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.
THE Answer. You know… THE ANSWER. Like the Answer to The Question. The Great Question. The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!
For those of us who are Douglas Adams fans, we know how he dealt with the Question and the Answer… thus:
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Well, this has never entirely satisfied me, though I applaud Adams’ willingness to take on the subject. Libraries for centuries untold have been filled with the efforts of sages to solve the Mystery of Life. And, while my conclusions may well differ from Sage Adams here, I must say that a lot of my cogitation shares some strong commonalities.
So, here and now, I’d like to submit my own, subjective, non-scientific, anecdotal, take-it-or-leave-it-as-you-please, contribution to…
The Answer… to Life, the Universe, and Everything…
It is… 3 x S (Read as: “Three times S”)
[Consistent with the style of Adams, we will first describe the Answer, and then consider… What is the Question?]
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S1 = “Superabundance”
The First “S” is “superabundance”, the provision for needs vastly beyond the degree of need. Quantity, quality, diversity… so overwhelming that the result is not merely satiation and satisfaction, but actual delight. Take the Garden of Eden, for example… all the foods available there, all the grains, grasses, fruits, vegetables. The delight and companionship of animals of every description. The mist of the morning, the clarity of the stars, the cool of the evening, the wonder of the sun and moon. Or Psalm 23, being led beside the still waters, sitting at a prepared table, being comforted.
This is to be free of need, and free of greed.
Could it be that the very first requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be free of need?
S2 = “Safety”
The Second “S” is “safety”, the protection from or absence of anything that could threaten or cause harm. Was there anything unknown in Eden to be afraid of at the start? It has never ceased to amaze me that God set man to nurture and tend the Garden (often super-interpreted to mean “God sent man off to WORK, first of all!”… but… what was the “work”? He was assigned to do two things… tend/serve/nurture… and protect/hedge about. But, what did Adam need to DO? Mist rose in the morning to water all, the soil was rich with the vibrancy of pure primal life, there were as yet no “weeds” or “bad plants”, nor any pests or predator bugs or animals. A Garden initially arranged and landscaped by God wouldn’t require a lot of transplanting and corrective design. All that “sweat of brow” and “thorns and thistles” thing came AFTER the fall.
This is to be free of threat, and free of fear.
Could it be that the second requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly safe and free of fear?
S3 = “Significance”
The third “S” is “significance”, the sense that one is meaningful, important, and treasured to at least one other person. In the Garden, there was first… Adam. Adam and God, there they were. Made in God’s image, male and female, Adam and Eve created in God’s own image. Given free reign of the Garden. Able to eat of all but one tree. Naming each animal as presented by God. Called forth to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Important to God, you think? Significant? Treasured? Or as in Psalm 23, sitting down at a table prepared for man by the Lord in the presence of enemies? Head anointed with oil? Cup running over? To dwell in God’s house forever?
This is to be acknowledged, important, treasured. This is to be free of the all too common fear that we and our lives are meaningless, that we are but cattle in a herd, a nameless cipher among a crowd of equally insignificant parts.
Could it be that the third requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly significant and treasured?
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As I pondered these potential “Answers”, and began to focus on the “Question”, I realized that this is a bigger answer than I can even define. This seems to hold true on every scale, in every application. Countries, races, kingdoms, empires go to war over a lack in one or another of these. Wars and genocides happen when a people gathers strength in order to meet what they consider a “need”, or a “threat”, or the hunger for “prestige”. States go to civil war for what seem to be the same reasons. Families feud, political parties wrangle, and individuals fight, maneuver, argue over these same perceived places of emptiness.
What to do? How do we promote joy, happiness, peace… “Wholeness” and Love?
Each of us have our own piece of Kingdom, our own relationships, our own sphere of influence. Whether this is community, home, workplace, church, or even one relationship at a time…
We know we are to “Love”, but that often breaks down at the “How do we do that?”
What if we try these three…
That every encounter be nurturing, meeting what need stands before us in the moment? Often the need is just some time and attention. Perhaps it is a meal, or a cool drink of water, or a gentle touch, or hug. (Obvious professional cautions apply, depending on the nature of the relationship.) Sometimes, the need is just silent presence.
That every encounter be safe, free of fear? Not just fear of physical harm or danger, but fear of being made to feel bad. Fear of being judged. Fear of being shamed or made to feel small or wrong. What if in each moment, someone felt their burdens lightened in your presence, rather than made heavier?
