Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Finding the Church: An Update

Great news, we found one!
Interestingly enough, it has landed us smack dab in the heart of our own home. For the past 8 weeks we have been churching it here on our couches and chairs and around our kitchen table.
Cray, right?  Don't I know it! It happened within a couple weeks of my original post.
No, we have not resorted to cult tactics to train others to look at the church like we do (although I am fearful others may think we have), rather we have found our tribe! A group of people who were genuinely feeling the same way we were. People who were frustrated by churches with upside down priorities and watered down Gospel messages to attract membership.  This tribe of ours desires Jesus, genuine community, and the opportunity for Kingdom impact.  We even have a couple of friends who join us that don't believe in God.  They come because they like hanging out with us and we love that, because we really like hanging with them too.
We are worshipping, learning, and relearning together (thanks to our church in California, the Desert Vineyard, having a live feed), we are eating (a lot), and we are finding the community we've been seeking (within our families and our neighborhoods).
When I mention eating a lot.  I'm not even joking.  We have pastries and fruit at the beginning of the actual service and then afterward we have Communion like I have never had it before!  Not with flattened bread and juice (although we have done that too) but with lasagna, enchiladas, sandwiches, pizza, and chili.  I realize this is by no means a traditional Communion, and I am not trying to downplay the significance of the ceremonial wafer and plastic cup, but these meals we are sharing are some of the most spiritual-filling Communions I have ever partaken.  Every time. Every. Single. Time. I am reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and I remember what He did for me, this unlikely group gathered around our house, and those outside its doors. We remember Him. It is sweet and I am grateful.
Conversations go on for hours; we've even watched the noonday sun disappear behind the horizon on several occasions.  Laughter fills the rooms, as do screaming and shrieking kids.  This gathering of ours is not for the timid or the easily annoyed, but if you can steel yourself to the fact that after service kids run laps through rooms and a pot-bellied pig might eat the crumbs that fall on the ground by your feet, you will be blessed--it is precious.  Burdens are carried together, and we hang out during the week encouraging and helping one another. We even started Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University this week, can you even get anymore church-like than that?
We don't know what's next for our living room church.  We don't know if it will grow or if it will even last. There are things we need to figure out if it does, like how to make singing in front of the television feel like a spiritual experience in a sun-filled living room instead of an awkward daylight group karaoke sing-a-long.  We need to tighten up the "children's ministry" because kids just want to play in the yard instead of listening to older kids read Bible stories or do crafts. Despite the lack of structured lessons, our young ones are experiencing a new depth to relationships they have never had in a church setting. Right now we take it one step at a time; trying really hard to love each other well, trying even harder to love God with all that we are, hoping that in this process of finding and becoming the church we show others love in a big way while discovering who he created us to be.  
Wanna join us? Push the pig out of the way and grab a chair, there's always room at the table.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Sorting Process

Last night we watched the "The Good Lie" a film based on the true story of children from Sudan; their fleeing from their village after soliders came in and killed nearly everyone they loved and the opportunity to come to America after 13 years in a refugee camp.  It was a good movie with an overwhelming theme of selfless love.  As I watched I got teary-eyed quite a few times.
The tears continued after I got in bed and turned off the lights recounting the day.  I had spent time with my family, enjoyed lunch with a friend, helped Brian work on the chicken coop, ate leftovers for dinner in a warm house, watched a movie with the kids, and here I was in my soft comfortable bed--crying.  I'm glad Brian was asleep because I don't know how to explain my sadness.  As much as I wish everyone had the blessings of my life, my tears weren't for the displaced refugees we had just watched, or those stuck in poverty, as much as they were for me.  Sounds selfish, I know, but I can't figure out the discrepency God allows between the lives of the poor and me.  I don't know what to do with the chasm that spans the materially poor and the life I live, even with my ripped couches, discount groceries, and thrift store clothes, I should call it what it is--a life of luxury.  I have so much.  So very much.
My tears turned to sobbing this morning as I read Psalms that spoke of God's justice and love for the oppressed and the poor.  I am unsure of what I am I supposed to do with this churning in my spirit.   My life of comfort has become uncomfortable as I continue to wrestle with justice and community.  I recognize that gratitude is not enough, that all that I have experienced or possess cannot be simply for me to say, "thanks, God."

