On Prayer & Friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. “Friend”  is a term we throw around loosely, like it’s a common reality. The more that I talk to people about friendship, the more I’m realizing what a gift genuine friendship is.

I want safe friends who I can say anything to, who know my baggage and help me unpack it, who correct my wrong thinking, and champion my best. I want those friends who love my children, and who frequent my table. I want vacation-together friends, laugh until it hurts, but safe-to-cry with when everything hits the fan friends.

And every once in a while I catch a glimpse that those types of friends do exist.

One of the most profound realizations about friendship I have ever had happened in a women’s restroom. I was working in an office, and it was a particularly challenging day. I had been sitting at my desk blinking back tears of frustration and sadness, feeling all kinds of big emotions, and I stepped away to the women’s room to pull myself together. A friend of mine who has an emotional radar as spot-on as a sniper walked in. Without asking me anything she let out a big sigh, and put her arms around me.

I had planned to keep my battle to myself, get my act together, and finish the work day, but she entered my war zone. She asked if she could pray with me, and I swear the ground shook beneath my feet with the power of the words she prayed over me. She declared war against the lies, against the darkness that was shadowing my heart and mind that day. I was emotionally exhausted, and she took up arms to fight for me.

It was a profound moment. A humbling one. And one full of tremendous power, love, and a fierce boldness that I do not take for granted.

When I saw the new Wonder Woman movie I remembered that moment with my friend.  No major spoilers, but there’s a battle scene during WWII where allied forces are exhausted, scared, and haven’t gained ground in months. Wonder Woman, seeing their exhaustion and need,  steps out of the trenches and starts marching across the field taking blow after blow from enemy fire so that they could gain some ground.

When they were at their weakest she stepped in the gap and fought for them, taking hit after hit so they could regain their footing to fight back themselves.

That is what my dear friend did for me that day. She stepped into my battle and fought for me. Without knowing it, she completely changed the way I define friendship, and brought clarity to the type of friend I want to have, and the type of friend that I want to be.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested, he asked his disciples to pray. That used to seem like a docile request to me, but now I realize that he was asking his friends to step into the war zone with him in the most powerful way they could. Like those men, I often fall asleep on the job. I often neglect the weapon of prayer that I have to wield against the darkness. But time and time again I see that God has called us to arms. He has called us to fight with and for one another in powerful ways that shake the strongholds of Hell and break the chains that bind us.

So today, keep your eyes open. Be alert. And whether the people around you know you’re doing it or not, wage war on their behalf. If you’re the one in the battle, invite trusted people into your trenches and ask them to declare victory over you with the authority of Heaven through their prayers.

 

 

 

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10 Characteristics of A Healthy Church

Hey there! Thanks for tuning in again this week as we look at “this whole church thing.”

As we saw last week, the Church is not limited to a building and the pastoral staff; the Church is every single person that places their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls His people “the Church.” Worldwide, the Church meets in smaller environments (some not so small…) called “the local church.”

If individual Christ-followers make up the Church, then we are responsible for the health and well-being of it. The non-exhaustive list below outlines a few habits of healthy local churches. As believers, we need to critically assess if we are contributing to the health of the local church we call “home.”

A local church is the sum of its parts. Every. Single. Person. Matters. So let’s not only use this list to evaluate the health of our home/local church, but to more importantly ask if we are contributing to it, or hurting it:

Healthy local churches are striving towards the following:

1. A healthy Church is focused on God Himself as revealed in His Word, The Bible.

A church that is not focused on worshiping and serving God is just a feel-good club. There are lots of fun community groups that meet regularly, share meals, serve the needy, and more, but have no spiritual component whatsoever. There’s nothing wrong with that in those places, but if a local church is not actively teaching about, talking about, talking to, and surrendering to God it is not healthy.

2. A healthy local church is a safe place to ask hard questions.

I was so heartbroken recently when a friend of mine told me that she sat down with members of a local church and shared her authentic questions and doubts, and that she walked away feeling ashamed and criticized rather than embraced and supported.

A healthy church allows room for questions. We serve a Big God that is mysterious, and the idea of some things being real can be really scary and down-right hard to buy into. A healthy church not only allows room for people to struggle through real questions, but also encourages the seeking out of answers. There are tons of great resources outlining reasonable defenses of the faith (i.e. Josh McDowell’s materials, Lee Strobel, and more…).

Two words of caution here: be cautious of any person/place that claims to have answers to every single hard question. The truth is that we all have questions, and there is a level of mystery that we may never fully know or understand.

