contemplating community & becoming a beautiful mess

In the past 9 months, I have slept in nearly 30 different spaces spread out over four countries and three states. Planes, buses, futons, sleeping bags, cement floors, guest bedrooms, bunk beds, airports, teepees (okay…just one teepee).  Over the past 5 years, I’ve stayed in seven different countries, functioned in four temporary communities (by design), and called six different structures home for at least 3 months – 2 years being my longest residence.

And I’m tired. Because change can be exhausting. And I feel like all I’ve done is live in transition. Which has left me worn out and wondering, more than ever, what community is really all about.

I wouldn’t trade the opportunities I’ve had over the past few years for any amount of money. I have loved every minute of this crazy, unpredictable adventure with my Best Friend. And even when the experiences have alienated, drained, confused, and intimidated me, I could still taste and see the goodness and provision of God in my circumstances. (Though, I will admit that sometimes, the revelations of His constant care came hindsight.)

And now I’m in Denver. A place that God has so clearly called me and established as my home for at least the next years and at most, until He calls me elsewhere. I love Colorado. It has been my favorite destination since I was a kid. But as I am getting settled in and trying to find my way in this new home (which, by the way, is a word that I have learned to apply to any place that I live for more than a month…adaptability grows with practice 😉 ), I am realizing that the longing for community and belonging is something that will never be fully satisfied until we reach the shores of Heaven. Because that is the place and community that we were designed to dwell within.

So where does that leave me now? With a heart burning to know and be known and a passion for people and their stories, weaknesses, brokenness and deep yearnings for redemption?

Sometimes it leaves me vulnerable. Vulnerable to heartbreak, unhealthy relationships in which I try to substitute the love and affirmation of another person for the all-satisfying love of God, disappointment, physical vices to fill a spiritual void. Sometimes it leaves me lonely and wanting. Sometimes it leaves me fearful that I will never be fully known, loved, or appreciated on this side of Heaven. Sometimes it leaves me discouraged and depressed.

But sometimes it leaves me hoping. Hoping that Jesus will take me by surprise again – that just as He has taken me by the hand and kept me throughout this remarkable journey on earth, He will take me by the hand again, here in Colorado, where He has planted me for such a time as this. Hoping that just as He has satisfied the deep places of my heart when I have felt isolated in foreign countries, He will satisfy the deep longings of my heart here in Denver. And once I am satisfied in Him, I believe He will bring the right people into my life who will become my daily community.

Sometimes this longing to be known and this craving for community brings me to my knees, on my face, shaking with sobs in an empty room with an unseen God watching over me. And I can be weak and let Him be strong. Because I am. And He is. And the best part of me is Him. Always. Forever.

And there is something beautiful in the real, the raw, the messy. When we get our hands dirty in the beautiful mess of life and try to untangle the strands that have gotten muddled together in the ups and downs of our respective journeys, that is when life happens. And when I let you into my mess and my raw emotion and my struggles and my wrestling and when you let me into yours, that is when life happens together.

I have this goal in this new chapter called living in Colorado. And it’s this: to live simply and to embrace the mess, confusion, and adventure with honesty, integrity, authenticity, transparency, and intentionality.

But before I can be honest with others, I have to be honest with myself. And when I’m honest with myself, then I can have honest conversations with God which will impact my conversations in community. Only then can I live a life of authenticity and transparency which will foster an organic community of men and women who can walk with me and hold me accountable to integrity and intentionality.

So I’m ready to have some ideas, habits, and preconceived notions uprooted so God can plant some fresh seeds into the soil of my life. And though there are still many unknowns and though the longings for the kind of intentional community I’ve experienced in past seasons remains, I can see hints of my sovereign Lord working all things together for my good.

And though I know that much of what God does for us is behind the scenes and we will never fully know the depth of how He is working on our behalf, I know that He is working on my behalf. Because He brought me here miraculously and quickly, yet with great care and precision. He is the God of the details.

And as I pray to see the big picture and aspire to rejoice in the BIGNESS of who God is and how this adventure fits into the grand story of God’s story, I know that He will replenish what has been taken, breathe life into the desert places of my soul, and grant me the community I need to thrive in this season.

So I am thanking Him for what is behind and all that is before. And I’m thanking Him for the freedom to be real and raw and at rest as I watch this journey unfold.

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a wretch like me: running into marvelous light

My face is wet with hot, salty tears. I have been sobbing for the past hour as I have listened to the wise words of my brother Erik and the compelling testimonies of two women who are dear to my heart.

