Skipping Church

In between his last Sunday at FBC Midlothian and his first Sunday at Lakeside Baptist, Clay has had 3 weeks of vacation to use. It has been great, giving him a good amount of time to work on his dissertation, for us to visit family, and to fully devote to the day. At the end of all that, though, we found ourselves at home this past Sunday, with no church expecting us to show up.

So we skipped.

I can’t think of a time in our married life we chose to stay home on a Sunday, unless someone was sick. It felt really weird, at first. But then I saw on Twitter that Louie Giglio’s church Passion City was taking the day off, too. In fact, for two weeks straight their whole congregation didn’t meet together at all. Can you even imagine it? They had a podcast, and that’s it. I’m not making this up; they called it “Sabbath Pause.”

Now, from what I can tell, Louie is a great guy. I admire him, as do hundreds of thousands of other people. But it seems to me that “Sabbath Pause” is redundant. After all, isn’t the pause the whole point of the Sabbath? I think if you have to take a break from the Sabbath, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. I figure if Louie Giglio can tell his whole church to skip church, then the Hopkins can enjoy a guilt-free Sunday morning at IHOP.

ihopAnd we did. At first, I was shocked by how unrighteous Sunday morning restaurant service seemed to be. The hostess was on her cell phone when we walked in, and didn’t look up to greet us until she was finished. Then she asked me to look around the corner to see if an empty booth had been bussed. I thought maybe that’s how all restaurant servers treat church-skippers. You know, give ’em what they deserve, and all that. But then I realized she was probably trying to find the Passion City podcast on her cell phone, so I cut her some slack.

Back when I was in college (gig ’em), I heard that kids over at Baylor slept in on Sundays, then dressed up to go out to eat. They didn’t want people to know they had skipped church. We resisted the urge to do that; we went to IHOP pure heathen style, wearing shorts.

So when we ran into the whole entire senior adult class from FBC Midlothian as we left, we might as well have been wearing scarlet letters. We were busted.

Since it’s List Wednesday, I was thinking about some other things you don’t want to get caught doing if you’re skipping church:

Not having a nasty virus. I’m not saying you should start coughing and trying to look feverish if you skip church and run into people you know. But I’m also not saying you shouldn’t.

Getting a mani-pedi. There’s something about paying someone to wash your feet on the Lord’s Day that just seems wrong to me. Unless you share the gospel while you’re there, in which case, I would have to overlook your blatant misuse of John 13.

Eating at Chick-fil-A. Mainly because they’re closed on Sundays, and you could go to jail for that.

Sitting in a folding armchair. I mean, if you’re going to be at your kid’s baseball tournament on a Sunday morning, you should at least sit on the bleachers and try to look like you’re very uncomfortable with the whole experience.

Doing yard work. Unless, of course, your ox fell in the ditch. That’s biblical, and, as I imagine it, would earn the approval of even the most staunch legalist who passes you and your ditch-fallen ox on his way to Sunday School. But if you don’t have an ox, you should probably just stay inside and catch that podcast.

So what thoughts have you had about skipping church? Not that you know what I’m talking about or anything…

We Were Never Meant to Say Goodbye

I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:13-14

the day: [thuh dey] (noun) the time between leaving our home to move our oldest child to his new apartment at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, and arriving back home without him.

First off, I want to say that I’m doing great, this side of the day. I know people are wondering, and rightly so. Add Clay’s job change, selling the house, and moving to the day, and it does seem a bit insane. I looked it up – aside from having a baby and imprisonment, we’re hitting pretty much all the top stressful life events at once. One friend brought me brownies; another wore boots to work on the day, and gave me permission to blow up her phone with emo-texts, as needed. Others prayed. I know this for sure, because of that first sentence I typed at the top of this paragraph.

I don’t want to make more of it than I should; I know that people face much more difficult things every day. But change is hard. Leaving people you love is sad. There’s a reason for that – we were never meant to say goodbye.

