Jesus crumbs

My sweet friend’s children were getting baptized yesterday and she had invited me to come.  I got up, got dressed and drove to her church and went inside to look for her and her husband.  I even said to the lady at the information table, “Hi, I’m here to see my friend’s kids get baptized,” to which she said…somewhat confused….”oh, well okay.  The service hasn’t started yet, and that’s usually part of the service.”  I knew that already, but smiled and said thank you, and went into the sanctuary to wait.  I found a seat and texted my friend to say I was there and it was about then that I looked at her original text and realized that I was in fact a week early.  That might explain the info lady’s confusion.  Oh well, I thought.  I’m here now.  Might as well stay for the service.

Ya’ll.  This kinda stuff happens a whole lot more than it used to.  I closed the garage door on my car the other day and the sad thing was, I was fully aware in the moment that my car was still sitting halfway in the garage.  I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen other than what did, but anyway.  Thankfully the garage door was fine.  I guess these things will become more and more commonplace the older that I get.

Anyhow, the church service was nice and I was a little excited to see that it was communion weekend.  I haven’t taken communion in a while, since at the Catholic church I can’t because I’m not Catholic and that’s the only church we’ve been to since leaving our previous one.

It came time for communion and everybody went up to get bread and juice, only you were supposed to take it back to your seat so everybody could partake together.  A piece of bread off the common loaf and a little plastic cup with juice in it.  So I’m sitting in my seat with my bread and juice waiting while the last few rows go up and someone walks past me and a little piece of their bread falls on the floor in the isle.  Well, I couldn’t take my eyes off that little piece of bread.  I kept think as people were walking by, “oh no, somebody’s gonna step on Jesus!”  Amazingly enough though, nobody did.  People just kept walking by and that little piece of bread just kept sitting there on the floor.  So I decided that as soon as the service was over, I was going to grab that little piece of bread before people got up and started walking out and then somebody would step on Jesus’ body for sure.

So communion was over and we all closed our eyes and the pastor led us in prayer to close the service.  And when I opened my eyes, lo and behold ya’ll, that little piece of bread was gone!  Somebody else must have seen the bread on the floor and  got to it before I did, but all I could think to myself was, “Praise the Lord, He has risen!” which got me a little tickled.

And I guess it got me thinking some too.  Like about Hansel and Gretel and how they left bread crumbs so they could find their way back home.  Okay, so maybe Hansel and Gretel aren’t the best example because the birds ate their bread and they got lost and ended up in the house of the witch who wanted to eat them.  You know, what?  Nevermind.  Forget Hansel and Gretel.

The point I’m trying to get to is that when we are living in the abundant love of Christ, we’ll want to leave Jesus crumbs wherever we go.  Sitting at the table of the Lord will always afford us more than enough so that we might leave a bread trail for others to find their way to Him.  It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated.  Sometimes I think we make it harder than it has to be.  Or we think we have to let somebody else do the leading because we don’t have the right words or know all the things.

But when you’ve been to a restaurant and eaten a delicious meal, you tell others about how good it was.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to cook the food you had, you just know it was worth telling somebody else about so they can go and eat there too.

Jesus is the same.  It’s okay if you don’t know all the theology.  It’s alright if you can’t recite verse after verse of scripture.  Because the thing you do know is that He is good and you want others to taste and see.

Just keep coming to the Father’s table.  Keep on dining with Jesus.  His goodness will start to spill out of you and you’ll be leaving Jesus crumbs everywhere you go.

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This day in history

So today’s my birthday!  Yay!!!  I’m 44 years old today.  And since history is something of interest to me, I thought for today we’d see what else happened on this day in history besides me being born.

The first thing that popped up on my search is that on this day in 1493, Christopher Columbus mistook manatees for mermaids.  Yes friends.  Columbus looked out into the ocean and saw these manatees (otherwise known as SEA COWS) and thought they were mermaids.  He’s even quoted to have said that they were “not half as beautiful as they were painted.”  You reckon?  Let’s compare.

florida-manatee-by-carol-grant        mermaid with notes

Sure.  I can totally understand the mix up, Chris.

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In 1768, the first modern circus was staged.  And that’s appropriate since in 2018, the circus is still strong with this one.

