This is the second of a three-part post about the last six months and what happens next. Once again, I will be very frank. I have had…I have…and I will continue to have a consistent struggle with my own worth. My history with church is a big part of that.

Church Life & Spiritual Gifts

The church is the imperfect bride of Christ. Key word connecting that sentence with what I’m about to say…imperfect. But some people shoot for perfection as the plan and the goal; please know this story is not about anyone, so if you think it’s about you, think again. It’s about my experience with the church.

Bear with me. A little backstory…back much further than six months…

My earliest recollection of going to church was the remnants of a church my grandparents and some other folks had started in my hometown. That ended while I was in elementary school, and aside from that, occasional Vacation Bible School was it. Flannelgraphs, handmade crafts, and punch & cookies. I’m sure many of you have similar experiences.

I was twelve when we started going regularly. I was introduced to a cruel God who forbade anything that was fun. I “got saved” at least 30 times during my teens but was eventually convinced that I had committed the unforgivable sin…blasphemy of the Holy Spirit…even though I didn’t know what it was. Why I thought that – everyone else around me seemed to be “clicking” with the Jesus thing, and I didn’t. I must have gone too far.

The damage done by 80’s “rapture” culture, legalism, and evangelicalism remains. It is a permanent scar. On me…and I’m finding…also on countless others. Scaring people into believing was the way to go. I was so terrified and that formed my opinion of God…one that I held for decades. If I displeased Him, hell would be the result. Since displeasing Him seemed to be the only thing I was able to do, I figured that hell it was. I’m shocked that I didn’t do way more “bad stuff” than I did.

Since I returned to a “church” setting in my life five years ago, many have you have walked with me through a lot of highs and lows. Based on my writings, some have scoffed, claiming I was craving attention. Some have, quite accurately, realized that I struggle with mental illness manifested as depression and anxiety. Some have ignored, and some have gotten involved. But I found out that He loved me five years ago, and He reminded me of something I had heard Him say when I was a teenager: “I will use you”. In those five years, the word “use” in that phrase has taken on several different meanings. Those will be discussed further in part three.

Some may not like what I am going to say now, but the “church” is a tool used by the enemy. The enemy knows he’s already lost, so he goes after the church…the bride of Christ…and those who are part of it. Considering Christianity has endured splits into thousands of “denominations”, it should come as no surprise that Satan infiltrated the church.

Back to my first church experience. Church was not an important part of life. It was an occasional option. It is still an occasional for many people. If we wonder why, the place we need to look is in the mirror. As part of the church, but as humans, we often think we are doing the right thing but are chasing people away.

Then…my teen years…those years where I can definitely say the Holy Spirit was at work in my life. However, the fact that the entire modus operandi of the church I was to disciple by keeping the church body in good behavior, blameless in the sight of God, and creating “sanctified” believers who no longer sinned. This led me to believe that I was without hope.

My early adult years through my early 40’s were a return to the church being “occasional”. Because Stacy was not of the denomination I grew up in, I never saw her as “saved”. I didn’t see myself as saved either, so we were pretty well what I had been taught to think of as “pretend” Christians. The “lukewarm” that Jesus would spit out at the end.

My decision to profess atheism in late 2013 was probably the best faith move I have ever made. In my decision to walk away once and for all, God opened my eyes to Him. I learned through a series of events happening from November 2013 through May 2014 that He truly did love me; wanted to be in my life; and was never going to leave me. I didn’t get saved or baptized again; I merely started going to church. I allowed people to love me and show me what He had done for them. This came as a big surprise. Church is where those who had it all together got the opportunity to figure out that you didn’t and judge you for it.

But Jesus did something for us…for me, and for you. He rescued us. Made us part of his church, his bride. 2,000 years ago, Jesus went to his earthly death. One that you and I will likely never have to suffer through. Mocked, a crown of thorns placed on his head, stripped naked, spikes hammered through his wrists and ankles, suspended on a cross to suffocate.

But none of this…NONE…compares to what he experienced preceding his death, when he cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? He experienced separation from the Father.

He did this willingly, without expectation of repayment. He did this knowing that it was the only way to rescue humanity from our eternal separation from God. And he did this knowing that humanity would populate the church…his bride…imperfect. Totally flawed, doing this in his name that would scar many.

But church has a couple different meanings, and the one that most of us focus on is a building that is part of a denomination. Sadly, where a repayment plan often becomes part of the teaching. This for that; good works in exchange for salvation. Behavior in exchange for heaven.

