stone church

No Church?

“We both grew up in the church with a strong belief but drifted away from it. Recent tragedy and illness is renewing our belief.” Words, making me smile, from the phone of a loved relative. He continued, “Recently my son called and invited us to do a weekly Zoom Bible study with he and his wife, since we don’t see each other very often. He’s leading it and that has been great!”

Within days, another call, another close connection traveling in deep water once again. With joy in his voice he said, “My friend Ken has been awesome, connects regularly, we pray together, study the Bible, and he sends texts often. Yesterday he sent this amazing song, ‘Gracefully Broken’. Don’t know what I would do without him.”

In both conversations, I ask about their church. None of the six are currently connected to a church. One even said, “I feel like so many right now, the institutional church is just not helpful.”

While there was much good news in both conversations, “No church” was painful to hear. I have found the church to be a powerful community of faithful believers that has journeyed with me. It truly has been the body of Christ for me. Yet… now the pandemic has kept me apart from my faith family, for months. I must confess, it causes me to struggle. With divisions among believers, and incredible speed of cultural changes, how will all this impact the church?

While there was much good news in both conversations, “No church” was painful to hear.

Then I remembered, a 2008 study, that I included in Just Imagine (p. 49). A predicted finding was: “By 2020, more than 85 percent of Americans won’t worship God at church.” (Shultz)

And a more recent 2018 statistic stating: “Approximately 150 congregations close weekly in the US, average 8000 a year.” Thom Rainer’s report ends with a hopeful thought: “Churches have always been asleep before an awakening.” We need an awakening!

I certainly don’t pretend to have a specific formula of how an awakening unfolds, but I believe, that God is calling us as individual Christians, and certainly churches as a community of believers into a vital partnership, in this awakening. In attempting to be faithful, in Just Imagine I’ve included biblical directives, ideas, along with some tools to help awaken us.

God is calling us as individual Christians, and certainly churches as a community of believers, into a vital partnership in this awakening.

“What’s A Church to Do?” Let’s begin as followers of Jesus… While Jesus walked this earth, he challenged his disciples to build relationships that share, demonstrate, and invite others to experience God’s love; he calls us now, one person at a time to do the same. To be equipped for our task and fulfill God’s mission of love for all, God designed the church family.

A letter written to the first century Churches challenged them to: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2  is a drumbeat for our visioning. As we begin breaking that down we discover steps for “What’s A Church to Do?”

  • Imitate God, by following the example of Christ
  • Yearn for people
  • Be open to people
  • Love people unconditionally, sacrificially 
  • Practice Hospitality with all people (p. 61, Just Imagine)

Together as the Church of Christ, we pray, discern, and develop a plan where God’s Spirit is awakening us to advance God’s Kingdom. No small task, but when we are awakened as partners “with God all things are possible.” (Lk 1:37 NLT) And, it can begin with you and me. Such love and invitation is a practice that helps even those who have left or never connected become part of the family of God!

Yes Church!

Just Imagining with you what can happen,

lights and pine cone

Light Shines

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
(Written by John, a beloved disciple of Jesus)

A funny thing happened on the way to the fireplace mantel… Adorned with a lovely Willow Tree Creche, garland, and a strand of lights connected to a timer, investigation was underway to discover why the timer was delayed an hour. My engineer husband would fix it. As he placed his hand against the wall to steady himself for delicate work of exploring the hidden receptacle, immediately the lights came on. We laughed, at the mysterious lighting. Static electricity? A brush of his sleeve adjusting the connection? Unexplained timing? …

Whatever happened, there was light. Windows on both sides of the mantel, were grey and bleak, with freezing rain covering the glass and yet the mini lights together, created a glow that warmed our hearts.

The Christmas tradition of lights on trees, garlands, around doorways, in windows, and candles glowing everywhere is a wonderful example of light overcoming darkness. The glowing lights represent the Babe born in a manger who is “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.“

The Babe born in a manger is “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

The Advent Wreath, we spoke of in the last blog represents the light the Christ Child brings to our world, and a reflecting light represents a gift he offers to those who believe. Hope, eternal hope, was the starting point. Christ’s followers have celebrated various gifts through the years, the most common, in addition to hope are: Peace, Love and Joy.

As a Christian I find amazing comfort in renewing my heart, mind, soul and body with these wonderful gifts available to me. Lighitng the candle, and watching the flame flicker, is a tangible call for me to make the connection with source of Light, that darkness can not extinguish. Doing so may seem as mysterious as touching the wall behind the mantel. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, from the Father of Lights…” (James 1:17) But it is my part, to receive again, as if the first time, the gifts the Messiah brings, to help me live in a world so full of dark places.

