In Search of the Perfect Church (Part Five)

blizzard

A Nor’easter is coming Lord.

It’s headed our way,

Straight at Your church Jesus.

Dear Savior, help us we pray.

The dark clouds encompass us,

powerful winds try to tear us away.

The BLIZZARD is upon us! HELP! We pray.

Heavy snow is causing us to fear.

Branches are breaking.

Please draw us near.

Your beautiful tree is torn in two.

Some people are leaving.

Others are waiting it through.

Jesus, Dear Jesus, what should I do?

Your church in the valley –

Your body of Christ,

help us, Lord Jesus, help us today.

Let us never fall away,

for You are our Rest.

You will always stay.

Hold us tightly to Your breast.

Teach us to love each other

and never to utter words of slander.

Empower us Comforter, Mighty Holy Spirit,

To forgive each other,

as Jesus forgives us every bit.

Dig us out Dear Savior.

Dig us out we pray.

“You are the Potter

And we are the clay.”*

Have Your way Dear Father –

Have Your Way.

( *Isaiah 45:9, Jeremiah 18:5-6)

Since we are going through our fifth heat wave in the Summer of 2013, I decided to talk about a New England Nor’easter to try to cool us off. I did think about writing about the church in the scorching dessert, but I was just too hot for that. Anyway, back to “In Search of the Prefect Church (Part Five), which I hope will be the last installment (for now) of what has become a “blog series.”  My amateur poetry will also come to an end (for now).

The Protestant Christian church where God first opened the ears of my heart to the GOOD NEWS – the Gospel of Christ – came to existence as a result of a “church split.” The reason for the split, or so I thought, was that the Pastor wanted to reach out to the college students, in our five-college area. Most of us did not know about his “extra curricular activities.” Despite the first Pastor’s sin, many people came to a saving knowledge of Christ, including one such as I. I look at it this way: If God made a donkey talk to save Balaam, God is more than able to use anyone for His glory (Numbers 22:26-34), and that includes Pastor #1, and that includes you and me. Pastor #1, left after seven years, before his infidelity was made known to everyone. God blessed the church (which I will refer to as CC) with a godly Pastor #2 who ministered to us and with us for over twenty years. Pastor #2 left us in 2005. Although it was sad to see him leave, after seeing his family grow with our families, we knew it was time for him to go and time for us to grow in new ways. Many of us can’t decipher who we miss more – the Pastor or his wife who is an accomplished pianist. Her farewell gift to all of us was a CD of our favorite hymns and contemporary songs, with her piano playing. It is a beautiful and lasting gift.  I am listening to it as I write. It is “Gloriously” soothing music.

After many months of searching, the Pastoral Search Committee found Pastor #3. He was brought to the CC congregation for consideration. We heard him preach and had a question and answer time with him and his wife. Pastor #3 was unanimously accepted by the congregation as the new Senior Pastor of the body of Christ at CC, in 2006. Pastor #3 is a godly man, a faithful and loving husband and a devoted father. Many thought he was more approachable than Pastor #2, but I think many were intimidated by Pastor #2’s size. The third Pastor was definitely more approachable than our first Pastor, who tended to favor attractive women, businessmen and jocks, all of whom I am not (although I did manage to talk him into speaking at my community college psychology class). Pastor #3 was very relational and would seek people out to talk to and not just the “pretty” people. Many times, while I was “rolling” behind him, he would grab my wheelchair to say “Hi” and talk about college football (he liked the Trojans and I liked the Ducks).  He and his wife came to a few of my baseball parties at “Fenway West” (my house). His wife also brought me one of the most delicious apple pies I have ever eaten (except for my sister’s). They were very loving and kind when they met my mom, who was in bed, and were very willing to help with adjusting her pillow and raising her head to help her feel more comfortable. Pastor #3 was an all-around nice guy. So, what went so terribly wrong that made him resign after six years? What went so terribly wrong, from the very beginning of his ministry with us, that a slow but steady trickle of people were leaving the church without giving a reason why? What went so terribly wrong , at the end of his ministry with us, which caused a church split – about sixty people leaving and forming a new church of their own? What went so terribly wrong?

I have grappled with these questions for a very long time and I still don’t fully know the answers. In the movies, at least when I was a kid, there was a clear “good guy” and a clear “bad guy” but, it’s not that way in real life. In a way, we are all “bad guys” – our human nature gets in the way of doing what’s right and good and pleasing to God. Perhaps we all “dropped the ball” when, after a long search, we found a Pastor and thought our work was done. We forgot how much New England is truly a mission field. New Englanders are generally set in our ways. We enjoy our privacy, we cherish our traditions and we are not generally outwardly emotional,  except when it comes to our sports teams  – we are rabid New England sports fans. If we had a motto for the region, it would be, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” We really needed a “hyperbaric chamber” that would slowly let Pastor #3 enter into the New England “atmosphere.”

