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Christian Life

Divorce in the Church Series: The Aftermath

When I last posted, I was trying to show that there is life after something like this.  With God, everything is possible, but with complete honesty, we are still struggling.  To some, I imagine that this seems like a little crazy.  Just get one with it!

The church situation that started all this, has, in a sense, resolved itself.  But not in the way I thought it would.  As hard as we tried, my husband and I just could not return to our congregation and family.  We severed ties, amicably, but severed nonetheless.  We have been visiting many congregations and though all have something to offer, we are finding it hard to find out place again.

Now is where the fear begins.  I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever find another place I will feel at home in.  What doesn’t help is that churches, in general, are changing in a way that my husband and I find distressing.  Let me explain.  We are conservative folks.  We like hymnals, pews and organs.  We like a traditional service.  The worship experience in many of the churches we have visited is decidedly more modern.  Not that it will be a deal killer, but unfortunately, many that we have visited like to use popular Christian songs as their worship music.  Much of the congregation struggles to sing along (even in the bigger churches) because most people aren’t professional singers.  To musicians like us, its very distracting.  When they throw in an older hymn for good measure, the congregation sings wonderfully.  I would think that would be a clue, but I guess it isn’t.  If it stopped there, it would be distracting, but ok.  But it doesn’t.  With the sermon that follows, it varies.  Some do a relatively good job of digging into the scripture, but others are more topical and I find myself walking away wondering what just happened.  I know bigger churches rely on their Sunday School time (now called other things in modern churches) to get into the meat of the Bible.  But in our tradition, the sermon is much more of a learning experience than a “feel good” one.   So then when Sunday rolls around I wonder if I really want to go back.

Living in a fairly small city, I run into several people I know at the churches.  I find that comforting, but I am still not feeling like I can commit.  The more conservative churches we have visited have their own issues that make me reticent to get into that.  But then I ask myself.  Am I being one of “those” people?  Fault finding with all churches?  No church is perfect.  It took us 8 years to find the congregation we eventually joined and were there nearly 15 years.  I know this won’t happen overnight.  But now I am wondering, will I ever be able to commit to another church?  Has the modern church become so watered down and the huge gaping chasm between what an actual Biblical congregation is and what we now have in modern America become so wide, that we will never be able to find somewhere we feel comfortable with?  Are the conservative churches so conservative that I don’t feel at home there either?

Looking for suggestions for churches is really no help either.  People want you to come to their church because everyone thinks their church is the best.  Most are really not able to make a critical evaluation of your own needs.  Nor should they.  That isn’t their responsibility.    But it isn’t helpful.  So Sunday rolls around and you decide yet one more time to stay home, watch sermons on TV and other people enjoying church while you sit at home.  To add to the problem, with health issues, putting myself through that anxious feeling every Sunday is enough to make me want to stay put and not go through it again.  So then the time between going to church and not gets bigger and bigger.  You find yourself wanting less and less to go to church.  You don’t even think about staying home.  The guilt of it wanes and you find yourself a Christian who doesn’t go to church.  When did it happen?

 

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Christian Life

New Beginnings: Healing your heart Part IV of the “Divorce in the Church” series

It has been quite a while since I posted on my blog.  2015-2016 were crazy years for me and my family.  Surgeries, new jobs, health scares of family.  Quite a bit in a short time.  One of the groups of pieces I wrote was my divorce in the church series.  I thought I would delve back into this very painful part of my recent past and let you know where things stand.  I honestly don’t know how many people actually read my blog or follow any of this.  But my prayers are that it helps people, so I will continue.

So, where did we leave off?  I stated that my husband and I were the “walking wounded” and were irreparably damaged by what happened to us.  We had parted ways with a pastor and the process that ensued leading up to this was terribly painful.   But God is in the healing business and there is no such word as “Irreparable” to Him.

It hasn’t been easy.  Far from it.   We haven’t left the congregation I mentioned here.   We have been more absent, if you want to call it that.  In truth, we have not been attending worship much at all.  I could easily blame it on my health.  I have had my struggles there, and there have been legitimate times when I just couldn’t make it due to fatigue.  Those times will happen again.  But what has been happening is that we have nursing our wounds and healing.  I didn’t really know that was happening, if you want to know the truth.  I thought we were trying to make up our minds what to do about leaving or staying.  Starting over, or continuing.  In His normal, wonderful and loving way, Christ was giving us time. Allowing us to figure it out, while he held our hands.   His schedule is not our schedule, His ways are not our ways.  So what does that mean?

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To the non-christian, if there are any reading this, you probably won’t understand.  You may say I finally went through my final stage of grief and have moved onto acceptance.  Maybe.  But the author of the universe sometimes has other plans.    We tried to force it before it was time.  We tried to push through the grief process.  We tried to move on, we even considered turning our backs altogether.  But something held us there.  Many have left, many have moved on.   So, Debra, you say, “Where is this going?”.

God has healed my heart.  I believe he has begun to heal my husband’s.  We have realized that perfection is not attainable by us or anyone else.  Will things be perfect?  Probably not.  But that’s O.K.

