Category Archives: Leaders
There is this belief and idea we have and something I have struggled to not do. We believe we hold the answers and keys to making life better for others. For whatever reason this consistently permeates our culture. As a heterosexual white male given way too many privileges I have it forever etched in my mind that I in fact do have the answers so many others need.
As long as I can remember I have heard stories of the United States entering other countries and changing their way of life to our ways, because we have the answers to what works better. I’ve listened in church to Missionaries sharing about going to other countries and turning their lives around, making significant changes so they had a better way of life. Yet the question that has always remained in my mind – so what happens when we go in change their ways and leave, have we enhanced their way of life, will it continue to sustain for the long run? If you look at our country, I can honestly say if we had all the right answers I think it would look significantly different.
There has been a shift in the last 10 – 15 years, possibly longer to focus on not going anywhere outside of our country rather focusing on less fortunate areas of the cities we live in. Church groups and others have purposely gone into areas that are perceived as run down, poor and lacking in many ways to turn it around and give them the answers they have waited for. Time and talents have been poured out to help rejuvenate these areas.
I happen to live in an area of Portland referred to as ‘Felony Flats’. Drug addiction, prostitution, homelessness, theft and murder occur around me. It’s not the prettiest area or one a lot of folks are just jonesing to move to. Diversity ranks high in many ways and yet financially we are very poor. Families struggle to survive, keep their homes or small businesses and maintain a way of life. We sit right below a very affluent community where looking at the homes and cars driven you know it is a place of wealth and affluence. Despite that, I still find beauty around me.
My wife and I were once going to be a part of church plant getting started in a neighborhood close to where we live. Searching for a home to buy in that area left us empty-handed, so we chose to increase our boundaries and we came upon the home we have been living in the last 5 years. While it will mostly likely never earn an honorable mention on the Street of Dreams, we love our house and it fits for what we need. We were aware of how this area was viewed, but it did not matter, wanted still moved here.
I am not one to want to live in areas that resemble something out of The Stepford Wives or Knots Landing. I prefer to live in eclectic and diverse areas that will most likely change me. When it comes to my kid’s education I am ok with not having to be at “the best” school. I have learned you can choose to be involved in your kids educational process and do more than just having them attend one of the “best schools”. I would prefer to build relationships with the staff and families over being pretentious, looking like we have it altogether or mocked for choosing to raise a large family.
I was in a discussion this weekend that reminded me of how I view my neighbors. Taking part in an intentional community that purposely started in this area, it often feels like we come up with outreach events for our neighborhood. At times we can distance ourselves and view it as us vs. them. We can even refer to the folks who live here in terms others might use that would be less than flattering. That conversation reminded me that not only is this their neighborhood, but it is my neighborhood. We live here, patronize businesses, take walks, enjoy the park, engage in relationships with folks and when it comes down to it, we all make up this neighborhood. It is ours. They aren’t just white trash from ‘Felony Flats’. They are my neighbors and many of them have become my friends.
My desire is and will continue to be about building relationships with others who live and work around me. I once held the mindset it was me vs. them and I could change my neighborhood because I held all the answers for what they needed. As a member of my neighborhood I see a lot of areas that I believe should be changed. To think I have the answers that will change everyone is beyond foolish.
As a member of this neighborhood the only way I can do anything is to fully enter in and see myself as a member of the neighborhood. Sharing life through sharing life stories over meals, walk in and around the neighborhood are the only way I can build relationships. As I learn from others I begin to share a common vision of what we together are capable of doing. I hope to see my neighborhood change and the brokenness that ravages disappear. Until I enter into it free from thinking I have the answers I will never truly know. The brokenness around me also helps me see my own brokenness and draws me closer to God. As I look at the ‘felony flats’ of my life it reminds me how God continues to work in me. He is the only hope of change I can offer to another.
I sat in a discussion last week with some friends around how we are conduct our gathered worship service. It was a nice long discussion and it gave me a lot to think about. One of the questions that came up for me that I posed to the group – were they getting anything out of our gathered times together. As I sat listening to each person share it hit me that I had asked the wrong question. Actually this wasn’t the first time in my thinking I have asked this question.
Asking the question of what am I getting out of gathered worship was the wrong question to ask. The reason I say this is that by going to any type of worship service and expecting it to provide you with something is looking at it from the wrong perspective. It’s as if I am expecting others and even God to do something for me that will make we want to keep coming back.