On the other hand, I don’t think Pastor #3 did anything slowly. He was a ball of energy when he preached and his wre not a typical three-point-sermon, complete with alliteration and bulletin outline insert. Instead, he was all over the place, in what he was saying and literally all over the front of the church as he was speaking.  He also was not slow in making changes: Instead of “Senior” Pastor, he wanted to be known as “Lead” Pastor; instead of having a Worship “Service,“ we now had a Worship “Gathering”; instead of being “missions-minded,” we were to be “missional.”  These peripheral changes came during Pastor #3’s first year at CC. Other more substantial and noticeable changes which Pastor #3 wanted to do, changes that would change how we governed ourselves as a church and some theological differences, created a rift between himself and the Elders and between the Elders themselves.

The changes which took place during the first year proved to be too much for some, so they left the church. While people were leaving, new people were coming into the church and coming to Christ. Even so, no one knew exactly why people were leaving and, personally, I believe that is an important thing to find out. So, along with helping the Pastor transition into a New England church, we also needed an “exit interview” procedure to ascertain why people were leaving. At the end of Pastor #3’s time at CC, we had three very painful congregational meetings, filled with angry people who did not want Pastor #3 leave, those who sided with the Elders who wanted him to leave, and those felt broadsided with what was happening. Instead of the peaceful agreeable congregational meetings we were used to, there were angry words shouted from “both sides of the aisle.” The meetings turned into volatile situations that could erupt into violence at anytime. There were even death threats given by members to each other. It was just horrible. From Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!“, We went to Psalm 55:12-13: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.” We needed God to intervene and dig us out of this avalanche of emotions. And I believe God did intervene and is still working things out for ou good and for His glory. As His children, God desires us to listen to His voice and obey His leading.

me writing 2

Instead of going into the specifics of CC’s church conflict (warts), since I do not know all of the facts, I will present some of the general church conflicts (warts) the Christian Church, as a whole, have been dealing with since its inception at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) to the present time. It is a wonder that the Church still exists. It is truly a miracle and the will of God that it keeps on going (Matthew 16:18 and 19:20). In the following church conflicts, some may be what CC has been going through and some may NOT describe what CC has been going through. The reason being, I want to still be alive after writing Part Five (I do not want to slander anyone).

It is very peculiar (in a bad way) that Christians take God’s gifts  to be  used to unit us, and we use these very gifts from God to divide us. For example, God has given us His Holy Spirit to unite us into the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul urges the Ephesians (and us) to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all” (4:2-6).

In CC’s By-Laws, ARTICLE V – Statement of Faith, it writes this about the Holy Spirit:

Jesus' Baptism

“We believe that the Holy Spirit is God and has come into the world to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts and draws sinners to Christ, imparts New Life, continually indwells them from the moment of spiritual birth, seals, sanctifies and empowers them through His spiritual gifts for life and service. His fullness, power and control are appropriated in the believer’s life by faith (John 15:26; 16:8-11; John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5; II Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:1-3; Romans 8:2; Acts 1:8 Ephesians 3:16; I Corinthians 2:1-4; I Corinthians 12; I Thessalonians 1:5.”

The Holy Spirit’s “job” is to glorify Christ. Yet some Christian churches elevate the worship of the Holy Spirit above Christ. They also elevate the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the “sign gifts”: speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and miracles. They believe all Christians must seek to speak in tongues. When Christians speak in tongues, it is a sign that they have been baptized (or slain) in the Spirit and now they are truly born again. They also believe that, if a Christian has enough faith, s/he is to be healed of his/her sickness, disability or disease. If believers are not healed, it is because of a lack of faith. I do not believe these things to be true. I do believe in what the CC By-Laws Statement of Faith says, regarding the Holy Spirit, because of what the Bible says.

imagesCAL8J6TR

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”(I Corinthians 12:27-31 and 13:4-7, 13).

In the above Scripture passage, the Apostle Paul asks rhetorical questions. The answer to all his questions is “NO!” Every Christian does not have every Spiritual Gift. Not all Christians have the gift of tongues or the gift of healing or miracles or prophecy or any other gift. The Corinthians wanted the gifts that would put them in the “lime light”, but he urged them to seek the gift of love more than anything else. Love should be the only gift all Christian should seek after.

“For God is not a God of disorder BUT of peace… Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophecy, and do not forbid the speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way (I Corinthians 14:33 and 39).

Christians should not expect all Christians to have the gifts of tongues and healing and prophecy. Also, who am I to judge my brother’s or sister’s gift is not real? I should not judge their gifts. Only God is the judge of all. However, I may have a different understanding of prophecy. I believe prophecy is the “telling forth of God’s Truth” and not foretelling the future. An example of prophecy is when someone explains the meaning of a Scripture passage. I believe this because of what Jesus said in Acts 1:7: “…It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.” So, if someone announces a date for the end of the world, I am not going to stock up on canned goods, bottled water and toilet paper. Instead, I’m going to continue to do what Jesus instructs me to keep on doing – serving Him and serving others. Jesus’ Parable of the Good Servant explains it well:

lamp unto my feet

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him…Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Luke 12:35-36, 42-44).

