that ONE blog about church

Remember how I wrote a blog about not going to church and it blew up? It took me quite by surprise. It resonated with most people; others thought I was being prideful. Maybe I was, I won’t deny that possibility.

I’ve been waiting for the right moment to write a follow up to this controversial blog about a missionary who doesn’t go to church. And last night it may have come.

A friend asked me what I would say that my ‘calling’ is in a few sentences. And whenever I think about my calling, I think about what aspect of the world I am not okay with. And the consistent theme that I have found to not be okay with is for Christians to live like slaves or prisoners when Christ died to set them completely and fully free. It’s not okay for sons and daughters to live as orphans, and for the church to continue to believe that they are unworthy beggars in the kingdom of God rather than a redeemed people who have received an inheritance of sonship, royalty and dominion so that they might change the world.

My friend so kindly and bluntly responded, “It’s interesting that you are called to the church and yet you don’t go to church.”

Ha! All I could do was laugh. She is right.

It’s not hard to teach someone in a remote village a brand new concept about being loved and valued. It’s a little bit more of a challenge to show someone in the American church that this God living in the clouds that they have heard about their entire lives actually loves them without expecting anything in return…that he just loves them because he loves them. Because that’s who he is in his very nature.

But as I have heard more often than not recently, easier is not better.

So my conclusion is this: if I am not okay with this (you fill in the blank)…then what am I going to do about it? For me, I think the answer is pure, unconditional relationship without agenda.  Loving the church with the love that shakes down walls and displaces fear. And stepping into really uncomfortable, undesirable places for the sake of freedom. Even if that place is a really boring church service.

As the Persian poet, Hafiz writes…may I not be the small man building cages, but may I be a mature woman of sound judgment dropping keys of freedom all throughout the night for those who are daily living in bondage.

“The small man

Builds cages for everyone

He

Knows

While the sage

Who has to duck his head

When the moon is low,

Keeps dropping keys all night long

For the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners.”

Space for Faith

I’ve been asking some questions lately…

Specifically one that was inspired by a Tuesday night Bible study with Caroline Schandel. Does faith have any place to land in my life?  There was a time when I determined to only live for the impossible things.  I wrote a blog about it and even dared to say this…

“I have come to the realization and confession before Almighty God that I do not care if I am not in control, or if I cannot see one step in front of me.  I do not care if everything around me seems impossibleI want the highest that God has for me.  I want to live in such a place that if God does not show up, I will fall flat on my face because I am so inadequate without him.  I want the kind of faith that puts all of my weight on God’s promises and watches his faithfulness carry me through all things.”

It’s easy to believe this and be so fired up about this in the moment and on the mountain top.  It’s tested when you’re in the valleys and surrounded by increasing uncertainty, questions and practicality.

Can I really have faith for something without escaping the responsibility of life?

Because I don’t think that sitting around, doing nothing proves a higher level of faith. I think that faith is actually proved in the risk and the trials. Those who are willing to face the fear, try and fail, and explore the unknown are walking in more faith than those who are unsure about the future but just sitting around and waiting for signs in the sky about their destiny.

Caroline made the point that just like the disciples in Mark 13, we often want the ‘what and when’ questions answered because it makes us feel safe, but Jesus doesn’t answer their questions in the way they expect so that he can protect the space for faith in their lives. If we knew all the answers or lived off of clear signs from God, where would faith and trust play into our journey? Even worse, where would relationship play into it? Anyone can follow signs. But I would guess that Jesus is more concerned with trust and faith.

So what I am getting at is that I still want to ask God for the highest! I’ve been reminded again and again that this is what I want, even when it requires more of me. And I am learning how to make the space for faith in my life and believing for the absolute best!

In Constant Need

Right after I came back from Thailand, I had moved into a new house with new and old roommates and jumped back into my life in Gainesville, GA.  But something was different.  I felt as though I had gained some much needed perspective in Thailand, and because of that I was internally processing a lot.  (not a normal practice for me)

When I do get into that mode of internally processing, I tend to shut out everyone around me that doesn’t understand what’s inside my head.  That meant my roommates, who are also my friends and co-workers. This went on for two weeks.  I began to feel isolated and alone.  Rejection and bitterness were hanging around like long lost friends. I felt very misunderstood and irritated at everyone around me. I was distant and short with people. I had extreme mood swings that I hadn’t experienced since I was in college, and finally I broke.

I felt defeated, embarrassed, frustrated.  And all I could do was talk to God and make decisions with my head, completely void of emotion, hoping my heart would follow.  Decisions like forgiveness and repentance.

One day I woke up and the day was different.  I had clarity and I wasn’t irritable and I wasn’t rejecting out of fear of being rejected. I walked into Monday morning worship feeling alive and free. I had somehow wrestled some nasty demons down with the grace of God.  And I realized during worship that sometimes, that’s what life looks like.  An exhausting, frustrating wresting match with the demons that seem to feed off your misery.