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In 1861, the merchant ship, “Star of the West,” was shot at trying to deliver supplies to Fort Sumter.  While this didn’t actually start the Civil War, it was the first time shots were exchanged between the North and the South.  The war itself didn’t officially begin until April of that year.

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In 1976, two years after I was born, Sylvester Stallone started filming Rocky.  A movie about a guy who liked to exercise that began filming on my birthday.  Ironic considering that I hate exercise with the fire of 1000 suns.

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In 2007, the iPhone debuted.  Thank you Steve Jobs!  I’m really sorry it took me several more birthdays before I finally gave in and got one.

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So that’s just a few things.  If you want to read about more stuff that happened on my birthday or you want to see what happened on yours, check out the History Channel’s “This Day in History.”

Friday favs

I’ve noticed some bloggers that I follow do a Favorites Friday post or either a week in review kinda post each week.  So I haven’t been doing this, but it’s an intriguing idea because for one it helps give me something to write about and two it might make me get on an actual blogging schedule.  I’ll give it a go anyway.

So here’s a few favorites for this week:

1.  Ya’ll.  I don’t know how it happened, but I have become addicted to the Hallmark Channel.  Well, at least the movies and Home and Family.  (I haven’t watched When Calls the Heart yet because I need to go back to the beginning and catch up.)  Last year, I watched almost all the Christmas Countdown movies and was looking forward to them again this year and I watched them all again…some several times.  (My youngest would say, “Mommy, haven’t you watched this already?”)  But this year, what was last year’s temporary staple, has become a regular.  We’ve moved from Christmas Countdown to Winterfest in the movie department.  The movies have a lot of the same actors and can border on cliché (or go right over the border and build a house in the middle of cliché), but they are happy movies with happy endings and I need that in my life right now.  Home and Family is like a morning talk show, but it’s clean without craziness.  They do crafts and home décor and cooking and have guests on the show.  I’m totally diggin’ it.

2.  My space heater.  Oh, how I love my space heater.  My bathroom is always cold.  Like always.  And especially the last week or so, it’s been quite frigid for eastern North Carolina and we actually got snow this week.  My little space heater has kept my bathroom nice and toasty.  Because let’s be real…who wants to take a shower in a cold bathroom or sit on a cold toilet?

3.  This video?  Has cracked me up over and over again.  My oldest son showed it to me and it has been my go-to this week when I needed a laugh.  I also realize that I’m giving away my ridiculously childish sense of humor with this one, but it was just so stinking funny!


So these are my top three Friday favorites for this week.  You got any favs to share?

Happy New Year or whatever

Here I stand in the kitchen and I’m writing with my laptop on the counter and cooking pancakes all at the same time.  So I’m already breaking one resolution – namely to focus on the task at hand, whatever that might be.  And I’ll likely burn a pancake.

Wait, you know what?  I’ve decided right here and now.  Forget resolutions.  I never keep them anyway.  Hang on.  Time to flip.

The pancake I mean.  Not that I’m going to flip.  Time to flip the pancake.  Which I did.

But then I have flipped out a few times in the last couple of weeks too though, so there’s that.

I’m changing my antidepressant meds from one to another in the hopes that it will help me in my endeavors to be less fat.  But in the meantime I have gone from happy, to weepy, to crazed bitch, to happy over and over in the last couple of weeks while everything levels itself back out.  Fun times, ya’ll.  Fun times.  And Merry Christmas to you as well, good sir.

And whoops.  Almost burnt a pancake.

So here we are again at the beginning of a new year…well, day 2 of the beginning of a…whatever.

Here we are at day 2 of the beginning of a new year and it’s time for a fresh start.  All the mistakes and shortcomings from last year are dead and gone and I have a whole new year’s worth screw ups ahead of me.  Look, I’m just trying to be real.

It’s not all bad though.  There’s been some really good things that have happened over the course of the last year.  They haven’t all looked like good things at the time they were happening, but in looking back I can see light peeking through the cracks of the hard parts where God was doing a thing.  I don’t know what it was in some cases, but it was something.  I’m relearning that God doesn’t just sit around killing time.  (And I say “relearning” because really I knew that already…I guess I just forgot.)  Yes, God is in the business of getting stuff done.  And it’s always good in the end even if it hurts like hell in the middle.

