What to get for someone who has nothing.

I bet you thought this was about a street person or something. Sorry, it is not, though I have done that and it really takes a village. This was about someone close to me, who is single parenting. After a surprise relationship breakup, parent and kids headed back to their hometown to regroup. There was nothing to come back to, except relatives and friends. Problem was, they left in a hurry and expected to return to collect larger items. Only the house they left burned down in the meantime.

So what really prompted this topic was that I went to a website selling china. I was enjoying looking at patterns, then I would look at prices and start calculating. This is a family of 8 after all. Seems like they would need around 24 plates and that gets pricey pretty quickly! And I was already helping with moving expenses, so maybe buying a bunch of name brand dishes wouldn’t be the smartest approach.

Fortunately, they had their clothes, so we didn’t have to worry about that. But buying furniture was pretty much out of the question. I kept thinking about how, when people get married, you have a wedding and people give them lots of things to help them set up housekeeping. You have china, silver and glassware, pots and pans, all manner of kitchen gadgets, knives and decorative items. Then there are sheets and towels and rugs. All of it is fair game, even things that are just pretty, but not necessary or useful.

In this case though, there was no wedding, and you need far more of some things for a family of 8. I decided then to check out the nearby discount store and see how far I could get. Turns out the money goes a lot farther there, and I started picking up a few things each week, since there were a couple of months before they would need it all. In the meantime, I put out the word to our Sunday school and women’s classes. This turned out well, because many of us are at a point where some downsizing is taking place. Quite a bit of kitchen things came in, and also bath towels and even living and dining room furniture.

Since that was going so well, I then concentrated on buying a variety of sheet sets, so the kids could choose their favorites. Pretty soon, they had a nice little house all furnished and with kitchen equipment, so the kids could come home and start school. Again, it takes a village, but sometimes that village is made up of people you don’t even know.

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Perspectives on CPS

I’ve been thinking lately about CPS.  I kind of got slapped with a new perspective on it recently and am still trying to figure things out.  I have a friend who is a nurse.  After retiring, she decided to volunteer as a foster mom.  Originally, she was there just for medically fragile, children, which is her specialty.  She also happens to lead classes in how to care for medically fragile children, who are usually hard to place.  But she has fallen into offering emergency placement for infants, as her place is pretty small.  She has had one with several broken bones, that put him into a body cast for a while.  Others have been quite healthy, but neglected.  Some come from homes with a long history with CPS, and older siblings already in the system.  These children typically blossom with regular care, feeding, bathing and attention.  She often brings them to church so others may have a chance to hold them and talk to them.  

Often the topic has come up, and we all are amazed that the birth parents would not just fall in love with these little ones, as we do.  It’s hard for us to imagine how someone could break the bones of a tiny baby, who as far as we can see, was a good natured little thing most of the time anyway.  And we wonder how it is that some people have proven themselves incompetent to care for children, yet they continue to have them.  One was pretty much abandoned by the mother, another action we find simply unfathomable.  Of course, in other cases, CPS is working toward reunification of the family.  Sometimes we wonder if that is wise, though surely some young parents simply need a little bit of training in how to be a parent.  

But now I have encountered the situation from the eyes of someone caught up in the system and sometimes CPS can be part of the problem.  What I found was a single parent, doing all in their power to keep their family together after the other parent left.  I wouldn’t say that there wasn’t good reason for the children to have been placed in foster care, in the beginning.  But the remaining parent did exactly what the courts and CPS demanded.  There was anger management, which was taken to heart and implemented.  There were parenting classes attended and also taken to heart and implemented.  And there was treatment for alcohol problems, giving this parent better ways to handle their emotions.  

The process for getting the kids back involved visits, and this parent made sure not to miss a single one.  There were home visits and this person took a good deal of pride in how clean they could make the place.  They were going to college, trying to better themselves.  Eventually they did get the kids back, but  of course there was an expected period during which there would still be regular inspections to make sure the place was clean and there was food in the house.  I recall some time ago that they were expecting to have the last inspection, after which I assume that normally you would only encounter CPS again if someone made a complaint.  Of course there wasn’t much money, but they continued to make needed repairs on their residence and keep it as clean as possible with children around.  