It is my part, to receive again, as if the first time, the gifts the Messiah brings, to help me live in a world so full of dark places.

When I was writing Just Imagine, I never imagined a year like we have just lived. I felt called to help the church, and all the people in the church radiate the light of Christ, welcome and bring others to it. I believe that purpose still exits, but for now, living in forms of isolation and disconnect from family and other believers, we who embrace the Light of Christ, must rise up and live, “ I am the church, you are the church…”. In many ways we had delegated that responsibility to the institutional church, casually thinking, “the church is here, they can come if they are interested.”

What God did remind me to do in the book is to write at the end of every chapter, ways to grow our personal relationship with the living Lord; and in the Babe born in a manger, “lives all the fullness of God.” The book is all about relationships; first ours with the fullness of God, which leads to developing relationships with others, so they too might have the light, life, and yes the gifts Christ brings.

Our relationship with the fullness of God leads to developing relationships with others, so they too might have the light, life, and yes the gifts Christ brings.

Not only are those gifts for me, but they are mine to share. Who doesn’t need HOPE, PEACE, LOVE and JOY in today’s topsey turvey world? Today you may have your own struggles, but likely you will connect or be reminded of others who need the light Christ brings.

So today, lean in to check out your connection. While there may be no mini lights or a candle to ignite, turn on the flashlight of your phone, shine it in your face. In the translation of Eugene Peterson: “So my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.”

Read these scriptures:

  • Peace – Isaish 9: 6, 7a; John 16:33; I Peter 5; 7, 14, I Thessalonians 5:16-24
  • Love – Matthew 22: 37-39; I John 4: 16-19; I Cornithians 13:7
  • Joy – Luke 2: 10-11; Matthew 2 10-11; john 15: 8, 11

Pray the prayer on page 90 in Just Imagine : “Radiating Christ”, John Henry Cardinal Newman

Today take a Faith Step: Receive the light and carry it to someone who needs hope, peace, love and joy. God will light your path to them.

Just Imagining with you what will happen when we do,

Receiving the Gift of Hope

Receiving the Gift of Hope

HOPE is the first candle we light on our Advent Wreath. The word hope brings a fond Christmas memory of our children. They loved the Sears Christmas Catalog. With identifying markers, they delighted in circling the gifts they hoped they would receive. Hope is a word we frequently use with the coming of Christmas. This season many of us will not be able to experience what we hoped for.

This season many of us will not be able to experience what we hoped for.

Hope is one of the words we use loosely, I hope it won’t rain, my car won’t run out of gas…, but hope goes deeper. Eighteenth Century Essayist Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal”. In the Bible it means a deep abiding trust that God has a plan.

For a wonderful experience of hope, how God’s gift of hope unfolded in the lives of individuals, take the time this Christmas to carefully read of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna in Luke 1 and 2; Joseph’s hope is recorded in Matthew 1. All had hope God would work it out, and God did, even more than they hoped for. For each one the birth of the Messiah gave them the gift of hope.

The Messiah still gives us the gift of hope. When received, it lifts our soul and propels us onward. Even in time of affliction, pain or broken dreams faith in Christ offers the gift of hope. What area in your life now needs hope? The Christ Child came to keep our hope alive. Like any Christmas gift we must open and receive our gift. Christ is the light to guide the way.

Hope is a deep abiding trust that God has a plan. Christ guides the way.

Here are some suggestions for renewing real hope in your life this Christmas.

  • Read of hope in the scriptures suggested above. Additional specific verses will encourage hope in your heart: Ps. 71:14; Jer. 29;11 ; Rom 12:12; Rom 15:13; Heb 11:1: 1 Peter 1:3; Col. 1:27*
  • Sing of HOPE

Phillip Brooks remembered a mystical night in Bethlehem, at a spot at the location of Jesus birth. Three years later in 1868, he wrote the carol, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem”, for the children of his congregation to sing on Christmas Eve. Sing the first verse:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

I suggest personalizing the last line as a prayer chant to sing this week, whenever you need hope: “ The hopes and fears of all the years are met in YOU today.

