spiritual growth

Keep Learning From Mister Rogers, Your Soul Will Thank You

As soon as Fandango told me our town had a viewing, I absconded to the theater to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the new Mister Rogers documentary. It was a moving movie, and even though my husband and I bought our tickets late and had to sit in different rows, it was such an enjoyable theater experience. Stephen Thompson from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast expressed that “the movie feels like you are getting warmly and softly hugged for an hour and a half,” and that’s the best description that could ever be said.

Why was it such a feel-good experience? It is rare for someone to tell you-you are liked. It’s even rarer to be told that you are liked just the way you are. Mister Rogers said it, sang it, believed it, and lived it. Mister Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who attended seminary on his lunch hour over a period of eight years. He believed that God liked him just the way he was and he should, therefore, feel that way about every God-created person. He looked through the screen and openly invited the whole world to be his neighbor, and he believed that everyone who knew they were liked would in-turn like their neighbors also. The world could be a very different place, not because of just one sweater-clad friend, but it could be different because of God who is love, the Holy Spirit that Rogers relied on as translator of this Devine message, and us — his neighbors.

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As a little girl, Mister Rogers was my friend. He made me feel safe and heard. He told me things I still need to hear as an adult.

1. Express your feelings.

Mister Rogers frequently and intentionally included the message that we all have feelings and it is good to express those feelings in healthy ways. Last year, I became very discouraged in the ministry. My husband and I had been serving at a very missional church for twenty years, and we were both feeling burnout. We began seeing a therapist to help us work through our tough time, and one of the things he told me was that I was afraid of my feelings. He said to me, “It is like you view your feelings as a dark closet, and if you let one feeling affect you that you will be engulfed in the dark closet and you won’t be able to get out.” As an adult, I’ve had to relearn that lesson that we all have feelings, and I’ve had to allow myself to feel and express those feelings.

There’s no ‘should’ or should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

2. Slow down.

One of the most countercultural pieces of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was the pace of the show. His slow speech and slow movements were a subtle cue, as was his life-sized traffic light glowing yellow. The show had the ambiance of a Saturday spent at grandma’s house. He would often bring out simple props like paper, instruments, or cups and play with the props in an unstaged, unpracticed way, letting the paper accidentally tear where he didn’t intend or letting the cups fall across the table. He gave his neighbors the nudge to accept that it is good to slow down and try new things. When my husband and I experienced ministry burnout, we went to a week long ministry retreat that was intentionally slow paced and were reminded of the importance that rest has in the kingdom work. As an adult, I need slow. I need permission to try and fail. I need to let the cups fall sometimes and pick them back up again.

It seems to me, though that our world needs more time to wonder and to reflect about what is inside, and if we take time we can often go much deeper as far as our spiritual life is concerned than we can if there’s constant distraction.
— Fred Rogers, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth

3. Be yourself.

Vulnerability became a mantra and catch-phrase to many after Brene´ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and shame when viral in 2010, but Mister Rogers was modeling vulnerability every day in his neighborhood in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. He sang his easily-poked-fun-of self-composed lyrics, wore his mom-made sweaters, and never tried to be someone he was not. Even when being interviewed on edgy late night talk shows, he spoke slowly and appeared to be the same guy who welcomed me with a song and a shoe-swap as a kid. One scene in the documentary we are shown footage of his neighborhood show where his shares his love of swimming with his neighbors. He is completely at home with himself, even when he is donning a speedo and swimming loops in the pool. We get the feeling that it never even crosses his mind to not be completely himself, and we are told that we made today special by just being ourselves.

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

4. Invite everyone to be your neighbor.

The genius of Mister Rogers is that he was able to translate the second part of the Great Commandment into simple, secular terms and model loving your neighbor in a practical way. This command is a great struggle for everyone. Loving and liking others doesn’t come naturally, but doing this is essential to Christian life: seeking wholistic ministry, valuing and carrying out the Great Commission, having a healthy family life, confronting racial prejudice and bias, and seeing the image of God and the preciousness of life in each and every neighbor.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if God and neighbor are somehow One. ‘Loving God, Loving neighbor’ — the same thing? For me, coming to recognize that God loves every neighbor is the ultimate appreciation!
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

5. Remember the invisible.

Posted above Mister Roger’s desk was a saying in French from The Little Prince. It said, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’ This quote is very much like what Paul penned in Second Corinthians 4:18, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” We must always be focused on the unseen, realizing that these things are not just important — but essential.