Now, to get down to business.  If you have read these blogs I write, you know I love lists.  So here we go.  Keep these tips in mind if you plan to return to a church that you almost left and are planning to get back into the “Family”

  1. Don’t expect too much of yourself.    You will be tempted to jump back in with both feet.  Get to your previous level of participation.  Volunteer for everything that comes down the pike.  Whoa, there Trigger.  You have just come out of a very bad stretch of ups and downs.  Take it one day at a time.  Make sure your worship time is getting back to where it is, get back into fellowship.  Don’t become super Christian just yet.
  2. Don’t expect to much of those around you.  Yippee!  You’ve decided to come back.  Welcome me with open arms!  Again, whoa boy.  Though they will be very happy to see you (probably), remember there may be unresolved pain you caused someone else.  Be patient with those around you.  Let them warm up to you again.  If they wrap their arms around you like the prodigal, good for you.  But don’t be upset or hurt if that doesn’t happen right away, or ever.
  3. Don’t expect too much from the church. If a church has survived a split, it is probably struggling in some areas.  Things may be different than when you attended.  Key people may be gone and they are trying to make things right again.  Don’t throw in the towel because your “experience” isn’t what it once was.  You are there to worship the Lord, not be entertained.   I have a problem with the statement, “I’m not being fed.”  Well, children need to be fed.  Adults feed themselves.   
  4. Don’t expect too much from the Pastor.  Give grace to the new person.  If your pastor left or was asked to leave, this will pertain to you.   Don’t judge the new guy on the first day.  Give him time.  “Well he doesn’t do thus and so like the old pastor!”  Well you aren’t the same either, remember?  If you have a comment similar to “I’m not being fed…”  Well refer to number 3.

I’m not an expert or a theologian.  I’m just a church member who has gone through the fire and come out the other side alive.  God’s will can be weird and wonderful.  But His will be done.  If everything was rainbows, we would never get the opportunity to grow and help others.  By His stripes we are healed.  Amen.

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Christian Life

Divorce in the Church: The Fallout

If you have read by blog on a regular basis, you have read my Divorce in the Church series.  As my readers, may or may not know, the blog was very personal to me.  It was precisely what was going on in my own home church when I wrote it.

Unfortunately, one of the things that I mentioned in that post that might happen, has happened.  I am referring to the following excerpt.

6. The Casualties: These are number 1-5’s, but number 1’s will think they won if they get their way, as will number 2’s. Number 3’s will continue to go along and the 4’s and or 5’s may or may not be the same. Many will become the “walking wounded” and will have to leave to just survive. They will be permanently damaged by the whole process and may not be able to commit to another relationship for years to come. No matter who wins, these people will find themselves losers.

My husband and I have found ourselves casualties.  Honestly, it was something I sort of expected, but didn’t really think, down deep, would happen to us.  I knew there would be some upset, some grieving of what we had lost, but I also knew that God was on his throne and we would be able to embrace what we had and move on.  After all, we love and care for the church we have called home and the family that has surrounded us in good and bad times.  We have had no intention of walking away from that.

To our chagrin, it has not been as easy as that.

So for those not intimately involved with this struggle with us, I hope that our journey will help others.   We pray that you will be able to glean something from this post that relates to your life.  Because, as I am wont to say, “Its going to get personal, and going to start raining some cold hard facts.”

This morning as I rose, I felt, as I have most Sundays since this all happened, a sense of emptiness.  I have been deluding myself  the past few months that it was related to the myriad of life struggles I have been facing, not about this.  I have gone through cancer, surgery, my Dad being found nearly dead, loss of a pet, changes in work, loss of another relative.  I had convinced myself that once these things had resolved, I would be able to get back into my congregation and be a participating and active member.  This morning, I realized, and starkly as tears streamed down my face, that none of these things listed above were the source of my intense sorrow.  It was the grief I felt about the “divorce.”  I likened it to the almost callous way most people deal with death and loss in our society.  The well-meaning friend who glibly asks a grieving mother who has lost a child, “Will you have another?”  Or the oh so kind relative when you are upset about the loss of a pet, “When are you going to get another cat or dog?”  Or when you lose a spouse, “When are you going to date again?”

My husband and I have gone through something traumatic.  We feel a loss, we feel grief.  We have gone along with our society and have tried to dive back in as if nothing has happened.  But something has happened.  Its like a limb has been detached and we are still feeling its presence.  To the non-christian or the non-congregational Christian, this may seem really dramatic and over sensitive.  To the devout it may seem like straight up sin.  For we are called not to forsake meeting with the brethren.  So on top of grieving, we are feeling like sinners and drama queens.  Nice.

Nothing I am writing here is meant to hurt and shame anyone involved in this situation.  I write this blog, to help others, but I mainly write it as a way to deal with deep issues.  I know its a very public way to deal with it, but I have never been accused of not saying what I think.

Do we feel any less close to those still there?  Not at all.  If anything we feel closer in many ways.  But what those that remain need to understand is that we just are not able to move past everything.  Not yet.  But what we are now asking for is the grace that was given to many.  The ability to grieve, reorient ourselves and tap into God’s goodness.  This may be in a private setting for now.  My husband, specifically, feels a great deal of personal responsibility for some of the outcome of the “divorce.”  He was intimately involved with it and feels somewhat sullied by the whole experience.