In regard to the gift of healing, I believe Jesus sometimes chooses to use our faith to heal us, as He did with the woman “who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years” (Mark 5:25). Jesus healed her and said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34). There are many other examples of Jesus using someone’s faith to heal them. However, I do not believe Jesus is limited by our faith to heal those He chooses to heal. For example, the demon-possessed man living in the tombs did not trust in Jesus, yet Jesus healed him. He trusted in Jesus after he was healed. (Luke 8:26-39). There are many other examples in Scripture where Jesus heals people with no faith at all. There is also an example when He does not heal people, but leaves town before they can get to Him: “Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for You!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’” (Mark 1:36-38). This was early in the morning, the day after Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many others (Mark 1:29-34). I believe  people from nearby villages heard Jesus was healing many and were going to where He was to be healed by Him.

Jesus did give his first disciples the power to heal and there are many healings recorded in the book of Acts. I believe Paul might have had the Gift of Healing. In the Book of Acts, Paul healed the man “who was lame from birth” (14:8-10), “a slave girl who had spirit by which she predicted the future” (16:?16-18), and brought back to life a boy who “fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead” (20:9-12). Paul also was healed from blindness by Ananias (9:17-19) and from a snake bite (28:1-6),  Healing is listed as a Spiritual Gift in I Corinthians 12:9. But, we also read that Paul was not healed  from his “thorn in [the] flesh,” even though he pleaded “three times with the Lord to take it away” (II Corinthians 12:7-8). Instead, Jesus said to Him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).

Even though Paul might have had the Gift of Healing, ultimately it was Jesus’ decision who would be healed and who would glorify Him in their weakness. Paul writes about Epaphroditus’ recovery from illness in Philippians 2:27-30: “Indeed he was ill, and almost died. BUT GOD had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” In I Timothy 5:23 Paul instructs Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”  In II Timothy 4:20 Paul writes, “Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.”   It is interesting to me that Paul did not exhort Timothy and Trophimus to get their acts together and get healed. He did not question their faith. Paul knew from his own personal experience that God does not always choose to heal, but chooses to be glorified in our brokenness, and that’s where our faith lies. Can we echo Paul’s words, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (II Corinthians 12:9b). Paul also writes:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Why would Paul write this passage and many more passages like this one, if all Christians are to be healed through the strength of their faith?

There was a time when all the turmoil at CC was going on, I looked for another church to go to. CC’s daughter churches and a few others were just too far away. In town, I noticed a sign that said, “Envision[mytown], advertising a new church in town. A friend and I looked at their website. It turned out to be an Assembly of God Church, which “strongly encouraged the speaking of tongues” and the “Sign Gifts”. It was not a church for me. The world around me already tells me how much I don’t “measure up” to their standards of beauty, physical abilities, health and wealth. I don’t need my church to tell me the same things too. That’s why I have decided to “wait it through” and see what God will do with His body at CC.

water baptism

Along with the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Christian Church also has different views on the Sacrament of Baptism. The Roman Catholic Church believes in Infant Baptism with the sprinkling of Holy Water by a Priest. Roman Catholics believe that the Sacrament of Baptism, along with the Sacraments of Confession, Communion and Confirmation are necessary for one’s salvation. Protestant churches, such as the Methodist Church also believe in Infant Baptism and what is called, “prevenient grace,” which means God is initiating His work of grace before the baby is able to be aware of it. They believe that Infant Baptism is the beginning of a long journey of faith, which is nurtured by the church community. They may say something like, “I was baptized a Methodist.” Protestant Pentecostals believe in two kindS of baptisms: 1. the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, when a believer begins to speak in tongues and some are actually  are “slain in the Spirit“ and literally faint;  Pentecostals believe when this happens, the person receives the Holy Spirit, 2. Pentecostals also perform Baptism by immersion for those who have accepted Christ as their Savior.

The Protestant Baptism I am most familiar with, and have been baptized in this way, is Christian Baptism by total immersion. I mentioned being baptized in a lake in April. This is performed when a person is old enough to accept Christ his/her personal Savior. My church has Infant Dedications, in which the parents promise to raise their child in the teachings of Christ and the congregation also vow to help the parents to nurture the child in Christ, so that one day the child will come to his/her own saving knowledge of Christ. The Baby Dedication is not a prerequisite for salvation and it does not mean the baby has joined the church.. Baptism by immersion is initiated by the person who has accepted Christ as his/her Savior and Lord and wants to make a public declaration of his/her identity in Christ. When the Pastor dunks us into the water, we identify in Christ’s death, and when we are raised up from the water, we identify with Christ’s Resurrection and our New Life in Him. Baptism, at least at CC, is not a prerequisite for Salvation or even for membership. It is a public announcement that, “YES, I LOVE THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, Christ has paid the penalty for my sin on the cross and I want to live for Him now and forever!” No one said I had to be baptized. I did it because I was excited about my New Life in Christ. The cold weather or even my fear of the water could not stop me. Pastor #1 and his two Assistant Pastors performed my Baptism. I thought about being baptized again with Pastor #2, but I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessary. Who performed the Baptism wasn’t important, but Who I did it for and why I did it was more important. Once was enough for me.

