Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity

Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity

Part One: The day I stopped praying.

The look on her face said it all, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, the loss and grief so evident in her eyes—in that moment my world changed, well, my spiritual world anyways. How could God let this happen again? I was so sure, we were so sure we knew what He was going to do for our friend. Both of us had reassured her how confident we were in God’s answer to our prayers. We kept telling her to calm down and relax, God’s got this. And then all of a sudden He didn’t “get” it. Cause if He did, He wouldn’t have let us believe He would do what He wasn’t going to do.

Anger and despondency towards God began to grow in my heart. So many ungodly people bringing children into the world with no problem, so many people choosing to kill their unborn children, so many unfit parents raising children, and yet when one godly woman wants nothing more than to raise more godly children, God says, “No.” Harsh. Unfair. Cruel.

I stopped praying that day. I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. Why bother? He’s going to do what He’s going to do, whether or not I ask for it. Whether or not I believe. So really, why should I even bother with it? I had literally been at the height of faith and belief one day, to the very bottom the next day, drowning in doubt and uncertainty.

Over the next several months a series of unfortunate events took over my life, as well as that of my friends. It seemed for all three of us, suffering and heartache have been the name of the game. After a while, after life has kicked your ass real good, hope seems rather elusive.

Part Two: The day I stopped attending Church.

Several months before all this, I had sat weeping in my Pastor’s office, confessing how I was at a point where I didn’t even want to go to church. That life had turned me into a cynic. How I used to be happy, positive, and outward focused, and now I was negative, cynical, and could barely get through each day. Church was torturous for me. Those who know me well know that I cannot stand lying and fake-ness. I don’t like being deceived, nor do I want to deceive others. So going to church every week, plastering on a fake smile and shaking hands with people seemed disgusting and reprehensible to me. I’d rather just sleep in, thank you very much. I left the church that day and really, that was probably the last time I experienced a deep connection in any way while in that building.

Sometimes you can feel your soul fading away. Hope running in the opposite direction while you watch helplessly. And then you just, stop, you give up, you quit trying. That’s pretty much how it went down for me. I tried to hang on, but seeing my friend suffer the way she did was the proverbial last straw for me. Of course, the ensuing tragedies to befall my life and that of my two closest friends over the next several months didn’t bode well for my dwindling spirituality.

Occasionally a glimmer of hope would shine through the deep darkness of despair but it was usually brief. Only lasting until the next setback in circumstances came crashing down. Of course, this is what I deserve, after all. You see, I’m not one of those people who believe God owes me something. Quite the opposite, actually. I see every “bad” thing as God giving me what I deserve for the many years I lived my life in rebellion. When bad things happen to my friends I feel crushed for them, they don’t deserve it. But when bad things happen to me, well, why not? You sow what you reap, after all. I’m just getting my just rewards. Eventually I succumbed to the belief that my life, despite my desire to atone for my bad choices, would never be happy, would never be “successful”. I would never be forgiven, but instead forced to live in a state of perpetual punishment. God was going to let me suffer forever. I gave up and basically told God, “I still believe in You, but I don’t trust you. And I don’t plan on talking to you anymore.”

Recognizing my starving spiritual state I immediately withdrew myself from ministry. I stopped going to church, except for the days my husband would drag me there, but sitting through the services proved to be quite uncomfortable. We started coming late and leaving early so we could just hear the sermon and avoid the mushy gushy singing stuff. It’s kind of ironic that my husband, new to the faith, turned out to be the stronger “Christian” than me, the one who spent most of her life in church. I never said this to my husband, but I often thought, “Just wait till you see what the Christianity stuff is all about. Just wait till you see what horrible things God allows in your life, now that you’re trying to obey Him. Good luck with that.” (I told you I was cynical!)

Part Three: The day I stopped identifying as a “Christian”

Another thing I “gave up” was social media. I took a huge step back from things like Facebook because I found myself constantly enraged at the BS I would read on a daily basis. The BS that came from none other than self-professing Christians. Combined with my lack of trust in God, I began to hate Christianity more than anything. Christians can be jerks, you know? I mean really. sometimes more than the average “heathen”…

You’re gay? You’re going to hell.

You believe in the rapture? You’re going to hell.

You believe in eternal security? You’re definitely going to hell.

You don’t have good theology (meaning you don’t share MY theology)? Better turn before you burn, my friend.

Oh my gosh, you have tattoos? You belong to Satan.

Christians can be the most irritating judgmental people on the planet. And I totally get why people walk away from their faith. Many Christians tend to spend more time fighting with each other about who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s really saved and who’s not (like that’s any of our business???). It’s DISGUSTING. I can only imagine how this type of “Christianity” pleases Jesus—which is sarcasm because I know without a doubt, it does NOT please Him. It seems a great deal of Christians have missed the point. You see, you can stand for something (or against something) without being an asshole. Seriously. You can say why you believe what you believe without insisting everyone else who disagrees with you is an idiot and clearly not “really” saved. I’m sorry, I didn’t know we had so many perfect Christians qualified to judge people’s salvation and spirituality! Maybe we should live by example and let the Holy Spirit be the convicting one. You and me, we make terrible Holy Spirits because that’s NOT OUR JOB.

