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?

Expectancy

Waiting.

Watching.

Pregnancy.

This is the month most of Christianity celebrates the advent of Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem so long ago.

I went through a phase where I questioned all of that. It’s trendy to call what I did: deconstruction. As in: I ‘deconstructed my faith’. However, I am not a fan of buzzwords. They become overused and cliche pretty quickly and all of a sudden I’m annoying people with highbrow language. So I’ll use a deep analogy to annoy readers instead, LOL.

Starting in my late twenties and peaking in my early thirties, I dug down as deep as I could into the soil of my own life and I examined every root which I could get my hands on. This led to the shedding of a lot of things and the solidifying of other things. Thereby I made the religion I was ‘born into’, into my own chosen religion instead. I walked away from Protestantism and became a biblical Christian.

Ever dug up tree roots? It’s messy work. It’s hard work. It’s often alarming work too, as you find buried things which you never expected to find.

Which is how I came to give up Christmas for a few years, too. Well, not entirely. I found it was impossible for me to totally get rid of Christmas. But it was scaled way back. Most presumed I was joining the ‘Christmas has gotten too commercialized’ movement or something. My dilemma was far more of a spiritual dilemma than merely questioning the seeming ‘need’ to go shopping and decorating. When certain politicians and conservatives were insisting everyone say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of happy holidays: I wasn’t sure that Christ belonged in Christmas.

I couldn’t find Christmas in the Bible. I’m not talking about the account in Luke which we refer to as the Christmas story. I’m talking about how scholars are unsure which day and month of the year Jesus’ day of birth occurred. As well as the lack of a biblical command to celebrate His day of birth. I read compelling theological arguments for a fall birth, during the feast of tabernacles. As well as sound reasoning for why a December birth was possible too–as there were shepherds staying out in the fields watching the temple’s sacrificial sheep at night, year round, not just in the warmer months. Others believe that the immaculate conception likely occurred in late December and so celebrating Christmas on December 25th was appropriate either way.

Meanwhile what has become known as Easter–I could find that in the recorded account, in the passover feast and in Jesus’ command that His followers continue to keep it and commemorate His death. In Hebrew and early Christian life the day of death was known to be better than one’s day of birth: Ecclesiastes 7:1, Philippians 1:21.

But the Christian Easter is calculated by the moon cycles, and doesn’t always correlate with the Jewish passover. Therein I saw another problem.

With those I shared the deeper reasons with, I still felt misunderstood. Some judged my giving up on Christmas and questioning of Easter as if I was giving up on Jesus. Others thought I wanted to become a part of their religion (Hebrew Roots movements, Jehovah’s Witnesses). When I felt I was doing the opposite — actually searching for the real Him amidst the existing religious offerings of the world and Christendom.

Now that I have a lot of energy back again, I take part in Christmas without much dilemma, just an awareness that it isn’t all as ‘necessary’ or even as edifying as I thought it was earlier in my life.

It’s fun for me to decorate and keep a nice and welcoming home, to entertain people at our table on a cultural and/or Church holiday (yes, I am aware that is difficult to do in a pandemic.) And I like to be reminded of Jesus through music and the focus on Him that occurs this time of year. I feel that the message of the cross isn’t as fickle as to be threatened by whether or not I put some winter greenery on my mantle. I do, however, think it can be dangerous to wrap Jesus up as a baby, and keep Him there…

Regardless, I’m not really sure why all that stuff once bothered me as much as it did. Except that I needed to dig up the roots of my life and make that big mess I made in order to be set free from many, many things that had me trapped.

Plus, at the time I scaled Christmas back, I was exhausted and starting to get sick and truly questioning if a Christian should even celebrate what has become known as Christmas. When one is too exhausted to fully partake, plus one’s own conscience isn’t clear on a matter — it is best to avoid it (Romans 14).

This December already feels so different than any I’ve lived through prior. I’m back in touch now with the child hood work ethic I once knee-jerk saw as part of ‘being worldly’ or as putting one’s work above God. And I’m pondering all the verses and songs about Jesus ‘coming to earth at His birth’ and seeing their dual fulfillment in Jesus’ second coming. That second coming feels nearer now than it ever has prior. Which motivates me to continue working hard right up ‘to the end’.

In sharing my thoughts with others. (Seeing this season as a time to prepare myself for His second coming), I’m getting a return of the familiar ‘I think I am being horribly misunderstood in my approach to Christmas.’

To clarify: I’m not checking out of my life and waiting on a high hill for Jesus to appear in the air, as the angels appeared to tell the shepherds the good news at His first coming. It’s more like this: I feel this urgency to find a neglected hill in my life; to get busy tending some sheep on, or else I might miss the great appearing in the sky entirely…

I’ll return to that in a minute.

