When you’re out of time

by Elizabeth

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Eugene Peterson, in his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (which was originally published in 1980), writes: “America does not honor the quiet work that develops spiritual root systems and community stability.”

One sentence. That’s all it is. Yet for me it was flooded with meaning. I’ve always felt myself to be outside of time. I’ve never grasped fashion (NEVER – you can ask my sisters) or been able to keep up with what’s cool, hip, or current. In that predicament, I felt I didn’t belong amongst my peers. And in fact, friends were a rare jewel throughout many of my childhood years.

At the same time, I look back over my life and see the slow development in small, local Churches of Christ, learning Bible verses by heart, studying Biblical and early church history, and thoroughly taking faith into myself. I see my soul woven into other souls – not mostly of my peers but of those both older and younger than me.

It was my parents’ choices that kept me grounded in theology and tethered to church community. It was slow — very slow. And steady: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, every week, for decades. And though we lived in many places, my parents certainly weren’t church hoppers.

Later it was my own unconscious choices that rooted me. I think of how we got married young (so young!) and started volunteering in youth ministry right away. I think of years and years of working side by side in the local church, serving the people right in front of us. And we stayed in those small places. Even when it got hard — and it DID get hard — we stayed.

In some ways ministry has blossomed for me in the past few years, seemingly out of nowhere. But it’s not out of nowhere. It’s the fruit of working in small, local churches for many years, developing a love for people, for “small” ministry, and for the local church, which I believe is the very heartbeat of God.

All this was quiet work, silent work, unseen work, and yet it’s beginning to yield a harvest in my life. I’m beginning to understand how God uses small ministry to prepare His people for a little bit bigger ministry. And I’m beginning to see that if it’s God who roots and grounds us, we can still love, embrace, and be satisfied by that small ministry.

I may be unable to keep current, and America may only honor currentness, but in my square-peg-in-a-round-world life, I see something richer and deeper and more meaningful than fads and fitting in. I see that being out of time, in cooperation with God who is also out of time, and in friendship with His people, isn’t so very obsolete after all.

Further resources on these ideas:

Kelly Hallahan’s “Hidden” blog post

Video discussions on Banning Liebscher’s new book Rooted

You can also read the rest of my Church series here.

When You Stop Loving the Church

by Elizabeth

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I’ve had a life-long love affair with the church of Jesus Christ. Many of you know that. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But. I almost lost my faith in Christ’s blessed church recently. I was disappointed with His people. Disillusioned even. I felt betrayed by the depravity of mankind.

And then.

I sang the Doxology with my teammates. The words of life set in rich, deep harmonies. Ancient truth, ever new.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost

And then.

I sang Hillsong’s “Glory” with my local church. Words I’d never before heard. Words my spirit desperately needed to hear and to proclaim.

Glory to the risen king, glory to the Son, glorious Son
Lift up your heads, open the doors
Let the king of glory come in
And forever be our God

And then.

I remembered the words of Psalm 29, words that my husband had read aloud earlier that day.

The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In His Temple everyone shouts “Glory!”

And then.

It all came rushing back to me. All along, it’s been CHRIST. Christ is the reason I believed in His church in the first place. Because of Him, and not because of His people.

We are His because of Him, and because of Him, He is our God. Never because of us. For as we used to sing in youth group,

My only hope is You, Jesus
My only hope is You
From early in the morning till late at night
My only hope is You

Human beings were never worthy of my hope. My only hope is in God, and when we’re in God’s Temple, we all cry Glory! Even the believers who disillusion me.

And then.

I remembered more. Standing there with my hands lifted as high to the sky as I could reach, I remembered standing in that same position last year, shouting out Hillsong’s “The Creed” with a shattered heart.

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus

And then.

I realized that my strongest experiences of worship don’t usually happen when life is going well. No, it’s when life is going poorly and I’m in the middle of a storm and I still stand and sing GLORY that I most intensely experience God’s nearness and God’s greatness.

