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Saturday, January 24, 2015

I've Left (c)hurch #Messy


The Outcast and The Hurting

She sat across from me at the local coffee shop. Beach blond hair, sun bronzed skin, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She'd been burned. Badly. She had also made some mistakes. Admittedly.

Nevertheless, the pain ran deep and every now and then I could catch a glimmer of it in her eyes. 

I could detect the lump in her throat when she skirted around sensitive topics. It was my job to listen. To love. To empathize. I did the best I could, but in the end she left. Past hurts piled up, present struggles loomed large, and church just didn't seem to be the place she could count on. It was not a huge surprise to me. Working for a church I had seen it over and over. People left. It's just how it is.

The problem was, I always thought something was wrong with them. 

That they were the broken ones. I always thought is was their theological misunderstandings or their frailty that kept them from entering into community. That prevented them from staying. I realize now it was so much more. So much more complex.

If I could say I'm sorry to everyone I ever considered to be wrong because they left the church I would. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for "taking sides." My heart aches over broken relationships.

I've since come to realize that side-taking leads to division. Someone has to win and sadly, someone has to lose. Have mercy on us, the church, the body of believers, the ones entrusted with so great a gift. I recognize we're not perfect, I'm not perfect, but we can do better. I can do better.

This is not a cookie cutter meditation on why people leave the church. It is a story. It's not everybody's story. It's mine. But I've been around long enough to know that it will likely resonate with someone else. I believe we are more alike than we are different, all with the same heart, the same receptacles for love and pain. The same desire to be a part. To feel accepted. To know love. I hear a lot about millennials leaving the church and while those numbers are indeed high, I'm convinced it's not just young people. It's anyone who has been hurt, isolated, marginalized, made fun of, considered irrelevant, taken advantage of. I don't think they're any different than others who leave. They come searching for a place that's real and transparent, freely admitting their own junk.

They want someone to say, "We're just as messed up as you - now let's have communion together."


Goodbye

I find myself on the other side now. I find that I have been hurt, badly wounded. And, I have made mistakes. The scars run deep, I'm not recovered. The pain is near and familiar. I don't want it to be, but it is.

So I've left. I've left church. I have alluded to it previously but now I have come to grips with the fact that it's true. The questions and doubts have grown in my mind and my heart over the course of the last several months. I try to find safe answers. Theological explanations. Justifications. I come up empty handed.

Now I find myself fighting to trust that the gospel is true.

I cling to the faith God gave me.

And, I count on the fact that what I can't do on my own, the gospel will do.

I started running. It clears my head. It makes me feel good. I write. I work. I enjoy my family. I love my husband. But, I don't go to church. It's o.k., and, I believe it's o.k. with God. I know that might scare some people. You might even doubt my salvation. That's o.k. too. I'm older now and honestly, I don't care much what others think anymore. God has made promises in the gospel that should freak us all out. If we were to actually live what we believe Jesus taught about freedom we would all be questioning everyone's salvation.

I recall a conversation I had with a young woman last year. I hadn't talked to her in a while and I had not seen her at church in a couple of months. When I called to see how she was she simply replied, "I stopped going to church." I could hear the authentic desperation of her afflicted soul.

Truth and transparency tumbled out of her heart and I found a fellow sojourner who gave me the freedom to be honest. I will never forget that conversation.

We didn't solve the worlds problems or even find a way back for ourselves, but somehow the world got a whole lot smaller and the gospel got a whole lot bigger.

That's why I won't stop being honest about the reality of struggle and pain and desperation. If it helps one other person, so be it. Transparency scares some, but I can only speak to the freedom I have found in being who I am, and the freedom other's have given me as a result of their honesty about who they are.


Time Out

Sometimes, we just need a time out. That's what I'm doing, taking a time out. I'm not wallowing in guilt about it. I'm not rushing to find a solution. I'm not worried or hand-wringing or anxious. I believe if Jesus was present in the flesh, he just might go running with me on a Sunday morning. We'd be surprised to find that he might not necessarily be in a church service. Blasphemous? I don't think so.