The day, and every other hard thing in life, is a result of the day sin came into the world. Think about it; if God created everything, and it was good, then why do I hate green peas? It’s because green peas are cursed. Everythingcursed peas.jpg is. It is only by God’s grace that we can enjoy anything at all, because nothing in all the earth is as good it was created to be. Sin has affected everything – the sunrise, sunset, and snow-capped mountains are all less magnificent. The smell of a rose and the taste of avocados are inferior to their original design. Can you even imagine how delicious Chick-fil-A would have been before the curse?

More importantly, there was no shame, worry, or sadness before the curse, because there was no sin. There was perfect fellowship with God and each other. God didn’t have U-Hauls or hearses in mind when He created us. The plan was for us to live forever, together in His perfect presence.

We were never meant to say goodbye. But we chose to know evil, and now we have to. It stinks, but it’s good, too, because it reminds us that this life isn’t it. The prize changed the second Adam and Eve swallowed an apple in Eden. And the world we live in is far less glorious than the one that waits for us.

Even in the curse, God’s grace reached out. He blocked our way to the tree of life so this sad world with U-Hauls and hearses wouldn’t be our forever (Gen. 3:22-24).

We can know and rejoice that there is great purpose in our goodbyes. Every little letting go of earth prods us to hold on, instead, to what is ahead.  Those who trust in Jesus will live with Him forever.

They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Rev. 21:3,4

On that day and forever after, the tree of life be unguarded, and there will be no more curse (Rev. 22:2-3). Until then, we press on, pursue the prize, and keep saying goodbye.

What’s your testimony?

We will triumph over the Enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. – Rev. 12:11

Last Sunday morning, Nick and Jacob were baptized. They are two of Brandon’s very best friends. We’ve known both boys for years, so it was a day of great celebration for us, and one we had prayed about for quite some time.

Nick’s story was recorded on video:

I love Nick’s story and am so blessed to have gotten to watch it unfold over the last 6 years. When he came bursting into our house one night a few weeks ago to say that he wanted to get baptized, we reminisced over how God has worked in his life and pursued him in such obvious ways. He has spent countless Saturday nights sleeping over at our house and Sunday mornings riding to church with us. Brandon gave Nick his first Bible for Christmas in the 8th grade.

It’s a great story, and I’m so thankful that he was able to share it with our church, and now you, too.

The best part of that Sunday morning, though, came after the video. It was when Nick stood in the water and Clay asked him what confession he wanted to make. Nick loudly proclaimed, “That Jesus is Lord!” and then he was baptized.

That is Nick’s testimony, and the purpose of his story; Jesus’ death made payment for his sins. He is Savior and Lord, and Nick has decided to follow Him and no one else.

That’s the best part of Jacob’s story, too. And it is the best part of yours and mine.

When we hear that word testimony, we often think of a person’s experiences – his or her personal life story. And it’s true that is a part of it, but it’s not really the point.

Our victory is not found in the fact that we went to church or didn’t go to church, got involved in terrible things or didn’t, or even that we repeated a prayer when we were 7-years-old in Vacation Bible School. Our victory over the Enemy is found when we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and take up our cross to follow Him.

The apostle Paul had a pretty fantastic story – blinded by God on the road when he was on his way to persecute Christians and all that. But that wasn’t Paul’s focus and he didn’t want it to be what anyone else focused on, either. He wrote in 1 Cor. 1:17, “God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.”

The point of our individual stories is to bring us to the place of testimony where we proclaim that Jesus is Lord. God uses every bit of life to point to the cross of Christ. When we get caught up in our own experiences – foolishly thinking that we don’t have a story worth telling, or that our story is so great that it is what makes us worthy – we trivialize the powerful action at the center, Christ on the Cross.

You can expect that some people won’t understand. Paul explained that, too. He went on to write in 1 Cor. 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.”

You have a story, and it is different from Paul’s, Nick’s, Jacob’s, mine, and everyone else who has put their trust in Christ. But your testimony is the same: Jesus is Lord. And that is something worth sharing.

A time to plant and a time to uproot

moving

There is an occasion for everything,and a time for every activity under heaven: …a time to plant, and a time to uproot.  Eccl. 3:1-2

 

 

I really don’t think I can say it better than Clay did in his letter that appeared in the FBC e-news this week (if you haven’t read it, click that link!) But if you know me, you know I can’t skip over the topic, either:) The short of it is that Clay has accepted a position as Associate Pastor at Lakeside Baptist Church in Dallas.

