The problem with New Year’s resolutions isn’t that they’re easy to make and difficult to keep — which is true on both counts — it’s that we feel like such failures when we fall, and give up, mid-February, on the notion of changing for the better.
While it’s always good to change for the better, it’s never easy, which is why — to make true, lasting change — we need Someone bigger, stronger, better, wiser, and more understanding and compassionate than we are in charge of the project. That Someone is God, and in working together on changing us for the better, our part is ridiculously easy and supremely difficult: all we have to do is ask, and trust that He will answer (what parent wouldn’t, when his child says, “Father — mold me into a better person, please”?)
This year — no matter where we are in the year — I encourage you to ask God to make three significant changes in your life:
1) God, Wake me up.
We don’t need an erudite scarecrow to tell us that things aren’t looking too good in Kansas, Dorothy, nor in any corner of the world we inhabit. Deceit is the norm, and too few people are making too many of the decisions resulting in too much of the money in those very few hands. The only thing ordinary people see more of are rules, regulations, restrictions, and requirements.
If this concept is foreign to you, or if you feel that I am overreacting, then go to the sentence next to the number 1 above and say it.
“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” Paul quotes in Ephesians 5:14.
“Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
The days were evil 2,000 years ago, and they are evil now — there was no respite, say, in the 1950s when Beaver and Wally shared a bedroom together — when life was halcyon and innocent, although we like to think it was so because mass media — through books, movies, network news, and TV — encourages us to look for a make believe time that never existed.
There is no better time to go back to — there is only now, and now is imbued with evil. Ask God to wake you up to what that evil is, so that you can separate truth from a lie — in politics, education, society, entertainment, medicine, law, and certainly NOT least — religion.
2) Lord, I want to see.
This is what a blind beggar outside of Jericho said to Jesus when our Brother and Lord asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41). This incident occurred after the beggar incurred public censure and displeasure by refusing to shut up and continued to shout out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The beggar knew he was blind, and he wanted to see.
Many Christians today are blind as well — blithely satisfied with weekly church meetings, leadership activities, and study groups — but unlike the beggar, they don’t realize it. They listen to the news but never question it; they ascribe to doctrines about which non-Christians ask very reasonable questions, but refuse to look into the matter because doubt, to them, is a sin.
But doubt isn’t a sin: it is simply a logical mind questioning whether what it has been told is true. Only an idiot would walk across a woven grass bridge without making sure it will carry his weight, and only a foolish person pursues a spiritual life without stopping and asking questions of himself — and God — when man-made doctrines do not align with a perfect, compassionate, all-loving God.
If God to you seems at all frightening, in any measure irritable, easily offended, remorseless in His punishment, and/or random, then you are worshiping a substitute for the real thing. But don’t feel bad: this substitute is what is taught in mainstream Christianity — a God who consigns 6-year-old children to hell (5 being the “age of reason” that man has come up with) because they don’t follow the Four Spiritual Laws (also man-made), in order.
If that sounds simplistic, it is, but so are the four spiritual laws.
Do you want to see God — the real one, the Father who loves you more than you can possibly treasure one of your own? Then go back to Step 2, and pray the sentence.
3) I want to hear.
Noise surrounds us everywhere and all the time, and too many people have ear buds in, or the television on, absorbing the chatter.
“Consider carefully how you listen,” Jesus tells His disciples in Luke 8:18, right after He explained to them the meaning of the parable of the sower and his seeds.
“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
While some people interpret this last sentence to involve money, or things, Jesus has just been talking about hearing, and listening, and absorbing what we have heard.
It’s only natural that, when we hear something that rocks our world — say, a treasured idol is just so, a person with a heart of stone; or an historical event we’ve always been taught happened a certain way has an opposite element that no public-school-sanctioned textbook bothered to mention — we want to close our eyes, stop our ears, and pretend we never learned this.
But truth is truth, and “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out in the open.” (Luke 8:17).
When information comes your way that is disturbing because it shakes your preconceptions, stop. Sit. Close your eyes. And then pray:
“God. Is this true?”
These three New Year’s resolutions are ones we can keep, because the fulfillment of them is not up to us, but to God. When we pray: “Wake me up,” “Open my eyes,” and “Unstop my ears,” He will — through books, people, blogs, observations, even the actions of the family cat.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I started asking the three questions in this article several years ago, after giving up on, “Why, God — WHY?” because the answers I was given to that kept showing me that many things I had been taught to believe were quite oppositional to the actual truth.
Once I got over the heavily pushed association of God and country, military patriotism intertwined with the Divine, and had numerous human idols — historical and living now — toppled from the pedestals they had been placed on, I began asking the questions in earnest — and God kept sending answers.
