God and the Collective

Hehe…I know, my post sounds so very socialist…¬† ūüôā

I’ve been reading Jeremiah.¬† What repeatedly jumps out at me is the fact that God dealt with (and spoke to) the Israelites as a nation rather than as individuals.¬† You see this throughout the Bible and it brings up questions (for me, anyway!).¬† In Jeremiah chapter 7, God addresses the worship of idols (and points out the fact that it has become a part of daily family life).¬† He tells Jeremiah that His people have ceased to incline their ear to obey Him & have, instead, begun to follow the dictates of their own hearts.¬† He also begins to outline the consequences that this nation will face.

Now, being the American that I am, I immediately began to question whether or not all of the Israelites were involved in idol worship.¬† In other words, I wondered about the fairness of punishing the whole rather than individuals.¬† What I see, though, is that it does not seem to have mattered.¬† In God’s eyes the Israelites were/are an intricately entwined group before Him.¬† Certainly, they are individuals – but whenever God¬†used an individual it always seemed to be for the purpose of the collective.¬† This is a mind-altering perspective that is very difficult for an American mind to really grasp.

Does God still deal with us this way?¬† Does He look at “The Church” in the same way that He looked at the Israelites?¬† If so, my responsibility level just went up about 100 degrees.¬† How much am I held accountable for the actions of the group at large?¬† How much am I participating in “being valiant for the truth on the earth” (Jer. 9:3)?¬† Further, how does this perspective change my daily life – causes I pick up, places I volunteer, churches I join, family and ministry balance, comments that I say out loud, hits that I’m willing to take (or not)?¬† Finally, what does this perspective do to the popular idea that God has a plan and purpose for my individual life – where is the dividing line between myself and The Church?

It is complicated and I have a feeling I won’t reach any firm conclusions.¬† God seems to have set things up so that we do NOT figure things out.¬† Keeps us dependent on Him, I suppose.¬† Still, though, I’m praying that He’ll point out anything to me that I’ve been missing here.¬† Do you have any thoughts on how God views the church at large in comparison to individuals?

*Note:¬†¬†In case you’re wondering, here’s a practical¬†example of what I’m thinking.¬† In the same chapter, Jeremiah delivers the strong words that God has for the nation of Israel as they participated in child sacrifice to idols.¬† I’m sure that all of the Israelites were not sacrificing children (or even condoning the practice) yet that did not matter.¬† They were part of a whole who had turned from God’s heart.¬† In present-day, we know that millions of babies are killed every year via abortion.¬† Though I abhor the practice, it is not a “cause” I have picked up and crusaded for (too often, causes become gods and GOD¬†gets forgotten).¬† Now I find myself asking whether or not I have a larger responsibility to The Church than I previously thought in this area.

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Mistakes and the Body of Christ

What do I mean by “the body of Christ”? ¬†More to the point, I am considering how I fit into the body of Christ. ¬†Are we sovereignly placed where God wants us to be or do we choose our place in the “body”? ¬†When we walk away from a community, are we walking away from a divine placement?

Having been in my own little corner of Christ’s church for so long, I really have no idea how to start over. ¬†In some ways I don’t want to. ¬†I hunger to sit still for a while. ¬†To stop striving. ¬†To see God’s face and hear His voice ring out above the clamoring opinions of people around me. ¬†My hubby mentioned to me tonight that he feels disconnected since we stepped away from our church. ¬†I hate that for him & I realize that it is not an encouraging and healthy place to be. ¬†Particularly, connections within the body of Christ are vital for the love of God to physically make its mark in the world. ¬†Are these connections available simply by plugging in somewhere? ¬†Can you truly plug-in where you don’t have any relationships yet? ¬†In all of this, I am wondering if I have asked to sit still for the sake of comfort – abandoning my assigned place in the body of Christ to my family’s detriment. ¬†Have ¬†I made a mistake?

As I think through these things, I am encouraged by the reminder that God is much, much bigger and mightier than I am. ¬†He has numbered the hairs on my head and has “hemmed me in behind and before, & laid his hand upon me” (Lk. 12:7, Ps. 139:5). ¬†Perfection is not required – only obedience to the best of my ability. ¬†No mistake or deliberate choice is bigger than God’s ability to meet me and cover me with grace. ¬†“Where can I go from your spirit? ¬†Or where can I flee from your presence? ¬†If I ascend to heaven, you are there! ¬†If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there!” – Ps. 139:7-8 ¬†What a relief. ¬†Even if I choose to lay down as far from God as I think I can get, there is nowhere out of His reach. ¬†I just don’t have that much power.

