Joshua’s ultimatum was given to the church; not the world

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15 NIV

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord is one of those mic drop Bible verses that has since made its way onto t-shirts and Bible covers and wall decor.

As someone with a drawer full of Bible verse t-shirts myself, I see a problem in the way we might approach this verse. If we use this verse as an us against the world battle cry (which we tend to do with a lot of Bible verses), we fail to see it’s real value. It is meant to be an urgent call to examine ourselves, not the world, and to be willing to get rid of what evils and idols we cling to ourselves. Even if that means we will need to separate from our beloved church friends, who may not, themselves, be willing to put down whatever old evils and beloved idols or prior sins they once drug in to camp too.

Lyrics to the gospel song, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus. Though none go with me, I still will follow.’ also come to mind when I read this verse.

As a clergy abuse survivor, I see how our general acceptance of idolatry and false gods and dangerous spirits, some of those harkening back to Egypt; remains a problem within the modern church. One that then opened the gate for all manner of predators to come in and get by with abusing children right inside the very walls of the church, too. The world has nothing much to do with all that. It’s the church’s refusal to parse out its own self; that caused that issue.

If we read Joshua’s covenant from God in its entirety, see Joshua 24, we see that he is talking to Israel, (which in modern correlation would be like a sermon given to the entire assembly of professing believers). He was not lecturing the nearby Amorites or the far away Egyptians, just to be overheard by the Israelites who would then find that edifying and affirming that they were ‘separate’. Not even close. He was parsing and exhorting Israel herself! He drew a line in the sand, ‘come clean NOW, or go back to Egypt where you came from!’

In a modern sense, we would say Joshua was talking TO THE CHURCH, and entirely about the problems he was seeing therein. Sins and evil that people, not willing to fully convert and wholeheartedly follow God; had brought into the fellowship willingly. He was not so much urging the church to remain separate from the fallen world, as much as he was urging the church to examine itself and then kick out all the worldly bits. Idols and beliefs and ways of living to which they were still clinging, in spite of all the ways God kept delivering them from those very things!

I am going to go ahead and make the leap here and say the following. The ultimatum, therefore, choose this day whom you will serve, was given to the church, still applies to the church today, and therefore remains all about the church’s own collusion with evil, with idolatry, with sin. Not about its inherent separation from the world. Which is actually a laughable concept, given the apostate state of things today.

What does that mean to us, today?

It means that when I know or see that another Christian in my own circle or camp, allowing or partaking something which I can clearly see harkens back to Egypt, whether that is a book written by a New Age spiritualist, or a diet plan promoted by someone who channels spirits, or more alarmingly: siding with an abuser: I try to speak up about it. Or, at the very least, if no door opens for exhortation: I just resist whatever it is, myself. And when the opportunity arises, I share that as for me I don’t do Yoga, or read books like that one, or burn sage sticks, give space for a wolf in the sanctuary, or what have you, because I am a dedicated Jesus follower and that stuff doesn’t jive with following Him.

And taking Joshua 24:15 seriously also means that when I disclosed my own abuse at the hands of a Protestant minister, I knew it would cost me my family. In time I saw that I would never quite fit in again, either, with a lot of the brothers and sisters in the modern church world.

In the absence of any visible Joshua’s, I am, myself, speaking up more and more when I notice things the church at large is tolerating and passing off as just one more thing covered by grace.

And that’s ok. Because as I wait for more of the church to decide whom to follow, on our collective way to the Promised Land, I stay quite busy purging my own tent clean of all that I once drug into it myself.

…And there was no longer any sea

At one time Revelation 21:1 disturbed me. I couldn’t reconcile that the new earth will not have an ocean to gaze at or beaches to stroll upon at sunset and sunrise. (Seems there won’t be a sunrise or sunset either in the new earth…) As you can probably tell by the photo on my blog header, I’m a big fan of the sea. Some commentaries assure me that biblical mentions of ‘the sea’ are referring to multitudes and nations and wicked/evil things in general; not the literal ocean which may actually be part of the new earth after all.

But I wasn’t convinced.

Then I came across this excellent video by critical issues commentary in which he explains how the Jews viewed the sea (beginning at six minutes in). Paraphrasing: “They saw the sea as the abyss, where the devil and demons were. They weren’t like us, building condos right next to it, they tried to stay away from it. They were afraid to die at sea as if the body couldn’t have a proper burial they felt they had no hope.” All of which also adds a much deeper layer as to why the disciples were so very scared and upset, as Jesus slept, when the storm came upon their boat at sea.

Understanding how those living in Bible times viewed the ocean (something to be avoided), compared to how we tend to view it today (something to attain to, beaches and locales to put on our bucket lists), also gave deeper meaning to one of my favorite Bible verses, James 1: 6

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind

James 1:6 NIV

Knowing that the sea represented the abyss and the place where demons and the devil dwell, to the original writers of the Bible, gives this verse a much deeper meaning as well.

At one time I saw the ocean, and it’s waves, as a very powerful thing that deeply symbolized our need to ask/pray to God in faith not doubting. Since anyone who has waded into the waves in the ocean, knows how easily you can get blown and tossed about by the current.

But if I approach this verse with the understanding of the sea as a very real representation of evil…it adds another layer to an already powerful understanding. When we pray and ask God, in faith, without doubting (in Him and His dominion over evil), then even the very forces of evil, the devil himself, cannot shake us. It will be as if we were anchored so tight to the Rock of God that no strong wave or current will ever be able to move us.

But, if we do not ask in faith, if we doubt God’s power and dominion over evil, that is when evil will easily be able to toss us about, as a wave of the sea tosses the sand beneath it.

Understanding that the sea represents evil, makes this verse entirely about God and His power in the face of the very representation of ‘the abyss’, and the subsequent trust we choose to put in that power because we know how absolute it is; not about me and my ability to stand strong or swim my way out of a riptide…

An added irony in all of this: is that many people I know are getting vaccinated, and some are even willing to overcome their vaccine hesitancy: specifically to be able to travel again.