While I want God to speak deeply into my life, much of it is an expectation that I have deep life moving experiences. I’m supposed to walk away from a gathered experience feeling moved and changed. That seems to be more Hollywood than reality. Which speaks of the culture I live in and can easily get caught up in. We expect to get something out of everything we do. If it doesn’t do something for us, why take part. I have to look out for myself and serve my own needs. So even as I enter into a worship gathering I am still looking at it from that perspective.
In a setting where I am gathering with other members of the body to worship God, my focus need not be about me, but what I can contribute. Gathering together with others and enjoying their company, listening and hearing about how God has been at work in their life. Sharing a meal together helps connect and create a greater sense of unity between us. Raising our voices in song as one praising God. Reading God’s word and allowing it to speak into my life. Sharing what’s on our heart – fears, hopes and dreams and lifting those up to God together in prayer.
I often take for granted that God is at work all around me. God moments happen all the time and I fail to realize them. As much as God is working in others, he is also at work in my life. The times when I feel like God feeds me the most, rarely happen during gathered times of worship. Instead God speaks to me, moves me and changes me when others are not around. In times of quiet prayer or when I am reading his word is where I hear him speak to me the most and really challenge my thinking and ideas.
Expecting a gathered worship service to do something for me speaks more about my heart. If I go expecting God to provide me with something, what does this say about my heart? If I am there to get served, fed and give nothing of myself than I have the wrong motives for going and it would be better to just see a movie. It speaks more about selfishness on my part. When I put myself first, I have missed the goal of serving others out of love. My experiences leave me knowing that when we begin to selflessly love others we indeed get fed in ways we never imagined.
While taking some much-needed rest and actually taking a prolonged vacation, I was able to process a lot of thoughts that have been swirling for many months. It occurred to me, much of what I have spent time reflecting on deals with betrayal, wrong doing and deep wounds. Those done to me and those I have caused towards others as a result of my wounding.
It came while in a moment of prayer, I have long-held a sense of entitlement which often crosses into judgment. I expected to be treated a certain way, spoken to with respect, honored and esteemed for who I am and what I had done. When those things don’t occur I become upset and respond in less than a Christ-like manner. I began to place undue expectation on others, looking at and judging others actions, messing with my heart and losing my ability to really love them.
This world we live in is a mess. Brokenness is something we all have; it surrounds and fills every fiber. As I seek to pursue Jesus I am able to be transformed into this likeness. The transformation has been slow and steady but each day I am changed I become less of what I once was and more like him. I can honestly say, I have yet to make it through a day where I am perfect, but as I continue to pursue and seek him, aligning myself with him, it has changed my heart. Wounds are healed, what once was a stronghold in my life can be used as a means of speaking of the power of Jesus and pointing to him.
Often the very things I have hated and despised about my life are those very things that God has used to change me and allow me to become the person I am. Having a Dad who failed to be a part of my life or even involved as I was growing up – I’ve learned the importance of a Dad and the role he plays in a child’s life and I have made the commitment to my children to ensure they have a Dad who is fully involved in their lives. Being rejected, excluded and mocked has allowed me to see people are valuable, important and what they have to say matters. It is why I seek to include everyone, see past actions, listen and hear from the heart, speak for the underdog and encourage others.
Looking back I am able to see that all that I have been through continues to draw me closer to God. The person I am and who I will become is due to all he has given me. The trials in my life are lessons – lessons of leaning & pushing into him, drawing close & surrendering and allowing him to guide me forward. As I begin to re-focus that lens, the hard things I hold inside of me begin to disappear.
Am I entitled to my feelings – well I am not so certain of that. While I should deal with my own feelings, I need to remember that others operate out of brokenness just like I do. It is also a good reminder of why I should not let the sun go down on my anger. Outside of death I have no guarantees in life. To place expectations on others it to set myself up for disappointment.
I am again reminded that I am called to love others just as I love Jesus. Just as love covers a multitude of sins – Love is patient, kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
All of us including myself have sin in our life. We are sinfully broken. Love that took a man to the cross and broke the curse of sin so that none of us have to bear that death is the love I need to carry out. Laying down my agenda to exchange it for the heart of love that comes from God is where I must continue to live. Anything else belongs to my sense of entitlement.