  • Pray this as a Breath Prayer* : Breath in slowly and repeat: Christ in me. Exhale slowly.
    Conclude with: The hope of God’s glory to come.
  • Faith Step
    Find ways to convey hope to someone who comes to your mind. Consider a card, phone call, text, or a gift left on the doorstep. Pray for them and tell them you are. Whatever God brings to your mind, share God’s hope with them.

In the book Just Imagine, chapter 10 challenges us to share faith, because the world needs good news. We tend to shy away from doing this. However, let’s consider that Faith Sharing is really all about relationship–our relationship with God and others. Sharing relationship is not intimidating. During this unusual time, let’s deepen our relationship with the Messiah born for us. And ask him how you might find simple ways of sharing that with someone who needs hope.

Just Imagining what can happen if we do,

What’s A Christian to Do?

What’s A Christian to Do?

God’s Hospitality is timeless, it’s throughout my writings in “Just Imagine”. Amid the pandemic and deep racial issues, I’m finding writings I labored over are teaching me, anew. As I encounter broken hearts, hardships, isolation, injustices, and view protests and lawlessness there is anger, fear and hopelessness.

Everyone shares an opinion about the disease, rights removed, economic destruction, communist threats, and emotional breakdowns. Divisiveness is everywhere, even among Christians. What’s a Christian to do?

Just this morning I read again:

A core piece of living as a Christian is being rooted and grounded in the love of God known fully in Christ Jesus and loving each other. …

…We must dispel any remnant of we/they mentality that lurks or lingers anywhere within our ministry. E. Stanley Jones says any such notion is “self-righteous pride, denoting a sense of being superior.” Peter had that flaw when he said, “Though they all fall away…I will never fall away.” This exposes an attitude not unlike the man who prayed. “I thank You, God that I am not a sinner like everyone else…” p.18

Scriptural stories reflect love for God, faith in God, and being loved by God conquering fear and brokenness. The most poignant; Jesus going to the cross. God loves all people of the world that deeply.

“We” who claim the name of Christ, no matter what “they” do and say, are called to lay down “any notion of self-righteous pride.” At the foot of the cross, we confess our own sinful nature, humble ourselves before the Triune God who loves all, asking the hard question: “What’s my part?”

Be still and listen! Breathe in the Holy Spirit, rise up, take the next step of loving God and loving neighbor. Just Imagining… what could happen if every Christian did that.

Imagining together,

What Is Welcome?

What Is Welcome?

Welcome has many uses.

  • Verb: We welcome others by helping each to feel at home when they are not at home, as Christ does us.
  • Noun: A cordial welcome to come be with us in church is a step toward coming and being with Jesus himself.
  • Adjective: And upon feeling at home with love from God and us, a most welcome response is to share that love with others.

Nearly every church thinks it is friendly and accepting of others, when in reality, few regularly exhibit pleasant, welcoming practices. God’s house is to be a place where love is dispersed among and dispensed through the family of God within. Many churches need to take on a different aroma of welcome and love that clings to all who enter—and God wants the fragrance to last.

...take on a different aroma of welcome and love that clings to all who enter—and God wants the fragrance to last.

Come experience God’s love

It is an exercise in futility to sing, teach, and preach about a God of love if our places of worship are not settings that say to all people, “Welcome. Come experience God’s love.” While we tend to love and care for each other in our congregations, we need to focus on those who are not part of a church family. We must continually evaluate whether outsiders feel welcome in our churches.

Cindy, Bruce, and their family were new in the community. Hoping to rebuild their lives, they realized that being in God’s house with God’s people was an important part of the foundation. Many attempts to find a promising church had failed. And when they drove into the parking lot of the big yellow-brick church, they were not excited.

But after entering the building, their spirits began to rise. Several people greeted them with wholehearted acceptance. Cindy and Bruce felt God’s presence; God had embraced them. Within a very few minutes, their eyes met and said, “This is it!” The welcome they had received helped them sense they were home.

“This is it!” The welcome they had received helped them sense they were home.

An intentional welcome plan

Churches that represent the body of Christ should pull out all the stops to establish an operative ministry of inclusion. All people are to receive a warm welcome and to feel at home. This will not happen effectively and consistently without an intentional plan and trained persons in place. Whether folks come on their own initiative as visitors, are brought by someone as guests, or are members who have been absent or disconnected for some time, they are to be and feel wanted. Aware that others want them there is affirmation that God wants them there.

Even though personalities differ, there is to be a perception of connecting to a family. Almost everyone responds well to a friendly welcome. Even people who want to preserve their space like to feel that others are mindful of their presence. However, there are limits to how much welcome people appreciate. Some are overwhelmed if they are greeted with too much exuberance. A greeting is pleasant only if it puts the person at ease.