Think going to the movie theatre is a sin? Cool, don’t go to the theatre. Live by example. But don’t tell me that I’m going to hell, or that I’m clearly inferior to you spiritually because I still choose to go to the theatre. Live out your convictions people. Actions. If someone asks why you have your conviction, by all means, share your reasons with grace and love.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” –1 John 3:18, NLT
The other side of the see-saw.

And then there’s this other thing. The complete breakdown of integrity within the church. It’s like we’ve either got the Pharisees over here making a living out of judging everyone else, or we’ve got the Bible-is-optional group who believes actually following God’s word is up for debate if you’re a Christian. I’m talking about people in leadership positions who habitually practice lifestyles contrary to what is clear in God’s word. And let’s be real, it’s not too hard to figure out who those people are, because they’re the ones posting their personal drama all over social media. Of course, along with those Friday night drunken party photos, they’re also talking about how much God is blessing them in the church stuff their doing. Hmmm.

Am I saying you’ve got to be perfect to serve in the church? Obviously not. But have some integrity in your personal life? Yeah, probably a good idea if you’re in a position of leadership. And if you continue to struggle, admit it, and get help. And maybe step down from leading for a while. Positions of leadership really should be reserved for the spiritually mature (not perfect!). And while you certainly have every right to pick and choose what you want to follow or believe in God’s word, I also have every right to not allow you to be in a position to lead me or my family members because I flat out don’t trust you or your “commitment” to truth-seeking. (As I said earlier, going through a major season of depression and doubt, it was easy for me to withdraw from leading and serving because I knew I wasn’t in a spiritually healthy place to be telling someone else what to do! Common sense, y’all. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to teach people about defeating depression if you haven’t defeated it! Just like you can’t effectively teach kids about purity if you aren’t practicing it…etc.)

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”—Romans 6:1-2

So yeah, sometimes Christians suck and sometimes I’m embarrassed to use the term or identify with it. In fact, every time a crazy driver going 10-15mph over the speed limit zooms past me and gives me a dirty look, and then I notice the church sticker on their car, I’m even more convinced how much I loathe the term “Christians”.

“Wow, Rebecca, sounds like you’re the one being judgmental.”

I knew you would go there. Listen, I’m not going to defend myself here. Maybe it is judgmental to expect integrity within the Church, especially leadership. Maybe that’s just asking too much. And yeah, it’s none of my business what people are doing in their personal life. But then again, they make it everyone’s business when they post it all over social media. So…

What I’m saying is, I recognize the irony of my argument. It’s flawed, I know. But it’s where I’m at right now.I’m a fan of “real talk” and honesty, whether or not that realness is “Un-Christian”. And I have to add, I DO have a small group of ladies who feel the same way about Christianity and the state of the Church. They’re just nicer than I am about how they talk about it. That’s a maturity thing, they’re wiser than I am. And thank GOD they put up with me and “get” me.

Part Four: The day I finally understood what it all meant.

One of my favorite shows is “19 Kids and Counting” which follows the lives of the Duggar family. A Christian family with integrity, who live by and teach their children the Bible. They receive a lot of criticism from, you guessed it, Christians. They’re too strict, they’re cultish, they’re obviously abusive. Blah blah. Everyone’s an expert. Anyways, I don’t care about all that. I love them and what they stand for.

Samantha (my daughter who just turned 7) and I were watching the wedding of one of the Duggar girls, actually the first girl in the family to get married. They talked about how they saved themselves for marriage, including their first kiss. This is something we have taught to our daughter and continue to reinforce. How important it is to save the gift of kissing and hugging for our spouse only. And what a special gift it will be to know that your spouse is the only one you have ever kissed and held hands with (about as graphic as we’re going to get with a 7 year old). With great excitement (and some tear-shedding), we watched Jill and Derrick kiss for the first time at the altar, on their wedding day. Sam explained how she would be very nervous to kiss on her wedding day for the first time. I smiled, a proud moment to hear such a thing from your child. To know that the seeds are sprouting. And then I bawled like a baby.

For the first time in several months God spoke to me plain as day. I finally understood why I had no choice but to trust Him and cling to Him no matter how ugly life gets. Because He is my daughter’s only hope in life, and without a praying, faithful mommy, she stands little chance of standing by her faith when temptation strikes. She needs a strong foundation. Without Jesus, there is no hope. Trusting Him is our only chance of making it through life. Even if that means sometimes (or most of the time) we don’t seem to get what we want.

