Posts Tagged ‘Church’

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“CYCLING CLUB vs. CHURCH” – Oct 24

October 24, 2013

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-30

English: Cycling Club A Cycling club out on a ...

English: Cycling Club A Cycling club out on a training ride, here heading toward Dufftown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have known about a local cycling club for some time but never joined them until yesterday.

My first introduction came during a ride with a friend.  We were at the tail end of a ride through the countryside.  As we followed a narrow, rural, road through fields of hay and wheat, a blue Jeep Cherokee crept past us, while the driver eye-balled us.

The glare of a perturbed driver thrown toward a spandex clad cyclist has been known to occasionally occur.  This incident was memorable because this driver proceeded past us to the next intersection, stopped and got out of the car.

This was disconcerting.

I really didn’t want to bump chests with a guy whose chest was a good six inches higher and appeared to be larger than my own.  As we slowed in our approach to the intersection, I started to think through what we might have done to instigate an altercation.  I had no ideas as to what we might have done other than trying to coexist on the same road.

My concerns began to deflate when we got close enough to the Jeep to see a cycling bumper.  This guy might be a member of the cycling tribe; that’s good.  They were completely diminished when the driver rounded the end of the vehicle with body language that did not indicate a pending throw-down.  He quickly explained that he was looking for riders to join his riding club and just wanted to introduce himself and welcome us to join them in the future.  I took his card and subsequently signed up for their Google group email.  I never did join them for a ride that season.  However, I continued to watch their community through the group emails.  I was intrigued by how active they were.

The following season I continually bumped into cub members.  I rode with many them at several of the events that I have blogged about ( PACK RIDING, CLIMBING METHODS).  The conversations at these interactions always ended with the same exhortation, “you should come join us”.

I always had an excuse for why I could not make it.  Most excuses were time related.  However, that was never the main reason.  You might remember my introvert issues that I have blogged about.  The whole idea of showing up, imposing myself upon a group of strangers was a high barrier that kept me riding alone or with my friends for most of the summer.

I am not sure what happened on Tuesday.  No one at work could go riding with me and I really did not feel like riding alone.  So, I sucked it up and headed over to the group ride meeting place.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

The bicycle in the back of my pick-up clearly revealed my intentions as I pulled into the parking lot.  I had barely gotten out of my vehicle before someone from the group was walking over to introduce himself and welcome me.  By the time I had my kit on and the group was ready to roll-out, I had met every member of the group on that ride, had exchanged pleasantries and names.

ludovic / Foter / CC BY-SA

Throughout the ride, several members pulled along to chat with me.  They included me throughout the ride.  I felt completely accepted and welcomed.  They invited me to future rides as we said our farewells and seemed genuinely excited for a new cyclist to join their group.

It was clear that this group simply loves to ride bicycles.  Their enthusiasm for cycling was evident in their acceptance of someone of a kindred spirit.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I will probably join them for another ride; today, in fact.

Ministerios Cash Luna / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

As I drove home after such an encouraging experience, I reflected on my experience of joining a church.  A year and a half ago, the church plant, that we had attended, closed and we started the search for a new church home.  From my experience, this cycling club was more welcoming than many churches  we visited.

I realize that many will initially not relate to an unfriendly church.  However, those who have attended their church for years need to careful about too quickly dismissing the possibility that they might not be as friendly as they think because the concept of being a newcomer can easily become mere theory.

I have sat through several services hearing the pastor talk about the closeness of their congregation.  I have listened to testimonies of the love people feel for their church family.  They talked at length about the warm and friendliness of their fellowship.  I listened to these words with skepticism as I sat in a pew that only the usher had welcomed me to.  I have risen after these services to have no one engage me in conversation.  I have walked from the building without being invited to Sunday school, the prayer group, or even someone’s home for lunch.  The conversations that I have had rarely seem to end with the exhortation, “you should come join us”.

SalFalko / Foter / CC BY-NC

It is good for us all to remember that the friendliness of a church is not defined by the feelings of the long-time members.  The degree to which a church is welcoming has to be gauged from the perspective of those being welcomed.  I would hope that someone who has been involved in a group for decades would feel familial emotions for that body.  The body feels friendly to them because they actually have friends there.

