As a Child

God formed the body of Christ from His deep love for His children, and they have been trying to recreate it ever since. Intentions are good, but they don’t always lead in a positive direction. Peter had the same intentions in Matthew 17:4.

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'” (NASB)

Our love for Christ makes us want to do something or create something that will show Him how very much we love Him. I’m sure He appreciates the efforts, but I’m also sure He wonders at where we get the notion it’s what He desires. Christ was crystal clear when it came to His desire, but His simple message of love gets lost in ornate organizations and messy erections built to honor Him. Whether we build a cathedral or put up a tent, it is still our design. There are 33,000+ Christian denominations in 238 countries. (World Christian Encyclopedia) All are trying to get it right, and I admire their determination. I understand Peter’s desire to build something for Jesus and want to do the same.

I’ve attended seven churches from five different denominations. All offered a place to learn and love, and I grew in each. I’m thankful for my experiences and still have friends from all seven. The pope’s visit last week made me think about church. I haven’t been in an organized church for four months, and it has been very uncomfortable for me. It is difficult not to feel guilty because all of my experiences with church have fostered guilt in me. I do not blame them for that because the guilt was instilled in my heart long before I attended any of them.

The Catholic church is known for its beautiful cathedrals, and seeing the splendor wowed me more than once as I followed the coverage of the pope’s visit. I was struck by Pope Francis because he seemed to be a very simple man surrounded splendor and extravagance. His simple messages and sweet gestures showed a man trying to live out the lessons in love that Jesus still teaches, but the pomp and circumstance buried him at times. I cannot imagine Jesus being comfortable in that setting, but I also cannot imagine Him being comfortable in many of the churches we have built for Him. Agendas, boards, meetings, committees, and all else that go with an institution get in the way of His simple message of love.

My experience has been varied when it comes to churches and denominations, but the same desire to serve has been at the heart of each. That desire gets twisted and turned by those who have the need to control either quietly in the background or obviously in the forefront. The building becomes important. It can’t be too fancy, or it must be as ornate as possible. Programs, visions, mission statements, and agendas take on a life of their own. Both ends of the spectrum share the goal of reaching out to others to spread the gospel, and I admire those who persevere; but I’ve been torn and worn out trying to find my way to the center over the years.  Perhaps there isn’t one, and that’s okay. I know Who is at the center of my worship, and that’s all that matters.

I love the body of Christ, and I know Jesus loves it too. People are imperfect, and no one would say amen more quickly to that statement than Peter himself. We are all in the process of transformation, and I am thankful for the learning, living, listening, and loving I found in each of the churches I’ve attended. I’m also thankful for this time of transition because it is an important part of the transformation God has in mind for my heart. I wanted the church to meet my needs, and I believe that is what most people want. I felt so alone and lost four months ago, but God has been faithful to fill the void in ways I could never have imagined.

I’ve had more time for Him lately, and that’s been a beautiful blessing. Like a couple who never find time for one another until they go away, God and I have renewed our vows in a sweet and powerful way during this time together. He is always sitting at the center with His Son, and His Holy Spirit helped me find my way back to where this journey began fifty years ago. That has been a beautiful blessing.

God’s kingdom is more suited to children, and that has been a powerful part of the learning this week. I’m beginning a study of Mark 10, and verses 13-16 helped me understand a powerful truth.

“And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’ And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” (NASB)

Paul J. Nuechterlein’s sermon, “A Heart-Warming Text,” gave a new perspective on those verses and helped me see that seeing others as my sisters and brothers and loving as a little child changes the very nature of all my relationships, including the one I have with Christ.

“Entering God’s kingdom as a little child means that Jesus offers us freedom from relationships that ensnare us and harden our hearts. He instead offers us the choice to relate to one another as beloved children of one loving God. It’s a new way of relationships, of new and abundant life.” (October 8, 2006)

Mark 10 is not always used in a heart-warming way, but God showed me this week that His Word is always meant to warm the heart. It’s the only way to soften those hardened by the relationships to which Nuechterlien refers. God never ceases to amaze me when it comes to knowing what I need just when I need it, but then He reminds me to remember Who He is and how He feels about me. Then, it makes perfect sense.

The Narrow Gate

Matthew 7:13-14 describes the way to a life in God’s presence. There are various interpretations of these verses, most having to do with exclusion. I believe they simply mean we must all come into God’s presence individually. That means stepping away from the crowd.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NASB)

A crowd cannot pass through the entrance described in Matthew. Groups are great, and I love the sense of belonging I get from them; but my relationship with God is personal. I can’t depend upon a church, a denomination, a team, my family, or my friends to replace my relationship with God. Christ came so we could all have an intimate relationship with God, the Father. That humbles and makes us want to disappear into a crowd. Intimacy is intimidating in human relationships, so it’s understandable that many run from intimacy with The Creator. A group date is easier than a candlelight dinner for two, so many miss out on the relationship and the gate.