I didn’t grow up in a religious home with parents who instilled Christian values in us. I began going to church while in 5th grade, when my Dad decided to take part in AMWAY and was told it would look better for him if our family went to church. My parents decided a Lutheran Church, which actually met in the Catholic Church, was to be where we would attend. My Dad must have had enough after one visit as it was no longer of importance to him and eventually he stopped taking part in AMWAY, but my mom, sister and I continued to attend the services.
My world revolved around my Dad being an absent parent. My mom who remained a stay at home parent until I was in middle school was responsible for managing everything else – a small farm, finances, the home and my sister and I. We lived out in the country and most of the kids I started kindergarten with were the same ones I graduated with. A small town is a place that can create a great sense of community or in our case can reinforce you don’t belong. Once those ideals are solidified, it is nearly impossible to break that.
I was never going to be anyone special to anyone, not even my family. My Dad didn’t want anything to do with me and being reminded by most everyone else I learned this would be a continued pattern with other guys in my life. In fact what I did learn was that I was good for being a punching bag, having every kind of name you could imagine hurled my way and being used by my cousins to have their raging hormones quenched. Repeated reminding helped solidify in my mind I wasn’t worth anything and I would be better off dead.
It was in the country as a boy at a VBS I first felt God speak to me and when the call to ask him into your heart was offered I took advantage of it. Through the years God and I didn’t have much of a relationship, until my freshman year of high school. It was during that year where it became so much I attempted to take my life. It was also later that year we moved from the country into town where I began attending another church. The mile walk to church was where I began drawing close to God. It was at that point the only thing I had left was God. God became everything to me, the walk to and from church included me pouring out my deepest sorrows, regrets, fears and shame and crying out to God to help make sense of all of it. I equated God to church and in my mind it was the only safe place I could find.
Those attending church professed and agreed with the Pastor when he spoke on loving, protecting the weak, innocent and those tossed to the side. That was me – the words of those from where I came from still echo deeply within my soul. I only have to close my eyes and think back to those times and instantly I am reminded of how I was a lost cause, junk and while others would live a life of success I was destined to barely make it.
As I look back I believe these factors contributed to my deep sense of injustice. I was determined my life would look nothing like what I came from. As a foolish young man from a small town, I pledged to make something with my life. Leave; find others who held the same beliefs, convictions and principles as I did. Find a church, start a family and enjoy living a good life. 1 year prior to leaving I began praying fervently this would come to fruition so I could get my life really started.
I made the choice to finally move and start life over here in Portland. I got a job, moved in with a roommate who invited me to the church he attended, met my wife and made some friends. After having experienced what the world offered and never fitting in or feeling like I had something to belong to I completely immersed myself in the only place I felt was safe – the church.
No longer a child but now a husband and father I was determined I was going to live up to what it meant to be Godly man husband and father. Not having a great knowledge of the Bible or church I once again began to feel my roots. Many of those I came in contact with were well-educated or in the process of educating themselves at Seminary and Bible college. I took everything in and listened and processed intently and allowed the church to shape and mold my views of who I was. I held the world at a distance and considered it evil and wicked and a place I didn’t want to be part of.
While I didn’t attend a seminary or Bible school, I immersed myself in the Bible I attended conference and seminars, studied over and over, asked questions and morphed into the new creation I was told I was supposed to be, and I did it so easily and readily. It was as if I was a project and the project was going according to plan. I couldn’t imagine a life without this; to me this was how I intended to spend the rest of my life. I was being given all the answers and it was my job to give those answers to others, because they needed them as well.
It took a long time, but eventually cracks began appearing, dams can only hold so much and eventually they burst. I began to see people acting in less than Godly ways. Niceties were exchanged for cutting remarks, prayers became a way of gossiping, labels were placed upon me and meetings were a place where you got destroyed. Loyalties, methods and motives were continually questioned. Friendships and other relationships were destroyed. The reality of brokenness shone through. As much as was said about how we treat, love and care for one another, what was supposed to be somehow wasn’t able to sustain. Brokenness ravaged the safe places.
As I reflect back on my life betrayal is carved within my frame like a lovers initials in an oak tree. The place I once held as being a place of refuge and safety for me is the place that cut deeper than sexual and physical abuse ever could. Betrayed of the church – the one I loved most. Betrayal of myself, betraying my wife, friends and family.
