Tag Archives: church

Decluttering From Church

I’m sure it’s the trial of many, many parents of kids in church.  They come home with reams of paper announcements about special events and wonderful, fun happenings.  If they’re involved in anything musical, there are stacks of CDs, built gradually over the years, often two or three a year – special programs and VBS.  Multiply that by multiple children, and that stack can be pretty impressive.

My “crafty stuff” board on Pinterest has new additions – things to do with old CDs.  Some of the ideas are incredibly gorgeous, but I know my schedule won’t allow the time to do them.  My teen and I loved the CD mosaic arts – tables, flower pots, and frames.  In fact, I’m thinking if there’s any way I could whip up some of these crafts in time for my next selling event.  Let’s see…  Two children times six years times average 2 weeks of Vacation Bible School each year, plus 2 children’s programs each year…  I could probably mosaic an entire wall of our living room at this point!

pic of CDs

About what this pile of children’s CDs looks like after a combined 15 years of programs.

Our children are getting to take part in a really fun event this coming week.  Our children’s minister emailed out the flyer for it a couple of weeks ago.  I loved that!  It’s right there in my email until it’s in the past, and it’s so easy to plug those dates into my digital calendar.  Best yet, no paper!  Churches love distributing paper.  In fact, I’ve been offered paper copies of that digital file four times since I received it.  You wouldn’t believe the “you must be the antichrist!” looks I received from some people when I declined it!  When I get paper flyers, I end up having to deal with them later – sort and recycle.  It’s kind of the same with paper bills, which only our utility company sends anymore; all the rest are electronic.  That’s great for me, because less paper means less waste.  Even paper recycling requires fossil fuel to process.  We’re trying our best to eliminate waste in our lives and our environment and working to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.  This is a huge part of our family’s environmental ethic as we live it out in our stewardship of God’s creation.

Stacks of CDs and full-color printed flyers that will likely get trashed or recycled…  I look at all this stuff and I look around at our community and can’t help but think, Is this really the best use of our church’s resources?  Posting flyers around the children’s center, an announcement in the bulletin, and an email would more than cover it, I think.  Could the paper/copies line item on that segment of the budget flip to some sort of family crafting event where we make stuff with all those CDs?  Could those be sold to create a scholarship fund for children to go to mission camp?  (I’m just brainstorming here.)  Or maybe that money could go towards one of the fab children’s’ charities we help support in our area.  The potential to create from the clutter is significant.

Take a look at my Crafty board and tell me what you think of the ideas I’ve pinned.  What ideas would you add?  Oh look!  What to do with CDs and 1000+ fish extender gifts.  I think I have time til our next cruise to come up with something brilliant between the two of those.


Where My Loyalties Lie

In the beginning, God created men and women in God’s image.  That’s according to Genesis 1, anyway.  In Genesis 2, a slightly different account, we’re told that God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, then God made the animals.  However, from these animals, no suitable helpmate was available to Adam.  So, short version, God created the woman.

This man and this woman were created to be in relationship with God.  Second to that, the man and the woman were created to be in relationship with each other.  They were family.  Out of this relationship, they had children; the Bible records the names of three boys, though I surmise that that’s not an exhaustive list.  The first couple multiplied and expanded their family.

Skip down several generations and about ten chapters, and we meet Abram.  Abram was an old man of 75, married to Sarai, and they were unfortunately childless.  God called Abram into covenant, a covenant which would extend to all of Abram’s descendents.  Abram and Sarai received new names and the promise of a child.  This small family grew – and would grow exponentially.

Three more generations, and the family of Abraham has grown exponentially, with his son Isaac bringing two sons, and Jacob having twelve sons and a daughter.  For his faithfulness, he received a new name:  Israel.  They acknowledged “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but otherwise, this god had no name.  The descendants of Jacob would be called in Hebrew ben-Y’isra’el, which means literally, “the sons of Israel,” but which refers to all descendants of Jacob.

Four hundred years went by.  The Israelites had moved from Canaan to Goshen, a fertile land under the purview of Egypt.  There they grew and flourished to the point where the Pharoah considered them a viable threat and enslaved them.  Four hundred years of just acknowledging the god of their fathers.  They worshiped at altars, but there was no true worshiping assembly.

