How is The Church?

Having been in church leadership roles, of varying degrees over the years, I’ve done a lot of pondering about who and what the church is.

I’ve been pondering about the health of the church.  I only have life experience and mostly a relationship with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit as my back up on pondering, but it seems that the church is very click-ish.

Don’t misunderstand me, I like Christian friends.  I enjoy fellowship with like-hearted people where we can lift each others arms and encourage each other to go for it or even to give that wonderful advice and help guide us in the right direction.  It is so needed.

But what is that called?  It’s relationship. RE-LA-TION-SHIP.  Which is what we should have first in our life with God.  Relationship.  He has called us to a relationship with all three of the trinity.  Not religion.

There is nothing wrong with going to or joining a local church and getting involved – I attend an awesome local church.

It’s so good and sweet…….. until it becomes a religion. Religion can smother us and before you know it you can not be relating to God or others.

I’ve seen so many ministries spend so much time counseling and helping hurting christians that it makes me wonder if we, perhaps, take those hours and invest in relationships and teaching and guiding others into a relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit then they can hear His voice and through the loving relationship of God get well and then……. drum roll please….. go out into the world and preach the gospel rather than spending years of counseling and never reach out to those who are lost.  Are we using the time on this earth to touch others or are we just always trying to get well and invite others to our buildings instead of inviting them into a relationship with God?

Just something I’ve been pondering deeply for a while.

Cate B ❤️

Tearing his costume off!

costumeIt’s that time of year again… Halloween… with all the “Harvest Festivals” and “Trunk or Treat” alternatives.

But as Christians we have such a diversity of “views” regarding Satan, the Adversary, the Devil.

For some, there’s a casual nonchalance… like, “well, you know, life goes on and I don’t know how any of this religious stuff works so… whatever.” For others there’s a nearly unhealthy terror and fascination about darkness stuff, almost like the constant making of gestures to ward off the “evil eye” of the Enemy, lurking in every dark corner.

This Halloween, I just want to put something out there with which you are welcome to agree or disagree, embrace or cast away as you feel led…

If we accept that the scriptures of the Holy Bible are true, then we accept that “intelligent others” exist… including both angels and demons. We are told that Lucifer exists. We understand that creatures of darkness, demons, roam the world and seek our harm. All right then. That is a simple statement of fact, one fact of life, not to be focused upon to the exclusion of all else. In fact, a great deal of the impact of the Incarnation and coming of Jesus’ Kingdom has to do with His having freed us from that dominion and domination.

Nonetheless, we “deal with the devil” every day in some form or another. He seeks to rob us of our joy, our peace, our focus on love, light, and truth. THAT is his primary purpose. Not simply to “get us to do bad stuff of darkness”, but rather to “stop us from focus on light and good”.

I once had a pastor phone me and ask, “Is it necessary to name a demon in order to cast it out? Do you have to know its name?”

My immediate answer, thinking he was involved in some ministry of major occult deliverance, was, “Um, no. In fact, you seldom know the name, unless they reveal it. In general, we know the names of very few demons, and the studies needed to acquire that knowledge are not ones I recommend to anyone unless called to that type of ministry very specifically. Why do you ask? What is the need?”

And he went on, clarifying… He did not mean specific entity name, he meant things like,  lust, or greed, or covetousness, and so on.

Ah, I got it. Well, the answer, in my experience, was pretty much the same. When temptation is consistent and methodical, and a spirit is oppressing one’s soul, the real “power and authority” for its dismissal is that of Christ, of love, of light, and the power of the Cross. One releases one’s hold on the temptation, rebukes the darkness itself, and grasps Jesus instead. Often, one may not even recognize what the darkness was, until it is gone and light fills that part of the heart. There may simply be the sense of something being “off”… or the recognition that one’s heart and attitude is far from that of Christ within. Then, back away from that shadow, release it, rebuke it, and intentionally turn towards light, love, and Christ. When one is under the influence of the shadow itself, the discernment can be fuddled, and recognition impossible.

We deal with such mundane interactions with shadow all the time. We take them in stride.

But we seldom recognize them as “suits” or “costumes” worn by the Enemy, Satan, the Adversary, the Devil.

If we did, at least many of us, would run off screaming in terror. (Please note: the enemy certainly DOES do some more “dramatic manifestations”, especially when doors are opened through occult or arcane practices. Recommendation? Don’t do those things.)

But this Halloween I just wanted to take a moment and recognize that the pitchfork, horns, and pointy tail costume of the “scary Devil” is far less common than his ordinary business suit, flowered frock, or jeans and T-Shirt. We’re perfectly willing to recognize the Enemy in the dramatic, but far less likely to grant him the credit he deserves in the mundane. Even though it’s still well and truly him and his who are at work.

Here’s the Apostle Paul with some timely teaching to the Galatians…

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. [Galatians 5:13-26]

That’s not a bad list of “Devil Suits”. And we see them all the time, don’t we? In our homes, our communities, even our churches? Paul gives the antidote, even before naming the toxins…

Love your neighbor as yourself, and SERVE one another in that love. (Bear in mind, the Lord’s clarification of “who is my neighbor”.) Don’t freak out. Don’t get focused and fascinated. Just love, serve, and trust Jesus in both His authority and His love.

