Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Sunday Struggle or Why It's Really Hard to Go to Church

Most Sundays (nearly all of them) I really don't like going to church. I would rather do anything else. Sit around in my pajamas, eat a second breakfast, go shop, or just putz around. 

Some of you are shocked I know, but there are a lot of you Christians (you know who you are) who feel my pain, and experience the same Sunday struggle. 

My reasons for not wanting to go to church are quite often created at the last minute and really not substantial; I am tired, I have nothing to wear, I have to get my child ready, and go on my own, because my husband is a part of the service (when I married a minister it made skipping more 
Just Climbing the Steps looks Scary!

But sometimes there are real things about church which can make it a real challenge. You have to see a certain person who will annoy you, people will ask you to do things for them, they may make you stand-up and talk, ask you to serve in some way, and it’s confusing, if not downright intimidating. Why are they kneeling? How do I dip my wafer in the cup? They may ask for your money, you will have to be friendly and kind when you don’t feel it, the message of the preacher will challenge you or make you uncomfortable, the minister’s flaws, inadequacies, or comments drive you crazy, those around you will promote certain political or social beliefs that greatly offend you, sometimes a brother or sister will say something rude, they might shush your children, judge your outfit, or any number of little sinful things.  Some of us have had very hurtful experiences in church or Christian community (and this not a laughing matter and one that God takes very seriously) that make it challenging to return. All of these are real reasons that make church difficult and they happen all the time. 

After I had my “come-to-Jesus” moment I had this nagging thought I should go to church again. It would not go away, but finally, I went and Oh, Lord! How I judged those poor people. They were so not cool. I couldn’t believe I was in their company. I often thought, “This is lame. I should go.” Now, please don’t stop reading here! I don’t want my husband to get fired.  
If church can be a real drag, why do we go? There are a lot of great theological reasons, so I will focus on one. Church is a crucifixion of the flesh. We go because it is what Jesus desires for us and his people, and as Christians, it’s not about our wants but his. We go because we love him and going to church is a way to show that love. 
And we find that, at church, Jesus has very different standards for his people than we do. He seems to never be offended by how uncool, annoying, flawed, or remedial their theology may be. He seems to know that when we are challenged, put-on, or rubbed the wrong way, we are molded into more loving, generous, and humble people, people who can love those who are different, those who undesirable, or challenging. People that are more like him. 

Worship Service at Trinity - I came a long way from the early days!
After a time of forcing myself to go to church and judging the people around me, one of them, an elderly lady came-up to me and handed me a newspaper article she had cut-out entitled, “Soul Friend.” “This is how I think of you,” she said putting her arm around my waist. “You are a wonderful young lady.” This is how she thought of me and how I had judged her, how I had judged them all. In that moment, I realized I was not so much worthy to tie her sandals. I realized that I was the annoying, judgmental, and undesirable one. That they wanted me there in the first place was a freaking miracle, one that reflects that miraculous love of God, which as we know, is also completely irrational, unmerited, unearned, but freely given to undesirables. That she had thought of me enough during her week and cut out this little piece of paper for me, was just too much. This same church months later, supported me - the great offender and moralizer - the whole time I was in seminary.
That was about six years ago and I am still changing my attitude about church. It seems when I go when I don’t want too miraculous things happen, not all the time, but they definitely do. When we crucify our flesh we see God, and sometimes, not always, when I am at church, I feel the gates of heaven open. The singing, the coming together, the taking of God’s sacraments, are theophanous – a divine encounter. And we are part of that heavenly choir, all worshipping the Father and truly, I am not kidding, the people around me are transformed. They appear to have a dignity, nobility, and grace that I had not previously noticed and we are God’s people together. God is in his Holy Temple and his sweet, life-giving presence is making all things new. 

I leave the service, and my heart is lighter, I am elevated, I have been blessed by the presence of Christ in his people, and I may share that love with my brothers and sisters. We embrace, we share encouragements, garden vegetables, hand - me - down baby clothes, and we share our pains and joys. And when I leave, I often think, “We’ll its probably good I went today.”
Praise God for his holy church, warts and all. After all, who am I to judge it, when he died for it, and they actually allow someone like yours truly to be a part of it.
This is an important topic, one that I barely scratched the surface of. Greater minds than I have tackled it, so I encourage us all to keeping thinking about why do we go to church? Here's an interesting link by the Fr. Barron

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guest Post: Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders "Being a Dad"

