Long Division

This morning, for some reason, I see so clearly how the powers of darkness are working to destroy the church. It’s so simple, it’s amazing we have fallen for it for so long. The darkness comes in like a worm, slithering its way into any tiny crack, nudging and pushing until the crack becomes a split and the split becomes a chasm. Division. That is the power of the enemy.  And he’s been doing this for a long time.

The Crack:

Party 1: A nagging thought. Something someone said is buzzing through their brain and they’re not 100% sure they know what it meant.

Party 2: A nagging thought. They said something to Party 1 and they’re not sure it was taken the right way, or maybe that they should have said it at all.

The Worm:

Party 1: Instead of going to Party 2 and just asking what they meant when they said, “X”, they have imaginary conversations in their mind. The worm tells them that it would be a bad idea to talk to Party 2 and so instead they talk to everyone else about the situation.

Party 2: Instead of going to Party 1 and apologizing or trying to clarify what they said, OR APOLOGIZING (I know I said it twice), they act as if everything is totally okay, and begin distancing themselves subtly from Party 1. The worm tells them that “really they didn’t say anything wrong and if Party 1 is hurt by that, they are just being sensitive”.

The Split:

Party 1 has now become hurt and angry by: first, the hurtful thing that was initially said, and second, by the nonchalant way that Party 2 has handled everything, including talking about this situation with everyone but them. They no longer want to have anything to do with Party 2, whom they now believe is legitimately evil.

Party 2 has now become hurt and angry by: first, having what they initially said blown way out of proportion, and second, by the way Party 1 is now talking about them to all their shared friends, causing people to have to choose sides. They no longer want to have anything to do with Party 1, whom they now believe is legitimately evil.

The Worm:

The Worm continues to speak to both parties, encouraging them to remain prideful, discouraging them from talking about the problem with each other, helping them to forget that loving your neighbor as yourself is one of the tenets of Christianity.

Pride: it’s something I write about a lot because I truly believe it is the number one tool of the Worm.  If we are full of pride and full of concern about our “rights”, the Worm can work with that.  Easily.  If we are more concerned with being the one who is in the right than we are about trying to make the situation right, the Worm will use that to continue dividing us from one another until the Split becomes a Chasm, with Parties and their supporters lined up on either side, hurling insults at each other.

A church split isn’t a separation of two groups with competing ideals, it’s a gaping hole with wounded people struggling to climb out of the abyss.  And the split begins as a tiny crack, that Party 1 and Party 2 are too prideful to try to repair.  Many of Jesus’ counter-cultural parables centered on figures who forgave when they didn’t have to, helped others when it was not easy or convenient for them, laid down their pride to better those around them.  So how do we miss this most basic teaching?  How do we let a crack become a chasm?

The Worm: the prince of darkness who lives in the shadow realm, is waiting for opportunities to exploit our most basic human weaknesses, our pride and selfishness.  Yes, he encourages the division that is destroying us but the tools he uses are of our own making.

***

I’ve seen a lot of division in the church in my short 36 years on this Earth.  And this division I’m talking about has been going on for centuries, and it is well documented.  Even as far back as Paul and Barnabas.

Acts 15:36-41

36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” 37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Did they part because they prayed and felt that God wanted them to each go a different way and further His gospel?  No.  They parted because they were being stubborn and prideful, each believing they knew what was right.

The Worm.  His work is evident.

Galatians 19:21

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul said this!  My friends, even respected leaders mess up.

***

This summer I have, once again, felt the painful caress of division, like a sword, maiming but not killing.  I have been Party 1 and I have been Party 2.  I’ve been stubborn, prideful, arrogant, unforgiving, angry, hurt, wounded, beaten, broken, a real jerk, and a real innocent.  I have played all the parts and felt all the stings.

But I don’t want to be manipulated by this worm anymore.  Even though I feel as though my heart has physically been ripped from my chest and set on fire on top of a pile of broken glass, I don’t want to play the games this worm has contrived anymore.  I don’t know how, but what I want more than anything is to walk in humility towards others.  I want to lay down my pride and pray together and work things out.  But I can’t do it alone.  Even if one party is willing to try, if the other is closed off, it will not work.

