Thursday, March 31, 2016

When Church is Messy

For the second time... growing up in the church has become relevant. It keeps coming up and I'm only just beginning to see the bigger picture.

You know, when I was a little girl, I always figured I would marry a pastor - It was all I ever knew. Church was familiar. And I won't kid you, I loved it. Warts and all. But at the same time, the warts were many. Church is messy.

If I could fix any one thing, I would make church a pretty place - a happy place. Because, let's be honest: Christians can be ugly. They say the wrong things at times. They make poor choices. And sometimes, they don't live very Christ-like. It's enough to make even the most stalwart of Christians cringe at time. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Jesus once called the Pharisees "White Washed Tombs." They looked great on the outside, but inside, they were rotting.

If you show up to church on any given Sunday, you're bound to see at least 100 people, if not more, dressed in nice clothes, smiling and shaking hands. They're going to ask how your grandmother is doing and if your brother/son/grandchild likes college. The junior high girls are going to find their church friends and sit together in the same row - and more likely than not, they're going to doodle on offering envelopes with a little wooden pencil (only one of them will have a fine point).

But that church lady who asked you about your relative is probably arthritic and had a not-so-great doctor's appointment for her husband yesterday. The young woman teaching Sunday School is terrified because she feels like a hypocrite, teaching right and wrong when she can't follow the rules herself all the time. And the pastor's sermon only seems poignant because the very thing he's preaching on is something he learned the hard way this week - God has great timing like that.

Church is messy.

And sometimes, it hurts like crazy.

With all the best intentions in the world those "White-Washed Tombs," will inflict some pretty nasty wounds. I grew up in the church - I know. I've seen the church in some pretty ugly moods. It has an underbelly that sometimes we're ashamed to admit exists. Because if we admit it exists, then maybe Jesus isn't enough. Christians are supposed to be made new and healed, right?

Actually, Christians are pretty messy. But that doesn't mean Christianity is a dud.

The church is a hospital and sin is the diagnosis. Healthy people have no reason to enter a hospital. If finding Christ made us perfect, we could do this "life" thing alone. But we can't because the simple fact is that we're all in process.

Finding Christ is like finding out what's wrong with us and then comes the treatment process - the refiner's fire. God molds and shapes us into his likeness. But truth be told, we aren't completely healed until we make it to the other side.

And in the meantime, God does some of his best work using broken people.

Do you remember Saul? or Paul? That's his new name. Saul was a guy who's primary endeavor was a crusade against Christians. He sought them out, arrested and put them to death. He did this for most of his young adult life. This is the guy God sent to southern Europe and the Mediterranean to spread the gospel. And once God got ahold of him, the persecution turned on him. It seems ironic that when he wasn't serving God, he had it easy, and when he was, the trouble started.

Instead, Saul was a guy with a messy life who was used for some incredible purposes.

Sometimes I look at my experiences in the church, and I blame all my problems on that mess. If God really wanted a good story for his followers, he would make our lives more attractive to outsiders. But he doesn't. He allows us to go through some very rough situations. Then I realize, because of Saul/Paul's unique story, it made him uniquely qualified to do the work set before him. God took that mess and brought something beautiful out of it.

So when I look at my mess and feel out of control and frustrated, I remind myself of that - There's a bigger picture that I can't see yet. Church isn't perfect, and neither am I. It's a mess. But God is bigger than the mess, and he has this funny habit of using mess for something bigger.

Mess doesn't mean God has failed. It means He's working. What you have is a trust issue. I know I do.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Part 3 - Love & Broken Peices

I spent much of my life trying to be in control - trying to fix things. Perhaps because there was plenty I couldn't control. But much of the time, I felt as if my identity were based in a picture. When I couldn't live up to the picture, I beat myself up for being a failure.

Still, if only I accepted the truth - instead I fought it - but all have sinned and fallen short. Missed the mark (Romans 3:23). No one is righteous... not even one (Ecclesiastes 7:20). I just wanted to make everyone happy. I didn't want to tip the apple cart. And maybe in the good moments, with noble intentions, I wanted to set an example.

Probably a common dilemma among pastor's kids.

Still, I was ashamed of my imperfections.

After all, in 1 Timothy 3 it says that in order to lead the church well, a leader (overseer) must set the example in his own home. As a PK, I suppose that made me apart of said household. I was part of the example.

It's a lot of pressure.

So, I had all the right answers in Sunday School. I wore modest clothing. I only listened to Christian music. I didn't cuss.

But since all have sinned... those outward signs of being a good "Christian kid" had nothing to do with what was going on in my heart. Jesus once called the Pharisees white washed tombs (Matthew 23) and honestly... that's what I felt like. The outside was pretty... the inside, dying. I was sneaky.

