Category Archives: church

Thank God for Answering the Prayer I Wasn’t Praying

It’s Thanksgiving! And this year, I’m especially thankful for an answer to prayer that I wasn’t expecting because, frankly, I quit praying for it a long time ago. It began last week with a painful confrontation that felt like anything but an answer to prayer. It was something that completely blindsided me.

I didn’t think that anything was wrong.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I thought that a lot was wrong… with other people. With systems and cultures and practices and traditions that I didn’t really care for. But me, I was fine! There was nothing in me that I couldn’t excuse or ignore as insignificant.

It’s not that I had never been confronted before. But my default response was a bristling defensiveness: The accusations were  unfair. It wasn’t my fault. I was the injured party. Why were people talking about me instead of talking to me? What about so-and-so? They’re not perfect either. And THEY hurt ME…

A good illustration of that comes from this post, which I wrote a little more than two years ago. I was frustrated and trying to explain what it was like for me. But when I read it now, I can see that I was paralyzed by fear. I resented those who didn’t understand. I was making excuses. And I was really bitter.

I had become “nose blind” to my own stinky attitudes. Looking back now, I can understand why people were afraid to have difficult conversations with me. It’s no wonder I’d wind up burning people out without even realizing it.

But last week, I was still in defensive mode. And I still didn’t see anything wrong with that. Until in one excruciatingly painful conversation, I learned that I had burnt through someone’s final reserve of grace towards me. I was stunned.

My first instinct was still to lash out, to deflect the blame. But this time… I knew it was my fault. It cut deep and it absolutely tore me up inside. It exposed things in my heart that needed to change… things that I felt helpless to change on my own… and it drove me back to God in a raw, desperate, genuine way.

I didn’t care about saving face anymore. I didn’t care about protecting myself from the pain anymore. All I wanted was for God to fix what I had so selfishly broken.

And thank God, He is answering that prayer!

I’m not saying that things are “fixed.” But when I cried out to God to fix what I had selfishly broken… He started by breaking something I had selfishly “fixed.”

I had built walls to hide behind, to protect myself, to make myself appear stronger. And the more I felt threatened, the more I re-enforced them from within. I built it with fear and distrust and negativity. The walls thickened until there was almost no room left and my fortress became prison… or a trap. I was stuck.

I justified the walls in a lot of ways. And I called them lot of different things. An introverted personality. Privacy or protection. Being task-oriented. Cultural differences. Panic attacks. Over-committing. Exhaustion. Social anxiety.

But you know what I call them now? Gone!

God hasn’t just given me a much-needed attitude adjustment, He’s torn down the walls and given the kind of fresh start I never imagined possible. It used to be a tremendous struggle, trying to “fake it until I make it.” Now it’s not a struggle. And I’m in awe of what God has done.

I’m now free in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time. And I don’t say that lightly or to boast. I understand now perhaps more than ever why Paul had to remind the Galatians to stay free. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1, NASB). I have to stand firm. I can’t go back. The walls of my prison were built from cheap and abundant materials, but I know can’t afford to lay a single brick again.

So as I sit here on Thanksgiving night, I can’t help but thank God for answering the prayer I wasn’t praying and using the situation I never wanted to be in to bring me to the place where He needed me to be.

Because you ask not…

Headache health medicine woman pop art retro style

Does she have a headache… or is she trying to blow up your head?

Six weeks ago, at the beginning of October, I had a horrible, painful, concentration-breaking, sleep-depriving, nasty sinus headache. In the grand scheme of things, not really a big deal. I knew I’d get through it soon enough, I was just going to have to “tough it out.”

Unfortunately, it would appear that I’m not really that good at “toughing it out.”

By day three of my headache, I was getting pretty miserable. Over the counter stuff didn’t seem to be helping. I must have looked about as bad as I felt. My pastor (who is also my boss) noticed and asked if he could pray for me. I gladly accepted, but I wouldn’t have requested prayer myself. Pastor Nathan had just gotten back from visiting with several families in local hospitals. My silly little headache was so trivial and insignificant compared to what those folks were facing.