And this praise, this powerful act of defiance against evil and against discouragement and against hatred, it’s something no one and nothing can take away from us. It’s our right and our privilege as God’s children, and it can’t be stolen from us.

God alone is worthy of our hope and worthy of our praise. We proclaim it now, and one day in the Temple, we will all join together, saints and angels alike, to shout GLORY. Forever. And ever.

Amen.

This article was reprinted at both Relevant and Faithit.

You can read all the posts in my Church series here.

When your husband calls you “a shell of a woman” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today.

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For months this spring I felt like a shell of a woman. I was empty and didn’t have anything to give. Oh, I was still doing all the “right” things. I was still getting up most mornings attempting to connect with God, and I was still relatively consistent with my commitment to exercise.  But I felt dead inside and couldn’t figure out why.

My husband noticed. Where before him once stood life and life abundant, he now saw a shell of a woman. He even suggested another round of counseling. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it or even what it was. I was unhappy in life and unmotivated in work. Was it depression? Burnout? What???

I felt especially dead at church. That was a strange feeling, because corporate worship has always quenched my thirst and nourished my soul and made my spirit come alive. But I just buried that newly incongruous feeling and ignored it. I tuned it out and refused to listen to it. I ran to the nearest screen and numbed out on TV and Facebook and solitaire games instead.

Finish reading here.

The Two Things I Believe About Youth Ministry

by Elizabeth

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I was 19 years old when youth ministry bored its way into my bones and penetrated my marrow. I’m 34 now, and youth ministry still pours into my blood and circulates through my veins. I believe in youth ministry, in all that is good and holy about loving and caring for young people in the context of the local church. And these are two of the things I believe about youth ministry:

1. Effective youth ministry isn’t in opposition to involved parenting. It doesn’t have to be “youth ministers are bad and war against the parents.” And it doesn’t have to be no ministry at all. Youth ministry can be respectful of parents and their influence and authority. It can bridge the gaps between parents, teenagers, and the local and global Church.

2. But effective youth ministry needs more workers: more Bible teachers and youth leaders, more Christ followers and relationship builders. Group ministry is great — and I believe in it — but one-on-one discipleship is even greater, and I believe in it even more. One minister or even a ministry team can’t possibly disciple all the youth in the church. So we need more people who care. More people who aren’t afraid of teenagers. More people who think youth ministry means something, something really important. Because youth ministry does mean something. It means the world to every teenager you invest in. So let’s do a little investing. A little guiding. A little caring and a little paying attention. And we just might witness the restoration of lives and the rescue of souls.

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With many thanks to the youth workers who poured into me as a young person, the youth workers who now pour into my own children, the parents who have trusted me to minister to their children, and the teenagers who have allowed me into their hearts and lives over the years. I love you all.

Authenticity is Not New

by Elizabeth

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These days people toss around the words “authentic” and “vulnerable” as if they were brand new ideas. As if no one had ever experienced them before. As if they weren’t already there for the taking.

These statements sound strange to me when all along, I’ve been quietly receiving the benefits of authentic community and vulnerable relationships – and in the Church no less, a place people often complain they can’t find any community. And to further confound stereotypes, I’ve found this type of friendship even as a ministry wife.

I don’t think we need special buzzwords to validate our experiences. I’ve been inviting people into my home and into my heart for nigh unto 16 years. I’ve been developing real, honest, gritty relationships as long as I’ve been of age — as did my husband’s parents before me. And that was back in the 80’s and 90’s, before people began being vulnerable and authentic with each other (or at least before the words were trendy).

They invited people into their messy home to talk about their messy pasts and their messy relationships and their messy eating disorders. No one needed to validate them. No one needed to approve them. No one needed to give them permission. They simply lived, and they simply did fellowship the way believers have been doing it for thousands of years: open, honest, and real. In community. Before community was “buzzing.”

