Where Am I Going to Church?

I often get asked where I’m going to church, *smile* I’ll get to that.

When we left the church in 2000 that we had helped plant in 1996 (let me be completely honest, we were kicked out for disagreeing with the pastor and “causing discord”), I was so hurt. I felt discouraged, displaced, and completely destroyed.

I have to add here…there was a day when I couldn’t admit that we were kicked out, I was ashamed and I would feel the need to explain, but not anymore. I will explain if asked, but I just don’t need to anymore. I know that Mark and I stood for what our hearts believed and would do it again, only this time I wouldn’t be ashamed.

Six months later when the group we were meeting with in our home grew too large for our house we moved into a building and had ‘real church’ (meaning we were in an actual building).

Six years of pastoring a growing church and it was finally time to focus on our own lives. Mark’s business (the only one we actually took a paycheck from) needed him more and we had just brought Lauren home from China so she needed me. We knew that it was time to hand the church over to our leadership team.

I was peaceful, content, and knew that we made the right decision. Thankfully, there was no pain or heartbreak this time, but I still had so many questions and didn’t understand the road we were now traveling. Why did I feel we didn’t need to be in church every Sunday? How could I be a Christian and not “plugged in” to a local church? I was a very good church girl and could preach a persuasive message on why we all needed to be there, but now, strand by strand, the fabric of that was unraveling for me.

I started this blog and began exploring what living for/with God really meant and my questions led me to a book titled “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore” and a podcast called “The God Journey.”

The unraveling continued and God begin a beautiful work of knitting me back together by showing me that His love has always been there, that HE’s always been there, even in the midst of betrayal, loss, and pain.

Now I look back with gratitude for all that we walked through on this journey. The dark times brought me to the light. His light, His love, His grace.

This past year I read this amazing book which also gave me freedom to be myself and embrace the life I chose and not the one I was told I should live: Present Over Perfect. 

I have no desire to convince anyone that they need to do what I did, or follow the footsteps I’ve taken with my faith and choices. I just want to encourage you to follow Him. Trust Him. All of our paths are unique and yet similar in that as we lean on and follow Him, they will draw us closer to the Father and His heart…however that looks in your life.

So when I am asked about “where” I go to church, I smile, because it’s not about a place, church is not a place, the church is people, people who’ve chosen to follow Him.

I used to believe that the building a person sat in on Sundays was an indication of their faith, now I feel that nothing could be farther from the truth. Now I believe that that kind of thinking is just linear, and my walk with God has become so much more dimensional as my relationship with Him grows.

He is a part of every bit of my life. The times I’m doing “good” things, the times I’m blowing it, and everything in between. His love never changes for me and His grace is what draws me closer to Him when I need Him most.

As I write this I hear my former Pharisee-self asking “so now what, you just go off and do whatever you want, pray, sin, act a fool, and God loves you so it’s ok?” That is exactly what I would have thought if someone said all this to me when I was deeply entrenched in performance Christianity. Back in the day when I thought I knew best and believed it was my job to correct those who had it wrong, I would have looked down on the Me of today.

Ugh, no!

Living in His love does not excuse sin and it certainly does not encourage it, but gives space to the fact that we are so flawed, and yet we are loved. That love calls me to walk closer to him not farther down a path away from Him, though at times on this journey I admit I have strayed from the peace which comes from fellowship with Him.

So to answer the question, where am I? I’m right here. You might find me in a church building occasionally on a Sunday but more likely home with my family. Thankfully, I now know that the body of Christ is not a building we call church. I don’t forsake gathering with believers, it just looks a little bit different now. Please understand, please, I’m not AGAINST church attendance, I’m FOR relationship with God, however that looks in your life today.

I admit that I considered writing this post for about 3-4 years now but didn’t have the courage to do it. I was worried that it would ostracize me from people I care about or stop the requests for speaking engagements, but now, I hope it opens doors for deeper conversations. I am so happy to be in a space of freedom about my faith/church life and if I never speak in front of a group again, I am ok with that. I just want to share life with whoever God brings alongside me on this journey.

