When the “Church” Wounds

Dave and I talked deeply today, as we always do during our Saturday morning devotions. The word – devotions feels almost trite – so other worldly, religious at times – held as a scepter for the truly spiritual to hold up. We are far from super-spiritual. Just us – no more, no less, but everything to God and to each other.

when the 6Yet, “devotions” is exactly what they have become for David and I – a time of deep commitment, to each other, and to God. We are totally devoted to our time – the three of us. Five if you want to view it from a Trinitarian perspective. We are learning who God is at the core of our being, and by doing so we are learning who we are. We have learned how much he truly likes us, for exactly who we are. It makes it so much easier not to be offended by the actions of others when you know how much God likes you. It no longer matters as much what a frail human thinks about us, or does to us, when we know God thinks we are awesome.

Broken, but more than OK.

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God thinks I am remarkably OK. Actually, He completely delights in me, even if you don’t. Even as a lady “pastor.” A missionary. A chaplain. Even as none of those, but just his daughter and friend. Just Jamie. He is smiling at me- right at me. 

Right now.

Very few people have gotten to know Dave and I. At fifty-six years old, we are both very aware of how rare it is to meet people who are willing to take the time to go deep – to know our story – or to remove their masks enough that we might try to enter into their story. Especially not the tale that is told with words, but the one that is reflected in the emotion or our lives and the fabric of our humanity. The place where wounds are caused and then healed. The place where love is given, taking back, and then given again – empowered by the One who gave us His love.

That kind of love involves risks. It involves pain. It is a torn and repaired tapestry, wrought with a history of short redemption tales. Most people don’t want a tapestry with holes, they would rather throw it out and replace it with something new. A new friend, a new relationship, a new ministry partner, a new church, a new pastor.  Even a new marriage. Out with the old, in with the new.

when the 4It is even more difficult to develop relationships when you have been forced to move as many times as we have. Start over, start over, and start over again. Relationships take time, and time is not easy to find for many in our rushed society. There is no history in new relationships, and our history is deep. Our history points to our gifts and our gifts speak of who we are.

For all of us frail humans to tell our story means we are going to breathe deeply of the spirit of God, and admit that many things we believe about other people, we may be wrongly interpreting through the grid of our past experiences. It means we perceive rejection when there is none. We unknowingly try to control outcomes and behaviors out of fear. We hurt each other, apologize, get hurt, get over it, and hurt again.

To live with redemption stories means the church has to be the church; not just a place where you gather on Sundays to listen to a preacher, or the building that is dependent upon tithes to pay the bills, or classrooms of Sunday school teachers trying to get the Word of God, into hungry people.

It has to be a place where Jesus is found in the loving relationships that happen in the everyday fabric of our stories.

A place where people go out and serve others who have stories waiting to be told, so they can be received, and also redeemed. A listening place. A healing place.

A Jesus place.

A place where everyone who enters has at some point sat down with others in the “church” and broken the bread of communion which extends far beyond the cracker or wafer we celebrate in remembrance of the “ordinance.” Beyond the pot-luck suppers, or fellowship dinners to our homes.

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There is a vulnerability in welcoming people into our homes, and into our lives. It is the place where wounds are made and healed. It is the place where love is given and received.

It is the place where Christ dwelt when he walked upon this earth.

The church cannot grow beyond the relationships it develops. We have for too long made the church the building where we gather on a Sunday, or for a mid-week small group. We too often think in terms of inviting someone to church, instead of being the church to people.

If we were to ask Paul if he would like to “come to church” with us he would most likely wonder what strange doctrine we were referring to. We are the ekklesia, from the greek word kaleo (to call) with the prefix ek (out) added on. We are the called out. The English word for “church” however is derived from the kuriakon, which more commonly referred to a building or temple. At the time when the bible was being translated into Latin, the word most commonly refer to the building, as opposed to the people assembling in it. Sadly, the word has often translated into the attitude.

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We are the called out, and we assemble together. We need a place to assemble and the “church” building has become that place. I am incredibly thankful for the “churches” that are showing great love in developing relationship both with the “church,” and with other “churches”  (assemblies), for the sake of ekklesia growth – Kingdom growth, and not just individual growth. But it should never replace the intimate relationships developed within community, and outside the building.

Sometimes that happens within the building as well, but if it does not extend to the outside, if it remains the Sunday only, I only see you wearing your finery – your Sunday masks, and your spiritual attitude, then we are not living as the ekklesia – the called out. Instead, we are living no differently than the Pharisees did in keeping to the commandments, doctrines, routines, and rituals of men.

We will be known for our love.

I am so thankful for the few who have reached out from within the walls of the “church” to get to know Dave and me. With our cult background of spiritual abuse, an invitation to “church” was never really going to get us there. We’d lived through the writing on the wall. I am even more thankful for few in leadership who reached out in love, revealing to us not all pastors, teachers, or leaders are manipulative, abusive, or control freaks. Some, even reflected how we saw Jesus to be. In love with all His people, regardless of where they “assemble.”

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Some even loved us for exactly who we were, and love gave us the courage to could step through the doors to “assemble.”

So for those pastors, leaders, clergy, laypeople, churchgoers, humans – let me encourage you to look a little deeper – just like Jesus did. Stay a moment at the well and ask for the story of a women; actually listen to the “publican” with a faith perspective you don’t understand; help the young man you find appalling in his words and actions.

You may learn something about them. You may learn more about yourself. Most importantly, commune with the ones who God puts in your path, both inside and outside the “church.” You may just be an instrument of healing in their lives. At least you won’t wound them any further.

