Today I am having one of those days when I am stressed about everything. Ok ... I am having a few days of stress! Taking a look at my calendar I narrowed it down to two factors: finances and how I cannot get to the gym.
I am sure that you may have a similar issue every now and again. You become really stressed and it affects how your mood in such away that you feel like you just can't get anything done today. The root of this is worry (insert your favorite, or often heard, Scriptures about not worrying here ...). I can read about how not to worry all day long, but I still worry. I need practical helps to get me through, so I hope these help you:
1. Make space
If you often worry, then you know that you are going to spend half the day wasting time going to and fro in your house doing little things - things that you just do because you need to feel like you are doing something. The "make space" idea is to realize that since your going to waste time anyway, turn that time into some productive thinking.
Sit down at a table somewhere and get out your planner (calendar), or get a sheet of paper because you're going to make a list. I avoided making lists and organizing my thoughts for a long time but trust me it helps. You can organize your thoughts any number of ways but the planner (calendar) works for me. The first thing I do is put down when the bills are due and when my wife and I get paid. Right off the bat I can see when I am actually going to have money (you know, that one moment you get paid before it all goes away - anyone have $120k they want to donate?!). But at least I know when those things need to be in.
I do the same thing for tasks and meetings.
What this does for me, is shows me what I can now prioritize for today, and I know what I can actually get done today. Admittedly I do stress about thing still but I am beginning to get an idea of what I can start "checking off."
I have this as step two because you can't really prioritize in a practical way until you get your schedule figured out. Now that I have my schedule figured out, I now know when I can do the things I really want to do - like figuring out when I can actually go to the gym. This week I am finding that in order to get things done, I just can't go to the gym. But I can do things at home. Doing things at home is outside of my 'routine,' and that is causing me stress. The gym is a priority for me, and it's high on the list. But in terms of need, going to the gym is NOT high on the need list.
3. Decide what is a need and what is a priority
This may seem strange because some of you may think that prioritize are needs. In my mind they are not. I attach some pretty high emotions to priorities, and that is what causes me some undue stress. Thank God for bringing me to that realization! When I look at my task list (now that I know when the bills will be paid) I look at what actually needs to get done. The gym does not need to get done when the task list is long. But it still is a priority. So here I need to re-frame that thought.
The gym is a priority for me. No. EXERCISE is a priority for me. EXERCISE can take various forms. It is ok to workout at home.
I know, that looks kinda dumb, but for my brain it works and makes me feel better! Also, I can do a home workout in such a way that I get a good workout in where I do feel like I have accomplished something good for my body - not just did something. The home workout is also much shorter than a gym workout would be (minutes verses an hour or two).
4. Organize your day
Now that your thoughts are out on paper and out of your brain, you can literally see what you have to do. If you use a planner, you can see when you'll have time to get things done. So block out your needs/tasks and priorities for one week with realistic goals. Think about how long things actually take you, and include some time for recouping or rest. Don't give yourself too much in a day because you know all that is going to do is stress you out!
After you organize your day get to it! Don't sit there and start thinking about everything all at once again because that will cause the downward spiral into worry. You have all the information in front of you now, and you can get started on the things that you need to do. After you get those things done, you will find that some of your priorities will be accomplished too - like a secondary muscle.
Now I feel like I can drop a Scripture quote where it will be a little more meaningful: Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Interestingly, this verse in context has to do with financial peace ... God used to be a priority for me, and now God is a need for me. Seek God first, everything else will eventually fall into place. When you make your list, but God first at the top, and God last at the bottom; that way you can see that God has everything under His control, which leads me to my very last point -
5. Give it all to God
After you do your lists and get your head right, stop and pray. We are stressing about things from our own perspective, but we still need God's. So pray for His Eternal perspective and be comforted by the fact that God has you in the palm of His hand.
Things will work out.
Reflecting on last week's blog post, I started thinking more about my own experiences with visiting churches and stories I have heard from others over the years when it comes to the people you often engage with in those first few visits. Chances are you might expect some kind of greeter who stands just inside the door of a church that you have to shake hands with. More often than not that is the case, but I have been to churches that do not have any kind of greeter (or they show up just before service starts) and have milled around wondering what to do or where to sit.
When that happens you are bound to run into a person or two who are wondering who you are - and here is where those engagements can become "interesting." So here are some quick thoughts on the types of people that you may meet, but what I have to say at the end of this post is important to remember ...
Negative aspects you might expect:
Stand-offish - don’t sit in my pew
I think most people would assume that when they walk into a church they know that they are likely to end up sitting in "someone's pew seat." Notice how I highlighted "pew." I think churches in most communities still have pews. If you are in a small city you may have a church or two that has replaced the pews with chairs - but the idea is still there of sitting in someone's place.
