Friday, October 12, 2018

Not Just for Kids Anymore

I stopped by the hospital the other day to visit a friend from church. He was still in the Emergency Room so I wasn’t sure if they’d let me see him. I told the desk clerk his name and asked if I could say hi, even though I wasn’t family.

“Who are you?”she asked.

“I’m his Sunday school teacher,” I said. 

She snorted. SNORTED! And said, “His Sunday school teacher?” as if it’s a strange thing for a grown man to have a Sunday school teacher. I wasn’t sure if he had behaved badly and she couldn’t believe he went to church, or she thought Sunday school is just for kids.
impromptu prayer for passing ambulance
Whether you call it Sunday school, Adult Electives, small group, community, or growth group—getting together consistently with people who know and love you, and want to know and love God better, is a very good thing. Small groups rejoice in answered prayers and victories large and small. And they offer comfort when other members suffer pain. 

Churches in Britain first began to offer Sunday school to poor children in the 1780’s so they could learn to read and write. They used the Bible as their textbook. These children worked in horrible conditions during the Industrial Revolution, six days a week. It wasn’t until 1802 that laws were passed to put a twelve hour limit on their days. And that stayed in place for another forty years. 

Their one day off became an opportunity to get an education and have a better life—plus prizes, games, outings, and a doorway to a lifelong relationship with God. The idea was so popular it spread to America, and adults got into the act, not just as teachers but as attenders.

An artist's beloved Bible, Dalia Lanita

Dalia Lanita's Bible

Kids aren’t the only ones who need to make friends, laugh, share a snack, and learn how to apply what the Bible says to everyday life. Bible studies, support groups, and small groups that meet all days of the week have nourished me in countless ways over the years. I’ve made lifelong friends and found comfort and support in the darkest times.

Lately, our Sunday school class has been studying Revelation, which can be a mystical and foreboding book of the Bible, but we’re having a blast. We have fun because it’s a safe place to be yourself, share what you’re learning, and ask questions. Plus we have snacks. We're growing together.

I’m currently involved in three kinds of small groups: Sunday morning in Revelation, IF Table—a women’s dinner and discussion night that meets once a month, and Spark—a group that meets once a week to read through the Bible aloud and discuss as we go. Each one has a different format and involves different people, but they all meet our deep need for connection—with others and with God.
join a group that is welcoming

informal backyard settings are great

What about you?

  • Did you attend some kind of small group as a child? What were your experiences?
  •  Are you part of a small group now? If so, what do you do when you get together?
  • What needs does small group meet for you?
  • What do you wish would happen in your small group that doesn’t?
  • What kind of small group would you join if you could?
  • Have you ever taught or led a small group? 

      I would love to hear from you! Your comments will help others who are either enjoying, frustrated with, or longing for a small group of their own. Your experiences and ideas could be the catalyst they need to take to connect with a community of terrific people.

#yeaforsmallgroups #adultsinchurch #adultSundayschool #howSundayschoolstarted #Sundayschoolisforeveryone

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Do You Ache?

The chunky black letters graffitied on the underpass caught my eye as we drove through: “ACHE.” My heart tightened in a sympathetic bond with the writer. We all understand what it means to ache. It is constant, unrelenting pain, not always enough to incapacitate us, but enough to make us miserable. We suffer heartache, backaches, stomachaches, toothaches as an ever-present gnawing we can’t escape.

What was the author of this graffiti going through when they wrote this? There were no other words of explanation, just pain that needed to voice itself to the world. We all need that—someone to listen and have compassion, and help us find solutions.

Aches, like all pain, are evidence we’re in need of care. They’re a signal something needs attention. Pain is a good thing if it motivates us to find the cure.

A stomachache lets us know we’ve got a bug and need to get some rest, or that we overate and need to stop eating until our body catches up. Or it tells us there’s something going on inside that isn’t right and needs to be checked out. Or our stomachache tells us it’s time to take some deep breaths and let them out slowly until our nervous energy slides away.  

Toothaches and backaches signal we need to see a doctor, rest, floss, change our diet, or learn how to lift/work more wisely. If we don’t listen to our body’s signal to stop or change we’ll suffer greater consequences. 

When our heart aches, because of rejection, disappointment, or abuse, it’s time to be wise and pull in. We need to find a safe place where our heart can heal and not be repeatedly torn or bludgeoned.

Of all these aches, there’s nothing compared to the ache of a soul longing for God. Like other aches, this unrelenting emptiness is good if it motivates us to action. God plants this ache in us that can only be filled by His love. Nothing else will satisfy. No person, place, or thing; no puppy, career, or the glory of nature can fill the emptiness of a soul without God.

Job ached for his God when he was going through the torment of loss and grief; his body covered with painful boils. He wondered where God was in all this suffering. To top it off, his friends decided all this had happened because he had sinned and started preaching at him. He ached for relief, yes, but even more than that, he ached for God, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth…I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25, 27). And Job’s yearning was satisfied.

