Why We Need the Church

Our church has faced tremendous loss over the last four months. Devastating traumas have shaken us to the core. We’ve said “goodbye” to people, way before we have been ready. We’ve prepared for funerals that shouldn’t have needed to take place. We’ve prayed earnestly for miracles. We’ve cried tears over prayers that were answered in ways we still don’t understand.

Amidst the sadness, I’ve seen generations of believers coming together in love. I have watched two women, who lost their adult sons, embracing, decades between their losses. I have seen families stepping up to serve meals. I’ve witnessed selfless acts of giving. I have observed love in a very tangible way.

A lot of people have given up on church. So many people turn to their own version of church, claiming that the rest and refreshment on Sundays is what they are looking for and what God wants for us. Online services make it really easy to be filled and move on. It also makes it easy to fast forward through what we don’t want to hear,

One of the Ten Commandments says, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11 NLT) 

Yes, it’s important to rest; it says so right there. But it also says to set it apart as holy. Holy means “dedicated or consecrated to God”. Now, I love a nap as much as the next girl, but I cannot say that my nap time is dedicated or consecrated to God. I may feel more like reading my Bible or singing praise songs when I’m rested, but there has to be an element of God to my Sabbath.

Here’s the other thing about church: It doesn’t just happen on Sundays. For my fellow Baptists, it doesn’t just happen on Sundays and Wednesday nights. The Church is a body of believers. It is the Bride of Christ. If you’re married, do you only consider yourself a spouse one day a week? Of course not; it’s a 24/7 commitment. Church happens on a random Tuesday when another member needs a ride. Church happens when a husband gets laid off and the family cannot afford groceries. Church happens when a teen mom cannot pay for Christmas gifts. Church happens when a loved one dies and you don’t know how you’ll get out of bed the next morning. These connections do not happen through a livestream.

Even though I wish I could take every hurt away from my friends, I also wish I could effectively explain the beauty of seeing God’s people acting as His hands and feet.

Acts 2:42-47 says, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” (NLT)

THIS is church. THIS is what God wants for us. Sunday mornings help us establish discipline. They help us set apart a time to learn God’s Word and to sing praises to Him in a collective way. Hearing a choir of voices gives me the tiniest glimpse of heaven, and I absolutely love it. How beautiful that sound is to God. Wednesday nights at our church are set aside for prayer. We read a chapter of the Bible together, and then we pray. We make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6-7). The Bible assures us that when two or more are gathered in His name, He is with them (Matthew 18:20). There are other opportunities for teenagers, children, young adults, not-so-young adults, women, men, etc. to fellowship (AKA eat), learn more about the Bible, sing, and have fun. It’s usually in these “extra” church moments where we grow the most.

I know it’s kind of a joke in churches that some people only come on Christmas and Easter. But, Easter is this Sunday, and I would be honored if you joined a local church body for services. And maybe even the Sunday after that. We need each other. God wants us to love and support each other. Jesus named it among the top two things to obey (see Matthew 22:38). If you aren’t around people, you won’t know their needs, and they won’t know yours.

As we remember Good Friday today, truly reflect on the sacrifice God made for us. Sunday is coming, but it took Jesus’ death on the cross to get to the celebration of the resurrection. Remember that Jesus spent His last night on earth with His twelve disciples. Remember that it was a crowd of Jesus’ followers who stood at the foot of the cross. They comforted each other, processed with one another, and rejoiced together three days later. He recognized community, and He wants it for us, too.

See you Sunday.

 

Cleaning Out My Closet

I don’t go shopping for clothes a lot. I’m a huge fan of buying online. I tend to buy things before a trip or for certain events. It’s not a hobby of mine, for sure. But when my mom comes in town, we go shopping. I had a great shopping day on Friday, and it got even better when my sister let me shop in her closet as well!

When I finally had a minute to organize my new clothes, I realized how unorganized my closet had become. My shoes had been haphazardly flung inside, my scrubs, which typically lie stacked in a neat pile, had fallen over into my jeans. I had bags, pictures, and books piled in every crevice. I became disgusted at the chaos, so I grabbed a stool and began the process of refolding, rehanging, and replacing. One task became two, and eventually,  I spent about an hour on the spontaneous project. I needed to purge. Clothes I had been hanging onto were suddenly ready for the giveaway pile. I found things I had been looking for for weeks. All in all, I pulled out two full trash bags worth of clothes and shoes to donate, and one grocery bag of trash. Then, because I needed a true, deep clean, I grabbed the cleaning supplies to dust and sweep. Mary Poppins would be proud of my end result.

