What Good News?

For some time now, I have been wondering what I used to tell people in Gospel meetings as a worker, what the “Good News” of the Gospel really was.  And I’m not sure I ever did.  I preached in likely thousands of Gospel meetings and those meetings were supposed to be aimed at the “sinner” or the “outsider”.  (My last 5 years, however, I pretty much quit doing that and gave up any semblance of a “sermon-nette” and just talked about what the Lord and I were working on together and hoped it resonated with folks.  From what I could tell, it seemed to.)  I remember talking about why we needed Jesus but mostly took His parables and used them to help folks identify where they were at with God at that time in their lives.

Nothing wrong with those topics at all.  But now I wonder why I never had a 4 week or 10 week series on the Good News of the Gospel.  I know the reason why:  because at that point, I didn’t know what it truly was either.  How could that be?  Because I was teaching what I had been taught all my life about the Gospel, and that was, that Jesus was my Savior BUT there were still a number of things I had to do in order to truly secure my place in heaven because what He did wasn’t enough obviously.  Gives me chills to even write that now because it is so not true.  The Good News then was that Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine when He walked on this earth and that meant He understood our suffering and our feelings and longings.  And if we were ever going to become like Him, we had to strive very, very hard to not sin because, by golly, He never sinned and so we could at least try to not either.  (I literally saw two young men almost loose their minds trying to be “perfect” when they were young workers. It was tragic, the pressure they put on themselves, but that was what the “system” promoted.)

Having the desire not to sin is not a bad thing at all.  But the REASON for that desire is what was wrong.  Enter the Good News.  I’m going to share a quote from “The Imperfect Disciple” by Jared C. Wilson:

“We think we know what will do the job of making us holy:  us doing the job of making us holy.  And seeking holiness is integral to discipleship.  But more central to our discipleship is the news that actually makes Christianity Christianity:  we are holy not because of what we’ve done but because of what Jesus has done.  That is why the good news is so good!  The essential message of Christianity isn’t “do” but “done”.  The good news is NEWS, not instruction, and it announces to us not “get to work” but “it is finished”.  

That is TREMENDOUS news if you ask me!  It is a totally different mindset than what is taught in the meetings church.  Telling folks what Jesus did and still does is the Good News.  What we don’t have to do.  The Gospel of Grace is the Good News.  The Good News that is almost too good to be true but it is true.  The Good News that we don’t have to work to be saved or complete the check list the workers gave us subliminally.  Instead, we do good deeds out of a place of love and thankfulness; never obligation.  It just comes from a totally different place.

The Good News is that Jesus was God when He walked this earth.  How?  Who knows!  His ways are way past ours and even if He did give us a chapter or two on how the specifics of that worked, we still wouldn’t be able to wrap our minds around it.  But there are many, many verses that tell us He was God in the flesh when he was here.  The Good News in that is that because He was God, He couldn’t have sinned and that is why we will never be able to be perfect!  He doesn’t expect us to be.  He just wants us to keep looking at Him and finding Him in the Bible everywhere and in creation everywhere and by doing that and beholding His Glory, we will be changed into His image!

2 Cor 3: 17-18  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

I’m on a roll now but I can see how there easily could have been a 10 week series on what the Good News really was and is!  But the fact that I didn’t know then what I know now explains why Gospel meetings were often so dry and flat (mine included).  Not always but often, they really were. I sat in alot of meetings that, at the time, were very inspiring and touching and I left those meetings, wanting more than anything, what they were talking about.

We (the workers, bless our hearts) were straining to find something to say and oh man, we worked HARD to prepare something for those Gospel meetings. Our messages evoked a feeling in the listeners of what could be, but sadly, seldom actually was. I remember feeling strongly about some things and desperately wanting the reality of it in my life but it never quite was.  Because even though we were given the formula for how to be the perfect professing person, the formula left Jesus out of most of it and so it couldn’t have worked.   But He is EVERYWHERE in the Scripture and the Good News is everywhere and messages about Him should have been a joy to give and not nearly as much work to prepare for.  It should have been bubbling out of us, truly.  Those angels announced the “glad tidings with great joy” to the shepherds and that should be how the Gospel is always presented.