God also created us to ache for relationship with other people. Together, we don’t feel so alone in our struggles, or even in our joys. We can vent, cry, or rejoice together. One man wrote a song about this ache to be in God’s presence with His people, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psa. 84:2). His ache was satisfied when he went to God’s house.

Surprisingly, as we discover the solution to our soul-ache, it grows deeper and more persistent, “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you” (Isa. 26:9). This pain is not from trauma or sickness, but the increasing sweetness of our relationship with Jesus. The more time we spend with our Creator, the more we want. We wake up thinking about Him, continue all day long, and even into the night. His love saturates every pore of our being with gratitude and purpose; we ache for His love and He fills us over and over. 

I have prayed for the graffiti artist to experience this exquisite ache for God, and find friends to sing, dance, laugh, hug, and cry with. I hope they paint their love for Christ on the walls of their church or home with joyful abandon. Aching, yet filled.

#wheredoesithurt #yearning #longforJesus #lookforlove #purposeofpain #createdtoneedhim #Psa84:2 #Isa26:9 #Job19:25

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Is Faithfulness Old?

 My husband and I recently returned from Yellowstone. We lined up with hundreds of spectators from all over the world to witness the wonder of Old Faithful. We watched our clocks, vied for position; the tension mounted as eruption time neared. Finally it came. We all did our best to capture the spectacular in pictures and videos.

We craned our necks, stood on benches to get a better view, and focused on the geyser of boiling water. The fountain turned to steam in the cold, and rose ever-higher into the blue Wyoming sky. I was captivated by the power of God on display in the natural world.

But as soon as it ended I heard murmuring.

“I don’t know. I guess I expected more,” one woman said as she and her husband walked slowly on.

A little farther over, a man told his friends who arrived too late, “Yeah, we watched the last one, then went and grabbed some lunch and came back for the one this hour. You can catch it next time around.” As if it was the late show on a cruise ship! I was amazed how blasé some people were about what we had just witnessed.

This natural phenomenon occurs so consistently—every 45-125 minutes—that they named it Old Faithful. Does that cheapen the miracle? When faithfulness becomes the norm, do we appreciate it less?

What does faithfulness mean to you? To me faithfulness is something or someone you can count on. Faithful people are steady, committed, and don’t let momentary feelings sway them from what they said they would do. Too often, we take this constancy for granted, even sneer at the predictability of their ways. Why?

Don’t we want faithful husbands and wives? Cars and appliances that operate consistently? Who doesn’t want to hire loyal employees who show up on time for work every day? And wouldn’t you like to have reliable government representatives in office who serve with integrity?

Yet, often faithfulness is treated like a thing of the past; a quaint custom of bygone years. Faithful church attendance is viewed as dull and excessive. Many think a lifetime commitment to one spouse and sex partner is boring and prudish. Our society is riddled with job hopping, wife swapping, couch flopping, church shopping individuals. Is it progress to glamorize infidelity  and justify being undependable in a quest for self-discovery and diversity?

Nobody lines up to witness me reading the Bible every morning, or whether I exercise, take care of our home, or write. They might even find my routine boring in its sameness. My same husband comes home every day and we go to the same church every Sunday to worship the same God, who never changes. But that’s what makes it all so beautiful.

The old hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” says there’s “no shadow of turning with Thee.” We don’t have to chase shadows to find God on the landscape of our world; He is constant and dependable. God doesn’t check out or get distracted. God is ancient, that’s for sure, but not outdated.

Our faithfulness can build up over time and leave a legacy. The mound in this photo came from minerals deposited by repeated eruptions from a once active geyser. To me this stone is like a monument to faithfulness. And that’s the kind of legacy I want to leave.

Is faithfulness old? You bet it is. But it is rock solid and only grows more precious over time.

#greatisthyfaithfulness #faithfulnessoutdated #Godourrock #Yellowstone #geysers

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Beware Bad Seeds!

I woke up last Thursday feeling rather strange; my face felt tight. When I looked in the mirror I hardly recognized what looked back at me. My face had puffed up; my eyes were little slits peeping out at me, begging for help. For two days I’d been sneezing and blowing my nose constantly. Now, my body was itching with an all-over rash. What was left of my vision was blurry and my eyes itched like crazy. I went to Urgent Care where they gave me a steroid shot in the hip and a selection of meds to clear up a severe allergic reaction to a plant in our yard.
How did this wicked plant get in our yard? 

Two years ago I bought a packet of sunflower seeds. Somehow, a random seed made its way into the packet. I watered and coaxed the sunflowers through the season, but they never did well. The mystery plant, however, grew quickly and thrived. Since it was growing…well, like a weed, and had interesting feathery leaves and spire-like heads (and was somewhat attractive), I let it grow. I had one giant healthy mystery plant in a row of sickly sunflowers.

This summer, none of the sunflowers reappeared, but the mystery plant came back. And I let it grow again. Why not, it was healthy? Little did I know its agenda—to take over our yard while Kelly and I were on vacation!