I sat there and stared at the clean closet. I sent a picture to my sister to show her my handiwork and to let her know her clothes were feeling right at home in my possession. I was proud of the job I had done, and I was resting more easily with the disorder resolved.

Of course, I don’t want to blog about my cleaning escapades. I want to show you the connection that God laid on my heart. 

When we make a decision to follow Christ, He doesn’t immediately make us “give up” our former ways. He doesn’t ask us to change or fix our bad habits, He just calls us to come. Slowly, but surely, He leads us to a better way. He shows us the way to live through Jesus’ example. We begin to pick up new habits like reading our Bibles, singing praise and worship songs, praying, and attending Bible studies during the week. When we start adding those to our routine, the old things start to look undesirable. They become easier to throw away. We start to hate the sin.

I feel like I clean out my closet pretty regularly, yet every time I decide it’s time for another clothes detox, I find more things to get rid of. It’s not that I’m adding so many things that I need to clean out more often to make it fit, it’s the fact that as I buy new things, my old clothes start to look dated. I can no longer remember how long it’s been since I wore them last. I am ready to turn away from the old to make room for the new.

To grow in Christ, we have to hate our sin as much as God does. We have to see our “little slip ups” as unacceptable and disgusting. Proverbs 15:9 says, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves him who follows righteousness.”(NKJV) 

It’s hard to live in community with God when we allow sin in our lives. As humans, we can never completely eradicate sin, but we can learn to avoid it. The book of 1 John is very clear about living in sin while we are in fellowship with God. 1 John 3:6 says, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.”  (ESV) and 1 John 1:6 says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (NKJV) Ouch! 

My closet is not huge. I could not continue to buy new clothes and keep all of the old. I physically have to clear some out if I buy new things. Having too much stuff also limits the functionality. When I am wise about what I keep, I can more easily maintain an organized system where I know the layout, and I know where everything belongs.

When we declutter our hearts, our relationship with God makes more sense. It’s hard to praise Him for forgiveness when we continue to do the very thing we are asking forgiveness for. It’s confusing to people who see a two-faced lifestyle; it hurts our witness. It won’t ever be perfect, but it will be a step in the right direction.

My closet will not win any major awards for organization or efficiency. It’s most definitely a work in progress, but it’s progress, nonetheless. Philippians 3:14 tells us “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (NKJV) It does not say “I’ve won the race”. We press on.

Don’t settle for chaos and confusion. We read in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (NKJV). If you’re confused about something in your life, it’s probably not of God. Pray about it, seek guidance from more mature Christians, and sort it out.

It’s time to clean out your closet.

Identity

Last weekend, I was blessed to have an opportunity to speak to a group of junior high and high school girls. When I asked ahead of time what topics they might need to hear about, my friend mentioned anxiety, self-image, family, peer pressure, and identity. Identity really struck a chord with me. I know as students, this struggle comes up a lot, but I’m gonna be honest- it’s something adults struggle with as well. We all want to know that we are “somebody”. That we are making a difference. That we are “the person God created us to be”. And it seems like a daunting task to figure out what exactly that means.

We are given names. We are born with certain physical features. We develop personalities and interests. We are labeled.

Smart. Kind. Popular. Athlete. Mathlete. Stupid. Single. Taken. Sister. Friend. Daughter. Dancer. Runner. Lazy. Ditzy. Black. White. Snob. Christian. Fat. Skinny. Pretty. Ugly. Rich. Poor.

We label everything. Our food, our clothes, our cars, our pets, ourselves. Sometimes we wear a lot of them. Most of the labels I wear have placed on myself or have had them placed by someone else. They may all be true, but they are not what God calls me. So what does He call us?

I am a child of God.

Galatians 3:26 says, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”. What does it mean to be someone’s child?

  • We are loved
    • Romans 5:5 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”
    • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, He gave his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”
    • Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” (Notice it says UNFAILING. That means it never ends. That means even if we mess up, even if we run, even if we fail to acknowledge Him, He still loves us.)
  • We are provided for
    • Psalm 145:16 “When you open your hand, You satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.”
    • Philippians 4:19 “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”
  • We are connected to a family
    • John 1:12 “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”
    • In Paul’s letters in the New Testament (Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, etc.), he refers to us as brothers and sisters. While we may have iffy feelings about our earthly brothers and sisters, there is something cool about sharing a gene pool with someone. Even if our gene pool is the blood of Christ, and not DNA.
  • We are heirs
    • Romans 8:17 “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share His suffering.”