If I messed up, I didn't want anyone to know. I would simply fix it before anyone knew.

But in order for there to be trust, a certain level of authenticity has to be present.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to be authentic. To not feel "at risk" if I bared my brokenness.  

The reality?

At first, I figured it was everyone else - that was why I was so broken. No one understood me. No one treated me right. It was my junior high math teacher's fault. The last time I opened up, someone shut me up. The reasons were numerous.

One evening, a year or so back, I was staring at the filthy kitchen in my apartment with a paper to finish. I was furious. I was already struggling to keep up with the course. Part of it was my own procrastination, but when I looked at that kitchen with dishes piled a mile high and a floor in dire need of mopping, all I could think about was how mad I was with the people I lived with. I wasn't their unpaid live-in maid - I had a job. If only they would just do their part and help with the upkeep of our living area.

So instead of working on my paper, I cleaned the kitchen first. I didn't get any sleep that night as I opted to consume copious amounts of coffee and write the paper in the wee hours of the morning.

Don't use my logic, by the way.

At that point in my life, what I really wanted and prayed for was to be surrounded by people who put as much effort into me as I did into them. I felt like I was being drained, surrounded by so many relational moochers - they were sabotaging me and turning me into a person I didn't like.

I thought maybe, if only God would bring a few solid friends into my life (I had one, I hoped there were more like her out there).

If only God would bring a really great guy into my life...

Then - then I would be better. I would be fixed.

I also thought maybe, if I would just get enough of a routine together, be a good Christian and read my Bible more often...

Actually - that will get you somewhere.

But I would get discouraged and run away. Every. Single. Time. I felt like I couldn't face God when I failed. Opening his word, or listening to worship music made me feel guilty and ashamed.

I think I was hoping for an instant fix. Like reading my Bible everyday for a week would somehow result in a complete turn around of behavior.

But Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16). We get to share with Christ in his suffering (1 Peter 4). Because the Christian life is no easy path. Reading your Bible, while a means of leaning on God's strength where we are weak, doesn't immediately negate the fallenness of this world.

Our bodies are still broken.

People can't fix us - not people: relationships nor friends.

A long shower won't wash off the ugliness of sin.

It's deeper than that. Ingrained in our very essence.

But weren't not alone in the refining process. And it IS a process. Which is why it's often so confusing to go through. It's easy to misunderstand the process - easy to blame the pains on our environment. Rather, we're apart of the body of Christ. Called to recognize our inherent brokenness, and share out burdens with one another (Galatians 6). But in bearing one another's struggles, we're supposed to point each other back to God, his mercy and sufficiency.

Because, when we fall, he catches us.

When we're weak, he strengthens us.
My flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
Struggling isn't a reason to go looking to cast blame. And while it certainly isn't good, God loves us too much for us to run from him in shame. He's already covered our shame (Isaiah 1:18).  So instead, we are in process, growing more and more like him, suffering and struggling as we strive. Refining fires were never meant to be pleasant nor easy.

Have courage.

Be patient and full of grace.

We're all in process.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Part 2 - Love and Broken Pieces

Get Wisdom. Get Understanding. And don’t be wise in your own eyes. That’s the gist of Proverbs 3.

The first time I read it, it seemed pretty straight forward. But, I also figured that I was a fairly intelligent person who didn’t make stupid choices. Then recently, (since God has a sense of humor) I found myself knocked down a peg. Please, feel free to laugh.

Not so long ago, we ran out of dishwasher detergent in my apartment. Of course, considering there are nine of us living together, this is a tragedy. Our little dish drainer is much too small to handle the ridiculous amounts of dishes we go through on a daily basis. Now personally, I have this bad habit of stepping in and doing things for everyone. I think it's because I'm trying to be nice... Or I'm just OCD about a clean kitchen and have trouble asking for help - you be the judge.

So, with a sink full of dishes and an urgent need to do something about them, I decided to load the dishwasher. But then, once it was full, I really, really wanted to run it and just get the dishes out of the way.

What would you do? I came up with an idea.

Not wanting to be a total pioneer, I reached for the bottle of Dawn and read the label. Naturally, it said, "Do not use in an electric washer."

Still, with so many dishes to take care of, I thought, "What could possibly go wrong?" I reasoned that they likely put that on the bottle in the case that something DID happen, though unlikely. I couldn't think of anything mechanically that it might break. So really... what could happen?

This reasoned out, I poured about a tablespoon into the detergent dispenser, started the machine, and sat down to watch TV.

Ten minutes passed, and the dishwasher started groaning.

I brushed it off as nothing; our dishwasher is always noisy.

Twenty minutes passed, and I realized these groans were a bit different. So, I got up and went to check the machine. What I saw was horrifying:

In a large mass along the bottom of the washer was a pile of suds and water, slowing growing in size. My brain essentially quit for a moment as I watched before my wits returned.