So here’s to new beginnings or fresh starts or to waking up to a new year but feeling the same as you did yesterday…or two days ago as it were…and just trying to figure out where your other sock is and making sure you don’t forget to pick up any of your kids.

God’s here friends…with you and with me.

To Be Told conference notes: part two

It’s quiet in my house.  Well except for the squeaky ceiling fan.  It has a rhythm as it spins and while sometimes it’s unnerving and I just wish it would stop, other times it’s like a comfortable metronome just ticking off the day.  It becomes white noise as I sit here and think how to form my words.

I still have pages and pages of notes from the conference and it’s interesting how themes continue to pop up in various places.  When God determines to teach me, it seems he does it intentionally, driving nail after nail into his point until something finally pierces a hole in my wrong thinking.  There is a rhythm to it, like the ceiling fan.

As I continue reading  through all my conference notes, one little sentence that I jotted down popped out at me just now:

Don’t dismiss your story because it’s not as odd or extreme as someone else’s.

How many times have I done that?  How many times have I looked at the course of my life with Jesus and thought, Where’s my big moment?  Where’s the one definitive place where I can say that it was there, yes right there, that Jesus stepped in?  It’s just not anywhere to be found.

Because as I look back, I can find no one moment where he rode in and changed my world.  No one specific moment where I laid on the floor weeping in surrender and then stood up new.  No one wild moment where he pulled me out of a black hole and suddenly everything was different.

No.  I don’t have one of those absolute moments that I can say that it was exactly here that Jesus changed me.  And for a long time I thought that made my story less than impressive.  Jesus was just always there.  Minus a few spans here and there, I’ve always been involved in church, always known of God, always called myself a Follower.  I had an extraordinary conversion story worthy of a podium and a microphone.

It’s just always been.  Sometimes we are close.  Sometimes I push him away.  And sometimes I’m angry and don’t speak to him for a while.  But it’s always been.  We’ve always been.

At the conference, Dan Allender said that God is the author of our stories and that before we live a single day, God has written those stories in their entirety.  And each of us have  stories…yes, the little individual ones like how learned ride a bike or how we met our best friend…but more than that –  we each have the story of who we are that was penned by the Creator of the Universe.  No two are the same.  There is no other story like mine and, as Dan said, no other story reveals about God what my story does.

So while my story may not look or sound as magnificent as someones else’s, my story is mine.  And while there may not be one big moment where sparks flew or a bush caught on fire, there have been innumerable stories of where God showed up.  My life has been one long dance with Jesus full of spins and dips and even moments where I chose to dance with someone else and all the while, he waited for me.  He waited until I saw my new partner for the idol it was and ran back to dance with my true love.

Do you see that?  Do you see where he has always been there in your own life?  Maybe, like me, you don’t have a wild beautiful story of the moment your world changed.  You can’t put your finger on that one moment in time to say “Here.  Here it is.”  But it doesn’t make your story any less incredible than anyone else’s.  It is our stories that reveal God in us and those stories must be told.

Tell yours.

To Be Told conference notes: part 1

So as promised, I’m going back through my notes from the To Be Told conference with Dr. Dan Allender this weekend.  You know how when you hear somebody speak and everything they say is like “WOW” and you can’t write fast enough?  Yeah, that was me.  I’m planing to listen back through to a copy of a previous conference to see if I can pick up on some of the things I missed writing down.

However, one thing among several that stuck out to me was this:

Your calling is not what you do, but how you do it.

It took a minute or two for that to sink in.  For me to really grasp what Dr. Allender was saying.  Honestly, it was probably the next day before I really understood what he was getting at.  And then it was like a light came on.

I’ve felt so lost since I left my church in regards how I can go about serving God in the areas of the my “calling” of leading worship and Bible teaching since I don’t really have anywhere to do that now.  Both of those areas are definitely dear to my heart and places where I thrive.  Music makes me come alive and I love studying the Word of God.  I’ve been told so many times, oh leading worship or teaching the Bible is your calling, and I’ve surely felt that to be true.  But after hearing and mulling over that one little nugget it was like it was clear to me.  My calling is not leading worship or teaching the Bible.