What about the person who knows no one?  What do they feel when their shadow crosses your church’s threshold?  That is what defines the friendliness of your church.

There is a lot that can be learned from the friendliness of this local cycling club.

When was the last time you invited someone with clear spiritual interests to your church?
Are you genuinely excited when someone new visits you church?
Are you eager to introduce yourself to the stranger walking through the church door?
Do you persistently invite newcomers to Bible studies, Sunday school, prayer groups, and other activities the long-time members frequent?
Do you end conversations with newcomers in exhorting them to “come join us”?

Consider that if we were to consistently be doing these acts that the church would not be better than a cycling club.

How can you encourage a person if they do not first feel welcome?

Where is the motivation to continue to meet with a group that is not inclusive of them?

The enthusiasm of our faith is often evident in our acceptance and inclusion of those we don’t know but who share the same Spirit.  The church should exceed any sort of secular cycling club in being welcoming and accepting.  We have so much more to be enthusiastic about than pedaling molded carbon across asphalt.

May the enthusiasm in our faith surpass all the other joys of our lives to make us joyfully welcome and encourage those who are seeking true fellowship.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for giving me a faith that stirs enthusiasm within me.  Thank you for giving me a desire to fellowship with those who have the same hope.  Forgive me for allowing a bunch of cyclists to out-do me in demonstrating my enthusiasm.  Forgive me for making excuses for being reserved.  I want to be a part of making my church a friendly and welcoming experience to all those whom you send through the doors.  I want those in my community to be drawn to you by the joy of my salvation overflowing into all aspects of my life .    I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“PACK RIDING” – June 9

June 9, 2013

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful.  “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”  1 Corinthians 10:23-24

981002_10201434224324276_965735367_oYesterday, I completed my first century bicycle ride, the Bob LeBow Bike Tour.  I had two different experiences on this ride.  I rode in a group for the first 60 miles and finished the last 45 miles on my own.  Riding in a group is better.

When we started the ride in the morning, we had a head wind.  It was the sort of wind that deafens your ears and steals any conversation from among the riders.  A head wind forces you to push into the pedals without a respite.  This head wind was not an encouraging sign for someone like me who was concerned about the energy requirements of a ride with a distance I have never known.

Fortunately, I fell in with a pack of riders.  Actually, they caught me.  They were riding faster than I had intended to ride.  However, the sweet relief that came as I was enveloped by this group gave me a huge incentive to cling within them.  We had a group of about 10-15 riders.  This amount of riders provides an intoxicating buffer from the wind.  The riders at the front have to work hard to break the wind but those in the back get the benefit of being pulled along.  They say that by riding in a group you can save as much as 20% of  your energy.  I believe it and I loved it.  I did all that I could to stay with this group.

The best way for a group like ours to maintain a strong pace is for everyone to take a turn at the front of the pack.  This keeps everyone as fresh as possible.  It allows the stronger riders a chance to rest without the group as a whole slowing down.  There is no benefit to riding in a pack if the riders are seeking their own good and not willing to work together.

Therefore, I took my turn at the front on a couple of occasions.  I tucked down onto my aero-bars and pushed into the wind and worked to maintain a consistent pace.  I could see the shadows of the other riders just off my back wheel as they caught my streamline.  As I tired, a rider from the back would come alongside with the pack forming around them and I would slip back into the groups streamline and get my chance to recover.

This works wonderfully well as long as the leader is setting a pace that the pack is willing to match.  I took the lead on one occasion and pressed into the wind.  I thought that I was doing a good job until I noticed that there were no shadows shadowing me.  I listened and heard only the hum of my own chain and tires.  When I glanced back, I realized that I had dropped the group.  That is not what I had intended.  I knew that I was going to need that group to make the whole ride.  I wanted that group for the rest that lay within it.  It was only a matter of time before they would catch me once again, anyways.  There was no purpose to dropping them.

Dropping them had proven to be a waste of energy.  I was disappointed in the fact that I had been working hard and no other rider had benefited from the effort.  That was not the way it was supposed to work.  The group as a whole had expended more energy because I had set a pace that was beyond what the other riders were willing to follow.  So, I slowed my paced and let them envelop me once again.  I knew that my good lay within the good of those other riders.