So this is my declaration: I am here and I am willing to talk and pray and try to work things out.  I don’t want my pride to get in the way.  I don’t want the worm to win.  I don’t want to see lives hurt and wounded and beaten and broken.  If you are with me, if you are willing to work through any hurt we have between us, please call me.  I will sit with you and pray with you and hopefully, together we will find a place of agreement again, even if we no longer walk the same path.

My friends, don’t let The Worm have his way.  Don’t let him nudge his way into that tiny crack.  Let’s all lay down our pride together.

John 13:35

35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.

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Broken Bones

I missed church again this morning.  My poor children have had the worst experiences with allergies this summer.  Not to be too crass but I’ve decided to dub this the “Summer of Puke”.  It’s been… BAD.  So. Bad.  So I took my eldest to Urgent Care because she was amazingly sick this morning.  She is doing much better now but I still missed church again.

That being said, I did get to hear all about church later from my husband, Nick.  I definitely missed out on some good stuff this morning.  Nick posted this pic from the service on FB with the caption: “We’re all dancing on broken bones.”

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He was quoting Bob Bretsch, who was quoting Psalm 51:8 – “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”

Psalm 51 is a well-known and much quoted psalm.  It’s beautiful and inspiring and if you haven’t read it lately, go take the time.

Anyway, as I went about my day, I just couldn’t get those words out of my mind, “We’re all dancing on broken bones.”  For some reason I identify with them so much.  Maybe because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the battles we are all waging inwardly.  Thinking how many of us are engaged in a war we don’t even know about.

And so with spiritual violence on my mind, Psalm 51 in my hand, and those poignant words on my lips, I sat down at the piano and wrote a new song.  The song is called “Broken Bones”.  (Per usual, I quickly recorded it with my phone sooooo… that explains the quality of the recording.  You’re welcome?)

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My Political Rap, Part 2, Yo! (Still not political, still not a rap.)

Ok, I don’t mean to sound critical and judgmental.  I know that IS how I sound but, honestly, that’s not my intention.  I want to challenge us, especially myself, to view this church thing in a new way.  (Or maybe a really old way.)

See, I’m not saying every church has to do things the same way.  I’m all for different styles of worship as long as they bring you closer to Jesus.  If sitting in church together with the body of Christ, singing hymns really brings you closer to Jesus then by all means, SING HYMNS, please.  If hearing a well-prepared sermon draws you closer to the Father, then listen the heck outta that sermon.  I don’t care what you do as long as it is bringing you and the church body closer to Jesus.

What I’m really on about is that church should be a place where we, as the body of Christ, draw closer to the Father and to one another.  Ah, you say, that’s what Life Groups are for.  Ok, maybe.  But let me paint a scenario for you.

In the world there are cooks and there are chefs.  Cooks have varying levels of cooking ability from “can boil water” to “winner of the Betty Crocker bake-off 3 years running”.  Chefs also have varying degrees of ability from “can run a greasy spoon diner” to “runs multiple Michelin rated restaurants in New York City, London and L.A.”  The main difference between cooks and chefs, though, is cooks do it at home and for fun, chefs are interested in cooking food as a business on a professional level and they are serious about it.

Let’s say you’ve become a pretty good cook.  You decide you actually want to be a chef and decide to go to culinary school.  Your first few classes are GREAT.  Challenging but you knew it would hard going into it.  Then one day your head instructor makes an announcement.  The school has decided to go in a new direction.  They really want to attract new students and keep them coming back.  They realize that the difficulty level of the classes has caused some students to drop out and they want as many people to come to their school as possible.  The main classes will now be geared towards recruiting and keeping new students.  There will be a snack bar, D.J., and a short, easy lesson that everyone is comfortable with.  If you still desire to learn the hard stuff you will now be required to take an extra class where you and a few other students will talk about what you read in the text book this week.  There will be snacks at that class too.

Wouldn’t you be angry?  Why did you pay to take these awful, uneducational classes to begin with?  Beats me.  If it was me, I’d be looking for a new school.

Now, I know this is an overly simplified example but you get the point. And I’m sorry but I’m not done giving examples.