It’s Wednesday, but somehow a funny list just doesn’t seem appropriate. I could write a list of some of my most favorite memories from the past 8 1/2 years we’ve been at FBC Midlothian. It would include (but not be limited to):

Wednesday nights in The Loft
Camp Redcloud
Woman2Woman
Super Summer
drive-in movie nights
small group with jrs. and srs. upstairs at our house
staff wife get-togethers
SLACC (Sunday Lunch @ Clay & Cynthia’s)
9 ladies’ retreats
big bonfires in the backyard
senior mission trip to Lanai, HI
3 years of Home for the Holidays
and a whole lot of people who have let us pour into their lives as they’ve poured into ours.

The problem is that each one could be an entire blog post in and of itself. So, instead, I think I’ll just summarize and say that we have made some lifelong friendships and will carry a lot of great memories with us as we go.

Probably the single greatest evidence of the spiritual impact FBC has had on our family is happening now, right in front of us. The way the kids have handled the news of our move is nothing short of awesomtastic. Abby has many close friends in Midlothian with whom she spends much time. She loves her youth group at church, and has been playing summer basketball at MHS. But she hasn’t voiced one negative word. When I told her that her new youth group would be much smaller, she said, “Well, maybe I can help with that.” This past weekend when we were at Lakeside in view of a call, she jumped right in. That’s not a reflection of personality or positive attitude; it’s a reflection of her relationship with Christ. At 14, she recognizes her own role as a member of His church, and is ready to go and to serve wherever He leads.

Obviously, the move has less impact on Brandon since he is heading to College Station in a few weeks; still, it’s no fun to watch your family pack up the place you call home when you’re taking off on your own for the very first time. He, also, has been incredibly supportive, even taking the initiative to go find Abby at Super Summer a couple of weeks ago during worship to pray over her.

So I’m excited about the new opportunity God is putting in front of us. More than anything else in life, I want to follow Jesus wherever He leads. I know that always involves uprooting some really great things along the way. But that’s okay, because I’ve been reminded as I’ve watched my kids the last few months that God planted the stuff that matters most; and no one can ever uproot that.

The Week formerly known as VBS

It’s been around for over a century. I guess that’s why churches are trying to update the thing with kid-friendlier titles. I’ve heard it called Summer Blast, VBX, Kids Bible Kamp, Kid Jam, VBA (the A stands for Adventure!), and Summer Slam.

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what you call it; what parents hear is “free childcare.” In fact, in the weeks before they came to yours, they sent their kids to whatever-they-call-it at the Presbyterian church, the Methodist church, the Church of Christ and 2 different Baptist churches. My guess is that some would even consider dropping their kids off at the Kingdom Hall’s Watchtower Wowza Week, if they offered that sort of thing.

It’s my church’s turn this week. Each night, from 6:00-8:30, hundreds of children are learning about Jesus, making crafts, learning songs with full-body motions, eating snacks and playing games.

vbsmemeI admire and appreciate the paid staff and the numerous volunteers who make it all happen. It’s not an easy week. Worthwhile? Definitely. Easy? No.

I’ve volunteered in the past, and despite the meme I made, I’ve even helped out in actual classrooms away from the snack station on occasion. So I want to encourage you. If you’re volunteering this week, you’re half-way there. And bonus, it’s List Wednesday! This one’s for you.

Things you don’t want to hear at The Week formerly known as VBS:

The snack station is running behind schedule.

Billy’s mom will be dropping him off early tonight.

Let’s have all the adult workers come up on stage and demonstrate the motions to this brand new song.

We ran out of pipe cleaners.

Someone ate all the brownies in the worker hospitality room.

We’re going to need you to supervise the bounce house.

This year’s theme is Red Kool-Aid.

Billy’s mom will be late picking him up tonight.

The pastor you scheduled to come talk to your class today is home sick. 

Recreation has been canceled due to rain.

What do you love about The Week formerly known as VBS? What are some things you don’t want to hear?

