Category Archives: Church Community

Monday Minute: The Ten Percent

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Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A few months ago, I was feeling terrible and not my usual “wild,” “full of life,” “crazy” self. I went to my church that evening and was subdued, to say the least. Later, someone on my worship team told me that they “couldn’t deal with me when I was like that.” Yesterday, I had another day where I couldn’t deal, and this time (though I attend a different campus now), I stayed home. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to interact with people–it was that I was afraid to. I wasn’t sure I could take someone else saying that they didn’t like me or couldn’t deal with me because I have emotions other than happiness.

Thee truth is, 90 percent of the time, I accept myself just as I am–crazy, wild, larger than life–even though those words are sometimes used as labels to invoke comfort by the giver. But then there’s the 10 percent–those times when I recognize that my full of life personality is the sole reason that people are scared to get close to me. And when I have a 10 percent day, it’s more important than ever for people to break down my walls and love me through it.

We all have those days–the issues may differ, but the days still happen. It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when. The challenge for us, then, how do we care for each other during these times instead of being dismissive? Because we are never more like Christ than when we love others while they are in the 10 percent.

 

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‘Tis So Sweet: To Trust Him More

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image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

-Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus,  Louisa M. R. Stead

I haven’t talked about it a lot here on my blog, but one of the most amazing parts of my move last year has been my church. I switched campuses a few months ago (same church, different campus location), and for the first time in a long time, I really feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. Not only do I feel myself growing more spiritually than I have in the last 10 years, but it’s really one of those things where I feel like I fit. Not because everyone is like me, but because we are all so unique and crazy and wonderfully made–it’s truly a blessing to be in a church that is charismatic and I don’t have to “hide” my gifts or attend elsewhere to get my fill. Every single week at church, I am filled in more ways than I can count.

One of the biggest blessings has been the prayer ministry at my church. I have known that I am an intercessor for many years, but I was never in a church environment where that call was supported and grown. Yes, at past churches I have prayed with other people and prayed for other people, but here, the call to intercession is celebrated and many women are a part of my life who stoke the fires of prayer in me.

In fact, I knew this was going to be the right campus for me when the first Sunday I attended, a beautiful sister came up to me during the church greeting time, pulled me into a warm embrace, and said very boldly to me, “You are an intercessor. You are called to it. You need to be doing it more.” I was surprised–not at what she said, but at her boldness. And though I initially fought it, I knew from that one interaction that this was the church campus for me.

So I was incredibly excited when that sister and others organized a prayer night for the women of our campus in August. I did not attend expecting anything of myself, only that I would experience the Lord’s presence. I received that and so much more.

As the ladies prayed over me, one of our praying sisters and a friend of mine spoke several prophetic truths over my life…truths that have done more to increase my faith and trust in the Lord than anything before. I hate to say it, but I haven’t been someone who has had a lot of trust in the Lord. I have claimed to have it, but I have found it so difficult to trust in Him despite His repeated attempts to show me that He is completely trustworthy. After this prayer night, though, God’s grace has proven faithful once again as He has grown me so much in the area of trusting Him.

This new blog series is going to highlight many of the things that my beautiful sister prophesied over me and their subsequent impact on my life and trust in the Lord. I’m so excited to share with you these amazing, life-changing truths. And I am excited as I continue to grow in my trust and dependency on my Lord. It truly is so sweet.

 

 

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Serving Others

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I serve the homeless every month with my church. I love doing this for many reasons, but I wasn’t always keen on serving others. I used to believe that serving others meant I could just serve my family, friends, and church community and call it a day. Or that it meant that I could just donate money or needed items and never have any kind of hands-on experience. Then I went on my first mission trip. I took a team of youth to Kentucky to fix up a shelter for women and children. “This will be easy,” I thought. We are just fixing up a house…anyone can do that. But I soon realized that our tasks consisted of more than just painting, gardening, and cleaning. We were to work alongside women and children who had lost everything—they were homeless and hurting, sometimes physically. At the week’s end, one woman showed her appreciation by giving me the boots right off her feet.

Serving others goes is a tricky subject in Christianity, because it entails so many different things we could do! However, here are three things that serving others should do for us if we want to truly reap its benefits:

  • Serving others should stretch us. Serving our family, our friends, and even people we don’t like is definitely a call that God puts on our lives. We should seek to serve everyone. Serving others should make us uncomfortable. It should put us in positions that we haven’t normally been in, because then we rely on Christ instead of our own strength! I could easily claim that I go home and serve my family by helping my disabled uncle. But that is comfortable to me, even though it’s a pain. What makes me uncomfortable is going to the homeless shelter, traveling to a foreign country to teach God’s Word to persecuted believers, and serving in prison ministries. But those are the exact things we are called to do. Jesus says in Matthew 25:35-45 that when we stretch ourselves to serve others, we are actually serving Him and growing in Christ-likeness.
  • Serving others should humble us. There are few things more humbling than to accept the gift of the shoes off of a homeless person’s feet. I had thought that I was going to serve others and show them God’s love; but in fact, I was the one who was served and shown the true love of God. It reminded me of the story of the widow’s offering that Jesus noted in Mark 12:41-44. I had gone to Kentucky believing I was giving out of my wealth, believing that my offering of time and talents was pleasing to God—and they were. But this woman at the shelter, much like the Biblical widow, joyously gave to me out of her poverty, insisting that I take one of the few possessions she had. I have never felt so small in light of God’s love. But that is what serving others should do for us.
  • Serving others should change us. The stretching, the humbling, the discomfort—those are the things that truly change us by decreasing the amount of “us” in us and increasing the amount of Christ in us. So while serving others shouldn’t ever be about us, in many ways is IS about us. It’s about changing our perspective, challenging our ideals, and choosing to trust God. If God’s goal is to remove us (not improve us), then serving others is one of the best ways to achieve that. Jesus put Himself in the servant’s position and encouraged us to do the same to increase the power of the Lord in our lives (Mark 9; John 13; Matthew 23). When we are decreasing self, we give God more room to work and move through us. And nothing could change us more than increasing the power of the Lord in our lives!

If you want to see lasting change happen in your life, practice the spiritually healthy habit of serving others. Get yourself out of your comfort zone and into a place where you truly have to depend on the Lord’s strength and power! You won’t regret it!

What’s Missing From Sex: Understanding (Part 1)

This blog series is following my church’s series, “What’s Missing From Sex” as my pastor preaches about a topic the church has mostly avoided. This particular post goes with the second sermon in the series and can be found on my church’s website here. I urge you to listen! The sermon begins about 18:00 minutes into the video.

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image courtesy of ponsulak / freedigitalphotos.net

I was having an e-mail conversation with an ex, and he was telling me about his sister’s recent heartbreak. His sister had dated a man who, after a year-long relationship, broke her heart by confessing that for the last eight months, he had also been seeing someone else and was now going to marry this other woman. My ex’s sister was devastated. “I keep trying to console her,” my ex said, “but she hasn’t experienced heartbreak like this before. It’s like losing her first pet.” I nearly choked on my water. Like losing her first pet? I thought to myself. No…it’s nothing like that. Pets don’t have human reasoning capabilities and make decisions to intentionally hurt you. She loved this man and believed that he loved her in return—but it turns out he didn’t. As I tried to explain this to him, I realized something very profound about this man who I had (stupidly) previously chosen to get involved with: he did not understand.

You may be thinking, “what is there to understand about sex? It’s a simple deed, done in different ways. I can figure it out.” However, we must move beyond simply the act of sex and into what sex is as God intended. And in a series titled, “What’s Missing from Sex,” we have to discuss our understanding about the one thing that is tied to sex, even if we haven’t always included it in sex: love. In order to truly get the most pleasure from sex, we must first have true understanding about sex and love together in the context that God intended for them (marriage). Here are a couple of things we need to understand about love:

We must understand what godly love is. My ex didn’t understand what godly love is, so he couldn’t comprehend why his sister was suffering such heartbreak. Jesus said that true, great love was characterized by “laying one’s life down for a friend” (John 15:13). Jesus spoke this prophetically, knowing that He was going to lay down His life for us. But He also told us to love others as He had loved us (John 13:34). So really, He was saying that true, godly love is selfless. Godly love thinks of the other person before thinking of yourself. It is so easy to think that a relationship is all about you: your needs, your desires, your wishes being fulfilled. However, Jesus tells us something completely different about love: that it is not a feeling or an emotion, but an action: a selfless action that is completely against our fleshly nature in every way (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Love is a commitment to the other person’s well-being regardless of the impact on you.

We must understand that godly love and sex walk hand in hand. While it is possible to have sex without love, sex was never meant to be experienced without godly love. 1 Corinthians 6:16-17 (The Message) says, “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.”  Experiencing sex without godly love is like taking exams without attending classes or reading the materials: disaster is imminent. God created marriage as a safe haven to explore our sexuality while experiencing Godly love. When you have sex without godly love, you are removing essential parts from sex and reducing it to less than God intended. They were created to be together, within the safety of marriage.

We have all made mistakes in these areas, but we are so lucky to have a God that loves us! He didn’t just lay down his life for us, His death and resurrection paid the penalty for our mistakes, giving us a clean slate if we will only accept it. You can begin to understand what true love is by getting to know God: for love is from God and God IS love (1 John 4:7-8). Know God, know love—and that is the first step to bringing understanding back into sex.

What’s Missing From Sex: Intimacy (Part One)

This blog series is following my church’s series, “What’s Missing From Sex” as my pastor preaches about a topic the church has mostly avoided. This particular post goes with the second sermon in the series and can be found on my church’s website here. I urge you to listen! The sermon begins about 16:00 minutes into the video.

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image courtesy of ponsulak / freedigitalphotos.net

“I want a normal life.” I uttered these words to God and then a friend earlier this week. It’s hard to wrap my mind around that word “normal,” because, as I cried to my friend just a few days ago, I know that I’m not normal. I’ve never felt normal—and it’s not just my past addiction that drives that feelings. I don’t fall in love like a normal person, I don’t think or act like a normal person, I don’t have a life that resembles anything “normal.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t crave being “normal”—whatever that means. However, after talking to my friend about it, I realized that it’s not that I crave being “normal.” What I really crave is intimacy. What I really want is for someone to really see me and understand me. What I really want is to be known.

