Why I Left the Church

When I went away to college the church almost lost me. I went to college and met thinkers; to me this was a completely new concept. Questioning things and not just believing things because I was born into some religion was a new concept. Realizing there were thousands of other people born into other religions that thought the same thing I thought, I’ve got it all right, scared me to death.

I met the people of the “world” that my church told me would be so bad, and I liked them. They were cool people who encouraged deep thoughts of question and doubt. I met a group of people that loved philanthropy; this was a new concept to me. Even though Jesus was the greatest philanthropist ever, I wasn’t exposed as a child to serving the least of these.

By no longer attending church I no longer had to endure the messages each week of “try a little harder to be a little better” … the exhausting treadmill of works based teaching that I knew I’d never be able to meet.

Moving out of the confines of the church I began to feel free. Free to think. Free to live. Free to love those who didn’t look, talk and think like me. Free of the flannel board characters of the Bible. Free of the place that said the world was 5000 years old. Free of the place that said women were inferior to men. I was ready to explore the real world of thinkers.

To me it was a higher level of thought. I was leaving behind the world of the uneducated Christians who were confined to so many rules because they weren’t smart enough to think for themselves. I was so disillusioned by the church by the time I was 20 that I had grouped them all together as the intolerable nuisance that I must learn to tolerate. To me religion was just a coping mechanism for death.

My husband and I were out to dinner the other night with some great friends and thinkers. We were discussing our worst fears for our children. Our worst fears weren’t pornography, drug addiction, or pre-marital sex (though they were on the list). One of our worst fears was that our children would grow up to be that single minded, Pharisaical church goer who isn’t able to think.

It is a natural instinct to want to shelter our children from the world, but it is a disservice and dangerous not to encourage them to think, question and explore the doubt they will inevitably experience at some point in life. If we do not encourage our kids to think, they will be encouraged by agnostics and atheists to think once they leave the protection of our nests. If we (parents and church community) do not encourage them to discuss science and history with an open mind … I fear they will mature into lukewarm Christians who don’t know what they believe or why they believe it. They will miss the point.

When we moved to Florida ten years ago, I begrudgingly went to church. To be candid, I was looking for a break from my one year old and I knew she would have fun with the other kids in Sunday School. We didn’t know anyone in Florida, and I assumed the people in child care had gone through security checks. I wanted an hour to myself to sit in quiet while my daughter had an opportunity to interact with other children.

What I discovered was a body of believers who were trying to follow Jesus and answering hard questions. I was introduced to people that said “in opinions liberty, in faith unity, in all things love.” I was introduced to how electrifying God is. I started reading about faith from great thinkers like CS Lewis and Francis Chan who introduced concepts that were foreign to me, though they shouldn’t have been foreign since they have been in the Word of God for 1000’s of years.

In my youth I wasn’t reading and examining the Word of God. I was just listening to what other (well meaning) people told me. If and when I actually read the Bible it was to help justify what I already believed. There are two ways of gaining knowledge in God’s Word:

Eisegesis: an attempt to import a subjective, preconceived meaning into the text. Cults use Eisegesis to justify their beliefs. Eisegesis has been used to justify everything from slavery to greed to lust to a litany of other sins and social injustices.

Exegesis: an attempt to discover the meaning of the text objectively. Start with the text, draw out its meaning and allow the Spirit to illuminate it.

God is truth. He provides us the Holy Spirit for clarity. Don’t believe everything you have been told. The God of the universe has provided an avenue for you to learn truth. Open your Bible. Be an exegesis. Be a thinker.

There are some mysteries we will never fully understand on this side of eternity. I will encourage my daughters to study exegetically what God’s Word says, to ask the deep questions, and to be thinkers who study history, biology, philosophy, psychiatry and sociology. No matter if they come to the OPINION that the world was made in 6-days or 6-billion years, I pray that it only strengthens their FAITH that we serve an awesome God so they may extend His LOVE to this broken world.

