Seeking a church family

I’ve been struggling with this concept in my personal life lately. My husband and I recently moved to a new town with new churches and an entire new community. We have not yet settled on a place to attend. We are church-homeless.

Not that we expect the church we decide to call home to be perfect. We aren’t that naive. Instead, we search for the particular features that make us feel at home. Style of preaching. Good music. Professional sound team. Enough people our age.

But when I read Jen’s heartfelt exhortation to us this morning, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I’m searching for things that make me feel outwardly comfortable and proud to attend a certain place. I never thought about choosing the right kind of people.

They love each other, they love the staff, they love the city, and they love God.

That’s who I should be searching for. After all, the church is only a group of people. People aren’t attractive fliers, preachers, music, or donuts. And I want to make my church home a place where those people love Jesus more than anything else.

We are still on our search. (Please pray for us!)

I, like all of you, am going to an imperfect church this morning. I have failed it in innumerable ways, and I’ve felt the sting of disappointment there too. Church is hard.

But every single Sunday, every one, I find Jesus there. I am renewed in tiny or even enormous ways. But largely, when I look around the room, I see the faces of people that are so good, so courageous, so committed and loving, I cannot imagine doing life without them. They are, quite simply, the best people I know. The struggles and addictions and losses they have overcome would flatten you – it’s just a little middle school cafeteria but it is full of bravery. And they love well. They love each other, they love the staff, they love the city, and they love God.

That’s enough.

Folks, my prayer for you this morning is that you find your simple church where Jesus is lifted high and people are loved, and plant there with all your might. Your church will be so imperfect. SO. The staff and leaders will not magically make life fulfilling. People will let you down (and you them). Stuff will go sideways and have to be righted. There will be hard conversations and honest confessions and apologies and lots of forgiveness, but the presence of these things doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. It means you are building a church with human people and you love them too much to let it all slip through your fingers without fighting for unity.

May you find grace for your church today. May you find your people and put up a parking lot. And I hope that today, or maybe someday, you’ll look around the room like I do and marvel at what beautiful, wonderful people you are surrounded with, grateful that you get to love God and love each other and love people together, imperfectly.

-Jen Hatmaker, originally posted on Facebook

Don’t (necessarily) follow your heart: Making faithful decisions that agree with the will of God

STRICTLY

Commonplace stock phrases like “follow your heart” are so prevalent in our culture that e don’t think twice when we see them plastered on greeting cards, posters, and children’s clothing. They sure sound positive, upright and true, but Jesus says something different. The sins that defile us, actually start with your heart.

“Out of a person’s heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22).

The heart loves comfort & convenience above all

In school I had a friend whose parents were divorced, but had agreed to live together until the kids graduated. From where I was standing, they loathed each other and the air inside the house was fraught with tension. Their reasoning was that it was easier than having to deal with custody and cheaper than living apart. It may have seemed to work on the surface, but the arrangement still left deep wounds on the whole family. The heart does not want to be challenged or disturbed, and that shuts out any possibility for redemptive, albeit painful, work to be done. 

The heart can be blind to its own sin

Jeremiah 17:9 calls the human heart the most deceitful of all. Jesus talks about this too, in Luke 18:9-14 when he tells the parable about 2 men who prayed at the Temple. One, a Pharisee, proudly stood in a place of importance and prayed like this: “God, thank you that I am not a sinner like everyone else. I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I fast twice a week, and I tithe 10%.” The other man was a despised tax collector. He prayed with eyes glued to the ground and beating his chest in sorrow like this: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus explains that it was the tax collector, and not the Pharisee who stood justified and innocent before God.

The Pharisee’s blindness to his own sin came from within in the form of pride and foolishness. I believe that the Pharisee honestly believed himself justified, but that’s not enough. By fully trusting his own heart’s judgement of himself (we always tend to minimize our sins to ourselves, don’t we?) he lost an opportunity to be made right before God.

To be successful, our hearts need solid truth for direction

The basis of the gospel is that we (and our hearts) are not good or innocent by default (Romans 3:10). Thus, we cannot be trusted to follow our hearts unless what we desire matches up with God’s will for us. How does one do that, exactly?

  1. Believe First, take heart! (ha) Remember that God has said, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”(Ez 36:26). He can do amazing work with our old broken hearts.
  2. Commit There is a decision facing you today. It may be large or small, but to the Lord, size doesn’t matter when it comes to obedience. Make a commitment to seek the right path to take. “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
  3. Seek The first place I go when I’m seeking wisdom from the Bible is usually the concordance in the back of my Bible (many popular bibles have them). Biblegateway.com and openBible.info are also excellent for quickly finding what you need.
  4. Ask This one sort of goes together with #3. Often it’s not the finding of the information that’s difficult, it’s the application of it. Even if you are pretty sure you know what you’re doing to do, it’s important to check yourself with the wisdom of another older believer. Stay in fellowship with one another through a church, a small group, and/or with a spiritual mentoring relationship with an older and trusted believer. I’m personally so thankful to have several such wise men and women in my life to whom I can go for direction.

Do you have a person or church family you trust for support? If not, I challenge you to reach out this week to someone like this. Remember that we all get off the path and need the support of our church family. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

God’s Word never changes and “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 timothy 3:16).

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Prayer: God, we praise you for your mercy on poor sinners like us. We pray that your Holy Spirit would help us to discern the difference between your direction and our own sinful direction for our lives. Show us how to recognize our need for your mercy. Let our hearts consistently move forward toward that perfection that we will have in Heaven with You.

Application Question: What decision is facing you today, and how are you going to search for the right way to go?

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105