Coming Back to the Heart of Worship

heart of worshipOne of my earliest memories is singing through the huge binders of worship songs that my mom (who was the keyboardist at the church where I grew up) owned. I would go in my room by myself, shut the door, and flip through the hundreds of pages, singing classic ’90s favorites: “There is None Like You”, “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”, “The Heart of Worship”, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” . . . the day I was baptized, one of the worship leaders commented on how I knew the lyrics to more of the songs we sang than anyone else at the church. He was probably right.

Somewhere, there is still a cassette tape of me singing worship songs when I was about four years old. I gave it to my mom, wanting her to give it to my pastor for “Pastor Appreciation Day”. She didn’t end up giving it to him, because it was “too cute” and she wanted to keep it. Every once in a long while, I dig up that cassette tape and listen to my tiny, high-pitched voice sing these praise songs.

When I was four, I didn’t think about the words I was singing. I don’t even remember being cognizant that I was singing these songs to God. But in a way, my childish worship was more honoring to God than the way I sing to Him now. How can that be? Then, I sang out of the pure happiness that music made me feel. I sang because I loved to sing. Now, my mind is clouded with pride and anxiety. I’m trying too hard to be real and vulnerable and sing the words with true desire in my heart, when God just wants me to find the happiness of song again. He wants me to tap back into that childish desire to hum and sing everywhere I go. My former habit of involuntarily humming music at the dinner table was more honoring than the duty-bound drudgery that singing with a congregation every Sunday has become.

To this day at worship gatherings, I’m known as a sort of worship music jukebox: “yeah–Lindsey can play anything!” come the cries of my friends, amazed that I often do not need chord sheets or lyrics for worship songs.

But even though I still remember lyrics and tunes, I’m losing something . . . I’m losing the memory of joy that made me look forward to every worship practice in my living room with my violin-transformed-guitar. I’m losing the desire to lose myself in song for hours and hours. Life and loss has caught up with me, telling me that there is no longer much of a reason to sing except as an expression of groaning desperation for God.

I started to write this blog post with a totally different direction in mind. I was going to talk about the song “Blessed Be Your Name”, particularly the words: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say: blessed be Your Name”, and what that means and how that is possible.

But a small stirring in my heart caused me to remember a time when analyzing the words to worship songs and doubting everything I am singing and being plagued by pride and my own false images of God I’ve created over the years was not a struggle. That’s not to say I was a constantly happy child. Sometimes I think I must have been born with chronic anxiety. I had lots of silly and fun and wonderful moments as a kid, but I have always had an inexplicable underlying melancholy nature; aware of the immense evil and pain in the world. I don’t ever remember being completely carefree.

But when I sang–whether it was worship songs, Disney melodies, or tunes from Phantom of the Opera– I was free, happy and alive.

i could singI want to feel that way again. I want to sing just because I love the way singing makes me feel. Instead of singing at my circumstances, I want to sing irrespective of my circumstances. I want to be lost in the sense of feeling alive, of bubbling from the inside out with the joy of music.

The delighting in God’s creation of melody and lyric and harmony, is more pleasing to Him than the anxiety and self-absorption and attempts and failures at focusing on what we are singing about, that we all tend to bring to worship.

Matthew 21:16 says,

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’

Kids get it. They get it because they don’t care about “getting into it”. They sing truth without thinking about the consequences of that truth. They sing truth without being concerned about their authenticity, their pride, or their failures. They sing with eyes wide open, taking in the massive glory of God with their minuscule lens of life experience.

God help us all to become children again. Help us to come back to the heart of worship.

 

Take Me Back to Egypt!

Numbers 14:1 Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night.Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Dear wandering Israelites,

How quickly you’ve become kindred spirits.

Here in the 21st century, I get to see a full view of your story: beginning, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion. I’ve seen the depths of despair you experienced enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years, clinging onto your faith the only way you knew how: through wailing and weeping. I’ve watched in nervous anticipation as Moses tells you that it is time for deliverance. I understand your cycles of doubt and awe and worship and unbelief as you wander in the wilderness.

Many of you die in your 40-year wilderness of waiting, having seen glimpses of God’s glory, but never fully able to walk into the promised land.