After the Exodus, the Lord delivered through Moses detailed how-to instructions for worship, including everything from when, what, and how much to sacrifice.  The sacrifices were all given in gratitude for what the Lord had done, not as a bribe to make God do what they wanted God to do.  (This was different from the pagan deity worship practices.)  Even through the desert wanderings, the Israelites didn’t worship as a community as we understand it, but what is clear is that they are still a huge family – all descended from one ancestor – with separate, individual tribal, clan, and family units.

It would be another millennium (plus a few hundred years) before the church as we know it was established.  The church as a mash-up of people from different backgrounds, different families, and different beliefs wouldn’t emerge until the first century A.D.

The church is a vital part of the believer’s life, and corporate worship is a beautiful part of that life.  I feel bereft of something if I miss more than one Sunday of worship.  However, true to the original design, we were created first to be with God, and second to be in our families.  Someone from our church tried to lay a guilt-trip on me for skipping something at church in order to take my daughters home so they could have dinner with their waiting dad – and so we could be together as a family for the first time that entire day.  We were not created to be a part of an institution; we were created to be a part of our families.

And the church is an institution.  Early in our marriage, Peter and I both spent many Sunday afternoons helping out at our small church and engaged in various local ministry projects.  The problem was, between my two jobs and his job, we barely had any time together the other six days of the week.  We thought we were being “holy” by spending all this time at church, but in reality, we were damaging one of the best gifts God had given us and were failing to be good stewards of that gift.

When someone wants people – whether individuals, parts of families, or whole families – to give up family time for time at church, then the church starts taking on cult-like qualities.  Cults desire their members to sacrifice family loyalty for loyalty to the cult and the leader.  I refuse to go there.  If I have a choice between being home with all my family or at church with just part of it, then I’ll choose to be with my whole family every.  Single.  Time.  Sunday mornings are the exception; if Hubby is sick, then I’m perfectly fine taking the girls to church without him, and vice versa if I’m sick.  But any other time…  At the end of a long day of working and teaching, when all I want is to complete the 35-minute drive home, hug my hubby, and eat dinner, then no.  My first loyalty is to God.  My second loyalty is to my family.  Everything else comes after that.

God in the Box

Our new pastor (he’s a HUGE improvement over the last one) is starting a sermon series on boxes, and he began with talking about the boxes in which we put God.  This led to my affirming his outside-the-box thinking, evident both in his resume and the things I heard about him from a shared Div school professor, and sharing my own thoughts about why we put God in a box.  I’d like to share those with you.

The church (local) and the Church (ecumenical) are the most popular God boxes today.  The God in the box is the God we can control, letting God out when we need God.  For the last 2000 years, the Church has been afraid to allow God outside the box (OTB), because they can’t control that God, nor can they control the populace with God.  Brother Bruno was tortured and torched by the Catholic Church in the 16th century for daring to think and teach that God was too infinite to be contained.  Since God invites us into relationship, when God is out of our boxes, then we must step outside the box to be with God, to close the gap.  When we do so, we start seeing the broken; the hurt; the impoverished; the incarcerated; the sick; and all the other “leasts of these,” and that is uncomfortable to us.  The Spirit compels us to be present to these folks, though.  It feels safer just to stay inside our cozy, predictable little boxes.

Box o' God

The safest God is the one who stays in the box.

I challenge you as I often challenge myself to step outside the box.  It’s not at all crowded out here, so there’s lots of breathing room.  There is a lot of room to grow in faith, too, because God resides here – outside where the broken are – and we are free to take our brokenness outside our God-boxes to heal and be healed.


You Can’t Drink From That Well

It’s midday, the sun is high overhead, the surrounding mountainous land is parched and dry, and she is hot.  The woman goes out to draw her water for the day, knowing she’ll be alone at the well this time of day, away from sideways looks and gossiping tongues.  With a sigh, she hefts her jar into a more comfortable position and, looking up, spies someone at the well.  It’s a man – a Jewish man – and she knows her men.  She gets to the well, and this guy dares to ask her for some water to drink.  He doesn’t have anything with which to drink and certainly nothing with which to draw water.  On top of that, he offers her this special water, living water, and claims that anyone who drinks this water will never be thirsty again.  She wants some of that!

They spend a little time talking, and this man knows everything about her, including her less-than-proper living situation.  Yet, he doesn’t ever judge or condemn her.  In fact, he reveals himself to her as the Messiah, and she goes back to the village and shares about this encounter.  Through her testimony, the entire village comes to realize that Jesus is their long-awaited messiah.

