Choosing to step into pain

In my last post I shared some statistics that demonstrate the pain that the world experiences. Not that Christians don’t experience pain, but we do have Someone who walks alongside us in the midst of it. Alyce responded to that post, and her comments were so relevant and beautiful, I asked her permission to post them.


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We are called to step into other’s suffering.

It was something I wrestled with for a while with God. I used to facilitate a New Testament Twelve Step Recovery Program at a therapeutic community for women in recovery. Underneath their addictions were pasts of pain, abuse, and trauma. Their stories were unbearable and many times while driving home I would be crying to God and asking him all kinds of questions.  As the bridge for them between this world and Jesus’ Kingdom, I had wanted to pull these women into eternity. I didn’t know any other way to do it. One women in particular broke me. But God’s words to me were to “step into her pain.”

On one occasion in particular, I initiated yet another conversation with God. Thinking back to when He first told me that I would have to “step into her pain”. I kept running his words around in my head and thought, “But nobody does that. Nobody steps into someone else’s pain.” And for some reason while running it around in my head again I had to ask him,  “Who in their right mind would step into someone else’s pain?” I’m certain you know what the answer is that I received. I can’t communicate the exact response because it was a combination of words and visual images with no beginning, middle or end, and all at once, in a moment, it was a complete answer….. Jesus.

 

The world needs us

Consider the following:

17.6 million adults–1 in every 12–suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence

8% of people aged 12 and older have used illegal drugs in the past 30 days

Every 40 seconds, someone in the world dies by suicide. Every 14 minutes in the US.

The US divorce rate is the highest of any nation in the world

1 in 10 US adults is depressed

There is so much pain in the world. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows. We, the church, carry his message of salvation to the world.

Where is the church when the world needs her?

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Heroines of the faith: Harriet Tubman

Araminta Harriet Ross was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820.  As a child, she was hired out as a baby minder (whipped if the baby cried) and later worked in the fields and forests, plowing and hauling logs. She was severely beaten by her masters, and early on, suffered a head wound when hit by a metal weight, leaving  her with seizures and headaches for the rest of her life. Harriet had a deep faith and experienced frequent dreams and visions from God. She married John Tubman in 1844.

In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped to Philadelphia. She later recalled, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”  The following year, she learned that her niece, Kessiah, was about to be sold with her two young children. She helped the family escape, and returned to rescue other family members from the plantations. Slowly, she brought all her relatives out of Maryland and subsequently made more than 19 rescue mission guiding more than 300 to freedom. Called “Moses,” she traveled by night and used the network of  safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to bring them out, never losing a “passenger.”

Although large rewards were offered for the return of the fugitive slaves, no one realized that Harriet Tubman was the one responsible  their escape. When Congress passed an act requiring law officials in free states to recapture slaves, she helped the rescued slaves travel further north into Canada where slavery was already abolished.

During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, but then as a scout and spy.  She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the war. She helped lead the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina which rescued more than 700 slaves.

After the war, she went home to look after her aging parents, and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. She died of pneumonia in 1913.

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”  Harriet Tubman


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Information for this post came from here and here

Non-religious Christianity

All too often Christianity is cheapened to the point that it becomes a religion of rules in which the do’s and don’ts (especially the don’ts) govern our lives. In an effort to please God by keeping ourselves separate from the world (2 Cor 6:17), we live lives that are less than attractive to those who don’t know Jesus. Anything that might be “fun” in the world’s eyes is viewed with suspicion by those motivated by religion. (“Don’t drink, smoke or chew or date girls that do.”) When our spiritual walk is governed by obligation and duty and law (this is what I ought to do, this is how good Christians behave) it leads to a lifeless religion based on rules and regulations.

Law
Most people in the West were brought up in a shame-based religion. “People are dying and going to hell. Therefore you should preach the Gospel.” Although it sounds spiritual, the reasoning is guilt-based. It implies, “Christ died for your sins and you are doing so little for him. You are guilty. You ought to be doing more.” It attempts to shame us into different behavior.

The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life! Non-religious Christianity is governed by the life of the Spirit within. As we seek to live close to Jesus, we find ourselves doing what the Scriptures indicate is pleasing to him. Notorious sinners loved to hang around Jesus (Luke 15:1), who was accused of being a glutton and “winebibber.”

