Setting the Stage for Jesus

Setting the Stage for Jesus

Kristi F

I am an Oklahoman by birth, a Texan by current living situation, but claim the world as my playground.I love to travel and hope to someday soon take our family on adventures to far off lands, where we can share God with others and experience all the wonders He has created.

I am a mother of 5 crazy, homeschooling children ages 10 & under, wife to an amazing man, and daughter of the King of the Universe!I enjoy reading, making my kids laugh, cooking, all things natural, learning to play guitar and dusting off my piano skills.One day I hope to run again, but until then I’m learning patience.

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From before the earth ever existed, God had a plan to redeem the people He knew would sin before He even created them. The idea that he has been setting the stage for Jesus to come hits my heart and reemphasizes how much He truly loves us.

But one thing has always intrigued me, even as a child: Why did God choose the exact moment He did to send Jesus to the cross?

Why didn’t God send Jesus sooner?

Like, immediately after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden?

If Jesus had just arrived on the scene without any forewarning, would anyone have believed him to be the Son of the living God? Many had a difficult time with that already. But because God set the stage for Jesus’ coming, He could point back and say, “Yes, indeed this is me! I am the Messiah, the One you have been waiting for.  I AM the One the I AM was talking about!”

Why didn’t God wait longer?

Can you imagine if Jesus showed up today? I think we would all be so distracted by celebrity “X” or our phones that we wouldn’t even look up and notice the miracles he performed. Or Jesus would perform a miracle and people would claim it was only special effects or computer-generated.

Obviously, I don’t claim to know the answer to this question. It is one I have on my list to ask God when I get to heaven. But as I’ve studied the Scriptures more, I am constantly in awe of how God’s timing works and I’ve noticed so many wonderful events that set the stage for Jesus’s first coming!

Peter’s and Paul’s Explanations

In 1 Peter 1, the apostle Peter writes:

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

1 Peter 1:20

And in Acts, Luke records Paul’s words:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

God was setting the stage for your sake!

God planned out everything in this way so that YOU and I would seek him!

For your sake!!

What stuns me is what a methodical planner God is. Seeing how he works through the smallest details just puts me even more in awe of Him. He takes his time, lays out ALL the necessary elements for THE perfect entrance into the world and THE perfect time for Christ’s death and resurrection.

God’s Word shows it all through:

  1. The Prophecies
  2. The Prophets
  3. The Parallels

The Prophecies

Within the Scriptures, there are 400 prophecies about Jesus.  According to this count, 353 of them have been fulfilled by Jesus.

God knew that many would claim to be the Messiah. It seems like He wanted there to be no doubt as to whom the chosen Messiah actually was.  He clearly told John to look for the One who has a dove come down on him:

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

 

John 1:32-34

The Prophets

I’ve read the Old Testament many times, so I have read all the things that the prophets had done. But for the first time ever, I started seeing how God used all the miracles done by previous prophets to prepare people for the Messiah and to cement the fact that Jesus was who he claimed to be. I sat in amazement.

It was almost as if God was slowly over centuries building trust in His people, so that they could look back at the Scriptures and verify God did indeed work in this way. God did use prophets to perform miracles like this in the past and now here is One, the Messiah, who doesn’t perform just a few miracles but is able to do all these things that have been done and so much more!

Here are a few examples:

Like the prophets of the past, Jesus:
  • Turned water, a life source, into something else.
    • Moses turned it to blood and Jesus turned it to wine.
  • Turned a small amount of food into enough.
    • God provided manna and quail when there was nothing else in the desert wilderness.
    • Elijah told the widow at Zarephath to use the oil and flour she had left to make a small cake and she was able to feed her family and Elijah for a long time
    • Elisha took 20 loaves of bread and some heads of new grain and fed 100
    • Jesus on different occasions fed many with a little food.  He took two fish and five loaves and fed 5000 and seven loaves and a few fish to feed 4000.
Greater than Any Prophet

God wanted his people to know that his son was greater than Moses and Elijah, the greatest prophets, and all the other prophets.  He did this by allowing a few of the apostles to see Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses and then declared Jesus greater than them!