Just writing this, I am in awe of what I/we have in Christ.  How life makes sense because of what the Word says.  And how much pressure is off of us because of believing in Jesus.  Life is hard, yes, but knowing what we know now sure helps.  A lot.  I can rest in Him now knowing that He sees everything and is always with me and He knows my sinful heart and has not given up on me.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

Advertisements

Faith is a journey

I’m going to copy what I wrote in my journal yesterday morning because my friend Becky said I should put it on the blog!!

“The Lord has shown me my life’s journey in a fresh new way this morning.

He called me to begin my journey when I was 10 years old.  The journey through my teens took me away from a lot of the shallowness of this world and some friendships. (Added fresh just now:  For as long as I can remember, I wanted something “more” than what was seen.  I didn’t want to live on the surface of life.  I pursued that pretty much for years but went about it wrong at times.  I became a really good Pharisee somewhere along the way, and instead of just pursuing my longing for depth, I criticized others in my thoughts for their shallowness.  Not an effective way to be a help, mind you!!  But a few years ago, I rediscovered that wonderful verse where Paul exclaims: ‘Oh, the depth!  Of the riches of Christ…’ and THAT finally put a scriptural backing to a lifelong desire.  That is all I’d ever been looking for and it was and is found only in Him.)

He had called me into a journey with Him that would last a lifetime.  I packed my bags at the age of 24 and unpacked them when I was 46.  But the journey within didn’t end. Maybe my “feet” weren’t going anywhere much anymore, but oh, I had a LONG ways to go in my heart, my soul and and my head.  He lead me away, like He did Abraham, from EVERYTHING comfortable and familiar and took me into new places on every hand.

He blessed me over and over again, not because I was worthy, but because of His goodness. And now, He is bringing me back to my family by helping me love them as I should, accept them for who they are, embrace them and get to know them.”

And the journey isn’t over yet because I am still here.  If He was done with me, He would have taken me home by now.  He asked me over  18 years ago now if I would be willing to live an ordinary life.  Just an ordinary life.  Not in the spotlight like my “former” life had been.  Not in a fishbowl that everyone could see.  It has been an adjustment, yes, but it has been just right as well. I can see now His wisdom in asking me that question because He knew I desperately needed to learn lessons that could only be learned out of the spotlight life.  A line from a hymn we sang in meetings comes to mind, “Right was the pathway leading to this.”  Amen.  Amen.

 

Jesus IS our Savior

A professing man in my area passed recently and his daughter had a conversation with him before he passed about whether or not he believed Jesus was his savior.   I’m not going to comment further on that conversation as it really isn’t mine to share.  However, a friend and I have been having this conversation among ourselves (she used to go to meetings) and we were wondering did we really believe Jesus was our Savior while in the meetings.

I always believed (when I was in meetings) that Jesus was my Savior but I didn’t always believe that what He did for me (us) was enough.  It was great what He did, but I believed that now, in turn, I had to do my part in order to secure my salvation.  I just didn’t need to simply believe He was my Savior (that concept was actually made fun of because that was what ‘religious’ people believed, and we certainly didn’t want to be one of those kind of people.)

All the works I was taught in meetings had to do with helping me to move my salvation to the desired end.  But I obviously did not believe Jesus was my Savior completely because I was never sure of my salvation.

It goes back to control.  The workers had control over the friends through all the unwritten rules that, if kept, would give the friend a good funeral and the hope of eternal life. If the workers were ever to let go of that control, and simply encourage their flock to believe in the Grace of God and that, yes, by believing in Jesus Christ and confessing their sins, they would be saved, they then (the workers) could sit back and watch God work in individual lives in amazing ways.  They wouldn’t be able to ‘control’ people, and yes, people would make mistakes and mess things up.  But life is messy and we all screw up. The only one who didn’t was Jesus.

The workers could instead point people back to Jesus over and over again when they screwed up and tell the people that He could put all the pieces of their lives back together again. What the workers don’t know, is that, if they believed that and lived by that, their lives would be so much easier.  They wouldn’t be worrying about ‘fixing’ someones life but instead, point them to the One who could fix things.  All too often as a worker myself, I would come up with some solution of things to do, when all I would have needed to do was point them back to Jesus over and over again.  THAT is part of the Good News of the Gospel.

