Thursday, January 26, 2012

Locked Out

Have you ever been locked out of your car or your home? I have been locked out of both! I have found a lot of spiritual truth in being locked out of my vehicle or house. Instead of focusing a lot on the "how" I found myself in those situations, I am going to talk about the results of what can happen because of it.

I lost my house key. I knew that when I locked my door and closed it behind me that I was not going to be able to get back in. I was aware that my key was lost, but I had to make sure my home was secure before I left. Unfortunately, there are some people in this world who take things that do not belong to them and I do not want to leave an invitation for those people to help themselves. Since I knew I was essentially locking myself out of the house, I did not go into panic mode. I prepared myself for being unable to get back in. I made sure I had my purse and billfold, my coat, and school bag for the next day. I had everything I needed before I shut the door. Now, I should add a side note here that I am married and my husband does have a key to our doors. My in-laws also have keys and so I had hope of getting back in when I locked the door and shut it.

Sometimes I think that as Christians we can do the same thing. We are in church and we are surrounded by people who have the same "key" that we have to get to God. Some people may think their key is bigger or better, but it is all the same key. Week after week we go to the same church. For those of you who are like me and grew up as a preacher's kid, you know what I am talking about when I say that for some of us, we practically lived at church day after day. This problem of locking ourselves out of God's house happens in every denomination in every church in America! At some point, we start noticing things that we would have done differently if we had been in charge. This is something I have to be careful of as one who grew up in the church, studied at the feet of a Bible scholar, and learned as much as I could from some very influential Christian leaders. I listen carefully to anyone who is ministering. I do not take their word for it, but must search it out for myself. That is a good thing! But, when I can get into trouble is by letting my thoughts turn to pointing out what was not said. The scriptures that I would have added, the statements that I would have made, and the examples I would have used come flooding into my mind and if I am not careful, before long I can start holding up what I would have done with what the minister did and compare the two!

Sometimes people will disagree with what songs were sung during the praise and worship service. The songs were too fast, too slow, too loud, too soft, too spiritual, or not spiritual enough. Someone whispers into their program to their neighbor asking if they saw what so-and-so was wearing. Comments are made about how parents don't discipline their children enough anymore and point out whose children are the worst. Meet-and-greet can turn into gripe sessions about what is going wrong in the church, how burdened one might feel with all their self-appointed responsibilities, and soon the negativity spreads through the congregation. After church groups will meet up for an after-service lunch or dinner party at a local restaurant. This is usually a meeting among those who are in the know. They readily share whatever they know about others (who usually are not at this eating engagement) and the gossip begins... or continues, depending on how you look at it.

All of these people are being careless with their keys. Pretty soon someone's feelings are going to get hurt, someone will get offended, and someone can decide to leave the church. They know they have lost their key, so the thought of walking out the church door is not going to send them into panic mode. They are aware of how many other people they know that own a key that can let them back in if they should need to. Little by little, the people start to gather their belongings, the things they once loved and cared about, and once they are sure they have everything they need to close that door behind them, knowing that their key is gone, they silently and purposefully close the door behind them.

Sometimes people who leave are called back-sliders. Sometimes that is exactly what happens. The person leaves church and slowly (rapidly in some cases), returns to old habits and former friends and groups that welcome them with open arms. They slide back into sin and the "natural man" takes over. Their Bible remains closed, the Christian radio station is exchanged for a more worldy one, and time with God is minimal at best.

In other cases, the hurt or angry Christians close the door and walk right into another church. Convinced the new church is superior to the former one, they quickly begin socializing and making new friends. Quick to join the choir, sign up for volunteer opportunities within the church, and always around to lend a helping hand, they feel as though they finally belong. They get a new key! In time, this pattern can repeat itself over and over. These people are known as church-hoppers.

But there is another kind of person who loses their key and knowingly walks away without looking back. They neither fall into sin and disobedience from God's laws, nor hop from one place of worship to the next. Instead they quietly search for God in their life the best way they know how. They read His Word, study the scriptures, spend time in prayer, help those in need, encourage others as they struggle along, and build their faith with time spent in His presence as often as possible. Most often they are hurting, but they do not know how to fix the longing they have to get back in. Maybe they only know one or two people with a key and are afraid of how they would be viewed if asked to be let in.

