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Before I ever left my former church, prayer time disturbed me. I went through a time when prayer was simply weeping and wailing, “stammering lips” and “tongues” that had no substance for me. I left those “prayer” times with a deep feeling of sorrow or grief, not with peace and joy. But those experiences were common for me.

After I left, I didn’t pray much for several years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pray. I admired others’ prayers. But when I would start praying, I’d hear the same “Pentecostal catch-phrases” again and again, and those bothered me as much as the weeping and wailing and feeling of grief had. “Oh, God, touch. God move, minister tonight. Oh, Jesus, precious Lord, be with us. Deliver us. Help me. Help them. Show me…” It drove me nuts, but I coudn’t stop saying them when I wanted to pray, so I just stopped praying. Kind of.

I didn’t pray in the Pentecostal or even in the traditional church sense, but somehow I still think I was in communication with God. It surprised me when I thought one night, wow, it would sure be nice if… and soon, that nice thing happened. My first response? Wow, God, thank you for answering that… uh, prayer? I hadn’t “prayed” but I did believe God answered. That happened several times. After I stopped “praying” it seemed more of my hope-thoughts were answered than before when I had strung my catch phrases together for an hour a day with a wish list thrown in.

There’ve been plenty of times that I wished I had a “prayer life”. I’ve been embarassed when others asked about my quiet time or my prayer life and I had to admit that I didn’t have anything that they would consider a prayer time or quiet time. Still, I hoped that sometime things would settle down and prayer would become a part of my life in a more traditional way again. And so it has gone, for several years before I left and for several since, as well.

Two weekends ago, I visited a church. In Sunday School, there were prayer requests that went on for 20 minutes or so. Prayer time that went on and on. It irritated me a little, but I laughed it off. Then this Sunday at another church, something similar happened. I don’t know what it was about this time, but something about that prayer time really upset me. It seemed, I suppose, more like people were talking to each other about the problems than really putting them in God’s hands. The requests were ongoing: this person wants to have a second child but hasn’t yet, that person is getting older. There was nothing wrong with the requests, but the discussion that each stirred… the half an hour of study time lost in prayer request discussion… it just wasn’t good timing for me. Or maybe it was.

Something seemed to click for me on Sunday. Nothing earth-shattering, but for a change I realized how I wanted to pray. Not with the catch phrases or the wish lists, but more talking to God, discussing things with Him, not everyone else. I told someone today that I think a whole lot of church prayer requests are more to comfort the requester than the one whom we are supposed to be praying for. And if others are anything like me… I wonder how many people have really prayed for a situation themselves anytime before asking prayer in public? It’s more to make the requester feel better, feel they’ve done something, and comforting or encouraging them than with any real empathy or compassion for the one being prayed for. At least it seems that way to me.

(Soapbox over.) And so there was a new curiosity about prayer. I visited the church library after service and discovered a series by Louie Giglio entitled Prayer: A Remix. Wow, Louie Giglio put into words what had been bothering me. After the first part of that series, I found myself praying, and enjoying prayer, for the first time in years. Do I have a prayer life? No. I may never, because I don’t want to fall back into the ruts that have driven me nuts. But it’s not about having a prayer life. It’s about being in communication with God, about talking to Him. THAT I can now enjoy, and that has taken a much different meaning for me after the last few days.

He lists several prayers that we say:
Bless me,
Be with me,
Watch over and protect me,
And forgive me for all my sins.

He responds:
Our prayers are self centered. How many end in “me” or “us”?
We have already been blessed. The God of the universe stepped into time, died for us, was resurrected, saved us… we are blessed.
Jesus has promised to be with us, to never leave us or forsake us.
and… maybe we should pray, Lord, I want to bless you. Live through me. I know you are with me. Thank you. Use me-it’s not about being watched over and protected, you may lead me into difficult situations. But instead, just use me, God. No matter what.

To which I say, Amen!

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Foundations

Originally posted October 26, 2010

When I first left my former church, and for several years before that, I was terrified to let go of what I’d been taught. What if it was THE Truth? Would I be lost? Would I go to Hell? Would God strike me down? Was I really walking out on Him?

My fears were very well taught in the church I’d been in, but they were completely unfounded. Walking out of a building doesn’t signify one’s lack of faith. Neither does asking questions or even having doubts, as odd as that may seem. But can a person have faith if there are no doubts? And as for walking out on God… how can you walk out on an omnipresent God? Where can you go that He isn’t?

