God Finds Me Even When I Don’t Go To Church

I am writing this on a Sunday morning when I ought to be in church, but instead am sitting at a coffee shop table in the center of a park near my house.  I am only here after an hour of mental anguish, because I knew I OUGHT to go to church, but I didn’t want to.  Well, part of me wanted to.  It’s the first Sunday of the month, which is when the church I (half-heartedly) attend does Communion, and Communion is the one thing about church that I find consistently satisfying.

But mostly I didn’t want to.  I loathe the process of going to church on my own.  Getting ready alone, walking to the metro alone, riding the metro alone, walking several blocks alone, opening the door alone, scanning the seats for a familiar face alone, seeing them sitting in a full seat and therefore finding my own place.  Alone.  It is hell.

So I didn’t go.  But it’s a beautiful day, and I DID want Communion with God, that mysterious practice that reminds me that I cannot do life on my own but must, in some way, consistently take Jesus inside of me as the food I eat and the wine I drink.  So I came to this park, and I’m drinking coffee (it felt weird to order wine at 11:00 a.m.), eating a croissant, and reading Gospel by J.D. Greear.

For the past few years, I have been trying to trust that God’s love for me is not dependent upon my actions.   Continue reading

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Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Yesterday I wrote about fear’s power in destroying love.  Thankfully, we can choose which of these worldviews we feed.  And just as focusing on fear can make love shrink, so to can focusing on love banish fear.

Again, this is easiest to see in the world of human interactions.  Growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by white middle class girls and boys, I had a fear of the other that zeroed in on Muslim people after 9/11.  I didn’t hate them, necessarily, but I figured that if I ever met one, I wouldn’t want to be friends with him or her.  I was afraid of the actions of a few, and it kept me from loving a massive population of diverse people.

Luckily, in college I went to Turkey and met Muslim men and women.  I was overwhelmed to realize that they were normal human beings with fears and passions and hobbies. Continue reading

Perfect Fear Casts Out Love

Yes, you read that correctly.  The actual Bible verse is “perfect love casts out fear,” but I’m reading Jonathan Martin’s book Prototype, and I fully agree with him that the reverse is also true.

Perfect fear casts out love.   Continue reading

Self-Hatred, Legalism, and Grace, Grace, Grace

 

I distinctly remember sitting on Lindsay T.’s couch on July 4, 2013, drinking from a cheap Strawberry Daquiri Seagram’s bottle.  “I don’t know if God loves me,” Lindsay admitted.  We had recently upgraded our acquaintanceship to friendship, and this conversation was a milestone.  “God loves me when I’m good,” I responded.  “But deep down I’m pretty sure He’s just waiting to give up on me if I screw up.”

Just two years later when I graduated from seminary, everything had changed.

I spent three years hearing my professors say things like, “God is not the god of karma, but the God of grace,” and “It is grace that justifies us, sanctifies us, AND glorifies us,” and “When I get to heaven and God asks why I deserve to be there, I’ll just shake my head and whisper, ‘Jesus.'”  I spent three years in a church that offered weekly Communion so that we never forgot where our strength comes from.  I spent three years in a small group where we argued about abortion and gay marriage and Islam and transsexuality and feminism in safety and love.  I spent three years befriending counselors who were delighted to discover my darkest secrets and shared their own with me.  I was spoiled with grace.

But then I moved home.  The problem with leaving your hometown and changing is that when you return…you revert to your old mental and emotional habits.  Or at least, I do.  Who was I before I learned to trust in God’s unconditional love?  I was the Good Girl.  I measured my worth in my modesty, I argued people into heaven, and I covered my possessions in simplistic Christian statements.  I was determined to earn people’s approval.  I was determined to earn God’s approval.  I knew how to work the system, and honestly, it was comforting.  Legalism is nothing if not controlling, and I am good at controlling things.   Continue reading

Faith, Hope, and Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

During a conversation with Elizabeth, I said, “One of my favorite things I learned at DTS…” which, to be honest, I say about almost everything.  If I’m thinking about it, it’s my favorite!  Anyway, during this particular conversation, I said, “You know that verse about faith, hope, and love, but love is like, the best of them all?”

“The greatest of these is love?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes, thank you.  I promise I went to seminary.”   Continue reading

A Romantic Ideal: Harold and Jean Stark

I tend to have an unhealthy view of romantic relationships, either by idolizing them and assuming marriage will solve all my problems or by demonizing them and assuming marriage is a playground of horror.  Thankfully, I have men and women in my life who model healthy relationships.  None more so than my grandparents, Harold and Jean Stark.

DSC00042I once asked them to describe the hardest thing about marriage.  “Oh, it’s not that hard,” Grandma said.

“What?  Come on.  What do you fight about?” I asked.

Grandpa drummed his fingers against the table.  “We don’t fight.”

Grandma covered his hand with hers, cutting off the repetitive noise.  “Stop that, Harold.  Well, I get mad with how fidgety he is.  But that’s pretty much it.”

I think there is a 100% chance that they have fought at some point in their marriage.  But after 61 years of living together, I find it extremely adorable that those times of animosity have faded into something inconsequential.  Continue reading

Sharing My Faith

Growing up in conservative Christianity, I attended an annual conference where I learned to share my faith so that strangers might convert and find salvation in Jesus Christ in less than two minutes.  I’ve changed the way I share my faith, but I don’t want to ignore the fact that some good things came from this conference.

Most importantly, condensing my faith into a two-minute speech did help me conceptualize the basic framework of Christianity by highlighting the overarching story revealed in the Bible.  The weekend retreats also provided an opportunity for me to combine faith and fun as my friends and I goofed off and worshiped simultaneously.  And because God is good, I know he used our efforts to bring hope and even salvation to some people’s lives.

The details of the conference were solid.  The big picture, however, is where I now disagree.  I was taught an evangelism tactic that was based in fear and presented as a formula.  Today, I try to share my faith out of love in the midst of relationships.  Continue reading