Saturday, March 29, 2008

Finding a New Church- Starting from Scratch

When my husband and I have looked for a new church in the past, we've had our choices narrowed down for us because we are comfortable in our denomination and are not looking to change. When you're starting from scratch, you have a lot more choices to wade through, so it can be more difficult. Here are a few guidelines I'd suggest.

1. The absolute most important thing is to find a church that preaches and teaches only what matches up with what the Bible says, and all of what the Bible says. In other words, they shouldn't be teaching anything that's clearly contrary to Scripture and they shouldn't be leaving things out that are unpopular because they're afraid they won't attract as many people.

2. Pray about it. Ask God to lead you to exactly the right church in which to serve Him.

3. If you were raised in a particular denomination and felt comfortable in it, that might be a good place to start, either at the same church or a different church of the same denomination.

4. Ask around. Ask Christian friends about their churches and try visiting with them one Sunday. If you end up joining, you have the bonus of already knowing someone.

5. Do your homework. If there's a particular church or denomination you're interested in, chances are, they have a web site. There will probably be a section on the web site called "Our Statement of Faith" or something like that. Check that out and make sure all the tenets line up with Scripture. A lot of churches also have their pastor's sermons and/or their music on line, so you can get a feel for how things go on Sundays. You'll also be able to find out when services start, what kinds of programs are available, whether or not they have a nursery, etc.

6. "Interview" churches. Most pastors I know would be thrilled to death if a prospective visitor would call up and make an appointment to come in and talk to them about the church. Ask him whatever you want, find out what's required for membership, share your concerns, etc. He should be able to answer your queries openly and honestly. I would be very leery about attending a church if the pastor seemed secretive about general doctrinal issues, his own background, or church activities. Sometimes just meeting with the pastor will give you an idea of whether or not you want to give the church a try.

7. Try it on for size. You might fall in love with the first church you try, or it might be like shoe shopping and you have to try several before you find one that fits.

Don't give up. God has a place for you somewhere.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Parenting- A Silent Witness

I was talking to some friends the other day about some children I had recently seen misbehaving in a restaurant. The following two excerpts came up during the conversation. The first is from a waiter from Colorado who shared his experience on The Stained Apron (, a discussion site for waitstaff. Except for "bleeping" out some profanity, I have quoted it verbatim. The second was a personal experience of one of the friends I was talking to.

As you read, if you have children, think about the way they behave themselves in public now, as well as the way you will want them to behave as adults.

"One night I'm managing my little Mexican restaurant and it's super slow, maybe three deuces in the whole place. I'm talking to the hostess and for some reason she asks who the worst customers are. Without hesitation I say, "Christians." Being a gigantic Christian she is shocked and asks why.

I tell her about another restaurant where I worked where on Saturday nights, after late night mass I would always get this table of Catholics that would run my *** of, want a dozen separate checks and would leave me this folded up piece of paper that looked like a twenty. On the inside of the paper it said "Why are you disappointed that this isn't money? All the riches of heaven await you if you take Jesus as your savior." As a lapsed Christian I have taken Jesus as my savior, but little pieces of paper that aren't actual money don't pay my **** rent.

I continue telling her similar stories about how stingy Christians are especially on Sundays. You couldn't pay me fifty dollars an hour to wait tables on Sunday morning right after church. Everyone is a complete ****. All those little kids who aren't allowed to run around screaming in church have carte blanche in my restaurant. Then they argue about the service. Then they argue about the prices. Then they leave a quarter on the table because they just gave 10% to God, so why should they give even a dollar to some guy that just brought them coffee and pancakes. After an hour of berating Christian customers the hostess is in tears and asks to go home early. So, I send her home.