This is what's on my mind these days. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Let me paraphrase that a bit.

God shows his love for me in that while I'm taking a time out, Christ died for me.
God shows his love for us in that while we are judging others, Christ died for us.
God shows his love for us in that while we are leaving the church, Christ died for us.

And, God shows his love for you and for me in that he never gives up on us, never leaves us, never forsakes us.


Maybe you will find a soft spot here to rest your weary head.

Maybe you will find that you're not alone.

Maybe you will realize, even for the very first time, that it's o.k.

God's not mad at you.

God is for you.

His grace is big enough for doubts, questions, frustrations, pain, hurt and sorrow. And, just maybe, you will find that in the midst of your story, just like mine, the gospel is true. You will see Jesus who does not condemn you. Jesus who weeps over you. Jesus who loves you deeply. Jesus who, despite the back-turning you have experienced, will never turn his back on you.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Failure And Options


The Despair of Worldly Wisdom

It's a popular motivational phrase. Failure is not an option. We grow up hearing it on the baseball field and at school. Coaches, teachers and parents "encourage" kids to scratch failure off their list. Success is the name of the game. We are trained well and soon develop an aversion to anything less than success. We are uncomfortable with less than perfection, or at least, the standard set by the world.

By the time high school rolls around it's reached a feverish pitch. College decisions loom. After college the decisions get weightier. Graduate work, a job in your field of study, good pay, relocation packages and advancement opportunities. Don't let them see you sweat though. It doesn't look good and it clearly indicates a wobbly success trajectory. Fearful? Down a notch. Anxious? Two notches. Questioning? Off the rails. Your response? Naturally, get back on track. Stiff upper lip. Remember - failure is not an option!

You can't help but recount all those moments along the way where this scenario has played itself out. I remember vividly the day I received a big promotion. More money. More responsibility. More staff. I actually felt sick to my stomach. Sure I was excited, but nervous at the same time. However, I never let on. How could I? So, I set out to succeed.

For some, the knowledge of failure has been simmering just below the surface for a while. Tragedy, suffering and despair came at an early age. Loss of a parent, sexual, physical or mental abuse, poverty or drugs and alcohol were part of their story and the failure was front and center.


For these folks the need to cover up was even more intense. Pretense became a way of life. A way to survive. Buried under shame and regret they would do anything to perpetuate the image of success.

Interestingly, this actually works...temporarily. You can pull yourself together and put your best foot forward. You can rally because the show must go on. However, at some point the curtain drops. The lights fade. Then what? Now what are your options? If we are conditioned to believe that failure is not an option, where can we turn when the gig is up? When the beans spill? When the crash and burn comes?

If failure is not an option and you've failed, what's next?

The Relief of the Gospel

The truth is, failure is your only option.

The world says you can't fail, it's not an option, but the Bible confesses we all fail, it's our only option.

The Ten Commandments, The Beatitudes, The Sermon on the Mount - all the commands and demands in the Bible should make us fall on our knees.

When we look at the perfection of God, when we consider his standard, we all with a gasping breath should chime in with the tax collector who "while standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’"

It is not a resignation to a life of dreary last places, it is a recognition of the Life that came in first, for you and for me. Christ came. He became last that you would be first.


It is of great relief to know that striving can cease. That pretense can end. That truth can come out. It is a great burden lifted when you realize it is OK to be honest about who you are, and, it is a great peace that comes when you by faith receive the rest God promised. Jesus didn't come to give you a boost so you can be on your failure is not an option way. Jesus came to raise your body from the death it's been bound by so you can be on your way to freedom. It is his perfection you live in which gives you the ability to let go. Admit you're a hot mess and move on, all the while pointing to Him as the reason you are free from needing to pretend you have it all together.

