Maybe this blog isn’t the place to let off steam about my frustration with the church, but since you don’t know who I really am, here it goes.
Let me preface this by saying Steve Brown gave me this advice in an email recently and I’d probably do well to take it. He said, “As you go through the “dark time,” be very kind to yourselves, do some fun stuff and don’t worry so much about “religious” things. God will (albeit slowly) restore all that you’ve lost. He will do it at exactly the right time.”
He said this in response to a letter I sent voicing my frustration over the church and the loneliness I was feeling.
I kind of ignored his encouragement (Sorry, Steve) about not worrying about religious things, because when a lady at the new church we’ve been visiting invited me to a Bible study, I decided to go despite the fact I was a little ambivalent about it. I’ve been spending a lot of time at home with family rebuilding the relationship with my husband and trying to heal in the comfort and safety of home. However, at the same time gently taking steps to be around other Christians in an effort to build relationships.
But after going to this Bible study, I realize Steve is right and that time might be better spent getting a milkshake! This isn’t an anti-church blog, so please don’t jump on me like I’m Don Miller( but I do love Don Miller). I know I need fellowship, it’s the way God provided for us to help bear one another’s burdens. All I’m saying is sometimes too much religion and too little fun makes Liz a dull, weighed down girl.
Back to the Bible study…it started out OK. There was friendly chat and introductions to one another and talk about movies and books, all of which I really enjoyed. This group of ladies were truly lovely. I felt welcomed by the ones I’d never even met before.
The study was from Exodus specifically the very beginning of Israel’s deliverance from 400 years of enslavement to the Egyptians. I was impressed that these ladies knew their history, geography and theology way better than I did. Actually, I sucked at history. There was discussion about suffering and how God uses it for the good and despite a few pat answers, some shared real stories that encouraged me. But just when I was starting to relax a little, the Israelites started to whine. The discussion took a quick turn to declaring how spiritually immature those Israelites were. They compared them to two year olds and a some agreed that such behavior smudged the name of Christ. If I could been possessed by the sprit of Steve Brown, I might have challenged them by asking when was the last time they escaped from 400 years of slavery, but of course I didn’t. I made my first contribution to the discussion by declaring that at least the Israelites were honest with God. I was corrected, kindly and without any disrespect that they were crying out to Moses not God, and that they didn’t even understand at that point that God was their father. I didn’t say anymore and left not long after. I began to think about this story and how the emphasis wasn’t about the Israelites or their behavior or how immature they were. This story was definitely about God and His deliverance of the Israelites despite their whining. Kind of like our stories. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance – not our great faith. Here’s another I thought about. Suppose the Israelites had not whined and had said, “Yes, God, you’ve done mighty things already and I’m gonna trust you?” Suppose they’d stood at the Red Sea waiting for it to part and with great confidence that it would? I think most would conclude these were mighty saints and God saved them because there was something about them that was so good and worthy to be saved, wen that wasn’t the case at all. He saved them despite themselves. For someone who’s been in a moral train wreck and been caught that gives me comfort.
I want you to know I’m not judging these ladies. Far be it from me to judge anyone! I’m quite sure I could learn a lot from them. However, at this stage of healing I cannot focus on the immaturity of the Israelites and how their actions smudged the reputation of God. Such emphasis, puts me under pressure and lays a burden on my back that God never intended for me to have. I need the truth that sets me free!
So I’ve decided right now I’m not going to go back to that study.
My mind goes back to a time in my earlier Christian days when my mother in law had been caught in a sin with a married pastor. I came down hard on her along with others in the church. I think about it and I feel sick to my stomach, because right now she’s dying of cancer, and she still puts on a smile and says everything is fine and that she’s going to trust the Lord when I know inside she has to be falling apart. But when her life was falling apart obviously on the outside people judged her. She was almost excommunicated from the church when she left and found a more liberal one that accepted her. In the years following her sin, she’s made the comment to me about that dark time in her life and how her actions gave Jesus a big black eye. It doesn’t matter that I’ve said I was sorry for being too hard on her and that she’s forgiven, she really believes her actions hurt the image of Christ. How insane is that? He died because of our sins. If we could have done it right then He wouldn’t have needed to die! I could go on, but I’ll stop.
I will just keep going back to what I’ve said before – the church of all places needs to be a safe place for sinners. A place where we can find refuge, strength and encouragement with others struggling with sin, because we all are.
Maybe I’m setting my expectations too high. Maybe I need to just get over myself. Or maybe I just want to see the Gospel in action in the what I hear others saying. Maybe I don’t want to feel more pressure to be better. Maybe I just need to know it’s safe to be myself without being judged.
Steve says if you don’t want to get hurt, you better leave the church now, because we are all broken and messed up, struggling with sin and we are bound to get hurt. But he also says if we hang around a little longer that we’ll get hugged. I guess I’m gonna need to hang a little while longer and wait on that, at least from my local church that is.
In the meantime, I’ll thank God for those friends who have understood, who’ve hugged me, and who’ve loved me without judgment or condemnation. God has been so very gracious to provide some from my previous church and even some new friends here on this blog. Thanks to Kamea specifically!
My counselor pointed this verse out to me recently from the Amplified version of the Bible. I’d never read this particular verse from this version, but it’s a beautiful representation of what God intended the church to be.
Galatians 6:2 AMP
Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it].
Troublesome, moral failures… I think I know something about that. I think the Israelites did, too. Even after decades in the desert witnessing God’s miracles time and time again they were still whining and sinning. They were not capable of keeping the law perfectly…not even close to it. It was obvious they needed a Savior and so do we. And He said perfect fulfillment of His law was carrying burdens and troublesome moral failures, kneeling down and washing one another’s dirty feet.
Because of His death on the cross, the smudges are all gone- and one thing is for sure NOTHING I CAN DO IS GOING TO SMUDGE HIS NAME. We are clean. We are free. Thank God!
And on a side note, yesterday God heard my whining… After writing this blog, I checked my Facebook and read Steve Brown’s latest post. It said, “Do you feel guilty? Do you feel like your sin brings shame on the name of Christ? Steve has some good news for you!”
Followed was a link to this video:
I’m telling you GOD IS AWESOME!