Next time I work with this hostess she apologizes to me. After I sent her home she called her Pastor, then went to his house and told him all the horrible things I said. The Pastor was disturbed and in Bible Study the next week he initiated a discussion about restaurant etiquette. He found that his whole flock were **** in restaurants and bad tippers. He then quoted some scripture that went along the lines of "The law of the land is also my law and you shall obey it." Then said that tipping 10% or better was the law of the land. It's a small dent in the bad Christian customers, but hopefully it will spread."

"My brother-in-law used to work as a manager at a local fast food place and he always said that Sunday afternoons and evenings (after the morning and evening services ended) were the WORST times to be working. The after church crowds never failed to (1) be rude to the workers (2) trash the dining room and the salad bar (3) let their kids run from table to table (4) leave their messes.

Three years of this and he refused to set foot in a church for like another five years. He didn't want to be around those people."

Whether we're conscious of it or not, our actions as parents have an effect on those around us. Are we raising our kids so that their behavior, both now and when they reach adulthood, draws people towards Christ or pushes them away?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

And Just Where do You Think You're Going, Hmm? (Final installment in the "Check Yourself" Series)

"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going."

Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?"

Jesus said to him, "I am
the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." John 14:3-6

It was a night when confusion reigned. With two thousand years of hindsight we are able to sit back at our leisure and witness the scenario that transpired in the upper room. We are able to carefully consider and meditate on what Jesus had to say to His disciples. We have His very words before our eyes in black and white.

It's easy to lose perspective and start wondering why the disciples didn't just "get it". But we have to put ourselves in their sandals. Something was coming down the pike, and they weren't sure what it was. Jesus was washing their feet, talking death and betrayal, telling them He was leaving them, then coming back, then leaving again, and introducing the concept of the Holy Spirit-- something they'd never heard of before. It was a lot to swallow in one evening.

That's why there's a special place in my heart for Thomas. I think he's misunderstood and has gotten a bad rap over the years. "Doubting Thomas," indeed. Do you think he's the only one who was confused? No way. He's just the only one who was humble enough to admit it, and brave enough to ask Jesus to explain.

When Jesus said, "you know the way where I am going," perhaps the other disciples knew what He meant, perhaps some of them thought they knew what He meant, and perhaps some of them just smiled and nodded, embarrassed to admit they had no idea what He meant. Thomas was clueless, but the possibility of embarrassment in front of his peers was nothing compared to the thought that He might miss where Jesus was going. This was a guy who wanted to make sure he got it right, because wherever Jesus went, he wanted to go too.

Are we like Thomas? Do we want to go where Jesus is going so badly that we're willing to cast aside our pride, or even our lives (John 11:16), to follow Him? Because, for the Christian, that's the answer to the question, "Where am I going?". I'm going wherever Jesus goes. Wherever He leads me, I'll follow Him. Whatever He has for me to do, I'll do it. I will relentlessly pursue Him, and Him alone.

Jesus is not just our destination, He's our journey as well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Who Are You, Anyway? (Part 5 in the "Check Yourself" series)

If asked the question, "Who are you?", 99% of us would probably answer by giving our names. But does your name really tell people anything about who you are? If I answer the question "Who are you?" by saying, "I'm Jane," does it tell the person any more about me than if I said, "I'm Jen"?

So, who are you, anyway? It's all in how God has created and defined you: your life experience, your personality and your talents. It's an assessment of your resources that will help you as you answer the "Why am I here?" question. Take stock of the "pantry" of your personhood. What's in there that you can use in the assignments God hands you? Honestly answering the following questions (as fully and completely as you can) might help as you sit down and prayerfully consider who you are:
  • I am passionate about _______.
  • My personality and character strengths are ________.
  • My personality and character weaknesses are _________.
  • I am good at _________.
  • ________ were some life experiences that led me to become the ________ person I am today.
  • I have talent and/or experience in the following areas or skills:__________.

And the most important questions:

  • Am I teachable and obedient?
  • Am I willing to do whatever it takes to become the person God wants me to be so I can fulfill the purposes He has for me?