No. My calling is this:   To be faithful to my scars.

But what does that mean?  Another thing Dr. Allender said was that we can find our brokenness and our passion by looking at whatever causes us to make a fist.  And in looking back over my own experiences there is one area that incenses me so much.

It’s when sheep are orphaned by the church.  Over the years I have seen sheep who have strayed from the path and have been booted out of the fold on their ear.  I have seen sheep who refuse to sit down and stay quiet be frozen out of the flock.  I have seen wounded sheep limp away unnoticed.  And to that I say, no.  That is not how the church is supposed to operate.  Sheep don’t just wander off without a reason.  Either the gate got left open or somebody tossed the sheep away.  And somebody has to care why.

I have found myself orphaned by the church more than once.  I still distinctly remember to this day one Sunday morning when I was probably about 16 or 17 and I was teaching 3rd grade Sunday school.  Me and another lady each did every other Sunday and on this particular Sunday, she walked into the classroom on my Sunday thinking it was her week to teach.  When she realized I was already there and set up, she acted haughty and ugly to me in front of the kids because she said I had taken her day.  Honestly I don’t remember if it was her day or mine, but what I do remember was how embarrassed I was in front of the kids because she’d made me feel so small.  I avoided her after that and if I remember right, I quit teaching Sunday school when that year was up.

In another situation, I had a friend a few years ago who made a mistake.  He did something he shouldn’t have done and was basically tossed out on his ear.  He didn’t even hear from the pastor for nearly three weeks after it happened.  Amazingly, he stood through it and has grown in his faith in Christ as a result of walking through that trial and the relationship he had with that church has since been healed, praise God.  But more often than not, it doesn’t end that way.    Were it not for his resolve to find healing and reconciliation, I dare say he’d have been completely forgotten.

Being orphaned by the church, whether in a small thing or a big one, can be deeply painful and unsettling.  The places you thought were safe aren’t safe anymore and the places you thought you stood firmly are all of a sudden shaky.  So many times I saw situations from a quite different perspective than the majority and I was made to feel like I was in the wrong, like I was making a bigger deal out of something than what it was.

But my scars tell me otherwise.  I know what it feels like to be belittled by someone in the church because they are older or because they have more authority that I do.  I know what it feels like to be shushed like a child whose opinion carries little to no weight.  I know what it feels like to be overlooked.  I know what it feels like to be wounded by the church.  And I know what it feels like to walk away from a church I served faithfully for almost 16 years and it to go virtually unnoticed by the majority of those in leadership.

Church wounds run pretty deep and can be incredibly difficulty to get over.  In being faithful to my scars, I allow myself to be vulnerable about them and it opens up space for others to feel less alone.  I can mourn alongside those carrying their own church scars.

My calling?  To be faithful to my scars…to be a safe place for those orphaned by the church.

What about you?  What calling do you believe God has given you?  What things cause you to make a fist?   

Weekend rundown

Tomorrow is Tuesday already??  For a long weekend, it sure went by fast.

We spent the weekend at a retreat hosted by a Christian summer camp in the mountains with a huge group of friends.  This was our third year going and I’ve really looked forward to it every year.  It’s a family weekend and there’s tons of kids running around having a blast.  I slept on a prison mattress in a bunk bed and it drizzled rain nearly the entire time, but was glorious.  The weekend was over way too soon.

One of my favorite things about this trip besides getting a whole weekend to just hang out with people that I love is that I get to see them parenting their kids.  And I don’t mean that in a “haha, look at what their kid did” way.  I mean it like in an “oh wow, so that happens with them, too” kinda way.  For one thing, there’s so much going on and the kids get pretty tired by the end of the weekend, so meltdowns are inevitable.  And of course with all those little ones around, there’ll be arguments between kids and arguments between parents and their kids.  It’s just neat to me to see the different family dynamics.  You realize that while we all might do it a little bit differently, there’s a lot we can learn from each other.

Also, I realized as I sobbed through the second night’s worship time that I desperately miss serving in worship.  It’s just my thing.  It’s where I come alive.  I’ve said it before, but there’s just something about the sound of voices coming together in harmony that just opens up the heavens for me.  I’m not sure what to do with that realization as of right now, but hopefully God has something in mind.