So where does a Christian go from here?  What happens when you are involved in the following:  Either a break in a church congregation, a dismissing of a pastor, or simply a disagreement between members that has drawn in those around them.

1.  God hasn’t abandoned you.  

The Lord didn’t want this to happen anymore than you did, but He also isn’t going to leave you in your hour of need.  The Lord can take the brokenness of anything and make it beautiful.  Even if you feel like a cracked vase, God can glue it back together with no cracks.

2.  God still loves you, and the other person too.  

You may still hold a lot of residual anger over what has happened and much directed at the person or persons you deem responsible.   But God still loves you and love the person you are angry at too.  Just as a mother still loves a child that is throwing a tantrum, God is waiting for you to stop kicking and screaming in the grocery aisle floor of life and realize his decisions are best.

3.  Time away is ok.  

This one may get some serious backlash from the faithful.  For it is written in Hebrews 10:25,  “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

we are specifically told not to forsake the assembly.  There is one word though in that passage.  Habit.  As is the habit of some.  To me, missing church isn’t a habit.  On the contrary, I feel an upset in my soul when I cannot gather with people.  Are you sick sometimes, yes.  Are you unable to come due to emergencies, yes.  But to repair your soul and heart, I believe that God allows us time to heal ourselves.  If you find that you are not attending worship because you want to sleep in, hang out with friends, then you have a problem.

4.  Don’t forsake time with the Lord.

As you heal, don’t stop doing the things you did before.   Read your Bible, pray, do your devotions.  Personally, I listen to Christian radio.  It helps me stay on track, the sermons and teaching.   On Sundays, I make sure to spend quiet devotion time, then I usually watch Christian TV.  I personally like Dr. Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, James MacDonald and John MacArthur.  These are not substitutes for worshipping the Lord in a church, but they will help you as you heal and their doctrine is sound.

5.  Don’t over do it.  

If people who still love you wish to reach out to you and talk to you about what is going on, allow them.  It may be painful at first, but healing isn’t always roses and sunshine.  Allow positive interactions with people who care about you.  Don’t allow judgmental people who want to shame you into doing things you aren’t ready for, however.   But if a Christian brother or sister wants to admonish your behavior in love, don’t necessarily close the door to it.  They may be able to see more clearly what is happening to you than you might.  It also may be a sign that your grief may have turned to indolence or sin.

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I’m no expert at any of this.  Sometimes the best way to deal with grief is to be quiet and alone with your savior.  He is the only person that knows what you need, including yourself.

He will let you know when it’s time to rejoin the congregation.  He will also let you know if the divorce needs to be final, and you need to seek another home.   But that is for another time and another post.

 

 

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Christian Life

When Trials are Blessings in Disguise

I know what you’re thinking.  Great, more Christian platitudes couched in a little pseudo-Biblical truth.  Trials bite, you know, where have you been?  How can this be a blessing in disguise?

The truth is, the reason why people run the other way when Christians give us their “blessings in disguise” speech is that we don’t practice what we preach.  Of course, that is the point isn’t it?  That’s why people aren’t running into the arms of Christ in America.  It’s because of us.  Not Him.

For it says in 2 Timothy 3.  But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient   to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, rural, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather  than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!”

Don’t be mistaken, Paul wasn’t talking about unbelievers here.   He is talking about the church going folk. Why would he say they have a form of godliness but denying its power?  Unbelievers don’t pretend to have a form of godliness.  They don’t care about godliness, in one form or another.   So basically Paul is saying that there will be a lot of fake Christians about, among other things.

So what does this have to do with blessings in disguise?  I, as much as anyone, have had my share of trials.  Many of them in this year alone.  But what I found, is that when things are the bleakest, I find myself the most drawn to the comfort of the Lord.   I’m not the most graceful in trials, mind you.  I’m the first to become frightened, express  my dismay on Facebook, etc.  Lamentations really is a book made for me.  Well you get the point.  But even though I get dragged kicking and screaming, the Lord has way of quieting me in ways I never thought possible.    He also shows us that most of the time, these things are a season, not something to last forever.

I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer this year, I lost a dear pet to old age, my Father nearly died, my aunt was put in a nursing home for a short time.  It’s been a tough year.  I was wondering if this was a permanent situation.  But the clouds have broken.  My cancer was removed with no treatment needed, my Dad didn’t die, my Aunt got to come home, and my heart is healing over my pet.   Though I sought help in many places the only help that calmed my soul was that I sought at the feet of the Lord.   If you don’t know what thats like, please reach out to someone you know that can help you become a Christian.  That’s step one.   Step two is to find a Bible believing church to attend where you can find discipleship.  Don’t expect the whole church to be full of perfect people.  Some will be like you, some will be like those listed above and some, hopefully will be the loving saints you need to help you find your way.

The Christian life isn’t an easy path.  Expect resistance.  Expect attacks.  But remember, those too are blessings in disguise.