On the other hand, don’t be so skeptical and cynical to think that no hard question has valid answers.

It is ok to ask tough questions. God is not threatened by our questions; He is insulted by our unwillingness to seek Him out in the middle of them.

3. A healthy church promotes deep unity and community, while also being a safe haven for new people.

I’ve heard this called the “open chair” policy; there should always be an empty chair that can be filled, whether that’s in a small group or a large congregation. Avoid causing or creating cliques and “popular crowds” within church walls at all costs, and avoid the appearance of being closed off. If the local church is a spiritual hospital for the sick and the broken to find refuge and healing, its doors should be open wide with receiving arms.

4. Healthy churches are led by healthy leaders.

Healthy churches are led from the top-down. Good leaders are servant leaders that care more about washing feet than about being known and popular. Leaders in these churches are displaying in action what they teach from the pulpit. Like parenting, many actions (or inactions) are “caught not taught.”

A few questions to ask: How does the leadership treat other leaders and staff members? Are they practicing what they are teaching? Is healthy conflict resolution being practiced?

5. Healthy churches commit to the well-being of the surrounding community.

Is there a park clean up day happening? Is your church represented among the volunteers pitching in to help? What about servicemen/women appreciation? Has anyone stepped out to thank the police force, firefighters, EMS teams, etc. that work around the clock to protect and serve your community? Do volunteer teams reach out to tutor at-risk youth, or meet the physical needs of people within the community?

A healthy church is made up of people that get in the trenches with the community around them.

6. Healthy churches are theologically sound.

I’m not going to go into detail about this right now. But a healthy local church is rooted in the Bible—Old and New Testaments—and worships God Himself as displayed throughout it. Healthy local churches preach one Gospel—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that alone has the power to save mankind.

7. Healthy churches are equipping disciples.

Are new leaders being developed and raised up? Are people becoming more and more independent and able to study the Bible on their own? Are disciples being trained up to follow Jesus the way Jesus said to follow? Are people growing in spiritual and emotional maturity?

8. Healthy churches are united with the global Church.

Healthy churches don’t play the “church competition” game; they want to support other churches in winning as well. Healthy local churches aren’t slandering other churches on the same mission for the same Gospel. There is room for healthy disagreement on some levels, but healthy, Christ-Preaching churches have each other’s backs.

9. Healthy churches are engaged in raising up disciples that GO.

Rick Warren has oft been quoted as saying, “A church’s health is measured by its sending capacity, not its seating capacity.” Christianity is anything but a call to comfortable living. Jesus didn’t stop at commanding His disciples to reach Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, but He also said to go unto all the world. ALL of the world. There are needs in every community, city, state, and country throughout the world. Is your church engaged in sending people—short and long term—to other regions?

10. Healthy local churches are fiscally responsible.

This is two-fold: do the individual people that call a local church “home” give of their resources to the church (their tithe)? And is the church budget managed with integrity, uprightness, and responsibility? Are there ever business meetings for the church to gather and be updated on what is happening financially?

No Church is perfect. This non-exhaustive list reflects characteristics of healthy churches, but no single local church is perfect in every one of these areas. The biggest questions to ask are a) Is the church that I call “home” striving to be a Spirit-led, disciple-making, Christ-preaching church with outstretched arms to the community and the world, and b) Am I, as an individual Christ-follower, contributing to the health or the lack of health in any of these areas?

I’d love to hear from you! How do you see churches “winning?” How can individual believers strengthen and support the health of their local church body?

About that whole “church” thing…

This weekend my house has been filled with people. People I love. People I want to know more. People that challenge me, inspire me, and that are a part of my life in a way I never could have imagined.

Friday night, my husband and I shared a meal with another couple that we have come to know, love, admire, respect, and hope to emulate in our own lives. We spent hours sharing food, coffee, stories, and real life. When they left, I was sleepy, but exhilarated and full from being in their presence.

Saturday I had several of the women Life Group (small group/community group) leaders from my church over during an open house gathering. Those women are brave, compassionate leaders. Week after week they show up to connect with other women—to teach, disciple, listen, and “do life” with them–through the real, raw parts of life that hurt beyond words, and through the mountain tops of joyful celebration. The women I spent time with on Saturday lead well because they are willing to get in the trenches with the women they serve. That’s courageous. And beautiful. And I love them all.

