Church

13 Reasons to Live: Longing for More

It was sunny, a pleasant day for a picnic. We were surrounded by people and laughter and food. The kids were enjoying themselves on the playground. And I wanted to cry.

Our friends had invited us to this African community get-together, where ethnic music soared joyfully from the loudspeaker, competing only with the friendly conversations at the surrounding tables. The warmth of the weather was matched only by the warmth of the relationships. There were still crowds gathered beneath the pavilion when we finally left, after the sun had disappeared behind the trees.

It’s been a few weeks since that day, and I still haven’t quite pinpointed what it was that triggered me to near tears in the midst of it all. In some ways, it was the beauty of the day stirring up a longing in me. You know, that empty ache in the soul that can’t quite be explained.

What struck me most, beyond the abundant variety of delicious entrees, the relentlessly happy music and the overwhelming number of people in attendance, was the strong sense of community, and the joy in the midst. The people were open, welcoming, loving, embracing. Everyone seemed to enjoy one another’s company.

In the midst of the busyness of modern culture, we’ve lost this appreciation of community.

I think much of the depression we face today is due to this lack. We bury ourselves in work and technology and things, all in unconscious effort to avoid what we most desperately need. In our pursuit of the world’s definition of success, we fail in what’s more important: relationships. If you find yourself longing for more, maybe part of what you’re longing for is meaningful connection with others.

We were created for community. And we’ll be lost until we find it.

Community is not just being under one roof at the same time. It’s sharing in one another’s joys and sufferings. It’s bearing one another’s burdens. From what I know of those who gathered at the picnic that day, they’ve celebrated together, but they’ve also suffered together. And that suffering builds strength in relationships. And overcoming together breeds genuine joy.

God has placed you here on this earth for a purpose, and part of that purpose is to contribute your gifts, your personality, your talents, and your life to community. You are needed and you are necessary. You’re here in this generation for a reason. Ask God to show you that reason, and to fill your life with his purposes. Ask him to lead you to strong, healthy, life-transforming community.

And when you find it, you’ll find you have reason to live.

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He Didn’t Die for This

Blog_PhilippineCemetaryHave you ever come face to face with death? I did once, at a graveyard in the Philippines. There, the bodies are not buried six feet under, but in cement enclosures above ground. To reach the burial site for the funeral we were attending, we had to walk through a maze of these cement enclosures until we reached a back wall where the poor rent slots for their deceased loved ones. Because they can’t afford a permanent resting place, the remains are often tossed on the ground once the rental agreement is complete and the space is needed for a new occupant. While navigating the maze of tombs, it’s not unusual to encounter skeletons with skulls full of withering hair. It’s a sobering encounter with the reality of our own mortality.

A walk through life can often feel like a walk through that graveyard—every day surrounded by news of suffering. Even worse is a much-anticipated visit to a place meant to bring hope, only to find a mausoleum of death. It’s beyond unfortunate when a church feels like a mortuary—a place of meaningless ritual, passionless preaching, and meaningless tradition. Really? Is this what Jesus died for?

Reflecting on my journey through that maze of death, I realize one glaring truth. No man dies to live among the dead. No man lays down his life so others can live as zombies. And, to be honest, that’s what empty religion can do to a person. We appease our conscience with a weekly (or yearly) visit to church—stand up, sit down, repeat memorized phrases in droning monotone, and leave unchanged. And I must ask again…is THIS what Jesus died for?

There is much to be said about what Jesus DID die for. Still, we neglect to consider what he DIDN’T die for. And we can be sure he DIDN’T die so we can show up once a week in a pretty dress or snazzy suit, impressing others with a façade of pious humility. He didn’t die so we can drive up in our sleek sedan, drop a few coins in the bucket, and return after that miserable half-hour to a life of self-indulgence. He didn’t die so we can stand in a room full of strangers, together mindless robots repeating phrases that mean nothing to us. Believe me, NO man would die for THAT.

What is it that so moves us to go through the mindless motions, week after week, year after year? Why do we settle for infinitely less than what our Savior died for? Why do we live bound to our comfort zones and safe houses when he left his comfort and security behind to suffer and die that we can have LIFE that is truly LIFE? There’s a vast difference between walking dead while awaiting resurrection, and walking dead unaware, desiring for nothing more.

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Source: He Didn’t Die for This

Barefoot on Sunday Morning

Blog_BarefootHe came barefoot to church every Sunday morning. Unaffected by the questioning glances, he stood quietly in his ragged clothing. Emma was drawn to him, and she determined to find out why.

When service ended, Emma hurried out the doors and waited until she spotted his bare feet amidst the flood of Sunday shoes. Head down and hands in pockets, he walked toward the alley. She followed.

“Excuse me. I have something to give you.” She held out a small envelope.

He looked up, brows furrowed above his warm brown eyes.

“This is for you…so you can have some shoes to wear to church on Sundays.”

