Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 27, 2013

I have wrestled with something for three weeks now, and after studying on the topic and spending time discussing it with my husband, I think I am finally ready to share it on this blog.

Secular humanism is alive and well in the Church, but we choose to ignore it.
Let me explain my statement: Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine who has been so gracious in the past to just listen when I am going off on rants. She came to me in humility to present what was perceived to be a flaw in the way our church operates on most Sundays. This friend does not attend our church, but had heard through a mutual acquaintance of the discomfort that the acquaintance’s friend had because of something we do at New Life Community Church on a regular basis.
For about a year now, Trey will have our congregation split into groups of 4-5 people and go through a few discussion questions before he enters into the sermon. This time allows our worshippers time to connect, but it also whets their appetites for the sermon to come. For example, if Trey is about to preach on Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel…” he may ask the congregation to discuss reasons why they might not share their faith with others. This discussion time goes on for about 10-15 minutes with Trey following up with his sermon on what they have just discussed.
This is where the discomfort comes. This friend of a friend of a friend was not happy with the break out groups. I have no further information. I don’t know if she was a Christian. I don’t know is she is just painfully shy. What I do know is that I was asked by my friend to have Trey think about the practice to determine if it is one we should continue since someone was clearly upset by it.
One person. We are asked to change the way our people connect for one person.
There is some merit in looking at the way our church operates. We should always be asking if the procedures and programs we are currently implementing are in any way reflective of what God would purpose for our church. However, we risk erring on the other side if we will throw out an entire point of connection for one person’s preferences.
At the risk of sounding close-minded, let me remind everyone of the definition of the Church as given in Grudem’s Systematic Theology: “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.” If this is true, then our local gathering on Sunday mornings at New Life Community Church is for purposes related to true believers. And what are those purposes? “…to worship as a church and profess faith in Christ.” (Grudem, 856). I do not see anything in Scripture that would make church about an individual’s preferences, needs, and wants. The gathering of the Church is about none other than God alone. Just as the worship music is to prepare hearts for worship (which can also fall victim to the likes and whims of people), our breakout groups meet for fellowship and to prepare minds for a coming message. It is not for ourselves that we do this. It is for a Holy Father who is jealous for us.
This is not a new development in the life of the Church, this nit-picking of operations. I remember the traditional worship vs. contemporary worship wars of the 90s. Many churches split right down the middle because members decided that church was about THEM and not about GOD. I would pass church signs that would proudly proclaim: TRADITIONAL SERVICE AT 8:30 A.M./ CONTEMPORARY WORSHIP AT 10:30 A.M.-- As if hymn lovers also like waking up early. In essence, these churches created divided congregations meeting under the same roof. We have gotten so nit-picky about our worship that now we will leave a church if they sing the choruses too many times or sing them in a key that doesn’t sit for our vocal registers.
This is not what Jesus had in mind when He put the early church in motion. It was his desire, according to John 17, that we would be one. That means that when you visit or attend a church you are, by adoption, a spiritual brother or sister to the true believers who attend there. You automatically have the deepest things in common with them. You may not want to share your whole life story, but it shouldn’t be quite a strain to discuss the things of God with those who also claim to know and love Him.
And this is my point: We have got to get beyond ourselves when we worship with our local body of believers. It will not do to make church about what we get out of it or how “comfortable” we feel with a chosen procedure. This type of thinking is why we have endless denominations and splits today. Remember Jesus’ ultimate goal for the unity of the Church: “…so that the world may know that you have sent me” (John 17:23).The unbelieving world will not come to know God when they look to the disunity of the global Church today.
You may have only heard of the term “secular humanism” for the first time as you read this blog post. Even though many are not aware of its meaning or the crippling effect it has had on the Church, it is alive and well. When what we think what we deserve trumps the self-abandoning worship of God, secular humanism has its claws deep in our hearts. And that will destroy not only our ability to worship God, it will also undermine the witness of the Church.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 8, 2013

I did something this morning that I haven’t done in a year and a half. I thought I could go without it and nobody would know or care. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference. I thought sleep was more important. I didn’t want to engage in the discipline.

