Saturday, 24 September 2011

Church life 7 days a week including at wedding receptions!

Today I was at a wedding reception.  The couple at the table across from me, and the lady sitting next to me, mentioned that they meet with a few other believers in a home gathering. 

When I asked them what that looked like, they said that they get together Sunday mornings for brunch (to which they all contribute) and then they spend time together, adults and kids alike.

Someone might bring a little message, or they might do a study together, or have a discussion. They talk about life with Jesus.  they pray.  On occasion they sing.  They share about needs they can
help others with. 

During the week they get together to go and help out with those needs. And they get involved, individually or together, serving in the community with other believers.  Like helping out at the street
ministry and such. 

Sounds like church life - Jesus life, Kingdom life - for them is a 7 day a week thing.  A lifestyle that does include a small group of believers who gather on Sundays to eat together and learn and pray.  But also reaches out the rest of the week into the community, serving the needs of believers
and nonbelievers with the love of Jesus.  And includes doing that serving with other believers, not just with their own little bunch.

That sounds like church to me :-)  As Josh puts it in his post, "church-life-more-than-a-meeting" :

Church life, you see, is togetherness. It is sharing life together under the headship of Jesus Christ. It is not virtual or theoretical, it is practical, in-your-face community living.
Even the first "meetings" of the church in Jerusalem could hardly be called meetings, at least not in any formal sense. What they appear to have been more than anything else was just a bunch of wide-eyed saints spending a lot of time together in their homes eating meals, singing songs, sharing prayers, and talking joyfully about their newfound experience with the Lord Jesus Christ...
This drawing together, this instinct for fellowship, is proof to the world that we are His, and it is proof of one other thing as well: The church is more than a meeting!
That sounds like these folk's description of the church (and yes, church is the word they used) that they gather with.

Eric Carpenter talks about this kind of living out the Christian life in his post, "Sunday to Sunday."  He says:
Sunday becomes dangerous when we place too much emphasis upon our
gathering. The danger occurs when Sunday becomes "when we do church"
or "when we are the church" to the exclusion of other days....
Jesus Christ never told us to take a day off and wait for Sunday to
be spiritual.
Eric encourages us to contact and fellowship with our church family other days of the week.  He recommends coffee shops, but the folks I met at the wedding reception today were doing that right there!  And in the process, without even trying, drawing the others sitting at the table into the conversation, answering their questions, sharing their love of Jesus!

Eric also suggests we can occasionally skip the Sunday gathering and trust the church family to get along without us; and we can even meet as a church family on a different day of the week.  He also
encourages us to pray for opportunities to be servants every day, and follow those opportunities the Lord gives us.  Which these folks obviously do.

So I think I'll go spend some time with this gathering of the church in my community.  Maybe Father had me sit across from these folks at the reception for a reason.  I've been asking Him to show me how He wants me to walk with Him, after all.  And with His family.  Maybe He brought us together
today on purpose. :-)

(Come to think of it, wasn't it at a wedding reception that Jesus began modeling the kingdom, demonstrating the ekklesia, with His disciples?)

Friday, 23 September 2011

Checking in on what Jesus is doing

Very often folks who check out of the institutional church find themselves on a long winding road.

They might already have formed an idea of what the destination will look for, and they are constantly peering down side roads they pass, hoping to find what they are expecting.  Or perhaps they really don't know what the destination will look like, but they're willing to try out whatever neon signs flash most attractively along the way. 

Either way, they pull up hopefully, here and there, take a look, and sometimes even check in for awhile, but end up being disappointed.  So back they go onto the road, wondering if they'll ever get there, and be able to check out of the wilderness.

And yes, I've been in that situation myself.  For far too long.

But now I'm realizing that checking out of the wilderness means getting back on the road and traveling with Jesus.  And checking what He (and His Father and Spirit) is doing. 

Staying on the road.  Forgetting about my search for the destination.  And discovering that, when we travel with God, the journey is the destination with Him is what we've been seeking.  And when we see it that way, we realize it isn't a wilderness after all, but the richest, most fulfilling LIFE - more than we could ever have imagined ourselves.  His Life!

Jesus said something like that, didn't He?  In Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message), we hear these words:

"Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
It's how Jesus walked with His Father when He was here on earth in the 1st century AD.  He listened to His Father's words and then repeated them to others.  He looked to see what His Father was doing in people's hearts, and then joined in with His Father.  He truly lived with the Spirit of God every moment.  He prayed and sought God's guidance - and He didn't do anything unless He had that guidance.

Jesus set an example for His disciples.  That means us too.  That's how we are supposed to live.  That's what it means for us to be His disciples.  We, the church, are meant to live that way, His way. That's what it means, isn't it, to be the church, to live in the Kingdom of God?  To have one head, one leader, and to be united in Him.  Right?

Then why, as Dan Edelen asks at cereleumsanctum,

Why then do we not do this? Why do we charge ahead and waste time on works that God is not in? ...
Jesus didn’t see what the Father is doing by any means other than a deep prayer life and listening to the Holy Spirit. You can’t fake that, though, and expect to see what the Father is doing.

Why not, indeed?  It's time to stop looking for destinations that I or others have imagined or created.  Time to get onto the road with Jesus, walk with Him, work with Him.  Really be open to hear Him, see Him.  Follow Him.  Like He showed us.