I am chosen.

  • We don’t have to beg. We don’t have to pull a Meredith Gray, “Pick me. Choose me. Love me.” He’s already done it. We’re not the last ones left in gym class. We don’t have to impress Him. It’s done, and it was done before we were even born.
  • Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
  • 1 Peter 2:9 “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”
  • Colossians 3:12 “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”
    • Being chosen comes with a command. Since you are chosen, you must…
    • Just like in sports, once you are chosen, you have a job to do. You are part of the team, and you have responsibilities.

 I am redeemed.

  • We hear this word a lot in “church speak”, but what does it mean? It means that something or someone has compensated for our faults and flaws. It means to gain possession of something through payment- but not in a creepy way. Jesus paid the price for our sins. His death on the cross means that any sin we commit, have committed, will commit, is paid for already. Forgiveness is ours if we ask for it.
  • We hear it paired with “set free”. We are free from our sin. People get confused by freedom in Christ and think we can just behave however we want. Here’s the thing. God doesn’t make us do anything. He doesn’t make us love Him. He doesn’t say “you can’t do this, this, or this.” He tells us what we shouldn’t do, and He makes it clear how He wants us to act. But He gives us free will. Freedom in Christ means that we are not enslaved to our sin. If you’ve placed a label on yourself, it’s not stuck there. Praise God I don’t have to keep committing the sins I’ve done. I’m free from my past mistakes because God has forgiven me and shown me a better way. I am redeemed by God, and that IS a label that can stick.
  • Ephesians 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace”

 I am bought with a price.

  • So, if redemption means we’ve been bought with a price, what did we cost? Are we each worth something different? Did I cost more if I have more sins to forgive? Am I worth more because I’ve been going to church since I was born? No. We were all bought by the blood of Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20 “God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”
    • Like the verses we talked about before that say we have a responsibility that comes with being chosen, we have a responsibility that comes with being bought. It’s not that God hangs His sacrifice over our heads, but it’s the idea that we should WANT to do everything we can to thank Him and glorify Him for His great sacrifice. That means our bodies, our gifts, our talents, our money belong to Him.
    • Revelation 5:9 “By your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”

 I am a sheep.

  • One of the most well-known Bible passages is Psalm 23. It starts out with the line “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. The whole Psalm compares us to sheep that desperately need a good shepherd, which God is.
  • Sheep are easily led astray. They need a shepherd to keep them safe. We need a leader, and we have all of this in God.

 A flower, quickly fading.

  • We aren’t invincible. We are only here for a short time. We cannot rely on the labels we give ourselves to stick around. Our looks, our abilities, our possessions are not going to last, but God will.
  • 1 Peter 1:23-25 “For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.””

Salt and Light

  • Lately, “salty” means angry, bitter, or upset. That’s not what I’m talking about. We’re going with salty like the food. That crawfish boil salty. That perfectly buttered popcorn salty.
  • Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
  • Salt preserves and salt enhances flavor. You, as a Christian, can lead others to Christ, therefore preserving them, or leading them to salvation through Christ. You can also show them the richer life. Not necessarily wealthy, but rich as in more meaningful, more colorful, and ultimately, the better way. The world says Christians are boring- maybe we are. God hasn’t called us to be Tony’s- salt mixed with a lot of other junk. Yeah, it tastes good, but it’s not serving the purpose of pure salt. We may not look like the world, but we have the answer to eternal life. We have the God who created the universe on our side. We have a Father who hears our prayers and seasons our lives richly. He preserves us and enhances our lives. Let’s live as a reflection of this!
  • What about light? 1 John 1:5-7 tells us, “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

I want you to understand that identity in Christ doesn’t just happen. If you’re struggling to figure out who you are, or you’re wondering if you are enough, go to the Word. Read your Bible to know your Bible. Hide God’s Word in your heart so that when Satan tempts you to think you are worthless, you can fight back and claim 1 Peter 2:9- “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light”. When you think you aren’t good enough for salvation, you can boldly proclaim Ephesians 2:8 “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” When you’re paralyzed by fear and anxiety, you can shout 2 Timothy 1:7, which says “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind”. To know the labels of God, you have to learn them from the Bible.

So who does God say you are?

Child. Chosen. Worthy. Redeemed. Loved. Purchased. Beautiful. Defended. Holy. Salt. Light. Sought-after. Pursued. Cherished. Forgiven. Free. Spotless.

 

(All verses are from the NLT translation)