Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stages of Grief/Blogging

Wikipedia, in its article about the stages of grief gives the five commonly known stages that people go through while experiencing grief of all sorts. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Today, while I had a few minutes to catch my breath in the middle of both my busy season at work and my father's decline in health I pondered those stages. Many of you are asking why we are not blogging about the church or our situations as much as we were last year at this time. I realized today that in a lot of ways, the stages of my blogging mirrored the stages in my grief over our church situation. I wonder if many of you are like me too.

In the beginning, there was the denial. I just did not want to believe these people would not turn around and be my friend again. I did not want to believe that they would simply turn away from our leaving without coming to reconcile the seeming dichotomy of what they knew of our lives and what was being said (or not said). I could not believe that if I could figure out the inconsistencies of the doctrine and practice that they would also soon figure it out. Denial was a large part of the beginning of my journey and then my blogging.

Anger. Oh how the anger phase fueled my fingers as they ranted and exposed and cried out for justice. I almost look back on that phase with a bit of longing. I was feeling, thinking, reacting and if nothing else, I felt alive. I tried to "tone it down" because some friends were reading, but trust me, it was born out of the anger I felt for being duped and then in turn duping others as I was their leader. I was just waiting for God to get a clue and straighten them all out and show everyone that we were right!!

I think for me, I skipped right over bargaining to depression. I remember posts that I would weep over. Nights where I would dream of former friends and then spend the next day in a fog. I did not want to do anything. All the pleasures of life were reduced to gray - no color. Even in this phase it fueled the mind to write. I needed to reach out of my pit and at least know that others were around who understood me. You all were great. You reached right back and loved me. I think the time of depression would have lasted much longer with graver consequences if it were not for the online community that I experienced.

The bargaining phase though did pop up here and there. I wanted to offer God something else that might work. I wanted community like I had before. I wanted to belong again. I wanted the "church" to change so that I could belong. I entered a period of wondering how the "church" could be structured so as to prevent any abuse of power. How would we all get together to pray and share and learn?

And then, somewhere in the past few weeks and months I think the last phase has descended. Acceptance. I have learned to accept the place where I am. I have learned to accept my kids, my husband and my friends just as they are. I accept the "church" and realize that while others may go and find a place of community, I will probably not ever be there again. Acceptance that the friends God places around me are the friends that I am to have - no more - no less. Acceptance that the times around my dinner table or out to eat are my church. Acceptance that my kids, their friends and their parents are here for me to love.

Most of all this acceptance phase has decided to accept the path that the Father has seemed to place us on. Maybe we are crazy. Maybe we are hard of heart or even more likely, hard of hearing. But, as much as I may not really love it all of the time, it is where we are.

The thing lately that has brought me peace in this place of acceptance is a memory. When Nathan, (now 14), was born, I distinctly felt that the Father told me that I was to give him a middle name of Dabar. Dabar is a Hebrew word for "a new thing." Of course, back in my old group we were always looking out for the next NEW THING!!! that was just around the corner. I thought maybe he was to be a great leader, prophet, evangelist. But just the other day I was reminded of his name and it made me laugh a bit. What if this "new thing" is the absence of all of the old stuff. What if the Father wants my kids brought up outside the confines of the institutional church? What if He wants to teach them about himself - all by himself - in an organic kind of existence?

I guess I'll never know really. All I know is that today as I look back and evaluate, I am at a place of acceptance like never before. I feel like I have finally sunk to the bottom of a warm ocean, I have sand beneath my feet and I am stable for the first time in a long time. I'm surrounded by the sea of His love. I breathe in the water and am amazed that I can exist in this place with such health.

Not much to write about down here. But it is nice.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Sweet Gig

The other day I received a letter in my email account. It was from someone who had visited my blog and had a question. A friend of his had hired a firm/ministry, (W.I.S.E. - Workplace. Intercessory. Support. Empowerment - found @prayformybusiness.com)(videos here) to provide intercessory prayer and prophecy for his company.

The website does not specify fees for this "service" but the one who wrote to me thought it to be in the $1,500 range for a month. I did not verify this.

Now, those of you who know me here would expect me to rant. Truthfully, it would feel good. But again, I'm not sure anything good comes from a rant. Those who agree with you will agree and those who support this kind of thing will simply tune out.

May I talk to those who are considering this kind of arrangement? Will you give me a few minutes of your time? May I please bring up some issues for you to think about?

I could debate with you many points where this kind of ministry has bought into the latest rhetoric of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). 7 Mountains Mandate, Apostolic Alliances, Prayer Mapping, Covering and the whole 90 yards are touched upon as you browse their site. I have covered many of these in this blog already so I won't do it here. You can follow Labels to read more or just write to me directly.

I ask you to at least consider ONE thought. HOW WILL YOU KNOW IT IS WORKING?

In their own words, they do not promise a rise financially for your company (good thing in the market we are now in!) They state that they don't promise you to necessarily prosper financially but it is insinuated that they will pray for that. (This way they can take credit for it if it does happen but do not have to take credit for anything if it does not)

They say that you should expect other things to get better though. Atmosphere around the office, relationships to be better, more surety about decisions that need to be made and such are promised. BUT - and here is the kicker - IF it does NOT go well for your business, they again make a way out for themselves by claiming that as they begin to pray the enemy may actually come against your business and "stir things up." Things may get worse - not better. This is brilliant actually because they can look at both possibilities to show you that their prayer and prophecy is WORKING - kinda - sorta...sigh...

You will never know if it is working. Any good thing will be because they prayed, any bad thing will be because they prayed. And they get paid to do this. This is the sweetest gig ever!!!

But here is the heartbreaking thing. This is what I wrote to the "friend."
The bad part is that when your business has its normal ups and downs, or your kid gets sick, or an employee cheats you or you loose your health, you will begin to wonder if God loves you. Here you are doing everything you can to prosper (soul as well as financial) and you are failing. God is not keeping up his part of the bargain -that, or you have done something wrong. (Not given enough, not prayed enough, not come under covering enough.) It will be your fault or someone else close to you. It suddenly becomes witchcraft. Your future depends on fulfilling what the gods are asking for. The end result is that you are now mad at God. He let you down. The one Father that truly loves you, who wants to walk through this life with you in both good and bad times, is now your enemy.

How do I know this? I walked through this path myself. I watched my business - then under the Apostles "Covering," - go through it's normal ups and downs. I bought into the "testimonies" of other business men, men who only told the good stuff. (One day I was talking to one of these "blessed" business owners. He admitted to me that it had been a hard year and was now being sued by a client. I was shocked! I had been led to believe that he was having the most amazing year ever.) I just felt that somehow I was doing something wrong. Then I was mad that God was not holding up his part. I tried harder and harder to do everything right.

When I finally walked out I realized that I had been put into a prison of my own imagination. God was not like this. I did not have to do all the stuff to keep my business safe or prospering. He did not promise me a business where nothing went wrong. He promised to be my God in the midst of my business - nothing more. And you know what? It is more than enough. It is wonderful.

And one final thing.....doesn't it make you wonder that if Jesus were to clean the "Temple" of today, he might just smash a few computers for hawking their wares/services online?

Picture from here

Friday, October 16, 2009

To My Friends Online

It may be a phase that I am going through but I notice something different in me as I skim through my bloglist.

I'm more interested in HOW you are than in WHAT you think about a subject.

I pause to read personal stuff. I skim over anything else, ........ basically uninterested. Something has shifted in me this summer. Suddenly the subjects we are talking about no longer interest me. Suddenly they are not important. YOU are. They are not as much.

I want personal details. How are YOU? Your Family? Your finances? What are you doing now? And, how are you feeling about that?

Maybe it is my bent lately to have community. Maybe it is my lack of caring about the topic of Church, Christianity, abuse or anything else.

Course, if you write anything humorous ..... I'm there!

Anyone else with me?

If you want to humor me, take your blog and write how you are doing right now in your lives with the God we love and the people with you. Or leave a comment here.

