The Pulse of a Church: Faithfulness

 Yesterday was one of those days for me.
One of those puzzle-clicking days,
when the pieces come together
and lock into place,
creating a picture that is both
recognizable and beautiful.
 It’s taken about 24 hours for me to begin to see
how that happened in my heart, in my spirit.
And I’m not sure that I can find the words to tell you about it.
This much I know.
It wasn’t about the building,
although I love that place
and am grateful for every inch of it.
 It wasn’t even about the worship service,
although some pieces of that service helped
the picture to come together with focus and intention.
Mostly, it was about the people.
ALL the people of the long, interesting,
sometimes exhausting day that was yesterday. 

Our pastor is back from vacation and that’s a good thing.
And he brought a word that he’d been pondering 
for many weeks.
And that’s a good thing, too.
And part of that word was definitely a piece
of the lovely jigsaw that has been coming to life in my heart.
Reflecting on a brief sojourn in Egypt,
he said this about the Christians he met there:
“The future depends on their faithfulness.”
And I thought – YES!
This is the age-old story of our faith,
this is what Jesus kept saying to us,
in parable and story and miracle. 
This is what God modeled for the people of Israel,
this is what the epistles urge the burgeoning
movement of Christ-lights to remember:
Be faithful, even as God is faithful. 
Learn to listen well, and to do good.
Learn to lean into love.
Learn to care for one another.
Live as though every single thing you do matters
in the Big Picture of life. 
And teach your children all of this.
As I listened to that word, I took a look around me. 

About 275 people were gathered in the same space,
people of all ages, from newborns to folks in their 90’s.
A group of six led us in worship –
a father and his 16-year-old daughter on guitar and vocals,
a pastor’s 16-year-old daughter on vocals,
a professor father and young-adult son on piano and guitar,
a former staff member on bass.
The last number of the opening set was an a capella 
version of, “Down to the River to Pray,”
and when those two young women
and two middle-aged men joined their voices
in gorgeous 4-part harmony – 
a small window to heaven opened before me.
And a piece of the puzzle clicked.
Then our Moment for Mission was an interview 
with a son of this church and his gracious, articulate wife.
They gave up lucrative jobs in Orange County to
use their gifts in computer science and music,
working with Wycliffe in Texas.
Their report was wonderful, encouraging, humbling.
And another piece fell into its slot.
I listened to one of the most beautiful prayers 
I’ve heard in months, 
offered by a man who moved here 
about a dozen years ago to retire. 
He has jumped into ministry with both feet – 
music and tutoring and working with our littlest children.
Then I watched this happen.  
 Every week, the kids are invited to come and sit on the steps,
where the pastor has a special word or project just for them.
Yesterday, this beautiful ‘welcome wagon’ 
was wheeled down the center aisle.
 It was built by hand as an Eagle Scout project – 
and an act of gratitude to the church – 
by a recent high-school graduate, 
a kid I’ve watched grow up since he was three years old.
And then builder and pastor and seven little kids
laid hands on that cart, and dedicated it to the
service of the Kingdom of God. 
By now, I’m just beginning to catch a glimpse of the
design taking shape inside my heart.
We rushed home from church to welcome our small group,
this month including kids, lunch and swim time.
My husband is 70, Iris is 2, the rest of us fall
somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes.
We had a grand time together –
sitting in the shade, enjoying one another’s company. 
Two of the women in our group have endured
brain anomalies; two of the families have
weathered tough problems with their kids;
all of us believe that the single greatest task
to which we are called is the care and tending
of faith and faithfulness in ourselves and in our children,
followed closely by serving others in the name of Jesus.
I had to leave our gathering a little early,
and I had to leave for a hard, sad reason.
Another son of our church had recently died,
tragically and too soon.
His mother and dad are among my favorite 
people on this earth – gentle servants who set out
communion month after month,
who greet folks when they arrive on Sundays,
who share themselves quietly and humbly.
I wanted to be there to remember their boy,
to offer words of prayer and committal,
to acknowledge that sometimes,
the circle is broken too early, too early.  
This, too, was a piece of the puzzle –
a darker piece, but an important one.
Last night, and again this morning,
I thought through that entire Sabbath day.
I reflected on the many facets of the picture
taking shape inside my heart,
and I began to see it for the soft yet strong,
slow-growing but sturdy,
sometimes weary but always winsome
picture that it truly is,
and it looks a whole lot like Jesus.
Sometimes it is easy to be critical of the church –
I will readily admit to frustration, impatience
and disappointment 
with how slowly things change, 
with how stuck we can sometimes get.
Yesterday was a quietly unfolding gift to me,
all of it – 
the lovely stuff and the terribly painful stuff.
It became a deep and personal portrait reminding me that
 faithfulness sometimes looks like this:
the generations standing together,
singing together,
working together,
giving together,
mourning together. 