Time to start.  Check out of me, check out of my "destinations," and check into His journey, His way.  Into Him!  Now.

Please, dear Jesus.  Help me to really see You, hear You, know You.  To be a disciple of You.  As you were of Father.  Please.  Thank You.  Amen.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Getting over that wilderness feeling

In the last few posts here, we've been thinking about different aspects of that "wilderness feeling" we sometimes get when we've stepped away from institutional church and are seeking to follow Jesus as the very center of our walk.  Today I just want to share with you some quotes from other bloggers that have really helped me personally as I've sometimes struggled with "that wilderness feeling" myself.

Jeff McQuillan, in his post, "Tribe" at communitas collective,  points out that the need for community isn't just about Christ-followers.  He believes that it is a need inherent in all of mankind;
At heart, we are tribal, and we are looking for our tribe. We are looking for that place where we belong.
I agree with Jeff.  Because we are created by a God whose very being is wrapped up in community, whose character IS LOVE, as creatures in His image, it is also inherent in our character to love and be loved.  Even though mankind is "fallen," we still need and seek community - and the only way that longing will be fulfilled is to find our way back to community with our Creator and with His children whom He created for community with Him.  We are meant to be part of a "tribe" - a particular people living in a community and family whose Head and center is Jesus Christ.

In some ways, institutional church does provide a sense of community.  In fact, true community, centered in Christ, can be found in traditional churches, but so often the structures and systems that have been built around the church of Christ actually interfere with the community in which we are meant to live as God's family.  So many believers are seeking to be part of a local church community that has moved away from those structures and systems (well-meaning as those things are often meant to be), to seek out church that is Christ-indwelled.  And often, for a time, they find themselves with that "wilderness feeling" as they move out to seek to follow Jesus and be one with Him and His body.

Here are Jeff's encouraging words of hope, even as he still finds himself at that "wilderness place" in his journey:
And so I do not believe it should be the ultimate goal for people to exit organized Chrisitianity just to wander the wilderness alone forever. It’s where I am now, and it’s how I feel–and it aches–but I know one day I will once again find my tribe.
Erin, in her post "A Hole In My Heart," also at communitas collective,  talks about some of the ways "God has soothed my fears about lacking relationships in this new, unchurched place I now live."  These ways include, for Erin, the following:
  • meeting people from all over the world and building some true friendships through her blog
  • meeting new friends in her community in various ways: her children moved to public school, and there she met parents of other children; joining a relay team; and inviting her son's friends to hang out in their home to play video games, be fed, and feel accepted.
Moving out of the safe little community of their church was a shock for Erin at first, and she felt very alone; as she says, it left "a hole in my heart."  But as Erin opened herself to be led by God into the community around her, she began to see the real world out there as Jesus sees it, and to realize that walking with Christ leads to a new and more real community.  She writes:

Poverty, racial tension, gangs and lack of hope for the future are central parts of the lives of many of the children and teenagers in our community. I am not na├»ve; I know that as a white-middle-class family we have a wall to break down. I’ve already seen it and know what we face. But I can’t help but also know that a small positive contribution to the life of any one of these individuals could be the thing that sticks with them; that one day is a catalyst for change in their life.

I hate to say it, but for me, there is far more community out in the real world than there is inside a church. We live among with real, diverse, and human people; not cookie cutters of morality and belief.

I believe my role in life isn’t to spend time discussing the same things with the same like-minded people, or to serve a community that serves me back. I believe my role is to make whatever small contributions I can to whichever lives cross my path, one day at a time. I do believe I find God there among the suffering and the grief and the laughter and the insanity of a broad, deep, diverse and imperfect people.

And there no longer exists a hole in my heart.

Josh, in his blog post, "Church Life More Than a Meeting,"  also encourages us when we experience that "wilderness feeling."  He reminds us that the wilderness time can be a positive time of isolation, in which we experience heart-healing, we unlearn many things, and Christ reveals Himself within the believer in a very personal way.

He also reminds us what it is that we are truly longing for - that "tribe" that we were created to be a part of.  Josh writes:

It is truly a wonderful thing to experience life together in the Body of Christ not once, not twice, but seven days a week!

Church life, you see, is togetherness. It is sharing life together under the headship of Jesus Christ. It is not virtual or theoretical, it is practical, in-your-face community living.
Yes, you say, I know that.  But how do I get there?  Here's Josh's advice, and I think it is something we need to really focus on:
So no matter what difficulty I (or you) may be faced with, we have to take this before the Lord, travail before Him over it, and settle for nothing less than that the Lord might raise up a true expression of the church in our locality.
And for those who are still hanging onto systems and programs, Josh also has this to say:


I've said this before and I'll say it again: Shut down the meetings for a while and see how much time the saints still spend together. This will give you a pretty good idea of how much true church life is going on. If Christ is really our life and we are indeed being built together as His House then we won't be able to stay away from each other. This drawing together, this instinct for fellowship, is proof to the world that we are His, and it is proof of one other thing as well: The church is more than a meeting!

All these blog posts I've quoted have been helpful to me when I've had that "wilderness feeling."  But one post, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" by Bobby Auner, really has pulled it together for me, because in this post he centers on what we are really looking for - and how it will really come to pass:
I walked out on institutional christianity for one main reason. I wanted a deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus Christ.