I wonder if your premature deaths parallel the realization of my own longings. My resolve to follow God’s commands is waning and warring with a hope long suppressed. Does God have something good in store for us? My faith is wavering, but who else can I turn to? There is no one greater.

But there is so much danger. God will take care of us . . . in His own way. We may suffer for years and die a terrible death. We may survive and see our deepest desires fulfilled in this life. There are no guarantees. We are only promised God’s presence.

And the question is – can we trust God knows what we need better than we ourselves?

We have only the choice to obey or disobey. The final outcome will remain the same.

Friends, I want to go with you back to Egypt. Yes, we were enslaved, but at least we knew where our next meal was coming from (however meager it was), that we had a place to sleep at night (however uncomfortable it was), and we did not have the burden of freedom weighing on our shoulders, heavier than the largest piles of bricks.

The burden of freedom pulls back the veil to expose the internal war within us all. When we take on the burden of freedom, God will call us to do the impossible. It is only when we step out into seemingly empty air to cross a bottomless canyon that we feel something solid beneath our feet, despite all appearances that we are going to break all the bones in our body if we take one more step.

Hebrews 11:13-16 13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

If you had the context of Hebrews 11, I believe you would still make the same mistakes. I don’t say this to discourage you, only to empathize with you that your rollercoaster of emotions is the pulse of my own life. The pull of self-rule is tempting no matter how many warning signs and caution tape and examples of faith you receive.

Oh, nomadic Israelites, how my heart hurts for you.

Isaiah 54:5-8
5For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Can we believe? With all the context, with the overarching story in view, I will try. But friends, I will fail, just like you . . . as history repeats itself, so will the individual story of the prodigal son. We are all prodigals in our own way, with nothing but a choice to turn away or to turn back. Rinse and repeat.

Homesick for Egypt,
Lindsey

The Beautiful Wishes with a Truth Tree

img_3793“I forgot to show you my story!” my little sister (Big Brothers Big Sisters) shouted from the backseat as we drove to the movie theater for our weekly outing.

“You wrote a story?” I asked, pride swelling. Creativity is one of those things that makes me feel most alive, and seeing this ten-year-old girl get so excited about writing made me ridiculously happy.

“Yeah! But I forgot to bring it.”

“What’s it about?” I asked, intrigued.

“Um, I don’t know, I forget.” Undeterred, I waited for her response. “I forget” is her stock answer to a lot of questions, but if you are patient, she tends to inexplicably “remember”

. . . sure enough . . .

“It’s about a wishing tree,” she said, matter-of-factly.

My grin widened. It sounded like something I would have written at her age. “A wishing tree? That sounds awesome.”

When we returned from the theater, my little sis immediately retrieved her story and gave it to me to read. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation. I read with appropriate enthusiasm.

The story is about a girl named Sharlett and her brother Jeff who discover a wishing tree in their backyard. The tree has only six wishes and each time a wish is made a leaf falls off. When the last leaf falls, the tree dies, and there are no more wishes. Sharlett, Jeff, and her parents quickly go through five of the wishes, but when Sharlett and Jeff realize that there is only one wish left, they try to distract their parents while crafting a plan to keep the last wish on the tree. Despite much deception and trickery from the kids, the mom eventually finds out that the kids moved the tree out of their backyard so that their parents would not use the last wish.

The story ends with a poignant truth:

Mom said, “All the kids come in the house.” She said, “it doesn’t matter if the tree was gone, but tell me the truth.”

Recently, I have discovered what seems to be one of my most precious “wishes” in this life. I have done everything I can to keep my wishing tree alive, including deception and hiding.

“I’m less concerned about what you choose to do, and more interested in what the motives are behind your actions. Help me understand,” said my counselor one evening when I was particularly distressed about what seemed to me to be a strong desire to abandon what God wanted for me and go my own way. Her words disarmed me. Here was someone who simply wanted to understand me. Here was someone who was not panicked or worried about what decision I was going to make. She just wanted my vulnerability.

Maybe a week later, I had decided to tell another couple of friends a little about the difficult counseling journey I have been walking through, so that they would be able to pray for me more specifically. As I drove home that evening, though I knew the war was (and is now, too) far from over, I felt, rather than heard the words seep into my heart and spirit with sudden conviction:

“I’m proud of you.”