Of course you can always just post the best comedy thing that has made you laugh lately :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Peace Be Still/Steel

Only those in the "charismania" streams will appreciate this video. While it is a bit over the top, the jumps in biblical logic are not unlike those we saw in so many of our services. Click here. to enjoy/endure. Ht: Paul Grabill

Warning: Those with Post Charismatic Stress Syndrome (PCSS**) may want to wait a few more months before watching this video. :) May cause depression in those who have previously participated. May cause extreme agitation in those who did not stand up to say something. May also cause uncontrollable laughter in those who can now see it all as ridiculous. Be forewarned, if you are presently in a 'church' that practices this you may have a strange impulse to defend it.

**No, you may not copy this!

Well, ok, I guess you can, but you have to give me credit. (Unless I stole it from you)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Fears

I find it hard sometimes to truly know my own heart. It is much easier to discuss a topic of controversy then discuss what lies hidden even to myself sometimes. Today a blogger, Naked Pastor, gave a list of 10 things that compromise his greatest fears as a pastor. It somehow begs for the reader to be as open and authentic. So here goes my attempt. As of right now I can only think of 3 and they are very similar. Who knows if I know my own heart enough to come up with all 10.

1. Finding out I was wrong in the past (especially if I am unaware of it and thus have not had the opportunity of repenting and/or making it right
2. Deeply hurting my Husband in some way.
3. Losing the love/relatinship of my older children
4. Being embarrassed for doing something stupid
5. Becoming unhealthy at my own hands (weight, physical strength/flexibility, unhealthy eating habits)
6. Debt
7. Finding out what I believe now (especially about Grace and who the Father truly is) is wrong
8. Hurting the dear friends who presently remain my friends
9. Junk taking over my house/life
10. Realizing that I will be wrong in the future and thus run the risk of hurting someone else.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pursuit of The Sinless Life

I have been a Christian for at least 48 years of my life. Just this week though I realized something about myself that I had packed along on this new journey of Grace. Something that I had assumed all along and had just come along with me into what I thought was a new mindset. In actuality, I had just carried over the old mindset and applied it to the new.

The thing I realized was that at least from the time I entered Bible School at 19 till today I have looked at salvation as a means so that I might not sin. Of course I always knew I would never be sinless. But at least my idea of this Christian life was that as I "grew in the Lord" I would sin less and less.

I just got rid of a lot of books from my book shelf the other day. As I stood back and surveyed them I realized how very many books I had hoped would free my from my sinful self. There were books on how to make my marriage better, books on deliverance, books on taming the tongue, books on becoming more godly, books to help me understand the Bible more - because we all know if we know our Bible, we will not sin as much. (My God, just do an amazon search on Joyce Meyers. People have made their fortunes on sin management books.)

Then as I was listening to a podcast that Darin Hufford did the other day, (Super Spiritual Expectations) he blew me away with one statement. He said, "There are a lot of people who are wondering if they embrace this Grace message, that maybe, then, they will experience the freedom from sin that never came in their old religious life." He went on to say that the message of Grace is about a relationship - not about becoming sinless.

I realized that I had thought to myself, "Maybe if I understand Grace, understand the Father's heart for me and understand how to actually have a relationship with Him, maybe I will get a handle finally on my _____________." (fill in the sin of the moment) I was simply replacing the books on my shelf with the message of Grace in hopes that it would do for me what they left untouched.

But that is not what Grace is for. Grace was given, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Grace was given in spite of our sin. Grace was given because we could not do it. It was not given so that we then would be victorious, it was given because we will never be victorious. He loves me IN MY SIN.

There is a fine line somewhere here that I don't want to cross. I'm really not sure where it is though. I feel like Paul who says, "so will we sin more just because of Grace - Heavens NO." I'm not advocating giving up and just diving into my sin, knowing that Grace has covered it. But it is a mind shift of monumental proportions for me.

The message of Grace is not for me to obtain so that I can finally get my act together. It is offered to me because I can't. It truly "is finished," and there is nothing I can add to this. And so today I find myself overwhelmed by the act of Love that brought this into my life.

(*by the way, I have never read the book shown above. Just thought it was a great picture for what I was talking about. It might be a wonderful book :)

So Then, How Are We Changed? - Grace Given

I have been back in the office more since the kids went back to school. Because of this I have been catching up on some podcasts.

I've listened to many of Darin Hufford's podcasts the past few days. I listen to him because Darin still has the ability to make me cringe and push me past my comfort zone. He and the gang that broadcasts with him, pokes and prods at my religiosity, constantly uncovering new ground that I have not thought of before. His book, "The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells About God," is ready to be released next month and I would encourage you to get a copy and read it.

The other day though he said something that I've chewed on ever since. (I'm not quoting him but just telling you what I heard.)

He said something to the effect that, "love received" is not what really changes us but - "love given" - does.

He went on to say that if we look around at people in our lives, we all can see that love given to a parent, friend, child, spouse or stranger is never a guarantee that that person will change. We all know of the wayward teen who has parents at home that love that child so much, or the wife who chooses to walk out the door with a husband behind that longs to have her back, or of the countless people in shelters who have someone reaching out to them with love and a hot meal. Yes, sometimes we see those people respond and change, but what Darin said is that it is interesting to him that when he sees someone love, when he sees a person decide to DO the loving, you always see change happen.

We are changed by giving love.

In my own life I can look back and just observe the times that I have changed the most radically. I see it as I review times such as marrying my husband and learning to give for probably the first time, having my first child and realizing that 'I' no longer existed and suddenly I had to decide on a life of service, or reading "Blue Like Jazz," a few years ago and understanding that I really did not love people like I should and then start to act on it, or the times I faced loving and standing with my grown children as they made decisions that broke my heart, or the times I faced choosing to give love and grace to those who may have hurt me

All of these times mark clearly, the times that I have seen a change in me. Times when the core of who I was was somehow softened and molded into what Jesus may have intended for me in the first place. They purged the selfish "me" and brought out a more grace-filled "me."

I suspect, in my musings about Grace lately, that Grace is just like this. I have understood, it with a head knowledge of God's Grace towards me. But was always frustrated that I did not see an equal amount of change in my life. Therefore, I wonder if I am really changed more by Grace given to me and then in return poured out on those around me than I am with just Grace received and not given away. It sure seems that way.

I suspect that Grace truly becomes alive in us and may actually change our hearts as it is being given out to someone else and not by just having the head knowledge that we have received it. How many times have we given Grace and withheld judgment towards someone and find that something deep inside our hearts has been purged? How many times do we, with gritted teeth, choose to forgive and give Grace and then find that something in our heart has been softened by the very act?

And isn't that just like the Gospel to have us dispense what has been given to us? Hmmm, maybe there is something to that verse that it is better to give than receive!

Just something I'm thinking about this morning. What about you. Have you seen a change in yourselves as Grace was given to you or as you gave it? Stories, please, if you have them!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Responding VS Initiating

I think one of the biggest changes I see in myself these days is the anticipation returning that God will do something in and around me. Let me explain though because it differs from what I was like before in my Charismatic life.

Three years ago we were always planning for God. We would plan worship services so He could be with us. We would plan for the non-Christians so that we would be ready for them. We would get prayed for so that we would be ready to hear the Holy Spirit. We would give so that we were ready to get what was coming to us. We were always trying to help God out or be in such a position that we would not miss Him when He showed up.

It fostered an atmosphere of expectancy - to be sure. But so very often that expectancy was dashed as again, God did nothing spectacular that day. This left me, at least, feeling like I was not doing enough, preparing enough or somehow was deficient in some way. It also left me constantly looking around and being judgmental. Who was not doing their part, who had sin in their life, what was the hold up - "is it something you are doing?"

After two years of just refusing to prepare for anything I find something very interesting happening.

1. I have an awareness of God's presence that is unlike anything I experienced in those meetings where He was touted to be there "IN POWER." I"m not afraid this presence will leave me. It is pervasive. It is just here. I can't explain it other than that. He is with me. It is not exciting as much as comforting. It is not powerful as much as it is kind. It is not life changing as much as it is life transforming.

