Tag: church

Once a year we have our Sunday worship gathering in a park. It’s intentional though started by necessity. It began by needing to vacate our building that shelters a maximum of 100 men for at least six hours while the electricity was turned off to install a generator. The generator is needed in the event of power loss from a hurricane. (Since hurricane season is one of our two seasons in South Florida.)

We’re no dummies here and quickly learned we needed to make this an annual event. We book the largest pavilion in a state park. Our kitchen orders up food for 150 people, fills coolers with drinks on ice, and totes all the parts needed for a picnic lunch.

We take the dominoes, cards, chess game, football and volleyball. All the toys we can gather to play with before and after our time of singing and sharing.

We pick a Sunday in late February or early March. A time when rain and high humidity are less likely. We’ve had two years where we bundled up in our jackets and hoodies and stayed in the sunshine longer as the morning greeted us with 40’s and 50’s. Or, what we call winter. This year the temperature was lovely but the winds a bit fierce keeping swimmers out of the ocean that is just over the dunes.

Always, we’ve enjoyed the sunshine. The literal one shining overhead and a warmth generated by the Son that shines within.

“You don’t get to decide to worship. Everyone worships something. The only choice you get is what to worship.”  – Timothy Keller

Maybe like you, I grew up thinking worship was done inside a church building on Sunday mornings. Even though we had church on Sunday nights and Wednesdays, it was Sunday morning that we worshiped. In my mind and life, worship was defined as singing and praying with others in church.

At some point, I realized worship couldn’t be contained to place or posture. Worship was more than music and prayers. It was just more.

Changing our physical surroundings seems to free the expression of worship. Sitting in the open air we notice the creation and recognize the Creator. The wind blew strong as if God’s spirit was saying, ‘look, I’m here’.

For some, they see their service as worship. Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or teaching a scouting group is one aspect of their worship, they’re giving to God.

My friend Judi worships with her art. Sometimes she paints during their church gathering but anytime she paints it’s part of her worship. She is praising God with the talents He’s given her.

I believe in the importance of worship together for regularly scheduled gatherings. It builds community among believers. But worship is much more.

The New Oxford Dictionary defines worship as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity”.

I want to throw off the confines of my old beliefs and embrace a posture of worship that looks for opportunities to praise God. I want to express reverence to the most high God when I’m at preparing our meals, thankful for abundance. I want to show my adoration for his grace when I hear U2 singing about justice.

As Timothy Keller says, everyone worships something. I want my worship to be focused on Yahweh God because he alone is worthy of this devotion and glory.

faith grace Salvation Army

Much of my childhood I felt I didn’t fit. We moved so much in my junior and senior high school years I didn’t have time to join so I didn’t have time to fit. By the time I figured out the rhythm of this new school we were moving to another state where I’d have to observe and learn again.

Move from Arkansas to Baltimore: note to self: they don’t say y’all here
Move from FL to Utah: LDS means Latter Day Saints (and everyone but me is one)
Move from FL to TX: my seemingly ancient, though kind, English teacher called Jim, in Huckleberry Fin, Negra Jim. hmmm

Fitting in seems important because it feels comfortable and known. Maybe that’s why it surprised me to feel like I fit in with a group of addicts and alcoholics.

 

I don’t think I can adequately articulate this because I don’t completely understand this. Except that I know I’ve been lost and am found. I’m the sinner saved by grace. Broken and being put back together one jagged edge at a time.

Switch foot isn’t a band whose music you’ll likely hear on Sunday morning. They don’t write what we call praise and worship songs. They’ve gone so far as to resist having their music put in the ‘Christian music’ box. They write music. They are Christians. They view the world through the lens of their faith. That informs their music. I find that refreshing as I’m not a fan of that ‘christian box’.

Beautiful Letdown album by Switchfoot

I like their sound. The crashing guitars, real drums, their energy and passion. The lyrics are a bonus.

In a world full of bitter pain and bitter doubt
I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in,
Until I found out
I don’t belong here

They are singing my song. Words I with which I can connect, learn and grow.

It was a beautiful let down
When you found me here

This song, in particular, reminds me I’ve been found. In each of the 13 schools I attended, He found me. In the nine states we’ve lived, I was found. God found me in his love.

Their words are counter-culture to what is often espoused in today’s Christian circles. They sing of the calling to follow a Savior who wasn’t accepted by his own. This song reminds us following Jesus will bring ridicule and scorn.