Prayers of the Emaciated American

man cannot live by bread alone
ask the starving masses that look like the American dream
spiritual and emotional emaciation hidden behind steering wheels in fancy cars; holding electronic versions of the tree of knowledge in their hand; dressed in clothes with names of their own
an IV of consumption and constant dripping flattery
our modern medicine doesn't sustain
dying by our own means, but no one sees, rather no one cares


thank you, Lord, for Instagram filters


we claim transparency--it's the new black
it's not
true transparency looks too much like desperation
and no one wears that well
it would mean the meds aren't working
and of course they are
we can't taint the dream


Lord, give us this day our daily organic sprouted whole grain bread, Amen


apply the Instagram filter
post
and then the world will believe I can live by bread alone

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Here Comes the Bride...

BrideCommunity fellowship--I'm not sure if church can be as simple as that, but there is something in my heart that tells me it is; something telling me to stop going to church and start going after the church. I am so intimidated by these feelings, not to mention frustrated and hopeful too. I don't want anyone to think the post I wrote or the ones to come, regardless of rantings, are church-bashing.  My goal in doing these posts is to wrestle out my thoughts and to figure out what my part is in the church. In doing so, I want to make sure that as I discuss church, that although frustrated by the church organizations the western world has created, I am respectful of the church as a whole. Why?  Because, the Bible tells us that the church is Christ's bride and I don't know any groom that likes someone talking smack about his bride.
In case you aren't familiar with the bride/bridegroom imagery, here's the back story:  The church is not a building, rather it is the people that have admitted that they are sinful (have sinned and continue to struggle with sin) and have asked Jesus to be their personal savior (a.k.a., asked him into their heart) and because of this will have eternal life.  In summary, church = people saved by grace (not a building that hosts Sunday services).  2 Corinthians 11:2 says we are made pure by him so that we can be presented as a bride to him.  Ephesians 5:25-27 goes on to tell us that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her (died) so that she could be holy and spotless.  Right now, this time in history, we are experiencing a physical separation period from Christ until he returns; it's like the betrothal period from ancient times when the bride and groom were separated before the wedding (kind of like the day of the wedding for us).  When Jesus comes back, the second coming, (the first is when he was born in a manager) is when the church will meet her groom at a fantastic wedding celebration (Revelation 19:7-9).  In the meantime, the church's job is to keep herself pure, church buildings could probably handle that, but unfortunately church people can't.
Despite the church's haggardness, her groom sees through to her beauty.  When you think about it, even with our crazy and our issues, the church is stunning; a group (not like five or six people; rather a ton) of believers; all nationalities, all ages, all sizes, all abilities, all worshiping the creator God, all trying to love like Jesus.  
We Americans, innovators that we are, have introduced the entertainment factor to our church organizations. It's like the bride of Christ getting her makeup done by Barnum & Bailey and hiring Lady Gaga to pick out her gown.  Here's what I mean by that; church should be more simplistic.  The church's beauty shines most when she is not trying to attract people to her, but when she simply seeks the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said #1 love God, #2 love people, #3 love yourself (Mark 12:30-31).  Simple.  Not easy, but simple.  The American church often seems to want to be loved rather than to love.  They dress up and apply make-up in an attempt to attract people to them with: worship experiences comparable to rock concerts; refreshments like a Parisian cafe; over-the-top events, i.e., the biggest egg hunt this side of the Mississippi and come pet the chickens who laid them.  Easy on the ears, delicious in the belly, and fun to attend. Yes!  But where is the love?  The new American church is focused more on Jesus' #3 of love yourself than the top two.  Church organizations feel loved through numbers; attendance for services, number of programs established, money on the offering plate.  If the numbers are high, the bride of Christ is looking in the mirror thinking she is looking good.  Funny thing is, God isn't concerned with our outward appearance.  He is all about the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  How is the worship, our snacks, and our clucky hens showing love to God or people?  How is it seeking first the Kingdom of God?
Look, these things aren't wrong, but when they become the priority of the bride and they are self-serving it's hard for her to keep herself pure for her coming groom and that's our job as Christ's peeps.  We are going to fail, we are human and we always do, but we still need to try to love Him and others before self.  Seek the Kingdom first, not a church organization's agenda.  Maybe instead special effects just short of pyrotechnics that accompany some worship bands we take that money and use it to love God by loving his people.  Colored lights don't speak love, but paying for the medical needs of kids in third world countries does.  Want to have a cafe that encourages relationship among your parishioners?  Great!  But how about using the money from that endeavor to hire some single mamas from the neighborhood to work it.  Empower them by employing them and let then use the nursery during services as free childcare.  I'm seeing some love!  Event that is gargantuan for the entire community?  Fantastic!  (Not gonna lie, I still struggle with some of these events.)  Make sure you don't have your whole congregation running an activity or executing "the plan,"  but have folks wandering around with the sole intent of talking and connecting with new faces and families.