Sunday night, Adam and I had our own Life Group over. Man, those people have changed our lives. We have been meeting with our group for about two years, but we have grown. We started off with three couples, and now seven couples come together week after week to live alongside of each other. I cannot tell you how much I love those people; when the bottom has fallen out of life, they have been there cheering us on, supporting us, praying for us, fighting with and for us. We hope that we have done the same for them.Church is the people not the building April 26 post

It was a busy weekend; busier than usual. But I am so full. To everyone that stepped foot through our front door, thank you. Thank you for being you, and for being willing to live in community. Thank you for sharing that with our family.

That is what the local church is: Christ-followers living life among one another, challenging, teaching, encouraging, and meeting needs—tangible and intangible. To my family and I, the local church has become our lifeline.

That hasn’t always the case. Maybe you can relate.

I was adopted by my aunt when I was 10 years old, and her rule was that unless I was contagious or had a fever, I was up and at ’em Sunday mornings to attend church. Church was always my routine, but it was never something I loved or was passionate about. Until I gave my life to Jesus at the age of 17, church was the obligatory place I went every Sunday to appease my parents.

When I became a Christian, I did view the church differently. I appreciated going more, and my doodles turned into copious amounts of notes that I have in journals in my basement to this day. My youth pastor taught me how to pray and study God’s word. Church became a great resource for life, but still not anything I couldn’t live without. I couldn’t live without Jesus; attending church, however, was healthy, but not critical.

That all changed when I was in college. I attended Liberty University in Central Virginia. That place is a breeding ground for graduates that go out and change the world, equipped with the fire of the Gospel, and world-class degrees in a crazy amount of professional fields.  I love Liberty. Go Flames!

I got excited about Campus Church each Sunday morning. I loved being taught by Johnnie Moore and others (more volumes of copious notes), but after a few years, I found myself hungry to plant roots somewhere. I started itching to not only gain but also to give. I started longing to know other people, and to be known by them. So I started attending Brentwood Church, a local church in Lynchburg.

And that is when the game changed. God used what I learned at Brentwood to revolutionize my view of church. Apart from my initial decision to follow Christ, there are only a few things that have completely wrecked shop on my worldview, passions, and hunger for the Truth. Attending Brentwood Church during my time in Lynchburg is one of them.

Every week, I would walk through doors manned by smiling faces, authentically happy I was there. Without fail, every week I walked away knowing the values of Brentwood: invest in community by joining a Community Group (small group), serve and be served on Sundays by volunteering during one service and worshipping in the other, and change the world by taking everything we received each week and committing to being and making disciples locally and globally. Brentwood produced (and to my knowledge is still producing) disciples that grow deeper in faith, community, service, and impact all around the world.

That. Is. Awesome. And supernatural. And it’s something I didn’t know I needed, but now I can’t live without.

Turns out, everything I had ever thought I had known about church was wrong. Brentwood taught me that “Church” isn’t a place, it’s a group of people. And turns out I’m one of them. And if you are a Christ-follower, you are one of them. And we are invited into something sacred, beautiful, and powerful. When we realize that the church is the people and not the building, we cannot escape the weight of both the privilege and the responsibility it is to commit to its well-being.

Brentwood Church was a catalyst for me to begin understanding that if I love Jesus the way I say that I do, then I am to be connected to His church. It’s not an invitation with an optional RSVP; I am expected and called to be an active participant in the Body of Christ by offering myself—my story, my time, my talent, and my treasure—to its well-being.

God cares for the orphans and widows. He cares for the marginalized and oppressed. He also cares for lonely believers. And His solution for meeting needs in all of them is His Church.  If we really believe that the Spirit of God indwells believers, then we experience the presence of God not just through the Spirit that indwells us individually, but through other believers. We were made to live and thrive in community with each other, and to look out for each other. We are invited to give and to gain by actively engaging in a local body of believers.

So, for the next few weeks, we are going to dive into what that means. Does a church have to look a certain way to be right? Does it need to be a certain size? Offer a certain type of teaching and/or music? What is a small group, and why does it matter if I’m in one or not? What about serving? Is that required or optional?

I am convinced that our hearts are only healed through the redemption offered by God through His son, Jesus. I am equally convinced that God is passionate about His Church, and that we should be too. Stick around, and let’s keep talking about it.

Run Hard. Love Strong.

