5 Things I’ve Learned About Church

Last year was a tough year for me. I dealt with some severe allergies and I spent the year, with God’s help, changing my lifestyle and reclaiming my health. For that reason, I haven’t posted anything in over a year. However, I really want to start writing again. I feel like I’m getting rusty and I want to continue to grow as a writer. I also feel that each of us has God-given gifts and we need to use them. If we do, our lives and the lives of those around us will be enriched.

After a year of literary silence, there are so many things to write about and it’s really hard to choose a subject. However, since I like to write about things that mean something to me; things that I have personal experience with, that does narrow things down a bit.

My pastor, (and husband) has been preaching for the last several weeks on the topic: “I love my church.” The messages have been encouraging and challenging and have inspired me today to write about the church. I’m speaking from my own perspective here. I won’t be quoting Barna or any other statistician or any theologians. I just want to take some of my random thoughts and organize them a little in regard to this subject. Maybe this will help me have a better perspective on what the church is and maybe it will help someone else who is disillusioned about the church.

I’ve been going to church since I was five years old and through the years, it has been my perception that the people who went to church were Christians, Christ-followers. It was my perception that they used The Bible as their compass and their lifestyles were morally pure. Church, in my mind, was a safe place to be and everyone at church could be trusted. Naive? Yes. But I really had great experiences in church and the people I went to church with became like a second family to me.

So here’s the deal. I’m old enough now and have seen enough foolishness to know that my previous perception is not entirely accurate. Not everyone who goes to church is a Christian. Not everyone who goes to church is a Christ-follower. Not everyone who goes to church lives a life that is morally pure; and they may not even read The Bible except when they’re in church. But wait! Before you start dropping the “H” word, I’m not quite finished with my stream of consciousness yet.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned from being in church for almost four decades:

1. Not everyone who goes to church has it all figured out. (In fact, no one does.)

2. Not every churchgoers’ life is a mirror of The Bible or the life of Christ.

3. Many people who attend church are miserable. They’ve tried living life without any direct input from God and their life is a mess.

4. Everyone who goes to a church has a story and they are all different. So it doesn’t work to make assumptions about people.

5. Not everyone who goes to church is going to be a good influence in your life or lead you to closer to God.

It’s also been my experience, that many people expect the pastor to live everyone’s life and call out everyone’s short-comings, while other people expect the pastor to just look past sin in the name of love or grace. There is a balance here and it isn’t easy to achieve. Church leadership, MUST present God’s Word to the church. The Bible instructs us not to add to God’s Word and not to take from it. It’s God’s Word, not ours and I for one HATE to be misquoted! Don’t you?

So, what’s the bottom line here? Why go to church at all? Because the Bible instructs us to do so:

Hebrews 10:25 New Living Translation
“Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of His coming back again is drawing near.”

Church is a place to start or strengthen your journey of faith. It’s a place for the hurting and the broken. It’s a family. It’s people, all kinds of people, linking arms and saying, “Let’s encourage each other to be closer to Jesus today than we were yesterday. Let’s hold each other accountable and warn each other when we are making choices that have the potential to separate us from God.” It’s a place where God’s Word, (all of it) should be taught. It’s a place where people should be encouraged to develop their God-given talents.

And by the way, the pastor of the church isn’t perfect, the pastor’s family isn’t perfect and neither are the people who attend. So don’t let the thought that you aren’t good enough keep you from church, because no one is good enough and they never will be.

And on the opposite side of the coin, don’t assume the pastor is overlooking sin when he doesn’t respond to, or correct people the way you think he should. Like I said earlier, there is a balance here and it’s possible that the pastor knows more about the situation than you do. It’s possible that the pastor is working through an issue with that person. I’ve been guilty of this. I have pretty strong convictions when it comes to my lifestyle and it’s hard for me to spend time with people who live in a way that contrary to the way I feel God wants me to live. I have to check my attitude constantly and ask myself if I really love people or not. I am not talking about judging here. The Bible is clear about sin. God has defined sin in His word and He’s the judge, not me. However, if I live in a way that is contrary to God’s word, I am sinning. If you are living in a way that is contrary to God’s Word, you are sinning. And sin separates us from God. I am talking about loving someone who is sinning. Should we do that? Yes. If we want to follow God’s example we should:

John 15:13 New Living Translation
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Romans 5:8 New Living Translation
“But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Some people have always tried to do the right thing, but maybe they struggle with pride. Some people struggle with life controlling issues. Some people struggle with insecurity and have never felt loved by anyone, even God. Whatever camp you’re in, or whether you’re in another camp entirely, there is a place in church for all of us, because we ALL have sinned and we ALL need Jesus, The Savior.