The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ (Luke 7:34)

Jesus enjoyed life. And his life won those around him.

What motivates us is important. The grace and love of Jesus operating inside us cause us to want to do what legalism says we ought to do.

Women cannot…

A recent fascinating article describes an advertising campaign put out by UN Women (a branch of the U.N.) that demonstrates that sexism and gender bias flourish in today’s world. The ad shows four faces of women with some of the most popular Google search terms. For example, on the search term,  “women cannot…” the most popular search terms were “drive, be bishops, be trusted, speak in church.”

So I thought I’d check this out. Scarily, it’s true. When I Googled “women cannot,” the popular searches (each search page has eight of the most popular searches for each term towards the bottom of the page) include “be priests, speak in church, teach the Bible, be pastors.” In this search, 50 percent of the issues mentioned were church related. In contrast, the corresponding search for “men cannot” had only one that is church related–man cannot live on bread alone;  that is hardly gender specific.

What’s with this?

I find myself almost without words to express my indignation that the church, the beautiful feminine bride of Christ, portrays herself to the world at large in this way.

What a turn-off for not-yet-believing women thinking about Christianity.

Jesus came to set people free. The one place above all, where people should fight against injustice is the church. And yet gender bias is accepted there. (And yes, I know some of you will point to the two Scriptures that apparently limit women, but they not only stand against the trend of the Bible as a whole, they can, with integrity, be interpreted differently.)

How can we change the world’s perception of the role of women in the church?

What do you think?

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Simple missions

This past weekend I met with a group of people to discuss missions.

Traditional church is complex and complicated. Think of what goes into a typical Sunday morning service, let alone the upkeep of a building, handling the finances, keeping the programs running. Ordinary people, who have no training in ecclesiology and who have jobs and families, would find it very difficult to start and/or run a traditional church.

Simple/organic church, on the other hand, is so simple, almost anyone can start one.

Traditional missions is complex too. They require mission agencies and mission boards to keep them running. Raising support is tough. It’s hard to adapt to a different culture.

A question I’ve been asking myself for some time is this. What would simple missions look like? Just as simple/organic church has a very different feel and DNA to the traditional, what would be the differences between simple and traditional missions?

What ideas do you have?

 
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Heroines of the faith: Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby was one of the most prolific and best-known hymn writers of all time, composing more than 9,000 hymns, many of which are still popular today, as well as secular poetry. Blind from soon after birth, she loved to compose simple gospel songs that could be used in evangelism. Ira Sankey attributed much of the success of the crusades he did with DL Moody to her songs. She was reknowned for her preaching and rescue missions work.

Photo credit: www.cyberhymnal.org 

Frances Jane Crosby was born in 1806, and at six weeks old, she developed a fever and eye infection. A “quack” prescribed mustard poultices to put on her eyes–and this may have been the cause of her blindness. Once when someone remarked on it, she replied, ” “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

A few weeks after her illness, her father died and Fanny was mainly raised by her grandmother.

Fanny had a deep love for the Bible. As a child she memorized large portions of it–often 5 chapters a week–and could recite whole books. She wrote her first poem when she was eight.

Just before her 15th birthday, Fanny was sent to the newly founded New York Institute for the Blind, where she remained for 12 years as a student and 11 as a teacher. She worked tirelessly on behalf of the blind, speaking to Congress about the need for education for the blind and having conversations with the presidents of the day.

Although she could play several musical instruments, she preferred to write poetry. Her husband, also blind and an accomplished organist, wrote the music to many of her hymns. She wrote so many hymns that she used over 200 pseudonyms because some publishers of hymn books were hesitant to have so many hymns by a single author. Her hymns include such favorites as Blessed Assurance (which she wrote with Phoebe Knapp, daughter or Phoebe Palmer), Rescue the Perishing, Safe in the Arms of Jesus.

Fanny Crosby had a “horror of wealth.” She gave away anything she did not need to the poor. When she and her husband separated, she lived near the slums in order to be able to devote more of her time to serving the poor. Some of her wealthier friends supported her, but often she would give the money away. She died just before her 95th birthday.

Here’s one of her hymns:

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Refrain
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.

Verse 2
O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

(Refrain)

Verse 3
Great things He hath taught us, great things He has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Information for this post came from here and here

Is the spiritual realm real?