One of the top travel destinations remains: ‘the beach’ and ‘the ocean’.

As I pondered that, I also grieved that I myself may not be returning to the ocean again, especially if it requires getting a vaccination.

But I am choosing to trust God as I make my peace with it all–that whatever plan He has for the future, when the new heaven and new earth appear, that the beauty and wonder of that new creation will be such that I will not even think to miss the beautiful oceans of this present age. That hope in what is to come steels me to remain in the faith, clinging to Him, and withholding on those earthly temptations, the checking off of ‘bucket lists’ and such, things which once so readily sucked me off balance- like waves of the sea.

I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength (even 1 Corinthians 5:11?)

First Corinthians chapter five was one segment of the Bible that I really camped out on, when I decided to disclose to others, the ‘case of incest’ that had happened against me, within my own family. A disclosure which then led me to separate myself from my abusers; as well as those who ‘sheltered’ said abusers. At the time, I couldn’t decide what the word proud was actually getting at; in 1 Corinthians 5:2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?

I concluded that if I were to share my thoughts on this chapter of scripture, I would be sure to include the two theories I had found regarding the meaning of proud. Most commentators felt that the church at Corinth was proud in a covering sense, and thereby seeking to ‘look perfect to others’ (as we often do in our pride and arrogance). And so they were eagerly covering up the sin in their midst instead of bringing it to light, openly dealing with it, and rebuking the brother who was willfully sinning in such an egregious manner, for his sake, that he could possibly be saved eternally. Doing so would likely have meant suffering a pretty public stain on their reputation. Therefore it is presumed they ‘covered it up’ in their pride, wanting to keep it quiet so they looked better to outsiders and other churches. This makes good sense, to me, and rang quite true. At least in terms of my own family members, all of them professing Christians: I became the problem for talking about the problem. In their pride they definitely wanted to just keep this sin quiet and unknown.

However, I also came across an alternative ‘take’ which rang true as well, that proud was used in a more open sense. Some believed that the church in Corinth may have actually been openly proud about how licentious they were able to be, as if that denoted they had a greater measure of faith or love. Today we would call that kind of thing grace-based and trusting fully in Jesus work on the cross to cover us, rather than our own works to save us — to the point that they were so tolerant of sexual sins that they saw that tolerance they were displaying as a reason to be proud. This take isn’t as popular as the first one. Yet I think it also has merit, especially given what is happening today with the general acceptance of, and seeming loving Christian behaviors, in the face of so many forms of sexual sins being openly practiced and embraced.

Both of those examples fit the range of what I personally encountered, after I disclosed that I was abused as a child by a member of my family, who was also a member of the clergy. Again: my own family was proud of our good name and that we had a member of the clergy within our rank. How dare I threaten that?

Others I shared this with did not seem ready or willing to confront evil in our midst and more than eager to ‘give extra grace and love’ to the perpetrator… to be open to my story, only to then just want to cover it all up again. I’m not sure if that was pride, or simple naivety about how often the New Testament urges us to confront and separate from evil. But I do know that in time I became very careful about with whom I shared my story. As, by and large, most Christians want to believe that the church is a safe place, and that ministers, by nature of being church leaders, could almost always be trusted. Except for those few evil ones already in prison… but those were/are obvious (or something?) and not our current minister…no not ours…

It is, almost always, to such Christians, the world which is the problem. Most Christians I know simply do not speak or behave or pray; as if the church is, or even might be, the problem. Even though a quick read of 1 Corinthian 5 & 6 makes it very clear that we are not to judge the world or be surprised to see evil there; but instead to actually hone in on– with ready exhortations and a willingness to kick out or separate ourselves from– our brothers and sisters within the church–rooting out all forms of sin and evil there, so that we may be spared eternally. That is love. That is grace. That is truth. I have not heard of this happening in a helpful way. Instead, I’ve heard horror stories of abuse victims being rooted out of churches.

Others I told my story to heard me and seemed to believe me, but they also expressed little to no outrage at the evil occurring in our midst, or concern that this person might perpetrate on others; and instead were urging me to forgive it. All were welcome there. So long as those sinned against were willing to forgive anything.

I was not urged to share openly, in order that others in the church may be spared from abuse, or in order that my perpetrator might descend further into evil and therein might actually be saved himself. Nor did I sense that I would get any support from any church body at large, were I to have tried to do that in a more public way than I ended up doing. And so it was, in encountering those reactions, that I came to believe that being proud about how tolerant we Christians can be, in the midst of sexual sins committed by professing brothers, is also a very real phenomena–at least it is so today (whether or not that was also what was going on in Corinth at the time of Paul’s letters, I simply cannot say).

And so, it is with this mindset of seeing that I was more right then, than I may be now, as I go back and re-visit my early recovery: that I have been re-reading the New Testament letters. Because I am not sure I have pleased God or really displayed love, to my own abusers, in letting down some boundaries I had once kept very firm, as I first healed. As I read the New Testament, I am astounded how often evil is pointed out within the branches of the church itself, and how often we modern Christians just point blank leave those verses out in the things we repeat, pray about, encourage one another with, and put on our beloved wall plaques and t shirts and bumper stickers, too. Everyone has seen 1 Philippians 4:13 blazened across clothing and social media sites. But is anyone putting Philippians 3:2 on their wall?

Wherein Paul tells us to watch out for dogs, for evil doers within the church?

And what about 1 Corinthians 5:11? But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolateror or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

If I can truly ‘do all things’ through Christ who gives me strength, then why do I have such a hard time separating myself from willful sinners in my life, who readily call themselves Christians? Why am I not content with the incredibly small, yet salty and willing to separate from evil, fellowship that I already have… (I should note that the meaning, in context, of 1 Philippians 4:13 has more to do with finances and being content with either little OR much in terms of material possessions)

I think the culprit there is pride. Which leads to idolatry. Wherein we want to be part of God’s church just as we think it ought to be (and that kind of thing is an idol); we don’t actually want God; or the church He is actually forming on earth. I am guilty of this idolatry myself. I too want to be part of something much bigger, more impressive, more powerful– than this tiny remnant of but one or two who keep seeking other Christians for strengthening– only to be disappointed time and again with how willing so many are to collude with the kind of sins and sinners we are warned, over and over again, to come out and be separate from.