I continued reading scripture and praying. I also began to study books and scripture to see if I could find the missing pieces. What I found was that the church gatherings I had been a part of were nothing like the picture of the 1st Century church in the New Testament.

So what is it I am looking for? If I am not complete with the status quo of the Christian masses and I am also not satisfied with a simple/house church gathering that looks more like the New Testament Church, what more is there? Where do I go from here? Starbucks? The golf course?

I am convinced that what I am looking for will not be found in an institutional church and many simple/house churches are only focused on the proper form and pattern of church to bring out desired effects. What we are looking for is people who are feasting on Christ and living by His life in the Spirit. When we have that the forms and patterns will follow.

As Paul wrote letters to the Churches he had planted he did not give them special instructions on how to "do church". We do not have a prescriptive blueprint for what a gathering of saints should look like. What we have is a constant effort to keep everyone focused on Christ. It is this Christ-centered living that results in the church we have described for us in the NT. I'm afraid that when we put forms and patterns first we have the cart before the horse. Worse, we have abandoned Christ for our own schemes.

What draws me is Christ and his depths and riches are unfathomable for me but together we can plummet into His depths. First we must give up all our efforts to build the right church and seek oneness with the Spirit within. He will build His Church as we are One with Him. May we consume and be consumed by our risen Lord and seek daily the bread that comes down from heaven. Then and only then will we be satisfied.

What do you think?  Are you still suffering from that "wilderness feeling"?  Is it time to move beyond it?  How does that happen?  By a "form" of church we design?  Or by constantly focusing on Christ-centered life?  Read that last paragraph again!

(And if you haven't yet listened to the "Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew" podcast with Frank Viola yet, I urge you to do so today.  If you find listening difficult, email me at norma.hill@yahoo.ca and I'll send you the notes I took when I listened to it!)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Would going back to institutional church solve this loneliness?

Would going back to institutional church solve this loneliness?

I'm pretty sure that everyone who has moved out of the institutional (legacy, traditional) church system has asked themselves at least once, "Should I go back?"  It might be only a fleeting thought, or it might be something you have seriously considered, or even done.

There are lots of reasons you might consider going back.  There are all your friends back there, some of whom are still your friends, but many others no longer are.  Maybe they were just "friends" because you happened to be doing the more-or-less same thing.  Or maybe they really were friends, but the step you've taken has shaken them, and they don't understand, or may even believe you are doing something heretical.  Maybe you miss the communual worship music, or some other aspect of the institutional church that you really did enjoy. 

Maybe it seems to be taking a long time to find other believers who really want to walk centered in Jesus, and you're feeling awfully alone.  Maybe you miss the perks of being useful and recognized by
others.  Maybe you feel you've been alone in a wilderness for a long time, and you are getting more and more discouraged and lonely.  Maybe you just miss those delicious after-church fellowship potlucks!

Whatever your reasons, maybe you have indeed asked yourself, "Would going back to institutional church solve my feelings of loneliness?" 

I read a post awhile back, "loneliness and the journey," by Wayne Jacobsen, that has really helped me to realize that the only real solution to any of my "problems" related to "church" lies in my
relationship to Father, as His Son lives in me and His Spirit reveals Jesus to me.  God - Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit - loves me (and you!) completely and He is working out His eternal purposes in each of His children, individually and together as His church, His family. 

Wayne puts it far better than I can, so let's hear what he says:

Sorry you’re having some difficulty finding some folks to travel with. And believe me, I know how lonely it can feel. But fellowship is not to fill our loneliness. That ultimately can only be swallowed up by a loving Father as he continues to makes himself known to you and shows you how to follow him. He knows the fellowship you desire and he will bring it into your life as you simply begin to love the people God has already put around you. They may not even be believers yet, but as you simply grow in learning to care about them and recognize those God’s wants to give you a friendship with.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try out fellowships, or look on line for others from your area. All of those can be helpful in this process. You may even find some in a more traditional congregation. Not all congregations are harmful. There are some out there who help people get to know Jesus and provide some wonderful relationships. Let him
lead you and try not to be anxious. Sometimes it is better to go it alone with Jesus for a bit and learn to live in him rather than try to do that in a religious setting that trades in guilt and performance.

But be assured of this, Father knows the fellowship that he wants to bring into your life. Look where you can, but beyond your own abilities, know that he is at work. Right now I suspect God wants you to learn dependence in him so when others come along, you can find the friendships that trust in him allows as people encourage each other to live loved. It is a process. I know this isn’t the easiest part, but as you get through this season you’ll find it well worth it...

...it is a journey. These things work out in time as we simply live inside the love he has for us and learn to love others around us in the process.

I'm also realizing more and more that what I really need is "Christ in me." That what we as a church need is Christ in us, as our true Head.  Being the church isn't about principles, or programs, or
systems, or even "looking like the New Testament church."  It's about Jesus living in us, in me and in you.  It's about Jesus indwelling us.  It's about living by Jesus, the tree of Life.

Recently, Frank Viola gave a message at the 2011 Momentum Conference, "Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew."  If you have not heard this message yet, I urge you to listen to it by podcast now.  Today.  If you find podcasts difficult to listen to, I have made extensive notes of his talk, and would be happy to send them to you (email me at norma.hill@yahoo.ca and ask for the "Epic Jesus" notes).  It is an amazing message, and you will meet a Jesus you quite possibly have never truly known.  A Jesus that you will want to know.