Karen Culbertson is a founding partner of SaltTee, Premium Christian t-shirts with a story to tell. 100% of all profits from the sale of our soft and comfy Christian t-shirts is given directly to ministry efforts in the Dominican Republic. Support this ministry by purchasing your SaltTee today.

I’m a Nut Job

It all started while we were on vacation in the Florida Keys a few months back. The house we stayed at had a multitude of coconut trees. Resting in my pool chair, it seemed as if the coconuts were taunting me saying “you can’t climb up this tree and pick me.”

Well I climbed the tree and got the coconuts, much to the astonishment of my husband and children. Now I needed a reason for my obsession with coconut picking so I didn’t seem like a nut job (no pun intended). Thus I got the idea of the Coconut – Fruits of the Spirit – Family – Project. It would be a fun learning and bonding project for me and the kids this summer.

School starts in a week and there lay those darn coconuts in the box harassing me yet again “You are never going to get this done before school starts.” So finally today I pulled the girls outside in the grueling summer heat to paint the coconuts. I asked the girls to sing me the song so I could remember what all the fruits are. I should be ashamed that I don’t have them memorized. So begrudgingly they started …

I got the love, joy, peace, patience way down in my soul, kindness, goodness, faithful, gentle, self-control …

Kennedy (10) started her painting with JOY. I tried not to be bitter, since I wanted to do joy. I had already planned out the cute little music notes to put on it. I instead started with PATIENCE, thinking I could probably use a heavy dose to get through this project.

Presley (7) decided she didn’t want to do our project and that she would paint an apple on one for her new teacher instead. I was kind of relieved because, I knew hers would be less than perfect, not that I am aiming for perfection or anything, that would make me less than KIND, which is also a quality we will be painting on the stinking coconuts.

JOY was fair, I had Kennedy make just a couple of changes, but it wasn’t terrible. Next Kennedy chose LOVE. I really wanted to do LOVE, so I might have been a little less than GENTLE with her when I made her start over because I didn’t like the finished product.

Kennedy wasn’t FAITHFUL to the project and she left. Presley was already long gone by this point. There I was sitting in the floor of the garage, painting coconuts by myself. What a nut job!

The whole point of this was to spend time with my children, having fun and talking about the virtues God gives us through His Spirit and wants us to display to the world. But instead I made it about the idol of perfection. I could have been teaching my girls principles that really matter; instead I was focused on the cuteness of the project.

Are you like me and constantly battling this tug of war with what really matters? Putting focus on things that will eventually rot and be destroyed? Placing so much importance on the cuteness of coconuts is like chasing the wind … completely and utterly useless and exhausting.

These coconuts will now be a great reminder to me that fruitful virtues are what I should be striving to achieve. As the coconuts fade and rot, which they inevitably will, I will be reminded of the treasures that will never be destroyed.

Karen Culbertson is a founding partner of SaltTee, Premium Christian t-shirts with a story to tell. 100% of all profits from the sale of our soft and comfy premium t-shirts is given directly to ministry efforts in the Dominican Republic. Support this ministry by purchasing your SaltTee today.

Open Your Hymnal to Page 337

I grew up singing hymns in church. Hymns are almost a thing of the past and while I enjoy the more contemporary music we sing at church today, there is something about hymns I love. They are like comfort food for my soul.

Today we wrapped up our last day at the North American Christian convention. I met so many inspiring people serving the “least of these” throughout the world. I met people who serve the less fortunate in Jamaica, people who provide counseling to those who can’t afford it, people who serve the deaf community, people who write books walking new believers in Christ through the before and after steps of baptism.

Christ followers are a motley crew (not the band) of people and although our commonalities vary, we share the same passion. We all love Jesus and are passionate about our purpose during this journey on earth. I was finding myself sad this week because most of these people, I will never see again.

Last night at the main session we sang an old hymn together … “When we all get to heaven.” I looked out at a sea of believers and thought; this is just a glimpse of what heaven is. Thousands of people from a variety of nations, sharing the passion of praising our awesome God! Words can’t even begin to describe my emotions.