If you are struggling to believe this good news, or, if you cannot imagine how a perfect God could love a failure, adulterer, rebel like you - take a moment to read about Paul. He writes in the first chapter of 1 Timothy:

Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 1 Tim 1:13-16

Failure gives us an opportunity to point to Jesus, the One who on our behalf never fails, who always gets it right.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Preparation And Ten [Sleepy] Virgins

Have you read Matthew 25 lately? Jesus is marching on toward the cross. Things are ratcheting up a bit. The parables get more intense. Some are downright disturbing. There is a heightened distinction being made between those who believe and those who do not believe. Between those who are ready and those who are unprepared. Between those who are dutiful and those who are lazy. Between those who are generous and those who are stingy.

We read these words over and over again; The kingdom of heaven is like. What do they mean? What is all this talk about the kingdom of heaven?

The expression Kingdom of Heaven occurs 32 times in the gospel of Matthew and in no other place in the New Testament. The first time the expression occurs is in Matthew 3:2. (Neverthirsty.org)




What does God say about his kingdom? Jesus tells us something about it in Matthew 25;

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

We read this parable and shudder at the thought of not being prepared when Christ returns. Our anxiousness over our lack of preparedness takes over and fear sets in. We begin to look around nervously and we tirelessly fret over things we've left undone. We ask ourselves, "Did I remember to get oil? Did I get enough oil? Did I get the right kind of oil? Will I be able to stay awake? What happens if I dose off when He comes back? Should I even sleep at all?!?"

About this passage, one person wrote;

"My heart quickens when I read that; tears fill my eyes. Will I be ready? Am I ready now? What have I done, and what am I doing now...? I do not want to be like the 5 foolish virgins in Matthew 25 who didn't plan ahead."

They, along with so many of us, forget who God is and what the message of the Bible is. We take this parable (and others) out of context and focus on what we should be doing for God instead of what God has already done for us.

You see, rather than the Bible being an instruction book for how we serve God, it is actually a love letter telling us how God serves us.

The Bible is The Love Story to end all love stories and retells in a thousand different ways the story of how King God so loved the world that he sent is one and only son, Prince Jesus, to rescue his beloved bride and make her a new creation, thereby accomplishing the perfect plan of redemption for the entire human race set forth from the beginning of time. 

Unlike many love stories, this one has a happy ending, whereby all things will be made new and every tear will be wiped away. I think this story is closer to what the kingdom of heaven is like. It's a place where we find our home. Live in it. Walk around in it. Rest in it. Take comfort and refuge in it. It will be the cleft of the rock for you when other stories invade your heart and mind. When fear grips you and anxiousness sets in. When you forget your beloved loves you and you worry you're not doing enough for him.

Remember, he has done everything for you, and it was enough.

The story of the virgins trip us up because we forget The Story. We think it's about what they did or did not do. But God said in the very beginning, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins...five of them were foolish ("For my people are foolish; they know me not" Jer 4:22"), and five were wise ("It is God only who makes men to know this kind of wisdom in the hidden part - Gill on Proverbs 24:7"). He declared their position before they did anything. He declared that it was wisdom and foolishness that drove their actions, not their innate organizational abilities that enabled them to plan properly.

Their position not their preparation allowed the five virgins to enter the marriage feast.

Before any preparations were made, God declared their position - some were wise and some were foolish.

Wikipedia

The truth is all the virgins grew weary in the waiting. They all fell asleep. That's us. We all fall asleep - foolish or wise. It is not our ability to stay awake that prepares us. It is our position in Christ. 

He has declared us worthy to enter the marriage feast. 

He is our bridegroom who comes to get us to carry us in. Oil, no oil, sleepy or wide awake - he gets us in. It is up to him, not us. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like; a rescue for sinners and a place of eternal love for an undeserving people.

Think about it. Regardless of how prepared you think you are, you will always be asking these haunting questions:

Am I prepared enough? How ready is ready enough? What if I'm mostly ready?

Here is the glorious good news.

God readied you when he bloodied his son. 

On his account you are prepared. By his death you enter what God hath prepared.

By his blood you can rest knowing that your efforts to ready yourself will never prepare you enough, but Christ and his efforts for you declare you are already ready.