I was about to share this revelation with the group, when someone else went up.  They started talking about victory and how the battle is finished and we have already won and we’re already free. And so I sat back down…not out of condemnation or fear, i just pondered the paradox that I was hearing.

Do we already have victory?  Are all our demons already defeated?  Do we still wrestle down demons like I had just experienced? Does the enemy sometimes prevail over us for a time?

I think the answer is yes. Yes to all of these questions at the same time.

In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning says, “The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me.”

That is definitely me…the one who is often unloving, irritable, angry and resentful toward those closest to me. And then I am shocked and embarrassed when they see that I’m not perfect all the time. Only those closest to me actually see the clearest picture of the real me. The flawed, imperfect, incredibly desperate follower of Jesus in constant need of him.

I can find it hard give myself grace when my heart and my actions do not match up.  I put such high standards on myself. And I get broken as I can’t live up to them, because as a ‘new creation’ who walks in victory, I should be able to. right?

But if I could just live in the broken and humble place, daily recognizing my need of Him and his grace…maybe I wouldn’t get so upset over my shortcomings and mood swings.

Thank you God for taking me just as I am: prideful, irritable and all.  Thank you for giving me victory 2000 years ago when you defeated death once and for all.  And thank you that I still wrestle down demons.  Thank you that I am not perfect.  Thank you for my need.

“The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced.” -C. S. Lewis

Reignite HOPE

Hope and pain are not meant to be separated.  It is in the most painful, seemingly hopeless places that true hope is found. In America, we are so hopeless because we avoid pain. At all costs, we run away from the slightest chance of discomfort. We then find comfort in the hopelessness because we have sheltered ourselves from all suffering. And when suffering is thrust upon us, we blame god thinking that he couldn’t let this pain happen if he really loved us.  That just sounds and smells like the serpent.
A girl on H squad made this comment when praying about worship and feeling other people’s burdens…God told me, ‘I love you like I love my Son, but look how I use my Son.’
Jesus was a man of sorrows. He ONLY did what he saw the Father doing and ONLY said what he heard him saying. Yet, he encountered insurmountable pain and suffering.
What if the hope that you are searching for isn’t found in ease or comfort? What if its not found in a husband? Or in success and money and ‘security’? But maybe it’s found in the pain. Maybe it flourishes in the real life and death circumstances.
Bill Johnson says this, “Our culture is designed to avoid pain. In the kingdom, instead of avoiding pain you move to it because you live with the need to be exposed to human need.  I can’t afford to be insulated from pain, pain is where greatness is drawn from.”
And so I hear the stories of boys who have been abandoned and live on the streets in Honduras, and something stirs.  I watch a movie about the reality of sex trafficking of CHILDREN in Cambodia, and I feel it again. This pang. This aching.
I have to be honest, there is a temptation to push those feelings away. Because they are not nice feelings.  Sometimes I do ignore the pain; I just don’t know if I can bear it. But I’m realizing more and more that I can’t afford to be ignorant or indifferent.
The power of HOPE and greatness are birthed in pain. So I am asking The Lord to draw me to the pain and to give me the strength to see and feel the suffering of this world. I live in a kingdom that goes against the grain of this world, but its a strong current. And in that kingdom, the ones who mourn are comforted, the ones who hunger are satisfied, those who are meek (defined as tame obedience) will inherit the earth.
Come one, come all into the right side up, forward thinking Kingdom, leaving behind this backwards way of life.   We were made to live this way. Press into the pain. Discover true life. Experience this unwavering hope.

Is LOVE all vanity?

I have been wandering quite a bit lately.  And to be honest, wandering while self-focused.  With all the Valentine’s day activity and with the extra desire for love that has come with my 26th year, I’ve gotten a little carried away.

And tonight I had a thought about Solomon.  How is it that such a wise man, with a heart so passionate that God would use his love story as an allegory of his love for the church, would say ‘everything that is done under the sun is vanity and a striving after the wind?’ Was his pursuit of the woman he writes about in Song of Songs all vanity?  Was all the good he accomplished as king pointless?

In focusing on myself so much, I have seen things around me become meaningless.  And even in my desires to meet someone and start a different season of life, I realize that I have been living in vanity, futility, emptiness.  How depressing!  No wonder I struggle with contentment.

If I could get my eyes off myself long enough, I might actually feel some purpose and the devil’s cover would be blown.  If he can keep me distracted with myself, how can I have time to pray for, serve and focus on others?

I think that maybe Solomon wasn’t satisfied at the end of his life because it had become so much more about himself rather than others.  Mike Paschall wrote a great blog for today (the day after V-day) about sowing love rather than just being bummed about not being in a romantic relationship.

