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The Least of These

My church talked about what worship means today. And that got me to thinking about the different ways churches I’ve been part of have viewed it.

There are many ways to look at worship. People who teach primarily from the Old Testament talk about worship as a series of postures, attitudes and sounds. David danced naked before the Lord in worship. You’re supposed to raise your hands. Kneel. Clap your hands. Dance, shout, and if you’re a little Charismatic too, shout or sing in tongues.

The Old Testament is all about the rules and having a theology of worship based on the Old Testament will give you a legalistic, rule-based worship model that can feel very chaotic at times.

I attended a church like that for a while. When I attended this church, there were several times when revelers took me aside and scolded me for not being “worshipful” enough. One particular incident occurred when a woman pulled me aside — actually taking me outside the building — to talk to me about how I was sinning because I wasn’t dancing and she wondered if I was “really saved” since I was living in such rebellion. I am a contemplative person. Worship aerobics is not my thing. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off does not bring me closer to the heart of God. It just doesn’t.

John 4:24 says  “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” I don’t claim to be a great theologian, but my understanding of that verse is that God is saying that He wants our worship to be honest. If we want something to touch the deepest part of the Spirit of God, it needs to come out of the deepest part of our hearts. Wild gyrations and screaming at the top of my lungs isn’t in the deepest part of my heart and my behaving that way in worship does nothing to sway Him because He hasn’t put those things in me. If I did those things, I would be allowing myself to be manipulated into being something someone else wanted me to be instead of being who God created me to be. I don’t think God responds to or cares for manipulation or worship birthed out of manipulation. Most of the time, I was adamant about not participating in this ritual because it did not feel genuine to me.

I moved to my current location 7 years ago and the culture here is so different. No one cares what I do in church. For the longest time, I would find myself bawling in church because I had the freedom to be who I am. No one cared if I raised my hands. No one cared if I clapped my hands. It was pretty normal to not dance or gyrate or holler in church, although sometimes it happened. But no one expected it and no one cared one way or the other. It was a very liberating experience for me because I was finally allowed to be myself in church. It was a beautiful thing.

If those things are your thing, then by all means, knock yourself out. Not literally. But, if God made you a dancer or a shouter or a tongue-speaking screamer, then by all means, you just do you. No judgement from me. I love to see how people are different. Everyone is unique and no one’s personal worship style is wrong or bad, unless it contains things like murdering children or seducing or raping people. I draw the line right there. Treat yourself and everyone else with respect and you’re good.

But, as I was talking with a couple of friends about this today, one of them asked me what I think worship is. If screaming and jumping around isn’t your thing, then what does it really look like?

And I said, “I have no clue.”

I mean, I probably could have thought of something if I had had more time. But in that moment, I wasn’t coming up with anything. This is what I came up with later:

One of the verses discussed in the sermon follows:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1 (NIV)

True and proper worship involves offering your bodies as a living sacrifice. Once again, I am no great theologian. The original scripts are Greek to me (and probably everyone else too, since I think that verse was actually originally in Greek) and I can only draw my conclusions from English translations. That’s the best I can do. To me, offering yourself as a living sacrifice involves sacrificially loving and serving those around you. It means going without something you might want so you can provide for someone else’s need. It means taking two minutes to sit with a blind person and describing the sunset so they can experience it too. It means taking a minute to tell a child who can’t talk that they are so very important and so very loved. It means sitting with an elderly woman who lives with dementia and is terrified because she can’t remember. It means buying lunch for a homeless person or sitting in silence with a mama who has just lost her unborn baby and doesn’t have words to describe her grief and hopelessness. It means sometimes taking a minute away from those needs to attend to your own needs so that you can be a truly living sacrifice because if you run yourself into the ground, you might be sacrificing, but you’re not truly living in the process. Self care is actually a service to God. Taking care of yourself is worship.

I got to thinking about my work. I truly have the best job in the world. I get to sit with a sweet little boy all day and play and read and have dance parties and sometimes we just work really hard at breathing, because sometimes that is a very hard thing to do. A lot of times we snuggle and share lots of love and stories and music. Sometimes we talk about all the things that matter most, like life and love and happiness although his part of the conversation is hard to understand sometimes since his language is smiles and giggles and grunts and moans and moving his arms and legs. But we talk, and everything he says matters. Everything he does is noticed. We giggle together. We talk. We sing and we just have fun.

And all of it. All of it. Everything I do with him is worship.

