“I Quit!”: Knowing When to Leave Your Church

Have you heard about this church that recently opened up? The pastor preaches exciting sermons from scripture that also relate to real-life. If you haven’t been invited to at least three people’s houses for lunch by the end of your first day visiting, then you went to the wrong church. The Holy Spirit moves every worship service led by a team of heartfelt Christians who meet at 5:00am every morning to practice. Each service, you are guaranteed to hear at least three sentences from God. The children’s program is amazing, the youth and college age groups are spectacular and heavily involved in outreaches, and the singles group guarantees a godly match within two years of attendance. No one has been unfaithful, lied, stolen or had a baby out of wedlock, and everyone knows how to talk charismatically and educationally about abortion, homosexuality and Obama. And no one says bad words.
           
Sound like a good place? Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t exist. Sure, many churches strive to be many of the things mentioned above, but the reality is a church will never be perfect, so how do we know when to forgive and when to pick up and leave? Let’s unpack that answer with a story.
 
For the past four years I have not been a consistent member of any church as I have been hurt, dissatisfied, bored, unchallenged and to be honest, jaded. As soon as I began to feel restless, I packed up my Bible and pile of church bulletins and left to find the next place with a fresh crop of potential friends. After a while, I was prepared for disappointment and adept at avoiding something very important: the opportunity to forgive, or better yet, be forgiven. I’ve been afraid to set down roots because I know that the honeymoon phase of my new church will eventually fade as I learn no one is perfect (including myself) and everyone needs to be forgiven even when they don’t ask for it (including myself). So what do we do when the church throws us lemons? Do we come up with a metaphor to make ourselves feel better even though it doesn’t really make any sense? No. Fruit is not the answer to life’s problems.
 
Instead, I will offer a couple of tips relating to three types of scenarios.
 
1.      Personality: You are the type of person who likes to hike in the open air, race down a river at night (very fun, by the way), and go to the gym. However, the people attending your church do activities like winetasting, classical ballet recitals, and gathering together to watch the next episode of The Bachelor. Consider looking for a church where you find at least a couple people who share your passions. The secret: You can find a kindred spirit at most churches, but you will have to talk to people. Also, bring up those topics on your own because people will most likely just talk about the sermon, the past week, and the coffee. If you can’t find anyone, make someone go with you on your adventures or try something new. Ballet recitals are actually quite enjoyable.
2.      Doctrine: This is tricky for people who have deeply held beliefs about how church should be done. There will always be disagreements about how to interpret scripture and expectations for Christians. Just remember: forgive, forgive, forgive. If God told you to come to a church where you disagree with some of the pastor’s messages, forgive that person even though they are going to say the same thing again next week and the week after (it’s a five-week series after all). Many things are little and have no real impact on the heart of God’s message. Other things are huge and totally erroneous. If that is the case, you may be involved in a cult, and I would say get out as soon as you can. I have friends who can testify.
3.      People: Ideally, people should not be the reason you leave a church. They should be the reason you stay because people are the Church. This is where forgiveness comes in. The secret: you may have to be the only one asking for forgiveness, but seriously. . . people love it when you ask forgiveness. It shows humility and strength. It means you can face a wrong and make it right.
 
In the end, it all comes down to the individual. Are we dissatisfied because of the worship and the use of an overhead projector when all other churches have upgraded to power point? If that is the case, think about your priorities. Besides the obvious point that God is the core of our spiritual life, people are a necessity. We need human interaction. The service lasts one hour and a half. Church could last all week as you make connections with people. Unfortunately, people aren’t perfect. If your decision to leave a church is based on the imperfections of others, ask yourself if you are being unreasonable or unforgiving. If we cannot forgive the church, then we will always be searching. And we will always be very, very hungry.
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Rights, Benefits, Perks and . . . Totally Undeserved Blessings

Campaign commercials.

