Friday, February 20, 2015

Why I Don't Leave My Church

I've seen a lot of articles floating around that talk about why hipsters leave the church or why teenagers leave the church or why families leave the church.

And it occured to me that part of why there is a culture of leaving the church might be because we talk so much about leaving the church!

This post is kind of hard to write. But if I'm one thing, I'm authentic, right? I try to be honest with anything I put out into the world.

I've been struggling in my church for a little while now. And it seems to get better and then it gets worse and up and down. I've done a lot of internal soul searching - seeking God inside myself, making sure I was doing my personal best in the circumstances.  I've done a lot of praying - listening for God to help me see the path.

I think that some people see church kind of like choosing a restaurant. You try it out and you like it. The food is good, the service is good, the atmosphere is pleasant. You might even become a regular. But then you have a bad experience and you stop going. And we tend to do that with church - afterall, there is always some other church right around the corner or down the street to try instead. Churches are everywhere so it should be fairly easy to select one that meets your "wish list" for a church.

But unlike a restaurant, once you've joined a church, you've joined a family. Membership in a church isn't about priveleges - it's about commitments.

At least for me.

I'm not saying that any church should be forced into your life as The Church for you.  It can take time to visit churches and find a place where you feel comfortable, where you learn from the preaching, where you enjoy walking in the door. But once you've found the place and you've committed yourself and you've become part of the congregation...

You can't just break a connection by walking out the door again.

For me, church isn't about showing up on Sunday morning, singing some songs, hearing a sermon, and going home.

Church, like my faith, is part of my life. Church family is a very real thing to me - I wouldn't walk away from my husband and kids to shop for a new ones. The people in the church I attend are important to me. I don't walk to my car after church on Sunday and then forget about those people that I just joined in worship. After years of supporting people through health problems, faith struggles, celebrating new babies, kids growing up, tragedies and joys... the people in that building become connected. We care about each other. We love each other. God brought us to that place and forms bonds between us.

I'm also not saying that you must stay in a church at all costs. If the preaching has changed and you disagree with what is being taught, time to go. If an area of ministry has changed so significantly that you feel it negatively impacts your overall church support, it might be time to go.

But I think there should be a strong suggestion that you never leave a church without talking to someone, most likely the lead pastor, about why you are leaving.

Needs change over time, too. But here's the thing - I know that as my needs change, God is going to work to change my church, to change me, or to use me as an instrument to bring about change.

In my recent struggles, there have been 3 things that have kept me firmly planted.

1. The People
I love the people of my church. I have friends there. But more than that, I have people who love me and my husband and my kids. I have people that I love and care about and pray for and want the best for. There are people there who have shared insights in a Bible study that profoundly deepen my faith. There are people there who have demonstrated incredible love and patience and faith that I know I can lean on and learn from.

2. I Made A Promise
I love the way we do baptism and affirmations of faith in our church. We don't do a big open call and invite anyone to come forward and be dunked or sprinkled. Baptism is a serious choice made by the individual or by a child's parents. Baptism is a promise being made to commit to God and to commit to the church. As a member of my church, when there is a baptism, the people sitting in the pews make promises to that person, to that family. We promise to be involved in our church and we promise to set the example for this person being baptized and we promise to raise them up in the church.  I take the promises I have made at each of those baptisms and affirmations of faith very seriously.

3. I Got Over Myself
Part of the foundation of my current struggle, since I'm being honest, is my own hurt feelings. And when we get down to it, most any struggle comes down to our own personal hurts, doesn't it?  Most of the time, people aren't leaving a church because they suddenly disagree with what is being preached. Most of the time, there isn't a deep philosophical or theological reason for leaving - it's because we're unhappy with something, our feelings have been hurt, or we feel like we aren't being served or appreciated or noticed or whatever.  But I recently had a bit of a wake up call when listening to a sermon by Francis Chan on the subject of "Tired of Church."  You should click over and at least listen to the first few minutes because me trying to tell you what he says won't have as much impact. But the bottom line is... if there is a possibility (and there is always this possibility) that this is my last breath and I am about to be face to face with the God that I have worked for and worshiped and praised and turned to and chased after and run to... if I might possibly be right in His presence in the next moment... do I really care what so-and-so says about me or thinks about me?

