Living the Intent Part 1

Here’s what I have seen in many different churches over the years; church folk tend to pick and choose which of the “laws” are the important ones to be followed and judge others based upon those choices. That’s smorgasbord Christianity in my humble opinion.

The “Law” is found in the first five books of the Bible, collectively called “The Torah”. There are 613 in all, 248 that are positive commandments and 365 that are negative according to the Rabbis. The Ten Commandments are part of the Law and are central to the Law in its entirety.

We cannot pick and choose which of the Laws we want to follow. If we say we follow the Law we are subject to observing all of the commandments, not just some. If I judge another because that person has tattoos and yet I don’t observe the commandments governing divorce or mixing seeds, animals and cloth, am I not equally guilty of not following the Law??

The Law was not given to “control” humankind; rather it was given to establish a strong, unique nation of God’s chosen people, the Jews, and humankind as a whole. The summarized Law are instructions that if we followed them would guide us on the path of righteousness and a deeper relationship with God our Father.

The Bible summarizes the Law in two sentences. “Rabbi, which of the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah is the most important?” He told him, “‘You are to love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the greatest and most important mitzvah. And a second is similar to it, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself. All of the Torah and the Prophets are dependent on these two mitzvot.” (The Complete Jewish Bible). The context is a teaching Yeshua was giving toward the end of His life when the Pharisee’s were trying to trap Him so that they could have Yeshua (Jesus) arrested and get Him out of their hair. After all Yeshua was screwing up the good gig the religious leaders had going in Israel! They were losing control of the people.

Yeshua had a way of getting to the point, not mincing words, stating the facts plain and simple. I like that. The people I most appreciate are those who just say whatever needs to be said without minimizing or coloring the situation.

My “Christian” experience hasn’t always been positive. In many ways the traditional church and organized religion reminds me of cliques in junior high or high school. If you have ever been the one outside the popular clique in school you know it doesn’t feel good. (If you were part of a clique you probably don’t know what I am talking about! But hang in here with me anyway, just for fun! You’ve read this far, you might as well finish.) I have met and gone to church with too many who are fluent in “Christian-ese” (“Jesus loves you sister; what has God been telling you lately?; praise Jesus, have a blessed week”) Don’t get me wrong, not all of the people who spoke “church” were disingenuous, but plenty were. You know the type – wore the biggest cross money can buy around their neck, always sat in the front pew, carried a Bible everywhere, would NEVER utter a curse word, or at least say they never would, and for sure would NEVER, EVER let alcohol wet their lips! And yet, it was often these very same people who judged others harshly and were not quiet about it, gossiped, abused spouses/children, or lived scandalous lives outside the walls of the church. Yeshua talked about them in His day too; He called them “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs”. Harsh, but accurate. At that time the teachers of the Law were holding others to the standard of the Law, but not themselves. Hmmmm…..sounding familiar??

So here is what I have decided for my life. I am going to do my best to live the intent of the Law, which means that I will love God, and one of the best ways to love God is to love others like I would like to be loved. Some call this the “golden rule”. Whatever you call it, it is what God called us to do. I would never be able to adhere to all 613 commandments; I’m sure before I get out of bed every day I have broken several! But if I concentrate on loving others to the best of my ability, I am living the intent of the Law and loving God at the same time. Will I get it right all of the time? Nope, I can guarantee that! But that’s where mercy comes in……..

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Wherever two or more are gathered……

This blog is dedicated to The Tribe and our “extended family”

“For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them” Matthew 18:20 (The Complete Jewish Bible)

We belong to a group of friends that ride motorcycles together. The women of the group have a “Friendships of Women” study group. We try to meet weekly. We laugh, we cry, we get into deep spiritual discussions, help others in the group with issues going on in their lives, we sometimes pray together and sometimes we pray for each other during our daily lives. We support one another, uphold one another, advise one another, love one another. We snack during our time together and – hold onto your hats – we share a bottle of wine together. Remember: Judge not, lest you be judged! No one gets drunk….not even tipsy. (For all of the “tsk, tsk”ers out there let us remember Yeshua (Jesus) was accused of being a drunkard because He drank wine. I’m pretty sure I feel like I need to “explain” and defend our group because of residual judgment from years in the church!)