Problem was, apparently there was always something the CPS people didn’t like.  Maybe the kids tracked mud onto the clean floor, or perhaps it was because it was an old house and the repairs didn’t always hold?  I don’t know, but hear from others that the expectation is for the place to be immaculate, without allowances for the normal clutter that most of us have with children in the house.  The children were clean, they were fed and they were working on homework every night alongside their parent.  The house was probably as clean as a single parent with multiple kids can manage.  But always there was a threat hanging over their heads, that the kids might be taken away again.

Eventually, the money situation became so dire that the parent took a job when they were two classes shy of their AA degree.  I’m sure they tried to continue the classes but suspect that work hours made that impossible.  There again, we are hoping for these people to find jobs and get off welfare, right?  They required assistance with before and after school care, but otherwise were doing well.  Yet still the threat hangs over all of them, years after they did all they were supposed to do.  

The parent took the kids everywhere with them, in order not to be accused of leaving them unsupervised.  But of course, the kids are 3 or more years older than when all of this started.  Eventually the oldest ones started begging to be allowed to stay home for short periods of time unsupervised.  To my way of thinking, this is necessary for 12 and 13 year old kids.  In fact, the policy is that such short times on their own can start at age 10.  But when the parent finally allowed them to stay together, just the older ones, CPS came and was threatening to take the kids away again and threatening to arrest the remaining parent.

There is more to that story, but I won’t go into it here.  My point is that something is wrong with the system, if when you have someone who is actually doing all the things they are told to do, yet they never “graduate.”  I can’t see how constant pressure and threats could be helpful in any case.  And this situation was as stressful for those kids as for their parent.  How is CPS helping by continuing to harass a responsible parent who made mistakes in the middle of a breakup, but has grown up and taken responsibility for their past and future?

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A faulty paradigm

Recently, I noticed there were reports about a list of the 100 largest churches in the US. I actually read a bit about one in a blog post.  I am astonished at some of the assumptions involved.  I read so much from people who are completely disenchanted with the entire evangelical emphasis, that it takes me by surprise to run across folks who still think it is the way to go and the bigger the better.

Many of the actions of this large church are being copied at my church, not with my approval of course.  I put my two cents worth in but don’t really expect them to listen to a minority view, especially one that doesn’t support the current big plans.  In the scant decade that the current leadership has been in charge, we have completely redone our sound and video capabilities.  This was badly needed since before we were still using an old fashioned overhead projector for praise songs.  Having actual video capabilities is a lot nicer, and the previous sound system was full of gremlins, or so it seemed.  The new control area for sound, lights and video took out some seats though, so we eventually built onto our sanctuary, adding an overflow area that can be used for a variety of things.

Then some lenten studies expanded into several core classes, including one on spiritual gifts, one on the fruit of the spirit and one on witnessing, in addition to discovery membership, which was the only thing previously expected of us all.  We really had a pent up demand for the spiritual gifts course, and I personally found it quite helpful, since I was looking for expanded ministry opportunities once both kids were in school.  The witnessing class was my least favorite, unsurprisingly since it is right at the bottom of my gifts profile.  I actually started this blog as a way around it.  I saw it, at least at first, as a form of witness.

Now at some point, perhaps a year ago and a bit more, they announced a “reunion” of the witnessing classes.  Even though it included a meal, not very many people seemed interested.  I thought the very idea was odd.  I guess they are disappointed then, that we did not enthusiastically begin saving people right and left and bringing them all to church.  Frankly, for my part, I’ve been scratching my head for years, when they would talk about how we should invite our friends and neighbors to this or that.  It’s not that I have no friends, but those I have are mostly christians already and they have their own churches.  Those that don’t have their reasons.  As for neighbors, if we lived closer, maybe that would make sense, though I suspect many of them have their own churches as well.  I’m not into sheep stealing!

I guess it’s just that the bones of the plan are beginning to show.  Am I imagining that we were told if we invested in a sound system, it would bring people in?  I certainly recall being told that a building project would be sure to attract attention, at least from those nearby.  It did bring us a few people.  They were quite gung-ho about the praise music at the later service, pretty much disinviting the choir and the bells, even though many long time members would tell us how much they missed us and enjoyed our rare appearances at that service.  I’m not sure it was said in words, but there seemed to be an assumption that younger families would want the praise music, not organ and choir.  Well, we did have a few new ones from time to time.

