Church of No Saints

WestboroI’ve never seen such evil as I’ve seen in the church. It’s a sad truth, but looking at my own experiences and the stories featured in the media, I’m amazed at just how much corruption, hatred, and arrogance people in the church put out.

No wonder we live in a society that believes God doesn’t exist while pointing fingers at the hypocrites who can be found in church buildings every Sunday morning. Who would choose to believe in a God whose followers say they love, but spew hate, and whose religious leaders are known more for their corruption and two-faced ways than most political leaders? When I talk to anyone about Jesus these days, I always hear this response: “I don’t need Jesus to be good. I know Christians who are far worse than I am.” And frankly, I see their point.

The church is supposed to be this tender, beautiful thing. Almost like a heaven on earth, where people could go to be accepted, loved, encouraged, and instructed on how to fulfill their ultimate purpose. Everyone in the group is supposed to help each other out. That’s how Jesus lived with his followers, and that’s what he’d dreamed the church to be. But honestly, when I think of those characteristics, I don’t think of the church. Or most Christians.

But there-in lies the beauty of Christ. He forgives us. He loves us despite us not being good. The church is ridiculously messed up, and we have to take responsibility for that. We have to own up to our issues (We’re arrogant! We think we know it all! Our leaders sometimes get big heads and do really horrible stuff! There I said it.) But the church groups that realize how disastrously ill-equipped to be good they are, those are the places where you can see God doing some really cool things.

The whole story of the Bible is love and redemption. It’s God loving some really screwed-up people… people who keep screwing up and apologizing and screwing up again. Jesus doesn’t teach us that we have to be good. Jesus came to show us how incredibly loved we were, despite how good we are, not because of it. And when the magnitude of that kind of love (most people haven’t experienced it in this world) seeps into my life, it helps soften my heart towards other people, making it easier to be good.

So on behalf of the church, I’m sorry. We’re pretty screwed up, I know. But there’s this pretty cool guy, Jesus, who got things right. Please don’t judge him based on the disaster that the church is. Judge him based on who HE is.

The Courage to be Ordinary

Full disclaimer: I know the impact that work in Christian ministry has. I know that God is using my work to touch people’s lives in ways that I will never truly be able to understand.  I know that I’ll never be able to understand the impact I have on others through my conversations and presence in the workplace. I don’t want to diminish what I and others do at ALL because I fully know its eternal worth. But let’s set that aside for just a moment.

I’ve spent my whole life settled in the fact that God was going to do something amazing in my life. Based on the encouragement of my parents, I knew I was smart and could do anything in the world I wanted to do. And from my Bible knowledge, I knew there was nothing that God and I couldn’t do.

When I decided to go into the film industry, I told God that I was going to do amazing things for Him as long as He helped me along the way. I’d be “a light” to my coworkers if God would help me get the job, find merit with my superviser and coworkers, and work up the ranks in Corporate America. And after I’d secured the job at Sony Pictures, I knew my plan was right on track. God seemed to be blessing me as my aspirations turned into reality. Accepting the job and walking in on the first day was daunting, as was learning the ropes of the position and trying to integrate into the corporate culture, but spurred on by my confidence and self-esteem, it was an easy transition. I’d secured a job that 4,000 other people had applied for. I was special, and my presence at Sony Pictures reminded me of that, so I knew that I could tackle anything else that came my way.

But when God called me out of that industry and into full-time ministry at my church, I faced my toughest decision. I had dreams and visions for my life that wouldn’t be possible if I changed careers. I knew the repercussions. Money would be tight, and I’d be working a job that, by any sane person’s standards, was ordinary. I didn’t have ordinary dreams. I hadn’t had an ordinary education. I hadn’t worked so hard in all of my internships to be ordinary.

My father was the first to remind me of this: “I don’t think you needed a $160,000 education to work that job. I don’t think this job was an upgrade.” I knew he meant well. He wanted the best for me, and he still does. His love for me is apparent, and I don’t take it for granted, but each word reminded me that the life I was choosing would be plain. But I took the job.

