But I have been praying and thinking and thinking and praying and I had some thoughts that I just had to turn to my Bible and Blogger and see if I can put it together in a way that makes sense. Specially since I slept for about... 5hours today? Some ridiculous amount which means I won't be able to fall asleep any time soon. Hopefully after this I'll get to my Veterinary Assisting course, I've kinda' neglected it for a while.
So I've been praying for our little church, and about church, and then church in general. One of my biggest questions, personally, is why I go to church. Is it my Sunday morning ritual? Because it's tradition? Because it makes me feel better about myself for going? Because it's what "Christians" do? I honestly don't really know, but I believe that any kind of dissatisfaction you may have about going to church roots from your reasons. Example: If you complain that your church doesn't provide childcare, it may be because you go to church expecting a break from your kids on Sunday morning, thus when your needs aren't being met - you have a problem with your church. Same thing if "your music" isn't played, or your aren't hearing the right kind of sermons, etc... it all stems from your expectation of what the church should do for you and why you attend. Capische?
So I was asking myself, why do I go to church? And why this particular church? And I've been praying about it for a long time. Because usually my prayers are focused on me: Lord, I need help with the rent/car/kids/daycare/husband/pet/job etc. I need, I need, I want, I want. Then, realizing how self-centered I've been lately, I prayed for others... I have an online acquaintance named Carla who just had a premature baby due to strokes, which are the result of a heart infection that requires major heart surgery, which is postponed because now they found two sources of cancer in her body, for which she is going through chemo... all the while the husband isn't working to stay by her side and to be with the little one, who has really immature lungs and needs all the physical touch he can get to grow and get strong enough to breathe and eat on his own.... (and I thought I needed prayers? Seriously!) I came to the conclusion that we all NEED something, and I acknowledged that I'm just used to having the Lord help me with EVERYTHING! I can't handle any trial on my own two feet. I can't even do my job without His help. I pray on my way there, and back. I need help to love my kids and have patience because I'm exhausted ALL THE TIME and my kids are another full-time job at home. Lord, I'm just needy. I need God with me every step of the way. I may not have needs as urgent or difficult as others, but I'm needy all the time. I'm completely codependent.
Then one day I was driving and it hit me to ask, "Lord, what do YOU need?" And my first answer was the logical one: Nothing! He owns the earth and the sky and He doesn't need anything. And yet, He chooses to partner with us to bring His kingdom to earth. He doesn't do it Himself, He depends on us to reach out and love and serve each other and those that aren't so lovable... He needs us to be His hands and feet, and His ambassadors, here on planet earth. God, I'm so sorry that we've been failing miserably at this!
So in this train of thought (over the past few weeks) I've been praying to see what does God need from me regarding my church (specifically). And while that is still an intangible concept to me, I began to pray about what God may want the church (general) to be like.
Acts 4:32-35 (The Message)
32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.
34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.
This was one section of my Bible that I highlighted as I went over and over it. Unity! In other words, the absence of complaining! Now this scripture seemed a bit ... communistic for me? Which in politics communism is a BAD thing but I'm seeing that in the Church, if the church (general) would be willing to share and love as the church first did... It would be such a powerful testimony! That we could say, within our own, that we have helped and sustained our family in Christ! I can't help but have a difficult time imagining this Scripture come to life... Because I can see all the justifications: "Oh, he just needs to get a job." "They just want to mooch of the church." "I worked hard to get myself where I'm at, and they should too!" I can't even fathom what it would look like if I personally lived like that... maybe because we tend to be on the "needy" side more than the generous side. There was a season where we could be generous and we paid medical bills and helped other with groceries and it was no sweat off our back. Now, more than ever, any aspect of generosity comes at a great sweat for us. I have to fight off anxiety attacks (honest truth) to give to something that isn't our rent or our bills. And I am fearing homelessness now more than ever (but at least we're in the summer, right?)
Acts 2:41-47 (The Message)
41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.
46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
This one is fully loaded:
- "committed themselves to the teaching... the life together... the common meal, and the prayers." Commitment is the biggest phobia most people have within the church (general) to begin with! But it wasn't a commitment to a church position or program... it was to each other! They committed to spend time together to study the Word, to "do" life together, and to pray together! What would it be like if we lived with open doors and hearts? That everyone could plainly see what our life was like and how we treated our family? That we would welcome each other on more than just a Sunday morning basis to study the Bible together and pray?