I’m not saying all the depression melted away, but a great deal of it subsided. The fog began to lift. My daughter is the reason I gave my life to Christ in the first place after living many years in rebellion, and she is the reason I have to press on. I have to be the example, I have to live the example, because words are just words. People, especially children, can see through lip service. It means nothing. Showing what I believe through my actions says everything and that includes trusting Jesus when it doesn’t make sense. When it hurts. When it doesn’t seem fair. Without that trust, there really is no hope. No hope for my daughter to make it through life as a God-fearing woman of integrity. Jesus is her only hope. And I will spend the rest of my life on my knees praying for her to remain strong in her faith—much stronger than her mommy. That she chooses to cling to Jesus even when society (and likely other Christians) are screaming at her and calling her a right-wing lunatic. The only hope for her, for any of us, is Jesus. If you take that away, well then, you’ve got nothing to anchor your life on. Even with Jesus, tragedy and hurt is hard enough to deal with, but without Him? Not a chance. I would have given up on life by now, if it wasn’t for Jesus.

Why trust God? Because there is no hope beyond God and what He promises to those who choose to follow when nothing makes sense, when nothing is going “right”, when we’re not getting the answers we think we need. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” God was here all along and I know that. But it was nice to hear Him speak once again and to feel the comfort of His presence. To see Hope again, after over a year of darkness.

In Conclusion:

In the end I have decided to walk away from the Church and Christianity, and embrace the Bible and Christ alone. I’ll worship with other Christians in a place called a church—whatever church God calls me to on any given Sunday. But I won’t make church and churchy things my idol. I won’t find my identity in church and activities, but in what God says about me. I won’t reach for redemption and atonement through works, because grace is free. I won’t search for accolades, because in God’s eyes, I’m already “one of a kind”. I refuse to insert myself into the holy huddles that plague every church. You know what? I don’t want to be part of the “in” crowd. I want to be part of Jesus’ crowd. Sometimes that means standing alone. But really, with Jesus, you’re never “alone”.

And I no longer identify as a Christian, but as a Jesus loving, truth seeking Christ follower. I’m not interested in beating people up with theology (which really only turns them away). I’m not interesting in debating doctrine. I’m interested in following God’s plan for my life and living out the truth of God’s word to the best of my ability and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. That’s really the life I’ve been called to and that is now the life I seek. I don’t want to be in any box but Jesus’ box. I want to live grace and be a beacon of grace because that’s all my life is—an outpouring of God’s immeasurable grace. I have no right or place to point fingers at anyone but myself, but at the same time, I will carefully choose who I will allow to influence my daughter and who I will sit under and learn from, because integrity is important to me. That is simply my personal conviction.

I will never really understand why God allows some things to happen, and I have since given up trying to explain the why’s or maybe’s of it all. I’ve learned through all of this heartache that what people really need is someone to listen to their hurts, be there for them, hug them, maybe send them a note of encouragement, and only give “advice” when it is clearly asked for. Hurting people don’t necessarily need answers and explanations, they just need someone to hear them and meet them where they’re at. They need someone to reach out and notice their need and show that they care. They need to know they’re not alone. They need to know that Jesus (LOVE) is their only hope.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT

______________________________________________

PS–I realize I used some strong language in this post and, no doubt, offended someone. You can save your comments about it. I know I’m probably not a “real” Christian and am doomed because I used “unChristian” words. Thank you for wanting to warn me though, I appreciate it.

Advertisements

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

 

            Admittedly, I’m an Olympic nerd. I love the drama, the personal stories, the action and intensity of the individual events, and of course, I love rooting for my home country. Normally I tune in to my favorite events, usually whatever is shown on the major networks in prime-time. But this year was different. So far my 2014 has been wrought with more physical nightmares than 2013 delivered. Both my daughter and I contracted a rarer type of flu, one that sent us both to the hospital, one that had us sick for two weeks, and one that eventually gave me pneumonia (which I still have). So, aptly timed, the Olympics aired while I was on bed rest; quite convenient! Having the opportunity to watch not only my favorite events, but all of the events (yes, I even watched Curling!) afforded some great learning opportunities.

 

Shut Up and Own It

           

            After an abysmal performance in Speed Skating, an athlete provided an explanation in an on-camera interview, “I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t me!” Um, ok bud, thank you for clearing up the confusion, because I’m pretty sure I just saw you put up a not-so-stellar time, in more than one race. But it’s ok, it’s not you. It’s the ice, the elevation, or the whacky design on your evidently not so aerodynamic skating suit. But it’s not you. Even worse, this was an American athlete. Not a proud USA moment for me but a clear reflection of how most of society thinks—blame someone else and avoid personal ownership, no matter how ignorant.