In a world where bigger and better is glamorized, even in Christianity, it’s hard to lead the simple life talked about in Thessalonians 4:11:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands…”

Many pastors encourage their congregations to do huge things for God, calling them to move past their fears and get out of their comfort zone. God’s been leading me on a journey to overcome my fears, so I know there’s something to the whole “defy your fear and trust God” thing, and I’m not demeaning that in any way. But personally speaking, one of my greatest fears is of being ordinary, plain, unseen, and unrecognized. And if other people were honest, I think most of us share this fear in some way. We all want to matter. We all want to prove exactly how much we can do.

So maybe, sometimes, it takes more courage to be ordinary than amazing. It took more courage for me to use my abilities in a church than in a internationally-known film studio. It’s taking more courage for me to live a life of financial struggles and dependence on God rather than financial ease and independence. It is definitely taking more courage for me to battle my feelings of insignificance than being able to take pride in what I’ve achieved. It’s taken a lot of courage for me to work on changing my standard of success to what God sees my potential being rather than how my dad, professors, and friends, measure success.

I’m 22, and right now my biggest dream is be able to afford car repairs. Then, I want to move into a place of my own… someplace where my actions aren’t dictated by the person who owns the house or apartment. And then I want to get married. Big dreams, huh? No, they’re actually quite plain and ordinary. Simple. But right now they are so far out of reach that they seem like HUGE dreams. It takes a lot of courage to have hope that the impossible will happen despite the circumstances.

So my encouragement to you is this:

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

Muster up the courage to do whatever God is calling you to do, whether it’s to be extraordinary or to be ordinary.

When Honesty Trumps

I’ve been going to the same church for 4 years. If you had asked me 3 months ago how to describe my church, it would have been as follows: It’s a great church, and the worship is phenomenal. We really have some talented musicians. The sermons are short, simple, and geared towards new believers, because they tend to be somewhat superficial. You really have to get into a small group to be challenged and to grow your faith.

I’d never been challenged by my church’s sermons. Every once in a while the pastor would make a good point that served as a reminder, but I never once felt convicted, and I never, ever, felt like the pastor was speaking directly to or about me.

But something happened in my life in November that changed that. God seriously and forcibly began working on my heart. As He broke down my walls I’d built to keep Him and everyone else out, I sat and looked at all of the pieces. He began pointing out my flaws, my struggles, and my sins. The more I embraced ALL of me, including the stuff I’d hidden from myself and other believers, the more I knew I needed God, His mercy, and His daily forgiveness.

I hadn’t realized how that would change my Sunday morning sermon experience, though. The more God worked on my heart, the more the pastor’s simple “new believer” sermons hit home for me. It was like I was a new believer, sitting in church for the first time. I went from getting very little out of his lessons to sitting there, petrified, because it felt like he knew my life story and what I was struggling with at that very moment. He talked about pain, pride and humility, addiction, honesty, and relationships. I could’ve sworn someone had told him. It’s been about three months since my first meltdown, and I still sit there and cry during sermons.

Yesterday’s sermon, titled “Temptation Island” (remind me to link to it when it’s up on the church website), convicted me more than any other sermon I’ve heard in my lifetime. It made me so uncomfortable that I had to resist the urge to get up and walk out of church. That’s saying a lot, especially for someone like myself who’s been a “Christian” and sitting in church for 18 years. I sat there, crying, and thinking to God “This isn’t fair. It’s not fair that you get to do this to me.” But then in the next breath I’m praying “Ok, this is ok. I know I need this. Thank you, I love you, please keep it up.” Talk about a war between the Spirit and the flesh…

With yesterday’s sermon came a small revelation. I never really connected with worship songs or sermons before I was honest to myself about myself. Now, it seems like I fit the bill for every screwed up sinner, duty-fulfilling servant, and grace-abiding child of God that’s mentioned in churches and worship songs. Suddenly I identify with EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. And as much as I hate this roller coaster I’m on, at least it feels real and honest. And I know that even though I can’t see the track, and it’s sometimes dark, I know there’s a light at the end of the the tunnel, and God is in the seat next to me, cradling my heart.