Monday, January 26, 2015

Looking ahead by looking back...

As January draws closer to its end, I find myself playing catch up on putting away things from 2014. The file cabinet has gotten leaner and the shredder has been working overtime lately but, reducing clutter makes me a bit happier. This morning, I tackled the "Warranty" files. You know, all of the user guides and owners manuals that accompany every purchase these days? I laughed at finding all these mini-books for things that wore out long ago, those we sold, gave away or had otherwise met their end. Reducing three hefty folders by half was very satisfying!

Tucked between the manual for the gas dryer and burnt microwave was a copy of an email I had penned nearly 6 years ago today. It was written to the pastors of the church I previously attended upon my departure from a position. My heart had grown heavy for months before I left organized church and this was the email where a new journey began. Why on earth would I find this where I did? I have a feeling this is God's gentle reminder to me about refocusing on my task at hand so I felt this was probably worth a second read today.

I wanted to share this letter because much of the frustration of 'church as usual' remains as fresh today as it was then. The difference now is that I feel my love walk with Jesus is totally transformed. I have gained a better understanding of how much His grace covers me, completely and without stipulation of my 'performance'.  It has not been easy. If nothing else, its been more difficult in certain ways because I can no longer depend on a routine church service to sustain me for the week. It has increased my dependence on God, in getting into His word myself and trusting Him to reveal His truths.

I share this letter to bring Light to the dark places that I know others are living in or have recently broken free from. These are believers who sense within them that there is something more than a weekly obligatory attendance or routine project-of-the- month. Its about the people they see in their every day lives, those that are hurting and wounded, who'd never set foot into a building. Or worse, those that have and have been rejected by those bearing the name "Christian".

This letter is not meant to judge another person's walk with Christ, especially not the pastors to whom it was written. Motivations of the heart are not something I am privy to. Christ alone is to judge. I know, without a doubt, that God's word is truth and "..everything works together for good.." (Romans 8:28). We must always examine things in the light of His word, testing all things and holding on to that which is good. The times in which we live do not allow us the luxury of pretending all is well in the Body of Christ when we know that it is not. Jesus will return for a pure and spotless Bride, His Church. We must continually place ourselves on the altar, at His feet for His work to be done. Let us be faithful as we run the race set before us.

"..there are some other things on my mind of late that I need to share with you guys. Believe me when I say I've began this email about 100 times, erased, deleted, saved, edited, etc. only to begin over again. What I have realized through all of that is I am not walking in agreement with {name of church}. I have become rather cynical and wary; opting to pull away from everything altogether because of the unending 'check' in my spirit that something is very much amiss. I think {name of church} is a great place with great people but that alone does not quench this pit in my stomach that we are indeed missing something: intimacy.

Much of what the Lord has shown to me over the past several months relates to the way of how we tend to ignore something long enough in the hope that it might go away. By avoiding an issue, we create a huge gap between fellow believers, thereby distancing each of us from one another, hence that sense of division. I am guilty of this. Over the past several months, there has been a steady urging within my spirit to get to the root of things. I certainly cannot 'diagnose' an issue with anyone else - that is clearly God's job. I do, however, recognize the pattern and it is very much the same in all of us. The scenario tends to be that we create distance between those who disagree with us. Our method may vary but often includes our expression of only wanting to be with people who are like-minded with us or who support our thoughts, ideas, etc. while avoiding those who do not. That isn't to say we aren't 'nice' or cordial and may not question our love for them. It's just that there is a wall of silence that develops and it is indeed quite subtle. Where once there was a sameness of feeling and a sharing of sorts with one another, it has now been replaced by coolness and avoidance. Cordiality and being nice is still present but the uneasiness never ceases.