Back to the story: One day a member of our group had a head on collision on the way to work in the morning. The message went out on Facebook (what WOULD we do without Facebook!!) and we rallied. Biggest need for the time being was prayer. My husband and I went to the hospital to be with his wife, others showed up throughout the day and we kept everyone informed as we had information. His injuries were extensive and the road to recovery would be lengthy at best, but he was alive. We organized meals to be brought to the hospital and whoever was there would eat with the family. Most nights there were 10 or more. We coordinated times to sit with our friend so that his wife could go home and shower, do a couple of loads of laundry, finish her Christmas shopping. Yea, it happened the week before Christmas.

Their plumbing decided to act up and so an acquaintance who knew somebody who knew somebody kind of thing got a plumbing company to donate their services and the plumbing issue was resolved.

For this family in crisis we found out that their Christmas Eve tradition was to go to a local Chinese restaurant and have dinner with family. The idea our group came up with was to pitch in and get the meal to bring up for the family on Christmas Eve. Someone who knew someone again went one step further and got the restaurant to donate the meal. Cool.

A couple of us in the medical field by profession took care of issues that arose in the hospital. The men of the group have gotten together to plan how the house would be revised, if need be, so that it would accommodate someone who would be handicapped, at least for a period of time.  A member of our group had a birthday so we all celebrated at the hospital. Normally we would have all gathered in a restaurant or in someone’s home, but this year the celebration would be in the hospital. A Christmas tree was set up, stockings were hung on the hospital door frame with care, in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there….ok that’s corny, but you get the idea!

This family is not a poor family, nor are they wealthy. We are all average middle class working people. But the point is we came together and took care of the needs as they arose. Each of our members have gifts and talents that could be used to better the situation, address problems, offer prayer, support, and words of comfort. And the group got larger as others found out….acquaintances who have now become friends.

A snapshot of our group may frighten some – many have several tattoos, wear clothing with skulls, lots of leather, or have long hair. Seeing them on a street corner you may choose to walk the other way, avoid eye contact, or clutch your handbag a little closer! Sure there are groups of bikers out there who more than embody the stereotype most have of bikers, but there are more who do not. Those I know, or  have had the pleasure of meeting over the years, have been solid salt- of-the-earth, family oriented, flag waving, military and veteran supporting, (and many are former military) hard working people. When there is a need, whether those in need are friends or not, we come together to organize fund raisers or do whatever is needed. Most are animal lovers and advocate for the abused; both the human kind and the furry kind.

You see, this is a “church”. No, we do not gather in a building, shake hands with every newcomer who walks thru the door, pass the plate, or listen to sermons. We do gather together, welcome and hug newcomers and friends in greeting,  rally our resources to support others and live the words of Yeshua to love one another. Are there disagreements? Misunderstandings? Arguments? Yup. But to the best of our ability, and in the fallibility of our humanness, we try to bring peace.

Walls are not required for a “church” to exist. People who come together to love others and meet needs is required. When Yeshua walked the earth He spent His time among the people, not in a pulpit. He healed, taught, forgave, and met the needs of those who came to Him. He denied no one. And when He was about to leave the earth He established His “church” with one of His followers: Peter. Peter was a fisherman by trade, uneducated, and rough around the edges; not a living saint with a halo!

Yeshua’s followers, those who understood His simple message of love, mercy, and generosity, were themselves simple, everyday people; not the pious, and certainly by no means perfect. A “church” of sorts existed in Yeshua’s day. It was called the synagogue and it was largely controlled by the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day. Their “rules”  reigned supreme and had little to do with God. Yeshua was at odds with them and it ultimately resulted in His death.

It’s time we broaden our definition of “church” to mean living the intent of Yeshua’s words instead of a building with 4 walls where people argue the color of the carpeting for the sanctuary, teach exclusion of those who are outside the “ideal” of what a “Christian” should look like, and set themselves above others. “Church” was meant to be a living entity comprised of people who love, not with words, but with action. Those who gather in His name………

Beauty from ashes……

“1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3 New International Version)

Scripture is relevant on many different levels and if we are somewhat familiar with it, is brought to mind on occasion. Today was one such occasion.