But right there in the front office/reception area, he prayed for me. And just as he was finishing, his next appointment walked in.

Even if the story ended right there, it still would have been a wonderful, positive experience for me. But it got even better, because the congestion and pressure that had been causing my headache broke up and the pain went away. I could breathe again. I could think again! And apparently, I looked a lot better too.

Even now, a month and a half later, I almost hesitate to write this phrase: but I was healed. I hesitate because I’ve been in churches where there’s a whole lot of bad doctrinal baggage around sickness and healing. I hesitate because in so many church circles, that’s a really loaded statement. And I hesitate most of all because I just have this fear that if I come out and say “I was healed” but then the next day I’m sick again… what then?

I’m not talking about a fear of looking bad in front of people. Lord knows I’m perfectly capable of that without any intervention, divine or otherwise! But here’s the thing: if I step out and tell others that I’ve had God answer a prayer, and then it somehow seems to get undone, how do I process that internally? Was I mistaken, perhaps caught up in the moment emotionally? Or did I do something to undo it? Does my failure to be healed (or some future illness) make God look bad to those who heard my story?

It’s easier to just not say it. So I didn’t.

This was my Facebook status from that afternoon:

Sometimes, when so much “big” stuff is going on around me, I almost feel guilty or even petty for bothering God or others with my “small stuff.” But today, I was reminded that God is big enough and cares enough to handle the big stuff AND my small stuff 🙂

The truth is, I hate intentionally vague statuses like that. I shared something significant without sharing anything significant at all! No one outside of my immediate circle had any idea of what I was really talking about.

I intended to blog more about it back then, but then, you know, life happened, and…

Fast forward to the last 10 days or so. The rest of October was a blur, preparing for “Hallelujah Night,” a carnival-themed Halloween Alternative event. It was a lot of work, but a huge success!

And then I got sick… again. A few days after the event, my stomach started giving me trouble. Nothing serious, I figured I had a bug or it was just all the activity of the previous month finally catching up with me. I dealt with it by trying to be careful about what (and when) I ate. Then this past Sunday morning, it was bothering me enough that I had to leave church as soon as worship was over, and I continued to have issues with it this week.

In our Wednesday evening services, we’ve been working through a series called Gospel Shaped Worship. This week’s topic happened to be prayer. Pastor Nathan shared that he had gone through a period where he was praying mostly general prayers instead of praying for very specific things. And while there’s nothing wrong with general prayers, and we do have to be careful to make our prayers more than just a laundry list of needs and wants, Pastor Nathan found himself challenged to pray more specifically again.

Sometimes we avoid praying specific prayers because we’re afraid we’re not going to get the answer we want. There are examples in the Bible of people who prayed fervently and did not receive what they prayed for. King David prayed that his baby would live (2 Samuel 16). Jesus has even prayed prayers that were not answered the first time he prayed them (Mark 8 / John 17).  When we realize that it’s OK to pray for things, even if we don’t get the desired result, that’s a very freeing thing. Prayer is supposed to be conversational, taking real issues to a real Father who really cares, regardless of what His answer is.

Bro. Nathan also used the story of praying for me with my headache in early October as an example of why we shouldn’t be afraid to bring everything, even the seemingly little things, to God. I had almost forgotten about that day. (How quickly we forget!) As he shared the story from his perspective, I was encouraged and convicted at the same time. I had been dealing with these stomach issues for a week and never once asked for prayer.

At the end of the service last night, Bro. Nathan asked everyone present to pray for him for a foot pain issue, then opened it up to anyone else who wanted prayer. More than half of those present asked for prayer, including me. It wasn’t a huge service, many folks were out of town, but I will probably remember it as one of the “biggest” Wednesday Night services of the year in terms of it’s significance. It was “healing” in more ways than one. It was authentic, genuine, laid back, raw, sweet. It was “church” in the truest sense of that word.