Is there a spiritual realm, an unseen dimension to what happens here on earth? Is spiritual warfare just our imagination? Does what we do spiritually make any difference to what happens here on earth?

Understanding the reality of an unseen dimension that affects what goes on here on earth  jolts us out of religious complacency and a legalistic, religious Christianity.

Knights

For many years we were involved in a church plant in the East End of London in the UK. At that point in time, the area was not the gentrified place it has since become. It was a very run-down, neglected area of around 120,000 people, with 93% government housing. The unemployment rate, if I remember rightly, was about 17%. Within our church, (effectively a network of home groups) we had maybe 10 or 12 people who had been out of work for some considerable time with no prospect of employment.

As a fellowship we decided that this wasn’t just a natural problem but it had a spiritual component to it. So in one particular gathering, we put all the people who were looking for a job in the center of the room, while the rest of us prayed for them. Someone suggested that we treat it like the battle of Jericho, so we actually marched round them 7 times, shouting praise to God the final time. Then we prayed for each person individually.

Were we crazy? It must have looked crazy to any outsider. But over the next few weeks, every one of those people found a job.

Another example from a similar time period: There were riots going on in London, and they were approaching our area of town. The fear in the air was so palpable, you could almost smell it. There was a small corner store across the road from where we lived, and I remember looking out our living room window and watching the owner board up the windows. In the front yard of the house next door, a young teenager was preparing his arsenal of weapons to throw. We pulled together a few people and started praying, using the spiritual weapons of praise and the Word, believing that God would intervene and that Satan had no right to come onto “our ground.” As we listened to the news, the reporters gave a street by street blow on which areas of town were affected. The riots stopped at the very first street we regarded as our territory.

The spiritual realm is real!  In 2 Kings 6, when Elisha is under attack, surrounded by the troops of the enemy,  he prays that his servant will see the reality of the spiritual realm. All of a sudden, his servant can see horses and chariots of fire. God delivers them from the hand of the enemy. We need to have our eyes opened to see what’s really going on.

I’d love to hear some of your stories too.

Heroines of the faith: Jarena Lee

Jarena Lee, an African American preacher, was born (free) in 1873 and worked as a servant girl in the home of a white family 60 miles from where she lived. As a teenager, she moved to Philadelphia where she heard the preaching of Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,  and surrendered her life to the Lord. She soon heard the Lord telling her calling her, “Preach the Gospel, Preach the Gospel! I will put the words into your mouth.” When she told Allen, he denied her request to become a preacher saying that women could not preach in the Methodist Church.

In 1711, she married Joseph Lee, a pastor at a nearby AME church. Her husband did not want her to preach either, so she was forced to put her sense of God’s calling on hold. Joseph died after six years of marriage.

Back at her mother church, one Sunday the preacher who was speaking on the book of Jonah, seemed to lose the thread of his talk. Jarena recounts in her autobiography:

When in the same instant, I sprang, as by altogether supernatural impulse, to my feet, when I was aided from above to give an exhortation on the very text which my brother Williams had taken. … I now sat down, scarcely knowing what I had done, being frightened. I imagined, that for this indecorum, as I feared it might be called, I should be expelled from the church. But instead of this, the Bishop [Allen] rose up in the assembly, and related that I had called upon him eight years before, asking to be permitted to preach, and that he had put me off; but that now he as much believed that I was called to that work, as any of the preachers present.”

Jarena Lee was the first woman preacher in the AME church, but despite the blessing of Richard Allen, continued to face opposition, not just because she was black, but also because she was a woman. She traveled thousands of miles on foot, evangelizing and preaching. In one year alone, she traveled 2,325 miles and preached 178 sermons.

Here’s what she writes in her autobiography about her call to preach:

“O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man.

“If the man may preach, because the Saviour died for him, why not the woman? Seeing he died for her also. Is he not a whole Saviour, instead of a half one? as those who hold it wrong for a woman to preach, would seem to make it appear.”

Photo credit:pbs.org

Information for this post came from here, here and here.

 

 

Video: Felicity Dale on the house church movement

Several years ago, I wrote a book called An Army of Ordinary People: Stories of Real-Life Men and Women Simply Being the Church. I recently rediscovered a video where I talk about how I came to write the book and I answer questions about the simple/organic/ house church movement. Enjoy…

 

Q&A with Felicity Dale from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.