My sadness about never seeing my new friends again turned into joy. I won’t see most of the people I met this week on this side of eternity. However, these wonderful people, shining the light of Jesus to all the nations of God’s beautiful creation will sing with me again one day. Only this time it will be face to face with Jesus … the One who has strung this ragamuffin crew all together.

Karen Culbertson is a founding partner of SaltTee, Premium Christian t-shirts with a story to tell. 100% of all profits from the sale of our soft and comfy premium t-shirts is given directly to ministry efforts in the Dominican Republic. Support this ministry by purchasing your SaltTee today.

Do You Only See the Rain?

Get that frown off your face put a smile in its place, let the love of Jesus Christ show through. This is the song I sing to my kids when they are being grumpy about getting their hair brushed, their faces washed, or being grumpy about life in general.

Today it was a song I sang in my heart to remind me to quit grumbling. I am in a small community in the Dominican Republic this week on a mission trip and I’ve been a bit of a complainer. The floors aren’t clean in the dorm room, the waste baskets by the toilet are overflowing with our USED toilet paper (can’t flush the TP in the DR), I have felt unsafe a couple of times, I feel dirty and stinky, etc.

What a diva I am being, I’m in a third world country, not the Ritz. Yesterday an urge to read James overcame me. One thing I love about the Word of God is it is living. Reading something today, that I read five years ago, could impact me completely differently today.

Typically I love James because it is a book of wisdom, it’s the Proverbs of the New Testament, and most famously known for the “grace without works is dead” line (James 2:7). It’s why I come to the Dominican, to live out my faith.

This time James spoke to me about being humble and controlling my tongue. I needed that refresher. Why should I complain and expect the trash cans to be emptied or the floors to be swept by someone else. I should rejoice in having the opportunity in doing lowly jobs. Jesus washed his disciples’ dirty feet. Who do I think I am?

I am here in the Dominican this week to serve but I wanted to serve on my terms and to serve only the people of the Dominican. I missed an opportunity to serve our team by grumbling about the situation instead of doing something about it. It’s one of the 5099 things about myself I need to work on … looking for the opportunities in circumstances instead of the reasons to complain.

Do you grumble and complain? Do you only see the rain? Then thank God my friend that you can see. Dry your eyes, clear your sight. Look to the left, look to the right. You’re really in good company.

Karen Culbertson is a founding partner of SaltTee, Christian t-shirts with a story to tell. 100% of all profits from the sale of our soft and comfy premium t-shirts is given directly to ministry efforts in the Dominican Republic. Support this ministry by purchasing your SaltTee today.

It Takes a Village

It takes a village. I’m almost scared to put that in writing after the backlash Hillary Clinton received after saying those words. I have learned in the past few weeks though, how true it is. Not only does it take a village to raise a child, it takes a village to live on this planet.

Brian is having surgery today. I am sitting in the hospital beside him as I write this because I am trying to concentrate on something else since I almost passed out when they took his blood. Fortunately, we have also had several other things this morning to keep us occupied, since the doctor is running several hours late. This is where the village comes in.

It is not even 8am and Brian has already had 5 visitors to the hospital. Our pastor was here before we even got here at 5:30am. Brian’s parents were also here first thing this morning. My phone, email and Facebook page has kept me busy in the meantime. All of our village people reaching out to us to check on us, pray for us and offer to help us.

My niece arrived yesterday to spend the night and take care of our three girls. Our good friends and work family are coming tonight to fix the kids steak and spend the night with them so I can be with Brian at the hospital. Our church family and Sunday school class have been overwhelming us with physical and spiritual support through their presence, prayer and offers to help. Our friends and school family have volunteered to set up meals and child care.

I am honestly speechless because the biggest lie Satan usually whispers in my ear is, you don’t matter to anyone. Guess God wanted to show me in a big way how wrong he was … BOOYAH!