Beside my chair is a saying in French. It inspires me every day. It’s a sentence from Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, and it reads, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’ The closer we get to know the truth of that sentence, the closer I feel we get to wisdom. That which has real value in life in any millennium is very simple. Very deep and very simple! It happens inside of us — in the ‘essential invisible’ part of us, and that is what allows everyone to be a potential neighbor.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

Can we see the world as our neighborhood? Can we see the good in others and like them just the way they are? Can we recognize our feelings and express them in beautiful ways? Can we remember to keep our eyes on the invisible, unseen Kingdom work? Can we slow down rest, play, and be vulnerable? I think we can. Mister Rogers showed us it could be done.

 

I still need all these lessons as much at forty-one as I did when I was four. 

 

I think the big question for our soul is this: Can we accept that we are liked by God just the way we are, not the way we’ve decided we need to be to fit in or to try to be liked? Can we accept that God likes the deep down person we are at the soul-level of our creation, with all our faults and feelings? I’m asking myself that question.

Why do I feel the need to question it?

I think I need to recapture the childlike faith that didn’t question Mister Rogers sitting on my living room carpet with my pigtails in front of our console television.

God likes me just the way I am. Can I say it, sing it, believe it, and live it? Can you?

           Photo by  Pawel Kadysz  on  Unsplash

          Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash

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Day 18: Doer who's humble

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?‘  And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.‘  And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
— Mark 10:35-45 ESV

Jesus asked this, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What if Jesus came to you and asked you this question?  What would be your answer?  Is there a need you are desperate to have filled today?  Would you plead someone’s case, asking God to move in their life?  Would you ask about an unfulfilled dream that you would hope Jesus could bring to fruition

I’m seven sentences into this blog post, and all of them have been questions.  I don’t know what I would ask Jesus to do for me.

I judgmentally look at James and John’s answer.  Surely I wouldn’t ask Jesus to place me at His level, make me His top dog.  Or would I?  (BTW, sorry for calling you Shirley!)

As I think back about my “striving hard to impress God” times in ministry, wasn’t this kind of what I wanted?  I wanted to be noticed, promoted, trusted with more, and praised.

James and John were asking to be second and third in command, placed in a seat of honor, and maybe even seen as holy.

When I strive to look “good” to people, isn’t being seen as holy my goal?

I don’t know about you, but I feel such conviction reading this passage.

Jesus told them, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

That answer must have felt so backward or inverted from what they were expected from Jesus.  Jesus isn’t giving them what they asked.

What I want in my deepest heart of hearts would not be to be a servant.  I can understand their confusion.

Jesus then left that conversation to go die on the cross, paying the ransom of so many in bondage to sin.

Yesterday we discussed freedom.  We considered being a DOER who is free by being someone who DOES out of love.

Serving out of love is the key to freedom and also the key to being more like Jesus, who tells us that He came to serve - not to be served.

When we come to Jesus concerned with our self-interest and self-promotion instead of coming to Jesus concerned about His Kingdom and His will, we are very likely to go away as disappointed as James and John were.  What matters most is His will, the advancement of His Gospel, and His story here on Earth.

A better stance would be to approach Jesus with the humility of a servant as we do, we find our assignment to serve others in our lives from a place of love.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
— 1 John 5:13-15 ESV

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Here you go.  I love the guitar part at the end and the lyric, "I want to knit you a sweater, I want to write you a love letter, I want to make you feel better, I want to make you feel free."  Joni is a treasure.

Day 3: Memorial

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Yesterday I wrote about learning to water ski, as a kid, to impress my dad.  That memory popped into my head recently at the strangest moment.  I was in Washington DC for an overnight stop before flying to Ethiopia with a mission group.  We had 26 suitcases, each 50 pounds, full of supplies and donations.  We had checked them in Dallas, and we had to claim them all and take them to our hotel for the night before checking them again in the morning.  This meant we had to drag all 26 suitcases through the airport, out to the sidewalk, across traffic, and down to where the hotel shuttle would pick us up.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

As I was dragging 100 pounds and my carry-on through the airport, out the door, and across the street, the aching in my arms jogged the memory of aching arms from water skiing.

