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.
Yet, “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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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.”
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.