But I guess it was not enough.  They have lost patience with us who aren’t bringing in people by the handfuls, or better hundreds.  So now they are going to imitate churches like the one I read about, where the head pastor stated that his responsibility was to his team, not the congregation.  I guess if you have 12,000 in attendance, you surely can’t know them all, but it still doesn’t sit well with me when the shepherd makes no attempt to even know his flock.  How can he even preach, with no idea of what they need to hear?  It seems a little like an echo chamber, or maybe that is just my strange perspective because I also go somewhere once a year, where the speakers actually listen to those who come to hear them,  and adjust their messages accordingly.

So, they have changed the time of the later service, which had unwelcome domino effects on things that have always been important to our congregation, like christian education.  They have given it a catchy name and are hoping all these new people that will come will fix our church and turn it into an evangelical juggernaut.  Maybe that will happen, and maybe not.  Some long time members have already left, and should that become a trend, it might well undercut all these new members supposedly coming.  I wonder who would be discipling all the new people, if the mature christians have left?

But I digress.  I really wanted to talk about the ideas put forth in our latest newsletter, from their “church growth expert.”  Well, actually the monthly newsletter says this part came from a book on church growth.  Basically it says your church will be in one of 4 phases, “Vision, Relationships, Programs and Management.”  All are good except the last one which equals dying.  I had actually heard something about this before from a friend, who felt all could be present at the same time, which would ruin the whole idea.  You see their point was that without a new vision, your church is destined to die.

Now first of all, I’ve heard the vision talk before, and the church was one I’ve previously attended.  They had a lovely vision of an entire church community, including schools, a gym for members and connected retirement housing.  It was really a beautiful image, but it never came fully to fruition.  But because of some subsequent leaders, who must have had other ideas, that church is now in dire straights, leasing out part of the facilities they cannot afford to maintain and bleeding former members who don’t want to be part of someone’s power trip.  That’s not to say vision is a bad thing, necessarily, but this paradigm emphasizes it a little too much.

What if your loyal members have a different vision for their church than the one put forth from the administration?   And what of the idea that growth and change can be happening constantly along with decay as in a living organism.  Isn’t that what we are supposed to be, the body of Christ?  I’ve been at this church for a long time, minus a break when I was elsewhere.  I’ve thought it was dying before, only to find it healthy and well 15 years later, with many new people.  I’ve seen it shrink when  there was a pastor who didn’t understand what made us tick, and recover when one arrived who asked questions like, “what do you want to see happening here, and who are the people who are important here, whether they are on staff or not?”  Imagine, a pastor who wanted to serve us, instead of throwing out some grand vision and saying, “make it happen!”  And I’ve seen it struggle, when people are trying to do things they feel called to do, yet the administration fails to appreciate those ministries, because they don’t fit their ideas of where our priorities should lie.

I wonder, if God has called me to something, and you don’t like it or don’t understand it, what should I do?  Should I go along with the program and support the vision?  Or should I trust that God knew what He was doing all along and concentrate on my calling?  And at what point should I shake the dust off my feet and move on, if my calling is regularly dismissed as unimportant, or simply neglected?

The problem with paradigms is the person who sets them up asks the questions.  They are multiple choice, but they never include the answer, other.  Jesus usually responded to those sorts of questions with another question, in the other category, that would reveal the motives of the person with the paradigm.  Be willing to think outside the box, because life is not a box, with neat answers to everything.  May He help us see beyond the paradigms to the people, who are so much more complex.

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Sermons

I had an odd experience recently.  I made a purposefully vague comment about a recent sermon being better than the week before.  Two people took exception to that.  I thought that was odd, because it was, after all merely an opinion.  Our tastes, even in sermons, are rarely alike with more than a very few individuals.  And if the speaker even bothered to notice the comment, “better” is a positive word, right?  Of course, the thread got more detailed, but even then, doesn’t the average preacher want both positive and negative feedback?  I suspect there must be something more to it all, but I can only guess at the reasons for them being upset.

It gave me something to think and pray about for at least the rest of the day.  It was on my mind as I fell asleep, something of a mystery, since God hasn’t yet brought any clarity to the subject.  I wondered how many people just love a given sermon, how many hate it, and how many fall into the middle spectrum, or even don’t care.  You know it’s bound to be a mix of opinions on any given Sunday, no matter that most people congratulate the pastor.