This experience made me think of how we, Christians, are supposed to live together.  I often hear a brother or sister in Christ lamenting about the Church or other believers.  They have a sense of being stifled by what they call the traditional church.  They feel as if their freedoms in Christ are being stolen by the judgmentalism of those within Christian circles.

The story is often the same.  They end up pulling away and isolating themselves from other believers.  They pursue their freedoms in Christ for their own good, mostly on their own.  We can pursue the freedoms we have in Christ in a manner that builds up no one else.  We can pursue our faith in a manner that is of no benefit to our neighbor.

We can work hard in our faith just like when I was riding ahead of the pack but to what avail?  We should want our faith to build up others.  We should want our strength to be providing a respite for others and pulling them along.  We should be seeking not only our own good, but the good of our neighbors.

We as the body of Christ will go to greater depths and be more relevant and effective if we are working together.  We can be used in amazing ways when we are willing to work for the good of others.  Ultimately, God is glorified when we are willing to sacrifice some of our freedoms in Christ for the well being and good of our fellow heirs with Christ.

Are you willing to take your turn and pull your neighbor along for their good and without thinking about your own good?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for your Church and my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Forgive me for allowing myself to be frustrated by them.  Forgive me for so often thinking about my self first and my neighbor second.  Father, help me to use my strengths that are a gift from you in a way that is good for others.  I want to be building up.  Lord, keep me from working in a manner that tears down or is the avail of no one else.  Help me to use the freedoms that you have given me in Christ in the most useful ways, even if that means sacrificing them for the good of my weaker brothers and sisters.  Help me to live to your glory.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Note: I am the rider in the center of the photograph with the shirt sleeve that is black on top and red below. Just a little proof that I was there.

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“FINDING THE RIGHT FIT” – April 16

April 16, 2013

“So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”   Acts 16:5

shoes 001I got new running shoes over the weekend.

My wife has been battling shin-splints and other leg injuries.  All the advice starts with, “get a pair of quality, fitted, running shoes.”  However, the variety of running shoe choices is a little mind-boggling.  We decided that we needed to go to a running store and have a professional fit us for running shoes.

We were both a little apprehensive about going and being fitted.  We were not thrilled with the idea of getting up on a treadmill and running in front of  a real runner.  I thought I could figure out the right shoe for me with a little research.  I did a little research and found that the shoe industry has made the selection of footwear as complicated as flight.  We decided that it would be better to pay someone else to do it.

Over the weekend, my wife and I sucked up our pride and headed into the city to get our fitting over with.  My sister-in-law, who is a runner, recommended a store.  It is a small retail store tucked away in a strip-mall, specializing in running and the associated paraphernalia.  I almost drove away when I saw how small the store front was.  There was not going to be any place to hide in this store.  As we entered the store, my fears were realized.  The store was not abandoned, they had other customers and all the activity was centered around the treadmill.

To my relief, we were welcomed by Holly, who was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.  I had spied out Brad whose appearance was working overtime to communicate to the world that he was serious about running.  He wore shorts to expose the compression sleeves on his calves.  I was glad that Holly was helping us; too much pressure with Brad.

Holly brought out a variety of shoes for my wife and me to try.  She explained that they were all quality running shoes and that any would be a good base shoe but that we need to find the right fit.  I laced up the racy specimen that she handed me, pulled up my pant legs, and mounted the treadmill.  I was off to no-where; running under the watchful eye of Brad as he leaned against a display at the front of the treadmill.  He commented that I had a very efficient stride but that I pounded my foot-plants.  I was not sure if I should thank him or apologize.

After my little exhibition, I joined Holly and my wife in the viewing of my running video at the end of the treadmill.  To my relief, the video displayed just my ankles.

That was it.  I discovered that I am a neutral runner and proceeded onto selecting a shoe that felt the right.  We went through a variety of shoes and finally settled on the pair that felt the best.  Brad told me that he was not allowed to show a brand bias but since I picked the right one, he could now tell me I had picked the right one.  What a relief.

I’m excited about my new of shoes.  They just make me want to go for a run.