Romans 3:23
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

And The Savior says we need each other. He doesn’t recommend living this life alone. That’s because we all have an enemy, Satan, and his mission is to steal, kill and destroy. We make his job a lot easier when we withdraw from the church, (believers.)

Final Thoughts:
Take a fresh look at the church. Lay aside your past experience or your inexperience. Do your homework. Call a few churches and ask questions or visit and grab a brochure. Check the church’s website. Find out what they believe. Ask The Lord to guide you. He will. However, you don’t need to be in a church to begin a relationship with God. You can do that right now, wherever you’re at.

1 John 1:9
“But if we confess our sins to Him (Jesus), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I hope you have begun that relationship. I have and I would never again want to live without Jesus. I also don’t want to live without God’s people. We need each other.

God bless you,
Mechelle

Keep Looking

It’s amazing what you can find when you know it’s there. That may sound strange or like an oxymoron, but it’s not. You might be thinking that we look for things that are not yet found. You might be thinking that if you KNOW where something is, you don’t need look for it, you just need to go get it.

Well, let me ask you this… Have you ever gone to the refrigerator looking for something to eat or drink, opened the door,  scanned its contents, shut the door and walked away empty-handed, only to find yourself back in the kitchen five minutes later doing the same thing? I have. As a matter of fact, it was that very act that triggered my first comment.

I was at my mom’s house for dinner a few days ago and I wanted to grab a drink before dinner. I stopped drinking soda (again) a few weeks ago and I have replaced it with Lifewater. My mom knows this and she tries to keep some on hand. I opened the fridge and looked high and low for my favorite hydration. Not finding it, I closed the door in disappointment. Mom asked me why I closed the door without getting anything. I told her there were none of my waters inside. She said, “They’re in there; keep looking.”  Well, what happened next was nothing short of amazing to me. It was like a magic trick in reverse. “Now you don’t see it. Now you DO!” I opened the fridge and there on the top shelf, in the back were several bottles of liquid glory! Earlier, I had looked high and low, but I didn’t see them.

Now, you might be thinking that if I would’ve done more than just scan the fridge, I would’ve seen them in the first place. You might be thinking that if I would’ve moved things around a bit, they would have been discovered. If this is what you’re thinking, you are correct. What you don’t know is that there was something with me when I opened the door, something inside my mind that kept me from doing those things. It was a little thing called, “doubt.”  My mom is on a fixed budget and those waters are a little pricey. I don’t expect her to use her money to stock her fridge with the things I like. My doubt kept me from moving things around in the fridge in search of what I wanted. My doubt kept me from asking Mom which shelf to look on. I just opened the door, looked around, and shut the door without asking questions.

This may seem like a very specific incident that has nothing to do with anyone but me, but it isn’t. I think we all doubt at times and I think doubt keeps us from finding what we’re looking for. Doubt keeps us from finding what isn’t lost, what is, often times, right in front of us. What are you looking for? Don’t walk away from it in disappointment. Keep looking.  Jeremiah 29:13

I Still Do

Mr. & Mrs. Grant Foster 7-27-1991

Mr. & Mrs. Grant Foster
7-27-1991 

Twenty two years ago I changed my name, my address and my life. I married a man that I admired and loved as much as my limited experience would allow me to. At the time I thought love was just a euphoric emotion. I had no idea how much sacrifice would be involved in maintaining the relationship that began with a kiss and a prayer. I had no idea how young 19 was.

My husband and I have been through a lot together over the past 22 years… job changes, address changes, sickness, the death of loved ones, the births of our two children and the list goes on. My husband sacrifices everything for our family. All the money he makes is invested in our lives. He takes complete responsibility for feeding, clothing and providing a home for our family. I am so thankful for him and so proud of him.

It seems to me that marriage is just not a priority for young people today. It seems that fewer young men are willing to make the sacrifices that my husband makes. In the 50’s, marriage was perhaps the most important thing to a young person. Here we are 60+ years later and marriage is irrelevant to many and redefined by others.