The very life I formed and created, no longer feels right to me. In some sense I wish I could shed all I have learned, forget it all and start all over. I can not; too much of life has been lived to do so. Instead I once again return back to what is safe and sacred –God. While I process sorrow, loss, regret and anger. Hope remains, new life is calling, a better tomorrow awaits. Love stands and waits the kind that finished creating everything and said it was very good. – A love for God and a love for others, even love for those who betrayed me.
A friend confided he and other men in their 50’s and 60’s meet weekly with one of the younger pastors at their church. My friend and these other men are all well-educated, respected men, who have have families (some with grown children). These are not the type of men who don’t have their lives together. I’ve also interacted with the pastor multiple times and listened to him speak. As a 30 year old man he carries himself in a cocky and arrogant manner. He is known for saying “Trust me; I know what I am talking about”. In the conversation we were having my friend explained how when the older men begin talking and sharing this pastor tells them how they should be living their lives, including treating their wives, raising their children and whatever else he feels he can tell them.
After hearing what my friend had to say it struck me. A 30-year-old man has no business telling a 50 or 60-year-old man how to live their life. What does a 30-year-old man with young children know that he feels he has the right to tell these men how they should live their lives? An education, a degree and a little life experience does not make him an expert on where these men are in their lives and give him the right to tell them how to live their lives.
It used to be that older men were respected, revered and looked up to in our society. Today, unfortunately that no longer seems to be the case. Younger men have little respect for older men. Younger men feel as though they have life figured out and they can tell just others how it should be. The era of respecting older men has long since passed. Perhaps this explains why you see and notice the large generation gap within our church bodies.
I too have been in that place. In my 20’s I fully believed I had life figured out, I had all the answers to life’s questions and the last thing I wanted was someone telling me how to live my life. I was a grown up, this was what I had waited my whole life for. As a grown man I didn’t need or want an older man to tell me how to live. I didn’t need a father figure. Now that I am getting older, my views have changed, I desire having older man share their life, insights and wisdom with me. This is why my friend and I meet weekly.
This morning as I sat reading God’s word these words came across my path Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. It had me thinking about the approach we take with others. Discipleship has taken on a new look and approach this past year. It isn’t just a Christian word to be thrown around; it’s how we should be living out the gospel. Every part of our lives should be lived in that manner. I believe older men who have experienced seasons of life should be an integral process in my walk as well as my bits of wisdom being poured out as I walk alongside younger men.
As an adult, I don’t feel it is my place or right to tell another adult how to live their life. I don’t have all the answers. I am not always right and I still make lots of mistakes. I have gained wisdom from my mistakes and life experiences which adds up to valuable life lessons. I can share those with others, if they are open to what I have to say. To think I can go and tell someone else do it this or that way, is beyond foolishness. My life is my own, what works for me doesn’t work for others. I am missing the mark when I begin to think I can tell others how to live their life.
Discipleship is walking through life together, but always pointing to Jesus as the answer. Sharing stories, experiences and aligning ourselves with the gospel is how we should be living. Arrogance has not part, humility speaks volumes. As someone who once believed I had all the answers I, little of what I once believed to be right seems to fit today. The truth of the Gospel continues to change me, it changed me in my 20’s and it continues to change me in my 40’s.
Instead of telling someone else how to live their life, it is my prayer that Jesus will convict me of how he wants me to live and how I can walk with others through that same process.
One of the most profoundly impacting aspects in my walk with God has been repeatedly being told a Godly man was the pinnacle of success. A Godly man attends church multiple times per week; daily rises early and has quiet devotional times. Much of his time in spent in the word – memorizing scripture. Regularly tithes, fasts and prays as well as serves in the body. Other alternatives held in high regard attend a Christian university/ school, become a Pastor and lead a congregation or else a missionary, head overseas and really serve the Lord – these being the epitome of what it means to be a truly Godly man.
If you read your bible, pray, attend church and are actively involved in a church, this was how you grow wise and Godly. The double meaning as you get older by following these scripted methods you are sure to live a happy and fulfilling Godly life. Sin would dissipate and you become like Jesus.
Interestingly enough – despite whole-heartedly pursuing all of this for the last 20 years, my life doesn’t seem to match that. I don’t see myself as someone who is wiser and Christ-like. Sin is still a part of my life, teenage issues still remain today. I know God has been at work in my life and changes that have taken place. I wouldn’t be where I am if that weren’t the case.