2. I find myself responding to Him instead of preparing for Him. When He speaks to me, I am amazed and grateful but I don't expect the same thing to happen in the same way the very next day or week. I don't try to get Him to do it again. I love it but He is under no obligation to perform at my will.

3. When I recognize His hand or his voice in something I am delighted. I used to be so anxious and actually a bit ticked at Him all of the time. After all, I was working so very hard and he rarely gave me any indication that He was helping out. But now it is a calm delight that settles into my soul when I actively see Him speaking or doing.

4. I realize that I could not reproduce what he just did or said even if I tried very hard. Here's an instance of that. The other day I was mulling over Grace and how it has changed my life. Sometimes I find myself feeling like I'm on a slippery slope into oblivion with nothing to hang onto. (I'll explain this more in another post) But out of nowhere I realized that if I were truly slipping down this slope and in danger of losing anything I would have the handhold of His goodness to catch myself on. It then came to me that when Moses wanted to actually see God, God placed him in a cleft of a rock and caused his Goodness to pass before Moses. I was amazed that when God let someone see him, the part of his Glory that he chose to show was his Goodness.

It was like tumblers falling into place as the Father spoke to me of his Goodness that morning. I was suddenly surrounded by a tangible feeling of His Goodness. It took all the anxiety away from wondering if I was on a tangent. I realized that God, in his Goodness would rescue me and always provide a safe place to hang onto.

But here's my point. How in the world would I reproduce that kind of experience with God? How would I form a gathering where he could speak to everyone at the same time of this fact? How in the world would I get God to tell my kids the same thing as he told me?

Answer is (I think).....I can't. All I can do is respond. All I can do is be willing to let him speak or act. Maybe out of the overflow of my heart I could share this with my kids or a friend or two. Maybe they too will be blessed by what happened to me. But what I want for them is the same comfort to know that when the Father wants to speak to them - He will. Out of His Goodness not out of our preparing for Him.

And so I find myself here....at this spot....simply responding to what He is doing. If He does nothing or says nothing I will wait. I truly hope this is OK. It goes against everything Church Lady believed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It is Done....Again

A friend and I were talking the other day. The conversation drifted to the church she was attending. She loves her church. She was telling me how much she loved the people, loved them being around her, her husband and her kids and how much she trusted the leadership there, what a good heart they had and so on.

I found myself being inwardly very cynical. The conversation in my head was something on the order of, "Yeah, right. That is what I thought all those years. You had better not put your trust in anyone there. It is only a matter of time till you really find out what they are like."

I guess it showed on my face. Sometimes it is hard for me not to let you know how I'm feeling if you are sitting across the table from me.

So we talked about it. I told her that I felt like a woman whose husband had cheated on her and left her. Now I don't trust any man. I know the hurt they are capable of. I've been through the divorce. I can't imagine trusting again.

We started talking about trying to visit other church bodies. She understood how it would be hard but maybe if I tried now, in two years I may have a different perspective.

I laughed and told her I felt like the wife again who's friends are trying to get her out there to date a little.

And then it hit me. I don't want to "date" around. What I truly wanted and I think was waiting for is for my own "husband" to come back to me. I did not want another church body. I wanted my old church body. I did not want to really make new friends as much as I wanted my old friends back.

But here was the hard part. She said to me, "Barb, even if they re-established a relationship with you...even if you could go back...it could never be the same because of these last two years. For two years they have not talked to you. For two years they have acted as if they did not care. For two years they have not answered your emails."

And, she reminded me, "in the two years you have been gone, you have become a different person."

I feel stupid verbalizing that I was waiting to have it all go back to the same way it once was. All I needed to do was to read my own blog over the past two years to see the ways I have changed and the mindsets that I no longer have. I could not go back to them. They probably won't come to where I am. It truly is done. The relationship is dead.

Relationship with the individuals will always be an open door if they want to walk through it, but the "thing" I had with them for so many years is passed. Done.

Again, I feel stupid for not realizing that this was what I was thinking all along. It seems like such a "duh" kind of thing. But it is better to realize it now I guess than later or never.

After letting that set a few days I realized that my heart somehow turned to the future in ways it had never done before. I realized that I was no longer waiting for the old things to come back. It was just us...here....now. It was suddenly what lies ahead. It was like a ship that had been loosed from its dock.

I wonder where we will go, what we will see, who we will be with in the next few years. And that is a new thought to me today.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

When It Looks Like Your Team Is Not Winning

As we have been gone from our former church longer and longer, I find that life is happening to all of those who have left. Sounds like a "duh" kind of statement doesn't it. My point is this. People have left and I find myself watching their lives with a bit of curiosity.

Our church often preached that you would lose your destiny when you left their fellowship. Not only your destiny was at stake but since you were now "out from under covering" this left you open to be deceived, have bad things happen to you, have the favor of God removed from your life, be directionless, discouraged, depressed, and disheartened. (Like my alliteration?)

In short, you could look forward to your life completely falling apart until you returned to the "family."

So, as people have left, I think there is a bit of competitiveness in me that wants everything to go well with them. I have noticed that when I hear that something has gone well for them, I not only rejoice in the good thing but I also rejoice that "our team" is looking good. The same happens when something bad happens to them. I not only grieve that something bad has happened, I cringe a bit because it makes the "team" look....well....not so good. Especially when a person's choice is involved in the matter....as in their decision to follow God, or stay married to their spouse, or not move in with their boyfriend.

Fact is, sometimes our "team" is not looking so good. Jobs applied for - not gotten, cancer appears on the screen, separation from a spouse is spoken of, a child angry and bitter at God, health deteriorating and not getting better, prayers unanswered, some dreams unrealized, some are directionless, some are discouraged, depressed, disheartened.

In actuality, all of this happened in the church I belonged to. If it was blatant enough people just left the body first. The rest of it happened too, we just didn't talk about it as publicly. There were praise testimonies of God's favor, healing and provision. You just mostly did not hear the bad stuff.

Yes, these bad things will be brought up as a weapon to keep those who are still there in their seats. Our lives will be used as ammunition to convince the people there that God's favor is no longer with us and won't be with them if they leave.

Fact is, this is just life. Both in and out of the old church. And actually, we are all on the same "team." We are all the Father's kids.

The other day I repented for my "team" mentality. I quit! I'm refusing to even keep score anymore. I'm going to keep from separating us into two groups and rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. The game was not one I was supposed to be playing anyway so I'm taking my ball and going home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Read This!

With my inability to form a coherent written thought these days and with my blog going more than a month with nothing on it, I would like to direct you to the post that Jeff McQ wrote today over at his blog, Losing My Religion. The post is God is in the Darkness (Part 1 - Afraid of the Dark)

He writes on how his life used to be filled with battling the demonic realm and why it has faded much farther into the background of his spiritual life in recent years.

I have had this conversation with many people lately who ask me why I don't keep my guard up against the enemy (devil) like I used to, how I can have my older children bring ______ into our home, (whatever the person is deciding is bad for us at that moment) or why we would let them be here and not be actively worshiping the same God. Jeff just says, almost to the word, exactly what I have tried to explain to them.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Loving Our Kids on Purpose - Book Review

I don't know if I have mentioned before that I have seven children. Four girls ages 20, 22, 24 and 26 and then we had the boys 6 years later and they are now 9, 12 and 14.

Through the years we have wandered our way through our parenting trying to do our best to love our children and bring them up to become successful adults who hopefully would choose to be lovers of God and man.

When one of them would do something funny or embarassing or crazy we would just look at each other and say, "Their parents were probably idiots," or "It comes from bad parenting!" We all (I think) always realized that we were simply trying to do our best with our kids to love them while providing guidelines and the necessary discipline to teach and train them.

Then the God Journey did a recommendation on Danny Silks, Loving Our Kids on Purpose. I was intrigued with what Wayne had to say about this book. I have loved Wayne's teaching on Grace and it has simply changed my life with how I relate to my Father. So when he said that here was a book on parenting that reflected this grace filled message and allowed us to parent our kids in a way that they could also understand the heart of God I sent away for the book.

