Sunday morning training

My husband and I are second row Baptists from way back. Our proclivity for the front isn’t due to some super spirituality on our part, despite the grain of truth of my occasional jest that I sit closest because my need is greatest.

No, we began sitting up front when our oldest was a mere babe in the nursery. All us young moms and dads crowded together there in the front few rows. Mind you this was way before text messaging and even before cell phones. So if there should there be a problem of some kind in the nursery requiring parental intervention, one of the nursery workers would motion to the required parental unit through the tiny window of the door at the front of the sanctuary.

So there we sat, we young parents, bound together in our common worry over our babies, attempting to pay attention to the sermon but in reality fixating on that small window and deciphering the hand signals to know if it is I who is needed or maybe it’s the mom to my right?

And it stuck, my husband and I sitting in the front, through the years of our babies in the nursery, then toddlers sharing our laps, then preschoolers, and beyond.

This past Sunday I tried to recall what it was like, on any given Sunday, to wrangle four sons into our second row pew and maintain some semblance of order and attention. To my shame, I can’t remember. Oh, I remember the occasional small detail, like my third falling asleep with his head lolling back and forth on the back of the pew or my second son loudly demanding upon walking into the sanctuary “How long is this going to take?!” with an exasperated sigh.

But, for the most part, the normal Sunday morning details elude me.

This makes me a little sad but it is also a comfort. I like to think I can’t recall the details because they were ordinary, common habit. Getting up, going to Sunday school, going to church, this was our Sunday morning routine, week in and week out. The details are elusive simply due to their ordinariness.

And yet, as most habits do, this one trained me.

My pastor preached from 1 Timothy 3 on Sunday, emphasizing the truth that Scriptures are useful for training in righteousness. Training carries with it the implication of learning, of discipline, of repetition. We understand this when we think in terms of some sort of physical training. For example, basketball players shoot hundreds of free throws in practice. This habit, this repetition, forms them.

Similarly, we don’t read, say, the gospel of Mark just once and declare we’ve got it, no need never read it again. Rather, we know we are to read the Bible repeatedly, to dig deep to mine its truths, to listen to sermons, to read books, to train. And this training, Paul writes to Timothy and to us, is critical for our righteousness, for our being formed into the image of Christ. In other words,we are being sanctified–we are being saved–by this training in the Scriptures.

I’ve been trained by my years of Sundays on the second row. I’ve heard the Word of God preached, week after week, and I’ve been convicted and confronted and–please Lord let it be–changed, by repeatedly hearing the gospel proclaimed. It has saved me; it saves me.

These same Sundays have trained me through the fellowship of likeminded believers who encourage me and befriend me and hold me accountable. The simple greeting of one another, our worshiping together in the house of God, our singing songs, and our eating together, this habitual, routine fellowship saves me and keeps me and forms me as well, sanctifying me by training me in the righteousness that is learned by iron sharpening iron. I learn from my brothers and sisters; they teach me how to persevere in hope (and joy!), how to cling to the Word as life, how to live like Jesus.

Our habits form us, whether we are speaking of brushing our teeth every night or going to church every Sunday. The habits we persist in carry with them implications for all of life. Simple, ordinary, habitual obedience will transform us into the image of Christ, from glory to glory, and this is work of the Spirit, glory to God.

I’m teaching this Sunday on Psalm 122, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!‘” Yes! I am a church girl through and through. I love the church. I need the church. I am grateful for the church. Yes and amen.


It takes a village

As many of you know, we had a wedding in our family last summer. In fact, my son and his sweet bride celebrate six months (!) of wedded bliss today. 

The wedding didn’t get much coverage here on the blog but, hey, nothing’s getting much coverage on the blog. However, today as I was poking around on my laptop and uncovered a few draft posts in a word document, I found the following unpublished post and thought I’d share. I’m so very thankful for those who bless me as stewards of God’s varied grace and I honor them today.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about weddings in general and my gig as mother of the groom, it’s this: weddings take a village.

The responsibility as mother of the groom is, admittedly, far less involved than that of the mother of the bride but I have to tell you, even with the lesser load I could not have pulled it off without a little help from my friends.

