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Author’s Warning: the following diatribe may step on your toes, anger you, disgust you, challenge you, or cause you to judge me, lose respect for me, make you give off a sigh of relief…or you may merely shrug your shoulders and say ‘big deal, get original.”
Here is my starting point: we do not find God in church.
Before anyone starts sifting through stones to see which ones is best for casting, pause and permit me a moment to expound on what I see as the truth that we do not find God in church.
For you see, I believe, it is the other way around. We ‘find’ God (a misnomer) and out of that flows a living community incarnation called church. For no “model” of church will produce God or God’s life in us. It is in fact our life in God – our shared life in and through Jesus – that becomes the building blocks of the expression called ‘church.’
Because we have gotten it backwards (thinking we find God in church) has led us to become dependent, or codependent, upon church – both the building and the denominations – as well as church leaders for ‘creating’ God’s life in us. We have done this so much so that we become passive in our own spiritual growth. When we rely upon others to “impart” God’s life to us, we become spiritually lazy; veritable spiritual coach potatoes.
We not only end up waiting for others to show us how to grow spiritually but we even begin expecting others to do the work for us (as if spiritual growth can be imparted magically with no effort or desire on our part). And to top it off, we then end up complaining about the lack of “fruit” or growth and as a result of our spiritual passivity we then tend to give up on the most important relationship we will ever have in our lives – the one we have with God.
It is vital that we become active in our spiritual journeys; we must hunger for Jesus and desire to experience what it means to live deeply in God and to follow and imitate Jesus (the word “Christian” means “little Messiah”). And the great work that we do is the mere desire; for grace comes and draws us closer to the One Who is closer than our own skin.
I can tell you about my experience of God, but I cannot impart my experience of God into you; you have to have your own experience of God. Others can offer guidance, but the truth be told, there should be 8 billion spiritual experiences happening, namely each and every person in the world must have their own personal (and therefore unique) experience with God.
In our modern age, it seems everything has become too easy, too fast to obtain that we have surrendered the daily, lifelong journey of a life with God. We have settled. We have settled when we allow our relationship with God to become an historical event instead of what it has always been meant to be – what Jesus showed us it could be – a dynamic, living, breathing, loving, bare bones to the wall, intimacy with God!
And this relationship is about God sorting things out within us. God transforms us and by God’s grace and doing (not ours), we learn to live contentedly in God’s love and Providence instead of in the realm of worry, hurry, and religious structures. But to have this life, to be this type of people, we must each and every one of us be friends with God. Reading spiritual giants, reading about spiritual giants is all good, but at the end of the day, I am held accountable for my own spiritual growth.
I must actually have a relationship with Jesus rather than merely talking about having one.
Paradoxically, I cannot do this alone, but I do this within myself. Community of some sort nurtures our connections to God, but we must in some form of solitude come face to face with God Who is the Ground of All Being (see Paul Tillich). And rest assured, God longs to have this dynamic intimacy with each of us. God pines for you and me more than we desire God.
So hold on to this Truth: God starts it; God sustains it; God waters it; God nurtures it; and God completes it. Our role is to “show up” and surrender to this Living God of love.
Here come some toes stomping: forget the rules, the rigidity, the exclusiveness, the holy rollers club techniques, the loopholes that allow the church to reject me because I’m a democrat, a republican, an anarchist, gay, black, white, yellow, red, brown, poor, rich, a dope fiend or a drunk, all tatted up or whatever.
Jesus longs for you, as you are, where you are. And it is up to God to do the transforming, not me. If we seek Jesus we will be rewarded with an intimacy that is beyond comprehension, beyond words, beyond being. But for this kind of intimacy, there is one basic “requirement” – we must surrender to God, plain and simple.
And as we surrender (daily, if you are me), we learn to depend upon the power of God’s in all things and for all things. And as we do this we gradually learn and discover the fullness of life – the fullness of God’s life – within us. I believe that when Jesus said that he came to bring life and to bring it abundantly, that is what this aspect of life first and foremost that he was talking about (see Gospel of John 10:9-11).
This abundance of God’s life, both in and through us, is not based on circumstances. For circumstances do not make or break us, they merely reveal us. And in this ‘revelation’, God reveals more and more of the divine life to us, and the more God reveals to us, the more we grow in love with and become more like Jesus.