Of course, I turned off the cycle, mopped up the mess and set the machine to rinse. But never in a million years did I expect such a mess, and I couldn't believe that I thought I knew better than the bottle. OF COURSE the warning label was there for a reason. Why wouldn't Dawn check their product so stupid people like me would hopefully trust the label and not make a sudsy mess like I did.

Why did I think I knew better?

You can laugh now. Either because you've done it too, or because now you know not to.

But really, it seems funny, but sometimes I’m guilty of believing certain pieces of scripture aren’t relevant to me and who I am. My mom once said that they Bible never gets old – you can read it again and again – there will always be something new to learn. The older I get, the more I know it to be true.

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Don’t I know it now.

Still, that verse came to mind only after the fact. When it happened, I thought first of Proverbs 3:7 which says, “Don’t be wise your own eyes.” It’s a verse I’m sure your grandmother or your mother quoted on end. But whether you know it or not, I’m almost certain your know the verse that comes before, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 ESV).

Perhaps trusting God has been the overarching lesson of my college years. More and more, I’m coming to find that I don’t always like God’s plans – they aren’t my plans. And he has this interesting habit of not always revealing his plans.

Like any normal human, I don’t easily trust what I can’t see.

But if God is good – he can’t be anything but – then why don’t I trust him? Why don’t I follow him?

It’s Romans 12:1-2 in essence. We’re supposed to offer our bodies as living sacrifices – an act of worship. Ignore what the world says and listen to God. Then, we’ll begin to understand his good, pleasing and perfect will. But more often than not, we choose not to trust God, so we don’t submit to him. We listen to what the world says, and end up anxious and afraid… and then, all that’s left is confusion, because our plans are failing.

In his heart, a man makes his plans, but God directs his steps (Prov. 16:9).

If only we could just get over our stubborn pride and realize that God was right all along. Even when we buck and squirm because where his plans seem to be taking us is uncomfortable.

But it's only when we are beyond ourselves and our comfort - out of control - that we truly depend on God. 

He's the giver of good gifts, even when we feel stretched thin and spiraling. 

He's given us the body - there are other believers who've gone before us, who God carried through, to advise us. And of course we have the scriptures, because, "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4 ESV). 

Sometimes we just have to let go and let God. 

He's far more competent than we are anyway. 

It's simply a matter of trust. Don't be wise in your own eyes - we were never meant to go it alone. And if I may quote Veggie Tales... "God's way is the best way." 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Part 1 - Love and Broken Pieces

I'll tell the world (I'll sing a song)
It's a better place since you came along
(Since you came along)
Your touch is sunlight through the trees
Your kisses are the ocean breeze
Everything's alright when you're with me

And I hold my favorite thing
I hold the love that you bring
But it feels like I've opened my eyes again
And the colors are golden and bright again
There's a song in my heart, I feel like I belong
It's a better place since you came along...
It's a better place since you came along...

I see the whole world in your eyes
It's like I've known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It's like you really understand
You love the way I am

Now I'm alright, now I'm alright
(Everything's alright)

I had a revelation of sorts the other day... and since revelations aren't particularly common, I've been stewing over it for the last several days. But anyways... It started after I heard this song in Starbucks while I was working on my manuscript. 

First, I liked the melody, then I looked up the lyrics, and it was just so sweet. So of course, I found it on itunes. But my feelings changed after hearing it on repeat a few times. Not in a bad way, mind you, rather, I realized something about how I viewed the song. 

Maybe you didn't notice the first time you skimmed over the lyrics I pasted, but look again. Look at the lyrics in bold. It blew my mind that really - if you reflect on the song in another context... it sounds like a worship song. 

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us all

And we are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking
And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don't have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
He loves us, oh

And with the bold here... doesn't the worship song also sound like a love song?

Once I realized this, I was deeply challenged. Have we as young adults made an idol out of love - or even the idea of it? Because often, I find myself thinking that love will fix whatever ambiguous thing is wrong with me - or otherwise prove that I'm fine, that all my doubts and worries were wrongly placed. 

Truly... love is powerful... but it can't fix you. And if we're truly honest - romantic love is more prone to break you if you approach it in so fragile a state. 

And yet... again and again, we turn to love, expecting the world and winding up broken hearted and disappointed because, used in that way - love is an idol - used in place of God's role in our lives. In some cases, when we're feeling vulnerable, we turn to love, rather than God for healing, support and strength. But what a backwards way of thinking that is. 

Because indeed - Love isn't God, but instead, a creation, which cannot and should not sit on His throne. 

Spring is upon us, and I suppose God is doing some spring cleaning in my life - weeding out all the idols I didn't know were there. Then again, idols don't have to look like golden statues. They have quite a range of appearances.