It wasn’t that long ago that if something like this happened, we would have went through this ordeal alone. My husband and I are both introverts at heart. We require a lot of quiet time to think and process and open up. We sat in the back row at church, strategically arriving after the “hug your neighbor” portion of service and bolted at the last song to beat the crowds at child care pick up. We worked with each other from our home office. Our kids were not really old enough to be in any activities that required us to interact with anyone. All of that was perfectly OK with us. We were completely isolated and unaware of what we were missing.

I am so glad God intervened and pushed us out of our comfort zones.

A few years ago, at the exact same time, God put on my heart and Brian’s heart to get more involved. We started volunteering more at church and in our kid’s activities, we started attending Sunday school and bible studies and we actually got out of the car when we picked the kids up at school instead of just going thought the car pool line.

If anyone reading this doesn’t have a village, I highly recommend them. It is amazing how small life changes, have filled our life with an abundance of people and more importantly people I love.

So to our Sunday School class, Thursday morning ladies bible study, pastors and elders, work family, small group, lifelong friends, school family, and people who are my family through birth and marriage, you rock and I love you. You are the best village people ever!!!!!!

Not for a Moment

I’ve dealt with back pain all of my adult life. It started in college and has continued to get worse over the years. I’m told I have several herniated discs and the spine of a 70 year old (I’m 37 years old). I’ve never been in an accident. The best anyone can tell, it’s simply bad genes. I’ve been able to manage it over the years with physical therapy, injections, stretching, and working out, all with varying degrees of success.

In the last month, I’ve had a major flare up, and have experienced the most intense physical pain of my life. I’m sure there are worse physical pains, but in my personal experience, this has been my worst pain ever. I can’t find a comfortable position. I can’t sleep at night. I lie in bed all day, missing time from work and even worse, missing time with my family.

Yesterday as I was feeling sorry for myself driving to yet another doctor appointment, I was listening to the radio and heard the song “Not for a Moment” by Meredith Andrews. Honestly, it’s not my style. It is one of those sappy girly songs I usually zone out on. But in my pain, as I drove to have another MRI performed, the lyrics really stood out to me.

“When I thought You were a thousand miles away, Not for a moment did You forsake me. After all You are constant. After all You are only good. After all You are sovereign. Not for a moment will You forsake me … In my heart at my worst … even in the dark … even when it’s hard … You will never leave me.”

WOW! (and thank you to WAY-FM for always seeming to play the perfect song at the perfect time).

In my pity party, I felt like God had forsaken me. My prayers weren’t being answered fast enough. I actually stopped praying because I wasn’t getting relief from the pain fast enough. Have you ever done that? Not prayed because you just didn’t expect God to answer it anyway, because you felt like God had forsaken you?

As I sit at the stoplight in more pain than I’ve even experienced, I was overcome by emotion as I thought about the pain Jesus suffered for me on the cross … for my sins. His pain and suffering, for just Brian’s sins, far exceeded the excruciating back pain I am experiencing right now. And yet, he freely took upon Himself the pain and punishment for sins of the entire world from the beginning of time to the end of days. I can not begin to fathom the pain, agony and suffering He experienced as He hung on the cross, in total humiliation, paying our debt.

The pain was so intense Jesus cried out “Father, why have you forsaken me?” We have no ability to appreciate the utterly horrific experience of having the sins of the world put upon Jesus as He hung, in excruciating pain. The physical pain was immense, worse than a billion herniated discs. And yet the spiritual pain must have been so much worse.

How can I ever doubt God’s love for me?

God will never forsake me, not for a moment. He will never forsake you, even when it’s hard. He loves you and me so abundantly that He came down from His thrown to suffer pain like we can’t begin to fathom, so that we can have abundant life like we could never imagine. So in my pain today, I still say, blessed be the name of the Lord, who will never ever forsake me.

I’d love to hear about times when you thought God had forsaken you. Feel free to leave comments below to help encourage others.