I was fooling myself.
This morning I worked out—something I haven’t done since April of 2012. Yep, I remember the exact day that I stopped. I had worked out for four months prior to that, had dropped some weight, and was feeling very healthy. I kept up with what I was eating, too.
But then I got tired of writing all my meals down, of refusing certain foods, and of trying to come up with unique dinners that my family could enjoy without feeling like I was punishing them. And when I stopped tending to my eating habits, the early morning workout session was soon to follow.
It’s not that I couldn’t do the DVD that I now have memorized. I looked forward to seeing how much further I could push myself. I loved picking up heavier weights when the other weights I was using just didn’t challenge me anymore. I also loved seeing the numbers go down on the scale. And I absolutely adored having to shop for smaller sizes.
And then I hit the brakes. I can’t remember what excuse came first. Maybe it was, “I need more sleep.” It could have been, “I’m bored with this DVD.” I also convinced myself, “I’m healthy enough. I can stop now.”
That first summer after I quit working out and monitoring my food intake was wonderful. I was able to continue to fit into my smaller clothes. And, hey, I didn’t have to work so hard any more. I would even sneak in a sugary drink every now and then (something I hadn’t done in almost three years). And then, almost instantly, those smaller sizes didn’t fit anymore. I was always tired…and grumpy. There were rolls where the skin used to be smooth.
As I was sweating away this morning, a thought occurred to me. This reminds me of another area I have lacked discipline. The excuses are the same:
            “I need more sleep.”
            “I’m bored.”
            “I know enough. I can stop now.”
There are many others, but you get the point. My personal relationship with God often takes a back seat when I am not consciously making the effort to meet with Him daily. Maintaining this relationship is my responsibility. Intimacy with God is not going to magically happen as I ignore the alarm and get another 30 minutes of sleep any more than the pounds are going to come off when choose rest over effort. And even though I was certain that people couldn’t notice a few pounds that had snuck back on, I felt it. Over time, it has definitely become noticeable. Can I continue to fool myself that others won’t also pick up on the fact that I have neglected the Man who saved my life? Hardly.
This lesson is for me: Just as you recommit to a healthier lifestyle, recommit to a healthier relationship with God. And enjoy the positive changes that come from both.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 7, 2013

It’s been one week since I last looked at Facebook. It doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment, but for someone who uses this site to connect with friends and family in multiple states, it is something like pulling the plug on 90% of contact.

The fact that I’ve just admitted that is sad. I lived without Facebook until 2007. Before that, I would have to connect with people through email, phone calls, snail mail, and (sigh!) face-to-face. Then this social networking site encouraged me to leave random status updates and check up on what others were saying. Before long, and after multiple changes to the site, I found I could spend a great amount of time just scrolling through the news feed, being treated to political rants, recipes, pictures of children I’ve never met, and 6-second videos that do not enhance my higher order thinking in any way.
Facebook isn’t all bad, but I was checking it whenever I was bored or avoiding other tasks. I had all kinds of reasons why certain things weren’t getting done in a given day, but I could find most of my precious time taken in by this collection of other peoples’ opinions and ideas.
I haven’t resorted to the shakes nor am I curled up in the fetal position over this 2-month release from Facebook, but it is revealing a lot about me. I find that I am less edgy (maybe because I haven’t just read something offensive). I have less uneasiness (because I have no idea if some “friend” has said something that is upsetting another “friend”). I’m not up on the latest gossip (let’s face it, that’s really what Facebook is all about). And, thankfully, I’m not afflicted with writer’s block trying to come up with another clever way to say “Happy Birthday” to someone I sort of know, but not really.
But most of all, I am released from responding to every little thing that comes up. If you’ve read a few of the other posts, you know that’s something I struggle with in REAL life, let alone my digital life. Most of my true friends and family know I am taking a break, and they are very respectful of that. They know that those pictures will get looked at starting December 1, but for right now, it’s just not that urgent. What is urgent is connecting with my husband and kids and reconnecting with God, Who, if I’m honest, got the most neglect.
And when I do return to the land of social networking, it will be with priorities firmly in place and with a renewed mind. For right now, I am enjoying an uncluttered mind.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 6, 2013

Today was our first Sunday away from our church while on Sabbatical, so we took the opportunity to visit another church plant in Vermont. We have friends that began their church plant about 2 years after we started ours in Northfield. It is only through church planting that we know each other, but this family is very dear to us. They understand fully how difficult it can be to start things from the ground up, how resistant towns can be to the presence of a Baptist church in their area, how much time goes into the endeavor, and how hard it can be to be away from family.