Here are a few notes from the concluding remarks of the message:

How did Jesus live his peerless life?

"What I hear the Father say, that's what I say. What the Father judges, that's what I judge. It's not I that does the works; it's the Father that does the works through me. As the living Father has sent Me, and I live by the Father, so he who partakes of Me shall
live by Me. I can do nothing apart from My Father. And you can do nothing apart from Me."

Jesus lived by an indwelling Father, but the passage has moved. As the Father was to Jesus Christ, so Jesus Christ is to you. He's our indwelling God.

Definition of an organic church: It is a group of people who are learning how to live by the indwelling life of Christ together. And they are sharing that life together and they are displaying that life together. Watch what Jesus is doing through me, through you, through us.

You can live by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you can live by the tree of Life. And we are called to do that with other believers in the Kingdom of God. That's when the Kingdom of God is manifested.

May God raise up men and women who are humble enough to learn what it means to live by the indwelling life of Christ and are bold enough to proclaim the insearchable riches of Christ to others.

"That which was from the beginning, that which we have seen with our eyes, heard with our eyes, and handled - this Life we proclaim to you so that you might have fellowship with us, and we have fellowship with the Father and with the Son." Amen.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

maybe I've been hiding

Here's another possibility regarding this "being in the wilderness" feeling.  Perhaps it isn't just a transition between the familiarity and security of the institutional church, and the move into the ...  well, into what???

That's a good question.  What comes after the institutional church?  Maybe you've read a book or heard stories of how wonderful it is to be part of the "New Testament church."  Maybe you've just bailed out of where you were, but have no idea what happens next. 

Maybe you found a little group, a little gathering, that seemed to you (at first, anyway) to function like those wonderful descriptions of the early church in Acts.  But maybe it didn't take long before your expectations were crushed and disappointment crept in; and maybe you're wondering if it can be "fixed" or if you should look elsewhere or if there's a "real New Testament church" anywhere.  Maybe it's safer to just stay in the wilderness.  Hidden.

Maybe you live in a town where it seems that all believers, all the ones you've met anyway, are content with the traditional status quo, and you are pretty sure you really are alone.  (And maybe it seems like it's easier to hide away, away from their questions, and their judgements.  Because you really feel like finding real church is going to be impossible.)

Maybe you've heard rumours that there's a little group out there gathering and focusing on living together centered in the headship of Christ, but you don't know how to contact them, or you're shy ... or afraid.  Afraid that once again, "church" might not work out.  Afraid that maybe you'll be rejected.  Afraid that you'll be asked to accept some doctrine or theology you're not comfortable with - or that they will be opposed to what you believe.  Afraid that hidden behind their apparent loving community there might still be human control and authority and that it might just end up being "going to church at home."  (So maybe it's safer to just stay put in your little wilderness cave, right?)

Maybe some part of your heart is still back there in the group you left; maybe you miss people, or the particular "worship" form, or the "security" or whatever.  Or...

Maybe some part of your heart is elsewhere.  Maybe you're still clinging to some "idols" in your life. Maybe you're preoccupied with some favored activity in your life.  Maybe you're longing for some thing you believe will make you happy.  Maybe something in your life already gives you a lot of happiness and you're afraid you'll have to give it up. 

When it comes down to it, maybe you are actually afraid that you'll be required to give all of your heart to Jesus.  (Aren't we all afraid of that?  I know I am.  Sometimes I'm sure I've given it all over - and then He gently points out another thing I'm holding back.  So maybe I'm afraid of that, too.  Because maybe I'm afraid that His gentle requests hide disapproval now and judgement down the line.  Isn't that a "lesson" I learned a long time ago?  I "know" it isn't true, but sometimes maybe I'm still not convinced...)

Maybe you're wondering if you might be wrong after all, even heretical, and that you're sliding down a slippery slope. That maybe you really should go back to ... well, back to Egypt, maybe?  Though you desperately don't want to.  But... what if?  (No, I just can't go back.  But if I go forward, and I'm wrong, what then?  I've been wrong so often.  Haven't I?  Haven't I?)

Maybe the idea of seven day a week togetherness, that sharing-community-life kind of living, is a bit overwhelming when you've been used to putting "church" into a safe compartment of your life.  (And do I really want "those people" to truly be family?  Living right here in my every single day life?  With no safe cocoon to retreat to?  Do I?)

Maybe the freedom Christ promises you in Him scares you.  Maybe it doesn't sound very safe.  Maybe you're afraid that the real Christ, the one that you've seen glimpses of in the New Testament and even in your own walk with Him, the Christ who is unfettered by the scaffolding that man has built around Him, maybe you're afraid He really isn't safe.  Maybe you're afraid He'll ask you to go way beyond your comfort zone.  (And probably you're right.  Oh.  Is He worth it?  Is He?)

Maybe you left institutionalized Christianity with your heart deeply wounded, and while you know Jesus has been healing you, you're still afraid to step back into anything "church" again because your experience with that word brings pain just thinking about it. (Maybe "church" - even the "real church" - will hurt me again. Can I take that?)

It could even be that you've even actually been having an amazing personal journey with Jesus, just the two of you, and you really don't look forward to the idea of stepping out and sharing that journey with others.  Maybe you're pretty sure that other folks would mess up your beautiful little safe space.  You don't see it as a wilderness but as a beautiful little secret garden and you really don't want it invaded by others, and you also don't want to open the gate and step outside because you are pretty sure it is a jungle out there.  (And even though you sense pretty strongly that Jesus is asking you to join Him out there, you're really not sure you want to go.)

