Archive for January 2009

“The Little Church That Could” (part 3)

January 23, 2009

January 23, 2009
“The Little Church That Could” (part 3)

“We’ve been set free to be!”
One of the members of the little church expressed that one Sunday morning. It was a call of affirmation and exhilaration. It expressed the new hope that was a part of this little group of God’s people. Each Sunday when they would gather to worship there would be the sharing of stories. For a long, long time the stories of changed lives and ministry had always come from some distant land through a missionary that the church supported financially. Or the stories would come from someone who had read something in the newspaper about someone in some other place.
Now the stories were close, heart-wrenching, and personal. The people believed that God still was using people in different places and distant places in ministry, but now the church was seeing the validity of their own faith and calling. God was calling on them to take a look around them, and they were experiencing the freedom, the unchaining of their spirits, to be who they were called to be.
Freedom is not just being allowed to do what others have not allowed one to do. Freedom is being who one has kept himself or herself from being because of a deafness to the voice of God. Freedom is being given permission to see the possibilities that one’s life can have.
There was a lady from the church who made pot holders out of old socks. For years she had given them to her friends as Christmas gifts. She had always had a hampering of any thought that came to her that she has a purpose in God’s plan.
And then someone asked her if she would consider making pot holders to be given as “We Love You” gifts for Valentine’s Day to the neighbors who lived around the church. She reacted with an expression of uncertainty, and then asked “You want me to…to help?” When the answer was “yes” there was a sudden change. Like rainwater seeping into the ground after a hard shower, “The Pot Holder Lady” realized in the depths of her spirit that God gave value to her craft and handiwork. There was an unbinding of her diminished spirit. Pot holders were new additions to almost everyone of the kitchens within blocks of the church. “The Pot Holder Lady” worked night and day to make sure all the neighbors received this simple expression of love.
She had been set free to be!
The gospel encourages one’s potential instead of keeping it hidden.
A paradoxical statement: Surrender releases freedom.
The little church became the little church that could. As God led there was the freedom to go! In going out, there was a gradual unbinding of the community. The spirits of oppression, hatred, poverty, and defeat were rooted out as people put in miles and miles of prayer walking up and down the streets.
No one knew when hope moved in as the new landlord replacing hopelessness, but it happened. Brightness replaced the dismal. Relationships became evident instead of divided people. Walls crumbled as evil foundations disappeared.
By the power of God, people were changed, and it began when His people were seeking to be who He had called them to be.

Going back to the first church, the fences got higher for protection. It resembled an aging fortress instead of a church. Hopelessness took up residency. Pastors came and went, until they stopped coming.
And the second church, the little church that could, began praying for the first church- that first church that had once been the place of prominence, where people went to be seen. The earnestness and authenticity of the second church’s prayers were heard by the Lord, and a long time later things began to change.
But that’s a different story for a different day.

The Little Church That Could (part 2)

January 16, 2009

January 15, 2009
“The Little Church That Could (Part 2)”

(If you haven’t read it yet, read the first part of this two-parter before continuing with part two.)