That every encounter be important and significant? That in the moments of interaction, the other person, group, party, were treasured as relationship to you? As if they were treasured by God Almighty? What if no one were an “interruption” or an “annoyance” or a “burden”, but rather they were a blessing to you as you are meant to be to them?
What’s the question, then?
What if the question is, “How has God always intended us to relate to one another?” What does it take to live a blessed joyful life? The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything…
And, how do we bring this about in our homes, our days, and our churches?
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3 x S = 42?
Maybe so. I just ponder these things now and again…
Grace to you, Gentle Reader! Bless! — The Little Monk
“The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (I Timothy 1:5)
Love is patient and kind.
Love understands we all learn in different ways and at different rates. We all have different levels of education. And while we may have a strong desire to learn and understand Scripture, we cannot all understand the King James Version, or the New American Standard Version or the English Standard Version. As beginners, some of us may need to cut our teeth on The Message or The Voice or the Easy to Read Version first. Please be kind and compassionate while we learn and grow in our faith. These versions are not heretical; they simply provide added explanation while we are in transition from milk to meat.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
We all fall short of the glory of God. Please don’t hold yourself higher than we are because you’ve had more education. The Pharisee had more education than the tax collector, yet the tax collector humbled himself before God (Luke 18:9-14). Please allow us to develop our own, unique relationship with our Lord.
Love is not self-absorbed, nor does it demand its own way.
Please don’t demand that I worship as you do, pray as you do, or subscribe to your religious laws or doctrine. Please don’t tell me I’m not a Christian if… Please do as He asks and teach me to beHis disciple, not yours.
“We have made ourselves content not with seeking the face of God, but with studying the facts of God. We are satisfied with a religion about Christ, without the reality of Christ… There is a place that transcends the boundaries of knowledge and dogma; it is a simple yet eternally profound place where we actually abide in Christ’s love.” Br. Francis Frangipane
Love is not irritable or easily provoked.
Luke recorded Jesus saying, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) If you have fully surrendered yourself to Jesus, then you have accepted His love and grace. Once you have accepted His gift, there is nothing left to irritate, annoy or provoke you. You have an unquenchable desire to give away the love and grace that overflows from Him.
Love keeps no record of being wronged, tallies up no offenses nor keeps score of the sins of others.
In relationship, do you think the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit choose to be offended by each other? Keep score against each other? Decide one was more healing than the other? One saved more souls than the other? When we point out each others’ faults and keep track of wrongs done, over the years we become bitter and resentful. Bitterness and resentment is grist for the enemy; they can easily be turned to hate, and hate locks out love.
Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
Love and truth build bridges; hate and fear build walls. Bridges help form relationships; walls prevent relationships. Relationships advance understanding and create true justice. The absence of relationships advances terror and exclusion for everyone. Which would you rather build?
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
When decisions are made from soil of love, faith and hope are harvested. Circumstances are seen from a different point of view. Individual lives are given value instead of being seen as a commodity. Differences become less important than finding connections and common ground which lead to peace.
Love never fails.
God is love. When we allow His love to shine through us, in God’s timing others will desire His unconditional love. They will thirst for His radical grace. They will hunger for His tender mercy. But love must come first.
May [you] have power to comprehend… how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is, and therefore to know the love of Christ even though it is too great to understand fully, so that your heart may be completely filled up and flooded with God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
One of the beauties of humanity is when you find people of like mindedness. Kindred Spirits. Someone who thinks similar to you and even understands what you just told them.
For me that seems few and far between. But when I find one it is like a bowl full of gems and jewels and chocolate!
The church we attend has a Wednesday night meeting. I do not always go to the midweek meeting but the last three weeks they have invited three different young adults from a college in the Kansas City area. These kids (I call them) get the opportunity to share what they are learning and going through with the intent of helping others. Youth. So refreshing.
Last night a young man walked up to my husband and I and introduced himself as the guest speaker for the evening. He proceeded to say that he likes to get to know his audience by asking what it is they have been going through lately. Well, having just posted my last blog about the seasons of my life I jumped right in and talked about that. Bam! He totally understood what I was talking about.
Don’t you just love it when you find someone who gets you? It is so important. We all have friends and acquaintances of different degrees. It is important we know that. Some are friends and the relationship may be more one sided. Those are good. Some, well, some are just “hey, how ya doin'” kind of relationship and you keep on walking. That’s ok too.
