Sunday, March 31, 2013

Some Thoughts on Easter Week

Happy Easter, all! 

The power and meaning of this day is unsurpassed--Christ is victorious, death is defeated!  What could be more important for souls doomed for eternal death, than the offer of eternal life?  And only for the cost of surrender. 

Last week, on Palm Sunday, the pastor of the church we attended discussed, "What is the meaning of Palm Sunday?"  I realized, and am ashamed to admit, that I never really thought about that (and I'm a Bible school graduate!)--it's always just been a fun time to wave palm branches around!  I was eager to hear his answer, and deeply moved by it.  Here it is, the true meaning of Palm Sunday:

"Before Jesus did what he said he would do, people acknowledged who he was."

I don't know about you, but this statement is powerful for me.  How often in my life do I falter in faith because I have to wait (heaven forbid!) for God to fulfill a promise, and I get all complainy and accuse God of not caring for me, and all other sorts of childish reactions.  Palm Sunday is about people believing in Jesus' claim and promise that he was the Messiah who would save them, before he had proven himself true, and asking in hope for him to fulfill his promise.  They cried, "Save us now, Victorious One!" 

The life of faith is all about this: Before we see it done, we declare it and we receive it. 

And today, on Easter Sunday, we remember that he did.  He did what he said he would do, as terrible as it was.  He is the Victorious One who has saved us.  May my faith increase as I wait on him to fulfill his other promises to me!

Friday, March 29, 2013

What's In A Church

Due to our frequent moving, it seems like we're on a perpetual church hunt.  It's fairly wearisome for us, for several reasons:
  • Once we find a church we like and make connections with people, it's hard and sad to leave.
  • Church hopping takes a lot of energy to research and plan where to go, followed by weeks of disappointment and eventual discouragement if we'll ever find a place to belong.
  • It can be discouraging to see how widespread mediocrity, lukewarmness, and apathy are in the Church; it is amazingly hard to find a spiritually vibrant church, and we've been to A LOT.  This statement has been true for us in every location we've lived; it does not single out any particular geographic area.    
  • It's harder with kids, because even if we find a church that we (the parents) like, it's often not a good fit for the kids, and visa versa.  
  • We always have to revisit the question, "What is important to us in a church?"  This question is loaded, and usually takes us some time to figure out.    

We both tend to prefer the Episcopal tradition of church: Owen was raised in it, and I have grown to deeply appreciate the reverence, the tradition, the focus on Scripture, the congregational involvement in readings and prayers, and I also really love hymns!  A good Episcopal church, to me, seems very in tune with what church was like in antiquity.  The trouble we find, however, is that many churches in this denomination consist of a handful of elderly members just taking life easy in their comfortable pews...Now, there's nothing wrong with the elderly people!  They are always very kind and welcoming!  My point is more that the churches seem to be dying rather than thriving.  And, we also would like the opportunity to connect with people of all ages, including our own, and for our kids to not make up the entire Sunday School class.

a dying church (this picture seemed funny to me, I couldn't resist!)
In our recent search, we have been coming across all the same frustrations and were beginning to lose heart, until we did a Google search for "cool churches in (our current region)."  And, boy, did Google come through!  We found the coolest church ever, where the worship service is like a concert, complete with lights and smoke; the announcements are done via hip video; the kids' area has a giant built-in tree jungle gym; there's a fancy, staffed coffee shop in the foyer, along with leather couches and all kinds of "cool" things.

This photo is of the actual church I am cool.
Our first time there, we kind of brushed it off as an over-the-top mega church that was more focused on the production of church than the meaning of it...But, the pastor's sermon was really good, so we went back...And again.  We've been there 3 times now, and we think we're going to stay, and here's why:
  • First and foremost, beyond all the fanfare, this church is undeniably and unashamedly Bible-based and Spirit-driven.  There are no feel-good, easy messages, but always (ok, always in the 3 times we've been there!) words straight from God's Word leading to conviction and spiritual sharpening without condemnation.  And, it doesn't hurt that these messages are delivered in an interesting manner (boring or disorganized deliveries tend to distract us from the message behind it).  We come away feeling like we met God, and are excited to go back. 
  • They're involved in their community and the world in ways that seem to really matter.  So, they practice what they preach.    
  • The people are really friendly!  This aspect is so important and often overlooked.  It's amazing that even in such a large church, we are never allowed to disappear in the crowd--someone is always singling us out. 
  • There are lots of kids!  And a healthy variety of people of all ages, including our own.  In addition, the kids' area is set up really nicely and the Sunday School helpers are kind (something you would expect yet is not always the case).  
So, for this phase of our lives, we're bidding adieu to traditional, liturgical church and embracing the cool, modern church.  Because that's where we found God's presence.  And that's what really matters.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Maintaining and Waiting

Okay, so life has been a little out-of-control busy for us for the last several months, so unfortunately the blog had to take a back burner.  I'm going to try to be more diligent now...

The exciting news in our lives right now is the much-anticipated and imminent birth of our third baby!  He is due immediately, and has been teasing us for weeks with the anticipation of an earlier arrival, and yet is still holding on tight to his comfortable little world.  In general, we are content to wait until he's ready; we certainly don't wish to force away from him his last few precious days in my womb, to which he can never return.  However, as I mentioned, he's also been teasing us for this whole month with various signs of impending labor, then retracting as if nothing happened.  The continued anticlimactic anticipation has been leaving us emotionally weary and confused, not to mention extra ready for him to come NOW!  We are just so excited to meet this little guy!

The other challenge I am having is the daily face-off with my nesting instinct.  Over the last several weeks, we've been crazy trying to get everything ready for baby: there were projects to accomplish, rooms to paint, baby gear to clean, and birth supplies to prepare, not to mention the usual housecleaning and home maintenance.  And nesting sometimes means needing things done that seem unnecessary to others!  For about two weeks we've had everything in satisfactory condition--by no means have we accomplished everything we would like, but at least the necessary things--and have been focusing on maintaining.  Daily we endeavor to keep our home and ourselves in optimal condition for the onset of labor, assuming it could happen at any moment.  We feel it is especially important since we are having a home birth and will be welcoming various different people into our home for assistance during the birth.

Our home needs to be clean.  Our bodies need to be rested.  Our supplies and preparations need to be ready.  This sort of maintaining is surprisingly draining (perhaps mostly mentally) and takes a great amount of effort!  To continually be ready takes a plan, great focus, dedication, consistency, and patience.  It takes effort to refuel dashed excitements.  And it takes the strength to overcome discouraging thoughts when your readiness is not rewarded.

This focus on being continually ready has been making me think quite a bit about Matthew 25 and the Parable of the Ten Virgins, where Jesus exhorts us to "keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" (Matt. 25:13).  Just like this baby, we know Jesus' coming is imminent, but we don't know when.  We must keep ourselves continually ready by developing a plan, focus, dedication, consistency, and patience, and the strength to overcome discouragement.  It's hard.  It's really hard.  But we know that soon our diligence will be rewarded!