There was a well of water, a well that tradition held Jacob had dug.  It was in Samaria, a territory that most Jews avoided like the plague.  Yet, despite the fact that “Jews didn’t drink from the same containers as Samaritans,” the woman was willing to go against the grain of the traditional racism and give Jesus, a Jewish man, some water.  Likewise, Jesus offered this Samaritan woman “living water”; it was no longer just for Israelites; all people could have it.  (Am I the only one who’s noticed that those who are discriminated against tend to be more open, accepting, and generous towards those who do the discriminating?)

There’s an old saying:  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  However, if you make that horse thirsty, then he’ll want to drink.  But is that drink available to him once his thirst is whetted?

Very different water fountains with water coming from the same source

I wrote last week about our need as moderate Baptists to get out and share our personal faith stories, to tell people about how our respective relationships with Jesus Christ have changed our lives.  In short, we’ll make people thirsty.  We’ll make them want (hopefully) to have that relationship, too, and to accept the gift of eternal life.  But there’s another part to this.

Jesus commissions his followers to “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  It’s not enough to share our faith stories, it’s not enough even for someone to say, “I believe.  May I now be baptized?”  If we are “making disciples,” this means we’re teaching them.  Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to “make apostles,” to make people to go out to evangelize.  He tells them to teach his ways to people everywhere.  Usually, we draw people into the church to be discipled.

Once they get into the church, though, folks approach these outsiders as “them,” the minority who are worthy of no more than the inferior water fountain.  It makes little to no difference that the source of the living water is the same for all people, just like the two water fountains in the picture above are fed by the same pipes.  No.  Their “sin” is different from ours, so therefore, it must be much worse, and we can’t have those sinners in our church.  Those sinners can never be allowed to walk our aisles, sit in our pews, or worship our God.  And they most certainly cannot be members with us, share communion with us, or taint the holy waters of our baptistery!!!

If we as Christians are going to say that all are welcome to the Kingdom, then all need to be welcome in our churches.  If we are going to claim that God’s grace is for everyone, then everyone needs to be able to come in and receive it.  If we are going to share our faith with others, then we must also be willing to share our pews with them.  If our churches’ websites and Facebook pages are going to declare, “All are welcome,” then we need to make everyone feels welcomed and accepted.  It’s time we stopped putting up barriers to the Living Water, time to make the wells truly equal and separate only for the sake of crowd control.  It’s most definitely time to say to all, no matter what, “Come and drink.”



What’s the Point of the Walls?

We have walls – all of us.  We have the physical walls of our homes, plus the emotional walls we may place around our hearts.  Walls serve three main purposes:  They define a space (e.g., this is the living room, and this is the office, and both are delineated with their walls); they keep unwanted things out; and walls keep desired things in.  In short, with our walls, we create boundaries and borders.

Churches have walls, too, and these walls serve the same purposes as the walls in our homes, but in a way I find sadder and more disturbing.  The walls in my home keep out many things – uncomfortable weather, bugs, precipitation,

English: The Church of the Holy Spirit - Leeds...

English: The Church of the Holy Spirit – Leeds & Bradford Road, Stanningley Originally built as a Methodist Chapel this is now used as a Catholic Church, a Chapel of Ease of Christ the King at Bramley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

unwelcome guests (you know, like the kind who want to help themselves to your things while you’re not home).  How often, though, are the church’s walls used to keep out the undesirables, too?  Who are they?  Who does the Bible define as undesirables, those who are to be made unwelcome for God-worship?  I’ll give you time to look that up.

Take your time.  I’ll just be trimming my nails and knitting my shawl.

You came up empty, didn’t you?  While Jesus had no church and didn’t concern himself with details of worship during his time on earth, his life and ministry should be a great example to us of who we should exclude and include in our own worship.  That would be no one and everyone, respectively.

Yet, we want to exclude.  We want to exclude those whose sins are different from ours and may make us feel uncomfortable.  We don’t have a problem welcoming those who may be divorced and remarried (labeled as adultery in both Old and New Testaments), and we don’t have a problem welcoming people who have made money or sports figures their gods to worship (breaking the first commandment there).  However, we as a people of God fail repeatedly at welcoming and loving those who might have a different lifestyle from ours or who might have made a dire mistake twenty years ago.