Let’s just say that I feel like there is pregnancy in the air. And something else stirring me which reminds me of the nesting phase prior to a baby’s arrival. A need to stay busier with my hands so that my mind can be more solidly focused on God. It works that way; for me. If I want to lose focus on God, I just need to lie around for a few days and then I’ll be scattered and not able to think clearly.

It also struck me last month, when reading the Book of John, how the fishermen, who were busy fishing when Jesus approached them, instantly recognized Him as Messiah. The learned men who were well studied and presumedly ‘watching’ for signs of Messiah – for the most part, missed seeing Jesus as Messiah. I wonder if that was because they weren’t actually, well, working at something, at the time of Jesus’ arrival on the ministry scene.

What does fishing look like? It means I show up at the office and keep things in order there. When at home: vacuum and mop the floors, do the laundry, keep in touch with loved ones, read the books and blogs I find edifying, work on writing projects (which may never actually get published), clean the closets, study the Bible, memorize verses, go for walks to clear my head and keep my body in shape, even when its cold outside, and always be ready for a knock at the door or a phone call from someone who wants to visit– and– generally: Keep all things under my charge in good order…or in other words: I just need to keep working, literally. Or as Jesus commanded: Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning (Luke 12:35).

I feel that I need to prepare not only for imminent return but for a lengthy time of Him tarrying in which I may face persecution OR continued prosperity and protection. Or some kind of a situation where brothers or sisters in Christ will ask for extended shelter in my home, or even the garage where our pets stay…a season where I am awkward and lumbering along myself, overdue and growing worn out, and must stay active regardless, all the while patiently enduring life here on earth– navigating the good stuff which tempts me to fall away from God and the bad which tempts me to despair too– whether the arrival I wait for comes quickly; or a long time from now.

Either way, I sense its long past time to get to work and/or to stay content in that work. I sense that will be the best possible way to actually prepare for my life to be completely up-ended by Jesus’ sudden arrival. Which will be as surprising as the onset of labor pains–even after nine months of knowing it is coming–it’s always surprising when it actually happens.

Yet I do think a surprise arrival will be less damaging and more likely to go well, if we realize the pregnant state of things, and that a pregnancy means there is a lot of work and preparation and study and reconnecting which needs to be done before we are ready to receive a child.

Get right with Jesus, pray and repent and praise Him daily. Examine our roots and take our born-into faith and either toss it, or, if its sound: truly make it our own born-again lifestyle.

Then continue cleaning that closet out, keep on fishing, or hammering, or watching after the sheep. Just as the fishermen were doing when Jesus appeared to them and told them to drop their nets and follow Him. And thirty years prior to that: just as the shepherds were doing when they were told the good news of a baby born to save the world and they left their work to go see Him.

The pattern that I deduce from scripture is that work and busyness isn’t necessarily the problem at all. Certainly not to the level which the pop-psychologists of the world, and even the church, often proclaim it to be.

The precedent seems to be that people whose hearts were right with God were actually found being busy; working and then they readily left their work to follow Jesus.

Perhaps those who missed Jesus the first time around, will be just as those who miss His second coming: not busy enough. I pray He finds me, and all my loved ones, fishing when He comes again. And that we all drop our nets and go with Him eagerly.

Do Christians need a wake up call from other Christians?

Jesus said, ‘For wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.’ (Luke 12:34 NLT).

I’ll return to that concept.

But first: I liked a lot of what this article had to say. However, based on the ‘no politically-bent comments will be posted’ disclaimer at the beginning, I excitedly presumed I was going to be reading something soundly spiritual. A wake up call for the church to come out of the worldly realm of politics, not a call to choose the less corrupt side of Joe Biden (in the author’s opinion). That is what I didn’t like about it. Oh, I am wary and alarmed of all the ‘Christian Trumpers’, too. As I’ve written before, I simply realize I don’t have to pick a monkey in the world’s circus.

The article gave me pause in another way as well. I began pondering the idea of Christians giving other Christians ‘a wake up call’. This caused a lot of self-examination on my part. As, of course Christians need to give one another a wake up call is usually my thinking. Recently I’ve been questioning my thinking though.

I’ll return to all that as well. First, I’d like to address the political bent in that linked ‘wake up call to the church’ article. Wouldn’t BOTH Biden and Trump; who represent the ultimate manifestation of ’empire’– be like Satan tempting Jesus with a shortcut to all that He eventually had coming anyway?

Empire being in direct contrast to the throne of the lamb (Jesus). Therefore, following the Lamb OUT of Worldly Empire is the ultimate wake-up call which God gave in Revelation (and much of the Bible, the way I see it). By the way: I learned the ‘Empire versus following the Lamb’ concept from the book ‘Reading Revelation Responsibly’ by Matthew J. Gorman. (This is NOT an endorsement of that book. I took some things from it, but found other things troubling–like his quoting of Eugene Peterson.)