It was interesting that today’s sermon was in Mark 10, because Trey had just preached on that chapter just two weeks ago at our church. Towards the end of the sermon, Brian pointed out that Jesus’ question for blind Bartimaeus is the same question he asks of James and John just a few verses prior: “What do you want Me to do for you?” The answer, of course, was completely different for the individuals.
You will remember that earlier, James and John were levying for position in Heaven. When Jesus asked them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” they responded by asking for prime spots next to Jesus in Heaven. When Jesus asks the same question of Bartimaeus, the request was that his sight be returned. Jesus immediately answered Bartimaeus, but James and John got a lesson instead.
I started thinking past motive for both parties and instead started thinking of other aspects of the requests. James and John were asking for a future perceived need to be fulfilled, totally overlooking the current condition of their hearts. Bartimaeus was asking for a current real need, and although he could have asked for anything (money, comfort, position), he pinpointed his true need: blindness. Money would have kept him from begging, but it wouldn’t have healed him. Position could have given him honor, but it wouldn’t give him his sight. No, Bartimaeus knew his deepest need, and Jesus healed him on the spot.
So many times I am faced with what to ask of Jesus. I bring my laundry list of intercessions and supplications, all good things, but I neglect my deepest need. I need Jesus, plain and simple.
With that, here’s my lesson: Start by asking Jesus for more of Him. And when He answers you, do as Bartimaeus did in Mark 10:52 and follow Him on the road.

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 5, 2013

Tomorrow is my dad’s last day as pastor of the church he started 17 years ago. My family is all there with him, but a trip of that distance is just too much for my family. We will be missing another big event in the extended family again, but that is part of the sacrifice of being on mission.

My dad understood sacrifice. When he first made the decision to plant a church in southeast Huntsville, Alabama, there were many logical factors that could have prevented it from happening. At the time, he was in his thirteenth year as minister of music at a moderate-sized church also in southeast Huntsville. He had a daughter just married and one entering her final year of college. He also had a son who was in high school. There were responsibilities there, and this was certainly not a time to branch into the unknown.
But the call to plant would not leave him. The area he was targeting had thousands of people, but only two small churches were there that had experienced no growth. He was told that it was socio-economically depressed and that the church would never be able to sustain itself. There would be no significant funding for the plant at first. He moved forward anyway.
He started out as a bi-vocational minister, selling office supplies by day and doing full-time ministry at all other hours. My dad has never been averse to work. He hates having idle time on his hands. He poured himself into his church plant. He would drive around the targeted area making note of houses for sale so that when they sold, he could connect with new owners. This practice continued as Huntsville began to heavily develop that area. As entire subdivisions would go up, Dad would drive around, making note of when the houses were occupied. And then visits were made…lots of visits.
My dad was PERSONAL in his ministry. Everyone mattered. Everyone had a story. And he had every story memorized. His church is thriving today because of his ability to connect with all kinds of people from all walks of life. I know he will be missed by his church family. I also know the difference for him between a resignation and a retirement. He was very careful to tell us all that he would not be retiring from ministry.
Much of our experience in church planting has been the same. We made the decision to move to Vermont despite logic, despite leaving all family behind, despite comfort. We were uncertain where funding would come from or where we would plant. In fact, we really didn’t know what we were doing. I could write a book on how to make mistakes in church planting, because I’m pretty sure we’ve made them all.
But we also have connected with people. Our church family IS our family and it hurts not to be around them right now. They are loving us and praying for us through our sabbatical, and I can feel it. Tomorrow will be our first Sunday away from them during this sabbatical, and I am already tense about it. Not because of worry over jobs needing to be done, but because there are necks I want to hug and stories I want to hear.
My dad, I’m sure, is feeling the same way.
The lesson to pull out of all this: I am thankful for the legacy Dad leaves to me. It is impacting lives in Vermont indirectly as he goes on to impact lives directly in Alabama.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 4, 2013

Today’s lesson comes to you courtesy of a block of moldy cheese.