What did you feel after reading that phrase? Maybe you felt happy, generous or positive. But more than likely, something turned in your stomach, you rolled your eyes, and your dog yelped and ran out of the room. Well, you’re not alone! Why do we feel this way? Aren’t we simply learning about the candidates? No . . . we feel this way because we learn very little about them; rather we learn every negative detail about their opponent. You might hear something like this: “In 2008, Mr. Jones did NOT vote in favor of women’s rights. Do you really want him as your senator? American women deserve this and that.” Or you might hear something like this: “Don’t vote for Miss Smith! She wants to infringe upon our rights as a working class by raising this and cutting that . . .”

The candidates want to sell themselves to us so that we vote for them. They pull on our desires to want certain liberties, more perks, and certainly more freebees. They’ll talk about things like oil and Lybia in their debates, but in commercials they tend to focus on the topics that immediately and more directly impact us, such as taxes and medical benefits.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this change I have observed in Americans during the course of my lifetime so far.

When I was a little girl I remember my dad being a very hard worker to provide for our family. My parents were frugal and did not spend money they didn’t have. They paid taxes and tithed faithfully. Back then, if someone got a new job, people would ask, “Do you get medical benefits? . . . Oh that’s great!” Now people say, “What!? You don’t get medical benefits? Isn’t that illegal? You should sue! They have to give it to you. You deserve it!” What was once a privilege has become a right to the American culture.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of medical benefits. Our nation can only benefit from encouraging a healthy society. However, once we begin to demand that we have a right to additional perks like free optional medications, we are on a slippery slope of an entire generation believing that they deserve just about anything from the government (and by government, I mean a combination of the tax money of the American people as well as money borrowed from China). We were once ecstatic over the benefit of health care insurance, now we are demanding more. We were amazed at low co-pays, now we demand more completely free perks!

Society screams so loudly that we should have what we want, how we want it, when we want it . . . and that we deserve it. We have to be careful what we believe.

Because of my faith in Jesus, and because of the undeserved grace He has given to us (not to mention that he is our creator and the giver of life), I actually don’t believe that we necessarily deserve anything. We didn’t deserve to have our sins taken from us. Jesus didn’t deserve to have the sins of the world placed on His shoulders in exchange for His righteousness imparted to us. These are totally undeserved blessings. These truths should move us toward a more generous response, not a more entitled response. That gift was ultimate and could never be taken away or increased.

So, does this mean we should not have rights as Americans? Certainly not! Many, many years ago, our Founding Fathers broke their backs to form a one-of-a-kind nation with a democracy that would be a beacon to the rest of the world. There was war and bloodshed to acquire the freedoms that we still enjoy today! Even today, we still fight to preserve these rights. God has used these government-provided rights to us for the growth and prosperity of our great nation. I encourage you to really examine these rights that were set in place to preserve justice and our well-being as a nation, and not mistake these costly perks as something we deserve and must have to maintain justice in our nation and our world. Ask God to give you His wisdom as you vote . . . and oh yeah . . . VOTE!

James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (ESV)

Luke 12:48 says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (ESV)

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Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili

As I’ve mentioned before, I love the flavors of fall. Over the weekend, we tailgated with some friends before a major league soccer game. I was trying to decide what to bring and then thought of chili. I tried a new-to-me recipe from Taste of Home magazine that called for sweet potatoes, turkey and black beans. I ended up substituting the turkey for the chorizo.

It was a cool evening, so the chili turned out to be the perfect meal; it even traveled well. We took it out of the crockpot and put it in another bowl. Corn bread was the perfect side (we used Bob’s Red Mill mix). I’ve posted the recipe as we made it, along with the link to the original recipe.

ingredients:

1 lb. ground turkey

1 large onion, diced

3 tbsp tomato paste

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut

1 large green pepper, diced

2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes

2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1.5 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. paprika



directions:

In a large skillet, cook ground turkey and onion over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until turkey is cooked. Transfer meat with slotted spoon to slow cooker.