Families foster love and give the grounding we need when they are healthy, but they can also be our most painful source of disconnection. Corporate worship brings harmony when those present are in one accord, but it creates discord when they aren’t. No group is perfect, and that includes God’s family. We are all broken, and that will not change until we walk through that narrow gate and meet him face-to-face. The gate is not for groups, and groups cannot decide who gets to walk through the gate. It was forged by a love unlike anything we can imagine. A love designed for all, but not accepted by all. The narrowness of the gate is uncomfortable for some, so they choose the wide berth and imagined comfort of a familiar group.

Groups appear to offer protection and safety, but they rarely do. That is especially true when it comes to religion and politics. The need to win, be the best, or be right cause an unhealthy fusion that forces many to stay on the wide path. I hate election years because the divisions seem to get uglier and uglier, but perhaps I’m just paying more attention as I get older. Lines are darker and deeper, and the stakes are higher than ever. So, we choose sides and battle it out or sit on the sidelines and settle into a seething silence. Sadly, the same thing is happening with religion.

Oneness is at the heart of God’s Word, yet the scriptures divide us more than any political campaign can. How it must grieve God to see His children fighting over His Word. The need to be right is at the heart of division. It begins in the family unit, grows in heart, and reaches out into the community. Christ offered a beautiful solution when He took it upon Himself to breach the divide between God and His children. His unconditional, sacrificial love creates a path to a gate that is open and ready when we are willing to step away from the crowd and enter in.

Fate or Dead Weight?

I’ve gained twelve pounds over the past two years, and I’m afraid I am slowing growing accustomed to the extra weight. Change, like weight, can come gradually or occur in an instant. Either way, it comes, and I must decide what to do about it. The lessons last week were about lightening the load on my heart, and that is proving to be much more difficult than shedding a few pounds.

My heart gains and carries excess weight just as my body and can accept the extra burden or get rid of it. The former is far easier, so my heart has grown heavier and heavier as a result of a lifetime of bad choices. Bad choices made for me during my childhood led to bad choices I made on my own. I bought into the lies that formed the foundation of those choices, and the cycle caused my heart to accept the heavy weight as its fate. I was meant to be hurt, and there was nothing I could do about it. I should accept the burden and grow in the suffering. It’s okay. It’s not as bad as it could be. Whatever ridiculous response I had, they all reflected the truth etched on my heart. I was not worthy of love.

The lessons this summer have been particularly hard because God took me out of my comfort zones and left me feeling exposed. He’s used the weight I gained in the past two years to help me see the weight that has been accumulating in my heart for decades. He lovingly showed me that the weight on my heart was far worse those extra pounds on my body. No amount of dieting or physical activity was going to make a difference if I didn’t deal with the load on my heart.

When hearts and bodies give up, they settle. When they settle, they become sedentary. When they become sedentary, dead weight accrues. The cycle is the same for the heart. Growing accustomed to the weight leads to accepting it as fate, and that is fatal for the heart and the body. My heart and body have been in a terrible state of acceptance over the past four months, and their settling has unsettled me. When I’m unsettled, I do my best to cover it up. I’ve never had a problem covering up pain. My mama taught me at an early age to put a happy face on a broken heart. It is the surest sign of giving up.

Giving up is a choice, and fate is about not having a choice at all. Both offer an easy way out, but God offers something more. He gives me the right to choose and loves me no matter what choice I make. He takes my bad choices and turns them into lessons. He knows that choice and love must go hand in hand. He also knows that making the wrong choices is part of the journey. I have made more than my share of bad choices when it comes to my heart, and the brokenness has given me compassion.

When my heart comes to a crossroad, it can continue along the same path or make a turn. The choice is, and always will be, mine to make. God is at every turn, but He will not force me to go in the direction He knows is best for my heart. He will only get involved if I ask for help. Asking God means admitting I need help, and that has never been easy for me because I’ve always seen myself as beyond help or deserving the hurt.

The world tells me to be strong and make my own way. Live with my mistakes. Don’t get my hopes up. God tells me that He is my hope and strength. He bids me to let His Spirit deal with burdens I cannot handle alone. My heart and body are not designed to carry excess weight, and that weight will numb or kill if left unattended. Sometimes, I come to a place of decision after an epiphany. Sometimes, there is a straw that breaks my back. More often, choice comes in a still moment of surrender. That’s what happened this morning when I looked into the heart of One Who loves me the way He wants me to be loved and saw myself with His eyes. That put choice in a whole new Light. Jesus says it best in Matthew 11:30:

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NASB)