Jesus and Charlie Brown

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men‘s sin against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ‘s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ‘s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him Who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God“” (II Corinthians 5:16-21).

eucharist

The Christian Church also has disagreements about the Lord’s Supper, commonly known as Communion. The following are the three beliefs about Communion (Taken from CONCISE THEOLOGY, by J. I. Packer [pp. 217-219])

TRANSUBSTANTIATION: The Roman Catholic Church believes Communion to be as defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, where it is stated that the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood so that they are no longer bread and wine.

CONSUBSTANTIATION: (Luther did not like the term) This means Christ’s body and blood come to be present in, with, and under the form of bread and wine, which thus become more than the bread and wine. This belief is held by Lutherans and also by Eastern Orthodox and some Anglican churches.

The third view of Communion comes from the Protestant Reformers who believed that the Glorified Christ, Who now is in Heaven, is not present bodily, physically or locally in or around the bread and wine, during Communion. “This is My body…My blood” means “represents” not “constitutes.” Though the bread and the wine remain unchanged, Christ through the Spirit grants worshipers “true enjoyment of His personal presence, drawing them into fellowship with Himself in Heaven (see Hebrews 12:22-24) in a way that is glorious and real, though indescribable.” The Reformers also believed that “at the table we give thanks to Christ for His finished and accepted work of atonement, rather than repeat, renew, re-offer, re-present, or reactivate it, as Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass affirms” (see Hebrews 7:26-28).

My own view regarding Communion is the same as the Protestant Reformers. I believe the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the Lord’s Last Supper and the bread and wine are symbols of His body broken for us and His blood shed on the cross for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:28). When we celebrate the Lord’s Table, we do it in remembrance of what He has already done for us. Jesus commands us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until He comes again (I Corinthians 11:23-26). There is no “magic” involved. At the same time, celebrating the Lord’s Supper sometimes gets a little to “casual” in some Protestant churches. For example, some churches encourage talking with each other, during Communion, instead of being in silent prayer. I believe we need to take Communion more seriously. It is more than a social gathering. It is a time to remember all that Jesus has done for us and it is a time to examine ourselves and confess any sin we are holding on to, and it is a time to ask for forgiveness and a time to forgive others (I Corinthians 11:27-29 and Matthew 5:23-24). Communion is a time to worship God – to give God His worth. It is a time to listen to what He has to say to us, a time of contemplation. Why does everything have to be so rowdy and loud to keep our attention? Sometimes, silent meditation is not only a good thing, but a needful thing.

jesus on the throne

“But the LORD is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His Name; worship the LORD in the splendor of His Holiness” (Psalm 29:2).

Protestant Christian churches differ in the way they govern themselves. This is explained well in the book, REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS, by Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling (pp. 103-104):

“There are three fundamental forms of polity: prefacy (also known as Episcopal), Presbyterian, and congregational. In prelacy, the local church is administered by a distinct category of church officers often known as priests, with bishops over them; final decision-making authority is frequently found outside the local church.

Presbyterian polity requires the right of the local congregation to elect elders to an elder body (the local governing body of elders, which may be called a session, consistory, or council). The pastor or minister is one of the elders with equal stature and authority with lay elders. Corporately the elder body has governing authority over the local church; however, elders are also members of a regional presbytery or classis, which has authority over several churches in a region. Furthermore, some of the members of a presbytery are members of the general assembly (or synod), which has authority over all the churches in a nation or large region.

Congregationally run churches practice multiple forms of congregational polity. Some have a single elder (the pastor) and a board of elected deacons who serve under his authority (the form most commonly found in Baptist churches), while others have an elected elder board on which the pastor serves as one of many (a form found in many independent Bible churches). In a true congregational independency, every church is independent from every other, with internal decision-making authority usually divided between the officers and the members. In an extreme form of congregationalism the members vote on every decision.”

People who are planning to become members of a local church should know how the church is governed and why. CC fits into the congregational independent Bible church polity. We are an elder-led church with the Pastor being one of the elders and all the elders have equal authority. They are voted into the elder board by the members. The reason why CC is an elder-led church, and not a pastor-led church, is because of the history with our first pastor, who abused his authority. CC also has a board of deacons, who are also voted in by the congregation, who take care of the preparations for church functions (communion preparation, setting up for church meals together, clean-up, decorating church for the holidays) and the practical needs of the congregation (those who need help with food, clothing, shelter, financial assistance, visitation, hospitality).

hands united

One would think that independent Christian churches would be free from all disagreements. After all, they are independent and have no one to tell them what to do and how to do it. But, if you believe this, I have some swamp land to sell you. Some churches want to be known as Non-Denominational and others want to be known as Inter-Denominational. What’s the difference? Normally, I try not to get involved with discussing the minutia in the definition words. But, this time, I see a BIG difference between these two mindsets. Non-Denominational means having no denomination. When you have no denomination, in reality one becomes its own denomination unto itself. Inter-Denominational does not mean ecumenical, as in “anything and everything goes.” An Inter-Denominational church is made up of people from different backgrounds who have come together to celebrate what each one brings that as true and noble and right to worship God together in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Personally, I believe that there is not one Christian denomination or theology gets everything right and has everything we can know about God. God is too awesome for the human mind to comprehend. But together we can come to know the Triune God more fully and evenly.