His lips curved into a smile. “You’re very kind. But, I don’t go to church on Sundays.”

Emma tilted her head and looked from him to the building and back.

“I don’t believe we’ve met. Name’s Joshua.” He held out his rugged hand.

“I’m Emma. But…I’ve seen you in church. Every Sunday.”

“Oh, the building? Yes. But if you want to see my church, follow me.”

He proceeded down the alley, and Emma followed until they came to a series of row houses surrounding a small, dusty playing field where children ran barefoot.

Joshua turned to her. “Meet me here tomorrow.”

And she did. Each day that week, Emma came to the field and watched as Joshua delivered shoes to different families. He’d spend the day making shoes and the evening passing them out. By the end of the week, many of the children were wearing brand new shoes.

Emma watched as they played. “I don’t understand. Why…”

He smiled gently as the children ran happily across the field. “I like to give all I have, and to remember all I have to be grateful for.”

The next Sunday, Emma saw one of the families from the row houses walking in to church. The mother was wearing the Sunday shoes Emma had given her; the father and their boy were wearing the shoes Joshua had given them. Emma smiled, savoring the feeling of the cold floor beneath her bare feet.

Photo Credit: File:Barefoot on red dirt.jpg – Wikimedia Commons

Empty

Blog_EmptyRoomMy classroom is empty. And yes, I am breathing a sigh of relief, short-lived as it may be. After a few days, I’ll be going through withdrawals from my students. After a few weeks, I’ll be begging their parents to send them to summer school because I’ll miss them that much.

A year ago around this time, I was preparing my classroom for the kids. In the school where I work, we have the privilege of being as creative as we want with the materials, so it was a lot of fun setting everything up. By the end of the summer, after much hard work, everything was in place. Admitted, it was hard watching the kids mess it all up when they first plowed through the doors. I had to remind myself that’s what it’s all about—the kids, not the classroom.

It’s like that in life. We have our plans set, our schedules in order, and then life happens. Things get out of order. Our schedule gets overrun by other, more important things. And that’s how it should be.

For many years, I worked in an outreach ministry. We’d spend many hours planning and preparing for events and services. Then the people would come, and we’d have to remember…it’s not about the program, it’s about the people. Who wants a ministry full of programs yet void of people?

Days are meant to be filled, and life is meant to be full. That doesn’t always mean our schedules have to be unbendable, our plans unbreakable. When people come through and the order of our day veers from our original intent, maybe that’s how it was meant to be.

Empty rooms may be peaceful, but they are just that…empty. There are times when we need solitude and order, but there are times when we need to be interrupted by more important things. And it is in those important things that we will be filled.

 

Photo Credit: the big empty room | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

He Didn’t Die for This

Blog_PhilippineCemetaryHave you ever come face to face with death? I did, once—at a graveyard in the Philippines. There, the bodies are not buried six feet under, but in cement enclosures above ground. To reach the burial site for the funeral we were attending, we had to walk through a maze of these cement enclosures until we reached the back wall. There, the poor rent slots for their deceased loved ones. Because they can’t afford a permanent resting place, the remains are often tossed on the ground once the rental agreement is complete and the space is needed for a new occupant. While navigating the maze of tombs, it’s not unusual to encounter skeletons with skulls full of withering hair. It’s a sobering encounter with the reality of our own mortality.

A walk through life can often feel like a walk through that graveyard—every day surrounded by news of suffering. Even worse is a much-anticipated visit to a place meant to bring hope, only to find a mausoleum of death. It’s beyond unfortunate when a church feels like a mortuary—a place of meaningless ritual, passionless preaching, and meaningless tradition. Really? Is this what Jesus died for?

Reflecting on my journey through that maze of death, I realize one glaring truth. No man dies to live among the dead. No man lays down his life so others can live as zombies. And, to be honest, that’s what empty religion can do to a person. We appease our conscience with a weekly (or yearly) visit to church—stand up, sit down, repeat memorized phrases in droning monotone, and leave unchanged. And I must ask again…is THIS what Jesus died for?

There is much to be said about what Jesus DID die for. Still, we neglect to consider what he DIDN’T die for. And we can be sure he DIDN’T die so we can show up once a week in a pretty dress or snazzy suit, impressing others with a façade of pious humility. He didn’t die so we can drive up in our sleek sedan, drop a few coins in the bucket, and return after that miserable half-hour to a life of self-indulgence. He didn’t die so we can stand in a room full of strangers, together mindless robots repeating phrases that mean nothing to us. Believe me, NO man would die for THAT.

What is it that so moves us to go through the mindless motions, week after week, year after year? Why do we settle for infinitely less than what our Savior died for? Why do we live bound to our comfort zones and safe houses when he left his comfort and security behind to suffer and die that we can have LIFE that is truly LIFE? There’s a vast difference between walking dead while awaiting resurrection, and walking dead unaware, desiring for nothing more.

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)