I also had a Bible story pop into my head as we crossed the street in front of the airport.  I immediately thought of the Israelites passing over the Jordan River on their way to the promise land.  God had them carry stones, one for each of the twelve tribes, and place them in pile as a memorial.

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.‘ When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
— Joshua 4: 1-3, 6b-7 ESV

God wanted the Israelites to remember what God had done for them; He had brought them out of Egypt and into the promise land.

The best way to remember something is having a physical reminder and a muscle memory for that event.

Think of the way Daniel son was trained by Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, not that this is equivalent to the example out of scripture, but it is a good illustration.

 

Wax on, wax off.

Paint the fence.

Sand the floor.

 

God told them to pick up some rocks, knowing how the guys I know operate, they probably scoured the river bed and bragged who had the biggest rock to contribute to the memorial.

As they carried these big, heavy rocks, they were creating a memory.  And what they were to remember wasn’t what they had done, but what God had done.

After arriving in Ethiopia with all 26 of our heavy suitcases, I sat on my bed and thought all of this through.

I wanted to not remember that I had carried supplies for orphan care to Africa.  I wanted that muscle memory of dragging those bags halfway across the world to remind me of what God had done.

God had not only worked all of the circumstances out for good so that our orphan care trip was possible, but he was bringing my heart into a better place, a place filled with grace and freedom.  He was using my serving Him to teach me that what I could do for Him wasn’t where my security should come from.  What I could do for God shouldn’t be where my value comes from, and it was never going to make me holy in the sight of God.  I could never impress God with my proper behavior or good works.  My worth, value, and righteousness comes only from Him.

That is what He has done.

That is what we must remember.

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Why not?  Music is the best.

Day 2: Skiing

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

It makes sense to me that I would have issues with trying to impress God because when I was growing up, impressing my dad was so important to me.

My dad was the one person I wanted favor from the very most, maybe because I knew my mom approved of me.  She told me often how proud she was of me.

I remember the scene.  I was a 6-year-old girl, and my dad was teaching me how to water ski.  I honestly didn’t have a huge desire to be pulled by a boat across the choppy, Texas lake, but I knew my dad would be proud of me if I could do it.  So I was trying my hardest to take it all in.  I had my legs pulled into my chest, and I was doing my best to keep those heavy, kid-sized, wooden skis pointing up.  “Keep your arms out, keep the skis underneath you, and let the boat pull you up,” he said repeatedly, hoping the repetition would let the proper form sink into my thoughts.

I had been pulled by a boat before.  At 5-years, old my neighbor friend and I had rode a board pulled slowly behind our boat together.  We had even stood up, in an exercise in bravery.  I’m sure I was feeding off her courage, because she was a whole year older, clearly much more grown up.

We have home videos of this us on the board, standing together, watching the scenery change around us and waving to the camera.  When we would watch these videos at home, my dad would brag.  “Look at Jennifer,” he would say, “she’s only 5 and she’s out there standing on that board and waving.”

I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my dad would be proud of me if I could get my little, uncoordinated legs to stand on those two curved planks of wood.

I wanted it so bad, not because I thought it would be fun, but because I wanted to hear my dad praise me.

I don’t remember how many tries it took before I finally was able to quit swallowing disgusting, brown lake water and make it up to standing.  I do remember how much my arms hurt.  The motor boat my dad wasn’t anything impressive, but it had enough kick to really pull.  A few times I let it pull me right over my feet, and there was no choice, the force pulls you off that rope quick.  Several times I would begin to make it up, really pulling hard, and I would fall to the side, the water spanking my thighs.  The thing is, you really can’t pull yourself up.  Just like my dad had said, you have to let the boat pull you up.

I tried so many times that my dad began to ask me, “Are you done?  Do you want to get back in the boat?” as he would swing the boat back around in a big, wave-inducing circle.

