Sunday, May 24, 2015

Higher

The last while, I've felt the weight of so many things pressing down on me. I've been juggling responsabilities at work, at home, with extended family, with my own health, with banks and doctors and insurance companies and more, concerned about friends and situations and so many changes in all of those areas that slowly, I've become overwhelmed. 

I didn't realize that this is what had happened until a dear friend put his finger on it this morning during a pre-service prayer time. I have been carrying around a LOT of things, and to top it all off, there's now my schooling to add to the mix. 

When I get right down to it, I could knuckle down and push harder, struggle fruitlessly against more than a dozen things that wear away at me ... or I could rest my whole person, my whole weight, on the One who is already holding me up. And He is holding all those other things too; I just need to remember that I can let go of them because HE HAS GOT ME, SO HE HAS GOT THEM TOO. 

If my problem is worry, or a lack of faith, and I try NOT to worry or I try to drum up more faith, I WILL FAIL.  HE provides that faith through His love for me. His love is the answer.

It's always the answer. His love is the higher spiritual plane, the updraft that catches my wings and lifts me. 

If my problem is forgiveness (forgiving someone), and I TRY to forgive, I WILL FAIL.  HE freely forgave me AND that person, and His love will conquer all those objections and teach me that it's okay to accept someone even if that person is hurting me ... or themselves ... or someone I love. His love will ALWAYS triumph.

If my problem is concern over so many that I love who are in need of a miracle in their lives, I am powerless to help them.  HE is watching them even more closely than I can, and HE will work out all things according to His plan - for HE LOVES THEM. 

And He loves ME. 
 It's not some abstract thing. It's HIM. HIM. Jesus. His Person. His Spirit. 

Photo "Peregrine Falcon" by
Tom Curtis at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
It's HIS love that rescues, heals, restores, and illuminates the darkest corners, the most hopeless situations.  It's HIS love that swoops down and scoops me up to the heights, takes my breath away with His wild-at-heart goodness, like Tarzan saving Jane from the jaguar, and like Aslan saving Eustace from his dragon-skin (in CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawntreader), the dragon-skin being a symbol of human nature.

The longer I've been a Christian, the more deeply I am aware of how little power I have of my own, and how desperately I need His immeasurable strength, the power of His Spirit, filling me up, overflowing from me.

There are so many voices shouting in my ear to listen to them. These voices harangue me, beat me down, chew me up and spit me out, tie me in so many knots that I am so sure that there is no way out of my predicament. 

Then I hear His voice. It doesn't shout. Not at first, not until I learn to recognize it better. Jesus whispers His tender love to me, softly in my spiritual ears, into my brokenness, into my heart which has been so buffeted by twists of fate, billows of the consequences of my (and others') actions, and whirlwinds of circumstance. 

He murmurs, ... and I wonder sometimes if it's Him or if my mind is playing tricks on me. But it's Him. He calls me to rest - calls me to peace, not to turmoil and uncertainty. He asks me to reach out my hand - a simple act of willingness - and He takes it from there. He leads me, gently, by a series of nudges, little whispers ... and when I follow them, I (and others) are always better off.

He Himself is the invisible road to go Higher. It's nothing I have done or ever could do. HE has done it all. HIS LOVE is supreme. There is nothing else. 

There doesn't need to be.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Author and Finisher

In my last post, "Sacred Cows," I talked about how we compartmentalize and become very protective of those things in our lives that we consider "ours" ... when God's plan is to smash down the dividing walls that separate our relationship with Him from the rest of our lives. 

If, by reading that post, anyone might have thought how vigilant WE need to be, how we need to repent and confess our sinfulness to God, etc., let me be clear. 

Yes, knowing about where we may have been missing the mark can be helpful because at least now we are aware and can listen to and recognize His voice a bit better. But it is GOD who began this new creation. He is the Author of our New Life. And it is HE who will direct the path of our lives so that we bump right smack dab into Him, time and time again. HE will finish the work He started. 

The only thing we need to open our eyes to .... is Him. His passionate Love. His boundless Grace. His endless Patience. His supreme Sufficiency. 

