What I Learned from Dating Around…for the Perfect Church

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I moved back in April, and thusly was on a quest to find the “right church for me”. With a history of solid churches in my background and a Bachelors in Bible, I was ready to joyfully overanalyze every church I visited until finding the one that fit me! 🙂

I researched churches online and asked locals about their church of choice. I knew that I needed to be full of both discernment and grace. I needed to make sure I could submit theologically to their leadership, and that I could be discipled and have the opportunity to disciple through the church–but I can’t be TOO picky. I know that I’d never find a perfect church, and if I did-i shouldn’t join it, because I’d ruin it!

And so I began church dating.

At least that’s what it felt like.

“Oh Betty, you would LOVE _______. He is just AMAZING! His family is the best, and he is super musical-just like you! You guys could do it together”

“Betty-you should totally meet up with _______! He has such a great heart; you would be really good for him. ”

Etc. etc. 😉

So I would visit a church (the first date), and often walk away with a heavy heart. I was confused, because the churches were GREAT-I just “wasn’t feeling it”. Why didn’t I want to go on a second date? Was it because he talked about himself the whole time? Or  because he didn’t tip the waitress? Or because I feel like, though he’s a godly guy, he is clearly still stuck in the 90’s, and brother has no sense of humor? Are these okay reasons not to go back? I hated not being plugged in to a local body of believers, and I know many of them would have been good choices to “date”-I just had no peace.

There was one church I visited, Keystone, that was nearly perfect at first. I loved their gospel centeredness. I appreciated their worship service and their song choices really stirred my affections for Christ. They had a great heart for missions and for youth and for prayer. It seemed like a second date was definitely a possibility! But then I became really discouraged about the sermon (we simply weren’t in Scripture as much as I think we should be), and so after the last song, I hightailed it outta there fast and decided that was a big NO for me thanks.

I continued searching for a church.

However, I couldn’t get Keystone out of my head.

Two weeks ago I was at a picnic in the park that Keystone hosted. I watched their church serve their community. They went above and beyond to bless and interact with people, and I got to know some families from the church.

And there I realized, I’ve been church hopping/hunting/dating ALL wrong.

The problem with my thinking was that I went to churches seeking to “experience” the church, and not seeking to be PART of the church. I didn’t view the church as the body of believers I would be shaped by, I viewed the church by the sermon’s depth or the musicians focus or the bulletin’s contents (though all important things). I went home that night and spent hours on their website again-listening to more sermons and allowing the Holy Spirit to convict me of pride, and encourage me deeply with what I was hearing.

Once I visited Keystone again with a heart desiring to be part of the body-my experience changed completely. I didn’t just come and go without striving to be involved. I came a little early, met people, stayed a little late and connected again. I was so blessed by the people I spoke to. I realized that this Bride of Christ is where I want to go to grow in my love for the Lord and partner in the spread of the Gospel.

So, if you ever find yourself church hopping/hunting/dating- just remember to clothe yourself in prayer, and don’t just go expecting to be impressed. Go with a heart that wants to learn, worship, and serve alongside of this community and seek to discover if this is where God will make that happen!

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Also, because I love laughing:

“Guard My Heart”?

Always Guard Your Heart Inspirational Life Quotes

Guard my heart? As my beloved co-worker, Kim, would say, “What the hun does that mean?!”

It’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot, used a lot, and yet-not thought about a lot.

What does it mean to guard my heart? When I give that advice to others, and to myself…what am I actually saying?

For some reason, today, when thinking about being “on guard” for my heart’s sake- I immediately got this mental picture of two little french men:

Okay, that’s not exactly what surfaced in my imagination-but it’s pretty close. The french warning “en garde!” is a term in fencing translated “On [your] guard”. It is a call to a fellow fencer to adopt a defensive stance in readiness for an attack or bout. It’s what I shout to my brother just as I am about to hit him with the empty Christmas wrapping tube!

Be prepared for an attack!

Hm. So that’s what I’m telling people do with their heart? Guard it, because it is going to be straight up attacked?

Yes. That is precisely what we should mean. Guard your heart, your valuable heart, because there always is something/someone attacking it.

[Fear//Stupid Satan//The world//Other’s Negativity//Lies//Insecurities//Disbelief.]

Guard your heart, your seat of emotions, constantly-KNOWING that it is going to be attacked! To guard is to be alert, attentive, and ready to fight. And we fight with the sword of truth-read God’s word constantly! Hear God’s truths through pastoral wisdom and encouraging friends!! Believe God’s truth by acknowledging the lies you are tempted to believe and walk yourself to what is Truth.