When we returned it was three feet high and four feet across, and spreading across the walkway behind our deck. So I trimmed it back. My nose rebelled. I sneezed and blew my drippy nose until the skin started to peel on both sides. One miserable day later I yanked that plant out completely and put it in the trash. But not before it thoroughly coated me with a massive dose of whatever it had to muster as I carried it to the garbage can. 

And I must have rubbed my face at some point—thus the tiny-eyed woman in the mirror pleading for release.

I couldn’t help but compare this evil seed to James’ words, “My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:12). We can’t expect to grow something good from a weed seed any more than we can expect to speak or do things that glorify God from seeds of the flesh. 

Living a godly life isn’t easy. Like the sunflowers I intended to grow, developing love, kindness, faith, courage, and other godly fruit, takes work and attention. It’s much easier to let grow what comes naturally—selfishness, boasting, impatience, gossip and much more. 

Why do we let them grow? Because it’s easier than fighting our sin nature; they look somewhat attractive; they make us feel good at the moment. But then, like the plant in our yard, what started as a single seed begins to take over and, in the end, causes pain and distress. 

That plant got hauled off by the garbage truck, but I’m sure it left behind seed. Next year, however, I won’t be so gullible. I will know what to look for, and rip it out quickly before it gains any ground. I need to do the same when I recognize worldly thinking growing where there should be Son-flowers. Whatever doesn’t line up with what Jesus taught I need to root it out. Weeds like: self-indulgence, faithlessness, a defeatist mindset. Unless I rip them out they will cause great harm, and leave me weak and useless for the kingdom of God. 

Have you let any weeds grow in your garden lately?
Good seed; good things!

kale, blueberries, and fresh tomatoes

peas and beans bursting on the vine

#whatyouplantwillgrow #weedseed #james3:12 #lifeintheflesh #dangerousweeds

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Faith and Feelings

It’s pretty cool to read and drive at the same time; even better enjoying the scenery around you while you enter another world. That’s what I did on my recent trip to California. I read a couple audio books and it was marvelous. I made it through two, despite some shocking language and interesting theology. I kept listening because I heard in both memoirs the aching need to find God and be at peace with who they were. And I desperately wanted to see them get there.

A common thread in both books, and one that seems to keep popping up since I’ve returned, is our tendency to put faith in feelings. I’ve learned, and keep learning, that emotions come and go. They’re affected by many things. Scrooge didn’t immediately believe the ghost before him was his friend Marley in A Christmas Carol because, as he said, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

Our feelings change according to what we’ve eaten, the amount of rest and exercise we’ve had, our insecurities, our life experiences, and what we’ve been plugging in to our brains. So if we base our relationship with God on how we feel, we’re going to be all over the place.

One scene in Father Joe pointed this out beautifully. The author came to know the Lord as a young man and had spent every moment since preparing to enter the monastery. He read theological works voraciously, delighted in Gregorian chant, and recited scripture and prayers with enthusiasm. Then just as suddenly as his joy in Christ had come, it left him during his evening prayers as if sucked out of him like a vacuum.

He struggled and prayed far into the night and when he woke, he was kneeling by his bed in a crumpled heap. After school he took the train to his beloved mentor, plagued by doubts and arguments disproving the faith he had held so dear. Father Joe welcomed him with love and warmth, and listened as he poured out his deepest fears.

He comforted the boy and sent him off for some much needed sleep. In the morning, they were able to talk rationally about the difference between faith and feelings.

“You fell in love with God, you see, and now the romantic part is over. It happens to us all, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll never have that feeling of light and certainty again?”

“Someday you’ll experience a much greater light and certainty than just feelings.”

“Feelings are not good?”

“Feelings are a great gift, but they’re treacherous if that’s what we live for. They drive us back into our selves, you see. What I want. What I feel. What I need.”*

This Father, who had become like his own father, took time to explain how our relationship with God is like a marriage. When we first fall in love we’re high on emotion; that energy drives and motivates us. But after a while, that high fades and we have to move from emotion to something much better. Whether we feel like it or not—when we’re sick, when money is tight, when we disagree on how to discipline the kids, and life gets choppy—commitment is what makes love last. Then the feelings swell once again, only deeper. Faith is like that.  

Maybe you’re at this point in your relationship with Christ, or in your recovery, or marriage, or job. Emotions can’t be trusted to carry us the distance. They come and they go—including how we feel about ourselves.

Trust in the timeless Word of God to find out who He is, who you are, and how to keep from blowing apart in this world of cultural fads and shifting philosophies. Pour out your doubts and fears to God like this young boy did, and let Him, your Father God, calm the storm within you and set you back on course.

*from Father Joe by Tony Hendra (read with caution; lots of language)

#don’ttrustemotions #factbasedfaith #ourFatherlistens #runtoGodwithdoubts #whenemotionsrunfaith