Down the Rabbit Hole: What we are missing.

SEVEN

It’s been a week since we were supposed to go back to school following spring break. The outbreak of Covid-19 has shut down the world.  The enormity of this global catastrophe is mind-blowing. We are all on the same team now fighting this virus. Most of us are sitting at home and communicating via Facebook, text, Zoom, and facetime. I am thankful for those mediums. They help life to feel semi-normal and go on in some sort of way. Life changes so swiftly. There truly is very little we have control over besides ourselves and even that is debatable at times.

Many of my friends will attempt worship at home this weekend since most churches have closed their doors to stop the needless spread of illness. It is weird thing to go from pew sitter to preacher, teacher, and prayer leader all at once, I suppose, especially if you are not accustomed to it. I imagine if your personality is one that enjoys playing to a crowd it is intensely awkward. I believe this time trapped at home may change a lot of us church people. I hope it will. Dave and I chose this season of searching and worshiping at home. The world is now being forced into it whether they want to or not. Will it change us?  Will missing a corporate church service make a difference to us at all? Will we worship without the help of the “professionals”? Can we be Christians without a building, without a praise band, without a preacher?

One of my earliest memories is learning the hand-folding rhyme “Here is the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up, and here’s all the people”.  I remember distinctly my mother saying, but remember, Caryn, the church is the people. It stuck with me. The church IS the people. It’s like having your first child. When it is your first baby you buy every supply out there. You think you need it all from diaper jeanies to bottle warmers to four different bouncy seats and the best diapers on the market. By the third child, you bring them home and let them sleep in a laundry basket if it is nearby because you’ve learned you just don’t need all that stuff. The same is true with the church.

I believe we all have gifts to share (1 Corinthians 12). We are each needed to function as a healthy body of believers. You matter in the church even if you never step foot on a stage in front of people. I have always found it peculiar that we train our kids to do “big” things in our churches, the up-front things. We train them to lead prayers, to preach, to lead songs or sing on praise bands. We often praise those up-in-front talents and gifts. And yet, in scripture, time and again, we see Jesus direct us toward an unseen servitude and sacrifice sans the applause. In times like these, when the applause is missing, what then? We see the church return to a simpler time and discover that we don’t need much at all to keep true faith going. We are forced to ask ourselves, is it true belief if it must be accompanied by lighting, a fog machine, an emotional song, and crowds of people to exist?

I miss having a church family. I am praying for a family of believers that I can love, trust, and serve, and be loved, trusted, and served in return. I don’t really care whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. I don’t really care what name is on the sign out front so long as scripture connects them to decision-making, unity is the goal, and serving their fellow man outside the walls of the building is the number one priority. I believe I need a family of believers in my life, and I believe you need that too. I no longer believe that it must look like what it has over the last one hundred years. It can reside within a garage, a pub, a living room, or a seventeenth century stone chapel. The church is where the people are living out the mission and that seldom happens in a building.

I do not believe you need a building, though it has its benefits IF used for the greater community.  I do not believe you need a program for every age group, in fact that has divided us more than educated us and has completely neglected the tradition of the older teaching the young (see Titus). I do not believe you need to look like everyone else within popular Christianity and if that is your goal, you are doing it wrong.  Make a goal of looking like Jesus not other Christians. But know this, I do not believe that Jesus attracts most people. I think he offends most people. I don’t believe exponential church growth models are founded upon the principle that we must tell the masses to repent and turn to God (words straight from the Savior -Mark 1:15). The gospel usually offends. I also don’t believe churches can exist without sinners being in attendance; sinners of all kinds, you, me, prostitutes, homosexuals, porn addicts, gamblers, divorcees, democrats, republicans, Patriot fans, Texans, etc. All are welcome even the people you don’t like nor approve (Mark 2:15). I also believe that our influence over this country and the world will not change until we as the global body of Christ can learn to disagree and still worship alongside each other. Trust me when I tell you, the only people who care about your worship preferences and doctrines are you, and you waste time focusing your energy upon it. Unbelievers just see our arrogance and our arguing. These debates are not interpreted as love. This has no place in the universal Church of God, the Way, the Church of Christ, whatever name is on your placard, the community knows you by your service to them and your reputation to play well with others.