Had the title of the linked article been something like, “Why I am voting for Biden; as a Christian” I likely wouldn’t have read it. Not because I am for Trump, either, as stated above and elsewhere on my blog. But because the Lord called me out of my former political involvements, as I’ve also stated several times here. That is why I don’t spend much time reading why Christians vote the way they do. I find it distracting and fear it also might prove tempting. 

The wake-up call went off, for me, after the stock market crash in 2008 and the resulting behaviors of the politicians of the ‘Christian Right’ in bailing out the banks. That event, along with the Lord putting several Christian ‘end timers’ into my path, sparked me to study eschatology. As well as to actively work to get out of debt, and to try and change some other things I’d accepted as ‘normal’.

I couldn’t in good conscience vote for any option for President since waking up and then seeing the unfolding of more (and more) wake up alarms in the world, America, and in American politics too. The hour seems too late for me to risk further involvement in politics and I shudder at how involved with the worldly empire I still remain. Or, as the above linked article called it, accepting ‘Satan’s shortcut’.

Thanks to what began unfolding for me in 2008, I better realize the dangers of colluding with worldly empire. Particularly in order to try and gain what I will eventually have coming anyway (if I can restrain myself from involvement in these sort of ‘bull fights’ and stay content at the Throne of Jesus).

The way I see it (and I could be wrong, these are just my opinions): God has already given wake up calls to the church. The calls were/are often being ignored…I ignored plenty of wake up calls myself in the past! I get it. My heart’s desire was not entirely sold out for God. I pray it is more sold out now than prior. I was a living reflection of Jesus’ words about ‘wherever your treasure is, there will also be the desires of your heart.’

For most of my life I preferred to stay in bed with the world, hitting the snooze button; lulled by the words my adulterous lover was whispering to me which made me not even notice the annoying sound of alarms going off every few minutes.

And now, over a decade later since my big wake up call moment in 2008– our world is even closer to global ‘oneness and unity’ through one world religion and government. The NAR (New apostolic reformation–Paula White, etc. — Trump’s inner circle religious posse) and the RCC (Biden’s religious posse) are like two sides of the same coin, seeming to be different and somehow antagonistic from one another. Yet ultimately I fear everyone will end up in the same spiritual condition by following either side: little gods who bow down to one another, trying to be as God and re-build a unifying worldwide ‘tower of babel’, which is like thumbing one’s nose at the real God. 

Thesis + antithesis = synthesis. Things can often seem so different between the thesis and the antithesis, that it’s tempting to think there isn’t actually going to be some ultimate synthesis waiting in the wings by going along with one of the two choices we seem to be given. There’s Satan’s shortcut temptations again.

Which is why choosing either side seems dangerous, adulterous, and even idolatrous, to me.

I see Jesus as the third, usually unseen and un-marketed, option. I hope to cling to Him, to ‘otherness’ and not be sucked into oneness (otherness versus one-ness is a concept I heard from Carl Teichrib, a researcher and author of the incredible book: Game of Gods. I am working my way through it, and so I can’t endorse it YET, but let’s just say I am in awe of the research he has compiled and his insights into what is happening in the world and in religion).

I think historically that is what it meant to BE a Christian: to choose Jesus as the unseen and un-marketed third option whenever the world put forth a thesis and antithesis option.

But again: I may be wrong. That’s the beauty of the gift of free will. We all get to use our own free will in these matters. And we also get to choose whether or not to push the snooze button and keep sleeping, when God sounds those wake up alarms. It can be risky to try and wake up sleepers–it may also not even be part of God’s plan for us to go around ‘sounding alarms’ either, when the human heart ‘wants what it wants’ to quote a popular song lyric. But we don’t need popular songs when we have the Bible. It has already said all which can be said anyway. Like this verse:

Song of Songs 8:4 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

This verse, the article I linked above, as well as Jesus’ words about my treasure dictating the desires of my own heart: has me re-examining my own desires, including my eagerness to ‘warn others’ and ‘sound alarms’ and all that. What is really behind all that anyway?

Hopefully I can turn my own desires back to Him whenever I find myself tempted toward adultery and idolatry with the world. Thereby my example might also urge others to return to Jesus as first and only love.

Perhaps it’s best to leave the actual wake up calls, the sounding of alarms and all that-to God. And not insist that people who still desire to push snooze ‘get up already‘.

Would you want to have a friend, let alone a lover, who doesn’t even desire your company enough to get out of bed when you call for him to come and meet you?

Then what makes us think God wants us going around trying to wake up adulterous lovers for Him?