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Matthew 17:5

Yes, indeed Jesus was not the first to heal people or even raise them from the dead, but He was the only one who did ALL of these things and so much more.  Jesus also cast out demons, made the blind see, and ultimately FREED us from the chains of death for all eternity!  He fulfilled prophecies to show himself the One that they’ve been waiting for:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Matthew 11:4-6

 

The Parallels

There are many beautiful parallels in the Old and New Testaments.  The one that stands out to me the most is the parallel between God sending a rescuer to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt and sending the ultimate rescuer to deliver humanity from the slavery of sin.

When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they waited for the prophesied rescuer to come. 400 years later, he came in the form of a baby, born in a time when baby boys were being killed. He was hidden away and raised in a way that the people did not expect. When he came in the name of the Lord to lead them, it took miracles and God confirmed that Moses was indeed the chosen leader. Not only did Moses, through the power of God deliver the people from slavery, he:

And finally, God took care of him in death.

Much like someone else the Israelites were waiting for so many years later….

Four hundred years passed between the last Old Testament book and the first New Testament book.  The Israelites were waiting for the Messiah. Their rescuer also came as a baby, whose life soon became endangered because Herod demanded the death of all baby boys under age two. He too was hidden away and raised in a way the people did not expect. When he came, it took miracles and God to confirm that yes, Jesus was the Messiah, the chosen one!

Not only was Jesus baptized even though he was sinless, he fasted for 40 days while God sustained him. He more thoroughly explained God’s teachings to the people. And he rescued and delivered people from the slavery of sin and death with his own blood, the blood of the lamb. Now he is preparing a place for all who believe in Him. And one day he will lead us to the Promised Land!  And finally, in life, death, and in resurrection God took care of him.

The Bible is so full of amazing details that lead back to God’s perfect timing! Delve into the scriptures for yourself. See how God set the stage from the beginning for everything to happen at the right time for your sake! 

 

Grief: Mercy in the Abyss

Grief: Mercy in the Abyss

Melissa W
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Melissa W

Melissa is an Okie with a Texas heart. She is a wife and a mother of four. After having taught in the classroom for 8 years, she now happily finds herself as a stay-at-home mom. In any spare time, she enjoys leisure reading and also enjoys writing on her blog (chroniclesofakeeper.com). Out of all the little adventures of life - her greatest joy is found in her relationship with God. Walking in His grace, living in His peace and resting in His redemption is something she is very passionate about sharing with others.
Melissa W
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“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often–will it be for always?–how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time.”

 

C.S. Lewis

The Barren Land of Grief

The presence of grief is felt thick and its roots are deep in the hidden places of our soul. It is a spiraling entity that immobilizes us and causes us to ache for what once was…or for that which never had been. Grief spirals us into a land barren and unknown.

Where it is lodged secretly, no one knows of its depths. Not even the most intimate of relationships are aware of its overwhelming presence. We find comfort in the pain. We draw strength from the agony, but our light flickers dim as the darkness overtakes every nook and cranny of our grieving being. The comfort and strength gained wanes and becomes our undoing. The grief paralyzes.

“It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

Daniel 2:22

We hold tight to our comfortable uncomfortable, as grief has become part of our essence. But He who is light brings out the darkness. Nothing is hidden from His embodiment of knowledge. He sees our grief buried–our secret made known. He sees the darkness that has crept in, the grief that has taken hold. He knows what is in the darkness…and He offers us light.

For the grief-burdened soul, there is hope in the Gospel message.

When brokenness entered that once-perfect garden, it also birthed grief into a once joyful and peaceful place. We often speak of our rescue from sin, of a Savior who died bearing the weight of our iniquities. But do we not also share that the day sin and shame were hurled onto the beaten body of Perfection hanging on a cross, so also was the enormous weight of all that is broken dumped heavily and fully onto the Sacrificial Lamb. Grief, in its complete form, crushed He who was Hope and Joy.