Have you noticed the anticipation of a man waiting at the alter for his bride?  It always gets me.  When the music changes during the wedding ceremony and the doors are about to open to reveal the bride and everyone turns to see her enter in her splendor, I always look up front at the groom instead.  I love to see him standing there in disbelief that this is his beautiful bride walking to him.  The look of love is intense and no matter what has happened before this very moment is now obselote.  That's what I want...for me...for us,his church. Because of his great love for us I want to do better.  Jesus is coming for his bride and despite our often selfish failings he has made us pure.  And for this reason alone, the wedding celebration is going to be OFF-THE-CHAIN.  (Does anyone even say that anymore?  Regardless, you get the point.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Finding the Church

Finding the churchThe church has always been a part of my life and I truly love it.  Even before my church-planting great grandparents started hanging out in a basement with some friends to start a church called Community Fellowship in 1943, my "greats" to the nth degree went to church.  It's what our family has done and continues to do.
Jesus lover?  Go to church.
Personally, church is something I have always enjoyed, something I felt gave me purpose, and has been a comforting routine--my touchstone.   For the past two years though, my family and I have been on the search for a church to call our own and we have yet to be successful.  When we first began to look the criteria went something like: an outward-focused congregation; thought-provoking message; seeker sensitive, yet plainly presents the gospel; David Crowder-esque worship music; within a 45-minute drive of our home. Coming from a church similar to this in California we didn't think it would be that difficult and even though we have found a couple places that have come close to the goal list, something hasn't felt right, not only for me but for my husband, Brian, and our kids too.  It seems that God is changing our list and it doesn't include the aforementioned items or even a building, instead God is ironically bringing us back to the name of my great-grandfather's church...Community Fellowship.
Months ago, Brian and I began working with a ministry that wanted to reach out to individuals being trafficked.  Living in a rural area, many don't think that something as horrific as human trafficking could exist here, instead believing that it's reserved for urban areas, but with major routes I-95 and Rte. 40 running through our corn fields and backyards it is more prevalent than we imagined. As we began to raise awareness of the issue I wanted to begin a hands-on ministry that would get us out on the streets to meet those involved and was given the go-ahead by ministry leadership.  After multiple interactions and ride-alongs with law enforcement, a group of men and women from different local churches who were interested in doing contact work at night in a town known for prostitution and drugs was formed.  We set out to meet the girls of the streets equipped with beautiful cosmetic bags filled with personal hygiene items, condoms and lubricant. In our naivety we imagined meeting the girls standing on the corner, we would talk, offer hope....blah, blah, blah.
First wake-up call, you can't walk up to a stranger and ask if they are a prostitute.  Rude!   Secondly, what do you with all the people you encounter on the way to the girl on the corner? So our team of seven tucked our bags away and went out with popsicles instead and talked with everyone we met.  During these outings, which we are currently offering hot chocolate with whipped cream, we have kicked it with lots of different people on stoops and street corners; business owners, mamas, daddies, addicts, construction crews, homeless, and prostitutes.  The ministry we are working with is still focusing on helping abused and trafficked ladies, but my heart has changed and broadened to just meeting people.  All people.
Like, God created you?
Let's be friends!
As we have been out there Brian and I have seen firsthand how relationship deprived people are; to include ourselves.  It seems that loneliness spans race, socioeconomic status, age, and issue.  Our eyes have been open to see that consistency and friendship are a kingdom serving ministry in itself and it's a ministry that many churches are overlooking.  It's not enough to just open your doors to everyone, your demographic and impact broadens when you go out and meet everyone. Twice a month we walk up and down the streets regardless of the weather and we are recognizing faces, able to follow up on stories, praying with folks Christian and non-alike.  It's because of these relationships that are beginning to form that I hear a whisper in my heart saying, "you've found her, you've found church."   There on the streets a bunch of Jesus-loving redeemed sinners (that's my friends and me) are able to encourage other believers, pray for moms with cancer, talk business with a restaurant owner, share chocolate with a group of strung-out addicts, and plan sporting events with a homeless guy.  Take away the "what we do's" and the "what we've done'" labels and there is just a Community of God's creation in Fellowship with one another.
Yup, there it is, Community Fellowship.  We are leaving the building behind; we've found church.

