The Price of Religious Freedom

The American Church is sick. If you have grown up in it, or have never gone on missions trips to third world countries, you may not realize it. But the moment reality hits us of what some of our brothers and sisters risk every time they gather for church—though they can’t call it that—in a neighbor’s home, we realize how comfortable we have become. Whenever the devastation and absolute poverty confronts us, whether from pictures from Haiti, stories from Guatemala, or skeletal children singing praises from Sudan, we see their absolute joy and hope in the Lord. And we realize that by comparison, we are empty. These precious people are putting their lives in danger to hear more of the Gospel. Or they have nothing of consequence – considering themselves blessed if there is any sort of roof over their head—and yet their smiles are radiant. Their eyes sparkle with the truth of Jesus Christ. They, who seemingly have nothing, have found everythingThey, who risk any status or comfort that the world offers, have found the one worth losing it all, even their lives.light shining

Nik Ripken, an impassioned author (his book The Insanity of God messed me up forever) and missionary, shared with me the thoughts of many of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Asia. They see the “golden” life we live here—free to speak, free to worship, free to praise, free to lift up His name in any way we choose—and they wonder why God doesn’t love them as much as He loves us here in America. I felt a visceral jab in my chest. They don’t understand. What they are seeing here is a mirage. They are the blessed church of Smyrna referred to in the book of Revelation. As times in America have grown increasingly filled with tension, dispute and battle lines over doctrinal and theological stances, it seems like we are church of Thyatira—a church that is shaped by the culture, instead of the shaper of the culture.

We care more about our own comfort than we do about peoples’ souls.

We care more about our SUVs than we do about making Jesus known.

We speak up about politics, about abortion, about same sex marriage – all the time taking sides and forgetting that is LOVE that is supposed to frame everything that we say, everything that we do.

Or, we say nothing.

We watch both sides fueling the fires and don’t speak. We forget that love has words. Love has a voice.

We are either thoughtless and brazen, turning people away with our closed-mindedness, or we are meek and timid, so afraid to offend anyone that we impact no one.

We have let the culture of or our nation silence us, rather than being the influencers it desperately needs. In a season where tolerance is the mandate, none can be found for people who follow God’s teachings. We have allowed our God to be maligned by zealots and bigots like a well-known church in Kansas. We have allowed people who probably don’t even know the real Jesus inform an entire generation about Him. When will we speak up and set the record straight?

My God is in the business of saving lives, not condemning them. He is depicted as an angry judge, handing out death sentences with a sinister smile. The truth is that God is a loving father with tears in His eyes, begging for His children to hear His voice as He calls to them in the midst of crisis and confusion. He is the peace that we seek, and the rest we desperately need.

Several years ago I watched a video of Penn Jillette, or the famed Penn and Teller duo.  He recalled an encounter with a Christian man who shared the Gospel with him. The man knew Penn was an atheist, but felt compelled to share his faith in Jesus Christ anyway.

Penn was so impacted by this man, and realized something that all Christ followers need to learn. If we say we truly believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven, then if we are truly loving our neighbors, and then we would be telling everyone. When we pass up the opportunity to share the message of hope and truth, it is more than just a missed opportunity. It is an act of hate.

We are to be led by the Spirit. We need to invite Him into the busyness of our agenda, and quiet our minds and hearts to hear Him. I need to be listening and acting on the urge to comfort the cashier at the Kroger near my house. I need to be brave and remember that being a fool for my Savior is nothing like the lashes He took for my sins

We can’t miss the opportunity of the freedoms that we have. Maybe the very reason we have these freedoms, through granted by a rapidly changing government, is to not just speak the good news, not just preach to all who have hears, but cry out in desperation for the lost.

We need to repent for our country, and the way we have turned away from the Lord.

We need to stop being afraid to speak the truth.

The American church should not be the Country Club it is today. Jesus came for all people. All races, all income brackets, all lifestyles. He came and he died for us all.  It’s time to change the perception of who Jesus is. It’s time for us to tell the truth. We have to take advantage of the freedoms we have and strive to make Him known throughout the world! Go big – use social media! Go small – start with one person at a time. But tell your story. Let your words be life, and light, and always love.

When Obedience is Worship

The wheels are turning. My mind is jumbled with dreams and ideas and things that have been pushed aside or buried or dormant for a long time. There is so much to say, and perhaps now, at the tender age of 37, I am growing wise enough to actually say them. No, it isn’t wisdom so much as obedience and bravery.

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When we were children, obedience didn’t feel brave. It felt resentful, stifling and misunderstood. As young adults, obedience represented everything we were trying to push back against in our quest to define our fragile independence. As grown men and women, obedience becomes a dirty word. Marriage vows no long speak of loving, honoring and obeying the husband. We are desperate to be seen as equals — not subservient, and certainly not  submissive.

But when it isn’t another human being that we are striving to obey, but the God of the Universe, the scenario changes. All of a sudden, routine tasks that simply aren’t on our daily plan have the potential to become holy moments. Because in obedience to God, miracles can happen.