When I woke up this morning, it was still on my mind, but I was thinking about all the sermons I’ve heard through the years and my reactions to them.  I started going to more than just Sunday school when I was 8 or 9, so I guess I’ve heard well over two thousand sermons, more if you count things I’ve read in a similar vein.  When I was young, the church was pretty liberal.  One of the old timers in the church told me that the first pastor I could remember was so liberal, that he didn’t last long here.  I do remember that the sermons always seemed to start with some funny anecdote, to get people’s attention.  They would give a nod to whatever passage was the focus, and I do recall the pastors trying very hard to let us know that science was okay and not in any way against the bible.  There was usually some illustration of a good Christian person, usually Albert Schweitzer or Frank Laubach, whom we should emulate.

Later, I got seriously involved in studying the bible for myself.  I enjoyed expository sermons that really took the bible apart and went into the contexts of things.  I often wished for something more than I was getting at my home church and eventually went to a more evangelical one.  There they were going through the bible book by book, but every once in a while they had what I call a “Come to Jesus” sermon.  At first this was refreshing, because it was new.  But after a while, and with repetition, it got irritating. I felt like the whole thing was aimed at someone else, who hadn’t already dedicated their life to Jesus.  There seemed to be nothing for those of us looking for strength and encouragement in our already established faith.

Eventually I ended up back in our home church.  The sermons had changed a bit, or maybe it was just a new minister with a different style.  Some were great, most were good, but occasionally people would be talking about one as the best they had heard in years and it simply hadn’t hit me that way.  Like I say, we are all different.  We had a few people come through here, who seemed to have no faith at all.  They would preach on a given passage, but at best the sermon seemed to be about self-improvement, or maybe trying to fix the world.  I remember rolling my eyes at the way one preacher tap danced around verses referring to spiritual warfare, making it something about standing up to the military-industrial complex, or human governments.  Evidently they did not believe in a spiritual world at all.

Over the years, I’ve heard some world class sermons and some duds.  I’ve heard some that excited me and some that calmed me and even some that bored me.  I’ve heard sermons that made me angry and others that made me repentant.  Some even brought me to tears.  But I neither expect nor demand that a sermon bring some emotional response.  In fact, most of the time, I won’t even comment on an individual sermon, though if they begin to seem to be dumbed down as a matter of course, you will definitely hear from me.  The former GATE kid and Phi Beta Kappa grad in me just won’t stand for that.  I would think that each pastor’s goal would be to preach, on a given Sunday, what his or her congregation needs to hear from God.  If they begin to try to “fix” their congregation, instead of fixing their eyes on Jesus, then that pastor has gone off track.

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The questions, right and wrong

I had one of those experiences last week when a blog post elsewhere triggered a memory.  It connects to a blog from Rachel Held Evans called, Is doubt an STD?  At least I think I have that right.  You should be able to find it if needed.  I don’t know how to link to it, and you really don’t have to read it to get the point of my reflection here.  Basically, it involved the idea of some minister or other christian leader assuming that doubt was caused by sexual activity.  So when a young person came wanting to discuss doubts, they would change the topic and ask who they were sleeping with!   I did comment on their thread, but it was a late comment and the thread was quite long.

So, I will throw out my story here with names changed, in hopes that it will help someone else, because I really wish I had known a better way to respond at the time.  My opinion here is basically that, if someone won’t answer the question you are asking, it is not right for them to simply change the subject to something else, particularly if it is what I call a “fishing expedition.”  That is, they are trying to find out something else about you, that you did not volunteer and that may or may not even have a bearing on the question.

So, here’s the story.  It took place about 4 or 5 months after I graduated from college.  I was one of those unfortunate souls who could not seem to find my way with those of the opposite sex.  I had had only 3 dates in my life at that point.  I had no shortage of interest, having had numerous crushes, all followed by rejection, which led to depression, which often lasted longer than the original crush.  All of the crushes were on perfectly acceptable boys from church.  Over the summer though, my sister had introduced me to someone who actually seemed to like me.  Unfortunately, he did not share my faith, so I had told him I would not date him again.

In self defense, it seemed, I had nursed a crush on someone else past the point where I should have long since given up.  I realized I needed help getting out of the pattern of crush, rejection, depression though.  After all, I was also actively job hunting and really could not afford to be seriously depressed.  I racked my brains trying to figure out who to approach for advice on this.  It really seemed I would need someone older and wiser than someone my age.  I finally decided to go to someone I will call Dana, who had known me since I was 13.  She had a reputation for being hard on people who were dating people she disapproved of, but since I had not been up to anything, I figured that was a moot point.  She was normally quite discerning and knew me well, I thought.  We had had many discussions about life and God.