Separating from the world is easy enough, and we can find lots of support for that kind of thing within Christian circles. Separating out from the professing Christians who are idolaters? Greedy? Drunkards? Slanderers? Swindlers? Who partake of, or else openly tolerate, sexual immorality (and abuse)?

If I put 1 Corinthians 5:11 on my wall, and followed it as diligently as I follow all the other Bible verses…would I have anyone left with whom to have Christian fellowship?

Come, Lord Jesus

“Her Clothing is Fine Linen & Purple”…(Do Abuse Victims Prefer Black?)

I try and keep my forays into social media ‘fun’ and ‘light’. Especially since what I read and write here on WordPress, is usually on the heavier side of things.

One of the Christian accounts I follow on social media is an image consultant. She ‘remakes people’s closets’ for them, first finding all the ‘keepers’ from their existing clothing, not merely adding new pieces. This is great fun for me to watch. Though sometimes it convicts me, and makes me think deeper, too. For instance, some time ago this professional image consultant shared that very few women actually look good in black.

Shocking, right? Since ‘does it come in black’ is pretty much the most frequent question all women ask when shopping for clothes. Plus, everyone knows black takes off ‘pounds’ too, right? Having turned my own closet, over recent years, into a kaleidoscope of muted colors with loads of grey and black, I was a bit concerned about this claim…however, not being one to just take another’s word for anything: I searched the internet to see if this ‘no one looks good in black’ thing was really true.

Turns out, it is a well-known fact that most women look far worse in black; not better. Black washes out most skin tones, wrinkles and blemishes become more pronounced, one’s personality will come across as severe, aloof, and lacking joy. The perfect little black dress revenge theory works simply because the woman is often trying to look haughty, unapproachable, cold, and powerful.

I think of the tendency for people who follow religious sects to wear a lot of black or muted clothing (The Amish, The Hutterites, Nuns, Monks, the standard black shirt and pants outfit of a Catholic priest when he goes out and about during the week), and it all fits. Black is also a way to show we are in mourning or fasting or making some kind of strong statement:

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black
Why you never see bright colors on my back
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Living in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the time

I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me

Well, we’re doing mighty fine, I do suppose
In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there ought to be a man in black

I wear it for the sick and lonely old
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men

And I wear it for the thousands who have died
Believing that the Lord was on their side
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died
Believing that we all were on their side

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black

Johnny Cash, Lyrics to ‘Man in Black’

Holy Week is one time I can find myself missing parts of the Protestant tradition, in which I was raised. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services were such moving events. We had communion together on Thursday evening of Holy Week, and then at the end of the service, with dusk darkening the stained glass windows, women of the church would go forward, somberly removing the elements, taking down all the colorful banners, and wordlessly covering the gold cross on the altar and the lecterns in shrouds of black fabric. Ushers turned off the lights in the church, one by one, and when the de-coloring/darkening process was finished the congregants led themselves out one by one, in silence.

To leave a darkened church in mourning and grief and somber reflection of sins, and come back again early on Easter Sunday with great joy and anticipation, seeing the sanctuary completely washed in bright color and sunlight: purples, golds, greens, and lots of whites, the sun rising brightly again through the stained glass windows–with the scent of Easter lilies and the drift of strong coffee and iced cinnamon rolls from the basement–was enlivening to the senses. The yearly tradition: of first shrouding in black, followed by a burst of colors, was enriching to my childhood faith, in part because I could see Jesus’ death and resurrection unfold through rich representations of color.

All of which made Jesus’ death, suffering, and resurrection even more real to me. The black was as needed a reminder in that regeneration process as the bright colors of Easter Morning.

I was never a big fan of the color black growing up, or in my younger years. I had friends who just loved black sports cars and black leather jackets. I wanted mine in red! Or yellow or pink…I simply preferred fun colors. Considering what I went through, mid-life, in finally walking through the cloud of childhood abuse and it’s long recovery (made longer since it came without any real support from my birth family), I can see why I willingly turned my own closet into a Maundy Thursday church service. Wherein I was drawn to black, grey, and muted shades; as I grieved and lived with the full damage and effects of buried pain.

In adulthood, it was a slow but steady de-coloring process as reality unfolded. Many childhood friends moved to ‘the city’ and I stayed put in Middle America, seemingly stuck here. I remember feeling a very real clash ‘of color’ at times. Before my visit to a big city on the West Coast, my hosting friend warned, ‘Just wear muted clothes. Locals always spot the tourists from the Midwest because they show up in such bright, colorful clothes.’

My closet, at the time, was full of bright colors! I didn’t want to look like I didn’t belong somewhere, like a clueless midwesterner, and I dutifully shopped for muted accessories, packing all the taupe, brown, and muted pink tones I had at the time.

But now?

Now I laugh at myself for ever trying to fit in; in a city. Why would I want to look like a city dweller? Black denotes suffering, in the Bible. Indeed, it is suffering, for me, to be in a city now. I no longer enjoy even short visits there, where I can feel the oppressive ‘sameness’ literally making me depressed and feel like I’ve landed in a dystopian nightmare.

I have little hope or joy, when I am in the city. In part because I see the endless grey and black everywhere and it affects my mood. And not surprisingly, the most popular cloth face mask…in the city…seems to be black.

I want to avoid the city these days; all the while I subsequently turn my hidden closet in the country into Easter Sunday.

