What’s different about Easter this year?

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This year, Easter feels very different.

When I was a little girl, it was about fancy dresses and how much a of twirl they could spin. It was about The Bunny, coloring eggs and photographs my mom used to make us take in front of the best flowering bush in our yard.

It was about Jesus in a white robe, an empty tomb and angels on a flannel board.

It was about going to church, beautiful old-school corsages for Mom and Grandma, a huge ham dinner and the adults napping in the afternoon. I remember being bored out of my mind having to play “quietly” by myself so my mom (a hard-working, single parent) could take a much needed rest at our grandparents’ home.

Fast forward and I’m a young, married adult. Easter was still about a new dress, going to church, a huge ham dinner and a lazy afternoon basking in the fullness of the meal.

Over the next six years our three children were born and Easter reverted back to childhood traditions of colored eggs, Easter baskets, The Bunny, the huge ham dinner, a fancy dress with a twirly skirt for our baby girl and matching outfits for our boys.

It was the only day, apart from Christmas, that we could convince our oldest son to wear formal clothes.

Easter was about photographs taken in the prettiest spot in our yard, new recipes to try out for the big meal, and of course a backyard egg hunt.

We added more traditions to an already full plate: Resurrection Eggs, several picture books about the real meaning of Easter, making Resurrection cookies, and letting the kids have a ball decorating an Easter cake, which varied every year from an empty tomb to a head bust of The Bunny, Jello eggs, watching Passion of the Christ as a family and attending the Tenebrae service at our church on Good Friday.

As a mom, I confess, Easter became a scrap-booking event.

I was more caught up in the hoopla, bells and whistles of Easter than why we were really celebrating it.

One year, it happened…the worst thing EVER! It rained! The yard was too wet for photos and egg hunts. The house was dark from looming, full clouds. I remember thinking, “No! It can’t rain on Easter. You know, the empty tomb on a glorious morning. What about the pastel dresses and flowers posed for pictures? Easter is ruined.”

Wow.

I get it. As a mom who loves squeezing out every possible moment of holiday fun, I was devastated that so many plans had to change and I. Couldn’t. Control. It.

This year, however, the advent of Easter has been radically different for me. Why? We still can’t wait for our family to come visit. We still plan to color eggs and have an egg hunt and enjoy a huge ham dinner. New yearly devotionals will be discovered in baskets for our teens.

Today, my girl and me will go buy her an Easter dress, even as an older teenager.

So what’s different?

The work God has done in my heart.

A heart that has lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the past year. A heart that has been both tenderly held and drop-kicked to the ground. Love has been both celebrated and tested. Hope has shown up and has hid in the shadows. Joy has met us in the most unexpected places, but seemed nowhere to be found when I was searching desperately for it.

This past year, my faith has been put in a blender and what has poured out is one single thing that makes this Easter different than any other Easter I’ve lived –

Grace.

Grace has been the underdog that wins the battle for me.

Grace advocated for lost causes.

Grace believed in the impossible.

Grace strengthened the weak.

Grace fought for the voiceless.

Grace tended to wounds no one else can see.

Grace spoke sweet dreams over a restless body.

Grace talked a weary soul off the ledge.

Grace cared enough to speak the truth…in love.

Grace buffered my heart in the decisions and circumstances I didn’t want.

Grace held my hand in the decisions and circumstances that I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Grace has been the only thing to make sense in times when nothing else did.

Grace. Beautiful. Eternal. Grace.

When I have literally fought for loved ones to the gates of hell and back. When I have mourned and wept over loss. When I have felt like dying to myself in Christ was going to kill me. When I couldn’t come up with one stinkin’ reason to get out of bed. When I’ve been pummeled by anxiety over situations out of my control. When I’ve been so furious I could spit nails…

Grace reminded me the nails have already been used – on the cross.

Jesus, grace personified, willingly took everything life could throw at me, and everything I could throw back, and diffused the bomb of my ticking heart. He replaced all the ash of this past year with mercy and hope and love that this world cannot take away.

I continually stay in an attitude of awe at the daily miracles He is doing to redeem this life. He is making a way in the wilderness one step at a time. He is providing streams in the desert one drop at a time.

I am grateful.

Grace has become my oxygen, my sustenance, my hope for the future and my reality for the day.

I am also happy to let Costco help cook Easter dinner and to put down the camera and enjoy the thrill of the day that came by way of grace because of Jesus.

These days I burst into spontaneous tears of joy because of grace and the Creator of it. I say to myself, “EEK! I’m becoming more like my mom who cried so easily and my mother-in-law who still does.” But, smiling through the tears, I get it.

When a heart truly, fully understands the need for grace, and accepts this free gift wholly into itself, the overflow of tears are of gratitude and thankfulness and joy. Unspeakable joy.

This Easter, Kristi has put down the plans. Let go of the expectations. And disbarred the bar that must be reached and exceeded over last Easter.