Now this when we have a choice: either we confront the issues all together or we continue to avoid them, thus deceiving ourselves into thinking everything is fine. Some may call this 'cooling off' but its really nothing more of  distancing to avoid pain, rejection, disagreement or ourselves being questioned, none of which are Christ-like. I so often look to Jesus in His example of how He continually hung out with those who rejected Him, how He continued loving them without regard to their words and actions (or lack thereof) and how He suffered so as to finally break down the barrier of 'distance' between us and the Father. Grace is something we eagerly receive from the Lord but seem to be much more reluctant to offer to one another. The Body of Christ suffers greatly by our avoidance to be direct with one another. When we are honest with one another, confessing one to another our faults and can finally become transparent with or fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, we might well be on that road to unity.

The local church is very much needed but I don't believe it’s centered around a building and the usual hierarchies of titles within, as most churches have remained. The Great Commission says nothing about going 'in' (as into a building) only going 'in' as in going INTO the world. I always thought the local church began first with salvation. Peter's words delivered in Acts 2 were followed by those who received his word and were saved. Then they continued steadfastly in teaching, breaking of bread, prayer, etc. Another key part was that they had all things in common, no one lacked because they shared all things. That sort of communitas is amazing to me. The word 'church' biblically refers to a local group of believers meeting in a particular geographical location. I find nothing supporting the whole building theory, which wasn't introduced until the times of Constantine to end persecution of Christians.

When I look at the need for the local church, I look at Paul's letter to the church at Corinth too:  ICorinthians 14:26-33 So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three's the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you're saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you're also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn't stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.  I have only seen this in a few churches but it certainly sets the example according to scripture. I think our churches as a whole lean towards the avenue of safety by means of control in order to avoid any possibility of flesh rising up and things getting all wacky.

Christ certainly laid out the need of the local church and that should remain unchanged. I disagree with hierarchy, levels, positions, etc. simply because it is not the example I believe Christ set for us. Anything other than equality in Christ reeks of the priestly hierarchy that He died to destroy. That veil was rent to open access to God for all, not one person before another. We cannot say we believe this while still clinging to the notion of how one person(s) can hear from God before another or on behalf of another. It's either one or the other, not both simply due to the circumstances or the title/position we hold. I am reminded of Revelation and the letter to the church at Ephesus. They had lost their first love and were chastened accordingly. Interestingly, what draws me to this reading is about the Nicolatian's being a people whose deeds the Ephesus folks despised, as did the Lord. The Nicolatian’s - a people where their name is quite revealing of their beliefs. The word means, "Niko" to conquer and "Laos" the people. It means simply this: Their philosophy was to put a difference between the "laity" (the people) and the clergy (the pastors). This was an attempt to reestablish the Old Testament priesthood in the churches which led to a group of leaders being labeled as above or over the common people. We have re-established the old hierarchy by calling it leadership and have deceived ourselves.

I look at Christ's life and don't see the things we do in churches across the nation as really walking in his footsteps. He looked to the Father, to do His will alone, not His own. His obscurity and total separation from the things of this world, while being totally in the middle of the things themselves, amazes me. It pains me to look at my own life and see how much flesh I resurrect on a daily basis. When we live the life of being the Church, we continually take the Gospel to others. There is no requirement to meet first, and then do these things. That lifestyle of living out our love walk with Jesus comes to mind. I desire transparency and that is difficult to find in most Christian's. I've rarely even caught a glimpse of it in a church service anywhere. No one seems willing to open themselves up in total honesty before their brother's and sister's in Christ, sharing in our own short comings and faults, sharing our successes and our failures. When you look at the way traditional services are conducted, there is little, if any, room for intimacy, transparency or sharing.

As far as forsaking the assembly, I really feel most Christians have never done their homework. So often, we all take what's been handed down in tradition rather than with meaning and interpretation from the original texts. We are, after all, charged to be like the Berean's in examining of the words given to us, comparing to scripture. We are told more than once to test all things; hold on to what is good. I have begun to realize much of what has been handed down as truth is really quite far from it. It may be truth according to man with a Bible verse slapped on it but it's not Real Truth. In one of my previous 'drafts' of this letter, I had several paragraphs of examples in Scripture citing various verses, along with the Greek and Hebrew translations, etc. about 'forsaking the assembly' and what it really means to gather together. Debating about one believes is 'right' doesn't really make any sense if the intention is to solely prove the other 'wrong'. Those studies have simply called me to question and test what has been handed down as truth in the Light of His word and I find it lacking.

