Fantasy Church

28 02 2008

       As I was driving home from the grocery store today, I was thinking about what kind of church I would create (were I creating a church.)  Now, y’all know I haven’t been called to preach.  So you have to take this as a fantasy and not get all riled up over it.

First of all, there wouldn’t be any lecturing at my church.  I don’t understand why pastors feel they have to fuss at people so much.  If the person isn’t guilty of whatever the lecture’s about, they feel smug and self-righteous.  If they are guilty, they feel condemned and like the church doesn’t want them.  And if they’re nervous they just sit there getting paranoid.

Furthermore, I don’t understand why the pastors feel like they can fuss at their congregations at all.  These sweet people already got up on Sunday morning, got dressed, and voluntarily came to worship because A) they love Christ or B) they’re looking for Him, and why do you want to yell and lecture at them like they’re recalcitrant five-year-olds who won’t pick up their toys?  (recalcitrant means “deliberately stubborn.”)

I  think most people do wrong because they don’t know any better or they can’t help it.  The kind that do wrong on purpose and because they enjoy it generally aren’t sitting in church.  So what people need isn’t a good chewing out, what they need is education, encouragement and healing.

My church will have kind of loose worship.  If people aren’t  having convulsions, yelling and screaming, or crashing into people, I’d let them be.  Let them wander around.  Let them dance.  Let them sit down.  Heck, let them lie down!  I know there have been times in my life where I sincerely longed for a safe place to take a nap.  Also, I think that worship leaders are sometimes over worked.  I love live music, but it’s not worth running people ragged over.  We can worship to recorded music, too!  I do it at home all the time.  So when the worship team is tired, or when their voice wears out, or when they need a week off, let the poor people sit down!  We’ll play a tape.  Especially good for instrumental background during prayer.

Speaking of prayer…. this “pre-service prayer” stuff is for the birds.  Prayer at my church would be PART of the service.   Instead of getting up and shaking hands with our neighbors, we’ll take 20 or 30 minutes and pray with our neighbors.  I heard a quote once, “Everyone on earth is trying to swallow something that won’t quite go down.”  Everyone on earth has troubles.  Everyone has something they need prayed over.   My church would have classes on prayer, instruction and mentoring in prayer, and I’d do my best to make sure that everyone knew how to love somebody by praying for them in person.  I’d have section leaders or monitors walking around to make sure that no one was being lectured instead of prayed for, or having oil thrown on them or something, and we’d all take some time to lift each other up.  I bet as the weeks passed, we’d all get to know each other better than just by shaking hands!  And if someone developed a conflict with someone in their area, they could move to another part of the church.

I think it would be a great idea to let more than just the pastor teach from the pulpit.  I loved the Joni Ames conference I went to.  She had her “10 minute speakers.”  People that had something to say, something to share, but weren’t ready to really preach could get up and teach for 10 minutes.  It was great.  And somehow she made sure that they were all very encouraging.  They didn’t lecture, fuss, holler, or point fingers.  They taught.  They tried to tell us something we didn’t KNOW, instead of acting like they were convincing us to do something we wouldn’t DO.  Which was nice.

My church would focus on personal ministry in addition to things like evangelism and service.  I am LOVING this Elijah House stuff.  I wish I wish I wish that I could be the kind of prayer counselor they’re training.  But who in this town would let me do it?  Sigh.     I have to think that if only people could get their own emotional and spiritual needs met that evangelism and service would flow out naturally.  I think too often we get the process reversed.  We try to serve, serve, serve, witness, witness, witness, and the spring’s so clogged the water won’t flow.  I guess I believe in “trickle-down ministry.”  Spiritual healing, healing the heart so it can touch the Lord, is more important than almost anything else.  What else are churches here for?

An important part of spiritual healing is knowing and using the bible.  And that would be what I would want as the major point for sermons.  Gently and patiently teaching what the bible’s instructions for life are and explaining how (IF people wanted to- no lecturing!) they might be put into practice and what kind of results might be expected if you did.  It is not the job of the pastor to convince, manipulate, coerce, browbeat, threaten, bribe, cajole, or promise people into obeying the bible.  God is gracious enough to treat us like adults and give us a choice.  Why can’t preachers?