Photo "Daily Planner With Pen" by
BrandonSigma at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
HE wrote the Book. Not only the Book we hold in our hands but also the Book of our lives. HE knows how it turns out. HE made provision for it, for us, for every possible outcome or circumstance. Nothing we have done or ever will do, will EVER take Him by surprise. Nothing we have done or ever will do, will change His constant, unconditional love for us - it won't make Him love us any less ... or any more ... than He always has for all eternity - past, present and future. 

It was HE who conceived the plan of salvation, in Eternity Past, before He even spoke the words, "Let there be light." It was HE who chose us in Him (Jesus, Himself) before the foundation of the world, planned for us (through Jesus) to be holy and without blame before Him (Eph. 1:4,5). At the Cross (and from Ages before the world began) God made Jesus, the Sinless One, to be our sin (ALL our sin: past, present and future) so that He could restore to us the glory we lost in Eden - the righteousness of God - in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Not to condemn us to a life of slavery (touch not, taste not, handle not - Col. 2:21) but to free us from it (Gal. 5:1). Forgiveness is ours; we don't need to ask for it - it is OURS! He has broken down the walls between us and Him, and will continue to break them down within us so that EVERY aspect of our lives feels the warmth of His presence.

And we? we get to go along for the Ride. He is the conductor, He is the train, and He is the fuel; we are passengers. There is nothing that we can do to guarantee our arrival at destination (that's already been done for us too, see Phil. 1:6). Everything has been planned for, set up, started, is being maintained just fine, and will finish because HE has willed it so. 

We can relax. We can rest in His amazing, all-pervasive love. We can open ourselves to Him, knowing that only a great and supreme Love would reach down and translate us from darkness to light BECAUSE HE CHOSE TO. That's how much He loves. That's how much He plans for us, stays with us, and lavishes His Holy Spirit within each of us. 

There is nothing to prove. 
HE has done it all; HE will finish it all. 
Period.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sacred Cows

It's really easy as humans to compartmentalize. What I mean is that we tend to file portions or aspects of our lives into comfortable little boxes that we take out and play with (or use, if you like) according to the label that's on them. 

We have a box we label 'work'. We have another one named 'church' and another called 'home.' But we have so many more. There's what we like to do in our leisure time, there's our political involvement or beliefs, there's what TV programs we watch, what music we listen to, what our lifestyle is, what loyalties we hold to any kind of sports or pop idol, and the list is endless. 

And these boxes have very little (if any) overlap. 
And this can be a problem. 

If we are believers, there's an important box called our relationship with God. Within it, there are a number of other boxes: the church part including doctrines we hold, people we associate with, styles of music and preaching, programs we espouse, and ministries we support. Then there's the devotional/relationship part which might include prayer and reading the Word. We like to keep things in their proper place ... and it's all usually very tidy .... until it's not. Until God starts doing something radical and taking those little religious boxes out and destroying them, and tearing down the walls between the relationship with God box and the other boxes in our lives. 

Photo "Big Brahman Bull Isolated On A
White Background"
courtesy
of Gualberto107 at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I've watched people who love God actually destroy their testimony, ruin their Christian reputation, fighting and treating one another shamefully over which football team will win the Superbowl. Or what hockey team will win the Stanley cup. I've seen people irreparably damaged by political party affiliation, fighting over whether to vote this way or that way, trying to Christianize their reasons and causing deep wounds that are impossible to heal - over something as not-worth-arguing-about as politics. Or property. Or what foods to eat or not eat. Or whether to home-school, Christian-school, or public school their children.

Seriously.

In India, you can't go very far without seeing - or almost bumping into - cows. They're everywhere. The Indian people don't believe in harming the animals, and so cows are allowed to go anywhere they want, lie down anywhere they feel like it, and the Indians just go around them. The cow is a source of milk, butter, cheese, fuel (yes, they burn cow manure as fuel!), and some religious rituals or cultural customs in India, but they are not killed. Take away an Indian's civil rights but no, don't touch the cows. 

