More bad news and I am so unsure where God is taking me. This past Sunday, I attended the community church in Kent, The Vineyard, only to learn some heartbreaking news. The pastor announced the church will be shutting down at the end of December. I am heart-broken at the loss of such a great church that reached out to the broken, shirked, and ignored. Whenever I had to describe the church to anyone I would say something along the lines of- it is a really laid back place full of all sorts of people off of the streets where they teach directly from the scriptures. You go in, grab a cup of coffee, listen to soul-filled worship music, and then the pastor gets up and reads from the Bible and tells you what it means. Pretty simple, very open, very honest, no legalities or formalities. Unfortunately, the cost to keep the doors open outweighs the money coming in and bills need to be paid, so it was time to close. All this came so soon after my last post’s affairs that I just had to leave as soon as church was over to have some alone time with God.
Shannon Ethridge once used the metaphor of packing tape to illustrate a point about relationships. She said that when you first use packing tape to seal a box, it works great. Once you peel it off though it brings with it little cardboard fibers from the box. You may be able to reseal another box with the tape but it won’t hold the box shut as well. As you keep removing and reapplying the tape, it becomes less and less adhesive, until eventually it won’t stick anymore. And it is not as if you can help this. It is just the nature of tape. This is like relationships; once you bounce from one to the other to the other, you become hardened and less able to commit and “stick.” It’s not because you aren’t trying though; it is just the nature of being passed around.
I have seen so many churches and church bodies in my life; I fear that maybe I just can’t stick anymore. It is a sad self-realization. As a child I grew up in a loving Christian family. I had a great children’s pastor. My childhood in the church is filled with fond memories. Once I moved into youth group though, I went through a series of four youth pastors at my own church and another at a second more stable youth group I attended. It is no wonder that by the time I got to my senior year and my fifth youth pastor that I finally left one of the youth groups. Then came college, one year at OSU and I think I explored 5 or so churches until I settled on one. Of course I got this experience all over again at Kent when I transferred- more church hunting till I narrowed it down to two and then one. And now here we are.
Over these past years I have seen it all. I have seen a core of Christian youths so strong that they will gather together for prayer and in-depth study when it is only themselves there. I have seen a church so overcome by cliques that anyone new would be hard-pressed to find a welcoming hello and introduction. I have worshiped with tone-deaf leaders and in situations where the Spirit is so strong that you cannot do anything but fall prostrate before The Creator. I have seen people sit for worship and I have seen people dance. I have heard prophecies spoken in tongues and I have seen rigid formality to church. I have seen people shirked by the church and have seen people grow in the church.
With this last statement, I sadly find myself in both categories. I have grown in my faith through God-breathed messages and I have fought for my faith in so many ways possible. I have longed for teaching enough to attend a women’s bible study when I was in my teen years and the age gap was 30+ years to the next youngest individual. I have come to know what I am looking for in a church. [And when I say church I mean the body of Christ represented in a group of people, not a building or a program, but church in the sense of how Christ intended.]
So is it no wonder that I get worn out of fighting for something that should seem natural? When you walk into a church shouldn’t it feel like you’re coming home? I am sure I have felt that way much less often than I have felt like the story where Christ says He is the least of these. Why is it that I find myself looking for those who I can reach out to in a church I am only initially attending? (Because I don’t want the visitor’s to be shirked like I was. I want to put up wrapping paper and cover over the mess that our churches have so often become.) Is it no wonder that I get tired, so worn out, of looking for this home? I have been fighting my entire youth for my faith and when I come to a church, I don’t want to have to change who I am to fit in with the crowd. The Vineyard did not require this.
Where I am now is adding two more churches to that long list.
I am reminded of Paul’s list of sufferings of being a Christian in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
The Christian walk is not easy, finding community is not easy, but why should anyone find it so hard to be in the church? Is it no wonder that I may have lost my stickiness?
So if on the outside I appear to people as a strong individual it is because I am. I have been forced to cope with what is before me.
2 Corinthians 6:4-10 states:
But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
And if I could go back and rewrite the life I have lived, sure I might change some things. But as it is, I can count it all joy because these struggles and valleys have brought me closer to God and have given me a perspective that not many have. Though it may seem these things only harden me, they also have softened me to the sufferings of others. I come at a situation from all angles and I look for those who are the least of these. How can you sympathize when you have not been in a similar situation? You can never sympathize with heartbreak until you have had your heart-broken. Through this time period I have learned to try to look at individuals through the eyes of Christ. Looking through the eyes of Christ you will find many more broken and needy people than you ever imagined. You may even see yourself more clearly.
Praise God that in these last couple of days He has been putting verses and sermons and readings in my way that reassure me of where I am!
I came across an old set of verses that God breathed new life into for me:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
I was so surprised to look at the seemingly negative times in these verses. Before I had always read the poem taking note of the fact that there would always be a time for good things. Here it says that there is a time to search and a time to give up. In my last post, I was wary to give up my search. Here I am assured that there is indeed a time to give up. I cannot express how much of a burden was lifted from my chest when I read that. There is a time for a church to start and a time for it to close and on this note there is a time to rejoice and a time to weep. It is okay for The Vineyard to close if this is what God has in store.
Though I may not know where I am going to be in 4 Sundays from now after the doors of The Vineyard close, I can rest assured that God knows. His promises are good, as I was reminded by the crying out of the author of Psalm 119 this week, and God promises never to leave or forsake me.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” John 14:18
As long as I am giving up to God I will be okay. Why fight with God? If my life is only a vapor why linger in one place trying to resist the wind when the Lord is trying to bring me somewhere else?
Without anyone to lean on all I am left with is my relationship with Christ. He is my only constant.
In reading the last chapter of “Every Young Woman’s Battle” I was reassured that it is okay to run away with Christ. And that God, though he could find other ways of fulfilling His plans has placed me within them, so that He needs me to accomplish His will as much as I need Him to carry me through these murky days. So I am nonchalant about the situation because God has it under control.
In Rob Bell’s sermon last week he explores the season we are just entering- the season of advent, of anticipating the birth of Christ. He encouraged anticipating God’s work in your life in the season where you are waiting for something. I do not think it is coincidence that just as the advent season ends so does the life of The Vineyard. I am anticipating God to work through this situation and find me a place of fellowship and worship. And I am excited to see how He will change me and pull the cardboard fibers off of my soul and find me a place to stick.
No one can see all the plans God has in store from start to finish; we can only look back from where we have come to see where we are today. Looking back I see that all along God has been working through the situations in my life to call out to me to come back to Him and to rely on Him.