In fact, I guess I’d say that’s exactly what
faithfulness looks like. 
And it is beautiful.

Joining this tonight with Michelle and Laura,
tomorrow with Jen and Jennifer and Wednesday with Duane:

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  1. Oh, Diana. You too? 🙂 I had a moment like this, not long ago.

    Interestingly, it followed closely on a memorial for one of the saints of our church.

  2. You are so right, it’s about the people.  Nice thoughts!

  3. i love this – the beauty of sabbath and church. you’ve captured it so well….

  4. Yes. Sometimes it all comes together and we get to catch a glimpse of all that God is doing in, through, and probably in spite of folks like me in the church. And it’s a beautiful thing.

    Lovely, Diana. Just lovely.

  5. This, Diana: “The future depends on their faithfulness.” You know how much I needed to hear that, right? Love you!

  6. jennifer says

    As always, Diana, just beautiful. When the bride of Christ comes together, it is beautiful. I agree with you–sometimes the church is frustrating–but then I need to step back and see God at work.

    I’ve been reading through Joshua, and he reminds everyone that God has fulfilled every promise. He is faithful, and He asks that we be faithful to Him. I love the images of faithfulness you captured.

  7. pastordt says

    You know I thought about a couple of your posts lately as I was wrestling this one out. We’re both in smaller to mid-size churches that are intentionally inter-generational. There’s something good about that.

  8. pastordt says

    Thanks for coming by, Eileen and for leaving kind words, too.

  9. pastordt says

    Thanks for reading, Kendal – and for commenting, too.

  10. pastordt says

    Thank you, Nancy. And sometimes it takes a while for it to come through, doesn’t it? I left the service initially feeling slightly guilty that our church wasn’t a more ‘urgent’ group while reflecting on the church in Egypt and how it fights for its very life. And while I believe that is something we do need to pray about and work on – what God gave me later was a reminder that churches are ALL called to faithfulness and it will look different in different places. There is always room for improvement. But Nancy – the church FLOURISHES because of people like you – don’t lump yourself into some category to which you most definitely do not belong. Loving that you’re back in the saddle after your wonderful adventure, kiddo – looking forward to more about it all.

  11. pastordt says

    Yes, I do know. Because that’s what I needed to hear, too. We ALL need to be reminded that our primary call is to faithfulness. Period. God will do with that what God chooses – it ain’t up to us. Love you back, friend.

  12. pastordt says

    Thank you, Jennifer. And yes, we do need to take a step back – to see what God is doing and also to see what we need to be open to God doing. We need to see the good and the tough, both. And I do enjoy Joshua – except for all the killing. But Joshua’s relationship with God inspires me. And it is so good to remember that God is faithful – even when we aren’t.

  13. My email says you wrote this in response to my comment, even though it doesn’t display that way here. Silly Disqus. 

    Reading this comment this week, which has started out wetly as it is? Floods. Just floods me. 

  14. pastordt says

     Well, it’s showing now. Silly Disqus, indeed. Sandy King and Glenda Childers leave comments that NEVER show up here. Weird stuff. Fortunately, I get them in my email. I’ve written to the powers that be about it all, but so far no word back.

  15. You know, in just a few months we will be sitting with Sandy. 

  16. pastordt says

     And definitely laughing. And eating, too. And with a whole bunch of other cool friends. Pretty nifty. (and if that word doesn’t show my age, I don’t know what does!)

  17. It will be swell.

  18. pastordt says

    That word made me laugh out loud. Great choice. And actually, both words are good words, sometimes perfect words. Just also old-fashioned words. But then, so am I at times.

  19. Then my work here is done. 🙂

  20. Or maybe both. And singing. And communing. And maybe even sniffling a little. 

    I’m coming back, Diana, to read this again. There’s so much in this picture you paint.

  21. Wow! God was everywhere this weekend!

  22. pastordt says

    Yeah. Amazing, isn’t it??

  23. Diana–those trees tell it all for me. What a beautiful, heartwarming post. Oh, these moments are few and far between for me lately, but reading this makes me determined not to miss them. Looking better. That’s what I need to do. Especially in the people-the ones who bear the Imago Dei. Still meditating on that one 🙂

  24. pastordt says

     Those trees are such gifts to me! Our campus is surrounded by California
    live and coastal oak trees, so when we found a stained glass artist eight years ago, we talked about those trees and what they mean to us,
    how they represent the ‘trees of righteousness’ in the OT – how WE want to
    be such trees. And the stream running through them reflects our location
    – on Cold Spring Road, with bubbling reminders whenever it rains! – and
    also is a picture of the River of Life flowing through us. I think that’s what I saw on
    Sunday. The oaks and the River – and it was so lovely and encouraging.

