Why Do We Have the Church?

Jesus said to his disciples: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Matthew 18:20

I grew up going to church with my family every Sunday. My parents were members of a  Finnish Lutheran Church that was part of an association of Finnish churches. During the summer we sometimes attended the annual church convention. People from across the United States came to a host church and were housed by the local church members. Guest speakers came from Finland.

The convention lasted four days. Each morning we listened to two sermons and then had a community lunch that was organized by the host church. In the afternoon two more sermons. Then a community dinner followed by two more sermons.

I was sheltered from many things. Young people in the church did not go to movies or attend dances. For several years my family did not have a television. It was legalism, but I gained a foundation of faith. I knew that I, like all humans, was a sinner. I asked Jesus to be my Savior.

When I went to the University of Michigan I became involved in Intervarsity and joined the Reformed Church. Through participation in Intervarsity and the church I was able to sort through the legalism—my faith was refined and grew stronger.

I met my husband in the young adult ministry of the Reformed Church. After we were married we chose to become members of the Evangelical Free Church.

It is true that the Church is not perfect. It is made up of sinners who need to confess their sins regularly and repent. The Church is a spiritual family. Both our family of origin and the church family have flaws, but we need them. God has given the family unit as foundational unit for society. 

The Church is the spiritual family that helps us know God and develop spiritually. We sing and praise God. We pray together, confessing our faults and seeking God’s will. We study the Bible together so that we understand God’s commands and obey. We help each other.

When we consider how God has designed us for relationship and community, we can understand why the restrictions imposed by the pandemic are so painful. The isolation that my mother and many others are experiencing in nursing homes is not right. Churches are struggling to navigate through this time.

And so we pray for this pandemic to end, for the officials making decisions about restrictions, for truth and for God’s mercy.

Sharing this post with the Five Minute Friday writing community. I am grateful for this community led by Kate!

Giving an Encouraging Word

Talent: characteristic feature, aptitude or disposition of a person; the natural endowments of a person

Words matter. They can encourage or deter creative pursuits. I still remember two elementary school teachers that I had. The orchestra teacher told me that I had no musical ability and discouraged me from attempting to play the violin. (I heard don’t try to be involved in any musical activities.) 

An art teacher said that I had artistic ability and recommended that I be included in a special art class. I was encouraged and blessed by this opportunity.

As parents, grandparents and teachers we desire to guide children, helping them to realize their potential. I know I tried to do that for my children. I see it as my role as grandmother, to speak encouraging words.

What about in the church? Do I recognize the talents of my fellow believers and encourage them? 

God has given each of us a role. We can encourage each other along the way.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

This post is shared with Inspire Me Monday and the Five Minute Friday writing community.

The Church: A Place for Spiritual Growth

In the Old Testament of the Bible we see how God guided the Israelites through the tabernacle with Moses speaking for him. God demonstrated his desire to speak to his people and teach them how to live in peace.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Deuteronomy 10: 12-13 ESV

The tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem gathered the people together to worship God.

In the New Testament Jesus reminds us of the importance of gathering together.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Matthew 18:20

My husband I have been blessed by a heritage in the church. I was brought up in the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church and my husband in the Dutch Reformed Church. Recently I found a picture book that was given to him by the Sunday School when he was four years old.

We met in a Reformed Church on the campus of the University of Michigan and we were married there.

When we established a home in Illinois we became members of the Evangelical Free Church. We have also had encounters with the Baptist and the Catholic Church.

Because the church is made up of humans with a tendency to sin, we need to pursue truth and forgiveness, We need to bring difficulties before the Lord in prayer. In our walk of faith we need the church. The church is the place where we can grow.

Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive . . . And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians: 12-13, 15-16

This post is participating in Five Minute Friday. Today’s prompt is: PLACE

I am also linking up with writers at #GraceFullTuesday.

Imperfect Families

The Bible has stories about families. Our pastor reminded us that some of the stories show the dysfunction in families (Genesis 27 and 28).

In the account of Esau and Jacob, the lies that were told when Jacob received the blessing of his father Isaac demonstrated the divide between family members. Jacob deceived his father at the encouragement and planning of his mother. He had to flee from Esau.