Instead, I’m lifting up hands to He who has the whole world in His hands – the beautiful and the ugly and every single moment in between.

Only when we really know that it is by grace we live, move and have our being can we really live. Only when we begin to accept how deep and wide Christ’s love for us is can we embrace it.

This Easter, join me in a new tradition – grace. Receive it and give it. Enjoy the beauty of it and behold the power of it.

It’s a free gift with purchase – our salvation purchased with the payment of Jesus’ own blood.

Pretty eggs, baskets full of surprises, and delectable side dishes all sound good, but they don’t make or break Easter. Rain or shine, warm or cold, celebrating Easter is celebrating Jesus, God’s grace, and forgiveness that comes through salvation.

More than the momentary delight of matching outfits, finding the last egg, or colorful jelly beans, love, joy, peace, and grace are the sweetest gifts we get to experience on Easter and every day of the year.

God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10

 

 

 

 

The Great Denominational Divide

I’ve wanted to write this for years, but frankly, I’ve been too apprehensive. It’s a hot topic that has divided family, friends and churches for centuries.

The denominational divide.

I’m certainly no theologian and would never try to pass as one. I steer clear of legalistic debates because most of it makes my head spin. I’m not an authoritarian on any one denomination, not even the one I am affiliated with now.

So why in the world write about this? Why step into such a sensitive topic? People can be very loyal to their denomination, if not to their specific church, so let sleeping dogs lie, right?

The denominations I have been affiliated with throughout my life have made a huge impact on me. They have been a major factor into who I am today. As much I have read over the years about churches, and all of the issues that go along with them (i.e., worship wars, service styles, pastor styles, rules and regulations, etc.), I haven’t quite read anything that sounds like my experience.

So I am going to share my story in hopes it touches someone’s heart.  Understand that this is my personal experience, and I am not saying all churches in their respective denominations are the same and function in the same way. I am not generalizing or standardizing all churches of any denomination. I am simply sharing what my experience has been in these particular churches and denominations.

As far a denominations go, I see myself as a mutt. A Heinz 57 mix.  Allow me to explain.

Southern Baptist

I was born into a Southern Baptist family and baptized as a small child. I will tell you what I remember from that night. It was an evening church service in a huge church. I wore a white robe and was immersed into baptism by the pastor. I love water in general, so being baptized in what I thought of as a small pool was the coolest thing ever.

After the service was over, I noticed a dead roach floating on its back in the baptismal. I told my mom, “Look! Even the roach got baptized!” I laughed and thought that was funny. She didn’t.

Presbyterian

My mom met her second husband in that Baptist church, and remarried when I was four years old. A few years later, our family switched our church membership to a Presbyterian church which was his preference. We attended that church from my ages of 7-12. It was a beautiful church with high, vaulted ceilings, crisp white walls and mahogany pews. The stained-glass windows that lined either side of the pews told the story of Christ. The choir wore long, white robes. The pastor spoke in a solemn tone. The service followed the bulletin exactly. Everyone in the congregation sat silent, except when singing. We sang all of the stanzas to every hymn. It always amazed me that we would sing all 4, 5 or 6 stanzas. It was very hard for me to stand still that long as an over-active child. I love that hymns took root in my heart. I developed a huge appreciation for them even as a child. In my unpredictable, stressful home, I liked knowing exactly what words to sing by reading them. It made me feel like an adult and part of the congregation.

There was a huge stained glass window behind the pastor that depicted Jesus standing at a wooden door in a garden and knocking (taken from Revelation 3:20). I had every piece of glass memorized, but never understood which door I needed to open to let Him in.

I remember the softness of the worn velvet cushion that stretched from one end of the pew to the other. I bubbled in every letter in the bulletin that I could to help me sit still. Most of all, I remember the Christmas Eve midnight, candlelight services. Those were super special! For one, I never ever got to stay up that late.  Two, it was so cool to say, “Merry Christmas!” at the stroke of midnight. And three (most of all), I got to hold a lit candle. I was a very energetic child, so trusting me to hold fire without dropping it or setting my hair ablaze was big. This was the only day of the year I was allowed to get that close to a flame.

The most important moment of every Sunday in this church for me was the benediction. I did not have a man speaking positively into my life at that time, despite the presence of my stepfather, and I craved something – anything – that would encourage, inspire or bless me. I needed a blessing to wash over me to help me endure another week of loneliness and fear. The pastor said the same benediction every week. I literally bowed my young head, closed my eyes and drank in every word. That benediction alone was a major source of comfort in a very unstable time. Everything about this church was predictable, safe and quiet which was salve to my soul like nothing else in my life at that time.

My mom’s second marriage ended, and she, my sister and I left this Presbyterian church since it was my stepfather’s preference and the divorce made it awkward.

Charismatic United Methodist

I began walking to a charismatic, United Methodist church that was three blocks from my home. Yes, there is such a thing. No, we didn’t handle snakes. Yes women wore jewelry and cut their hair and went against every stereotype of a charismatic church.  Erase all images of extreme. It was unlike any church I had ever attended. I attended this church from when I was 12 to 26 years old.  I met my husband and got married there (he was raised Episcopalian).

