The Great Divorce … of the church?

I just finished The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I highly recommend reading the book if you never have.  It’s clever and filled with an interesting view of things that won’t be allowed to enter the Kingdom.

It also has a vision of Hell that I can jump on board with, lol.  It is this deary little town, which has been awaiting the coming night for an long, undetermined amount of time.  I interpreted the people as not fully understanding their surroundings. Here was what captured my thoughts though … this place extended infinitely in all directions, for the most part, with people going about their next life alone.  Often these people were obsessed about an earthly sin, personal shortcoming, place of self shame, or failure.  And this is why each was alone here … Every time a person would disagree with another, they would move further out, build a new house, and wait for the next person to come along that they disagreed with.

And I hear a voice say …. Two are better than one.

What would it be like to live in a place where love was not the center? Or in a place, the apostle John might say, that God is not the center?  Where the primary goal was to surround ourselves with people who are perfectly aligned with our own vision of how things “should” be?  A place where every time there is a disagreement people see it best to go their own way. A place where people choose to separate in order to attain an unreachable perfection … they move down the street, build a new building, and start over.

An echo rings in my heart … A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

We are a broken, perhaps a disturbingly divorced, church body.  Up until this time in history, when a church body is brought to a place of disagreement we have decided the best option is to split.  We separate from our own brothers and sisters, take it upon ourselves to judge where they are wrong, and relocate with the next looming split inevitably around the corner.

How sad this must be for Christ.  Denominational divides are causing His own body to be mutilated and tortured once more.  We are ripping His bride limb from limb.  As His body, we are so disgustedly self centered on our ideas of what the church should be, we have completely abandoned what Christ told us to do – spread the gospel.  We have carelessly abandoned that which He said were the only two laws that mattered … love up and love out.

Another whisper in my ear … Pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

I do not want to split anymore.  I want to unite.  I want to love God, love others, and allow the Spirit to do His refining work in each of us, as only He can do!  Even if that means serving alongside someone who I disagree with. I am the bride of Christ, and I have a place in the body.  I will not stand by and see that body be torn further apart by ideals that we can not reach here.  When you disagree with your Christian brother or sister, do not allow Satan to cause further separation.  I would rather disagree and be strong together, then split and hurt Christ (hurt others) one second longer.

There was a man all alone;

    he had neither son nor brother.

There was no end to his toil,

    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.

“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,

    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”

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You Can’t Handle the Fruit

The creation story was opened up to me in a new way this week.  In particular, the very source of original sin; the fruit … the tree.  In my life, I’ve pondered how Adam and Eve were suddenly shamed by their naked bodies.  I’ve tried to imagine the fear they felt as they hid from God.  I’ve lived through the curse of painful childbirth … twice.  But up until this week I hadn’t given the name of the tree as much weight as I should have.  I don’t know how I could have missed this, or how in the 32 years of my life (on and off) in the church this has never been exposed in a more deliberate manner.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This fruit gave them wisdom to [believe they could] know between light and dark.  The incite to [think they could] see what was right and wrong.  The [in]ability to lean on their own understanding of sinful nature.  Adam and Eve literally ate the obsession to bring justice.  They tasted shame, fear, and judgment.  It wasn’t just Adam and Eve though; we are still eating the fruit.  We are ignoring the origination of sin … taking it upon ourselves to play God, to determine, to decide another’s fate.  We have pridefully had the audacity to pretend to know another’s heart condition.

The first thing our gentle, loving creator asked of us was to leave this in His hands.  He knew – as He still knows – that when we feebly attempt to pass judgment, the result will always be the same …. our own further separation from Him.  And worse still, the separation of God from others.  Those people that we should be directing towards Him, not leading away.

Who have I steered away from God?  Who have I led astray because I felt complied to determine their shortcomings?  Upon understanding the depths of this truth, what must it feel like to be a priest in a confession booth … determining the weight of each and every sin, then handing out the answer for forgiveness?  How could a Christian resist repentance in the light of this? What actions have I taken part in that may have drove others away? All due to selfish fear, pride, and this fruit; this fruit which leads to the [mis]understanding that we know what only God can fully know?