So how’s my stomach? I am feeling better today. I’d love to say it was 100% better, but it’s OK that I’m not there yet. It’s not about a result. It’s about a relationship.

Just As I Am

A minister (whom I respect) likes to say that he won’t have his quiet time until he is showered and dressed for the day. While he believes that this is a good practice and encourages it, he doesn’t teach that everyone has to do it that way. He just feels that being showered and dressed is proper and respectful since he is meeting with the King.

Coming from a background that puts a high value on respect and propriety, especially in ways that are externally measurable, I can understand that perspective. But it also kinda bothered me, even though I couldn’t quite articulate why.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized why that idea never really sat right with me.

I don’t shower before my quiet time. I don’t get dressed for the day. I don’t fix my hair, brush my teeth, check myself in the mirror, or do anything to make myself more presentable. Sometimes, I don’t even crawl out of my bed. Part of that is my desire to truly start the day with quiet time. If I do all that other stuff first, it’s too easy for me to get sidetracked by all the other stuff on my to-do list.

But I realized this week that there’s more to it than that.

In every other interaction I have, I need to get up, shower, get dressed, and at least reach some minimum level of “presentability.” I have to put on my shoes, find my keys, and try not to leave the house without my phone or my ID. I have to perform, to follow a protocol, to try to meet or exceed expectations.

When I have a quiet time, I’m not meeting with the King.

I’m meeting with Abba.

And that’s the only relationship in my life where I don’t have to clean up, play a part, or pretend to be OK even when I’m not. I can come just as I am, no matter how I am at that moment. Yes, I’m meeting with the Maker of the Universe, the King of kings… but He’s also my Abba. I can go to Him without fear in my PJs or in my finest, with tears streaming down my face or the biggest smile in the world. After all, it’s not about me. All the preparation in the world could never make me worthy anyway 🙂

Plodding is Underrated

Almost a month ago, my pastor preached a message called “Don’t Waste Your Life.”

It wound up being a pivotal message for our church… and for me.

Pastor Nathan talked about William Carey, a missionary famous for saying “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

Plodding… isn’t fun. It isn’t glamorous. But that’s where I’ve been for a while now: long stretches of plodding, occasionally punctuated by glimmers of passion and moments of encouragement. Because plodding isn’t fun, I think it gets a bad wrap sometimes. You can make great progress just by putting one foot in front of the other even when you don’t particularly feel like moving forward.

Ah yes, one of those other “F” words. “Feel.”

Plodding can have a negative connotation to it, a sense that if you’re plodding, you’re just going through the motions mechanically, mindlessly. As if all action is invalid if not accompanied by heartfelt passion.

But I don’t buy that.

Plodding is a decision. It’s pressing on towards the goal, even without any immediate emotional gratification. It is going through the motions – but not mindlessly; it requires you to be mindful of the pursuit. It’s trusting in the purpose even when the passion isn’t there.

Plodding is underrated. Anyone can give up when things get tough. And anyone can stay the course when it’s easy. So I’m proud to be a plodder!

kcpo-bluecci

Happy New Year

It’s January 1st, and I could’t let the day pass without posting something.

My track record with New Year’s Resolutions is not stellar… and I cringe to review the seemingly reasonable goals that I dutifully set — then unceremoniously failed to achieve — last year at this time. So no resolutions for me this year.

But one thing I am doing that I will share is this: I’ve joined with many others at my church to read a simple daily devotional this year.

I don’t know if I’ll share my responses here on the blog every day, but thought I’d start out by sharing some thoughts from the first day’s reading: Genesis 1:1. It’s just one verse, and a very familiar short one at that, but it’s loaded!

On the one hand, it is encouraging to me to start the year with that reminder that God is the originator of it all. There is comfort in that, in knowing that there is a plan and a purpose to all things.

But it’s also a reminder to me that from the very first verse of the very first chapter, we are living at odds with the world. To stand upon that statement is to stand at odds with much of the scientific community – to embrace something that a significant portion of the modern world considers mythology.

