The Truth About Church No One is Talking About

I can remember lying beneath the pew on Sunday nights with my twin sister.

I can remember coloring and drawing pictures quietly while the pastor preached.

I can remember what happened when we weren’t so quiet.

I can’t remember not going to church.

We rarely missed the three weekly services and that didn’t count Easter Pageant practices and Friday night youth events. I left those pews for Bible college and left Bible college for church staff positions. I spent the first thirty-something years of my life inside the church walls.

I’ve heard hundreds of topical, expository, textual, and biographical sermons. I’ve listened to dozens of personal testimonies and shared some of my own. I’ve attended discipleship courses and witnessing classes. I’ve done Beth Moore Bible studies for countless Thursdays and I’ve attended my fair share of Christian conferences. I have five versions of the Bible and 12 crosses in my home decor. I know a hundred Christian songs.

I took it all in. I was a beefed-up Christian.

But for most of my pew sitting years, I ignored something very important.

I was full of faith, but I wasn’t obedient.

powerful quote about Christians and service

Our churches have everything these days–killer kids programs, cool and traditional decor, an array of worship styles, and some even have bookstores and coffee shops, fitness classes, x-box game rooms, multi media events, but something is lacking.  It’s obedience.

I’ve read the Bible my entire life, but for most of my time on earth, I haven’t done what it said. I stayed away from the big sins and wore my Christian t-shirts. But often when I was asked to serve or say yes to God, I would answer, “Let me pray about it.”

I got fat on the Good News. I hoarded it all to myself and didn’t share it.

And then a few years ago, I got fed up with my unhealthy diet of the American Dream. I was sick to death with affluenza. I was bored and busy with temporal things that didn’t matter.

I was cured when I decided to do whatever God told me.

I said yes and I will keep saying it–even when it feels small, even when I don’t know what to do next, even when I am inadequate. Because it’s not the results that matter–the success or failure–it’s that I am being obedient.

I’m sad that for most of my Christian walk, I fell for the lie that church was the holding tank for believers. If I just went to church, that was enough. But church isn’t the culmination of Christianity, it’s the springboard for our obedience to God.

I love my church. I look forward to attending every week! But the truth is we were never meant to just attend church. There are people all over the world dying for this faith. There are people held captive by sin and poverty, waiting on someone to come share the news about Jesus. Christians don’t have the luxury to add church to their lives like it’s an optional elective.

Church isn’t the place where we draw the line at the door and say to those inside the walls  “We are good. We are right. We are done.” Because when we do that we are saying to those outside, “You are bad. You are wrong. You don’t matter.”

Instead we are commanded to turn our churches into a hospital for hurting people, not a club where we are comfortable. When we walk in obedience, it’s risky. It’s scary as hell. It’s the wildest thing we will ever do. When we are willing to walk away from our comfort zone and say to God, “I will do whatever you tell me,” we’re embarking on a journey that will change our lives. And nothing will ever make us feel more alive or fulfilled.

This is Christianity. This is faith in action. These words from James chapter 2 (Message translation) leap off the page:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

19-20 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

21-24 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

25-26 The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

This is the truth no one is talking about.  Obedience transforms the church from a meeting place to a moving body with flexible parts so that together we can reach a broken world.

A couple of Sundays ago, we drove a loaded u-haul truck in front of our church that they had rented for us to hold the donations. What started as a simple yes of obedience turned into an avalanche of action from our church. My daughter asked, “Are we going into church today?” We had an hour drive to the refugee apartment complex where we would serve the rest of the day. I looked at my watch, “No, honey. Today we won’t be going into church.”

photo copy

“Instead we are going to BE the church.”

We are going to put our faith in action.

We worked like dogs for people who’ve been treated worse than dogs most of their lives. We were hot and sweaty and outnumbered. We were overwhelmed and exhausted.

We were the church inside out.

At one point, as I led an elderly man around with his voucher to choose his 15 most needed items, he stopped and said in broken English, “Do you love the poor? Only people who do this love the poor.”

I stopped and answered slowly, “Yes, sir. I love the poor.”

And without hesitation he looked me square in the eyes and said, “Then you must love Jesus.”

The truth of his words were like a sucker punch.

I am compelled to obey–not because I just want to do more–frankly, I have enough to do. I am compelled to obey because I love Jesus and I have to share him. It’s an overflow of the miracle that has happened within me. This is the gospel.

This is our job. This is the moving body of Christ.

There is a local ministry in place that is helping refugees and I’m just joining in. But as I’ve started talking to local churches about supporting this new refugee endeavor in our city, I’ve been cautioned, “We can give you money, but if you need people, that will be challenging.”