Don’t be a sucky guard for your heart.

 

Expect to be attacked.

Pay attention.

Know how to fight.

And for goodness sake, fight to protect the heart you were given to guard.

 

Has God Mellowed Out in His Old Age?

I’m currently reading through the book of Numbers, and this morning I read through the spies checking out the land God promised to them, their lies, and their complaints, yada yada yada. I read about God’s anger against the wicked, grumbling Israelites and the punishment that follows. Then in Chapter 15, there is this small portion-5 verses-that tells about the time someone was publically breaking the Sabbath by gathering sticks, and the Lord said “stone him to death”. Geez. That seems a bit overdramatic. And frankly, I was frustrated and literally, out loud, said:

“See, LORD. This is why people don’t like you!”

He just commanded someone to be STONED to DEATH for PICKING UP STICKS on the Sabbath! In fact, there are many times we read about similar stories in the OT. And it’s easy while reading through the Old Testament to see God as short-tempered and ungracious. Though I KNOW there are also countless examples of him being gracious and as Moses declares, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression”, the times where he is not, definitely stand out in my mind.  This is why people love New Testament Jesus and avoid like the plague Old Testament Yahweh.

And then, (because I am a quote junkie) I remembered this quote by Pastor R.C. Sproul:

“When there’s something in the Word of God that I don’t like, the problem is not with the Word of God, it’s with me.”

Dang, R.C.! Okay, so there is something wrong with me (that I already knew!) but what is it?

According to Scripture, God is immutable-never changing. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Ps. 102:24-27).  So why does it sometimes seem to me that God was a cranky dictator, but now he’s more lenient and gracious, and less sensitive and severe? Why do I like the responses of God less in the OT although I KNOW that He hasn’t changed in the NT?

The Holy Spirit graciously showed me the answer. The answer is (as it often is) the Cross.

Here’s the thing, God’s CHARACTER, RIGHTEOUSNESS, and PERFECTION have NOT changed. But, whereas his wrath once was rightfully poured out on individuals, through Jesus Christ, his wrath CHANGED to be poured out ONCE for ALL WHO BELIEVE on Jesus Christ. So God is still as deeply offended by blatant sin as he was in the time of Moses. But FORTUNATLEY for us, instead of sentencing us to death-he sentenced Christ to death.God still is INCREDIBLY serious about sin-but FORTUNATELY for us, Jesus Christ took all our deserved punishments so we don’t have to fear God’s punitive reactions to our crimes. In the Old Testament, God had the ground swallow people (Numbers 16:32), and if I view my sin correctly, I realize there are PLENTLY of times I rightfully deserved that to happen to me! But ON THE CROSS, CHRIST mercifully absorbed all of God’s reactions to our sins.

So when you and I read Old Testament stories of God’s wrath, instead of thinking “Ugh. I hate that God was so dramatic against sin!” focus on these 2 things–

  1. God STILL FEELS THAT way about sin! Don’t minimize your offenses against God-they are severe, He HATES them, and they do deserve punishment!
  2. PRAISE God ALL THE MORE for His kindness is sending Christ so that His children no longer need to be punished for their sins!

God is infinitely more holy and righteous than we ever realize. That truth plus the incredible grace displayed in sending God the Son to die for us, should motivate us towards joyful obedience and humble adoration!

Sproul

Keller

Please Help with Hell and Ministry!

I had the opportunity to talk briefly with a young man who has a beautiful understanding of the gospel. It is BEAUTIFUL. His passion is incredible, and his grasp of the character of God is a deep, deep loving well.

From what I can see, he is unlike anyone I’ve met before. And I do NOT say that lightly. He has the potential to be used by God to impact and change lives in incalculable ways-for His Name’s sake. I am confident that his gospel ministry could bring countless to the throne of God to better know and worship the King of Kings.

However, he is currently at a bit of a stand still. He is wrestling with God. Wrestling towards God, yes-but also unconfident in God’s complete goodness according to orthodox Christianity. He is dissatisfied with God’s justice being rooted in eternal damnation-it doesn’t sit right, and doesn’t seem to make sense. He so badly wants to be able to trust our perfect God as presented by the Bible and  the church today, but wishes that one lifetime of sin against a holy, just (don’t forget: good, loving, gracious, merciful) God did not merit endless, eternal torment upon torment.

