Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Most of you know I recently joined a mainstream church. Going there’s been interesting at times… They can quote a verse and understand it completely differently than me, can use a Bible term I’ve thought I understood and mean something else by it, and sometimes have a very different perspective that I do on things. This week there’s been more of that…

Two weeks ago there was a business meeting. There are some major changes being considered, and a few that already took place (someone resigned a position). I missed the meeting, but two days ago in class the meeting was discussed. Emotionally. In front of everyone. And the door of the class wasn’t even shut or guarded! Eeek! hee hee Seriously, though, at my former church people got in big trouble for much less than was said in class. People only disagreed with the pastor’s decisions in very private places with very close and trusted friends… if they even did that much. When I left, there were two women who called me begging me to come back… and begging me not to tell their husbands or the pastor that they’d even called me. They didn’t even trust their husbands to “reach out to a backslider”. There were some things that were only discussed in a car or in the privacy of a member’s house, just between two people. And even then in hushed voices.

So now I’m in a church where people begin talking about something openly and emotionally. I don’t know any of the ones in that class, and wasn’t sure at all what was going on, whether to just leave or stay or speak up or hold my tongue or what to do. It scared me. Above that, this was one of those “I’ll have a special meeting after the meeting and if you need information come ask me” type things–which always meant extremely dangerous water-taboo topics and no room for disagreements or discussion-in my former church. There are a few people I trust, but only one really knows much about my background and could easily answer my questions. The pastor. I’m not allergic to him (I ran from any pastor for a long time after leaving) so I asked.

He seemed very open and honest with me. He gave me some information about how the church operates, briefly explained what was discussed in the meeting, offered information about the doctrinal point that led to the resignation, and apologized if that was too much information.

I’m finding myself in a very nice place. Different language, different culture. New “foods” (Bible teachings), different clothes, whole different outlook. It’s weird sometimes. We live in the same country, in the same town, but I feel like I’m from a different planet. I like their culture. But sometimes something about it still surprises me. From now on I don’t think I’ll need to explain “due to past experiences”. I can just say, “well, I think I’m experiencing a little culture shock right now. Could you explain…?” And as I look back over the last year and a half, trying to find a church, I realize there may have been several times my hesitation or concerns might have been culture shock.

This is a good culture. It’s a healthy culture. Maybe the difference between Siberia and small town US… or more. There are no travel guides I could read to prepare for this journey, no Pentecostalese-Christianese dictionaries… so there has been some culture shock to deal with. But it’s worth it.

So you’ve faced a storm lately? Faced deafening winds, the heat of fiery trials, earthquakes that seem to shake everything right out from under you? Listen closely. Maybe there’ve been a lot of earthquakes and fires and wind in your life. A lot of huge, noisy, tumultuous, chaotic occurrences. Disasters, if you will. But they weren’t God, no matter how many people would like to say they were. Listen closely, now that they’ve passed. Sometimes what sounds like silence after all that deafening noise is actually the whisper of God. (1 Kings 19:12-13)

Elijah knew that none of those things that came before God was God. He was on a mountain in an earthquake. Did he cry out? Did he wonder if what he was experiencing would crush him? I would have. But he realized, somehow, for all his fear and upset, in spite of the drought and the wickedness and a king and queen who killed prophets like him, that the fires and earthquakes and winds weren’t God. They came before, proclaiming the power and glory of God, but they themselves were not God. God came as a quiet whisper. Gentle. In the hush after the deafening noise. I wonder if Elijah realized the parallel to his life? That God wasn’t in the craziness of the world around him, in the actions of Ahab or the wickedness of Jezebel, the dryness of the drought or the fury of the rain, but was there, nonetheless? I wonder if he realized though that God would proclaim His glory even in those stormy situations, that His great power would be known even in those things that shook Elijah’s world? But that it would be through those quiet whispers, almost missed after the tumult, where he found God’s strength?

It’s easy, in life, to look at what we consider our most desperate and darkest situations and think that God isn’t there, or that there’s no way God could get glory from those. But we don’t stand where God stands, on the edge of eternity. We don’t know the plans He has or the beauty He foresees for each of our lives. But He does. The God who spoke to an earth without form and void and made something very good out of it is still speaking to bleak situations today. He is still creating, and recreating, our lives. Listen, and maybe you can hear His whisper, too.

A few days ago, I found myself standing in the rain wondering what to do, worrying someone from my former church would come up and say something, feeling frustrated, and feeling like an idiot. I went home and took a nap… and woke up crying. Not hard, but just frustrated.

I must have been half asleep still. I knew that I was reacting to the way things had been in my former church, not to what was really happening that day. I must not have been quite awake. I don’t really remember praying, but in almost the same minute that the tears started, an image came to mind, of Jesus holding me like He would a child, hushing me and telling me everything was alright.