Lord, help me to avoid ignoring your first request of us.  A request made out of Truth, out of love, and out of sympathy for our weak minds.  Open my eyes to see when I fall into the sin of desiring to judge another’s life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to refine the sin in my own life.  And give us all the faith to let the Spirit refine sin in the hearts of others as You see fit.

Holidays are Hard

I bawled in church today like a little girl who just got her pigtails pulled.  Jesus is risen.  Happy Easter.  Holidays are hard.  It’s hard to set out Easter eggs, watch the kid’s excitement in the morning, and not feel overwhelmed that Matt isn’t here to experience it with us.  It doesn’t help that I’m wading through my own messy depression, but reflecting on the mourning of Christ’s death just seems so much more understandable after grieving my own loved one.

Since posting last night, four things have happened that have made me decide to change directions in my writing.  These occurrences have given me a glimpse of the clarity I have been praying for.  The first thing that happened was I listened to a Rob Bell sermon from the 2011 Lent season.  I had started on the sermon series about a week ago.  When I came to this particular sermon I decided to wait before listening; somehow knowing it was going to have an impact on me.  The sermon contents, which did impact me greatly, brought me to the next thing.  I realized I wasn’t putting my trust in God as I have before, and I wasn’t doing this because I was being discouraged by lies from something ugly.  As far as I know, these are new lies, with a new message, that are being whispered to me … which I suppose is why I had so much trouble identifying them as such.  They twisted the truth so that it appeared … well, true.  The third thing?  Illumination Church this morning.  The worship, the resurrection, the sermon, my church family … the whole experience gave me the opportunity to open the flood gates I had been holding back for far too long.  And finally, a conversation with my ever gentle and loving Brad that helped me to more clearly state the feelings I was having, and some ideas on where to go from here.

I think where I am headed is to define who I am in Christ.  I want descriptive, colorful, and hopeful words on which to look to when the lies are whispered.  I’m going to the Bible, and I’m going to find and dig deep into these words.  There is solid ground on which to defeat these lies, and by the grace of God, I’m off to find it.  I want to lean on my risen Savior this Easter and remember His reply to Satan, when he quoted Deuteronomy out in the desert.  Jesus said to him “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  I am trying to live on bread alone.  I love God, I worship God, I look to God for answers, and pray to Him everyday.  But when the sunsets on another day I – far too often – think the results will need to come from me.  Nothing comes forth from me that isn’t of Christ, and I am making myself available to the Holy Spirit to write this truth on my heart.

I wish you all grace and peace on this beautiful Easter!

Discipline … Driscoll Style

There isn’t much left to say that hasn’t been said about the recent Mars Hill church discipline story that surfaced this last week.  I do feel the need to address it for a couple of reasons; 1) I know that some of my readers are not blog readers and so this could be the only place they hear of the story – and the story must be heard, 2) I feel for Andrew.  I want him to know that he is loved not only by Christ, but by the church.  I want him to know he is surrounded in grace and peace, and is being prayed for daily.

If you are unaware of the story please take time to read it, it is worth it to know the happenings at one of the largest churches in the country.  Matthew Paul Turner wrote about the story in two parts on his blog; you can read those here – Part One and Part Two.

I was grateful for the blog posts that followed in regards to Turner’s posts.  The two that I thought were the most thoughtful were Kurt Willems post from The Pangea Blog entitled Treat Them Like a Tax Collector; Reflections on Matthew 18, Church Discipline, and Andrew and Roger Wolsey’s post from Sojourners Why Mark Driscoll Needs An Elephant.

I can only imagine the internal struggle Andrew must have went through in order to decide to speak out.  I commend him for his courage.  As Christ’s church, we have chosen to divide among ourselves for menial doctrinal issues, and this divide has broken the body of Christ into a scattered people in small groups among the world.  We define ourselves not as Christians, but as Evangelicals, Baptist, Lutherans, or Catholics.  Although I believe these divisions do more harm then good – I can understand them, I can respect them.  However, a time must come where we recognize that the only label we are under is ‘Christ follower’.  I believe this is one of those times.