            But as much as I want to get down on the guy, I have to admit, I do the same thing. I get defensive about my performance as a Christian, as a wife, or as a mother and I make excuses for my behavior. It’s just easier to heap the blame on someone or something else than it is to own my mistakes, short-comings, or outright blatant meltdowns of maturity. Seeing that interview was like seeing my own reflection. I wanted to judge the guy, but I saw his excuses within my own heart. Maybe there are reasons, circumstances, or outside influences affecting my behavior, but in the end, what I say and do is my own choice. How I perform (behave) is my choice, how I respond to adversity is my choice, how I react to conflict is my choice. It boils down to an attitude and response that either attracts or repels others. Squashing pride, owning our choices, and humbly admitting our faults will attract the right attention (and people) in our lives. Making excuses, blaming everything and everyone, and refusing to take personal responsibility will only serve to show our immaturity and pride, while simultaneously poisoning the relationships in our lives. So, let’s all do each other a favor the next time our attitudes and behavior fall short; let’s shut up and own it, and move on.

Keep a Golden Perspective

 

            Dozens of athletes compete in each Olympic event, but only three walk away with hardware around their necks. Over the last two weeks of competition I’ve seen every range of reaction to a given outcome. Some athletes were overjoyed beyond comprehension just to get on that Olympic podium, they didn’t care what color they got, while others had no trouble hiding their disdain over the color of the medal around their necks (think USA women’s hockey medal ceremony—you would have thought that silver medal was battery acid). By far the attitudes of gratitude spoke volumes more to me than the whiny, it’s-not-good-enough looks of resentment. But again, I find myself looking in the mirror, seeing the reflection of my own heart.

            Truth is (I know, it’ll come as a shock, because we all know I’m perfect…) more often than not I have a spiritual attitude of ingratitude. I compare my circumstances (i.e. what medal I’ve received) and gripe about what the other guy got that I deserved. I studied hard, obeyed a lot, and tithed my paycheck, so why didn’t I get God’s golden favor of physical health and material wealth? But alas, in the real world it simply doesn’t work that way. Christianity is not a vending machine religion, where you dial up a result, put in your coins, and know what you’re going to get. You can do everything “right” and still end up as a widow, a grieving parent, or permanently physically handicapped. Our obedience to God, our choice to follow Him and choose to live from Truth guarantees us nothing (as far as circumstances goes) while we’re walking around on this earth (but it does guarantee a whole heck of a lot in eternity!). No, in this world we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have peace at the same time. That’s the promise of a golden perspective. When we keep our eyes focused on Truth we live and breathe the peace that passes all understanding. That other guy can get the gold medal, we’re fine with the bronze, because we know we’ve been promised much more in a time not too far from now. It’s easy to say but hard to practice, yet maintaining a golden perspective is what will determine how we react to the success of others (as well as our own failures).

 

Well, What Do You Expect?

 

            Don’t even get me started on this issue of unmet expectations. Well I guess I got myself started. Anyways, I could easily be the poster child for this problem, but watching the Olympics reassured me that I’m not alone in the fight. As I listened to the announcers talk about the athletes I was left with an expectation of who was going to come away with the shut-out victory. I mean, the way some of these athletes were discussed, you would have thought everyone else should have just forfeited and handed them the medal. But then the competition would begin and whatever the announcers just said seemed, well, foolish. In some ways, it was humorous as the announcers would be just as shocked as everyone watching. But hey, the unpredictability of the games is part of the excitement. On one hand you’ve got an athlete who can scarce believe their own performance and the gold medal they’ve unexpectedly received, and on the other hand you’ve got a gold medal “favorite” sitting in 4th, 5th, or even 30th place, wallowing in disappointment and “what-ifs”.

            If there’s one thing nearly every conversation about disappointment and despair (“I want to quit!”) has in common, it’s the issue of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations. Someone didn’t respond to us the way we thought they would (or should), the person we thought was our best friend turned out not to be a friend at all, our financial security was blown out of the water with an unexpected job loss, the happily ever after was cut short by a death…on and on we could go. Like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves and others, and when those expectations aren’t met we get grumpy. There’s a little phrase I learned as a kid, “Give all your expectations to God.” I wish I had paid more attention to it, because it could have saved me a lot of depression, despair, hopelessness, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, and lost relationships. Sometimes people won’t treat us the way they should, sometimes we won’t treat others the way we should—it happens. One way to avoid the trap of despair (and self-loathing and self-pity and living life as a victim) is to literally release all our expectations to God. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Stanley, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”

We have control only of ourselves, our own choices, and our integrity (that is, whether or not we have integrity). So then, the only thing we can reasonably expect is the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it will be easy, or we should stuff our feelings down when things don’t go as planned, it just means we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Whenever we’re struck with feelings of resentment, hurt, despair, feeling like the world is out to get us, etc. it can likely be traced back to an unmet expectation. Like tracing our steps as we search for our lost car keys, we need to trace the pain back to its source and then give that “source” to God. We can try to manipulate others or our circumstances to fit our expectations, but we will never have peace until we relinquish the idea that we have control over anything other than our own free will.