Musicians.  Musicians only get really good by playing with other musicians.  And do you know what happens when musicians of varying skill get together to “jam”?  The more experienced ones don’t stop playing so that the noobs can catch up.  They keep playing and the less skilled musicians either have to give up or get better.

Elementary School.  A teacher of a classroom of 30 kids doesn’t let the kids who just aren’t getting it hold up the rest of the class.  Instead, they help those poor kids find a tutor so they can catch up.  They stay after school with them to answer questions.  They think about the education of all of the students.

The point I’m trying to make is that you cannot get better at anything without being challenged.  Nothing grows without effort.  It shouldn’t be too easy.  It should be hard.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
(Matthew 7:13-14)

Back to culinary school.  If the school is interested in recruiting new students they should hold seminars or offer smaller introductory classes on a different night, not change the whole direction of the school.  Keep challenging the students who want to be there and pick a different time and place to entice the new students.

If people are coming to church to get a taste of what being a Christian is like, why in the world are we dumbing it down for them?  They’re not getting a taste of what being a Christian is like if we do that!  They’re getting  an advertising campaign.

“Bonnie, what you’re talking about is just not practical.”  I got news for you people, Jesus just isn’t practical.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
(Luke 9:57-58)

What kind of leader is homeless?!  Only the coolest guy ever, that’s who!  But certainly not practical.

“Bonnie, I pastor a church of over 500 people, it would be impossible to do some of the things you’re talking about.”  Wait, you mean to tell me that there are over 500 people going to your church and you are the ONLY one who is gifted in pastoring?  That is insane.  And highly unlikely.  You’ve got 500 people, I bet you have at least 4 other pastors in there somewhere.  Ask Jesus who they are and put them in charge of 100 people.

“Our facilities are not built for that kind of ministry.” Ok, fine.  You have over 500 people?  Pick 50 people from your congregation and give them each 1 Sunday a year to preach a sermon.  Meet with them ahead of time to go over their notes.  That’s only 10% of your congregation, yo.

“But people come to church to hear me preach.”  Oh, they do?  Well, you better start charging then because that makes you a motivational speaker, bro, not a pastor.  A pastor is a shepherd, guiding people into a closer walk with Jesus.  We should ALL be pastoring each other all the time!  If it was primarily your job to teach or preach you would be the Senior Teacher or the Lead Preacher, not the Head Pastor.

I’m rabbit trailing.  Sorry.  I do that.

HERE IS MY MAIN POINT:  I want to be challenged and I want to draw closer to Jesus with my brothers and sisters in Christ and I think the church as a whole should want the same thing.  I know I’m not the only person who feels this way!  But sadly, those of us who feel this way have been told that if we want to do that we need to form a small group and meet at a different time and place than the church we attend.

But I don’t think that’s the way most pastors want it.  I’ve met a lot of pastors who would love to do the things I’m talking about here.  My pastor is an amazing guy and you can see his passion for Jesus clearly.  I love all the people I go to church with and really I’m not ragging on my church.  I go to a great church.  The people there love Jesus and each other.  They’re probably the most loving people I’ve ever had the privilege to be around.  So I’ll be honest, most of this is directed at my inner televangelist.  That’s right, I have an inner televangelist.

If you think this is all about me criticizing pastors, you’re only partially right.  Because that is the way it looks, I guess.  But when I started writing my first political rap the other day I was writing it because I was angry at myself for thinking with my glittery thinking cap.  I was at a prayer meeting and all I wanted to do was worship Jesus and pray but my inner Tammy Faye was nagging at me to try to get my youth group all fired up and emotional.  I was sitting there thinking about how I just wanted to go to the secret place with Jesus and feel the love of God but I kept looking over at my youth group and wondering what I was supposed to be doing to make them love Jesus more.  GAH!  What the flip is wrong with me?!  Hahaha.

I DON’T WANT TO THINK LIKE THAT ANYMORE!  It’s too much work.  It’s exhausting to have to plot and scheme and plan and organize and rehearse.  I’m so tired, tired, tired of it.

If people don’t want to follow Jesus, I don’t want to chase them down anymore.  Jesus certainly didn’t go chasing after people.

Then he and his disciples went to another village. As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
(Luke 9:56-62)

Jesus was all, “Follow me or step off, yo.  You can’t step to this.”  So why are we all, “Come to my church, we have donuts!”?