Jesus in the clouds

The Christian Church has different views about the Second Coming of Christ and interpretations of the Book of Revelation. There’s the Millennium view, the Pre-millennial view, the A-millennial view and the Post-millennial view. Then, there’s the Rapture, Tribulation, Pre-tribulation Rapture, Mid-tribulation Rapture, Post-tribulation Rapture and Abomination of Desolation. But wait! That’s not all. The Christian Church has different theologies and interpretations of the whole Bible. There is the Dispensational vs. Reformed Theologies, the Calvinist vs. Arminian Theologies, and the Free Grace vs. Lordship Theologies. Theologians love to pontificate in perfunctory platitudes about all this stuff. All I know is that Jesus is coming back and I’m looking forward to it. I believe that God has predestined me to be His child, because He knows al things, and I know that I have a free will and I did make a choice to follow Him when I was eighteen years old. If you ask me how predestination and free will work together, I will tell you, “I don’t know, but God knows and I am not going to try to understand what is to hard to wrap my brain around. And, as far as Free Grace and Lordship, I did not know they were mutually exclusive. I know I have been saved by God’s grace and there is nothing I could have done to earn it. I also know that I had a need, in my heart of hearts, to repent and turn away from my sin and make Jesus Lord of my life. This came after He saved me. Why wouldn’t I want to make Jesus Lord of my life, knowing that He paid for my sins and loves me beyond measure? After He saved me, the Holy Spirit placed in my heart the desire to grow and become more like Christ. And when I mess up and fall back into my selfish ways, I know I will still be His child and He will be right there to pick me up and help me start over again. This is all I know.

How on earth did the Christian Church make it to the Twenty-First Century? God only knows. All I know is it is only by God’s grace that we are still here and it’s only by God’s grace that His people at CC will have our “warts” removed and let His beauty shine in us and through us again. If I ever found a perfect church and became a member, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. So, my prayer for CC is this:

In My Life Lord, Be Glorified

(Bob Kilpatrick)

In my Life, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,

In my life, Lord, be glorified today.

[In my thoughts, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,

In my thoughts, Lord,  be glorified today.]

In Your Church, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,

In Your Church, Lord, be glorified today.

[I made up the second stanza.] This has been a very sad time for all of us at CC. It has been sad and extremely difficult for Pastor #3 (who is a godly man) and his family and for our elders (who are all godly men).  It has been an extremely difficult time for all of us; those who have left and those who have stayed. It has been an extremely sad time for me, to see my brothers and sisters in Christ leave my church family, many of whom I have known for most of my life and deeply admire and respect. As a church family, we have read the book REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS, and have had small group discussions about the book. The next step in the healing process is to have an outside Christian group which ministers to churches in conflict come in and help us.

yogi berra

Church life is like the long baseball season. It is not that important how you start in April (although it does help) or even where you are in the standings at the All Star Break in July (although that helps too). It’s how you finish in October. While playing the game, if you are on first base and the next batter hit’s a shot into the right field corner, run as fast as you can and, no matter how tempting it is to look where the ball is, keep your eyes on the third base coach and do what He says. Remember, Jesus is waiting for you at Home plate! Yogi Berra made this saying famous, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” I am looking forward to the wonderful things God is planning to do at my home-away-from-home church.

Thanks so much for reading through this post. It went into “extra innings” and we made it through! My next post will be in September. God bless you and your Summer!

cardinals

“’Come now, let us reason together,’” says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).

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In Search of the Perfect Church (Part Four)

flowers and mts

Dear  Jesus Our Precious Lord and Savior,

You have brought us all into the Father’s favor.

Sweet Jesus, Friend  of sinners, Friend of me,

You have saved us. You have answered our plea.

There is no one who is fairer than Thee.

Help Your Church Lord Jesus, help us now,

To love and cherish You alone as our All in All.

Now and forevermore, let this be our goal and call.

One of my favorite hymns (if not my most favorite) of all time is “Fairest Lord Jesus,” an Anonymous German hymn, written in 1677. The first and fourth stanzas go like this:

Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature, O Thou of

God and man the Son: Thee will I cherish, Thee will I

honor, Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations! Son of

God and Son of Man! Glory and honor, praise,

adoration, now and forevermore be Thine! Amen.

Our church’s hymn book, “THE HYMNAL for Worship and Celebration” has Isaiah 33:17 under the title of this hymn: “Your eyes will see the King in His beauty and view a land that stretches afar.”

church building

What makes a church a Christian church? The most important characteristic of a Christian church, I believe, is that the assembly of believers recognize the Supremacy of Christ above all else; that He is God, He is the head of the Church and He is the only mediator between God the Father and mankind. This is succinctly  explained by the Apostle Paul:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made of human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-20).

Cross

The same is said of Jesus in John’ Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men…He was in the world, and though the world was made by Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not recognize Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4, 10-14).

jesus arose

The Christian Church believes that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God praying for us. Paul writes:

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? Christ Jesus, Who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:31-34).

