Is Christianity Superficial & Arbitrary?

Those who’ve read the Bible and/or had God set their hearts on fire for mission and ministry know the answer to this question. In case it wasn’t obvious…NO! But I have to remember that many people did not grow up in church (or didn’t grow up in a church that was actually passionate about meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs and also exemplified grace within its walls). For so many, ideas of Christianity as a religion, Christians as individuals, the purposes of church, etc. stem from bad experiences, sterotypes, etc. But you know what’s the sad part?

We did that!

Generally, the responsibility for distorted views on these subjects lies with Christians and the church.

The Christian who walks in a grocery store without a mask and harrasses the cashier about going to hell may be the only “Jesus” that person ever meets.

When sects of the church turned sexual purity into an idolatrous obsession or fixated on the blasphemous horror of R-rated films and secular pop songs, they sent out the message that Christianity’s main purpose was to dictate people’s lives.

When certain mega churches opened their doors to preach a prosperity gospel yet closed them to the hungry, freezing homeless people outside, they demonstrated that religion is only needed when it can be manipulated to support capitalism and the status quo.

Maybe that ruffled your feathers if you believe R-rated movies and secular pop songs are sinful. Self-control, wisdom, discernment, and conviction are integral to the Christian life. And if a song or movie or whatever else makes you feel uncomfortable or promotes wrong choices, don’t partake in it. I know some things convict me waaayyy more as I’ve grown closer to God. For me, it’s more often things like “the harsh words I said to a loved one in a moment of impatience” or “an instance when I could’ve witnessed but was afraid.”

But, I digress…

Here’s the point: Christianity is about being reconciled to the God of the universe, who created all things and loves us dearly, through Jesus, who died and was resurrected to defeat sin and death. The Holy Spirit guides us through life in pursing God and following Jesus, and this relationship with the three-in-one God gives us a life abundant in love, joy, hope, peace, and strength; we’re driven to share these things with others.

THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS. It’s sooo much more than the “rules to follow for a ticket to heaven” box in which we want to confine faith.

This week’s video briefly delves into this topic. Amazingly, what I wrote here isn’t even part of it; I just said a prayer before opening this blank post and word-vomited everything above as fast as I could type it. Divine guidance or the heretical musings of a misguided woman? You can decide. ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you have five and a half minutes, I’d so appreciate a watch. Also, hit the like button and subscribe if you enjoy it. Thanks so much for watching and/or reading! โ™ฅ

Catching Up With Retrospective Lily

Whew! This week has flown by in the seeming blink of an eye. September is my favorite month because, for me, it represents an excitement about new beginnings–the incoming fall/holiday season, a new school year (for most of my life). It’s always been a time of busy-ness, too, and that feeling has somehow carried over even in the ‘Rona era. So today, let’s just spend a few minutes catching up.

Church

From about May to now, my church has met outdoors for worship–social distancing and wearing masks, too. Not gonna lie, there have been a few times where I wanted to shower right after the service; the NC humidity is no joke. But overall, it’s gone really well. Back in the normal times, I taught the adult Sunday School class. We had such enriching conversations where we dug deep, challenging ourselves and growing closer to God in the process. Because of the circumstances, we hadn’t held SS in months, and I was really missing it. As it turns out, others shared my feelings.

We decided about a month ago to start having SS after the normal service. I’ve been leading the class, and since my pastor preaches from the lectionary, I choose a gospel parable or story that aligns with the sermon passage each week. In SS, we read, analyze, break down, and discuss the parable or story while also connecting it to the sermon passage. Many of my normal SS attendees are participating along with others who weren’t staying for SS or had been in a different class beforehand. Last week, my mom counted 17 people who stayed. Praise God for the little things! I think this new venture, which is shaping up like a Bible study course, will turn out to be a huge blessing for all of us! Meanwhile…

Devo Life

I’ve been praying hard for a lot of things. Continuing the thoughts above, I’ve asked God to draw our members near to Him and help us love Him and our neighbor. We are starting a new mission group called NOW (Nurture, Outreach, Witness) to figure out how to minister to both our members and our community under the current limitations. I’ve been asking God to give us His direction and all the tools we’ll need–creativity/visions, wisdom/insight, unity, compassion, zeal, boldness, faith, etc.

Generally, I’ve been continuing my prayer and devotional life in a similar fashion to what I described in this post. Lately, I spend 30-45 minutes in prayer and 30-45 minutes reading scripture (note: I’m not perfect, so I don’t do this every single day–just more often than not). I’ve said it 100 times before and will keep reiterating it: the Psalms have taught me how to pray from the depths of my spirit. As far as scripture reading goes, I’ve been spending most of my OT time with the major prophets–Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. The dark tone of the books seems fitting during a pandemic, and the emphases on justice and helping the needy have correlated well with national conversations around inequity. This was not at all planned (I was just continuing through the OT in chronological order), testifying to the fact that God works in mysterious ways. I’m all over the place with my NT reading; thanks to its brevity, I’ve read it all multiple times.