Maybe any or all of these "maybe's" are keeping you (and yes, me) in the wilderness.  Keeping us hiding out.  Alone.  Separated from the church, our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. And because of that, separated in some sense from the fulness of Jesus Himself, because the family is in Him and He is in them.  And it is only in being one with His family that we can be and have all that He wants for us in Him. 

Are you in hiding?  Am I in hiding?  Are we holding ourselves back from all the potential He is offering us, wanting us to experience in Him and in His family?  Holding ourselves back from our part in His Kingdom, from our inheritance as children of the King?

Perhaps the wilderness I feel I am in now, was, in the beginning, a necessary transitioning place where Father wanted to meet with me, to reveal Himself to me, to show me how much He loves me, to clear away all the scaffolding that was keeping me from meeting Him and knowing Him face to face.
 
But clearly, He doesn't intend for me to stay in the wilderness.  The promised land is just ahead.  The gates to the fulness of the Kingdom are wide open.  My King and Lord and elder brother is standing there with His arms held wide open, begging me to come on in and take my place as His honored and beloved child.

So why am I hanging back here in the shadows?  Why do I cling to the wilderness?  Why don't I want to go all the way in?  What am I hiding from?  Are my reasons for hiding worth what I am giving up? Why won't I trust Him? 

Why oh why don't I trust Him?

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit ... I do want to trust You.  I do want to stop hiding.  I do want to walk wherever You take me.  I do want to be part on Your family - on Your terms, whatever that means and however that works out.  (Whether I "like" it or not.  Oh dear).

No more hiding, Lord.  (Please help me.  Thank You).

(Oh, by the way...  Here are a couple posts that have helped me see that I have been hiding.  And that have encouraged me to leave behind my "safe" little hiding spot, barren wilderness though it be, and take Jesus hand, and take the hands of all my brothers and sisters whenever and however He chooses to bring them into my life.  Walking together.  In and through and by His love and His life.

"Coming out of the theological closet" by Kurt Willems at redletterchristians. 

"Loneliness and the Journey" by Wayne Jacobsen at lifestream

"12 steps to identifying your functional saviors" at the thinklings

Thanks to all of you for these articles.

(Oh yes.  And thank YOU, Lord.  Most of all.)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Feeling like I'm not serving well?

Another reason I've felt "in the wilderness" on my church journey is that I've worried that I'm not serving as well as I should.  Why do I feel this way?

I suppose a lot of it goes back to my "going to church" days when I was super-involved in all the goings-on.  At one time or another, and often all at once, I was a Sunday-school teacher, the nursery department coordinator, Women's Ministry Bible study leader, church janitor, church secretary, church treasurer, church camp counselor, church camp prayer leader, played piano and guitar with the church music ministry, led worship, led Children's Church, cooked and served for church potlucks, ran the cafe for the Saturday night youth ministry coffee house... and so on and so forth.

Naturally, most of the time I was patted on the back and praised for my wonderful servant heart.  Of course there were a couple times there when someone was jealous of a "position" I held, and did all they could to get me out - out of the position, and even out of the church.  And sometimes I was disappointed that it seemed like a lot of the time we were "preaching to the choir" and not reaching out much, and it seemed like there often was a lack of prayer and a lack of real spiritual growth.  But overall, I felt pretty good about my serving! 

And now ... I suppose I am still seeking that recognition and commendation to some degree.  I have to admit that it's hard to leave that behind. 

And it does feel kind of strange to be sort of floating around waiting to see what God leads me into, instead of having all kinds of "opportunities" right there desperately needing to be filled.

And, with my teaching background, in church and in public, Christian, and home school, I kind of miss those formal opportunities to teach with a more or less captive audience there to be enthralled with my wisdom, right? 

And it was pretty convenient to have the church's "mission" set out right there, and never have to worry that you weren't doing enough serving.  The churches I attended had goals and mission statements and all that sort of thing to keep us motivated.  They also had statements of faith so you knew exactly where you stood on the finest points of doctrine, and if you didn't stand in the right spot, you knew enough to learn to toe the line, or you could of course find another church to go to (except when I lived in a small town with only one church, LOL).

Of course, I do notice some good things about this not serving well thing.  For example, I'm not exhausted anymore.  And no one is pressuring me to accept positions that they "just know the Lord is calling you to do" even if I have no sense of His calling at all in that area.  And I have more time to go out and visit and help people in their homes and on the streets.  (I always wondered why we didn't "go forth" more - but of course we had missionaries and evangelists and such for that, and we really were busy doing really important things for the church's mission, weren't we?)

Another good thing is that I've been surprised at how much I've learned from people who don't "appear" to be well educated or theologically savvy: being a learner and a walk-alongside-person instead of a teacher/ leader actually has its advantages.  For example, when you're not the super busy, organized, well trained, leader-type person, other people like you better, and are more willing to be a real friend, and just see when you're needing them and come alongside and be helpful in real, practical, hands-on caring ways.  (Like pastors must wish for, you know).