After reading the book I also sent away for the 6 disk set on Danny teaching the series. Britt and I listened to it yesterday while driving to the North Carolina coast to stay for a few days with friends. (Best Friend is my bestest, bestest ever friend ever!!)

The series has absolutely blown me away. I wanted to be a parent who showed grace to my children but I had no idea exactly how to do that. To me it was either grace showed (which meant letting them get away with anything they wanted to do) or an old testament punishment system (if you sin, you will get punished). Exactly how could you be full of grace to your kids and yet hold a house together and train them up like we know they need? What do you do if they disobey? What if they are disrespectful? How do you get them to do their chores without punishment? And how do I show them the heart of the Father in all of that.

This series/book answers those questions while giving you VERY practical ideas of what to do and how to become creative in parenting our kids.

I can't wait till Marshall can listen to this with me. Over and over Britt and I would pause the tapes and exclaim..."Oh, I understand now...this makes so much sense!" We would look back on episodes in the family and realize how much we tried to control each other. We saw the times where we could have allowed consequences to be the deterent and still loved and provided a safe place within our hearts. We saw over and over how the Father loves and disciplines us and therefore how we can learn how to love and discipline our children.

I can't recommend a book/series any more highly than this. Please do yourself a favor and read or listen to it. Even if your kids are grown or you have no children yet, you will understand more of the Father's heart towards you. You will understand how he can love you in the midst of your sin, how he can avoid anger towards you and remain the safest place in the world to run to even in the midst of your worst days.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

God is Here....and There

My dreams are changing. I used to dream about fighting with former leaders. I would either be very angry or feel very helpless while they were angry. Lately it seems as if Mercy is stepping in and ordering the dialogue and scene sequences.

My dream the other night brought about a change in me. Marshall and I were going into what seemed to be a conference where our old church and leadership were in charge. The worship music was in full swing. I remember thinking how wonderful it felt.

My husband turned to me and said, "Honey, can you feel God present here? I can!"

I looked around to the crowd gathered and saw many on their knees in prayer or worship. Obviously they were not there for any hype or anything other than to meet with the Father, speak to him and commune with Him. Their intent and the purity of their love was evident on their faces. It was a good thing.

My eye caught another scene playing out though. Off to the side were risers - three rows. On the risers were women I recognized dressed in matching dresses - dresses that I KNEW these women would never wear or choose on their own. (Their dress was a cross between Little House on the Prairie meets Stepford Wives.) They were instructed to come down off the risers and take the offering for that night. They moved as robots - efficiently obedient, not smiling and as ordered.

My eyes went back and forth between the good I saw in worship and the crazy bad I saw in these poor friends of mine being made to play a role that was controlled and freakishly robotic.

In the dream I began to cry at what I was seeing. I screamed out, "NO!!! It CANNOT be both good and bad at the same time. It either has to be one or the other. How can God be here and yet Control is here at the same time. IT CAN'T BE!!! IT CAN'T BE!!" I was distraught and then woke up.

Later that day I described the dream to my husband and how it disturbed me and literally made me crazy that there was such good and such bad in the same dream and place. He gently laughed and me and said, "You never like it when there is gray do you? You are only happy when it is totally black and white."

I am so sure he nailed it. I had to repent from thinking that everything that this group is doing is bad. I had to admit that God is sure to be in their midst as He is in mine. I had to acknowledge that people are loving him, and finding him there. I hate that it is this way....but my very life depends on MY not earning his presence by the lack of wrong.

God is at my old church as they met this morning. Scream and cry as much as I want this fact holds true. He is willing to go anywhere to meet with and love on his people. And with that fact I humbly fall on my knees to worship the One who meets with me today in the midst of my brokenness and places of my own control.

I am my dream. God is still there.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Personal Note - Back to Health

I have not posted much about my children on this blog but if you could indulge me a bit this morning it may even help you or someone you know.

My second oldest daughter is now turning 24. At 16 she started to get sick. One of the first things we noticed is that even on 600-800 calories she would gain weight. She began loosing energy and having trouble concentrating. We started the round of doctors who basically said everything was all in her head. Others accused her of eating secretly. A children's endocrinologist in Pittsburgh told her to get therapy.

We finally found a doctor that began to treat her for thyroid and adrenal problems based on her symptoms. It seemed to help a bit but really, in the long run her health deteriorated even further. She had to drop out of college because of the mental fog that prevented her from reading. At this point we did not know what to do so we gave her the summer off of all responsibilities and she slept and tried to recover. That fall she began to teach herself computer web design and in the next spring passed one of their certifications. She felt good enough to move away and she got an internship at a company and was later hired. Her energy levels were still really low. She would go to work and then fall into bed. Weekends were spent trying to sleep and catch up. That next year after wearing herself thinner and thinner she got about 5 viruses in a row. Now we had a very sick kid.

She quit her job and moved home. We gave her what we thought would be 3 months to rest and get back on her feet. Three months turned into a year and then longer. Again we saw the rounds of doctors who seemed completely baffled as to what was going on. They finally diagnosed her with chronic fatigue and fybromaligia - which to those of you ,who know is a nice way of saying, "We don't know what the hell is wrong with you, why you are in bed all day and why you hurt all the time."

Depression was her companion. Here was a child in the prime of her life feeling like she was dying day by day. Many doctors would try to blame the depression but Britt constantly said, "I'm depressed because I don't feel well - I'm not sick because I'm depressed."

She applied for disability and that gave her access to free health care. This was such a gift to us. At that point we got a doctor assigned to us that #1. believed us and #2 was willing to do whatever we wanted to trace this down. We have seen a round of specialists, heart, stomach, sleep, etc. She was found to not be digesting fast enough, the beginnings of asthma, polyps on her colon (which simply baffled the doctors because of her young age) and then last of all we saw an endocrinologist. He ran a gamut of tests and everything came back in the normal ranges EXCEPT for a vitamin D deficiency. (her level was at a 19 - normal levels are supposed to be 35 at the LOWEST and 50-75 for normal ranges)

He gave her a script for 50,000 IU's of vitamin D once a month and sent her on her way. She popped the first pill and we sighed - thinking it would do nothing. The next day she started feeling amazing. All her pain was gone in a little over 48 hours. She had a burst of energy like she had not felt for years.

We started reading. I have read everything on the Internet for the last 4 weeks. We found that a vitamin D deficiency ( which actually works as a hormone) could account for all the problems she was having. We soon found that the vitamin D that the doctor prescribed was actually not the best one to take and so we started supplementing with a liquid form of the vitamin in D3 form. Except for some stomach upset she is feeling amazing. It has been like a magic pill. For 4 weeks we have been holding our breath in trepid anticipation but it has continued to make her stronger, more clear headed, the pain has stayed away and her mood has gone from a 2-3 to a 9 or more. She feels like she has been given a new lease on life and even the greenness of the grass delights her.

I had a doctor that had actually run this Vitamin D(25-hydroxyvitamin D test, also called a 25(OH)D. (This is the test you want to order - there is another test of another kind of vitamin D that will not give you the measurements you need) I was at a higher level but at the time I just shrugged it off. Since Britt has been on this therapy I have also increased my vitamin D to 5,000IU a day. I immediately felt my mood lighten and hope return. It is crazy. I have read that those living in the north actually cannot make vitamin D by sunshine except from May till September because of the slant of the sun.

Anyway this is long enough. You can go to http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/ for the springboard to some good information.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Families and Toxic Churches

One of the things I have come to appreciate in my journey out of the institutional setting is my family. They are precious. They are funny. They are amazing. They are and have become so much more a part of my life. They are mine!

In our church we were subtlety taught to discount our extended flesh and blood families. That might horrify you but it was true. It came up in so many ways. We would call ourselves a family as we gathered together at church. The pastors would wax on about how THIS was true family. How our blood families just "did not get it" like our church family did. How true love could really be shared by those who "loved God" like we did. How, yes, we must honor our given families but we knew who our REAL family was.