This church did not have the full approval from my family, although they attended sometimes and my sister and I attended the church’s school for three years.

The deeper involvement I had with this church, the more concerned my family got. They held an intervention once trying to convince me I was in a cult. I wasn’t sure what a cult was at that point, but I knew there was something radically different there – and I was drawn to it.

This church did an excellent job of living out the New Testament as far as orderly worship (speaking in tongues, healing, dancing, etc.). Never was there a time when it was chaotic, blaspheme, or ungodly. The leaders of this church have my utmost respect. They were godly, ethical, transparent and real. They simply allowed the Holy Spirit to move in the ways He wanted to – all according to the Bible.  I experienced a healing to my leg there that at least a dozen people witnessed. God spoke to me personally for the first time, then countless times, during this season. The youth pastor became one of the most influential people I’ve ever had in my life as he demonstrated true humility and strength of convictions, leadership and friendship. I learned that it was okay to dance before the Lord, like David did. I learned it was okay to raise my hands in worship when my heart felt like it would leap out of my chest. I learned it was okay to get out of my seat and kneel down at the altar for prayer if I needed it. Those years were unlike any other. God took on 3D form. His presence was tangible. His love was radical. His yearning for personal relationship was new, fresh, and exciting.

When my husband and I married, we moved about 45 minutes away from that church in order to afford our first home. I was 19 (he was 23) when we married and 21 (he was 25) when we bought a small, foreclosed, forgotten home. The major benefit was its close proximity to our college and jobs as we worked and went to school. We didn’t mind the drive to church…until our baby was born 5 years later. He was very colicky and hard to settle down. The long drive proved to be too much. Sadly, we felt we needed a church home closer to us.

Southern Baptist

God led us to a Southern Baptist church. We joined a Bible Study class, had our baby registered with the church nursery and grew as a couple, and as individuals, from the sermons taught. We thought it would be a place we would stay for a long time, until an unexpected job change meant packing up our home and taking a new job in a different state.

We spent a year looking for a church after we moved, when a contractor helping us with some work on our soon-to-be new home suggested his church – another Southern Baptist. We tried it and liked it because it was so much like the one in our old state – just a smaller version. It was the first church we visited where our then toddler didn’t pitch a fit to go.  We agreed with their doctrine, etc. and felt at home. We joined it and have been there for the past 16 years.

Where was God?

It may sound like I bounced around a lot from church to church – denomination to denomination – and I did. Some were my choice, some were not.  But God revealed something to me years ago when I was struggling to heal from my past.  I’ve been a part of many conversations where people wear their denomination (or church) like a badge or club membership. They are proud of it and believe the are part of the best team. Then there was me standing sheepishly quiet (unusual for me), embarrassed, hoping no one would ask me about my church background. If I had to explain it, it would open a Pandora’s box of an unstable, unsettled childhood I didn’t know how to frame in the conversation.

But what God told me was profound. It was simple. Rich. Easy to understand.

He was in each church, and ordained each of them for the different seasons of my life.  They were all Bible-teaching churches, though they couldn’t have been more different in style of worship and service.  Biblically sound, spot on theology – they all believed the Word of God and taught it in its entirety.

Being born into a Southern Baptist church, I had the privilege of being baptized as a child. To my best understanding, I accepted all I understood about God and Jesus and wanted them to be a part of my life. It was then God became my safe place.  Jesus was my friend.

Walking with my mom and sister after dinner one night, we held hands with my empty hand open in mid-air. My mom asked me whose hand I was holding. I replied in a matter-of-fact, almost perturbed I had to actually explain it, “Well Jesus’ of course!”  God and Jesus became real to me as a child through this Southern Baptist church.

During the years of my mom’s second marriage when we attended the Presbyterian church, I experienced God as sovereign, protector and peacemaker. See, this was the only hour of the entire week that I could count on my stepfather controlling his temper and voice. The years he was in my life were a living nightmare. I was terrified of him – for good reason. My mom and he fought constantly, often ending with her sobbing in the bedroom with the door locked. Our home was neither happy nor safe as long as he was there. Sitting together in the pew for church meant I could exhale – for one hour a week. The pins and needles I lived on for the other 6 days and 23 hours could relax. I could let my guard down. I could rest.

Those Sundays, the sun shone through the colored glass and lulled me to a place of contentment and peace not found in our home. The quietness. Stillness. Calm atmosphere of this traditional church is just what this very frightened little girl needed. There was safety in numbers, and I knew my stepfather would never dare make a scene at church. The authority figures of the pastors seemed to usurp him for that one hour and I could lean against my mom’s shoulder, doodle or stare at the stained glass life of Christ in utter peace – if only for 60 minutes a week.