So that’s really it, I guess.  I just want to draw closer to Jesus and quit playing games.  I wanna get my hands around the neck of my inner televangelist and wring the life outta her.  I WANT TO BE DONE WITH GLITTERY PARADES AND PAGEANTRY.  I want to be done trying to make Jesus relevant and cool.  He’s the Creator and King of the Universe, how much cooler can I really make Him?  I mean, honestly.

My ranting is just a challenge to myself and anyone else out there who is reading this.  The challenge is to make getting closer to Jesus the main priority in my life, not trying to make Jesus the main priority of everyone else’s lives.

And, yes, I am criticizing the way we do church in America a little bit.  I think I’ve made it clear that I’m not down with the overly complicated performances, light extravaganzas and rockin’ sound systems.  What in the world do we need all that for anyway?  If the point of Christianity is to be more like Jesus then WHY DO WE NEED ANY OF THAT CRAP?!!  The answer is we don’t.  We only need that stuff if we want to keep people coming back for more and if they aren’t coming for Jesus then who needs ’em, anyway?  I mean seriously!  Do we love Jesus or do we love that we are good at making people love Jesus?  I’ve been both.

And I’m still ranting because I’m so frustrated!  You probably stopped reading a while ago and that’s ok.  I think this is more for me at this point than it is for you.  But that’s ok too.

If you’re still reading, ask yourself this: why do I go to church?  Is it a desire to draw closer to Jesus and be more like Him?  Am I coming because it makes me feel like a good person?  Do I go because I want to raise my kids in church?  Am I going because I like the way the worship team sounds or the way the pastor preaches?  Am I going because I have friends there?  If your #1 reason for going to church isn’t Jesus then you’d better go read Matthew 7:21-27 again.  Not everyone who comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Some of them Jesus will look right at and say, “I don’t know you.”  And I’m terrified that will be me.  I want Jesus to know me.  I want to be done playing church games, beloved.  I want Jesus.

I’m sorry for sounding so critical.  I’m sure I’ve offended someone.  I’m sorry for that.  It was not my intention.  But the truth can be offensive sometimes and I feel like this is truth.  It is truth that the point of being a Christian is to love Jesus and to draw close to Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It is truth that if we are pursuing anything other than that we are missing it entirely.  It is truth that we WILL evangelize if we are drawing close to Jesus because it will naturally pour out of us.  And it is truth that our priorities should be Jesus first, evangelize second.  And it is truth that we can’t grow without challenge and we can’t grow without each other.

I love Jesus and I love His bride, of which I am a part.  I am hurting inside because I have not made loving Jesus my #1 priority and I am hurting inside because there are many in the body of Christ who have not either.  Why are we here?  What are we doing this for?  Let it be to love Jesus more.  Please, from the depths of my soul, let it be that.  Amen.

My Political Rap, Yo. (Ok, so it’s not political or a rap but this is my blog so I’ll call it whatever I want.)

I’m tired of trying to make Christianity appealing to others. So much of church time is spent trying to make Jesus seem cool to the young people and trying to convince the old people to give money to the church so we can keep trying to make Jesus seem cool to the young people.

The Gospel is not cool. It’s offensive to many and foolish to more. I don’t want to spend my church time evangelizing people who are already there. They didn’t come at gunpoint. They want to be there and if they don’t, it’s not my job to try to make them stay.

The time for evangelism is not church. Church is a time to worship Jesus together, share God’s word together and pray for one another. Church is a time for discipleship, repentance and fellowship. If you’re coming for a show, you won’t find me putting one on. I’m there for one reason: drawing closer to Jesus with the bride of Christ.

See I know how it feels. The times in my life when I have rested completely in Jesus, the times when I have accepted totally His love for me, I have felt freedom like I have never felt any other way. I’ve felt incomprehensible joy, cathartic grief, rest, freedom, peace, love. It’s a feeling that rivals no other that I know of. It can be utterly debilitating, it can just lay you flat out. But it can be so uplifting too, practically giving you wings, you feel you could just take off and fly around the room.