I was reminded of this passage:

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40 (NKJV)

And the awesome thing about it? None of it is hard. It comes out from the deepest part of my heart and it blesses my little guy. It blesses his family. And it blesses the Father, who put that kind of worship within me with the intention of seeing it flow out of me from morning until night, every day of my life. He didn’t put crazy, boisterous stuff in me because “the least of these” that I am around every day don’t need boisterousness as much as they need gentleness and kindness and attention and love.

True worship….It’s being who you are and loving those around you.

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 1:27 (NKJV)

 

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Posted by on June 3, 2018 in Current Events, Profundities

 

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Busy-ness

Even very good things can sometimes become very bad for you.

I’ve been thinking lately about how full my life is. And I’ve noticed a pattern.

I fill my life to the brim in an effort to not have to think about how my life is void of everything I’ve ever desired in life.

When I was growing up, I dared to dream of having a husband and children. I knew it wasn’t likely to happen, but I thought maybe, if I played the cards right, things could work out.

As much as I want the desire to go away, it just won’t.

So I try to drown the sorrow of disappointment in a flood of activity.

Volunteering for every opportunity to serve at church.

Taking on every friend’s sorrows and trials.

Picking up every open shift at work.

Pursuing degrees, certifications and other educational opportunities.

Studying voraciously any number of topics. Health. Natural wellness. Oils, oils, oils. Psychology.

Reading everything I can get my hands on. Books. Magazines. Textbooks. Fiction and non-fiction. Then giving up fiction because the fantasy world in many works of fiction hurts my heart.

This past holiday season, I worked tirelessly because I could. It was holiday pay and overtime and it made everyone else feel good about their situation so there I was. It wasn’t bad. I love my job and if I can’t do holidays with my family, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than at my job. It doesn’t feel too much like a job so it was ok. (For the record, I asked to work a lot because I couldn’t get enough time off to go anywhere. I figured that if my options were to sit at home alone or to be at work, I’d rather be at work where I’d at least have someone to talk to.)

But they gave me several days before New Year’s off.

I had a mini crisis during my time off because for the first time in months, I had time to think and I felt like I was losing it. I cried for like 4 days straight.

It was then that I realized that for the past (roughly) 15 years, I’d crammed my life so full of good things that it numbed the pain of disappointment. As long as I was doing something or going somewhere, I was ok because I didn’t have to face how empty my life was.

I don’t think busy-ness is bad or wrong. I think sometimes God works through us in our deepest pain. Sometimes we need the activity just to give us a reason to get out of bed and sometimes many beautiful and lovely things can come out of those places of sorrow. Sometimes, for short periods of time, keeping busy is necessary and good. It helps us and it helps our families and friends, our churches and schools. Sometimes, busy-ness is a good thing.

But when it goes on…. for 15…. years….

That is when it becomes unhealthy.

Well, maybe it becomes unhealthy many years sooner than that. My point is, if you have to be that busy for a long time (longer than a few weeks to a few months), something is wrong and you need to address it.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what to tell anyone who might be struggling with this. I don’t even know how to help myself with this.

I’ve been thinking in the weeks since New Year’s about faith and how it pertains to the concept of busy-ness.

For many years, I was at church every time the door was open. I prayed. I read the Bible. I volunteered in ministries. I did everything I could. I did it to numb the pain and forget the sorrow. I found joy and laughter in it (sometimes) but it did nothing to heal the ache that no one saw.

I think it’s easy for us to think that if we’re focusing on God, we are doing good. It’s especially easy to think that by praying, serving and seeking God, we are moving in the direction of healing. Jesus is the healer, right? If we’re seeking Jesus, the Healer, we’re bound to find healing and restoration eventually, right?

Looking back on it, I can tell you that is not always the case. There have been times when I’ve used the words “I’ll pray about that” as a way to avoid making difficult decisions that would propel me into freedom. Sometimes I used church or ministry opportunities as an excuse to not do the things that would bring true restoration to my soul. Sometimes very good things — like prayer, ministry opportunities, church meetings and Bible studies — are the reason we stay stuck.

Don’t let good things come in the way of the best things.

The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.
John 10:10

I’m not saying that everything a person does to keep busy is bad. I’m not saying that church and Christianity are bad. I’m saying that busy-ness can be the thief that comes to steal, kill and destroy. I’m saying that sometimes the thief (Satan) uses very good things to destroy us or to keep us in places of pain. Our job is to honestly assess the motives behind what we are doing and only do those things that will bring us abundant life.