 

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Christian Life

Introverts in the Church: Not one size fits all.

About a year ago I read the book Introverts in the church, by Adam McHugh.   It is a book about how introverts can sometimes feel marginalized in today’s mega-church, evangelical atmosphere.  Though I don’t agree with everything Mr. McHugh stated in his book doctrinally, I do agree with much of what he said.    I am one of those strange beings that finds themselves in the middle of the introvert/extrovert divide.  I lean more to introvert, but I play an extrovert on t.v.  Insert hearty chuckle.

As a 30 year Christian, church-goer and observer of human beings.  I have gleaned some things out of my own experience that might be useful for you.

1.    “The room”.  I know this sounds ominous, but I visited a church once that took visitors into a “room” after the service, closed the door and talked to you.  I felt like I was going into the principals office or worse.  I was a practicing Christian, secure in my faith, and also had my equally astonished husband with me.    To someone looking for a church home, an introvert in particular, this would have been the most frightening thing they ever experienced.  They would have run, not walked, out of your church, never to darken your door again.  We didn’t go back either, mind you.  But not for just that reason.  Just a gentle reminder to those that want to make visitors welcome-in an introverted, computer driven age, where people can barely make conversation without a phone and Facebook, this is death.

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2.   The over-eager, commitment-bot–  You know who I am talking about.  The person that greets you and already has their clip-board out ready to put you on a committee.  Introverts move slow and won’t always commit to be part of your congregation, let alone sign up to help with Vacation Bible School.  (introvert hell, by the way.)  Your visitor may not even be a Christian, and if they are an introvert, they will be put off by the eager, glassy-eyed extrovert that wants to suddenly be their new best friend.  The introvert already has a friend.  They are probably sure one is plenty, thank you, and if you aren’t Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant or perhaps Martin Freeman, you aren’t on the list of new ones.  (This is more of a geek introvert, but I fly my geek flag as well.)

3.  “The Worship Team”  Introverts, as a rule, don’t like to call attention to themselves.  Especially in the middle of a room full of people screaming “God is good all the time”  to rock music.  Modern evangelical worship has turned into a campfire sing along designed for the extrovert and modern crowd.  Introverts and conservative folks as well, like the safety of their hymnal, a worship leader and a good old choir.  Whoever decided that four people standing on a stage performing for me and trying to get me to sing along while they waved their hands wildly was a good idea for worship?  Warning:  tangential rant ahead:  congregational singing is biblical and a church has an altar, not a stage.  I am a musician and I know the difference between worship and a performance.   Most of what is happening in mega-churches these days, is a performance.  They are singing songs that many in the pews can’t follow along with.  Music in church is to be experienced by everyone, not just the Michael W. Smith wannabe leading the worship team.  Sorry, end rant.

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4.  Church governing bodies–If you are lucky enough for the introvert to get past the intial groupthink of some churches and they have committed to be part of the day-to-day operations of your church, you need to remember something about church committee/govern-body meetings.  Introverts are deep thinkers and sometimes they think slower than an introvert.  Just because an introvert is quiet in a meeting, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to say.  I would recommend, doing a “round table” type of meeting, where everyone is able to input something on a particular topic.  It may take more time, but it will be worth it.  The introvert will know to plan ahead of this and will, more than likely, have something good to say.  Introverts have thought things through and will sometimes be the most ingenious and innovative member of your team.  Not all people like the Richard Nixon style of board room meetings.  Also, to those thinking that introverts are mainly women, think again.  There are equal amounts of both.  I have no trouble speaking my mind in a meeting.  I think quickly on my feet.  However, I also like to think things over and sometimes say nothing.  I’m what some in business call “bipolar”.  Insert another hearty chuckle

 

The point is, not everyone is the same in your congregation.  More and more I see not only introverts, but older Christians being marginalized by church’s more worried about filling their seats than serving their flock.  There are many younger Christians , as well, that like a more traditional service.  To some, all the rock music, flashing lights and jumbo-trons are just noise that distract you from what you are really there to do.  Worship God.  Remember Him?  The guy whose name is part of your religion?

Insert chuckle.

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian Life

Walking Through the Valley: Dealing with Trials and Thorns as a Christian

As a Christian, we hear about “valley” and “mountaintop” experiences quite a bit.  It has been written about recently in Christian publications, spoken about on Christian radio and extolled forever on social media.  What does this mean, really?

I’m not a theologian, but I can give you my own experience about “valley” and “mountaintop” experiences.    I am personally going through a very deep “valley” experience.   The list of things that have happened is pretty long in such a short time.   My  99 year old Aunt, who I am at least partial caregiver for, fell and fractured her pelvis, my kitty -which was more my baby than pet, died, I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer and my father’s last sibling, a very dear woman, my Aunt died last Thursday.  All this has happened since the beginning of April.  On top of the autoimmune liver disease I suffer of, this has been quite a bit.    If I were a superstitious person, I would think that I had walked under too many ladders.  But as a Christian, I am told that I am in a “season of trials”.