Whenever you fail to launch or fall, you are left on your own in the middle of that deep, murky water until they get turned around to come back to you.  I know the first few times I was terrified.  What if a boat came and didn’t see me?  What about those creepy, beady-eyed Alligator Gars?

After a few tries, I quit being scared and was thankful for the time it took for the boat to get back to me.  I would put on any skis that had fallen off as quick as possible so I could lay back and float on my back, letting my aching arms and stinging legs relax their muscles for a few seconds.

The question would come, “Are you sure you want to try again.  You look pretty tired.”

“No.  I can do it,” I would tell him.

In a clear miracle that we should all just praise God for, the form finally clicked.  I felt my legs find steadiness as I slowly straightened them out, as the boat pulled me to standing.

I was doing it.  My dad would be proud.

I have water skied so many times during my childhood, and I have even done it a few times as an adult.

It has never been that fun to me.  Sure it is a little fun.  When the lake is smooth, you get up quick enough to not feel like your arms are putty, and the boat takes a slight curve to send you sailing out to the left or to the right, over the wake, you feel like you are flying.  That is fun.  If I am being honest, that was such a low percentage, I don’t know if any of it was worth all the effort.

Other people love skiing.  My dad has a blast.  My brothers loved being adventurous and trying tricks.  It is possible to think it is just the most fun ever.

For me, it was never about that.  I hope my dad isn’t too disappointed to know that I didn’t fall in love with it like he did.

This memory is the clearest, earliest example of how I fell into being a good girl.  I would not only try my very hardest to never do anything my dad wouldn’t approved of, but I would also do anything that would make my dad proud of me.

When I became a Christian, I treated God the exact same way I had treated my dad.  It isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is childish.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
— Corinthians 13:11-12 ESV

It isn’t only childish, but it also isn’t the free life Christ died to give me.  I want that life.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
— John 10:10 ESV

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I like to include a song with each blog post for you.  I almost never listen to country music, but it was such a big part of my childhood and there ain't nothing wrong with this.

I Know You Believe It, You Send Your Kids to Do It

#servetogrow part 6

Last week I went to serve as a counselor at children’s camp.  I was surrounded other counselors that were just kids: teens, pre-teens, and college-aged.  Today I will get on my bike to deliver lunches to children in the low-income neighborhood that I serve.  I will have a lot of help, but I probably won’t have one adult go with me.

I know you are sending your kids to serve, at missions and outreaches, because I’m serving along side them.  You send them to serve on trips and at camps.  Why do you do this?  I’ll tell you why.  You want them to grow spiritually.

You want them to experience God.  You want their minds and hearts to be changed, so they will make good decisions with their lives.

One month from now, I will be in Ethiopia with my daughter Lucy serving with Storyteller Missions, visiting a few orphanages in the capital city, Addis Ababa.  This is my third trip to Ethiopia serving with this organization.  This year it was important to me that my daughter Lucy came on this trip.  It is one of the main reasons for serving this summer.  It’s so important to me for a lot of reasons.  Lucy is seventeen, andI want Lucy to be exposed to the realities of a third-world country.  I want her to see where her future adopted brother, God willing, will come from, what his life was like before our family and the culture he will be leaving behind.  But my biggest reason I want her to go is to mature spiritually.  I want her to see prayers answered.  I want her to depend on God when she feels uncomfortable or unable to solve the unending problems children face in this country.  I want her to see people on the other side of the world worshiping and serving the same God we love and serve.

It is obvious to me that I believe that serving leads to spiritual growth because I taking my daughter to serve in hopes that she grow spiritually.  It is obvious to me that believe it too, because you are sending your kids to grow spiritually through serving.

Why wouldn’t I want those same things for my own spiritual growth?  I do, and you should too.

Even if you served at camps, missions, and trips in your formative years, you still can learn more about God.

As Christians we often talk about the abundant life we are given, but so many times I feel that it is used out of context.  God doesn’t care about your bank account.  He cares about your heart.

On Earth, there will never be a spiritual arrival point.  There isn’t a place you can get where you will know and experience everything God has to show us or our relationship being complete.  That doesn’t happen until Heaven.  While we are here, as we serve the Lord, there are endless lessons to learn about our magnificent God.