On Leaving My Church

We have recently made the decision to leave our church. ¬†Considering the fact that I’ve had the same pastor for about 20 years (give or take a little bit of time), this was tough. ¬†Now come the questions from people. ¬†Questions that I am not always entirely able to answer. ¬†How do you explain to people that sometimes leaving may be necessary for your faith – especially when you know that this looks like disloyalty to many? ¬†How do you condense the fact that 20 years of “service” to God has led you far away from His heart? ¬†That attending to church and attending to God aren’t always the same? ¬†How do you verbalize the feeling that THE CHURCH is so much larger than the church…and how do you verbalize your great desire to find that out? ¬†How do you explain that your efforts to be holy have only made you more fragmented and that you want to go join the rest of the confused human population? ¬†So often we Christians confuse faith with what we know. ¬†In so doing, we replace the wild, hugeness of God with something certain. ¬†The fact is, though, that we aren’t certain. ¬†At all. ¬†It’s a ruse and we don’t know that much. ¬†I don’t know that much. ¬†I’m ready to drop the exhausting parade and say so. ¬†Our family isn’t entirely sure what we will be doing next but that’s okay. ¬†Maybe we’re actually making room to hear the directional, gentle whispers of wild love, Himself.

The Segregated Church

Our family recently attended a church retreat at a nearby campground. ¬†Ours was for the entire church – adults, teens, preschoolers – we all enjoyed being together. ¬†Also at the camp was a youth group from a different church. ¬†Seeing this group in action further convinced me that our separation of ages in the church at large is all wrong. ¬†Why do we separate everyone from one another? ¬†Why aren’t grandparents hugging toddlers and teenagers helping mothers? ¬†Why aren’t little girls learning from bigger girls and big boys watching out for little ones? ¬†That’s real life. ¬†The real world.

What I saw with this youth retreat was a group of very self-absorbed teens who were utterly clueless about the people around them. ¬†Instead of being trained to be aware, courteous, and work hard alongside others, they wore matching headbands and played artificial teamwork games. ¬†If my personal experiences in youth group are any indication, there were probably quite a few of them “keeping warm together” under blankets, too. ¬†I saw girls cut in line ahead of a mommy of four toddlers – totally unaware. ¬†I saw teens monopolize a playground so little kids had nowhere to play… and many other such instances.

If we, as a culture of Christians, were teaching our children correctly I would have seen something different. ¬†I would have seen girls offer to help moms get food for their children. ¬†I would have seen teen boys pushing preschoolers on swings. ¬†I would have seen adult men throwing a ball with teen guys and adult women braiding the hair of teen girls. ¬†I would have seen grandparents enjoying the scene from their Adirondack chairs & keeping an eye out for hurtful attitudes. ¬†I would have seen different people serving one another. ¬†But I didn’t. ¬†American society is extremely age-segregated and this shows up in our churches. ¬†It ought not be so. ¬†Our lives are so much richer with one another in them. ¬†Look around in your church this week. ¬†Take a look at your life. ¬†Are you closely involved with people of all ages? ¬†Are you connecting with the people around you? ¬†If not, enrich your life and that of another by getting connected and serving someone who is different from yourself.

Hold Your Peace

Everyone is fighting a battle – and it is always uphill.¬† We are all trying to “be perfect” – complete, unsullied…whole.¬† The command that Jesus gave in Mt. 5: 48 is impossible.¬† He knew it, too.¬† I’d like to meet whoever said that “God will not give you more than you can handle”.¬† Where did they get that idea?¬† The Bible is FULL of people who were given more than they could handle!¬† The very commands of the gospel are more than we can handle!¬† Most of us hardly love ourselves – let alone come close to loving our neighbor.¬† We.¬†Can’t.¬†Do.¬†It.

But He can.¬† The mystery of how to honor God, be Holy,¬†and love one another has been revealed to us.¬† The answer is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).¬† Our hope, our glory, our wholeness¬†can only be found in Jesus.¬† No amount of your own straining effort is going to win your battle.¬† We do our best¬†to obey and then, when our strength is gone (if we ever had any in the first place), we trust the one who said “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

When we find ourselves in an impossible situation let’s remember the Israelites after they left Egypt.¬† They were stuck between the Red¬†Sea and Pharoah’s army.¬† Their position was impossible and they were unable.¬† At that point they had a choice:¬† trust the God who led them there in the first place, or¬†grow fearful¬†and complain.¬† They chose fear and complaint but God was so gracious.¬† His response, through Moses, was “Do not be afraid.¬† Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…the Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Ex. 14:13-14).

In your uphill battle today, stop your striving and stand still.  Lean on the grace and power that Jesus gives.  Let God fight for you and hold your peace.

Unpredictable Freedom

Humans like to get things right. ¬† I don’t care what community you are in, there are unwritten rules that you are ascribing to. ¬†Even Anarchists look to encourage personal responsibility over imposed authority (but who defines that?). ¬†We ascribe to these rules because we want to feel like we are okay. ¬†Right. ¬†Practically perfect in every way. ¬†It is easier to feel this way when we can check the latest “success” off of our checklist. ¬†So, we deliberately enslave ourselves to something narrow & self-defining. ¬†Nowhere have I seen this manifest itself so powerfully as in the Christian church.