Eventually I screwed up my courage and went to see her.  We dispensed with the pleasantries and I asked my question.  Maybe it was actually two questions.  First was how on earth I could recognize when someone simply was not interested, so I could move on, hopefully sooner, rather than after wasting months moaning over them.  The second, related question was how I could get over them, without falling into a deep depression every time.

Her response was to ask me who I had a crush on.  Now in my head, I wanted to know why she wanted to know and what difference it made. But I gave the name of the guy, someone who had often joined me in late night, after meeting conversations with her.  All I recall of her response to that was that she said I already knew the answer.  Okay, I had actually come there, because I figured it was time to get over him, right?  I was a little nettled that she seemed to think he was so wrong for me.  After all, to that point, at least in my mind, he knew me better than any other male on earth.

So I moved on to the second question.  I can’t recall her answering that at all.  But she did tell me  how until she met her husband she was just using all the guys she dated.  Whoa!  In my mind she was now accusing me of using people, something I had never ever done.  I was hurt and I was angry.  I had wasted an hour or more spilling my guts to her and she hadn’t helped me at all!  I left and vowed I’d never open up like that to her again.  I think the anger somehow helped me bypass the worst of the inevitable depression.

Eventually I forgave her, but you know, I really never trusted her as a friend after that. Where once I had been a sort of protege, we simply were not close as adults.  That was sad, but it’s not the point I want to make here.  You see, thinking of the situation, and stories I had heard of others who somehow ran afoul of her standards for us, I really think she was on a fishing expedition.  She was fishing for some sort of sin, and most likely of the sexual variety.  Perhaps that she would have known how to deal with, whereas clueless, socially awkward girls were a mystery to her.  I should have known, I suppose, given that she had been popular when young, that she would have had no clue to how the unpopular girls operated.  But I am surprised that she was not able to just say, “I don’t know”  in answer to my questions, instead of fishing for sin.

My point is this though, if you go to someone with a sincere question, whether it be about doubts or the mysteries of relationships, you have a right to a sincere answer.  You have a right to question, and you have a right to be heard.  Someone who changes the subject, particularly to something very personal, has their own agenda.  Whether or not their agenda hits home, you have a right to call them on that.  I can only wonder how my encounter would have gone, had I come right out and demanded to know why she thought the name of my current crush mattered.  The real question was not how do I get over so and so, but how do I get over rejection.  I’m not at all sure that she had much grasp on how many of us were driven by rejection in our lives, sometimes in directions that made things worse instead of better.  What we needed was not judgement, but healing.

So here’s my advice.  When someone answers your honest and sincere question with another question, particularly one that makes you squirm, that is too personal, don’t accept it.  Turn it right back to them with something like, why would you ask a thing like that?  They are the one who is trying to sidestep the topic, why not bring it right back to where you started?  At the very least, if they are honest, they will tell you their agenda.  If you don’t want to discuss it, you can tell them so, you can leave and find someone else to discuss your issue with.  You can even choose to discuss it if you want, but it’s out in the open, not hidden behind a baited gotcha hook.  Even if you are younger than the person you are talking to, you deserve to be treated with respect.  If it seems like they are making a power grab, maybe you shouldn’t trust them.  I think most people will respect you when you call them on a boundary violation, which is usually what is going on when you get angry.  The hard part is to not let the anger take control and to calmly discuss how they are violating your boundaries.

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Suicide

I recently read another blog with several perspectives on suicide, or at least having thoughts in that direction.  Many of the comments had to do with how unhelpful it is when one is terribly depressed and people assume you must have chosen to be this way.  To be charitable, I think some of this is leftover from 30 or 40 years ago, when there were no effective medications for depression.  Honestly, the books I found back in the pre-prozac era took exactly that approach.  Basically it had to do with choosing to think kinder thoughts about oneself.  There is a kernel of truth there, though I suspect it works best for those who have less severe depression.  It was at least sometimes helpful when I would redirect my thoughts in a more positive direction.  Many of us are harder on ourselves than others would be, especially when we are young adults.  I think we learn to cut ourselves a little slack as we get older, hopefully anyway.