And finally, this verse affirms that God is the original “creative.” And He’s the only perfect creative. I can’t be the creative person I’m called to be apart from Him.

To be honest… I’m not feeling especially creative right now. I want to be excited and full of anticipation for the year ahead… but right now, I’m just tired. I’m coming off of a busy year with a lot of great successes and amazing projects. More than anything else right now, I just want to have some down time… but then I wind up feeling guilty for wanting a rest when there’s so much to be done. So even though it isn’t included in the reading today, Gen 1:1 also reminds me of the rest of the creation story… and the REST that is IN the creation story.

In graphic design, we talk about “negative space.” Negative space is the “white space” in and around a design. The idea is that the “emptiness” can convey just as much as the content. In a world that is go-go-go all the time, “rest” can feel like empty space. But we need it. I need it. And I need to make it a more regular part of my new year. And that’s about as close as I’ll get to making a resolution this year!

So Happy 2015 everyone!

“Jesus Loves Me*”

Chris Tomlin has a new song called “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s not the children’s song- but the message is the same. It’s been on the radio a lot recently, and honestly, it didn’t really stand out to me at first. I thought it was “nice,” but it took a long ride home after a few very demanding weeks for the song to really sink in for me.

Here’s an acoustic version of the song:

It happened on road trip to Dallas to attend (and volunteer at) a conference. I was already worn out from an intense month with several big (at least, for us) events, the largest of which had just taken place in the days leading up to the conference. I arrived early and served as scheduled for the first day. I was thrilled when some of the staff & other volunteers remembered me by name! And I was floored when some of the attendees even remembered me from the year before. That first day went well, despite the busy-ness and little hiccups you encounter along the way, and I couldn’t help but feel good about it all afterwards. It was an encouraging start to what promised to be a wonderful few days.

Except for one thing. As the evening progressed, I realized that I wasn’t feeling good. I was coming down with a pretty nasty cold. I started to lose my voice. I was coughing and congested.

I was sick. But that was quickly becoming an understatement. I was miserable 🙁

I was miserable enough that the next morning I decided to leave early. I hate letting folks down, and I felt bad for backing out of my commitment. I even still felt that twinge of guilt for not being healed. I had also been looking forward to sitting in on some of the sessions and hearing certain speakers, and I was disappointed that I’d be missing out. Feeling a bit defeated, I turned on the radio and began the 5 hour drive back to Pineville.

Chris Tomlin’s “Jesus Loves Me” song was played four times during that drive — on different Christian radio stations as I passed through different cities along the way. The first time, it kinda annoyed me. Yeah, of course I know Jesus loves me. Everyone knows that. How many times do we have to sing that phrase? 

If you asked me if I believed that Jesus loved me, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say “Yes.” But what did that mean, really? In my mind, it was an absolute truth… but in a very generic, impersonal, “God so loved the world” way. It was “Jesus love me*” with an asterisk – a loaded footnote full of qualifications and terms and conditions and legalese fine print.

I believed that He loved me in the sense that he didn’t totally hate me. It wasn’t a warm fuzzy love… it was more of a distant love. He mostly tolerated me, though I imagined just barely at times. And on a day when I was driving home sick, run down, and having failed to fulfill my commitment… did Jesus love that? I didn’t think so.

But by the time I was hearing the song for the third time on that drive, the message was (finally) getting through and I was tearing up.

“Jesus, He loves me…” even when I’m sick, worn out, empty, and have nothing left to give.

“He loves ME…” not just what I can do. He doesn’t just love me when I’m accomplishing stuff or doing things right.

“He is for me…” even when I feel discouraged and alone.

“Jesus, How can it be?…” That was the question. How could it be true? How could He love me in my mess? In my failures?

“He loves me…” in a very personal, close-up, genuine, unconditional way. With no asterisks.

“He is for me…” even more than I could ever possibly comprehend…

Getting Back To Grace

The other day I had a chance to share a bit of my “how in the world did you end up in Louisiana” story with someone who didn’t really know much about my history. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it much myself in a while, and retelling the story stirred up the nostalgia a little bit.