So… I’ve blogged about foundations before, but I’m doing it again. It’s wonderful to be able to ask questions, to examine beliefs without fear. God knows about the doubts, and I really don’t think He minds. How can my brain grasp an idea as big as God, anyway? 1 Cor 3:11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our foundation. Other places call Him the corner stone and the rock. Our salvation is in Him. (And if God is real, nothing can shake Him.)

1 Cor 3:12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 

All the doctrines and teachings and everything we’ve done and believed could be things that were built on Jesus. And when trials come or everything falls apart, it looks to us, standing on the ground, like the foundation must surely be gone. But the foundation isn’t above ground where we can see; it’s down in the ground. What we’re seeing is everything that’s been built being shaken and blowing away.

Guess I’ve lived in the midwest too long–I picture a tornado. The tornado doesn’t usually even fracture the foundation, even if it turns the house to splinters. In the tornado, officials even tell you to go to the basement, because the foundation is the safest place to be. I know it’s different with earthquakes, but even in earthquakes it seems like the foundations that are built right are not what usually crumbles. If the foundation isn’t built right, the owners often bulldoze and start over.

14If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved….

I got pretty mad about the rubble people built in my life, of pleasing others rather than God and of false teachings and doctrines. And then I realized I wanted those things to topple. I decided I could almost enjoy watching all they built fall, because then I’d know what was built well and what wasn’t. After the shaking is finished, I can go in, sweep out all the rubbish, and check the foundation and anything left standing. Something stronger can then be built where the straw houses were built before.

Have I “survived”? Well there are still some things shaking in my life. The straw houses didn’t survive, though, and I can laugh as I sweep them away.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKMw1ndl-EY

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Questions

Originally posted January 3, 2011

Some years ago, I was thrown out of a church because the pastor falsely accused me of things and wouldn’t allow me to even say I hadn’t done what he accused me of. He told me that if he said I did it, he was a Man of God, and God had obviously talked to him about me and revealed the wickedness in my heart. He also preached that I would walk out of church the night he kicked me out and immediately go and cut my hair and wear pants and makeup. I felt like I was betraying him by NOT doing those things, proving that he was a false prophet. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I believed THE Truth, so I didn’t cut my hair or put on pants. I simply found another Oneness church and tried to act like nothing had happened.

The new pastor told me to just forget about what had happened and move on. But I couldn’t. What happened had created a lot of questions and doubts in my mind, things that I needed to work through and discuss. I needed time to heal. They wanted to act like there was nothing to heal, and that hurt worse.

I always felt condemned for not doing crazy things in church. After being kicked out, something disconnected. I went to church, and would shake “under the power of God.” I’d never done that before. People would tell me how close I must be to God. I didn’t feel close to God. I’d been kicked out of a church, but they didn’t know that, so I felt like a hypocrite. I also knew the shaking wasn’t God, it was me wrestling hard to reconcile what I believed was The Truth with what I had seen, heard, and experienced that blared that it wasn’t. There was such a deep grief and so much condemnation associated with praying, fasting, and studying the Bible… and especially with worship. The new church was very pushy about how much I should worship and exactly how we should and shouldn’t worship. That didn’t help me at all, because so much of what he told us we needed to do seemed unnatural or just plain weird or wrong to me.

It took me years to untangle what had happened in the church I was kicked out of. I had been happy in a way, and spoke in tongues often and danced a lot. When I was kicked out, even though I went to a different oneness Pentecostal church (where the pastor assured me I was fine), things just weren’t the same. I doubted pretty much everything I was feeling, because the pastor who kicked me out said I was backslid and terribly wrong. If that were true (and of course it must be-he was a Holy Ghost filled preacher) then what I had felt, and the speaking in tongues and the worship I was doing must be all wrong, too. How could sweet and bitter water come from the same source, after all? I almost “got past that” but then with all the show and people really hurting people in the altar of the new church, I started relooking some things.

At the same time, I went through a time when every time I tried to pray, I’d pretty much immediately fall into heartwrenching grief and start sobbing and speaking in tongues. I knew that wasn’t right. There is joy in the Holy Ghost, and what was happening couldn’t have been considered intercession. I’d focus on God and say “I love you” or think of a recent service or have a happy thought that I’d be able to stay in that church for the rest of my life… and suddenly start bawling, when I hadn’t been sad before that word of prayer or that thought of thankfulness! A week of that would have been one thing, but that went on for a month or more. And I couldn’t seem to pray at all at church. By the end of that time, I knew something was terribly wrong, but I didn’t know what (or wouldn’t admit it) for a few more years.