I’m not sure a person could totally believe Jesus was their Savior unless you embraced the Gospel of Grace as well.  If the workers embraced Grace, it would change EVERYTHING.

We never heard once at that recent funeral about Jesus sacrifice being ENOUGH. Period.  In fact, we barely heard the name of Jesus at all.  Need I say more?

Why the secrecy?

Recently, it came to my attention some things the Workers & Friends are doing regarding “hiding” what goes on in their group, and it just baffled me.  I wasn’t aware until just a few days ago that workers lists no longer have addresses on them. I’m assuming they only have the workers names and their field on them.  The explanation given to me was that they didn’t want their information to “get in the wrong hands”.  The workers list in my day would include name, field, mailing address and phone numbers…not their social security numbers or any banking information.  That is what the rest of us have to worry about getting in the wrong hands!

There was a funeral here locally last week and the daughter of the deceased (it was her father who passed) lives in Australia and wasn’t able to attend.  At her mother’s funeral a couple of years ago (she wasn’t able to attend that one either), her niece recorded the service with her I-pad but the daughter told me on Facebook just today that she wasn’t allowed to view that funeral because, once again, their fear that it might get in the wrong hands!!  It was her mother’s funeral!  The family did not want the niece recording the fathers funeral last week but she did on her phone anyway and she sent it.  Good for her!

During the convention season here, a 800 number is given to a select few so they can listen, free of charge at home if they are unable to attend the convention.  I know a number of friends who take advantage of that service and they really appreciate it.  Two years ago, that number was shared with me and I listened in on a couple of meetings.  I appreciated hearing the hymns and identifying voices in both prayer and testimony.  When I asked for the number last summer, I was told I would have to go through one of the workers in order to get that number now.  And, now I hear they have discontinued that service altogether for guess what reason? “It might get in the wrong hands.”

The workers are obviously unaware that just about every church nowadays broadcasts their services over a live stream on the internet.  It’s great if you are unable to be there or have to miss a sermon that you wanted to hear.

It just doesn’t make sense.  They want newcomers to “join” their group yet they are bound up in fear that someone will find out about them.  What are they afraid of?  Are they doing anything illegal? If so, then they need to fix it and make things right.  Are they afraid of getting shut down?  If the Lord wants them to continue meeting publicly, don’t they trust Him to make sure they can?  Are they afraid of being found out because of the money involved that is never reported?  Well, make it right!  Get that non-profit status and/or report your earnings and pay taxes like the rest of the real world.  They are not being honest at all and yet, no one ever looks at it that way.  But they could be!  They say they have ‘nothing to hide’ but obviously they do or they wouldn’t be operating in such a state of secrecy.  Are they afraid of publicity at their conventions?  Well, newspaper articles have been written before, people have picketed conventions before.  If they were truly living IN THE LIGHT, there would be no need for secrecy.  Are they afraid of abusers being found out and reported? Well, thankfully that IS coming to the light nowadays and being dealt with and hopefully stopped.

Secrecy is different than discretion.  Discretion is defined as: “the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information.”  Every business has it’s CEO’s or Board of Director’s meetings and things are discussed there and documented and made available to the general public if requested.  And yes, there are many a private conversation and/or discussion.  Not everyone is in the “know” nor do they need to be.  But the meeting group isn’t so much afraid of their own knowing what is going on as they are of the ‘world’ knowing what is going on.  And once again, I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to figure out what information they are afraid of the “world” finding out.

Decades ago the book “The Secret Sect” was written about the meeting group so obviously, it has been an issue for a long time.  I hope and pray that more and more people in that group stop and consider the secrecy part of things and encourage the workers to truly “walk in the light” and not in darkness.  It’s so much more freeing and healthy in the light.  Also, let us not forget that iconic verse “God is love and perfect love casts out fear because fear has torment.”  Amen.  Why torment yourself or allow yourself to be tormented when torment is never coming from God?

 

When you need room to grow

Hello!