There were those of us who would "bear through" family gatherings only to get together with our 'real' family later in the day. We judged them for their values, beliefs, customs and lives. We would roll our eyes and sigh about having to spend time with them. If we could - without guilt - divorce our old families we probably might have.

Then IF EVER there was a disagreement with our families about our leaders, our church, our beliefs or anything regarding our group/church we were sure that our leaders knew what they were talking about all along. I have seen children barely speak to their parents. Holidays spent with the church "family"/or leaders in lieu of spending time with one's own family. It is/was heartbreaking.

The erosion of these bonds was subtle. If asked, no one would have actually said to leave your family (except if the family was making it hard to stay in the group). No one would have gone on record to do that. But as you just hung around the group you caught the flavor. Little things were said.
"We wish you did not have to go to home, we will miss you at our gathering."
"I know you HAVE to go home this Christmas but maybe you can come back in time for our gathering."
"It must be hard to go back there and sit through their church....I'm so sorry."
"You know, you don't have to go to everything they plan."
"They should not expect you to just drop all the important stuff you are doing here to run to their little affairs."
"I know you would rather be here with us."
"Why do your parents seem to want you at everything?"
"You know...we need you here too."
"It is just not healthy for you to be there."
"Well...you know who really loves you."

Husband and I are trying to be a part of our families lives. We didn't realize just how much time we were taking away from our families and giving it to programs and other people. We simply did not realize the condescending attitudes we were giving off to our extended families. We did not realize just how precious and fun our family was.

I never again want to come in between a child and their parents. I want to do everything I can to encourage the involvement of a husband and wife with their own children or a young family with their parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and such.

Our families are given to us by the Father. Make sure your church is promoting this. If you sense the other...RUN....Run back to your family. They need you and will still be there after all the others have left.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

On New York and Discipleship

A couple of weeks ago I bravely boarded Amtrak and rolled into Penn Station, New York to visit a sweet friend. I guess New York has an event called 'Spa Week' where various spas put some of their services on sale for $50.00 apiece. Well I was lured by the idea of a $50.00 spa treatment, the idea of visiting with a few friends who used to belong to our former church here and the idea of seeing the city for the first time.

I loved it. I "twittered" that if I had 9 lives to live, one of them would be lived in New York. It felt like home to me which is just crazy as I have never lived in a big city.

Here's the part though that I wanted to write about here.

No one knew that it was my first trip to the City. Because they did not know this, they did not plan the usual touristy activities. They also did not point things out as we walked around Manhattan. Therefore I was left to wander around in amazement of all that I had heard about or read. I had no idea this would be so much fun for me.

We were walking to Boarders when I turned around and suddenly, there was Madison Square Gardens! Later that night we were wandering toward Times Square and I looked down one of the streets. Again, suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere was the Empire State Building! Over and over I "discovered" buildings and parks that I had only heard about or read in magazines. Grand Central Station, The New York Times building, Central Park and others were simply 'stumbled upon' while we walked, talked and laughed with each other.

Now, there is another way to see the sites in New York. I saw these big open buses filled with people with tennis shoes, shorts and cameras around their necks. The driver's voice would boom out over the loud speaker, "If you look to your left, we are now approaching the Empire State Building" or other sites that he wanted the people to see.

I was so glad to not be on one of those buses and instead to be seeing New York the way I was.


It was not scripted. It was not sterile. It left everything to chance and serendipity. It was not the same experience that everyone else had. It was precious to me because I felt that I was discovering New York. It was not a pre-packaged, heard mentality, tourist experience.

As I pondered this on my way home on the train I realized that I had had the very same experience in being outside the institutional church walls these past two years. Nothing had been scripted. It was my own experience. What I have found out about God was mine. I went through it on my own timeline. There was no group mentality about it. When I ran into God it was not because he had "fallen" on the whole lot of us. No one told me to expect it, anticipate it or watch for it. Therefore, I have constantly been surprised, delighted and amazed when it happened. Frankly, I have loved it.

So many people would say that the way I saw New York was crazy. They would point out all the things I missed. They would be fearful that I would have gone to New York and not found the Empire State Building.

The church says the same things to those following Jesus outside of the normal way of doing things. They assure us that we will miss something. That God will be here or there and we will not see him. They are sure we should be on the bus with the rest of everyone so as to assure us the perfect experiences that we should all have.

But let me tell you what happened to me. When I turned that evening and looked down one of the beautifully crowded streets filled with the most amazing architecture and actually saw and then recognized the Empire State Building, something in my heart was stirred. I actually got tears in my eyes. It was wonderful and surprising and beautiful and serendipitous. It took my breath away.

Somehow I don't think the experience would have been the same on the bus with the announcers voice alerting me to the fact that it was up ahead and on my left.

And that is how I have experienced God these past few years. It has been wonderful,, surprising, beautiful and serendipitous. I have chaffed at how random and un-planned it has been. I thought I really liked order and buses, and tourist guides and pastors and bulletins and plans. But I guess that in the end, maybe I really did not know what I liked.

Maybe, just maybe, this will have something to do with what I believe about discipleship.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter - A Year Ago

One of the reasons I'm grateful for this blog is the ability to look back and remember what I was thinking and feeling a year ago. In answering a question yesterday of someone who was wondering how they felt about not being in a "church" this morning, I went back to my blog to see what I thought last year. It was good to see that I still agreed with myself a year later :)

For those of you who are new readers or maybe just now walking out of the setting your grew up in - here is my post from last year.

Easter 2008

I’m not in “Church” this Easter Sunday morning.

First time ever in my whole life. Since birth. Since conception.

I started my life in my mother’s arms in the service. I graduated into the nursery for the next few Easters. Then into the services. Sometimes three in one day. Sunrise service, Morning Services and Services at night.

I glued the stone onto the Sunday school paper, colored in the angel at the door, play acted the whole scene numerous times and sang with the children’s choir in the big service.

I graduated to singing in the choir for Easter Cantatas, and special music. Husband was in a “Last Supper” reenactment and acted as the lead, Peter in “The Witness” by Barry McGuire while I was in the chorus. We went on from there to putting on our own very small services in our new church plant in Michigan. Then 20 years here where Easter services were downplayed as silly and almost pagan in nature - but we were in "church".

So this morning, for the first time, out of an institutional church setting, I am wondering, really, what the day of Easter means to me and this has been truly refreshing.

The question of the morning for me has been, “How does the resurrection of Jesus affect me this morning?”

And in the answer to that question comes a depth of the most incredible peace and contentment that I have ever felt.

He did it. He did it to completely eradicate the need for me to do anything more than return his love for me. He did it to free me to be able to love others. He did it to show me that He was who he said he was. He did it to reconcile me to the Father who longed for a relationship with me. He did it to abolish the rules of religion. All of them.

And for that, on this first Easter day where Church Lady is not in a chair or a pew, I am so grateful. I am at peace.

I think if I am ever involved in an institutional setting again of believers that I will refuse to go to a meeting on Easter - Just to remind myself that He did it all. I can be at peace and full of gratefulness on this day where everyone else feels the need to do the “right” thing by going to see God at his house. I don’t need to.

Especially today of all days.

Happy Easter Everyone. He is Risen….I am free.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Disciplined Life

I read this today in "The Inner Voice of Love" by Henri J. M. Nouwen. He says,

"To live a disciplined life is to live in such a way that you want only to be where God is with you."

I recoil when I hear the words "disciplined life." But in reading the rest of the sentence I thought to myself, "How utterly beautiful."

Discipline was always followed by the word "should" and never the word "want."
Discipline was always devoid of relationship.
Discipline was always about ME.
Discipline was like riding a roller coaster....there were up's and down's but eventually I always ended back where I started.
Discipline always lead to placing myself on a win - loss line.
Discipline always welcomed the inevitable comparisons to others.
Discipline or the lack of it always gave fodder for how I felt about myself that day.