I asked my dad, Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders, to write about Fatherhood, because not only is he a tremendous dad, but I thought that many of us would benefit from his thirty-seven years of wisdom and experience. This post is helpful to not only, fathers, but also, mothers, and those who may not have their own children, but are spiritual moms and dads. What I like best about Dad's ideas, is the affirmation that with the help, healing, and love of Jesus, anyone can be a great parent. Truly, anyone! Please read, share, and enjoy! Blessings, Lilly
Being a Dad

Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders

By the time I was a young adult I knew that I would probably not be able to be a good dad, and then, when I heard about the healing power of Christ, I at once took the opportunity to begin a process of healing my broken heart.  This involved committing myself to Jesus and his way of life, forgiving those who had done me wrong, asking forgiveness for my wrongs, receiving laying-on-of-hands to place upon the Lord Jesus the painful things that had happened to me, confession of my sins before a trusted and mature Christian and efforts to repent, frequent deliverance from evil spirits as they emerged in my soul, fellowship with others of like mind, weekly worship and communion, study and daily prayer.  After an intensive period of some eighteen months, similar to the catechumenate of the ancient church, I, at last, was free of the worst of the terrible things that had afflicted me since childhood.  After that it became possible to love my wife.  Before that, we had separated and I had acted unfairly. 

Some years later, after receiving the great saving doctrine of justification by grace received in faith, I began, for the first time in my life to receive deep impressions of the Father’s love.  Above all, this occurred in the Holy Eucharist.  Until then, in spite of all that Jesus had done for me, I had never experienced the love of the Father.  Once that happened, I had the foundation for being a father.

Our first child was born in 1977, and five and one-half years later, our second child was born.  By the grace of God these were wonderful children in every way, and we were very, very blessed to have such beautiful daughters. Although their winsome natures made them so easy to love, there were certain things that I learned which were helpful in enabling my wife and me to give them the kind of home they needed. 

Dad and my daughter Lydia
First, we brought the healing process outlined above into our family life.  Within this process, forgiving and asking forgiveness are especially important, together with all the ministries that can be found in a vital church.  That was the foundation.  Within that context, here are a few additional ideas. 

Children are profoundly affected by words and deeds.  They need to be held, helped, and told they are loved.  This need is daily, something parents can do each day.  When the parents rejoice in their children and are delighted by them, they are especially affirmed.  Rejoicing in one’s children is a gift from God, and it is good to seek God’s continual help in this regard.  When a child knows that she or he is wanted, a source of joy and love, then they will flourish.  This is vital, and it can only be done by taking the time to be with them and by seeking God’s help. 
Also, it is important to recognize that a child is a child.  When young, children have limited abilities.  They cry and get upset rather easily, and they cannot be expected at a very early age to do chores, keep quiet, and take care of themselves.  They need to be treated with love and affirmation, and in terms of expectations, only ask of them things that are within their capabilities.  As they grow up, they can assume greater responsibility.  Prayer and discernment can help a parent understand how to guide a child into living more responsibly as they become more capable.  This is not always easy, and every parent will make mistakes and wrong their children, but then, as Scripture says, love covers a multitude of sins.
Each child is different.  It is good to listen to them, do projects with them, play with them, and learn what they like to do and do it with them.  Some of this can, at times, be rather tedious for an adult, but for the child, it can be a great source of happiness to have a parent who spends time with them doing what they enjoy.  Also, given that each child is different, it is not wise to treat them all alike.  This also requires discernment.  At certain periods of life, one child will require more attention than another, and this is to be expected.  As they grow older, and if they are loved, children can understand this and learn to forgive any inequities that may occur along the way. 

It is good to pray with children and pray at their level.  For example, one evening when one of my daughters was six, she became very upset because she had forgotten her math book and did not have the assignment ready for the next day.  I told her that God would help her and immediately we prayed that God would take care of it.  The next day, the teacher did not take up the assignment as expected.  That evening, my daughter brought home the math book and did the assignment.  That first night I did not tell her that God might let her suffer the consequences of her forgetting her book.  Given her emotional state, I simply prayed at her level, asking God to deliver her from something that frightened her.  When the teacher did not ask for the homework, she saw that God was indeed taking care of her.  This experience and many others taught both our daughters that God loved them.  Later, if one of them forgot a math book and we prayed and the teacher collected the assignment the next day, then we could explain that God was teaching them to be responsible and bring home the book.  No desire of a child is insignificant to God, and he answers prayers according to a child’s mind.  He does the same for adults. 