This reality – this dynamic of all of us experiencing God and having Christ’s life in us – leads us to experience called “church.” And rather than trying to figure out how to “do” church, force community to happen, or even worse creating a place where a false sense of community and conformity is commonplace, something else happens – we begin to focus on God’s love and what Jesus is doing inside each of us and through this, we learn to be with each other in God’s love and from this comes authentic community – a living church.
God is the God of community. Some examples include the Trinity (God in relationship with God’s own self), the ancient Hebrews who were brought together by YAHWEH – which literally means I AM WHO I AM – and were made into a people by this I AM and of the I AM; and then there are the apostles, the disciples, and the early church. All these forms of community, of “church”, flowed from people being called into deep, intimate relationship with God and concurrently with each other.
The paradox here is that we must have our own intimate encounter with God, but what authenticates it is our connection to and relationship with others.
“Church” is our experience of God and God’s love flowing freely into us, through us, and out of us through Jesus – and towards a wounded world in desperate need of God’s grace.
The world does not need the experiment called “church” that is about being rudely right, or smug or pious or having a holier-than-thou attitude that has become so symbolic of the frozen chosen lost in a holy huddle – that is not what Church is supposed to be. Church is meant to be a symbol of our collective experience of God and the unconditional love found in Jesus. Without God’s life in us, in each of us, our expressions of church can become administratively-based religious country clubs, where the broken, hurting, and addicted are excluded from membership. Without authentic intimacy with God, church becomes a place of self-righteous ethics dictated by appearances rather based on the crazy love of God.
We sometimes forget the very people that hung out with Jesus when he walked the earth would nowadays be frowned upon and judged right out of our congregations. And lest we forget, Jesus – the man who said if you have seen me, you have seen God – hung out with the whores, the traitorious, the forgotten, the poor, the unclean and the ostracized, and the unholy not the righteous. The only occurrences we know of Jesus ever judging anyone is when he was confronted by the pious hypocrites of his day, those who thought they held the keys to the rule and reign of God’s love and grace.
God’s life in us – coming from our intimacy and friendship with Jesus – will by default pour into us the very nature and love of this God Whose love is relentless and Whose mercies are never-ending. As we become a people filled with this God, we are bound to imitate the lives of the early followers of Jesus: turning the world upside-down with divine love.
Now that is Church.
When we are with God, allowing the Spirit to change and mold us like the Master Potter, we are transformed. And when we share what God is doing inside of us – instead of focusing on what we think others “should” be doing – God uses that to draw us all together, to grow the circle of a place called “Church.”
“God invites us, perhaps even challenges us, to become co-creators and co-collaborators in birthing fledgling dreams and in encouraging fragile seeds that have lain dormant within us. When I finally acknowledged, honored and acted upon this truth that I perceived within, I experienced God’s presence as never before! With this acknowledgement I began to recover a greater acceptance of myself and also deeper relationships with God and the rest of God’s world – relationships which are all interconnected.
As I became more aware of the presence of God in my life, I also became more attentive to the deeper promptings and leadings within my own being and began to look more honestly and objectively at my own gifts and resources.” (Introduction, p. i)
“To step out in faith is to experience risk and uncertainty, but it is also to experience God’s loving embrace and continued steadfastness.” (p. iii)
By Ruth Halvorson, founder of ARC Retreat Center and quoted in Action Reflection Celebration: the ARC story
Note form Niles: Today’s post is taken from one of my favorite online writers and sites, Internet Monk. The live link to the site is found at the end of the article.
“Bearing (and Sharing) Burdens” – Chaplain Mike
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
Sometimes as I deal with my patients and their caregivers, it’s the religious people that befuddle me most. One cliché I have heard repeatedly from caregivers who are people of faith is, “I just try to remember that God tells us he will never give us more than we can bear.”
I hate to burst your bubble, but God never said that. Never. Said. That.
I’m not sure where that cliché came from, but it is not in the Bible. Jesus didn’t say it. Paul said something like it in 1 Corinthians 10:13, but if you check you will see that he is talking about our common temptations and how God provides the means we need to escape them. The text does not say, “God will never give us more than we can bear.” Nope. Somebody made that one up.
The plain fact is that there are burdens in life that are too heavy for any one person to carry.