Holding on to letting go

The sun had risen over the land when Lot reached Zoar. Then out of the sky the Lord rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord. He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground. But his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. Gen. 19:23-26

We don’t know much about Lot’s wife. She lived in a place and among a people described by words like evil and wicked. The outcry from those victimized in Sodom and by it was so great that God decided to destroy the whole place. There’s pretty good evidence that Sodom’s culture had rubbed off on Lot and his family, too (Gen. 19:8,14,16.)

I’ve read the whole story (Gen. 18:16-19:29), and I understand the burning sulfur down on Sodom part. The place was depraved; I get it. But all Lot’s wife did was look back at it, and God turned her into a pillar of salt.

I feel bad for Lot’s wife. Maybe that’s because, in some ways, I’m like her. I find myself holding on to letting go.

For whatever reason, Lot’s wife didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t necessarily that she was immoral herself; she may have even thought she could do some good in that place. She wasn’t very different from her husband or kids, either. They all hesitated to the point that the angels had to physically drag them out-of-town. The problem was that her heart was tightly tethered to something or someone else, and so she continued to resist God’s call to follow Him with abandon.

The thing is, I can feel bad for Lot’s wife all I want, but I can’t deny the implications of her story on my own life. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” That’s because those who look back have hearts bound to earth, not heaven.

There are lots of ways we do it, too. The three guys Jesus was talking to in Luke 9 weren’t depraved Sodomites. They were more like a lot of church going folks today, knowing Jesus is the way, but far more comfortable with their own.

When we fix our eyes on the world and what we know, instead of on God and what He promises, we are monumentally useless in God’s kingdom work – stuck between where we never should have been and where we need to go.

Is there something God wants you to leave behind – a hurt, a pursuit, a situation, a sin? Are you looking back? Have you gotten yourself stuck, because you keep holding on to letting go?

cs lewis quote

The “D” Word

This summer, it seems like there is a greater focus on dieting and weight loss than I can remember in summers past. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and Facebook advertising profilers have me pegged as someone who needs daily reminders. I’m not sure which is true; maybe both. Either way, I don’t care what I look like on the beach nearly as much as they think I do.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for healthy living. And I certainly don’t want to discount the awesomeness of the garcinia extract appetite suppressant or Dr. Oz and his tips for losing belly fat. I just don’t like rules. Or suppression. Or grapefruit.

fuzzysNo amount of reasoning can sway me, either. You can tell me that the human stomach is only the size of a fist. But personal experience has taught me that it also has the ability to stretch to at least the size of this plate of chicken fajita nachos from Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

You can tell me to only eat when I’m hungry. But that one falls apart as soon as I turn on Netflix. Or endure Man of Steel at the movie theater. Or send my child off to college.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have the personal fortitude to give up sweets or carbs, either…at least not for any length of time. That one time I gave up Chick-fil-A, I didn’t even last 3 days.

Maybe my resistance to the “D” word is because I had to go gluten free my whole first decade of life. I was a sickly child, and had to sneak bread out of the kitchen and hide it under my pillow just to taste it. Eventually, though, I stopped throwing up every time I ingested wheat products. So now, I figure I’m making up for lost time.

The “D” word (diet) is oppressive to me. I’d rather go on a “common sense.” Sure, maybe it is just semantics, but semantics can be empowering. That way, when I pass up on one of Sonic’s 25 delicious shake flavors, all 1/2 price after 8 pm, I can smile and explain to the future dieters riding in my car, “You go ahead and enjoy that Peanut Butter & Jelly Shake, but I’m on a common sense.”

There are other ways you can make healthy choices while avoiding the “D” word. And List Wednesday is all about empowerment, so…

Things you can do instead of dieting:

Boycott certain foods. I suggest starting with tortilla chips and/or queso. I mean, there are plenty of good reasons for you to get mad at Mexico. That way, if you think about it, you’re not giving up something you love nearly as much as you are fighting injustice.

Train for a triathlon. See that? You’re already impressed, aren’t you. And all the people you tell about your triathlon training will be, too. The mistake people make here is in thinking that a triathlon must include running, swimming, and cycling. But really, by definition, a triathlon is an athletic competition involving any three consecutive events. Your triathlon training could include, say, driving to the mall, walking through the mall, and sprinting from your car to your closet where you will put your purchases up before your spouse comes home and sees them. The key is simply to include something you find enjoyable.