I’m not a salesman…salesperson. I will only recommend something that I have tried and proven to be good. Marriage is one of those things. I want my single friends to find their soul mate because my life is infinitely better now that I have found mine.

I know firsthand that there are people who are in bad marriages. I don’t believe anyone should stay in an abusive situation. I do believe that marriage takes three: a husband, a wife and God. God came up with the idea of marriage. He knows how His design works. He is there to provide technical support. If you’re not married yet, let God guide you in choosing a spouse and keep Him at the center of your union. If you are married and never included God in your relationship, it’s not too late.

I still believe in marriage and that ring on my husband’s finger is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a symbol of our young love that ventured beyond the security of our parents’ homes. It’s a symbol of our maturing love that learned how to communicate the words that are the hardest to say like, “I’m sorry.” and “I was wrong.” It’s a symbol of our intimate, trusting love that doesn’t need words, and a symbol of our committed love that is not debatable, not based on emotions and has no loopholes. It means, I am his and he is mine. If you’re reading this, Sweetheart, I love you! Happy anniversary!

Frosting The Stone

large_901849I’ll get right to the point. I am much too likely to avoid conflict and just “frost”
things over.

Do you like cake? Cake is my favorite food and I have certainly eaten my fill of it. I have feasted on cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cake tastes and smells sweet and the frosting makes it beautiful to look at. Who can resist this soft, fluffy yumminess?
Not me!

But… Have you ever frosted a stone? Here’s how:

Step 1-Find a smooth, flat stone.

Step 2- Take your stone and place it on your best serving platter, the kind you keep in the highest cabinet in your kitchen, reserved for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Maybe it’s china. Maybe it’s crystal.

Step 3- Using a knife or spatula, cover the stone with your favorite frosting… chocolate, coconut cream, cream cheese, buttercream… The possibilities are endless.

Even when placed on your most precious family heirloom and covered with your favorite frosting, the stone is still a stone… a rock. It’s hard and heavy, not fertile or pliable like soil and certainly not fluffy or sweet like cake.

There is a situation in my life right now that I need to deal with… a stone, if you will. My calves are tired from tiptoeing around it for so long. I got honest with myself and with God earlier this week. It’s not my concern for my adversary’s feelings that keeps me from confrontation; it is my concern for my own feelings. I’ve been honest with this person about our relational issues before; and the pattern of this feline is to present her claws, arch her back and then run away hissing. I’m worn out physically and emotionally and am in no way up to another cat fight. So I smile and keep frosting the stone.

The Bible tells me this about my current plight, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ephesians 4:26

I am praying for the boldness to once again be honest with this person. I am praying for just the right words to say so I may present the truth wrapped in love. I am praying for God to help me to be able to see past their knee-jerk reactions, to hear more than just their venomous words. I am trusting God that one day soon, we will be able to sit at a table together and order one dessert… with two forks.

How Do You Approach Discontentment?

strawberry shortcake5How do I approach discontentment? Often with a piece of cake. You laugh, but it’s true; and I’m not the only one, just ask Jenny Craig. Some people approach discontentment with alcohol or drugs. Some people take a nap and hope it will be gone when they wake up. Some people shop. Some people run from place to place and person to person, filling up every minute, ignoring their discontentment or even denying its existence.

I’ll let you in on a little secret…none of these things work. In fact, each of these approaches make matters worse; they add to our waistline, our bad habits, our debt, our exhaustion and, in turn, our discontentment.

The apostle Paul, one of the authors of the Bible, had something to say about discontentment: “For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” Philippians 4:11, 12

He learned to be content. That means he had experience with discontentment. There was a time he had everything most people want: money, position, power, popular friends… He went by the name of Saul at that time. Then something unexpected happened… He had an encounter with God. This was a real shocker to Paul since he thought he had the corner market on God and God’s will. (You can read more about the details of his encounter in The Bible– book of Acts chapters 8 and 9.)

The point is, his priorities changed in the light of The Truth. He traded in his money, his position, his power and his circle of friends to pursue a completely different life. Was it easy? No way. If you’re a believer, I’m sure you’ve quoted this verse, “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” If you’re not a believer, but have been around one, you’ve probably heard this verse. I’ve encouraged myself with these words many times, especially when I’m exercising. (Can I get a witness?)