I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d let Jesus really quiet me. I don’t know how to put it in words, but there’s a difference between saying we trust Him and resting in Him, knowing He loves us. Maybe it’s the difference between the child who screams and pushes away from the parent in anger, wanting what they want-right now-and nothing else, and the child who asks and accepts the parent’s answer, knowing that though they may want one thing, the parent may have something better in mind.

As a Pentecostal, I was taught to “intercede”, to “pray until something happens”, to “pray through”, to fast until I got a “break-through”… if I didn’t get married or didn’t get the job or some other “blessing” I was told that I “must not be praying hard enough” or was told maybe I should “fast for it”. But I don’t have to struggle or worry or wrestle with God for what I want. Not only should I want what He wants and trust that’s exactly what I’m getting, but also rest in the simple fact that He’s in charge, He loves me, and He has our best interest in mind.

I saw an amazing picture today. It was of a hillside and a valley, which a shepherd was walking through with his flock. The artwork was good, but that wasn’t what got my attention.

In the picture, the shepherd was following the sheep. The sheep weren’t in a line behind the shepherd. They weren’t clustered tightly around him. He was behind them as they went up the hill!

As I stood there I realized that if the shepherd is to protect his sheep, he must stay in the rear, in the background. If he doesn’t, a lion or bear will rush up behind the flock and take a straggler or a sheep might wander off. With the sheep in front, he can make sure they are safe. He can defend them if anything jumps out, and he can watch to make sure all are safe and well.

I’m not a big sheep person. I don’t know much about sheep or shepherding. But I do know pastors who want to compare themselves to the shepherd and their people to the sheep. And I know enough to know that the picture I saw today is probably a much more accurate depiction of how sheep should be “led” most of the time than any I’ve heard preached.

Sheep know where to go. The path is familiar to them. The shepherd is there to defend them and help them, but not to drag them along. A true shepherd won’t be in front where he gets their attention and just expects them to follow. He isn’t to the side beating them with his staff. He’s behind them, calling them if they wander, watching for dangers, and making sure they stay together. Their focus isn’t him. It’s the journey, the mountain top, the grass, the water. And he’s ok with that, because sheep focused on those things are healthy sheep.

Hmmm… a real shepherd is there to serve the sheep. They’re his focus, though he’s not theirs. Shepherding was lowly work in Bible times. Shepherds weren’t looked up to or thought of as great. Shepherding went to the youngest son. It was a lowly, lonely task.

Ps 23 The Lord is my shepherd…
Mt 11:28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I’ve been thinking about this book quite a bit lately, especially since reading part of The Five Love Languages of God.

My primary love language is words of affirmation. In high school I started focusing on good things teachers said about me. I’d learned well that if I was good enough at something, people would say good things, so I did my best to excel, and often did. I also began to focus on God more and imagine Him saying good things about me too. I also listened to a lot of songs and Christian TV programs that were positive and encouraging and said good things.

When I went to college, I started going to a UPC where the pastor often said encouraging things. His whole sermons were often wrapped in “You can make it” and “God loves you”. I ate that up. But there was less and less of those kind words over time. A compliment was a very rare thing for me in my former church, though negative words were common. More than that, the Bible was used so negatively that reading it became difficult.

According to the books by Chapman, people who are disciplined or rejected in their primary love language feel it more severely. That’s why telling one child “go to your room” brings them to tears, while another cries when you tell them you’re disappointed in them.

Abuse-especially in the primary love language-seems to deplete a person’s “love tank” very quickly. And even the average person needs at least two positive words for every negative one. (http://www.peggybert.com/2010/09/30/…egative-words/) (I personally think for many people it’s closer to five to one.)

Church abuses speak to people’s love languages in a very negative way. When a person whose primary language is quality time is shunned continually, they feel rejected. Because the rejection is from the church-especially if they view the church in terms of “man of God”, “people of God”, “church family” and so forth, they begin to feel rejected by God Himself. And then the abusive church may point fingers and tell them that proves they aren’t right. They try to “get right” and, not knowing why they are being rejected but still experiencing that pain, feel they can never please God.

The same is true for words of affirmation. My former pastor would often say what, to me, were very harsh things from the pulpit. Seeking comfort and understanding, I would go to him, hoping for an encouraging word. Instead I would be rebuked. People several times told me “You should hear what they’re saying about you!” and act like others’ slander shouldn’t affect me. Again, in these times if I went to the pastor, I would often be rebuked or told I was doing something wrong.