When I think of ungodly relationships I’ve been in and the mistakes I’ve made in the area of sex, I realize that the fact that I’m so different has caused me to crave intimacy in a strong way. And I believed culture’s lie that the easiest way to get intimacy was through sex. But with that view, we get a lot of physical nakedness, but not much spiritual and emotional nakedness—which is really what I am craving (and most others too). I want to be real and authentic, mistakes and all, and to be loved for being those things.

As I’ve reflected on this over the past few days, here are a few things God revealed to me about intimacy:

  • God created us to be intimate with him and with others. My friend told me that being fully known by God should be enough for me. However, that’s not entirely true nor is it Biblical. God created us to be relational beings; if He had just wanted us to depend solely on Him, then He never would have said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). He saw that the animals were paired up, and, not finding a suitable helper for man among them, He created one for Him—woman. So not only were women not created to be alone, but women were created out of man, as a helper specifically for man. God wants us to be intimate with Him, YES—more than anything! But God also wants us to experience intimate relationships with other human beings, both male and female.
  • It takes trust to build intimacy. Though we should put our full and total trust only in the Lord, we have to take chances and trust people as well. This is difficult in a world that seems plastic and fake. I think sometimes it is easier for me to put all my “stuff” out on the Internet to see than it is to confess it to friends. And for many, it is easier to be physically naked with someone through sex than it is to be emotionally and spiritually naked with them by confiding in them. But we have to change that thought process. God is showing me daily that the more I trust Him with my heart (Proverbs 3:5), the easier it is to trust people who will disappoint or hurt me—and vice versa.
  • It takes time to build intimacy. Intimacy isn’t formed overnight. Too often, we enter into relationships with others and expect intimacy before we have actually taken the time to develop it. I believe this is one of the reasons why it is so important to be friends with someone before you date or marry them. When you spend time with others outside of the bedroom, you get to know their feelings, their dreams, their visions, their fears. It is in sharing these things that intimacy is cultivated. True, godly friendships encourage intimacy, and true, godly intimacy occurs over time…time spent with others and time spent with God.

As my pastor pointed out, you cannot have sex without intimacy (which we will discuss later this week). But you can grow in the area of intimacy without having sex. It begins with a willingness to trust and spend quality time with others—and God.

How can you practice being spiritually and emotionally intimate in godly ways this week?

The Struggle Is Real: Community Calls

I had attended church my entire life. I had known Christian community—I had close friends in college, I had worked in the church forever…and yet I was still struggling with issues related to a pornography addiction I had years earlier. I knew that to get the healing I needed, I had to find true, authentic community. And I knew I couldn’t find that on Facebook, Twitter, or social media. Instead, I had to step away from the computer and boldly into a place where I could find the face-to-face accountability that I needed to move forward out of addiction.

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image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

These days, it is easy to “find” community online—to say that we are talking to others, relating to others, and being honest with others because we are connecting with others through social media. But putting all my “junk” into an online forum, staying behind a computer screen, and remaining anonymous and “unknown” were not the things that helped me find health and healing. Instead, I began attending Celebrate Recovery at a local church, where I joined a small group step study designed for intimate community and intricate healing.

Here are three reasons why it’s important for women who are struggling with pornography and sexual addiction to find real, face-to-face community with other believers:

  • Community breeds vulnerability. You’ve noticed it yourself: you’re not likely to confess yourself to a bunch of strangers (unless it’s online). You build trust and relationships by spending time with others—and you have to do that to build community. In person, you want to find someone who you know well and can trust with your deepest darkest secrets. This is one reason the Bible encourages us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Spending quality time with other believers regularly is an important step in dealing with our struggles.
  • Vulnerability leads to confession. The more time you spend with others, the more you will want to share with them. As I went through my Celebrate Recovery step study, I began to trust the women who were there. At the beginning, it was hard to “go first” in sharing our secrets and pain—there is always some hesitation in going first or sharing at all. But by the end of our ten months together, we were freely sharing all of our struggles with each other. So don’t just find community, allow yourselves to be vulnerable in your community—because this will breed an authentic atmosphere where confession flows freely.
  • Confession brings healing. Upon graduating from our step study program, we wrote notes of encouragement for each of our study members. One of my study members wrote to me, “You shared your struggles with brutal honesty—and that is why the healing is so strong.” I have kept that in mind as I’ve continued to share my struggles and pain with my Christian community. Confession always leads to healing; how much we confess will determine the amount of healing we experience. I have quoted James 5:16 many times on my blog, but here it is again, because it is such an important verse: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.” The Bible is right: true healing requires confession.

Finding community and staying in community can be difficult because any community contains sinful humans. But the Bible encourages us to stay in community with others—not just because it teaches us to love others more, but because of the healing we can receive in the process. Authentic, Christian community is calling you: will you answer?

How has being in community helped you to be more authentic about your struggles?