In many ways, you probably agree with him. I know that I and C.S. Lewis agree with him. Concerning hell, Lewis once wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power”. I told the young man, I would love it if when I get to heaven I could run up the Father and ask Him, if one day he will break into hell, the way He broke into earth, and do what only God can do-redeem sinner to himself, so that EVERY knee bows and tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, and He responds with a smile, “Shh…don’t tell the angels, they don’t know yet—it’ll be a surprise, but yes, my wrath is satisfied at the cross and in hell, and now my mercy will once again extend to those who do not deserve it, and can do NOTHING to receive it.” WHAT A DAY OF REJOICING THAT WOULD BE! But, I told the young man, if I get to glory, ask that question, and my Father says, “Sweet, daughter, no. My perfect, just wrath will not allow for that.”—that I believe and must trust that in that moment He will somehow give me new eyes to see His holiness and His beauty in a way that brings peace and praise. Though today, I cannot see that clearly, by faith I seek to train my heart to trust His goodness and His perfection even if that is the case.

BUT this young man (and I!) really, really wants love to win in the end, and for after spending even billions of years in hell…God breaks in and His glory and goodness and grace and love and mercy are seen again like never before. That’s our God! And the angels, and we as his redeemed people praise Him and are able to love Him even MORE because of His incredible character and steadfast love and mercies that know no end!

But, unfortunately, that’s heresy.

Rob Bell was “crucified” for thoughts like this.

Doctrinally strong churches won’t hire a pastor who thinks like this.

So this left me asking, what should a young man who deeply, passionately adores the gospel, is clearly anointed for ministry, but wrestles with this “anti-evangelical” ideology of hell one day coming to an end, do?

I know the short answer-PRAY. Pray for eyes to see truth and a heart to receive understanding with gratitude, confidence, and peace. But, can you think of anything else to help this young man? Any other words of wisdom? Remember, it’s not HELL he has a problem with-he totally sees its reality in Scripture–it’s the eternality of hell that is more of the hang up.

Thanks so much!

Soli deo Gloria.

A Little Update on My Summer Plans

A few months ago, I was approached with the opportunity to travel to Spain with a team from Lancaster Bible College for the summer. Unfortunately, we had a late start on fundraising and didn’t meet our pre-set financial goals. Because of this, the trip was canceled, and I was questioning why God chooses to shut some doors-though they would lead to really great places. I told my team that we must trust God and know that He has plans for every yes and every no.

Just 4 days after the trip’s official cancellation I received a Facebook message from the coordinator of the English Camp in Germany I’ve worked at the past 2 summers. Even though I had already told her I wouldn’t be able to come, my name “just so happened” to have just come up in a recent conversation with the Camp Director. So she asked, “Could you come for one week and teach the main session for 5 nights at the Camp?”

Me?  Return to Germany?  Speak at the night sessions?

What a gift from God! I was floored by the timing and my the opportunity! After some prayer, I joyfully concluded that I’ll be returning back to the junior high/high school students that I love to speak to them about the Gospel! The camp’s theme this year is ONE and each day has a specific theme as well: One God, One Passion, One Savior, One Decision, One Life, and One Church. I have the terrifying, wonderful privilege to speak on each subject. I’ll be preparing the lessons in the coming weeks leading up to the trip and would VERY MUCH appreciate your prayers in my preparation and in the student’s reception of truths from Scripture.

The Lord also has graciously provided a traveling companion in the form of my dear friend, and missionary-to-be, Christina McLaughlin. She will be helping at the camp in whatever ways they need her and then also blessing me by recording my lessons each night! I can put the videos up online and perhaps reach even more German/Americans if God chooses to use me in that way.

The cost is very minimal. Flights and a few travel expenses only totalled about $1,260 each. If you would like to support financially, that’d be great! I’d be happy to show you my spreadsheet! 😉 If you would like to support us through prayers-that’d be even better! You can follow my blog bettycatherine.wordpress.com and Christina’s betweentheleatherbindings.blogspot.com for updates throughout our time in Germany.

I am beyond excited for this opportunity to share God’s truths with the youth of Germany. Join with me in praying that through the power of the Holy Spirit, young lives are changed to love God’s words more deeply, cling to His promises more closely, and share His truths more boldly.

You know, there are things in our lives that are GREAT things, that God chooses to cut out for reasons only He knows of. Our job is to trust Him with that circumstance, and praise Him whether He shows us why or not. God cut the Spain trip out of my summer, and He graciously provided something else 4 days later! It doesn’t always (or even often!) work out like that-but I’m thankful it did! I trust that He has PLENTY of reasons why (though a good thing) Spain is not where I was supposed to travel this summer, and Germany definitely is. Maybe He’ll reveal more of the answers to my “why questions” and maybe He won’t. Either way-He is to be praised for orchestrating all these details of my life, and for always doing what is best for my life to bring Him glory!

As always, thanks for reading! 🙂