Oh my, it has been a long, long while since I have posted anything new.  I truly feel like I’ve said everything I set out to say, and that is why there has been a silence.   This morning, however, some new thoughts started coming and I didn’t want them to get away.

I saw a clearer picture of myself this morning than I had previously seen in Jesus words of Matthew 9:17.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

This verse helps to explain why I had to leave the meetings back in 2006.  By that point, I was trying to pour my new wine into the old wineskins and it just didn’t work.  The new wine was my growing relationship with God and new revelations of not only who I was, but more importantly, who He was.  Jesus said if you try to force those back in the old wineskins, the skin would burst from the pressure,  spilling the wine and ruining the skins.  What a perfect analogy.  New wine must be stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.

I tried so hard to “fit” the new ways of understanding into my professing life for a few years.  I wanted to stay so I could share what I was finding with others in the hopes that it would inspire them to also “ask, seek and knock”. I have heard of some through the years that are staying in meetings because of that very desire; even though they see many things about the System that are not right.   But the growing frustration I felt while trying to do that lead me to eventually feeling like I would truly explode!  I would drive away from meetings extremely frustrated because it was all so ho hum, so same-ole-same-ole.  There was nothing fresh and new.  Everyone seemed content where they were spiritually.  I was excited about God and about Jesus and I was yearning for someone else to not only feel that way as well but be willing to act upon it.  Talk about it.  Dig deeper than ever before.  Be willing to think outside the professing box.

The wineskin was what held the wine and it had to be new when there was new wine so that it could expand and get only better with time.  The meeting system, the group and what they believed, became old and it wasn’t stretching at all any more. (Ironically, the group seems to be proud of that fact.)  It didn’t have the capacity to hold anything new or anything fresh.  It burst within me because the pressure became too great.  I had to put everything within me into something new.

I’m reminded of what someone once told me years ago.  He had been professing and even in the Work for a few years but eventually left the meetings entirely because he said he was meeting with people who didn’t want to grow any more spiritually or emotionally but had he asked them that, they would have denied it completely.  But the reality is that folks are afraid to ask, seek or knock because it has been told them for so long that if they did, they would end up “outside”.  And yes, this may be true.  But you end up outside of the group only.  

You do not end up outside of God, His love, or outside of Christ (unless you choose to put yourself there), or outside of other Christians or outside of the Kingdom of God. You don’t end up outside of heaven, or outside of forgiveness, or salvation, or mercy or God’s grace. You find new friends, and new people to have fellowship with.  You find new translations of the Bible which make it fresh again.  You find new music to listen to and new ways of worshiping Christ.  You find new ways of studying the Bible and new ways of praying that simple amaze you. You find new teachers to listen to or read about.  You find your heart so full of God and at peace, not to mention happy and thankful,  like never before. You understand freedom in Christ and what is so amazing about Grace.  You want to be a better person like never before.  There is room in the new wineskin for all the new wine pouring in.  It is wonderful! Fear of change can be so paralyzing, and the devil knows that, so he tells us that staying in the status quo feels like the only way to survive.   But wouldn’t you rather thrive than just survive?  Think about it.

 

 

 

What ifs, if only’s & regrets

 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14 NIV)  

I don’t think there is a person alive that doesn’t have some regrets about a decision or decisions they have made and that wouldn’t like a do-over or a second chance.

The regrets, what ifs and if only’s can keep me awake at night.  Life hasn’t gone how I planned in some ways.  Not according to my girlhood dreams anyway.  Or the high ideals I had in my 20’s.

I see many homeless people everyday downtown where I work and I’m sure there isn’t a one of them that wouldn’t give anything for a do-over of some point in their lives.  But again, I doubt there is a single person walking around that feels like they have made every single perfect decision.  Jesus is the only one who could have walked through life feeling that way.  What an amazing feeling that must have been.

But, as the cliche goes, it’s what we do with the regrets that determines so much.  Easier said than done.  That is where the above mentioned Scripture comes in.  Paul certainly did some things he regretted but he said that above all, he wanted to know Christ AND to do his best to forget the past and press on towards the future.  For myself, that is not a one-time thing but something I have to do over and over because  I keep bringing the past up in my mind and blaming the past rather than accepting it for what it is and moving on.  I think doing those 2 things together makes a huge difference:  Wanting to know Christ more as a result of the regrets and the if only’s and the what if’s because He was there with us during everything.  During the poor choices or bad decisions.  He knows every detail involved but He has an overall view of each of those events that we don’t have unless we ask Him for it.  Once we can see those experiences/choices through His eyes, it really helps to forget the past and move forward.