Let’s look first at the difference between a “season” and a “thorn in the flesh”, as stated by Paul the apostle.  Paul asked God to remove his thorn several times but realized it was something he was going to have to learn to live with.  My liver disease is an example of a thorn.  But, most theologians would agree that what has been happening to me lately is a “season of trials.”

When you are in the middle of things like this, you feel like it will never end.  There are some good steps to go through when you feel this way.  These are good things to remember if you are a Christian or not.  However, as a non-believer, you may find it more difficult to find the joy in the situation.

1.    This too shall pass.  With a few exceptions of course, most seasons of trial will eventually pass.  Will health problems not resolve and the person die?  Yes, that sometimes happens.  Sometimes healing will not come on this side of eternity.  Will bad things go on for a considerable amount of time?  Yes.  But except for a few extreme  circumstances, things will usually resolve.

2.   Accepting the New Normal.      Things may eventually pass, but sometimes what happened will cause what is normal in your life to change.  A significant health issue may cause you to now have to take certain medications, go to the doctor more, etc.  A financial set-back may make you reassess your lifestyle.  A death will cause your life to be irrevocably changed.  Don’t fight it and say “I just wish everything would go back to the way it was!”  It is counter productive and will do nothing but make you hurt.

3.   Remember what God did for you last time.  If you aren’t a believer, this may make this step difficult.  Remember how God got you through bad times in the past.  It may not be exactly what happened this time, but God uses trials and bad events to grow us.  If you have never had a person close to you die, it may be the worst thing to ever happen to you.  But when it happens again, and it will, you will be more prepared to deal with the onslaught of emotions.  If you aren’t a believer, what coping mechanisms did you use last time?  Were they productive or destructive?

4.  Don’t confuse a trial for a thorn.  There may be thorns lurking in that trial that will become permanant.  That is part of the new normal and applies to number 2.   If you are diagnosed with a chronic disease, God may wanting to work through you to help others, perhaps he wants to make sure you realize you have to depend on Him.

5.  Its ok to be mad at God.  Don’t gasp, yeah it is.  He has big shoulders.  This is ok as long as it isn’t permanant.  God doesn’t inflict pain on purpose, but he can use it.

6.  Don’t confuse a trial with a consequence.  A lot of that stuff we deal with is because we made bad choices, plain and simple.  You bought a house that was more than you can afford and you can’t make the payments.  Consequence.  You borrowed too much money for school for an underwater basket weaving degree and you can’t get a job.  Consequence.  You’re child gets leukemia.  Trial.    I could get into the sins of the father here, but I won’t.  Don’t think the sky is falling and God is putting you through something that you caused.  Can he use it and get you out of it?  Oh yeah.  Will you still have to suffer through it.  Most definitely.

7.  Don’t make more of a situation than it deserves.  What if thinking will kill you when you are going through a trial.  Don’t look too far ahead and don’t take small things and turn them into catastrophes before you know what is going on.  I am terrible at this one.  I’m a planner.  It helps me in my job and makes me a good administrator, but not good at coping with stress.

You aren’t going to get these right every time.  There are going to be times when you feel like you can’t put one foot in front of another.  This is especially true if you have suffered a death, or you have a health problem.  I speak from experience, it is hard.  But if you trust in the Lord and use good coping mechanisms you will survive it.

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Christian Life

Life Together: What we can learn from Dietrich Bonhoeffer about Christian Fellowship

Christian fellowship has come to mean different things to different people.  To some, its a Sunday afternoon pot-luck, with rows of casserole dishes and pies made by silver haired ladies and busy Moms.  To others, its a Bible study at someone’s home.  To others it may be getting together with a good Christian friend.  We, as American Christians, have done what most Americans do to everything.  We have taken something from the Bible and made it fit into our lives and culture.

There is nothing wrong with making things fit within your cultural norms.  But with Christian fellowship, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Life Together:  A discussion of Christian Fellowship”, there is everything wrong with this.  For those you do not know, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor during Hitler’s Germany.  He was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp, April 9, 1945.  The following is from the foreword of Bonhoeffer’s book:

“For innumerable Christians in Germany, on the Continent, England and in America, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death has been a contemporary confirmation of Tertullian’s dictum,  The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church; for his life and death and his writings, which throb with the simple, downright faith of one who has met Jesus Christ and accepted the ultimate consequences of that encounter in the World (which he defined as the sphere of the concrete responsibility given to us by and in Jesus Christ)–these are still a living witness in the ecumenical church in which he served.”

There is much that can be read on Bonhoeffer’s life online or in many biographies.  I highly recommend you pick one up and read.  Not only does he speak truth on Christianity, but also his words resonate in today’s world events like few others do.

Back to Christian fellowship.  Bonehoeffer says in his book that there is a difference between true Christian fellowship, that is where we are brought to community by Christ and Human Fellowship, which is where we are brought together by ourselves.  Something really struck me about the following passage:

“One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood.  He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere;  he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood.  Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood.  In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.  Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a human reality.”