The true church is a people, loved by God, and equipped by the Holy Spirit to share that love with others…regardless of their station in life. It took me a lifetime to understand this, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’ll end with this today…the pronoun “your” applies to me as well as you…I’m going to list some things that we might think get us closer to God, but are nothing but filthy rags in His sight:

  • your service as a Sunday school teacher
  • your mission work in Africa
  • your witnessing to a homeless person
  • your theological education
  • your memorization and recitation of scripture
  • your taking hot meals to shut-ins

None of it gets you closer to God. No “points with Jesus”. No advancing to the next level of goodness in God’s eyes. Do I mean “don’t do it?” Absolutely not…you’ve been equipped by the Holy Spirit to do it…but never once think any of this will get you or me a better spot, closer to Jesus, in heaven.

Over the next few days I’ll put together part three and post it. It will detail “what next”.

God bless!



Today, I was overwhelmed.

But it isn’t what you think.

I awoke before 7:00 AM, on a weekend, ready to face the day. BEFORE 7:00 AM, ON A WEEKEND. I didn’t want to crawl back into bed.

Then I remembered that my Kindle was charged, so I decided to read a page from The Sinner/Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms. Day 12, by Cindy Koch: Don’t Ignore the Worm. It brought tears to my eyes. That’s something that hasn’t happened much lately.

Then, the praise songs at church. I knew them well, and sang (very quietly, because no one wants to hear that) with my eyes closed.

And finally, a sermon. “Be Done with Self-Reliance”, based on the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, Verses 1-5.

Reminders, one after another, of God’s unending love for me. The price that was paid on my behalf by Jesus, asking for nothing in return.

Overwhelmed is an understatement. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of what I experienced this morning. All I know is that it’s too good to keep to myself.


There are men all around us who are broken. With some, it’s obvious. The homeless man living on the street…the man in the liquor store who smells as though he sweats out alcohol…the guy you see walking along the road to get to some destination you don’t know about.

But just like these examples we consider obvious, there are just as many we don’t see. It might be your doctor, burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. He is expected to be professional, well put together, and able to shoulder great responsibility. He gets up and reads scripture at his church. Everyone there thinks he has no problems. They don’t know he’s addicted to prescription painkillers.

Maybe it’s the blue collar worker. He started at the plant right out of high school, making decent money. Now, 25 years in, there is talk of the plant closing. His wife works part-time at a daycare. Their high-school age kids are talking college. At your church every Sunday, he is an usher, smiling at you as he hands you the offering plate. But the things that his family faces wear on him. That bottle that he used to take a sip from on occasion has become a crutch, with a few shots every evening.

Perhaps it’s the owner of the coffee shop where you stop every day before work. He just learned that yet another worker stole money from the cash register and had to fire her. She’s got a baby on the way, and he suspects she has a drug problem. He thinks back 15 years to when he got out of rehab and someone gave him a chance. He feels horrible, and on his way home, stops at the bar.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s your pastor. The man who brings you the Good News week after week. This week, he buried a long-time parishioner, counseled a young couple who are getting married in a few weeks, and is weary from his time as the volunteer chaplain at the local hospital. The man who is supposed to look to God for help in times of trouble, instead tells his wife that he’s not done with his sermon on Saturday night. She goes to bed, and he begins to look at pornography. After watching video after video, he looks up at the clock and it’s 1:00 AM. He drags himself to bed, knowing that when he delivers that sermon on Sunday morning, he’ll do so burdened with the shame of what he’s just done.

You know him. Maybe he’s one of these guys. Maybe he’s you. Your dad, your brother, your son. Putting on that smile, telling you he’s good when he’s really not.

Broken, living in shame. Fear that those around us will find out who we really are, and point their fingers and yell “fraud!”

Then, you hear about a group. A group unlike one you’ve ever heard of before. Just a bunch of regular guys from your church who you always thought had it all together. They’re starting to meet because they’re at wits end. Life has gotten stressful, and they just need a place to share their troubles.

That’s what The Beggar’s Bread is. Broken men sitting around a table, watching a video, praying, eating, and just sharing the things that they hope they can get through this week. No one letting on that they’ve magically conquered life, but instead letting you know that He loves you, and wants what is best for you.

Consider joining us next time we meet at Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church at 851 Science Park Road, State College, PA. You don’t have to be Lutheran, or even a practicing Christian, but come expecting to be told about a Man who was broken for you.