 

Closing Ceremonies

 

            I actually had a longer list than this but I’m tired of typing and you’re probably falling asleep reading. So I’ll end it here. I hope the next time the Olympics rolls around you’ll watch and look for the lessons, because there are many to be found. So, this is Bob Costas bidding you a good night from Sochi…

Alright, it’s just Rebecca, and I bid you a “thanks” for reading, as well as inviting you to share what lessons you may have learned as you watched (or read about) the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

When Your Heart is Wrecked

 

When Your Heart is Wrecked

 

The lights flickered as tears rolled down my face. I stared at the pile of presents under the tree, suddenly mortified at the sight. Just a few hours earlier I had been making plans to buy more gifts, add more things to the already overflowing mountain billowing beneath the Christmas tree. But something changed, something shifted in my heart.

Despite not feeling well, I arrived at church to lead my life group Sunday morning with a little more pep in my step. Awaiting my arrival was an 8 ½ x 11 inch manila envelope with my name on the front. How long had I prayed for that envelope to come my way? Well over a year. And now the time had come. A big grin plastered on my face, I tore open the package and pulled out the contents. I saw his picture and began to read about him—then the smile turned to tears. The more I read, the more I cried. I quickly stuffed everything back in the envelope and shoved it in my tote bag; no time for tears now, gotta get my head on straight to lead this study.

On the way home from church I shared the news with Samantha, “We got our child today, Sam. His name is Suratha. We can send him letters through email if you want. We most definitely need to be praying for him, he’s a part of our family now, even though he can’t live with us.” Upon arriving home we looked at the packet together. Sam asked some questions, I tried to answer the best I could while doing my best to hold back more tears. But it wasn’t long until after reading the information more in depth, I was a bawling basket case again.

You see, the church I attend 100% funds a small orphanage in India. The children there are supported 100% by a few families in the church who have listened to God’s voice in sponsoring a child, knowing that 100% of that money goes directly to the care and health of the child they sponsor.

When I first began attending New Life Community Church a year and a half ago, and I first heard about the orphanage named Shalom, my heart was stirred in a way it never really had been before. I began praying that God would provide a source of income for me to give to the church, specifically for that ministry. I couldn’t give my husband’s money, that was not my call to make, but if I earned money of my own, I could freely give whatever I felt led to do. Of course, this desire coincided with my efforts in becoming a freelance writer (which, as I’ve mentioned before, is not necessarily a well-paying field in the Christian market).

Over the next year a few checks trickled in. Twenty dollars here, eight dollars there. The first “large” check I received, a whopping $78, was cashed and immediately given to Shalom. I’ve never in my life been so happy to give money to a ministry. But still, sponsoring a child was a monthly commitment, and I just wasn’t making enough money to take that sort of step.

Then a friend of mine hired me for an editing job, what would likely be several months of work, maybe even years (the sky is the limit with that project). Then God said, “It’s time.” So, with tears in my eyes, I placed a good majority of my first editing check in that envelope and wrote his name on it, Suratha Bagh #46. When we got home from church Sam and I decided to put his picture under the tree, so we could see him every day and remember to pray for his health, safety, and provision.

CAM003391

But it was later that evening that God continued to ravage my heart. Over and over I kept coming back to that number, $40. Really, only $40 a month is all it takes to meet this child’s needs? Over and over it hit me, chipping away at my heart. I stared at the obscene amount of gifts under the tree for my one and only child. How many hundreds had I spent on her, with plans to spend more? How much do I spend each month just to watch television, use the internet, or have a smartphone? It all seemed so—awful. Not in a guilt-ridden way but in a heart-breaking way. How much time had I stressed over my husband losing a few days of work last month, or how we might have to sacrifice some comforts to pay bills or get some medical procedures taken care of, and yet, only $40 takes care of all of Suratha’s needs (and when I say $40, I mean 100% of that going to him—no middle man).  

And then this morning I reached my heart-breaking point. Sam had lost a tooth last night and, I being a non-prepared tooth fairy, only had a $5 bill to give her (she much prefers shiny quarters). When she awoke, she excitedly reached under her pillow and pulled out the green paper. “That’s it? That’s all I got was a dollar?”

Tears spilled out of my eyes as I looked at my six-year-old with sorrow. It wasn’t her fault, it was mine. It was my parenting that had taught her such an attitude. With uncontrollable crying I explained to her, “Samantha, look at that picture of Suratha, do you realize that only $40 is needed to supply all his needs for a month? Do you not realize that the five dollars you hold in your hand, the five dollars you are complaining about, could feed him for a week? The hardest decision you have to make is whether to eat fruit loops or frosted flakes for breakfast, and you’re complaining about receiving five dollars from the tooth fairy…” Of course, by then she was crying too.