Review healthy foods at fast food restaurants. When you go into In-N-Out Burger, ask for the healthiest menu choice. When they tell you to order the “Protein Style Hamburger,” don’t make a face, even though it does look like a pile of lettuce. Eat it anyway; remember, you have an important job…you’re a fast food healthy choices restaurant reviewer.

Study foods of other cultures, preferably skinny ones. Here’s where the World Wide Web is awesome. You can Google “recipes from Burundi” just as fast as I can Bing, “dysentery.”

Shadow a skinny friend. She might think it’s creepy, at first. But, she’ll get used to having you follow her around at work or church, incessantly asking questions about healthy lifestyle choices. Eventually, she’ll realize how flattering it is.

Wear athletic clothes when you’re at home. I don’t know about you, but when I wear pajamas, I don’t get much done…unless you count Netflix and Words with Friends. But if I’m wearing my Nike shorts and a t-shirt, I almost always feel compelled to run up and down the stairs once or twice or do a jumping jack.

Do something to break a sweat every day. I think that’s Matthew McConaughey’s rule. I read it somewhere, probably in People magazine on an airplane. I’m not saying Matthew McConaughey is my role model, but I’m also not saying he’s bad looking. Even if your one daily sweat is from taking a hot steamy bath, it counts.

So remember, you’re not on a diet, you’re on a common sense. Or a boycott. Or reviewing healthy fast food choices. Or studying other cultures. Be empowered and make healthy choices, friends!

The lesson in discontentment, part 4

Click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Phil. 4:11-13

It makes you wonder: if the secret of being content is Jesus, then why are so many Christians discontent? Why am I?

One of my favorite songs lately is Passion’s recording of In Christ Alone (Kristian Stanfill).

I keep getting caught up in one word in those lyrics: here. Here in the power of Christ I stand.

Many people who say they are Christ-followers live like the power of Christ is out of reach for them, personally. We are discontent because we think that Christ’s strength is somewhere over there, but not right here in our grasp. We believe in His power, but feel helpless to stand in it. We act as if it is something someone else might have, but not us. Continue reading The lesson in discontentment, part 4

The lesson in discontentment, part 3

Click here for part 1 and part 2

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Phil. 4:11-13

It seems to me, the majority of discontentment is relational. A coach doesn’t play your kid. A boss doesn’t recognize your contributions. A romance is elusive. Your marriage becomes stale. A friend takes you for granted.

Not coincidentally, Paul’s relationship with the believers in Philippi was the context for his words on contentedness.

Back it up a bit to verse 10. Paul indicates that some time had passed since the Philippians previous gifts of support and this occasion. It made him happy to know that they did, in fact, care about him. He knew they had been prevented somehow from showing it in a tangible way. His apparent relief gives you the sense, though, that he may have questioned their concern at some point.

And who could blame him? His experience hadn’t given him any reason to expect other people to meet his needs.

I wonder if Paul ever wanted to quit. He would have this awesome experience preaching and leading people to Christ, and then when he was walking down the street feeling good about that, people would start throwing rocks at his head. He’d start a church and then get word that someone had come in right behind him and taught something completely different. And the people would listen to those false teachings. He would listen to God’s call to go and preach the gospel, and then he’d get arrested, or put on trial, or put on a ship with sailors who couldn’t even land the thing without wrecking it. Why didn’t he burn out? Why didn’t he throw his hands up in the air and shout, “OK, God, I QUIT! I can’t handle these people anymore!”

How in the world did he remain content? Continue reading The lesson in discontentment, part 3

This teen slang quiz is not for noobs

It’s time for another quiz, parents. Since the social media quiz was such a big hit, here’s one to help you understand what your kids are saying. Just like last time, this probably won’t work if you’re on your phone, so come back to it later when you’re at home, or use the boring, typed version down below. There’s no prize for the best score, so don’t cheat. Feel free to comment with your scores, or other slang words you’d like to have defined for you. Have fun!