And in many ways, I see some believers acting that way about their own sacred cows: Yes God, I'll go to church but not during Downtown Abbey (or whatever the name of it is). Sure, Lord, I'll give my ten percent but don't ask me to not watch the playoffs (I'll just watch the game on my phone while I'm at church, how's that?) I'll even go to the church potluck but for goodness' sake, don't expect me to eat bread ... as a matter of fact, I'll go and I will try to convince people how unhealthy all this food they're eating is for them. WHILE they're eating it.

That defensiveness can even affect the things we do that we consider "of God." Once, when I remarked to someone that a certain popular book, used as a devotional aid at the time, was teaching heresy, that person pouted and asked me not to take that away from her. Not, "What things specifically don't line up with the scriptures?" but just a "Don't touch my sacred cow." 

Jesus came to make us free, to deliver us from bondage to our sacred cows. 

He came to take a sledgehammer to those boxes, those compartments in our lives that I spoke about earlier. His design for our lives is "open concept" - because to Him, all of life is sacred: whether it's home life or school life or work life or church life or hobby life or sports life or music life or fashion life or food life.... you get the idea. And if what He has done does not reach into that little corner we've been keeping just for ourselves, then it is not so much a reflection on His power as it is a commentary on how very little we appreciate all that He has freely given to us out of the abundance of His love!

I've heard it said that if Jesus is not Lord OF ALL then He is not Lord AT ALL. There is a sense in which this may well be true. However, I'm more inclined to believe that our entire Christian existence is a journey ... a journey toward trust... based on His love for us. The more we realize how real and deep that love is, the more we trust Him. The more we trust Him, the more we relinquish to Him; the more we relinquish to Him, the more He looks after our needs and we realize the depth of His love and care for us; the more He lovingly looks after our needs, the more we trust Him.

It doesn't have to get more complicated than that.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

And I Hid

The Lie did not seem that false when they reached for the fruit. It made sense. After all, the serpent wasn't dead, and HE touched the fruit. (Never mind that this was not even what the commandment was; it was to not EAT it!) The deceiver crept among the branches of the tree, taunting them for their naiveté, mocking their trust in the goodness of God. 

It wasn't the punishment of death that they noticed first, after eating together. It was ... something else. Something had changed. 

Something important. 

Their glory was gone. That light which bathed them constantly, which emanated from them, that holy glow that they didn't even have to work at - that was gone. For the first time, they felt exposed. 

Afraid. 

Afraid of punishment. 

They wanted desperately to be covered with that glory they once had, the glory that had disappeared like the morning dew, as if it had a mind of its own. 

Did they ask the One who gave it to restore it to them? No, for they had believed the Lie - the Lie that He was not good. That He was holding out on them. Their ENTIRE PERSPECTIVE was tainted by it. Instead of running to embrace Him, they sought to create in their own power what God had provided for them automatically: a covering. They searched out the leaves, strong leaves they had helped to dress and to tend in the Garden - sewed them together with thin strips of stem. They made aprons ... thinking that the things they had dressed and kept would now keep and dress them.

It didn't work. And they hid. 

They hid. It was their choice to walk away from the only source of life, to hide their false belief and their warped faith, warped to now include things that they tried to do to appease His wrath, and hope that He wouldn't notice, that He wouldn't kill them.

But He still loved them. He didn't come to kill them; he came looking for them.

He found them. There was nowhere they could hide, nothing they could do or say to change how their view of Him had changed.They were convinced He would be angry, that this death that was promised was still to come. They didn't realize that it had already happened. The death of believing God was mean and unfair had taken their glory away. Their hearts had died.

Adam's voice somehow found expression and tells the whole sad episode in just a few words. "I was afraid, because I was exposed, so I hid." 

Photo "Spring Lamb" by Tina Phillips at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
After they understood the ramifications of their choice, God promised them that He would mount a rescue mission, that the Lie would no longer come between them. And He showed them - in true "God" fashion - that what they manufactured was never going to be enough, that it was He and He alone who could cover them: He took away their man-made clothing and gave them pelts to wear. 

