“Scrubbin’ toilets for the Lord,” as my mom likes to say.

Recently, I began listening to the sermons available on the website of my parents’ church, the church I attended in high school and whenever I was home during my college years.  Though I might otherwise choose to listen to NPR or Pandora radio, sometimes I need a break from hearing about the fight in Congress over President Trump’s nominee for Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Department of the Posterior, and, let’s face it, Pandora’s music stream isn’t as exhaustive as one might hope.

When I listened to the first sermon, I was surprised at the difference between what I remember hearing in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning and what is recorded through the sound system.  When the congregation is singing with the praise leaders, and all the voices are mixing with the band, reverberating off the ceiling and walls, you just might think the sound could lift you straight up to heaven.  But the recording, which cuts out all the congregation’s singing, well…it’s a little less inspiring.  Don’t misunderstand me: the church’s praise team members are all extremely talented (especially the bass player*), but the individual voices and instruments cannot blend as well as when a hundred or so voices are singing with them.

I realized that the watering down of a worship service – when just a few people are highlighted and the rest are removed – reflected how much every Christian matters in God’s Church.  In the small group I attend, we recently shared what we considered our “spiritual gifts.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 states that there are different types of gifts, service, and ways of working, but the entire spectra of all three can can be used to serve and glorify God.  I cannot drive a bus full of kids to church camp, but I can teach a Sunday School class and wash dishes after a potluck.  Of course, service for God extends beyond one’s personal church to the world-wide community of Christians.  In both places, the followers of Jesus Christ are called to teach, serve, lead, give generously, and show mercy according to their abilities for the strengthening of God’s Church (Romans 12:4-8).

“But I’m not a missionary or a pastor,” someone might say.  “I’m a plumber/salesman/flight attendant/exterminator.  My everyday business doesn’t really deal with ‘God stuff.'”  Well, fair point.  On this side of heaven, the human race is bothered with needs that must be fulfilled.  Once we reach our glorious reward, then our entire being will be devoted to “God stuff.”  But while we’re here, we still must eat by the sweat of our brow (thanks a lot, Adam).  But even if a career is not carried out in a church, it can still be used as a mighty pulpit.  When the wonderful – nay, miraculous – regeneration of a Christian occurs by the Holy Spirit entering that person, the fruit of the Spirit that person bears is evidence of God’s character.  That fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control – can be exhibited by a pastor baptizing a new believer or a plumber installing a sink for a fair price and with a kind smile.  Or a salesman refusing to deal dishonestly.  Or a flight attendant patiently assisting a rude passenger.  Or an exterminator getting rid of pests in the most humane way possible (rats are God’s creatures, too).  Personally, I work in the food industry, and I can serve God by ensuring safe, wholesome food is produced to feed the people He made.

From my past years in various churches, I have too often seen too few people carry too much of the load that is an inherent part of managing the many facets of a church.  I believe God has blessed His people enough that the same person does not need to coordinate the nursery schedule, play piano for the praise band, and clean the bathrooms after Wednesday night activities in addition to working a full-time job and raising a family.  Sufficient service on the part of God’s people can keep saints from becoming broken-down and burned-out.  So consider this: what talents and gifts has God given to you?  How can you put them to use in the local and world-wide church?  Where do you see a need that you can meet?

While I enjoy hearing the sermons of a very insightful pastor and singing along with familiar voices of the praise team, listening to a podcast isn’t the same as attending God’s house on a Sunday morning.  I don’t  experience the feeling of security that comes with being surrounded by fellow Christians.  I also don’t see the ushers greeting guests and handing out bulletins, the audio-visual team hard at work in the back of the sanctuary, the frazzled but satisfied-looking Children’s Church teachers.  But I’m glad to know they are there on a Sunday morning, impacting lives in their community, and I can now use my talents at my current church according to the ways God has blessed me.

*my dad

Image credit: http://www.1stchurchjc.org/uploads/4/1/4/2/4142961/_148785.jpeg

Prayer, Praise…and Potluck

Changing churches is tough.  Sadly, conflict within churches made this front pew kid sit in a lot of different front pews throughout childhood.  (It’s terrible when Christians don’t act like Christians, but that’s for another post.)  I worshiped God in the auditoriums of mega-churches and the living rooms of home churches.  My family even helped start a new church, but then we moved to another state and began the search yet again.  Again, we went through the awkward first few Sundays trying to remember the names of the people we met last week, sizing up the offered ministries,  hoping the church is a good fit because the people are just so darn nice to us, we’d feel rude not to come back.  Thankfully, I was never embittered by any church I attended, and choosing a church to attend was a first priority when I moved around as an adult.  Choosing to leave each one was difficult, mostly when it meant leaving behind people who had welcomed and invested their interest in me.  But even when a person leaves a church, they never leave the Church.

The Church (the collection of Christ’s followers) is more powerful than a church (a building where people gather to worship).  Though separated by physical distance or personal preferences, all Christians share salvation through Jesus.  This is a powerful, uniting force, and, amazingly, makes extremely different people do incredibly similar things.  Acts 2:42 describes the activities of members of the early church as such: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  I’m not a scholar on First Century Church Life, so I don’t know what exactly happened when the earliest Christians worshiped.  But the basics of worship – learning about Jesus’ message, spending time together and caring for each other, sharing meals, and reaching God through prayer and praise – well, they haven’t changed much over 2,000 years.  Despite the differences among Christian denominations (the “top 35” by membership size are described here), all Christians are equally valued by God and have Christ within them. Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Salvation unites men and women,  princes and paupers, Alaskans and Australians.

I’m a relative newcomer at my current church.  It is the home church of my fiance, and his family is deeply rooted there.  On this past Sunday the church celebrated its 125th Anniversary.  It was indeed a special Sunday with the presence of former pastors and congregants as well as other unique touches, but the songs we sang, the fellowship we shared, and the prayers we lifted were all meant to honor God and bind us closer together.  Chosen verses for the occasion included Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together…but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Besides the chance to worship God, the point of church is to support the Church.  We pray for each other, we praise God together, and we potluck like nobody’s business.  (We were instructed to break bread together, right?)

The uniting bond of salvation among Christians has always given me courage to try a new church as I’ve felt led.  It’s a supernatural feat for this introvert to enter a building full of smiling, handshaking strangers.  How can this be?  Well, just like the Powdermilk Biscuits mentioned on A Prairie Home Companion,  the Bible in my arms and the Holy Spirit inside me “give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.”

 

Photo credit: http://www.penwag.org/december-potluck-challenges-revealed-and-super-stash-sale/