It’s time we exchange our comfortable seats for a place of service. It’s time we say, “We are full; we have enough, it’s time to share.”

It’s time to make our churches a hospital.

It’s time to open our eyes to the needs around us, right in our own cities.

It’s time to stop just attending church and start being the moving body of Christ.

With feet in action.


I Just Might Have the Answer to All Your Problems

There’s yellow paint on my front left bumper near the dent from the handicapped sign I hit in my daughter’s school parking lot. Not my finest moment.  A couple of days later the power steering pump went out and when we took it in, they found an oil leak. $1700 later we picked it up and a few hours later someone rear-ended us on our way out of town. On our way back home, with two damaged bumpers, the battery died and we got home by begging a jump from a stranger.

At some point, my husband coyly said, “we are THAT family, you know.” I mustered my most evil eye and warned, “don’t even.”

And there are job stresses and parenting trials. There are fears about the future and mounting daily stresses.

I believe it’s called life.

And even though most are temporary, these first world problems are still frustrating.

You might be driving around with dented bumpers, too.

You might be wishing you had dented bumpers to drive.

You might need a job.

You might be suffocating in the one you have.

You might be stretched physically, financially, spiritually, emotionally.

You might be empty.

You might be full of it.

You might be sick.

You might be tired.

Or worse, you might be sick and tired.

We all have problems, big or small, we’ve got them all.

the cure for our problems

And it may sound bold, but I finally figured out how to solve all my problems.

I woke up the other day with a head cold, filled with exhaustion and dread and a grumbling heart. But I’d committed to drive my damaged van, loaded with new and old friends 49 miles miles from my house. We spent the day serving others in a stinky, hot room filled with eager women, an epic language barrier and a lot of gratitude.

I met women like Dalma who is 26 years old and has seven children and is from the country of Bhutan. She spent twenty years of her life in a refugee camp in Nepal. She loves learning to knit and has a bright smile.

And women like Su Meh who is 38 and the mother of 5. She spent fifteen years in a refugee camp and can show me a thing or two about knitting.

I met Me Waeh with a baby strapped to her and three other little girls at her feet. She wore a worried expression and I learned her husband was recently fired and there was an ugly $3000 cell phone bill hanging over their head because they didn’t understand the phone contract they had signed. Her greatest wish was to have a double stroller.

I didn’t think about my car or my small problems one time. And not only that, when I climbed back into my van, dirty and tired and stuck in traffic, I felt sheer joy. I was about to burst with the high that comes from serving. I could honestly say, “The Lord has done great things for us! We are glad!” Psalm 126:3. And I was ready to cry from the dose of perspective I’d been given.

This is the key to joy. I’m sure of it.

This is the answer to our problems.

Because when we serve others, we serve God. And He brings peace despite our circumstances. This is it. When we are feeling down and our problems overwhelm, the temptation to gripe and complain is a real one. When we fill our lives and our homes with stuff, stuffing down our problems, we are only creating a deeper emptiness.

The best antidote for worry is work.

The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.

One of the great ironies of this life is this:  He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.” -Gordon B. Hinckley

If you’re sad, find a place to serve. If you’re sick and tired, visit a hospital. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, find something to give away.

As I drove home, my problems hadn’t changed a bit. I still had them.

But my perspective was completely different.

I patted my old minivan and thanked God for it, dent and all.  Sometimes we need a yellow fender to remind us how to solve our problems.


What Our Yes Really Means

I opened the door and two friends looked up from tagging jewelry in the Mercy House building that sits in my backyard.  Both pregnant with eight month swollen bellies touching the table in front of them, both serving on a Thursday night, both due within a couple of days of each other.

I handed them a list and paused when one of my friends asked, “Do you ever get tired of saying yes?”

It’s one of those heavy questions.

It’s hard to answer.

It changes every day.

It doesn’t change at all.

My yes to God isn’t what I thought it would be.

Joy in a Kenyan Slum

Joy in a Kenyan Slum

But is it ever? Our any of the yes’ we say in this life safe and fun and everything we’d hoped they would be? God has a way or shielding us from seeing and knowing too much.

My yes to marriage isn’t what I thought it would be. It has been harder and better than I ever dreamed.

My yes to motherhood has been filled with my most challenging moments and also my proudest. How can we know what that tiny baby will do to us?

When we say yes to marriage, to parenthood, to God, what we are really saying is, I am committed.

Because we don’t know how long the nights will be,

Or how far love will take us or how quickly the feelings will flee,

We aren’t promised our babies will be born healthy or stay that way,

We don’t know unemployment is around the bend, with grouchy teens and sleepless nights.

