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.

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

And He Hears.

And I cry.

and try to convince myself that I am not alone.
Yet, I listen to the voice pull me further from my home.

I see my reflection and wish a shattered mirror.
I listen to my failures and focus on my error.

I try to hear Him in the wind and the rain;
turn my aching ear to hear His voice again.

I sing the songs, and I know the steps.
I’ve heard the sermons, my boxes are all checked.

But I’m empty and I hear no calming voice
I cover my ears to shut out my noise.

And He hears.

I heard your prayers. I see your tears.
You’ve never once danced alone.
I walked those paths, felt the rocky soil
of that place that you call home.

I’ve been alone, without a friend,
not one to heal my wounds.
I felt the sting of goodbye, the ache of hate,
the glares from across the room.

But, the only difference between you and I,
that piece that blinds your scope,
is the empty tomb I left behind;
the assurance of your eternal hope.

I hold those hands you lift in prayer
while I hold the sky above.
I’m in the wind and storms you feel.
I’m the ever present love.

You’ll never fit within that space.
That world is not your home.
My gift for you is on the path of grace
My Spirit won’t leave you alone.

I ache to show you your home above,
a home meant just for you.
I left this place of perfect love
to offer everyone another view.

I took on pain and guilt,
and carried all the shame.
My heart breaks alongside yours
as I think of every name.

But, I know it hurts.
and I know you’re tired.
I see you try and try.
I won’t walk away, won’t give up, won’t ever say goodbye.

So, lift your head to see the end.
Find your joy along the path.
Pain will come along your way,
but there’s purpose in each task.

I’m with you on your journey.
I’m with you on this road.
I’m in the dance you dance each day,
and I lighten every load.

Your journey doesn’t end there.
Focus on what’s to come.
Your journey ends right here with me,
where the sun never met a horizon.

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I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.  ~2 Kings 20:5

 

He Won’t

walking-alone

When friends betray, He won’t.
When the bottle poisons, He won’t.
When parents fail, He won’t.
When chocolate loses its sweetness, He won’t.
When doctors run out of options, He won’t.
When your body gives out, He won’t.
When your spouse leaves you lonely, He won’t.
When children neglect you, He won’t.
When you mess up, He won’t.
When you’ve given up on yourself, He won’t.

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” -Psalms 55:22

-cb

Oddball

narrow-gate
“Unusual!” we call folks who take us off guard.
“Abnormal! Unrelenting! They’re not trying too hard!
The average of us just go with the pack.
The expected behavior is to stay on THIS track.
Odd for THAT person to be allowed in–
When the rest of us commit just a tiny, small sin.
To lie– To cheat– To gossip– To steal–
That’s simply our everyday commonplace meal!
Strange is the person who merely gives back.
Curious though; He offers the rest of us slack?
Look at that oddball; How he serves everyone else!
What’s that? Now he’s saying to avoid serving self?
That door is tiny! We’ll never fit there!
By the looks of it, we must go through all bare!
Stripped of our titles, our purses, our rules?
That door won’t accept our treasured jewels?
We must look like the oddball to fit through that gate.
We must hurry and change before it’s too late.
Throw off all that was us- and mirror the King.
Lay aside all our normal and change our routine.
Seek Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with care,
then enter to see the Oddball through there.
-cb