I want Truth, not relevance. The Bible is fully able to stand alone all by itself. Its Message transcends time and needs not be made more applicable to culture. In essence, its Message is the revelation of our sin and separation from God and our desperate need of a Saviour; that God's own Son, Jesus, is this once-and-for-all sacrifice and gift of grace through salvation, His gift to us. He does not need us to make Him more relevant to anyone. Time, technology or culture does not change our need for a Saviour nor does it change the One can save us from an eternal separation from our Lord, which is through Jesus Christ.

If I have veered off- task, my apologies as I did not intend to preach, debate or argue. I just find so many questions biblically about what is being taught, especially in the charismatic churches. It is here where I find myself questioning a lot of what has been handed down as truth, when it really may not be according to the Bible. Over and over, I sense the Lord calling His body of believer's into deeper knowledge and real understanding of His Word but all the awhile an intense drawing to Himself first. A total abandonment of our own thinking, traditions and ways must end in order for Christ to really increase within us.

Right now, the Lord has brought me to place where I need to deeply examine my heart and especially my motivations. I do not want to be a part of something simply out of a sense of obligation to perform, nor risk becoming cynical or hardened of heart over "theology". Right now, it seems like I am merely going through the motions of attending church. With all of that said, I do not feel I can continue on the {title} at {name of church}, at least not for now. Amos 3:3 has been on my heart for a long time: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (NIV). I have sensed this is something I have needed to do for awhile now and being away from practice, church, etc. has made that more clear than ever. I sense a great deal of difference in the way we are walking. Not in one being "wrong" but in we do differ greatly in our definitions of 'church'.

Honestly, I feel like I need to detox from church as I have grown accustomed. I hear the Lord beckoning to come away with Him. Matthew 11:28-30 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."  Learning those unforced rhythms of grace is exactly where I want to be right now. While I still plan on attending (name of church), I want to remain sensitive to the Lord in where He wants me on every given day - not simply going out of obligatory attendance.

I love you guys and do pray for you all, along with the people at {name of church} ~ that God's will be done above all else. May our lives always be....All for Jesus

Come to Me, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest

Friday, February 28, 2014

Neglecting the Gift

This morning, I had the heart wrenching task of finding a beloved sheep dead in my barn. It appeared that she had eaten grain way too fast and was not able to free it from her throat. Basically, she choked to death. While my husband had done the feeding chores last evening, he casually mentioned how this sheep was really gobbling down her food and had begun coughing some when he was leaving the barn.  Sadly, I dismissed his comment ever so casually and went on to other tasks at hand inside the house. This was a grave error on my behalf.

When I began doing my chores this morning, I could not find this ewe. But, in the stir of a hungry flock, I completed the grain feeding and began to count the sheep at the trough. There was one missing. As I passed through the barn, I caught a glimpse of a sheep leg, lying in a stall to one side and my heart stopped. Sometimes, you just know and yet the hope of it not being too late still rises up. This was not the case today. It was evident she had died last night, unable to fully cough up the grain she had so eagerly welcomed just awhile before.

Through my tears, I hugged her and said how sorry I was. I should have asked my husband more questions about how exactly she was behaving and maybe I could have gotten there sooner. Better yet, I should have gone down to the barn to check on her, just to be sure. But I hadn't and now, there was nothing more I could do except to begin the task of having to bury my woolly friend.

And, it was in these very moments, God began convicting my heart, ever so gently and only as a Father can. You see, lately I have been content to just go the motions of every day and simply existing within it. I have neglected to see each one as precious yet full of uncertainty. Most of all, I have failed to look at things in the light of eternity. My eyes have so clouded with the hum-drum that life can sometimes throw at you. And it is during the boring repetition that I find it can be easy for me just to shut down emotionally, to flip that proverbial "switch" so that I feel nothing therefore I do nothing. Just trying to get through another day...Apathy breeds nothing but contempt for the Truth.