After a few minutes of hugging, and after I had calmed down a bit, I explained to her that it was not a sin to have money, or toys, or nice things. That God wants us to enjoy life, and we don’t need to feel guilty about the things we’ve worked hard to get. But one thing God does require of us is that we display an attitude of gratefulness and generosity with what we’ve been given. And God was showing me that I’ve been selfish. That I’ve had my head in the sand about the things that go on in the world. That I took too much pride in shopping at second hand stores, thinking what a great frugal person I was being, yet failing to sacrifice really much of anything for the well-being of a child like Suratha. God wrecked my heart piece by piece with just a picture of a boy I’ve never met. He showed me how I’m willing to spend thousands to keep my pets alive, but have to think twice before making a small monthly commitment to a child in need. He showed me how often I cried out over not being able to have more children, and yet, there is a whole world full of children who have no parents who need love, education, and godly homes to be raised in.

And out of a wrecked soul a new passion emerged, along with a new motivation to help sponsor more of these kids in Shalom. To earn more so I can give more to this ministry that is changing lives—with missionaries who are risking lives in a hostile Hindu nation—to bring children food, shelter, education, and most importantly, Jesus. Suratha is one of many, 140 to be exact, 140 children who are cared for in Shalom, solely by the congregation of an average sized church in Peoria, Arizona.

I don’t write all of this to make anyone feel guilty, or even to say that I feel guilty for the things I have. I really don’t. God has only shown me over the last 24 hours how much hurt and need is in the world, and how important it is for me to keep my head out of the sand and focused on the real needs of the real world beyond my front door. But even more than that, I am learning what it means to raise a child with a love and passion for others, instead of self. Sam and I have often had conversations about India, Pastor Suna, and the Shalom orphanage. Sam has saved and given willingly of her “tooth fairy” money in the past. She swears up and down she wants to be a missionary (she also wants to be a teacher, a singer, and an artist). But in a western society where we have more than we really understand or appreciate, it was good for us both to be reminded of how blessed we are, and how much more we need to be a blessing to others. Receiving is good, but giving is far greater.

So Sam and I came up with a plan, we decided that the twice (and sometimes more) a week Starbucks habit could be stopped, and some other things sacrificed to help meet the needs of others like Suratha. And as I sit here and type this my husband walks through the door, “No work today,” and I smile. Ah yes, like my Dad always told me, “It’s not sacrifice unless it hurts.” Indeed. Nor is it a true sacrifice of the spiritual kind unless it hurts. Peeling off the band-aid of self is, perhaps, the most painful sacrifice of all.

When God collides with your most inner core, when He appears at the door of your heart with a sledgehammer in hand, I invite you to let Him do His work. It’ll hurt, yes, but it’ll be so worth it in the end. Not just for you, but for those in your life who you influence each day, especially your children.

This is for you, Suratha, and all your brothers and sisters in Shalom.

 

 

Shalom opened its doors in 2003 to 20 children and 10 staff members. Today there are now 140 children. The facility is now undergoing construction to meet the needs of the children more effectively. They still need over $10,000 to complete this new building. If God places it on your heart to do so, you may give to the Shalom orphanage in India through New Life Community Church <<<Click it! Every penny counts! Also, all proceeds of purchases made of my short Bible study book, The Word: Six Lessons from Psalm 119, have and will continue to go to Shalom. 

The Simplest Answer for Life’s Deepest Problems

It’s no surprise that, for most of us, our lives center around what is being done to us–through circumstances or other people. It almost feels as if we live in a constant state of reactions, rather than responses. Carefully consider the following quote. Read it a few times (I needed to read it several times to completely digest it). Really, if we saw each other the way described, if we treated each other this way, the deepest issues we face would melt away. Life would be about loving, not reacting.

Over the past year God has gifted me with two beautiful women who treat me this way. It is the first time in my life I have ever felt 100% accepted, loved, and like I belong somewhere. The first time in my life. They live out the truths in this quote, and I do my best–through the strength of Christ–to do the same with them. I truly believe this is what has allowed us, despite being deeply sensitive people, to have such a friendship and love for each other. As believers, we should seek this as a standard operating procedure in all relationships, whether with our employers, the homeless guy on the street, or the snooty pharmacist at the grocery store.

There are no ordinary people…

 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feelings for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latita—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

 

–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When Jesus Won’t Fight For You

When Jesus Won’t Fight For You

 

He called me out smack in the middle of the class, thirty or so people staring wide-eyed as I sat there in tears. “It’s easy to ask Jesus to fight for us, isn’t it? Because then it’s His fault when we continue to struggle,” he said.