God was precious to me there. I didn’t know this style of service was just what I needed, but He did. He was indeed looking after His baby girl. Anything louder, higher energy, or more sensory would have sent my spirit into a tailspin. Worship at this church felt like I could curl up in His lap every week and be held.  Hymns still have a way of bringing me to a place of instant peace.

When I became a member of the charismatic United Methodist church at 13, little did I know that two years later my single-parent mom would be stricken with breast cancer, and die from it a year later.  We would go from an all-girl home, finally filled with laughter after the divorce, to a 24/7 crisis. My entire life fractured and I fell completely apart inside.

We lost our home, possessions, my boyfriend, most of my friends, my dog, my cat and my car in an accident the night before her funeral. I had no reason to live and wanted to die. Had it not been for being a part of this church at this exact point in my life, I don’t know how else I would have gotten to experience the saving hand of God. He held on to me when I was too weak to hold on to Him. Because of the extraordinary ways I experienced God for two years leading up to her illness, He used that open door to radically save my life, literally. I couldn’t breathe. Think. Cope. But, God never let me go. He often gave me dreams and spoke to me through the Bible. I was open to seeing His hand move in miraculous ways with much thanks to this church teaching me how to recognize it when He moved.  This kind of church gets a lot of negative complaints, and oftentimes rightly so. But not all charismatic churches are the same. This one did it right. Godly. Biblically. This church didn’t save my life, but God did through it.  

God became acutely personal to me like never before.  When I was 14, I went on a youth retreat with this church. It was on this trip that God literally called me to Himself to the point where I turned to other people in the room to see if they heard it, too. A couple of years later, on another youth retreat, I asked our youth pastor if I could be baptized – again. It was my idea – not his. I felt a tugging in my heart that I wanted to do this, although I had already been baptized as a young child. It’s not that the first one “didn’t count,” it was that I was older and had grown so much in my faith, I simply wanted to be baptized to show God how much I love Him. It wasn’t for anyone else. It was between Him and me.  I was old enough to own my faith, and this was a decision I made. I had grown a lot since the whole roach comment, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and really wanted to stick a stake in the ground of my faith. In addition to baptism being an outward symbol of my decision to follow Christ, this was as a beautiful reminder of everything Jesus did out of love for me. The youth pastor agreed and opened it up to others. On a sunny afternoon in the North Carolina mountains, several of us took turns wading into the small river near our retreat. I remember looking up at the tall trees, the sunlight bursting through the pockets of leaves, and the taste of fresh river water rushing through my mouth. It was beautiful. I am thankful that this church didn’t reject my second baptism for legalistic reasons. My river moment changed me. I truly believe I wouldn’t be alive now without having experienced God in the raw, holy ways I did in this church during the most difficult years of my life.

One more thing to mention, when my mom’s cancer was progressing, she surprised me and came to a Sunday evening service. I was so happy! I wasn’t sure why she was there, because I wasn’t sure if she still thought this was a cult or not. However, there was an older gentleman who always held the large, wooden doors open for the congregation. He was always there. That night, God gave me one of the sweetest, most tender gifts He’s ever given me.  He allowed me to overhear a very short conversation. I happened to be standing just far enough away as the service ended to see this gentleman walk over to my mom.  She stood motionless. Speechless. Wide-eyed. He came to her and quietly said, “Something happened tonight, didn’t it.” She couldn’t reply with words. With huge eyes staring forward, she could only nod her head, her body frozen. It was powerful to observe.

I stood off to the side, watching.  I don’t know what transpired between God and her, but after that she was very different. She no longer minded that I spent so much time at this church. Her faith walk began to look very different. She was changed. Her illness took a quick turn for the worse, and this is the last memory I have of her as herself before the cancer got so bad. Although I don’t know the details, I am comforted in the fact that God met her in a new way, right where she was at, for the good.  I knew she had experienced God in the real, tangible way I had – and I felt a peace that she now understood why I was drawn to Him in such intense ways as just a teenager.

When my husband, baby and I joined the Southern Baptist church near our home, we had no idea it would be for such a short season. However, looking back, we are so grateful because this was a divine appointment in two ways. One, it helped us grow as a young family. There was a multitude of Bible study classes to join, a very impressive nursery system, and it was new for us. As 20-somethings with a baby, it was exciting to begin our own family worship routine. This church helped shepherd us as young parents – something we deeply needed. By divine design, it also set us up for the church we found when we moved. Although our current church is considerably smaller compared to the mega-church we came from, it was very similar in many ways. It made a new state, new city, new community and new neighbors feel quickly like home.

We had no way of knowing about the move, so we had no idea we’d be looking for a church in a state where we knew no one. It was a God-send to find our church home through a contractor.  Even the childcare program was much the same (which is a huge factor for new moms!). God knew He was leading us to this church, for this season of life over the past 16 years, and helped us find it by way of the one we joined back home.

