4 Years Ago Today

My Timehop app reminded me that today’s a very important day. Not so much in the sense of a grand historical event or the birthday of someone famous.

No, on this day 4 years ago, The Church at Avenue South had its very first non-official worship service on Easter Sunday.

We had rows of the white plastic folding chairs set up in the area that is now home to the preschool and children’s ministry. I can’t remember now how many people turned up, but it was way more than anyone had expected.

We didn’t officially launch until that September, but even way back in April, we knew that all the prayers and dreams of a lot of people were becoming reality.

I suppose you don’t realize how fast the time goes by until you get a memory like that like cold water to the face. But this was a very good memory.

I still remember that after the service, the pastor invited us to take markers and write on the floor and the walls to commemorate the day. Most people wrote meaningful Bible verses or lyrics from hymns.

It’s neat to think that now when we have a worship service, we’re literally standing on the Word of God. It’s a memory that I’d let slip into the recesses of my mind that just came back.

I’m thankful for Aaron Bryant, Matthew Page, and the leadership team for making Ave South a church that I’m proud to call home. I’m aware that there are no perfect people or perfect churches, but I think we as a whole get it right a lot more than we get it wrong.

And God shows up every Sunday, without fail.

I can’t wait to see what the next four years will bring. God willing, I will get to be a small part of it.

Prayer and the Weekend

“Whenever the insistence is on the point that God answers prayer, we are off the track. The meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not of the answer” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).

First of all, I am lamenting that one all-too-brief sneak preview of fall. I honestly thought it would last a few more days, but the hot stinky sweatiness has returned. Boo.

I’m still churning over Matthew Page’s sermon from The Church at Avenue South in my head. It was about prayer, not as a means to treat God as a celestial vending machine, but as a way to get to know the heart of the God who is both Father and the Infinite Almighty.

I confess I’ve fallen into the trap of making prayer a sort of laundry list of wants and needs. It’s gotten less and less about remembering who God is and what He’s already done for me and more and more about me and my needs.

I keep thinking about the Better Together celebration at Hadley Park where two churches of different backgrounds came together as one. Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a historically black congregation, and Brentwood Baptist Church, made up of mostly whites, both joined in this event to show that the Gospel trumps racism and inequality, and that the hope of Jesus is for everyone from every kind of background.

That in itself was the answer to the prayers of a lot of people. I have a feeling that the closer we as believers get to the heart of God (what God desires and longs for from us), the closer we get to those outside of our normal comfort zones and routines. The more we understand that Heaven will be comprised of people from every tongue and tribe and race.

One last thought on prayer before I go. This is essential to understanding prayer and how it works:

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work” (Oswald Chambers).

Be Still My Soul

“Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last” (Catharina von Schlegel, translated by Jane Northwick).

Matthew Page spoke at The Church at Avenue South from Philippians 4:8 about overcoming anxiety by focusing your mind on Jesus. Whatever things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and  commendable, dwell on these things.

That came at the perfect time for me. I, like so many others, need to be reminded from time to time that God’s got this. It’s not ultimately up to me to make my life work and figure every single detail out.

God has already won. Jesus has already conquered all those things that I fret and worry about. That’s where my mind should rest. That’s where my thoughts should dwell.

Hopefully, you needed this reminder, too.

 

Hymns in the Dark

“Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”

The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, ‘Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?’ They said, ‘Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!'” (Acts 16:25-35).

Today at The Church at Avenue South, Matthew Page preached on the passage where Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison. I wonder if I could do that, especially if I were behind bars for something I didn’t do.

Matthew spoke about how they lived a questionable life, as in a life that led people to ask questions about what kind of men they were and why they lived the way they did.

The most powerful part of their witness was being able to sing praise songs in a prison cell. That more than anything captured the attention of not only the fellow prisoners but of the prison guard as well.

I wonder if the earthquake would have happened if Paul and Silas has remained silent. Or if they had chosen instead to make a laundry list of all the wrongs and injustices inflicted upon them. Maybe. Maybe not.

The result was that a prison guard and his entire family came to faith in the Jesus that Paul and Silas sang about. Some scholars think that the other prisoners converted to Christianity as well.

Matthew went on to talk about being in the ER with a family whose daughter was near death. The prognosis was grim but some of those there with the family broke out singing hymns.

Do you sing as loud during the dark as well as during daylight? Do you praise God during the hard times when life doesn’t make sense? Does your speech reflect gratitude and thanksgiving in the midst of extreme trials and tribulations?

There was a doctor in that ER that eventually chose to follow Jesus because he saw what he couldn’t understand. He had probably seen people rage and curse at God but he had most likely never seen people worshipping through tears in the midst of tragedy.

By the way, the girl miraculously survived.

I won’t say that every time you praise Jesus, everything will automatically turn out the way you want it to, but I will say worship will change the way you see your circumstances.

It was convicting. Maybe I need a little more praise and a little less anxious analysing.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

 

Words of Wisdom

Today, I learned something new. That applies to just about every day that I’ve been alive, since there is so much out there yet to learn (or in my case, to learn and to forget and to re-learn).

Matthew Page preached today instead of Aaron Bryant at The Church at Avenue South and that’s where I picked up this new knowledge. Although, I’d like it not to be just something else that I know intellectually, but something that profoundly affects how I live toward others from here on out.

Mr. Page said that not all of us will be accomplished preachers or evangelists. Not all of us will draw crowds Billy Graham-style or present a compelling defense of the faith a la C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell.

But all of us can learn to love well. All of us can show the same love for those around us that Jesus showed us. In fact, that’s the most compelling argument for the faith.

People can argue all day long over the finer points of theology and politics, but no one can ever argue over the evidence of a changed life. No one can ever refute a testimony that’s not only spoken out loud but lived out loud as well.

Most of all, people can never deny those who love the unlovable, who go against human nature to forgive and release instead of harboring resentment and seeking revenge.

Those who were drawn into the early Church pointed to that kind of love as the reason. “See how they love one another,” they said of the early believers. They might have added, “See how they love those around them,” to the Christians who risked their own lives to care for lepers, who left the familiarity and comforts of home to take this new gospel around the world.

That’s my prayer both for me and for you: to love others as well as Jesus has loved us. I know it’s not possible unless it’s Jesus doing the loving both in us and through us. Even then, we will still get in the way most of the time. But I’m convinced that if the world saw a fraction of that agape love lived out and not just talked about, it would make a big difference.