For what?

For the sake of mercy…for the sake of hope and joy complete.

Finding Comfort in Jesus

In knowing that Christ carried our grief fully on the cross, we can now find comfort as He walks through waters dark with us. Knowing that He defeated grief through His death and resurrection, we can now find hope in a rescue from its prison. When our vulnerable bodies can fall onto bruised knee and stretch out shaky hands in surrender, He will meet us in our state of fragility and hold us close. He is the balm that heals our broken heart. His love saturates deep as it fills complete.

“When I survey the occurrences of my life, and call into account the finger of God, I can perceive nothing but an abyss and mass of mercies.”

Sir Thomas Browne

Is that, then, the hope in grief? Are the feelings of emptiness and the bone-deep aches drawing us into His place of mercy? It is then that we find all we lost is recovered that much more in His redemption. Do we dare hope to feel again, laugh again…do we dare hope to live again? Is grace so strong that it restores the soul tattered and torn by grief’s long reign? In the mass of mercies given, there is such an amazing grace.

“When I survey the occurrences of my life, and call into account the finger of God, I can perceive nothing but an abyss and mass of mercies.” - Sir Thomas Brown (3)

A New Perspective

The grace received brings on new perspective. Our grief buried can be His peace resurrected. Letting go is scary and hard. When the pain does not drench into our pores, we feel as if we might have betrayed. But to live is not to forget. Our life for His glory, our sadness for His joy, our emptiness for His fullness–this is when and how He walks in the grief with us. He beckons us close and He breathes life into our soul. We can ache for that which we grieve, because in the aching we can surrender. We surrender our grief to the One who knew the ultimate grief on the cross. So then, we do not abandon grief itself. Instead, we allow it to be made full through His mass of mercies–allow it to draw us deeper into the heart of God.

“The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”

 

Elisabeth Elliot

I Can Only Imagine: What Will Heaven Be Like?

I Can Only Imagine: What Will Heaven Be Like?

Toni D

Toni D

Toni was born and raised in a small town in Oklahoma.She graduated from East Central University with a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Economics.After college, she returned to her hometown to marry her best friend, Charles.Toni is a stay at home mom to their three teens, two boys and a girl, whom God led them to homeschool.Her goal is to raise her children to love and serve the Lord.They live on a farm where they grow produce to sell at several farmers markets.She also plays the piano at church and teaches piano.
Toni D

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Some songs touch us more than others.  For me, one of those songs is “I Can Only Imagine.”  I cannot listen to it without tearing up.

Although I do not remember when I first heard it, I do remember when it first touched me.  The church I attended was doing a walk-through drama.  I guided people through each scene.  The last scene depicted “heaven” and “I Can Only Imagine” was playing in the background as “Jesus” spoke to each of us.  This was so powerful and tears streamed down my face.

We all try to imagine what heaven will be like.  The Bible is filled with references of it…streets of gold, walls adorned with precious stones, gates of pearls.  Even with the description, I do not think we can fully comprehend what it will be like.  I believe it is beyond our mere mortal comprehension.  All we can do is imagine what it will be like.

Recently, I took my children to see the movie I Can Only Imagine.  While I knew the basics of the story behind the song–the writer and lead singer of Mercy Me, Bart Milliard, wrote it due to an event in his life–I wanted to know more.  So that I do not spoil the movie for anyone, I will not go into detail about the event.  When we went to see the movie, I really did not know what was in store for me.  It is labeled as a movie about redemption, but it was not what I expected–it is about so much more.

This powerful movie is based on Bart Milliard’s life starting at a very early age all the way up to when the song was released.  He went through so much throughout his childhood and so much of the movie is just heartbreaking.  The movie is very touching, and luckily, I took tissues with me (a friend warned me, and like I said, just the song itself makes me cry).  As a side note: The movie was very well-made, felt like a high-budget film, and had incredible acting.  It is a must-see for everyone.