What are we missing? We are missing exactly what is happening right now: the simplicity of Jesus in our homes, the generosity of neighbors sitting with neighbors and sharing a beer or tea from six feet away laughing and living life together, good people checking in on each other and buying groceries for the shut-ins. We are missing Jesus lived out on the streets rather than hidden inside our self-congratulated buildings. Here is a moment in time where we can all be completely real without the pretense and facades of a Sunday only faith. Take that back to our churches and change the game and change the conversations. What is your church doing for the community? Are they a comfort or merely a concert?

I have made my peace with institutional religion. I can defend it better than most because I’ve both relied upon it for my income and witnessed what organization can do for the world when used for good. I have also experienced the sharp pang of the sword the institutional church wields. Change is coming to the institution. It is coming faster than many know, and this virus may make the move even more swift. We must change from pews to tables, from being fed to feeding one another, from battling one another to living our God ordained calling to change the world. I am excited to see the change. I can’t wait.

Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.

 

Across the table from that guy.

beautiful christmas table setting
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Today I thought about heaven again. Most of the time when I dream of heaven I dream of a perfectly temperate place full of perfect flora and fauna perfumed with lilac and the occasional whiff of apple pie. I’ve never imagined inheriting a mansion. A cozy cottage happily situated in a wood is more my speed.

But today as I dreamed of the peace place promised to me, I imagined a banquet table loaded with delights like the world has never seen.  Those seated at the table surprised me, and I questioned my thought as one often questions how much grace God can offer sinners who don’t sin exactly like you do. I laughed at my own imagination.  Seated around the feast were the warring politicians of today all smiling and peaceful passing potatoes and the like. Right, Lord. Like those two would be at the same place enjoying each other’s company, here, in heaven. Right. Surely they are stopping that guy at the gate.

As I looked around the table I noted how each guest was a scoundrel while on earth; not one pure heart was represented among the lot.

Then I realized that I was sitting right there with them sharing turkey with the villains.

As I focused in on another face, it was someone who had deeply wounded me in the past. I’ve struggled to forgive this person. Forgiveness is work for some of us. Grudges are easy. But there he was, my adversary, enjoying the ambrosial banquet.

My adversary in heaven was stripped of his failures. His mistakes were no longer visible to my eyes. He was there, as was I, in perfect form whittled down to whom the Savior intended us to be, all love, all joy. And I loved him. And I knew God loved him. And I was humbled.

Back here on earth we have our separate corners. We have our own parties, our own people, our colors, our flags, our precious opinions and hills we die upon. But in the great beyond, there are no corners. There is one shared table, one shared Savior. Will we sit down with those who we’ve hated? Will we share dinner rolls with our murderers? I believe that is more our choice today than theirs.

In heaven, a perfectly normal scene could be an abortionist seated with the man who blew up the clinic.

In heaven, a Nazi sits comfortably with a Jew.

In heaven, your party is nothing. Your Savior is everything.

In heaven, the abusers and the abused share in the same divine helping of grace and a heaping dollop of mercy.

In heaven, forgiveness melts what tore us apart. Oh, how I wish we could share in that banquet now, where all is peace and joy and love. And I suppose if we cannot come to terms to eating with the villains and the saints, then we have another choice altogether.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14

The Dual Nature of You

I’m just like Elizabeth Bennett…according to Facebook. I love a good personality inventory. I’ll click on a Facebook personality test regardless of the topic. At this point, I know which ‘Friends’ character I’m most like, which Disney princess I think like, as well as, which junk food I most resemble. I love the Meyers-Briggs Assessment the most and regularly try to guess the personalities of people I meet. I usually get pretty close. The stronger the personality, the easier to spot whether someone is an Introvert/Extrovert or Perceiver/Judger etc. Within relationships, understanding one another’s personalities is crucial to resolving interpersonal conflict.

