Same sad story

We all have a story to tell.  Everyone has experienced their fair share of hurt and struggles.  We’ve definitely all been there.  What separates us from it all is how we handle our experiences and how we choose to move on.  Question is…will we move on? Can we move on?
It is so easy when we have been hurt to hold on to that hurt.  We struggle to let go. We continue to tell the same sad story to ANYONE who will listen.  ANYONE who will tell us what we want to hear in order to feel better.  We wallow around in self-pity feeling sorry for ourselves and asking why it is that everyone else in the world seems happy.  We become resentful and bitter.  We are without hope.
Back in the day there was a song by R.E.M, Everybody Hurts that played on the radio.  I am not a particular fan of the song but the words play in my head a lot when I am feeling down.
               When your day is long
               And the night is yours alone
               When you’re sure you’ve had enough
               Of this life, we’ll hang on
               Don’t let yourself go       
               Cause everybody cries
               And everybody hurts sometimes
When the reality hits that you are not the only person in the history of the world to experience pain, life changes.  When you grab hold of the reality that trials and struggles happen not only for a reason but also to everyone…hope enters.
You see pain is pain.  The pain you experience is no different from the pain that I experience.  Whatever the situation we find ourselves in, at the moment, we think that no one else could ever understand our pain, but the truth is that we are not alone.  People all around us are in the middle of their own crisis dealing with their own pain.  So what do we do with that pain?  What do we do with the struggles and trials we are experiencing?
I believe that struggles and trials help to develop who we will become.  How we handle the worst moments in our life will mold us into whom we ultimately become.  I believe they help to shape our character. I believe they help to grow our faith. I believe we learn from our struggles so that we can help others. I believe we exist for a purpose other than ourselves. I believe we were created for Someone else. I believe we were created for God and I believe He created each of us with a purpose.
God created us for His glory.  We exist for Him alone.
               For through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see- such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him.
                                                                                                                      Colossians 1:16
The problem is that many do not know or understand this concept. We forget or do not know that this life is not about us.  We do not exist for our own story.  We exist for God’s story.  We are nothing but a bunch of sinful screw-ups who struggle to live a life worthy of bringing glory to a Holy God. We do not deserve to be a part of His story but because of His merciful grace, He allows us a small part.
As a part of His story, I am of the belief that God allows struggles into our lives so that we can come to a place where we acknowledge our need for Him.  A need that requires having faith in who He is and His promises. For me struggles have become the moments when I experience Him moving in my life the most.  It is when I experience His presence the greatest because it is when I lean on Him the most.  When I am hurting, when I am scared, when I am uncertain about life He is the One I turn to.  I have learned that He is the One who will lead me out of the struggle safely.  He gives us unlimited opportunities to choose Him over our own way and we often fail.  He knows that we are a work in progress but allows the bad in order to accomplish His good when we trust Him.  It is a testing of our faith in Him.  As we go through life and struggles and acknowledge Him in our life, we begin to trust Him more through the bad times. When we begin to trust Him and surrender to His plans for our life, we bring Him glory.
Life is difficult.  Life will never be perfect.  Life should not be traveled alone.  God created each of us with a purpose and a plan.  He does have a perfect plan for us all but because of sin we get it wrong. Constantly.  The good news is that no matter what is happening, whether good or bad, He is there.  He is there to lead if we are willing to acknowledge.  He is willing to comfort and heal if we are willing to let go.  It just becomes a matter of changing our perspective and seeing our trials as His way of drawing us closer to Him.  Acknowledge Him…it is a beautiful thing.

How do you know?

Today I posted a status on Facebook about finally finding the church where I belong.  A friend commented wanting to know how I knew it was the “right” church.  It is one of those questions where the simple answer is “I just know” but in my heart, there is a bigger answer and I want to be more specific.
Let me begin by saying, I have a history with churches.  I grew up in church.  I have attended church since before I was born 🙂  I have been involved within each church I have attended in some way or another.

Growing up, church became an important part of me.  With that said, that became a problem when church became a simple routine.  Part of my checklist for the week.

I grew up knowing that I had to go to church.  It is no fault of anyone just part of being raised in the south.  You go to church on Sunday.  From there it is what you make of it.  

I attended a church in my area for around ten years.  While attending this church, I believed it was the BEST church I had ever attended.  I thought it could do no wrong and I followed the leaders accordingly without questioning a word that was taught. I accepted all things as truth.  I believed that those in leadership were Christ-like and would “lead me in the way in which I should go.”  I placed people on pedestals, placing them above God,  which was wrong.  I learned the hard way and experience a lot of hurt to discover the true purpose of the church not to mention the true place of those of leadership within the church. God used a painful experience to open my eyes to those truths.
In The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, Tozer states that “…for millions of Christians, nevertheless, God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian.  They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle.”
It took time, but finally I realized I had spent many years going through life trying to follow an ideal, a set of rules/principles.  Furthermore, I was under the leadership of those who made their own rules, their own doctrine and expected those under them to follow as well.  If you crossed them in any way, they turned their back on you.  You did not question their authority.

While I was in the midst of the church, I could not see it.  I had family and friends who would visit and point out questionable things to me but I would defend my church and instead accuse those condemning my church as not being where they should be in their own walk.  OH PLEASE!  This is how we were made to think at this church.  If people did not believe as we believed, they were in sin.

Looking back on it now, it is somewhat scary.  Eventually that is what happened to me.  When I questioned authority, people were told that I was in sin and to stay away from or ignore me. (I would later discover this had been the truth for many others who found themselves questioning the practices of this church.) This is when God began to open my eyes.  This is when He began showing me my own ignorance not to mention arrogance along with my true need for Him.

It is also when I began to realize that God wanted me.  He did not want me following rules or principles set by someone else but instead total surrender to Him.  He wanted me to exclusively follow Him.

I have learned that when asking God for truth or direction, He will often speak in ways which leave you confident the question being asked is heard AND answered.  At the beginning of the year, I received a letter from my previous church that stated I had nothing to offer the people of that church and I was no longer welcome there.  For me, that was the final bit of closure I needed to let go and acknowledge the un-truths being taught at the place I once called home.

Knowing that Jesus spent the majority of His time with sinners should be the example for churches in how we reach people.  He avoided the Pharisees like the plague.  He ministered to those who needed His love, His grace and His mercy.  That is how you know you have found a church that follows Christ.  They reach out to those who need Him the most.

A church that turns away the broken or the sinful is not a church where Christ is the center. 

It took me a while to find a church that I trusted.  A place where people were genuine and truly living out the gospel.  I spent a lot of time questioning whether pastors I heard preaching were “real.”  It was not until I saw them “practicing what they preached” that I truly knew. The church I found was and is more interested in being Jesus to the broken.

It has become an amazing blessing to see Jesus alive in this world and to be a part of a church family where the love of God is lived out by those committed to being the hands and feet of Jesus. Following Jesus with a church family and a leadership team that truly loves not just in words but in action as well, has taught me much about God’s love, grace and mercy.

I do not believe my church is perfect.  I do not believe that any church is perfect.  Instead, I believe my church, all churches, are made up of imperfect/sinful people in need of a Savior.  And because of that truth, we each should be willing to do whatever is needed to take the love of Jesus to a world that that needs HIS love.