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I wish I could put into words just how much God’s done in my life ina the last year and a half. There are probably many of you who feel the same… God has surely been good to me. I spent years thinking I was a Christian, thinking I was serving God through my own efforts, knowing it wasn’t enough but having no idea what more to do… and finally realizing that the only thing I could really do is stop trying to prove what I could do for God and accept what He’s done for me instead.

I’ve wanted to say more about what God’s done in my life without going into too much detail, but to simply say my life was falling apart and God put it back together again seems trite and doesn’t even begin to explain what He’s done for me, either.

For 19 years, due to some mistaken teachings and understandings of scripture, I believed I had to do many things to remain one of God’s people. Friends and I would talk about losing salvation, losing the Holy Ghost, and just trying to make it [to Heaven]. There was a lot of fear and very little faith, and what faith I had was slowly being eroded by spiritual competition, comparisons of myself to others, and a feeling of never being “good enough”. God wasn’t a loving Father, but a righteous judge ready to condemn anyone who didn’t measure up. If a person didn’t go to every service, dress well enough, say and do the right things, pray enough, fast enough, give enough, make enough of an outward show in worship, praise the right people often enough,  have enough things, marry well enough, fellowship enough… then THEY weren’t enough. They weren’t “right with God”. They were “backslid”. They weren’t, surely, doing enough or praying enough if they weren’t blessed in the way someone else was.

When I was truly honest with myself, I would realize I wasn’t doing “good enough”, even if I was doing all I could. But I kept trying… trying to do a little more, a little better. Trying to gain the approval of certain others, because surely that indicated God might approve of me, too. Trying. Constantly trying, and knowing I failed.

I could say it took courage or faith to step out and begin asking questions and studying, but it wasn’t courage and it wasn’t faith. I stepped out not in courage or faith, but in absolute desperation. I felt there was no other choice. And then an inkling of hope. Just a very small hope, but a little hope. Surely if I believed God filled the universe, that heaven was His throne and the earth His footstool, surely I could find God somewhere outside the boundaries I’d set for Him in my limited understanding. If I believed salvation was the great gift I believed it to be… well, maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as easy to “lose” as I’d been taught it was.

The further I’ve gotten from that time, the more I realize what an awesome thing God did for me. Through all I labeled as turmoil, chaos, and trouble, God was leading me. He would use even the darkest times to teach me. In some of the times I felt furthest from Him, He was actually drawing me closer to Him. The hurts and trouble in my life may not have been all determined by God, but He still used those things that I hated the most and shed the most tears over to bring the greatest joy in my life, and to eventually lead me to a place of peace and rest in Him that I would have never found had He left me where I was comfortable and so determined to stay.

It was like coming out of the water after holding my breath a bit too long. Coughing, breathing hard, trying to catch my breath while treading water. It was as thought just as I thought I’d be ok, a wave would rush in, someone would dive in and splash me, and I’d breathe more water.  But at the same time, there were many times when things connected. When I prayed a simple prayer of rededication and felt truly forgiven. When I studied and discovered something I’d never seen in the Bible before. Realizing something I used to have nightmares about finally didn’t bother me anymore. Talking and laughing with friends over memories. Many little things, God’s grace woven into my life, His redemption and love at work. I wish I could explain it, but I can’t. Not really. There is no way to put into words how thankful I am for what God’s done.

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1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you…
For a long time, I resented this verse. It seemed good, until I went through something. Then it kind of stuck on my tongue… one of those things. Kind of like a big spoonful of peanut butter without anything to drink and no jelly. Good, but sticky enough to choke you if you got too much at once. In everything?When I lost something special? When I was betrayed or hurt or lonely? When someone died? Everything?Sick! Crazy, ludicrous, impossible! But then…

It took awhile, but I started looking at the verse differently than what it was generally quoted at me as meaning. God doesn’t expect us to be thankful for the bad things that happen to us, but rather hopes we can be thankful in spite of them-that we can look past the hurts and the confusion and fear, to a God that is bigger than all of those things.

God doesn’t plan for all the bad things that happen in the world. He gave us free will when He put the tree in the garden, and from the time Adam bit its fruit, He has allowed people to decide some things and act on those decisions. Those decisions and their consequences are man’s, not God’s. He didn’t plan for Able to be killed, or Lot to pitch toward Sodom. He didn’t plan for Babel to be built, Eli’s sons to be corrupt, or Jezebel to murder His prophets. He may have known that they would do those things or could do those things, but He didn’t choose for some people to do bad things to others. Sure, He hardened Pharoah’s heart-but only to build the Israelites’ trust in Him after a long captivity. There were times that He intervened. But not for ultimate harm. Always for good.