I recently went through a book for the third time with my kids called Nurture by Nature. This book uses the Meyers-Briggs Assessment to pinpoint your child’s personality. Then chapter by chapter it unloads hints and advice on how to parent each specific child.

Our kids are a pretty good blend of their parents. The fascinating observation regarding my kids’ personalities is that they each have a dual nature about them. The hardcore leadership of my firstborn backfires at times. She has a great sense of right and wrong and expects everyone to fall in line. She gets angry when she sees injustices and irritated when others sit on the sidelines without sharing her passion to seek beneficial change. She questions authority and abandons respect for anyone in authority as soon as she witnesses any inconsistencies. She questions the status quo daily. She seeks improvement in everything and everyone. She is hard on herself and others, an amazing future leader tempted to isolate herself.

The compassion of my middle child comes with heightened sensitivity and loads of guilt. He offers mercy for everyone in the world except himself. My middle kiddo is the most loving of the family. We all recognize this. He has more compassion in his pinky toe than the lot of us. With this compassion comes great emotional turmoil because life simply does not deliver peace, love, and joy to all the hurting. He can hardly discuss our adopted child through Compassion International without distress. He gets depressed when the rest of us forget to include her in prayer, a future humanitarian daily discouraged by humanity.

I believe God made each of us with a purpose and plan. I do not believe God’s intention was for us to dismiss our personalities or try to become carbon copies of each other. Rather, He created us to be just as we are –to use the best of our personalities to challenge others, to love the unlovable, to cry with the hurting, or to give without question. Whatever gift God gave us, we should use it to the fullest.

However, there are two sides to every human story, and there are two sides of each of of our personalities. Neither may be particularly harmful or sinful, but a strength or tendency may hint at a potential weakness. Our individual personalities are multi-faceted and fascinating.

One challenge in a blossoming self-awareness is to recognize that there are usually two sides to who you are. If you are merciful without question, are you also a doormat who regularly tolerates poor behavior? If you are an extrovert and love being with people all the time, do you ever struggle to set boundaries in relationships or neglect moments of solitude for personal prayer? Are you an excellent judge of character but also experience the temptation to be judgmental of others?

When I teach peace-building classes, I usually ask for two volunteers to help. I hold up a book between them and ask them to describe what they see. Simply, they each see a book, but as they describe it, they discover that the cover on one side doesn’t match the cover on the other side at all. They each see part of what is before them, but can’t describe the other side without hearing from the other volunteer. The same is true in relationships. We only see our side of the story. Relationships grow when we try to see the other side through others’ eyes accepting our own limitations.

Try to pinpoint the potential struggles within your unique personality that can lead you to step outside of God’s will for your life or that can cause personal, or even interpersonal difficulties. Be completely honest with yourself. And if you are particularly brave today, ask a close friend what they see as your strengths and potential pitfalls.

Within relationships, be wary of self-righteous by assuming everyone sees the world just like you do. Don’t expect others to observe the world in the same way. We each have unique strengths. We each have unique temptations. We can only see the world through our own eyes.

Without consistently seeking understanding as we relate to others, we may never clearly see the other side of the story. Further, individual perception often becomes an individual’s “truth” until both parties attempt to clearly understand where the other is coming from and how they view the world.

I am sure that God, who began a good work in you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day Jesus returns. ~Philippians 1:6

the last run.

Caryn Blanchard Blog

e41a152e18df4fdea70ade3b8b78e9b7When I close my eyes
after all final goodbyes
i’ll eagerly expect my new view.

I’ll open my eyes
and quickly arise
dismiss all that’s behind and run to you.

You’ll open your arms
erase all that brought harm
then greet me in a land of clear skies.

I’ll at last see your face
as we celebrate grace
and recall all adventures gone by

You’ll introduce me to friends
the day will ne’er end
as eternity bursts forth from short life.