I do believe many of these practices should be a part of our life. I believe reading the Bible helps me understand who Jesus is and the significance he plays in my life. I understand the value of being part of a body, engaged in community. Practicing dying to myself daily means letting go of my wants and desires and aligning myself with what Jesus spoke of. I believe talking to God allows me to draw closer to him. I know when we see others as a creation of God, put others needs ahead of our own it takes the focus away from me.
I’ve served in leadership, been a Youth Pastor and gone on mission trips. I can’t begin to put a number on the hours I have spent reading scripture. Praying is something I thoroughly enjoy and am actually pretty good at. I find comfort in being part of a body where I know I can be real about who I am as well as serve others through time and money. These are all a part of my life and I am pretty sure they always will be.
Growing, changing and deepening my relationship with God has come through a variety of experiences that has nothing to do with a formula. God has spoken to me in unbelievable mountain top experiences, valleys of despair, heartache and intense pain. Pushing God away and yet feeling him draw me back. Struggling with giving into the desires of my flesh and mourning my choices that I know are completely wrong and unhealthy. Questioning if I really am his. If what I do doesn’t match up with my belief than I really can’t be his. Experiencing love through my wife, kids and friends who speak deeply into my life not only in words but in time spent together.
My life doesn’t match up with what I have been told was the path to becoming a real Godly man. Some days I don’t read my Bible. I may say a quick ‘oh God help me” here and there, but not spend a long time in prayer. Some Sundays I have passed on going to church. I don’t always feel loving and kind towards others. I have to be cautious of words coming out of my mouth because they are completely negative towards everything. At times I just want to be left alone. Let alone I am married, raising 6 kids and work full-time – life gets in the way and I have to deal with what comes up. I don’t even think looking at me you could say that I was a Godly man. There is nothing particularly great about me. I am just a man, like anyone else.
My point being there is no formula or cut way of following God. Continuing to perpetuate some lofty idealistic way of how you can become just like Jesus is insane. It creates unrealistic expectations that don’t allow for us to be real about who we are. Jesus should be part of our life and as we grow in our relationship it should transform our lives. He created us differently and in our unique creation we relate back to him as such. There is no one way fits all. Discipleship takes on a whole new meaning when we begin walking through the process of growing in our relationship with Christ together. What works for me isn’t going to work for others; I can share that with you, but don’t expect you to do it my way. When God prompts us it is in that where we follow his leading. This is a long-term process, not just some way of doing things for a while that sets us for life. I’d rather be real and honest about that and continue to grow, than continue to give others a false sense of hope.
How does becoming a Godly man look in your life?
Ever come to a place where you just question everything about your life? All that you believed to be true? What got you to this point in your life; does it still make sense for you now? What I believe to be true doesn’t match up with my heart or my head.
In the last couple of months as I have once again dove deeply back into scripture. Despite having spent the last 20 years reading it, it is if I am reading much of it for the very first time. I am awakened too much of what I have either become numb or glossed over. I am filled with questions that won’t stop. Emotions deep within rise to the surface – frustration laced with doses of anger continues to burn.
Moving to Portland I became overly aware of how much a hick from the sticks I was. Here everyone seemed well-educated, wealthy and possessed an air of sophistication I had never really experienced. I was drawn to it. Prior to my move, I had spent a year praying God would bring friends and a church that would help me live out the life I had dreamed of. I wanted to move away from partying, drinking and begin living as I believed God wanted me to.
In finding those things I discovered how illiterate I really was. Most of those I became associated with had either been raised in Christian homes or were attending Bible college/seminary. When speaking of God or scripture I was lost and felt like I didn’t belong. In my mind these were people I would never be able to keep up with. Even my wife, who had grown up in the church possessed a better understanding than I could hope to.
My desire to never be considered some ‘hick from the sticks’ was the catalyst for reading scripture. I devoured huge chunks of scripture, searched out leaders and wise men that were willing to impart their knowledge, their understanding and their experiences. It fueled my desire to grow closer to God and really learn what it meant to be a “Godly man and leader”.
I listened intently, believed everything they told me of what it meant to live my life. I took it all in and shaped my life around it. Being new to me I never once thought to question what they were telling me. These were Godly people leading others and from my perspective these were incredibly wise men that were spiritually guiding and directing me to live a life of joy, happiness and peace. If I did what they said and lived my life the way they instructed I would one day hear God say “Well done good and faithful son.”