So today as I reflect on the idea that it could be simply wanting to be where God is today in my life I realize that the concept of discipline can be totally revamped into something of simple beauty.

This discipline - as described in the above sentence is about want - not should
It is all about relationship.
It is all about Him.
It may actually take me somewhere - at least where He is going.
It destroys the win-loss line.
It compares itself to no one - not even myself.
It allows me to bask in how He feels about me today instead of how I feel about myself or how others may feel about me.

Loved....at rest.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Road To Restoration

I have written this post 3 times now. Each time I see what I have written and delete it. I'm so frustrated with what is being thrown around about this wonderful word 'Restoration.'

We are in the midst of a restoring war. We argue and squabble about restoring this man or that man.

We are now restoring in public so everyone supposedly knows what is going on. All the sins will be aired. We even get to send in our hard earned money to fund this process.

We are restoring for YOUR EDIFICATION. We are told that this circus is to encourage us, build us up.

We stand on each side of a river with the sinner in the middle and throw mud balls at each other about the restoration process. One one side we have the (purportedly) side of Grace. The other side that of (again purportedly) a Pharisaical spirit. Say ONE word and you are thrown to one side or the other and handed a mud ball to join in the fun.

I know that no one has asked me what I think. But this is my blog so if you are reading you are going to hear what I think.

I think everyone needs to put down their mud. I think we need to go and get the man out of the middle of the river and take him away from all of the circus. He can't and won't be restored while he is standing there. It was the center stage in the circus that helped to create the problem in the first place. In the place of quiet where everything is stripped away and nothing is promised he will find a place of true restoration.

There was a man once named Saul that needed restoration. He was a murderer. I think he disappeared for quite a few years. He somehow found the heart of the Father there. He never had the same stage as he had before. But everyone can agree that he was restored.

There was a woman once that needed restoration. Her name was Barbara. She abused others in the Body. She has gone through a process of about 2 years of what I would call restoration. She won't have the same position as before. Her restoration was TO SOMEONE not to a place or office or a gift.

And therein is what I think everyone is missing. We are not to see the end of restoration as an end of being back at the same place where we started. Sometimes we mess up enough that it physically can't happen. How can you be restored to a wife when you have married another? How can you be restored to a ministry when you destroyed it on your way out. How can you be restored to being fake when everyone now knows who you really are?

The restoration process is to restore our HEART back to the One who loves us. If our goal is to restore a person back to where they started he will forever remain unchanged. If we have any goal other than to restore the heart - to the Father - we will miss our mark entirely.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Loving Others

I love How-To Books. I love the Food Channel. My family loves to watch the show How Do They Do That.

I think I love all these things because I'm at heart a teacher. Even though I hated most parts of homeschooling my kids, I loved the time when I explained a concept and they understood it. Still today, I love to break something hard to understand down into simple parts that can be grasped and then used effectively.

Most of my Christian life I have tried to find someone to break down this life into steps and formulas to live the "Abundant Christian Life." But I have found that this approach is severely flawed. I'm in the process of throwing out all the books on the Christian life, or marriage or child rearing that do this. They are dangerous. They are dangerous mostly because we stop relying on the Father for wisdom and begin relying on a set of rules or principals.

Jesus had this same problem. The religious instutions of his day had broken down life in God into nothing but rules and principals. So what did he do? He said that there were only 2 rules or things to do. Love God and love each other. That is it. Every time you read him saying that we should keep his commands - these are the two he is speaking of. I think even the apostles of old had a hard time just keeping it simple like this, but that is another post.

But at the risk of understanding that rules and principals have their flaws, can I tell you about one that I am using that has been amazing? (This actually came from the writings of Darrin Hufford - not original with me) This one is for the times that I wonder how to love someone - especially if they are being hard to love at the moment or have severly hurt me in the past.

I first think about someone that I truly love from the my heart. For you, pick someone that is easy to love. Someone that you would actually die for. Someone that everyone else knows is your favorite. For me, I choose someone that if they lie to me I am heartbroken, or if they speak harshly to me I am wounded. Someone that can get to me.

Then I take the love that I feel for this person and, like a pair of glasses, I try to view this other person who is being hard to love through the same lenses. I ask myself - How would Love behave to this person? If I loved this person as much as the one I do love, how would I treat them today?

Folks, I'm telling you, this works. It has worked to change my heart about those in my past that have wounded me, it changes my heart about the crazy driver in front of me or the kid on the street that is drunk and throwing away their life. I feel that it works ultimately because it is tapping into how the Father feels about this person.

The greatest thing about this is I have not turned into a mush-ball-of-love-and-gushy-ness. See, the one I truly love is one that I am ready to not only give to but also correct, protect them as well as confront them, touch them lovingly but also discipline them. I want their best and love lets me understand how to do that most effectively. It does not become weak in their presence - It becomes strong!

And don't think that you will become a doormat for everyone to walk over. See, true love has boundaries. Love will not allow someone to be abusive. Love sometimes walks away. It never takes its heart away but sometimes it has to leave for the other's good.

Anyway, would you try it out for me and let me know how it works for you? Ask yourself, "What would Love do here?"

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sin and the Breaking of Relationship

I have a feeling you are going to be reading a lot here about Love in the next little while. It may sound simple and boring but it has absolutely changed the way I think about EVERYTHING. It is like I have had one set of glasses on that colored everything in shades of gray but when these glasses of Love are worn, everything springs to color and life.

I hesitate to even begin to write about this because it feels like I have begun to understand something so very vast that it would be like saying I understand the ocean if my toes have gotten wet as I stand on the bubbly edge of a gentle wave lapping onto the sand.

Let me explain one train of thought as it relates to the concept of Sin.

I have always viewed sin as something that we do that falls short of a rule that God made. Sometimes this was an intentional act on our part, sometimes it was unintentional. Either way when we did this God was anywhere from mildly frustrated to totally consumed with rage toward us. Sin ultimately gave us the death penalty. Jesus had to die to allow God to even have contact with us. He had to kill his Son for our screw-up-ed-ness. No wonder he was pissed off.

But then I put on the glasses of Love and began to understand some things.

I believe the Father made us for relationship. I know relationship. I love it, value it and cherish it. Within this context, take for example that someone I love, someone I'm in close relationship with lies to me. True, there might be some anger, hurt, disappointment and such. But the greatest feeling is that something pure and right between us has been broken. A lie changes things. A lie breaks something. A lie becomes like a cancer - eating away at something that before, was whole.

Or take a situation where I get angry and I say a mean or degrading thing to someone I love. Inevitably something in our relationship gets broken. It is no longer the same and in some sense, can never be the same again even with an apology. The words are out there. They cannot be taken back.

If I understand sin between me and the Father (or another that I love) in this way it changes everything. Through the glasses of Love I start to see sin for what it really is and does. It breaks something valuable. It destroys relationship. It destroys oneness. It it heartbreaking. It devalues what we have together. This happens if it is between the Father and me or if it happens between my child and me or Husband and me.

Could it be that he sees sin like this? Could the act of Jesus coming to die for us be not one of a legal obligation that had to be fulfilled but of consuming love making a way for relationship to be restored? When he looks on our sin could he be looking on with compassion as the same way we would look upon a baby born to a mom on crack or a wasted life of drugs destroying a child's life and potential?

I have come to realize that if I can see sin through the eyes of love I have a small chance of understanding the Heart of the One that loves me and of actually being able to love someone else in the same way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm Glad It Happened

Something is happening with me, or better put, something is happening within me. Both I guess.

I've not blogged for a bit here. I had to reintroduce myself to my blog sign-in page. Fortunately it still remembered me.

I've actually been busy with real life again. Real people that I can hug and touch.

Friends of old returned to stay with us for two wonderful weeks. I visited my Sister in the desert of Mexico and talked and laughed and ate wonderful Mexican food for a week. A former friend is beginning a wonderful new relationship with me. My youngest daughter has moved back into the house to go to school for a year. With her return has come a flood of her entourage (friends). Colorful sort that have cool blue hair (my favorite!), diverse religious affiliations, some with assorted sexual preferences and questionable drug choices but the sort that find myself absolutely loving to feed, hug and provide a place to play and crash. It is a great story of grace to have this child choose to live here again. Fingers crossed as we navigate the relationship in such close proximity.