I want to be the giant kid at heart that the joy of Jesus can restore again. Or, as Proverbs 31: 22 says: the woman who clothes myself in fine linen and purple. And so I mean no disrespect here to Johnny Cash, but Jesus already won; so I think that means we CAN wear colors. I mean, I ‘get it’, why some wear black, and likely always will. I went through a black phase too, and so I plan to keep the black bits in my closet, even as I add more color to it. But I fear that to ‘stay there’, muted and washed out and suffering, past the point of the needed time spent in abuse recovery, would be to fall for the devil’s lies. Because it is the One, and the ones, robed in white/riding white horses who is/are victorious.

In Middle America a lot of people have big, joy-filled, colorful personalities and often wear clothing to match their unique character; too. The vast green fields which surround me, denote blooming where one is planted, growth and fruitfulness in Jesus, as well as peacefulness and tranquility

For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:8 KJV

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:2-3 KJV

The unobstructed blue of our prairie sky represents the nearness of God Himself as well as the heavenly realm. While the bright yellow sun, brings joy and also testifies to the purity and refinement of solid gold, of God Himself.

And so begins my personal renewal process of turning my closet back into the Easter morning church services I so loved as a kid. With being happy with the place, the family, and the life which God has given me; instead of viewing it as some punishment with which I am stuck.

As noted already: I will keep the grey and black, of course. Because resurrection and new life is far more meaningful and powerful when one has first gone through, and still remembers now and then, the death and grieving process, the suffering and weeping which lasted for a night, before the joy came in the morning.

Thankfully it is not about me at all here, or my closet… It is Jesus who turns our mourning into the bright colors of Resurrection Morning!

Footnote: The biblical color references used in this post were taken from the following post about color in the Bible, at the Reasons For Hope Jesus website.

Leprosy, Baptism, and Being Healed as We Go

A local church is planning to do baptisms this Easter Sunday. Seems a good time for it. The weeks and days prior to Passover, and Holy Week itself, are a sobering time for self-reflection, confession of sin, and repentance, culminating in great hope and renewal as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Historians theorize that it was the Jewish religious tradition of deep cleaning, wiping every cupboard and cranny of potential leaven (leaven or yeast represents sin), prior to passover/feast of unleavened bread, that led to the widely adapted practice of ‘spring cleaning.’

A thorough house cleaning sums up baptism too: making our faith public by undergoing a literal, though symbolic, purifying/cleansing act of bathing. ‘Dying’ to sin, as we go under that water, thereby renouncing and putting to death the old man: the world, the flesh and the devil, and then coming up from that temporary burial a new person: cleansed and trusting Jesus entirely for new life, for eternal life and the ultimate bodily resurrection to come.

I hear Bill Randles mention this detail frequently in sermons: Jesus had water gush from His side when He died on the cross; and there is always water involved in a birth process too. Water is a very important element in a baptism, and in our new life in Jesus.

I have been reflecting back on my own desire to be baptized by immersion, which, as I may have already shared here on this blog, was the crux point which began the total unraveling of my former life. The former life wherein I wrote nice sounding Christian-ese things and covered up any bits of ugly.

Then I entered, haltingly and messily, and not always very Christ-like, into a new life wherein I could no longer cover up truth, hide abuse, and still retain any peace in my heart. I found that post-baptism I needed, instead, to call the truth to light, in order to keep my internal peace. And I didn’t like doing that as it caused issues with others, and I liked to ‘keep the peace’; even at the cost of personal peace. But doing so was also costing me my own right standing with God. I had to change that.

To paraphrase something I think Anne Lamott wrote (not a recommendation or an endorsement of her, as I find her too new age for my tastes): if people wanted me to write nice things about them, then they ought to have behaved better…I didn’t fully understand such statements prior to being baptized. I once thought it WAS Christian to cover up other people’s sins. Not to reveal them. If you don’t have something nice to say: don’t say anything at all. Which I cannot find in the Bible even though it sounded Christian to me. Actually, I made it sound Christian in my head since that helped me justify why I was so willing to avoid conflict; and willing to live in a state of learned helplessness, where I just let ongoing pain happen to me and no longer attempted to move out of its way.

Being baptized is what ultimately empowered me to own up to the truth of my own past abuse, to feel and grieve the true cost of victimhood to myself and others: my spouse, my children, my in laws, many friends I’d burned–there was a lot of damage done, and not just to me, but through me and by me too. Sexual abuse of a child is never a single bullet sniper attack on the victim. It’s more like a mass shooting with many casualties and injuries of varying degrees.

I had to also acknowledge the personal sin pattern my childhood had set me on (and for that part: I was fully responsible). In time I was no longer afraid to openly admit my status as a clergy abuse survivor, and therein I think I finally could walk as a restored child of God, accepting that while it wasn’t my fault that what had happened to me had happened…it was, nonetheless, my own responsibility to break bad habits and to try and make right the collateral damage I had caused on my own, too.

Or rather, I should say, to let God right it for me as I continued to just confess and repent of my own indwelling sin–of which I knew I had no excuse. I was beginning to see that even if I had a valid excuse, making an excuse instead of promptly confessing my real state of sinfulness, would just keep me from walking in the light of Jesus, myself.

Baptism, quite literally, changed everything for me. Seemingly for the worse, at first, and then ultimately: likely being the very thing to keep me in God’s protection and power, through an ensuing fiery trial.

I was sprinkled as a baby, per the Protestant tradition I was born into. For a long while I felt that baby baptism sufficed, and also protected me somehow or other, and I didn’t question it. Until I came to fully believe that a baby baptism didn’t mean anything. I even suspected that my sprinkling as an infant may actually have been damaging to me, keeping me from something better, in some way I couldn’t fully understand at the time. That part was fuzzy for years. Eventually I saw how damaging it had been to have no real choice in such an intimate and life changing event, like deciding to follow Jesus for my own self, as our free will choice toward baptism testifies.

However, one part of it all was very clear. Prior to my baptism, I yearned, with all my being, to be dunked in water in the way the Bible exemplifies.

I was besotted with such a strong desire for it, that it was hard to wait for warm enough weather or a proper setting in order to do just that. Once those details were worked out, God put a particular Bible story in my heart that I am still reflecting on years later.