I immediately burst into tears right there on the interstate, because I knew I had and have been idolizing something above my God. I have acted in rebellion and have cursed Him. My trust in His goodness continues to be unstable.

And yet, here was the Savior of my soul, to whom no past, present, or future thought, action, word, or emotion of mine is hidden, reassuring me that He was proud of me.

Could it be that our God values us coming to Him in the messy honesty of our brokenness more than He appreciates begrudging obedience? Could it be that I can follow God and be angry with Him at the same time?  Perhaps the Christian life is more about running to God’s grace and love and less about walking in inexplicable contentment than I once believed.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17

Maybe God is not overly concerned about what we do with our wishing trees. That doesn’t mean that everything is relative. Our actions matter. Our decisions matter. But in the overarching story, our actions will not ultimately hinder His plan of redemption, and God has always been more concerned with the heart than the hypocrite’s righteous deeds.

Maybe God is saying to you and to me:

“It doesn’t matter if the tree was gone, but tell me the truth.” 

Room at the Table for the Ungrateful

We finally had too many ornaments to put on the tree this year. The family tradition is to decorate the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Since 1998, my dad has given my sister and I each a blown-glass ornament that usually represents something significant from the past year. Mom, not one to be left out in the fun, joined in the tradition a year or two later, and we have been lavished with beautiful ornaments for the past 18 years.

This year, for the first time, we took some of our sparkling glass memories with us to decorate a tree in Nashville. A few random puzzle pieces of my life glitter on display. There’s the piñata that represents my love of all things Mexico. A tiger cub balances on a high branch, indicating my love of animals (especially cute baby ones). A s’more snowman wearing a cabbie hat and sporting an Irish flag hearkens to my study abroad trip in Ireland. Snoopy and Woodstock rock out with electric guitars (they
would actually play music, if I changed the batteries).

Typically, I get pretty excited about Christmas. This year, my attitude towards it has been borderline Scrooge. I never listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, but I found myself wanting to skip the music entirely for a year (an impossible goal). My excuse was that I wanted to be able to appreciate the holiday classics more when I finally heard them again the next year. But really, though I’ve already been swept into the Christmas cheer by default, I am not ready for Christmas. My heart is not ready for all of the joy.

I wonder, is there room at the table for me?

My list of things to be thankful for are countless. Just glancing at the three-foot Christmas tree reminds me of some of my blessings. Not to mention the greatest gift of all: God become man to provide a way for an eternal place at His table.

But this year, though there have been poignant, undeniable moments of joy and awe of God’s goodness, has ultimately been one of wrestling, struggle, and doubt. And here I find myself in the midst of the season of expected gratitude.

At church last night, I felt surrounded by people who seemed full of inexplicable joy and peace. I felt a lot of emotions, but joy and peace were not either of them. I sang “Good, Good Father” half-heartedly. I listened to the special solo piece, “He Wants it All”, in bitterness and exasperation that I would never be able to give everything to God, no matter how much effort I put forth. I found myself lamenting that I cannot love Him with my whole heart. If He wants it all, He is going to have to take it by force and how can I praise Him for being a good, good Father if it comes to that? I prayed multiple times last night for my heart to be turned from ungratefulness to worship.

It didn’t happen.

The service continued.

Worry and faith in God cannot abide together, was a main point of the sermon. My frustration increased as a chorus of amen’s followed this statement, because my life has been one permeated with worry. I felt further thrust into an isolated experience. In my reality, worry and faith must abide together. My life has been one of near-constant anxieties. However, my faith has been right there with me through the darkest moments, too. I longed for someone to say from the pulpit: “I worry so often. In fact, I’m worried right now. I’m glad God is with me, but I’m in a lot of pain right now.” That is something to which I could honestly have said “amen“.

Again I wondered, is there a space for me at this table of Christ-followers?

Someone wise once said that comparison is the thief of joy. Yesterday, I unfairly measured myself up to everyone in that sanctuary. I saw all their gratitude and their joy-amidst-pain and metaphorically flung up my hands in despair and had a pity party. By comparing, I not only did a disservice to myself and my own heart. When I unfairly project judgments on people I love and who I know love me, I am sure that my attitude reveals itself in subtle but hurtful ways.

