The Grace Of God
They had a different preacher at church the other week and the message I came home with was clear.
The church has problems!
It isn’t surprising. All churches have problems because churches are made up of people and people are problematic regardless of how spiritual they may be. The real problem, as I see it, is the church seems to be trying to address these problems in the church service!
All that does is add to the problems in a couple of ways. It tells newcomers the church has problems and that could send them looking elsewhere for spiritual guidance which would be a crying shame! It also highlights the problem area and inspires people who might otherwise have steered clear to get tangled up in it. Last, but by no means least, it gives problem people an opening to use in recruiting others to become problems.
This church has a formula as all churches do. First we sing. Then there is a welcome and people are encouraged to greet each other then we have the announcements. After that someone gets up and gives the offering message and the offering is taken. This is followed by partaking of the bread and wine in communion and, finally, the sermon is given. After the sermon there is more singing before people mingle over coffee.
Last time I went the offering and communion message was about not letting what others say shift your focus from God. It was heartfelt and made it clear there are problems in the church. People are talking about others, spreading rumours, people are getting hurt or upset about what they are hearing and so on. It’s not the first time such things have been said in the service. The pastor has even gone as far as setting a time aside for people to ring him and check with him if rumours are true!
After communion the substitute pastor got up and gave the sermon. It was a very good sermon and I have no doubt God used it to help someone, or several someones, but what I heard was a lot of “Yes… but”. It sounded, to me, very much like it was being offered in opposition to the usual pastors message and there were several approving calls of “Amen” from a few members of the congregation as he spoke.
The usual pastor preaches on Gods grace and how it is sufficient to save us. This is a message other churches don’t dwell on but it is the only message that can ever even hope to save certain types of people.
The replacement pastor obviously feels it lacks something.
Grace is good, he said, but we can’t just “meander” through life waiting for it to take us where we need to go. We have to save ourselves too by working towards bringing forth the fruit of the spirit.
I pictured my 20 year old, newly saved, self crumbling under the condemnation as, in fact, actually did happen 33 years ago. It didn’t happen again this time but that’s because I’ve spent 33 years fully immersed in the healing that is Gods grace!
Most churches don’t get it. This is the first church I have ever attended that did seem to get it but it begins to look like only some of them get it.
Tell a man who is dirty that he must wash himself clean in order to please God and, if he wishes to please God, he will wash to the best of his ability and that is wonderful.
Tell a man who IS dirt that he must wash himself clean in order to please God and he will turn away in despair convinced, without anyone meaning to convince him, that even God cannot accept him. He knows he cannot cleanse himself of all the dirt because dirt is all there is. Under the dirt there is nothing human let alone cleanable. Under the dirt there is just more dirt.
When, as a 20 year old, I accepted the sacrifice of Christ and met God there was no me as I am now. There was nothing but layers of dirt and, at the core of me, an empty pit of nothingness. That’s what abuse does to children. It teaches them they are just things. It robs them of their humanity and convinces them they are worth even less than dirt.
On a good day, back then, I believed my sole value to the world was as fertilizer! Some day, when I died, the nutrients of my body would pass to the earth and enrich it.
On a bad day I believed I wasn’t even fit to be used as fertilizer and that anything growing in the dirt near my buried body would sicken and die.
Many readers will find this somewhat melodramatic because they can’t conceive of anyone really feeling this way. To them I say, try it, try imagining what life is like when you believe with all your heart and soul you genuinely are of less value, that you are less capable, less useful, less able to do anything worthwhile than dirt!
Every time I went to church in those days I would go home convinced my salvation was nothing more than wishful thinking and I would turn away from God but He would not let go of me. He just would not let go no matter how hard I tried to pull away from him.
When the tears stopped, when the internal chaos subsided, He was there telling me I did matter to Him and He did love me and I didn’t have to do anything to keep His love but let Him love me.
In the end I stopped trying to leave Him and left the church instead. He arranged to have a church member chase after me with the one thing I would accept – Christian books. She had an extensive library of Christian books and, every week, she lent me some. I read all the books she had and learned a lot from them. One day she gave me an ultimatum – get serious about being a Christian or she would have to stop seeing me. Her idea of being a serious Christian was that I should stop smoking and go back to church.
I couldn’t agree to do either one of them. I told God point blank I was worthless to Him and would understand if He lost patience with me and discarded me too. I told Him I was not going to lie to Him or myself, I would not pretend to be a good person, if He wanted me to be a good person He would have to make me into one.
I made it clear that I did not want to stop smoking. In tears I said if that meant I loved my bad habit more than I loved Jesus and was choosing to go to hell, as the lady said, then so be it. In my heart I believed it didn’t make any difference to the final outcome. I was sure I would end up in hell no matter what I did anyway. I was not covered in dirt, I was dirt, I was unfit for heaven and nothing I did would change that so why bother? Why put myself through the distress of trying to measure up when I would only fail anyway.
In those days fear of failure ruled my life. I would not try anything for fear of failure so, in despair, I told God I would not try to please Him because I would surely fail and I could not bear to try and fail. Better, in my mind, to not even try. I told God the best I had to offer Him was a willingness to be changed into whatever He wanted to make of me but, I told Him, He would have to do the work because I could not.
God accepted the deal but the church lady stopped seeing me. Over the following years God stuck to me like glue. He didn’t let me go and He didn’t let me forget the things I had learned. I was constantly astounded by the way scriptures I had heard in sermons or read in the books would come to mind when I needed them.