God designed us to have these kinds of relationships, and His people have been tasting of them for thousands of years. We need only look to Ruth & Naomi or David & Jonathan to realize this.

So when you develop relationships that are authentic and vulnerable, don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re doing something new or novel. Rather, tell yourself that you’re doing something holy and good, something God created you to do, and something that brings Him pleasure.

May you remember that you stand on holy ground when you partake of the ancient practice of community. May you honor the memory of friends who have walked with you into authenticity and vulnerability in the past. May you lift your hands to heaven in thanksgiving for the friends who are currently walking with you through the storms of life. And if through some tragedy you have never had your own safe and secure people, may the wind of the Holy Spirit blow some your way.

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And because I’ve been feeling extra sentimental lately, here’s one of my favorite songs on fellowship, from the dark ages of the 1990’s and sung by the group Acappella.

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Other posts in the Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

I am a Worshipper

I am a Worshipper

by Elizabeth

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I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath.

Psalm 104:33

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I was nine years old when I attended my first week of Bible camp. I came back singing. The preacher’s daughter (who provided my transportation) told my parents this story about our four hour return trip: if I wasn’t singing, I was sleeping, and if I wasn’t sleeping, I was singing. And I’ve been singing ever since.

Years later it became a sort of joke in our youth group that “Let’s sing!” was all I ever proposed doing. And sing we would. Our church building had a back stairwell where the sound of our voices reverberated particularly beautifully, and when we wanted to sing, that’s where we would go.

I remember learning new worship songs at the Tulsa Workshop. We still used overhead projectors back then. Nowadays we have Zoe Group for teaching us new acappella songs, but when I was a teenager, the only group singing acappella worship songs was Free Indeed, and boy was I in love. They still produced cassette tapes back then. I remember collecting those tapes and singing my little heart out to and from school in a massive maroon Mercury Sable.

I was always singing. I took voice lessons. I was in choir at school. I sang in the shower. I joined the church youth group choir (Go CYC!). I wanted to be like my singer/songwriter hero Twila Paris — though this probably had more to do with my pride than anything else. In college I sang on the worship team at our campus ministry, but after a couple years of singing into a microphone, I quit. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my singing up front was too much about ME.

I may not sing on a stage anymore, but I can’t get enough of worshipping God through song. It’s one of the strongest ways I relate to God. I crave it, whether it’s in a large group with modern worship anthems, or a small group singing “camp songs” around a fire, or by myself, picking out simple hymns on the piano or blaring worship music through my tiny purple iPod shuffle.

Worshipping in song is still my favorite part of a Sunday (or anyday) service. It’s where I most often and most consistently meet God. It’s what takes me “past the outer courts into the holy place,” and I can’t get enough of it. I get crazy excited singing songs about God’s worthiness and holiness, whether it’s Jesus Culture’s “Alleluia,” David Brymer’s “Worthy of It All,” Brandon Hampton’s “There is Only One Found Worthy,” or Kari Jobe’s “Forever.” Worship never gets old for me.

We preach to ourselves through our worship music. Laura Hackett Park puts it this way: “Sometimes you gotta sing your way into the truth.” Singing the truth tends to penetrate my heart much faster than someone simply instructing me — that’s especially true if I’m in a spiritually resistant phase. Singing is more participatory than preaching, and if feels safer too, as though I’m choosing to believe and obey instead of being ordered to believe and obey. A song might send the same message as a sermon, but it speaks to my heart instead of lecturing to my head.

Worship music opens the door for hearing God’s voice. That’s why we must make space for worship in song. We have to take the time to let the words sink deep into our souls and allow God to speak to us there. Some of the most important things God says to me happen in worship. Weird, unexpected things happen to my attitude. And they are holy moments, these times when I invite God into my heart in order to change it.

I’ve come to realize that my role in calling believers to worship may not be through “my” music or “my” singing, but it will be through sharing my experiences in worship. It will be through encouraging the Body not to neglect both private and public worship.