The absolutely most heartbreaking incident of exclusion I’ve heard tell of happened to a person who’d made such a mistake.  One Sunday morning, the pastor made the rounds of the Sunday school classes of parents with children.  He told us about a woman who’d been bringing her infirm mother to church and staying with her to worship.  This woman is a convicted sex offender, a secondary offender, which means she knew about the abuse but did nothing.  (I can conceive of a whole bunch of perfectly good reasons why that might be the case, but I wasn’t her judge.)  Under the law, she has to avoid places where children are cared for.  The pastor told us how he’d invited this woman to his office and told her she couldn’t come to our church anymore.  The majority of the people in the class looked at him like he was some avenging hero and were so grateful that he’d purged this “evil” from among us.  Me, I was aghast, appalled, disgusted, and saddened.

You see, however it happened, this woman had made a mistake.  Or not.  I mean, it could be that she feared for her life every day.  Regardless, this woman needed grace, not condemnation.  Hadn’t she already had enough of that?  If you can’t get God’s grace at church with your own mother, then where in the world are you supposed to get it?  What the pastor did was legalistic, not Christ-like, and wrong.  If it were me, I would have invited the woman into my office and, with her permission, gone to the county sheriff’s office and tried everything in my power to find a work-around on this law.  I would have put my own reputation and standing on the line, because that’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what we should do for each other.

The walls of the church keep stuff in, as well.  They don’t just prevent the praise band’s practices from disturbing the neighbors or maintain our coveted physical comfort level for our worship experiences.  Those walls do a pretty good job of keeping God in, too.  Our churches become our boxes, and if we can keep God in our box, then we believe we can control Him better.

One of my favorite “heretics” is Giordano Bruno, a 16th century monk.  Bruno read the books on astronomy that the Catholic Church had banned, especially those daring to suggest a heliocentric solar system.  In his clandestine studies, he surmised that God is infinite, and an infinite God must have made infinite universes.  (The Holy Spirit can speak through books other than the Bible, you know.  No sense limiting what she can do.)  Wow!!!  What a concept!  Can’t you even begin to imagine this?  An infinite God.  A God that’s bigger than the night sky, a God that can’t be contained within the four walls of a basilica or cathedral.  While an infinite God might be challenging for our finite human minds to grasp, much easier to understand is how well this went over with the Church.  Hint:  Not well at all.  Bruno’s books were burned, he was arrested and tortured to try to make him recant his views, and ultimately, he was burned at the stake as a heretic.  The Catholic Church needed a God who’d fit in its box, a God they could control and use to control the masses.  For Bruno to suggest a different concept of God was too frightening for them to accept.

Our churches’ walls keep us in, too.  We show up, we want to be comfortable.  The ambient temperature must be just perfect for every single one of us, and the message cannot offend of confront us; it mustn’t lead us to change at all.  We sing, we pray, we go home.  Those walls can prevent some incredible Kingdom-building.

If you put five Baptist ministers in a group, I’d betcha that the topic of numbers will arise within the first half hour – new converts, new members, how close to budget their churches are.  The Methodist church is also numbers-oriented, but that pressure is more external than internal.  The discussion came up last week at church about how many families started coming to our church due to the Easter egg hunt and VBS.  Since there were none, the pastor wondered about doing the Easter egg hunt again, to which she got a resounding, “Yes!”  As a guy who was there put it, it’s about planting seeds, and that did happen.

I recognize that in the “corporate world” of church, the CEO’s (pastor’s) job is dependent on how many new customers (members) he/she can bring in.  If there’s no new growth, the pastor might suddenly find her/himself “being called to another church” (Baptist pastors never just resign from their positions).  In the meantime, the current loyal customers (members) might be expected to live on the equivalent of spiritual fast food.  Discipleship is down, there’s almost no personal spiritual growth, and no one is really doing anything to hasten the Kingdom of God on earth.  Just as I get customers by speaking to people and putting myself out there, so, too, can churches attract new members by getting outside the walls, putting themselves out there, ministering to all sorts, not just those who bear a homogeneous similarity to the current members.  No farmer ever planted seeds by sitting inside in the air conditioning; it takes work and dedication.

Let’s break down some walls.  Let’s dare to get outside of our personal comfort zones to get out there and plant some seeds.  It’s not about numbers.  Really, it’s not.  Jesus never told his disciples how many to witness to, how many to make disciples of, how many to baptize.  He simply told them to get out there and do it.  That’s the message for us, too.  Let’s just do it.  Let’s do it until the work is done, and then we can stop, rest, and be comfortable.