I could go to Ethiopia a million times, and that millionth time, I will learn something new about following Jesus.

Here’s the funny thing.  It isn’t about what I accomplish serving Him.  It isn’t about what I can do for Him.  It isn’t about the amount of cloth diapers I can cart in suitcases half way across the world.  It isn’t about how many children I can feed off the trailer of my bike.  God can accomplish so much more with one miracle than I could ever do with my two hands and two feet.

It isn’t about what I can do at all.

God is concerned about my obedience and your obedience.  Obedience stretches you and leads to spiritual growth.  It draws you closer to God, and He wants you close.

I’ve learned this lesson, not on my couch, not in my church pew.  I learned this lesson packing up cloth diapers and dragging them through 4 airports over 8,000 miles.  I learned this lesson pedaling my bike in 100 degree weather.

I’ve learned so many things by coming to the end of myself but never coming to an end to our God.

I can do my best to put these lessons on paper for you to read, but I think you have to go learn them yourself.

This summer, instead of just sending your kids or your youth groups to serve, get out, be obedient, and learn something.  Grow spiritually.

 

I like to share a song with each blog post, because music is so life-giving to me.  This is a song we sang at children's camp, and I can't get enough of it!  It's so fun!

Humble, Serving, Local Church

#servetogrow part 5

Learning about other cultures makes you aware of your own culture.  Someone pointed out to me that people in Northern Africa have a very community based identity, and I can help but notice this same attribute in so many other world cultures.  Having your identity defined by your tribe or family is very different from the culture I grew up in.  It brings America’s culture of individualism more glaring into view.

Movies like Footloose, where a young boy finds his identity in doing the one thing his family and tribe disapproves of - dancing, or E.T., where a child of divorce relates more closely with an alien than his own school and family, or Sixteen Candles, where a family is so disjointed that they forget their daughter’s big birthday, remind me where I get me individualistic thinking from.  I rarely say “we” or “us.”

When I read the letters of the Bible, only a few of them were written to an individual.  There were some letters written to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon.  17 of the 21 letters were written to a specific congregation or multiple congregations.  They were written with to an audience with a different culture than ours, a culture with community based identities.

As you read this passage from Philippians, imagine it was written to your local church, in the way it was written to the church at Philippi.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Reading that passage with a community mindset, it takes on a different life in your mind.  I don’t imagine Paul telling me to humble myself personally and serve, but I imagine Paul telling my people to come together humbly and serve together.

As an individual, we absolutely should take on the humility of Christ and take the form of a servant.  It is a life-long process of sanctification.  This process is spiritual growth.

As a church body, we should also be taking on the humility of Christ and taking the form of a servant.  That means, not just serving each other, but serving our cities and communities.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Our church should look at the people who are not yet part of the global church, those that do not know the life-changing news of the gospel, and count them more significant than our congregation.

I don’t see that happen very often.  I don’t think it’s because people in churches are selfish jerks either.  I think there are a lot of reasons that answer the question of why this isn’t happening in most local churches.

1.  Groupthink

Groupthink is defined as the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.  This is a real thing.  It has been proven by psychological testing.  When humans get together and try to make discussions as a group, creativity goes by the wayside and so do our biggest individual core values.  As a Christian, we know we value serving others, but as a group, that individual responsibility of serving others gets lost.  It takes serious creativity and risk-taking to serve those outside the church.  Groupthink is killing our ability to do this.

2.  Status Quo

Changing the current situation takes a big momentum shift.  It is extremely difficult to change.  Making changes in church culture or policy sometimes ends in pastors being fired or people changing churches.  Those kinds of high-stake consequences make change almost impossible.

3.  Human Nature

It is just a fact that our flesh is drawn to easy and comfortable.  We don’t even think about how much we depend on the comforts of our homes and inward-focused churches.  It is only when our comforts are challenged that we even consider how we operate.  When we remodel our kitchen or go on a mission trip, we are thrown out of our comfort zone and question bigger decisions.  When things our comfortable, we rarely think about the big picture.

4.  Perks of Membership 

Many church members see their church as a type of club they belong to.  They view their tithes as dues, and it is awesome when your club has great benefits, a gym, great childcare, free coffee, cool t-shirts, fun trips, or cool camps.

