Baby Steps

I have completed the first draft of my book. Hurrah! Now maybe I can keep up with the blogopshere a little better. Still, some time needs to go to my teens – one of whom may very well leave the nest next year.

And speaking of nests…

I love watching birds at the feeders. I’ve seen quite a few species visit over the years and caught some of the “regulars” with my camera. Often, I’ve seen  a pair of birds flying to and fro from feeder to bush or tree as they work tirelessly to keep up with the demands of their now-hatched young.

I am always entertained when the fledglings begin to visit the feeders themselves, mainly because it actually takes some time for the parents to convince the young that they can get food on their own.

I’ve watched both a male house finch and a male cardinal go through this with their fledgling. The young bird, usually drab, will stand on the rail of my porch and flutter his wings while Dad hops back and forth between railing and feeder. Occasionally, Dad will succumb to the youngster’s begging and feed him a morsel before beginning the whole routine again.

When I read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church a few days ago, one of the grey cardinal juveniles was eating – all by himself – from the feeder just as I happened upon 1 Corinthians 3.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

I have to wonder if Paul was as exasperated and worn out with his spiritual children as these birds surely are with their needy, adult-sized young. And if the apostle was weary of the Corinthians’ worldliness, how much more so must our longsuffering Father be? It’s a good thing He is longsuffering!

Take my country. We live in an age where we who call ourselves Christians still have freedom to worship without fear of arrest, beatings, or death. We have a plethora of Bible translations available to us in print or digitally. We even have the resources available to learn the original languages the texts were written in, and yet so much more of our time is squandered on things which will not last.

In many ways, we are like those birds. We are sized like an adult, we can fly like an adult, but we are still dressed in the drab plumage of our flesh instead of the vibrant white of our Lord’s righteousness. We still want to be spoon-fed a nutritionally weak, fast-food devotional snipped rather than feasting on the rich and lasting fare provided by the Bread of Life.

Let’s take to our wings, brothers and sisters, and see how much stronger our spiritual  stamina will be when we make use of the solid food our Provider has given us! Many of us have a long race yet to run, and endurance is required if we are to finish the race.

Especially if we are to finish well.

Oh Lord forgive us. Let us grow up into Christ and move forward without fear in obedience to what You call us to do. Teach us to learn from You and to let our knowledge be reflected in all our actions and choices, amen. 

 

Hurt by Church? Me too. Let’s Chat.

My turn first.

It’s true. I have been hurt by church – even hurt by a church whose stated purpose is to provide a safe place to connect to God for those who have been hurt by church. A trifle ironic, you might say, and you’d be right.

However, I’m not here to drag the leadership of this church through the mud. There will be no character assassination attempts, no ranting or railing against the injustice of it all. In fact, there will be a shocking deficit of details about my experience.

What I want most to express is this: I am glad it happened.

No, you didn’t misread. I have a genuine, heartfelt, sincere sense of glee and relish because I have been  hurt by church. Sorry if that isn’t what you expected to hear. Yet bear with me and hear me out…

I admit I wasn’t always glad about it. To the contrary, there were years in which I was downright bitter about the thing. I was in pain. I was angry. I licked my wounds and sulked. I threw a huge pity party and invited me, myself, and I, and we sat around and placated one another’s tender little ol’ feelings.

Basically, I hopped on the crazy train without even looking at the itinerary first. And I have to say I didn’t really like where it left me when the time came to disembark.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

Yeah, there I was, alone and lacking the proper attire in a wasteland echoing with the sounds of my  sniveling self-pity with naught to eat but the acrid fruit of my own sharp tongue.

“Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Job 23:2

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Not fun. Still, I am truthfully glad it happened. Not because it hurt, but because God uses all things – pain and pleasure alike – to shape His people for eternity. Maybe especially pain.

The thing is, God did not leave me to whine forever in that wasteland. Oh He let me endure it for a bit. Gave me my head, saw how far I would run astray from the Master I love. He allowed me the natural consequences of my sullen response to pain.

But He didn’t leave me because the wasteland was nothing more than a pit stop down the broad path which leads to destruction. And destruction was something I was embracing while I nursed my hurts as if they were dear, beloved friends.

Meanwhile, I was allowing something foolish like hurt feelings to build walls between me and my actual dear, beloved friends.

The stupid part is, I knew better.

In the logical part of my brain, I knew the decision which wounded me was made at a time when we were all worn thin, church leadership and laymen alike.

It was a difficult season in our church’s history, and each one of us was exerting an enormous amount of energy just to keep our heads above water and make each Sunday happen. And I also knew the decision had not been made as a personal slight.

I knew that. Yet for some reason, my pride still felt a sting and I allowed it grow. And fester.

But my Father is good. He knows when I have had enough of my own way, and He is faithful to bring me back to the narrow path by His side. And to be honest, that part hurt, too.

… He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11

My God disciplined me for my own good, so I can share in something better than approval from man, or praise, or whatever it was I felt robbed of at the time. I can share in His holiness. 

