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

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