We each have our own story.  That story, good or bad, is what makes us who we are.  It is what forms us, how we react to traumas and celebrations.  We can push people away and hide within ourselves.  Or, we can turn to God to get us through these things.

We all try to imagine what heaven is like.  We will never realize its true magnificence until we get there.

Can you imagine what heaven is like?

How Do We React to Jesus’ Power

How Do We React to Jesus’ Power

Kristi F

I am an Oklahoman by birth, a Texan by current living situation, but claim the world as my playground.I love to travel and hope to someday soon take our family on adventures to far off lands, where we can share God with others and experience all the wonders He has created.

I am a mother of 5 crazy, homeschooling children ages 10 & under, wife to an amazing man, and daughter of the King of the Universe!I enjoy reading, making my kids laugh, cooking, all things natural, learning to play guitar and dusting off my piano skills.One day I hope to run again, but until then I’m learning patience.

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How do we react to Jesus’ power?

As we celebrate Jesus’ miraculous resurrection, are we willing to ponder how we react to Jesus’ power in our own lives? Do we even recognize that his power is working all around us?

The reactions to Jesus’ power in Luke 8 make it clear that our reactions have major repercussions.

Let me set the stage for Luke 8: 26 – 39

Jesus has just calmed the storm after being awakened by his fearful band of disciples, who were in shock and awe at how…

“[Jesus] commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him (v 25).”

Now they have arrived across the lake from Galilee where Gentiles live. It is within this very location that we catch a glimpse of how each of us chooses to react to Jesus’ power.

The Man in Self-Destruct Mode

The moment Jesus stepped ashore, he was greeted by a naked, demon-possessed man, who lived among the tombs. Of all the welcoming parties, this character would not rank high on our list of citizens to be greeted by, but Jesus doesn’t seem to flinch.

This man had no control over himself. The towns people had tried to chain him repeatedly but he broke away. His chain breaking ability did not result in physical freedom, but led into a more self-destructive mode.

How many of us have been on a road to self-destruction only to meet Jesus along the way?

The Demons

Upon seeing Jesus, the demons destroying this man’s life, bowed before Jesus. They did not bow out of reverence, but cowered out of fear. They knew Jesus’ power and authority but instead of praising Him, chose to work against Him. Where our Lord had given life, these demons chose to destroy it.

But they could not deny Jesus’ power and authority, so they begged not to be tortured.

Yet, when they had a chance to ask Jesus to use his power to help them, they asked to be cast into the pigs. The demons chose to continue down their destructive and rebellious path. Are we doing the same?

The Townspeople

Upon witnessing the power that controlled the demons within the man that the townspeople were unable to control, the townspeople allowed their fear to overtake them. They did something that seems insane….they asked Jesus to leave!

Really?  Why would you ask the one whose power changed a man from being insanely demon-possessed to being fully back in his right mind? Does this seem logical? Wouldn’t you want the one who was able to change the horrific happenings in our lives into something wonderful to stick around?

But maybe we’ve got our demons hidden. Maybe they are not as obvious to see and we don’t want to bring to light the darkness that’s inside of us?

Maybe we are afraid to loose something that seems good for something we don’t understand. Or maybe we’ve been hurt by loss after loss in our lives and can’t see how Jesus benefits us.

Trading our way of life for Jesus…that can seem crazy! Some choose to reject his presence and not allow him and his amazing power into their lives. Are you willing to let Jesus fully work in your life?

The Saved

Now we come full circle to the man who was once in complete self-destruction mode. Jesus had cast the demons out, and liberated this man from an every day prison of self-torture and loneliness.

He had been changed physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by Jesus’ power and he could not imagine doing anything other than going with the one who freed him from his hell on earth.

However, Jesus seeing his heart and knowing his faith, encouraged him to go home so that those who were to scared to be around Jesus could get to know his amazing love and power.

Those who rejected Jesus would day in and day out be reminded of how Jesus literally transforms lives because they would see the miraculous transformation in the once demon-possessed man, who would not be able to stop sharing how Jesus changed him.