Re-reading scripture, looking at it from different lenses, I am frustrated with others and myself. In some sense I feel like I was deceived. I was told how to live a “Godly life” – I took it all in, believed, accepted and changed my life. I feel like that stupid hick kid from the country. I have fewer answers now than before. It makes me angry both at myself and those in positions of leadership within the body that tried to mold me into their own creation.
I understand, comprehend and know that we all operate out of our own brokenness and just as I do, they did also. I believe they had the best of intentions, or at least I want to believe this to be true. Some of those I really question their motives, I see it more as a form of power and control, which speaks to deeper issues in their brokenness.
As I reflect back on my journey with God, it hasn’t been for not. I have made it this far and through it all I know God has been at work in my life. Through all of my circumstances God has made himself very real and shown himself in more ways than I can count. God is the one who has remained consistent in my circumstances. His love, grace, mercy, compassion and kindness are what have helped me more than anything. It is because of those foundational truths I press on.
I am back to asking a lot of questions. Last week the questions started coming and haven’t stopped. Hard conversations with some great men in my life encouraged me not to stop the questions from coming but put them out there. Keep asking questions until the answers match up. This is a challenge personally. I process a ton of questions internally, but often don’t vocalize them. Which is what leads me to the question I really wrestle with? If what I know and believe to be true about God and his word, is that fully lived out in all I do, my words, actions, head and heart?
I can say that it doesn’t, the grace and mercy I have for those outside of the church is vastly different from leaders within the church. My life isn’t where I was told it would be if I only followed what I was told at 41 years of age. As much as I want to give the right “Christian answers” for things, they aren’t there. They haven’t come, they don’t match up and all I have is questions. I’m not about doubting God or what scripture says, what I doubt is how we are told to live those out by others.
It seems as though many of those who call themselves Christians feel the need to tell others just how they should live. I am not sure where or when this began, perhaps with good intentions, but we find that we hold all the answers and have them for the world. We believe that we know what is best and we can make your life better if only you will do what we tell you.
Believers feel called to tell the world exactly what sin is and what we are against. We have spent hours protesting, chanting, writing, and proclaiming that what is wrong, what is evil, and what goes against God’s plan. We have made sure you understand exactly what is wrong and how bad you are for doing it. We have let you know that hell awaits you and we want nothing to do with you if you do not come around to our way of thinking and believing.
As a teen, I saw how this played out. The town I grew up in, had four churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Non-Denominational and Mormon). At times, there would be combination services with three of the four. The Mormon Church was excluded because of their beliefs. They were not welcomed or even considered for fear that they might corrupt us and cause one of us to embrace their beliefs. The sad part for me was that the girl I actually liked and many of my friends were Mormon’s and it felt as though I had to deny my friends.
It has not changed since becoming an adult; divisions within the body continue to occur because of this type of thinking. Repeatedly I have been reminded how Christians only listen to Christian music and watch movies that are not rated R. Consuming alcohol and dancing are immoral as are playing cards or other games. To have your home in order, women are to stay home, home schooling and raising the children, while the men are out working. You need to attend church every weekly, have your kids in AWANA and you group as well as be engaged in a small group. Read your Bible and pray daily, go on a Mission Trip overseas and continue to preach the Gospel. If you do these things you will be a good Christian. These are the values you need to embrace to live a Godly life. These are our values and these should be your values. If you fail, you get looks of disapproval, gossip, and questioning of your faith.
I cannot tell you the number of times I have had verses from the Bible applied to the above lists to drive their points home. I have had women in church feel the need to come up to me and tell me how I could be a better husband and father. I’ve had men come up to me in front of others and begin criticizing me for how I have done something and it doesn’t live up to their expectations. Essentially in how I have lived my life, even doing all these things and despite sincerely pursuing God I have failed to really live a Godly life.
I am sorry but I want nothing to do with your values. Your values are not welcome here. What I see you doing is telling me how you believe I should be living my life, but fail to follow through with your own life. You are living out of fear and judgment. You are expecting me to rise up to a set of standards; God has not called me to. I am supposed to live a certain way that does not allow me to be the person God called me to be. My heart is not changed by following a set of rules, but instead doing it out of obedience to you and your values instead of God.
I see love lacking behind all of this. I see expectations placed on others that make God seem something less than desirable. If our job is to point other to Jesus, we fail to do so in this approach. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus he begins to work on our hearts, he is the one who will convict us of the things that need to change in our lives. He is the one who does the work in us. As I begin to deepen my relationship with God I begin to understand and realize how things in my life are askew and in need of realigning.