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”

(I Corinthians 15:3-4).

jesus on the throne

The Christian Church believes that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and will come again. Luke writes:

“’…and you will be My witnesses…’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you look into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:8b-11).

Jesus in the clouds

[We know from Matthew 24:36 and Acts 1:6-7 that no on knows when Jesus will return.]

Paul teaches that Jesus is the Only One we need:

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its perfect time” I Timothy 2:3-6).

Jesus Himself says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

jesus coming in the clouds

In order to know and understand in our heart of hearts that Jesus is supreme above all else, A Christian church must believe that God’s Word, the Bible, is Truth and they must teach God’s Word accurately and truthfully, without adding to it or subtracting from it. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he gives these instructions:

“Keep reminding them [Timothy’s church] of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”  (II Timothy 3:16-17).

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In the lengthiest Psalm in the Bible, the psalmist writes this (among other things) about God‘s Word:

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

lamp unto my feet

John warns everyone not to tamper with God’s prophecy in the Book of Revelation, but his warning can be applied to all of God‘s Word:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this Book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this Book. And if anyone takes words away from this Book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the Tree of Life and in the Holy City, which are described in this Book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

Recognizing the Supremacy of Christ – that Jesus Christ is God and the only mediator between God and mankind – is vitally important to the spiritual health of a Christian church. Believing in God’s Word, the Bible, God’s Truth,  and having accurate and balanced teaching of God’s Word are crucial elements in the growth and body-life of a Christian church. Also, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is of the utmost importance in the worship cycle of a Christian church, whether it be once a week or once a month. In celebrating of Jesus’ Last Supper, Christians remember His death, eat together as God’s family and look forward to Christ’s return. Jesus Himself instructed [all] His disciples [from His first to His last] to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together [Communion] until He comes again:

eucharist

“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at table. And He said to them, ‘I  have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:14-20).

The Apostle Paul instructed the new church in Corinth regarding the Lord’s Supper:

“For I have received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night that He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be sinning against the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks the cup” (I Corinthians 11:23-28).

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[Other Scriptures concerning what the Lord’s Supper means to the Christian Church: Song of Solomon 2:4, Isaiah 25:6, Revelation 2:17 and 19:9)

many hands together

A Christian church also obeys Christ’s lasts commands in His “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:19-20, to “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I commanded…”

People of the world

The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are often referred to as Sacraments of the Church. There are also the Sacrament of Marriage and the Sacrament of Burial (b. t. a. are two distinctly different Sacraments) which  are practiced in almost every religion, but the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and Baptism are unique to the Christian Church.

baseball diamond

What does this have to do with Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “It’s déjà vu all over again” you ask. Well, I’m going to get to that soon. But first, I need to tell you my firsthand account of what it’s like to leave a church. Way back, in Part One of “In Search of a Perfect Church”, I mentioned that I came from a Roman Catholic background. When I began attending the Protestant Church I refer to as CC, I attended that church on Sundays and went to the Catholic Church with my family on Saturdays. The longer I attended CC, the more difficult it was to attend the Catholic Church . I so badly wanted to do both, but some of the Catholic Church’s teachings did not jive with what I was reading and learning from the Bible and from sermons and Bible studies I was attending at CC. For the first time, I heard the Gospel message; the GOOD NEWS that Jesus did it all by dying on the cross for me. I finally understood what the Apostle Paul was talking about in Ephesians  and Titus:

WORSHIP

“For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God‘s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His GRACE, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone” (Titus 3:4-8).

God Sees Us as

What a relief!  Have you ever tried to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when your dominant arm was broken or try getting to the bathroom with a broken leg or try to talk with someone about changing an air plane ticket who is from another country and can’t understand a word you are saying? Those situations are a little bit like how it is to have cerebral palsy, only cerebral palsy does not go away. What should take a minute takes twenty minutes for me. When I am dealing with a whole bunch of these frustrating situations in one day, “Patience” is not my middle name. Also, being a perfectionist and having cerebral  palsy does not make me a “happy camper.”  BUT, PRAISE GOD FOR HIS MATCHLESS GRACE – His unmerited favor. It is not up to me to win a place in Heaven. It has already been won by Jesus Christ. It is not all up to me to do the good that God has for me to do. He has empowered me with His Holy Spirit Who gives me His power and enables me to do what is pleasing in God’s sight. And if I mess up, as I often do, God’s Word tells me, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). God’s Word tells me I am “justified by His grace.” It is “just as if I have not sinned.” My obedience to God is no longer out of obligation and the fear of going to hell, but it is because I love Jesus above all else and am so grateful “to God for His Indescribable Gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).

church buildings

I was having my own little “church conflict” inside of me. I did not want to leave my dad’s church and hurt him in any way. Why couldn’t I just go to both? But, the above Scriptures made it increasingly difficult to participate in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. How could I pray to Mary and other Saints, when I knew Jesus is the only One I need? How could I go to a priest to confess my sins when I knew Jesus is the One I need to talk to? How could I carry out penance for my sins when I knew Jesus already paid for them all on the cross. How could I believe that the Pope was the Head of the Church when I knew Jesus is the Head of the His Church? How could I  participate in the “Sacrifice of the Mass” when I knew Jesus dying once on the cross is the only sacrifice God would accept? How could I work hard to be good enough to get to Heaven when I knew that is humanly impossible to do? I struggled with all these questions for over a year. The turning point came during a Summer Bible study at CC, with one of the Assistant Pastors (D.O. are his initials), on the Book of Hebrews. The following passage jumped out from the page and almost slapped me right between the eyes, as though God was saying, Okay Lydia, try to ignore this:

“Now there have been many priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a High Priest meets our need – One Who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of his people. He [Jesus] sacrificed once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath [God’s oath to His Son], which came after the law, appointed the Son, Who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:23-28)

baseball glove

That was the clincher for me. The next Spring I became a member of CC and was baptized in a lake, in April. My dad was not pleased with my decision, but he still loved me, as I knew he would. God blessed my obedience to His call and I’ve been a member of CC for about thirty-six years. For me, CC fit me like a glove. As a family in Christ, we survived the immorality of our founding Pastor who left before everyone knew of his escapades. His first attempt to escape fell through, but he was able to leave the second time, for a pastorate down south. The Lord blessed us with a godly man to be our Pastor and he stayed for about twenty-five years. Then, the “déjà vu all over again” happened, only different.

First, Pastor #2 announced that he was applying for a Chaplaincy at a military academy. He explained that he felt the Lord was leading him to a new challenge. The congregation was understandably sad at the thought of him leaving, but staying in the same pastorate for over twenty years was very rarely done. We were thankful to the Lord for the time he was with us and knew this might happen eventually. Unlike the first Pastor who barely acknowledged my presence, Pastor #2 and I became friends. When I was a missionary in New York State, he came to speak at one of the retreats for people with disabilities I was working at. When I was a deacon, he and I would meet about special functions at the church. He also counseled me when I was going through a hard time. And, most meaningful of all for me, he would ask my advice on things, from sermons that mentioned a person with a disability to what wine would go best with chili (Red Zinfandel), and he would always ask me to pray at the end of our meeting times. “I really will miss him,” I thought to myself. But wait…

The Chaplaincy “job” fell through and someone else was picked, much to our surprise. “Their loss and our gain,” we all thought. But awhile later, Pastor #2 did leave for another pastorate in another time zone. Just like the first Pastor, the second Pastor’s first “job” fell through, but the second “job” came through. Unlike the first Pastor, Pastor #2 was leaving CC on good terms, and for that we were all grateful. That is what I meant when I said, “it was déjà vu all over again,” only different.

In the last installment of “In Search of a Perfect Church (Part Five)” [I promise], we will be looking at our “warts.” The Roman Catholic Church is not the only Christian Church with “warts.” The Protestant Church has a hefty share of them as well. In a recent email to a prayer group, I wrote the following: “It is hard to look at our ‘warts‘ and admit that we have them. But, we need to look at them and ask God to remove them. Also, our ‘warts‘ hide our ’beauty marks‘ – the things we are doing which please God and honor Him. ‘Wart removal’ is painful, put the results are ‘out of this world’ and into a God-honoring Christ-like life of joyful service and peaceful rest.”

Before closing, I want to say that I know many people who are Roman Catholic who love the Lord Jesus and honor Him in their service to their church. But, it was something hard for me to do personally. I felt like a round cat trying to fit into small square box or a square cat trying to fit into a round basket. (Meet my housemates: Tulip and Tannin.)

Tulip in boxchoc. cupcake  .

In Search of the Perfect Church (Part Three)

hands united

In Search of the Perfect Church

Abba, Daddy, hear my plea.

Let there be more of Jesus and less of me.

Jesus, Savior, You have give us a new start.

We are Your Church Body –  chosen, holy, set apart.

Dear Holy Spirit, strengthen us one and all,

To trust and obey and follow Your call,

To love and serve You,

And our brothers and sisters too.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray to You.

Let our love for each other and neighbors as well,

Be what we are known for as Your Story we tell.

We are Your Church Lord, the body of Christ.

Though we are all different You paid with One Price.

And we are one in the Spirit, saved by Your grace.

Help us all Dear Daddy,  to finish the race.

 My Good Side

As you have just read, the “In Search of a Perfect Church” poem (my apologies to real poets, like my friend Carol P.) has been changed. For one thing,  it is just a little bit longer. But, more importantly, it is no longer a fairy tale (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) style prayer. In the revised version of “In Search of a Perfect Church,” the prayer is all about God and finding a church that is all about worshiping and serving Him, serving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and reaching out to our neighbors near and far with the love of God. One of the goals of every Christian is to find a church (a fellowship of followers of Christ) where they can grow in Christ-likeness and be able to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of this local body of Christ, serving its surrounding neighbors, as well as playing an active role in the worldwide Universal (means Catholic) Church through missions (financial giving and sending out missionaries) for the spread of the Gospel: The Good News of Christ. This is Christ’s desire for His Church.

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“And I tell you that you are Peter [word for “small rock”], and on this Rock [“big rock”- Jesus] I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades [hell] will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). 