This man, who once seemed to be doomed to a life of self-destruction, would daily live to free others from the hell they are eternally facing. He would point back to Jesus saying, “You still have time to know him. Let him save you like he saved me.”

 

How are you choosing to react to Jesus’ power in your life?

  • Do you see how Jesus willing died on the cross but look the other way?
  • Do you runaway in fear of what Jesus might do to your life?
  • Do you feel like you are too far gone to have the chance to change?
  • Is your heart hurting so badly that you are finally willing to call out to Jesus and see what miracle He can work in your own life?
  • If you know Jesus already as your Savior, do you point others to Jesus proclaiming Him as the only One who can truly transform and save us?

How we react to Jesus powers when we encounter him will free us or cause us to continue to live in fear.

 

 

 

The Obedience that Saved

The Obedience that Saved

Melissa W
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Melissa W

Melissa is an Okie with a Texas heart. She is a wife and a mother of four. After having taught in the classroom for 8 years, she now happily finds herself as a stay-at-home mom. In any spare time, she enjoys leisure reading and also enjoys writing on her blog (chroniclesofakeeper.com). Out of all the little adventures of life - her greatest joy is found in her relationship with God. Walking in His grace, living in His peace and resting in His redemption is something she is very passionate about sharing with others.
Melissa W
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When reading the scriptures detailing the death of Jesus Christ, believers often acknowledge that they sometimes can be difficult to get through. Yes, our souls celebrate the freedom resulting from that moment, but our hearts also mourn the harshness and pain of it, too.  Jen Wilkin has said, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” I get that.  Many times I have read through the scripture’s account of everything from the Last Supper to when Jesus cried out His last breath. For a long time, I didn’t love reading it. I didn’t love the words my eyes took in, because my mind did not understand what was there to see. Reading through those passages now, with a desire and purpose to understand, brings about a new meaning. 

Many things could be written concerning those last moments before the death of Jesus Christ. For this post, I want to focus on the obedience Jesus displayed. Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father is so powerfully and beautifully laid out; I wonder how I never saw it all those years ago.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, we get a glimpse of an intimate moment between Father and Son. We read the words Jesus spoke aloud to His Father:

Going a little farther, He fell face down and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” Matthew 26:39 (HCSB).

Here we see Him not questioning. Rather, in full perfection, He submits to the rescue plan His good and loving Father had set in place since before the creation of the world. The Son lays down His life to His Father, so that He can then lay it down for ours. 

The beauty of the Son’s perfect obedience, as scripture shows, is ours to soak up and savor. We acknowledge Jesus Christ’s beautiful and wonderful perfection as He lived, walked, suffered, and died in perfect submission to His Father. By reading these passages, I am fully aware that my obedience to God is not contingent on my own strength or capabilities. It is only possible because of and through the perfect submission of Jesus Christ to His Father.

Our lives could never be the perfection as that of Christ’s. He lived the life we could never live and died the death we deserve. But, what a glorious gift — that His obedience brings us hope. What a thing it is that His obedience perfected is ours gifted. What a marvel and joy it is that Christ’s perfect obedience resulted in our redemption.

bonnie & Carole

For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. -Romans 5:19 (HCSB)

For just as through one man's disobedience the many were made sinners,

When Church Doors Close

When Church Doors Close

Amy B

Amy B

God has blessed us with a great big world, and I try to go see it whenever I can!Admittedly, I have an unusual life where I get to teach what I love 8-9 months out of the year and then go travel and serve the Kingdom in my other home the rest of the time:Edmond, Oklahoma and Vienna, Austria. A lot of what I write revolves around what God teaches me through those experiences and I invite you to "travel" with me in those times! Basically, I want to be Rick Steves (the travel writer) and Lysa TerKeurst (Proverbs 31 Ministries) when I grow up! :)

I have a bunch of college "kids" I call my own, 2 dogs named Abby and McGee (yes, I love NCIS) andI get to be "the cool aunt" to 2 beautiful nieces and 3 handsome nephews.They make great play dates!