Yes, we have to live with our choices and that is the bitter pill we have to swallow every day.  I regret giving all those years to a system that wasn’t true.  I regret a few decisions I have made in the last  16 years that have affected me physically and financially.  I regret being so slow to see things and change things in relationships.  I know there are people still in the meetings who look at me and tsk tsk and say things like “she got what she deserved” but I know I am forgiven and accepted in the Beloved.

One of the biggest obstacles for me was erasing the message I was taught all my life while in the meetings that God punishes us for our decisions forever.  I’m not sure I even believed I was truly forgiven and that God had honestly forgotten my poor choice.  That He sees everything through the eyes of restoration and renewal.  Nothing we do or say catches Him by surprise.  He is totally prepared to handle all our mess ups.  I lived under the shadow of I have to try harder, be better, do more to somehow atone for what I did or said because I wasn’t taught that Jesus had already done everything to take care of all of my sin.  God’s amazing ability to forgive and go on, which is called His Grace, was not preached at all.  So it left me feeling depressed, not good enough at times, or else superior and judgmental of others who had made mistakes I hadn’t made.  But once I stepped back and took in His Amazing Grace, I then totally wanted to make future decisions more prayerfully and carefully and be a better person on every level.  That also is not preached in the meetings.  They don’t believe in the Gospel of Grace because they think it means we can just do whatever we want and we will be forgiven because His grace is sufficient.  The Apostle Paul wrestled with the same question and came to the conclusion, “God forbid!”  I honestly do not know why the workers avoid that portion of scripture because God’s Grace is the most freeing message ever told.  But they prefer legalism and control sadly.

Paul said he wanted to know the power of the resurrection and I do too.  Bring new life to dead places, new hope to hopeless areas, new inspiration from painful memories.  Jesus didn’t have regrets but He knew plenty of suffering in His life because of our messes so He knows what to do and He remembers how it feels.  We have no reason to live under the weight of guilt and regret; doing so is a needless use of our energy.  Do we believe His message?  All of it?  Dare we?  YES! We dare!

 

 

 

God’s Quietness

An evening prayer from “Your’s is the Day, Lord, Your’s is the Night” by Jeanie & David Gushee recently read:

Lord God:

Drop Thy still dew of quietness

Till all our stirrings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of Thy peace.

 Amen

 Drop THY still dew of quietness….still…not as in, continual, but still as in shhhh.  His shhhhh….dew of quietness dropping on me.  I’ve always heard much about my responsibility to be quiet before God but here it suggests the Lord bringing His quietness to me.  Yes, He can be loud as thunder and we’ve heard many times about His still small voice as well.  But I loved this poetic expression of Him in a way I hadn’t considered before.  He is quiet in an oh so soothing, comforting and enveloping way and He will send His quiet to us like dew falling. Dew can’t be seen until it is.  I love and need quiet more and more.  I seek it out and go places where I can find even moments of it.  But His quiet is in a whole different arena.  His quiet can suddenly settle on my frantic, harried, weary mind and there is rest of mind.  On nights when I cannot sleep but I can make dozens of to-do lists, what I need is rest of mind….shhhh….His quiet to descend.  Not my effort but His blessing.  Drop Thy still dew of quietness so I can sleep.

I highly recommend the above mentioned book of prayers for the morning and the evening.  They are from every century and for me, are stepping stones for my own prayers to be added. They pray for things I would otherwise never consider and I love the insight they provide.  These prayers are rich and beautiful and I marvel every day at how people of every age knew God and depended on Him and how very real He has been in every age; contrary completely to how I was raised to believe and I am so thankful my eyes were opened to see differently.  The people who penned those prayers were not faking it but writing from their hearts and their very own personal relationship with God.  How arrogant I once was to think that only the people who went to meetings had prayers that reached God.  Lord, forgive!