Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Renewing My Mind about Church

I've been a pastor's wife for over 35 years. We've served in old churches, new churches, large churches, tiny churches, and house churches. I've seen churches start and churches end, and we've served in churches full of encouragement and churches full of discouragement. It kind of feels like the opening quote to The Tale of Two Cities when I think about it. Henry Blackaby once said when he's asked what the best part of ministry is, he answers, "It's the people" and what's the worst part of ministry..."It's the people."

We are the Church, and, sadly, sometimes we are a mess. But this is not about bashing Christians or the church. I love both! And so does God! But God has been renewing my mind about what being the Church means and what "doing church" should look like. And it comes back to the people and all our messy relationships as we live life together.

We are called very specifically by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 to make disciples, baptize people, and teach them what He's taught us. In most of the churches I've seen, discipleship is simply another class someone can sign up for. I don't think that is what Jesus had in mind; however, what He had in mind requires a lot from us and a real commitment to shepherding people in small groups.

God has been challenging me about where our focus should be. I love producing choir programs/dramas and special events in general for the church family. I love fellowship and Bible study. I love Sunday worship services full of prayer, music, and teaching/preaching. But none of that is really discipleship.

I've talked about this often, and I believe I've even blogged about it in the past, but it is becoming extremely obvious that we have to do something now to change the way most of us have done church. We are losing a whole generation of believers.

When I think of what Jesus did to train His disciples, I see several things that I think we should be focusing on in our groups.

1. He shared his experiences. We should share our testimonies, and experiences...the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. When we are afraid to share, we put up a wall between us and others. Our experiences from the past can help encourage someone who's struggling through the same thing now (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and having others watch us as we walk through life's ups and downs helps them to learn how to navigate life as well. Hopefully we do it right, but even when we don't, we still get back up and keep going. We continue to follow God even if we need to repent in the process. 

2. He told stories. Stories are powerful. Whether we are sharing with our children or with another adult, sometimes spiritual truth is grasped more easily through analogy and metaphor. We need to let God's wonderful creativity flow through us so that others can gain true understanding.

3. He spent time with them. Jesus spent nearly all of His time with His disciples. I know it's hard to spend extended periods of time with people in our current culture, but we must try. We need to text, call, email, and meet face-to-face as much as our schedules will allow. The more consistent time we can spend with someone, the more we grow. I have shared before about the year that I discipled two young women who would come to our home every evening after work. It was the most wonderful experience I've ever had as a believer. If you can do it, don't hesitate. One word of caution: I know that disciples can become too reliant on us for their spiritual understanding. The year I had with these two women was so wonderful because they were daily devouring the Word of God. They came equipped with questions and wanting understanding of what they had read. We used no other books except the Bible.

4. He taught them directly. Many times Jesus sat with His disciples and taught them directly. He knew what they needed to learn because He knew everything. When we spend time with people we can discern what God wants us to teach. We can use teachable moments and planned teaching times to help our disciples grow.

5. He answered their questions. I love it when disciples ask questions. Often they ask really hard questions! But what a joy to wrestle with those questions and help them find the answers. It's one of my favorite parts of discipleship.

6. He challenged them. Jesus lovingly challenged His disciples when they were making wrong choices or were lacking in faith. We have to challenge our disciples too in a loving and supportive way. We want to see them succeed and grow. To ignore problems is not loving or supportive.

7. He let God's miraculous power show. Jesus calmed the storm, walked on water, fed people, raised the dead, and healed. He showed His disciples that God's power was real and that God is real. He is concerned about His children and is active in our world. Letting God's work in our lives show is hard if we don't acknowledge it ourselves. I recommend making a prayer list and keeping track of answered prayer. It helps us become more aware of what God is doing around us.

Jesus had an unbroken relationship with God, of course, because He did not sin. However, He also spent time in prayer with God each day. We need to follow His example. As leaders, teachers, and most importantly, as disciplers, we must spend time with God in prayer and in His Word. We should daily lift up our disciples in prayer. When our hearts are right with God, we can be effective in obeying His command to make disciples because we can hear His voice and follow His leading in how best to lead others. This is real church.

***As parents, we are the first disciplers our children have. We need to take that responsibility seriously. We must be comfortable with spiritual discussions. Kids are curious, and we should enjoy that curiosity. Their faith is so beautiful, and we should encourage it. I love what Jennifer Grant said in a recent blog post,

"I'm not inspired to write books that explain God to kids or preach at them. (They get enough of that sort of thing already, don't you think?) Rather, I'm inspired to wonder, with them, about the nature of God. Why must we listen to them and become like them to know God? Do they, more than jaded grownups, reflect God's image in their openness and curiosity? Their enthusiasm? Their lack of pretense? What can we learn from the way children see the world about how God sees it?" --Jennifer Grant, author of Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too and other books worth buying.