I may never be a worship leader or lead singer the way I used to dream. But may I always and ever be known as a Worshipper. May I be someone who calls people to worship. We must be a Church full of worshippers. The world needs to see us loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And honestly, when we worship? It’s just a little taste of heaven.

So I will be a worshipper. I will worship alone, in the secret place, and I will worship corporately, with other believers, and I will call the saints to worship even more deeply than before.

I will be a worshipper.

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Other posts in The Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Dear American Church

Authenticity is Not New

Dear American Church

by Elizabeth

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Dear American Church,

I love you. You are the Church that birthed me, the Church that raised me, the Church that sent me out — and I will always be grateful for you. I will always love you.

But, dear American Church, can you not see? The walking wounded are among you, and you seem blind to their pain. Have you no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no heart to care?

There are people among you who long to be listened to, who long to be cared for. Who better to care, than the Body of Christ? And who better to walk alongside, than the people of God?

But from my vantage point, American Church, you’re not paying any attention.

In all my stateside travels, the one constant has been people who want to tell their stories. Perhaps they’ve lived overseas for a time or moved here from abroad. Perhaps they stayed in America and simply accumulated some pain along the way.

These people, they’re hurting, and they don’t have anyone to tell their stories to. No one seems to be listening. For who could possibly be interested in anything besides American sports and American vacations and the relentless keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-American-rat-race life??

Everywhere I go in America, I talk to people who’ve had life-changing experiences, who are lonely and hurting. When I sit down with them, their stories start flowing. When I ask them if they have anyone else to tell their stories to, they answer, “No.”

Won’t anyone listen to them?? Won’t anyone be a safe place for them to land??

Dear American church, people want to tell you their stories. They want to be heard. They want to be known. From the immigrant to the missionary, from the layperson to the local minister, these travelers are hungry for people who care.

Dear American Church, don’t you remember that we bear God’s image? And as image-bearers, don’t you know that God calls us to imitate Him in His question to Hagar: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”?

Dear American Church, you know you don’t have to fix people’s problems, right?? All you have to do is open up your heart and show that you care. All you have to do is sit in silence and listen. All you have to do is offer up the occasional hug and prayer.

All you have to do is let their hurt, hurt you.

Dear American Church, let me tell you something. The wounded? They’re closer to heaven than you are. They’ve seen brokenness. They’ve watched the world break people. They’ve watched the world break them. And they are closer to the Kingdom because of it.

Blessed are those who realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. These words come straight from the mouth of Jesus. The Kingdom is at hand, He tells us; it’s near the brokenhearted. And when we draw near the brokenhearted, we draw near the Kingdom, too.

Blessed are the pure in heart, says our Christ, for they will see God. Blessed are the ones whose hearts are honest in all things, whose hearts know their wounds and know their own deceit. They are closer to heaven than we are. They are the ones who will see God, who will experience Him.

The lonely and the hurting, they know what heaven is, because they know what heaven isn’t — it’s everything they’re not living. They know they need care and companionship, redemption and restoration. In their weakness and in their longing, they are that much closer to heaven, that much closer to the heart of our Savior for this broken world.

Dear American Church, stretch out your hand to them, and take one step closer to the rule of Christ. Touch their pain, and walk arm and arm into the Kingdom with them. Share in their sorrows, and taste of heaven.

Ask questions and listen to their answers. Cry with them, grieve with them, long with them. All they need is you, dear American Church, open-handed and open-hearted.

Dear American Church, I beg of you to do this with me. I cannot bear this burden alone. And neither can I bear the thought of losing my faith in you.  So won’t you enter the Kingdom with me? Won’t you take a look at suffering, and see God with me?

Let us enter into the Kingdom hand in hand with the hurting. They will lead us. They will guide us. The poor in spirit and the pure in heart, the ones who are honest, the ones who are needy, let them take us by the hand and lead us into the Kingdom.

I’m willing. Are you?

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Other posts in The Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

I am a Worshipper

Authenticity is Not New