Maybe its best to let the sleepers sleep. And let those of us who are awake– return to, and try to keep, our own desires for God.

The Evolution of a Necklace

This soliloquy is something I wrote over a decade ago and which rings more and more true every year that passes–it is about the undoing of what I knew of faith; in order to find real faith. It seems especially prescient now– as I watch what in many ways was a scary summer for all of us– turn into a fall that holds just as many unknowns. The urge to know as much as I can and help as much as I can is tempered by old lessons from those furious cycles of my past wherein I tried to figure it all out and came up short. Every. Single. Time.

It still seems a bit crazy, selfish, and callous– to be at rest, and even to dare to laugh when the whole world seems to be burning down around us. But then I look back and I remember it’s been this way for a while. And that God already showed me what to do once before in times like this. And when He gave me those revelations– I usually put them down on paper–or into a file in my computer– for later use — if nothing else just to be able to minister again to my own self. Knowing how to be your own minister, especially when you were abused for forty years by a minister–is one of the greatest gifts–and I am thankful God gave it to me.

The Evolution of a Necklace

In bed with Montezuma’s flu,

late in the morning,

when I turned thirty-two—

twisting my head on the pillows

I thought I saw

a tiny container of woven straw.

 

Under the round Caribbean lid,

a bit of turquoise tissue hid—

Dominican blue

Larimar stone

set into a simple silver cross.

 

Its clean lines,

a contrast from the frilly amber

set in golden lacy designs,

had stood out in the lighted glass display

the evening we roamed the street

pretending not to be looking

for my birthday treat.

 

That hazy morning I found it,

head spinning—

tongue tasting bile—

The joy of discovering the hidden gift

made a trip turned miserable—worthwhile.

 

At home it matched every outfit,

from casual and messy to dressy—

the bright color of sky lit up my eyes.

Forget the jewelry in the box,

I thought that necklace the best looking

piece ever formed into a cross.

 

But everything changed as thirty-three

was revealed to me.

 

Many things were found.

 

Others went missing…

 

Perhaps it had stuck itself into a sweater,

fell through a pocket,

or slipped into the washer for a whirl.

I scoured the floor, and every drawer…

It was stolen, I halfway decided,

since so very many had admired it.

 

Days passed, and a few sleepless nights—

I saw that I had been wrong,

and done wrong, while doing the very things

I’d thought were good; and right.

 

I’d always known that the Savior had died for me—

and I had worn His symbol with pride—

rejoiced in what it did to my eyes—

held it up to the light—

like some sort of prize.

 

That cross was a gift given

in a different season.

And was lost, when it was,

for a good reason.

 

In time the sting of its loss went away.

I no longer needed

to put Him into a symbol.

He dwelt in my heart, where He belonged.

 

…sincerity, prosperity, generosity, and charity—

Theology, idolatry, prophecy, and eschatology…

I tried to find a balance in all the Y’s.

Back and forth I went,

As more and more things

to which I used to cling

just up and left my head—

or got kicked out of my heart.

 

Sometime after thirty-four,

I knew there had to be more

than living in the extreme,

seeing ‘Pagan’ in everything,

having to walk so slow,

when you’d rather skip and run…

 

On my knees yielding a wet rag like a sword,

head stuck deep, in the bathroom cupboard

cleaning crannies I hadn’t touched in eons—

I found it inside a bag full of tampons—

an irony which caused a smile,

and a burst of laughter too.

The joy of re-discovering the hidden gift

made a trip suddenly turned miserable—worthwhile.

 

Holding it gingerly in my grasp,

I opened the clasp with dirty scuffed fingers,

stood from creaking knees,

and watched in the mirror

as the cross settled down

above my heart.

 

Returning the bag

to its place on the shelf

I thought to myself—

He’d simply been waiting

for me to see that He doesn’t bless

in ways understood by the world.

Even if made of expensive stone—

a symbol has no worth.

Just as nothing we do, or own, or give,

realize, theorize, or give permission to plagiarize

…means all that much after all.

 

Yet, with Him involved; it can.

 

That second time around,

after finding the gift unexpectedly

under the sink—

I didn’t even pause to think.

 

I slipped it on without hesitation,

fully aware of my humble station—

a past partaker in the debate

over graven images; works done in vain;

and many other truths that can set us free—

or steal our joy.

 

The evolution of the necklace

wasn’t about finding

some deep hidden meaning,

discerning all the rights

from all the wrongs…

it was about laughter, and peace,

Him letting me know He’s

taking great care of me,

and smiling upstairs,

wanting me to smile too

while my heart is repaired.

 

When He put that pretty stone ’round my neck again,

the journey, quite frankly, became much more fun.