I “meandered” through my life waiting for God to take me where He wanted me to go and He took me into a marriage where I learned how “normal” families should behave and how to be a good Mother to my children.
He took me to university, no mean feat given my fear of failure, where I learned that I had value and talent and something to offer the world besides becoming fertilizer some day.
He guided my steps and arranged things in such a way that my fear of failure was taken into account and dealt with so I ended up with a profession in spite of all my efforts to sabotage myself.
He has even brought me back to church and, this time, I’m not there because I “should” be there or because God wants me to be there or because I will go to hell it I don’t go. I’m there because I want to be there! I’m going because I like going! I’m there because He has changed me and made me into the kind of person who wants to go to church!
In the past 33 years God has created a new me and filled the empty space inside me with Himself and His image of me. He stripped away the dirt and made me human. He saved me and changed me and all I ever did to help myself was just “meander” through life letting Him do with me as He wished!
My one active contribution to all this was to regularly pray, and genuinely mean it, “Lord make me into the person you created me to be”.
So here I am, after 33 years of “meandering”, and how does it stack up against where I would be if I had been working hard to please God and change myself in some church?
If I had done the work I would have had no alternative but to create a mask to cover who I really was. I would have had to hide my real, unacceptable, self from everyone including me and pretend to be a good Christian. I would have convinced myself I was pleasing God by going to church, giving up all my bad habits, and forcing myself to display the fruits of the spirit. Every time my secret, inner, unacceptable self broke through I would have had to pray and work on locking it away again.
The only way I could have convinced my unacceptable self that my pretend self was real would have been to compare myself with other Christians and be as good, or better, than them. It would have been absolutely vital, therefore, to detect worse things in them than I saw in myself.
I would have been vigilant in seeking out the flaws, real or imagined, in others that would allow me to believe my own flaws were not as bad as I might privately fear.
If my carefully constructed Christian self was still unable to measure up to those around me I would have had to work on dragging them down to my level so my house of cards would not collapse. I would also have had to prevent anyone, particularly me, from seeing through me by making sure I directed their attention elsewhere at all times.
If all my efforts to be as good, or better, at being a Christian than those around me failed I would have had only two options left. Either acknowledge the truth about myself or alter the truth about others to fit my needs by misreading them, misunderstanding them, or just plain lying about them to myself and everyone else.
In all probability I would have become a problem in some church and they would have been trying to stop others from listening to, or being hurt by, my poison or taking notice of my rumours.
I would have sat in church and listened to the pastor asking people to come to him if they had questions and been supremely certain that he was talking to other people not me.
I would have been relatively secure behind my facade, completely dead to the conviction of the Holy Spirit within me, thanks to all my efforts to kill off my real, unacceptable, self.
I would have been praising the pastor for speaking sternly to all those inferior Christians and hoping this time they would listen to him. His pleas for people to behave better would have been balm to my heart as it would have been clear proof, to my spirit deaf pseudo self, that I really was a much better Christian than all those naughty people the pastor was talking to.
Only the message of Gods grace could threaten me because it would tell me all the work I had done to create my Christian self was not enough to please God. It would tell me only a real and intimate relationship with Him would please Him and that could only happen if I would stop lying to myself, and Him, about who I really was.
Instead of becoming a problem to some church, however, after 33 years of “meandering” through life under Gods direction, I sat beside a church elder and realised I was being assessed.
Was I open to hearing criticism of the current pastor? Did I approve of the way things were being done? Was I a potential target for recruitment to a “side”?
I made my position clear. I thought the current pastor was the best one I have ever come across. I approve of the way things were being done with all my heart. I’m NOT a likely target for recruitment.
The elder lost interest in me and has not come near me since.
I will not be a problem in this church. Quite the contrary in fact. I stop those who wish to whisper in my ear dead in their tracks without letting them even start trying to work on me to undermine the pastor.
Even when the pastor himself gives them leave to stand in his place and work against him I will not be swayed.
You cannot sway those who have a real relationship with God. He will not permit it. You cannot, by the same token, sway those who are intent on serving their own agenda. They will not permit it! Only God can reach them and it should be left to Him to do so. Trying to reach them from the pulpit merely plays into their hands and makes things worse.
I hope the pastor and his supporters will stop letting these people distract and sidetrack them into wasting energy trying to fix problems only God has the power to fix. God can easily stop people from leaving, being hurt or getting tangled up in it all and only He knows if being hurt, getting tangled up in it all, or leaving the church entirely is actually His will for that person anyway.
I hope the pastor and his supporters will stop but, if they don’t, I will not judge them or become a problem person myself. I will just continue to pray for them and support them.
Churches who preach sermons on how to be a good Christian are a dime a dozen! They give the occasional sermon on the grace of God and have no idea how impossible it is for some people to believe that grace really does extend to them! They have no idea how much of that grace is required to convince some people God really does love them. They go back to preaching on how to be a good Christian long before some people are even sure if they are a Christian at all.
Churches who preach sermons on how to BECOME a Christian, on the height and depth and breadth of Gods love and grace, are a lot rarer and a thousand times more precious to seriously lost or damaged souls! Gods love and grace is the only thing that can help them and it is in short supply in most churches.
If I had found a church like this one years ago it might not have taken me 33 years to get to where I am now in my Christian walk!