Learning and applying gentle ways to approach and relate to people will help to determine their comfort level. We relate differently with each member of our own families. We must be prepared to do so with anyone who is or may become a partner in our church families.

Aware that others want them there is affirmation that God wants them there.

To present God’s kind of welcome, we must upgrade our hospitality quotient. As people of God, we are to “honor God by accepting each other, as Christ has accepted you” (Romans 15:7 CEV) The pinnacle is reached when we welcome each person as if they were Christ!

Imagining together,

What God Did Through Beulah

What God Did Through Beulah

I have been thinking a lot about Beulah these days, she never lived through a pandemic in a stay at home environment, but she knew about “staying home” as a shut-in.

I learned to know Beulah in my teen years. She was a widow, Tom’s Mom, a great Christian woman, who “prayed around the world” every Sunday during the mass opening of Sunday School.

After retiring from a local college, she was hired for the front line task of church secretary. In both positions she was known for her organizational skills and loving, servant heart. In the church she was an amazing Bible teacher from whom I learned much. Because of diseased and very swollen legs, she became home bound. On several occasions, we took soup to share with her, and afterwards, she taught us the good news of scriptures.

My favorite memory of Beulah, however, came while visiting her during the Christmas season. Youth and a leader were divided into small groups, to connect with shut-ins. Prepared with questions to ask and carol books for singing favorites, we sat on the floor around her feet. As the kids began to introduce themselves, the beauty of this grace-filled hospitable woman emerged before our eyes.

“Oh, you’re Bradley, your parents are Tracy and Don, I pray for you the third day of every month; that’s the day I pray for the families in our church whose last name begins with ‘C.’ Oh you’re Alexa, your father is that dear doctor. I pray for you and your family on the 26th, your last name starts with ‘Z.’ It’s great to pray for you, as I go through our church directory. After day 26, I pray for nations and people of the world.

While this amazing woman had never met these young folks, she “knew” them and had communicated love to them through her prayers. The kids sensed it and hung on her every word; she talked about how her devotions now fill her morning, and afternoons are small tasks, notes or telephone calls to check in on people. “Faith has been my strength in life, and best of all—Christ has always been with me.”

She ended our time with a story of falling in her garage. “I lay for three days praying for help. And it happened; I knew the Lord would send help!”

Words from parents were their kids couldn’t stop talking about that night; years later it still impacts me. As I was preparing a lesson from Just Imagine, I was on page 37, “Guided Prayer”—Beulah came to mind.

  • …Think about people who were faithful to shower God’s amazing love unto you: inviting, welcoming, including, teaching, or encouraging you to want and accept God’s love for yourself. Thank God for such love, and then thank God for those who shared it with you.
  • Ask God the bold question: “With whom do you want me to share your love, so they too might come to know you?”
  • Sit quietly and be open to names that come to you. Write them down and put them in your Bible so you will see them and be reminded to answer your calling.

A lifetime of reaching out in love to other people did not stop Beulah in her calling. Even as a shut-in she continued to take in God’s love for herself. And found the joy of God’s Hospitality overflowing with loving relationships–despite her permanent stay at home environment.

What God did through Beulah, God wants to do through us in every season. Such love has power to extend God’s love to those we don’t know—even years later.

Imagining together,

God’s Royal Decree: We Are to Extend God’s Hospitality

God’s Royal Decree: We Are to Extend God’s Hospitality

Problems none of us have ever experienced are occurring in our world, everyone has been challenged to do what we can to help. So we ask the questions: What can I, what should I do?

Hopefully words from Just Imagine can be helpful:

God commissions us to be emissaries of love. Our faith journeys will encompass fearful images, difficult obstacles and dubious outcomes. But being connected to and dependent upon God will win the day. We need to believe this for ourselves; then God wants us to love others into that same belief. (Chapter 3, p.22)

When we connect with God, in our neediness, we feel loved and cared for. It doesn’t take long for God to call people and circumstances to our attention, even during isolation. As I depended on God, my heart was hurting for a world experiencing a pandemic. And then I read:

“Be silent before the Lord, all humanity, for God is springing into action from his holy dwelling.” Zech. 2:13

Stay at Home Regulations determined our community Prayer Walkers should walk and pray in home neighborhood. For two years, my husband and I have walked this area for exercise, waves, smiles, and hellos; sometimes quick prayers were called to my attention. Today, I would carry to the part of humanity living closest to me, this renewed promise to me.