So what is it that I'm glad has happened?

All of it. The painful last two years. The abandonment of many friends. The loss of all that I was before. The death (at least from what I can see) of Church Lady. The re-evaluating of everything I hold dear. The emptying of my theology. The tears. The repentance. The joy of finding simplicity. The ability to meet you all. So much more.

We were talking about some of those that we love still in the group that we left. So often we want to make contact and tell them that we love them. So often it is on the tips of our fingers to write to them and explain how they are missing out on the very heart of God. Then last night Husband said something that rocked my world. He said something to the effect that God has a plan for each of us to find HIM - to find His heart for us and that if we had not gone through EXACTLY what we went through we would not be in this place now. That it was only through this perfectly formed, sometimes very painful journey that we have come to the place where there is Peace and Grace and most of all Love. He said that if the Father was gracious enough to bring us to this point, he would also have the same plan to bring each of those we love to the same point.

He is so right. Without everything that happened to me through this past few years, I would have been happy to be Church Lady for the rest of my life. I would not have been in a place where I found that I could survive without depending on the 'church' to give me my identity. I would have never explored the depths of the love of my Father. I would have never understood Grace as I do today. I could have never loved like I'm now able to - albeit still faltering. I would have never allowed myself to love my daughters the way I can now. My friends would still be used to pamper my own importance.

So onto Spring. New beginnings. Dear friends are moving back into town. (I can't get over the feeling that this is monumental for us in some way.) A few, and very dear friendships, continue and are beginning. Daughter will fill my house with fire breathing, fire spinning, (See pictures!) kids.

So I am mostly content at this point. The fear of going without is fading. We have found somehow that this is enough - if that makes sense. We are waiting on God to see if there will ever be a "formal" group to belong to. I can see life with it and also without it, so either way is fine with me.

and at the end of it.....I'm Glad It Happened.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post-Charismatic Evangelism

UPDATE: Here are those writing and linking to the questions raised in this blog:
Sarah @ Coffee Randoms: Thoughts on Evangelism
Jeff McQ @ Losing my Religion: Re-thinking Evangelism (and lots of other stuff) and Over-marketing the Watered-Down Version and How I Got Saved...
Ruth from Grains of Truth: Knocking on Heaven's Door
Co_Heir @ On the Journey: Evangelism
Also see Internet Monk's post on John Macarthur on TBN - watch the video and let me know what you think.
Andrew @ Hackman's Musings writes this: Evangelism

I think one of the hardest subjects for me to approach since having so much of what I formerly believed stripped away, is the subject of Evangelism.

I was raised a hard-core Fundamentalist. In every sermon (Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night) you would have the "plan of salvation" shared in case someone unknowingly wandered from off the street, came into your church and died that night and went to hell because someone did not share the "plan of salvation" with them. I even vaguely remember someone being fired over the fact that they did not share the "plan of salvation" often enough in their sermons. This salvation message was one of the fact of Hell, the plan for avoiding Hell, and the subsequent "sinners prayer" that would keep you out of Hell. Anything else in Christianity was just not really talked about.

Enter my years early in marriage - saved from Fundamentalism - and we understood salvation to be a way to a better, joyful, peaceful life. We would ask people if they wanted what we had. It was a bit of salvation from hell mixed in with a wonderful, meaningful life for the here and now.

Then finally in my Charismatic years I finally thought I had hit upon the greatest plan of salvation EVER!! Here in Charismatic land you could have all the "perks, bells and whistles." You could have your sins forgiven, be healed, prosper, do signs and wonders, be a leader and live a joyful, exciting purpose-filled life - all while signed up to be a part of the end time army that would ACTUALLY usher in the return of Jesus!!! We pitched the Christian life like those salesmen on late night TV. Your life would be amazing if you signed on the bottom line to become Jesus' disciple.

Darin Hufford puts it so well in his post, Gratefully Disillusioned, where he says

"I believe that Christianity has been marketed to the carnal nature of unbelievers. We successfully got people who would not have otherwise become a Christian to sign on the dotted line and join our religion. We did it by presenting "relationship with God" in a way that would appeal to power-hungry money mongers who want to escape the cold reality of life. We told people that God would financially prosper them. We told them that they would never get sick and if they did, God would make it go away. We've promised them that if anyone hurt them, their God would stick up for them and get revenge on their behalf. We convinced them that God would also give them godlike powers and they could dazzle their friends and family with magic tricks. We promised them that God would make sure they held a position of leadership in life where everyone would respect them and pay them honor. I've even seen different ministries claim that Christians have better sex than non-Christians. The list goes on and on. One by one, people signed up for Christianity. People who would not have otherwise given it a second look, found themselves strangely tempted with a religion that promised to fulfill their every carnal desire. The offer was just too good to be true."

(Read this excellent article as he goes on to say that we may not even have true Christians if this is what they signed up for.)

So here is my dilemma. If I am against using the "Hell card"as my "hook" in sharing my faith and I refuse to bend to the "hook" of the Jesus of the late night infomercials full of promises that never live up to their expectations, what am I left with? What exactly is my faith? How do I explain it to people? What is Evangelism? What did Jesus do with the disciples? What was this Kingdom of God that they shared about? What is the gospel - the "good news" to you and how would you share it with an unbeliever?

Another set of questions that interest me are these: Why did you become a Christian? What is your story? Did you sign up for the perks and if so, how is that going for you? Were you truly "drawn to God" in some way where the "perks" that I am talking about really did not matter?

If you have any thoughts about Evangelism (past or present)- please leave them in the comment section - or better yet - post your thoughts and link to it here. I'll update this post with links at the top if anyone wants to be added to the conversation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Love Jesus But I Drink A Little

You can put this phrase on my tombstone! I laughed till I cried. Must be the combination of taking care of my 87 year old parents and working on taxes today.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A New Year: Of Brokenness and Healing - Alex Blanton

A man named Alex Blanton left a comment on my post the other day about a Hope Deferred: Heart Flat Lined. He gave me a link to something he had written at the beginning of this new year. I wanted to highlight his post today in its entirety as it answers my post with wisdom and insight of what is going on in so many of our lives. Enjoy!

A New Year: Of Brokenness and Healing

Here we are again at the brink of a new year. In the past, I have usually taken the opportunity of breaking away for a little planning, a little casting of vision, and a bit of praying about all the shining new opportunities that the Lord would have in store for the coming year. This is all just fine and swell.

This past year however, I feel like Father has been slowly and methodically taking every plan, dream, vision, etc. and put them through the shredder. (It's funny - I actually remember praying and singing that they were His.) Now I stand looking into this new year, and you know what? I am pretty desperate for something completely new.

No - not just a new vision, plan, dream, whatever - I desperately need Him to pop me open and pour bucket after bucket full of Himself into my utter emptiness. It has not been fun to watch Him unravel and deconstruct all my false notions and paradigms I have had about following and living for Him, and I am not sure He is done yet, but I realize that if I do not have He Himself fill me to overflowing with all of who He is, then I am utterly without hope.

But is this not true of all of us? Why must He use our suffering to expose our illusions, fallacies, and delusions - to reveal our true emptiness and brokenness? But why do we run from it?

Funny thing is that I have watched many that the Lord has had us in contact with in these last few years, and it seems like they are all going through similar transitions. The Father has taken them through disruptions and other unpleasantness to find their former expectations unfulfilled and oddly hollow. It's not like God takes pleasure in thwarting our pursuits and expectations, but strangely, it is as if He is not content in letting us chase after these things any longer, no matter how worthy or meaningful they appeared to us before.

Does anything compare to receiving and experiencing the depths of God Himself? Could it be that "we have all like sheep gone astray, each of us to chase after our own vain fantasies?"