Wow. Seriously, wow.

But I have to tell you, the discipline part hurt. Maybe even more than the original wound.

Because of my bitterness, I was forced to take an honest look at myself. I was compelled to assess the situation, what I knew to be true about it, and continue in God’s word.

Then once I had reconciled reality with my faulty perception, it was time to slay the monster. But it wouldn’t die.

Each time I believed it dead and moved on, the vile thing would pop its ugly head back up in a new location. Despite my best efforts at extraction, a root of bitterness coiled around my heart and continued to send new shoots piercing through my words at most inconvenient times.

It was humbling. It was horrible. And frankly, as a woman who spends so much time with her Father in His Word and in conversation throughout the days, it was embarrassing.

But it was also good.

You see, God used that one event, that one perceived slight to show me something I had overlooked. He used it to expose my selfish tendencies, my desire for approval, my propensity to “accidentally” allow my left hand a peek or two at what my right hand was doing.

He used it to expose my pride. My tendency to harbor bitterness. My inflated self-importance. And more.

But in exposing these things, He also began a long and painful work of removing them. And He prompted me to do something I can hope will be the proverbial stake through the monster’s heart.

He prompted me to confess my bitterness to two friends who in some ways represent the church I write of because they are the pastor and his wife. But as I said before, they are also my friends. And I confessed to them the bitterness I wanted gone from my life,  knowing they would accept my confession and pray for me.

It was humbling, sure, but it was also liberating. By confessing, the ugly monster no longer lurked in the depths of my heart but was brought out into the sunshine where it can wither and die. May this be the final nail in its coffin.

And so, in being hurt by church, I was able to discover and address my own junk.

There is no church on earth where people will not, from time to time, hurt one another. We are all selfish at heart. We can all be thoughtless. We respond to one another out of fatigue or pain or a myriad of other problems. And not a single one of us can read the minds and hearts of others, and so we never know if what we say or do might inflict some unintentional wound.

But my friends, that’s the inherent beauty in the church. It’s called sanctification, and it means dealing both with our own hideous monsters and with the hideous monsters of others. It’s how we learn to confess, to forgive, to grow in Christ. To become more like Him in His holiness and humility.

I am thankful for friends I can confess my sin to who will listen and hear my heart then pray for me. And I pray the stupid rift caused by bitterness will truly be healed.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16a

And I’m even more thankful for a God who loves me enough to show me the nasty bits breeding beneath the surface of my soul, then rip them out before they squeeze the life from my heart and relationships.

So what has God wrought in you through times of being hurt, by church or otherwise?

Like a Rock

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter…  And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”    Exodus 15:22-24

My children and I giggled a bit over this passage, although I admit, on my part at least it was a somewhat guilty giggle.  As the last young person finished her turn in the reading, I noted aloud that the Israelites took a significant pendulum swing from a state of joyous praise to dissatisfied griping in three measly days.

To fully understand what I mean, you may want to read the previous portion of Exodus 14 and 15. Go ahead. I’ll wait….

Now, think about what you just read:  Three days after watching the hand of God perform an impossible feat of deliverance involving a massive volume of water, the people seemed unable to grasp that the very same God might possibly be competent to make a little nasty water taste nice.

Three short days — it really is a little amusing. However, if I am honest, the joke’s on me. It is so easy for me to look at the infant nation and wonder how on earth they could have watched something as astonishing as the parting of the Red Sea and still not understood that God is infinitely capable of providing for their needs even when they cannot see how He will.

The sad truth is that I am no different.  I desperately want to be a person possessing unwavering faith in my God, a person who never doubts Him for a moment. But the real me is much more like that group of refugees from Egypt.

On any given day, I may see a glimpse of the enormity of my God and of the goodness and rightness of His plans, yet I rarely need three whole days to slip into disbelief. I have been known to literally sing His praises, filled with unspeakable joy, during an early-morning walk with my dogs only to collapse in frustrated tears before lunchtime because my children are disrespectful or my home school day is not going well.  Three days? It can happen to me in three hours!

Perhaps there is a lesson in this shameful undulation of faith, so like the tides of the sea. It is at such times when my rashness and fickleness are so evident that God’s steadfastness and patience are poignantly underscored.  This,  then, is why God desires so to develop patience and faithfulness in His children — because He is, Himself, patient and faithful.

Perhaps — just perhaps — He has yet one more miracle to perform involving water, considering our flesh is mostly composed of water; one more marvel concerning the tide-like ebb and flow of our faith. For in a display of really ridiculous patience, our long-suffering, holy God continues to allow us access to Himself when we draw near despite the tragic number of times we faithlessly retreat from His presence.

Just maybe as He works in us,  He is gradually increasing the length of our advances toward Him and decreasing the distance we withdraw.  Maybe He will do the impossible and change the shifting waves of our disbelief into fixed and changeless postures of trust.  Maybe even someday in the process of our sanctification, we will find our faith is no longer capricious but has come to look something more like Him , our faithful and steadfast Rock.