I was listening to a story on Sunday Morning This Morning about “Violins of Hope”; a project put together by  Amnon Weinstein beginning in 1996 using violins that had survived the Holocaust.

Amnon Weinstein is a luthier of fine quality violins from a family of luthiers of violins dating back to the Holocaust. One day several decades ago he was told a story by a Jewish Holocaust survivor who had asked Weinstein to restore a violin that had spared him his life while in a German concentration camp. The gentleman’s job was to play the violin as Nazi soldiers marched Jews to their death. Weinstein opened the violin case and found the violin along with ashes. Let that sink in for a moment.

It took many years before Violins of Hope became a reality but that meeting sent Weinstein on a journey to locate violins from the Holocaust that would be lovingly restored and would eventually come alive again with the voice of those who had gone before. In the fall of 2015 the Cleveland Orchestra began a concert series playing the restored violins in honor of those who survived and those who had lost their lives to the Holocaust.

As I watched the story and later read about Weinstein and Violins of Hope I could not help but think about Isaiah 61:3. God had once again brought beauty from ashes, given the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. I was humbled.

Oftentimes people are the beauty God creates from the ashes. Life can knock us down at times, deal us a cruel hand, bear down with a vengeance out of nowhere. In my life I have heard many a story of people who have been brought to the depths of despair and yet somehow came thru the despair to become the beauty God created from the ashes. My children and I have lived it too.

No one likes to go thru the hard times, no one wants to suffer and yet the Bible says that we will because we live in an imperfect world, because we are given a free will and sometimes when some exercise their free will to bring evil on others there is unwarranted suffering. It’s the reality of being human. Like the Holocaust, like a couple suddenly losing a child to death, like a family experiencing abuse at the hands of another, like being unjustly fired from a job, or losing everything to a natural disaster.

How we respond to those times defines and refines our character. Sometimes we look toward heaven and curse God Almighty, turn our backs and walk away from our relationship with God, curl into a fetal position and disengage from life, crawl  into a bottle or lose ourselves in a drug induced fog, consider or attempt suicide, lash out at others, become hard and jaded, and sometimes we draw closer to God and trust that He will bring good from hardship; beauty from ashes.

I will confess that I have generally done one or more of the above in response to hardship. I have a difficult time looking heavenward and thanking God for the opportunity to trust Him thru the storm. I’m just not wired like that, or at least I chose for a time to despair instead of trust.

Even if we choose to take the despairing route God can still bring beauty from ashes. God is bigger than our decisions.  Deciding to trust God may take months or years, but God is a patient Father. And the “beauty” may not be what we wanted or expected but there is beauty. When an unexpected death occurs, a family loses everything, abuse occurs over and over, the dead don’t usually rise, the “things” aren’t magically restored, nor does the effect of abuse disappear. What does happen is that thru the fire we are brought to the end of ourselves and our only choice is to turn to God and trust Him, or decide we won’t. Even if we decide not to trust God He never stops loving us nor looking for us to return.

When our decision is to choose God in the midst of the despair He is able to sweep up the ashes of devastation and breathe into those ashes new life, hope, strength and a deeper understanding of His love for us. It’s  a process and sometimes a lengthy process. But those who have come through the fire radiate the unique beauty only God can bring from the ashes.

If you’re going through the fire today I encourage you to reach out to God, to allow Him to breathe new life and hope into the ashes, and then little by little begin to experience the beauty only He can create.

Those of us who have decided to trust God to bring beauty from ashes are like the restored Holocaust violins. During WWII the violins sang a song of mourning as many were marched to their death. Today some of those same violins sing a song of restoration, strength, and resilience.

Unchurch

I have a confession to make. I don’t like “church”. Not “church” in the way most of us think of “church” anyway. We’ve all been at onetime or another whether as a child or adult, a guest to someone who invited us to attend their church, or maybe as a “holiday” church goer attending the Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day service, maybe even as a member of a church or churches.

We know the drill: met at the door by the greeter who smiles, shakes your hand and thanks you for showing up. The music, traditional or contemporary, the prayer, a couple more songs, the sermon, the plate is passed, another prayer or offer to come forward for prayer and a couple of closing songs then the walk toward the exit to nod and shake hands with a few of the regulars and finally, for the newcomer, the invite from the pastor to come back again.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t have anything against the way we in America have chosen to “church”…..I just don’t fit in. Ever had that experience? That’s really why I don’t like church, I just have always felt like an outsider. Like I’m on the outside looking in. Even when I have been a member, lead a class,  or sang in the music ministry.