For so long, I have hidden behind the cloak of not knowing my place in this world, that thing I am supposed to be doing for the Kingdom -- you know, the one thing that seems so elusive to you and that if only you could somehow find it, life would be complete. Everything would be rosy and you could simply do what God wanted you to do. That is a mask I have hidden behind for the past year. A mask that simply has hidden a need for control. Not the kind of control where I would be able to somehow be able to change or manipulate things but simply the control of knowing. In my own mind, if you know that you are supposed to be doing, then things are so much easier, right?

Such little faith in what the Father can do if only I would trust Him. Isn't that what it boils down to? A lack of trust? For me, this is so apparent lately. Even as I questioned what had happened to my sheep this morning, my focus was more on what I could have done for her. It is very possible there may not have been anything that would have changed things. I guess for me it was more about my failure to do anything that was so difficult for me today. This is difficult because it seems to be a reflection on so many of my actions lately. Not that my doing anything would have an affect but the fact I felt nothing, no urgent need to double check, no concern really, just an "oh, she'll be OK; after all, she's done that before and nothing happened" attitude.

So, here I am in the barn trying to see through all my tears as I fill the hay troughs, wondering "What the heck, God???" And then, my mind is brought to the little sub-heading under this blog where it reads:

Day to day thoughts and happenings often fall by the way-side left untouched to reasoning behind it all. The book of Ecclesiastes says "...there is a time and purpose for everything under Heaven...". To me, this means nothing, NOTHING, goes unnoticed by our Heavenly Father, no matter how large or small we may think it is. With that in mind, how much more should we consider (and reconsider) our every thought, action, reaction, etc. ?

How much more should we consider and reconsider our every thought, action and reaction? Think on that! Our action and reaction affects so much more than we can ascertain in this temporal life. Our failure to even take the first step in faith, without knowing what lies ahead can affect the outcomes of many. What if we never shared our faith? How many might perish without ever knowing Christ? What if we simply were faithful in those small things and didn't worry about the bigger things? What if we went forth in the planting of those seeds God has given us and not concentrated so much on watching them develop. Sometimes we are to plant, other times God allows us to reap the harvest. And its not always in the same field.

You see, sometimes doing nothing affects far more than we may ever realize. Doing nothing, while it keeps up in a numb state of existence, it wrecks havoc on our relationships, especially with Christ. Doing nothing is totally different than "waiting on the Lord" (a nice cover, by the way). It's the complete opposite. Doing nothing has no outcome, no goal, no set achievement to be made. When you are waiting on something, you have an expectation of something to happen. Doing nothing is a road full of regrets. It is a place of apathy, a state of numbness and lack of feeling.  A sort of apostasy, if you will. 

This is a dangerous place to be. Apostasy can be defined as "abandonment of previous loyalty; defection". The Bible warns us about the Great Apostasy, the great falling away that must occur before the antichrist is revealed. 2 Thessalonians 2-4 reads "Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God."   

This is a scripture I have been reading for several mornings lately and it wasn't totally clear to me as to why until today. God loves each one us way too much to leave us in a place we are not meant to be. This state of apathy, void of feeling and desire to do His perfect will, is not a happy place. It's a place of existence but without true life. I have been walking this fine line of going through the motions of life to avoid feeling its disappointments and I have been robbed of its joys in the process. I have allowed apathy to invade my life in various aspects and its numbing affect is quite apparent lately. 

God showed me this morning that I have concentrated more on knowing His plan than in seeking His plan. I have wanted to see the result before taking the first step. I have wanted to get to the end of the road rather than simply walk with Him along the path. And I've missed out on the journey itself. It is in the journey that we find His joy.

We are not promised a life free of disappointments. In fact, scripture plainly tells us " the world, you will have tribulation..." John 16:33. This is an inescapable truth: Trials will come, tribulations will test our faith. But Christ also says, "...but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" again in John 16:33. We must faithfully take each moment of every day, fully trusting Him to lead and guide us, not jumping ahead into next week to see what lies ahead. Faith must drive us, it must guide us in these last days in which we live. Without faith, do we have any hope of the life Christ has for us?