I'm not saying there aren't good reasons to leave a church or to shop around. I'm just saying that there are probably a lot more reasons to stay.  I'm saying that leaving a church should be a heavy decision, shouldn't be made in an emotional state, and that you should talk out the concerns prior to actually walking out the door. You can always change your relationship within the church - cut back on involvement, ramp up your involvement, find a new group to study and learn with. Shake it up. But if there is something you don't like, something making you want to run away... maybe you need to step up and face it.  Think about the reasons why you go to church and why you've stayed there so far.

Maybe that will be enough.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hey, Youse Guys, All Ya'll

I won't pretend that I think anything I have to say is truly important. And I won't pretend that I think the numbers matter - followers on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.  I don't measure success by number of clicks or anything like that.

Nothing personal against youse guys...

But ya'll aren't really the reason I write.

I write for me. I'm terribly selfish that way. Sometimes, I need to work through parenting stuff or faith based stuff or touchy-feely stuff. Sometimes I need my soapbox.

And if someone else happens to read it and they get something from it, I think that's fantastic!

But today, it suddenly hit me that if everyone on those lists of followers were to actually click on a blog post, I'd have a lot of people reading the things I write.

And that's a little intimidating.

It's funny, this whole blog thing. I think of it like a journal with the potential to reach someone who might share in the feeling or thought or experience. I've enjoyed the connections made from back when I first started on this journey - like Mim and Garret and C. Beth and Joanie and Hallie.

But when I tell people that I blog... I still feel... vulnerable? Exposed?

I put it out into the atmosphere to be read, to reach someone, and also to just help me sort out my thoughts. So sharing that with someone face to face feels kinda weird.

I have also become keenly aware of my audience.  I know that my mom sometimes reads my blog. My brothers sometimes read my blog. I know that my husband reads. And people in my church. And some people I work with. And parents of my kids' classmates.

That's the part that sometimes causes me to pause. That makes this place less of a journal, less of a soapbox. Because sometimes knowing who is definitely going to click over and read means that I can't share about what I'm going through or thinking or experiencing.

It blows my mind sometimes when I start to tell someone my thoughts or opinions and they say... "oh yeah, I read that on your blog."


I don't write just FOR ya'll but I sure am aware of youse guys.

But I also have to say that exposing one's soul at any level... it requires being willing to grow. To stretch. To consider. To be ok with being wrong. And even ok with being right.

So... hello. Whether you've been reading for years or you just somehow wandered around the blogosphere and happened upon this post... feel free to say hello from time to time!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

He Held Me

On Monday, I posted a letter to God. A prayer.  I was hurting and overwhelmed and frustrated.

Throughout that day, God reminded me that He was holding me. And that He is embracing all of those people in my life that ar ehurting or scared or struggling.

It took most of the day to realize that He was reaching out to remind me.

I love to sing. I love worship music and I love to lead people to come closer to Christ thorugh music.

However, I don't listen to music on the radio as often as I used to - mostly because I just don't have much time to have the radio on. In the car, I'm often on the phone or listening to an audio book or just enjoying silence and prayer time.

Yesterday, I ended up being in the car more often and I ended up listening to the radio more often.  In addition, I had popped over to YouTube to look something up and there were some music video recommendations for me.

At the end of the day, as a song played on the radio, it hit me. Many of the songs that I'd been hearing were precisely about God being with us. Always. That we are never alone.

You might think... well, don't all Christian songs have that theme? Actually, no. Some songs are about how we love God and some are about how God loves us. Some are just joyful celebrations. Some are specific responses to grief or hardships. There is a huge variety of praise music on the airwaves these days. But yesterday, each time I heard a song or found a song, it related specifically to being reminded that I am never alone.

