I Believe in the Church

These were the handicap parking signs at a wonderful church in Tennessee

These were the handicap parking signs at a wonderful church in Tennessee! I love it!

In my last post, page I wrote about how I overcame depression with the help of my church community. Following Christ is hard- picking up your cross daily, try being hated by the world- and it is never a road we see people walking alone in the Gospels and in the account of the early Church in Acts. We need faith communities to walk along side us, and this is why I truly believe in the Church. But, sadly, I need to qualify my statement by defining what the Church is.

Let’s start with what the Church is not.

The Church is not a Sunday morning service (although Church can and does happen on Sunday mornings).

The Church is not political or conservative.

The Church does not need to “take back” America.

The Church is not a building.

The Church is not the Catholic church (although the Catholic church is a part of the Church).

The Church is not judgmental.

It is not hateful.

It is not fake.

It is not shallow.

This is the Church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -Acts 2:42-47

The Church is the fellowship of believers, people who are completely committed to each other because they are utterly devoted to Christ.

The Church is where people experience the power of the Holy Spirit, resulting in signs and wonders, because when people have the faith to call heaven down to earth, heaven comes down.

The Church is authentic and vulnerable sacrificial living.

The Church is everyday commitment and everyday community- this includes Sunday morning services, but certainly does not end there.

The Church is needs being met– the hungry fed, the sick healed, the lonely comforted, the outcasts accepted, those in bondage set free.

The Church is where God’s precious and holy name is praised. Where His favor shines.

The Church is filled with the presence of God, which is so magnetic, so irresistible that people cannot help but be attracted to it. And so the Church flourishes.

I do see some good things happening in the American Church- there are really wonderful, Jesus-centered movements gaining momentum, and I am lucky enough to be part of one of them, part of a community where everyone knows and lives by Acts 2:42. However, on a whole, there are a lot of things that need to change.

The Western, American church is going to continue to fail as long as it continues being a place you go on Sunday mornings, sit down, listen to someone say things that don’t reflect the words of Christ, present a happy face, and leave without it having any impact on the rest of your week. Until we reform the way we think about Church, we can’t expect a reformation of the Church.

I just finished reading Bonhoeffer, a biography about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I cannot recommend highly enough (I’ve written more about it on my Resources page).  Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian during the Third Reich and was eventually killed by the Nazis. During Hitler’s rise to power, Hitler and his closest officers took over the German Church and convinced most German Pastors to accept the Aryan paragraph, which said that no Jews were allowed to be members or pastors of the German Christian Church. The German Christian Church was all too happy to accept Hitler, his politics, and his opinions of the Jews. Bonhoeffer was against Hitler from the beginning and worked tirelessly to convince German pastors of the evils of anti-Jewish thinking and the dangers of a nationalistic and politicized church. Bonhoeffer and others started the Confessing Church, which they considered the only German Church, the true German Church. Bonhoeffer believed in the power of the Church and dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel.

He said “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others….not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others” (Letters and Papers from Prison).

Here is a man who had every reason to be disillusioned by the Church- the German church had become a Nazified system that rejected the entire Old Testament (because it was “Jewish propaganda”), replaced words such as “peace” and “meek” with more “manly” ones, re-wrote entire sections of the New Testament, including the Sermon on the Mount, and Hitler himself called Jesus “our great Aryan hero.”

And yet, Bonhoeffer dedicated his life to the Church- he discipled people, preached and taught people the word of God, and even started and ran his own seminary after the Nazi party had taken over the schools of theology in Germany.

Bonhoeffer called for a radically different Church, without forsaking the Church, the importance of the fellowship of believers, for one minute. I wonder if we can do the same.

Church can happen anywhere- here is my church community during prayer and worship gatherings- at night, outside, and on our campus :)

Church happens anywhere- here is my church community during prayer and worship gatherings- at night, outside, and after evangelism on our campus!