~Haley~

5 Ways To Fight Loneliness

Tuesday was one of those days. Like, one of those “ugly cry” kind of days. My husband called me on his way home from work, and I fell apart. Maybe it’s lonelypregnancy hormones (have I mentioned that I’m expecting baby #2? Well…I am, and I’m excited, but I’m also a hormonal mess some days…). I just felt so…alone. This is a blog about becoming authentically happy, healthy people. Is it okay for me to admit that yesterday I didn’t feel happy? Pull up a chair and a cinnamon spice latte and let’s chat.

Do you remember in my last entry when I said that we were going to talk more about intentionally investing in community with other people? It is a critical branch to the proverbial “tree of happiness” that we are aiming to become. Our security and the root of authentic happiness, joy, and contentment is rooted in the unchanging God that made us and loves us. But soon after God created man, He declared that it was not good for man to be alone (see Genesis chapter 2 for the whole scoop).

In college it was so easy to be in community with people. I lived in an all-girl dorm, and so more often than not there was some kind of social event happening, some group of people to be with, etc. My roommate, Rachel, and I got along really well and built a great friendship and still keep in touch. But I wasn’t prepared for post-college, adult, real-world friendships.

Maybe adults in my life at the time warned me, but I wasn’t prepared for friendship to become hard.  Real life hit, and suddenly it became much more challenging to have time for friends. Work, family, chores, errands…sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, let alone have meaningful time with other grown ups! Can I get a witness? But it’s important. Hear me: in order to be truly healthy people, we need to be intentionally invested in developing relationships with other people.We all need a safety net when “life happens.” We need people to celebrate our greatest joys with us, and to surround us in our deepest hurts.

So back to Tuesday. I was a hot mess. But it was Tuesday, which meant that in the evening I would get to be surrounding by some of the most accepting, loFriendship handsving, compassionate, gracious, hilarious people that I know; Tuesday night is Life Group night. It was such a relief to be surrounded by people that I have grown to trust with the most hurt, most raw parts of my heart and to look them in the eyes and say, “Man, today was rough.” Without blinking, those people just loved me, prayed for me, and said, “We’re with you.”

We live in a world full of people, and most of them feel alone. I’ve personally felt so alone at times that it drove me to really dark places that I never want to go back to. Most of us fear being rejected, fear being abandoned, fear being manipulated, or abused, or worse. But in order to truly break free, we have to fight the battle of loneliness, and “go all in” for the rewards of living in community with other people.

What are some ways that busy, tired adults can move beyond superficial relationships, and move into meaningful, supportive, safe friendships? Feel free to comment and share your own experiences and suggestions for other readers, and let’s have a conversation! Here a few suggestions that have helped me tremendously over the last few years to cultivate authentic, trusting relationships:

1. Commit to being the type of friend that you want to have.

A few years ago, Tim McGraw released his ballad “Live Like You Were Dying.” In it, a dying man says that if he could do his life all over again, he would be the type of friend that a friend would like to have. Whatever you think of Tim McGraw’s music, the man has a great point! Are we sitting around expecting from other people what we aren’t willing to give of ourselves?

2. Make the time. 

Like most things in adulthood, we will never have enough time; we have to make the time. Invite someone over for dinner (I’m a firm believer that food is one of the best ways to build relationships. Break the ice while breaking the bread!). Once a week use your lunch break to make a phone call. Creativity might be needed, but the sacrifice produces incredible dividends!

3. Be available.

We live very scheduled, hyper-structured lives. Coming up in this series we are going to discuss building margin into our days in order to allow for the unexpected (I’m really excited about that conversation, by the way). If you really want meaningful relationships, you have to be open to the reality that some of the most important events in people’s lives are unscripted, unscheduled, and unexpected. Plan to be inconvenienced, but it is worth it.

4. Learn to be a great listener. 

We have all had those friends who tap on the table, anxiously waiting to tell us all about their most recent events, while we are sharing the joys and hurts of our own lives. It’s irritating, isn’t it? Let’s break that cycle and cultivate listening ears and hearts. Are we really interested in our friends enough to lay aside our personal agendas in order to hear them, support them, and let them know that they are not alone? Trust me. This is one attribute that you want in a friend, so for the love of friendships everywhere, be willing to develop this in yourself too.

5. The little things matter. 

Simple, thoughtful gestures can be the difference between a Facebook friend, and a meaningful friend that really “does life” alongside of you. A quick text or email offering sincere encouragement, remembering a birthday or major milestone, really being happy for their successes, or taking a cup of coffee to their office on a rough day…those kinds of things add up!

What about you? What means the most to you in a friendship? How do you battle loneliness in your own life? Let’s talk!