When I walk through deep waters
I know that you will be with me
When I'm standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
Oh I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see your light is breaking through
The dark night will not over take me
I am pressing into you
Lord you fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You were singing in the dark
Whispering Your promise
Even when I could not hear
I was held in Your arms
Carried for a thousand miles to show
Not for a moment did You forsake me

After all You are constant
After all You are only good
After all You are sovereign
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Not for a moment will You forsake me

And every step every breath you are there
Every tear every cry every prayer
In my hurt at my worst
When my world falls down
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Even in the dark
Even when it's hard
You will never leave me
After all

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far weve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much Youve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Our prayers are always answered. Not always right away, not always the way we want them to be. But when you open the lines of communication... those lines stay open. We have to be willing to listen. We have to be willing to observe. To be open in return. Answers come in music, in Scripture, in church, through friends.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Family #Nerd Day (Giveaway)

Our church has a group of sci-fi and superhero and smarty pants loving people in it.

You know - nerds.

And from time to time, they get together. They call it Nerd Night. They watch movies and eat and talk nerdy stuff. Or they actually go out to a movie (some are even known to wear Star Trek shirts to a Star Trek premiere). That's what I'm told anyway - I've never actually gone to one of these Nerd Nights. But my husband goes.

Recently, there was a Nerd Night. Movies of choice were Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America. Food included chips and dip and some sort of crave pack from White Castle. You know - nerd food (apparently).

And my children were jealous. Guardians is a favorite movie in our house. And dad getting to go watch this favorite movie without them... it was a travesty.

But good news and opportunity abounds!!

Mom is going away this weekend. So mom suggested a Family Nerd Day (in her absence, of course). The list of possible movies and TV shows to watch is pretty endless.

And then the Nerd Mecca presented itself.

Wizard World Comic Con Indianapolis

Yep - it's this weekend.

So now the husband and children will have a plan far beyond their expectation.  This is no simple "watch a superhero movie" type of day. This will be all about people in costume, actors making appearances, and a wide array of all things comic, sci-fi, game, and more.

Want to know something really awesome?  I've got 2 weekend passes for a family of 4 to giveaway to 2 lucky readers!! If you've got a family of nerds... or are part of a family of nerds (I have my nerdy side... Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Captain America are all soft spots for this mama)... enter to WIN!

And if you know that this is an event you simply can't miss and you must buy tickets... I'm offering you a 40% off discount code! Use the code INDY40 to receive 40% off on general admission tickets!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This Valentine's Day - show your nerd how much you love them by taking them to the Wizard World Comic Con!

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Dear God,

Could you just hold me right now?

I'm so overwhelmed with the hurt in the lives of people around me.

I'm angry because... pain.

I'm angry because... confusion.

I'm angry because... cancer.

I'm angry because... death.

I'm angry because... people.

My heart is breaking because I know the hearts of others are broken. People I love are sick, people I love are sad, people I love are frustrated, overwhelmed, scared.

My heart hurts because... people hurt each other. Because we don't always choose Love and Grace and Mercy - until maybe it's too late. My heart hurts because people I love don't love me back. My heart hurts because people look at me and see my faith and know I live it... but at the same time, they don't know you, they don't understand why it's all so important in my life. In any life.

I'm struggling because I don't know where I'm going or what you want from me or where I'm supposed to be right now. I'm feeling a little lost. I'm trying to be patient, to listen, to wait.

Today, I just want to curl into a ball and stay in my bed and pretend the rest of the world simply doesn't exist.

But I know that isn't the answer.

So please hold me today.

Hold these people I love. Surround them with your love, your peace, your comfort.

There are big and scary things happening all around me. Life changing things. So many people around me are hurting in so many ways.

Life is too precious to spend time on anger, on resentment, on selfish "justice." Life is too great a gift to waste it away on petty things.

Help me to see your beauty in each face around me. Help me to recognize your perfect love in every heart that I encounter.

The world is feeling so dark right now. Help me... help all of us... to see your light, to feel your presence.

Just... hold me.

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