Entering into the darkness….

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We spend a lot of our lives thriving for “success.”  We brag about successful children. Successful husbands. Successful businesses. But what is success really?

Many Americans have sold out to the idea of “success” as looking a certain way on the outside, regardless of how it looks on the inside. Monetary and superficial standards dictate where someone or something falls on our “success continuum.”

Successful=========================Unsuccessful                pretty, rich, follows social rules            unattractive, poor, outsider

We gravitate toward the successful and try to emulate them for many reasons. To make ourselves look better by association. To gain something. To feel acceptable.

What if we were drawn less to the powerful and more to the powerless? Isn’t that what Jesus did?

We like to watch shows that depict darkness- don’t all the Disney movies have some sort of dark side? What about CSI? Batman? Very few forms of entertainment lack a good/evil theme. And we pay to see it. But then we look at Scripture and realize that God calls us to live in a way that shines a light in the REAL darkness and what do we do? Flip on the TV, grab a bag of chips, and watch another episode of Criminal Minds.

I challenge you with this idea……you will find more “success” in the seemingly “unsuccessful” than anywhere in the Fortune 500s or the beautiful people on Wall Street.

But first we have to define “success” in a true and authentic way.  I believe that where we have gone wrong is to think that “success” is ever really achieved. In the world of ministry where seemingly spiritual people enter into the lives of people who have been broken by drugs and domestic violence, we count them a success when we can parade them around cleaned up, oh-so-spiritual and what appears to be a life void of problems. That is not success- that is a lie. Life is messy and every day brings challenges and temptations. I know it does for me and for the mom who has years of prostitution, drugs, and domestic violence.

If we judge people as acceptable when they “get it all together” we give them no room to fall. As a result, they prop themselves up to please us and not themselves or they lie to us so that the image we have of them is not shattered and they have to face FAILURE. I have seen many churches parade around their new Christian as some kind of poster child of spiritual perfection- like a before and after that leaves no room for failure.  At times, the church has prostituted people the way pimps do on the streets.

The reason I know? I struggle with it. I want to believe if I offer and addict or a stripper or a foster child a beautiful home, a family, and a stable life that they will fall down in gratitude and realize what they had been missing all their lives. Unfortunately that does not happen. Why? Because change is slow and difficult.

So what do I think the answer is?

I have learned to cherish the small wins. The daily victories.

In the past 3 days, two people who were both in my life for different reasons went back to a way of life that is familiar- drug use, abuse, and all that comes with that lifestyle. Am I discouraged? No. Am I hopeful?Yes. Is it well with my soul? Absolutely. Why? Because I know that a person’s choices are not a reflection of how “good” I was at loving that person. I know people go back to what they know until they are ready. And I definitely know that a childhood full of egregious abuse causes a person to struggle to cope with life’s challenges.

In the last three days,  I have also met with women who are being reunited with their children after really hard work, dedication, and grit when it all seemed impossible. They live day to day knowing that life is fragile and temptati
on is real. I know to embrace them during their victories and embrace them during their struggles.  I cannot have a barometer of “success” and “failure” because all of us face daily doses of both…..at least if we are honest with ourselves and others.

DSC_1317To say I am proud of the overcomers is an understatement. To say I deeply love the ones who have fallen is more than the truth.

Love does.

What We Want in a Pastor

My husband has been a pastor for the 20 years we have been married.  Some denominations would not have considered him a pastor until he got his Masters of Divinity degree this year, however, I know his heart and he was a pastor.  One of our first dates was taking a group of middle schoolers to Night of Joy. All I can say is….I REALLY loved him to have stayed after that experience!

He has been a youth pastor, church planter, and now an associate pastor.  We have been in large denominational churches and small non-denominational churches.  They have all been in the same city surprisingly but the churches have all given our family a wide array of experiences in ministry.  As his wife, I have learned a lot and God has given me the grace at each stage to find my place.

I have really felt lately that I wanted to share my heart with pastors.  Why?  I have no idea. Am I reluctant?  Absolutely. But God is God and I am trying to be better about obeying that nudge of the Holy Spirit.  As I write, I cry with emotion…I guess this hits me at a heart level more than I thought it did. Not sure even what those emotions are at this point but God will show us as this unfolds.

As I was looking through some notes from a conference I attended, I saw this term- HERO SYNDROME.  As the church, we don’t need you to be our hero- blessing us with just the right Sunday morning attire and the perfect families and wives who are Mary and Martha all rolled into one perfect individual.  We have our hero- Jesus. And He was perfect but he was also humble. We need you to be humble too. Taking the low place. The role of a servant. Riding in on a donkey, not a throne of grandeur.

We, the church, also need you to be approachable. Not visible on Sunday mornings from a pulpit that you flee as soon as the message is finished but present at the coffee shop discipling others, at the auto repair shop picking up a member of the church who did not have a ride, and at the grocery store when you stop by on your way home to save your wife a trip.

We also crave your authenticity. If all your stories come from Chicken Soup for the Soul and none of them are from your real life, please re-read the previous paragraph because you are not approachable. We want a pastor who will share from the heart- brokenness and failures, as well as victories and growth. We want to know you are secure enough in yourself that you can tell us about who you really are. Not who you want us to think you are.

We deeply desire a pastor who understands that WE the PEOPLE matter more than committees, numbers, and denominational meetings. When we are in churches driven by campaigns and gimmicks, we notice and our hearts hurt.

We want your teaching to challenge us. Why do we want to come if we don’t leave knowing that God has used you to show us where we can grow?  Some of us have other people in our lives who will show us this too but some of us don’t because Sundays are the only time we make God a priority. We need you to not be scared of the fall out if you preach the TRUE Gospel and make us uncomfortable. We need to hear it and we need you to have the courage to bring it.

We need you to be real and every time you talk about your families as if they are borderline saintly, we feel a deep sense of failure. And deep down we know they are sinners too but it seems like so much of the time you try to convince us otherwise. It is not helpful to any of us.

We are already insecure about not knowing as much as you do about the Bible so when you talk down to us and quote all these different languages in an arrogant way we don’t even want to open our Bibles because it already seems too hard so we don’t want to try. We love when  you give us biblical background  and history but please remember most of us don’t know where Asia Minor is so keep it simple.

We don’t need you to inundate us with quotes from theologians because we want to know what God has shown YOU. And we certainly don’t need corny illustrations that you try to stretch to the ends of the earth to make a connection. Just say what you want to get across and God will handle the rest.

When it all comes down to it, it is all pretty simple. We need you to live your life in front of us being honest and genuine and showing humility and teachability.

We don’t need a businessman, a committee member, a CEO, an unapproachable preacher, a networker, or a Bible concordance.

We need a pastor.