Your light will shine when all else fades
Your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart
Is to bring You praise
From the inside out
Lord, my soul cries out
— Hillsong United, “From the Inside Out”
I’m hurt and I’m hurting. I’ve been hurt by people in churches before because, well, we are sinful creatures and that’s what happens. While I recognize that, there’s a certain amount of faith and trust that you place in your church leadership. Sometimes, that faith and trust seem to make them infallible in your mind. So when lousy news comes your way, it can be devastating.
2015 has been a year of significant downs rather than ups. Not just in my personal and work life but also in my spiritual life. For most of the year, my family has not attended church. There’s always been something going on, whether it’s an injury, depression, lack of sleep, or early nap time for the little man. But we’ve attended when we’ve been able to. However, of course, when I either make plans to attend church or have just attended church, an earth-shaking event occurs. In August, it was the departure of an elder and his wife—people we were close to and related to most. In September, nearly 3 weeks later, another elder resigned out of dissatisfaction with the choices of our denomination. That left 2 elders and—honest to God—I don’t know how many deacons. Now, it’s November. And we finally make it to church. There was a big meeting 2 weeks ago and I figured it regarded the position of the remaining elders. Boy, was I ever wrong.
My senior pastor resigned during the meeting. I had planned to attend but ended up working late and just didn’t feel up to it. Now, I’m glad I wasn’t there because I don’t think I could’ve handled the shock of what I would’ve heard. It was a big enough shock for me simply hearing it from another church member in nursery. And that wasn’t even in full detail. One of the elders sat us down after church and explained what happened during the meeting and what led our senior pastor to resign.
All day Sunday, I found myself simply reeling from the shock of no longer having a senior pastor to turn to. It’s like someone I put faith in and trusted for 3 to 4 years broke that trust. So, of course, I too feel broken. Hurt. I hoped I’d never have to go through this again after the pain of what I endured at my last church. As I go through my mind, with each previous church, there’s been an element of pain and broken trust. Why should the present or the future be any different? But I feel as though I need to hope for the best. Funny how I can hope for the best in a church full of sinful people but fail to hope for the best in my own life, a person full of wickedness and sin.
I pray for the restoration of my former senior pastor and his family. I pray for my church because I love my congregants dearly and hope that we are able to survive this storm. I thank God for our sister church in Philadelphia that is willing to help us during this time of need. And I thank God that He is faithful to us even when our shepherds are not.
This post will probably be a stream-of-conscious rambling and full of typos because I’m typing this on my phone. Bear with me. I hope this is short because I haven’t adjusted to the size of the iPhone 6 so my fingers keep slipping. (Not plus size; just regular size.)
Anyway, for the past 2 weeks I’ve been attending a local Roman Catholic Church. In a lot of ways, it feels like a homecoming and in other ways it’s changed. I still remember the sign of the cross, many of the congregational responses (although some have changed and one deleted), and when to sit, stand, and kneel (for the most part). I enjoy the 20-minute homily (mainly for the brevity), the availability of hymnals, and the fact that I can (again, for the most part) enter and exit the church unnoticed.
But there’s so much I disagree with now that I’ve been away from Roman Catholicism. After having been Protestant for as many years as I was Catholic, the following are my gripes:
- Transubstantiation. This is a big one for me. I don’t believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. I believe they are symbols that represent his body and blood.
- The Catholic Church being considered the “true” church. I get the sense (from this Sunday’s homily) that anyone outside of the Catholic Church is “outside the fold.” I don’t know if that means lack of salvation but I bristle when I think that there’s only one “true church,” ie, denomination.
- Mary. I’ve been hearing from Catholics lately that Mary is not worshipped but merely revered as the mother of God. Unless the position on Mary has changed within the past 16 years (and I don’t think so), I’m pretty sure Mary is worshipped to be almost if not practically on par with Jesus’ holiness. My entire schooling was in Catholic institutions and I firmly believe that Mary is held to a higher standard than a saint like, oh, John, Paul, Ringo, or George. (Whoops. Well, I got 2 out of 4.)
- Kneeling before statues. I’m no longer comfortable with this. I’ve read through Genesis and Exodus a few times enough to know that God doesn’t seem to be a fan of “idols” or bowing down before man-made images.
I guess those are a few of the things that hold me back from Catholicism. (Although I must admit, it really pissed me off on Sunday to see how many people accepted the host and then bypassed the cup [er, chalice as they call it now]. Partake in the Eucharist in its entirety or don’t partake at all. Yes, I’ll admit: It’s gross to drink from the same cup as other people [backwash and all that] but if it’s holy, then it’s purified, right?)
Like I said before, I’ve been Protestant about as long as I was Catholic. (I was essentially a Protestant for 2 years while finishing up high school.) I gravitate toward Protestant beliefs. Much of it makes sense to me. I think Martin Luther (of the Reformation) was a badass. I’ve enjoyed the emphasis on worshipping Jesus alone. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective on salvation: grace by faith alone. (Catholics believe in grace plus good works—something I now battle with based on my interpretation of passages from the Book of James.) I’ve learned so much more about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in Protestant churches.
But I’ve become disenchanted with many Protestant churches. In an effort to try to shift away from Catholic traditions, some have abandoned liturgies from their services. Sure, the service tends to be somewhat structured, but it lacks that liturgical feel that the Catholic Church provides.