So I went searching for some of my old blog posts yesterday & today — some of my original Recovering Pentecostal posts from 2007. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 7 years now since I read a book that led to an eye-opening conversation that radically changed the way I saw God and my relationship with Him.

Re-reading those posts and sifting through many others through the years reminded me of how much had happened since then, and how much I’ve changed. I’ve come a long way… literally and figuratively. That pivotal moment in 2007 was amazing. It was freeing. And I’m so much better because of it. But one thing that I’m realizing from my walk down memory lane is that I’ve gone off course.

I’ve got to get back to grace. It’s been seven years since I first began to understand grace, but somehow I’ve allowed legalism creep back in. It’s an insidious thing! This time, it’s not an overt in the form of rules and regulations that I must obey to remain “in the fold.” It’s not an official, institutional thing. This time, it’s personal. I’ve let expectations (coming from myself and others) become obligations in my mind. And the stress of not being able to live up to those expectations is too much. You can kinda do it, at least for a little while, like plate spinning. But it’s a lot of work to keep all those plates spinning at the same time… and you wind up living in fear that the plates will stop spinning and fall… until you fail.

God never intended for us to live under that kind of pressure. It wasn’t His intention that we maintain our walk of faith by our own power.

“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Gal 3:3 NLT)

I started seven years ago in grace. But I’ve wandered back into human effort. Maybe it’s time to start over… again… leaning on the security of grace and letting the plates fall wherever they may.

RSVP – Regrets Only

I wanted the event to be a success.

I even helped promote it.

The event in question was a “Meet and Greet” for friend who is running for local office. It was an opportunity to meet some people, have a wonderful meal, show my support, and maybe do a little networking. It’s the kind of thing most people wouldn’t think twice about.

But I thought about it… more than twice. Maybe 100s of times. And my heart raced. And my palms got sweaty. And by the time the event was due to begin, I had talked myself out of attending.

I won’t know 99% of the people there. What if I’m the only one there by myself? What if someone talks to me and I freeze up and don’t know how to respond? Or I say something stupid? What if they stare at me? What if the seating is too close together? What if it’s crowded? What if I can’t get out without drawing attention to myself? What will people think of me?

It’s just so much easier to stay home, or stay at the office. And it sounds so much better to say that something came up, that I had to take care of it, that things are just crazy, and I’m really sorry that I can’t make it. I’ve been around long enough and seen it happen often enough to realize that like it or not, I live in a culture that judges the book by its cover. If you’re not comfortable enough in a social setting to smile and participate in small-talk, you’re defective. Unworthy.

And alone.

And the fear you already felt (irrational as it may be) is multiplied each time you try to face it and fail again. And it’s magnified even more because you’re going through this horrible thing that you certainly can’t explain to anyone while it’s happening, but what the people around you see is that you’re awkward, not smiling at them, not talking to them, not friendly.

A few years ago I learned that what I was feeling wasn’t unique. I wasn’t alone. There were many others who shared the same silent struggle, and it was called “social anxiety” or “social phobia.” I found out about it from a college professor. Like me, he didn’t struggle with events that had a definite structure to them (like classes or conferences or church services) but he did have a hard time with informal social events like parties, or certain aspects of other gatherings… like the times before and after a formal meeting began.

It was encouraging to meet someone else who could function fine in more scripted settings, but struggle in the unscripted ones. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t experienced it to understand that it really IS possible to have the ability to get up and teach or perform in front of a group, but then freeze up during otherwise normal social interactions. But that’s where I am. Whether it’s a political “Meet and Greet” or a greeting time during a church service… I dread those situations. Actually, dread isn’t even strong enough… they terrify me.

And it’s hard to smile when you’re terrified.

But I’ve checked it in the Bible, and I’ve discovered that failure to smile in public is NOT the unpardonable sin. So I guess I’ll be OK.