DISCLAIMER:
My friend Michele encouraged me to write about the journey of "church" our family is embarking on, because if God is stirring our hearts he is probably stirring others too and right now we feel alone.  She thought it would help me sort through feelings, process thoughts, and find kindred spirits.  So here it is, laying it out there looking for our tribe, hoping for input, insight, and encouragement from friends.  In short a virtual Community Fellowship which will hopefully lead to a physical one.
We have no idea what this is going to look like or where it will take our family.  It's a little bit scary.  I am afraid of failing, of backlash, of feeling foolish, of rejection, but I am more afraid of what I will miss out on if I'm not obedient to what He calls us to do.  The rest of our crew is more than a little uncomfortable too, but they are willing and ready.  (Seriously, is there anything that could make a mama's heart happier than teens pushing through awkward people encounters for Jesus? I didn't think so either.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sheltered Lives

I probably should shelter my kids a bit more.  How many times do I have to watch My Little Pony?!?! 

My latest article for Managing Your Blessings:

   Living Sheltered Lives

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Laundry Washing World Changer

tohpic2
This women is an artisan in a residential program in Tennessee that provides housing, food, dental, medical, therapy, education and job training for women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction.
I think most people want to make a difference in the lives of others, but often they don't know how.

That was me.

Wanting to make a difference in my home, in my new community, in the world, but completely unaware of how to do it.    I wanted to fulfill the commandment of Christ to make disciples in all the nations.  It was a command I had been neglecting.  I knew this command went deeper than monetary support with our sponsor child and missionary support. He was calling me to take action.  I was excited at the prospect and wanted to get messy, get loud, get moving, but I still had a husband and seven kids to care for.  That's when I sought out Trades of Hope.

They are doing the work.  They aren't just throwing money at the world's problems, they are changing lives by empowering women; strengthening community by giving hope; transforming generations by breaking harmful cycles; and because of that they are making disciples in all the nations.

I thought, "Amen! I want to be a part of that!"

Thanks to Trades of Hope I can. I can actively pursue helping others, building relationships, being an advocate, making disciples, and still keep up with my children's neverending laundry. Life changing and Laundry? Amen, again!

I am now a voice for a woman whose voice is lost across the sea, whose voice is stifled by government, pimps, and culture.  I think you will want to be her voice too and the way to get her talking is wearing her handmade goods. When someone asks you about it, you tell her story and then her voice is heard once more.
This woman is an artisan from a group in Uganda that feeds, educates, and encourages orphaned and vulnerable children and families in Uganda.
This woman is an artisan from a group in Uganda that feeds, educates, and encourages orphaned and vulnerable children and families in Uganda.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Proverbs 31:8-9