Still, I wonder.

Is there room for the thankless at the table of thanksgiving?
Is there room for the hurting at the table of healing?
Is there room for the worried at the table of trust?

I sure hope so. Because I am thankless, hurting and worried. I am wrestling with God. I am bitter and angry. I am full of sorrow. I don’t want to sing His praises. I don’t want to celebrate His birth. I’m sick of all the the Kingdom of God is bigger than your problems talk. I’m fed up with church-as-school. I need church-as-hospital.

Still, I will come, though I am far from being neatly tied up in a bow of hope and peace. I come to the table because deep down I know what is good for me. I know that I will not find sustenance anywhere else. I decorate the Christmas tree, I sing carols, I sit at church in my judgmental, fearful, angry, bitter, sorrowful and prideful inclinations, because Jesus tells me that yes, there is room for me. Whatever season you find yourself in, Jesus says there is room here for you too.

Holy Collages

 

IMG_3621.JPGToday, a few friends of mine hosted an event called “Vision Quest”. Transport yourself back to middle school, arm yourself with dozens of magazines, scissors, cardboard and glue, add a delightful assortment of breakfast food (and a random serving of magical sweet potato fries), and surround yourself with godly young women who have beautiful hopes and dreams. That was the real-life collage happening as we all cut and pasted, spoke and were silent. Some of us wept and rejoiced in our individual hearts as we saw our longings piecing together into something that echoed of deeper realities.

I have the great sense that today, for four (or more) hours, we were all on holy ground.

These eternal beings that I have come to love as my sisters in Christ, who I am honored to share life with at least for a time in this life and also on the other side of eternity, expressed their hearts imperfectly and IMG_3622.JPGhonestly. We were all wrapped up in visually expressing our own individual stories, but the physical togetherness provided a palpable sense of each of us contributing hope to each others’ lives in meaningful ways.

Though I felt as if I was in soul-therapy heaven, I found myself unable to verbalize even a little of what my own collage meant to me. Ironically, I have the words “a story worth telling” quite prominent on the cardboard representation of my hopes.

Do you believe your story is worth telling?

Do you believe your hopes and longings and pain and joy are all worth pasting into the collage of an insane but beautiful world? I pray you’ll believe it, because:

I want to be touched by your present story and your future dreams, by your brokenness, your strength, and your honesty.

Lately, I’ve made important steps in telling a part of my own story to myself and to a few friends. For a long time, I hid an entire underlying story theme from my own heart because it was far too scary. Bringing it into light is I believe, in some mysterious way, is breaking my heart in order to re-make it into something more whole.

A heart crushed and made whole in a life full of tension and danger. . . what a (painful, exciting, frustrating) adventure! And so, my collage is largely a representation of what I long for my chaotic internal world and slightly less crazy external journey to reflect. They are the things I preach to myself when no one else is around to preach them to me. They are the truths with which I want to embrace God and humanity.

There is much more I could say about the images I chose, but I will leave that for times and places which are more appropriate and helpful and good. For now, I rest in the reality of the shared experience of a humanity who longs for meaning in the madness, and who creates beauty in the midst of an uncertain future.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Four (out of approximately one million) things I have wondered lately:

1. Why am I in the situation I am in?
2. Why do I feel alone?
3. Why am I still awake?
4. Why are there no more Cheez-its? (answer: my sister ate them)

I’m about to tell you a story, without telling you the whole story. The past six months or so, I’ve been going to counseling (I cannot recommend this enough) and have been on an agonizing, confusing, frustrating, eye-opening journey through something I had done my very best to avoid my entire life up to now.

I cannot begin to list off all the resources that have been at my disposal during this ongoing struggle. Books, articles, interviews, podcasts, good friends, counseling, writing songs, writing stories . . . oops, I guess I did try to list them all. Seriously, my mind has been consumed by this journey for months on end.

In sifting through all of these words and trying to piece things together to reach a livable conclusion, I’ve noticed something . . . these resources and people are wonderful and clearly God-given and absolutely imperative to my journey, but I’ve been looking at them the wrong way.

