Category Archives: Life as a Christ Follower

On control and not having any.

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I never would have labeled myself a “control freak.” I’ll change plans at the drop of a hat, let someone else plan and handle all the details while I ride along, happy to simply be. I’ve been known to put my jeans back on to go out with friends after I was already snuggling in bed for the night.

But sometimes, real life gets way out of control. I didn’t have control over the presidential election when the candidate I voted for didn’t win, and I don’t have control of what the president-elect will do. I lost my job as an adjunct professor due to new federal regulations–can’t control that. I live in a world that, in many ways, is under the control of others, and their decisions don’t always make sense.

The fallback Christian answer–in the election season, in job woes, in relationships, etc.–is that “God is in control.” I’ve said it (and sung it) myself. I’ve heard so many people remind each other, “God is still God.” As if He can become something else.

But do I really believe that? With a dangerous man’s finger on the nuclear trigger and car and student loan bills coming in as fast as I can pay them off?

I’m not being rhetorical. I’m seriously asking. I don’t think I believe that enough to let Him have control of my life. I resist that with my whole fleshly being.

On the morning after the election, I woke up feeling like I was in a strange alternate universe where everything is wrong. A friend pointed me toward Psalm 23, and I was struck by the verbs in the psalm: he leads me. He guides me. He is with me.

I don’t understand the theological implications of the control God has in our lives, and I don’t necessarily want to. My finite little mind can only hold so much. But I know Who is leading me. I must try not to forget.

On Ecclesia: How Jesus Brought Me Back to Church

It took twenty years of weekly church attendance and sinking to rock bottom for me to figure out what the point of church is, and what the Bible really means when it talks about the body of Christ. But I know that the Lord is a Redeemer, and He has redeemed my legalistic thinking about His church and showed me how the Gospel operates in my life—here and now.

It all started with the rock bottom. I welcomed New Year’s 2014 fighting a small legal battle against an ex-boyfriend—skipping class for meetings and phone calls with police officers, spending my evenings filling out paperwork for a restraining order and sinking into the pain of the end of an abusive relationship. It wasn’t how I’d planned for my senior year of college to go. This wasn’t really what I’d planned for my life at age 20. I was on an externally successful trajectory as I finished college and was accepted into grad school, but I was hurting and lost and alone; the relationship had caused me to lose most of my friends and fade from the religion I had grown up on.

I hadn’t “lost my faith,” necessarily. But my life didn’t reflect that I knew the Lord in an everyday sense. I did not trust in Him as “my Rock, my Fortress and my Deliverer” (Psalm 18:2) through my pain or in my new season of life. Even though He was always close to my broken heart, like he promised in Isaiah 43:2, and He never left my side, I’d pushed Him away. I wasn’t going to church, and hadn’t gone consistently or intentionally in several years. And suddenly, I looked up and noticed that I had no community—anywhere. I graduated college and enrolled in grad school, hoping for a fresh start.

That’s when I encountered Ecclesia Communities in the fall of 2014.

The first time I walked in the front door of the home where Ecclesia gathers, I came as an uncomfortable guest and left feeling … still rather uncomfortable. After months and years of keeping to myself — even within the pews of a church — I’d met an onslaught of new people in a very personal setting. It was the cozy, welcoming home of a family I’d never met. Believers of all ages filled their kitchen table with food, poured ourselves coffee, and ate breakfast together in their sunroom.

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I’d never seen “church” done like this. We shared a meal together, sang together, and opened the Word of God together, but it slowly dawned on my nervous soul that there was no schedule. There wasn’t even a bulletin or, at that point, a website. Instead, when the Lord impressed a verse or a praise on someone’s heart, that person spoke up for the benefit of the group. It followed the model in 1 Corinthians 14, in which “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” It was different.

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But I was intrigued, so I went back. The second Sunday morning, I was greeted by name when I walked in the door, and several people asked how my week went, how specific classes were going, how my roommates were doing. They remembered me. And I was welcomed into the family in a way that I had never experienced before.

 

John 13:35

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Ecclesia represents to me the body of Christ in motion. These are the people I turn to when I have a need, and I’m constantly aware of theirs. They’ve helped me move, and I’ve helped them move. They’ve fed me and provided for me, and I’ve fed and given to them. They’ve asked me tough questions, challenged me to think, and they’ve prayed for me, and I strive to do the same for them. The family of Ecclesia has taught me about Jesus—and how He would have acted if He were on the Earth today.

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I don’t remember making a conscious decision to keep attending Ecclesia, to integrate myself as part of this body, but with the passing weeks and years I am more and more convinced that this is the body of Christ in motion.

Call it what you may: house church, missional community, simple or organic church, or simply following the Old Testament model. But Sunday isn’t the point; it’s not the religious pinnacle of the week. Wherever I am with other believers is just as powerful for edification and growth as a Sunday morning gathering.  But the result of my participation in this body of intentional believers is that I began to view the Church as a part of my life, restoring my relationship to the Church as well as to the Lord.

In praise of seasons.

Transitory. That’s how I’d describe the past few years of my life. I’ve moved between many homes, traveled cross-country, worked new jobs, and met new people. This summer is the first in four years that I haven’t moved living situations, but I have changed jobs after I completed my Master’s degree last month, and with that comes an onslaught of the new. With each change, the rhythms of my life adjust accordingly, but it seems that I am only just getting settled in before something shifts.