I am thinking that this is the key.

Not learning how to flirt, or being proactive about singleness, or signing up for Grouper.  But sowing love into others.  Taking the focus off of myself and choosing to listen for whatever God has for me today.

Yes, I desperately want to go on a date.  And I would love for someone to be interested in me and find me fascinating…who wouldn’t?  But I also think that I am not going to focus on that too much and rather meet new people for the sake of sowing love and service into those around me.

Or at least I’m going try…we’ll see how it goes.

Whatever it takes

One of the common themes of my life, and that I could preach about 100 times and it would never get old, is the theme of VIRTUE.  And the journey that I have had to always become more and more of a woman of virtue.

Two years ago, I started writing down the type of woman I wanted to be.  I made decisions.  I would articulate what was most important to me and I determined within myself to do whatever it would take to live by these virtues at all costs.

Last week, I was thinking about this again. And it felt like my old list of virtues were somewhat distant and outdated. It felt like what I had decided two years ago had become so much a part of me, that I almost forgot how to be daily aware of these things.  So I made a new list.  It probably has the same heartbeat as my old list, but with fresh revelation and reminder to what I value.

 

photo

 

Literally the next day after I wrote this list, I was presented with the opportunity to live it out. Particularly, number four: I want to NOT be afraid to give feedback to those closest to me. (which was probably more about receiving feedback from those closest to me)

God began stirring some things up in my spirit at a Bible study and while I had no idea what was going on inside of me, it led to some incredible breakthrough with one of my closest friends.  My sporadic verbal processing caused us to be honest and real with each other.  We sat in the parking lot of our apartment for about 30 minutes talking, crying (just me), and praying.

We gave each other the permission to say what we really see.  We allowed room for much needed perspective so that we could reach depths of friendship rather than living in shallow proximity. You can live with someone and do life with someone, without ever letting them see you.  And what a loss that would be.

And so I am an advocate for everyone to know what is important to them, and to make a decision to live those things out.  But be prepared for it to come to you in an unexpected, possibly messy, unorthodox way. I will be so bold as to say that it will be worth it.

So that at the end of your life, that which matters most to you will be what people remember.

Song of Victory

Tonight, I’m inspired.

Sadly it has been a little too long since the last time I was inspired. To be honest, it has been a little too long since I have done anything that really gave me life. It’s been too long since I last released and expressed the KINGDOM that lives inside of me. Since I last lived FULLY and FREELY in who I was made to be.

Yesterday, we ended a long workday with a two hour meeting. About halfway through, I was checked out and felt like I could have lost my mind. The meeting consisted of one thing after another that was being added to my job description. Details, logistics, processes, data…blah blah blah. Maybe now you can see why I checked out (and almost screamed).

I came home heavy and completely empty. I’m tired of operating out of my weaknesses. I’m sick of feeling like what I was made for is NOT the majority nor the priority of my job any longer. And the worst part was that I couldn’t feel God, I couldn’t hear clearly, I didn’t know where to go from here…I reached another end of my rope. (it seems there are several of those)

TODAY was different. Something rose up in me. Something supernatural happened in my spirit that couldn’t sit back and watch, but had to fight. I still don’t know what the Lord will speak to me about my job and my direction, but today my vision got a little clearer. Today I decided to dance on the chains of my circumstance, walk on the waves of the storm. Today I decided to sing out loud, and let my voice be heard with the song of victory.

It left me inspired to write, to believe, to hope…which is so much better than leaving me heavy, empty and lifeless. Where God will take me, I have no idea…but whatever is before me (details, logistics and all), HE is so worth it. I just want to be with HIM.

On the shores of my soul, I give you permission, to wash my tears away. Take all my disappointment, and fill me with joy once again.

I’m gonna sing out loud and let my voice be heard. It’s the song of victory. And it’s ringing in the earth.

On the top of my cage, I am sitting. Above the shame so lonely. Your kindness, it has lifted me to see the way that you see.

I’m gonna SING OUT LOUD and let my voice be heard. It’s the song of victory. And it’s ringing in the earth. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Crying at IHOP

A couple days ago I sat in IHOP crying with my friend, Lindsay Nelson.  In the south, it’s the only decent brunch place open on a Sunday. I can’t say I was too embarrassed because crying in public places has become somewhat normal for me lately.

Lindsay lives in San Francisco and I’m in Georgia…we couldn’t be farther apart.  But our souls are knit together and that Sunday morning, we laughed and cried over an average cup of coffee and bomb pancakes.

I’ve known her almost two years now and she has completely changed my life. Through my friendship with her, I have learned so much more about the extravagant love in God’s heart for me.