We can’t imagine our yes will take us back to the slum that broke our hearts again and again.

Yes is our choice to live.

Sometimes there’s a long pause between the question and answer.

It might be heartache.

Doubt and disbelief.

It could be weariness.

Overwhelming work.

Or fear.

“I do. I get tired of my yes,” I answered my friend after a long pause. “But my yes in the good times, the bad times, the ups and downs, the beauty and the ashes, still means yes.”

No matter what.

Because where my yes ends, He begins.


It’s All in Who You Know

It happened twice this month.

The people doing it didn’t know their choice not to include me, hurt.

I was left out as a general oversight or a purposeful decision.

Both cut the same.

It’s not the sort of grief that comes with loss or sorrow, it’s the quiet pain we women know so well. Exclusion.

It’s an old war wound in me that resurfaces when I least expect it. Usually when I think I’m a victor over the battle.

But, then there it is. Again.

It starts in the pit of my stomach and grows to become A Thing in my mind. After I’ve thought of every possible angle and excuse, it settles in my heart, like a big brick. And I lug that heavy burden around and see my life thru it’s lens. The feelings that come with being left out (of a group, event, party, initiative, community, you name it) have way more to do with me than anyone else.

I know this.

As I started digging around in my heart, I discovered something ugly. I saw beneath the layers –pride. I recognized it as a desire for my name to be KNOWN.

to be known

I don’t long to see my name in lights, I’m way too introverted for that, but I want people to read my blog, to buy my book coming out next year, to support Mercy House—all good things.  But it’s a slippery slope when you start out wanting to MAKE HIS NAME KNOWN and discover a longing for yours to be known, too.

When you write a blog, run a non-profit, or say yes to anything big, you often hear these four words: Who do you know?

They seem harmless enough, but when those 4 little words are said to me, this is what I hear: You are not enough.

I don’t have a list of power players or big names. I am small with a quiet voice in this noisy world. I am unknown and I remind myself I wasn’t even on The List or invited to The Event and the wound festers.

I confessed some of this to my husband one night. I told him how I should have been a part and asked why wouldn’t they include me? He said, “You don’t love speaking or crowds or traveling. Would you really have gone?”

I found my answer in my answer, “Well, probably not. But I just wanted to be invited. I wanted to be recognized.”

And there it is uncovered, ugly, staring me in the face: PRIDE.

I found my knees. I asked God to root out this desire to be known that only left me feeling unknown. I prayed, “search me and know me God. Forgive me.”

Because really, I don’t want to be known by the world. I don’t want them to see that I can use my words to hurt others. I don’t want them to know I tend to hold a grudge or lose my cool. I don’t really want my insecurity to define me. My husband and children know the real me. They’ve smelled my morning breath and seen my funky bed head.

And God whispers, “I know you.”

He sees when I sit, when I rise, when I make my bed in Hell, when I serve or give without telling the other hand what I’m doing. He knows me whether I want Him to or not.

He’s beckoning me out of the spotlight and into His light.

So, ask me who I know. The list is short. It’s not very impressive. It won’t land me on a panel of big names or a bestseller list.

But I know Him.

And even better He knows me.


When God Gives Us More Than We Can Handle

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I’ve heard the words my entire life.

I may have even said them a time or two.

And I’ve believed a lie.

I can’t say the words any longer to a mom who has buried her child or a teen girl who has traded sex for food so her siblings wouldn’t starve and I can’t look into the face of Maureen and tell her she’s strong enough to handle tragically losing half her family, and continues to suffer beyond understanding.

Because that’s more than anyone can handle.

The words aren’t even Biblical. Actually, the Bible promises us hardship in this life and tells story after story of suffering.

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9)

If that doesn’t speak of despair and being thrown more than can be handled, I don’t know what does. We are promised tribulation and persecution in this life. We might even die (or feel like it). But He is made strong in our weakness. John 16:33 “…In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

And He has endured every sorrow we may carry.

The purpose of our pain is to make us rely on God, so that His great power is made evident in our weakness–when we can’t handle another thing.

When we are able to continue and survive with peace in the midst of tribulation, others won’t see us. They will see Him.

“Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!”  Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something.  I don’t know what.  I don’t know when.  But I am expecting the God of resurrection to heal us.  I am expecting God to restore us.  I am expecting him to redeem this situation.  I am expecting him to do this and so I will be actively looking and waiting for him to do something.  I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain.  Only then can salvation been seen.” -Nate Pyle

So, Maureen, today as you look in the face of fear and need more Jesus, instead of saying “you can bare this,” I’m going to say, “as you bare this, you aren’t alone.” And somehow, someway He makes things good.

Because that’s the truth we are promised.