They’re worth asking, my friend.
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Saying Thank You to God does not have to be a chore — but then again, given the way we are instructed to do things within a cold, contemporary, corporate Christian environment, it is a bit difficult:
“We must thank God for everything,” we are admonished, or . . . what? He’ll kick us?
Actually, the apostle Paul’s oft quoted words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 — “Give thanks in all circumstances,” reflect the important prepositional distinction of “in” as opposed to “for,” meaning that, when the cat throws up on the new white carpet we don’t have to be thankful for what just happened. We just don’t kick the cat.
The funny thing about our relationship with God is, that though we insist that He’s a person and and we interact with Him on a personal level, we frequently don’t treat Him as if we believed this. Getting into the practice of saying Thank You to Him, on a regular basis, however, is one way we can connect more closely to Him on that personal level we so deeply desire and desperately need.
Thank You Notes
Many of us have had, somewhere during our childhood, a determined adult who put our recently opened Christmas or birthday gifts to the side, set us down at a table with pen and paper, and said,
“Write a nice, brief Thank You note to the people who took the time and resources to give you these gifts.”
(Or, at the very least, yelled out from the kitchen, “Did you thank Aunt Mary for the lime green leather dress shoes?”)
In the spirit of that Thank You note, here are some ideas on how we can incorporate a genuine, real, and regular Thank You to God into our daily lives:
Talk to Him
1) We can feel free to use a conversational tone. The best thank you notes are short, succinct, and clear, as are verbal thank yous, the chief and foremost words being, “Thank You.”
Throughout the day, as things happen, I stop, take a moment, and say (aloud if no one’s in the room but the dog snoring in corner),
“Thank you that phone call from my friend, and that we were able to work out our disagreement. I had no idea that my words had been so misunderstood.”
In the same way we wouldn’t write or say, “Oh, wonderful giver of this precious gift, I thank Thee for all thy bounty and affection,” we have no obligation to talk to God this way. It artificially distances us.
Little Things Matter
2) Let us be grateful for small things. Not all gifts are lofty and expensive, but that’s not the beauty of a gift. Gifts are a tangible sign of the giver’s care for us.
For many years, a very dear and good man sent us cards and notes, and never failed to tuck in two $1 bills, and while that seems like a treasure trove to a five-year-old, it can easily be discounted by an adult.
But it should not be. Those two bills were precious to a man with limited financial resources but a big heart, and we always took a moment to be grateful as we opened the card, as well as wrote sincere thanks in our next letter.
God gives us many precious and beautiful gifts throughout the day that we overlook, because they seem like two one-dollar bills: a compliment on how we look from a co-worker, a good night’s sleep, hot tea on a cold day, the dishes we expect to do on getting home from work already cleaned, dried and put away.
These are not the less for being small, and after we thank the person who has provided the present, we thank the Giver of All Things as well, that He prompted His children to be generous.
3) We have a tendency to say, “Thank you, but . . . “
From the time our children were small, we gave them to understand that, while we spent a significant amount of time thinking of the perfect gift for their birthdays and other holidays, we would never include a CD, DVD, or digital item in that list. Mass media products are, in our mind, narrow in their interest and value, and with the limited amount of funds we always had, we wanted the gifts we gave to be memorable.
The kids understood this — although until they were older they were sometimes vaguely irritated — but at no time would they have dreamed, after opening a box, of saying,
“This is okay, Mom and Dad. But I really, really wanted the DVD of that movie I told you about!”
Yet so often with God, when He sends an unexpected boon our way — the money to pay a bill that we were worried about, say — we mentally blurt out,
“I’m glad this bill is paid, but I really wish You had sent more so that I could have some fun!”
Getting into the habit of this is easy (because frankly, there is no end to the things we need, or think we need) but we lose in the end, because we don’t feel the joy of the gifts we are given.
“What’s This Thing?”
4) Some gifts aren’t what we asked for at all.
Those of us with children, especially children who have just attended Vacation Bible School, have been presented with some truly dreadful gifts, and the average refrigerator door of a parent who treasures his or her children definitely does not look like something to be found in Martha Stewart’s house.
But odd gifts aren’t useless ones, and when we make a commitment to use what we are given (“If it breaks, well, then I don’t have to worry about it anymore”) we are frequently surprised that the gifts aren’t so useless after all.
God’s gifts may seem odd, but they are never useless, and if we ask Him how to use what He has supplied, He will generously show us.