We are a beautiful let down,
Painfully uncool,
The church of the dropouts
The losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools
Oh what a beautiful let down

This is who I am, where I find myself found. These are my people because they are Jesus’ people. Nothing to prove. Only grace to receive. And the songs final reminder that I don’t belong here. Not on this earth. Our home is in heaven with Christ.

faith grace Music

Our pianist has only been with us a few months. She’s an outsider to our community and our church traditions. A church woman herself, she answered the ad we placed for a pianist needed: Sundays, 8:45 – 10:15 a.m.

She walked through the doors our first Sunday of Advent, greeted me as I said, “it’s Advent, you never know what’s going to happen so hold on.” I’m not sure if I detected the look of confusion or fear on her face.

Surprise, and a bit of a mess, is often what you get when you corral a group of folks not accustomed to church. For some, it brings back memories of their youth. There is a divide between generations and cultures when it comes to church though not always what I expect.

Look closely below to see Sally cat behind the figures.
Look closely below to see Sally cat behind the figures.

The room is set. Randall has placed every single one of the 100+ pieces of a grand nativity on the table in back of the chapel. In all of it’s beauty, honestly, it’s too much for me. But it’s not for me. The figures tell a story so they remain.

Advent candles

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He’s set our simple Advent candles at the front and a lovely tree sits to the right of the platform, dressed in muted tones to complement not take over. The externals have been planned and arranged. That’s the easy part.

We’ll have different men read the Advent parts each week. They’ll stand in front, on either side of the candles, pass the microphone back and forth adding a pause in their readings I’d rather not have. Many will look confused when it comes time to light the candle and fumble with the lighter provided so they’ll dig their Zippo out of their pocket and light a candle, maybe two and I’ll sit in the back of the room shaking my head and smiling. Smiling because does it really matter what lighter they use? Does it matter that it’s the second Sunday of Advent and they’ve lit two candles in addition to the one already lit so we have three? (I breathe out a sigh of resignation)

Our first Sunday they got the candles right. Right candle, right lighter, right time (with a nod from me). And then the order fell apart. The song we were to sing following this was skipped as was the prayer and music solo. Somehow, the simple outline clearly printed on a program and handed to everyone was ignored? Forgotten?

What a mess.

There was a time this would have frustrated me. How could people not follow the simplest of directions? How would they learn how Advent is suppose to go? Order is part of God’s design and plan and, really? A Bic lighter dug from your pocket to light that purple candle?!

This time I shook my head and smiled. The one learning is me.

I’ve learned the order, the lighter nor the candles matter. Only our honest expressions of God’s grace and love will make a real difference. That’s what is always on display. And I sigh again wondering if I’ve given my best at that.

David Crowder’s song continues to remind me that our messy lives is just why Jesus came.

In the middle of the mess, there is majesty
In the middle of my chest, is the King of Kings
While the world was waiting on
A change to come along
Light broke in
Coming like a song

All this glory, all this glory, all this glory
In the middle of the night, after all this light

Jesus, God with us
Jesus Christ has come and I’m undone

Maybe next year we’ll have the Messy candle.Somewhere between Hope, Love, Peace and Joy we’ll acknowledge this mess of a world, of a life, to which Jesus brought his majesty.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,”
John 1:14 a the Message

faith grace Salvation Army

It’s a bit complicated to describe our congregation. Some would say they’re a captive audience. While that description makes me flinch, it’s not all wrong. The residents in this six-month rehabilitation program are required to attend our Sunday service. A spiritual component is part of their recovery along with individual and group counseling, recreation, and work.

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We have a congregation of all men. Most of them are addicts. Their church practices are  fairly split between no church, protestant and Catholic. I would not describe them as church people. Few of them can navigate their way in the bible without searching the table of contents. You won’t hear them using words like abide or talk about sitting at Jesus’ feet or seeking his face. They don’t know the hymns of the church and, unlike the average church person, these men are very honest when they stand up to share in church.

All of them have come to us beaten down, in desperate need of a shower, clean clothes, a good sleep in a real bed and the consistency of three meals a day. There is more they need but that will come later. First, we tend to the physical. How will they hear the love of God if their stomachs growl with hunger?

“You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet.” William Booth, founder, The Salvation Army

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Many consider this a great opportunity we have to share Jesus with this group of men. I have found it to be more about them teaching me about grace.