I think one of the best books we can share with our kids to open up discussions about discipleship is C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The whole series is wonderful, but I recommend you take some time to re-read the book and then share it with your children when they are in elementary school. There are so many open doors for discussion in those pages.***

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Tell Your Story

I wrote this blog post originally in another blog, but I've added to it and edited it some. It seemed it needed to be posted again, especially in light of a few things on my heart and mind. As I am preparing for an upcoming workshop, I've felt strongly that we need to speak more in redemptive ways. Yes, we need to tell our stories, but not just our stories. Our stories must reflect and amplify His Story to the world that needs Jesus so much. 

I've been thinking a lot about resilience. When I think of all those who've lost everything to hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, or earthquakes, I realize they grieve, and they go on.
When I think of those who lost loved ones in a shooting or an act of terror or even from illness or accident, they grieve, and they go on.

And with all the talk of the "me too" campaign, I realize they too have gone on.

I don't say "moved on" because that would insinuate that they ignore what happened and aren't affected by it. No, we are forever changed by these events in our lives. We really never get over the loved one who died or the baby we lost. We still carry scares from the attacks, storms, and unwelcome advances. Like footprints in our hearts and minds, they are there. Shadows that follow us unnoticed on most days, but there nonetheless.

I am saddened by all that has happened lately. But more than that, I am amazed! I am encouraged by the strength, determination, and perseverance of the human race.

I love what Zora Neale Hurston says in her essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," "I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all...I do not weep at the world--I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife."

I love that. It isn't that she didn't suffer prejudice and discrimination; it's that she didn't let it rule her life. She looked to the future and saw the world as her oyster. That's what we do. We are not victims but overcomers. We are not beaten down, we have risen. We aren't bitter, we are forgivers.

Victims suffer in silence and are imprisoned by their fear and pain. Overcomers find freedom, victory, and life even in the worst of circumstances. They live over their circumstances and in spite of them, not under them.

I saw a video of a man who had lost everything because of his faith. He was a refugee in his own country. I was amazed. All he had was love and concern for those who took everything. He was content. He was joyful. He was victorious. That's what forgiveness does for the forgiver. It frees us. It fills us with God's love for those who are unjust and hate-filled.

Forgiveness does not say that what they did was right. I believe some have come to this false notion because of how we approach others and God when we need forgiven.
C.S. Lewis wrote a great essay about forgiveness, but he was dealing with when we confess our sins to God. If we go making excuses for our sins, we are not truly asking for forgiveness. Maybe that's why we have so much trouble forgiving others. We've misunderstood what forgiveness really is. It is always undeserved. It is always unearned. There is never an excuse for our behavior. And there is no one to blame but ourselves. If we come to God or others asking forgiveness, it is because we have no excuse for our actions or decisions. If we have a good excuse, then it is a mistake that makes sense and can be overlooked. But forgiveness covers what has no excuse.

Yes, I know I just chased a rabbit there...back to the resilience of the human heart. I have seen those who suffer from PTSD, and they continue to find ways to thrive. The human heart is somehow capable of carrying a tremendous amount of pain and still walk in joy. It is a mystery to me how that is even possible, but God made us this way. He warned us life would be cruel to us and that we'd have many sorrows. But He made a way for us to find joy through it all.

I have to go to a couple other Zora Neale Hurston quotes: "There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you." and "If you are silent about your pain they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it."

We need to tell our stories. There is healing in the telling and in the hearing. Your story can help bring healing and hope to others. In the early stages of healing when we are still processing the fear and pain, our story helps us walk through our situation. As we begin to find healing and wholeness and joy, our story helps others have hope. We should tell our stories a thousand times, because each time we've gone through different steps and stages and have more to tell. Life is never stagnant but always moving, always changing and growing. We should too.

If you feel like you are stuck and stagnant, can I encourage you to tell your story? Find someone you can trust who can listen and truly hear your story. The healing waters will begin to flow, even if only a small trickle at the beginning.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalms 147:3, NKJV)

I watched the sweetest video today and thought you might enjoy it as well. This song and these children's outlook show a little of the resilience I'm meaning here. God is so good, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

***As part of my mission, I want to share books with you that you can share with the children in your life. We are the first disciplers in their lives. We need to be passionate about reaching and teaching them. I found a few books about resilience and courage, but as I looked, I could not get the story of Joseph out of my mind. So, this time, I wrote an interactive story for you to enjoy with your child. I hope you enjoy it.

Sign up for my mailing list, and you can download the story for free.
If you are already on my mailing list, please email contact@terriehellardbrown.com and I will send you the link to the story.***