As a little background, I first found depression to be a problem around middle school.  I had been bullied in 6th grade, so my self esteem had taken a nose dive.  I felt like a social idiot, maybe everyone did around that age.  At any rate, I once broached the idea to my mom, who had always championed talk therapy after it helped her deal with some issues she had had with her father, that I should maybe talk to a therapist of some sort.  Well, she told me I was just experiencing being a teenager and it would pass.  A couple of years later, my dad’s health started to fail.  So I dealt with depression most of my high school years as best I could, not even realizing until I was an adult, that it really would have been appropriate to talk through that situation.

I think Dad was in the hospital after his final stroke for several months before he died.  At that point I was in Junior College and had a night time and weekend cleaning job.  I was pretty depressed and not sleeping well.  At one point I was at my job and just laid on the floor in exhaustion.  I felt I simply could not go on, and asked the Lord why he didn’t just take me home.  The answer came that He was not finished with me yet.  Somehow that gave me enough motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I felt so relieved once he finally died, after a 5 year decline.  It kind of made me feel guilty in a way, as if I were happy he had died.  But really it was just that the burden of anticipation and not knowing when it would happen was finally lifted.  I entered a good period for some time after that and enjoyed finishing my schooling.

Then I was out and struggling with the challenge of the twenties, to find meaningful work or at least support myself, and hopefully to find someone to share my life with.  In the process of trying to find my way, I ended up in dead end job in a retail store and the only guy who seemed interested in my company did not share my faith.  I eventually broke up with him which was a relief at first.  But no one else appeared on the scene which was depressing, since most of my friends were married and raising children.  Meanwhile my crazy boss was dipping into the money in order to buy used furniture for the store, without leaving any notes as to how much money he had out.  The home office was clamoring for reports, which I couldn’t send since they were short and he had to sign them.  Usually he came back with change and receipts for gas and purchases after a few days.  But sometimes the home office would demand the reports and when I sent them, the boss blamed me for getting him in trouble.  Talk about a high stress situation, I was really depressed.

One day I must have reached a breaking point.  I came in early in the morning and needed to work on deposits.  But I had a cascade of feelings of worthlessness and visual images of suicidal actions that would not stop.  I couldn’t even work and trying to substitute positive thoughts wasn’t happening.  I cried out to God for help and after a bit it was like a cloud just lifted off of me.  I could work then and think positive thoughts.

Here’s the kicker though.  After a bit, I went downstairs to use the bathroom.  One of the other employees told me a regular customer had come in, dragged the employees together and insisted they had to pray because there was a spirit of suicide in the store!  Apparently, in response to my prayer for help, the Lord sent someone who had the gift of discerning of spirits to minister deliverance on my behalf.  I had never considered that what was going through my head might not be simply my own thoughts.  It would not have occurred to me to deal with it in terms of command, instead of request at that point in my life.

To tell you the truth, the whole experience was amazing to me.  I had a bit of training in spiritual warfare, enough to have some vocabulary to use.  But up to that point, I had no clue to how someone might feel who was being influenced by a demonic entity.  It was a valuable experience in that way, and completely changed my perspective on what is really going on when someone reports suicidal thoughts.  I never had that problem again, so the customer had done a thorough job of casting it out.  Yes, I have been depressed from time to time, but with good self care, it is manageable.

To get back to what I read and reacted to though, someone on the thread had posted that they were accused of having a demon when they reported suicidal thoughts, or perhaps it was just deep depression.  They naturally did not find the accusation to be at all helpful, in fact just said that whoever said that had completely failed at being empathetic.  I agree there, but there may have been demonic activity involved.  Here’s the thing though, when Jesus found someone with a demon, he didn’t accuse them of bringing it on themselves, nor did he ask their permission to deal with it.  He simply removed it from them and sent it away.  And he gave all his disciples the authority to do the same in His name.