So there would be my church- one third worship, one third prayer (including prophetic words and words of knowledge & that kind of stuff), and one third teaching.   Not to say that the time would break down that way every service, but that general idea.  What do you think?  What would you add or subtract to make it your fantasy church?


Our House SOLD!!!

28 02 2008

Need I say more?


25 02 2008

Couple items of note: Progress Energy sent me a letter of confirmation, so it was for real.  (Woo Hoo!)

Donal is attending a Cooking Focus Group through 4-H today & is about to perish with excitement.  D & B are going to be entering a sewing competition through 4-H in a month or two.  We’re plainning on making library book bags with foundation-pieced quilt squares.  First I must have my sewing machine repaired.

Yesterday I attended my first meeting of the  writer’s group.  I read my story “Mathew’s Rabbits” to them.  They loved it and immediately began discussing which short story competition I should enter it in.  I had the feeling one has when the roller coaster starts and you wish you could get off but it’s too late.  Some of them are quite good writers & had some helpful things to say.  Most important, they understand that encouragement and telling what they got out of the story are much more important than criticism.  When someone tells you what they understood from what you wrote, then you can say, “YES!  They got it!”  or “Hmmm… maybe I need to adjust something because that wasn’t what I meant to send.”

I’m finding my class from Elijah House challenging (the books are stiff for even me to wade through) but full of intense revelation and wonderful moments where everything in the universe seems to fall into place.  I am more excited about this than I am able to express.

Must go clean house…. ugh.

Amazing Grace

24 02 2008

           One of the perennial questions we (Christians and non-christians) have about God is, “If God is all-powerful, why does he allow so much suffering in the world?”

          I have two quotes from the introducton to Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song by Steve Turner that I want to share with you.

“I no longer felt in control of my life.  I was devastated, I was hurt, I was broken…. I told my running buddies that I was thinking of going to church and they said, no Sherman, it couldn’t have got that bad… So I went to church that night and I heard the word of God preached and at the end of the sermon the choir got up and they started singing the song:
                   Amazing Grace! (how sweet the sound)
                   That saved a wretch like me!
“When it got to the ‘wretch’ part of it, I said, Wait a minute!  He’s in the wretch-saving business?  I said, I qualify.  I qualify!”     – Sherman Whitfield, p. XXIX

“The first verse was a reminder of how far he [John Newton] had come and the change that had taken place both in his circumstances and his behavior.  The second verse reminded him of where he had come from and he never let himself forget that.  He never forgot the time he spent enslaved on an African island, the time when he realized that he was not the captain of his soul, that he was not the Man.”   – Steve Turner, p. XXXI (emphasis added)

We were talking last weekend in the class I’m taking… a woman was sharing who had been brutally, terribly, fearfully abused as a tiny child.  And the question came up again- why does God permit it to happen?  Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing God permit terrible things to happen?

When I read these quotations and thought about all the personal stories I have heard, the answer seemed to become blindingly clear.  Because we don’t feel our need for God when we’re the captain of a sucessful trading ship.  We need him when we’re enslaved by savages who may kill us at any moment.  We don’t look for God when our marriage and job are peachy, we look for Him when we walk in and find the preacher fooling around with our wife.  We don’t cry out to God for help when we can handle school and job and relationships, we cry out when our past has come back to torment us, and we recognize that we’re destroying ourselves and everyone around us with our inability to cope.

We suffer, and we realize that we don’t have the power to make it stop.  The realization dawns that I am not empowered, I am not intelligent, I am not sucessful, I am not in control, and I cannot handle what is happening.  And then, for the first time, we turn and ask, “God, are you real?  Because I am in a real mess here, and I need a real God, not some pretend one that I made up, not some theological system of beliefs, not a soothing philosophy, and not a comforting lack of judgement that ends in nirvana or nothingness… I need HELP!  Can you come through for me?”  And time and again, he does.