I mean, when you think about it, how many times have you said "I hope I didn't take anyone's seat" when you meet the pastor of a church you are visiting? It is almost automatic!
The reality is that for the most part, people are glad that you are there. If you offend someone by taking their seat, they are not representative of the church as a whole. So keep that in mind!
You might assume that people in a church (generally speaking) are close minded to new ideas or new things happening. I think the first thing you might want to recognize is that when it comes to practical, material things, the church may not have the funds to meet modern / contemporary preferences for worship. Also, most people in churches (unfortunately) have not learned how to communicate what and why they believe. More often than not, people will say "you should talk to the pastor." My hope is that you will visit a church and speak with a few people and be able to comprehend who has a "servants heart" and seems to be able to give some kind of an account of what God has done in his/her life.
The reality is that most churches have the people that know Jesus and what God has done in their life, but they may not have spoken "their story" in a long time. Hopefully the church you visit has some kind of "fellowship hour" after church so that you can sit with the person who interests you so that you can talk to them about the church and what their particular part has been in that church. I have no doubt that the person would love to sit and talk with you.
You might expect one or two folks to be a little too excited that you are visiting the church. I've actually had someone say, "it is so nice to have a young person here, we would love to get a youth group going." I felt like my time at that church was already planned out! I seem to remember too, a lady almost dragging me to one of those fellowship hours to meet everyone she knew.
The reality is that in most churches, people are not pushy. In fact, they try very hard to be the exact opposite of pushy. They don't want to scare you away!
So here is the thing that I want you to remember if you are visiting a church or various churches. Most people there are on a journey in their faith, and will be at different stages of the journey. It doesn't matter how long a person has been going to the church, what matters is how they've progressed on their journey. What this means is that you may meet someone that has been to the church for a long time, but is still "young" when it comes to understanding the Christian faith. You may meet someone there that has been to the church for only a couple years but seems to have things in order and be further along in their journey.
Now the journey I am talking about is much like the journey of Emmaus. There were two disciples who thought Jesus was dead but they were, in fact, walking with Jesus that whole time and Jesus opened their eyes at the end of the story over a meal. We are all on that journey, and Jesus is opening our eyes in different ways.
Last week I talked about getting yourself into the door of a gym or church, and three ideas to think about when resolving to do so. This post is a follow-up to that one, and here I am thinking about ideas to consider when you are attending a bit more regularly. You are beyond just getting in the door, but are now a bit more comfortable with the surroundings: you know your machines, where to stretch, which piece of cardio equipment you use (or avoid), and have a general idea of who shows up at what time; in the church you have found out who does what, who sits where, who to talk to (and who to avoid), and have a sense of the church's mission.
My hope is that you have found a church that has authentic worship, small groups, and mission/ministries in the community or for the community that you can be involved with. Unfortunately many smaller towns have churches that are ... well ... struggling. I am going to be speaking about those small churches that may seem to have older congregations and fewer ministries. In fact, if you are just starting to attend a church you may be at the bigger one's with a wood pallet background and track lighting, but I want to encourage you to consider the churches I am talking about in this blog post.
These churches are like small gyms. They have all the right equipment, but some of it may be outdated. It still works, but might need some slight adjusting to bring about the results they were bringing and producing in the past. I like smaller gyms because I don't feel like I am getting swallowed up by all the options and all the people I do not know - or need to make small talk with!
So I am going to give you a "fly on the wall" view into what many churches are going through so that you can understand how to be a help.
I am going to overgeneralize here, and some of this is "tongue-and-cheek," meaning that I am over-exaggerating to make a point.
Most of the small churches you may visit or that are in your area are concerned about programs and the building. The building will have some issues, there will be outdated materials, there will be classrooms that haven't been used, etc etc. There will be a piano/organist, perhaps a couple to a few people in a choir, maybe someone that plays guitar, old hymn books, older people dressed in suits or nice clothes (Sunday best), pews and not chairs, and one or two grandchildren running around getting an icy stare or two. There will be one or two people that are "in charge" and he/she or they are not the pastor.
No doubt for a few years (or more) the conversations are revolving around keeping the one program alive that seems to reach people (and may only be reaching a handful), keeping people on the committees - particularly the trustees - and how there are fewer and fewer people, the people that come don't stay, and there may be talk about closing the church down during the winter to save money.
Okay, I have painted a pretty bleak picture here haven't I? The truth is that what I wrote above will not be in every church, nor will everything I wrote about be in one particular church. But most of the small rural churches will be facing those issues at some point. So what does this have to do with you? Why would you go to a church that is facing these problems?
