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

Earning God’s Love ~When Minstry Gets In The Way

Gods love praise and coffee The story of Mary and Martha used to fill me with guilt for being busy until I realized that it wasn’t a story about a woman who was busy. Jesus basically (in my paraphrase) said, “Martha, you’re a worried mess and you need stop trying to get everything perfect for me. I want you, not your performance.”

Whether or not she was trying to earn His approval, love or just impress everyone; she missed the point and I know that I have too.

Anybody else?

Mary knew that the most important thing happening was at His feet. Listening, learning and resting in His love.

Shouldn’t this be easy??

Shouldn’t it come naturally??

Yes, I think it does, but many of us have forgotten how to live instinctively. We know in theory that we should put our family first, that God has given us the gift of family and they matter most. But we are busy meeting everyone else’s needs, sometimes even at the expense of our own families. We’ve lost touch with His still small voice that is always speaking to us about priorities.

When my grown children were younger, I spent so much time away from them doing church activities and it grieves me to think that the church even used to pay our babysitter so we could do the work of the ministry. I left my own children OFTEN, too often, and even though they were in good care (excellent in fact), they were not with their parents. I thought I was honoring God, but now I think I was looking for His approval through performance. I thought I would be a better Christian if I did more for Him. And yes, I enjoyed the accolades and approval of others, though it took me a long time to admit it.

I did not know how to be anything but busy. I did not know how to rest at His feet. I was striving to earn His love.

Yes, I was doing good things, God things. I would compare it to having the whole family home but busy in different rooms doing different things and never spending time together. You can call that family time, but without connection, we’re just existing together.

Of course there are busy seasons, but I encourage you to ask yourself:

Why am I doing this?
Who is benefitting?
Does it strengthen my family?
Does it draw me closer to God?

Our walk with God will not grow while we’re trying to earn His love. God’s love for you is not based on your performance, you can securely rest in His love when you stop trying to earn it.

Gal 2:19-20 The Message
 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God.

Is God Your Hero Or Your Father?

Drowning

Imagine a little girl, 8 yrs. old, swimming at the beach and suddenly she goes underwater. She’s drowning. A lifeguard runs to save her. He pulls her little body out of the water, rushes her back to shore and gives her CPR. She chokes and sputters and starts to breathe. He’s relieved and the crowd around him cheers. He’s done his job, he’s a hero. He hands her over to her family and after a little applause, high fives and fist pumps from the crowd he goes about his business.

Now imagine that same little girl swimming, she goes under water and her father realizes that she’s missing. He dives into the water frantically searching for her, screaming her name. He looks under the water and sees her, he pulls her limp-lifeless body up into his arms and races to shore. He instinctively breathes into her tiny lungs and she spews out water and takes a breath. Overcome with emotion, he pulls her to his pounding chest. He embraces her, kisses her and wipes the hair from her face.

I think that he could not hold her close enough in that moment. He would envelope her in his love and never ever want to let her out of his sight again.

He’s not a hero, he’s her father. He didn’t rescue her because it was his job, he snatched her back from the clutches of death because he loves her. She is his child and he does not want to lose her.

The lifeguard represents who Jesus is when we make a simple confession to receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior and then dutifully attend church and live a good little life. He’s like a lifeguard that rescues us but that doesn’t mean that we live in His love or that His love changes us.

But the Father, represents our God…he rescued her because of his love for her. The Dad represents the love that compelled Jesus to the cross for us.

Knowing God as our Father, believing that the Bible is a letter of love to us and not a list of rules, this is what makes the difference and takes us from knowing him as our hero to our Father.

Overcoming Fear

take flight 2copy

How many decisions do we make based on fear?

What will they think?

What if I fail?

What if…?

There is only one solid way to overcome fear…

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”
1 John 4:18

“…not yet fully formed in love”

That’s the key to finding freedom from fear.
Well formed love banishes fear.

When we live loved, knowing each day that no matter what, we are loved by the Father, we live differently. We are free.

Are there still repercussions from sin and poor choices? Absolutely. But even that does not change how much He loves us.

Dare to believe that He loves you right now today, before you change one thing. Live right there in that love.

And take flight.

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