Just before receiving that verbal slap in the face, I had shared an extremely sensitive situation with Steve—in front of the entire Sunday class. I had confessed dealing with a major temptation, and thoughts of giving in were all-consuming, I felt helpless and overwhelmed. I had spent a great deal of time during the weeks previous begging God to deliver me from the inevitable. At one point I called an old friend and mentor out of desperation and confessed my inner torment. She counseled me, “Girl, you need to get on your knees and give it God. Ask Him to fight for you.”

Well, that sounded good, and that’s what I did. But why wasn’t it working? Tearfully I vomited out my situation to Steve as the class looked on. I told him how I’d been begging God to deliver me; to fight for me, but it just didn’t seem to be working. That’s when he stopped everything and called out the BS in my thinking.

Maybe you’ve heard it before? I know I’ve heard it prayed numerous times over the years, “Oh Jesus, fight for so and so.” I’ve had people pray it over me and I’ve prayed it for others. It sounds great and I had never thought this phrase or prayer was unbiblical until Steve served me a healthy dose of truth that morning.

“Guess what, Rebecca, Jesus already did fight for you—and He won.”

Wait, what?!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14

Notice the verb tenses used here: has, brought, have, instead of is or bringing. These are all past tense. It’s a done deal.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15

“You have been raised with Christ.” Colossians 3:1

“He has reconciled you.” Colossians 1:22

“In Him you were also circumcised…not with the circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.” Colossians 2:11

“God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14

Is it sinking in yet? Maybe you should take a few moments to slowly read through the book of Colossians if you’re still in doubt.

The truth is, Jesus fought and won the battle for our freedom on the cross, and the moment we surrendered our life to Christ, inviting Him to take over what we realized we couldn’t do for ourselves (salvation), the war was over. Unfortunately for us, the hardest part is to really believe this truth—that the war was fought and won at the cross. That is where our Enemy comes in and the ball gets put in our court. Jesus says, “I’ve already won. I already fought for you. Now it’s your turn to use the weapons of warfare I’ve provided to resist your Enemy.” You see, Satan will spend the rest of his days trying to convince us we are helpless. And you know what? He’s pretty damn good at it. Just look around—you won’t have to look far to see churches full of lifeless defeated Christians, struggling from day to day just to exist and go through the motions. This, friends, is not the “life to the full” we’ve been promised.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

Now how exactly can our Enemy steal, kill, and destroy what Jesus has already done? He can’t! But he can deceive us into thinking he can (the devil is a schemer!). And this great illusion by the greatest Counterfeiter of all time is what trips us up. Satan’s ruse is all smoke and mirrors. It’s a mind game, and it’s a good one, one that takes a lot of Christians out entirely through depression, apostasy, suicide, and lukewarm worldliness, among other things.

As children of the God of Angel Armies (The Lord of Hosts) we have been given the authority and responsibility to fight against the Enemy with the weapons Jesus has equipped us with. But this isn’t the crazy whack-a-mole type of violent fight we conjure up in our imaginations. It’s a remarkably motionless fight. Really, it requires a lot of standing around.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemesPut on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand…be alert and keep on always praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:11-18

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9

Fact: The day of evil is coming. We will be tempted, we will be sought after, and we will be preyed upon. It is an inevitable fact of life if you’re a child of God. And yes, it will suck, it will hurt, and you’ll feel like giving up.

Fact: You do have a responsibility in this. Jesus has already fought and won this war. But the battle for your life continues and is opposed by your enemy. Jesus equipped you to resist these attacks with weapons like the belt of truth, the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith…etc.

Fact: It will be hard. In fact, it will be harder to resist these attacks by standing firm on faith and truth then it will be to give in to the doubt, depression, and defeat of the Enemies lies (“You’re a failure, you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never succeed, God can’t use you, and you’re such a hypocrite, just give up, might as well do what you’ve been doing, change is too hard…”).

Fact: Resisting the Enemy is a choice we all have. We can choose to stand on the word of truth, or listen to the whispers of temptation, shame, and doubt. We can choose to believe that Jesus won this war, or we can choose to keep asking Him to do what he’s already done. Most of our inner struggles boil down to a choice we aren’t making (to believe the truth!).

Fact: When we are being attacked, we will not want to pray. Our spiritual life will be opposed. We will feel as if we have no business talking to God. Things like anger, bitterness, shame, regret, and guilt will interfere and distract our communion with God. This distraction is just that—a distraction. It is not a reality. God has not left us. He has turned his ear from us. He hears us even when the Enemy whispers to us that our prayers are bouncing off the walls. This is why we are admonished to pray without ceasing. Keep talking to Jesus! Continue to pour your heart out to Him! HE IS ALWAYS THERE. Once again, stop asking Jesus to “be with” you or “be with so and so.” This is another one of those prayers He can’t respond to because He’s already answered it! He is always there and He will never leave. Instead, replace such requests with, “Jesus, help me to experience your presence because I know you are with me. Thank you for never leaving me even when the Enemy tries to convince me I am alone.”