Ministry Vision

It was 4:30 on a Sunday morning in May 2005.  I was snuggly in bed when I woke up suddenly.  There wasn’t anything that struck me as having woken me up – there was no cat on the bed and the room was silent.  Then the vision came.

All throughout Divinity school, I’d concentrated on ministering to those connected to the military but who may not come under the care of the base chaplain.  For a brief period, I’d even entertained the thought of enlisting in the military as a chaplain, but becoming a mom redirected my thinking there.  Anyway, those who are connected with the military but who the base chaplains don’t serve include boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, and parents.  As I explored this ministry farther, I learned from a chaplain at Camp Lejeune that there was often a three-day wait for personnel to be seen by a chaplain, and in the military, nothing is exactly confidential.  So, by establishing a ministry that would include troops as well, I could provide a truly confidential place for them to get help (with the exceptions covered by standard health and medical care codes of ethics).

So here I was in the dark hours of a Sunday morning, two weeks after having received my degree.  And it happened.  I don’t usually get visions (this was the first), and in fact I’d always thought that they happened to someone else, never to me.  This made me sit up (figuratively – remember, snuggly in bed?) and take notice.

God expanded the original vision to me.  Not only would I be ministering with those connected to the military and personnel and their dependents, but I would be ministering in the community at large.  It looked something like this:

There are so many people who are unchurched or who may not be comfortable going to their pastor about an issue they have, likely out of fear of judgment or lack of trust.  There are counselors, of course, but there still remains the stigma of, if you’re going to a therapist, you must be crazy.  So, they need spiritual care but aren’t sure where to find it.  My ministry would fit that need.  [Before the vision, we had experienced a pastor completely ignoring a crisis we were in at that time in our lives and following his own agenda.  Since this vision, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of a pastor revealing something shared in confidence – closed door, “this is just like CPE*” (his words) – with about 20-30 other people.  Yikes!!!] So, it’s easy to see how important trust is in the pastor/parishioner relationship.

The Crystal Coast area sees a swelling of population each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with slight tapers on each end of that into the spring and late summer/early fall before dwindling down to just locals through the grey winter months.  Campgrounds, hotels, condominium towers, villas and a resort or two dot the landscape from Beaufort to Swansboro.  Crap happens on even the best vacation (forget Shark Week; we’ve had Shark Month!), and crises happen.  They can happen to people of any faith, not just bi-traditional Christians.  Another element of this ministry will be providing crisis care to those folks, supported by a network of clergy from other faiths and traditions who can step in if their particular flavor of care is needed.  This could also include those who wish to be married on their vacation.

Worship is a huge part of life for many people, but come Sunday morning when they’re staring at that check-out deadline, it seems wrong to sacrifice another hour or two in the sun for  church when the grind awaits their return when they get home.  I know I don’t make any effort to go to church when I’m vacationing at the beach, though I do miss the experience of communal worship.  A fourth aspect of this ministry would be brief worship services on the beach, come as you are.  We’re talking 20 minutes-brief, because we don’t want to be annoying, and if all you’re wearing is 3 triangles of material connected by strings or something brief by Speedo that shows off your hairy chest and your love of fried chicken, that’s okay.  We’re more about what’s inside than outside.

God gave me a name for this ministry – Crystal Coast Ministries.  And a logo even.  And a partner who may, unfortunately, be ready to retire by the time this all comes to fruition but who willingly embraced the vision and commented how much his wife and he love the area.

I was awed and humbled by this vision.  It nestled in my heart where it stayed through breakfast and dressing for church and getting my daughter ready for church.  After church, lunch, and getting a certain sweet little girl down for nap, I shared the vision with my husband.  He was (and still is) completely on board with it.  He suggested Christian deep sea fishing trips.  Maybe we could borrow a boat and get Marine Biology students from UNCW, Duke, or UNC to help serve as mates.  We’d be available to talk to them about whatever, simply sharing God’s love with them.

As I pondered this originally, I wanted our choir from Yates, our Durham church, to come down occasionally and help lead worship.  I’d still love that.  They’re a tremendous group of singers and worship leaders under the direction and guidance of a fabulous music minister, and they would certainly bless everyone who heard them.

A part of me could think it’s amazing that the vision is still so clear ten years, a move, and another child later.  But really, it’s not amazing at all.  God gave me this vision, and it has lain dormant in my spirit, heart, and mind for all this time, just waiting to be reawakened.  The time has come and is coming.  There are steps I must take in order to prepare myself, and that process has already begun.  I am excited but also a little scared, and I think those two emotions are perfectly appropriate.  We should all get excited about ministry, but we should also feel a little bit scared, because that will keep us on our toes and prevent us from getting cocky behind the stole.