Let’s defrock the devil, and send him home!

Grace to you, Gentle Readers!

 

Scarred no more

Esther's Petition

Like many people my age, I have several scars on my body. One large one across my chest is from breast cancer surgery a few years ago. There’s a small one on my upper arm and another small one on my face, both from skin cancer surgery some years before that.

One scar is a faded half-circle from an accident with a kitchen knife as a child – I was trying to slice myself a hunk of cheese and sliced my finger in the process. Another almost forgotten scar is a tiny circular hole on my neck from a BB gun shot as an even younger child, when a childhood pal’s carefully aimed shot bounced off something and hit me instead.

It missed anything vital, thankfully, but it bled like crazy. My playmate ran one way and I ran the other, and we both tried to keep my grandmother and…

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Back to Basics, Part 4

Continued from Back to Basics, Part 3

(See end note)
(See end note)

Following Jesus is all or nothing. He tells us to follow his commands – all of them, not just the few we feel comfortable following.

“My experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin; we want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.”

In every case I read in the Gospels, Jesus loved first (as he did for us), offered grace first, then gave outcasts and sinners (like us all) the space to recognize and acknowledge their own sins, come to him and allow him to transform their lives. We don’t give people that space; we don’t give them a chance to own their own fallenness. And changing behavior isn’t transformation; it’s a band-aid. Transformation changes hearts and minds.

As I listen in church, as I talk in person to fellow believers, as I read blogs across the Western World, my experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin to not only to individuals but entire groups of people. We want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.

So, how do we follow the tasks to reconcile people to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and how do we make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Our job, through God’s love, is to open the door for people to reach out to Jesus and for him to hand them the opportunity for His Love and Grace. That is when Transformation occurs. That is when the “Aha” moments happen. That is when the thirst for discipleship transpires.

When we attempt to argue or accuse people into Christ, all we do is cause them to be offended, to turn their backs on God. That isn’t what we want and it certainly isn’t what God wants. If our mission is to reconcile everyone to God and what we’ve been doing isn’t working, we must change our methods.

“The elder son…cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.”

In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus begins with, “A man had two sons.” Even though many of our Bibles call it the Parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son, it is really The Parable of the Lost Sons. This parable is not simply about the younger son who was lost to sin.

It is also about the elder son who stood to inherit twice what his younger brother took as his inheritance. The elder brother was lost to legalism, the son who is so focused on the sin of his brother his anger will not allow him to offer grace or accept the double treasure of his Father’s grace and love which has always been there for him. He cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.

As we love unconditionally, it doesn’t mean we condone sin, just as forgiveness doesn’t mean we accept bad behavior. But trying to teach someone about acceptable behavior before you accept and love who they are regardless of their behavior will fall upon deaf ears. It will erect a wall that will never allow them to feel safe enough to let down their guard.

Loving unconditionally means we communicate without disgracing or treating people without dignity. It means we create a safe space for them to discover the love, mercy and grace of God. It means we allow them to choose, through that saving grace, to repent in their own time because God’s love and His Spirit moves them to do so. It means we don’t stand in their way or erect barriers of any kind, otherwise we become stumbling blocks.

The bottom line is this: we can either continue pushing ahead, attempting to teach through condemnation and accusation, or we can build authentic trust and relationships through the wisdom and patience of the Holy Spirit, through the compassion of Jesus, and through the love and grace of our Father.

 

The Tree of Life, a nearly 10-foot tall sculpture, was created by four Mozambican artists: Cristovao Canhavato (Kester), Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Adelino Serafim Maté. The sculpture was made entirely from weapons that were the remains of the 17-year civil war that killed one million people and only ended when the Soviet Union collapsed and funding ended. This piece was part of the Transforming Arms Into Tools project which employs former child soldiers to dismantle weapons, which has dismantled more than 600,000 weapons in nine years.

I Don’t Know What to Say!

There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.

You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?

They ask you to come over… what will you say?

You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?

What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.

At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.

No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.

The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.

Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.

As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.

So, what will we say?

Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.

Seeing in the Dark

St Peter'S Basilica, Vatican, Catholic, Church, FaithIt has been almost three months for me that it has been dark. Not just dim or lights out, but an all-consuming darkness. I have asked God to lift it, take it away, but the shadows have endured. I can see the sun outside, but on the inside there is no light.

In the midst of all of this, God asked me to make some of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life. Actually, He didn’t ask me, He told me. It wasn’t in the usual way He spoke to me either. It was soft, subtle, barely a whisper, so much so that I felt myself putting my spiritual ears to the wall saying, God I can barely hear you!

I chased after the whispers like a wild, hungry animal desperate for food, but the whispers only became softer. The prayers I was praying were not in desperation but were now in full belief that God would answer, even when the timing seemed way off. But God said He would, and He did, and now I just want to run away…

The darkness has not lifted, the enemy is fierce. As my soul lifts up and magnifies the Lord, the devil denies Him and his plans for me. Not that I believe him. But Like Job, my spiritual outsides seem to be collapsing, even though I know they are not. When the walls come tumbling down, where then  do you run?