And He gave them hope. He pointed forward to a time when the seed of the woman would come and be bruised by the serpent - but that in so doing, He would crush the Liar's head. He took the serpent's legs away from him ... perhaps as a reminder to the humans that relationships based on lies don't go anywhere. 

And He planned and prepared in love for them, within the boundaries of the curse they had brought upon themselves. 

As a demonstration of His mercy, He sent a guardian to stand sentinel over the tree of everlasting Life and protect them from tasting from it again, for what indescribable hell could it be for humans - whose glory had departed - to live forever, separated in this fashion from Him? 

"And I hid." So many people are still hiding from the only One who can make a difference in their lives, who can take away that shame, reinstate that glory. Jesus the Lamb of God has now made that way, mounted that rescue mission He promised all the way back in Genersis 3:15, rescued us all as He hung suspended between Heaven and Earth, took away the sin problem ... and we are still hiding in the bushes and sewing together ornate fig aprons. 

He still searches. He still calls. He still cries out. The Lamb has taken away your sin, my sin. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. The sin is gone. It's gone. It's completely GONE. The Liar is crushed. God the Father has prevailed. We don't need to hide any more. We don't need to sew our own coverings around us. HE has covered us. HE has rescued us. HE has become the problem and in doing so, has eradicated it with His goodness, with His love. 

We are made right, holy, and pure; we have been given back the glory of a heart fully alive.*

Step out of the bushes.



*Recommended reading: John Eldredge, Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, (c) 2003 Thomas Nelson Publishing .

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fabricated fervor

I tend to be a bit of an iconoclast. An iconoclast is someone who challenges the idols of the past and destroys them if possible. And that's a dangerous thing to be - for the iconoclast (LOL). It usually means that someone like me comes under a fair bit of attack by the proponents of the status quo. Those who are attached to their household (or sanctuary) idols feel threatened by me saying, "But WHY do we do it that way? This makes no sense! This is not right!!" and so forth. 

And so, here I go again with the sledgehammer.

Over the past several months to few years, I've been doing a LOT of thinking about how the western church "does church." And by "the church" I am talking about the people, the people groups that gather to (apparently) honour God with their worship and their love and service to each other and (hopefully) to the world. And by "does church," I am speaking about the rituals and sacred cows that we have become attached to when wearing our church-attender mask.

I've looked carefully at the early church as described in the New Testament ... and nowhere do I see that they met once a week and sang five songs, ended the singing 40 minutes later, took an offering and had a sermon with a final song or two (or five) to finish up. They met from house to house, but nowhere do I see where they had to sign up to do so. Nor do I see any kind of reference to programs or topics or themes or leaders or study books. Rather, I see people who loved being together, who went from house to house on a regular basis, possibly as much as daily (!) as the Spirit led them. And they shared and talked about Jesus, talked to Him, gained spiritual strength from being together in the presence of God. Hmmm.

That's not what I see today. It breaks my heart.

Everything we do as believers in the western church is regimented, even in denominations that have prided themselves for DECADES on being "spontaneous" and "led by the Spirit." There's a structure, a set of tasks to accomplish, and in a certain order, each taking a predetermined amount of time, without all of which (it is believed) church just doesn't happen.

It's funny .... I kind of believe that church (first of all) is whenever two or more gather together in Jesus' name. It isn't a building, it doesn't have a human-organized structure as such, and it doesn't need money to operate. (Horrors!!) Church can happen (believe it or not!) even at a bar, if it has to (and it WILL if there is no other place for God to manifest His presence). Or ... at a coffee shop. Or in a kitchen when two friends share while doing dishes. Or on a golf course. Or in someone's basement when folks get together and "jam" with a couple of guitar and/or a keyboard. Or listening to and watching some Youtube videos of worship music. Jesus said that the rocks and trees would cry out His praise if the human voices were silenced. Is it such a stretch to think that He might show up in a place that is not authorized?