            There is no way to explain to someone who has not yet sensed their need for God how real He is.  Let me tell you a story.
            When I was in college, I developed an interest in rock climbing.  My brother was experimenting with rappelling, and I had done a little.  When he wanted to take a rock climbing class, my father bit the bullet and paid for me to take the class, too.  It was an amazing experience- incredibly empowering, beautiful, exhilarating and terrifying.  The next year, when I went to college, I joined a climbing club.  I did pull-ups on the shower bar every day when I got out of the shower and began developing some upper arm strength.
             The first time I made a top-rope climb I was so proud I like to died of it.  The guy who was belaying me from above was so tickled at my happiness, he gave me an oreo and a free trip back down (he made my boyfriend climb back down, which he did whining the whole way, “Where’s my cookie?”)
             I went on several more climbs, but with each new success, I became more afraid.  Finally, my fear became so overpowering, I stopped climbing.  I stopped when I had never slipped, never fallen, never lost control…  Actually, I stopped because I had never slipped, fallen or lost control.  I had never let the rope catch me.  I had never felt my need for the rope, trusted the rope, or let the rope save me.
             If I had just fallen one time, I would have known the rope was real, that my belay man was on the job and would save me.  But I was so grimly determined to do it myself… that I eventually became unable to do it at all.  Do you know anyone like that?  Anyone so busy hanging on by their white knuckle fingertip grips, that they can’t acknowledge their need for God?  They’ve got to keep their life disciplined and under control, not realizing that someday their control will be their final failure.
              It takes the smash up, the disaster of suffering, to break our hold on our self-confidence.  Knocked off the rock, we can’t help but grab for the rope.  More people in the Southeast have prayed as a result of this drought than would ever have thought of praying without it.  Suddenly mention of God is allowed back in the municipal buildings and stadiums again!  Everybody at the Braves game is praying for rain. 

           That little girl endured horrible suffering, but the end result is a beautiful, sympathetic woman with a gift for ministry and the ability to hear God’s voice.   Perhaps in the house next to her was a little girl who grew up petted and priveledged, but who now is growing old in isolation and hardness of heart.  Why is there so much suffering in the world?  God knows why, because over and over he sees the fruit that he labors so hard to produce: another child found, another drowning man saved, another woman healed.
          Amazing Grace, amazing joy.


23 02 2008

I saw a sweet sight this morning. Neal’s gift to Brenna last Christmas was a monetary one that came with a promise to take her clothes shopping on a “Daddy date.” They got up early today to go on their date, and it was sweet to see Brenna go out the door with him with her hair in braided pigtails, all scrubbed and shiny and happy.
They stayed out four hours, hit Target and a sale at Belk’s, spent twice their budget and ate lunch together at Pizza Inn. Previously I had gone through B’s clothes with her, taking out the too-small or unliked garments. Together we made a list of what she might need or want. It was supposed to be a list of suggestions, but my very literal husband bought everything on it plus some extras, consisting of a dress he thought was too cute to resist, an extra pair of church shoes and two belts! His only complaint was that they couldn’t figure out what “yoga pants” were, despite the fact that Bren’s been wearing them for years.

In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have turned the two of them loose in the mall. But they had fun. Brenna will probably remember this day for years. The two of them are thick as thieves right now, and they’re out on the front porch repairing B’s bike tires in the drizzling rain.

I wish there were some way I could bring my oldest son and husband together that way, but I think the two of them are too much alike. They inhabit the same space in life and breathe each other’s air. They both love to deliver lectures, enjoying the sound of their own voices more than the other person’s. Although my husband denies it (and despises it in his son), they both like to make wild statements of positive fact based on scanty-to-non-existant evidence. Neither one of them can tell a joke to save their lives, but they are both frequently amusing by accident. A part of this is that they both have a fondness for using big words without worrying very much about the actual definition of said words. And like many men, they both want to be the one holding the tool and are irrationally convinced that if the other one will just give over the hammer, they can fix it.

I have developed a death-like glare to deal with this problem. They’re both just so eagerly helpful, they’ll help me right out of the way and take over. So when one of them approaches, hand out to “help” me when I don’t really need it, I give them this glare. Neal will rock back on his heels, put his hands in his pockets and say, “So, how’s it going?” Donal just says, “Whoops!” and ducks.