Church DoorsFinding the right fit in a pair of running shoes was not as bad as I thought.  I wish finding the right fit in a church was just as easy.  The variety of church options can be mind boggling.  The early Christians had an advantage in there being only one church option.  I wish you could just walk through the doors of a church, know exactly the quality of the teaching and doctrine, check out the specific support that is available for your special needs, and then be done.  You have found the perfect fit of a church.

That has not been my experience and I don’t think it is the experience of most.  About a year ago, we decided to stop the church plant that my family and I had participated in.  We then had the difficult task of finding a new church to join.  The church plant that we left just felt right and we very much wanted to find that same sort of place.

There is a lot of very good advice on how to find a good church.  I don’t have anything new to add.  However, I will share some of what I have learned from our church selection in the context of my shoe buying experience.

Get a Recommendation – don’t flip open the telephone directory, close your eyes, and let the Spirit direct your finger.  You might end up at a hardware store.  It is worthwhile to ask some mature believers who you trust for advice.  They probably can narrow the list down for you

Don’t be Scared away by a Small Store Front – the tendency is to seek out the large church bodies so that you can just blend in without being noticed.  If you are serious about getting involved in a local church, the smaller church bodies will be much easier and efficient to get to know them.  Just because they are small does not mean that they don’t know what they are doing.

Don’t be Scared away by Brad – every church has a Brad.  Some have more Brads than others.  This is the guy (it usually is a guy) who works very hard to get the word “eschatology” into a conversation.  He has very strong opinions about theology and wants you know that he is a theologian.  Ignore the Brads and seek out the Hollys; the Hollys are the individuals who are not there to impress you but are there to help.  They are mature believers who have been part of the church for a long time and want to try and help you decide if their church is a good fit.

Start with Quality – make sure the core of the church is solid.  Just like there is a lot variety in the quality of running shoes, there is a lot of variety in the quality churches.  You need to know how to determine whether you are dealing with a Saucony type of church that is Biblically solid and will not injure you or whether you are dealing with a knock-off, no-name, brand, that looks good from the outside, but is going to cause you all sorts of pain.  You have to start with Biblical quality.

 Test the Fit –  make sure that the church can meet your special needs if you have them.  I know that some will argue that we should not treat the church as a consumer.  I agree with that.  However, I think that it is fine to evaluate a church body’s gifting and decide if one is a better fit to you and your family.  If you have a passel of young kids and the church that you have visited doesn’t have anyone under the age of 60, then it probably is going to be more difficult for a young mother to fit-in and feel support in that sort of body.  If you have a background of addiction and one church has a dynamic addiction program, then that church might be a very good fit for your gifting and background.  If you are struggling and really need to be discipled and one church has an active small group program, then that body might be the best place to provide you the support that you need.  If you are pretty neutral, then you probably can fit into most any church body and you should be looking for a place where you can readily serve.

Does it Feel Right –  the right fit will just feel right.  I believe that the Spirit will confirm that a church body is right by settling our spirit.  It just feels right.  Now, that does not mean that a place is wrong if it does not feel right.  There may be a lot of other facts that are associated with unsettled feelings.  However, the best fit is the one that just feels right and makes you want to join in whole heartedly.  That is the best of all fits.

Buy Them – you have to commit.  I had to make a significant investment for my new shoes.  Likewise, we all need to commit to our local church body.  The Church was given to us for a purpose.  It was not intended to sit on the shelf of our lives.  The Church was intended to be a place of growth and encouragement but those are activities that we have to be a part of.  You will never be a part of your church’s purpose until you commit.

I really like my new shoes.  I doubt if they are the perfect shoe.  I don’t know if the perfect shoe exists.

Marahon shoes

Marahon shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like my new church.  I know that the perfect church does not exist.  I like the quote by C.H. Spurgeon, “If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.”

We need to stop looking for the perfect church but find the one that is the best fit, commit, and get back in the race..

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for your Church.  Thank you for my freedom to openly gather in your name and worship You with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Forgive me for my own imperfections and unrighteous attitudes that bring I into it.  Forgive me from holding back from your people.  Help me to commit to the local body where you have drawn me.  Father, make it feel right in my heart.  Give me a joy in my local church that motivates me to run hard in the race that You have laid before us.  Amen.

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