Work

For those who don’t know, I’m a contributing writer for a local newspaper. I haven’t done much during COVID-19 aside from my usual installments–the Crime Report and the Calendar Events. There haven’t been too many of the latter lately, but the former is entertaining as ever. We switched to a biweekly publishing schedule because advertising has decreased, but we are still doing comparatively well under the circumstances, considering that some small businesses have suffered much worse.

United Methodist Women

I guess it was raining when the mailman brought the postcard.

United Methodist Women is a women’s mission organization in the UMC. We usually have a few annual events in our district and conference, but they’ve all been cancelled. Our biggest event of the year, in which we celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments and decide the next year’s budget, officers, etc, got moved to a Zoom Webinar. Since I serve as “communications coordinator” for our district, I worked my butt off spreading the word–front page article of our 3rd quarter newsletter, a postcard, a mass email. Other ladies on our team also did their best to plan a great event and ensure it went smoothly on the technological side. By the time the day rolled around, I was ready for the event to be behind us! All went well, and we had the highest attendance of all six districts in our conference. Also, our “hands-on mission project” was to collect soap, toilet paper, and dish detergent for local food pantries or community charities. Several units participated, so it’s awesome that we made a small impact on our neighbors’ needs.

Now, it’s time to lay out the 4th quarter newsletter and plan how to market a social action workshop on the school-to-prison pipeline via Zoom. On to the next one, as they say. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Personal

I don’t have much to report but did want to say that the wedding plans are on indefinite hiatus. Ah, well. I want to host the wedding in my church, so at least we don’t have to deal with booking or unbooking a venue.

Thanks for reading! Is anything new with you? Let me know in the comments.

How to Get “Young People” in Church (& Lessons from a Protest)

If you attend a small church, you have likely heard the panicked question, “How do we attract more young people?!” In this post, I’ll explore that issue. For the record, I’m 26-years-old and have attended church on and off most of my life (mostly on, but you know how college kids are). Also, I’m engaged and childless; hence, my perspective lacks the input of a young wife/mother.

I should note that people may refer to different age ranges with the phrase “young person/people.” Some people literally mean youth and children (18 and under), while others broaden the definition to include people about my age and below; still others think of people in their 30’s-40’s as young. Since the average age for members of most small churches is 65+, the term “young” can be applied liberally.

Times have changed, and many struggle to keep up. Some rack their brains, attempting to come up with events and other (often superficial) ways to reach young people, while others have given up and resorted to lamenting “what the world is coming to.” Believe it or not, attracting young people isn’t actually insurmountable…but it requires leaving our comfort zones.

Over 50 years ago, Dr. MLK Jr. wrote about who the church was in the past vs. at that time. The church used to be a group of passionate Jesus followers who were truly counter-cultural; they spread truth and love and also stood for justice. By the 1950’s, they’d become a state institution that stood with the status quo instead of challenging it. Young people, King wrote, were beginning to disdain the church’s hypocrisy and complacency. If it refused to return to its roots, the church as we know it would be deemed “an irrelevant social club.”

Eerie, isn’t it? “Prophetic” is more like it. The problem has gotten worse instead of better. Surprise, surprise: small churches are in danger of dying out, literally. This predicament brings the book of Jeremiah to mind. Chapter upon chapter deals with God’s impending wrath; it’s disturbing and frightening. But, in chapter 22, God throws out a plea deal: “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3, NIV). The passage goes on to assure that God will make their home “a desolation” if they do not obey. The warnings went unheeded, so the Babylonian Exile happened. But this gives me hope that, just as God offered the Hebrews mercy, it’s not too late to repent of our apathy and disobedience; it’s not too late to return to our roots.

Sorry not sorry for the long intro–y’all know I have a lot to say. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Okay, let’s get into it. Like I said earlier, it’s not that complicated…BUT it is hard.

Provide opportunities to genuinely make a difference

I attended a *peaceful* protest last week for educational purposes and to express compassion for others’ pain (that’s me in the far left photo, recording a video). Upon learning this, a family member mockingly said I must feel “SO VIRTUOUS.” Do I believe my gathering in a group, holding signs, marching up the street, and later returning to my quaint life in the suburbs will really make a difference to anyone who experiences poverty, racism, police brutality, or mass incarceration? No. But, dang, it felt good just to DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING!