I’ve selfishly been trying to save myself from pain by living vicariously through other peoples’ stories. Instead of accepting all these things primarily as encouragement that I am loved and not alone, I subconsciously count each conversation, songwriting session, testimony, etc. as another piece of armor to shield me from personal pain, as another weapon that I am supposed to use to win the war. What I’m finding is that all this armor and all these weapons I thought would keep me away from experiencing brokenness in my own story has in fact stockpiled into a storage center as large as Yankee stadium (or should I say Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs fans?) that has nearly driven me crazy.cloud-of-witnesses

I take great solace in my cloud of witnesses, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been trying to turn my cloud of witnesses into an army of warriors. But what else are “witnesses” but people who watch you and cheer you on and who testify to the reality of your experience? The most avid fan at a baseball game is not going to suddenly run out into the field during the bottom of the 9th to take their turn at bat. However, witnesses do make a difference! Imagine the World Series without any witnesses…I would think that the players would feel a little discouraged that no one cared to show up. There is SO much more motivation to play well and play hard with so many people cheering you on! My cloud of witnesses encourage me tremendously, but they cannot prevent me from making mistakes and messing up and falling flat on my face. I should not expect myself to do everything perfectly just because I “know better,” just because I am aware of others’ failures and victories.

I must live my own story.

I must accept my own brokenness. I must persevere by looking to Jesus and to the joy set before me that comes from choosing to walk through suffering in order to follow Him.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

Loved

In this 24th year of my life, I’ve decided to go on a journey. Long have I taken up the banner of loving God and others well. Long have I been overwhelmed by a pharisaical burden of doing the right thing, always. Long have I felt (and enjoyed!) my self-worth being bolstered by spending every part of me to give others just a little bit of hope. Long have I lived in agony at the breaking of my self-inflicted impossibly high standards for my own character and actions.

This year, I’m setting the “love God, love others” banner down and exchanging it for one that says, simply, “loved”. Daily, I will try to choose to shift my focus. It’s going to be difficult. I will fall into patterns of legalism. I will fall into traps of temptation. I will forget why I’ve shifted my focus. I will allow myself to fail. I will fall into God’s grace.

Quotefancy-319505-3840x2160You see, I have skipped a very important step in trying so hard to love God and others well. I’ve forgotten (have I ever really known?) how much God adores and delights in me. If my pride knew no bounds and every single thing I did was purely for selfish gain, God’s love for me would be unending. If I was paralyzed and unable to communicate or take care of myself let alone others, God’s love for me would not diminish. If I threw all caution to the winds and indulged in self-destructive desires, God’s love for me would not change. If I cursed Him and made it my mission in life to destroy all belief in Him and I became a tyrannical dictator and killed everyone who stood against me, His love for me would remain unequivocally strong.

This kind of love is CRAZY. I can’t imagine it!

I’ve always known that God has loved me. But, that has never been the focus of my study, my emotions, my life. Imagine everything you do, everything you think about yourself and others, flowing out of the unshakeable trust that you are unconditionally loved by God as you are, were, and will be.

Jesus said that the equally important commandment to loving God is to love others as you love yourself. In an especially honest conversation, a friend reminded me that if I can’t love myself, if I can’t internalize how deeply loved I am by God, there’s no way I can love others well. How do I love myself? By delving deep into the riches of the love that chose me before the universe was born, the love who sticks with me in all my wandering and denying and destroying, the love who gives His life for me and will one day bring me into everlasting joy.

Sidenote: If you’re interested in going on this journey of discovering (or re-discovering) God’s love for you, here’s a great place to start: Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging.

Church Shopping and Community Finding

Definitions:
Big C Church = Christ-followers everywhere
Little c church = community of Christ-followers regularly meeting together

The banner at the top of this page is not mine. Credit to The Axis Church of Nashville.


I almost went to church today.

If I visited one church per week in Nashville, it would take me over 13 years to visit them all. Well, I’m three and a half months in, folks, and I’m already tired. I understand my twenty-something peers a little better now. I understand why you’ve stopped trying to go to church.