Understand that I say this from a position of having been a Christian for twenty years. ¬†I believe whole-heartedly in Jesus and am learning to lean into a sweet relationship with God. ¬†I have taught Bible study after Bible study, pastored small groups along with my husband, led worship, taught Sunday school, gone on a mission trip, supported missions, etc… ¬†Much of this I’ve done out of love. ¬†Much of it I’ve also done out of self-preservation. ¬†The reality is that God is big and scary (intensely loving but oh so unpredictable). ¬†It is easier to “serve God” according to external expectations than it is to seek God aside from all else. ¬†It is easy to feel like you are getting “it” right when ¬†thirty people around you pat you on the back. ¬†Unfortunately, for many Christians, this leads to disillusionment, hypocrisy, stress, and a brittle life that is far less than the wild, glorious adventure God has for us. ¬†It also leads to bitterness.

It has taken almost twenty years for me to really grasp this in my own life. ¬†In the past few years I have begun to see how I settle for so much less than God himself – and how untrue I have been to who He has made me. ¬†Here is an example. ¬†Four and 1/2 years ago, I was a busy woman. ¬†Our family pastored a home church, hosted a prayer meeting, and taught a women’s bible study – all out of our home. ¬†We also worked and did the myriad of things that you do in a typical week. ¬†At that time I gave birth to my daughter via emergency c-section (if you’ve ever had a c-section you know that it takes about 6 weeks to recover). ¬†We asked someone else to host the prayer meeting and lead the home church for 2 weeks. ¬†I postponed Bible study. ¬†The response was swift and sure. ¬†While holding my one-week old, we sat and listened to a lecture on not becoming “baby-centric” and ignoring our responsibilities as leaders. ¬†At the time I was sleep deprived, in a lot of pain, and spinning with new emotions and postpartum experiences. ¬†I bought it, though. ¬†Hook, line, and sinker. ¬†Guilt found its mark and pressure took over. ¬†Before three weeks was over, I was back in full swing – truly believing that serving God meant consigning myself to oblivion.

Since then, God has mercifully shown me other things. ¬†That he made me, for starters – my personality, hopes, needs. ¬†I learned, for instance, that I am not really an extroverted person. ¬†I forced myself to be one because I thought that was service. ¬†I also spent the majority of my time gasping for air & feeling overwhelmed. ¬†No one ever told me that it was okay to be quiet and think. ¬†No one ever told me that it was okay to spend time alone – and that writing might be something God would have me do. ¬†No one told me that it was okay to not have three meetings a week in my home. ¬†There are so many reasons that no one told me these things. ¬†Perhaps more than any reason, though, is because they just didn’t know. ¬†More often than not, we don’t even realize what we are doing to one another.

When we hold ourselves and one another up to a list of rules, we are using each other. ¬†The Christian church is filled with people who are using one another to build something, to feel okay, to “honor” God and have something to show for their life (usually unknowingly). ¬†It is not pretty. ¬†We need to leave one another alone except to love. ¬†Honor one another and give ¬†dignity through appreciation. ¬†Support who God is making us and stop trying to shape ourselves & each other into false images. ¬†Stop listening to the voice of men (or our own pressure) & listen for the voice of our creator. ¬†For “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” – Ps. 118:8 ¬†We need to refuse the slavery of a narrow belief and “stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1). ¬†Christian, run full tilt away from a “yoke of bondage” and towards your loving, wild, unpredictable, sure Daddy in heaven.

Some Thoughts on Impending Motherhood, Pt. 2

(Though these words are a few years old, they still ring just as true to me now as they did when I wrote them.  They are true for every phase of motherhood & I hope you are encouraged!  Read part 1 here.)

Jesus did not hesitate to run to his father for strength and help.  He did not hesitate to ask if his sacrifice was required.  Though, in the end, it was required, his open heart to his father revealed a depth of dependence and relationship that we all need.  Even more amazing is the fact that God answered him and sent help.  At its core, motherhood demands sacrifice.  From the time of conception, a woman is not her own.  Indeed, pregnancy itself is as though a little person is sitting at the control desk of the uterus pressing every red button available.  A woman’s appetite, gag reflex, bladder control, emotional status, shape, etc. is completely outside of her dominion.  From this point on, we get to make a choice.  We get to choose how we will respond to growing demands on our time, energy, bodies, and emotions.  We also get to choose where we will go for the strength that we need.

Jesus ran to his father.¬† He made the sacrifices that his father asked of him ‚Äď no more and no less.¬† When it was not time to give his life, he didn‚Äôt.¬† He had no problems avoiding situations that would prove harmful or a waste of time.¬† He did not strive for perfection, he strove for obedience.¬† He did not strive to perform, he strove to love.

So, as I approach motherhood I find myself looking for my source of strength.¬† I am looking for the best examples and as much how-to advice that I can find.¬† In my quest for help, I am finding that I have a choice.¬† I can read the pink, 10 chapter, how-to book and follow the guidelines for being a perfect mother and wife, or I can look to the one who was tempted just as I am tempted yet overcame.¬† Jesus experienced need.¬† He experienced pain.¬† He also experienced true sacrifice.¬† If anyone can lead me in how to do it, He can ‚Äď in the most approachable, human way possible.

Lk. 22:42-43 ‚Äď ‚ÄúFather, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.‚Äô¬† An Angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.‚ÄĚ
Ps. 73:26 ‚Äď ‚ÄúMy flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.‚ÄĚ