It is also good to lay hands on children and pray for protection and physical healing, for the healing of their hearts, and any other trouble that might affect them as life goes on.  My daughters are now in their thirties, and both of them frequently ask me to pray for them and help them with various needs.  They do this because they both know that so many times when I prayed God helped them, sometimes rather dramatically. 

All parents have disagreements about how to raise children, manage finances, guide and discipline, and a host of other issues.  Among Christians, there are differences of opinion on how to resolve these matters.  As a dad, I thought that I needed to take the lead in spiritual matters by sacrificing my desires for my wife and children the way Christ sacrificed himself on the cross, gaining respect by acts of service and setting a good example, rather than quoting Ephesians 5 and expecting everyone to get in line. Whatever the situation, profound patience and self-surrender need to lie at the heart of every family, and this kind of self-surrender is often the fruit of years of suffering, self-denial, repenting and asking forgiveness, and walking with the Lord. Then, once the children see that their dad puts their welfare above his own, they will trust their dad to do what is best for them.  My children frequently ask my advice on various matters because they know I have their best interests in mind.  Sometimes they take this advice, and sometimes they have better ideas. 

At the same time, however, it needs to be clear to both wife and children that their father and husband is a servant of Christ, and this means that God’s will is higher than the desires of wife and children.  Since God’s will is to love without end, the path is usually straightforward, but there will be times when children want things that a father cannot or should not give and remain true to the Lord.  Then the father needs to deviate neither to the right or the left.  Every dad fails in this regard, and therefore, the forgiveness of God is of utmost importance along with repentance and willingness to make amends.

As the children grow up, it is important to let go of them.  They have their own desires and purposes and will do as they wish.  At times there is nothing one can do about it except to pray that God steer them in the right direction.  Trying to force them, nagging them, or constantly coming to their rescue when they need to face consequences, is not the right approach.  For example, as my children got older, in their late teens, they did not want to go to church.  We did not force them, although as the pastor of a church I took some heat for it.  As they got older, they remembered all the love we had as a family, and later when life got difficult, they realized that this love could not be taken for granted.  Now they are seeking to lead the Christian life and to teach their own children in the Way. 

When the children are married, it is important for parents to step aside and let their children live their married lives.  If there are weaknesses in a spouse and a child, it is better to pray about them rather than trying to get the married couple to live as one might wish.  Perhaps in certain societies fathers held sway over their children’s families, but not in ours. 

God has given children into the care of the church, their parents, and the larger society.  When the church does not help families by offering the healing love of Christ, or when parents do not accept their responsibilities, or when the larger society creates conditions that damage children, God often lets this sin run its course and terrible suffering and the destruction of tender souls is the result.   The words of Jesus are significant: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42).  No one can avoid doing things that tempt a child to sin, and this brings me to my final point. 
This essay has suggested some positive things to do as a dad, but frankly, it must be said that no father, or mother for that matter, is really capable of being a good dad or mom.  We are all dependent upon the mercy of God.  It is not wise to think we are good parents.  It is better to do our best and let our children know that they have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for them.  Thinking we can be good parents in our own strength is a step toward becoming a poor parent. Realizing we are often not good parents, that we are broken vessels, unworthy servants, and seeking God’s continual help is the way forward.  In the final analysis, children grow up with their own minds and ways and no parent can insure their happiness.  Only God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, can give them the love that never ends.  This truth needs to be taught from the beginning, and once they learn that their parents are fallible human beings who cannot bring them final happiness, and that the love they did share as a family came from God, they are on their way to becoming mature adults and children of the living God.  

For more on dad's theological writing and ministry, check out his website   

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Righteous Dad is a High, Holy Call

A Righteous Dad is a High, Holy Call

Around the time of our daughter’s birth, my husband and I saw a onesie that read, “Daddy Proof.” It came with detailed instructions on how to put it on. The assumption: dads are too stupid to dress their children. A few weeks ago, I talked with a single Dad, who is so frustrated because no male bathroom has a changing station, so he has to change his toddler’s diaper outside. There is little male paternity leave, no male baby showers, and very little daddy support groups. And, have you noticed that nearly every sitcom has a buffoon dad, married to a domineering, nagging mom who is really running the show – not flattering to both men and women. 