I really love this quote:

“Jesus didn’t leave us with a system to manage, but a Spirit to follow.”

Wayne Jacobsen, Finding Church

It feels so good to not be ruled by “shoulds” but able to follow my heart and hopefully His Spirit each day.

Sue

When the Journey Is Not What We Expected




journey trust praise and coffee

I look at my life and never could have imagined the journey that brought me to this place in my life.
I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t love every twist and turn and re-route along the way. I took some detours and jumped right into a few ditches along the way. BUT I love that God has been with me through it all and when I look back on even the most confusing and painful times in my life, I see Him.
I see His hand, I see where He was loving me and guiding me towards His plan.

Take a look around and see where He is in your current circumstances. He is there. He is loving you right now.

Hebrews 13:5

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” NIV
 My dear friend and ministry partner Ronel Sidney has shared some of her testimony, broken roads included, in this radio broadcast. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee and take a listen:

Courage Calls Us Out of Hiding

denise postMy very good friend Denise Dykstra posted this on her blog and I loved it so much I had to share it with you.

She pours her insecure heart out for all of us to see and bravely shares what so many of us would rather hide. The post: Praise and Coffee

Get Out Of The Wake

boat-wake

When our kids were teens we had a 17 foot speed boat and took them tubing every summer. It became quite an adventure. What began as a fun family time quickly turned into “combat tubing” which included four tubes behind the boat, high rates of speed and acrobatics involving jumping over each other as we cornered and landing on top of the other tubers. The wake was their friend and often used to launch them into the air and Mom into a nervous break down. Thankfully it only made for great memories and no trips to the hospital.

The wake was a tool to propel them on to exciting heights but it could also be what held them back if they didn’t have the speed and momentum to get over it.

The wake can hold us back too.

We can spend our lives riding in the wake of our past, the words and opinions of others, and our own fears and insecurities or we can choose to get out of the wake and journey on uncharted paths.

What has been keeping you in the wake?

Who has been keeping you in the wake?

Whose opinion matters more than your hearts desire to launch out of the wake?

What fears are keeping you in the wake?

You are limited only by your belief that you have to stay in the wake.

 Isaiah 43:1-But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. NIV

 

 

 

When You Think You’ve Gone Too Far

As long as you’re still taking breaths…you haven’t gone too far away from His love.

No matter where you’ve gone or what you’ve done, He’s been pursuing you with His love.
Stop running…

god love is fierce copy

Fierce: /fi(ə)rs/

Adjective: having or displaying an intense or ferocious aggressiveness.

 

1 John 4:9
God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.

John 15:13
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Proverbs 3:3
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Psalm 71:20
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.

Take Your Stand

Freedom: the condition of being free, the power to act or speak or think without externally imposed restraints.

Freedom gal 5 1 praiseandcoffee copy
We picture a woman in an abusive marriage or children being freed from trafficking…
But what about you, are you free?
Are you able to act or speak or think without externally imposed restraints?
Are you free to be yourself or are you restrained by living up to others expectations of you?
Let’s take it even deeper. Are you free to be who you really are or does some inner voice silence you?

Does fear keep you restrained from stepping out with power to do the things that burn in your heart?
If fear did not hold you back, what would you do?
What would you say?
What would you create?

Freedom always costs something.

Jesus came and paid for our freedom from the power of sin and death. I’m hoping you’ve experienced that freedom.

But even after receiving such a glorious freedom many Christian women still live in self-imposed slavery.

We live stifled.

We read book after book about how to become a better woman, wife or mother but still ache with the feeling of being smothered by the expectations of others. Guilt flows as we read the Facebook status’ of women who cherish every waking moment with their children while we pray at noon for bedtime to come.

We step into our capris, grab our yellow markers, attach our plastic smiles and stroll into Bible study with an ache in our heart hidden behind a giant shield of perfection. We may fool these ladies but we’re not fooling God or ourselves. He knows that even though we spend a half hour each morning reading a devotion and reciting prayers from our favorite pocket version of the “power of a praying someone,” we haven’t spent any real time with the Father.

We’re so programmed to “do,” that we don’t even miss the “be.”