This feeling is truly indescribable as the song says.  And if you’ve ever truly experienced this you can’t help but want others to know it for themselves.  The question then becomes: how?  How can we help others to know the love of God?  If we could only get them in just the right situation, to hear the right sermon, worship service, concert, whatever… if we could only get them there… if they would only read the right book, the right verse, hear the right song, attend the right conference, the right summer camp, the right YOUTUBE VIDEO, THE RIGHT TRACT, THE RIGHT VIDEO SERIES, BIBLE STUDY, V.B.S., SUNDAY SCHOOL!!!

IF WE COULD ONLY GET THEM IN THE RIGHT SITUATION…

THEY WOULD FEEL IT! THEY’D RECEIVE THAT REVELATION!! FINALLY!!! THEY’D GET IT! THEY’D UNDERSTAND! THEN THEY WOULD LOVE JESUS. Then.

This is what we think.

This is how it feels.

I know because I’ve felt that way so many times.  I felt that way 5 minutes ago.

We desire for others to love Jesus and to know His love and so we begin scheming and planning and orchestrating and designing and rehearsing.  Our church services become elaborate performances.  Discipleship is relegated to “Life Groups” where we decide to do a video series because we’ve lost the ability to sit together and teach one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We attend bible studies because we want to know Jesus more but we come away filled with a lot of head knowledge of scripture and very little heart knowledge of our Savior.  We’ve lost the ability to meditate on His word because we gorge ourselves on studies like a hot pan of hunan chicken that was just set out at the Chinese buffet.

Our church services are the way they are because we want to entice people to keep coming back.  We give them a show and good music hoping that eventually they’ll love Jesus enough to come back of their own volition.  But there’s always the fear that it’ll get too boring and they’ll stop coming or worse, go to that other church down the street with the $10,000 sound system and huge kids’ ministry.

Our church services are the way they are because we are always a hair’s breadth away from pissing off Joe Dollarsign who sits in the back row with his arms folded across his chest, complaining that the music is too loud and the worship leader is a dang hippy.  And as long as that old fart is still kicking, his tithe check will pay the electric bill this month.

Our church services are the way they are because we are terrified of silence because if we just got quiet for a second, God might do something weird that would scare off the McPretty family and piss off Joe Dollarsign.

I honestly can’t say that I have any idea what church would look like if we had absolutely NO PLAN except to sit together and see what God wanted to do.  I know it would be hard, weird, awkward and strange.  But if we did it enough something wonderful would take shape.

Remember the first time you rode a bicycle or baked a cake or did anything unfamiliar to you.  You know it was ugly.  But if you kept at it and practiced you probably got pretty good or at least you stopped looking like an idiot.

IF WE STOPPED THE SHENANIGANS AND TRIED JUST WAITING ON JESUS

It would be ugly at first.  It would probably be hideous.  Haha. But the more we did it, the awesomer, easier and more beautiful it would become.

BESIDES… DO WE FREAKIN’ TRUST JESUS OR NOT???

Can’t we just put our faith in Him?  Why do we have to control it all?

It’s a good thing the evangelicals didn’t plan the crucifixion.  I can’t imagine what a freakin’ nightmare of smoke machines, lights, glitter and sound FX that would have been.  Imagine Jesus in a sequined red, satin loin cloth.  Frightening.

Can we de-glitter Jesus, please?

The purpose of a church service is not primarily to preach the gospel and win souls for Jesus.  If that happens during a church service, then praise the Lord and hallelujah.  That’s awesome and I love it.  But Jesus sent us out into the world to do that.  Out in the world in our everyday lives is where we are meant to evangelize.

The purpose of a church service is to edify the body, encourage each other, to teach one another, pray for one another, strengthen one another, to become one as Jesus and the Father are one. It is not a recruitment rally or a freakin’ Tony Robbins event.  I don’t need a life coach or to be entertained.  I own a television and a comfortable sofa, thank you.

Working so hard to keep people interested and engaged and hoping that all my hard work will one day pay off and lead to a true follower of Jesus is kind of exhausting.  And I’m exhausted.  I kinda just wanna rest in Jesus, yo.  I just wanna rest in Him, feel His love and give Him mine.  That’s all I want.

I think I’ve said my piece.  I think I’m done ranting for now.  I’m not done meditating on this concept but I’m done talking about it at this moment.  Peace out.