I’m not saying that this young man is now my deepest friend. I may never see him again. What I am saying is that we all need someone or a few someone’s we can rely on. The someones that don’t question your every look or move. The someones that have your back. The someones that hand over their back to you. The trust that no matter what you go through or how you go through it they will not judge or walk away, even if they don’t understand totally. The love.
As Christians we need to stand with others. We cannot do this life alone. We not only have the power of God within and without but we have others that need us and us them.
Recently, my husband and I saw the need for others to come alongside and hold us up through changes in our life. It’s all good things. He travels from time to time and I cannot always go along. We needed prayer support and friend support while he goes and I stay or when we both go.
So. We formed “Our Posse”. A group of friends of like heartedness and like mindedness. A group of loving and caring friends from quite the variety of life. A Motley Crew. We send out group messages when we have upcoming things we may need wisdom about and they pray. What a difference our life has become. We feel so much lighter. So less burdened.
I recommend this for everyone. It is not good for man to live alone. We were born for relationship. First one with God and then others.
I had a call from a friend of twenty plus years. We use to take nature walks or just gab over coffee and tea. Instant friends. Now she lives in Puerto Rico. But we are still strong together and always will be. It’s as if we never parted geographically.
Don’t stand alone, Dear Reader. There are people out there for your back. Even this blogging community has someone or someones for you to connect with.
“How do I LIVE in Christ, right here, right now, day to day?”
THAT, I call “the littlest question”. That is a question of “how?”, not of “Who?” or of “What?”. That is a question of “little me”, not “All Mighty God”, or “The Mighty Counselor”, or “The Messiah”, or “The Savior”. That is a question of right here, right now, not “In Eternity”, “In the Cosmos”, or “From the Beginning of Time”.
As Christian bloggers, as ministers of the gospel, as church people, as teachers/preachers, we spend much of our time dealing with “The Great Questions!” “Who/What is God and His Nature?”, “What is Truth?”, “What is Forgiveness and how Often?”, “How Should the Bride of Christ, The Church, Run?“, and so on. Those are decidedly GOOD questions. They explore our relationship with God as we seek to know Him intimately and thus experience eternal life. Nothing wrong with such questions. I spend much time in them, as do others.
But, once in a while I am reminded of the fundamental simplicity of Christ. Recently I was reminded, by someone INSISTING that I address a single, very simple question. It shames me to confess, their question was so fundamental and so simple, and I spend so much time “in my head” with the great and mighty questions, that for far too long… I couldn’t even HEAR their question properly.
What was the question?
“HOW… in practical terms… How am I supposed to LIVE, as a Christian?”
Every time I answered, the person shook their head and said, “I HEAR that, but I don’t know how to DO that! I hear that from you, I see that in Scripture, I hear that in Church… but when it comes right down to it, I don’t know what that all MEANS outside of church, prayer and religion. HOW do I DO that?”
I realized that THEY were not the one “not getting it”. THEY weren’t “dense”. *I* was. *I* wasn’t getting it, *I* was being slow on the uptake. I didn’t know why communication wasn’t happening, so I backed up a moment to take my confusion to Jesus, and He showed me the problem. It made me blush then, and it makes me blush now.
I kept giving them “Great Question” answers. You know… “Love God with all your…”, “Love as Jesus loves…”, “Forgive always…” so on and so on. I kept answering the “What?”‘s of Christian living. They weren’t ASKING me about “What?” or “Why?” or “Who?”… they got all that. They knew all that. They were asking “HOW?”, and I was utterly failing to respond. What’s more, truthfully, I didn’t KNOW. I hadn’t “thought about it”. It all seems so complicated… “How do you live a perfect (as Jesus commanded at the end of Sermon on the Mount) Christian life?” So many rules. So many opinions. So many interpretations. So many traditions. What was I to say?
So, as I stopped my speaking, closed my eyes, backed up… and “punted”… I prayed, then shut up and listened. “Lord? What’s wrong here? Why are we not connecting? I’m missing something critical here.”
And, at first, all I could hear was Jesus’ laughter. Rather like we laugh when watching a kitten tie themselves up in a big ball of yarn. Not “making fun” so much as “recognizing the absurdity of the moment”. His laughter calmed me in the sense that I knew I wasn’t “misleading” or “speaking less than Truth” here, but I remained confused for the moment.