Adopted at Birth

We quasi-adopted a young man years ago. It’s complicated. He isn’t really ours, but I do love him as a son. He never lived full time with us.  Though that wasn’t because we didn’t want him under our roof. That was always my desire. However, it wasn’t possible to break what family ties he did have; and wouldn’t have been right to do that either. Instead, he traveled with us and ate a lot of meals with us and worked with us and spent a lot of time with us, including some sleepovers.

But he isn’t truly ours. And now that he is an adult, this becomes evident on days like Mother’s Day when he calls on the same day as the birth children phone me (or are visiting face to face with me).

My sons and I have our own language. We also have zero subterfuge and can quickly get right to the heart matters. The good stuff. The things I like to talk about and hear about.

Bonus son still hesitates to go there. My birth sons were this same way as teenagers. I spent a lot of time being present and available and talking about small matters until they were ready to open up and share something deeper or more meaningful. But after their rebellion phase passed, they did enter adulthood much more willing to have the kind of relationship I always longed to have with them.

It struck me that this is how we are with Jesus. When we are adopted into the family of God it is important to live there, eat meals there, to be born again and start our formative years over at God’s table, as a fully adopted birth child who doesn’t want to return back to the home in which he was formerly raised.

Only then can we grow up to know the same language He speaks. And get right to the heart of the matter without any subterfuge. This is His desire. To know us as if we were birth children from the start. To repair the rift after our years of rebellion have passed.

I want to encourage anyone reading this to go ahead and cut the ties with your family of origin, or with your old former life of sin, and move in with Father God as a fully adopted infant about to grow to maturity– live full time in His house; learn His language and the way He speaks, and let Him see to your development in every way.

If you look around and see brothers and sisters in that same house–you are truly blessed. But don’t let them distract you from getting to know the Father as fully as He desires we know Him.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

 

 

The Accepted Idolatry of Spouse & Family

Much has been said already in the blogs and youtube videos I follow- about how God has allowed for ‘the removal of our idols’. Sports, entertainment, leisure, restaurants, nonessential shopping…few mention church fellowship ties, or family ties, and how they can also become an idol before God.

If you’ve read my recent posts, you will see my insistence that we can still have church in our own homes ‘wherever one or two are gathered.’

Now I feel led to add an addendum to what I’ve already shared:

As humans we are very good at making other people into idols in our lives. With social distancing, it seems even that insidious idol has been revealed (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear). In many cases it has even been physically removed or threatened, as well.

We see horrible stories of infected people dying alone without family or spouse by their side. And I keep seeing news reports and stories of how spouses are willingly living separately and keeping their distance from one another to prevent spread of sickness. Particularly if they work in healthcare or had been traveling. Famous examples are in the news too. It was reported that Prince Charles stayed away from his wife during his illness. Oprah Winfrey insisted her long time partner stay in her guest house for fourteen days after he returned from travel.

This is, indeed, a very strange time. But I think there is meaning in what is coming through our news channels as well. I think these rich details, much like the rich details in scripture, are being put into the world for a deeper reason — for those who are willing to ponder it and pray about it.

In my own life the Lord has revealed my idolatry toward my spouse, toward my children and even toward those family members who once abused me in unconscionable ways. That last one took me a long while to see; as I was already keeping my distance! But idols grow in our hearts and physical distance is not always enough to knock them down. I also came to believe that one of the horrible effects of such acts of evil is to leave behind a type of bondage to the victim; which must be brought before God in order to be broken. And therefore I’m not convinced that we love and adore all our idols; sometimes we are fixated on an idol in ways we can’t even comprehend and need help untangling from. In this way we allow it to control us long after it’s initial evil attempt to control us!

It is our attitudes and beliefs which need to change, a turning BACK to God in full repentance and wholeheartedness of faith and love for Him, and trust that He will free us from whatever has us bound if we ask and seek that from Him–in this way I feel idols can easily be destroyed before God; through His power to save and sanctify us.

It was still a painful discovery, though, every time He showed me an idol I had made from another person. And inevitably, once I knocked it down, I healed a great deal. Other times my troubled relationship with that person I had made into an idol (particularly my spouse and children) then grew and improved. Because I was no longer trying to control their every move–as we tend to do with idols. Think of the super fan in the stadium or before the television. It is as if he can will his favorite team to a victory through his screams and clenched jaw and strong desire to control their performance.

Do we do similar controlling measures with our spouse, children, family members, church family?

I have certainly been guilty of that in the past!

1 John 5: 21 Dear children, keep yourself from idols.

Luke 9:59-60 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Luke 11:27-28 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

1 Corinthians 7:32-34 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world–how he can please his wife–and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world–how she can please her husband.

Luke 14:26  If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Right now the world is telling us we must be prepared to separate from a sick family member and die alone; in order to stop the spread of a sickness and, in essence, be able to live (to die another day).

