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Church and Faith: Dead or Alive

I understand only too well what faith looks like both dead and alive as I have experienced both.  I have experienced a complete lack of trust in God, I have experienced anger with God, I have ignored God completely and rested on my own strength and I have doubted the very existence of God.  I have fooled myself by believing I was alive in faith when, in reality, my faith was dead.

Recently, thanks be to God, I have discovered what faith looks like when it is alive!!  Lockdown has literally saved my husband and I.  While, before our faith was dead, we are now truly alive in Christ!  We live for Jesus.  Previously, my husband, like many others, whiled away his days staring at his phone, now, he wakes at 5am for prayer and study before work at 9am.  He had intended to sleep until 7 or 8 at the weekend but he has been unable to, he is too excited to spend time with God!  He is reading an impossible number of books in order that he can write a book for new Christians exploring who Jesus is!  I have spent lockdown making lots of new Christian friends, I have undertaken various studies and summits which have inspired me greatly, without them I would not be writing this blog! Our plans are no longer our own and we are happier than we have ever been!  I woke this morning after a very disturbed night’s sleep and I thought I will just have a relaxing day, finish the book I am reading entitled “God’s Smuggler”, catch up on some housework and do some craft.  God had other ideas!  As I began to get ready and look forward to my lazy day, my mind became inundated with thoughts.  This has happened a lot since I became “alive” especially since I started writing my blog!  This told me that God had other plans for my day!  So here I am trying to assemble my racing thoughts into coherent English once again.  You may ask, how do you know this is of God?  The answer is simple, because despite my idea of a relaxing day being turned on its head and my plans being totally disrupted, I am happy, I am excited, I am eager.  At the drop of a hat, my plans changed, and I delighted in it.  I delight in it because I know that this is God’s will, that by writing this I please God and that by writing this I may help even one person who is struggling with their faith. 

Coming to faith or indeed recognizing your faith is dead can be torturous, it can be mentally exhausting, you can be confused about who you are!  For years I was at war with myself, I was a soldier in a silent battle between God’s will and my own.  When I was defeated and accepted God’s victory, I then became swamped with questions, far more than I could find answers to!  By my own selfishness I had kept Jesus at arm’s length and, inevitably, this is why my personal journey was so difficult.  I did not want to let go of “my life”.  I liked my life just the way it was, or at least I thought I did.  It took far too long but, finally, I realised that the very things I thought made me happy were having the opposite effect.  Life will never go the way we want it to all the time and therefore, focussing on oneself is unlikely to lead to happiness.  This is a difficult concept to understand as it contradicts our modern thinking which advises “Be who you want to be!”, “Do what makes you happy!”” etc. etc.  This may work when you are employed, healthy, in love etc.  What happens when you are sick, you lose your job, your partner leaves, how do we just make ourselves happy then?  The reality is true happiness and contentment is found only in Jesus.  The peace and happiness that rests in your heart when you finally ditch your sense of self and accept God’s will in your life is unlike anything else one can experience. 

So how can you achieve this?  Well, for me, it was learning to trust God, to completely trust that everything that is happening in my life right now is God’s will and that it is for the good.  I may not see the good in this lifetime, but I trust at some point, I will!  It is surrounding yourself with faithful believers.  Lockdown has provided so many opportunities for me to join in different church services, bible studies, summits, conferences etc. that I otherwise would have been unable to attend.  This has literally changed my life, from the Cheerfully Given Creative Christianity Summit which turned me from an adamant uncreative whose biggest artistic achievement would be the sun, grass, bird, house picture of a four year old child to a buzzing creative with her own craft trolley, who is so full of ideas that she carries a notebook around with her at all times so that her head does not explode! The Aberdeen Christian Fellowship Big Church Weekend which brought my husband and I into the community of believers in Christ who welcomed us warmly.  The Alpha Course where we met fabulous new friends who we keep in touch with regularly, we chat, we laugh, we pray for each other and, God willing, we will soon meet each other face to face for a time of fellowship.  Watching Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men’s Conferences which due to Covid are broadcast online!  Seeing the faithful heart of Angus Buchan inspires us so much to follow in his footsteps, to live our lives for Christ.  Watching an African Church Service where praise is paramount, little is spoken without “Amen” or “Halleluiah”.  This is the faith I strive for, the faith to praise Jesus without fear or embarrassment.  A “Get Out Of Your Head Bible Study” where as a group of women we come together to discuss our struggles and our faith, we pray for each other and we learn from each other and I see Jesus in each and every one of these woman.  Scripture tells us how important it is to fellowship with one another, Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I fully understand the fears that you may have as new Christians reaching out to believers.  It can be difficult; I understand that churches can be cliquey, and some church goers may not be approachable.  I want to say to you that this is your time!!  Coronavirus may have been meant for bad, but God is using it for good.  I would not have had the confidence to attend the above in person and though I was still apprehensive, sitting in my own house, in my chilling clothes made things much easier!  I did not have to worry about my appearance, I did not have to worry about whether I could escape if I were uncomfortable and anxious because all I needed to do was press the Leave Meeting button!  Luckily, I have never felt the need to do this!  So, I urge you, give it a go!  Sign up for Alpha, watch a church service, sign up to Bible Studies or small groups.  Just have a peek and see!!    