I’ve never liked shopping, and this is what all this visiting feels like to me. I examine the colors of worship to see if they match with my idea of what is authentic and humble and excellent. Let’s try on some hats. Does the pastor’s message fit my head just right? And what about those prices… are people truly authentic here or are they trying to sell me something?

And gosh, I’m into the environmentally-friendly, fair trade, stuff, you know? Like is the church spending money on a gluttony of stuff for the insiders or is it really making a difference and forsaking comfort to truly love the insiders and the outsiders? The mission and vision–like a pair of shoes. Do they squeeze my toes so much that I’m uncomfortable or do they leave so much room that I’ll just walk right out of them and not even notice?

Ugh.

I’ve never had this many church options in my life. I went to the same church for 17 years–my parents helped start it. When your parents are that involved, there’s really no other option. And most of the time, I liked it that way. When I went off to college, there were about ten feasible options within driving distance. Easy.

I’d like to blame the gluttony of churches, but that’s really not the problem here.

The fact is, probably at least 500 of the 700 churches here in Nashville are Christ-centered communities of broken believers loving and learning from God, from Jesus, together. That’s all I want.

I was so close to going to church today. I tied the last knot in my shoe, then sat back and my mind wandered. It wandered to places where I’ve found my community. And I realized that my “church” has never been an actual church, or even the people in a church. My church has always been with whom I have lived and shared my life.

This mutual edification, the vulnerability, the together-worship, the pointing each other back towards God, the celebrating . . . has all occurred within the shelter of living together. I realize that my college community experience may be a strange one, but when I lived in such close proximity with 30 girls who were sincerely trying to follow Jesus, it was more difficult not to have real community than it was to share our hearts with one another. And honestly, I think that’s how it should be. And it all started with being thrown together in one living space.

The institution of the modern-day church is a broken one. And it’s a sad but necessary truth that “in the real world” we have to push through the practice of Sunday morning to get to the every day living in Christ. And for new movers to an area, it’s incredibly draining and difficult.

When the church was just getting started, believers lived together, or at least in close proximity (Acts 2). They gave away all their excess of money and things to love one another well (v45). They worshipped together every day, shared precious meals and time with one another (v46). They enjoyed each others’ company and God was so evidently at work in this community of believers (v47).

Community groups, small groups, life groups, whatever you want to call them . . . I think this is where we (meaning the Body of Christ, the Church as a whole) should start. We’ve got the order flip-flopped. In all our haste to try to make people feel safe and noticed-but-not-too-noticed and accepted-but-not-too-accepted, we’ve thrust newcomers into a large crowd of tightly-knit people on Sunday morning. We’re hoping this rather isolating experience will somehow make them feel loved. We’ve automatically made outsiders of the people we are trying to reach.

All this, and what now?

I’m not particularly angry at the 700 churches in Nashville. I am angry about how difficult it is to enter into life-together-community. I knew it would be, stepping out of my close-knit wing at college. Churches have tried so hard to break down barriers. I appreciate the effort. But there is still so much barrier breaking to accomplish. Can we ever manufacture what actual living together can help create?

Why do churches that start out in a house ever leave? Why not expand into other nearby homes instead of creating yet another building that shouts singularity and institution? Why not make the act of daily living together a priority instead of trying to expand, expand, explode?

I’ve probably raised more questions than answers, and this blog post is very long. You’re welcome.

Still, I will think less of church shopping and more of church hoping. And I will maneuver through the awkwardness and the too-many options and the buildings we have created that are shadows of actual living together because I know that at your core, Church, your heart is in the right place. And when I get to your core, I will find that community I long for, a community I miss more and more with each passing day.

It’ s the taste I have had of real Christ-centered community that keeps me on the move. If you have never tasted that kind of community, I have more compassion for you than ever. Please don’t give up on the Church and even on little “c” churches, fellow twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-and-beyond somethings. I know it’s hard. People mess up and hurt you. People try to understand, but don’t. But we’re all just trying to ride the waves of a messed-up world with Jesus as our Navigator. Hang in there, make every effort to enter into a community of Jesus-followers, and you’ll finally see God’s glory shining through the cracks of manmade brokenness.

And it will be worth the wait.