The number one requirement for such a gathering is spontaneity. If that doesn't exist, the "group" is just as cold and dead as the inside of a crypt. It serves no Kingdom purpose. None at all. It's just a bunch of people congratulating themselves for "not forsaking the assembling of [themselves] together" (Heb 10:25). Can I confess that I absolutely hate that verse? Or rather, I hate what it's been used to justify; I hate that people take that verse and club people over the head for not going to church regularly or for not signing up for a small group. Or for whatever other times or reasons the church (or hand-picked leaders') doors are open.

And let me go out on a limb here and say something else that might be considered radical, even (I dunno) iconoclastic! It's simply this. Spontaneity cannot be legislated. It's like expecting positive and immediate results when a university professor stands in front of his classroom of students at 9:17 a.m., and makes an announcement to the students, "You will now have fun. Go ahead. It's fun time." 

Seriously?

Photo "Chain And Hand" by worradmu at
www.freedigitalphotos.net

It doesn't happen that way. Doubly so when we're talking about something that God has made very clear can't happen without HIM!! Humans can't create the Spirit's presence in a test tube. We can't fabricate fervor. We can't regiment passion. We can't organize an organism. 

If we do, they all die.

If we shackle what was intended to be spontaneous, there might be a little knowledge transferred and we might think we're "accomplishing something" or "learning a lot" - or even "developing relationships" ... but we will have missed the whole point. Church, real church, isn't about learning stuff or feeling accomplished or patting ourselves on the back. It's about connecting with God and with each other on a spiritual level, not on a superficial level that touches only our minds. 

I'm not saying, "Don't go to church" or anything else like that. I'm saying that it might be time to RE-THINK what we have believed is so important when we gather together. It might be time (here's a radical thought!) to allow small groups to develop on their own rather than control the whole process with leaders and training seminars and sign-up sheets and hard-core marketing techniques. 

Those things turn me off in the worst way; I run in the opposite direction when I hear those kind of heavy-handed should-fests. I don't know about you, but the best way to keep me away from something is to tell me that I HAVE to do it or to judge me for not doing it. It's by telling me that I am less of a Christian, that I'm not doing what God wants me to do if I don't subscribe to the flavour of the month, whatever that is. Sorry. It's just not going to work with me. I figure that God put a brain in my head for a reason, and He put His spirit within my heart so that I could learn to listen to His voice and do what He tells me WHEN He tells me to do it. And I don't need someone else to do that for me. 

And yes, if I could find a gathering that is truly organic, I would probably want very much to be part of it. When I find it ... that will be something to write home about.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Undiluted, Pure Grace

Whenever I get confused about what I have to do, what God's will is for me, or whether I'm barking up the wrong tree, I always end up in either Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 5, or Galatians. 

Today, I decided to take a different tack with my approach - instead of reading a few favorite verses, I decided to read the whole book of Galatians, and in a readable, relate-able paraphrase called "The Message." I find that this paraphrase demystifies Paul's writings for me and helps me get to his intent, his real message, stripping away all the convoluted fancy talk. 

I wanted to see just what the church's problem was at Galatia. What specifically was Paul trying to correct? I wanted to see the big picture and not get "lost in the tall grass" as one acquaintance put it once. And it was so clear as I just read through all six chapters that the thing he was trying to correct was that the Galatians believed the lie. The lie is that humans can do something to make God like them more. 

What they didn't GET was that God already approved of them, had already gone to the cross for them, rescued them, and made them righteous in His sight through the sacrifice He made for them, putting them right back into the covenant that God made with Abraham: you know, the one based on faith alone, five hundred years before Moses was even born. They were stuck on keeping the law as a way to add to what Jesus had already accomplished for them; it was an insult to His grace. It detracted from it, diluted it.

To dilute something means to lessen its power by adding something else into the mix. While dilution can be a helpful thing in cases of making something more palatable or less toxic, the sense in which I mean it is of something that would be detrimental by being watered down. For example, the orphanage in Dickens' book, Oliver Twist used to water down the porridge served so that it was no longer porridge (oatmeal) at all, but gruel, or oatmeal-flavored water. It left the boys in the orphanage constantly hungry, which gave rise to Oliver's famous quote, "Please sir, may I have some more?"  

Grace gets watered down with religion - and the result is gruel. Nasty, tasteless, unsatisfying gruel. 