Of course, constant change can bring a sense of insecurity, if my sense of security is found in earthly things. But I’m learning that these changes force me to realign my gaze with the one constant in my life: who God is and who I know him to be.

As a result of this forced realignment, I’m growing with each new season. As I go, I learn, and I collect more wisdom and truth and practical skills, assembling it all into a collage of who I am. I hope to never go through an entire season of my life without leaving as a changed person, more in tune with who God is in each situation. Whenever friends see an old photo of me with long hair, they comment on how much I’ve changed physically. I hope that my soul is changing just as radically.

I think this process honors God by allowing Him to move and work in my life. The Bible uses the metaphor of a potter and his clay several times; God as the Potter must shape away pieces of my life that don’t align with the creation he’s transforming me into. If I trust that He is a good Potter–the most excellent–and is crafting something beautiful, then I will allow for even difficult moments of shaping. Oswald Chambers says it well: “Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision.” I hope to always submit to this process with humility and grace, knowing that even difficult changes shape me into who God wants me to be in order to best glorify Him.

Ultimately, the changes in seasons reminds us that everything around us is transient; this world is not our home. 1 Peter 2 calls us “sojourners and exiles.” The only permanent identity we have is in Christ: we’ve been called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” In the midst of change and decay on this earth, God has promised that our souls can hope in Him who does not change. As we await eternity, may we be transformed into His likeness, leaning into the God who cannot be moved.

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Disconnecting to Connect

Quick note: This post is a modified version of an article I wrote for the opinion section of an independent news site at Liberty in November 2013. The site has since deleted all of my articles, so I am taking the liberty to repost some of my work on my personal blog. Enjoy!

A few days ago, I sat alone in a corner booth at a diner writing a paper. As my brain slowly melted from analyzing literature, I couldn’t help but watch the people around me, and I was stunned at what I observed. As I looked around, I saw that every person at every table was looking at a glowing screen. Granted, I had my own laptop screen in front of me, so I’m not guiltless, but there were couples, groups of friends, and one-on-one conversations – all fixated on their phones instead of the living, breathing human beings in front of them. Two girls were Snapchatting their entire meal with a third party. Several people were reading aloud from the occasional Facebook post from one of those ever-popular college crushes pages. Very few were invested in meaningful conversations with each other.

Continue reading Disconnecting to Connect

Note to Self

All right, Carissa. Here’s the deal: You know you have spent countless thoughts and minutes and moments on wondering when that boy was going to text you back, or checking to see if he opened your Snapchat, or watching for that “[he] is typing…” message on Facebook. You have been distracted beyond measure hoping for an ounce of attention from someone who probably didn’t know you were hanging onto his every word and surely didn’t care. You could measure your life in boys whose attention you were addicted to at the time, and it’s time for that to end.

Continue reading Note to Self

On the religion your parents taught you.

“Just say no to anything they offer you, and don’t answer any of their questions.” -LDS mom to her children
“Stop listening to what he’s saying.” -An LDS dad as he pulls his intrigued son by the arm away from a Christian preacher
“My mom said I’m not allowed to talk to you. [“Why do you think that is? I just want to share with you from the Scriptures.” I said.] I don’t know, but I’m not supposed to. I have to go.” -LDS teenage girl
“Girls, we need you to go somewhere else right now.” -LDS youth group leader, interrupting a conversation between two LDS teens and some Christian girls and forcibly pushing the girls away from the conversation
“Ummm… I’m not sure… hey Dad?” -LDS teen when I asked her to explain the LDS Gospel to me in her own words
“Even if you think they might be Mormon, just don’t talk to any of those people out there.” -LDS boy to his friends

“I don’t understand it, but I make sure not to question it.” -elderly LDS missionary
“You need to stop asking us so many questions. You just don’t understand. Just pray and read the Book of Mormon.” -Young LDS woman in dialogue with a Christian woman

“My faith doesn’t need to make sense to me. It doesn’t have to be rational or logical; I just believe in my heart.” -Brazilian LDS teen

Continue reading On the religion your parents taught you.

My purity ring didn’t keep me pure

The day I discovered that a purity ring doesn’t help young people live purely was a shocking blow. And it changed how I view Christian purity.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, so I know the ropes well. Campaigns that were intensely popular when I was a pre-teen, such as True Love Waits, promised that if I bought a ring and signed the included commitment card, Jesus would be happy with me, and I would be well on my way to a good Christian life.

So, with sincere intentions and my neatest handwriting, I wrote my name in the blank that said “I, _________, promise to do this and that” and signed my name in cursive. I slipped on the ring bearing a “True Love Waits” engraving and quickly became accustomed to its presence on my finger. And there I wore it, assuming its constant presence as my only guard through high school. When I lost the original in the dirt at a softball game, I bought another one, which I wore so much that it cracked. I proceeded on with my life, resting securely in the notion that I was pure and holy because I hadn’t broken the promises on the commitment card yet… nor had I ever been given the opportunity to do so.

Continue reading My purity ring didn’t keep me pure