Another thing - when I was going to church, probably because I've always been a kind of "Jill of all trades, master of none" person, people were constantly telling me I had this gift or that - and insisting that I exercise it in whatever program they needed my help with.  Sometimes I enjoyed it.  Sometimes, I have to admit, I did NOT enjoy it. 

And, sadly, at the end of all that I came to the point where I had no idea any more what my gift(s) really might be and wondered if I even had any at all.  Maybe I really was just a "...master of none" person.  At least now I'm not under pressure to perform any of my don't-know-if-I-have-them gifts, so I can just relax and enjoy whatever Father brings along for me to do with Him.  Awesome!

One disadvantage, though, of not "going to church" like I used to is that I'm not under the same good, strong, motivational schedule of serving.  I have to admit that because I had the church's schedule of meetings, it did motivate me to also have a schedule of morning devotions with Bible reading and prayer and journaling, and other such "serving the Lord" things at home.  I mean, I was more disciplined then, you know? 

Now, it seems like my self-discipline has evaporated.  I mean, yes, I chat with Father off and on during the day and night (okay, sometimes more off than on, oh dear), and I am more aware of His Presence with me (I never feel "alone in the desert without God" like I used to).  But shouldn't I be more formal about it?  I have to say, there's something pretty wilderness about not having a formal schedule and checklist, and a long list of "shoulds."  Those "shoulds" were pretty secure and comforting in their own way, uh huh.

Wow.  I thought I only had a sentence or two to say about this.  But it seems that I'm hearing a whole lot of things from Father as I write this post.  But Lord, that wasn't the point of this exercise, don't you know?  :-)  Okay, yes, I admit I really do love You ignoring my schedules! Thank You! :-)

Anyway, it's comforting to know I'm not the only one going through this "not serving well" thing.  Recently, in a post called "Owner or Renter?" at the Beyond Church Walls blog, I read about how the blog post writer and a couple friends were having a conversation about the gifts God has placed in them.  And, as the writer says, "One of the things that surfaced during our conversation was a grief and frustration about the level at which we had functioned while in the religious system versus how we felt we were using our gifts now."  He goes on to talk about how "sharp, in tune, and on the ball" they were then, and how he has "become somewhat complacent and dull in many ways."

But then one of his friends pointed out a pretty profound analogy:

He pointed out that we had never truly taken ownership of our gifts and callings but had a renter’s mentality. See, when one rents a home he lives there with the landlord’s permission and can only do what the landlord allows him to do. He can’t freely paint rooms, put in new carpet, or redo the yard without consulting the landlord first. But on the flip side, the renter does not carry the heavy responsibilities of ownership. The renter doesn’t have to make any repairs, spend any money on upgrades, or concern himself with the resale value of the property. A renter gets the benefits of living in a home without the burdens and freedoms of home ownership. We realized that in the religious system we functioned in our gifts and callings as renters. It was our duty to function in them but we did not have the burden of ownership. That rested with the pastor. Our gifts and callings were submitted to the authority and vision of the pastor or other leaders the same way one submits to a landlord. The pastor decided how far we could go with the gifts and callings and although we did not have complete freedom to function according to all Father had placed in our hearts, we also were free from the responsibility of having to be self-motivated and sort out how Father wanted us to move forward. We functioned within the framework that was laid out before us and did not have to shoulder the responsibilities that come with fulfilling a calling God places on one’s life. It is one thing to be accountable to man, it is another thing to function out of a keen awareness of being accountable to God.
Amen!  That's the point, isn't it?  I get that.  I've been a house renter myself for years, and now I've been a homeowner the past couple years.  I really do get that picture.  And I get how it applies to my whole "I feel like I'm not serving well" moaning and groaning.  It's time to get over it.  It's time to lift my eyes and see what God has done for me!

He has freed me from the pressure of being accountable to man.  He has freed me from the pressure of being accountable to the institution's system. He has freed me to "function out of a keen awareness of being accountable to God."  And it's a joy and pleasure to walk in that freedom because Jesus IS IN ME. It's not my heavy responsibility anymore.  Isn't that awesome?!

No, I am not going to worry anymore about "not serving well."  I'm just going to walk this walk with Jesus, and listen to His voice, and do whatever I see Him doing, say whatever I hear Him saying.  Like He did with Father when He was here on earth with us as a man. 

Yes! (And oh dear God, help me to never be tempted by the deceitful security and comfort that those shackles sometimes seem to offer.  Help me keep my eyes on You and Your freedom.  I just want to walk - and serve - with You!).

Question:  What about you?  Would you like to join me in "not serving well"?  Let's do it together.  The "not serving well" family.  What do you think? :-)

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Convincing others to join you in the adventure - or not

In yesterday's post, we talked a bit about that "wilderness feeling" that many believers experience when they move out from the institutional church as they seek to more fully follow Jesus and to
BE the church rather than GO TO church or DO church.  They are often very excited about the new possibilities, and look forward to being the church in the ways we see the New Testament
church in Acts and the epistles.  They are eager to share their dreams with their Christian friends.

But their friends - even close family - frequently do not share their enthusiasm.  In fact, those friends may turn away, not understanding why anyone would want to change the way things are, or may even be sure that traditional church practices are the right and best way.

What should you, as a Jesus-follower trying to follow Him more closely in a way that does not include many of the practices that have become an accepted way of doing church, do when other believers do not share your enthusiasm? 