Yet God met Jacob along the way to Paddan Aram. Jacob recognized God’s message that came to him in a dream, and he made a vow, seeking to follow God.

Bible

God is merciful to us when we pay attention to his call on our life and seek him.

As a young adult I had arguments with my parents and didn’t always treat them respectfully. We had dysfunction in our family. When my older brother developed schizophrenia, we didn’t know how to respond his behavior.

I (oldest daughter and graduate nurse) was relied on to help my father. My mother withdrew, and I was burdened and distressed. Although everyone in the family desperately wanted to “fix” Glenn’s illness, we had lapses in kindness and communication.

My brother’s illness was a downward spiral. It is a long and complicated story–too much to address here. It crushed my parents, my siblings and me. During his long battle with schizophrenia my brother became bitter. Each of us, in our own way, wanted something or someone to blame.

I have come to realize my own imperfections and sins. I can now see the limitations and imperfections of my parents with forgiveness.

God doesn’t always heal illness. Later, with my son’s illness I learned that God walks with us through suffering. He can heal our emotional and spiritual wounds.

God has been faithful. He has forgiven my sins and given me guidance through his word, through prayer and through the church. God, through Jesus, desires to heal the wounds we receive in a fallen world. He is ready to meet us where we are.

I wrote a chapter in the book, Illness, Resilience and Spirituality. It is an anthology and my chapter is titled “Prayers through Illness and Loss”. It is a record of my prayers and God’s answers. I learned so much about God.

At every stage of my life I have looked for a church, for a family of faith. The church is composed of sinners that need grace, and sometimes the church falters. But we can’t give up. In addition to the Word of God and prayer, Christians need a community of believers to thrive. 

Jesus said (recorded in Matthew 18:20), “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”

When the News is Bad

Newspapers have been running stories about the sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. The Chicago Tribune has had a series of articles about sexual abuse at Willow Creek Church. The lead article in the current issue of World Magazine addresses sexual abuse in Protestant churches. It is all around us.

It is grievous that that there is so much abuse and confusion about sexuality. I know that many Christians and Catholics are deeply saddened.   It is tragic that  God’s  plan  for  sex,  marriage  and family is torn and distorted in our culture AND the church.

What can we do? We must rush to the Lord in prayer. We can pray that the abusers acknowledge their sin and repent. We can pray for healing for the victims. We can pray for those in church leadership to be wise and establish boundaries of behavior that are enforced.

Prayer
photo courtesy of pixabay.com

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

As people of faith we can pray for our families  and  be willing to discuss sexuality with our children and grandchildren. The family is God’s foundational unit for passing along truth.

The prompt for Five Minute Friday is: RUSH.  Visit this writing community by clicking here.

When the Church Responds to Foster Care Needs

On most Fridays I join the challenge to write for five minutes on a prompt given by Kate Motaung. Visit this inspiring community by clicking here. Today’s prompt is: PROVIDE

My children are grown and married. Currently we are taking care of my daughter’s children while she and her husband attend a seminar and celebrate their anniversary. As grandparents we are being introduced to foster care—we have two foster grandchildren. My eyes are being opened to the circumstances that many children face.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, 437,465 children in our country were in the foster care system in 2016. The most common reason a child is placed in foster care is neglect (61%). The second most common reason is drug abuse (34%).

I was talking with my son-in-law and he said that poverty is a factor. He has participated in a poverty simulation course and was awakened to the stress that poverty places on a family.

Some children bounce back and forth between foster care and their biological family. It is heart breaking. But I have been encouraged to see the way the church in this community has stepped up.

Last Sunday we attended church with our daughter’s family. A dedication service took place for a young couple and their foster daughter. The children’s pastor invited people that wanted to  support  this  young   couple to come to the front of the church.

About thirty people, from teenage to elderly, walked to the front. They encircled the couple. The young mother had grown up in the foster care system and had been befriended by a family in this church.

My daughter’s family is part of a community of believers who are taking in foster children, providing support to families (children’s clothing, furniture as needed, meals as their family grows suddenly).

The community provides material and emotional support. The love and compassion for children is palpable.

It has blessed my heart to see this faith community engaging in the needs of children. I am so grateful that my daughter’s family has this support system.