And too, I’m really starting to think that church has so very little to do with any one building or group.  Honestly, this weekend felt church-ier than anything I’ve experienced enclosed in four walls in a really really long time.  Spending time together, sharing stories and encouraging each other, worshipping together, watching our kids laugh and play together.  It’s hard to beat really.  It’s a lot like I imagine heaven to be.

Anyway, tomorrow it’s back to the routine.  By some housekeeping miracle, I managed to wash almost all the laundry before we left so my son actually has clean uniforms for school all week.  That’s nice since instead of uniforms, I’ll be washing old towels all week since the dog decided it would be a good time to get her “female cycle” for the first time.  Picture a little chihuahua in a doggie diaper.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

Happy September ya’ll.

the underneath

There’s considerably more to me than I give way to out loud.  There’s a whole underneath layer that sits just below the surface, out of view.  Because the hidden parts are often in contradiction to the life I desire to portray.

See, you build your house with the beautiful parts of yourself and display all the lovely things on the lawn.  The ugly and the odd stays inside in the dark with the curtains drawn, only rarely, if ever, daring a quick glance between the blinds.  But even the quickest of glances offers glorious visions of the neighborhood, leaving me seeing spots, and it is quite painfully clear that the world…at least my piece of it…is not ready for the ugly and the odd.

Honestly, it is much easier to hide it all.  To just answer “fine.”  There’s less to have to explain.  Less to have to find words for.  The constant battle that rages on the inside – the fight between light and dark – is better left stuffed down inside.  There’s the fear that to let it all out in the open – to give it words – would set it free forever and I’d never get it all back in the bottle.

In case you’re wondering, we’ve more or less stopped looking for a church and honestly I’m not all that sad about it.  I don’t think what my heart deeply desires actually exists, so I’m just going to push pause.  And I’m actually somewhat relieved about it.

Because the facade is exhausting.

What I mean is that I’m just not good.  I am a sinner, buried in the mire and sometimes I don’t care if I ever get out.  Sometimes I quite revel in the mire.  The smell of it.  The way it feels smeared on my skin.  The honesty of it all.  There is no pretending to be done when you are covered from head to toe in muck.  And truth be told, I am raw from all the attempts at scrubbing it off.  Of trying to be different.  Trying to be better.  Trying to overcome.  Trying to live like I’m free when I know bloody well I’m not.  Trying to live like I’m head over heels in love with a God that I hardly hear from anymore when in reality, aside from the few prayers offered up for others, we barely speak.

A couple of months have passed since my last post and what I thought was a turning point turned out to be the same as every other time I think maybe I’m beginning to get somewhere.  Nothing changes.  I’m still the same.  Still a prisoner to anxiety and depression, food addiction, self hate, fear.  All of it.

I found myself wandering around Barnes & Noble today scrutinizing this book and that book, trying to find the one that might finally give me the answer.  Looking for that person who might have it all figured out and can tell me how the hell to fix myself.  And it’s all the same.  Pray this prayer.  Learn this scripture.  Do these steps.  These people with their all “God moments” and I wonder to myself if I’m just not fixable.

Maybe that’s it.  Maybe I’m just completely and utterly beyond fixing.

I know one thing though.  I’m tired.  Tired of the anticipation of changes that just don’t come.

Please Jesus.  Please.  I just want to be better.

 

Coverings. Or “What I think of when I see the number 1222”

Do any of you tend to see the same numbers a lot?  Like when you look at the clock, you tend to catch it at the same time often?  Or you see it in addresses or totals on a receipt or something?  I do.  My number is 1222.  It was a while before I came to realize what I believe it means.  I wound up in Exodus, chapter 12, verse 22.  It reads:

Take a cluster of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and brush the lintel and the two doorposts with some of the blood in the basin.  None of you may go out the door of his house until morning.

Now I realize that doesn’t really seem to say much.  But when you look at what’s going on around that verse it does.  In fact, it completely blew me away.  Basically chapter 12 in Exodus covers the instructions God gave the Israelites for Passover and part of those instructions included brushing the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorways of their homes.  The final plague sent to Egypt, where the Israelites were enslaved, was that the angel of death would come and take the life of the firstborn son.  However, it would pass over the homes that had the blood of the lamb on the door and the son’s life would be spared.

