Monday, July 18, 2011

Lessons from a Church Blackout

This morning at about 8:30 as I was getting ready for church, I heard a loud boom and all the electricity at my house cut off. We guessed a transformer had blown. I couldn't help but wonder what it would mean for the services at my church, which is right across the street from my house.

A few minutes later I walked over to find, as I had expected, a mostly dark church. Random lights were on in some areas, but the air conditioning was off in the whole building as were all the auditorium's lights and speaker systems. We still had the worship service (which at my church is an open-service style) and, I think, most of the Sunday school classes...but the nurseries were dark, hot, and empty; the warmer balcony was almost deserted; and the teaching hour was cancelled.

Even before the service started I couldn't help but think about some ironic/eye-opening reminders. During the 75 minute service, more things kept popping up in my mind. So here they are - lessons from a dark church.

1. We're Spoilt. Yep, that's right. We Americans are spoiled little brats accustomed to a particular level of comfort. Honestly, even before I knew about the lack of power I had considered not staying for the teaching hour because I didn't feel the best today. I took a pain reliever because my scraped hand from yesterday has been giving me grief.

Is it fun to sit in a huge room with no air conditioning and a bunch of other people in the middle of a Texas summer? No, but think about churches in other countries. Places like India, where they probably get just as hot and never have the AC luxuries we do, but where they still gather week after week because they want to.

2. "Singing and Making Melody" (Eph. 5:19). Without the PA system or the computers to run the slides, our opening singing time was a bit more challenging. But honestly, I liked it better. Without the speakers increasing the volume of the instruments, I could hear the actual singing. While I appreciate the work the musicians put into playing, it was fun to actually experience singing together as a church body....although I must admit our church definitely shouldn't make a recording...some of us can't sing exceptionally well ;-)

3. "Let the Little Children Come." This one ties into the last one. With the little kids not being in the nursery, they were in the service instead. And I loved hearing one little girl (probably age 3 or 4) belting out the choruses on the songs. I sure didn't mind the couple times a baby cried either. But that may just be because I love kids :)

4. Be Real With Me. It was an interesting phenomenon...but with no PA system, no AC, and no lights other than sunlight coming in windows and doors, the whole atmosphere of the service seemed more relaxed, less "put-on," and more real. Several men took off their suit coats. The sharing seemed more off-the-cuff. We laughed more. It just felt nice. Usually, men walk down to the lecterns because that's where the mics are. The rest of us sit in our pews, separated by the distance, however small, and hearing the voice over the speakers. There's almost a disconnect between the person talking and the congregation---something I didn't realize was there until I recognized that it was gone today.

5. Jesus as the Light of the World. In God's timing, the opener had previously planned to share from 2 Cor. 4:4-6, which talks about how the gospel is a light to us in a world of darkness. One of the songs we sang was "Shine, Jesus Shine," a song which I have really appreciated since I first heard it on a friend's favorite CD eight or nine years ago. As we were singing the song and as various men got up and shared about different ways Christ is our light, I couldn't help but think about it. He is the Light, the fuel, to banish the darkness of the world. We are to be like lamps or like mirrors, carrying or reflecting the power of His gospel.

So there you have it - a few things you can learn at church, even without power. Honestly, I think every church should have a blackout Sunday once in a while. It has the capability of serving as a good reminder of our blessings and breaking us out of the routine-ness that is always a danger in our spiritual lives.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I have FAILED..................But God!

Guys, I need help - I need prayer. On Friday at work I flared out in anger at these boys that I really do love as though they were my little brothers.

I try not to talk about the challenging details of my work all that much because I don't want to complain/gossip/be self-praising by talking about everything I deal with. Suffice it to say that both boys are sinners just like the rest of us and often want their own way just like I do.

On Friday I ran out of patience and blew it. I was truly sorry for what I had done within two minutes, but the damage had been done and we had a rough hour or so. Thankfully by the end of the day our relationship was in better shape again.

Nevertheless I felt incredibly guilty for what happened, and still do to some extent. I have confessed that what I did was very wrong and said I am sorry. I know that Christ's righteousness covers this sin and failure just as it covers all of my sin. But it's hardest to forgive myself. How could I have let this happen???

Honestly, my flesh just responded to the child's actions like he has responded to me repeatedly in the past. But I'm not supposed to act that way. I'm supposed to be the Christian who has limitless self-control in responding firmly and yet kindly to a little sinful child, trying to guide him toward building a better character. But on Friday, my self-control failed me. In responding in anger, I not only damaged my relationship with the boys, I also marred my Christian witness. It was that thought that brought tears to my eyes when i had some time alone to think it over.

I think the problem is that I have been trying to do this in my power. I have failed to fully recognize the spiritual warfare nature of my work. Satan doesn't want me to love these boys unconditionally. He wants me to fight back in anger. I ran out of patience because I wasn't relying on God's power to work through me. I have failed to cover my work in prayer - daily, hourly, even moment by moment.

What I do is not easy. As Friday's happenings clearly showed, what I want to do is impossible unless I'm relying only on God's strength. That's where you all come in. I'm asking you to please pray for me, whenever you think of me. Please pray that I would not try to love and teach these boys out of my own strength, because that will fail miserably. Please pray that God will give me wisdom in how to respond to trying circumstances. Please pray that I may in some small way show these boys the love of God.

In the end, if nothing else, my experience with the boys constantly reminds me to be thankful for God's entirely unconditional love for me, for us. In our sin, we act just like these two boys (Eph. 2:1-3). But God loved us even when we were unlovable, when we hated Him, despised Him, spat in His face (Eph. 2:4-10). And even now, when I make choices that grieve Him deeply, He still loves me, always.

I am not God. I knew that, of course, but Friday reminded me of it once again. BUT His power is available to me, when I choose to live and act through the power of His Spirit instead of in my weak and fleshly attempts. May it be so in my life - tomorrow, next week, next month.