For His glory, God put us here to use our spiritual gifts and raise our family. This church is family to us. They have been with us through the highest highs and deepest lows. It is an extraordinarily giving, gracious church who cares about those sitting next to us, living next door to us, and those across the oceans from us. It is here that God brought a 20 year-old word from Him to fruition in our marriage – that our marriage was designed to be an extension of His open hand. We have seen that become realized in local and global missions through our church.  It is very exciting to serve with people who have the same passionate heartbeat of serving others in need – wherever that may take us.

In each season of life, God gave me a church that was exactly what I needed – even though I didn’t realize it at the time. As a child, He blessed me in the churches that my parents chose. As an adult, through much prayer and seeking His will, He has led us right where He wants us each time.

Now when I am in conversations with those who want to talk denomination (though I refuse to argue or debate about them), I am no longer embarrassed to tell them my quilted church history. Looking back, it is so easy to see that no matter which Bible-believing church I was a part of, it was the perfect fit for that season of life – only God could’ve planned it that way.

Who God was to me in those churches

God wove my faith journey together using each church and denomination as a different color and texture in my story…

Birth – 4 yrs – Born into a Southern Baptist church – I learned God was real; a friend; someone who was nice and loved me.

7yrs – 12yrs of a frightened childhood spent at a Presbyterian church- He was peacemaker, strong, protective, safe, someone who cared about my feelings, gentle, and kind.

13-25yrs crisis-stricken teen years and early 20’s spent at a charismatic United Methodist – He fights for me; has a plan for me; is the one true God; knows me better than I know myself; is holy; healer; is on our side; there is nothing He wouldn’t do to show me He loves me.

26yrs to current – Southern Baptist – He is provider, loves the whole world, redeemer, restorer, re-builder. He is hope, joy, good all the time, bears our burdens, disciplines in love, equips us for the task, encourages, leads blind faith, is justice, mercy, and defender of the voiceless.

What I’ve learned

The denomination doesn’t matter to me NEARLY as much as if the entire Word of God is being preached (including His stance on all of the current major social issues). I haven’t mentioned church names for a reason – I can’t stand cliches and branding. There are many great Bible-believing churches out there, and I am not going to drop names for the sake of.

Moreover, we are one body, the bride of Christ. There will be no denominations in heaven. That’s right! Believers will all be united in one voice. Period. What the world needs to see us acting like it now. There is so much more we can do together as one, rather than divided.

I have no problem with different Bible-believing denominations and their unique traditions because I myself have lived to see there is purpose in each of them. It breaks my heart when family, friends and communities tear each other apart over things that do not make an eternal difference.

I used to avoid telling my church story for fear of being judged. Now, I want to tell it in hopes that others will see that God can move in any Bible-believing church. The ways He chooses to move may be different, but different doesn’t have to equal bad. Different can just be…different. And that’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. That difference may be just what someone needs for this season of life.

Grace. Grace. Grace. What would the church-at-large look like if we showed each other more grace? The world may just start to wonder what God’s grace could look like for their lives?

All of this is under the umbrella that a church is biblically sound, teaches solid theology, and believes the entire Word of God. I would never recommend letting the leash out on churches who aren’t teaching the whole Truth from the pulpit, in small groups, and in individual lives of its members.

Also…

I’ve had enough life experience in a variety of denominations to know that God isn’t denominational.  He’s personal. I thank Him for every moment spent in every church in which I have had the blessing to be a part.

My personal, Christian friends are: Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Greek Orthodox, Church of Christ, Assembly of God, and Episcopalian.  I love them all and have a blast worshiping the same God.

I want my friends who have faiths other than Christian to see that, despite my friends’ different denominations, we all get along, serve the same God, and are for sharing the love of Jesus and helping through service in any way God calls us to, rather than staying perpetually stuck on issues that won’t matter in the new heaven and new earth that is to come.

An interesting read on uniting the church community can be found here.

What would the church-at-large look like if we concentrated on working with what we have in common, rather than focusing on what we don’t?

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

I’ve learned that God is much more concerned with the heart than with anything else. Anyone can fill a pew or a chair. People can be lifetime members of one church and never know God personally. We have friends who live in places where corporate worship is forbidden and they must worship on their own. Is their faith any less? Absolutely not.

We are the church. Each and every believer is the church. A building does not a church make. I’ve gone to church on the beach, in the hospital, under a tree, on a bus, in secret, in the African Mara with real warriors donning large spears sitting next to me, in theater buildings, in school buildings, in my home, on a ranch, at sunrise, at sunset, at midnight, in the car, on a plane, at the top of a mountain, over the ocean, in extended family’s churches, in best friends’ churches, on a walk, in war-torn country, and in our front yard – to name a few. Ironically, none of those were denominational services. They were believers, from every walk of life, coming together to worship the one, true God.  That’s what church in heaven will look like, and I can’t wait.

My heart’s desire is to be a reflection of the love of Christ to everyone with whom God intersects my path, and to live a life based on Christ’s principles – not a particular church’s membership – and to live in community with other Bible-believers with no staunch divisions between us.