I know some people are squeamish about dealing with such things, but in fact, it was considered quite normal in the early years of the church.  You can even order them out of your own life, if necessary.  No, it does not require shouting or the laying on of hands.  In fact, some even do it in silence.  So instead of accusing someone of having a demon, one would do better to say nothing to them and order it out in Jesus’ name and see what happens.  Failing that, most serious problems with depression involve physical problems with brain chemistry that can be addressed by a doctor, and mental issues probably best left to expert counselors.  But everyone can benefit by having someone listen to them in a non-judgemental fashion.  My girlfriend and I got each other through many depressive episodes, simply by listening to one another.  I have been reading Job lately and he said the same thing.  When his friends just sat there and listened to him vent, they were much more help to him than when they decided to solve the problem by pontificating about it.  So, if all else fails, try really listening.

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Grace, or how to be offended

A dear relative was visiting and we had some discussion of our relative churches and what is going on there.  Her church has been searching for a new head pastor for some time.  Unlike my denomination, they have to be tried out and voted in by the congregation.  It can be a long drawn out process.  She is tearing her hair out, because as a long time member, she takes pride in being part of her denomination and what they believe.  But those who are running things now, seem determined to camoflage denominational ties.  In fact, in the contemporary service, they seem completely unwilling to even teach the bible at all, for fear that they might offend someone.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the former pastor would think, who was there somewhere around 30 years ago, when I attended for several years.  He really had a passion for the bible, teaching both an in depth class, for which one could get college credit for a bible survey course.  At the same time, he had an ongoing project to teach through the entire bible on the congregational level as well.  The place was quite well attended at that time.  We all felt well fed, and pledged our money to build the current church, spread out in order to accommodate hoped for schools.  The expansion with a health club and senior housing never quite came to fruition, but it seemed wise at the time.  And now, they think they can regrow the church, by avoiding offending anyone?  What kind of christians would they have, who are completely ignorant of the bible?

For that matter, isn’t the gospel offensive?  I mean really, didn’t Jesus offend people right and left, especially those who claimed to have the correct behavior down pat?  The gospel is all about grace and grace is offensive.  I mean, look at every major religion in the world, don’t they teach that there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live, and the right way is how you get to God or Nirvana or whatever the goal is?  Surely we have to work our way into God’s good graces, right?

Then along comes this man, who hangs around with smelly fishermen, and prostitutes and tax collectors (all of whom were considered to be cheats at the time).  This man has the audacity to call the religious folk of the time, the ones who had the rules down pat, all sorts of names, like whitewashed tombs.  He said they laid heavy burdens on people and refused to lift a finger to actually help them.    I’ve encountered a few religious leaders like that in my time.  You know the type, all about the rules and when you think you have a handle on what they want, they go out of their way to make you feel guilty about something you have no control over.  Or they tell you you are prideful, because you think you are doing okay, instead of wallowing in shame.  If you think you have a gift for X, they will tell you that is certainly not your place, go do Y, which you know you stink at.  Or maybe it’s that X was only for back then, not now.

So we have Jesus, and he comes and says stuff about setting people free and he heals everyone who asks, even if their problem involves spiritual oppression.  I’m talking demons here.  He made no excuses, just got rid of them.  He was lifting the burdens people carried right and left.  And his teachings were completely outrageous, you know, always talking about how your righteousness must somehow exceed that of those religious leaders who have it all put together.  No it is all a matter of the heart.  All who heard him must have despaired, because no one could be that good.  Even his disciples called him on it.

What was his answer?  He said “I am the way, the truth, and the light.  No one comes to the Father but through me.”  How offensive is that?  It was offensive enough to those religious leaders.  They were determined to get rid of him.  Elsewhere, we are told that it is offensive to those who are perishing, because they can’t accept that there is no way they can earn their way into heaven, maybe.  So if your congregation finds the bible offensive, are they actually saved?

Grace itself is offensive.  Think about it.  If salvation is a free gift, and there is no way to earn our way into heaven, why anyone could get in.  Prostitutes, gang bangers, those whose minds are drug addled, rapists, murderers, sexual deviants of all sorts.  They could just come to Jesus and say they believe, and he would let them in?  Isn’t heaven supposed to be for holy people?  Shouldn’t they have to prove they have changed, or something, before he lets them in?  Well, surely there is something called the fruit of repentance, evidence that God is transforming an individual, but it is a response, not how one gets on the path to heaven.  Grace is offensive.

Jesus did say something about his being a rock of offense that many people will stumble over.  Then there was something about those who aren’t offended being blessed.  Being blessed is a good thing, but never being allowed to stub ones toe on that rock seems far more offensive to me than having to actually deal with it.  May we be willing to offend someone, if it will set them free!

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