I’ll rejoice in a reward
that i never earned
and clutch hands with a friend who knew strife.

For all that was toil
the heartbreaks of poor soil
matters never again when i run to you.

When all wrong in me is gone.
and we sing a new song
As my final run embraces your truth.

-CB

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Ripples

Ripples Lake Clouds Mountains Mist Trees Shore Free Wallpapers
Ripples Lake Clouds Mountains Mist Trees Shore Free Wallpapers

I stood beside a quiet lake with the Lord.
I asked Him what purpose my life holds.
He smiled at me and looked down.
He chose a stone and threw it into the middle of the lake.

The circles started small.
They grew.
They multiplied.
Until the waves kissed the shore at every edge.

“I see, Lord.” I replied.
“You want me to be the lake and feed the forest around me.”
“You want me to nurture any living being I can.”
“You want me to supply every need to this forest of trees.”

He responded with a simple shake of his head and smiled.
“No, child. I want you to be the rock.
Your life is but a vapor, a small moment in time.
You are the rock, but your life will create waves of change.”

How He Came.

baby-jesus-sleepingThrough the labor cry of a teenage girl, this is how He came.
Tiny babe, red fingers curled, this is how He came.

In stillness of a lonely night, this is how He came.
Under only candlelight, this is how He came.

No throne, no royal story, this is how He came.
No nursemaid, no earthly glory, this is how He came.

Angelic choir, shepherds’ joy, this is how He came.
God Creator, fragile boy, this is how He came.

How He came!
How He came!
Let the whole earth see how He came!

History changer, heart transformer, this is how He came.
Dismissing wealthy and political charmers, this is how He came.

Kings question his royalty, this is how He came?
Pharisees question His deity, this is how He came?

Wise men sought the Story, this IS how He came!
Faithful men see Him in glory, this is how He came.

Knight without armor, His word a sword, this is how He came.
Humble status but still The LORD, this is how He came.

How He came!
How He came!
Let the whole earth see how He came!

Today

I have gay friends whom I love.
I have family who voted for Trump.
I have family who voted for Hillary.
I have pro-life friends and pro-choice friends.
I have atheist family and Christian family.
I have Muslim and Buddhist friends.
I have Hispanic loved ones, some who are undocumented members of this society with American children.
I have friends of all colors and some who dye their hair green.
I have military men and women in my family.
I have pacifists in my family.

Today. Today I feel torn in half.

I feel and see pain everywhere.
I read words that should never be written.
I see sights that I’ll hide from my children.
I hear good people saying hate-filled things.
in their rage,
in their mourning,
in their triumph,
in their pride.

Today. Today feels like my parents are divorcing and I must choose sides.

And I won’t. Because I love you all.

At any given moment some of you would hate me, it would seem, because of my associations. Hate me for not choosing a side. Hate me because I’m a believer. Hate me for having certain friends. Hate me for not picking a team.

And I won’t. Because I love you all.

As always, the only side I stand on is love. The only theme of my life that I want to wear is love. The only association, the only fraternity, the only pledge, the only offering I have is to love. Love you all.

Today if you are emboldened to hate. You have already lost the battle.

Today if you are paralyzed by fear and hopelessness, you are turning your back on the great provider and His plan.

Today if you are sad, I understand.
Today if you are rejoicing, I get it.

Please don’t forget. Your actions today, your words today, impact tomorrow. And there will be a tomorrow.

Don’t let today wound tomorrow.

Let love be in your words even in your pain. Let love be in your actions… always.

Let your love today start the process of healing.

Pouring Out My Heart to you, God.

rain-and-fruitHas your bible ever fallen open to just the right words speaking just the right truth… at just the right moment? Thank you, Spirit. Thank you for your comfort and guidance.