Given the opportunity, I want to encourage people when I can and remind them of the power of God in their life...or help them find Him in different ways.Fair warning:I'll ask you the tough questions!I treasure deep relationships - especially ones that will allow for "iron sharpening iron."

I love being outside, and I'm a huge fan of turning off the phone whenever possible to soak up God's creation! Actually, I'm a huge fan of turning off the phone in general...as the phrase goes: "Wherever you are, be all there", and if you are where I am, then I'm going to be all there!

I'm flawed, but saved by grace and learning daily to be loved by God.I'm thankful for the times he lets me wrestle with him because he knows my heart of hearts, and I'm ok with my hip being messed up (Genesis 32: 24-26) because growth comes from it.I encourage you to join me in the journey!

Love well...breathe deep....show mercy!
Amy B

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Have you ever experienced the doors of your church building opening and closing for the last time?  Maybe too many people moved away.  Perhaps spiritual truths weren’t being spoken.  Maybe your building was too big for the congregation to support financially.  Maybe something happened that caused a split in the church.

I’ve been there, done that.  Maybe some of you have, too.

That happened to the first church I remember attending when I was very young. When you’re little, you don’t remember the why. You just remember the Easter egg hunts with the new twirly dress your mom made. Or dressing like a scarecrow for the fall festivals, the cake walk, and bobbing for apples.

It was where I remember watching a “Jonah and the Whale” puppet show. My parents had worked tirelessly on a papier-mâché whale made from chicken wire and strips of newspaper dipped in glue and painted to look like the fish we all imagined in the Bible story. That giant fish was wonderful, and it made that story come to life for me.

It was also the place where I experienced my first foot-washing service. While I was only six or seven years old at the time, it impacted the rest of my life!  It was life-giving and life-changing.

The church building’s expenses had become too much for the congregation to maintain, so the decision was made to sell the building. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, nor did I need to. I just knew we weren’t going to that church building anymore and I didn’t know why.

But church was a part of my family and it was a part of my life.  I never knew it any other way.

Fast forward ten years. Our family had moved to another state. I grew up with a wonderful, spirit-led and serving youth group, graduated high school, and was now in college.   One summer Sunday, I realized that Satan was doing a pretty good job tearing apart my church family.  That church had also been life-giving and life-changing to me. But it was clear those doors, too, would soon be closing.  And they did, but I still loved the people and missed that family.

Throughout college, I admit, I did the dance called “church hop.” I couldn’t find a church in the area that was like my home church, so I wasn’t satisfied. Allow me to put the emphasis on I, because, looking back, that’s what it boiled down to. I had made church about me and how it would best suit me. I wanted the worship music and the digging into scripture, the handshake and the smile at the door. While I wanted people to know my name and who I was, I didn’t do my part. Let’s be real: I didn’t want to commit to the flawed person I was, or to serve a Holy God for the sake of the church.

I’m not sure what I struggled with more during that season, the fact that I was contradicting what I had grown up loving and being a part of my whole life, or that I wanted it to be like my church back home, and it wasn’t.  Either way, they were lousy excuses.  Let’s call them what they were.

But by grace, God navigated me through that season by means of something I never intended…he tends to work that way.

My dissertation topic was over Church Interior Design.  The fancy, academic title for the paper was, “Church Interior Aesthetics: Do the interior aesthetics of a worship environment affect the retention of the post-modern generation?”  According to my findings, the answer is yes, but you can’t write the word “YES” for 100+ pages.  But, when you spend more than two years of your life on a paper, you’d better love your subject matter, because you will eat, breathe, and sleep your topic.  Thankfully, the experience taught me a lot.

In order to explore the topic efficiently, I read close to fifteen books, countless scholarly articles, attended upwards of thirty churches in the area, and others when I was out of town.  They were all different sizes, “flavors”, instruments, a capella, traditional and contemporary worship (everything in between), longitudinal seating plans (two sides with a center aisle), circular, and half-round layouts, warehouses, 120+ year old buildings, brand new facilities, stained glass, dark holes, casual, suits, dancing, “high church”… You name it, I probably saw it.