What a beautiful picture of what was to come!  The blood of Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, painted over us so that we might not die, but have life everlasting!

And it hit me.  Every time I saw 1222, it was God was reminding me of the covering I had in Christ.  That I was forever sealed by the blood of the Lamb.  That I had been marked as a child of God.

Fast forward to the last week or so and I have been feeling quite alone.  I mean, I know I’m not alone.  I guess I’ve felt a bit isolated and a little tossed.  And I know it has a lot to do with having acknowledged leaving my church.  Before when not many knew, I still felt somehow connected, but after writing that last post, I guess it was an official severing and I have felt it.  And while we have started going to another church, we aren’t really connected there (by choice thus far).  I told my mom earlier this week, it’s like I feel a bit naked spiritually, not really having what feels like the covering of a church body right now.

And then something funny happened.  So that last post I wrote got read a lot of times.  I mean a lot.  Like over a thousand times.  Much more than any post I’ve ever written.  And it just happened this week, when I checked the blog to see if I had any messages to respond to, I saw it.  The number of times it’s been viewed.

1,222 times.

I was stunned.  And in that moment, it felt like God was reminding me that I always have HIS covering no matter where I am.  That I may not have a connection with a church as of right now, and while that is important, I still have and will always have the covering of the One who flung the stars into the sky.  HE is and always will be my covering.

So friend, are you wandering and feel alone?  Maybe you feel a little tossed and lost?  Maybe you feel like nobody cares or nobody sees you.  Well, let me tell you something.  If you’re wandering, He’s wandering with you.  You aren’t lost.  Maybe you’re on an ocean of doubt and you’re being tossed about by the waves.  He’s in the boat with you.  He sees you.  He knows your name.  And if you’ve called Christ your Lord, you are underneath His covering, sealed by his Spirit (Eph 1:13).  You belong to him.

Now if you’re like me and you don’t have a church home, I’d encourage you to keep looking for one.  I will too.  The body of Christ is just that…a body.  And we need each other.

And also, if by some chance you’re reading this and you have never submitted yourself to Christ, know that His love is for you.  His death was for you…for us all.  We just have to receive it as ours.  If you’ve never done that and you’re ready, please reach out to me or someone close to you and let’s talk.

And in the meantime, please continue to pray for us as we seek a settling place.

Love you guys,

J

 

Why I left my church.

I’ve hesitated to share this and gone back and forth about whether or not to.  But it seemed odd to me that I wouldn’t have written about it, considering it has been such a big deal in my life.  So here goes.

About two months ago, my family left our church.  This church had been my home for almost 17 years.  The only thing in my life I have done longer than attend that church is be a mom, and not by much.  It has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and not one I took lightly at all.  In fact, my husband and I discussed it for probably a full year before we finally made the decision to leave.  So please know, we aren’t “church hopping,” nor did we leave because we’re offended or mad.  Sad maybe?  But not mad.  And we only told a few people at the time.  We just kinda left quietly.  There are many reasons, but the summation of it all was that we were worn out.  Mentally.  Spiritually.  Emotionally.  Just worn the heck out.

The reality is that the longer you are at a church and the more involved you get, the more you know about the interworkings of it all.  It can be hard not to become disillusioned…especially in a large Western church.   The planning of every single piece of the service down to the minute, the time clocks on the back wall telling me I had 30 seconds to end my prayer, the silliness incorporated in to get a laugh, and of course, the smoke machine.  There’s this constant push to stay relevant, to stay up on the latest thing.  And I was completely and utterly exhausted with the whole entire production.  Sometimes I would walk in the door and look at the three or four video cameras we had sitting the sanctuary so the congregation could get multiple angles of the pastor as he spoke or a close up shot of the keyboard player’s hands while they played and would almost feel physically ill thinking how many families could have been fed for the cost of those cameras.  We could have probably at least partially funded an adoption with just the roving camera, but instead we’re broadcasting close ups of the keyboard for the sake of artistic presentation.  It was eating me alive on the inside.  I felt like I was suffocating.  And it had gotten to a point where it was affecting me in deeper ways than just being burnt out.  The more disillusioned I got with the church, the more disconnected I felt to God.