If I were to to follow every act of obedience back as far as I could go, I can easily see how differently my life would have turned out had I done anything differently. We could still be in Maine, comfortable, with friends and family nearby, and living in our own sheltered world. We could have told God “No — we don’t want the hassle and work of a church plant.” We could have turned away from the Lord after we lost a baby to an ectopic pregnancy heartbreak in 2009. I could have walked away from my then fiance, deciding that his history and all that he carried with him was simply too much. He might never have moved to Maine from California in the first place. When my best friend at the time invited me to church with her in 1999, I could have ignored the way my heart leapt inside my chest and turned down the invitation. . .

If any one of those scenarios had played out differently, I have no idea who I would be today.

Tonight, I am in awe of the journey. I can see Ebenezer stones all throughout my past, at those pivotal moments that seemed so impossible at the time. I can see altars at the times of rejoicing, and celebration. Through all of it, I see God’s loving guidance so beautifully weaving stories together.

For example — the woman I admired on the worship team at the church I attended in college stepping down to pursue her own music, and I took her place on the team. We reunited three weeks ago when I began my new job at a Christian school in Tennessee — which is another God story all by itself.

We do not need to worry about our clothes, or what we will eat. My God in heaven is making all things new, and He is providing every single thing that we need. May we not grow discontent in longing for the next new thing. All around me are the blessings of a God that is crazy about me. He is wooing me with His grace, and I cannot let go.

I have tasted the freedom of His will, and vow from this moment forward to walk in it as best I can, trusting in His presence, His guidance, and His peace. Are you with me?

What my life says about my faith

Luke 12:27choir book
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

Lamentations 3:22-24
Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: The LORD is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.

 

If our lives are the measuring stick by which our faith is judged, if you look at the big stuff, it would appear that I have this faith thing down to a science.

  • Packing up our whole life and moving to Nashville to pursue a dream that could ONLY have come from God
  • Leaving behind everything and everyone that was comfortable
  • Making connections in a new city, having gigs semi-frequently, sharing the music He has given
  • Surviving in the confidence that He will take care of us, every step of the way, even when there was too much month at the end of the money (to quote my pastor)

If you look at all of those things, then you would imagine that I would let nothing stop me from making progress on the dreams and goals.

My faith looks really great from a distance, or in bullet points.

When I dig a little deeper, and move in a little bit closer, I see the wasted moments (because of facebook). I see the opportunities that I missed (becaue of fear). I see the continual strain and worry that has kept me from the joy that I know is available to me.

Here is the beginning of the story. When we set out on our adventure, I left behind a wonderful job as a middle and high school band director, in a small community in the state that has always been my home. We were comfortable. We couldn’t live extravagantly, but we always had enough food for groceries, and gas and the necessities. When I was not able to find a teaching job, only a teaching assistant position, we learned what it truly meant to live from paycheck to paycheck.  Doctors appointments had to wait until after payday so we could afford the copay. Because the copays depleted our already stretched too thin budget, we then had to eat ramen and other cheap staples. And prayed fervently that the gas in our tanks would last through the 45 minute each way commute for the rest of the week.

We needed the generosity of our church family, of my friends at school, and other people that didn’t realize how much they were helping us. We were relying completely on God, though it wasn’t always as cheerful a process as I wish it had been. And to be honest, it was exhausting.

I was near tears frequently, and my joy in the Lord was put in tidy little boxes labeled Wednesday evening small group, and Sunday morning church.

Fast forward to now. My husband and I are both in new jobs. Mine is teaching music to middle and high school students at a Christian school near us, where because of the wonderful and caring administration being lenient about my job description, our boys can attend and get an amazing education. I am near tears frequently again, but this time it is because of His goodness and His mercy, and the extravagant love that He has shown us.

Although our working environments have changed drastically, our financially picture still remains uncomfortable. But I can more easily see His provision and more readily believe that He will in fact take care of us. But it is still a journey. And every step, every decision is a choice to remain faithful and constant in my belief of His attributes, and the promises He has given to me.

I don’t want my faith to be a mirage– something that fades away and disappears under scrutiny, or close observation.

I want my life to radiate the peace of my redemption, and the joy of my salvation. I am resolving to trust Him, even in the difficult, because He has proven Himself faithful. Over and over again. And if I have to live dependent on His grace and goodness for all the days of my life — then thanks be to God, the giver of all good gifts, and the provider of exactly what I need.

As one of my favorite hymns states: “All I have needed thy hand hath provided, great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Taking the Blinders Off: A White Girl’s Introduction to Racism

Today I am beyond humbled and blessed that an article I wrote on a subject I am very emotional about was published on Bedlam Magazine today. Getting to know the beautiful cultures represented in our church has taught me so much. When I think about the differences that my children will experience, because they are white, compared to the preparation that my friend and her husband give to their sons, who are similar ages, my heart breaks.

I want people to understand that we are the same — we all feel, and hurt, and want the best for our children. Yet we are NOT the same — and in understand, embracing and LEARNING about those difference, in that beautiful space, healing can begin.

I would be honored if you would visit Bedlam Magazine and read my article, and start your own conversation.

God Bless,

Meredith