Category Archives: church

The Mark of Love–Dedicated to Crossbridge

Celebrating anniversaries in this culture is often overdone, but I like them nonetheless. No, not for the presents, cards, or well-wishes I might get. I like anniversaries because I get the chance to take stock and reflect. Look back at where I came from and see where I’m going. I can marvel at the good times and see how the bad times have made me stronger. I can see that God is with me everywhere.

It didn’t use to be that way. Five years ago this month, my older son and I had just started visiting Crossbridge, the church we all attend now. He had asked if we could visit a church, and I agreed. The other members of my family weren’t ready yet so it was just the two of us. I think about this today because it is a Wednesday. Tonight, I will go to worship my Lord and Savior. I will listen to my son play the cojon as part of our worship team, listen to a speaker as part of our summer series, and fellowship with my faith family at table. I’ll watch the kids run around and talk with the adults.

Five years ago, it wasn’t like that. I would drop my son off at church and go to the bookstore to write. While I trusted the recommendation my friend had given me, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to stay myself. I didn’t have the mark of love on my heart that I do now for the people at Crossbridge. I had not yet invited God back into my heart. I was still too wounded from had happened in previous churches. Boy, has my life changed in five years. Now, God is back in my heart, and now, I can feel the mark of love in my heart.

What does “mark of love” mean? I recently heard a similar phrase in a song, and it struck me. “Keep Your Eyes on Me” is a song by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and it’s a part of the The Shack movie soundtrack. I haven’t seen the movie yet though I have read the book and listened to several songs off the soundtrack. Here is the exact phrase I heard. “Ain’t it just like love to leave a mark on the skin and underneath.” The phrase made sense to me though I had never heard it before. As we get to know someone, there are shared conversations and experiences, some good and some bad. We realize we have a lot in common, and we come to have warm feelings for that person. I would state that this is the mark of love. We can have it for our loved ones, and we can have it for our friends. I believe God wants us to take that mark of love one step further. When we accept Jesus into our heart, God wants to give us that mark of love for everyone in the world, for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for those who don’t know Him. It’s not something we can do ourselves in our own strength, only with God’s strength can we love someone the way He wants us to.

Another song from the soundtrack also illustrated love in a powerful way to me. The song “Heaven Knows” by Hillsong United shows how love can exist even through the bad times. I especially liked this stanza:

“Hold my heart, don’t let it break like fear
Sometimes a moment feels like a thousand years
God only knows why love is drenched in tears
Maybe that’s what makes it love
Maybe that’s what makes it love”

Many of us walk away when someone we love hurts us, from our friends, from our families, from the church. It is hard to work through pain and suffering when we’ve been taught to hide it for so long. At least, that’s what I was taught. But, these words ring true for me. I want to live in a way that I love through everything–the good, the bad, the pain, the hurt, the laughter, the joy, the suffering. I think that’s what God wants from all of us.

So, Crossbridge family, I dedicate this post to you. Thank you for inserting the mark of love in my heart and for opening my heart to God’s love. Thank you for loving me through the tears. Thank you for showing Jesus to me and to my family. I love you all!

 

Cliques in Churches

This might be uncomfortable or even a painful thing for some of you to read. You might even be saying to yourself, ‘There aren’t any cliques in my church.’ God is calling me to write this though, and I think your eyes might be opened by the time you finish reading.

First, here is the definition of the word. A clique is a “small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.”

Does that sound familiar? Eleven years ago, my husband and I were considering pulling our children out of public school to homeschool them. There were many reasons. Our children didn’t fit in public school. One was gifted; the other was being bullied. As we did our research, we found so many pluses to this mode of education, we decided to take the leap. It worked out well for us. One of our children has graduated from our homeschool and is on the president’s list at his college and the other is a junior in high school.

Their achievements though are not the focal point of me writing this post. As we got involved in the homeschool community, both online and in real life, we found many people who had been wounded by the public school system. So many, in fact, that they formed their own clique. They didn’t want to be involved with anyone else but homeschoolers. That felt funny to me, but I wanted to be accepted so I didn’t say anything.

Years passed, and we moved to the state we now live in. I was more confident as a homeschooler, and we started forming relationships with people who were schooled differently. I remember the first year my older son played baseball. Even though he had not played for several years and was a homeschooler, he was warmly welcomed onto to the team by his coach and his teammates. The only thing that mattered to his coach was his work ethic. He worked hard that year, and in subsequent years, and became a better baseball player. Those boys are all in college now, but I have fond memories of a group of boys from different backgrounds coming together to play the game of baseball. Not a clique in my book.