I know from my own experience that it is tempting to do everything you can think of to get others to join you in this wonderful adventure.  You explain over and over the advantages.  You point out
all the problems you've discovered about "pagan Christianity."  You tell folks that they're really missing out on a truly close relationship with Jesus and others. 

You drag them along to a house gathering or a coffee-shop gathering or whatever expression of the church you think is most like the New Testament picture.  You drop in on them, or invite them out for coffee, or beg them to go out with you on the streets, or beg them to come over for a meal.  You want them, after all, to see how the church is a 7 days a week joyous reality.

But when they get tired of listening to you, when they resent you suggesting that their version of church is lacking or that their relationship with Jesus is lacking, when they get tired of you hanging around and disturbing their lifestyle, it isn't long before they start avoiding you - or come right out and tell you to leave them alone.

And you feel alone.  This great adventure is turning out to be a "lost in the wilderness alone" disappointment instead.  What to do?  You love your brothers and sisters in the Lord.  You want them to experience God's love in a greater way.  And let's face it, you don't like being alone.  But you don't want to go back to the old ways.  So what new ways can you think of to convince them to join you? 

In a post, "How can I get my (husband, wife, congregation, friends, family, etc) to..." [embrace my journey and accomplish what I want], Wayne Jacobsen suggests that maybe it isn't our job to get
others to join us on our journey.  Maybe we need to focus on living with Jesus ourselves, and ask God to help us love others better right where they are.  Maybe we need to let God do what He wants to do in their lives, instead of trying to manipulate them into doing/being what we think is best and right.

Wayne says we are excited about the fresh relational journey we are on, discovering how to live loved, and finding the institutional approach we've been involved in to be counterproductive to the community we desire...

Our first thought is how do we get others to embrace our journey and help us accomplish what we want. As noble as it may be, this approach never ends well. The moment we are trying to get someone else to see what we see, we become a manipulator of their journey, rather than a friend alongside them.

It is an impossible task to get someone else to come on this journey. That isn’t your job and others will only resent you when you try. All you need to do is go on this journey and in the going let God make you a better lover of [others right where they're] at.

You can’t drive people into love, you can only invite them. And you can live with Jesus all seven days of the week whether they desire to or not. Changing them is not the goal. Living free [in Jesus, yourself,] will have far more impact on you and them!

Questions:  What is your experience?  Have you wanted to convince others to join you because you believe it will be wonderful for them too - or even as a way for you to get past that lonely place?  If so, what have been the results?  Or have you found another way to move ahead in the journey?
 What (or Who?) is that way?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

That wilderness feeling

THAT WILDERNESS FEELING
Like many folks who have moved away from traditional/legacy/institutional church, I too freely admit to going through a rather long "wilderness" experience. 

So many of my former "church family" just don't understand, and feel uncomfortable around me.  In many cases, it has turned out that we really didn't have much real relationship outside the church services and programs.  Also, because the last church I attended ended up closing due to many difficulties, there are folks who are hurt and just don't want to hang out with former fellow church members.  And of course I have had my own emotional issues which have caused me to
kind of cocoon.

For quite a while I have been part of a different "form" of church family, that is, a street outreach ministry. (You can also read about it in the "pages" listed at the top of this blog).  In the beginning, although it was less formal than traditional church, it still had many elements of "church life" with which I was familiar, like fairly frequent gatherings (Sunday morning breakfast gathering plus up to 4 or 5 morning coffee gatherings each week).  The Sunday morning breakfast gathering very often included a fair amount of prayer, teaching, and discussion.

But over the past year or so, we've dropped the weekday coffee times (much to my disappointment), and the Sunday morning breakfast has mainly been breakfast and providing clothing and such.  The "street pastor" has taken over the majority of the "prayer and counseling."  Now he and his family are
taking an extended break, and the ministry is "on hold."  Even the website, which I have been heavily involved with, I have been told to put "on hold."  A friend and I still go out and visit with the street family, but we are asked not to call it part of the street ministry. 

As you'll know from a post I wrote recently, this has all left me feeling very alone and even more "in the wilderness" than previously.  But I am beginning to understand that I have probably been hanging
on to the old traditional ways more than I have realized.  I am thinking now that Father is actually doing me a favour by weaning me away from these things I've hung onto, these familiar ways of "doing church" - which I know do get in the way of "being church." I am grateful for Father showing me this. 

I am also grateful for posts that other wilderness travelers have written.  It is good to know that I am not alone.  There are other brothers and sisters out there who have had their sense of community shattered, who have lost friends and lost their comfortable and familiar social life, and are feeling unchurched and alone. 

They too have discovered that so much of institutional Christianity has little to do with the church as the New Testament describes it, and little to do with true community and family centered in the love
of Jesus. Even though institutional church offers us a certain sort of parameters and structure, in which we have assigned roles and program-type "opportunities," they too have realized how constraining so many of those things are, how antithetical they are to the freedom in Christ which we are promised in scripture.

But like me, they too do not believe that we are meant to wander alone forever.  And many of them are learning, as they find themselves so alone, to truly listen to the voice of the Spirit, to reach out - often in sheer desperation - to the God who has called us to truly be His children and family, to walk together in relationship with Him and with each other through the love and life of Jesus.