But we know something’s wrong.
We know that our heart and our words don’t commune.

We haven’t rested in His love.

Being a good Christian wife and mom doesn’t earn His love. He doesn’t love you more when you finish your exercise video than He does when you stuff yourself into your fat jeans and throw down another peanut butter cup.
In fact if we are honest, we carry a mental list of all the things we should do before we are loved by Him.

Our prayers are filled with requests but void of the heartfelt “Father, this hurts, help.”
We’re missing the prayers that draw us to His heart and let us crawl into His lap for comfort.

The performance is thriving but the relationship is lacking.

Intimacy with God cannot be replaced by good deeds.
Ladies, there is more. The Father wants a relationship with you that brings freedom.

It’s the freedom to be who He created you to be.
It’s the freedom to breathe, the freedom to shine.

Freedom to be vulnerable and leave the plastic smile in your make up bag, admit that you’re struggling and watch the masks fall off other women like paper mustaches when they hear that they are not alone in their prison of performance.

Freedom to be brave, because when you know that the God of the universe loves who you are, bad words, secret sins and pity parties, it makes you brave.

You don’t have to DO something to be accepted by Him, you have to BE something: His daughter.

When you choose freedom through a relationship with Jesus, He gives you “the power to act or speak or think without externally imposed restraints.”
 Take your stand ladies, because when that happens, everyone is blessed.

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” Galatians 5:1 The Message

Fear Sits At Empty Tombs

Don’t let fear keep you sitting in front of an empty tomb, the joy came as they ran to be in His presence.

Fear, apprehension and anxiety will keep us stuck in a stale, dead, hopeless place. Jesus promises a full life to those who will seek Him and rest in His presence. Are you sitting at a tomb that is keeping you from having the joy a relationship with Jesus can bring?

Maybe you need to get up and run from the person, place, memory, fear or vice that keeps your life stagnant and empty.

An empty tomb   praiseandcoffee

Matthew 28
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”   NIV

 

 

 

 

Emotional Survival Isn’t Living

emotional survival isnt living Praise and Coffee

Galatians 4: 4-7

4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

Orphanages have an overwhelming task of caring for young ones that need individual attention but lack the numbers of loving arms to adequately meet the needs of all the children. A child raised in an orphanage usually suffers from some level of attachment disorder due to neglect and sadly there are times of abuse. This means they do not get the necessary bonding with one loving adult, so they struggle with relationships. If they have not found the world to be trustworthy to meet their needs they will not let themselves be vulnerable, instead their instincts tell them to provide for themselves and control their world as much as possible to avoid the pain of rejection. They turn on an emotional survival switch in their brain and respond with whatever means possible to get their needs met, be it; anger, rage, charm or manipulation.

Many Christians have this same experience in our journey of faith. We begin our walk with the Lord though a set of rules and regulations and possibly even spiritual abuse or neglect. We build a relationship with God on our good behavior and works all the while struggling to grow closer to the Father. Often we don’t even realize this until we notice that we’re overwhelmed with comparison, jealousy and/or fear. We won’t let ourselves be vulnerable to God or others and will go to great lengths to avoid rejection. Many of us find ourselves like a gerbil on a wheel of performance and obligation that keeps us busy but never provides the peace we are lacking.

We won’t let ourselves be vulnerable to God or others and will go to great lengths to avoid rejection.

Just like orphans with attachment disorder, we need bonding. We are God’s own children, Daddy’s little girls. He wants a relationship with us that brings us peace, comfort and rest. A child learns to bond by trusting in a loving caretaker to meet their needs, over and over again; then slowly releasing their grip of control (which is really no control at all, only fear) until a mutual love is shared. Once a child can learn to rest in that love, they will heal and grow naturally.

The same goes for our relationship with the Father. There is no magic prayer to experience a deep relationship (attachment/connection) with Him, it is a result of leaning hard into Him…and letting Him love us over and over again. No more running to empty vices or emotional fixes, no more performance (DO-ing for approval) and good deeds to give us false satisfaction. Emotional survival isn’t living. Unconditional love poured out by God and received by us. Resting in His amazing love is the only way to build a deep and authentic relationship with the Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine.