Friends, Jesus has already fought for you. Now you get to stand firm on that truth. He has never left you. Ask Him to help you see with new eyes and trust His word with both your head and your heart. Ask Him to align your emotions with the truth and resist the Enemy whenever you are tempted to doubt what you know is true. You have a choice—the ball is in your court. Resist him and he will flee. That is God’s promise to you; now you must choose to stand on it.

___________________________________

Related articles:

If You really Want the World to Change, it Starts with This

Why You Might Need to Stand on Your Head 

When “ONE” Really Does Matter

When “ONE” Really Does Matter

 

Earlier this year I felt led to start a life group at New Life Community Church—a life group that focused on spiritual freedom, spiritual healing, spiritual warfare, and the icky issues that often get overlooked in favor of more traditional studies by famous authors. You know, the studies about Grace, How to Pray, How to Disciple, How to do this and that and the other. Don’t get me wrong, I love those types of studies too, but sometimes people walk into church a little “messy” on the inside, and sometimes those people need something a little different than another “Five Steps to Being a Better Christian.”

I was excited as it got under way. There were four of us ladies, which would be perfect when it came to discussing the more sensitive issues we were likely to explore. (It’s easier to share in a small small group then in a room with twenty people.) But after just a few weeks our small group was reduced to microscopic proportions as just I and one other woman remained. Not surprisingly I struggled with the doubt of whether or not I had really “heard” God’s voice in this endeavor. Apparently I had some unmet expectations regarding the “success” of this group. (Don’t you love how God kicks us off our platform of pride rather bluntly?) But in the end I knew I had followed His leading, and I committed myself to sticking it out, even if it was only so “ONE” little life could possibly be affected in a positive way (and even if that “ONE” just happened to be ME!).

Surrendering my expectations to God lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I could walk into the “group” (I mean, if two people can be called a group) excited about the study and what God had revealed to my friend during her week. We probably learned more from each other’s insights and experiences then either of us thought possible.

A few months into the group I had the opportunity to share a testimony at a Life Group Leaders meeting our church held. I had “ONE” little testimony to read, but God had more in store as a result.

After the meeting a woman approached me and asked if there was room for “ONE” more (Oh nope, sorry, three is a crowd—NOT). So she started attending the group even though the study was ending soon. She shared some of her struggles and asked us to pray for some of her family members who were struggling with some specific “icky” issues we often addressed in our study. The three of us developed quite a bond through this “doing life” together thing. We now pray for each other on a regular basis and know we can depend on each other for a listening, non-critical/judgmental ear. We have a “safe” place to share what many people may find “taboo” in a Christian environment (after all, Christians shouldn’t be depressed or have anxiety, right?!).

A few weeks after this woman joined our group, one of the Pastors referred another woman to me who needed a listening, non-judgmental ear regarding her “issues”. She ended up coming to the group, even though she was only able to make it to a couple meetings before it ended.  (I’ll share more about her amazing spiritual transformation in a later post, but you won’t want to miss it! It’s powerful!) So, by the end of the semester, our little life group was up to four. Then the summer came and I found out God had some major plans!

Now, we weren’t even meeting in the summer, nor was this group specifically advertised at church—but the church happens to have a website where people can browse through the life groups and read a little paragraph about it to see if it’s something they are interested in. Through this website, a few more ladies contacted me and a few others were referred to the group via word of mouth. I like to think of it as a carefully God-selected group of women called to come together in this special way.

In a matter of two months I went from prayers of, “Lord, only one? Ok, I’ll trust that this “ONE” is exactly what you have planned,” to, “Ok Lord, where am I going to find room for all of these people?!” You see, the Unexpected God came through again with His awe-inspiring blessings.

In just a few weeks our group begins again, this time we have two different meeting dates because there isn’t enough room for all of us in the room we had been using! So we’ve expanded to two days of meeting, and TEN women searching for the same thing: a dynamic and intimate relationship with Christ. Woo! God is GOOOOOD!

So I said all of that to say this: if you’re leading or mentoring just “ONE”, or maybe you write a blog and only “ONE” person reads it, or maybe you work hard to serve but not “ONE” person notices your efforts, then take heart! Maybe God will grow your ministry and maybe not, but either way, the “ONE” He gave to you is the perfect one because He chose it. So embrace it! Every “ONE” is important in God’s kingdom and we really CAN change the world one person at a time. It starts with our own spiritual freedom, and then through building relationships—one at a time—and trusting God with the results. You never know how your influence, testimony, or freedom in Christ could be used to affect the life of another…and another…and another…

…Or, as it was in my case, maybe that “ONE” God wants to transform is actually YOU.