Now granted, this is only on page 26 of a 115 page book, but what he is saying struck me as the antithesis of everything most modern American churches stand for.  According to Bonhoeffer, we have taken the truth of true fellowship, with Christ as our only mediator, and turned it into a dream world of human community.  He does state later on that there is a place for both and we can’t make everything spiritual, but if what he is saying is true, we have lost the point of being with other Christians.  That would explain why to many people they see no difference in the churches they visit than they do with people in the world.  Christians sagely say that it is because Christians aren’t perfect and we are just sinners saved by grace.  We are human, so we will act like humans.  There is truth to this, of course.  But what really is happening is that we have taken something that is spiritual and tried to bring it down to our level, instead of trying to elevate ourselves.

Not only do we begin to be annoyed by those around us and question their faith, we begin to elevate ourselves to the place of their judge.  Bonhoeffer states:

“Because Christ has long since acted decisively for my brother, before I could begin to act, I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s; I must meet him only as the person that he already is in Christ’s eyes.  This is the meaning of the proposition that we can meet others only through the mediation of Christ.  Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become.  It takes the life of the other person into its own hands.  Spiritual love recognizes that true image of the other person which has received from Jesus Christ; the image of Jesus Christ himself embodied and would stamp upon all men.”


Now, to clarify, there are all stages of Christian, and non-Christian, attending our churches today.  They may not be the level that Bonhoeffer states above.  However, that isn’t who I am referring to.  It is the mature Christians, regardless of chronological age, the leaders, the teachers, the Pastors, that have fed into this idea Church may be one great big pot-luck.  Our programs, our youth groups, everything fosters the idea of community.  That’s fine, as long as its a Christ centered community, not a group of Christian humans getting together and calling it a Christian community.

I am not a deep theological thinker like Bonehoeffer, but I can see this in congregations.  A few weeks ago, I posted on divorce in the church, how sometimes it was better just to part ways.  Bonhoeffer also states that this is true.  To paraphrase, he states that if as a community you have deluded yourselves to believe that church is a social hour, that all your human support and love comes from your fellow church members, or your Pastor, you should probably just walk away.  Our support, our love, and our help comes from Christ and Christ alone.  It is by his grace and that grace alone that we are allowed to have the community of other Christians.

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  No Christian community is more or less than this.  Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this.  We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”


So when you are having strife in your church or with a Christian brother, remember this.  If your community has tried to become anything more or less than this, perhaps the potlucks are all you have left.  Christ left the building a long time ago.

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Christian Life

Divorce in the Church: What it does to God’s Children Part 2

We completed part one with the large and looming question of  “Who divorces who?”  or should it be whom?  I’m not a great grammar person.  When is it time to call it quits with either your church, your Pastor, or both.

1.  Christian Fellowship:  The Bible states clearly to not forsake yourself from the fellowship with the saints.  But what if the saints are the ones causing you to lose your joy, and drawing you into the black hole of unchristian thoughts and actions?   You need to analyze what is causing this and whether or not its something you can overlook or deal with.  There is an old joke that says, “People who attend Sunday mornings love the preacher, those that attend Sunday night love the church and those that attend mid week service love the Lord!”  This may be a joke, but there are always some truth in these little sayings.  If you are finding it difficult, almost impossible, to make yourself attend a church, because being in God’s house is causing you pain, you may need to look for a new church home.  Attending the Lord’s house should bring you joy!  You should desire to gather close to the Lord every chance you get.  The problem with many who are going through the “spiritual divorce” is that it so pains them to be around the other members or the Pastor, that they cannot bring themselves to be in the same room.  To a true Christian this is a very, very difficult situation.  We are COMMANDED by GOD to not forsake his Church.  For some, the pain is so great, they would rather move on than remain in this situation.

2.  Respect of Leadership:  Pastors, teachers and leaders are brought to their positions, by God himself.  We are told by the Bible to respect and follow the leaders placed over us by our loving Father.   Is your relationship with your pastor healthy?  To have a healthy relationship you need to have the following in place:  Trust, Communication, Respect and Obedience.
The problem with a “divorce” is that one or all of these may be lacking between the member, the congregation and the pastor.   If you can’t trust, communicate, respect or obey your Pastor, you need to let God work on your heart.  If you have prayed, fasted, and tried to deal with all these situations one to one with your Pastor, or through a group, and it still has not been satisfied, you may need to move on.  Here on some scriptures:

1 Timothy 5:17 ESV 

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Hebrews 13:17 ESV / 

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

If you truly, and I mean TRULY have submitted yourself to the Lord and asked for his guidance on this, and he communicates to you that you cannot do this, than it is better off for you to leave than to add to the pain of the divorce.

Here are some other things to consider:  These are not my ideas, these are taken from batteredsheep.com, and written by James McBride.

 Search The Scriptures

What a church teaches ought to reflect what the Scriptures teach. The source of Christian belief is the Word of God. How does your denomination meet the challenge?
To help you make a wise decision, ask yourself these questions.
Is Jesus Christ preached ? The heart of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Attitudes to him range from a dead formalism through to disrespectful chumminess. Yet it’s only through Jesus Christ–his life, his sufferings, his cruel death on the tree–that we are reconciled to the Father. Only through him, through his shed blood, can our loathsome (to God) sin be freely forgiven upon our repentance. Only in him will we enter into eternal life. It’s a personal decision which each of us must take.

