What is Church?

In Harnett county I drive by a church that some one ran into with a car. The damage includes dilapidated steps, damage to the foundation, and other structural issues.  The church building is no longer usable.  I am angry that an accident could happen and destroy a faith community’s place of worship.   

Yet the church is not supposed to be made of brick and mortar, but rather built from those who find salvation in Christ alone.  The church is more than steeples, baptistries, and pews.  The church is you, I, and our neighbors, both near and far.

I am angered when church buildings are abused, but when did I last get angry that the “church” is being abused?  I confess sometimes that I get so fixated on buildings and traditions that I neglect people and needs.  Oh, how I want to be someone who recognizes that church is definitely about people.  

The church is being abused when children are trafficked.  The church is being abused when one teen bullies another.  The church is being abused when women gossip about someone’s misfortune.  The church is being abused when someone is excluded.  The church is being abused when a teenage girl starves herself to feel worthy.  The church is being abused, and have I noticed these and other abuses?  Honestly, I read headlines, but I do not think about those in the headlines as being people, as being the “church.”  Wow, I have a lot to reconsider.

No, I will not suddenly neglect my emotional attachments with church buildings.  Actually I am grateful to be getting married in the same church where I was baptized, expressed my call to ministry, and watched my Granddaddy attend church for the last time.  The stained glass windows, communion table, and hymnals are all reminders of times when God has met with me and with those I care about. 

However, more than any tangible symbols of church, I remember the church, that “great cloud of witnesses” who taught me and nurtured me.  I cherish those who inspired me to keep pursuing my faith and modeled how to persevere in extreme circumstances.  Thankfully these folks acted like the “church” should act.

So will you take the challenge with me to rethink how we define “church”?  Will you join me in prayer for those in the “church” who are being abused?

Look Again

Tonight I spoke with a friend about how persistence is important in prayer and in life.  I thought about Jesus’ story where the widow went before the judge.  I originally concluded that the judge granted the widow’s request because of her persistence and so therefore God will grant our requests when we are persistent.

Out of arrogance, I almost wrote this blog entry without consulting the text.  Yet I am glad I looked again at the text (Luke 18).

The text states that the widow’s request was, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”  Jesus’ commentary after the story reflects how God will bring justice to his chosen ones who cry out.

So what do I with Jesus’ opening comments about how this story is to remind us to persistently pray juxtaposed to his closing comments about how God will bring justice?  I am not sure.  However, I am convicted for my prayers to be more about justice for others and less about me.  

God, give me a heart for those who are treated unjustly.I pray for those who are being trafficked, and I pray for justice for these men, women, boys, and girls.  Lord, forgive me for those times when I have focused my prayers more on myself than those in need.  Thanks for getting my attention and leading down a new direction in my prayer life.  Also, thanks for a fresh perspective from a familiar scripture passage.  Amen.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24

Dear Younger Self

Dear Alicia Joy’s Younger Self,

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Always remember that God loves you.  Even when you live in different places, even when your friends change, and even when you are dealing with grief, God still loves you.

Enjoy writing!  Keep writing, keep creating, and keep believing in your dreams.  God has a purpose for giving you the dream of writing.  You will not know what that purpose is even after twenty-six years, but still keep writing because God still has a purpose.

Forgive yourself and others.  We live in a broken world.  We have brokenness within us and around us, do not be afraid to admit that brokenness exists.  God will meet you in the midst of  your brokenness.  Open up your heart and let God heal the broken places.

You have always known that God values women, and you have learned much from the women in your life.  However, you will not learn until college that God calls women to be pastors.  Though you will go down a difficult journey to discover your true calling, know now that God does indeed call women to be pastors, and you are one of those women.

Love, Your Older Self

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 29:11                  

I rejoice in knowing God’s knows my past, my present, and my future!

Patience

Below is a list of things that God has been using to teach me patience:

1-A GPS that often takes a while to program.

2-Waiting on a refund from my ER visit from March

3-Trying to put small beads on twine with children.

4-Picking vegetables too quickly and exposing the flesh of the vegetable.

5-Waiting to get married.

Patience does not come naturally to me, and yet I know that God wants to develop patience within me.  When I am patient, I can experience more joy and fulfillment in life.

Tonight I had the opportunity to paint alongside a child for about thirty minutes.  Being creative, being unrushed, and being at peace was amazing.  

I hope I can be more patient with myself and others to have more moments of peace and stillness.  

And I am thankful that God is patient with me no matter what!

Learning from Children

My life as a children’s minister is interesting, and often I learn lessons from the children.  From a child today, I was reminded of a concept that Karen Ehman talks about in her book Let it Go.  The concept is you can get to four in a variety of ways, mathematically speaking.  2+2=4, 8-4=4, 16/4=4,….so many ways to get to 4.  The principle is that just because someone is doing something different from you does not mean that they are doing the task wrong and that you do the same task in a variety of ways.

Today before Sunday School a few adults, a child, and I were working on a paper folding task.  We all noticed that the child was doing the task differently from the rest of us, and so we asked, “Why are you doing it that way?”  He confidently replied, “Because I like to do it this way.”

The adults were taking the most simple approach to folding the paper (2+2=4) while the child was taking a more creative approach (16/2-4=4).  So many times I start going thru the motions that I lose sight of creativity and the fun that can be found along the journey.

A child reminded me today that I can creatively perform routine tasks.  So during this upcoming week I challenge myself to be creative and explore the possibilities.  Who knows how many ways I will figure out how to get to 4.

Restorer

The names of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have always been special to me.  I treasure that God is our Heavenly Father, our Provider, the Creator and the list could continue.  Jesus as Immanuel, God with us, stirs my heart to remember that Jesus dwelt among men and suffered.  The Holy Spirit as our Comforter means the most to me in moments where I am unsure how to pray.

The past few days have been a whirl wind of going here, there, and yonder.  Still God has faithfully traveled the miles with me, both literally and figuratively.  As I continue my faith journey, I bask in the reality of the twenty-third Psalm.  “He restores my soul.”

Being true to the curiosity within me, I looked up this verse in several different translations.  In the New International Version and the Contemporary English Version, the Lord is described as “refreshing” the psalmist soul.  Eugene Petterson’s paraphrase simply states, “True to your word, you let me catch my breath.”  The King James Version, the translation from which I memorized this psalm originally, describes how the Lord “restoreth” my soul.

Regardless from which translation read this text, I am at peace knowing that God is restoring me.  God knows about my brokenness, business, and struggles, and yet God still restores me.  He sees past all the times I have failed and still empowers me to minister to others.  I am humbled at how God has restored my relationships with others, restored how I think about myself, and restored my dreams.  

Yes, God still has much more to restore within me and around me, and yet in the midst of everything I know the Restorer.  Amen.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12