I’m not totally naive; I realize now is the best time to be alive–for human rights, for technology, for medicine, for access to information, etc. Still, there are so many effed up things in this world from how we mistreat people who make our cheap clothes to how we exploit God’s creation. We young people are energized and compassionate, but we don’t know how to make this world a better place.

The church can provide those opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus through outreach and social action. As we wait for the pandemic to subside, let’s use this time to dream big. I have been fervently praying to God that we, His servants, would be anointed with creativity, visions, boldness, and unity. Join me in this prayer and in planning ways to make Kingdom-shaped differences in our communities. Let’s be willing to try new ideas, take our ministry outside the church walls, and have uncomfortable conversations and experiences. Let’s trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us if we step out in faith.

Help them encounter Jesus and be transformed

Jesus is the one who started transforming my heart at age 23. As I pursue Him, the scales fall from my eyes. I see my neighbors clearly and love them deeply; I feel compelled to help them. For me, meeting Jesus was the first step, with action following. But if we are ministering to young people who don’t attend church, the walk will have to come before the talk, if that makes sense. Show them how Jesus has changed you–by loving your neighbor–then introduce them to Jesus (love is an action verb here).

When I met Jesus–when I dove into the Living Word and God drew me near–I got baptized with the Holy Spirit and an unquenchable fire. It’d be fair to ask, “Hey, wait–I thought you said young people are already hungry to make a difference–so why is Jesus needed?” Allow me to clarify.

We young people want to make a difference…but when Jesus is the motivation, one’s mindset changes. I want to stand for justice, but I also want to be a peacemaker; I want to be bold, but I also want to be gentle. I pray for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s families to have peace and comfort, but I also pray the officers would repent and receive God’s mercy.

Most of those attending the protest I went to were fueled by other things–anger, desperation, fear, despair. Several chants started with the word “F*ck.” Young people are emotionally exhausted because they don’t want to succumb to hopelessness, yet they often feel powerless.

Praise God, there is hope in Jesus Christ; young people and the world as a whole need it. We need Jesus, along with God and the Holy Spirit, to help us return to the mindset of the early church.

Young people do not need a social club. We need Jesus, and we need avenues to ACT as the hands and feet of Jesus. Are our churches social clubs, or are we ready to partner with Jesus and transform the world? (referencing the 1 Cor. greeting & the Great Commission)

Thanks for reading! Two cents welcome. โ™ฅ I myself attend a small church with the same “young people” issue. Maybe God has anointed me with these revelations so I can start laying groundwork to eventually bring more young people into my church. Asking people to step outside their comfort zones feels intimidating to the point of impossible. Perhaps Satan is trying to immobilize me. Ugh, swimming against a current is tough stuff. Words of encouragement also welcome!

God Spoke to Me, an Eerily Prophetic Quote from Dr. MLK Jr. & Attending a Mega-Church Virtually

Though the lack of Sunday worship services during Lent makes it feel less real, today is Good Friday. As we remember Jesus’s great sacrifice for humanity this Easter weekend, I wonder how the church will stand against injustice as Jesus did. Whether we choose to be counter-cultural or comfortable will determine our ability to follow Jesus, make disciples, and transform the world (The Great Commission).

God spoke to me this morning

As I type this rough draft on April 6, 2020, I just finished my prayer + Bible reading time. [See last week’s post to learn more about how this looks.] In my prayer, I specifically asked God to “speak to me in ways I can understand, which is mostly through what I read.” Also, I had this vague, nagging feeling that a post idea was on the tip of my fingers as I prayed; I even paused and blinked for a minute, tried and failed to grasp it, then reverted back to my prayer.

When I got to my reading, I *just so happened* to be on Psalm 112. As I read it, I found comfort for uncertain times as I read of the righteous: “Their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid.” Amen! I went on to read 113 and 114, and what do ya know? The footnote says Psalms 113-118 are considered “Hallel” because of their association with the Jewish Passover…which *just so happens* to directly correlate with Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, when Jesus entered Jerusalem FOR THE PASSOVER CELEBRATION (and His impending murder).

Then, I skipped forward to Isaiah, which I’ve been chipping away at for months. I *just so happened* to be on chapter 52, and some of you may know where this is going…the servant song of chapter 53. Holy wow. Some read it as a prophecy of Jesus, while some simply see Jesus reflected in it. Either way, the passage provides a stirring picture of sacrificial love.

Finally, I read my NT passage for the day, which was the last chapter of Romans. As Paul spoke of UNITY in the church, I was reminded of a prophetic–even to the point of disconcerting–quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps this is the post idea I felt tingling on my fingertips. God moved me to write this immediately.

