Beauty of Being Unified

group_hugContinued from here.

I know a lot of people have issues with the Catholic Church, but one thing it does very well is remain unified. Despite the Protestants splitting off and weathering various scandals over the years, the Catholic Church remains one unified Church all over the world. I’m not claiming that it’s perfect (and I’m not a Catholic myself), but the Protestant church could learn from the Catholic Church’s example of unity. The same holds true for the unity among the Eastern Orthodox Church as well.

Regardless of how we choose to baptize … or which day of the week we hold worship services … or our beliefs regarding the Lord’s Supper, we are One Body. God doesn’t have a separate Heaven for Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. We do the cause of Christ much harm when we refuse to get along as we communicate to the world that it’s our way or the highway.

Imagine what how the world might see the Church differently if we were unified. I get a taste of this as I lead an interdenominational & interracial prison ministry. Because it’s interdenominational, we leave the differences at the door. All that matters is that we are Christians working together to share Christ’s love with inmates. I don’t care what day of the week you worship or whether you were “sprinkled” or “immersed” when you were baptized. Do you have a relationship with God through Jesus? That’s all you need to participate in this ministry. How might the Church transform worldwide if we kept things that simple?

Why did Jesus emphasize unity? Because only God can take people who are very different from one another and teach them how to work together in harmony. Think about the disciples, such as Simon the Zealot having to work alongside Matthew the tax collector! Jesus’ disciples were very different from one another, and yet they carried his message and changed the world IN UNITY! If we, as a Church, would stop worrying so much about “being right” and shifted our focus to being unified, we would have the same results!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace having a group hug. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How Can I Follow God without “Being Right?”

live_your_best_lifeContinued from here.

As I said in my last blog entry, Micah 6:8 is my guiding passage for how to react when I see things differently from a Christian brother or sister. I am to ACT justly and to LOVE mercy. So, let’s say I know you are not tithing and I believe that tithing is a biblical requirement. I’m not going to judge you for not tithing. Instead, I’m going to love you as you neglect to tithe (and suffer the consequences of neglecting to tithe) while I live by example and tithe. You’ll see the blessings I reap, and when you ask me about those blessings, I’ll be in a position to share how God has been faithful to Malachi 3:8-10 in opening up the floodgates to bless my obedience in tithing. Your status as a Christian is not based upon your obedience in tithing. If we had to be 100% obedient to every commandment to earn our way into Heaven, then Heaven would look like a ghost town!

Jesus said that if I love him, then I will keep his commands. He did not say that if I love him, I will legislate everyone else’s faith and kick them out of my Church family if they don’t follow what I tell them to do. Instead, Jesus called us to unity, stating that it’s in our unity that the world will know that God sent Jesus to us and that He loves us. Shame on all of us for prioritizing “being right” over unity and splitting our Church family over issues, which is killing our witness to the world! The world isn’t seeing that what’s left after a “divorce” is “right” – they see that us hypocrites who are no more capable of walking in unity than they are … or, worse – that the world does a better job of staying unified than the Church!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with her hands up in the air, saying, “Live your best life!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Dangers of “Being Right”

fightContinued from here.

As I have shared before, I graduated with my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry in last summer. One of the classes I was required to take was on Church History, which I knew virtually nothing about. As a child, I bounced around from one denomination to another and only spent a few years each at a couple of non-denominational churches, so Church History was not a topic that was covered. I learned the Bible well but not what happened after that text was written.

I was saddened by much of what I learned because I saw a repeated pattern of disagreement among Church people, votes, and ex-communication. Being “right” was deemed as more important than being unified, particularly by the Protestants. Now, I will say that the Catholic (Western) and Orthodox (Eastern) churches do seem to value unity over “rightness” other than when they split away from each other. It’s pretty impressive that both of them have managed to stay intact over 2,000 other than their split from each other.