There was a second little church. They had always been small in size, but big in heart. A long time ago a core group of people from the church had prayed about what God’s desire was for them.
They prayed for a long time. Days became weeks, and weeks became months…and they were still praying.
And then one day an older woman who was wearing the results of a long hard life, void of glamour and glee, came to a Sunday worship gathering. She sat in the back, even though several people invited her to sit with them. In the midst of the gathering she suddenly stood up and started shedding tears of sorrow. People listened. A couple of women came and put their arms around her. Their was an expectation that she was going to share about a family member who was sick, or about someone close to her who had died, but when she spoke she simply said, “Excuse my tears, but they are tears of sorrow and frustration because no one loves this community.” With that she sat down. There were a few moments of silent anxiety amongst the people. At the end of the service the pastor closed in prayer.
The visitor was gone by the time the “Amen” was voiced.
The next Sunday the worship gathering took a detour from the plan for the day. Someone stood up and talked about how the core group had been praying for God’s leading and what His desire was for their church. The person then went on to say that he believed the previous Sunday’s visitor had given them the message: “Love our community!”
There were affirming head nods and “Amens”, and the church set about being the body of Christ in their community.
It was a community with many hurts and wounded people that needed healing. To the people of the city it was an area that was known as “transitional.” People moved in and out of the on a frequent basis. Some came on the way from escaping something else, and others came with intentions of escaping as soon as they could.
The little church left the building…and went into the community. One Sunday they gathered for prayer and then walked down the streets around them and prayed for the people that lived there. The next week they gathered for worship and then went through the streets picking up trash. The third week they intentionally went door to door and asked people (the ones who weren’t too afraid to open their doors) if there was anything they could pray about for them. The fourth week some of them saw a new family moving into one of the “worn-out” houses and asked the mother if they could bring them a meal as a way of saying welcome to the neighborhood. She nervously agreed to it.
It started to become a habit!
The little church would walk and pray as they traveled down the sidewalks that were almost all in disrepair. They prayed that God would break their hearts out of love for the people that lived around them.
Like objects that rise to the surface of water and float on it, the painful situations of the community began to become more and more apparent to the little church.
A 19 year old who was pregnant was seen more and more. Her family had kicked her out of their home and now she was renting an efficiency apartment in a building that looked ready to fall down. Her minimum wage job left her worn out at the end of the day, but the bigger problem was that making ends meet often meant going a couple of days during the month where she couldn’t eat because there was no money left for groceries. She knew it was not good for the baby growing inside her, but she didn’t know what else to do. An older woman from the church found out about the situation and took a meal to the young woman. The next week the older woman invited the expectant mom to her home not too far away for dinner one night. That time together resulted in an invitation for dinner the next week on the same night. The older woman listened, because there was no one else to listen.
There was a man who lived in the neighborhood who was an alcoholic. People avoided him, and with every sip of his whiskey he became increasingly bitter about life. Someone from the church knocked on his door and asked him if there was anything that he could pray about for the man. The drunk chased him off his front step with a string of profanities and the threat of violence.
But the man from the church came back the next week. This time he asked the man if he could give him a freshly-baked loaf of bread. The man who had been violent the week before didn’t know how to respond. He took the bread and closed the door.
The man from the church came back the next week, and the next week, and the next week, and the alcoholic slowly lost his thirst for the whiskey and gained a hunger for the bread.
And there were others, but that will need to wait until next week.

The Little Church That Could, Part 1

January 9, 2009

January 9, 2009
“The Little Church That Could”

Once…multiplied by a billion times there were two little churches.
The first church had been around since Adam. It had once been a large prominent congregation in the midst of the city. Many of the influential personalities in town were members of the church. There was a large endowment fund that the church kept adding in to. And when the church had a need- like softer, fluffier pew cushions- a grand event like a formal catered dinner would be organized and the money would be raised in an evening’s time.
No one was quite sure when the problems of the first church started. Many of the long-time members would point to the changing neighborhood around them being the slow fuse of destruction for the once prominent congregation. Others pointed to a particular pastor who stayed too long or not long enough. Still others focused on the deaths of some of the most influential people.
What was indisputable, however, was that the church was not what it used to be. From time to time a new resident in the neighborhood would show up for worship. Once in a while the person would even come back a second time. When one of the new neighbors showed up time and time again, and then offered to head up a project of remodeling the nursery that had simply been used for storage for a few years, there was a heightened sense of anxiety in the small congregation. They had never had someone offer to help. People had always been appointed, elected, pigeon-holed, or even voted in when they were away on vacation.
The “crisis” was taken care of by the elderly head of the Trustees Board. He informed the new person that they appreciated the offer, but were going to decline it. “After all,” he said, “as far as we can figure, the nursery hasn’t been used for five years. We don’t see the value in putting money into something that isn’t being used.”
Within a few weeks of that conversation, the boiler of the building’s heating system needed to be replaced at substantial cost. Perhaps it was all the attention of that situation that resulted in no one noticing that the new person gradually disappeared from view.
The church kept decreasing in size as more of its long-time members passed away.
The number of crimes in the area increased. The church built a high security fence around the property as a precaution to deter break-ins.
A new young pastor who didn’t know any better came to the church and suggested that the congregation reach out to the neighborhood.
It wasn’t received well.
People excused his idea as just being “a sign of his youth and pastoral inexperience.” Some told him that they were a small congregation that had too many problems on the inside of the building to worry about helping people outside the building. When he suggested that they sell the building and put part of the money into community ministry, calls were placed to some important officials in the denomination and the new young pastor soon became the young former pastor.
As the months and years clicked by the once prominent congregation became more and more invisible. There was growing resentment in the little group of people about the fact that they were no longer living in the glory days of their church.
It affected their relationship with God individually and corporately. Some even blamed God for taking away the gold, glitter, and glamour that they once had.
Their building became a fortress to guard against an enemy that they had a hard time identifying.
Years removed from their golden era, the few that were left would begin their description of the church, and excuse for avoiding the initiation of any new idea, with the phrase “We’re just a little church…”
There was a second church…but that story will have to wait until next week!