  25. Handsfull says

    Again – beautiful words, thoughts… and those trees are stunning!
    I guess I’m at a place where I’m wondering why the faint scent of God that I sometimes thought I could smell at my church has gone.  The questions I’m wrestling with now are, should we go too?  And try to find somewhere with other families with young children, where my children will learn that they’re not the only children who go to church?  Somewhere my husband is happy, and we get fed?
    Or do we stay, and continue to try to be the change we want to see, like we have been for the last few years?
    I’m not asking because I’m expecting you to have the answers (although it would be very helpful if you did 🙂 ), just putting it out there…

  26. Hi there – I hear your discouragement and I think at this point, if I were you, I’d be prayerfully looking for another place to worship where ALL of you can be there. It’s important for dads to be there with their kids – and if he just can’t make it happen where you are right now, then together, you need to talk it through, pray it through and start looking. SO hard to do. But…maybe it’s time.

  27. Pieces. It may take a while to find out where they all fit. 

    Coming back into the church has been such a gift to me. Some days the sense of community is overwhelming. 

  28. pastordt says

    Indeed, it DOES take a while to see where they fit – and if some need to be discarded. I’m just grateful for this glimpses of grace and truth from time to time. Helps make the days of frustration and impatience easier to bear somehow.

  29. smoothstones says

    Hi, Diana. I find myself discouraged a lot, lately: with the church, with everything. I know the enemy uses this in my life because I find my natural extroversion slipping away; I just want to hide from everyone I know. What I love about the post is that it really highlights the power and beauty of community. We’re all broken, but we need each other.

  30. pastordt says

    Oh, Brandee! I’m so sorry for that discouragement and I recognize it, too. Praying that you will find your way back to you, that you’ll resist hiding, that you’ll discover true community with just a few somewhere. We DO need each other. Yes, we really do.

  31. Yes, I can’t imagine living without my real church community.

    There are SO many people on the blogosphere who say otherwise though and I just feel bad because too often, their reasons for leaving are because someone from the church hurt them.  I too, have hurt people. I’ve been hurt.

    But it’s all the pieces fitting together, the forgiving and forgiving, that make this puzzle beautiful.

  32. Yes, there are a lot of difficult church situations written about out here. And yes, I have hurt others and been hurt. And in some settings, that is considered part of the package and things come together well. In other settings, sadly, honesty is not welcome and disagreement is not tolerated. But I guess for me, even though such gatherings might be labelled ‘church,’ they’re not functioning in the way that I understand scripture to describe the body of Christ. Makes me sad. So I’m grateful when I experience days like last Sunday and am reminded of how good it can be sometimes. There will be frustrations and personality clashes in ANY group of human beings, but I thank God for a community of people who stick it out and stay faithful to God and to one another.

  33. Yes, as long as there are humans (especially me…) in the church, there will be failings and disappointments; but as you beautifully illustrated, there will be  wondrous love, grace, mercy and forgiveness…

  34. pastordt says

    I am so thankful this is true, Connie. Thanks for stopping by so faithfully.

  35. Brandee,
    Can you feel me hugging you from way.over. here? Loving you. 

  36. Ugochi Jolomi says

    The church is a community of people and as long as we all meet there, we will not be able to please everyone all the time, but we can learn to forgive and make allowances for people. This is something the entire church of Christ must realize so we can learn to love like God wants us to. Thanks for sharing this Diana! 
    Found you on Michelle’s hop and now follow!
    Have a great Day!

  37. pastordt says

    Ugochi – your comment is not displaying here through Disqus for some reason – but I got it in my inbox through blogger. One or two other bloggers are having similar problems at my site and a few others, too. Thank you for stopping by – and your comment does show up on my ‘published’ list in the moderation section, so I have no options open to get your words out here! And thanks for the follow, too. I’m grateful for your interest.

  38. Glenda Childers says

    I love this description of the Body of Christ so much, Diana. It is real and precious. It does not ask for perfection … but faithfulness. I like it so much. (and I like you, a faithful servant of that Body.)

  39. pastordt says

    Thank you, Glenda. I just got my new computer and am trying to catch up a bit on things since the 20th of July! I appreciate your stopping by and leaving such kind words.

  40. Just peeking my head in here to say I’m thinking of you. missing you. hoping there are rich moments filling your days. praying for classes and all that comes with studying to go to a new place. And thanking you for your prayers too. Life just keeps handing out surprises but God never leaves us alone as we much through. Love to you, Diana.

  41. Thank, Laura – missing you, too. Slowly reacclimatizing and waiting for wonder. Reading and praying while I’m out and about on the web again; resting, too. Glad your boy is home. Was it a burst appendix? I never could quite figure out what happened, was just so sorry to read of the trauma and struggle and humbly glad to add my prayers to the flowery bouquet that was ascending day and night on your behalf. It’s looking like I will be missing all my new editorial friends at the Laity retreat this year – and that makes me really sad.