As Children, Cute but Dumb

I really have to questions God’s judgment in giving us free will as evil continues to explode in the world. Even though without freedom of choice we would have a pain-free – an evil free world – I suppose even with that, I still choose free will. I am free to love my husband; free to love my children; free to love my friends, free to love my enemies (at least I am free to choose God’s grace in forgiveness); free to love God.

It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.

David and I have a saying in our home regarding babies – they drool and grab electrical sockets, crawl right off of a bed or stair, put all manner of objects in their mouths, would even eat a dog turd as if it was a Tootsie roll if they can get a hold of one. (Yes, I had one get a puppy turd one time.)

“Cute but dumb!”

IMG_8001Jesus quoted the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) often. We know that. His most commonly mentioned theme was the Ten Commandments as a whole, mentioning them eight times. But what I didn’t know, was His most common theme in combination with the Ten Commandments was mercy over judgment. I believe He quoted Leviticus 19:18 twice,

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.

What also parallels this is the following which he states in gospels three times,

Hosea 6:6, For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. 

And,

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

There He was, living among the people, working miracles, and often surrounded by the antagonism of those who only understood their doctrines, dogmas, rituals and belief system. They were dedicated to living out their faith and more concerned with clean hands than the teachings of Jesus who exhorted them to cleanse their hearts. 

you complete me 1And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Mark 12:28-33

Why is this so hard to understand for the church today? Why do we fall back into religious laws, programs, judging others by how many times they are at the church, whether or not they tithe, if they believe the same way about eternal security, speaking in tongues, worship style, baptism, foot washing, prayer, women in ministry, or a gazillion other things that the genuine church of Jesus Christ should not divide over. 

Everyone is afraid. Fear of being in doctrinal sin undermines the work that was completed on the cross.  Fear of not doing enough, even though grace has done it all for us.

Fear of being in darkness rather than being guided by the One Light who shines most brightly and illuminates The Way. 

You complete 2“It is finished.” Jesus said so.

Jesus and the Father must look at us with love and say,“Cute but dumb.”

Sometimes

“I died that they may live free and in peace with each other and themselves.”

“I died so others may know them for the love they have one towards another.” 

Free will to choose Grace.

Free will to choose Love.

Free.

Between the Spaces

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” I John 4:17-18

Advent is over, New Years is now a memory, and resolutions abound. The twelve days of Christmas begin December 25th and ended yesterday, January 6th, with the Epiphany.  Today my tree is coming down. A week later than usual this year due to many time commitments.

It is now a time between the spaces – a time between times.

between 3The decorations have been boxed and the unwanted presents returned. The children have all gone back to school and for those who were fortunate to take off time during the holidays, they also are back to the routines of daily life. We are caught between the spaces of warm, fuzzy, feelings with cookies baking in the oven, and the plans and hopes of an unfolding new year. I have said good-bye to some of my children – again – without any plans or knowledge of when we will be together next. I am caught between the times of family togetherness and family absence. It has been many years since all of my children have been under the same roof – the family photo is very outdated, missing the addition of grandchildren.  I long for the time when we will “all be together again” as stated by “Jo” in our traditional Christmas movie, Little Women. 

History has been caught in the time between the spaces as well, when a perfect world fell to the effects of an imperfect creation, leaving us groaning and waiting for the restoration of all things at the end of the age.

DSCN5427 (3)God painted a picture of purity. It was full of beauty, unconditional love and acceptance. Humans and animals lived together without fear, every need given to them by the hand of their loving creator. “Subdue the earth,” they were told. No shame, no work, no rejection, no pain, and no fear.

The clouds kissed the ground in a harmony of sights and sounds, colors and fragrances. God looked upon Adam and Eve and they gazed back at His beaming smile, just as a Father beholds his toddling child; full of joy unspeakable and breathing in contentment.

He did it all for the sake of companionship –  the God who loved them – who loves us –  immeasurably.

Then came an impenetrable darkness, and with it entered shame, regret, pain, death, and fear – a myriad of ugly effects that would haunt the creation forever.

The between times.

DSCN5430 (3)But God is love. He didn’t leave us alone in the between times, He knew we couldn’t survive with the shame.  He knew we would be paralyzed by the fear. And the rejection. And the pain.

He knew we needed the Love.

So He gave us the Perfect. He restored us to Himself.  He reunited us as children, to walk again safely with Daddy.

The effects of darkness remain.  They will stay with us until He establishes his Kingdom once and for all, but the Father child relationship has been restored, fully, totally and irrevocably.  Just like it was before darkness made its ugly mark. The Light shines in the darkness and children have no need to fear when the light is shining.

between 4The pile of trash that caused a stench too strong for God has been tossed out by Jesus. He carried it out away for us. He wasn’t afraid of what was in it, how bad it smelled, or whether or not He would be contaminated by it. He still isn’t. Now, with every mess we make, he smiles and says, “No problem, remember we are in the between times. I’ve got your back in this place. It’s my job. No need to feel dirty, I made you clean. No need to struggle to hold it, it’s already gone. Once and for all.

Game over man. You are mine.”

God smiles at us with each faltering step we take. He beams with pride when we fall down and hop right back up again, “Atta girl. You’re OK.” He is watching us with adoration. Just as a father delights with each new phase of the journey, with awe.

He delights in us. He is pleased with us. He loves us.

We run to Him in total abandonment, grasping tightly to the knowledge that Love has made us brand new.

Love changes us. Love completes us. Love takes away all fear between the times.

IMG_8009 (4)The darkness is still around us. It comes and goes. There is pain, suffering, sickness, wars, poverty, and calamities in the between times. But Jesus has conquered them all.

He is the life and breathe between the times, “…when we take up permanent residence in a life of love…”

Here’s to living in His love during 2015.