Once you figure out who you are, embrace it. The way God made you is a unique and valuable gift given to you, and you alone. Never despise the gift of who you are by wishing you were someone else or coveting her experiences or talents. God made you the way He made you because that's the way He wants you. It wouldn't be right to second guess Him. One of my favorite Bible passages is Psalm 139 (please read it if you have a chance: Verse 14 says:

"I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Why Are You Here? (Part 4 in the "Check Yourself" Series)

Anybody remember a guy named James Stockdale?

The date was October 13, 1992. The venue: the vice presidential debate. The other participants: Dan Quayle and Al Gore. The question made famous by James Stockdale, running mate of Ross Perot, was, "Who am I? Why am I here?" Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that if you don't know the answers to those questions and have to ask a bunch of strangers, you've got more pressing issues than running for vice president.

We'll get to the "Who am I?" part in the next entry, but in the meantime, why are we here, anyway? God has a purpose for every person He puts on this planet, and discovering it and following through on it is what brings meaning to life. Life seems pretty hopeless when you have no sense of why you're here.

Talking about God's purpose for people's lives is pretty broad and nebulous, so to be more specific, we need to break that concept down into two areas. First, God has a general purpose for all humans: to know Him, walk with Him and love Him, and to bring Him glory. Second, God has a more specific purpose for each person individually. He has things He wants you to accomplish that no one else on earth is uniquely qualified in personality, abilities, etc., to accomplish. You must be fulfilling the general purpose before you can fully discover His specific purpose for you.

The first step in fulfilling God's general purpose for you is submitting your heart and life to Christ's Lordship and having a personal relationship with Him. This is the "initiation" into the general purpose that God has for every human. It is what is meant when you hear the phrases "getting saved", "being born again", "becoming a Christian", etc. If you're not sure what that entails, see my previous entry, "Whose Are You?" as well as the "Know Jesus" link towards the bottom of the sidebar on the left.

After you become a Christian, you will begin fulfilling your general purpose of serving God and bringing glory to Him. The way you do this is simply to build a relationship with Him day by day. You study the Bible and obey what it says, spend time in prayer, and join a Bible-believing church for fellowship with other Believers, help with studying the Bible, and support along your journey of faith. As you begin to do all of these things, God begins to reveal your individual, specific purpose to you.

One thing I have learned as I have discovered God's specific purposes for me is that purpose doesn't equal a career choice (although that may be relevant to your purpose), and it isn't necessarily one lifelong task. In other words, it's not as simple as saying, "God's purpose for me is to be a nurse, or an engineer or a missionary, so that's what I'm going to do until I die."

I have discovered, rather, that it is a day by day thing. For example, today, God's purpose for me is to write this blog entry, educate, raise, and nurture my kids, love my husband, and take hold of whatever other opportunities He sends my way. Fulfilling our individual purpose really just means obeying Him in whatever comes down the pike today. Same for tomorrow; same for ten years from now.

Also, God has different purposes for us for different seasons of our lives. Right now, one of my main purposes is to raise my children. In about 14 years (I hope!!!) I will have fulfilled that purpose and something else will take its place.

How can we know if we're fulfilling God's purposes for us? Well, if you're walking closely enough with God every day, you'll know. Some guidelines to consider:
  • Is it a good fit? Fulfilling God's purpose for you is like wearing a fabulous pair of jeans that was tailor-made for you. They're comfortable, they don't bind here or gape there, you feel great in them, and you want to wear them every day. Fulfilling your purpose fits and it feels great.

  • Are you "in the groove"? Do you have a sense that you're right where God wants you to be and the things that you're doing are working together in harmony? Is there a sense that you have direction in what you're doing?

  • Is it bringing you closer to God? If it isn't, that's not your purpose.

  • Is it bringing, or does it have the potential to bring, others closer to God? Do you see people responding affirmatively to God as a result of what you're doing?

Are you, as a Christian, doing your best to fulfill all the tasks and purposes God has for you? If not, why are you here?