It was in my prayers this morning after Morning Lauds that the sky started to open. It is amazing what singing God’s praises can do for your spiritual life, even when you don’t feel like doing it. But today was different. Today I felt a glimpse of joy return to me, call my name, beckoning, we are almost there. It was that small slither of hope that I hung onto like a precious medallion from God, an inch of rope, an anchor. And I followed that into my prayer closet and in praying this prayer: Why now God? Why now in the midst of all of this are you answering this big prayer of mine? I sat back and closed my eyes, soaking in the warmth of the silence, a gift. And He said back to me with a smile on His face, “Yes the timing is very important. What day is it today on the Jewish calendar. This is your answer.”

With the Holy Spirit still vibrant and burning within me, I quickly rushed to check today’s calendar in Israel. It is the 17th day of Tammuz, a dark month for the Jews, a reminder of their unbelief.

Tammuz was supposed to be a time of blessing for the Jewish people. Moses had received the 10 commandments and was ready to bring it to God’s people. But when He was delayed (of course divinely so), the Israelites were inpatient and their unbelief became prominent. Instead of waiting, they decided to make for themselves a golden calf. And we know the rest of the story, the tablets that God had given us were broken and destroyed and we missed this divine miracle. It was a short delay that Moses had in coming down the mountain, but it was enough to turn the Jewish people to worship a man-made idol. It was enough to turn them away from God.

So the month of Tammuz is known for our fall. It exposes our sin and our falling away from God. But it also provides for us great insight into how we can repent, especially in the midst of darkness.

Today, the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the “Three weeks of sorrow.” Today also is a day of fasting, to instill a sense of repentance in God’s people; to remember the darkness, the tragedy, the idolatry- to instill in us a time of reflection. As Christians, we refer to this spiritual exercise as an examination of conscience, something we should strive to accomplish daily. A time to repent, to ask God to help us in the areas we need help, a daily spiritual housecleaning, a learning to see in the dark.

God’s answer to me was this, How can I be glorified if you do not learn to see me in the dark? If you don’t repent of your unbelief and glorify me in this very time, how will you lead others to me? It is easy to see me in the light, but in the darkness requires a special kind of faith. It requires you to believe me.

So I say to you my brothers and sisters, let us repent of our unbelief for the world is a liar! We have the hope of Christ within us, yearning to be set free! Do not believe the lies of the darkness but instead lift up your hands in glory to our King! Christ has risen my friends, we are free! I pray that you will open your eyes and come out of your slumber and see Him in the darkness. This of course requires you to believe Him.

 

Watch adventure

Like sands through the hourglass…whose time is it, anyway?

Two days ago as I was getting dressed in my bedroom, I caught my watch in my shirt sleeve and the back popped off. After a bit I went into the kitchen where the light was better and managed to get the back replaced on the watch, but it didn’t start running – I thought the watch was damaged, never thought about the battery at the time.

But on the kitchen floor I saw this tiny little circle looking like black sewing thread. I picked it up, wondering what on earth it was and thinking about just throwing it away. Not knowing for sure what it was, though, I went back to the bedroom and put it with my watch in my jewelry box.

And then the thought “popped into my mind” that perhaps the battery had fallen out and that’s why the watch wouldn’t run. But the battery is quite tiny, I didn’t see it anywhere, so I just planned to buy a new one.

Later on in the kitchen, I was using the hand vac to clean up crumbs from the cats’ breakfast when I saw a little metal fleck go into the vacuum. Aha! Watch battery? I dumped out the almost empty vacuum, and sure enough that’s what it was. Into the drawer with the watch it went.

Yesterday after the weekly ladies’ prayer meeting I took the watch, battery and little black circle to the jewelry shop where I always get watch batteries.

I could hear Billy’s (shop owner) voice from the back room talking on the phone. He is seldom there but I have known him slightly for many years. He was one of our dependable volunteers when Tim and I worked with Christian Coalition in the 1990s.

A nice young woman took the watch, battery and little black circle, saying “That’s a gasket, it’s really important, it keeps the watch waterproof.” In just a few moments she had the battery back in place, the gasket back in place and the watch running like new. (No charge.)

Then she said, “I need Billy to check on this, the gasket seemed a bit stretched.” Billy finished his call, came out and said with a smile, “Long time no see!”

“Yes, it has been, how are you doing?” I asked him.

“Do you want the usual answer, or do you want the truth?” He asked. “The truth,” I answered, knowing suddenly that I knew what I knew – here was the reason for my watch adventure.

“I have a pinched nerve in my neck.”

I motioned for him to come closer and told him to turn around, which he did without question. Laying my hand lightly on the back of his neck, I prayed and commanded his spine to be completely healed, whole, and normal, from the top of his head to the base of his spine. He thanked me and I left, thanking the Lord that I had paid attention.

That’s only the second or third time in the last ten years that I had actually seen Billy…

Isn’t God good?