“Jesus doesn’t belong to church people. But church people belong to Him, in Him, and through Him.” ― Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith

They are visible reminders that “Jesus doesn’t belong to church people.” This community reminds me The Church isn’t contained by walls or evidenced by steeples and crosses. This group of men, “tore up from the floor up” as one has said, are being called into the church family. Jesus is calling them just as they are, dope sick and hopeless.

If ministry is about us teaching and leading others, then we’ve made it about ourselves and not about serving God and letting him teach us through others.

This group teaches me to look past the outside. They have taught me compassion for the panhandler rather than contempt. They teach me to be honest about my feelings. They’ve taught me that when I accept help I’m helping another. They’ve shown me real discipleship through the 12 Steps. They remind me we can’t do life on our own.

Our congregation may be filled with people who don’t know much about church, but they are people who are learning how The Church can be Jesus to them.

faith Salvation Army

guest post by Heather Enright

Like a lot of little girls born to Bible belt parents, I’ve been in the church since I was in-utero. I did the gold star charts for memorizing Bible verses AND bringing your Bible. I did Sunday and Wednesday nights, church potlucks, WWJD bracelets, Psalty records and Carmen concerts.

Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.

Lately, things have been turned on their head. I realized  I’ve always wanted to do the right thing for the right thing’s sake not because I was passionately motivated by a genuine understanding of God’s love for me. I know Jesus loves me, I’ve sung the song my whole life.
But I’ve hung my hat on self-righteousness and never grasped grace. I’ve never really been amazed at what God has done for me. I’ve been more focused on what I’ve done for Him.

I’m finally getting it. I’m the sorriest of sinners who’s been trying to cover it all with my filthy rags of performance. I’m beginning to realize how desperately I need a Savior; how awestruck I should be at the gospel and humbled at the depth and height and width of God’s love for me.

And He knew it. So He came. Jesus came for me.

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Like a toddler on shaky legs, I’m focusing on one thing: to sit with Jesus and practice the discipline of posturing myself to listen and to accept His love. And in so doing, be changed.

Which means I’m leaving the church.

I’ll be there to assemble together and sing and worship and learn, but I’m leaving denominationalism. I’m leaving man’s traditions, man’s judgement and criticism. I’m leaving political agendas that drown out the love and grace of Christ. I’m desperate to teach my children how to throw themselves on the scandalous grace of their Savior rather than be rule followers caught up in legalism. I want them to have a relationship instead of  rituals. I want them to continue in his love, putting Christ at the center of their lives.

I’m no longer considering church to be where I sit for an hour on Sunday. Church is every moment of every day.

Church happens when you see a homeless person and buy them a meal.
Church happens when I put down my phone and connect with my kids.
Church happens when I allow myself to be inconvenienced for the sake of others.
Church happens when I am generous with my time, money, talents and abilities.
Church is when I answer the call and responsibility to go where He sends and love as He loves.

I’m not leaving the fellowship of broken people desperate for salvation and grace, for a love only God can provide through His only Son. I’m leaving the boxed in version of how I’ve defined church.

Church: It’s more than a 9:00 Sunday morning service.

heather headshotI’m Heather Enright. I’m an Army Brat and a Preacher’s Kid who somehow survived all those stereotypes. I’m married to my college sweetheart (Sic Em Bears!) and our three “babies” are now all taller than I am. I blog. I write. I create illustrative books (see Books section). I dream. And then I tend to talk myself out of chasing those dreams. But in all that I do, I’ve learned that I should be Clinging to the Vine. 

Follow Heather on social media:
Instagram @clingingtothevine
FB page: Clinging to the Vine
Twitter: @enrightheather1
Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/clingingtothevine

faith hope

There is a wide path between the ball fields and lake near our home. It is level and solid and straight. You can see clearly, making sure each step is firm.

My parents were my trusted guides on the path called life. They were ahead of me on the journey. They knew areas that could be tricky and they helped me navigate the way. They walked with with me and surrounded me with others who could support me on the journey.

My folks were leading the way to Jesus. Through their actions they made the way clear. Each of them had heard his call just as he called others when he walked the path of life. We read his story in the Bible. Jesus went up to fishermen and just said, “Follow me” and they did.

FernForest path

Through his story and his church, Jesus still calls out to us just as he called out to my parents and they chose to follow his path of service and compassion.

It’s not always a safe path. The walkway is sometimes cluttered with distractions and at times the way is dark. My feet have stumbled many a time but Jesus always seems to be there, at my side, ready to catch me in his arms.