Jesus wasn’t status quo; what about the church?

martin luther king arrested in birmingham
Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Dr. King being arrested on April 16, 1963. Photo from a TIME magazine article covering this story when it happened.

When Dr. King was arrested during a peaceful protest in 1963, a group of white evangelical leaders came together to write him a letter discouraging his “untimely and unwise” fight for equal rights for black people. His response to them, jotted in the margins of a newspaper article about the letter along with pieces of paper smuggled in to him, articulates grace along with biting truth. Some of that truth disturbs me in its continued significance. Or, in 2020 vernacular: I’m shook. The letter is long, and even this excerpt is lengthy, but I feel compelled to share this:

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Ouch. The truth hurts. Has the body of Christ become weak, ineffectual, defenders of the status quo? Have we become an irrelevant social club? Are young people so disappointed with us that they’ve become outright disgusted?

I find these premonitions scary. Why? The fact that churches are dying all around us and suffering from a lack of younger demographics shows many have worsened rather than improved with the symptoms Dr. King identified almost 57 years ago.

Lessons learned from attending a mega-church virtually

Yesterday, I attended a virtual church service through Elevation Worship, one of those sometimes-vilified mega-churches that is growing while so many others sink. Even I have pointed out issues with mega-churches, such as lack of intimacy, which is still a fair point. However, as I watched the service, God opened my heart. [Sidenote: I’ve also prayed God would continually sanctify me and make scales fall from my eyes.] I realized people–even myself at times–miss the full picture when we say things like, “Young people just want a big concert!” Yes, the praise music was led by a band on a stage. But the sermon was fantastic…which, ironically, dug into a Psalm (I posted about Psalms last week).

Throughout the service–the music, the message, a video they showed praying with teachers in this pandemic, everything–I felt the Spirit moving. I realized young people want to be where the Spirit is. Oftentimes, sadly, people who have been set in their ways a long time reject new ideas, mission projects, etc. and exclude the Spirit from their churches.


The Spirit moves people to have compassion, love justice, and be bold. We absolutely need to be unified in these traits to bear fruit; otherwise, God might just curse our fig tree. Remembering the incredible sacrifice Jesus made for me, I want to be courageous for Him. I’m thankful for opportunities in my local church and at the district level to really step out in faith, especially through United Methodist Women, a mission organization that is authentically counter-cultural.

I pray we will remember all these things as we move into the future. Who will we be and what will we stand for? Also, as an excerpt from my Psalm reading today says: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Thanks for reading. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a wonderful Easter weekend.

Why Small Groups Are Vital in a Church

Hi, friends. Today’s post centers on the importance of small groups in the church.

Many of those who still attend church nowadays prefer mega-churches with auditorium seating and thousands in attendance. I don’t have a problem with mega-churches in theory, but I am concerned that those church-goers can bypass all intimacy. However, even the members of small churches can skirt personal contact if they only attend the main service and zip out immediately after the preacher gives their closing words.

A two-birds-one-stone, ripple effect: small groups benefit individuals, and consequently, small groups benefit the whole church.

Small groups strengthen the church because they take listeners of the Word and turn them into do’ers who are genuinely seeking God’s will or learning how to be Christ-like in a selfish, cynical world or carrying out Jesus’s ministry or whatever else, depending on what the group is trying to accomplish. Small groups enrich the individual for the same reason–they propel said individuals into discipleship and help them grow in their faith. Can you see a sort of symbiotic relationship here? Real, nitty-gritty, bleeding-heart, energized disciples keep Christ at the head of the church, enabling its ministry to be relevant and effective. But actually walking the path that leads to that kind of discipleship is just as beneficial for the individual as the result is for the church. The individual is blossoming into a new, whole, healed creation with a galvanizing purpose.

Small groups also open up a crucial space for conversation that is closed when the preacher delivers a sermon on Sunday morning. In my personal experience, those conversations with fellow believers, where we wrestle with God and the world, are the spice of life.


I imagine there are plenty of churches that either have surface-level, boring small groups or have given up on small groups due to lack of interest. If your church falls in either of these categories, I hope you will prayerfully consider starting your own and encouraging others to participate. I’ll also mention that, thanks to technology, a small group that video chats could be formed across geographical lines.

I pray that more church-goers would go beyond “spectator” status and participate in small groups within the congregation. Growth cannot happen in stagnancy, and small groups tend to challenge inertia.

Thanks for reading! Do you participate in a small group? Let me know in the comments. I’m blessed to be in a few–

  • United Methodist Women (mission organization) unit at my church
  • District board of United Methodist Women
  • Lay Servant School staff and students (UMC district level–I’m a teacher)
  • Sunday School class at my church (surprise, surprise–I’m the teacher ๐Ÿ™‚ )
  • Bible study group at my church