That Bible story involved a sick man dipping into some muddy water, just as the water I felt called to for my own immersion was pretty muddy. There were certainly cleaner lakes than the one to which I was so drawn…but that muddy water part certainly matched the story I was pondering in the Bible, which was a story of a physical healing taking place in a muddy river, and therein the even greater miracle: the finding of real faith in the true God. And so I came to believe that my own adult baptism would eventually lead to some kind of a physical healing for me, as well as become a representation of my own death to sin and new life in Jesus. (I should note that I was rapidly descending into chronic illness and pain, at the time of my baptism and therefore I was also seeking God’s healing.)

It was the Old Testament account of Naaman being healed of leprosy that was so strongly on my heart during those weeks preceding my baptism. Naaman was a Syrian army commander who came down with leprosy. A slave girl in his household told Naaman’s wife that if only her master were in Israel, (where the slave girl had come from), there was a prophet of God there who could heal him. (Takeaway: an unnamed slave girl’s boldness in giving glory to God, is what led someone to God. Be bold. Share your faith!!).

Naaman heard that she’d said this, went to see the King of Israel, and ultimately ended up at the house of Elisha, the prophet. Where he was met at the door and was promptly instructed, by a mere messenger “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” Naaman was offended, felt there were far cleaner rivers in his own homeland that he could go wash himself in, and almost didn’t even listen. (take away: do NOT question the direct instructions of God; rather, obey them, and when we obey, then is when we will receive healing).

Naaman consented and was instantly healed, and his conversion to God, which seemed to coincide with his healing, was solid and real. Like yeast/leaven, leprosy also represented sin, (as well as the ritual uncleanness that comes from our descent into sin/evil), in the Bible. Getting rid of his leprosy denoted something had also been cleansed in him in a spiritual sense, as well. As is evidenced by Naaman’s immediate understanding that it would be very wrong to ever again offer sacrifices to other gods. He then asks for permission to still be able to help his aging king, whom he served, kneel in the temple before the god Rimmon. To do so Naaman would end up kneeling in reverence, himself.

But, after his life altering dips in the Jordan, and thereby seeing the God of Israel AS God, Naaman now knew that to kneel in a false gods temple would be idolatrous and adulterous behavior. And since he was himself but a servant of an earthly king, he wanted to make sure it was ok to have an allowance there. Clearly, after his conversion/healing: his heart belonged to Elisha’s God, no longer to the false gods of his home country.

Elisha responded by telling him to go in peace, and I’m assuming that meant he was given an allowance to help his master kneel in the temple without compromising his own newfound faith to the one true God.

Where it all gets interesting, to me, is Naaman’s request to load up two mules– with dirt from Israel. He wanted to take some of God’s holy ground back home with him!

In my own baptism one detail I remember is how muddy the lake bottom was when I entered it, squishing between my toes and sinking nearly to my ankles. Whereas, when I exited the water again after being dipped under: the ground had seemed almost unnaturally hard and smooth under my feet, as if it had somehow turned to stone instead.

While water signifies birth and new life in Jesus, perhaps dirt, and/or standing on the holy ground of God, is what represents healing? I think of how Jesus mixed dirt with spit and healed the blind man. Or of how Jesus didn’t even touch, but merely sent the ten lepers, who’d come near Him seeking healing, away again on a walk–to go show themselves to the priest. Those lepers were healed on their way (see Luke 17). I’m not sure if it was them seeking Jesus, or their obedience to Jesus instructions, which healed them. Likely both.

Another leper was healed by Jesus touch (Matthew 8), and then was told to tell no one but go and show himself to the priest and offer the gift Moses had commanded; as a testimony to them. I’m also not sure why we are given that detail. Why would a priest of God need to be shown a testimony about God?

Perhaps for a similar reason as to why the minister who abused me also needs to see the testimony of my own changed life, and my new found ability to walk in truth and confront him for his actions against me, and thereby truly show myself as I really am, once badly damaged by sin and evil, held silent by shame, but healed again too and no longer bound by shame. My life is now able to be as a testimony to others; of the power of God. What other chance might some have, themselves, to repent and follow God– if they are not also called to account for their own hidden sins when they see the testimony that is someone’s formerly incurable and unclean condition, like leprosy (or the sexual abuse of a child?) just up and leaving them by Jesus’s power?

Another rich detail of Naaman’s story is how Elisha’s duplicitous servant, Gehazi, went out and collected payment from Naaman. Elisha had refused Naaman’s offers of a gift. And so Elisha confronted Gehazi, “Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow. (2 Kings 5: 26- 27)

When I ponder that part of the story: I can see how many of my own physical and spiritual ailments are now lifted, just like Naaman’s leprosy. And how those who attempted to profit in any way, from my own healing process, brought injury to themselves. On a spiritual level, I am far less likely to cover my real self up in shame, like a lepor, outcast from the camp. While those on the peripheral of my story, went into hiding; as if they are leprous.

Others come close sometimes, but seem to just want in on the good stuff of God, the money and clothes, olive groves and flocks…and slaves to do their bidding… yet they shirk from the whole counsel of God, fail to grasp the full gospel (grace AND truth), and do not stand firm when it comes to the ongoing problem of workers of God profiting from other people’s sickness and miraculous healings. It’s no wonder why so many of us who profess Jesus are not well, or remain bound to shame, failing to walk in real life changing power.

Only one leper, of the ten who were healed ‘as they went’ (on their way to show themselves to the priest), returned to Jesus giving thanks to Him and praising Him for the healing. Perhaps that one desired another experience of standing on the Holy Ground that emanated from Jesus’ presence here on earth? Similar as to how Naaman wanted to take two mules full of dirt with him?

If so, then Jesus question to the one thankful leper is even more profound: where are the other nine lepers who were also healed? Perhaps they did not realize, as the Samaritan Leper had, that Jesus, not the priests, or the temple, is the Holy Ground which had healed them. And so perhaps the two mule fulls of dirt that Naaman took home represented Jesus Himself and the desire of a new convert to return to Him again and again for another healing and life changing experience of standing on Holy Ground.