And so I’ve come to view that verse differently. God doesn’t expect me to be thankful for bad things that happen, but to be thankful that He’s with me through the bad times. It’s not a matter of false cheeriness, hiding sorrow behind a smile. It isn’t about denying negative feelings or pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. It’s a matter of trusting Him, of finding in Him some goodness, knowing that when bad things happen, it isn’t because He doesn’t love me or planned for the bad things. He gave us a choice, and someone made the wrong one. I don’t have to be thankful for that; many times that would mean I had to rejoice in someone’s sin. What I do need to at least attempt to do is look past the problems to the One who can solve them, and know He’ll bring me through.

There is only one plan I know God has had since the beginning of time. That plan wasn’t for any of the bad things that have happened in the thousands of years since… no, it was for the best thing that happened in all time. A plan that involved a lamb… and a cross.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you

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For years I’ve wondered how to know the will of God. We were told to seek God’s will, to pray and fast and study the Word, and hope we got it right. So “the Will” always seemed just out of reach.

Today I ran into a different version of the will of God, and liked it a lot. I stopped in to see a minister friend (nonpentecostal) today. He knows some of my situation and asked how I was doing. We chatted for awhile. Then he asked, “So how do you feel about things now?” I asked what he meant and he said about leaving church. My answer? Happy. His response surprised me but it sure made sense. He said that was good, because if we are happy with a decision even after it is acted on, that generally means it was the right decision to have made.

Peace. Happiness. Joy. Some of the most elusive feelings in all of humanity, and yet in doing something totally “wrong” (leaving my church), I’ve felt them all. Not for leaving, no. I loved being in a Pentecostal church, and miss it. I don’t miss being Pentecostal, because I can be Pentecostal whether fellowshipping with a particular body or not, and I don’t miss my church, with its myriad problems, because it wasn’t really mine. No-I miss the ideal of church that was preached and portrayed as possible over the years.

So did I do the right thing in leaving? I wake up in the morning looking forward to the day. I enjoy going to church and am curious what the preacher will have to say. I’m coming to a place where I want to pray and read the Bible again, after several years of feeling prayer and Bible reading were only tasks to complete-and often troubling ones, at that. Now maybe those times can become a personal commitment and special interaction with my Father. They can mean what they should again. Did I do the right thing? I smile more, laugh often, feel more rested and relaxed, and enjoy life more fully. I notice people more readily, and find them smiling back at me. I haven’t denied my faith, but rather sense that it is deepening.

Yes, I did the right thing.

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Sometimes I feel like dancing…

I don’t know what to write. There is so much going through my mind, and sometimes there aren’t words for what we experience. That’s where I am right now. Sometime, probably soon, several pages will all appear at once on my blog, but for now, I’m just happy and enjoying that happiness.

Several months before I left church, the pastor preached and said that people appear happier for awhile after they leave church, because they have made a decision one way or the other after riding the fence for so long. After being out awhile, I have to say that is probably wrong, at least in some cases. I’m not happy to have left-I still believe much the same things and dress much the same way, and I miss my friends. I haven’t figured out yet how to make connections outside of church, and so I’m lonely sometimes too.

But I’m also just… joyful. I am finally getting the rest that I need, when I need it. Enjoying the peacefulness and quiet of my home. Cleaning house, since that was always the first thing to fall by the wayside when I was overwhelmed. Organizing. And feeling good about myself for doing these things and for not always worrying about what anyone will say or think or do. Just being myself. Its been a nice change.

Do I enjoy being able to do whatever I want? Of course. But what have I done? I ate soup with a man, in broad daylight, without a chaperone. I’ve watched three and a half movies (plus two and a half before I left). YouTube sometimes, a little face powder for a while, trimmed my hair twice just a tiny bit. And missed church. What have I found? Its fun to meet new people or to share a meal with someone without a chaperone. Movies are generally pretty boring, even if they were once favorites. I could care less about makeup, and like my hair as it is, but don’t think trimming it was a sin. I really enjoy the hymns and quiet worship of many denominal churches, their sermons about God’s love and mercy and grace, and their teachings about how to love each other… and haven’t yet found one that seems to be a good fit for me. But that’s OK.

And in all these things and others, I’ve discovered that it’s OK to relax. God loves us. He isn’t waiting to whack us if we are a little “off”. He won’t strike us the minute we stumble, but like any good parent will gently catch us, set us upright and encourage us to keep walking. It’s nice to be imperfect. And it’s a joy to realize perfection isn’t required. God loves us just the way we are.

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