- They followed a daily discipline of worship at the Temple followed by meals at home... yeah like that would fly well at church today! Really? But I can see that this wasn't a mandate obviously, rather more of a consequence of their love for God and each other. It was joyful and "exuberant". It overflowed out of their commitment to do life and bible study together.
- "People in general liked what they saw." Oh Lord Jesus, help us! Because that is not what our city is saying of our church (general) today! Can we honestly say that people in general like what they see about us? Is there anything to like left in us?
So in reading and studying what the church should be - as these are the Scriptures showing the history of how the church began in the first place - then I could see that so many things are extra. They are like icing and cherries on the cake. And yet, for many places of worship, they are trying to sustain themselves on nothing but icing and cherries!
At the very foundation for the church is Christ, and a love for Him, and from there is built up a group of people who love Christ and love each other, and these people experience life together as they seek to learn more of God and live more like Him, and in these endeavors they support each other and they do it together... Then they go to the temple to worship God and come back home to help each other out.
Well, from where I'm standing right now I'm having a hard time imagining this in a real life scenario. But there is one little element that I am missing:
Acts 2:1-4 (The Message)1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
Acts 4:31 (The Message)
31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God's Word with fearless confidence.Acts 10:39-46 (The Message)
39-43"And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn't put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we're not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets."
44-46No sooner were these words out of Peter's mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on "outsider" non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.
46-48Then Peter said, "Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They've received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did." Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.
I will not even begin to pretend to explain the mystery in the bible known as speaking in tongues. I will say that I have not read any particular evidence that would demonstrate this no longer happens, or that there is a formula to make it happen. So because, as I read the Bible, I don't see it telling me anywhere that speaking in tongues no longer happens, I firmly believe that it still does. Beyond that, I have no theological doctorate. My faith and my belief is as simple as that of a child: If God says He did it, then He can do it again even now, unless (like the flood in Noah's day) He specifically says He won't do it again.
I will tie this in to the church that there is overwhelming Scriptural evidence that we need something supernatural to happen in the church - a God-touch, if you will - and it can't just be our efforts. No where in the building of the early church does it show that the church was built up out of "good intentions" or "sound biblical doctrine", at least not exclusively. The power of God was present as they prayed and moved in such ways that people took notice and things happened! There was healing! There were miracles! And a church that doesn't experience these things to some degree or other is a church that is not functioning in partnership with God Himself. And while I cannot put a measure on what it would all look like, I have to assume that a church sees God answer prayer, experiences some kind of supernatural intervention, believes in miracles (otherwise, why pray?) because without any of this supernatural stuff all you have is a social club (sorry!).
So there is this divine dance of God-touches and committed people weaving back and forth through the book of acts. And I assume that I need to do my part as far as being committed, but only God can do the supernatural aspects (duh), and I honestly don't know what should come first. Historically, the supernatural (pentecost) came first, and then the church disciplined themselves into a functional body. But now, should we wait? Should the church (general) sit around and wait for something supernatural to happen before we start living like the church Christ originally intended? Or would this be wishful thinking?
Could it be that God needs us to start being about the church, lining ourselves up with what made the early church successful in the first place, and then the supernatural will follow as God assists us in building His kingdom?
As for me, personally, doing the Sunday morning thing is not at all beneficial. Just doing Sunday morning at church because it's such a nice tradition... quite frankly... sucks. It is exhausting to get up early on a Sunday and get three kids ready and out the door for a whole morning at church... my kids don't find it a whole lot of fun, and on my day off I'd rather sleep in. So I know already that I'm going to church on Sunday mornings expecting... more. I want to sing my heart out to God, be fed with His Word, and pray with my brothers and sisters. And I still want more! I don't know quite what I'm missing here, but under God's direction I have to keep at it until I find it.
I want it to be a point in my week where God comes down and touches a group of humble, needy people that are hungry to be touched by Him. And I have the faith to believe that God can do so in more than just the proverbial "tug of the heart", but something a lot more visible and tangible within the congregation. I don't know whether it will look like Pentecost (tongues of fire falling on people and they pray and speak in a different language from what they originally know) or like the revival in the fictional story "In His Steps" (where there was a large crowd just praying, long after the service, and committing themselves to living "as Jesus would", in such a way that it revolutionized the city). Heck, why not ask for both?
So I pray and ask God what He wants from me, and what I need to be. The biggest thing burning in my daily walk with God was when He told me, "What's with all this concern of what you are getting out of church? Whatever happened to coming to church asking what you can do for me?" Behold my reason for being in Alaska (and not in Florida). But what can I possibly do to help bring the church (specific) from point A (where we are now) to point B (a book-of-Acts type church)?