How I Never Would Have Overcome Depression Without the Church

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At the beginning of 2013, visit web the Lord promised me recovery from my eating disorder. And I did experience freedom- little by little my eating disorder started to lose control over my life, symptoms wasn’t quite so loud in my head. But my depression persisted. And that made me mad. What sort of freedom was this? I was no longer experiencing chronic depression as I had in years past, urologist but rather depressive episodes. I’d be going along, doing just fine, when all of a sudden a wave of depression would hit me and persist for a week or two. And in the middle of my depression I was so lost and alone, always so worn out. And I felt completely incapable of spending time with God. The idea of opening my Bible, of praying, of even approaching the throne of God was too much for me to handle. And as more and more days went by without me talking to God or reading a single Bible verse, the more inadequate I felt. The wonderful person who disciples me encouraged me to ask God why I was still depressed, and so I finally did. This is from a February 2013 journal entry:

God, I have been struggling a lot with depression and I need you to help me. What can I do to receive healing? Why don’t you take this from me?

And He responded: I want you to be vulnerable in community. Tell people you’re struggling when you are. Be honest. Ask for their encouragement, ask them to pray for you. Don’t wallow in your pain and don’t wait for them to approach you. Let them prove their faithfulness to you by letting them support you. I am walking beside you and offer my strength to you freely. I love you, daughter. This pain will not be forever, that I promise you. These next years will be years of great newness and excitement. They will be instrumental on your life. And I will not leave you in your struggles. And not only do I desire for you not to feel this pain anymore, but I promise that it will pass. You have all eternity to bask in my greatness. There will be such glory that your dark memories cannot touch you. Don’t give up your fight. You might not always be strong enough, but you have the strongest, most loving defender.

I wasn’t expecting this answer. And while it seems simple- ask for support when you need help- reaching out from the depths of depression is incredibly difficult. But by the grace of God, I managed to do just this when I next felt depressed. It was a Tuesday night and I was having a very bad day. I made the choice to go to the Tuesday night faithgroup- not the one I usually went to- in order to be around my supportive community and receive prayer. At the end of faithgroup, we broke up into groups to pray for each other. I ended up in a group with two wonderful friends- and I told them that I was depressed and needed prayer. And they were so sweet and so kind and they prayed for me and gave me words of encouragement. And that was the last depressive episode I had for six months. And, besides one depressive episode this past fall, I have been depression-free for 10 months!

I have been depression-free by the work of the Lord. But it was the work of the Lord through those in my community. Without the Church, I am convinced that I would still be stuck in the valley of darkness. For this, and for many other reasons, I believe in the Church.

I see so many people my age who are passionately embracing authentic Christianity, laying down their lives to serve Jesus and giving everything they have to Him who is deserving of it all. Out of this desire to truly pursue Jesus instead of religion, there is a growing frustration with the American church. And I totally get it. I’m frustrated, too. I am absolutely fed up with politicized, Bible-belt, shallow, religion-filled, and empty “Christianity.” But, in response to their frustration, many people are leaving church and are distancing themselves from faith communities. Yet in all the Gospels, in all of Acts, in all the epistles, you never see people doing Church alone. You never see followers of Jesus left without community. And I think that the reason why is because the world is hard as it is, and to follow in the footsteps of Christ makes the world even harder.

When you are in the valley, do you have people who will walk with you? When you are incapable of coming to the throne, of praying, do you have people who will pray for you? Do you have people who will physically come around you and bear your burdens away? We need each other to face the troubles of this world. We need people to remind us that the Lord is faithful when we can’t seem to hold on to that truth. As my friends reminded me that night, we need people to remind us of how far God has brought us, and how far He is going to bring us in the future. We need the Church to remind us to hold on to His promises when we feel like letting go.

And for all of you struggling with depression, He has freedom for you. He has joy for you. With all you are, lean into Him. And when you can’t, lean into the fellowship of the believers. Lean in to His Church.

He is Faithful to His Promises

Here are some of the many, public health many things I want to do in my life!

Skydive – what an amazing experience!

-Learn how to ballroom dance

-Publish a photograph

-Write my story

Graduate from high school– done! :)

-Graduate from college

-Get a tattoo

-Get married

-Be a mommy

-Visit every continent (but I’ll be pleased if I visit six of the seven)

  • North America
  • Europe

-Publish a book

-Make a cookbook

-Do crazy things for God

-Mission work

-Visit (that means spend time in) every state

  • Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia

-Make snow ice cream

-Ride in a hot air balloon

-Scuba Dive

-Drive cross country

-Learn how to decorate baked goods

-Visit Disney World

-Visit a concentration camp

-Ride with a dogsled team for the first leg of the Iditarod Race (I have wanted to do this since 2nd grade)

-Run some sort of race (I’ll be happy with a 5K)

Buy a full-frame professional camera– My grandparents gave me a Canon 5D!