We were way behind with grocery shopping, so we used our Friday night to go as a family. I am trying out a new grocery store because I noticed a significant increase in the total cost of our weekly run. This new store is a bit further away, and the layout is all different. Today’s experience may have me running back to the other store.
All was fine until we got home (after a 30 minute drive). As we were putting the groceries away I noticed that the block of cheese I had picked out had mold all over it! How this fact escaped me I will never know. There was no way I was going to trek back over with the cheese block and my receipt to fix the problem (the cost of gas getting there and back would have outweighed the cost of the cheese), so into the trash the cheese went.
A few minutes later, Trey and I were talking about this incident, and I was apologizing for my oversight for maybe the seventh time (I have a strong tendency towards apologizing…a lot…just ask anyone who knows me). In response to my overly contrite manner, Trey said, “What would you say if it was me who picked up the cheese?”
FULL DISCLOSURE AND COMPLETE HONESTY WARNING: My answer to him? “I would ask you why you didn’t check it before you put it in the cart.”
Ouch. That man shows me more grace than I show him on a regular basis. He wasn’t raking me over the coals over my inability to pick out fresh cheese. He wasn’t asking me to rephrase my unasked-for apology until it resembled what he wanted to hear. He was just going to let it go, have a good laugh about it, and move on. And I can tell you that if he had picked out that block of cheese, I would still be letting him hear about it.
I need grace. We all need grace. While not actively seeking situations that would encourage the practice of giving grace, I know I need to work on this area. And I don’t just need to work on giving grace to others, I also need to extend a little to myself. I’m still mad at myself for picking up a block of moldy cheese, but I can guarantee you nobody else in the house is thinking about it.
Short, sweet, and to the point, here’s the lesson: God has shown you immeasurable grace. Give grace to others and to yourself.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 3, 2013

Today I was confronted with my self-sufficiency and how it impacts the church we serve. This didn’t come from a situation, but as I was allowed time to ponder on something I was reading, I was reminded of a train of thought that I let go of several months ago.

I’m reading a lighter book for me at the moment. You will usually find me breaking a sweat over John Piper or reading through the copious footnotes that go along with John MacArthur, but I was given a book at a retreat and thought I’d give it a try. I’m reading The Well, written by the lead singer of Casting Crowns, Mark Hall. It is surprisingly refreshing but painfully convicting at the same time. Just my kind of book!
The chapter I am on right now is dealing with the hole of resourcefulness, or simply put: When I rely on me and leave God to the side. He talks about this from a personal point—how we tend to run our lives without God—but then links this to the American Church today.
“Our ingrained independence and self-sufficiency make it difficult for us to learn to wait on God, listen for His voice, and submit to His guidance.” –Mark Hall
And that’s when I found myself in the Hole of Resourcefulness. I have no problem showing up on a given Sunday, making coffee, folding bulletins, leading Kids’ Church, making announcements, answering questions, and host of other things while ignoring the One Who Called Me to service. I have fallen into a pattern of serving out of self, but that well runs dry constantly. I am drawing strength from a source that honestly has nothing to give on its own. Sure, I can go through all the motions and answer “fine” whenever someone asks me how I’m doing.
But I’m not fine. I’m tired. And you’re getting served by a woman who took no personal time with God this morning.
The whole thought process took me to Isaiah 29:13.
“Then the Lord said,
‘Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.’”
My pattern of serving solo could easily fit into the “tradition learned by rote”. My ability to sing the words of songs in church while so distracted with things to do can be categorized as “lip service”. I’m just there, taking up a chair, but my heart is so far from the Source of my Strength. It’s not always like this, but lately it’s more the rule than the exception.
Hence another reason for the Sabbatical. It’s not just Trey who needs a rest; it’s me as well. And I need to gain some perspective along the way. It’s only Day 3, but I am already getting so much heart instruction simply because I have the time to be still.
And Today’s lesson is: God may have given you ability and experience to do His work, but you won’t be effective if you leave the Gift Giver behind.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical--October 2, 2013