Being thankful is a mindset that we can cultivate — toward other human beings, toward life, and most especially, toward God, and as with any other habit, it improves with practice.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I am thankful for this forum on which I can write, and for the wonderful readers who read my articles, and so frequently reach out to comment.
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For many people, the one thing that stands between their leaving a church situation that is not working for them, or staying within and being unhappy, is friendship.
Understandably, wherever we spend our time is where we make friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and social connections, and in a society that is increasingly distant and preoccupied, church is one of the major sources of fellowship.
This is a good thing and a bad thing, because while church can function as a one-stop-meets-all source for human companionship, it can also result in a total absence of invitations to holiday parties when we leave.
But staying in a situation that we increasingly dislike, just so we don’t lose all our friends, isn’t the best solution.
So, in answer to the question, “If I leave church, will I lose my friends?” this is what our family, and others like ours, have discovered when we made that final break:
We’ll Lose Some
1) Yes, you will lose friends. It isn’t such a bad thing, at least once in one’s life, to discover who are really our friends, and who aren’t, and many people painfully find this out when they go through a hard time, are publicly excoriated somehow, or leave church.
As I mentioned in Are You in the Process of Leaving Church? this is a natural result of being outside the group, and while some well-intentioned people do not mean to drop us, it’s inevitable that, if their social life revolves around church, and its work parties, small groups, leadership meetings, study sessions and so on, the way yours used to, then they won’t have time to get together, informally, and just be friends — the same way that you never used to have time.
These were never friendships in the first place — they’re more like network association within an office — and losing something so shallow really isn’t much of a loss.
We’ll Gain Some
2) You will gain friends. Don’t give up on your acquaintances from church: freed from the structured hierarchy of the system, some people whom you barely noticed may come forward and actually want to be friends. Realistically, don’t look for anyone from the upper crust leadership level, although there may be a Nicodemus or two hiding away in there.
In our own lives, we have come to know a number of people in our former church — who still attend — in a deeper and better manner than we ever experienced while we were purportedly fellowshipping together. Toward one woman especially I always felt a kinship to, and yet we could never connect, because we didn’t circulate in the same fellowshipping groups. After a number of years, however, God threw us together in a situation where we freely and engagingly connect, and a longterm prayer is perfectly answered.
3) You will redefine the term, “friend.” TV, movies, and the public school system give us the illusion that friends are all roughly the same age and economic level. God has other ideas.
In His mind, we are all children of the same Father, and there is no reason that we cannot interact together, but we don’t. One of the favorite birthday parties we threw for our middle daughter featured a guest list of some 12 people, ranging in age from 2 to 65, the birthday girl being 10. They were all her friends, and having them in the same place, throwing water balloons at one another, is a memory that sticks.
In Luke 14:15-24, a man giving a banquet is frustrated by the number of invited guests who are too busy to partake of being his friend. So he tells his servant,
“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame,” and when there were still chairs to be filled, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”
Our Lord is not concerned that the socially correct people are at His table, and neither should we so be. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that we ourselves are not socially correct.
Keep your eyes, and your hearts, open. God will bring people into your life from the most unexpected places: they need you; and you need them.
4) You’ll look at your family in a different way. Again, thanks to our public school mentality, we overlook that members of our family — our spouse, children, siblings, parents, cousins, uncles, nieces, in-laws — can be friends as well, and indeed, my best friends are in that list.
“Dysfunctional” has become such an operative word that we assume most families are just that: weird, broken, defective, unfit — words that I would use to describe many peer-related friendships from junior high, high school, college, and the workplace, actually. Dysfunction thrives in a society that distances itself with one another, so focused on being busy and productive, that there is no time to play a game, eat a meal at the dining room table, or just talk, face to face.
If there are other people in your household who are sleeping in on Sunday as well, get to know one another better, and put into practice your friendship on the closest neighbors you have: your family.
Don’t Be Afraid of Yourself
5) You’ll walk alone, but you won’t dry up and blow away because of this. Again, thanks to TV, movies, and schticky magazines, we operate under the assumption that everyone — other than us — has lots and lots of friends, and when we find ourselves alone on a Friday night, or sitting solo at the potluck table, then we’re convinced that we are the only loser God created.
It’s okay to be alone, and indeed, God’s quiet voice is more easily heard without background distractions. Use the time to train yourself to read Scripture (if you are a long-term church goer, you may not know how to do this), pray, meditate, and reflect on God’s beauty, love, and grace.
Only people who have experienced being alone can spot another person, within a group, who is standing alone, and they make the overture of friendship.
Life won’t end if and when you decide to leave church, and if you are patient and merciful with yourself and your situation, you’ll look back on this, 2 months, 10 months, 5 years from now and marvel:
“Why did I wait so long to move? What was I scared of?”