I believe this verse can be used in many different situations, but I was surprised to find that Paul first said these words when referring to discontentment. (Philippians 4:13) Paul needed Christ to give him the strength to deal with discontentment. Paul approached discontentment, hand-in-hand with Jesus. Why would I choose to do anything less? Why would you?

Invite Someone To Their Own Memorial

I recently attended a memorial service for a friend of mine, an acquaintance really. I sat on the front row as most pastors’ wives do. (I call it, “the cheering section.”) The pastor, my husband, looked so handsome in his gray suit and black, polka-dotted tie. (Watch out, Justin Timberlake!) He did a great job navigating the mourners through a sea of solemn songs, funeral scriptures, encouraging words and memories. When the service was finished he invited everyone to join the family for potluck. Then it was over; we had paid our “final respects” to this dear man.

On the way home, I couldn’t help but think about what my memorial would be like. (The subtitle for this blog is, My Random Thoughts; you were warned.) I also thought, as I often do after memorials, that it is such a shame that we all get together to honor someone after their gone instead of when they’re here to be encouraged by our kind words.

So here you have it- your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Pick someone you know. Invite them to out to eat. (There’s always food at a memorial.) While you are enjoying your meal together, say to them all the things you would say if you were standing behind the mic at their funeral. Then, find out more about them- the amplified version of the facts and events that would be summarized in their obituary- life’s closing paragraph.
Do they have pictures on their iPhone? Ask them to share them with you. I have books and books of pictures at home, but I keep a picture of the people that are most important to me on my iPhone. I’d be happy to show them to you; and yes, there is a story behind each photo. (Get the picture? No pun intended.)

So we have: food, kind words, personal information and pictures. There will most likely be flowers and music playing at the restaurant… hopefully smooth jazz. The only things missing from this kind of memorial are the tears, and they’re highly overrated anyway.

Rich Enough To Buy Back Your Past

I watched a movie this week called, An Ideal Husband. It was a film set in the 1800’s with a charming, English setting, beautiful costumes and rich language. The story had an intriguing plot filled with suspense, wit, and of course, love.
Although there was much to hold my attention, one line of dialogue stood out among the rest. The interaction took place between Sir Robert and Mrs. Cheveley; he was a man of ideals and she was a woman with impure motives. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you so I will get to the point “straight away”… the quote. “Even you are not rich enough to buy back your past, Sir Robert. No man is.”
Well, there is one manAlthough, He has no need to buy back his own past. He did buy back mine and He offers to buy back yours. His name is Jesus and He gave His life as a payment for our past…our sin. You’ve probably heard, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” (John 8:7) That’s His quote. He said it a long time ago when some holier than thou, religious people were getting ready to kill someone because of their past. He spoke up for this woman and caused the crowd to take a look at their own sin. “Do not judge others and you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:7) Another one of His. The bottom line is, we all have a past and, most likely there are people who know about it and like to remind us of it. You might even remind yourself.. pull out your list of mistakes from time to time.
The good news is, there’s only one person who has the right to bring up your past and to judge you for it. That person, Jesus already paid for a fresh start for you and me. He not only wants to forgive out past but once we accept that forgiveness, He forgets our past. He wants your list. He wants to wad it up and throw it as far as the east is from the west.

“Luke, I am your father.” Darth Vader

1-darth-vadar-skullWhen I think about the word father, the first thing that comes to my mind is this quote, “Luke, I am your father.” I know. Weird, huh? You say, “father” and I think of Darth Vader. You may think about the day your dad taught you to ride a bike or the time he took you camping. You may remember fishing with your dad or the gaudy tie you gave him for Father’s Day that he wore proudly because it was from you, his child. I’ve never met my dad, so I don’t have any warm, fuzzy feelings about him or memories to draw upon while writing this entry.

I can, however, write about my father, God. I recognized Him as my father when I was 11 years old. From that point on, He put men in my life who would step up and be the paternal example that I was missing; Godly men who mirrored His love for me and the kind of father He is.

The first man who made a difference in my life was Bill Combs. He was my pastor when I was 11 and he introduced me to my Heavenly Father. Bill loved his kids and I could see that. He loved me too and included me as part of his family. He took me to the zoo for the first time and in the winter, we slid down snow covered mountains together on shiny, black garbage bags. During the time Bill was part of my life, I learned that a father is fun.

