So now...I'm bringing it all to you, dear internet. Make of it what you will. If you have answers, I'd love to hear them.
A couple months ago, I was driving along a nearby stretch of road. I've driven this road many times before and often marveled at the amount of churches that could lie along one roadway...it seems almost every Christian denomination imaginable is represented on this ONE street. There's even a Christian bookstore!
On this day, though, instead of just noticing the amount of churches, I had another thought: why isn't our city different? How can there be this many churches on one road, not even one block between them, representing only a fraction of the churches in the area...and our city not be on fire for God? The "Bible Belt?" The nation?
Then, last Saturday, Josiah and I went to worship at Freedom Life Church (FLC) in Hampton because he had to work on Sunday. We caught the second of a 4-part sermon series called "I Love My City."
I love the book of Nehemiah. Josiah and I were talking about it just the other day. Nevertheless, it was a different passage of scripture Pastor Cyon brought to my attention that totally rocked my world. It's Isaiah 58. Here it is almost in its entirety.
See if you can read it without it rocking YOUR world, too.
"Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
Shout aloud! Don't be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
'We have fasted before you!' they say.
'Why aren't you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don't even notice it!'
"I will tell you why!" I respond.
"It is because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?
"No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives that need your help.
"Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply.
"Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
Isaiah 58:1-12, HCSB
Church...people of God...'Merica...did you hear that?
Did you FEEL that?
God says he sees us coming to church, entering and serving every time the doors are open, offering ourselves up as a sacrifice, showing him how much WE do, but our hearts are prideful and our offerings are rejected.
We act like pious, godly people, but we're still fighting and quarreling and name calling on the internet.
He wants us outside the walls.
He wants us ministering to the lost and lonely.
He wants us feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.
He wants us to free the oppressed from their bondage.
He wants our hearts, not our paltry sacrifice.
Then, He will hear us.
Then, He will heal us.
Then, He will guide us.
Then, He will shower us with streams of living water.
Then, He will make us rebuilders of walls and restorer of homes.
God is speaking to us Newport News, Hampton, Hampton Roads, United States...church.
He wants our hearts to reflect His, and His heart is broken for the lost...is yours? Is mine?
Here's where I get more personal, though. I have a lot of questions that have been building for quite some time.
It's been months since I've written...and longer than that since I've written much of consequence, with fire and passion. A couple years ago I wrote a series on passion, vision, mission, and goals. What has happened to mine? And is my writing "ministry" even enough?
I love reaching out to people and seeing their lives changed through my business, but it's not really reaching the lost and feeding the hungry is it? I supposed you could call it "freeing the oppressed from the bondage" of their own fatigue and constraints, but is it really enough?
We're volunteering with the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember team in Williamsburg. That ministers to the lost and broken, but once again, it's not sheltering the homeless or clothing the impoverished. It doesn't feel like enough. Is it enough?
Futhermore (and this is truly my core concern, I think), how many passions and missions can one person really have and still be effective?
Can I minister to my family AND marriages AND write AND help people with my business AND sing eventually (because, honestly, that's been on my heart a lot lately, too)?
Can one person do all those things and really do any of them well...with 6 children? Is that a thing?
I know some would say that my main ministry right now is fulfilling my roles as wife and mother. They're not wrong. Biblically, I know how the priority list is supposed to work: God, husband, children, etc.
But that's not enough either, right? I mean, if everyone only concentrates on what's going on in their own homes and families, then nothing is getting done outside. Wouldn't that give half the body of Christ a "free pass" not to do much of anything in the world?
I want to feel a passion and a purpose again, but instead I feel a little torn and twisted. I want God to light a fire in my soul, but I'm almost scared because...really? One more thing?
And, finally, at what point does all this business on my part turn into me looking at God and going "See? Look at everything I'm doing! Look at all MY WORKS."
Faith without works is dead (James 2:17), but it would seem works without a passion for the heart of God are useless.
There's a fine line somewhere...I'm just looking for that line.
So, dear, wonderful friends who have gotten this far: what's the answer? How do you find the balance? Was your heart moved by the passage in Isaiah as much as mine was?
I want desperately to hear from you. This is one situation where I just don't feel like I have the answers: a missing page in the blueprints of my "Life Under Construction."
I'm praying hard for answers, and I'm praying for YOUR hearts, too!