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where we interact with people everywhere — at the grocery store, in our home during a night of games, over the Internet, on the phone, by letter, at an informal tea, in the garden.
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Leaving church — whether a specific fellowship or the industrial model altogether — is not a decision people make lightly.
Nor is it one that others take well, and if you are in the process of dropping out of a particular body or the entire conventional, establishment fellowship (i.e., multiple weekly meetings at a specific building with a closed group of like-minded people), you will no doubt engender the censure of others. The first, and most frequent verse with which they will seek to control you (often the only one) is Hebrews 10:25:
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Corporate church meetings, we are led to believe, is where it’s at — and if you’re not there, you are not only not receiving spiritual teaching and guidance (that you are lacking them now is probably why you’re so strongly thinking of leaving), but you’ll be left bereft, friendless, and alone if you walk away.
Is this true?
Yes, and no.
Church Social Life
If you, like many people, built your social life around church — and this is not difficult because the corporate church model makes so many demands upon our personal time away from work that it’s where we spend a lot of hours, evenings, and weekends — then you probably will lose “friends” when you leave, simply because those left in the circle will still be spending their time and energy in the place you left behind, with little to spare for “unstructured, outside activity” (like . . . friendship).
Nor are those left behind particularly encouraged to seek you out — unless it’s to get you back — since you, upon leaving, receive an A for Apostate on your forehead, or B for Backslidden, or C for Complainer. Once it is determined that you are serious about leaving, it’s as if you’re infected somehow, and could pass your disease on to others. Better not to talk about, or to, you at all.
While that sounds cynical, it is the experience of many who have chosen to find alternative ways to worship God, be taught of the Master, and fellowship with believers. To be fair, those left in the fold tie their spirituality — their very relationship with Christ — to staying in that particular sheep pen, and that you would leave is absolutely befuddling to them. Many of us who have left have been in that position, and indeed, it’s why it took us so long to make the final break: when we leave, we reason, we’re not just leaving the church, but Christianity altogether.
So intertwined is faith with weekly church attendance that we cannot differentiate between the two.
Worship in Spirit and in Truth
But there is a distinction, and the sooner we can see it, the faster we will walk on our new, narrow path.
“A time is coming,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:21-24, “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit, and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
After 70 A.D., when the Romans destroyed the second temple in Jerusalem (Solomon’s original was leveled by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.), there was no question anymore about the “right” place to worship God, and how the newly formed Christian sect was violating this by breaking away. The temple was gone, and there was no “Christian” replacement: Christ’s followers — each imbued with the Holy Spirit of God — were not limited in where, how, or when they worshiped the Father, their only injunction being to “worship in spirit and truth.”
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’w will for you in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes the believers — the church — in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22.
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
None of these instructions require being in a specific place on Sunday — or Saturday — morning, but because so many Christians do find themselves there, when you opt to leave — again, usually after much prayer and supplication to God, and fruitless efforts to speak with church leadership about policies and practices that seem counter to God’s teaching — you agonize further about whether this is truly God’s will, or if (more likely, you fear) you are overreacting and expecting everyone to bend their will to your way.
No Perfect Church
“There’s no perfect church, you know.”
Well, duh. Give yourself credit for accepting that nothing is perfect. I do.
I’m guessing that you’ve compromised for quite awhile; swallowed back comments; and tried to accept that what you’re resisting is good, and the problem lies with you. If it didn’t, more people would be leaving, wouldn’t they?
“Come, follow me,” Jesus told Simon Peter and Andrew, John and James, in Mark 1:17, “and I will make you fishers of men.
“At once they left their nets and followed him.” (See complementing accounts in Matthew 4:18-20; Luke 5:1-11; and John 1:35-42)
Dropping the family business and following an itinerant preacher — especially one so at variance with religious and political authorities (and don’t be fooled into thinking that the two don’t go together) — is insane, but Jesus’s first four disciples did it purposefully and readily, and while they no doubt fielded world-based doubts, they knew Jesus, the Son of Man, and listened to Him instead.
So it is with you, my friend: if your spirit is agitated, and despite your best efforts to stay in the system or your particular fellowship situation, you just can’t settle down and obey the words and rules of men, then listen to that voice that won’t be quiet, and heed it.
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I and my family have left the corporate church establishment altogether and worship God in an alternative manner, but still in spirit and truth. You may not choose to do this, and that’s fine — just make sure that where you are is where you want to be, and that you are growing, giving (and I’m not talking about money in the basket), and learning of, about, and from God.
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