People whose language is acts of service must feel the harshness of a church that will not let them serve in any capacity (we had to have written permission from the pastor to clean a window or scrub a toilet) or in a church where everything is done for a handful of people and everyone else is expected to fend for themselves. Those who love to give surely feel unloved when no gifts, cards, or even hugs are shared. And in a church where people aren’t supposed to touch, and if they do-outside of a handshake-they are accused of lust (even woman to woman or man to man), those whose language is touch must feel they are in a very cold place indeed.

I’ve been reading The Five Love Languages of God. Chapman gives specific examples in the Bible of passages where God expresses His love for us through words of affirmation. (He does something similar for each language.) It’s been a long time since I’ve heard some of those verses. Many times something in a passage above or below was twisted to express God’s anger, hatred, wrath, and so forth. It’s amazing to me that someone reads these passages differently. I also see why the negative preaching and rebukes were taking such a toll.

Also, now finding myself in a church where people do love each other, I’m amazed at the different outlook. People who are treated in positive, respectful ways are more likely to be positive and respectful themselves.

It’s interesting that the Bible teaches so much on love, even saying God IS love, but love was seen as “soft” in my former church. In the past few months, watching healthy people interact in positive, loving ways, I’ve come to think maybe my former church missed it not in doctrine or in legalism, but first in love.

Loving people tends to bring out the best in them.

Been reading a book that explained grace in less than 306 pages.

Quote:
So in Christ God did for man what neither he, no one else, nor anything else could do for him. That is the very essence of grace… grace means that God gives us what we need, not what we deserve.
Originally the Greek word rendered “grace” meant to make a gift, then to forgive a debt, then to forgive a wrong, and finally to forgive sin. So basically grace is a gift, as expressed in Romans 3:24. Literally, “Being declared righteous as a gift by his grace through the full redemption, the one in Christ Jesus.”
Note that salvation is not “out of yourselves” or “out of works” as the source. It is “of God the gift”. It is by grace made possible in the individual through his faith. Good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation.

I’ve never heard it explained that way. Grace is a gift. We can’t earn a gift. A person doesn’t beg for a gift. A person can’t ask for a gift and it still be a true gift. A real gift-at least to me-is undeserved, unexpected, unmerited, and completely free (it doesn’t come with strings attached-such as ‘do this and you’ll get it’, ‘do that and you can keep it’).

Also a gift, by it’s very nature of being a gift, cannot be something we earned. (If we earned it, it’s a wage. We earned our wage-Rom 6:23. Don’t like the wages. The gift is much better!)

+++++++++++++++++++

But wait… we shouldn’t stray too far that way, or we’ll get an “anything goes” attitude! No, not if we’re sincere. If I get a gift from someone, what should I do with it? I’d be ungrateful if I flung any gift away, but if it’s something I need, I know I need it, and I refuse to use it, then how much more so!! Yet the giver doesn’t take that gift back. He doesn’t come, knock on the door, and say “Pardon me, I noticed you haven’t used my wonderful gift. Give it back so I can give it to someone more appreciative!” He might not give me more gifts, but he certainly won’t take away the gift I’ve been given.

Sure, we could toss a gift aside. We could refuse it. But if we love the giver, we’ll value and treasure the gift, and the gift will mean that much more. And in loving the giver, we’ll want to give back what small tokens we can.

And to me that’s freedom. We can follow rules because we have to in order to earn something unobtainable, or we can rest assured knowing we’ll be given what we need, responding freely, in love, to the One who gave so much to us. Each might look the same outwardly, but one is done from fear, while the other is done through faith, from a cheerful, willing heart, the overflow of an abundance of the Giver’s love.

I should answer some questions I’ve been blogging about. They might or might not help someone else later. I’ll post them just in case they might help someone, though.

Quote:
So I still have questions:
Would being rebaptized help further the gospel in any way?
Would it be meaningful to me personally? (if so, how?)
What are my reasons and motives? Would this be a reaction against the church I left, or a response to God?
Would it be a positive experience for me, or would I have doubts/would being rebaptized go against conscience?
Quote:
Would being rebaptized help further the gospel in any way?

Probably not in the short term, at least. There are plenty of churches I could join and be a part of without being rebaptized.

Quote:
Would it be meaningful to me personally? (if so, how?)
What are my reasons and motives? Would this be a reaction against the church I left, or a response to God?

Yes. I’m not sure all are good reasons to be rebaptized, but there are many ways it would be meaningful to me. I won’t go into the reasons here right now, though I thought about it. Everyone is different in this area though, and would have to honestly answer for themselves based on prayerful consideration, not anything I’d write.

Quote:
Would it be a positive experience for me, or would I have doubts/would being rebaptized go against conscience?

Yes, it would be a positive experience for me, I’m fairly certain. No, being rebaptized wouldn’t go against my conscience. Above that, I can’t view God as being displeased with either choice, as long as my decision is based in faith rather than fear and is done in good conscience.