There is hope for every single person who has ever lost their key to the house of God, and who made the decision to lock the door behind them and walk away. Jesus died for all of us to pay the debt we owed for our sins. Jesus was the supreme sacrifice that died, was buried, and was resurrected to live forevermore. Jesus is the key to the house of God. If we lose our key, we lose everything! Once we are a child of God, we can lose our key. It happens! But, what are we going to do about it? Falling back into our sin is not the answer. It may seem easier at the time, but God's way is better. Hopping from one church to the next in an effort to find the "right" church or the "perfect" church is fruitless and will not please God. He does not want us to run from our troubles and leave when things go wrong. We must cling to Him and ask for His help to work everything out. My mom always asked my siblings and me, "If you can't get along with one another down here, how do you ever hope to get along in Heaven?" And, no matter how hurt or disappointed you may feel, or even how angry you become, do not shut yourself off from a deeper spiritual experience by staying away from church.

I know what it is like to be all three of those kinds of people. I have done all of those things. When people find out that I am great with kids and love to teach, have been working with kids for years and years, they want me to teach Sunday school and children's church. Somehow someone will learn about how I am good at organizing events and fundraisers, network with various organizations to obtain items for give-aways and prizes. Don't you know that there is a need for that everywhere? Sister So-And-So will make a bee-line right for me and ask me to help with a project. Another person finds out that I sing and can write songs, stories, poems, etc. You guessed it, another need that could be filled by yours truly! Do I say no? Of course I don't. This could be my chance to walk in my calling. But the load is too heavy to bear all alone, and not one thing is required of me, but many. More and more is asked to be poured from my vessel and I am finding myself dry and in need of something poured back into me, but the obligations get into the way and before you know it I am burned out. Little by little I lose my key.

God gave me a tremendous gift that I truly cherish in that I can read the scriptures and they just come alive to me. I am not merely reading words on a page, but I am transported into time and suddenly I am at the cross where Jesus is tortured and put to death for my sins and I will cry and be overcome with emotion as I read all that is shared about His experiences. I can feel the gut-wrenching agony and pain as He is carrying the cross and hear the clanging of the hammer as they drive the nails into His hands and into His feet. I can hear the wind as the whip lashes the back of my precious Savior as He pays the price for my healing. I can see the blood and water flowing from the wound in His side as the soldier pierced His side. Just before He dies on the cross I can hear Him plea to God on our behalf to, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." I can take my experiences and couple them with the words in the Old and the New Testaments and share that with people to encourage them to keep up the good fight of faith. I have spent hours at a time with a wayward Christian as I keep pointing to the way of the cross, and try to be the example they need to see, in order to help them find their keys. I am physically exhausted when it is over, sometimes shaking inside from how strong the power of God was inside me. And yet I have been one who has lost my key. How could God ever use someone in such a powerful way if they have ever lost their way? It is simple. He lets us tell others about our own journey to water the seed of faith that has been planted in them so they can know how faithful, merciful, and good God is!

I am at a new church now. It is new to me and my family anyway. My husband truly loves it and wants to become a member by joining the church. My children enjoy it very much. They hoop and holler in excitement when we tell them it is time for church. I am praying that their little minds and hearts will be filled to overflowing as they learn about Jesus and what He has done for them. Hopefully some of the things they learn at church will just be a reminder of things I have shared with them at home. The church we attend is filled with many wonderful, kind, and friendly people. I feel the presence of God there. It is not a denomination that I grew up in, and it is very different from what I am used to, but I am trusting God that it is where I am meant to be. My husband and children hold their keys very close to them and do not dare think of losing them. I am in a more fragile state right now. I have the key! I love the key! Remember Jesus is the key! I know that if this is where God wants our family to be, He will make room for me to do the things He has called me to do. In the meantime, I am content to stand beneath the spout and let Him heal and fill my broken vessel.

If you are in need of finding the key, you just have to remember where you left it. Ask Jesus to guide your heart, to lead you to the church where He wants you to attend, and then go! It is okay to feel uneasy at first. It is okay to not raise your hand when they ask for volunteers. I even encourage you to wait a while before you choose to get involved at your church. Let God reveal His plan to you and what things He has for you to do. He will open the doors for you to walk in your calling in His time. So many people have been hurt or offended in church and it is so sad, but you are not alone. The good news is that you can get up and try again! Find a church who is in love with Jesus and looking for His return. Spend more time alone with God and in His presence than in trying to acquire recognition and achievements in the church. Look for opportunities to serve others and you will find yourself getting rooted and grounded in the House of God.

I hope that something I have shared here will be a blessing to you as you read these words. It is my desire to encourage others and help as many people that I can. Hold onto your key and do not lose it! Make up your mind to be determined to hold out 'til the end. That was a wonderful song my grandmother used to sing and what a great message it is! Don't give up and even when things get hard, press on because the journey may be hard sometimes, but it is not long!

~Bridgett