When I was 13, we moved from Kentucky to Florida and I became a part of another pastor’s family. Mark McGuire was solemn, but kind. His daughter and I became fast friends and we had many sleepovers at their house. I got to know this family pretty well. They had a busy schedule, as pastoral families do, but I watched Mark make time for his wife. They had this tradition… When the kids went to bed, and I was often the fourth child, they would pop popcorn and watch a movie together. We kids were not allowed to get up and be part of this because it was their special time together. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now that I am married and have two kids, I can appreciate their simple, romantic gesture. Mark showed me that a father doesn’t only love his children, but also, that a father loves his wife. I came from an abusive family background and believe me, this was a new concept for me.

Several years later, God blessed me beyond anything I could ask or think when I married my sweetheart, Grant. His father, Rick Foster, became my father. That’s right, my father, not my father-in-law. From the moment I joined the family, he referred to me as a daughter and treated me as a daughter. He was not a touchy, feely kind of guy. He didn’t show me gobs of affection, but he was a hard-working man. He showed me that a father is a provider. He also loved blessing us. If we had a financial need and he knew about it, he met that need. If he received a bonus at work, he shared his blessing with the entire family. He also gave to his church and to ministries he believed in. He once came home from work without shoes because he met a man who didn’t have any. Rick showed me that a father gives sacrificially, and without strings attached.

The last man I want to mention today is my uncle, Wayne Ritchie. It is honestly a miracle that I even know him. He is my dad’s brother. Last year I had a strong desire to try and find out where my dad was and if he was still alive. I don’t have the time or energy today to tell you all the things God has done and is doing concerning this, or how he is restoring my family to me. But I will tell you someday soon. For today, I just want to thank Uncle Wayne and his family for accepting me immediately. They have been a great encouragement to me, kept in touch with me and checked on me. He has shown me that a father loves unconditionally.

I really don’t know how I feel about my dad. I don’t hate him by any means. I care about him and his eternity. But I don’t recognize the feelings I have for him as love. I’ve only talked to him briefly, and during that time he made it clear that he does not accept me as his daughter. This wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for and it caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting the raw emotion that burst into the room the moment I hung up the phone. So you see, my dad has never been part of my life and he has never given me the impression that he plans to be. You don’t save a seat for someone unless they tell you they’re coming. It’s no wonder that I can’t define my feelings for him. It’s not as if I’ve saved a seat for him in my life; especially one right next to me. But if he decided to come, I’d make room.

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve never met your earthly father. What I’m hoping is, that also like me, you have been privileged to have spiritual fathers in your life; men of God who have shown you the love of God. If not, I pray that God would send a spiritual father to you soon. But remember, God didn’t send those men into my life until I recognized who my true father was- my father, God. So if you haven’t recognized God as your father yet, I pray that today is the day you do. He will fill that black hole in your life. Whether it be a father you are missing or anyone or anything else, trust me, God is all you need.

Am I A Dreamer?

Today’s sermon was about dreaming; the kind you do when you’re awake. I’ve been thinking off and on this year about that subject. Am I a dreamer?

Growing up I was a bit of a dreamer. I remember when I was in elementary school, I had a late-night discussion with my cousin about our dreams. I told her that when I grew up I wanted sliding glass doors, a boyfriend and a dog. Two out of three ain’t bad. I have sliding glass doors and a boyfriend that I married. Please don’t tell my kids that I once dreamed of having a dog, that fact could come back to bite me…literally.

I also dreamed, as a kid, of becoming a nun. I was a Baptist so there wasn’t much hope for that one. As I got older, I dreamed of getting married and then having babies. Check and check. I think that’s when I stopped dreaming…for me anyway. That’s when I started dreaming for my kids.

I have so many dreams for them. I asked my almost 18 year old daughter if she knew what my dreams for her were. She said, a bit smugly, “To be happily married and to live in eternal Christiandom.” She’s right. The two most important decisions we can make are: whom to give our soul to and whom to give our heart to. Making the wrong decision about either one of these can affect the outcome of our entire life. That statement may sound a bit dramatic, but I’ve seen it happen firsthand, again and again.

I just want to encourage you to consider the importance of those two decisions I mentioned; and to put your dreams in God’s hands. He is a loving father and a dream molder, not a dream crusher. I’ve seen that firsthand too.