Outdoors, alone, passing over a hundred homes, again and again, praying:
“Be silent before the Lord – all humans living here – God is springing into action for all of you.”

Without the usual eye contact, hand shake, or warm words of comfort I so appreciate, God had asked me to share his love for others, one prayer after another.

Headed home, overflowing with joy, assured God is springing to action!

Imagining together,

Overflowing with Love amid a Pandemic Crisis

Overflowing with Love amid a Pandemic Crisis

How do we overflow with loving relationships during a pandemic crisis in our world? The book Just Imagine, was written with the intent of face to face opportunities to build relationships. At a time that is not possible, what can we do?

Our Challenge as Christians, in all occasions, is to make people feel worthy and loved by God and us. My mind floats back to advice from Rosalind Rinker, an author I followed years ago, “we communicate God’s love through prayer.” WE PRAY!

Christians talk freely about prayer, but statistics support that we talk prayer more than we actually pray. In this time of social distancing and isolations the love that never fails, is “God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” The fullness of God will communicate in ways we simply are not able.

It is important to make every effort to communicate via text, email, phone calls to remind people, even those we do not know, that we love, care for and value them… and are praying for them. Perhaps even be as creative as the son who took a chair to his Father’s Nursing Home window to communicate by phone. May we never forget, our most powerful, underutilized resource is, now and always, taking extra time to call upon our loving faithful God, to touch others with Divine love. The Love of God made known most fully in Christ Jesus, surpasses our human understanding, but not our ability to experience it ourselves and share it with others.

If you are willing to communicate love though prayer, open the attachment Prayer Requests  with some tools and some specific prayers.

Imagining together,

God's Rx for 2020 Vision

God’s Rx for 2020 Vision

I am fascinated with the 2020 decade, it brings thoughts of visits to the eye doctor. In the optic world 2020 is clear vision; when vision falls short, there is always prescription for correction. Similarly, this new decade is a great time to clearly see God’s Rx for perfecting our vision.

The first order of clarity comes from the beginning of the Genesis scripture that states, “Let us create people in our image.” Personally, I continually need correction to see every person as created in God’s image. In fact, I even forget that I am created in the very image of God.

Also, I tend to forget that God’s heart longs from the very beginning to be in relationship with every person ever created… and yes, faithfully pursues that deep abiding relationship with me and everyone else. The sovereignty of our Creator knows when our relationship needs correction to see and relate with God and others through the lens of such love.

As we enter the opportunities of a new decade, will you consider with me some godly prescriptions for correction:

  • When you look in the mirror to comb your hair or brush your teeth, pause and see yourself as “created in God’s image”, loved and welcomed by Jesus.
  • View every person you pass or come in contact with, as “Created in God’s image.” You will see them differently.
  • Just Imagine’s primary focus is helping us see more clearly our intended relationship with God and others. It is intended for a slow read with an openness to the adjustments God longs to make in every life.
  • Beyond our individual benefit, the book is designed for small groups to learn and grow together. Consider creating your own group, or working with your church leadership to begin such a group; journeying with others is so helpful. Hopefully the joy of God’s Hospitality will increasingly overflow with loving relationships.

Imagining together,

Hospitality or Entertainment

Hospitality or Entertainment

The Women Connect topic was God’s Hospitality, Just Imagine was the resource. Janet owned the book, as she reread, a Hospitality Challenge caught her attention: How is hospitality different from entertaining? She came prepared with googled answers.

Hospitality: friendliness, welcome, warm reception, helpfulness, neighborliness, warm-hearted, kind-hearted, generosity, bountifulness, open-handedness, congeniality, amicability.

Entertainment: amusement or diversion provided by performers.

The book provided more awareness: The Old Testament teaches extending God’s hospitality creates a sacred bond between host and guest. In the New Testament Jesus teaches and demonstrates God’s hospitality that honors all as children of God. Jesus holds the Kingdom bar high. We are to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ, become “little Christs”.

By providing hospitality in God’s house, we establish a household. In this household of faith, we learn to love, nurture, and help others recognize themselves as children of God. And God’s household never gets too big.

So questions are: Am I growing in the likeness of Jesus Christ? Is our church helping people recognize themselves as children of God?

Let’s Just Imagine what can happen as we learn to better overflow God’s Hospitality with loving relationships!

Imagining together,