Though I am 1200 miles away from my church family, the Spirit of God is certainly closing in the distance. Geographical distance has no bearing when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit. As I listened to Erik’s message, I felt like I was in the sanctuary with everyone else. Last week, my dear friend Lisa gave her testimony along with Erik’s phenomenal talk on homosexuality as a part of the Journey’s Counter Culture series. And yesterday, my amazing roomie Kelly and my good friend Mercedes both shared during Erik’s talk on abortion.

The conviction, humility, and passion of Erik’s message and the incredible boldness and courage of three women to share their stories has absolutely wrecked me. For I, too, am a sinner with a story that God has been speaking truth and light into over the past few years – out of darkness, out of shame. I, too, am a broken person who has fears, regret, guilt, and shame from struggles that have far too long been kept hidden away, for fear of man.

And I know that in this season, God is bringing more healing and life and light into the wounded and shameful areas of my heart and I look forward to the day when I can soon share details of my story that have not been shared before. I look forward to the day when the painful and shameful parts of my past will become part of my public testimony. Because I know that God is BIGGER than my fears and His light is more POWERFUL than any darkness and His truth is more PIERCING than any lies of the enemy. And I know that He will be glorified through my brokenness and weakness, because that is the kind of champion God that we serve. 

So I wept because I know that His grace is sufficient for me.

And I wept because I know that when men and women of God begin to bring their sin and struggles into the light, that sin and shame loses its power. And as men and women of God step through the fear and lies and speak openly and honestly about their shortcomings, fears, and failures, light overpowers the darkness.

And the captives are set free.

Something happens in the heavenly realms when we, as broken people, admit our sin and our need for a Savior. Truly – something breaks in the spiritual realm when we confess our sins and ask God for the grace and forgiveness and strength to carry us. When we admit that we cannot heal by concealing our sins or striving for perfection or trying to keep it all together, then God’s grace abounds and He is glorified and we are FREED.

And friends, as individuals like Lisa, Kelly, and Mercedes publicly declare what God has done in their lives, then other people are led into freedom.

In Revelation 12:11, it says, “And they have conquered him [the accuser, the enemy, the Father of lies] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

When we choose not to love our own lives or try to make much of ourselves or make our sin and struggles look good and when we choose to let Christ’s truth spill over us and break the chains of the enemy’s lies, then the enemy loses his power. 

We are encouraged and commanded in James 5:16 – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

This confession is not God’s ploy to get us to air all of our dirty laundry so we can feel horrible about ourselves. No – on the contrary – God knows that in speaking our sins to each other and confessing our sin and brokenness, coming before our Lord and Savior in prayer, we will be healed of all of the shame and guilt of our sins.

Because Jesus bore the punishment of our sins on the cross. And while we have already been freed and forgiven by Christ’s blood, unconfessed sin – both to God and to others – keeps us in a prison of bondage, and we remain slaves to the memory of our sins even if the sin itself is far behind us. 

We serve a God of love who is all about freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

-Galatians 5:1

Jesus wants us to live as FREE men and women! He delights when His children cast off their heavy weights and chains and take up his yoke, which is easy, and his burden, which is light (Matthew 11:29-30).

So friends, will you please take a moment to listen to the testimonies of these women? Will you take a moment to come to Jesus or to a friend regarding your own sin, which maybe you have tried to push down over the years?

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

This is true. We have an enemy, called the “father of lies,” who is constantly trying to destroy us from the inside out. But we also have a great hope – a great Advocate in Jesus, who is fighting for our freedom.

Did you know Jesus prays for you? He does. Check out John 17:20-23 if you want to see for yourself. And just as Jesus prays for us, we should pray for each other. And be willing to share and confess our sins and struggles to each other. Because freedom is found in confession and repentance and declaring the glory and grace of God in the midst of our deepest darkness and most futile efforts to fix our brokenness. 

I don’t know what you are struggling with. I don’t know what lies are battling for control of your mind and possession of your soul. But I do not that our God is bigger. And that He has called us into marvelous light – out of darkness and out of shame (1 Peter 2:9-10).

I urge you, brothers and sisters, pursue this great God who grants healing and hope to the hopeless and defeated places of our hearts. He is worthy and He is able to turn our stories of pain and shame into testimonies of redemption, grace, and victory. 

I love what Erik said about God’s grace – which is the crux of why we can live as free even though, at one point, we bore the stain of our sin. He said, “Grace does not force us to make much of ourselves. It forces us to make much of our great Savior.”

Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus.

This is my prayer and I invite you to pray this along with me today if you are feeling attacked by the enemy or torn down by the shame of a sin and a burden God is calling you to lay down:

Sweet Jesus, you know the depths of my heart. And you love me the same – which amazes me! Father, your grace ASTOUNDS me. Lord, that you know the weight of my sin and still forgive me and love me and want to journey with me towards complete healing and freedom amazes me. Flood the darkness with your light, precious Redeemer! In the name of Jesus, keep the enemy – the father of lies – far from me. See me and shower me with your Truth and light and love, most Holy God.

Please provide friends and mentors and lovers of God who will help point my eyes to You, precious Lord, and will walk with me in this journey towards hope and healing. Help me, Father, as I continue to step into the light. Give me the courage and boldness to step in obedience and walk the road you have laid before me. Jesus, please grant me the peace and hope that I need in this journey.

Thank you, Lord, thank you for your grace! Thank you for saving a wretch like me! Thank you for freedom and light and life! Grant us grace as the Body of Christ to walk with and love each other with the love of Christ as we walk with each other. Give us the courage to live honestly and to be transparent with each other. Father, we are broken. We have no goodness in and of ourselves. Please help us to see You and to look to you and to live in the light of your Truth. 

You are beautiful, Jesus, and your grace is truly amazing. Thank you, Father, for your love and care for me. Precious Lord, bring freedom into our hearts today. Right now, God, shine into our hearts and lead us out of shame and into healing and hope. For you are worthy of all glory and honor and power, and we believe You can be glorified through even the darkest parts of our stories. Thank you that you are a God who pursues us and desires freedom for us. We praise your name, most High God! Amen.

May we walk in the light as He is in the light. And may we encourage our brothers and sisters who are faithfully walking in boldness and truth and accepting the grace and mercy He so freely gives. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Confessions of a Modern Day Idol Worshipper

I’m a fraud at best. A traitor who claims to love Jesus with my words, yet spends more time loving the world than meditating on his words. A Gomer, bought with a high price by my Beloved, yet continuing to whore myself out to lesser lovers – the idols of this world which steal away my affections and hide my heart in their shallow graves when my heart could be hidden securely in the hands of my Creator.

Why do I do this? Why do I run to the world to satisfy the deepest longings of my heart when I know that my Lord came so I may have life to the fullest? 

There is no better life apart from an abiding walk with Jesus. And in my heart and head, I cry out for just a closer walk, yet by my actions, it is clear that I am not in pursuit of the One who dreamed me into existence and birthed me from dust so that he could save me from myself and deliver me into the heavenly realms, at the foot of his glorious throne in eternity.

This week, I realized the weight of my chains. The depravity of my addiction. The depth of my desire to love and be loved. And it gutted me. Because I have chosen to worship a lesser god. I have chosen, too often, to root my identity in man-made kingdoms of sand which will quickly fade and hold no meaning beyond this earth. Except the meaning that “where my treasure is, there my heart will be also,” and that the things I treasure here on earth expose who or what my heart truly loves.

My idol is not a golden calf or a statue of Baal. That would be absurd. Why, I would be a fool to bow to such a lifeless being.

But my idol is smaller. And no less foolish. My idol fits in the palm of my hand, does not move or breathe, and does not care about my heart in the slightest. It is the tool which keeps me connected to my friends, photos, emails, and the endless black hole of internet information which threatens to make human research and reason extinct.

Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m addicted to my iPhone.

Shocking? Scandalous? Anticlimactic?

Go ahead, roll your eyes. You might think you know where this is going. But I bet you don’t.

I’m not here to rant about technology, belittle the techno-generation, berate the culture of instant gratification, or mourn the degradation of text-only friendships.

Because I don’t think God cares about that.

But I do know that he cares about our hearts. And this is a heart issue. And one that I know I am not alone in coming up against.

When Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10), I don’t think he meant, “I came so that you may have life abundantly, but if you need some other things in your life to make you feel secure and happy, that is totally cool with me.”

No, actually, I think he meant, “Anything that you are relying on to feel full of life that is NOT me is actually a thief. And it’s destroying you. And it’s killing you. Because it is eating away at your soul and keeping you from fully seeing and experiencing me.”

After you whip out your iPhone (or respective “smart” phone) and scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, tell me, do you ever actually feel better about yourself? When you take a break in your day to pour over your Instagram feed, do the images of others living what looks like “the good life” actually increase your joy when you feel like you are barely hanging on by a thread?