Does my church reject clear Bible teachings? Some denominations, even on fundamental issues, cling blindly to tradition. Is this likely to change in your church–even after maybe several centuries of error? Changes, all too often, are away from the truth of the Bible!
Be sure to examine your church’s teaching with the Bible in hand. It’s yourresponsibility to get it right, not the pastor’s who answers for his own error. God’s Word is plain to those who want to understand! For example, have you personally sought out the Bible teaching on heaven–and hell? What about the immortality of the soul? And do you know on which days–weekly and annually–God says, in the Scriptures, He desires worship?

Do I dislike the pastor? We each differ in personality–clashes can occur! But the Christian Gospel promotes reconciliation, and you ought to exhaust every avenue to achieve it. We must seek peace with everyone one in the congregation, as much as is in our power. If there are no channels for reconciliation or there’s an unbridgeable–and unbiblical–gap between leaders and laity, then this, too, must be considered.

Does my church express the spirit of Christ? All too many local churches and even whole denominations are spiritually dead. There’s little chance to express Christian practice or to “grow in grace and knowledge”. A living church will be aserving church showing concern for the spiritual and material welfare of its members and for the world around. It will be a learning church, continually growing in Bible understanding and the training of its membership. It will be an evangelizing church with an active program for taking the Gospel to the world. And it is strong on theethical and behavioral aspects of the Christian faith.

Serve Christ

It’s unlikely you will find a church with which you can agree one hundred per cent! And indeed there’s no need to do so. For not all “knowledge” is vital to salvation.
There are, however, vital truths which distinguish the true from the false. Search the Scriptures. Discover what is truth. And wholeheartedly and energetically serve Jesus Christ where He is faithfully taught and expressed.

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I hope this blog has given you some things to think about on your own thoughts about the spiritual divorce.  I hope some of this gives you hard things to think about, but also, maybe comfort in your own journey.

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Christian Life

Divorce in the Church: What it does to God’s Children Part 1

Before you click past this, read on.   This isn’t what you think. What I am discussing today is when a Church becomes so broken, so dysfunctional that divorce is the only answer.  When you are tearing apart the children, after you have been through months of counseling, sometimes its better to walk away.  Stay with me on this, because its something very close to my heart right now.

I know not everyone who reads this espouses what I believe when it comes to faith.  However, I think that everyone can at least understand what I am talking about and you might actually learn something from what I am about to say. In this analogy,  I am treating a Church, its Pastor and congregation, like a marriage.  It is said in the Bible that the Church is the bride of Christ.  So this isn’t that far out of the realm for most Christians to understand.  So when I discuss things later on, its in this context.

What really happens in a divorce?  What is the cause?  Sometimes its one spouse being unfaithful to another.  In this case, that isn’t what I am discussing.  There is something more subtle and must more devastating, in my opinion.  It’s because you fall out of love.  You fall out of love with the congregation, the Pastor, or ultimately, Christ himself.

Why does this happen?   Many will say that they have valid reasons why they fell out of love.  “He hurt me!”  “He said unkind things to me!”  “They are always bitter!”    Something that started as small gets churned up and becomes a major problem.  Then the sniping begins, the fighting and even the most well intentioned people can turn even the smallest things into major drama.   Each person thinks they are correct, they are the most injured party and the heart hardens.  In the meantime, the “children”, or those that didn’t start this drama, sit around being affected by snide comments, the unbending attitude and the lack of reality by those involved.  I will describe a few of the individuals and what they are like below.

1.  The Perpetually Offended:   This is the person that no matter what the individual they are angry at does, good or bad, they find a way to be offended by it.  This person may have had an originally valid reason to be upset, but they have discussed it, held onto and nurtured the hurt to a point where it is now a huge blot in their soul.  This type of person will read something like this and also be offended by it.  They have long lost the ability to forgive and they draw others into their black hole whenever they get the chance.  These people are poison to themselves and others.  The worst part is that they don’t realize it, most of the time, they are so buried in themselves.  Some even think they are being offended in protection of others, because somehow those others can’t defend themselves.  These people will have little or no ability to find a middle ground and forgiveness of the person that offended them is not an option.

2.  The Holier than Thou:  This is the person that doesn’t think they have done anything wrong.  No matter what they are told or the amount of evidence they are given, they don’t think they have hurt or wronged anyone in any way.  They even have Biblical back up for the way they have acted.  These people are highly controlling, slow or even resistant to suggestion, become aggressive when criticized and have no realization why anyone would find them at fault.  They will apologize when confronted, but will internally not mean it, because they find no reason to do it.  This person may be in a position of authority and will think that they need to be followed without question, even if they, themselves, do not do the things that they expect of others.

3.  The Innocent Bystander:  This is the person that may be oblivious to what is going on.  They find things about the way they always were and don’t know why people just can’t get along.  You will find many of these people elderly, or people who just don’t want to get involved.  When the “divorce” progresses, these people will, unfortunately, get drawn in.