Call me old fashioned, but I am dismayed at the growing trend of using PowerPoints (or nothing at all) for worship music. I’ve never understood how anyone is supposed to know or be able to sing any of these new worship songs without sheet music. Unless you listen to Christian music religiously, which I suppose is the assumption, there’s no way to know the music being sung in church. In the Catholic Church, a cantor sings the chorus for the entire church then encourages everyone to sing the chorus with him or her, thus introducing the melody. The cantor usually sings the verses alone when the song is not in the hymnal.
Then there’s my biggest beef with Protestants: the hour-long sermons. Perhaps in the days of Jonathan Edwards when he preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” people were much more attentive and receptive to a lengthy sermon. These days, we in America have short attention spans. Long sermons bore us to tears even if you are an entertaining, charismatic speaker. There’s only so long you can hold your audience’s attention before it drops off. (Speaking of that, kudos to you if you’ve made it this far. And yes, I’m still typing on my phone. Ow.)
Protestant (excluding non-denominational churches) tend to be on the smaller side (unlike 200+ people in a Catholic Church) providing the opportunity for it to become a place where “everybody knows your name.” I’m at a point in my life where I want to be invisible. I want to go to church, worship God, and then leave with minimal to no interruption. I go to the Catholic Church in the same community where I worked at a local library so running into my former coworkers occasionally is to be expected. But for the most part, the church is so big, I can dodge them if needed.
Regarding childcare, Protestants win over Catholics in my estimation. Protestants usually have a nursery or some form or childcare or Sunday School for young children. Catholics tend to deal with their screaming babies during Mass. Some Catholic Churches have partitioned a room in the back of the church with speakers and a glass panel to accommodate people with special needs, such as moms with babies, the elderly, and the physically handicapped. But it’s hard for many Catholic Churches to retrofit this.
I guess that’s my 2 cents on my faith. I’m stuck in limbo. I probably won’t return to the Catholic Church as a member (technically I’m still a member of a church on Long Island, NY) but I don’t know if I can handle one more 7-11 praise song at a Protestant church. (Sing 7 words 11 times.) I recognize no church is perfect, but at this point, which church’s shortcomings am I able to tolerate?
I always feel helpless when I’m on an airplane. There’s something about not seeing the pilots (to whom I have entrusted my life) that freaks me out. At least I can look at a bus driver and evaluate whether I want to be on a bus for a short period of time. Sometimes I’ll even get glimpses of train conductors (who, in my opinion, tend to be scruffy). Usually I don’t get to meet the pilots until the end of a flight, but that doesn’t do me any good by that point. I know they’re going through their pre-flight checks before takeoff (which are highly important, of course), but gosh, meeting a pilot and knowing he doesn’t have alcohol in his system would really put me at ease.
So what do I do so I don’t have a freaking panic attack? I pray.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7)
Maybe I could change that to a modern version:
Some trust in cars and some in planes, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
It is a good verse to remember for transportation. I pray and give up everything to God and hope in him for the safety and protection of myself and all on board.
For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14)
God is sovereign over all things and he was sovereign when planes hit the World Trade Center and he was also sovereign when US Airways Flight 1549 miraculously landed on the Hudson. God watches over each and every plane that takes off, lands, or even sadly, disappears. This is my consolation when I am helpless:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
Not that I live on the edge of life in the hopes of attaining “gain,” so to speak, but if anything were to happen, I am reminded that I’d receive something better than this present life.
But, hey, I still pray for a safe takeoff, flight, and landing.
Faith plays an odd role in my life. It’s the thing that has brought me back from the brink of death. In case you’re not aware, I’m a born-again Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as her lord and savior. Or in more politically correct terms, I’m a Jesus follower. I believe in the teachings and commandments of Jesus. I believe that he has fulfilled Old Testament law and that I don’t need to adhere to everything to be a good Christian.
I used to think, in order to be a good Christian, that it was necessary to pray every day and read the Bible every day, but Jesus didn’t say any of those things. Jesus said the ultimate commandments were to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40).
Faith, for me, is sort of an odd duck. I have it. Then I don’t. It’s a process. I believe in God, but I’m lousy at attending church regularly. I read the Bible as often as I can (though not every day), and I pray as I think of it.
There was a time I would’ve said faith was central to my well-being. And in some ways, it still is. It’s one of the most important things in my life. But if I’m honest, I don’t rank God first through my actions. He’s often secondary to other things. I don’t mean for things to be that way. I try to put God and government first when it comes to money (although, if I’m honest, the government comes first most of the time). But when it comes to time, God only gets a small portion of it. He should really get a much larger portion but I don’t know how to spend time with him that isn’t meaningless.
Maybe I should just sit in silence and see how he speaks to me.
I “randomly” turned to Psalm 103 in my devotions yesterday, and it was full of quote-worthy verses. Here’s a passage that stood out to me:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (v. 8)
Oddly enough, a few days ago, I read in Joel 2:
Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. (v. 13)
I like these verses because they are reminders of God’s attributes. In the midst of my pain, stress, and anxiety, I don’t feel a God who is any of these things. (Well, maybe the slow to anger part because I haven’t been smited yet.)
But God is gracious: I have three, going on four, part-time jobs in a down economy.
God is compassionate: I am earning money to pay bills and start a freelancing business.
God is slow to anger: In all the stupid ways I’ve disobeyed him and blasphemed, he still loves me.
God is abounding in lovingkindness: He has surrounded me with supportive friends and family.
God is relenting of evil: Oh, the punishment I deserve for being a rebellious child and having my heart set against him!
Satan has really set some attacks against me so that I destroy myself. But I am thankful that God’s truths are reiterated in different ways.