*CPE is Clinical Pastoral Education, which is training for chaplains and those who will provide pastoral care to people. The first rule for the training group is keeping confidentiality.

I’m Out

What does that mean?  In gambling, it means, “I’m out of this hand or the game.”  In family life, it could mean, “I’m out of the house running errands.”  In the LGBT community, it refers to being “out of the closet,” being open about one’s sexuality and lifestyle.  I’m not saying any of those things.  I’m saying, I’m out of the box.  I’m outside the box.  I’ve known this for a while; it certainly wasn’t a secret to Dean Cogdill, my Divinity School dean.  To this day, I’m still not sure what he saw in me that had him labeling me his “outside the box thinker.”  I really had never thought my cognitive processes were all that different from other people’s.

It was fall semester, 2004, and I was in my last semester of Divinity school.  The last semester is rather anxiety-provoking, because every student in their last semester has to complete a Senior Synthesis paper, a lengthy (save often!) discourse on his or her entire Divinity school experience – every discovery, every growing edge, every field experience, every mission trip…  Everything!  To accompany this epic tome comes the Senior Panel.  This is a closed-door meeting with two professors and that semester’s Senior Synthesis professor, and each student gets to have a say in his or her choice of professors.  I put my choices in – Drs. Jones and Harmon, my professors of Hebrew and Old Testament, and Theology and Ethics, respectfully.  Soon before the panels were scheduled to begin, the list of panels came out and was passed around the room.

It didn’t take long for the mutterings to start.  “Whoa, Sara!  What did you do?”  “Oh, Sara, you’re gonna get it!”  Oh lordy, I thought, waiting for the list to get around to me, how bad is it?  Finally, the list came to me, and scanning down to my name I discovered that I didn’t get either of my choices on my panel.  Instead, I got both deans.  BOTH.  DEANS!  My professor said, “No one else got both Dr. Cogdill and Dr. Powers.”  “Yea.  Lucky me,” I replied.  Truthfully, I was terrified and humbled and honored, all at the same time.

There was history there.  As a Religion minor in the days before the Div school was chartered, Dr. Cogdill was chairman of that department, and, of course, I’d had some classes with him.  I’d had Dr. Powers for one undergraduate class.  In a lively discussion on the role of women in the home one day in Church and Family, Dr. Cogdill had had to get on me about my comportment during class discussions (I guess heavily insinuating that the guy I was addressing was misogynistic wasn’t very mature of me), an incident that, thankfully, he’d forgotten by the time I had applied for Divinity school.

As I sat in the conference room on the day of my panel, I remember the warmth and encouragement flowing from Dr. Hoyle, Dr. Powers, and Dr. Cogdill.  The last question Dr. Cogdill asked me was, “Sara, how will you stay outside the box?”  Um…  Uh…  Duh…  Crickets.  I was outside the box?  Really?  OK, that’s pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d ever done intentionally.  I was still young enough that some parental/family/social approval was a big deal to me.

That was ten-and-a-half years ago, and I am so completely out of the box now with age and maturity that I often forget there is a box filled with so many people.  See, here on the outside, it’s really spacious – not very crowded at all.  It’s great, but getting here can be quite scary.  Sometimes staying here is quite scary.  So how am I staying outside the box?

My heart still yearns to fulfill my ministry calling from so long ago.  As I have encountered more and more people, it has become glaringly apparent to me that we need more love and less judgment in this world.  People don’t need to hear a laundry list of their wrongdoings while we’re thumping our Bibles at them.  They need to hear just a few simple truths:  God loves you.  Jesus has something amazing in store for your life.  I love you.  Focus on that, so sweet, so simple, and the rest will fall into place perfectly.

English: Love Heart rainbow

English: Love Heart rainbow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before the Supreme Court determined that equality for gays and lesbians who wish to marry would be protected under the 14th Amendment, I began to think, Why shouldn’t they marry if they wish?  I mean, so many of them, without marriage, are living together in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, and isn’t that pretty much what marriage is?  I lose nothing by them having the same civil rights that I do.  It’s not going to negatively impact my faith, my marriage, or my family life.  It simply means that gay and lesbian couples can now be legally happy together instead of illegally (for lack of a better word) happy together.  So…  Since they also have been created in the image of God, just as I have, and since God loves them, just as He does me, shouldn’t they also be welcomed into worship with us and welcomed to join us at the communion table?