Stir in tomato paste. Add potatoes, green peppers, tomatoes, beans, stock and spices, stir thoroughly. Cover and cook on low 8 hours, or until potatoes are tender.

((original recipe found here))

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I Choose to See God

For about five seconds on my way to school every morning, I see the goodness and beauty of God.

I know, that sounds harsh, as if the goodness of God is so confined. But Monday through Thursday, I make my sleepy fifteen minute commute to school, and as I coax the four cylinder car up the steep Sierra College Boulevard, there is about a five second window when no houses or trees obstruct my view, and I look out at the valley before me. The green trees are lit aflame in the glow of the morning sunrise and a light mist hovers atop the canopy. I can see houses from about five different cities hiding here and there as they give way to the tall green foothills bowing below the Sierra Nevada mountain range. And I think what a great God I have that created and sustains such a world, who provides these subtle yet spectacular views.

You see, I am one of those people who responds well to the character of God as revealed in nature. I feel closer to God when I’m sitting in a grassy field beneath a tree staring at a brilliant blue sky. Some people find this same kind of inspiration amidst the excitement of a bustling city or in the creation of a cake made from scratch. But for me, it’s the outdoors. So you can imagine why living in a suburb might not exactly meet my inspirational desires. But for about five seconds on my drive to an early morning class, something different, something beautiful reminds me of who my God is.

I have these five seconds because I am learning to intentionally look for them.

About a year ago, they didn’t exist for me. Instead, I would make my way to school anxious for the day to be over, wondering how in the world I could enjoy living where I did, how I could see God in a place where every corner is comprised of shopping centers and housing developments. Amidst a monotonous, lonely and unfulfilling lifestyle, I struggled to find the beauty and goodness of God that I knew, theoretically, was there. My ability to connect with God, had, in essence, become extremely dependent on the condition of my circumstances. And in my opinion, mine was not ideal.

But in the midst of my frustration, I asked questions.

Does God only exist in beautiful places? Is He only there in the midst of good conversations and friends? Do I have to drive to remove myself from people and seas of concrete to be able to spend a meaningful time with my Lord? I knew all of these were untrue, but I had come to rely so much on my environment to determine how I experienced God.

It is true that surroundings and life circumstances can indeed have an influence. As I mentioned before, we all have places and things that we’re, in a sense, wired to connect with in a meaningful way, and those can make us feel closer to God. But it is easy to feel like everything has to be just so in order to have a good “quiet time” or to really experience God.  It is easy when school work needs to get done, and kids need to get fed, to forget our desperate need for God, or find it hard to see Him when everything looks the same day after day.

Basically, I found myself thinking that God, and experiencing Him, was supposed to look a certain way, and for me, that “way” just wasn’t happening. I confined God to my feeble limitations and experiences, to the finiteness of the world and my environment. I knew God’s goodness and beauty and revelations were all around me, but I didn’t know how to tap into them. I kind of just prayed that God would show me and expected that things would just pop up, and BAM! revelation and awe and wonder would happen.

But they didn’t. Instead, after a long while of waiting rather impatiently, I discovered that, like many good things in life, seeing God isn’t usually something that just happens. It takes effort on my part. It takes training my eye and focusing my heart and mind and choosing to see the fullness of Him which is all around me, many times in the little, normal things like those five seconds on the way to school.

I think about my brothers and sisters overseas who don’t have the luxury of going on retreats to beautiful places or curling up with a warm blanket and chai tea on a cool morning to experience God better. They languish in prison cells or work tediously in fields day after day and still somehow find a reason to see God as someone worthy to be praised and served. I want to be like that.

I prayed and waited for a while for the goodness of God to be revealed to me. And although I love it when it happens when I least expect it, we must learn to look for ourselves and see the mystery and treasures God has hidden for us to find. It is a muscle that must be exercised not merely for our own benefit, but because God deserves the praise.

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