But, there were and still are cliques in our current city, and a lot of them have to do with money. They consist of people whose children go to certain public or private schools who think they’re better than everyone else. These students have the attitude of their parents and think they are entitled. They behave badly and think the adults around them should pick up the pieces of their mistakes. And they are exclusionary–both students and parents, a fact brought painfully home to me when my son was given ugly stares last weekend when he was taking the ACT at one of these schools. I’m not trying to say that every family who has students at these schools is like this, but enough of them are that I count these schools as having their own cliques.

Now, to the saddest part of this post and the main subject–cliques in churches. I have experienced cliquish behavior in churches more times than you can count. Conversations that stop when I walk up. Implications that I’m not as good as other people because I can’t do certain things. Attitudes that imply other people are better than me because my child doesn’t go to a certain public or private high school. I gave up on God, for a time, many years ago because of this behavior. If other Christians couldn’t love me, how could God love me? I don’t believe that anymore. I refuse to give up on God or His love for me again just because other Christians are cruel!

If I did, what would be the point of these verses? I John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

How about I Thessalonians 3:12? “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

Here’s another one. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

And finally, the verse all of us can probably quote by heart. John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“Whoever believes in him.” Not whoever believes in him and makes a certain amount of money. Not whoever believes in him and has a nice home. Not whoever believes in him and has a certain color of skin. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Jesus accepts everyone who comes to Him.

But, we still have cliques in our churches, and that is heartbreaking. No wonder people come in and don’t want to come back. They don’t see Jesus’ love in the people who are already there. These are people who long to be loved and accepted, who need to be loved and accepted for who they are, by us if they are going to see Jesus’ love. And many times they are not. Instead, they see activities that cost money. They see people who don’t understand the situation they’ve come out of. They see people who are going on cruises together. They see people whose children all go to the same school huddled together in a small group. And they see exclusion from church activities or opportunities for services because they’re not considered desirable enough. So, then I’m left with the question, ‘Can Jesus’ love really be seen when we divide into cliques?’ The answer is obvious, and it is sad.

I’m not perfect with this, not by a long shot. I remember my early years of homeschooling when I would trash public and private schools because of how we had been wounded and because I wanted to be accepted in my homeschooling group. God has convicted me in a big way though especially with behavior I’ve seen in recent weeks and how it has wounded me. We are to love everyone in Jesus’ name and not be a part of cliques in the church. May we all remember what Jesus did for us on the cross this week!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

Doing Life Together

I hear this phrase a lot at my church. We have smaller groups of about eight-ten families who get together once or twice a month to have a meal, study the Bible, and have prayer. Many churches have these groups which go by a variety of names. We call them Lifewalk groups at my church. The format of each group is different dependent on who is in the group. Groups with smaller children do things differently than groups where the children are grown and gone.

These groups make it easier to probe into the deeper things our walk with Jesus requires, and they make us accountable to each other. This might sound like a bad thing, but it really isn’t. Community and deep friendships are forged by talking to each other about the deeper things of life and what’s going on in our lives.

What the really neat thing is though is that our groups combine together on Sunday mornings, and we have a much larger community doing life together. People who are willing to take care of each other and love each other the way Jesus calls us to. As I’ve said before, this is the most honest and real community we’ve ever been in.

In the years we’ve been here, I’ve learned some things need to happen for church communities to have the most successful chance at doing life together. The first is that we need to take our shields down and be open and vulnerable. This is so tough. I have a tough time with it. But, the rewards are so worth it. Letting people into your heart lets God get further into your heart and do the work He needs to do.

The second thing that needs to happen is we need to be loving and encouraging to those who are being vulnerable in front of us. It can be a hard thing. Vulnerability makes us uncomfortable. We would all rather pretend that everything is okay all of the time and keep moving forward. But, we can’t do that! If we are to have the true community God wants for us, we need to be vulnerable in front of each other.

Finally, for us to have the strongest example of living in community, our leaders need to be an example of this to us, and we need to accept our leaders being vulnerable in front of us. It has been rare for me to see church leaders vulnerable. I think this is because it is expected for them to be strong and stoic in front of us and not vulnerable. In fact, I saw something yesterday that caught me off guard and actually inspired this post among other things. Our youth minister was preaching, and he became emotional about a story he was telling. I did a double take because I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen something like that. But, then, I was like, wow, it is ok to be vulnerable here.

God has called all of us to do life together and to be open and vulnerable with one another. Praying that all of us would find a genuine church community as we continue to grow in God’s love and grace!

God’s blessings on all of you today!