When I started meditating on the Fruit of the Spirit a few weeks ago, I never realized the places it would take me. I confess, my earliest thoughts on the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 was that of spiritual warm fuzzies. However, when you take a look at the context of the verse and where it lies in Paul’s letter, you find that the Fruit of the Spirit are the other option in life. Spiritual Fruits are produced only when you nail the desires of your sinful nature to the cross, when you actively choose to walk away from your natural inclinations to sin. Paul paints the picture that one can indeed nail that old life of sin to the cross. We can choose to walk away and start producing something beautiful with our lives (See Gal. 5: 16-25).

But those fruits don’t always grow easily. It takes work and effort to maintain them. They are very action oriented, not passive. You can’t buy these fruits in the grocery store, you must till the soil and grow them yourself. Unlike the sinful desires, there is no law against working toward the love of others, joyfully facing the pain of life, fighting for peace in the middle of a storm, being patient while screaming inside, showing kindness when you don’t really want to, saying no and being good, remaining faithful, being the only gentle soul in the room, and exhibiting self control when you really want to punch someone in the jaw when they clearly deserve it. Don’t ever believe for one second that Christianity is the easy road. Sometimes people deserve a swift kick in the pants, and the advice from our Savior is to turn and walk. I am glad though, because most of the time it’s me who deserves the kick.

I realize it is not a popular teaching today to expect change out of people. We seem to be very uncomfortable requiring anything of ourselves and others. We are so grateful for grace, that we revel in it neglecting to mention our response to that grace. Grace is the gift. Obedience is the thank you.

I’m mourning the loss of transformation in our lives. I’m mourning that loss in our communities, our churches, our countries. We’ve made an idol out of keeping peace, avoiding hurt feelings, and never offending. We’ve made an idol out of our comforts. We’ve made an idol of the easy road. Well, friends, if you don’t want to be offended, I recommend never picking up a bible again. Because it is all there…our sin, our yuck, laid bare for all to see are our wrongs. And yet, He came. The most offensive part of all, you see, is that HE, the perfect, came and was stripped bare for our mess, our continuing mess. And lately I fear, our response to that sacrifice is to play in the manure and celebrate grace rather than to pick up, wash up, and change for Christ’s sake because of grace.

Tonight I opened my bible and Lamentations caught my eye. “Rise during the night and cry out. Pour our your hearts like water to the Lord. Lift up your hands to him in prayer, pleading for your children for in every street they are faint with hunger.” Lamentations 2:19

I plead for our children. For they need to see our goodness. They need to see our kindness. They need to witness our transformation. They need to see that we, the church, are more than simply gay hating, missionary skimping, political ranting, in-fighting, crazies. They must see our fruits in order to see Jesus. God help us. Christ left us here to spread the gospel. What message is our life spreading? What message is my life spreading? Is it one of joy, peace, self-control?

Tomorrow, I’ll attempt to write on faithfulness. Though tonight I’m cynical and sad, and I wonder who I am faithful to, and if I’m faithful at all. I love you, God. Being Faithful to my loving Father is not difficult. I love you, my Savior. Being faithful to you is humbling. Your bride, though, Lord. She disappoints. Your bride is often lacking, and I’m part of the problem.

The Woman in the Mirror

mirrorA middle-aged woman stood in front of her mirror one evening before bed. She was saddened by her reflection and thought back to her younger days. Suddenly, in the mirror she could see her Lord standing behind her, yet when she turned around she could not see him. They began to talk. Looking at her reflection she sighed and said,

“I’m getting wrinkles, Lord.”
He replied, “You are growing in wisdom.

“I’m so tired.”
In me you will find rest.

“I’m not as pretty as I once was.”
To me, you are my perfect work of art. You are special and one of a kind.

“I’ve gained weight.”
I’ve always provided.”

“I lost my job today.”
I won’t stop providing.

“People confuse me, and I’ve lost a lot of friendships over the years.”
I’ll never leave you. My commitment is unending.

“I’m not sure my children even love me.”
I’m not sure my children love me either. I love you.

“I’m scared sometimes when I’m alone.”
You are never alone. I’m here.”

“You are good, Lord.”
Thanks, for saying so.

With that, the woman smiled at her reflection, took a deep breath, and went to bed.

-CB