For the longest time I just thought that it was my perception and that I just needed to learn to fit in, to be like everyone else and so I did. I spoke “Christianese”, changed the way I dressed so that I blended into whatever the culture of the church “brand” happened to be, carried my Bible, memorized scripture enough so that I could sprinkle conversation with my obvious close relationship with God, attended dozens of women’s Bible groups, and volunteered to do my part so that I could BE a part. The problem was I wasn’t being “me”, I was faking it, pretending to be someone I was not and I didn’t like that.

Fast forward. After a series of events which will be left for a later discussion, I was done with God and church. I had no need for Him or prayer, or the Bible, or the myriad promises the church said God would make a reality; I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Again after a series of events I decided in my infinite wisdom and grace that I would give God another chance. How very generous of me, right? But in all seriousness I missed God, I missed the relationship. I did not miss all the trimmings, being focused on fitting in. So now what? How was I going to “be” a Christian without feeling like an imposter?

Well first I decided I didn’t have to “label” myself as a “Christian”. Now before anyone takes offense let me make my case, and let’s remember this is my story, not yours. If you identify yourself as a “Christian” I am completely cool with that, no judgment from me whatsoever, so no worries. But for me the word “Christian” had negative connotations because of my experiences in the church and because I had tried so hard to “be” a Christian.

Before abandoning ship I had done study in Messianic Judaism and I liked what I learned, so the “label” I gave myself was “Messianic Gentile”. That is just a fancy shmancy way of saying that I had adopted the mindset of those who were not Jews by birth, rather honored the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the scriptures. Again that’s a discussion for another day.

I started by talking to God, not praying in the traditional sense, but just talking. Mostly I just thanked Him. I thanked Him for my kids, my job, the “things” I had. In short I adopted “an attitude of gratitude”. It was the least I could do, I mean I was still here and kicking so I figured there was hope for me however sorry a human being I was!! In truth I wasn’t even sure God loved me or accepted me anymore because I had been down some not-so-pretty roads in my life since I had abandoned ship. I was dirty, bedraggled, foul mouthed, negative, had been suicidal, and participating in vices I had no intention of giving up and one I still don’t intend to give up, and really that is a relative statement depending upon how you define “vice”. If you find any of that shocking hang onto your hat, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. And that is really where I am going with all of this: none of us should apologize for who we are. God, I reasoned, was either going to love me and accept me for who I was, warts, wounds, scars and all or He wasn’t. It was as simple as that.

Oh yeah, I challenged Him, tested Him, said whatever I thought to Him daring Him to toss me out with the trash, but He didn’t. Imagine that. There were days I shook my fist heavenward, screamed, yelled and stomped my feet better than any 3 year old out there! And STILL He refused to go away!

You see, God is love. The Bible says that and so He can’t do anything else but love us. He loves me and He loves you! Maybe you don’t believe that but He does!

How do I know that? How do we know anything really?? I can’t explain it but I KNOW He didn’t move one step away from me at my worst, He just moved a little closer.

Well what I just said isn’t quite true. I do know because the Bible is our reference manual for God. Now wait before you click me off or flip me off, whichever, it’s all good, I don’t intend to go all “churchy” on you but we can’t talk about God without talking about the Bible. The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and if He is also love then He loves us as we were, as we are, and as we will be. We are at best a messy bunch of misfits on any given day and He knows that better than we do.

So, what has any of that got to do with an “unchurch”? It has everything to do with it. The “unchurch” is for all of us who don’t fit in, never did, never will. For all of us who are messy, bedraggled, insecure, fearful, struggling, rejected and stumbling through life but STILL want a relationship with God. And when I say God I also mean Jesus. The good news is there is a place for us. The “unchurch” is a gathering of people who want to know God, not to have all the do’s and don’ts dumped on us as we walk thru the door. The “unchurch” is anywhere 2 or more are gathered.

It’s time for “church” to be all inclusive. It’s time for us to make our relationship with Him our primary focus. It’s time.