So, what is all this about? I think that our culture has a really low, troublesome view of Fathers.
It is true that there a lot of absent or abusive dads out there. If you are in ministry you know that one of the greatest barriers people experience when accepting God’s love is an abusive or distant dad. In Duval county, where I am from, 60% of households are fatherless. As a society, we are grappling with the “sins of our fathers,” - the dads who have failed, the spiritual fathers who have marred the image of Christ, and the hurt this has caused. We have lowered the role of Father to something quite pathetic. This low cultural view of Fatherhood doesn’t truly address the problem, but rather merely gives it a wink and a smile, instead of calling out it. More than this, it is an injustice to the Dads who are trying their best to be good Dads and be there for their children. 

We need to remember that Fatherhood is vital to the flourishing of humanity. Being a righteous dad is a high, holy call and I know that I am personally indebted to some incredible fathers - my husband, my dad, and many of the spiritual fathers who blessed me along the way. 

Bo and Lydia Sharing a Kiss
When Bo and I were in the hospital with Lydia, I was having a bad time. I was crying and telling Bo, that I couldn’t do. I just couldn’t be a mom and that we should send our child back to the nursery so they could take care of her and I’ll never forget he said, “No, she’s our daughter. We are called to care for her, so let’s start doing it now. We can do this!” That’s just a snapshot of true Fatherhood, a dad who stands by his kids, wants to give them the best, even when he doesn’t know what he’s doing, even when things are really tough. And isn’t this the True Father’s love for us -self-sacrificing, unrelenting, long-suffering, and always there for His kids. 
As I am writing this, I am thinking of a dad who as a child was caged by his own father, a terrible story of neglect. This man, now a dad himself, met Jesus along the way, and he has three children of his own, has fostered over twenty, and works for the good of his family. He could put on a onesie or change a diaper in his sleep. Truly, a righteous Dad is a high, holy call and there are many who are responding to it
This Father’s day I want to express gratitude to all the amazing daddies. Dads who are doing a great job, dads who are blessing their children, dads who are truly stepping up and being dads - your work bears amazing, on going, and far reaching fruit for God’s Kingdom. I have been inspired by you as you care and bless your children.

Special thanks as always to Bo, the most wonderful daddy.

Next week, I will have even more on the topic of Fatherhood with a very special guest blog: MOD (my old dad), Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders, so if Fatherhood is a subject that interests you, please keep reading!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Somebody Loves the Genius Child

Somebody Loves the Genius Child

I recently watched the documentary Basquiat: Radiant Child, by Tamra Davis. It made think of people who find themselves alone or misunderstood, people who live on the fringes of society and never find a place where they belong.  Famous painter Jean-Michel Basquiat started as a homeless graffiti artist in the late 70’s when downtown Manhattan was experiencing a cultural and artistic renaissance. He rose to become incredibly famous, dating Madonna, close friends with Andy Warhol. Basquiat was super cool and handsome to boot. The world loved him, and the art world cherished him, but the world is fickle.  They turned on him, he lost friends, became alone, riding the highs and lows of his career, the praise and the criticism.  He was one of the few (famous) black artists of his time and he often experienced discrimination, or was perceived as a novelty to the largely white intelligentsia of the art world.  At the end of his career, he became addicted to heroin and died of a drug overdose at the age of 27. Basquiat took his own soul from this world, far too early. It was a tragedy for his friends, and a mere interest story for the media.

Basquiat was praised, rejected, cast-out, and then upon his death, many of the art critics praised him yet again.  How often do we make money off the marketing of real souls? As Basquiat said of them, “they’re mercenaries, all of them. They all want to make money.” To be fair, Basquiat was not a victim. We all make choices and he made some bad ones. Davis, furthermore, does a good job of showing how many of his friends tried to love him, and were at the same time just as messed up and struggling as he was. As his fellow artist and friend reflected, “What a creep I was,” because he sold the last painting that Jean-Michel made for him as a gift.
Throughout the film, Jean-Michel’s need for acceptance and belonging is striking. He appears to be constantly trying to prove his own worthiness. It is apparent that his father rejected him as a “black sheep,” casting a dark edge over Basquiat’s life. Jean-Michel seems to ride the extremes of his career as if they define him. When his work is praised, he is good, worthy. When he is cast-out by the critics, he is worthless and must strive harder to prove his own value. The thing that troubled me most while watching Radiant Child was where was the Christian to stand beside Basquiat and show him the love of Christ?  I just wished that could have happened.  Not to simply share a Gospel track, but to just love Basquiat. I wanted to tell him so badly, that he was loved. That God created him. That God gave him those amazing gifts. That Jesus loved him, whether or not he was famous, in or out, but just loved him. I wish he could have known that.