You are in. There is not one more thing you need to do. God came down. God showed up. It was He who came to that inn over 2000 years ago. It was God who descended into the womb of Mary. It was God who burst forth as a baby and it was God who loved humanity to the point of his death. Can you do that? Can you prepare yourself for what's ahead by doing the things he did? Of course not, but that's not the point. Love is the point. And, not our love for him, but his great love for you that declares, I have prepared you. I saved you. I raised you. You are prepared.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you’ (John 14:27-28).



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mixed Motives and Divided Hearts

St. Augustine writes, "A friend is someone who knows everything about you and totally accepts you as you are."

Is this not the dream that we all share? Someday, somewhere, I am going to meet that person who really understands me - understands the words I speak and even the words I leave unspoken. The gospel proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of that dream. Paul Tillich's definition of trust remains the most meaningful to me. He defines trust as "the courage to accept acceptance."

Raw honesty with Jesus about our doubts and anxieties, our lust and laziness, our shabby prayer life and stale religiosity, our mixed motives and divided hearts is the risk we take in the certainty of being acceptable and accepted. It is the full and mature expression of invincible trust.




Jesus is the friend who will never fail, the faithful one who will never be lacking in fidelity, even when people are unfaithful to him, the stranger to self-hatred who estranged us from self-hatred.

Brennan Manning - Ruthless Trust

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Give Hope

There is a struggle foreign to most of us. Single motherhood. Unless you are living it, there is no way to fully understand all it takes to work, care for kids and run a home by yourself. The daily burden of single-handedly having to provide emotional, financial and physical care for your children is heavy and often times unbearable.

That is the reason for Hope and Help for Single Moms; to reach out to single moms who day in and day out do this hard work. They are no different than you and I. They love their kids, want to create a safe and nurturing environment for them to grow up in and they care about what their kids eat, where they go to school and how they will one day be able to make it on their own. It could easily be me...or you. They sit among us at church, they stand in line at the grocery store and they are parked in front of you in the school drop off line. Each story I hear is different. Each one is a sad recounting of how relationships are broken. Abuse, selfishness, adultery, death, violence - these are only some of the reasons mothers find themselves parenting alone. Here is one of the over fifty thousand stories right here in Broward County:



A woman who attends a local church Bible study each week and helps to facilitate a moms group received a call two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. She got the news of the tragic and unexpected death of her husband. How do you plan for that? What does it feel like to go to bed with your spouse one night and wake up the next day to realize you are alone and will never see that person again? They have a young son who will spend the rest of his life without his father. This mom, in shock now, will slowly regain the strength needed to carry on without her partner. She will because she has to.



But there is hope...

The Lord has not left us alone. He has come to catch and to wipe away every tear.

One day our troubles will be gone and everything sad will become untrue.

He has given us community. His love manifest through others.




His love for us compels our love for others. We love because he first loved us. It is overwhelming sometimes to think of all the hurt, pain and suffering in the world - do you feel powerless to help? I do. But then I realize that God is not asking me to save the world...or save anyone for that matter. That's his job. However, he has put me in community that I might turn to the person next to me and say, "I care."

This is one way I'm saying, "I care."


This signature hand-crafted pendant was designed for Hope and Help for Single Moms in an effort to raise funds to reach out to some of these moms who are daily struggling to pay bills, clothe children and put food on the table. Each pendant hangs on an adjustable black cord.

100% of the proceeds from the first 20 pendants sold will go to the mom and her young son who suddenly lost their husband and father two weeks ago.

Will it secure their future? No.

But, will it extend the love of Christ to a hurting heart? Yes.

If you would like to purchase this beautiful pendant ($15 ea.) you can email me at lh33351@yahoo.com.

Thankfully, Jesus declared on the cross to you and to I, "I care."

Hope is real.

Hope is a Person.

Hope has come.






(all additional proceeds will go to meet the needs of single moms in three specific areas: Christmas assistance, Car Repair/Maintenance and School uniform/books/supplies/backpack assistance)