In closing, God brought me back to 1 Timothy 4:14-16:

"Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you."

Let it be so, Lord, let it be so.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

God's infinite knowledge of me...

Psalm 139 ~ God’s infinite knowledge of man, and also one of my most favorite books of the Bible. David was a man after God’s own heart and his acknowledgement of God’s sheer awesomeness and divinity is present in the words of this scripture. David poured out himself before the Lord on many occasions, in good times and in bad, yet his heart remained in a continual state of yearning for truly knowing the Lord.

I am convinced that God knows the depths of my very being and there is no use in trying to hide feelings, frustrations or other emotions from Him. He knows me intimately and yet He loves me anyway. I find this amazing! Despite all my short comings, my failures and even in my meager successes, He still loves me deeply. Before Him, I can be naked and not ashamed. Transparency does not come easy but it really is the only way to approach His presence. Anyone who knows anything about the presence of God knows that anything impure or unholy will burn up before Him. God cannot look upon sin and I am so thankful the blood of His precious Son, Jesus, covers me in grace and restores my fellowship with The Holy One.

Some time ago, God gave me a marvelous revelation at an old Coke bottle I found while on a mission trip in Honduras:
People filter in and out of the room daily, yet no one notices the empty bottle.
To them, it is a shell of what is left of a former good thing, no longer with any use.
It used to be filled with an intoxicatingly sweet, sparkling drink. It used to could claim it was the “real thing” but that was when it had something of itself bottled up inside.
Now, the empty bottle has nothing remaining, only a scratched glass frame. This bottle reminds me of how God needs us to be. To the casual observer, this is merely an empty, worn out, fragile remnant of former greatness. To God, it’s a perfect vessel merely waiting on His Divine touch.

The emptiness of our former selves allows God to fill us with His Living Water to an overflowing that we can no longer contain. He alone is the Real Thing. Everything else is just a sticky, sweet liquid that is all happy and bubbly when you first try it but always goes flat when left to its own ability. The tiredness we experience is a daily reminder that we cannot function within our own abilities or strength. We cannot serve both God and man just as we cannot please both God and man. It is only in our weakness that He is made strong. And only then can He increase because we are decreasing. The pride of our own “self” leaves no room for fragility. Our hearts must remain tender and broken in order for Him to work deeply within us.

Above all else, we must remain transparent before Him so that the world no longer sees any part of ourselves, our name or what we used to be. His light must be able to shine thru our emptiness. We must be poured out of everything we exist of in order for Him to complete His good work. In looking thru the scratched, broken shell of what remains, the world should see the reflection of Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters.

Psalm 139, God’s Infinite Knowledge of Man
“God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to You; even from a distance, You know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of Your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and You’re there, then up ahead and You’re there too – You’re reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful – I can’t take it all in.

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid Your Spirit? To be out of Your sight? If I climb to the sky, You’re there! If I go underground, You’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute – You’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, ‘Oh, He even sees me in the dark! At night, I’m immersed in the light!’ It’s a fact; darkness isn’t dark to You; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to You.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; You formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God – You’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration – what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before You, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived on day. Your thoughts – how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them! I couldn’t even begin to count them – any more than I could count the sand of the sea. Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with You!”

…..”Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; see for Yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong – the guide me on the road of eternal life.” The Message Remix

Lord, Jesus…my prayer today is that I not stray from your manifest presence. Teach me to walk in Your ways, to seek Your face and remain forever surrendered to Your will. Let my heart sing today…
Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way.
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mould me and make me, after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way.
Search me and try me, Master, today
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now
As in Thy presence, I humbly bow.
Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way.
Wounded and weary, help me I pray.
Power, all power, surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me, Saviour divine!
Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way.
Hold over my being, absolute sway
Fill with Thy Spirit, ‘till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.