If the Son sets you free, you are free, indeed!
John 8:36

Jesus has already set us free. We have only to figure out how to live free. We aren’t living free if we’re filling our lives to the brim with things that are designed to numb our pain.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Current Events, Profundities

 

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The Presence of God

I’ve been to a lot of church services. I’ve been to many different churches and many different kinds of churches. You know — there’s your typical evangelical church and the charismatic church. There’s the go-with-the-flow kind of church where whatever happens, happens and there really isn’t a preplanned way that things are supposed to be. There are churches that are more liturgical and planned out.

Some churches that I’ve been to focus a lot on getting “more of God.” The idea is that if you pray more, fast more, read the Bible more…. basically, work harder, be more devout and sort of prove your seriousness about it, God will grace you with His presence.

I have never been a fan of the concept of striving for God. I have never really agreed that God responds to the formulas that we create. In fact, when I’ve been presented with that doctrine in church settings, I’ve been the person who was sort of “civilly disobedient.” They would say “God will come if we shout.” (Or dance, sing, speak in tongues, evangelize, raise our hands, turn around in circles 3 times and say boo, or any number of other things.) Most of the time I would not do it. These things didn’t feel “right” to me.

I recently came across this quote from Richard Rohr:

We’re already in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.

It’s true. God is omnipresent. That means that God is present everywhere at the same time. To say that you have to strive for God’s presence is to say that God left that place at some point and you have to do something to make Him come back.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there, your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say “surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
The night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

He is present everywhere. We can’t get more of Him. We can only become more aware of Him. All the striving is useless. Awareness comes with stillness.

Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
Psalm 46:10

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2018 in Profundities

 

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Hold Me Jesus

I began writing this in 2016 and just discovered it. Oops. I don’t know how to bring it to a conclusion so what you see is what you get.

Well, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains are so big
And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, cuz I’m shaking like a leaf
You’ve been King of my glory
Won’t you be my Prince of Peace?
(Hold Me Jesus, Rich Mullins)

Those eight lines describe how my life has been the past several months.

It was one thing after another.

Attack. Rejection. Anxiety. Depression.
Pain.
Confusion.

Trying to cope.
Every person and place I turned was a dead end.
Friends.
Family.
Church.

I went through all the options and found no comfort.
At times it has seemed too much to bear.
The things that are supposed to help didn’t.

I cried a lot.
I was numb a lot.

I have cried through church so many times.

Through all the times I’ve cried “WHY??” and tried to give up on my faith and my convictions, I can’t. I’ve wanted to. There are lots of things I’ve wanted to do through the tortuous fog of pain. Convictions I thought I no longer cared about.

But I can’t.

Because no matter what anyone does, Jesus holds me.
When my life makes no sense, He is holding me.
When it’s too hard and too big, He is holding me.
When my faith is almost gone, He is holding me.
He sees my small and broken self, searching desperately for a place of rest and safety.
He holds me even then — even when I’m convinced that there is no rest and no safety, even with Him.

Through the pain, He is the Prince of Peace.
The nights I toss and turn, my mind and stomach twisted in anxious knots, He is the Prince of Peace.
The days that I’m overwhelmed by dirty dishes and snow and bills and having to go grocery shopping, He is the Prince of Peace.
The times I’ve tried to go to church and, He is the Prince of Peace

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2018 in Current Events

 

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30 Things, 4 Years Later: Day 17

I read this article this evening and it reminded me of my 17th goal.

30 Things to Accomplish in my 30s: Day 17
#17 (Original wording) Raise awareness for victims of domestic violence. This does not mean wearing a ribbon, posting underwear colors or even raising money. It means educating people as to what sorts of things are classified as abuse. It means developing relationships with victims and helping them see their value and purpose. It means teaching parents how to raise kids who are neither victims nor abusers. It means putting forth time and effort in order to eradicate domestic violence from our society. I’m really passionate about this because heathy families equal a healthy society. And every child deserves to live in a non-chaotic, non-violent, healthy and happy home.

I spent many years prior to moving to SD being deeply involved in ministry and leadership at the church I attended. Then things happened. Jesus did something in me. I had been really…. arrogant, I guess. I looked down on people who weren’t as “righteous” as me. I avoided people who were different.
 
And then I became the “different” one. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that I went from top of the heap to bottom of the pile in my social circle. I learned what it was like to be treated the way I had treated other people.
 