For some reason, many well-intentioned folks don’t want to accept that. So they try to handle challenges that are simply beyond their ability to deal with alone. The results usually aren’t good.
That’s when I direct them to another verse in the Bible that is clear and unambiguous: “Bear one another’s burdens…” Is not this verse telling us that everyone needs help sometimes? There are loads that are too heavy for one person to carry, and we can’t do it all by ourselves. So, help each other out! That’s pretty clear, right?
One more thing: I also won’t buy it if you tell me that since God helps you carry your burdens, you don’t need other people to assist you. This is the same God who said that it is not good for us to be alone. God created us to live in relationships, families, and communities for the very purpose of loving and supporting each other. God wants you to get help from others!
Instead of what I often hear, I’d love it if more caregivers would say, “God regularly gives me more than I can bear. That’s why I love and appreciate his gift of others in my life so much.”
By Chaplain Mike. Original can be found at Internet Monk.
The Heart of It All
For Sunday, May 8, 2016 – John 17:20-26
Jesus longs to plant deeply within all who will listen the central truth of his life—that at the heart of it all is love. The love of God has poured prodigally into Jesus, causing the love of Jesus to pour into his friends so that the love of his friends will pour lavishly into the world, until generations later here we are, learning to receive and give from that same bottomless well of love. God’s glory, Jesus says, has been given to him, and whatever comes to him flows through him, to us. What is this glory river that flows to us and then through us? It is the awareness that we are one—one with God, one with each other—and loved so bountifully that we can do no less than respond to all of God’s creation in love. What a simple way, this way of love!
Except when it is not. The easy flow of receiving and giving love becomes blocked with jealousy, anger, selfish motives. We do not see ourselves as one; we become alienated from each other, lost. Some call this the evidence of our functional atheism. We disconnect our believing from our living. We might say intentionally chosen words, trying to sound pleasing to God and others, but we do not embody these words in an intentional way of life. Jesus challenges our lofty concepts about love, our fantasies about how remarkable our love could be, and sets us on the path of action. What matters is love’s practical implementation day by day.
If we are going to have the full experience of God’s way of love, we will start by being more at ease with being one. We will seek to love others as ourselves, knowing that what happens to one happens to all and to ignore suffering is to ignore our own. When will we wake up to each other and stop excluding whomever we please? Regardless of birth nation, gender identification, political affiliation, degree of education, sexual orientation, being an aggravation, craving adulation, believing, or not believing, in transubstantiation—we are, the whole lot of us, God’s absolute favorites. We are amazingly broken and beloved beings, and like it or not, we are in the little boat of this life together. Whether resting in or resisting this truth, we are right where God intends for us to be—at the heart of it all, where we are one.
By: Kayla McClurg, Church of the Saviour
Every year, around my birthday, I take stock of my life: reviewing where I am; how is my spiritual condition; am I growing closer to God and others, things like that.
I am realizing that a few things about me are being noticeably transformed – all thanks to God and those who have helped me in my recovery. I have grown from a totally rigid black and white thinker to a place where I am being led by the Spirit towards a more tolerant, compassionate experience and view of life – mine and the worlds.
In short, I have become less arrogant that my way is the right way, much less even “a” single way being the ‘right’ way. I have come to know and see that the Spirit is like the Wind indeed – blowing wherever the skies and landscape take it. Who am I to judge the Spirit’s leading and intention in a persons’ life? I am learning that God can work in any way God sees fit, and can obviously do so without any input from this particular ragamuffin.
I am learning again one of the indispensable foundations of spirituality (and spiritual growth) is listening: listening to God, to our hearts, our fears, our pain, our joys, and especially to others. Spirituality (and spiritual growth) can and do occur in solitude, but for them to flourish deeply they must grow in relation to another – in community.
And I am fast learning one steadfast truth: all community begins with listening.
It is an initial listening to a call from the Other Who then leads us to others and in listening to them we are led to ourselves, and it is vital to listen to each one clearly because at the Center they are all saying the same thing: “we are loved and we are one.”
It is in the mutuality that grows from listening that the deepest spiritual significance occurs, namely the mutuality between listening and telling: knowing someone will listen without judgment and knowing that one can tell their story and it will be heard. That is one of the greatest powers of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous – story telling, listening, a shared struggle and a shared healing experience.