God’s word has always been clear that real disciples are willing to lose everything, including parents, children, spouse, in order to gain Him.

Is eternity in His presence enough of a reason to separate our hearts from our idols; even  the idols we make of other people– which can seem so blessed and holy and not like idols at all?

Or will we choose to cling to our life here on earth– for who knows how long?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh church, where have you gone?

silver imac near white ceramic kettle
Photo by MockupEditor.com on Pexels.com

You may have noticed my tag line by now – clergy abuse survivor. I hesitated to identify myself as such. It can be limiting. Plus it might open me up for presumptions and false judgements.

But by readily admitting something key (and ugly) that molded me and my faith — those of similar belief as I hold might give me more credit; not less.

Being a clergy abuse survivor means that I saw directly into the nest of at least one of the (evil) birds Jesus said would roost in that yeast-inflated mustard tree. I realize I just mixed parables there–but yeast represents sin, and I personally believe that Jesus’ mustard tree parable was more along the lines of the church growing through unnatural inflation; than it was a sign of robustness and good health.

I think that’s why I am a little disturbed by this new way of ‘doing church’ — where we sit in front of a screen and tune in to a sermon or a pared down Sunday service and think that we’ve just had church together. And I’ve actually felt this same disturbed feeling in my heart before– it’s actually brewing for at least a decade. Back when it first started, I sensed we were ill prepared for what lie ahead. And now I see just how right I was to feel that way.

About five years ago, a minister friend and I were chatting. He was sharing some of the burden he felt for the congregants under his care. I recall saying to him, some of what I had felt stirring my heart, which went something like this:

“If something causes the church to go underground, into hiding, is your congregation ready and prepared, do they know how to have church themselves in their own homes–alone or with one or two or three? Because the way I see it, the task of every minister should be teaching every person and family and home they serve how to survive and keep being and doing church when there is no longer a church building to go to. And I do feel that someday churches will be hit with something, and our only option might be our own homes.”

My friend went silent at that curveball which he hadn’t seen coming. Then he slowly nodded. I was not sure if he fully got my sense of urgency; so I continued explaining how at our house, we had been doing just that. We’d been practicing ourselves, confessing sins, praising in songs, doing our own communions, praying more, skipping church services so that we could figure out what it meant to be the church in our own home. That way, if and when the time came; we knew how to do it on our own if needed.

I’ve been out of touch with my minister friend since this virus hit, and last I heard he had moved to a new, small congregation from the one he was serving back when I shared an urgency I had felt so strongly on my heart. So I have no idea if he began implementing some changes to prepare others for a time like this. Or if he fell back into the same old routine; where the minister holds court at the front and most everyone else participates simply by showing up.

Unfortunately: I had lost touch with my own strong feeling, and had slipped back into the easy participation of sitting and listening, being polite and withholding, instead of fully participating, diving full in, to a church gathering of two or more. So when our small fellowship stopped meeting recently, my husband and I tuned in to an online sermon and church service the next Sunday morning.

And we sat in silence and listened. Speaking to one another a little bit, later, about what we’d heard.

But that isn’t church.

There is no intentional coming together of the living body, in watching a screen.

The following week everything inside of me seemed to go awry. I was irritable and unkind. Finally, the dam broke and I found myself crying out, though I tried not to yell,  — we are doing this all wrong; we need to have church ourselves! A time where we sputter and wing it and bake some bread to break just for us and cry out in prayers–and it’s awkward and messy and beautiful just the same. Because this thing we did last Sunday where we sit passive and listen is no different than watching Netflix or the news. That is NOT church. And my spirit needs church more than ever right now…

Not to say there isn’t value in listening to online sermons. There is. I am ever thankful for the internet connecting us to one another and the ready information we can still seek and share (it may not always be the case). And if someone is truly alone with no ‘two or more’ to gather with, then online fellowship has to suffice in this hour. But a screen in place of a person isn’t church. If we don’t physically gather, we are in danger of hardening our hearts. For it is all too easy to become passive watchers; rather than active partakers in worship and study. If by and large most of us tune in to a screen, and tune out the urgings of our own hearts for real contact, what does that say about the church in this hour?

Zoom and Skype may bring us closer to that real connecting point; much more like face to face. Which is important. Even the apostle Paul knew the value of meeting face to face thousands of years ago.

If we have two or more people in a home — we can still do church and we can still be church. Gather together. Open the Bible and study and expound, the Holy Spirit will be the teacher. Enter into the initial discomfort of singing worship without a worship leader’s guidance, and saying humble unplanned prayers together. For Jesus has promised us He is there wherever two (or more) are gathered. Believe it. Don’t forget it.