I spent a lot of time on my face, sobbing and crying out to God to fix it.
 
He didn’t fix it.
 
Some things happened. One person wanted to reconcile, but by the time she had gotten to that point, I had begun to realize that I had learned many of those habits from her and I didn’t want to be that way, so I said no.
 
For two and a half years, I spent most of my spare time on my face on the floor, sobbing and asking for things to change.
 
The thing that changed was me.
 
I finally began to have a small understanding of grace.
 
I looked at the people around me. Not the pastors. Not the deacons. Not the elders. Not the wealthy people who had it all together. Not the married people. Not the people who had good careers and natural abilities to do wonderful things.
 
I looked at the addicts. I looked at the broken people. The ones who had their first babies when they were 13 and the ones who were on their 4th marriages. I looked at the ones with mental illness and physical illness and the ones who had had abortions and the broken families. I looked at the moms whose hearts were breaking because their sons or daughters were dying from alcoholism or drug addiction. I looked at the children who had been abused, the mothers who had to choose between a “godly home” (staying with a spouse who was abusive) and a safe home.
 
I looked at those things and I think I saw what Jesus sees when He looks at us. I didn’t see sin. I saw broken people. Scared people. People who need love and support and a place they can call home filled with people they can call family.
 
I looked at those people and I saw myself.
 
A broken person, desperate for love.
 
I looked at those people and I said, “But for the grace of God, that would be me.”
 
When one has that kind of revelation, one of two things happens.
 
The person could get incredibly stuck up. “Oh, yeah. Look at me! I just happened to escape all these horrible things that other people struggle with every day.”
 
Or, they can be incredibly humbled.
 
The latter happened to me. I began to be more open and friendly. I had tasted the grace of God and I was eager to extend it to all who came. It was a beautiful time in my life — except for one thing.
 
The church hated this change in me.
 
The straw that broke the camel’s back was that I was a friend to a woman who had chosen to leave her abusive husband and I was as much of a protector to their sweet baby girl as I could be.
 
I could go into a bunch of detail about this, but I’ll spare you. I got really familiar, really fast, with the resources available to battered spouses and victims of domestic violence. I also got really familiar with how little law enforcement wants to be involved. I got really familiar with the retaliatory tactics of abusive spouses. I learned what abuse is and how to spot it and how to get away from it. I learned how it hurts children for generations to come.

I learned that domestic violence has got to end.

I haven’t been closely involved with shelters or anything like that because my life has been so busy with so many things.

When I converse with people and learn of people experiencing violence in their homes, I try to provide education and options. If I can, I take women and kids into my home so they can be safe. I do whatever I can, whenever I can to see people as Jesus sees them — broken people who need love.

Learn more about domestic violence by clicking here.

If you need help, click here.
A book for women in abusive relationships.
Understand why abusers do what they do.
Understand how childhood trauma affects people into adulthood.
 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in 30 Things

 

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Stumbling

I was talking tonight with a friend of mine about ridiculous things that have happened to us at the hands of pastors and elders and whatnot from “Christian” churches.

I don’t think that a lot of what happens in churches and between clergy and congregants is necessarily something that Jesus would condone and I don’t think He would be pleased with a large chunk of it.

I have to put quotation marks around the word “Christian” after the things I’ve experienced. Many of those things have been decidedly un-Christian. Many of those things have caused me to question my faith and whether God is really real and if He really loves me. The very places where we are supposed to go to learn and grow and be nurtured and protected have been more painful than helpful for me.

Believing is hard when the place you’re supposed to go to get watered and cared for is a war zone.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Luke 17:1-2

I’m not sure how one would process those verses with this situation. Obviously, Jesus is compassionate to the broken and the oppressed. He has no tolerance for those who break and oppress.

If you’re broken and oppressed, Jesus loves you. Jesus weeps for you. Jesus wants to crush everything that is breaking you and oppressing you.

I don’t know what that means when the breakers and the oppressors are at church. What does it mean when a pastor lies about you? What does it mean when the church’s agenda is to control every little detail of your life and keep you in perpetual childhood? What does it mean when the people who think they’re serving Jesus use their “ministry” as a means to micromanage every last detail of your life?

Believing is hard when the people who are supposed to demonstrate Jesus to you use their “authority” in ways that hurt you.

I want to believe. I really, really do.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
(Psalm 27:13-14)

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in Rants

 

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