I have trust issues.
Trey and I are part of a small group that meets once a week. It is comprised of people who attend our church. Just 8 people total—and a crowd of children who typically play together in another room. This group just started meeting together a month ago, and I love the people in it.
Tonight, Trey and I got to be guinea pigs of sorts when it came to developing group trust. Whenever you have a small group starting out, trust between the members is vital. The group can only grow when trust is there.
One person stated that it might be a good idea for the group to talk about our sudden decision to go on Sabbatical. Yes, it was a quick decision. It caught us by surprise as well. But members of our group wanted to know why we didn’t come to them with our stress beforehand. I guess I could say that I had barely acknowledged my own stress in ministry until this point.
That aside, this whole question-and-answer time brought to the surface my own problems with trusting others. Having been in ministry for so long and having grown up in a minister’s home, I have seen hurt come from people within the church. Over time, you build up a barrier of sorts to keep people away from the deepest parts of you, because dealing with personal hurt that comes from misplaced trust on top of all the other things you deal with is really just too much.
Or is it?
I sometimes forget that someone has already experienced this level of hurt and lived to tell about it. It would be easy for me to insert an example of Jesus here, but that’s too obvious, so we’ll go instead to Paul. In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 4, Paul is calling by name those who have abandoned him and those who have betrayed his trust. If I were Paul, I’d spend the rest of my letter fuming my state and swearing off all ties with humanity from this point on. It’s just easier that way, not having to deal with the shortcomings of people (myself included).
But Paul does not choose this course of action. In verse 17, he says something so poignant, so unlike my walled-off heart. “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me….” Paul chose not to look at his hurt, but rather to look at his God. And it is from God that he is given the strength to continue on in his commission.
I do not think there is one person currently attending our church who honestly doesn’t love and care for me and Trey. However, that stops at head knowledge for me. I don’t allow it to transfer to my heart, for that rips at the carefully constructed barrier around my heart. But now that I’ve met Paul in 2 Timothy 4:17, I’m going to start looking to God for the strength to tear down the wall I’ve constructed brick by brick. And maybe then my heart will be more fully open to trusting others.
So today’s lesson in a nutshell: Work on that wall around your heart. Look to God for the strength to move forward in your calling when it seems like your trust has been misused. He’s standing with you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lessons from the Sabbatical, October 1, 2013

            I had told myself that I would keep a journal of sorts each day of our two-month Sabbatical. We are not only taking a leave from various church responsibilities, but we are also severing all ties with the Facebook community. It just helps to keep the extra “noise” down while we rest in God and seek Him at this time. We are craving fresh lessons.

            Tonight we were treated to a Texas-style dinner from a ministry team that comes up here every year to love on the pastors and wives in the Green Mountain Baptist Association. I can’t count the number of years we have been a part of this, but we have really loved this team’s visits every year.

            Every year they sing a few special songs for us, and this year was no different. As they started the number, the music seemed very quiet. They were using a small CD player for their music, so the volume was limited for this group that was spread out. I noticed one of the ladies looking at the director and trying to catch his eye in a way of telling him that she could not hear the music. So, in true Robyn form, I whispered to Trey, “Go see if you can turn up their music.”
            Well, he looked at me as if I had totally lost it. I was basically asking him to stand up in front of everyone, move to the front of the room, and fill in as sound guy for a group that had not asked for his help. Then Trey, with all the grace he is known to speak with, said to me, “Isn’t this just like us; we see a need and immediately want to jump into action.”
            And I felt God say to me: Sometimes it’s okay to sit back and not act.

            This was a small thing—the adjustment of volume for a visiting group. But I do this with so many things. Jump in before I’m asked to “save the day” so that others can go on with their lives. This can be a blessing to those I’m serving. But it can also be a curse to me over time. In a way, this behavior was learned from my own father, who had an uncanny ability to find the needs in the room with one sweep, and with the other sweep, fix them all. He couldn’t help himself. The last time he came here for a visit, I had to force him away from me as I was folding bulletins at our church (yet another job I swooped in to do many months ago and still am doing to this day).

            It appears I am passing on this blessing/cursing behavior to my own daughter, who also has an ability to survey a room and in a second know who needs a hug or a special word. She is just getting started in her life of “filling the gaps” and “coming to the rescue”.

            I am not in any way saying that serving each other, especially serving the Church, needs to stop. I am saying that in our service we can actually find ourselves like Martha who was “worried and bothered about so many things,” forfeiting “the good part, which will not be taken away from us.”

            As I was reflecting on this (my mind works pretty fast) the words of the song the visiting team was singing finally caught my attention:
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current
Of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to
Thy glorious rest above!

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth
never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own
how for them He intercedeth, watcheth
o'er them from the throne!

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus,
'Tis a heav'n of heav'ns to me
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

            And then I felt Him love me! No wonder Mary chose to sit as his feet rather than serve. She chose to be with the One Who Loved Her at the moment His Presence was there. Martha missed the gift of that love by busying herself and seeing it as more important.

            So my lesson from today is this: Sit at His feet. Ignore all the needs for a moment, difficult as that may be, and let Him love you. It won’t be taken away from you.