However, we Protestants don’t seem to be able to get enough of “being right.” Don’t agree on how to baptize? Let’s form another denomination. Don’t agree on which day of the week to hold worship services? Time for another denomination. Is the Lord’s Supper symbolic or literally Jesus’ blood and body? Let’s split over that as well. And now the latest issue to split over is same sex marriage. Who care that Jesus called his Church to “complete unity?” Being “right” is deemed as far more important than being unified by so many in the Church.

Now, I’m not saying that there is no “right” or “wrong” in the Bible. What I am saying is that God calls each of us to ACT justly and to LOVE mercy. This means that I am to behave in accordance with what God has commanded me to do while, at the same time, I am to extend grace and mercy to you. So, if I see things differently than you do, I don’t need to “divorce” myself from you. Instead, I need to love you and live justly, letting God minister through me to you. More on this topic in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her fists, ready for a fight. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Better to be “Right” or be Unified?

u_rightI am a member of the United Methodist Church. For those of you who don’t know, the United Methodist Church is holding a special session of the General Conference to make a decision (hopefully once and for all) on whether or not to permit ordained United Methodist pastors to perform same sex marriages and whether or not someone who is openly gay can be ordained as a United Methodist pastor. (There are no other restrictions on homosexuality in the UMC, and this has been the case since 1972.) The vote will take place tomorrow (Tue, 2/26/19), and I’m sure it will be a media circus.

Two of the delegates representing my UMC conference came to speak at my local church the weekend before the conference to explain what was being voted on and how the voting process works. Before beginning the presentation, I was impressed when the husband (who is a UMC pastor – his wife is a layperson delegate) began by saying that he does not care which side of the issue anyone falls on – We are going to behave like Christians. We are not going to talk over one another or be rude to one another. We are going to remember that we all serve the same God and all want to share Jesus with the world.

I did not attend this meeting to express my personal opinion – I attended so I could do my part to help restore unity. There was one point in the meeting where things looked like they might be getting a little dicey. I bowed my head and prayed for God’s intervention, peace, and unity until the moment passed. I have talked with people at my local church who fall on both sides of this issue, and both seem 100% sure that they are “right.” That’s true of many UMC members all over the world, and no matter how the vote goes tomorrow, some local churches may leave the denomination because of it, which saddens me because I don’t recall Jesus emphasizing being “right” but rather being unified:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).

This week, I’d like to explore the topic of whether it is better to “be right” or “be unified.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace pondering over the words, “U right. U right.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Trusting God with the Timing of the Miracle

whenContinued from here.

Of course, I wanted this miracle to happen right away. I’ve cried oceans of tears over this area of bondage over the past few decades. I’ve felt deep shame over my brokenness. I’ve cried out about how unfair it was for me to suffer in this area of my life as I have, and I cried double because of the effects my bondage had on the people I love.

If God had waved a magic wand and healed me instantly the first time I asked, I would only have received the healing. Because of His perfect timing, I not only have the healing, but I also have a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God! I have learned to trust Him – that He will carry me through, strengthening me where I’m weak and enabling me to go on when I have lost all strength or even desire to keep going.

In one of her Bible studies, Beth Moore noted that God is not concerned about our comfort. That rubbed me the wrong way when I first heard her say it, but I now better understand what she means. It’s not that God wants us to be uncomfortable – it’s that his primary purpose for us is fruitfulness, not comfort. Pruned vines bear more fruit than vines that have not been pruned, and pruning is uncomfortable! God allows us to endure uncomfortable – and even painful – experiences … sometimes for decades! … in order to make us more fruitful. Yes, I endured much pain in my life in this particular area, but I now have the testimony to bear much fruit for a particular segment of society who suffer in ways that I once suffered. I can look them in the eye and say, “God is GOOD and bigger than this pain,” and they will know I speak truth because I can show them my scars.

If you are in a difficult or impossible situation, don’t give up! Your Heavenly Father is much bigger than your problem. Your slow miracle may be in the works right now. Just because you cannot see the roots forming underground doesn’t mean the seed is not transforming into a beautiful tree.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a pocket watch and asking, “When?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Believing that God is Able to Do Even This

believeContinued from here.