Time is short. We can read the headlines and see that. Will the church-at-large allow God to work through our faith to make a difference for Christ in this world He loves so much?

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:10-11

Does arguing with your spouse count as going to church?

Our family attends church every week unless we are out of town or ill.  This is not to achieve some perfect attendance award, but if a solid commitment to go is not regularly upheld, it is way to easy to find excuses not to go.

Excuses not to go?  But, we love our church!  We absolutely love going to church.  It’s a warm, loving, Bible-teaching church filled with many of our favorite people in the entire world.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is this annoying thing called sinful nature.  Speaking for myself, after living this many years on earth, I have realized that it only takes me missing two consecutive Sundays before the temptation begins to creep in to use that allocated time for myself.

When we take the day off of work, or forego a class in college, it opens up free time that wasn’t there before.  Do you get as excited as I do about how to spend it?  Work, play, sleep – I can fill bonus hours in countless ways.  When going to church feels optional, I begin to think about all of the other things I could be doing.

That’s the enemy’s whispers because of two reasons: One, he knows the Bible instructs us to go, and it does because of the second reason…there is blessing in going.  We worship, learn, fellowship, and are inspired and encouraged by others as well as have opportunities to serve fellow believers to list a few.

Hebrews 10:25, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

So, our family attends church every week without question.  However, recently, the train in our family derailed.  Actually, it derailed Saturday night.  That was the first problem.  My husband and I have been married for 22 years.  We’ve seen each other at our worst and at our best.  We’ve been through tragedy, victory, and just about everything in between.  But, this Saturday night, we sinned.

We let the sun go down on our anger.

Every marriage has hot spots.  If not, I’d love to meet the couple that never, ever has any problems whatsoever.  When two sinful people take an oath to live the rest of their lives together, differences are sure to appear.  It’s just going to happen.

We had an issue that is an actual problem.  None of this leaving the toilet seat up or down or where to squeeze the toothpaste tube stuff.  That’s newlywed growing pains.  This had to do with different parenting styles in a certain area.  The details aren’t important here, but with a valid issue as real as this one, that Saturday night we went to bed unwilling to budge in our positions.

In the wee hours of the night, when my head finally hit the pillow, I thought about church which was only a sunrise away.  Ug.  Realizing it wasn’t going to happen because of Bruce’s and my standoff, I turned off my preset alarm and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up with a heaviness in my heart.  Going to bed angry with each other was our first mistake.  We know better, so how is it we can justify and rationalize sin?  I knew a couple once who went to bed in a heated argument so much so, one of them left the bedroom and slept somewhere else in the house.  Overnight, the wife had a massive heart attack in her sleep and died.  The husband is left living the rest of his life knowing a fight was his last interaction with her.  A heavy weight to bear indeed.

Scripture is clear – In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent… – Psalm 4:4

‘In your anger do not sin’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. – Ephesians 4:26-27

We did.

We should have gotten out of bed and dealt with it, but let’s face it – too much stubbornness and pride was at stake.

The next morning, while the kids slept in, Bruce and I had to figure out where we were going from here.  In the early years of our marriage, there were times we went to church blazing mad at each other.  We didn’t speak to each other the whole time, but were nice and sweet as honey to everyone else.  Hypocrisy.

How dare I hug a neck or share a laugh with a friend or casual acquaintance while I shoot laser eyes at the man who voluntarily entered a covenant with me to spend the rest of his life with me – and me with him.

But, sometimes problems just can’t be solved by the time the music starts.  Like problems that pop up on the way to church, for example.  What do we do then?  We have different roles of service we are committed to serve.  Things are expected of us.  Do we let everyone down?

Wow.  Writing this lets me see how much going to church can become more about people and less about God.  While we are tangled up in our drama, it’s like God is standing there saying, Helloooo!  What about Me? I thought you were coming to meet with Me?

Church is God’s house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13).  So what does God say about conflict and attendance?  Jesus spoke directly to it in Matthew 5:23 –

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come offer your gift.

Ouch.

But, He’s right.  Believe me, I’ve tried to skirt around this.  I’ve gone to church before knowing this Scripture, so I thought that if I just didn’t worship while the music played I could still reap all of the other benefits of church and serve my duties.

What?

Everything we do is an act of worship.

Romans 12: 1-2, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

But, Bruce and I not going to church meant our kids would have to miss, too.

Yep.

There is a cost to sin.  Our first sin was going to bed angry and not resolving it.  The cost?  All of us miss church.

So we did.

They slept, blissfully unaware of Bruce and I working through this sticky issue we had between us.  For two hours, we talked, debated, talked…round and round we went.

We eventually resolved our conflict.  New strides were made in this area more than in many attempts in the past.  It was great!  Progress! Apologies were offered.  Tempers cooled down.  And everything culminated in praying together and starting the day over – ironically just as the last hour of church ended.