It has always been my experience, the more others told me I had to live a certain way, the less I saw God reflected in that. The more I wanted to be done with the body and walk away. I already dealt with enough doubt and self-condemnation. When people pointed out how what I needed to do was rise to a certain level had little to do with where my heart was, but so I could look the part. When I began to really seek out God and see what he wanted for me, it has always been with what is in my heart, not my outward appearance. As I begin to deal with the heart issues, the outpouring of that is love towards others. Wanting them to experience the love and freedom God has provided me from a set of rules or guidelines of others. The freedom to love and worship God with all of my heart. Living that out does not look a specific way; it looks different because God created me uniquely. I was wonderfully and fearfully made and God has a plan to use my life to speak of him in a way that is different from others Values are great, but the most important thing our life should be a reflection of is the love Christ has for us and how we can pour that out on those around us.
Small towns can be a great place for some people. You become familiar with others, you wave and smile to your neighbors. You can build a sense of community easily. You can leave your doors unlocked and know that others will watch out for you. There is a sense of belonging in a small town, a sense that this is where you belong and you know others have your back.
I wish that had been my experience. It was clear from the beginning I was not ever going to fit in. I was an outcast and I was destined to be an outcast. Names seemed to slip easily from the tongues of those around me and I was the target they were directed towards. I appeared to be a punching bag for others, because I never hit back but felt the stings of pain from hits and kicks. Despite never being wanted, I repeatedly attempted to fit in. A tireless pursuit that got me nowhere.
It was during these times I had nothing else and I begun to cling to God. He had not failed me, he was there when I was upset and crying and he was the one who I could say whatever I wanted and never have to worry about being rejected. Even when I wanted to be held or told it was ok, I never felt like God rejected me.
Church seemed like a safe place for me. Many of the popular kids went to church and I somehow believed that if I could connect with them at church, I would begin to be accepted. I believed if they were at church God was making a difference in their life and somehow they would begin to treat me differently. Foolish thinking on my part. Apparently, church was not as safe as I believed it to be.
I began to believe that getting away and starting my life over was what I needed. I planned to move away, find a church and surround myself with like-minded believers and finally be accepted. My hope was with my past and with my struggles, church would be a place I could finally allow others into my life; embrace me and love me as Jesus spoke of in the Bible.
Despite my repeated attempts to feel and believe I would be accepted. Even within church, I have watched and experienced popularity. I have watched as cliques form and people are made to feel as though they are less than others. I have watched as Pastors form a bond with others that is impenetrable by outsiders. I have experienced time and time again being rejected, being looked down upon. I have felt the stings of gossip and been made to feel as though I was not good enough, did not have my life together enough. I have been expected to live by other’s values and standards. I have been told you have to do it this way and if you want to be a part of this you will do it, my way or you won’t be a part of it at all.
Church has not been the safe place I thought it would be. The place where Jesus’ word of how you live and treat each other is not the place that matches up with church. The places to remove your masks, get real, admit you are a sinner, and are in need of love and acceptance is not the place the church proved to be. Sadly, the one place I once thought I would find acceptance in has been the place that has done more damage than healing.
I have seen Jesus lived out in others. I have seen and experienced the love, acceptance, and the freedom Christ offers everyone. I have seen it outside of the walls of the church building that people meet in every week. The Jesus from the Bible becomes alive through people that I never expected. Despite being guarded and having put up walls, I have been able to experience greater healing and love through relationships with others. God has placed men in my life who have allowed me to remove my walls and see Jesus lived out in how they love me, accept me and I do not have to worry if I am not popular.
Despite never being popular or fitting in, God has used this to teach me valuable lessons. It has helped me to realize exclusivity has no place in God’s kingdom. The outcasts and marginalized were the ones God sought out and spoke life into. Jesus is not found in a building and he is not about rules or someone else’s values. For me to be Jesus to others means, being real, not putting on masks or pretending to be something I am not. It means I accept others where they are at and love them. I stand beside them when others fail them. I live out of my brokenness and talk about how Jesus is working in my life. I invite people into my life and love them through ways they do not expect. This is the Jesus I know and read about, the Jesus I love and who I want to model in my life. This is the truest form of Jesus and it is one I have never experienced within the walls of a building.