Would you say that your current relationship with the Father is one based on rules, guidelines and survival or is it built on trust and resting in Him?

Don’t Give Up

A piece of what I’ve been working on…

Don't give up praise and coffee
Some days the pain is so deep, we can’t see over the edge of it. The day Mary watched her son beaten and crucified had to feel like the absolute end. But the mourning turned to morning and He rose. In the darkest of our days we dare have hope because light will not be kept under darkness and life will burst forth again. It could come through earthquakes and stones rolled away, it could be the tiny sprout of new life that breaks through the thawing ground or the person who wakes up and decides to start living again. The deepest of pain becomes a memory as the infant’s cry fills the room like a gospel choir.

It’s new life, a new day. It’s hope.

Please don’t give up.

When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. Romans 4:18 The Message

And be careful not to paint hope with one just color and brush, often new life looks different than we imagined it would.

 

I have experienced this kind of hope, I’d love to hear your stories of new life if you want to share.

Defining Who You Are

From my study: Becoming Me Through Him…

button Becoming Me copy

Labels.

Maybe the key to becoming me, becoming you, is to face the labels instead of fighting them.

Face our weaknesses, faults, sins and past.

As I studied the story of Rahab, I was bothered to see that Rahab is still called a prostitute in Hebrews. How is that fair if she had changed her ways? Why does it seem that she cannot shake this title? Shouldn’t God want her story to be about how her life is new? I don’t want to keep calling her a prostitute. She moved on from that life, can’t we focus on her good choices instead of her bad ones?

Then I realized that the power in Rahab’s story is not about how she had changed her life, but in the fact that God redeemed her story.

Ladies, your past is still part of your story, labels and all.

God doesn’t want us to deny our labels, He wants to redeem them.

Let God redeem your past, let God redeem your labels.

Whether it’s abuse or sin that defines our past, it does not have to define our future.

When God redeems our past and our labels…we put the shame behind us.

You are a new creation in Christ. Through Him…you become the woman He wants you to be. We no longer have to live under the shame of the mistakes we’ve made, the sins we’ve committed or the abuse we’ve endured. Shame causes us to fear that we are unworthy of love and belonging. But when we let God redeem our past, we can own our story and live free of shame.

Yes, I hear you and I understand, owning our story can be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Shame is debilitating. It keeps us isolated and alone, completely missing out on the life God has for us.

Rahab shows us that though some of the labels may remain, God redeems our stories. She tenaciously reached out in faith, trusted this God whom she had heard about and He valiantly saves her and her family. Spoiler alert…she is later named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ!

Yes, you have sinned, but that sin does not have to define you as a person.
You may have been abused, but that abuse does not have to define you or haunt your thoughts, God is our Healer and Redeemer.

Shame grows in secrecy and judgment. It’s like mold. It likes the stale darkness. We pretty the outside but when the layers are peeled back we find a wounded little girl that’s been huddled in a corner, afraid that we’ll find out her secrets and believing that the fresh paint job could fool us.

The word inspire means to breathe, to take in air and life. Shame doesn’t want us to take fresh air, it wants us closed up and stagnant. Shame wants us to become a breeding ground of un-forgiveness, a petri dish of bitterness.

It’s time to let God ‘inspire’ us. It’s time to bring fresh air in, it’s time to own our story and let the Father redeem it. The power of shame is broken over our lives when we let God redeem our story instead of letting the past and the labels define us. Stop hiding.

Owning our stories and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we can ever do.

Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

You cannot fully love others until you love yourself, until you love the woman that God loves, labels and all. Redemption says that we are worthy of love and belonging, first Him loving you, then you loving you. Choosing right now to love yourself, not in a few weeks when you lose the weight or stay sober or when you get yourself cleaned up, but right now-today.

My prayer for all of us…
Lord, help us to see ourselves in the light of your love and forgiveness. Father let us glimpse the beauty that you want for our lives, teach us to love ourselves. Show us how to belong to the family of God and take our place as your precious, valued and worthy daughter.

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