If we are willing to be cleansed by the water of God, and we are also willing to sink our bare toes down into that holy ground of God, to not shy from the mud and the mess which is the ongoing sanctification process — then surely there is great blessing to be had in these acts of obedience. Because it sure seems that ‘dirt’ which Jesus makes holy, can change one’s life too, just as can the clean water of baptism: the healing water which flows from Jesus, poured out for our behalf.

Whether or not my take on ‘holy ground’ and why Naaman loaded up two mules with dirt and only one leper returned to thank Jesus is proper biblical exegesis or not…

Showing ourselves as we really are, to others, as a testimony to God, is a very good thing. As is giving all praise for a changed and/or a healed life right back to Jesus, and refusing to accept earthly rewards, nor to put up with others willing to accept that kind of thing, when God heals another in our midst. These seem to be solid takeaways, both as we ponder our own baptism, and as we also reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

By Faith; And in Holy Fear

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

This verse really struck me yesterday and I am returning to it today.

By Faith

In Holy Fear

Things not yet seen.

By his faith he condemned the world.

There is a LOT to chew on in Hebrews 11:7.

In a time when we are told fear is akin to sin for a Christian, and popular preachers like Rick Warren imply and sometimes outright say that Christians shouldn’t study end times and ‘things not yet seen’ (although it seems many of these unseen things are now becoming pretty clear to me)–the Bible tells us that it was through faith in things NOT YET SEEN, and in holy fear, that Noah built the ark to save his family.

In a time when we are told not to be judgmental or condemning, that the future is full of promise: the Bible tells us that Noah, by his faith in things not yet seen, condemned the whole world.

Even more to chew on when one considers Jesus’ words: As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:37

What would Noah do today?

Would he line up for a vaccine?

Or would he stay hidden and busy working, trusting God to save him, in some landlocked place–where the whole world thought it foolish to build a giant boat?

What if everything already happened?

I had a conversation with a friend years ago. She said she had this quiet feeling deep inside that a lot of the end of the world ‘stuff’ had already happened and everyone (in Christian circles, mainly) was missing it and that either made God laugh or annoyed Him.

Based on other things she says, and does, and her general state of being fallen away (from Jesus) now: I don’t give her words as much credit as I once did. I gave them a great deal of credit at the time she told me that. Back then most everyone in my life was a regular ‘church attender’. She was not. However, I recognized there was something in her which actually seemed more concerned with following God than others I knew (although when pressed: she didn’t seem to know how she felt about Jesus.).

I was waking up to the fact that church attenders may not actually ponder the deep things of God, or think all that much about how to really follow Him, aside from that requisite hour or two a week.

This remains for the most part: true — where I live. See, I live in a rural place and I still work in an industry that actually saw a jump in busyness since everything ‘went down’ this past March. Which is one reason why I haven’t been blogging much after I ‘picked’ it back up again this spring!

For two: most of the spare minutes I have are spent looking, anew, at eschatology, (biblical End Times).

I have long been intrigued by preterist view points. But find that I have too many spirit checks to get fully on board with the idea that everyTHING already is past. I consider myself a ‘moderate’ preterist, though.

I also think living as if Jesus’ return is imminent is important, and I don’t get a strong sense of that from the usual preterist theology.

I also think that before I can throw out the pre-tribulation rapture I need to understand and remember something Dave Hunt said (as I updated; in my last post): ‘if the bride isn’t eager for the wedding better call the whole thing off’.

That one gave me major pause. By and large there is not that eagerness in a theology which says it’s ‘all done’…the ‘come Lord Jesus’ sort of falls flat!

My pondering is this: Is it possible to retain that eagerness, without jumping fully into the notion that the rapture occurs before the tribulation? Can we retain the eagerness for a return with a pre-wrath rapture?

What if there is another option, entirely? What if much of the ‘stuff’ has already happened (to quote my aforementioned friend)??

And so I am looking at amillennialism with a great deal of interest now.

I am not saying that the desert fathers were on point with very much at all. Nor am I a fan of the Roman Catholic Church. Quite the opposite. It would be putting it very mildly to say that I remain highly skeptical of both. But in my recent research I stumbled upon the following quotation from the desert fathers. And it really spoke to my spirit.

I find myself wondering if we are now living in the times of ‘satan being unchained’ (Revelation 20). But that is also speculation on my part! Which makes eschatology so difficult. So much of it descends rapidly into presumption.

It is easy for me to see evil unchained given the struggles I have had (health wise and other) for much of my life. It might also explain the explosion in clergy sexual abuse, also happening shortly before my lifetime began and of which I am a survivor myself.

Certainly that is a sign of escalated evil.

And then, of course, there seems to be a massive and mounting deception of the nations. To quote an RN I chatted with recently, “I don’t trust what anyone has to say about this virus, and frankly just don’t believe anyone on either side of it anymore.”

Indeed.

 

 

Why I dislike blind faith, and how understanding more about Bible prophecy helps me heal from abuse.

My husband and I watched this prophecy update video by JD Farag and I was blown away by the depth and simple truths he expounded upon in God’s word. After it was over I told my husband that this is why I dislike being told I need to ‘trust God with blind faith’ and ‘believe just because God is God’.

Furthermore, if I had to make a choice between ‘just me and my Bible’ versus ‘me and a room full of seemingly loving Christian’s without the Word’– I’ll keep my Bible. Thanks.

To me it is clear that God gave us prophecy so that we could reason our way into a belief in His existence. Rather than relying on the things we were told by parents (who in my case are not to be trusted) or ministers (some well meaning; others not so much) to ‘just trust’ ‘because God is God’ and ‘He Said So’ (which is far too similar to the kind of tactic the abusive people in my life used to keep me quiet, ignorant and compliant).