But people don't know the difference if that is the only diet they've ever gotten. The only way is to give them a taste of what they've been missing.

Here is a taste of Pure Grace. Jesus has done it all for you; He has already fully accepted you; there is nothing else you need to do for Him to completely love you and approve of you. God did that IN JESUS AT THE CROSS from before the foundation of the world. Nothing you can do can add to it or take away from it; the Grace of God stands alone. 

Photo "Rushing River" courtesy of Maggie Smith at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Your faith is nothing more than saying "Yes" to His Grace, believing that you can step into that stream of living water already flowing beneath your feet. He works His life out in you. 
He is with you, and as near as the breath you breathe. Always. Not just at some ornate altar somewhere, He is with you at all times, loving you, bragging you up, doting on you. 

Listen to what a friend of mine had to say about this:

It seemed that the gospel I was raised with required my faith in order for my sins to be forgiven. That God would not or could not love me until I worked faith out. This seemed to make my faith a work by which I gained or won salvation. Now I know that my faith simply accepts what is already mine. While I was a sinner Christ died and rose again for me. God has never held my sin against me. Christ was crucified before the world began. I was reconciled to God from birth. It’s all mine (and yours) now, though I won’t experience it until I believe it. However, the accepting of forgiveness does not produce it. Faith simply says ”I see it, I believe it.” Seeing it, believing it, is a work of grace, and then I have to simply say “yes” to it.

This radical shift for me has now begun to cross over into what I have as a believer. I have longed for certain gifts to be mine. Asked, begged, pleaded with God, to allow them to be in my life. Thinking that until I act in some worthy fashion and exercise my faith that they would not be manifested. But they are all mine already, and have been from the very beginning of all things, and thus certainly from the beginning of my spiritual life.

“For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” (Col 2:9,10)

“For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God.” (2 Cor 1:20)

Faith just says “I see it, I believe it.” Seeing that all his gifts are mine already is a work of grace, and then I have to simply say “yes” to it.

Demanding that anyone produce the work of faith before they can be forgiven is actually a sure way to keep them from it. If faith becomes a law, a thing we must do before God will love us, then we have fallen from Grace before we ever find it. If believing that the gifts are mine is a law, a thing I must do before they can be mine then I am already insulting the Spirit of Grace. I am already far from the reality as it is in Jesus.

It’s all ours now, all we have to do is see it, believe it, and say yes to it.
    - Rev. Stephen John Fenton, 2015-04-11.

I saw this work of Grace in the heart and life of my own dad. He was a chain-smoker, started smoking when he was five years old and had tried to quit SO many times, to no avail. He struggled with it all of his life. And for decades he had been judged and condemned by the religious elite of the community - which included his own wife many times - and sometimes he had tried to change, to clean up his life. He just. couldn't. do. it. He couldn't change himself, not one iota. He couldn't understand the Bible, didn't want to read it, didn't want anything to do with the people who'd judged him...the religious ones...or the petty, vindictive god they served.

When he was 58, he had a heart attack. And one day, after having developed a respect for the pastor who went to see him every day and showed that he cared about HIM, that pastor asked him for permission to ask him a personal question. With Dad's permission, the pastor said, "Are you trusting Jesus as your only way to a relationship with God?" And Dad thought about it and then he said, "Yes." And he meant it.

In that moment, something radical changed in him; he was never the same. And all he said was, "Yes." That's pure Grace

Yes, he struggled with his addiction. Yes, it eventually and ultimately killed him - first laying waste to his lungs, then his brain. But the person he was when he walked out of that hospital at fifty-eight years old was a different person than he was when he went in. He found himself automatically loving Jesus. He found himself automatically wanting to spend time with Him, reading what He had to say. He became more generous, more loving, more gentle, more humble. All without even trying. Jesus was doing the working out of Grace in his life, giving him the "want to" and the power to live each moment in gratitude and in returning the great love he had been given back to the One who gave it. And at the end of his life here, not even 10 years after that heart attack, there were so many people at his funeral that folks filled the foyer, and had to stand outside the church in the cold November air. 