My main duty as mother of the groom included planning and hosting the rehearsal dinner. One friend lent me her beautiful tablecloths and toppers; another friend catered the desserts; yet another friend helped with setting up and arranging the room. My neighbor gave me free reign to cut some of her gorgeous hydrangeas for the table arrangements.

During the meal itself I had friends who filled cups with ice, refilled the tea dispensers, replenished the food in the serving bowls, and kept the cheese dip from burning. The evening was all the more beautiful thanks to the efforts of my sister who can take pebbles, candles, and succulents, as well as a stack of black chargers, and make a memorable evening stunningly gorgeous.

A friend made chicken salad for our house party to have here for lunch as well as sausage balls and cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Another friend dropped by with a plate of deli sandwiches.

Hear me when I say I could not have survived the weekend, certainly not as well fed or with as little stress, without the care and support of others.

When my husband wrecked his bicycle a few years ago and was in a wheelchair for eight weeks, we were the humble recipients of a similar outpouring of help. Naturally the circumstances could not have been more different but both remind me of how critically we need each other and how beautiful it is when the church serves one another as stewards of God’s varied grace.

Some of us have tablecloths to share and in our generosity we can minister to others. Some of us make chicken salad and sausage balls and so exercise hospitality. Others of us devote their culinary skills to bless others, with chocolate for example, yes and amen, and thus make the world a happier place. Some of us like my sister leave beauty in their wake and bring joy and happiness to the rest of us, especially those among us who can’t even.

A friend remarked on the success of the dinner and I could only give credit where credit was due: the caterers, my friends, my sister. If it were up to me, I admitted, we would have still enjoyed the delicious meal but I would have probably just stacked some paper plates at the end of the buffet line and considered my duty done. Not that I don’t appreciate beautiful décor, sometimes I just would rather not fool with it.

I am grateful for those who do. I know that the more “prominent” gifts-teaching and preaching and the like-are sometimes assumed to have more worth and those of us who exercise them may seem the more spiritual. This is baloney and I say that as one who teaches.

Generosity, hospitality, service, these too are important and critical in the life of the church and in the proclamation of the kingdom. I esteem those of you who exercise these gifts with grace and generosity in the joyous service of our Savior. Thank you.

A martyr’s pose, a burden, and a call to serve

My church has various community groups that meet on Sunday nights in homes for food, instruction, and, of course, community. Five classes are offered in the course of a year, each set in an eight-week rotation. The children have their meal and instruction at the church building and their teachers rotate each 8 weeks.

Yeah, it’s complicated but it works.

I am currently three weeks into my eight week children’s teaching responsibility. I have lamented loud and often over my dislike of teaching children, criticized teachers whose groups run late and whose participants are thus late in picking up their kids, and just generally whined and cried all the while striking a rather dramatic martyr’s pose.

Just keepin’ it real.

Something my husband said to me recently drew me up short and made me realize for all my disdain, I had been given both a privilege and an opportunity—one I had actually volunteered for, mind you—even if it wasn’t the sort of privilege and opportunity I most enjoyed. I’ve always maintained that I will rock the babies during my turn in the nursery and, yes, teach the children (for eight weeks a year, mind you) because someone once rocked my babies and taught my children, affording me the opportunity of a few moments’ peace and an uninterrupted among grown ups, yes and amen. In other words, I always thought I was serving the moms and I do.

I also serve the children. Sure, they interrupt me when I’m talking and they can’t remember one week’s lesson from the next and they surely would prefer a funner and funnier teacher (I would!). Hello, I don’t even do crafts.

But I do have a burden: Biblical literacy. Thus what motivates me to teach women on Sunday mornings in Sunday school and on Tuesdays in Bible study also motivates me to teach children on Sunday evenings. So every lesson I emphasize the following points:

  • Everyone has a Bible in front of them. We work together to find the correct passage and we read it together. We rejoice in the incredible, amazing privilege we have to read and hear God’s Word for ourselves!
  • We pray before our lesson because we acknowledge that God is the author of His Word and we need His Spirit to help us understand. We want to know more about Jesus, about the gospel, about God, about ourselves, and about the Bible. These things are spiritually understood and we need the guidance of the Spirit so we prayerfully and humbly ask.