4. The Sniper:  These are people who might have been in group 1 or even in group 2, caused issues and then took off.  These people might have been deeply involved with starting the process leading to the divorce, but they set their time-bomb, packed up and left before it went off.   These people, unfortunately, are as much to blame as group 1 and 2 for the ultimate divorce.  They will also be similar to group 1 or 2 and think they had good reason to go what they did and take little responsibility for what happens later.  In their minds, their hands are clean because they left before they, personally, were the reason for the divorce.  These people may be genuinely contrite and like number 2 have Biblical reasons for doing what they did.  These people will also stay peripherally involved-sitting on their metaphorical roof top taking shots at the people still there.

5.  Switzerland:  These are the people in the unenviable position of trying to ride the fence and be peace makers between all of the above.  Number 4’s may have been number 5’s at one point and decided, for whatever reason, to cut and run.  These people will have Biblical reasons for doing what they did, be people who hate conflict so much they will avoid it at any cost, or just want “Mom and Dad” to love each other like they used too.  These people are the type that figure if they can keep the trains running on time and the money where it needs to be, that eventually everything will be ok.  These people, unfortunately will probably become number 4’s if pressed too hard.

6.  The Casualties:  These are number 1-5’s, but number 1’s will think they won if they get their way, as will number 2’s.  Number 3’s will continue to go along and the 4’s and or 5’s may or may not be the same.  Many will become the “walking wounded”  and will have to leave to just survive.  They will be permanently damaged by the whole process and may not be able to commit to another relationship for years to come.  No matter who wins, these people will find themselves losers.

So what does all this mean in the context of a church divorce?    Jesus has words on how to deal with these situations, Let’s look at Matthew first:

Matthew Chapter 18

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

This is pretty clear.  Jesus states the way to deal with someone that has a trespass against you.  He doesn’t say, “Go first and hash it out with your friends, talk about it on email, then draw someone else in to fight your battles for you”  does he?    The problem is, that all the numbers above may have tried this already and failed.  So now what do you do?  You need to analyze how bad the trespass is and then consider this:

Ephesians 4:32

Viewing the King James Version. Click to switch to 1611 King James Version of Ephesians 4:32.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Can you forgive the person?  According to Christ, you should.  But can you forget it?  Can you excuse it?  That is something you need to decide for yourself.  But what you can’t do is become like the “Perpetually offended” and draw people into your black hole.  You can’t be like the “holier than thou” and be oblivious to those around you with feelings.  If you want to leave, because you have become like the “walking wounded”, don’t be a “sniper” and remain on the side sending in volleys.

So if you are in this kind of situation, what do you do?  Nothing above is very Christian, in all honesty.  Divorce is prohibited in the Bible unless it is a case of adultery between a man and a woman.  But in some cases, divorce in a church may be necessary to save the children.  The problem then becomes, who divorces who?  When should it happen?    When I figure that out, I will let you know.

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Christian Life

Maundy Thursday

No, its not a Mama’s and Papa’s song.  On the liturgical calendar, today is Maundy Thursday.  Today is remembered as the night that Christ had his Last Supper with his disciples before he then walked to the Mount of Olives, and was later arrested.

I was raised in a non-liturgical church.   We didn’t celebrate Maundy Thursday services.  I knew nothing about them until I took a part-time job as a church secretary/administrator at a Presbyterian church in the early 90s.  Though my demonination does not celebrate these type of remembrances, I find going through the motions of what actually happened on those nights as very interesting.   I plan to attend a Good Friday service tomorrow if I can make it out of my office.  There are several churches in town that have them, I will just need to look for them.

The only problem I have with these type of services is that many times its more about the service, the pomp and pagentry, then it is about what is really going on.   Jesus was definitely not a pomp and pagentry type of guy.   I find it difficult to believe that the minister of one of the services tomorrow is going to whip out his towel and bowl of water and begin washing our feet.   Besides the fact that most people would probably run screaming from the building because they were touched inappropriately, modern man just isn’t that humble.   Don’t be too hard on modern man, though.   Ancient man wasn’t that humble either.  Peter, the disciple called His Rock, by Jesus, was appalled when, that night, Christ began washing his disciples feet.  He told Christ that it was basically below him to be doing this.   Christ told Peter he was acting like the devil.  Literally.  It was bad day for Peter, after all.   He got into lots of trouble later that night.

But never put yourself above any of these men when you read the Bible or hear of what they did.   These were ordinary men put into extraordinary situations.   I only hope I would have a tenth of the strength of Peter or a tiny bit of the love and excitement of John.

So as you go scurrying around trying to find that bag of Reese cup eggs on sale, or that perfect box of Peeps for your Easter baskets, remember this holiday isn’t about the Easter Bunny or chocolate.  It’s about the God of the universe lowering himself into the body of “just a guy.”  Someone like you and me.

Though, I believe Jesus is the kind of guy that would have loved Reese cup eggs.  Don’t you?   I know plenty of carpenters and builders who can’t resist and a little PB and Chocolate.

Point is, this holiday is all about Him.  Let’s try to keep that way.