I remember thinking to myself, It’s strange, but I feel like I’ve been to church today.  We missed the music, the teaching, our friends and our service, but God was able to finally break through our stubborn hearts and help us resolve a long-standing issue.  We grew as people and as a couple.  We grew in our faith.  Hey, aren’t those things some of what church is about?

We’ll stream the sermon we missed online, but I’ll tell you that I feel like I got a great one at home.  We felt God’s hand of discipline in that our kids missed church as a result of our sin of going to bed with unresolved anger.  Children learn future habits from their parents.  Do I want my children’s marriages to be ones laced with fake smiles hiding hard hearts on Sunday morning, or be willing to miss a rare Sunday to resolve conflict and return to church with genuine love and living in peace and harmony with their spouse?  I would beg them to forfeit the proverbial perfect attendance gold star in lieu of being righteous in God’s eyes and in the eyes of their spouse.

Here’s the two ways the rest afternoon could have gone: We could have gone to church spitting mad and held it in for a few hours.  However, the minute we got home that can of worms would pop open and everything would start up all over again – probably for the rest of the day.

Or, as it happened, after praying with each other, we prayed with the kids for God to be with us in our day.  This resulted in a picnic!  We went to a favorite little shopping place that has green space and each of us got lunch from where we wanted – all within walking distance from each other.  We had a family picnic – even brought the dog and our newest pet, a hedgehog.  Bruce, leaning on crutches and me with my surgical shoe firmly planted in the ground, threw the football with our kids.  We played frisbee and took silly pictures of our pets.  We thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous fall air and warm sunshine.  We stayed for hours.  It was some of the most enjoyable family time we’ve had in a while (thanks to the medical issues we’ve battled lately).

One very surprising thing happened that afternoon I must share because it wasn’t a coincidence.  Like I mentioned, we each got a to-go box from the different restaurants we wanted.  Donning my casual athletic shorts, a t-shirt and one running shoe :)I walked into the place where my food was waiting.

Stepping up to the counter, I waited while two guys looked pretty busy filling orders.  One of them looked up at me and said, completely out of the blue, You look like you’re expecting to have a great day today!

Not convinced I heard him correctly, I kindly asked him to repeat.  He said the same thing.

I almost went the self-deprecating route, telling him how much a shower helps, but I decided not to.  Instead, I smiled and muttered a quizzical Thank you.

He paused from his duties, looked at me, and said, It’s like you are shining.  You have this glow about you.

I must say I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that before.  A little embarrassed, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  I think I let out a nervous giggle (I do that sometimes).  I paid for my food and joined my crew at the picnic.

While eating, I told my family what happened.  Bruce said, He saw Jesus in you. (Matthew 5:16)

Hmm.  That guy’s remarks was such an odd moment to experience.  But, I believe God allowed it for a reason.  It proved to me, in a most unique way, that God’s ways really do work.  They really are best.

I know my marriage and I know me.  I can be stubborn!  If we had gone to church under false pretenses, the afternoon would have been miserable. A dark cloud would have hung over our house and who knows how long we would have drug out our argument.

Instead, we dealt with the matter at hand, however inconvenient to our family’s schedule, and enjoyed a blissful afternoon of rest and relaxation, laughing and sharing life together.  The light of Christ shone through our humanness because God knows what He’s doing.  A light so bright that evidentially it can radiate to the naked eye.  Humbling!

He’s given us instructions for living because they glorify Him and are in our best interest.

More than that nice guy in the restaurant, I want Christ’s light in me to shine on my family – my husband and children.  I want to be the same person in the privacy of our home that I am in public view at church.  Their opinion of me matters most.  But, more than what they think, I want the God I serve to be pleased with me.  Even above my husband, God is the One I must ultimately answer to.

My family ended the awesome day yesterday watching the 1966 classic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (an annual tradition for us).  Linus thinks he’s found the most sincere pumpkin patch for the imaginary Great Pumpkin to visit.  He tells Lucy, Look around, not a sign of hypocrisy in sight.  May we be found the same.

I realize some problems are bigger than a weekend.  I get that.  But, what God is getting at is that what is in our control, what is our responsibility, we should own.  We have the freedom to be angry, but are instructed not to sin in our anger.  As a friend and I were just saying earlier this week, we reach our victories quickest when we don’t stumble along the path.  Had Bruce and I dealt with the conflict head-on, tired and all, instead of going to bed, we would have reached resolution hours earlier, gotten a better night’s sleep, and had been able to go to church with clear consciences and whole hearts.

Below are some go-to Scriptures I frequently reference and hope they are a blessing to you as well…

Hebrews 4:14-16, Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jeremiah 6:16, This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…”

Romans 12:9 – 10, Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:18, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Hebrews 12:1-3, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

1 Corinthians 9:24, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.


Why I love the body of Christ – miraculous transformation!

Before I begin, I want to explain my recent silence.  There are so many things going on in the world right now, serious issues, that I’ve felt like anything I write is trivial in comparison.  Nothing parallels life and death, and thus I almost started believing that anything other than those issues were not as important.