Those of us who are wrestling with spiritual dilemmas and demons, creeping and crawling ever so slowly towards awakenings, do not necessarily need answers but ‘presence’ – the permission to confront the dilemma, struggle with it out loud knowing we will be heard, and finding solace in the ‘defeat’ of terminal uniqueness (the belief that we are so different that we are alone in a chaotic, random universe).
Listening begins and deepens our spiritual experiences. Listening affords us the space and silence needed to empty out our pain through storytelling and mutuality. Listening is where we find not only answers but maybe more importantly the Presence Whom is the Source of all our longings.
For Sunday, August 17, 2014 – Matthew 15:10-28
We can look almost anywhere in the world and see the consequences of one of our greatest failures as human beings—our inability to disagree. Yes, that is what I meant to say. We are suffering today not so much from our inability to agree as our inability to, peacefully and respectfully, disagree. Opposing opinions threaten us. We feel judged and disrespected when others do not align with us, and instead of considering their views with an open mind, we set out to prove how wrong they are. Our local, national and international governments, our religious and civic bodies, all give evidence of this pervasive inability to disagree in good spirit. It takes humility to hear each other, let alone work with each other, while seeing things differently. What are we afraid of—that we might learn something new, and have to change?
A woman comes to Jesus seeking a crumb of mercy for her daughter. She is a nobody among nobodies. The disciples want to send her away, and Jesus himself compares her to a dog scrounging for scraps under the table. Yet she is remembered still today, not because she and Jesus hit it off so splendidly, but because she dares to disagree creatively. She is put down and spoken to dismissively, but she does not let this deter her. She has a vision bigger than the evidence at hand. She has her own sense of God’s wide, wild mercy, and she recognizes this mercy within Jesus. If he is not yet ready to stand with her, so be it. She is ready to stand with him.
This is what it means to disagree with an open mind. We hold in our hearts our sense of what is right, and we also hold those who oppose us. We refuse to accept the same old worn out stories, and we also refuse to blame. We know the old bigotries and hatreds have harmed us all, and that we of opposing opinions are not the real enemy. We also know that keeping quiet is no longer an option. When she asks Jesus to heal her daughter, her beloved, her future, he says no. Can you believe it? What happens next makes all the difference. Does she erupt against him? Does she remain quietly agreeable? Or does she find a third way, allowing her expanded vision to stretch his? From this woman we see what a living relationship with Jesus and each other can look like. We see the healing mercy that can come from disagreement.
The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you. You may not have Christ in a homeless person at your door, but you may have a little child. If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper. So you do it. But you don’t just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and that child…
There are all kinds of good things you can do, but whatever they are, you have to realize that there is always the duty of the moment to be done. And it must be done, because the duty of the moment is the duty of God.
We have food to share with a world that is hungry, even famished.
Spiritual wanderers—those spiritually starved and denied—show up at our doors, not because they like our buildings or even because they like us, but because they are hungry.
Hungry for forgiveness, for rest and peace. Hungry for mercy and grace. Hungry to explore and grow. Hungry for the good news of new life, of abundant life.
Hungry for God to do a new thing.
What if discipleship meant individually and corporately letting one’s life be transformed into a parable of faith, a poem of hope, a [song] of love that exchanges the world’s habits of scarcity for the kingdom’s assumptions of abundance?
What if piety meant leaving aside the things the world offers a tantalizing shortage of and embracing the things God gives in plenty?
And the moment that starts to sound too ambitious is the very moment of renewal, because that’s when the church for the first time perhaps ever realises it doesn’t have the luxury of prejudice, it doesn’t get to include just one kind of person, it really and truly needs everyone who is willing to part of this great adventure, and is at last surrounded by all the kinds of people who thronged round Jesus and the church should have regarded as its best friends all along.
Rev. Sam Wells, Vicar, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, UK.
Found at The Church of the Advocate website: http://theadvocatechurch.org/
In honor of the Feast of All Saints, I offer this lovely poem by Jan Richardson which seems quite appropriate. EnJoy!
who walked with us
this is a prayer.
who have gone ahead,
this is a blessing.
who touched and tended us,
who lingered with us
while they lived,
this is a thanksgiving.
who journey still with us
in the shadows of awareness,
in the crevices of memory,
in the landscape of our dreams,
this is a benediction.