may not return. It’s much like the people who will not return if the restrooms are dirty. It’s amazing the similarities between having a clean restroom and a well-run children’s ministry. Not many people want to do it but it’s critical for people to want to return and be a part of what you have to offer.

It takes a special person to work with children. It’s a calling. It has been said if a person can teach a toddler they can teach anyone. I think we have it backwards sometimes. We put new teachers in with the children and graduate them to youth and adults when we should start them with adults who are more apt to overlook a few mistakes like dirt in the sanctuary and graduate them to teaching children. After all, it takes greater skill to keep the attention of a toddler than it does an adult who is practiced in focusing.

Sometimes we see children’s ministry as unimportant, and yes, sometimes gross, and yet it is vital to the growth of a church. The jobs involved with taking care of children such as changing diapers and wiping noses do not come with great honor. However, if parents see we care enough to take care of their children, they will see we have enough love to share with them as well. By loving children you love their parents. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “You know I do!” Then Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” If we love the adults in our congregation we must love what’s important to them, their children!

Just as a custodian must give special care to clean the toilets if we are to have people return a second time, we must give attention to children’s ministry if we want families to return.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Is There Life After Death?

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11:25). There it is plain and simple. Yes there is life after death, but when it comes to putting to death the deeds of the flesh, why do we struggle so intensely to keep the flesh alive? Perhaps we don’t believe in life after death or perhaps it’s the survival instinct in us to fight when we feel threatened.

When Jesus was about to be crucified he prayed in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). When it comes to putting to death the deeds of the flesh, this too should be our prayer; “not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus willingly laid down his life going to the cross to suffer and die for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). In this act of submission he yields that survival instinct to his heavenly father. “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Acts 8:32). Jesus focused on the “joy set before him.” It also shows us he does not have a masochistic attitude concerning life because he prayed “if you are willing, take this cup from me.

What is the “joy set before him?” The outcome of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the restoration of relationship between God and humanity. When we submit to crucifying our flesh, the joy set before us is the restoring of our relationship with God! When we accept Christ as our savior our relationship is restored. As we follow Christ and crucify the deeds of the flesh our relationship is being restored. And someday our relationship with Christ will be fully restored when we get to heaven.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).

Friday, March 04, 2011

Taste of Home!

We started a new endeavor in our church to bring people together and highlight missions. Our church is unique in that we have people from 28 different countries from around the world. These are people who were born, raised and speak the language of their native country. We recently started serving coffee each Sunday morning from different parts of the globe. We have served coffee from Indonesia, Africa, South America and this week we are serving French Roast. While serving coffee, we talk about the sites, smells, and tastes of things from different parts of the world. We also highlight a missionary each week by posting information on signs displayed on the tables. We ask people to pray for the missionaries and if they feel inclined send them an offering. The adventurous spirit comes out of people as they try something different than their normal cup of coffee. Who would have thought that a simple cup of coffee would encourage people to come together and talk about their likes, dislikes, memories and the different cultures around us? Did you know that many of the Chinese people we have met would prefer to drink hot water instead of cold water or pop (soda, if your from the south)? When you meet someone from a different culture ask them what they traditionally serve guests when they visit their homes in the country of their origin. It’s a great way to open doors and begin a friendship.