Category Archives: church

“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.

It doesn’t feel like Easter

I’m in a bit of a “funk” this year. Here I am, late Saturday night on the day before Easter, and it doesn’t *feel* like Easter to me. It isn’t the weather: the flowers are blooming and we’ve had some gorgeous spring days. It isn’t that the holiday snuck up on me: we’ve had plenty of time to plan for the service tomorrow. It’s not that I haven’t had time to appreciate the signs of the season: I’ve had plenty of jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and Cadbury eggs. It’s just that Easter is supposed to be joyful and I’m… well… not.

Everything just seems… off. Last week, Palm Sunday, we sang a song that included the words,  “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Maybe that’s part of the problem. My heart gets broken, but not over the right things. It’s like my emotions and attentions are hijacked, over invested in something that, in the end, is worthless. And while I’m busy getting sucked into that blackhole, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m neglecting something else, something more significant. It’s discouraging.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Resurrection, and I can’t help feeling like I need a bit of a resurrection too. A reboot. Great things are happening. I’m even a part of some of these great things! Yet, as I spend this evening reviewing the music that we’ve selected for tomorrow, I’m tempted to feel like I’m not qualified to sing them. When I feel so dry, how can I sing about seeing “a near revival?” Fortunately, the answer comes from another song in the set:

And when I can’t see You still I know You’re here
And when I can’t feel You Your promise is clear
Nothing I face can keep me from Your love
My savior my healer my life and my hope
My treasure forever with You I belong
And even in death we won’t be torn apart
Nothing ever could separate us…

Maybe I can’t see it right now. But that doesn’t change the reality. Some ~2000 years ago Jesus’ followers went to bed on a Saturday night in mourning. They were confused and discouraged. And they woke up that way Sunday morning.

But while they were busy being discouraged that morning on their way to the graveyard… the tomb was already empty.

I pray that we can all rediscover the empty tomb… and celebrate.

Spring Cleaning

I’ve been doing a lot of Spring Cleaning lately.

It started last weekend with an opportunity to get some new-to-me furniture. It was definitely time for a new couch: the one I had was on its last leg: the frame was broken, the fabric was worn through and ripping… it was well past time for something new.

Before the new one arrived, I decided to move the old couch so I could clean behind it. I expected a few cobwebs and maybe some other bits of trash… but I certainly wasn’t expecting the filth that I found there! It was terrible! I realized that in the nearly six years I had lived in this house, I had never once moved the couch. Over half a decade’s worth of dead insects, dust, dried spills, bits of ripped food wrappers, cobwebs, bottle caps, and uneaten dog treats greeted me.

All that time, I had been cleaning around the couch — but neglecting the part I couldn’t see. It wasn’t that I enjoyed having the filth there… or even that I was OK with it being there. When I got the old couch, the floor was clean when I positioned it. I didn’t put the bottle caps and food wrapper remnants underneath it on purpose. I certainly didn’t set out to create a sizeable collection of dead bugs. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Fast forward one week and I found myself in another Spring Cleaning situation. This time, I had helpers. Our goal was simply to re-organize a storage room, tossing a few broken or stained items as needed. But the more we removed from the storage area, the more it became clear that we had a problem. Evidence of bugs, lizards, and mice multiplied as the day went on.

I knew that every item in that storage room had been placed there in good condition with good intentions. No one intended for their used wedding centerpieces to become housing units for mice. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Some things bounce back rather quickly from neglect when they are rediscovered. The hard floor beneath my couch was easy to clean. Glass and metal, many washable fabrics, hard plastics: items like this are relatively easy to clean. Evidence of years of neglect disappeared from these in just minutes. But others didn’t fare so well, like organic materials (dried flowers or wreaths made of dried branches or vines often became a food source for the uninvited guests).

Yet even for the organic materials, destruction wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t the centerpiece’s fault that it was exposed to mice. It wasn’t even the mice’s fault that the centerpieces were available! It wasn’t the couch’s fault that it concealed filth. The couch couldn’t move itself. The centerpieces could have been stored in a plastic bin that would have kept the mice and water away. The couch could have been moved more frequently for cleaning. The quick and easy moral of this story? If you care about something, take care of it.

The deeper moral? You can’t expect to find things in the same condition you left them in if you’re unwilling to do the maintenance. It’s like playing an instrument: just because I know how to find the notes on my guitar, that doesn’t mean I can play competently without practice, and certainly doesn’t mean I can flow with a team without putting in the time to rehearse with them. Neglect has consequences.

What if Jesus was more like us?

As Christians, we talk a lot about wanting to be more like Jesus… and we should. The Bible talks about being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29), walking as He walked (1 John 2:6), being transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18)… the list goes on.

But what if Jesus had acted more like some of the Christian leaders of today?

Nicodemus would have probably never been told he had to be born again… I mean, who insults another leader like that these days? We have to be respectful, even towards those we don’t agree with. Nicodemus would have been invited to share the platform, there would be some flattering pictures of the two smiling leaders, a culturally acceptable and poignant warm embrace, and no meaningful discourse. Nicodemus would have been praised for his willingness to cross lines and work with another camp.

Zaccheus would still have the opportunity to be a lunch host, and people might still grumble about it… but the modern leader might encourage Zack to redeem himself through gifts to the ministry, rather than giving money to the poor or returning it to those who were defrauded.

The meeting with the Samaritan Woman at the well wouldn’t have happened at all. No self-respecting leader would be caught having a private conversation with THAT kind of woman. Instead of using knowledge of the woman’s situation to confront her in her sin and reach out to her where she was, the modern leader would have used that intelligence to avoid her like the plague. Must avoid any possible appearance of evil. And confrontation? That’s so risky. Someone might get hurt.

Thank God God’s God…

The Point

I’m exhausted.

And this time of year, that’s kinda normal. Just seems like this year has been a little extra complicated, extra stressful, and extra busy… not just for me (though it has certainly been one for the history books for me!), but for nearly everyone I know. Did we really want to add to that with scheduling practices and the stress of putting together a performance? This year, with everything else going on, I don’t think anyone would have minded if our church had skipped the Christmas Drama.

But we didn’t.

The Christmas Drama this year was downsized and simplified. There were no sets or elaborate costumes like we’ve had in the past. We wrote it ourselves and incorporated parts for everyone who wanted to be involved. We met separately with smaller groups and individuals to rehearse their songs and scenes since group practices were nearly impossible to coordinate with the demands of everyone’s schedules. In fact, until our first and only start-to-finish rehearsal yesterday (just an hour or so before the actual performance!), I didn’t even realize how many kids were involved.

It was a lot!

And they all did a wonderful job! We called the drama “The Point.” It was a drama about rehearsing for a drama… which allowed everyone to have scripts in front of them. The scenes revolved around the kids reading Scripture and answering “homework” questions from the Director – questions that prompted them (and the audience) to think about the the point of the Christmas story… and take on a couple of popular misconceptions about the Christmas story. Writing our own script also gave us the opportunity to incorporate a few church-specific jokes 🙂

As always, the kids weren’t the only ones who learned something from this drama. I tend to be a “go big or go home” kind of person. The point that this experience re-enforced for me is that things don’t have to be elaborate or super intensive to be meaningful. It’s great to do the big productions – I enjoy them we do them – but it’s also nice to know that it’s OK to take a step back sometimes. After all, “The Point” of doing these dramas isn’t to compete with Broadway, but to give folks in the church (especially the kids) a chance to shine… while also giving everyone something to think about.