God might have it in His plans for that church to use you to bring the momentum for revitalization. You will bring fresh perspectives, ideas, and energy. And guess what!? It wont' be received well - at first. Relationships run two ways - you need to learn about the people in the church, but the people in the church need to also learn about you. Understand here, I am not advocating for a way for you to come into a church an manipulate things in order to achieve some kind of legacy. What I am doing is letting you know that God has a purpose for you that you may not have ever considered before, especially if you are seeking to understand more about Him and all this seems like the "typical church issue" stuff you here about.
But you are needed.
Remember, we are all on a journey, and your part in this journey might to be run up the road a bit and catch up to some folks that might be too focused on how they are walking and how much their feet hurt, rather than on the people they are walking with.
Learning as they go
Like I said in the previous post, you will be learning as you go. Many of these churches are doing the same. At one time in its history, the particular church you might be attending (or thinking about) was making disciples. It was a full church. Now, many of the people in that church are thinking about those times and trying to figure out how to get there again, but they don't know how.
This is where you come in.
But no doubt you are thinking, "I don't know what to do! I'm not a pastor or churchy person!" But you do have needs, and you can tell the church that they have the ability to meet a need you have, and others in that community might need the same things. What is it? Do you wish to learn? Ask them if they have a Bible Study or group that discusses Biblical things. Are you struggling with something? Find someone in the church that you seem to be getting along with and ask them to meet at a local diner and start having discussions with them. Tell them why you are meeting with them and if the conversation goes well, plan to meet regularly.
This will inject new life into the church, and it will begin a journey into discipleship once again in that church.
I'm telling you, it doesn't have to be complicated. Just allow God's Spirit to move. Learn to trust those things that seem to be pressing on you, on your spirit - those things that make you slightly nervous and stupid for thinking about it. It might be God telling you to step out because He has something in mind.
All churches have hope - hope that someone will come along to help them, hope that something will kick-start the 'fire' in that church again. If you have found a place where you think you might be cared for ... then start thinking about how you can care for the people there too. Again, they will likely resist at first, but there are people there who will appreciate who you are and welcome you into "their" church.
You don't know it now, but you are an answer to someone's prayer in that church.
When we learn to trust in God, amazing things begin to happen. But those things don't happen overnight. It will take months. That's right. MONTHS. It's just like starting to go to the gym to get healthier - it takes months. It is the same with your spiritual life. You may be spiritually unfit right now. But you will be fit in a few months. In a few days you'll start to feel different, in a few months you will start being different. Imagine what a few years will bring, and what a few years could bring that church God is calling you to.
One of my guilty pleasures is to watch the Epic Fail workout videos on youtube. I am sure that there are probably some parodies out there for first time, or returning, church experiences. I know that whether it is a church or a gym that there are many people who don't want to start going simply because they don't know what to do after they get through some door that may or may not be the right door to enter through!
So here are three short thoughts I have when it comes to the idea of coming to church, or to the gym, for the first time:
1. You don’t know what you don’t know - deal with it
You may not know where to go to enter the building, you may not know what to do when you first walk in, and you may not know where to sit or get started. I have no doubt that this is the reason why the "front door" of churches are now considered to be the website - I know that's the first thing I look at for a church!
But when it comes time to actually go I would encourage at least two things: 1) go with someone else, preferably someone who already attends; 2) just "gird up and go." Sometimes you just might need to put your adult pants on and get to it. Just like with the gym, going to church can be an awkward experience because you do not know what to do. Don't worry! You'll figure it out.
Now, will you run into the 'regulars' who might get annoyed at you for their perception that you are in their way? Yep. Unfortunately you will always run into those people. But those people are the very small minority. 99% of the other folks in the church love it that you are there, and may feel a bit awkward coming to say "hi" because that may be unsure of what you want and what would make you feel comfortable. Not the other way around!
And if you don't know something .... ask!
2. Learn as you go
Asking brings me to the second item. As you attend you ought to pick up on some things - but really the church should be doing what it can to teach throughout the service as well. I wouldn't doubt that most people in the church have no idea why things are done the way they are, they just do it.
Ask questions. Observe.
There will be some things that seem big to you that might be pretty insignificant in the member's view. Ask questions, but also offer up why you are asking. Trust me this helps a lot.
You are not getting in the way. You are not being bothersome. If someone reacts to you in a way that makes you feel that why, congratulations! You found the 1% of the people in the church who are crabby. Now, move on to the next person and have a delightful conversation.
3. Be helped, and help others
There will come a time, soon after you start attending, where you will be considered a "regular attender." This is a great time to become a greeter or person who welcomes guests. The feeling of being at the church for the first time, and what you experienced, is fresh in your mind. What a great time to start helping others who are visiting! You know how they feel, you know what they might be thinking, and you know who you don't want them to run into first! So be that first person!