Then my thoughts spread to another group, one that a friend of mine is in:  The BDSM group.  In speaking to my friend, he conveyed that “people like [them]” aren’t welcomed into churches, that churches tend to take a hard stand against them coming in.  Yet, this guy misses communal worship.  Years of being married to a Presbyterian minister accustomed him to the liturgy of worship and the inclusion into the family of faith.  If he misses church, would not others in the BDSM community miss it, too?  So why not establish a church where those other churches shun are welcomed?  Maybe being gay or enjoying some consensual kink is a sin; I don’t think so, but then again, I’m not God, and I’m not ever going to presume to put words in the mouth of the Almighty.  What I do know is, the Kingdom of God is for all of these people, just as much as it’s for the straight-laced, buttoned-down, very conservative people who sat on the pews this morning for worship.  I know that God loves them, and I am also called to love them.  And if the people following these lifestyles are sinning, it is not my job to judge them; the Holy Spirit can condemn them and lead them to repentance if that’s the case.  See, at the very least, these folks would hear the gospel message of sacrificial love and sacrificial living; and at the most, they would be convicted of their sins and make a lifestyle change (whatever the sin might be).  That looks like a win-win, whether you’re in the far-right evangelical camp, the left-leaning evangelical camp, or somewhere in the middle.  Who loses out here?  Nobody, by my reckoning.

Staying outside the box means raising children who also think outside the box, but that’s a post for another day.  Stay tuned.

Watch Your Confession

I’ll admit, it drives me crazy when people “confess” to doing something that’s not a sin, and I’ll confess, it leads me to address it in a blog post instead of more directly.

See what I did there?  I admitted to a shortcoming (being impatient with people who confess frivolously), but I confessed to a sin (addressing it in a blog).  You see, I admit to shortcomings (my lack of patience is one), but what I do with that lack of patience can become a confession-worthy sin.

I regularly hear a pastor say, “I confess,” and then he confesses something silly, like liking pizza or donuts, or enjoying singing in his car.  Yes, seriously.  These aren’t sins for which one should confess.  He’s not gluttonous, and he sings decently (and who cares how someone sings when they’re in the car enjoying themselves?).  Yet, never does he invite people to come up at the end of the service, confess their sins, repent of them, and make a decision to follow Christ (a basic component of most Baptist worship services).

I admit that I like pizza and donuts and singing in the car.  Shoot, I car dance!  And I do it with gusto, because I enjoy it, my girls enjoy it, and it makes people smile.  I admit to feeling angry sometimes, and I confess to losing my temper on occasion.  I will freely admit to my shortcomings, and I will confess my sins.  Since I’m trying to lose weight, liking donuts and pizza – and eating them – is a shortcoming.  Going to a pizza buffet and filling up on pizza and pasta is something for which a confession is appropriate.

This pastor I hear throws his “confessions” around loosely.  Yet, he seldom if ever calls on his congregants to confess their sins – things that are worthy of confession.  And when this pastor sinned against my husband and me, he failed to confess to it.  See, in the church, without confession of sin, there can be no forgiveness.  Yet for those walking in fullness of life in Christ, forgiveness is required to maintain that full life.

If you’re going to confess, confess sins.  We all do it; none of us is alone in sinning.  When we as Christians “confess” to non-sins, then the whole act of confession loses its meaning.  It becomes hollow, because we lose all sense of what it means to confess something wrong that we do or did.  We get so wrapped up in confessing little, piddly stuff that we overlook the big, ugly sins we commit against God and against those with whom we share life’s journey.

As I teach my younger daughter, “Watch your words.”  Be mindful of those “confessions” you make.  Speak in sincerity with integrity.  Confess real sins, not frivolous preferences, like liking junk food.  Liking junk food isn’t a sin; glutting on junk food is.  Be aware of real sin is.  That is worthy of our confessions.



God of Wonders Beyond Our Galaxy

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And suddenly there was a chorus of “You are holy!  Holy!”

This past week Fox and National Geographic debuted the reboot of Cosmos.  Not being quite the science geek that my best friend is, I hadn’t planned on watching it.  However, he reminded me it was on, we enjoy watching TV together virtually, and so I settled in to see what it was about.