For the church, this is the time to rise to the challenge.  Statistics show a huge rise in church attendance during this pandemic, people are interested, people want to know more, people need Jesus.  Acts 2:46-47 “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” 1 Corinthians 3:9 “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

Like Martin Luther King Jr I too have a dream and mine is this … that we will see the Church of God come alive.  That the church will unite throughout the world focussing on union and not division.  That this church will exist for the glory of God and that the living Word of God will be preached with joy and love and without errancy.  That this church will welcome each and every soul as their brother or sister, that they will be welcomed with open arms and encouraged each step of their journey and that those who arrive as strangers, leave as family.  I dream that this church will heal the sick and save the lost.  That testimonies will be shared with joy and fervour.  That the praise will be resounding and powerful that those outside of the building may know that God is alive.  That the walls of this church will tremble from the vociferous preaching held in its midst and that this good news will flow to the ends of the earth and not be silenced.  That no brother or sister is left in any need, but is provided for financially, practically, and emotionally and that this church stands together, shoulder to shoulder with each other living out the graceful love of God.

Ephesians 2:19-20 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” 

Romans 12:4-5 “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

Let this season of tragedy emerge a season of triumph!  Let the people come!!

Love and Blessings

Louise xx

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ΟΚ I Know What To Expect From A Church Service But Which One Should I Go To?

During my life I have visited many churches and received a different experience in each.  It is not my mission to criticise or show favouritism towards any one denomination but rather highlight these experiences in order that you may be helped to identify a church type that would best suit you.  I am aware of the type of church that is more suited to me at this point in my life, but this is not a one size fits all situation.  Taking the above into account, let us look at the different styles.      

There are so many different churches out there that it can be difficult to know which is the right fit for you.  I think I would be accurate to say that the majority of Christians are not perfect and only when we ascend to heaven will we find the one true church of God.

As I only have an understanding of churches in the UK, this is all I can advise on.  Different cultures of course make for different styles of worship.  In the UK, the majority of Christian churches would fall under Church of Scotland, Church of England, Free Church, Baptist, Independent and Catholic. 

Catholic services can be conservative, with traditional hymns and sermon etc.  It is important to note that Catholic doctrine differs from that of the rest of the churches above quite significantly.  This is something I can go into more detail about in another blog.  Cathedrals are often incredibly beautiful buildings which are often open throughout the day for private worship, confession etc.   

The closest service to that of the Catholic service would be the Church of England or Episcopalian Service.  The Church of England was formed when Henry VIII broke away from the catholic church and so many of the features still exist.  The service is again very traditional though it is important to note that styles will differ depending on the minister as some may be more flamboyant and extravert than others!  Again, these churches are often open for private worship.  There is no confession within the Church of England.    

The Church of Scotland again tends to be very conservative, the congregations belonging to the churches I have visited were generally of an older demographic.  The hymns are usually of the traditional variety accompanied by an organ although there may be some variations at times. 

The Church of Scotland and England are held accountable to a national assembly which is positive in that there is a body of accountability in order to protect the Word of God.  If a minister is seen to misrepresent Scripture or abuse his position, he is likely to face the assembly.    

In recent years there has been a huge rise in independent churches.  These may be called Community Churches, Fellowships, Vineyard etc.  These are usually found within halls, schools etc although there are purpose built, modern buildings, housing these churches also.  Here you will tend to find modern worship which may be accompanied by guitar, drums etc.  The congregation will tend to be more visibly involved in praise which to an outsider can seem a little strange until you get used to it and realise that this is likely how worship was undertaken in Biblical times – with hands raised up to God and eyes closed in adoration!  It was within these churches that I first discovered the role of the Holy Spirit.  Again, this is completely Scriptural given that God is both one and three, Father, Son and Spirit (I will leave the Trinity explanation for another blog!).  In my experience the brothers and sisters that belong to this church tend to be more involved with one another, they are commonly divided into small groups who fellowship together and are there to support one another.  They also have frequent events and get togethers.   