Spiritual abuse is unacceptable.  This ‘church discipline’ reeks of control, shame, and misuse of power.  More stories are coming out about this same type of abuse from Mars Hill Seattle, and I imagine there is still more to come.  I must admit my view of Mars Hill Seattle has changed tremendously over the last three years.  I paid good money to see Mark’s conference on Song of Solomon.  I have listened to the majority of his podcasts, read his books, and recommended his teachings to others.  I can observe two things about Mark since following his teaching over the last few years … 1) He knows the Spirit of God, and  2) He has lost touch with that Spirit.

We must pray.  We must pray for the elders and leaders of this church to repent (and when they do – as difficult as it might be – we won’t ask that they succumb to our demands until we decide enough is enough, and repentance has been achieved.)   We must pray for others in this church, and churches like it, who are experiencing spiritual abuse of this nature or another.  We have far too much evil in this world to worry about those who claim to know Christ as followers.  We must pray for Andrew, as he has been removed from his community, and suffering for speaking out against what he knows is wrong.

If you are suffering spiritual abuse please know that you have been given the gift of the Spirit by Christ himself, and you do have the ability to discern right from wrong (1 John 2:20).  The overwhelming desires to please the leaders of church, or to assume that what they say/demand is right is understandable – but you have Christ, and He should ultimately be the person leading you.  Stand up and speak out if you are enduring this.

Living in a community of Christ should not bring you shame, but freedom.  Being part of a church body should not hold you back from repentance, but instead gently guide you to where it is needed.  Elders are to be respected; if their hearts are pure, your soul is their main concern (Hebrews 13:17).  But do not be subjected to a life that is unworthy of Christ’s teachings.

As I said when I started, I am praying for Andrew.  I am praying for the members of Mars Hill.  I am praying for their leaders; including Mark.  This is such a sad story.  This church has the size, numbers, and resources to make a huge difference for Christ; they have the ability to bring peace and teach grace.  Instead they are being blinded of their true calling by the need to control and desire to be in power … not to mention their inaccuracy of woman’s roles in the church, male aggression, and sexual obsession … but those are for another time.

Grace and Peace to Andrew – I believe God has wonderful things planned in your journey apart from Mars Hill.

                                

Only Question Your Assumptions

There is such wealth in the narrative of this video.  I encourage you … allow it to penetrate your heart.  If even for just one moment you can permit it’s words room to breathe in your soul, that moment could be all they need.

“The significant conflict is between those who do not know but have the courage to face up to that unknowing, to embrace it; those who have beliefs but who also doubt them and question them.  And those who do not know but who refuse to accept it; those who turn away from that and pretend they have the answer, because they are too frightened to look at the unknowing and mystery we are immersed in.”

We live in a world full of people who know.  But everyone believes in something, everyone has faith in something greater than themselves, and everyone believes they are right.  Athiests, Muslims, Buddists, Christians, Jews.  We all know the Truth.  We know it in our souls.  We have been instilled with the greater knowledge, and prompted by the spirit that leads us.  So … are we all right?  Are none of us right?  Are all of us partially right?  Does it matter?

We do not need to doubt our own beliefs in order to set aside the prideful claim that we are somehow the privileged few who happen to have been born into the “right” family, religion, race, or country that has the secret no one else was entitled to.  As a Christian, it does not lessen the weight of Christ’s incarnation, life, ministry, crucifixion, or resurrection to admit that the only thing I know … is that I simply don’t.

And still, isn’t God’s mystery beautiful?  I think so.  I think the way He moves through each person, place, and thing on this Earth is to be feared.  I think that above all other believed understanding of the scripture we ought to remember that our ways are not His ways, and our thoughts are not His thoughts.  We cannot know, because we are not God.

I believe this idea is important for a multitude of reasons …  The pain of separation in believers and the church as it is today.  Those in the church who want to feel freedom to discuss thoughts and ideas without being told they are wrong.  The ultimate goal of serving those in need and loving our neighbor being put second to the unattainable demands of righteousness.  The walls we have built, and are continuing to build, between those around us in our own communities.

This does not have to be a dramatic shift.  A person only needs to think of the idea.  Let the anxieties of what this might mean overtake you for a moment.  It does not mean you change your beliefs, but rather it means you change your attitude about them.

“I never question God, I can only question my assumptions of God.”  Peter Rollins