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 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

Three Tips for a Stronger Marriage

stronger marriage

Three Tips for Stronger Marriage:
1. Forgive– the fire goes out when you water it with forgiveness.
“Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”
Eph. 4:32 The Message
2. Communicate– your spouse is not a mind reader, tell him/her how you feel and use phrases like “I feel…..” not “You always……”
3. Play– Do something fun together. Set aside life’s worries for a time of connection and laughs.

 

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!” Eccl. 4:9-10 MSG

 

Edited to add:
My friend Darlene Schacht has put a 365 day marriage prayer devotional online, I think you might love it!
Todays Marriage Prayer

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.

It’s Time To Stop Wishing That Life Had Been Different

 

mosaic

We run from our stories, but never allude them. We think that “becoming a new creation in Christ” means denying the abuse or sins that have defined us. We miss the point. God making all things new does not mean that they never were.

The beauty of our stories is the power of God’s grace to redeem our broken past. He takes the pieces, He makes a life. No two of us match, we are unique, each moment of our lives scored precisely the way He allowed it.

We are a beautiful mosaic today of every crackled shard, fit together, soldered with love to let the light shine through and dance.

Shame tries to cripple us, but God makes our lives new, He redeems our past and the power of shame is broken. We are no longer that person. We breathe Him in and let His life fill us.

We don’t pretend that the past didn’t happen, we celebrate that He’s redeemed it. He shines through and the crumbled mess bursts with His glory.

It’s time to stop wishing that life had been different, it wasn’t. But today is a new day and the sun rises again to splash brilliant light if we let it. The artist is waiting for you to pull back the curtain.

 

It’s time to unashamedly wake up to the woman God’s created us to be.

 

We’re one week in to our study, “Becoming Me Through Him” on Facebook. Feel free to join us. Take your time and go through the material (click on the files tab) at your own pace, join the discussion if you want or not.

Join here: Becoming Me Through Him

You are also welcome to print and use our files for your own Praise and Coffee groups. Start one in your local coffee shop.
Coffee with girlfriends, sharing life. Connecting, encouraging and inspiring.

Matthew 18:20
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

 

becoming me redeem stories

Your Life Is Waiting For You To Let It Happen

let go small

Why do we fight so hard to hold on to a life that is far less than what it could be?

Old customs, habits and relationships that are stagnant and lifeless, yet we cling to them like worn blankies because they are comfortable.

What are you clutching that needs to be released?

Is it ideas about what will make you happy, but have failed to for years?

Is it hope that the past could have been different?

How about today, you decide that even though the outside world hasn’t changed, you have, and you’re not staying in this puddle pretending it’s an ocean, any longer.

Your life is waiting for you to let it happen. Let go of what’s keeping you from it.

The Silence of Forgiveness

silence of Jesus

Photo by SS

Snapping back is so easy, it takes no effort.
Retaliation spills naturally from our lips.

Silence is a necessary struggle.
Thankfully, Jesus showed us how.

Marriage Is Not About Two Perfect People

They said it would never last. We stubbornly scoffed at them. We were young and so naïve.

I was 20 years old and engaged to be married to a man I’d known less than a year. I promptly ran out to buy my wedding dress and gathered prices on reception halls.

Two months later I was pregnant and the fairy tale wedding unraveled along with my reputation and friendships.  Our family was disappointed but supportive; we moved the wedding up and scaled down the celebration. I’d need a new dress, the off the shoulder summer design would not work for a November wedding.

Good friends stood by us, many church friends did not. A Pastor, who’d taken great interest in us as a young dynamic Christian couple, no longer greeted us with a big smile, instead a cool nod in our direction. Obviously, we’d failed him.

Matthew was born in May and we continued having a baby every other spring until 3 lively children filled our home. The years that followed were filled with love, laughter, tears, mountain tops and valleys.

Fast forward 25 years. Add another child…sans labor and delivery, this one was born in our hearts and brought home from a tiny village in the Chinese province of Xi’an.

It’s been an incredible journey, a road I’m so thankful to have traveled with my best friend. Like any friendship, there have been ups and downs, but always a commitment to come home and honor the promises we made that cold uncertain day in 1987.

Mark and I have spent endless hours counseling couples, many on the cliff ready to dive into divorce. As both sides plead their defense, our first question is, “how are your individual relationships with the Lord?” It’s so easy to blame problems on a marriage, but we have to look deeper than that. Often a marriage in trouble is just a symptom of one or two people who are not walking in personal peace and contentment.

The foundation of a strong marriage is girded on our personal walk with God.

When trials come, it is too easy to retreat emotionally, walk away from our partnership and let bitterness rule our thoughts. When we have the Holy Spirit whispering truth in our hearts, it anchors us, reminds us and draws us to lay down our offense and choose grace. Forgiveness is the powerful cord that weaves through our lives and holds us together.

Many said we would never last, I’m sure they saw what seemed like a shaky foundation. Thankfully we each had an honest personal relationship with a Father who never let go of us as we clung to His hand.

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Matt. 11:29 MSG

Marriage is not about two perfect people making it work, it’s about learning the unforced rhythms of grace as we navigate this dance we call life.

I’m grateful for the partner I’ve danced with and as we celebrate Matthew’s wedding this weekend, and add another daughter to our family, my heart swells with joy and anticipation of the next 25 years and new adventures ahead.

 

Edited to add:

We had a fabulous dinner last night at Ruth’s Chris in Grand Rapids and had to take a pic on the same stairway that we took pictures 25 years ago.

And a blast from the past:

 

Two shall be One ~ Stop Stewing

My husband and I have been married for 20 blissful, uneventful years!
NOT!
I interrupt this figment of my imagination for a dose of reality

You can read the rest of this article over at the CWO Internet Cafe’

Come see me!!
Sue

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