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

Leave Yesterday’s Mistakes Behind




yesterdays mistakes

 

Our past is a huge part of our future…our stories shape us and we become a women of our individual journeys. I don’t believe we can or should leave our stories behind us and think that we can just forget where we’ve been or what we’ve done.

But let’s not let our mistakes or sins keep us from the beauty that God has before us.

The ashes are a necessary part of the beauty, but don’t let the ashes direct us, let hope and trust in the Father direct us.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

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

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.

When bad Guys Change the Day

trust Him

What a beautiful awful mess of a world we live in.

A thousand miles away, bad guys change our day.

I learned of the terror walking into a restaurant to celebrate my husband’s birthday with our 8 year old. It was impromptu so our grown kids were not there. It was just the three of us, hoping for some great steak.

We watched the screens from our booth and the questions poured from Lauren’s quivering lips. We distracted as best we could, but our eyes were nervously drawn to the screens. A lump in my throat welled as I saw service men rush to the scene while others ran away. I jumped on Facebook to see if our friends in Boston we’re safe, a sigh of relief as we learned they were unharmed.

We asked Lauren about soccer and school, but her little eyes peaked up to see the bloody mess unfolding. Our nation was again under attack by an unknown enemy and our sinking hearts told us that we would never be the same.

Lauren leaned out of the booth to reach across and pick up a crayon when she fell to the ground. She was not hurt but burst into sobs and tears, reacting much deeper to the fear on the screens than the fall to the ground.

I stuff the pain and fear, I’ll be fine. I know that life will go on. That’s what I tell myself. It’s how we numb.

The raw reality is that we are all changed. We flinch faster.

I pray. I trust. Truly I do, but not naively.

I will not pretend that if we pray hard enough, terror will stop. There will be pain, there will be sorrow; we will hurt. But my faith in the fact that God is with me and will never leave me, keeps me from suffocating as I watch the images and hear the sirens.

Jesus never said that the world as a whole would be safer if we prayed longer and harder.

John 16:31-33
Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

This side of heaven we will have trouble, but He also promised that if we trust Him, we can be deeply at peace. If we let the noise of Korea, or the voices on the left and the right, dominate our minds, we will be shaken and live in a shallow place of terror.  Please don’t.

Yes, be alert, follow the leading He gives, but remember that we can live with unshakable peace if we trust that He is with us- He will not abandon us.

I do watch the news, I am vigilant, I am aware or the dangers, but I will not be a hostage to the fear.

I will choose to lean on the One who promised me peace. I pray that you do too. Religion won’t get you there. Following the rules alone will not bring you peace. If the ‘do’ing was enough, Jesus would not have chastised the religious leaders of the day. He came to reveal a relationship that was no longer about rituals and buildings made of stone, it is about relationship with a Father that loves us. It’s about orphans (you and I) finding forever homes.

It’s about finding peace in a world of chaos, terror and disorder.
It’s about recognizing that He love us, He is with us and will never leave us.

Only then can we see the beauty and miracles around us and let gratitude fill our wounded hearts and homes.

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.” Hebrews 11:1

Our lives are a reflection of who/what we trust.
Bad guys can change our day, but trusting in God makes life worth living.

The Tomb is Not Forever

Tomb not forever

The season is hard. You feel tired, empty, spent. Nothing is blooming; it is the winter of our hearts. You wander lost, wondering how you will go on.  A life that once seemed so full is now confused and broken.

Take heart. Like the day between Calvary and the resurrection, life is at a crossroad.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
Isaiah 53:3-4 NIV

Why did our dream have to die? What did we do wrong?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
John 11:25

Maybe we did nothing wrong. Possibly, this was part of God’s plan all along.

A resurrection requires a death.

If you are in a season that feels desperate, alone and longing, don’t despair, trust.

Trust that the plan is larger than your eyes can see at this moment.

Believe that God is bigger than the current circumstances.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5

And know that He has not left you, He will never leave you.

“He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”
Psalm 40:2

The tomb is not forever.

Is Your Past Holding You Hostage?

Your mind reels with memories that imprison you. You rehearse the events like Groundhog Day, each time inserting a new response in your mind of things you wish you’d said. If only you’d told them this or reacted like that. But at the end of your minds’ spiral, life is not changed, the facts cannot be undone.

Have you ever been tormented by your own thoughts?

I’ve spent far too long in this life rehearsing pain from my past. Betrayal, regret, even abuse, and I can’t think hard enough to process them through to a place of peace; they have to be taken hold of and released.

You know you should forgive, you want to. You want your life back. You plead with your own heart to just move on, but you can’t seem to find the freedom you desperately crave. The past is holding you hostage as you realize that you still hold out hope that somehow the memories could be different, but as long as we stay in the place of regret we cannot move forward.

Forgiveness and healing can only happen when we give up hope that the past could be different.

There is a settling in our heart that happens when we embrace the truth that the past is done, it cannot be changed. However, we can change our tomorrows, and as I let the remorse slip from my hands I start to see with the eyes of hope.

Hope is a waking dream. —ARISTOTLE

As if we wake from a long slumber, hope brings fresh eyes and dreams of freedom. Thankfully, these dreams can come true if our hope is in the Father of all life because He has promised to heal our brokenness when we bring it to Him.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalms 34:18

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalms 147:3

I don’t pretend to think that this is an easy or fast process, but it’s the only process that makes us whole.  This world offers many ways to deflect the pain, but I believe that God wants to bring much more than a momentary distraction. He wants a relationship with us that brings healing and security as we discover His immense love for us.

I wish I had some fancy steps that you could take, an ABC of healing that I could throw out to you, but I don’t. I have the scars that remind me that this life is a journey not cut and tied in pretty little bows but instead a path littered with thorns and crosses, prodigals and promises. I can’t imagine trying to walk it alone, I hope you can’t either.

“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5 NLT

God created you. He knows all, He sees all, and yet He is crazy about you. He can be found in every moment if we open our eyes and look up.

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