The reason I forgot all that once burned in my heart about how to ‘be the church in my own home’ is quite simple. It was some mixture of laziness and complacency and a yearning for an easy sense of comfort rather than temporary discomforts which bring a more lasting satisfaction.

Laziness, complacency, and seeking momentary comforts are a dangerous combination in this hour.

So this week the two of us muddled through our own thing. Coming together quite simply.

My week, so far, has gone about the same as last; lots of curveballs and weirdness and a few health scares too. There is no magic fairy dust exemption of reality; merely from gathering as a church. But my heart is much more settled now that I know we still have a true gathering church after all; and it meets with Jesus at my own table.

 

PTSD Triggers, Trauma, and Travel: “It Never Goes Away” (& how I am managing that fact.)

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(Trigger warnings throughout this post and I apologize for the length — sometimes writing for ‘me’ gets wordy–and I appreciate any readers who will actually plow through this one).

Juanita Broaddrick has shared about being a rape survivor and when I first owned my own story, I stumbled upon hers and was engrossed in it. (‘allegedly’ Bill Clinton* raped her in 1978– he denied it but I believe her, not him). Anyway,  she wrote that it (the rape) ‘never goes away’. It clicked with me, being both at once depressing and also legitimizing for what I was going through myself. 1978 is a LONG time ago. But in reading hers, and other stories, I began to see that owning your story is so very difficult because once you do — it will never go away again (delusion/denial/dissociation allows it to ‘sort-of’ be gone).

*yet another reason why I am not political anymore — in the last presidential election both sides had way too many ties to rape and/or sexual assault claims.

Traveling triggers my PTSD. Traveling also relieves my triggers and has been one of my favorite ways to deal with things like family drama during holidays, certain seasonal events with bad memories attached to them (for which I prefer being out of town), and my health (which benefits from milder climates). Many of the blogs I follow have shared similar thoughts about travel; so perhaps traveling is a common tool amongst trauma survivors and/or the chronically ill.

First off — as many other blogs have already shared — I am aware that not everyone is on a chronic illness spectrum that allows it, and/or has the kind of extra finances on a regular basis — to include frequent travel in their own box of coping tools. I am trying to be sensitive to that, while also being real and honest in sharing my own story.

There is no doubt that our healthcare system and what we actually know about health in general is in real crisis. More and more it is only the wealthy and/or the very smart/highly educated who are able to navigate through their health issues with any real success. I believe sharing our N=1 stories, with the paradox/gift that is the internet, is one tool God is giving us to fight back against some of this oppression. And that motivates me. Another motivator is more selfish. I find great help for ME by writing out my thoughts until they make better sense. And so here goes:

Travel is great; and travel is terrible. There’s nothing like a reset in a different location far from home to clear my mind and my body. But, there’s nothing quite as horrible as being triggered far from home.  You’d much rather be in your safe chair in the living room with the shades closed. Your own bed. Your favorite blanket…equally awful is booking a room that looked great online and turned out to be so run down the stained shower stall triggered events that happened in the squalor filled, imposed poverty, bathrooms of my youth.

ALSO not pleasant.

I hate that I am so ‘high maintenance’. That is NOT me at all. I am a big fan of simple and I believe less is often more. I’d rather simply spend more time with my husband than have him valiantly work long hours to pay for frequent escapes and vacations that meet all of my (many) ‘needs’. But I hate, even more, being reminded of my trapped childhood inside a house without locking doors and window coverings (there was frequent voyeurism) and an environment so utterly devoid of care that it was squalor from the time I could remember to the time I finally said NO to enduring holiday dinners in a filthy kitchen that smelled of cat urine combined with rotting tuna and cabbage. And so we usually travel like we eat: as basic as possible but very well, and constantly considering all my ‘avoids’. And I thank God for blessing us enough to keep doing it.

To have a triggering episode (physical or mental) while away from home can be THE WORST thing ever. And so I end up having less actual vacation time than I feel my body and brain could benefit from because I inevitably blow the entire budget on non-triggering accommodations and foods, alone. My main travel rule is nothing less than ‘3 star’. And my husband can tell you where the cleanest gas station and restroom stops are in cities which are hours away from ours. I’m thankful he remembers these things as I don’t always remember it — even though bad restroom stops are huge triggers for me.

Complex PTSD, for me anyway, is this strange combo of amnesia and photographic memory.

Our last winter vacation included a lot of open air, high balconies. These were very triggering for reasons I couldn’t immediately identify. I worked through it. I eventually saw some root issues I hadn’t seen before–like a lot of trust issues with myself, with strangers and also with people I know (I kept having obsessive thoughts that someone was going to hurtle me off a rooftop–or that I would hurl myself off accidentally or something too). I am still working on my fear of heights and have accepted that me jumping out of an airplane to try and overcome it just isn’t happening. EVER. I do have better insight into what is causing it all, though. But my body, which had been doing fairly well prior, physically tanked on that trip and then really tanked after returning home.