In the next few posts, I will talk about some of the aspects of this wilderness time, and what I - and others - believe Father has in mind for us as we walk this journey.  One thing is certain - the
wilderness is not meant to be forever :-)  Our wonderful loving Father has glorious things planned for all His children.  But I'm thinking that sometimes we ourselves choose to stay in the wilderness far longer than we need to.  (More on that next time).

If you'd like to read what some others have shared about this topic, I highly recommend the following posts that have been helpful and encouraging to me.

"A Hole in my Heart" posted by Erin at communitas collective

"Tribe"  and "Imagining the Possibilities" posted by Jeff McQuilkin, also at communitas collective

Monday, 12 September 2011

Back and sharing some wisdom from the blogging family

Yesterday I was moaning about feeling lonely and cut off.  Then it occurred to me that maybe I could find some answers and encouragement from the family on-line.  Oh - and I also had a good chat with a brother here in the community - something I should have done sooner :-)

There was a time when I was an active blog reader and commenter. But in the past year I went through some issues that made it really difficult for me to interact through reading and writing.

However, I did try to keep an eye on some awesome blogs via Google Reader. Although I found it hard to focus on reading, and almost impossible to comment at the time, I did copy posts that I thought I would someday like to read and think about when I could focus more clearly.  The time has come!

So yesterday I went through my saved posts and organized them into topics.  Oh my goodness.  I have fifty folders.  And I also have 3 dozen articles saved that speak to the issues I raised in my post yesterday.  :-)

Just reading through them has been a big help, but I also want to share what I've learned in case there are others out there who are facing some of the same issues I have mentioned, such as:
  • separation from church family members (for whatever reasons);
  • loneliness
  • missing the security and comfort that institutional forms of church offered but not wanting to go back there
  • feeling like you're in a wilderness
  • disappointment in seeing a close church family community seem to be drifting away from spiritual emphasis
  • longing to serve
  • feeling like the serving that you are doing right now is inadequate or ineffective or whatever.
I also will be linking to some of the posts that have been really helpful to me in sorting through these issues.  I am so grateful to brothers and sisters who share their understanding and care and encouragement through their blogs.  Sometimes it seems like past posts aren't of much use anymore.  But there's always someone looking for answers or encouragement, and those musty archived articles suddenly come back to life and reach out once again bringing sunshine into people's lives.

Keep posted.  I'm so delighted to be back!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

feeling lonely and cut off

It's a beautiful sunny Sunday morning in mid-September.  The skies are clear blue, and the weatherman promises a 30 C afternoon.

For the past 3 or 4 years, I've spent nearly every early Sunday morning (6 am and onward) downtown at the street ministry breakfast gathering.  It's been the center of my church family.  A few weeks ago the street pastor announced that he needs to take a break, and that the breakfasts will be cancelled until ... well until he is ready to return.  In a few months, perhaps.

A friend and I are still going walkabout downtown on Tuesday morning, visiting with our street family members, sharing some breakfast-on-the-go goodies, that sort of thing.  And I visit some of the street family at their places or where I happen to bump into them, from time to time.

And I still have "Wednesday soup and sandwiches" at my house.  My Tuesday morning friend and some others drop in and we enjoy our time together.  Very casual, often picnic-style in the back yard, no agenda or plan.  Just trusting Father to lead the way He wants. 

But my street family friends rarely if ever come.  Perhaps because it's a long walking distance from where most of them live.  Perhaps because they feel uncomfortable coming into my house, which is no doubt a bit more middle class than they're used to.  That makes me feel kind of sad. 

They used to drop by my place when we lived downtown, and it was bigger and fancier than our little townhouse now.  On the other hand, it faced onto an alley rather than a tree--lined residential street.  It's a odd thing, I think, how we classify people and places by their environment, without bothering to really check them out.

But I digress.  I have to admit that I'm sometimes lonely.  I really miss my downtown family.  It's a long walk for me too.  I got myself a bike and a bike trailer so it would be closer.  I guess I should just get on it and go, right? 

Of course I have my excuses.  It's been hot and sunny, and the doctor says I'm to stay out of the sun, seeing as I have a history of melanoma.  My hubby works nights on-call, and I'm needed at home to answer the phone when his work calls (he sleeps right through phones ringing :-) ).  I have other things to do, like my blogs and tutoring and house keeping.  And being available to babysit my beautiful grandbabies when I'm needed.  And the street pastor worries about me, and tells me not to go on the streets by myself.  Though it's never worried me.  Still...

All my life, pretty near, Sunday was for church.  Even when I really wasn't following God, and had to go hung-over and all - though there was a period of time in my 20s when mostly I just didn't go.  But, as you'll know if you've explored this site at all, I haven't "gone to church" for several years.  On the other hand, I had my street church family and for a long time that was mostly more "real church" than I'd known in the past. 

Then about a year ago it seemed to start turning more and more into pretty much "just breakfast."  I think the pastor still did a lot of counseling and caring, and I think the family appreciated us being there and all.  But most of the prayer and discussion and all just kind of petered out.  Maybe it was partly "my fault" because I was struggling with some pretty deep depression and for a long time could only go sporadically and mostly just sit there wrapped up in my own little space.  And its taken a long time for me to move out of that space.

But now ... now I want to interact.  To share. To care.  To serve (beyond just preparing and serving food, and cutting hair, and such).  Actually, that is serving, I suppose.  But I want something more.  I want to talk about Jesus.  And talk to him together with others.  And that just doesn't seem to be happening.

I feel cut off.