Does that constant nagging that you have to prove yourself as a wife, mother, adventurous spirit, exciting person, or I-love-Jesus-all-the-time-and-my-life-never-sucks-super-Christian truly fill the void in your heart? Or does it fail to satisfy the part of your heart which is screaming, “See me. Love me. I am wasting away on the inside and just want somebody to notice?”

We all have a deep craving to be seen, loved, and treasured. We want to be affirmed, approved, and appreciated.

We all want to be noticed.

And while we are busy begging for the world’s affections, God is quietly and patiently waiting on us to be still in our hearts, minds, and spirits long enough to hear him in the stillness and realize that his love, which is stronger than death is enough to satisfy even the deepest, most desperate cry of our hearts. 

Even though idolatry is a major issue here, I think we need to focus on why we turn to idols rather than the 5-step plan to rid our lives of idols. We’ve heard enough sermons, written enough resolutions, and made enough attempts to give up our addictions. But have we ever really considered why we turn to these other things when God is so available and deeply soul-satisfying?

Here are some of my theories: 

1. We don’t believe God is who he says that he is and do not trust him to satisfy us like he says that he will.

2. We are afraid of admitting our weakness, desperation, and need for a daily Savior in a culture which tells us we need to have it all together and then flaunt our “have-it-all-togetherness.”

3. We are afraid that maybe God is enough and are scared that we might have to change everything about our lives once we discover that God is actually enough. 

Friends, take comfort in this –

God is who he says he is. And he tells us to wait on him for a reason…he wants us to know the depth of joy, love, peace, and satisfaction that life abundantly in him offers. And guess what? When we lift our eyes to Christ and allow his Spirit to fill us and satisfy us, changing everything about our lives isn’t even a thought. Because when we encounter the depths of God – when we truly pause to let God meet with us instead of striving and trying to work to get God’s attention (that is a topic for another day) – then we become changed people. And our lifestyles will naturally change to reflect that over time. 

So what does this have to do with my conviction over too much time, attention, and energy being poured into a silly piece of technology?

It has to do with my heart. With our hearts. It has to do with the sobering reality that far too often, I spend more time talking about what is going on in my world or posting pictures of my life or being connected to all the happenings of my friends than I do spending time with the One who created me and longs to reveal himself to me more each day.

Do you ever feel anxious after scoping out Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other website dedicated to empowering people to create their own cyber kingdoms? There is something to that. Because all of these websites captivate our eyes and tempt our hearts to long for the things of the world and our own empowerment rather than casting our eyes on the perfect Savior who not only saved us in the past, but is continuing to save and redeem us each day from our own pride, greed, envy, jealousy, and discouragement. 

You want to hear something scary?

I’m going to tell you anyway. Because this should frighten us and lead to some major reflection and repentance:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.

-Psalm 135:15-18

Did you catch that last line?

Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.

Do you know what that means? If we are spending all of our time clutching our technology and posting and viewing pictures and updates, then we will become as dead and lifeless as the technology that we worship. And those thieves which steal our time and our affections will make us blind and deaf to the Truth even when Jesus is staring us directly in the face. I hope that terrifies you the way it terrified me when I heard it presented in a sermon recently.

We must understand – worshipping these earthly idols does not mean singing songs at things other than Jesus. That misunderstanding comes from a poorly constructed theology of worship. Worship is “adoring reverence and regard.” And we better believe that regarding the things or the people in our lives more than Jesus is no different or less absurd than Aaron and the Israelites making much of a statue of a cow. 

The cry of our hearts should be for more of Jesus and his Kingdom and less of our shabby, earthly kingdoms where we pose as kings and queens in a universe that revolves all around our activities.

Yes, Jesus frees us from the weight of our sins, but he also wants to free us from the pressure to prove ourselves to others, the anxiety that arises when we focus too long on the things of this world, and the discouragement that abounds when we dedicate ourselves to lives of comparison of others rather than celebration of the One who bought our freedom. 

My earnest hope is that you and I can set aside our idols only after we have taken the time to truly be still and look to Christ for satisfaction and fulfillment. He truly is as worthy as he says he is. And the life of abiding in Christ is also the life which demands and inspires authenticity – the comfort to be who we really are and admit that everything isn’t always hunky-dory, but Jesus is our hope and anchor even when this world threatens to drain us dry and drown us beneath the stormy seas.