Some people do not believe that miracles happen … or if they did happen in the past, God no longer does them today. They point out that if God was still in the business of doing miracles, we would see evidence of them all around us. Some believe that what the people of Jesus’ time called “miracles” can be explained away through reason and science.

All I can tell you is that I have personally experienced God’s miraculous work in my life. He healed my post-traumatic stress disorder, my anxiety disorder, my eating disorder (all slow miracles), and now this – the one area of brokenness that I did not believe God would ever heal … and yet He did. I don’t think He did it just for me: I believe He is going to use this testimony as part of my ministry as He leads me to shine the light of hope and healing into the lives of people who lack both.

If you don’t believe that God will perform a miracle in your life, you could block yourself from receiving the miracle. Jesus would ask people whether they believed he could heal them, and they would be healed according to their faith. Don’t let your own lack of faith stand in the way of receiving a slow miracle. If you lack faith, follow the example of the father who asked Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief. God will provide even the faith, but you must be open to receiving it.

I know how disheartening it is to have faced the same problem day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and even decade after decade. That was my story for most of my life, and yet I stand before you today HEALED! I don’t know how God did it, nor do I know why it took Him soooo long to do it. All I know is that I was once in such heavy bondage in this area of my life that I had no hope of it ever improving. I was simply grateful when this part of my life transformed from being less painful. Today, it’s a JOY! I marvel at how God can take something that was so ugly & broken and make it something beautiful that brings JOY!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hands and saying, “I believe!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Keeping the Miracle Private for a Time

shhContinued from here.

When Jesus performed miracles, he told the recipients to keep the news private: between themselves and God. Here’s an example:

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere” (Mark 1:40-45).

This miracle in my life was so profound that it took me close to six months to share it. And even then, I am only sharing the news to glorify God. For example, I recently shared the news with someone who I used to complain about the issue with “back in the day” as a way of encouraging her to hold onto her faith amidst a very difficult (impossible) situation that she is currently dealing with in her own life. I want her to know that God is bigger than this seemingly impossible situation, that He is faithful, and that He is capable of carrying her though until the miracle comes. And my motive for sharing about this miracle in general terms on this blog is to encourage you along your own journey – to give you hope that God can heal your impossible situation as well.

Something shifted six months ago, awakening me to the reality that God was very close to healing this area of bondage. And then one piece of evidence after another happened that validated that God had, indeed, performed a slow miracle in my life. I only talked with God about this miracle for months because it was private – an intimate experience between my Heavenly Father and me. Not only did this slow miracle glorify God, but it also invited me in to a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him as He and I shared this “secret” together.

What God has done for me is not intended as “entertainment” for the world. It’s not something that God did to wow people to come see for themselves so they can get healing. The purpose of the miracle was to draw me closer to God, and it did … in ways that I cannot even put into words. As my relationship with Him deepened over the past six months, my perspective of Him shifted. Now, I am able to share the great news about his profound healing power from the perspective of God being the focus of the story, not the miracle itself.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her finger to her lips and saying, “Shhhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Guarding Your Mouth as You Wait for Your Long Miracle

oh_reallyContinued from here.

The area of my life in which a miracle has recently taken place plagued me for decades. If it’s true that God saves all of our tears, one huge ocean is filled with nothing but the tears I shed over this particularly painful area of bondage that plagued me for my entire life. I used to complain about this problem – A LOT. In fact, friends who knew me “back in the day” who read this blog may have a good idea what I’m talking about … and will be SHOCKED to read this!!

Several years ago, as I was crying out to God about this area of bondage for the millionth time, God placed heavily on my heart that He was going to heal it. I didn’t believe it. I actually asked, “In THIS lifetime??,” thinking that perhaps there really is such a thing as reincarnation and that God would start again in my next lifetime. I then asked, “In THIS relationship??” because I couldn’t see how this area of bondage, which involves the dynamics of another person and thus brings an extra set of challenges to be overcome, could possibly ever change. God’s answer to both was, “Yes – In THIS lifetime and in THIS relationship.” The Bible says that if someone states that God said X and it does not come to pass, then he is a false prophet. I was careful not to tell anyone for a very long time about sensing this promise from God because it seemed so unbelievable, and I didn’t want to bring judgment on myself by misrepresenting God’s words.