It's the same in they gym. I am always looking for those regular people who seem to have servant hearts. They are the ones picking up weights, cleaning machines off (who don't work there), people who are doing those "good" things that you think ought to be done. It is the same in church. You will see people milling around doing various things. Some are talking and having a great time, others might be cleaning up a bit.
If you are a person that feels like you need to do something then ask to help in whatever it is you feel comfortable doing. In that is the beginning of a discipleship journey that can and will lead to some significant transformation in your life.
So do not worry, just get up and get in there!
I hope everyone had a great Christmas!
I can't believe it has been a whole month (more) since I last blogged. But with all that is going on at the church, I am not surprised either. I am looking forward to more consistency with this blog in the future. So keep checking in!
Being in a smaller gym, I get to know the people I see every day and we begin to have conversations. Much of the time it starts with the common goal of exercise, but quickly evolves into more casual, personal conversation. Church should be this easy where people gather for a common goal and purpose, and encourage one another onward. Is your church like this?
Churches like this are often referred to in two ways, one positive and the other ... not so much. The positive way of referring to a church that embodies community is sometimes called a "church of small groups." This is a church that promotes and encourages growth through mutual accountability in small groups. These small groups are based around common interest but all have the main idea of being a place for people to gather together for fun and mutual encouragement to be grace-filled ambassadors.
The negative way of referring to a church that is about community can be referred to as "ingrown," "inward focused," or "clicky." The difference in the positive referral is that those small groups have the idea that there is room for inviting others in ... continually. In fact, there is also the idea that there is a handing off of responsibilities where people come to be able to lead their own groups after a time.
This is a little like going into a gym, getting to know the machines and exercises, seeing results, getting good at nutrition, being guided by a trainer, and then you begin helping others with what you know. You don't have to be a certified personal trainer to help someone get started. You, through camaraderie and relationship, begin to help someone who might be struggling to get started or get over some initial "humps" in their workouts or those "pits" we fall into when we aren't emotionally "there."
In the coming weeks, we'll be starting a Bible Study group, and a couple months after that a Small Group Study. Some church don't like to use those terms because people can be turned off by them. Well I'm sorry, but if you are turned off by those titles then you aren't ready for the next step in your relationship with Jesus Christ in community with others who are. And that's ok. Take your time and let the Holy Spirit move in your heart. When you're ready, you won't care about titles. I also won't worry about calling them fancy names to trick you into thinking they are something other than what might be presented. We'll be studying the Bible in one group, and in the other encouraging one another through certain acts of grace to experience God in new ways in ... you guessed it, a small group!
Keep an eye out of your local. We'd love to have you!
Two steps forward, three steps back.
Just get going and something knocks you off course.
Get to the cellar and then you have to pee.
Those moments just kind of creep up on you. Your doing great and then suddenly - BOOM, you feel like you're "in the pits" again. Naturally the same can be true of exercise and the spiritual life. We all aim for those mountain top experiences. Many people leave the church, and probably the gym, when the daily grind become too much. We want things to happen quickly, and we want to be amazed all the time.
Life just isn't like that ... #srynotsry.
Life is the daily grind. Life is getting up and getting "to it" every day. The pit falls are just going to come. They can be financial, physical, emotional, etc. but they will come. This is just telling you the reality (one you already know). I'm not being a "negative nancy," just setting the ground work for awesome.
So here is the awesome.
The daily grind leads to each moment we long for, and they come just as suddenly as the pitfalls. Those moments are like: when we are happy with the results we see in the mirror, when someone tells us that we have changed for the better, when we become financially free all together or pay off a bill, when we receive a diploma, trophy, award, etc for hard work, or when we land the job we've always wanted and cease to "work" and do what we love.
You don't get to those moments without trudging through the daily grind and getting out of the pits.
I find Philippians 3.12-21 helpful. Paul has the humility to recognize that he needs to keep going in order to receive eternal life. And guess when eternal life comes? At death. Boom. That's right, but is straining to live towards the glorious day when he dies, and is living each day toward one end - eternity. He is not sitting back and waiting because he is "saved," no. He is becoming more every day.
We can do the same. And when we have Christ, he strengthens us when we hit those pits. He brings us up out of them, and sets us back on the path the leads to greater things.
So press on through the daily grind and do not be idle. Keep going!
Some "weekly" musings from Pastor Dave as he sits on his porch and drinks coffee, thinking about theology and lifting heavy weights. For gymsharks, there is something called "Flex Fridays," where we vainly put up photos of ourselves flexing. So this blog is my attempt to flex my theological muscles through reflection ... get it?