I could try to be someone I’m not… but even if I could pull that off,  it’s exhausting, not to mention dishonest. I’m never going to be the social butterfly, and I’m OK with that. I just wish other people could be OK with that too.

So I’ll smile when I have something to smile about. And I’ll work on finding more things to smile about, instead of worrying about the opinions of folks who really don’t care if there’s a reason why I’m smiling or not.

Residual Guilt

A few weeks ago, my foot was hurting so badly that I was to the point of tears. I was at church with our team setting up for the service. My pastor noticed, and asked if he could pray for me. I was grateful.

But at the same time, I felt a twinge of guilt… because I wasn’t healed.

Bad theology leaves scars. Even bad theology taught with sincerity and good intentions.

When you’re taught that doctor-and-medicine-free healing is pretty much guaranteed — as long as you’re living, speaking, and believing correctly — it’s hard to NOT feel guilty when life throws you a curve ball. I was taught that if my faith wasn’t strong enough to “get my healing,” there was probably something wrong with me spiritually: I was living in sin or not spending enough time in the Word or not mature enough or not giving enough financially to the church.

I don’t actually believe that stuff anymore. It’s been years since I’ve been anywhere that taught anything even remotely like that. But even after all that time, that little bit of residual guilt is still there. Not a crippling fear anymore, but just that momentary twinge of feeling like I’m not good enough.

Thank God I don’t have to be good enough. It was never about me in the first place. God’s not dishing out punishments for minor infractions like some petty spoiled child. Life happens. Sometimes it’s not what we wanted or expected. But God is more interested in us fixing our eyes on Him than He is in fixing our circumstances down here.

Crushed

It’s been a few months since I’ve written posted anything. (I actually have at least half a dozen unpublished drafts in various stages of incompletion, but every time I get “stuck” or distracted and never quite finish.) So tonight, I’m determined to finish something and hit that elusive “Publish” button. It won’t be pretty, but here it is.

Right now, I’m exhausted. I’m struggling with creative projects that should be exciting. I’m in physical pain (from a heel injury – which is another story entirely). And I’m hurting (more than I should) over some things that have been said about me. I feel beat down – crushed. And try as I might, I lack the ability to just snap out of it and be instantly un-crushed.

Even if I can’t snap out of it, I know I need to pull myself out of it. There’s something heroic and noble about rising above the circumstances, triumphing over external forces that want to hold you back: The Phoenix rising from the ashes… David winning over Goliath.

But it’s not that easy… because some of the forces aren’t external. It’s in me. It is me.

I think our childhood stories have done us a great disservice. We grow up on fairy tales and cartoons where the hero is good looking, pure, and obviously undeniably 100% good… and the villain is ugly, malicious, and obviously undeniably 100% bad. Even more, the villain embraces his role as bad guy – he revels in it. He’s not suffering from any illusion that he’s actually the good guy.

It’s rarely that cut-and-dry in real life. But most of the time, that’s really how we cast each other. We can’t imagine our heroes doing bad, and we can’t imagine our perceived villains as doing any good. If you don’t believe me, just watch the news. Any time there’s a polarizing issue, a nasty political campaign, or a painful church split, the passionate support folks feel towards their hero will lead them to deify him (or her) while demonizing the opposition.

I know I’m not the blameless hero. I know my faults. I’m aware of the baggage I carry and the places that are still tender from past hurts. And I live with the irony that I’m often more generous in forgiving or excusing my flaws than others will be towards me… while at the same time I can be harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I’m not the hero, but I’d like to think most folks see me as being one of the good guys. And it hurts when they don’t.

And on the flipside, I know that those who hurt me are not storybook villains. They’re coming with their own set of hurts and baggage that I know nothing about. They’re acting and reacting for the most part in the ways that seem right to them. If they’re lashing out, it’s usually more about them than it is about me… just like it is when I lash out.

I know all this. I mean, I know it in my head somewhere. It makes sense. And in the quiet of my living room at the end of the day, I can see it.

But I still hurt. Not as a wounded hero. Not as a vanquished villain. Just as a traveler with a injured heel.