The trip I took this summer, after radically changing my diet, was noticeably different. It involved a lot of driving, stretches of poverty-stricken areas, and a lot of switching of hotel rooms. At one roadside restroom stop (after dark) the only bathroom was located away from the service station in a dimly lit corner of a parking lot. I hesitated but I really had to pee!

When I entered the dirty bathroom a woman, my age but aged far more than me, was just leaving and she was sobbing openly. “Why would someone do this to me? I really need my medicine!?” Someone had just stolen something or other from her handbag. I offered to help her, I asked her what kind of medicine it was (thinking I could maybe give her some of my own stash of Advil and minerals, etc. and then quickly realized it was not a simple over the counter ‘medicine’ she’d had stolen…) but just as my eyes were opening wide and making that connection, she blurted, “oh don’t even worry about it” and with two hurried steps, into some bushes beside the unlit restrooms, she was in utter darkness and I had no idea where she even went. I used the restroom anyway, in anger, squatting over the disgusting toilet and clutching my own purse in my lap and thinking to myself that if some drugged up cad was going to try and accost me, he was in for one hell-of-a-fight before he was gonna take my purse or my dignity.

The old me had returned. The scrappy, brave, don’t push me, tough girl who grew up with scraped knees and a mean left hook. Those haven’t been my thoughts in well over a decade now. I wouldn’t have even considered that bathroom a year ago, and would have insisted my husband accompany me if I had no other choice. Because I’ve been crippled on a very physical and physiological level — by fear and body pain — nearly to the point of defeat.

In the area we recently traveled, most three star properties, which I knew were my limit, were the equivalents of two star and less in other locations. Everywhere I went, memories were surfacing. Weird ‘feels’ were constant. Hairs standing up on the back of my neck every hour or so. I was definitely flaring PTSD-wise. But, strangely, my neck was NOT tight, my muscles were not in knots and I slept fairly well considering. Plus, summer itself is triggering for me as the worst of the abuse episodes happened from extended family members who would take me on trips (to isolate me) or to their homes for extended stays, usually in the summer when I wasn’t in school.  So it is hard to say what exactly the triggers are sometimes — because the way the wind blows through the leaves in the summer can be enough to trigger me.

Yet this last summertime vacation was so triggering based on the locations we traveled through. The change in landscape from where I live, and being brought back to childhood by the sight of a certain kind of plant, a lack of trees, restroom breaks with toilets that didn’t flush (or sobbing women who’d just been mugged), and/or a distinct color of rocks and soil, was jolting.

Yet, I did notice that I wasn’t as jolted as I had been for so long now, either. And I slugged heavy bags, and coolers of food and water, in and out of vehicles and hotel rooms for days, without any upper back pain. I didn’t have dizzy spells or nausea. I slept ok and when I didn’t get enough sleep I could still function the next day. My neck wasn’t killing me the entire time. I only took two Advil, total, in over three thousand miles of travel. The hardest part of the trip was finding decent food as much of what we could find in gas stations and roadside restaurants was on my avoid list. So I just ate a lot of steaks. Crappy ones at that.

And I know that I know, now, that a lot of the physical manifestations of PTSD came from physical toxicity and that can be healed through diet changes. I KNOW this based upon my traveling experiences alone and the differences between last winter’s vacation and this summer’s road trip. Wherein on one I was eating my old diet and the other — a diet which eliminated known toxins.

But, if my experience is indicative of a larger pattern: I don’t think my PTSD went away. It just isn’t as hard as prior. Which is a gain, but it is still hard.

I do not think the actual PTSD triggers will ever go away– no matter how carefully I watch my diet. Evil is still evil and it is everywhere and in some spots of the world it is definitely more concentrated than others. I am coming to believe that my PTSD is the devil’s toll for living in a world over which he rules. Certain parts where his dark influence is greater than others are those very parts wherein I will be more triggered.

I am accepting that. As a Christian my hope for eternity is in Jesus. In this world, my hope is also in Jesus, who brings light to the dark. Pretty sure that He is telling me my daily bread is going to have to be carefully managed and that that’s going to lift off the heavy yoke that I feel has been over my back and my shoulders for life — since suddenly I can sling a heavy suitcase and not have any neck tension whatsoever. And since I was prepared to fight myself with a potential restroom stalker rather than run and hide under my husband’s cover.

But I’m still gonna insist on staying in three star and above hotels, and I don’t think I’m ever going to drive through certain parts of America ever again, either.

 

 

The Golden Rule Can’t Be About Me.

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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!