These are simple truths but they are truths that I didn’t fully grasp until I was an adult and once I did, my spiritual life was radically changed. My passion is for others to see the beauty of God in Christ as revealed in His living Word. May the Lord do so and more in the lives of the children who must suffer my teaching on Sunday evenings!

I know that we all want to serve in ways we most enjoy. Sometimes we get to; sometimes, however, the need lies in the sort of service that tries our patience and exposes our arrogance. I am ashamed of those times in my life. Let me save you the same heartache and remind you: it is our privilege to serve others as Christ served His disciples, on His knees washing their feet.

I daresay your church is like mine and is in need of willing volunteers, particularly in children’s ministry. If you belong to the Lord Jesus then you have a message to share and a story to tell and, whether you are a man or a woman, whether you feel gifted or called, the next generation needs to hear them. My story is not your story, thankfully, but all our stories fit together in the grand, glorious Story of grace and redemption found only in Jesus Christ. May you find a need and fill it, serving others as you have been served!

Unless the Lord builds

Not quite seven years ago, my friend and I sat on my back porch discussing Psalm 127. I was presumably mentoring her but I was so shell-shocked at the time, and so very heartbroken, I really think it was she mentoring me. In fact, it is probably still she mentoring me to this day though she has since moved. Thanks to the wonders of technology she is only a text message away and I find myself often seeking advice and opinion and perspective.

At the time of our mentoring discussion, our church was in its very early stages. Psalm 127:1 was particularly applicable: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” How much we wanted the Lord’s blessing in this, the building of His church! How we begged for His work, not ours! We prayed together that day, my friend and I, and asked the Lord for those very requests.

My church began on a hot July day seven years ago in another friend’s driveway. Actually, I suppose you might say it began a Sunday night a couple of weeks before that when a bunch of us crammed onto my back porch in a swell of grief and shock. But it was there, on that July day, all of us fanning, kids wandering between the lawn chairs, the decision, the leap of faith as it were, was made.

We met first in a large conference room at my husband’s office, borrowing chairs from another church and setting up a makeshift nursery in one of the empty offices. It wasn’t long before we were able to rent a converted insurance office space large enough for our corporate gathering. We eventually rented three units in that same complex and there we have met for worship and Sunday school and fellowships and bridal teas and Vacation Bible Schools and all the other functions and privileges of church life over the past seven years.

However, this past Sunday we bid good bye to our “storefront” meeting space and we have spent this week moving chairs and desks and tables and bookcases and sound systems and everything else to our new church building.

Our building. Ours.

When we first began, a beautiful building with cedar columns and stone accents and gorgeous stained concrete floors was the very last thing on our mind. Sure, we would have liked a sink to make kool-aid and maybe some green space, but, really, as we brainstormed church names and drafted a church covenant and googled statements of faith, our overarching desire was to build a church, not a building, but a church and to do so together, according to the pleasure and provision of the Lord.

This week as we were sorting things to be moved and other things to be given away, my friend and I were surveying the pile of giveaway items. We realized we each had things we had donated, me a pack and play and a toy box and a few other nursery items, she various other things needed and necessary when the church is new and the budget small. She laughed and said, “We just kind of all threw our stuff and whatever we had in together didn’t we?”

That’s exactly what we did. We threw our lot in together seven years ago, for better or worse, richer or poorer. We had no idea where the Lord would lead or how He would provide. We loved each other and we loved the Lord and to us that was enough. The Lord would build the rest.

And so He did.

This Sunday we will worship together in a building the Lord in His rich and abundant grace has provided. We will humbly, gratefully acknowledge Him as we rejoice in His faithfulness to us. We know that unless the Lord builds it, we have labored in vain. We believe this is the Lord’s work. We have seen His hand, we have known His faithfulness, we are recipients of His mercy and His grace.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.