24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25

[[Questions for Us All]]

What does your Christ-following community look like? Are you a part of such a community? Why/why not? Have you given up going to a church? What could be the benefits of not giving up on the Church’s broken efforts of loving you? 

100% Jesus Guaranteed

Preface: I am not at all speaking to cultural Christians in this post. By cultural Christians I mean people who go to church every Sunday because they feel it is their duty and that’s the way they always have. Cultural Christians are fine with the status quo.

Some definitions:
Big C Church = Christ-followers everywhere
Little c church = community of Christ-followers regularly meeting together

Go and make church-goers of all nations.
Go and help others of all nations. 

Somehow, the Body of Christ has got stuck in the middle of these two quasi-biblical sentiments. The older generation bemoans the lack of drawing others inside the church. We young folk cry out that everyone is missing the point: that above all else the church is called to minister to others as Jesus did. 

The disunity is more than fingernails across a chalkboard. It’s splitting us apart, forming the Great Wall of China between generations that, if they joined together, would become an unstoppable force of love. My heart aches from the fact that Satan is using our own team against us. It’s like we’re tackling each other on the football field instead of the opposing team.

Now let me make this clear. I am part of the problem. I am one of those people paradoxically throwing a love tantrum, begging churches to focus outward and upward instead of inward. I am all about service-oriented action and all against growing mold on ourselves sitting in our chairs every Sunday if it’s not spurring us on to Christ-like love for the rest of the week. Am I being too harsh? Probably. And yet, its how I feel. 

No wonder so many of us give up on the “little c” church! No one likes to be immersed in an environment of bitter preferences and my-way-or-the-highway attitudes. It makes me sick, and it makes me more sick that I don’t know how to deal with my own convictions about the mission of little c churches. 

Yet let me tell you why I still go to little c church.

I still believe that the Church can have the furthest-reaching and deepest-rooted impact in our world. Why? Well, Jesus said so, and I consider Him to be a pretty valid source of wisdom. Let’s unpack a few verses where Jesus confirms the mission of the little c church.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:14

Go and make “followers of Jesus” of everyone you know. Now listen, conflicting generations. . . followers of Jesus will probably go to church. Followers of Jesus will also want to help people.

So what’s the first step to make disciples? Bringing people to church or helping people?

Neither! Not even both!

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

Loving one another. This is in the context of Christ-follower to Christ-follower relationships. People see, even scrutinize, little c church behavior. In fact, it’s become quite the hobby in gossip circles worldwide. Are we different from the rest of the world, from the hypocritical Christians at all? Are we even any good at loving each other when we all are in one place for a party about Jesus (aka Sunday mornings,) the One we claims unifies our disparate personalities and preferences?

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Church these days seems more like a social gathering than a preparation for war. I don’t think Jesus really cared how a body of believers looked. Whether they wore pink robes or sang contemporary worship or had communion every week. John the Baptist probably looked like a psychopath covered in camel hair chomping on locusts, so people sure weren’t drawn to him by his appearance! But you know what He was doing? He was making disciples of all nations. He was telling people the story of redemption, the greatest and true-est love story of all.

God looks at the heart. Church, we’ve lost our purpose.

You know what the natural result of loving one another well looks like? It looks like an outpouring, a fountain, a cracked and spilling out levee of love that can’t be held back.  It’s going and making followers of Christ wherever we go because though appearance may make the headlines, in secret, people are drawn to the heart. The result? Church-going Jesus seekers? Sure. Advocates of Jesus love? Sure.

But the result is more and better than we could ever imagine.

So this is a plea to keep going to little c church. The messed-up priorities can end with you. Go and make disciples of all nations. It starts with loving whoever is right in front of you. And I don’t mean love them like a warm fuzzy bear hugging and chatting with them every week, coffee in hand. I guarantee people in your church are hurting. So love them even if it hurts you. Even if it takes away your time, your money, your pride, your comfort. Love is not convenient. Love is sacrificial. Love is radical. The body of believers in your little c church is an extension of your family. If you’re concerned with the oft-mentioned “Great Commission” of Jesus, love your church family well and people will start to notice.

That’s 100% Jesus guaranteed.