Well, that is true – to a point.  Many of us do not live in life or death situations every day of our lives.  But, we do live with peaks and valleys, good times and suffering, gain and loss, sickness and health, and all of the array of emotions that accompany such times of life.  There are seasons and purposes to everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes) and this blog’s purpose is to walk through these seasons, hopefully offering encouragement to others who paths may look different, but share some of the same feelings about our journeys.  So with that, I have found a revived excitement about writing.  One person cannot solve the world’s problems, but if this blog brings a smile, offers a perspective, or lightens the load of our fellow sojourners, then God will continue to work His message through this one, simple blog that has traversed 25+ countries across the world.

What better way to prove this than with my friend.  Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with a new found love for my church.  I’m not talking about only where my membership resides, but Christ’s church that spans from the book of Acts to all over the world today.  We will camp on this for a few days.  Why?  Because the church has taken many hits over time.  It’s not perfect by any stretch, but God has ignited in my heart a renewing of the joy of being part of His church.  With that, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.

I met this friend a while ago.  For a long time, I didn’t know his story of how he became a Christian or found our church.  I only knew I was glad this man’s life intersected ours.  He makes good points in discussion.  He is tender, humble and very funny.  He has a huge, bright smile and likes to laugh.  He is considerate, helpful and smart.  He never misses a Sunday (unless work schedules conflict) and worships with his whole being.  He loves God with all his heart; loves his church; and loves people.  I recall a recent Sunday when he stood at the door, greeting people as they came in the building.  He smiled and said kind words to me.  He ushered the offering plate on our row with a servant’s heart.  Sounds like a great guy, huh?

Did I also mention that he used to be (until he asked Christ into his heart) a drug dealer?  He had every dealer’s name in the city on his speed dial, and used to use “physical intimidation” to get money due him.  He wasn’t a nice guy.

Ya know what?  I can’t see it.  What I see when I look at him (as does everyone at our church who knows his story), is a transformed man.  Extreme Makeover has nothing on this guy.  This man is teachable, gentle and kind.  I liken him to a teddy bear.

My husband and I talked fondly about him just yesterday, and we just sit in amazement over the new life this friend has in Christ.  The bondage of old sin is broken, and he is new.

Is his life perfect?  Nope.  Is anyone’s?

Does his old lifestyle still have consequences?  Sure.  Anyone’s does.

If accepting Christ as Savior meant a free ride with a perfect life, being Christian would be a lot more popular!  One thing it does mean is that we are free to live the abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.

There are many people in the Bible who underwent the same transformation on their own personal level.  Take Paul.  He was Saul, a perfect Pharisee.  He relentlessly persecuted the church without discrimination against men, women, old and young.  He was present, and approved, Stephen’s stoning – which was the first martyrdom for Christ (Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1).

But, then he encountered Christ.  He was changed.  Transformed.  New. (Acts 9:319)

Were Christians wary of Paul?  Oh yes!  When he came to Damascus, they knew he was coming for them.  After all, he made that message very clear (Acts 9:1-2).  But along the way, the love of Christ broke through some very tough skin and a hardened heart.  Paul went on to become the most impactful missionary in history for the cause of Christ.  If God could reach Saul, now Paul, how capable is He of giving any of us a new start?

Regardless of our past, God offers a new future.  He replaces shame with dignity; heals scars; replaces despair with hope; and sets our feet on a new path made exclusively for us.  No one is beyond saving.  Christ died for one and all.  He is the only God who sacrificed Himself for people so we, who accept Him, don’t ever have to experience the eternal penalty for our sins.

My friend experienced God’s love in such an irresistible way that he forsook his entire lifestyle and livelihood to follow Christ.  He asked for forgiveness and turned from his ways.  He surrendered his finances to God and asked Him to give him a job he can be proud of.  He seeks God.  Becoming a Christian didn’t satisfy his appetite.  He wants more.  He wants to know more about God and draw closer to Him.  That is change!

If I weren’t a part of the body of Christ, I never would have met this man that I look forward to seeing on Sundays.  His story never would have challenged my heart to embrace miraculous change for anyone who earnestly wants it.

If I weren’t part of the body of Christ, I never would have realized how similar my friend and I are.  I may not have his story as my own, but we both share a need for God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.  We both rest in the peace that only Christ can bring.  We both want to run our races strong for Christ – no matter the cost.  We are both sinners who found a life of hope and joy in God who is trustworthy and faithful.

We are equally loved by God who created us.  My friend’s story reaffirms a favorite quote by Dr. Bruce Frank, You can run from God, but you can’t outrun God.  

Whether I see my friend at church, or look in the mirror, I am reminded of Lamentations 3:22-23, Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I am thankful to be a part of the body of Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Corinthians 5:17

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But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…

1 Corinthians 15:10

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Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

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To Him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—the glory and dominion are His forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:5