“You’re just making things all too complicated,” He said. “HOW do you live out love? If you want to focus on one, single, behavior that will have the greatest impact on letting Me be Me in you… ‘be KIND’! The closest human label and emotion to ‘agape’ in behavior, is ‘kindness’. Tell him to go out tomorrow, and every day, in every encounter, making every decision, in the kindest way and being kind to everyone. He will know, as do you and everyone else, when he is being ‘unkind’ and ‘selfish’. Tell him, simply to ‘be kind’, and then follow up from there with him later.”
And so I did.
That has affected me since. I’ve looked at that aspect of my Crystal Rose now from many angles. It’s true. “Kindness” in the way we mean that, is central to all of the Old Law. Central to the Gospels. If we were to line up all the encounters of Jesus, and ask what central characteristic they hold in common, His kindness would be atop the list.
Kindness… to be consistently Kind… is very very simple.
It is also very very hard!
Want the Scriptural take on all this?
Read over the entirety of 1 Corinthians 13 for a moment. (It’s a comparatively short chapter. Go ahead and look at it… I’ll wait here.)
<< Hums the Final Jeopardy theme music tune here, waiting patiently…. >>
Finished? Good. Now watch this…
In all that chapter, Paul deals with “love”, and simple behaviors, after opening with matters of Great Questions. After all, Paul’s epistles constantly deal with Great Questions and Weighty Matters… the nature of God, the nature of the Church, the nature of Salvation, discipline in the church, the nature of ministry, the qualifications of ministers… and on… and on… and on. We base much of our Great Question dialogue grounded in the writings of Paul. As I said, nothing wrong with that.
But! We can lose sight of the simple fact that over and over and over, Paul is ALSO “making new believers”! He is evangelizing. He is sharing the SIMPLE Good News of the arrival of Jesus, His Kingdom, and the freedom in our lives of our redemption. Paul doesn’t plunge new believers into heady debate about “to meat or not to meat”, or lots of other things. He speaks of Christ, of His love, of Christ come, and crucified, and risen.
The KEY verse, in all of 1 Corinthians 13, I believe to be Verse Four:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant…”
As I’ve looked and pondered these things, the opening verses deal with the Great Questions! You can have all the “Great Answers”, and do all the “Great Things”… but without this bedrock, this “love” thing… that’s all meaningless. Everything before verse four, seems to lead up to verse four. Everything after verse four, seems only to expand on and refine it.
“Patient, kind, no jealousy or ego…”
To brag and be arrogant are based in pride, and pride (wounded) is part and parcel of jealousy.
So… right here, in front of man and God and everybody, I say openly… “If you want to live out the perfect Christian life, and have the love of Christ flow through you to others, focus behaviors on ‘patient, kind, not ego-bound'”.
One last note. Think about, in your own life, those persons… those (usually) handful of persons… who have really “shone Christ” in your own life to you. You know who I mean, the one’s who, when you spend time with them, leave you sensing the nearness and presence of Christ more strongly than you did before. Those ones that just ‘cover you up in’ the Father’s love, the Son’s Forgiveness, the Holy Spirit’s presence. The ones you reach towards when you feel that need for the tangible presence of Jesus.
Now, ask yourself, “is that person patient? kind? and humble (ego-free)” in their dealings with me?
I wonder if this relationship stuff – with the very best of intentions – can become a little one-sided:
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Although the add-on comes close.
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12
Thank you Father.
But I have to tell you – much as I appreciate these offerings, much as I accept these offerings, much as I embrace these offerings …
I have so much to give, so much to offer, so much You can embrace in me … so much we can be together … so much I want to be in You and You in me!
So I have to say something to You, dear Father –
Ask of my soul, and I will hear. Search of my heart, and I will invite. Knock on my thoughts, and I will connect. For I ask of You to ask of me as I ask of You.
You will ask only for love, why then would I give obligation? And for tenderness, why would I return simple duty? And always relationship, how then can I ever offer a mere slot in a diary?
I know that You, who art Love Unconditional, can only ask good things of me – Will only ever ask good things of me – How then would I ever desire to doubt your request?
This is not “just” the law, this is not “just” Love Unconditional – this is My free will, this is My choice, this is Me living in You as You in Me every day.