5.  Lack of Volunteers

Every church struggles to fill nursery volunteer slots and teaching roles.  Church leaders and members can view those empty slots and built a narrative of scarcity.  They see those empty service positions and they decide that their congregation doesn’t have an interest in serving.  The fact is that nursery workers and teachers will be hard tasks to find volunteers for until Jesus comes back.  The true narrative is that congregations are full of people who want to serve, have diverse talents to give, and would gladly use those talents to reach the lost in their community.  They just don’t want to change diapers, and who can blame them.

So how do we stop the groupthink and change the status quo of local church?  How do churches begin serving their city and community?

The worst thing you could do is get mad at your pastor or church leaders.  They are working hard in an emotionally and spiritually difficult job.  They don’t need someone upset; they need someone set free.

I think the best thing you can do is start a work and invite church members to take part in your act of service.  Start small and get your pastor’s blessing.  You pastor might or might not the church’s name associated with your service project.  Be ok with it either way.  Call it the Philippians Project if you need to.  Find out something your community needs and serve them.  Find someone that isn’t a part of the Church, and find a way to show them that you count them more significant than your congregation.

Reading this, you might realize that I began this post telling you to think less individualistically, and now I am telling you to act individualistically.  In a perfect world, we could change our church culture and make it more outwardly focused on a dime.  The reality that we discussed makes this impossible.  Do what you can to peacefully change your local church’s culture and focus, but that is going to take time.  If we wait for those changes to happen before we begin serving our community, forget it.  You might as well pray your great-great-grandkids will have fun serving their community with their church.  You are the church.  You change your actions, invite your church members to join with you in serving, and I think outwardly-focused service will be contagious.  

As you serve your city, you will grow spiritually.  You will become more humble.  You will become more like Christ.

Growing Testimony

#servetogrow Part 4

We all think of our testimony as how we came to know Jesus, and it is that.  It is the answer to the question, “What made you hungry for a relationship with God?”  It is the story of how you realized you needed the grace and forgiveness that Jesus made possible.  The testimony of that moment when you accepted the gift of Jesus and you were born again, that is the beginning chapter of a testimony that will grow as your life continues, as you grow in faith and knowledge of our King.

If God is working in your life, you are adding to your testimony.

If you’d say that God isn’t working in your life, find where God is working, and join Him.  God is always at work.

A growing Christian has a growing testimony.  God never stops working.

At some point for everyone, life gets tough.  Storms come, as we have trials and suffer loss.  In those times, we lean into our God who has anchored us to the shore.  As we see God remain faithful, our faith becomes stronger, more concrete.  God can use our loss to allow us to comfort those who have suffered loss.  God can use the ugly, hurtful things this world opposes upon us to make us driven to protect others, restore others, to seek justice.

Sometimes we mess up.  We blow it.  It happens.  God can use our mistakes to help others.  When we realize our failings, we are so tenderhearted.  We are humbled.  We have compassion for others that have blown it.  We know how it feels to fail our Father.  We confess.  We find loving, free forgiveness.  He redeems.  God has been in the business of redemption since Eve picked up that fruit.  Redemption is possible for Him.  When you bring repentance to the table, He brings a new start.  Doing the hard work of asking forgiveness from people you might have hurt gives them the chance to add a story of forgiveness to their testimony.

God does not waste anything.

In any circumstance, God can use it for His good, to change lives, to change your story.

We see this idea played out most clearly in the life of Joseph.

Trial after trail came, but the same God who gave young Joseph a dream, fulfilled those dreams.  The nation of Israel was spared from famine because of Joseph’s life of faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to Joseph.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
— Genesis 50:18-21 ESV

As we grow spiritually, our testimony grows and grows.  We serve others when we share our testimony.

Anyone you encounter could be at that point of hungering for God, seeking His love and forgiveness.  You could be the one who gives them the first chapter of their testimony.

Share your story.  Serve that person in front of you who needs to hear it.  If the Holy Spirit is involved, you will both grow spiritually because of that conversation.

 

 

I love to include a song with every post.  My mission trip leader texted me this song this morning, how perfect is that?