I started to really question the whole thing.  I just kept asking myself, is this really what church is all about?  Is this really what it’s supposed to be like?  Because honestly, what I needed…and still need…was a place to worship that looked and felt different from the world.  My heart was aching for a place that felt set apart from everything I saw in the day to day, a place that felt holy.  But what I was experiencing was smoke and lights and silly videos and announcements in the middle of the service that seemed to bring holy moments to a screeching halt.  It just felt like there was so much effort put into this weekly service – so much time, so much money, so many resources – when I couldn’t help but feel like there was so much missing elsewhere.

And listen, I’m not meaning to pound on this one church.  Because my church wasn’t really all that much different from most every other big Western church in this country.  Smoke machines, light shows, big screens is pretty much the way of it now.  Hours and hours of planning go into it all.  What will draw people in, what will keep people’s interest, what will make church more appealing?  Churches have their snappy catch phrases and overused cliches.  People don’t bring their Bibles to church anymore because they don’t have to…it’s all on the big screen.  They just sit and consume.  Theology gets tossed out the window in exchange for songs that talk about Jesus like He’s my boyfriend instead of my Savior and Lord.  People treat pastors and worship leaders like celebrities.  Church campuses are chosen over stand alone church plants because it’s just easier (and cheaper) to pump in the video preacher each week…and well…it gives branding to the church (hence the celebrity pastor issue).

I know I sound judgmental.  And while I can appreciate someone thinking that, it doesn’t negate what I saw, what I heard, what I felt in my spirit.  And I want to be clear and say that my desire isn’t to hurt anyone’s feelings or imply that I’m spiritually above everyone who still attends the church I left or any other church that does these things.  I’m not.  In fact, it’s probably the complete opposite.  Over the last year (and in large part in relation to this whole confusion and frustration with church), I felt myself sort of tumbling down the side of a mountain and I landed pretty hard in the valley of doubt and questions.  And that’s where I’ve sat for a long time.

Until I left my church.

It’s like I’m out from under it all and I can finally think straight.

And I’m concerned really.  Concerned about the state of the Church in America.  Concerned because I can’t help but wonder if the true intention of the gathering of worshippers is getting lost underneath all the fluff and and fancy.   Is the self-sacrifice aspect of the gospel coming through or are people being taught that bigger is better with our multi-million dollar building funds?  Have the topical sermons been enough to establish strong sound Biblical foundations?  And if we had to do without the screens and the cameras and the entertainment aspects of church would people still want to come or have we all been so conditioned to think that’s what worship is supposed to look like?  If we were to face persecution here in America like they do in other places, would the Western church at large survive it?

I’m not asking you to agree with me.  And I’m not saying that technology and church buildings and orders of service are inherently bad.  They aren’t.  But if they aren’t partnered with a strong teaching of the gospel and a true understanding of worship, then we’ve all missed the mark in a really bad way.  Is the picture of worship being painted every week an accurate representation of what it’s like to follow Christ – including the hard parts – or just the parts we think will make people come back next week?  If a congregation of people have been trained to think that worship has to be big and loud and entertaining, then that’s what they’ll be drawn to.  But if you strip away all the big and loud and entertaining, what happens then?  When the pastor with all his well planned out sermons and catchy one-liners isn’t there, will people know enough about the actual scriptures to dig further for themselves?  Can we worship just as well with a pipe organ and a hymn book as we can a full stage band and vice versa?  Are churches just as in tune with the move of the Spirit as they are with the time clock counting down on the back wall?

And again, I’m not judging you if you go to a church that does these things.  I’m not saying that churches that use movie screens are bad or unspiritual.  All I’m asking is that we stop to consider the way we worship.  Stop and consider if all the stuff we spend money on is really necessary or just more for our own enjoyment and comfort.  Stop and consider the amount of time put into planning out every little thing compared to the amount of time spent praying together as a congregation.  Stop and consider how much time is spent on videos and announcements compared to the amount of actual scripture that gets read in a service.  Just stop and consider is all I’m saying.  And if you’ve stopped and considered and you’re at peace, then carry on.  But if you’ve stopped and considered and you aren’t at peace, don’t be afraid to speak up.  It’s the only way anything will change.