It was exciting!!!  I learned a lot about science, astronomy and the histories of our universe and the field of astronomy, but I learned something else, too.  I learned that my God is even bigger than I imagined.  “Well, duh,” you’re probably thinking.  As we look at the universe from the perspective of earth, it’s pretty small.  But when we look at the universe and earth from the perspective of far outer space, we are pretty darn insignificantly minuscule in relationship to the whole.

There was this monk named Bruno who loved looking up at the skies, and he started reading the books that the Church had banned.  He realized that the universe is far bigger than anyone had imagined, and the idea of this excited him.  He figured from this that an infinite God had to have created infinite universes, and possibly even put life on them.  For such radical views, Bruno was kicked out of the monastery and went around sharing his beliefs.  Eventually, unfortunately, he was jailed, tortured and burned at the stake.  The Renaissance-era Church just wasn’t ready for a God who wouldn’t fit into its box.

As I learned this, I thought, Is the god of the modern church big enough to break free of the buildings (God – big G – definitely is!)?  What would happen to the church if she realized that God is far bigger than the box in which she wants to put God?  Once we stop making God in our own image, then God can be as big as God needs to be, as big as God truly is.  God is far bigger than our churches, far bigger than our earth, far bigger than our universe.

Some people who embrace science don’t have room for God in their mindsets.  Many Christians don’t want to acknowledge the role science plays in the world, and certainly not in creation.  Science and faith do not have to be mutually exclusive.  I believe God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1); there is no reason in the world why this creation couldn’t start with a big bang.  The Bible says God created the earth in seven days.  The scientific evidence proves that our earth came into being over millions of years.  Yet, an epoch can be as a day to God.

Our finite minds struggle to grasp an infinite universe, so to even try to comprehend that God is even bigger stretches even the most wildest imagination.  And yet, that is God.  That is the God who created us, who knows our innermost being – our thoughts and feelings – and who loves us in spite of ourselves.

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An image of a handshake superimposed upon a Gr...

Today was a special treat, as my family and I got to attend my home church’s annual Homecoming service, celebrating that church’s 112th year.  That church has a new pastor, a guy who I’ve known from that church since I was a child; we’re both part of the fabric of this generation of Sorrell’s Grove.  I walked in to hugs – the first two being dear, dear former neighbors of ours, a lovely couple who lived two houses down from my parents and me until I was 23 and we moved to a new town.  In my hand was my favorite church Bible (I have Bibles for home reading, sentimental value, study…  You get the idea), a raggedy, teal Bible inscribed and gifted to me from that church when I graduated from high school.

As I prepared to return to my home church, I thought about how it’s the place where I received many of my spiritual roots.  I learned about Jesus there.  And love.  And discipleship.  And serving others.  My Acteen leaders, Becky and Carol, empowered me to serve through backyard Bible schools and volunteering in the community, activities that took hold and lasted long after I completed my Acteen studies.

It was in this church as a youth that I learned about “us versus they,” “they” being everyone who’s not Christian, and barely Baptist.  I learned about premillenial pretribulation dispensationalism.  To put that in lay language, the idea that the world will get worse and worse until Jesus comes in the Rapture, taking all those who believe to Heaven and leaving all the rest to terrible torments and tribulations.  This church taught me that only men are suitable to serve the Lord from the pulpit or in servant leadership positions.  I don’t agree with any of this any longer.  All of us – Christians of all sorts, Muslims, Pagans and Atheists – are human beings created in the image of God, and God loves us all.  Catholic doctrine is no more wrong than Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or Lutheran doctrine is (despite what last year’s Homecoming speaker proclaimed in the name of God).  If Christ calls us to suffer for him, even being willing to die for him, what makes us think we should be spared that in the end times?  God can call anyone who God wishes to minister.  Even the early Church had female deacons, both the Church ecumenical in the first century and the Baptist church in the early seventeenth century.  The only restriction the Bible places on women leading is that we should not usurp the authority of the church doing so, and God is the only authority in the church.  This is a good lesson for ministers of both genders.

Despite the theological and doctrinal differences, this small, country, loving Southern Baptist church is where my spiritual roots were formed, and nothing can ever change that.  This church has seen recent growth, which is a blessing.  It has taken down its American and Christian flags, for which this Bonhoeffer-loving minister is grateful.  A carved wooden cross graces the front of the church where once hung a lovely picture of Jesus.  There have been some beautiful improvements to the sanctuary itself, but one thing remains constant, and that is the people who love God so whole-heartedly and love people so warmly.