Before I expound further — I should explain some things. My Christian upbringing was in an outwardly Christian, but inwardly crumbling, home. The verse about ‘whitewashed tombs’ fits my family dynamic well. The protestant church we attended weekly, (which taught me a basic gospel message for which I remain grateful!), was very liberal. They did not touch on the fact that ‘the end was near’ or that ‘Jesus was returning soon’. They stressed blind faith just because ‘God was God’, over biblical inerrancy and the real proof of God’s existence found in the prophecy portions of scripture. Prophecy was only mentioned in the context of Christmas and Easter — and then it was merely part of the weekly readings, not exactly highlights of the sermons.

The minister in my family, who sexually assaulted me as a child and then harassed me into adulthood, called the church people who got excited about whatever was currently happening in the Middle East: ‘fundies’ ‘bible beaters’ ‘religious nut jobs’.

Oh, he’d be polite to their face, but stabbed their character when they weren’t in earshot. He acted as if he was above that kind of thing — more educated and therefore not prone to ‘conspiracy theories’ about ‘when the seals were gonna open in revelation’.

According to him, and many other ministers that influenced me in my early years: people have been in a tizzy about Jesus’ returning for years- -and he hasn’t yet. So why bother preparing yourself, just live your life and trust God and you will be fine no matter what. Or something like that. All of which never gave me any peace of mind whatsoever. I like facts. Proofs. Things written down that I can dig into and eventually logic out for myself.

Years later when I read the following in Matthew 24: 48-51

But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The Master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I knew why the minister in my family dismissing the idea of Jesus’ imminent return had felt so unsettling to me. Because only a wicked servant would talk like that! To believe in Jesus’ imminent return has always been one of the hallmarks of a Christian convert.

Thankfully it was hard to take the family minister very seriously when he started talking scripturally because usually he was too busy being an abject pervert or a mean spirited gossip to ‘talk shop’ around the table with his family. On those rare occasions when he did, as already stated above– I was left feeling even more uneasy around him than prior. And that’s saying something as I was rarely not on edge around him.

But just as we are promised in Romans 8, what the enemy meant for evil, God redeems for good. One of the main reasons why I came to study, and love, prophecy, is because of the minister in my family’s poor example.

I have written before about how reading the Bible for myself is what helped me own my own abuse, particularly Jesus’ warnings about ministers who are actually wolves dressed up as sheep (those verses continue to give me affirmation that abusive ministers are to be expected — and therefore the shameful things which it seems I ‘participated’ in were not my fault, or my doing, at all). Studying scripture on my own also helped me to see that my family had been spiritually abusive to me — and that their outwardly pious but behind-closed-doors-abusive natures is not what God intended His church to be like at all.

But regular readers are likely bored as I’ve shared all that prior.

I haven’t yet touched on my love for prophecy. And that love grew the more I delved into it and started to (somewhat) understand it — and it is complicated; has taken me years to even begin to wrap my head around it. But I believe it is worth it. I also believe that this modern obsession within the church — where we insist it is somehow ‘more noble’ to ‘blindly trust’ God, than it is to reason and logic and crawl our way through the scriptures looking for solid proofs– is only causing further damage to those of us (me included) who are victims of clergy abuse and spiritual abuse.

It’s time we dug into what it is that makes God so very trustworthy and solid — so UNLIKE an abusive, shape shifting, smoke and mirrors, self-serving and disordered personality who wants you to obey just ‘because he is god of this house, or leader of this church’ and because he ‘said so’.

Through many different authors, over thousands of years, God took care to tell us exactly what was and is going to happen, so that when it happened, (or happens)–we would NOT have to blindly trust Him with doubts in our guts as if he is just some carnival hawker with plush toys, greasy hands, and a rigged game. We can trust Him with our eyes wide open and seeing clearly that He is good, because He keeps His word — every jot and tittle of it, despite how many wicked sorts would twist it and turn it and use it to suit their aims.

The rest of the world? Nope–it is not good, it is in fact-evil. (also part of the prophecies and warnings found in the Word) but Him, yes, He…is good. Prophecy proves His goodness!

 

When You are Little, You Notice the Little Things.

girl lying on road in front of cart
Photo by Collin Guernsey on Pexels.com

I have a little blog with little traffic. Some times, I can tell when someone has liked a post but hasn’t actually read it; or made a decision to follow me based on actual content. (Since they clearly didn’t read any.)

I know, I know, some existing subscribers like to read posts directly in their emails and when they do that; it won’t generate any traffic…

But when the blogger who just liked several posts, without seeming to have read them, is not a follower and is also the owner of a ‘marketing’ blog… or happens to have just posted about a (fee-based) guest blogger opportunity…I call it click bait. And I presume that little blogs with few likes and few followers are more likely to become targeted by the big blogs who naturally think us little blogs can’t wait to grow up and be big blogs; just like them! And so we will be indebted to their ‘like’ or their ‘follow’ and thereby like and follow them right back, increasing their own following and likes…or maybe we might even buy what they are selling.

This actually doesn’t happen all that much anymore, although a few recent likes did give me some pause…but back when I was very little, my earliest ‘fans’ all had very large blog followings of their own, and most of them dropped off liking my posts after it was clear I had become a regular follower of theirs. Coincidence? Or am I just jaded?

Well, jade is a favorite color; so there’s that. Sometimes I wish that WordPress was a tiny bit more like twitter wherein you could clearly see the follower/following ratios. That would make it all far more interesting. All of which has me pondering what exactly Jesus meant by His comment that in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven we must change and become as little children. Are we jaded; and need to return to being trusting children? Do we need to regain our innocence? What is truly meant by this comment  that Jesus made anyway?

Little children are still sinful- innocent as we might like to make them out to be- they aren’t. Little children are not exactly trusting by nature either–babies reach a certain age and are often scared to go into the arms of strangers. But, little children are aware of the little things, far more so than grown ups. They are more honest too. They know that darkness is inherently creepy and light is much better. Little children take in the little things in ways that grown ups tend to brush off or rationalize. They haven’t learned to posture themselves and be fake. They are real. They like what they like and ignore what they do not.