That’s not all I stayed silent about, though. I completely stopped talking about my area of bondage. I stopped saying things like, “I’ll always have this problem” or “This is never going to change.” I decided that if God was working in this area of my life, I needed to shut my mouth and not speak against whatever God was doing. This was difficult because for a very long time, from the outside, nothing seemed to be changing. However, way deep inside, like a seed planted deep within the soil, a miracle was taking root.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking surprised and asking, “O RLY?!” <Oh, really?> Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The LONG Miracle

God has recently performed a miracle in my life. It’s not one with lots of bells and whistles so that others notice it. In fact, the person close to me who is most affected by it did not realize it had taken place until I pointed it out. However, if you took a snapshot of that area of my life 15 years ago and held it up next to my life today, your jaw would drop. You would find it hard to believe what you were seeing because transformation like that doesn’t happen … and yet, it did.

I’m not going to share the specifics on this blog for three reasons: (1) It’s a private area of my life; (2) It affects someone else, so sharing the details publicly would not be considerate of that person’s privacy; and (3) By not sharing the details, I can paint the concept with a broader brush and, hopefully, inspire you to believe that God has the power to transform your long-term area of struggle as well.

I love this line from the movie Faith Like Potatoes:

The condition for a miracle is difficulty, however the condition for a great miracle is not difficulty, but impossibility.” ~ Angus Buchan

Everyone wants to experience a miracle, but none of us wants to have to endure the conditions necessary to require a miracle. We don’t want to be paralyzed for 38 years or experience blindness since birth. And yet, those are the very people who experienced Jesus’ miracles – those with long-term, impossible situations that only God could change. And God’s intervention brought Him glory.

The primary difference in those stories and mine is that they were healed in an instant. That isn’t my testimony for my miracle, even though my miracle is every bit is powerful as those. Instead, God brought about my transformation a teeny, tiny bit at a time. It happened so slowly that it’s only through hindsight that I can see His hand at work years before I had any awareness that He was moving in this area of my life.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Faith Like Potatoes. Courtesy Amazon.

 

Loving Spiritually Immature Christians

forgive_youContinued from here.

On of the hardest parts of dealing with spiritually immature Christians is continuing to love them while they are behaving badly. When someone is rude to you, it’s natural to want to be rude back, but that’s not how Jesus behaved when he was tortured and killed. Even when we must take action, we should always do it gently and in love, even when we must be firm. I find it helpful to recognize that the behavior is indicative of spiritual immaturity and fueled by pain. When I see the person as a wounded child acting through an adult’s body, it helps me find more compassion, even when the person has wounded me.

I also find it helpful to remember that the kindest action is not necessarily giving the person what he or she wants. It doesn’t help someone to mature by rewarding him or her for poor behavior. Just as giving a toddler his own way to stop his tantrum is a poor long-term solution, allowing a spiritually immature person to get his own way through throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum does not benefit him. Sometimes, the most loving answer is, “No.”

Saying no (setting appropriate boundaries) can be particularly difficult when the spiritually immature person is someone we love who will experience negative consequences if we stand our ground. We must remember that God often allows us to experience the negative consequences of our actions so that we can learn. After all, if God repeatedly rescued us from the consequences of our poor choices, why would we ever change?

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown more gentle in how I interact with others. I’m not claiming never to lose my temper, but those instances have grown farther and farther apart as God has taught me the beauty and value of gentleness. Ultimately, the goal in interacting with spiritually immature Christians is not to change their behavior – it’s to lead them toward changing their hearts, which only God can do. Your “No” can be the wakeup call the person needs to go before the Lord, repent, and grow. In the meantime, cover the person in prayer, always remembering that Jesus died for that person, just as he died for you.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with angels’ wings and a halo saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]