It’s not that the Christian life is a treacherous journey. It’s that I run ahead when I know I should wait. My will takes over as I barrel through the expectations with pride as if I’m racing to a finish line that doesn’t exist. I end up exhausted and frustrated because this isn’t the way of love.

Yes, I can complicate this path when I veer off and stop looking at the guide that’s been prepared for us. The inspired word of God is always the best guide. His way is always the best way, the only way that leads to an abundant life of peace.

“Suddenly, God, your light floods my path, God drives out the darkness. I smash the bands of marauders, I vault the high fences. What a God! His road stretches straight and smooth. Every God-direction is road-tested. Everyone who runs toward him Makes it.” 2 Samuel 22:29-31 the Message

Linking up with Kate Motaung for Five-Minute Friday

faith family Five-Minute Friday

I remember the creaky, wooden benches; three or more connected together but also folded. These makeshift pews lined up on the hard floor of this old building that  today would be called a church plant.

There was a large picture of the founder of our denomination hanging in the activity room. With his long white beard, I thought he might also be Santa Clause. I was 4.

church pews

church founder
There was a lot of music in our church. Sometimes we clapped, women rattled their tambourines and daddy preached the sermon while I sat next to mama Sunday morning and Sunday night.

For all of my childhood, this would be church. The buildings would change but during those years church was a place.

Church was also the people in the building: the old women who met weekly making quilts for shut-ins or organizing potluck suppers; scouting groups taught young girls life skills, and music practice. Always music.

Richmond area historic church

Church was a place to meet, but more importantly, it was people.

“That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.” Ephesians 2:21-22 the Message

I put out an open call in a writing group I belong to for people to share their thoughts and experiences with The Church. Not their church but the church universal. Not all of our stories are good but God is working to redeem and restore his church through some unlikely people: us.

We’ll  feature some of their stories throughout the month hoping to engage in conversation about this ‘kingdom of faith‘. You may not agree with the writer and that’s okay. My beliefs are brought into sharper focus when they are challenged.

As you read the stories and experiences that will be shared, use the comment section to ask questions if you need clarity or to share words of encouragement when you sense that need. Read with a heart of grace knowing how imperfect the church can be because it’s made up of people like us. Read with hope and be challenged as to what God requires of us to be his church.

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organizations do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.” Aiden Wilson Tozer

For more study and biblical references about the church, click here.

faith hope

We came as visitors, in town for a pastors conference. We gathered at a true community center for Sunday morning church.

Her name was Shalene. Her hard ‘r’s’ and sweet tea accent made me think she’s native to this part of Georgia. She took the stage to lead the Praise and Worship part of the service. The name the church has given to songs played more on guitar than keys, where words are repeated and hands lifted.

I wondered if she was nervous. There were at least 50 uniformed visitors seated in front of her today, a good bit of us strangers I’d guess. But then we think the uniform makes us family and not strange, not in that sense of the word.

Her spirit of enthusiasm captured me as she led these two familiar songs wholeheartedly. I’m not sure how anyone could help but be compelled by her sincerity.

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There was the usual stuff that makes up our style of church meeting: hymn songs, scripture verses read, the collection plates passed through the aisles.

Not so typical in some denominations is the brass band. This smallish town had put together a nice little band, a few of the visitors sitting in to fill out the sound.

On ‘Happy Song’ a woman a couple of rows in front of us trilled the tambourine she was holding. I recognized the experienced way she held it, only letting the heel of her hand, that part of the lower thumb just above the wrist touch the hide of the instrument. She played it in the right spots and kept in still in the others. A pro knows when and when not.

A friend/co-worker/pastor/officer gave the sermon. He’d been here before. This was once his town to pastor and be the face of The Salvation Army. He’s a tall, southern speaking man himself with a voice as deep as a barrel and heart as big with a softened patina. ‘He done good’, they’d say.

The screen flashed the name “Freddy” someone was going to give the benediction. The man I’d only seen from behind as he waved the conductor’s baton leading the band, shuffled to the podium. He had to be in his 70’s I decided and his gait not one of ease.

“We love you Lord”, he started the prayer, “And we’re just so thankful you love us too.”

We don’t get to this part of the south much and maybe that’s how these folks are made up here. Their hearts are open and their words spilling such warmth and love all over us.