I have tried not to sway readers in any direction but instead give a testimony of my experiences so what I would say is read the passages about the church in the New Testament and come to your own conclusion of which church meets these expectations.  There are also other factors to consider.  If you have young children, for example, it is especially important that there is a good Sunday School for the children to grow up in the Lord.  It is important that you connect with people of your own age so that you can support one another through life’s ups and downs.  Worship is a valuable time to connect with your brothers and sisters and if you do not connect with old fashioned hymns or modern worship is too loud for you then this time will be wasted and ineffective.  If you have an insular nature, then perhaps the exuberant and heavily involved modern church may be too much for you and you may be more suited to a quieter church with a more traditional feel. 

Of course,  by necessity I have generalised somewhat, but I hope that I have given an example of what is out there, what to expect and what is important when choosing a church.  The most important aspect is that the Word of God is preached. I would suggest taking your Bible along with you to church and you can always have a look and check the accuracy of the sermon or better still take some notes during the sermon, go home and read along with the passages referred to. 

Every word of Scripture is important and should not be overlooked or added to, 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

If you feel daunted by walking into a church I would suggest you try and get someone to go with you, if this is not possible then why not message the church before you plan to go and I am sure they will get someone to look out for you at the door and show you the ropes.  Another idea is to let the people at the door know that this is your first time and they should make you feel comfortable.     

Finding the right church for you is so important as your place of worship has the capacity to fuel your faith or ultimately extinguish it!  I have experienced both. The profoundly important aspect is your relationship with God so please let this be your true guide.  Happy Worshipping!

Love and Blessings

Louise x       

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What Happens At A Church Service

Going to church for the first time can be a very daunting experience.  You have no idea what will go on there, if people will accept you, if you will do something wrong.  Even moving from one church to another can fill many with fear.  Sadly, this is not what Jesus intended, indeed, it is something that he fought against during his time on earth.  Like a lighthouse bringing her boats into safety, so the church should be a beaming light in the darkness, where anyone can seek refuge.   

Let us have a look at what the Bible tells us about church.  Firstly, who does the Bible say is welcome? The answer is Everyone!

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free ….”

Jesus tells his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …..”, Matthew 28:19 and this sentiment is reiterated in John 10:16 when he says “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  Up until this point, God’s sheep were the nation of Israel, here Jesus speaks of the gentiles coming to join Israel as people of God.

These passages make it clear that all are welcome within the church, whatever one’s ethnicity, financial situation, race, sexuality, gender, etc.  No one should be excluded from the house of God.  There are certain exceptions if a person continues in sin and is causing disruption etc. but this would be a blog unto itself!  It is important to understand that every single person in that church building is a sinner, including the preacher, minister or elder.   

When you walk into a church building you should be made to feel welcome.  You should feel comfortable enough to approach anyone and ask any questions you have about the service or the Scriptures.  If you are not received warmly please do not think negatively at all about yourself, I assure you this is a problem with the particular church and not you.  It is quite normal to try out a few churches sometimes even more before you find the one that fits you best so do not be at all discouraged.  Instead just check out some other ones online and try a new one the next week!!  

What should happen at a church service?

1 Corinthians 14:26 is a great description of a church service “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

James 5:14  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

The above passages show us that a service should include musical praise which need not necessarily be old fashioned songs.  God wishes his children to worship him and he would be just as happy with praise in any form however modern or noisy!  If one looks at the Old Testament you will find the worship of God was often a noisy affair!  The service should also include teaching and instruction in the Lord and the person undertaking such work must be qualified not necessarily by degree etc. but he must be intimately familiar with the Scriptures.

However, the service is undertaken whether the praise is led by organ or drums, the instruction given by minister, pastor or elder, prayers spoken on bended knee, sitting, or standing, all must be done for the glory of God.  A teacher of the law asked Jesus what the most important commandment was, and Jesus answered “‘…. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31. 

This blog may have confused many of you rather than made things clearer!  You may be wondering why, when the Bible so clearly details what a church service should look like why there are so many differences?  It confuses me too! My next blog will continue this theme and try to help you find a church that is a good fit for you, however, in the meantime, just focus on the important factors above and remember you always have the truth in the palm of your hand when you hold your Bible!!

Love and Blessings

Louise x