And so it is the little things, when you are little… Like comments! That is where it is at; for me. Show me you actually read my stuff with a thoughtful comment, and then I will be intrigued about you, will inevitably read YOURS and probably will comment back. Though I completely understand why someone would be content with a blog with a little OR large following; without feeling the need to comment back or follow back or ‘like’ back. I’m good with it ALL, really. Except, well, being click bait. It’s fake, for one. Plus, it’s kind of voyeuristic when you think about it. To view a mere title on a new post and then click like or follow simply in order to use something you know nothing about for your own purposes…

YUK.

When I was a child, I definitely noticed the little things. It frequently terrified me, being so hyper-aware. Sometimes that hyper awareness saved me from further abuse, other times I was made to feel even smaller and was abused because of having those natural intuitions and fears. Regardless, the way some men would stare at me when I was wearing a swimsuit was never lost on me. I noticed the way adults in my family talked or laughed like a villain from a movie I shouldn’t have been allowed to watch. And I still shudder at how certain grown ups, and one dentist, carefully gauged my mom’s reactions while winking at me right in front of her.

I decided who was trustworthy, and who was not, by the little things. I didn’t figure out how to guard my time and talents from those who would drain it, though, until I was older. Other than that, though: Not much has changed.

I hope to stay little in as many ways as I can; including blogging.

 

 

 

 

The Golden Rule Can’t Be About Me.

smiling woman holding black smartphone
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

I have an agnostic, leaning-toward-atheist, friend who believes all you need to do in life is to follow ‘The Golden Rule’. Always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. She asserts that if you do that, you will get back out of life what you put into it. Furthermore, she’s been known to say that if everyone simply followed The Golden Rule, the world would not be the world as we know it (I think she meant ‘bad’ in general. But, IMHO: the world as we know it is increasingly narcissistic– we have become ‘lovers of self’, just as was prophesied by Paul to Timothy).

I agreed with her but added some thoughts of my own too. Since I believe all people are capable of evil, by nature–we need help keeping The Golden Rule. Such help comes in the form of Jesus, specifically His Word (Jesus IS the word!).

By the way, friend, God’s word/AKA Jesus is what gave us The Golden Rule…

And, not surprisingly, she didn’t believe The Golden Rule originated in the Bible. Citing chapter and verse did nothing. I’m not one to argue, I’d rather let the seed do what seeds do (die, or, lie dormant and sprout when least expected– six years later, in a crack that developed on hard cement). My Golden Rule friend is actually basing her life on two Biblical principles, without realizing it. The Golden Rule is one, and the idea that we get back what we give out is number two, i.e. we reap what we sow. (I didn’t even ‘go there’ on that point–seeing how the Golden Rule Bible verse played out!)

Anyway, I believe the key to understanding Mathew 7:12 (the famous ‘golden rule’ precept) lies in Matthew 7:11.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:11 that though we are evil, we still know how to give good things to those we love. How much more, then, does God the Father, (in Whom NO evil resides), KNOW how to give good gifts?

Sadly, I know the sin nature of people, myself included. We are capable of committing evil under the right (wrong?) circumstances. And I’ve also experienced what the devil is capable of as well–so there’s no doubt in my mind that the dark dude would LOVE it–say, for instance, if the recent earthquake in California had resulted in total annihilation instead of the fairly serious damage that was caused (sadly). The fact that this world is still, for the most part, orderly, and that many people enjoy long lives relatively free of major devastations, is one of those ‘good gifts of a righteous God.’ His hand still has sway over this world and is undoubtedly keeping order, IMHO. When that restraint is lifted, I believe it will get very ugly indeed–I just hope I’m not here to witness that!

But back to The Golden Rule. It struck me recently that we, in our selfish nature, have twisted even that genius summation of all the law and prophets. Time and again as I’ve been attempting to heal from PTSD, I have received advice and responses from professionals, friends, and family that have come from a place of ‘their experience’ instead of truly trying to understand, and respect, mine.

All too often, when we are faced with another person’s pain, we respond exactly as we presume we would want to be responded to (with all of our personal quirks, belief systems, dislikes and affinities) instead of listening and then selflessly responding as that person would like us to respond (or outright needs us to respond in truth, whether they want the truth or not).

I think we err in this way because treating others as we would want to be treated seems so noble and good. So… without reproach. So… Golden Rule-y! But if we overlook our own ability to be fallen and sinful (and self-focused), we could cause others more damage than help.

  • You are feeling sick and so I’ll just give you space, because I just want to be left alone when I’m not feeling well. (Perhaps the hurting person wants and/or needs someone to bring breakfast in bed–and then lunch and dinner too!)
  • I don’t like it when people talk bad about my family so I am not going to say anything bad to you about yours. (Perhaps the person recovering from abuse desperately wants to hear someone say her parents/siblings/uncles/grandparents are given over to evil!)
  • I don’t like physical affection so I will listen to you cry about this but I am NOT going to hug you. (Perhaps thats person wants a hug, or someone holding their hand).
  • Prayer makes everything better for me so I am going to stop on this sidewalk and pray right here, right now, over you. (Does the person even want to be prayed over right now, let alone in public?)
  • My minister said forgiveness heals and so you just need to forgive it. (even though David spent chapters of the psalms calling down curses on his enemies in order to purge and deal with his emotions!)

I could go on, and on, but perhaps others can add their own thoughts and examples of ways we respond to hurting people based on our experiences; not theirs.

I suggest we get better about asking.

  • What can I do for you?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • A prayer?
  • Some space?          

Honor the responses to those questions. Get to know someone who is hurting and treat them as they want to be treated. And please stop telling abuse survivors they just ‘need to forgive’. Most of the time they need to get good and angry before forgiveness can happen.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful precept! Yet it can go really sideways when we start seeing everyone else exactly as we view ourselves. Which leads me back to where I started: humans are becoming increasingly narcissistic. And it’s the ultimate narcissistic foible to forget that we are still…self-focused humans ourselves.

All of which makes me want to close with a word the early church used often:

Maranatha!