I was taken in by Shalene and Freddy. Blessed by these two everyday folks not part of a ministerial team but whose lives are about serving with a joy that is worn as new garments, all clean and begging one to ask, “Where you’d get that?”, because you wanted to wear it too.

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his is also The Salvation Army. Serving in places like Augusta, Georgia where every day folks take up the task of following Jesus and leading the way to joy.

faith Salvation Army

our babies; Tarquin, Fetz, Brockman, Durr, Wadenpfulh, Smith
1980 A modest church growth explosion courtesy of our young marrieds.

I love looking at this picture because it brings back memories of a special time in our lives. Our co-pastor at that time calls it their Camelot. These babies and preschooler’s remind me of the bonds of friendship shared and how it was expressed in fellowship with each other. We had bible studies in our homes, cookouts in the summer and a Christmas party where I tried requesting “no jeans” and took a lashing for that. When Ken showed up in his Orchestra tuxedo tails it was all worth it.

That’s our boy on the front row in blue. One of the three born in 1980 in that group. Our daughter in the back to the left of the blonde, the girl she always looked up to like an older sister. Julie was a lifeguard so Heather wanted to be a lifeguard. Julie played volleyball so Heather would play volleyball. Thank God Julie was, still is, a good role model putting God first in her life.

Hudson, Fetz, Wadenpfuhl

We parented each others littles and our foundation in community was being set.

And then someone moved, and another and another. A couple drifted away and the rest of us held close together. New people came along but it was never the same kind of bond. It was like a recipe you’d always made with butter but now margarine was being added. On the surface, you’d think it would be the same but it wasn’t. We weren’t the same. You can’t be the same when you’ve been fractured.

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Our ministry group with our pastors. I’m pretty hard to find so good luck.

The years have spread us all apart and few of us keep in touch. Were it not for Facebook and social media I doubt there’d be much contact between us. The years that have come between aren’t easily closed. Our lives have taken us in different directions though one thing I know (with the exception of one family who we’ve all lost track of) we’ve spent our lives following God. It looks different for each of us. We go to different churches, serve in different ways. But we serve the same God who brought us together for a few short years and built within us a foundation that has been shaken but not broken. Tried but strengthened and better for it all.

Salvation Army

We’re sort of old-fashioned that way. The way we close our Sunday worship time with an invitation to pray. Not the sit-in-your-seat-heads-bowed-eyes-closed kind of prayer. Well, that, yes, but also the kind of prayer that brings some people to the front of the chapel to kneel before God and their peers. That kind of old-fashioned invitation that isn’t always common these days. It’s not easy to make that walk. The one that has you making your way across the legs of the others on your row to walk down the aisle and lower your body in that position of humility that is nothing but strong.

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We came up this way, my husband and I. I remember daddy leading that final song on Sunday morning, so often it was ‘Just As I Am’ or “Have Thine Own Way”. The annual youth weekends with several hundred teenagers always had that Sunday morning altar call. We knew it was going to last for-ever and tried to volunteer someone to go forward to get this thing started because no one was leaving this room until someone went to that altar!

It was the same way at summer camp and Men’s camp and Women’s weekend: come, come forward and pray. 

In the traditional church setting weeks could go by with no one coming forward or the one little old person who knelt every week. But it’s different in this community of men fighting addictions of all kind. There is no hesitation when the word is given to come forward and pray for others, for yourself, bring your troubles and joys to God, here. At this mercy-seat.

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And they do. One after the other. I figure some are doing it thinking it might score some kind of points with “the Major”. It’s more show than heart but that’s not my concern. God will sort that out.

It was one of those weeks and Michael said it after the service when he turned to me and said, “There was power in here today”. Yes, there was. I felt it when the one I didn’t know stood to give testimony of God using another man to keep him from temptation. I felt the power in his weak voice as he struggled to tell of his fight for sobriety and I felt the power when so many men came forward to pray there was no room at the altar but they came anyway. That one came, on the platform to kneel, off to the side where a rail was covering some instruments. Another came with no place left to lean, and simply knelt in the middle of the floor. That position that could look weak to some, the body lowered to the floor, screams strength to me. God’s strength enabling them to bow without shame, and call on God.

Our prayers are heard from any position. Eyes open or closed. Head bowed or raised. Standing or sitting. Whispered or yelled or sung or silent. I’ve heard a man who would get overcome with laughter at times during prayer and John, John signs his spoken prayers.

Yes, there’s power when there’s prayer. All the time. All the time.

faith recovery Salvation Army