Grace has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with God.

That's how it works. That's how it always works - full-strength, undiluted, pure Grace. 

Thank God!!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The unforced rhythms of Grace

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me
Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. 
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of Grace
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 
Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
- - - - Matthew 11:28-30  (The Message)

Tonight I listened to the Easter Sunday morning message (on Saturday night where I live) - streamed live from Hillsong church in Australia. Pastor Brian spoke powerfully on the overwhelming power of the message of Grace - the simple message that the Cross equals Love, just asking from the Giving God who gives (James 1:5, AMP). 

And then he read the above passage from the Message. One of my favorite passages in the New Testament, it is Jesus talking. I know that the Message is a paraphrase and I won't get into a debate about what version is authorized or not. (I'm thinking the original one written in Greek is, but that's just a theory...) but those words - 'the unforced rhythms of Grace' - reached out to me and ministered to my heart. 

So much of what church and Christianity has become for me and for so many others has more to do with being forced. Pushing, fighting, persevering, sweating, fasting, agonizing. Really. There's only so much effort one can make before strength fails. 

Strength fails.

"I will give you rest," Jesus said. "My yoke is easy, My burden is light." It's not forced, not accomplished by grimacing in pain or doing a Daniel fast or tithing thirty percent or hopping to it every time the church doors are open. 

It's rest. Rest in Him. "Come to Me," Jesus said. Not "go to church." 

Am I saying not to go to church? well-l, all I can say is that lately whenever I've gone to church I've come home more upset than before I went...from all the "ands" and "ifs" I've been hearing, all the mind-games and controlling practices I see. As soon as the worship starts, it starts. Raise your hands, stand up, sit down. No, really MEAN this song, you're not doing it right. Go around and greet people, love on them. Okay that's enough, stop doing that. No really, greeting time is over; be quiet, I'm talking now. What's wrong with you? how come you're not saying Amen? Now stand up. Now sing this other song. Now learn a bunch more of stuff I know but you don't. Now add this religious practice to your life. And that one. And this other one. It'll help your faith grow. If you don't do it my way you are missing something, you're defective. Repent and come to the altar, you sinners... and on it goes; it's so sickening. 

Now, if church isn't like that for you, if you look forward to going and you sense the real presence of God, great!! But I wonder if we really feel His presence there, or whether we are being manipulated emotionally. I only know that I feel manipulated and judged, when I listen to anyone's voice but His. 

Photo "Loving Father And His Baby" courtesy of
David Castillo Dominici at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
So when I go to church, I try not to listen to any other voice but the voice of Jesus, not to see any face but the face of Jesus. I don't sing for (or TO) anyone but Him. Anything less - any time I get my eyes off the One who loves me, and see the sea of people around me who are looking for a shepherd, I become discouraged and I sink into despair. 

I felt like that last Sunday. I was millimeters from throwing in the towel - not on God but on those who call themselves His people. I felt trapped, used, controlled, condemned. And I was dreading going to church this weekend -- of all weekends, Easter. Too many expectations, too much pressure. The prayers and words of a friend helped me to gain enough strength to just lay that aside and seek the face of God.

I was spinning my wheels all week, in turmoil, not knowing what to do or where to go (if anywhere).

And then those words. "Learn the unforced rhythms of Grace." 

I'd forgotten that the cross equals Love. That Love came down willingly and died for me, stretched out His arms to show how much He was going to take away - everything - everything in me that separated me from receiving His love. I'd forgotten how He rescued me, how He set me free, made me the righteousness of God. I'd forgotten how He took my sin away, loved it right out of me, blazed the trail back to Heaven by becoming just like me, just so I could let the Father love me.  

He led the captor captive, tore out his teeth and paraded him through the halls of hell to the cheers of those whom He had released from their long waiting. And He rose from the dead ... so I didn't have to fear that either.

And I didn't need a ritual to "remind" me.  I needed HIM. I needed His words. That promise of rest, of Grace already given for all time, of His presence with me. 

And it brought something to me that I have not experienced for a long time. 

Peace. Joy. And Love.