Truthfully, in the beginning of my research, I was so busy observing and taking notes that I wasn’t truly participating in the service.  I was also judging it based on my own preference.  And yes, you are going to have those, but my own preferences became a distraction and a stumbling block.  I certainly wasn’t worshiping in spirit and in truth.

As my visits continued, God began to do what God does–he softened my heart.  I began to see beyond the research and to watch God move in people’s lives!  I watched God answer prayer, and I saw people give of themselves to serve others. While visiting “other” churches, I encountered his presence. I experienced the warmth of a handshake; the depth and reverence of the old hymns and of contemporary worship songs; the intricate beauty of stained glass and the peace of darker spaces with candle light and hands lifted high.

I was watching Matthew 18:20 play out: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among you.” 

And I John 3:1: “What kind of love the Father has given to us–that we should be called children of God, and so we are!”

Maybe more importantly for me, God was stirring up John 4:24 in my heart:  “God is spirit, and those who worship him MUST worship him in spirit and in truth” (emphasis mine).

It doesn’t say, “…and those who worship him must worship him with your own preferences in mind, judging the guy next to you, or the bad lighting. And make sure you are obvious about glaring at the guy who is slow to change the slides during the worship songs…”

I’m thankful to have experienced that not only for my own heart’s sake, but for the sake of how I interact with other people now in their faith journey!  Oswald Chambers once wrote:

“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you!”

Praise be to God!!

Fast forward eight more years.  My church family is also closing the doors in its current location.  That building holds over forty years of memories. Children’s church and youth groups. Marriages, births, and funerals. Times of tears and rejoicing. People giving their life to Christ and experiencing the joys and trials of salvation.  LIFE!

For most, the congregation is excited about the new things God is going to do in the future.  For others, it has been a time of angst, fear, confusion, and sadness because of the connection to that location.  And both of those things should be respected: being a part of the excitement of the unknown and being empathetic towards change and the unknown.

Last night, we had a rehearsal for one last big Worship Night in this building. People from over the decades will come back into town to be reminded and encouraged of what God has done and will continue to do through the church.  As people were arriving, a woman I don’t know well asked me, “So, how are you doing with all of this?  Are you struggling with emotional attachment to this building?”

“No, I’m more attached to the people and the purpose!”  And I meant it.

I’m thankful that I can honestly say that now.  People around the world are potentially or literally surrendering everything–their belongings, their families, even their lives–in order to be a Christian and worship with others.  But they know He’s worth it! It’s not about a building.

In Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, he talks about how his wife and kids felt led to minister to China for a time.  In their underground worship gatherings, he said:

“The most surprising part of our time together was when they asked me about church in America.  They laughed hysterically when I told them that church for Americans tends to focus on buildings and that people will sometimes switch churches based on music, child care, preaching, or disagreements with other believers.  I honestly was not trying to be funny.  They laughed in disbelief at our church experiences, thinking it was ridiculous that we would call this Christianity.”

I wish this wasn’t true for churches worldwide, let alone the States. Unfortunately it is, because I’ve witnessed it. And it breaks my heart, no matter the language.  But I believe in a God who created us to worship him in spirit and in truth, even if we struggle with that sometimes.  I believe in his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness, and I believe in his redemption!

God may be calling you to something new. He may be asking you to close the doors on something–for reasons you may or may not understand. Your faith may be challenged like crazy right now. But I am praying that God gives you clarity in your season. Not necessarily clarity in the sense that you understand his plan perfectly, but rather clarity of faith and unwavering trust in the God who has called you to his purposes!  I pray that you will worship him in spirit and in truth, no matter where he takes you.  That you will actively engage in people he puts in your path so you can be the Gospel to them.

So, if a door is closing in your life, please try not to look at it solely as a thing of death. Rather, see the new life that can come through the resurrecting power of Christ.  I encourage you to be life-changing and life-giving to someone. Watch God do what he does best: bring glory to himself!

Originally posted: March 2016

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