April 17th I wrote this in my journal,

“I’m trying to think why Lindsay activates me and makes me come alive more than anyone else. I think it’s because she just loves so well.  Her love for me makes me come alive. And she truly believes in me. Even when I mess up or don’t live out who I am – she still believes in me, and it makes me want to be better. It puts a demand on me like nothing else can. Real Love.”

When I only get to see her twice a year, I easily forget this. And my tears in IHOP were once again caused by her love and thoughtfulness that is ultimately inspired by the unfathomable love of God.

Ever since I have known her, she has preferred me.  She gives me the front seat.  She gives me the bottom bunk. She lets me go first. She gives me the booth while she takes the chair. She takes out my silverware and covers my coffee with the napkin to keep it warm. She is so thoughtful and she serves me because she loves me. She enjoys it and she says, “It’s so easy!”

Then I started to think about God.

He has been reaffirming me lately that I am lovable because of who I am and not what I can do. He had been speaking so much the last week about how he loves that I teach and that I’m prophetic, but that’s not why he loves me and it’s not who I am. He was telling me again that he loves me because he loves me. And I am lovable because he chooses to love me.

As I sat with Lindsay at brunch, God began to tell me that, like Lindsay, he loves to prefer me and he wants to serve me.  In our friendship, he wants to put me first. He can’t help but serve me because he loves me and it actually brings him joy. I wept as I sat in the goodness of God’s love and kindness. I was humbled beyond words. That he would go out of his way to make my day. That he would do whatever it takes to show me love, even the little things that so often go unnoticed. He is consistent in them. He is not driven by obligation or need but only by desire.

And I couldn’t help but give back my love to such an amazing God. That Sunday morning, I worshipped God, not in church but in the middle of IHOP. Crying and all.

adventure

I found some great notecards in the dollar spot at Michael’s one day.  On the front there was a picture of an old vintage-looking suitcase and beneath it was the word, ADVENTURE.

I ended up giving the notecards to my roommate, but kept one for my journal.  I was finishing up this journal and needed something to end it well.  I have a belief that my journals often represent seasons in my life, so when I end one or start a new one, I like to find the symbolism in the season.

I took an ADVENTURE notecard and decided to write whatever the Lord would speak to me about the closing out of that season.  This was around the end of June.  I pasted it on the last page, closed the journal, and moved onto a new one.

Tonight I felt compelled to pick up this old journal and read that little note from God.  I had forgotten that I had even done that…(I might have terrible short term memory).  What he had told me blew me away.  And spoke to me more now then it did then.  This is what he said:

bethany,

never lose sight of the adventure, the risks, the things that make life full and exciting.  from this season, take with you courage.  take with you character.  i’m doing a new thing and you can only afford to bring the essentials.  do not carry what you don’t need.  don’t pack what only adds weight, but sort out the treasures birthed in this last season. dig deep to find them and bring them with you. don’t move on without them; you will need them. squeeze every ounce out of this season, but when it’s time to leave – be ready to say goodbye. and follow me into the wind.

~your beloved

A dream is a dream

Recent revelation:  a dream is a dream.

Deep, right?

Everyone is talking about dreams lately.  Dreaming with God.  Kingdom dreams.  Dream big.  And yet, I’ve never really had a desire to dream.  I didn’t feel the freedom to wish or hope for something that wasn’t realistic.  I also didn’t want to conjure up some great dream of justice, that would look good on paper but not give me any life.  And so I didn’t let myself dream.  I didn’t let myself test the waters of impossibility or push the limits of reality.

But dreams don’t make sense.  And dreams are hopeful and wild.  Dreams think beyond what is possible and practical.  And so that’s what a dream is…a dream!

If I were to list out everything I dream about, you might think that I am a little naive or immature. But after talking with my friend and hearing her stories of God giving her dreams that are coming true, I want to try.  And I want to step outside of the box of what a “dream” is supposed to look like and begin exploring what I want.

So, here’s my list.  Judge me if you want, but after all I’m just dreaming…

I don’t want the 9-5 life.

I want my family to all live in the same city.

I want to focus my energy and life into raising a family.

I want to minister to the Lord in worship as my job.

I want to have a 24 hour prayer house, or live in one.

I want to have nice things…a beautiful house, a new car, clothes.

I want my own garden.

I want to see revival, and I want to be a part of it.

I want to influence nations for love, peace, and unity.

I don’t want business as usual.

I want a big yard with big dogs!

I want to travel often.

…many people may read this and think, “you can’t have it all!”  But today I’m starting to believe that my God is extravagant.  And I’m starting to believe that he has more for me than I can ask or think or imagine.  And I’m starting to believe that nothing is impossible.

This is not the end of my list.  It’s only the beginning.  And this journey is only the beginning to discovering the goodness of my heavenly father and his extravagant, outrageous, nonsensical love over me!

“The LORD you God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;  he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love;  he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17