Church Actually Helps

I used to love church.

I was one of those kids who couldn’t wait to go to church every Sunday. If that sounds strange, maybe it is. I know a lot of people who hated church. People whose parents would drag them by their feet into service. And I understand. Not all churches are the same. Some are toxic environments disguised as sanctuaries. It truly sucks.

My first church was CEMC, Chinese Evangel Mission Church. For the first seventeen years of my life I called it home, and still do. My parents met there when they were teenagers, new to the faith. The generation before me created a space where I felt loved and accepted, a safe place for me to grow spiritually as a child. I made my first movies here. I made my childhood friends here. Most of all, I learned who God was and what He meant to everyone around me.

My second church was LCC, Life Covenant Church. As I grew up, so did my faith, and Life was the perfect catalyst. Here I encountered God’s tangible presence for the first time. I could list all the times I knelt on the floor sobbing, overcome by the Holy Spirit. If that sounds weird, it probably was. Yeah, we were a little charismatic. Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure to be studied. He was someone real and alive, and I discovered that being a young adult at Life.

Then I moved to California.

I visited several churches and liked a lot of them. They had good music. Engaging speakers. Friendly people. I tried serving at one of the churches for a few months.

Remember how I mentioned kids whose parents drag them by their feet into service? That was me in Los Angeles, except my parents weren’t here. My spiritual ghost would drag me to church, telling me I needed to go because church was important. But my heart wasn’t there. One Sunday, I drove half an hour to church, slept for the entire service, then drove straight home. It was getting ridiculous.

Was it the church’s fault for not being “right” for me? Well, I’m supposed to serve the church, not vice versa. Should it matter that I didn’t feel comfortable in the community?

I called my mom the other day. She asked if I was going to church. I told her no. I sometimes played a Francis Chan sermon on the TV and I went to bible studies on Thursdays, but that was it. I wanted something like my home church family, but was too lazy to invest in one. During our conversation, my mom pointed out that all the churches I had been to were megachurches, ranging from five hundred to thousands of people. Yet all my life I had never been part of a community larger than a hundred or two.

It suddenly hit me. I had a friend in Torrance who is a worship pastor. Why don’t I just attend his church?

I didn’t tell him I was coming. When worship started and he saw me in the crowd, he smiled. Mind you, there wasn’t more than a fifty people in the service. We started off with a praise movement song for the kids. Wow. I hadn’t done hand motions to a kid’s song in a while. It felt weirdly…freeing.

The pastor was great. I noticed how much he talked about supporting missionaries. It impressed me, considering the church wasn’t huge, how dedicated they were to missions. Like CEMC.

As we went to the closing worship songs, I felt an invisible glue drip over me, stiffening my movements. I realized I hadn’t been in a worship service in a while; at least, one where I felt comfortable in. One that was a simple band playing songs to God, not some EDM concert that felt designed to please the congregation instead of their Creator.

I often get this picture in my head whenever I’m in worship. I imagine the world around me dissolving into millions of tiny cards, flipping over, transforming my reality into a blank, white void. In that moment, all distractions fade away. I see Jesus, standing before me. Nothing exists except Him and me. And I worship.

My body loosened up. I raised my hands and sang.

I still love church. It helps my life, it really does. Something mystical happens there, not because a song had the right lyrics, or the pastor said something that related to my life. But it’s because I encounter the presence of God there.

And that changes everything.

Starting Day With Emotional Prayer

Early on in my blog, I wrote a post about jumping out bed. I’m a hypocrite. I’ve woken up around noon every day this week.

I have a sign on my bedroom ceiling, aligned with where my head would be as I sleep. It reads:

Did you just wake up? PRAY TO START YOUR DAY, YOU SINNER

prayer sign

I’m not joking. It’s effective fifty percent of the time.

Not gonna lie, when I write these posts, I stare at my laptop for a good five minutes, trying to think of a topic. Unless I have one already in my head. That’s always nice. But if I’m writing every day, I can’t patiently wait for inspiration to hit me. I have to hit it. Where am I going with this? NO IDEA.

My point is, today is one of those days where I felt uninspired. Then I remembered. I’m having a boring day due to inactivity. So I need to be active. But I don’t feel like being active. So I should pray.

Yup, that’s pretty much my thought process. I took out my guitar and started strumming some praise songs. For me, praying isn’t limited to getting on my knees and asking God to bless my day. It includes singing worship songs. Being silent in His presence (note to self: do this one more often).

Okay, now it’s time to hit the prayer list. I have a bunch of sticky notes on my wall with a prayer item on each one. Hm. Odd. I suddenly felt overwhelmed. By sticky notes.

Just pick one. I chose to pray blessings over my parents today. Cool. Now time to continue my day.

Every time I start my day with prayer, it’s already a good day. So why don’t I do this every day? Well, I try. It’s not instinctive, unfortunately. To me, prayer is humbling myself before God, letting Him know that I can’t do life without Him.

But I don’t like being humbled sometimes. I get impatient. I have ACDC, no ADD, whatever it’s called. I don’t want to admit that I need God because I’m a proactive protagonist and can do whatever I want.

Except that whatever I want usually entails sleeping in until noon.

It’s a habit I’m building. Still working on it. I’ll keep you guys updated with how it goes.

Josh out.

P.S. If the title seems oddly worded, it’s because I used this site to analyze the emotional marketing value of my blog posts: http://www.aminstitute.com/headline/ 

My original title was “Starting My Day With Prayer.” That only scored 20%. This title scored 40%, which apparently most professional copywriters will get. Woohoo. Let all my future titles be dictated by a computer. If this blog gets a lot more traffic, maybe there’s something to it.

Reading The Bible Every Day

I’ve read the Bible with Jenine once a day for the entirety of 2018. We’re on day seventy-eight. They say it takes ninety day to make a habit, but it already feels quite habitual. I realized that no matter how busy I am, if I make it a priority, I can always take less than ten minutes to read a few passages of Scripture.

The fun part about reading it with Jenine is that I get to experience it through her eyes. See, this is her first time reading the entire book. I accidentally spoiled that Jesus rose from the dead, but she didn’t mind.

Dang, this “writing every day” thing is getting tiring. Especially when I approach the blank screen with nothing on my mind. I need to go to the new Pacific Rim movie premiere in a few minutes, so gotta make this quick.

We’re doing the chronological Bible reading plan, so I’m trudging through the Old Testament rules and laws right now. It can get a bit boring. If I wasn’t reading with a partner, I might’ve lost motivation. It’s true. Yet in a day and age where many preach a God of love and leave out the wrath, it’s a good reminder of who God truly is, and not who we want Him to be.

Yes, some of the rules are strange and archaic. But they’re not scary. Instead, it makes me more curious. What about the nature of God have I not yet discovered? Seeking these answers is, in a way, my life’s purpose.

That certainty makes me confident. Alright, reading the bible and writing every day. My two new habits that will define 2018 for me. I’m already wondering, how different will I be at the end of the year compared to the beginning because of these new habits?

Only time will tell.

Josh out.