-Build a life-sized snowman
2013 is a year that I will always remember as one of the most significant, link
life-changing, and best years of my life.

This year came out of a series of really tough years. It came out of a 12-year struggle with an eating disorder. It came out of years filled with depression and anxiety. And I really wasn’t expecting anything different from the year ahead. Things in my life had started to improve- I had finished my first semester of college, which had been challenging in many ways but had been wonderful in so many others. I truly loved where I was going to school and I had also become a part of an amazing church family that gave me the support, community, and friendship that I had desperately needed. I had started tentatively re-establishing my relationship with God and experienced Him moving in my life in significant ways. But despite all these things, I wasn’t expecting 2013 to be much different from the years that had preceded it. And praise God that I was wrong!

On New Year’s Eve, my family and I went to a party at a friend’s house to celebrate. I wasn’t feeling that well because my stomach was hurting from the constant anxiety I held in my body and I was gripped with a pervasive feeling of low self worth that prevented me from fully participating in the fun. But in the end I had a good time and we brought in the New Year. When we got home that night, I got in my room, closed the door, and started getting ready for bed. That night, the first moments of the New Year, I stood in front of this full-length mirror, naked. And I saw my body. I saw all the flaws I’ve focused on for the past decade. But the voice, the eating disorder voice, was quiet. I had a peaceful moment as I looked at my body and even though I didn’t see it as perfect, I was able to accept that it was my body and in that moment, it was ok. Even though I didn’t see my body as this thing of perfection or beauty, the imperfections that it held had no hold on who I was as a person. Because my stomach was too flabby didn’t mean, as it usually did, that I was a worthless failure. In that moment, at two in the morning, I saw myself as someone who had worth in Christ. I though to myself “I want to remember this moment, the fact that I started the New Year not hating my body or myself. I don’t know what this year will bring, but I want to remember this.” And that was the start. It was during that first week of the New Year that God spoke to me and gave me a promise. He promised me that this would be the year of my recovery.

God had never promised me anything like that before- He has always promised that He was walking with me through my struggles and would never leave me. And He had been faithful and true to that promise.

But this promise was very different. It was a promise of healing, of freedom, of restoration and redemption. It was a promise of a life very different from the life I had lived before.

Even though I didn’t know how I could possibly recover from the eating disorder that had been with me for so long, even though I didn’t know how God would be able to do a work of deep healing in me that years of therapy hadn’t been able to do, even though I didn’t know how He could restore my broken life, I trusted Him and I trusted His promise.

When I returned back to school, my friend who disciples me told me that the Lord had told her as well that this would be the year of my recovery and that it would not be a temporary relief or freedom but that after this year, I would be rid of my eating disorder forever.

And in a way that I can’t explain, I experienced tremendous freedom right away. God lifted my burden from me and I found myself living in freedom and joy in a way that I hadn’t before.

That’s not to say that it was always an easy journey. It has definitely been a process and at times it has been really hard. For as many encouraging things that have happened, there have been a lot of discouraging setbacks. But there was also a tremendous amount of hope in those setbacks because I knew that by the end of the year, I would be living in freedom.

Whenever I was panicked by food or hated my body, I heard the Lord saying that I was a new creation- the old has passed away and the new has come.

This fall, after an amazing and unprecedented six months free from depression, I experienced a depressive episode. And He told me that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yolk of slavery.

And I got tremendous hope and joy through a study of the book of Revelation, which paints a beautiful picture of the holy city coming down from heaven, and all pain and sorrow being wiped away. And He who is seated on the throne says, “I am making everything new! Write these words down for they are trustworthy and true.” The Lord showed me that this is His promise for the future- His restoration of all the world. But He also showed me that this is His promise for me now. That He was making me new and bringing newness into my life. And so I got this promise as a tattoo- to forever remind myself of the Lord’s faithfulness for me during this specific year, to remind myself of my forever-identity as a new creation in Him, and to remember His promise for all the world- a complete resurrection, a redemption life.

6.13.13

This New Year’s Eve is not only the start of a new year, but also the start of a new life for me. I have been made new by the blood of the Lamb. The Lord has breathed new life into my dry bones. I am out of the valley. And what a glorious journey it will be.

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