I suppose, in a spirit of quid pro quo, I should now talk about some of my personality flaws. Chief among them right now is a tendency to play with my Webkinz instead of doing the dishes. Neal has had to catch up the stacks of dishes for me twice this week. ( I MISS my dishwasher.) I also haven’t been keeping up with the clothes folding. I have done very little school this week, though I’ve hung curtains (OK, I nagged Neal into hanging the curtains for me, but I ironed them), made a grocery list and meal plan (Neal did the shopping) and finished decorating the little boy’s room. Hmmm… what else did I do? I spent three hours Wednesday morning working on a short story and didn’t do any of my work. Took the kids shopping and spent money we didn’t really have buying books. Have I actually done ANY work? Good grief. I must have done something! I did volunteer for the library Book Buddies program, but I’m afraid a good deal of the bread of idleness has been eaten around here this week (in my case the ice cream of idleness.)

Maybe I’ve just been busy supervising.

Progress Energy enters the Blogsphere…

19 02 2008

      This is surreal.  I’m not sure if I should be pleased or panic.  Five minutes ago, a guy (supposedly from Progress Energy) called to tell me that a member of his department had read my BLOG and they wanted to resolve the issue!

Reason I’m inclined to think this is not a scam: he didn’t ask for my address, account number, social security number, or banking information.  (However, perhaps I should be worried that they were able to figure out which account I was from info on my blog- note to self: be more careful.)

So they’re re-instating my ability to write checks and (assuming this person was from Progress Energy and not The Planet Formerly Known as Pluto) life goes back to normal.  Is this an example of God’s favor, the power of the written word, or bizarre coincidence?  I’m inclined to think that Progress Energy has PR people searching the internet for comments about their company.  Purpose?  I assume to maintain their public image.  Me crying on the phone wasn’t exposing them in a public forum, but me writing in a blog (even if only about six people really read it) is?

So if they want good PR, I’m willing to make the exchange.  I’ll write something nice about how, although Progress Energy is still a powerful monopoly (no pun intended), they at least have a couple of people working there who are human beings and not computer componants.  Thanks guys.

P.S.- If the mystery man is reading this again, please tell that poor girl on the complaints line that I’m sorry I cried and yelled about how unfair her company was being.  I do know it wasn’t her fault, and I’m sorry I took it out on her.   I was really feeling guilty about that last night & I prayed for her.  (I should know better than to chew out the person who takes the calls, you know.  I used to work as a customer service person myself.  I answered service calls for a computer company, and if anything can get people hot under the collar, it’s a computer that is acting possessed!)

Wow, this has been a really weird day.

Is Progress Energy a Monopoly?

18 02 2008

I think it is, because i want to change electric companies SO BAD, and I can’t, because they’re the only one around.  And if I didn’t have electricity, I couldn’t get on my computer and play with my Webkins, and that would be unfortunate.

So, when we were in the middle of moving, I accidentally picked up the wrong check book and wrote all my bills on the old (closed) account.  Most of them sent me polite notes explaining the problem and requesting that I do something about it pronto.  Terminex charged me an extra $25.  Fine.    But the lovely electric company demanded their money, and then when I sent them a check (from the right account with a note explaining the accident) they wouldn’t deposit it.  They accepted a check for our bill here, but not for the old bill, and kept adding penalties, even though we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to write a check any more.

I want to wring their necks.  Despite the fact that in eight years we have never missed a bill, despite the $150 deposit we had to pay to get service here in, despite my explanations and apologies, they are not budging.  I can get a cashier’s check (for an extra fee), pay online (for an extra fee), or pay in person.  And now that I mentioned it, they won’t accept checks on our account anymore, despite the fact that they just took my check (which was GOOD) for last month’s bill!

Stupid, stupid, stupid!  So be careful- one mistake and the electric company will blackball you, smirch your credit, and absolutely refuse to listen to any extenuating circumstances because they don’t have to CARE…
…they’re the only power company in town.