“My prayer is not for them [first disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe [us] in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in ME. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me’” (John 17:20-23)

Jesus looking at earth

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“So when they met together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. BUT you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 1:6-8).

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4: The Birth of the Christian Church).

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“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying [telling forth the truth], let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).

“For this reason I [Paul] kneel before the Father, from Whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen”(Ephesians 3:14-21).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:2-6).

People of the world

Along with the passages above, there are many more Scripture passages describing the Church that Christ built. The Church is Christ’s idea. It is not a place or a building. The Christian Church is the Family of God that is spread all over the world. As part of the Universal Church, we join all believers, by coming together in God’s House, as local church body;  brothers and sisters in Christ,  to worship our Father God “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24b). As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love [and] honor one another above [ourselves]” (Romans 12:10). We are to “serve the LORD with gladness”  (Psalm 100:2) and “praise [Him] as long as [we] live, and in [His] Name [we] will lift up [our] hands” (Psalm 63:4). God’s Word tells us we have the power of the Holy Spirit to love each other as God in Christ loves us. Without God’s empowering Holy Spirit, we can do nothing,  BUT with Him “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (II Peter 1:3) God the Father has adopted us to be His children, through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:5)  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (I John 3:1a).  After reading all these Scriptures, what an awesome honor and privilege it is to be part of Christ’s Church, representing His body on earth, until He comes again (Acts 1:9-11).

many hands together

dad and baby

As a person with a disability, the idea that God has adopted me has a very special meaning. Whenever a couple is expecting a child or desire to adopt a baby, they often say, “We don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, as long as s/he is healthy.” Whenever I used to hear these words, it was as though a knife was piercing straight through my heart. To those expecting a child, I wanted to say, “What are you going to do, throw the baby back like a fish if s/he‘s not healthy? Are you going to love him/her less if the baby has a disability?” But, of course, I never asked those questions. Deep down inside I knew what they were saying was not meant to mean anything that was negative or hurtful. But, it still hurt. With those who were waiting to adopt, it made me realize the very slim chance I would have been adopted, as a baby with cerebral palsy, compared to babies who were born “healthy.” God used one of Pastor #2’s sermons to stop the emotional bleeding.

Holding hands

In Part Two, I wrote about his sermon when he used an illustration of the time he took care of his little boy who was sick. He talked about how his little boy was throwing up all over the bathroom in the middle of the night and how he was holding him and comforting him. He said that his little boy was not a pretty sight, but that did not make him love his little boy any less. If anything, it made him love his little boy even more and he wanted to help him in all his distress.  The Pastor said something like this, “How much more does our Heavenly Father love us when all the world sees is one big mess?” Those words were like a healing balm that soothed my wounded soul and healed the bleeding of my heart. And to learn that my Heavenly Father adopted me, “warts” and all, was so amazing, so awesome, so “immeasurably more than all [I could] ask or imagine“ (Ephesians 3:20)! Being adopted into God’s family and becoming a member of His local body, in a Christian church, is truly a gift that is too infinitely wonderful for us to wrap our heads around. We should be incredibly grateful for it and enraptured by what it all means, or at least all that is humanly possible to grasp hold of. Sadly, more often than not, we do not take church membership and being brothers and sisters in Christ and adopted into God’s family as seriously as we ought.

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In part two of “In Search of a Perfect Church” I mentioned one good reason for leaving a church, and that is when God calls you to the mission field. Another good reason for leaving a church was in one of Pastor #2 and the Elders’ five-year-plans. During one of the five out of twenty-five years Pastor #2 was with us, the elders and he and the members had the goal of “planting” two churches in two different counties in the area. These churches would be comprised of people who were already living in those areas, who were members of our Christian church [I will refer to as CC]. In those five years, by God’s grace, these two churches were “planted” and many of our members left to become members of our two “daughter” churches to help them get established and grow. Both churches thrived and became independent of CC, but always dependent on God. Even though it was sad to see our brothers and sisters leave, we were filled with joy that there were two new Beacons of Light in our part of the state. This was a very good reason for church members to leave our church.

oregon 301

After twenty-five years of ministering with us (Pastor #2 had a saying: “CC had three Pastors [himself and two Assistant Pastors] and over three hundred ministers [the church members and regular attendees]” and seeing our goal of planting two daughter churches was accomplished, Pastor #2 felt that it was time to move on. As a congregation, we understood that Pastor #2 needed to move on to “tackle” new challenges and we also knew that we needed to move on to grow in new ways as well. But, it was still sad to say “Good-bye” and saying it twice again. As Yogi Berra once so eloquently stated, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” but different… Stay tuned for Part Four.

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(If you are getting the idea that I am stalling, you are partly correct. Part Four will be very difficult to write, so please pray that my words will be glorifying to God and encouraging to the readers. The other two reasons are: 1. I’m trying not to make my posts too long, and 2. I believe the Holy Spirit gave me all those Scriptures to share about what it means to be a member of the body of Christ in a local church. The Scriptures are awe-inspiring for me. Just read them over and see how important and loved we are by God.

HAVE A HAPPY AND SAFE FOURTH OF JULY!

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