We have been told for so long, with the best of intentions I think (and not without scriptural precedent), that we should all be seeking and listening for God's will for our lives - looking for "God's purpose for our lives." He is the King. Yes! Pursuing our own purposes and expectations for our lives has never worked out, we think to ourselves, so knowing and following His plan would be so much better!

So, we wait for some divine message. We parse the heavens and the earth. We look at our lives and our circumstances for signs that help us unravel this code for why God has us where we are, going through what we are going through. Surely, we think, this is all happening for some greater purpose, that we are supposed to be a part of something greater than ourselves. If somehow, we think, we can figure out what that thing is, then all the pieces of our lives will fall into place. (Or at least the ones that make it bearable.)

Okay - so, now something happens and we are convinced this may be an overture of divine grace upon our lives - God's immanent hand moving to reveal to us at last His intentions for our mundane existence. So, we jump into it, full of gusto, and get on with the business of fulfilling God's purposes and expectations for our lives. No pressure there! But we jump in nonetheless. This is God's plan, right? What could possibly go wrong.

Then things go wrong.

Either through someone else, something else, or even (most of the time) through just ourselves, things manage to get screwed up. Royally. Not a little hurt and confused, we crawl back to Jesus for grace, licking our wounds. OK - this was our fault probably. So, we get back out there and go to work at The Plan again. Fulfilling God's purposes and expectations should be doable - we've got the Holy Spirit working with us and all that, right?

Well, somewhere along the way things get mixed up, screwed up, misdirected, misguided, misunderstood, again and again and again. Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough passion, discernment, motivation, money, commitment - the list of our failures and shortcomings goes on and on. The problem with living at trying to fulfill God's purposes and expectations for our lives is that when we cannot live up to them, we have to answer to God Himself. Each time things go wrong, we come back more disappointed and disillusioned. What is going on God? Was this not Your plan here that you wanted me to fulfill? It is Your purposes for my life I am trying to work out here! It is Your Kingdom that I am trying to extend! Some get frustrated and angry believing that God is distant and uninterested at best, fickle and unjust at worst. Some beat themselves up with guilt for their inadequacies, believing that God is not pleased with them, always standing just out of reach. Either way, we are rather let down that we are still left standing with a bunch of broken puzzle pieces. Everyone seems to have an opinion or a suggestion about how they are supposed to go together, but somehow we just don't really care anymore.

Does this sound familiar?

from beginning to end. What have we really been pursuing in our hopes of fulfilling God's mission and purpose for our lives? Did it ever occur to us that God may, in fact, be the one frustrating our efforts? Like, on Do you see something wrong with this picture though? This story has really been all about my purpose?

The problem with this whole scenario of discovering God's greater purposes for the universe, is that corrupt tendency in us to then chase after that thing rather then after God Himself. Why do we keep doing this? Why do things always get twisted into being about how we can fulfill our supposed needs and desires if we somehow get things right? We scour the scriptures. We take furious notes. We serve diligently. We give faithfully. We pray passionately. But we are still doing it for ourselves.

Here is the paradigm shift for me, folks: From life being about me finding and fulfilling God's purposes for my life, to life being about God finding me and God fulfilling my life in Him.

I believe this is where we get things all turned around and mixed up, and He is allowing us to get just as frustrated and disillusioned as we need to in order to figure it out. He knows that our deepest needs - the need for security and significance in life - can only be fulfilled in Him. But in our brokenness, we seek to use even God and His "purposes" as a means to find and fulfill this within ourselves. It's still all about us. Even in pursuing all those things that are good and wonderful about God and His' plan for the universe, we will still miss the mark if our goal is not deeper knowledge of Him.

Knowing God is not a cognitive exercise, a means by which we will have the tools to succeed in living life for Him. If that is our paradigm, then He will let us trip and fall as many times as it takes for us to see that we are missing it. This is a supreme act of intimacy, of laying ourselves bare before one in whom we can trust, and discovering the other has done the same. What God desires of us, is that we would choose to be vulnerable and bare - open and honest before Him. Open and honest with our shame and blemishes, to bare even the darkest corners of our hearts. To stand naked before Him and be revealed in even in our most bitter suffering.

Why? Because this is our true selves. The one that we try to cover and hide. The one that we try to marginalize through our own efforts. The one that we think that we can heal and patch up through fulfilling even the fantasies that we have about serving and following God. But God is not interested in our fantasies - the illusions we hold about ourselves, or of what we will do for Him.

You see, our brokenness warps even our love and our desire for Him. What He is interested in is us seeing ourselves as we truly are, in all of our brokenness, and choosing to not hide from Him any longer, but to stand naked before Him. In that moment, we discover that He has seen our true selves all along, but it is we who were fooled. It is this self-deception that keeps us from being healed and experiencing the depths of His surpassing love.

Until we are honest with who we really are, however, we are not open to receive the Love that transforms and heals our brokenness. In that moment, we discover that He has already returned the trust and vulnerability of love, and always has. Why would He risk so much on Adam and Eve? Why would He lay down His' own life, become a man to suffer for the sake of humanity? Could God really be so open and bare before us? Nakedness faces nakedness, and all is revealed. This is knowing and being known by God.

Each of us has an inherent need for security and significance, but we think these things are found to actually doing something. What we fail to realize is this: It is love that makes us safe and secure. It is love that makes us significant and important. Think about it: When we are truly loved by someone we experience all the security and significance that we need to simply be who we are. No more, no less. But if we feel we must put on pretenses, fulfill expectations, or otherwise be more than who we really are then the relationship is lacking real depth, isn't it? If we do not feel truly safe and significant to God, then His love has not been perfected in us. Perfect love casts out all fear. When we experience and live daily in the confidence of this love however, it transforms how we view ourselves, and how we respond to others, to life, to His' promptings on our hearts.

It also opens us up to receive the healing that comes by knowing Him in our deepest and most vulnerable places. 1 John says "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This honest bearing of our brokenness and inability to carry out His purposes is exactly this kind of confession. When we finally see who we really are, and we stop running to other vain ambitions (even those we pursue in His name), then He is able to show the deepest work of His' love and healing in our lives. He begins to make us whole.

Why does He do this? So we can get back out there and finally "get it right?" Finally fulfill His purpose, His mission, His grand plan for the cosmos? What you think this "grand plan" really is will affect the answer I think. I think the reason we fall short as disciples and as the Body of Christ is not that we fail to grasp the mission and purposes of God, but that we fail to grasp worship in it's true and proper context. God's plan was to have a people that would enjoy the same relationship with Him that He enjoys within Himself.

Why do we think the love of God is a prelude to something else, something greater? We have heard it said that sin is it's own punishment. This may be true, but the flip side of this is that love is it's own reward. God Himself will be our reward for knowing and following Him. There is nothing beyond this. God's purpose is Himself. His' plan for the cosmos and for all humanity is Himself. He is the I AM. The one who is self-fulfilled and fulfilling of all things in Himself. That we would know and be known by Him, in the same manner of which I have been writing, is the sole purpose of knowing and doing anything at all.

This is exactly what we see revealed in the closing sections of scripture - at the end of time we finally see what God has intended all along for us humans. That we, both together and individually, would know and be known by Him. As a bride with her husband, so shall we be revealed together with Christ at the end of the age. Once broken, now finally made whole. Once shameful and blemished, now spotless and glorious, together with Him. This brokenness each of us hides, layer upon layer, means that there is a healing that He alone brings, washing us over and over and over again with His love. Experiencing and returning His love is the means and the purpose of all things.

You see, all this suffering is only a prelude to glory, but it has already been revealed and opened up to us. God has bared Himself completely in Jesus Christ. He has already made Himself vulnerable, risking it all, and waits to see how we will respond to His overtures of love.

So, looking at this new year I can see the process that He has been working in me. Answering my deepest prayers, He has been slowly stripping away the dirty old rags I have used to cover myself up with, letting Him reveal more and more of my brokenness. I don't think He is by any means done, but I see that healing is coming. And I see that risking everything on love is the only sure gamble a person can make.