Children of God

When I think back to my times in church, my first and most precious memories are my times spent with the kids in my youth class. The 3-5 services a week made church seem more like a job than enjoyable. The pressure to run the soundboard and produce copies of the services that met the Pastor’s approval made services more stressful than a time to hear from God. The kids would run around the church, goofing off, to the consequence of a lot of disapproving looks from the deacons and other church leaders, which ultimately fell on me.  After everything, it was still worth it to close the door every Sunday morning and open up the Bible to them.

My goal was to take all the stories and questions they had ever had and take them off the shelf. I wanted them to see the Bible as a book of stories about people as real as them and their friends. I wanted to make them think about the deeper parts of each story in the Bible, the human side: the questions the characters must have had and the doubts and fears they experienced. From the pages of the Bible I would pull the characters out and use my imagination to make them come alive for those kids. I thrived on their curiosity once they got into it. By being direct and open to discussion with all of their questions, not just Bible lessons, my classroom became a place for them to work through things at school, home, and church. As part of their journey, church and Biblical teachings became intertwined in their decisions and plans, as a place to be open up to God’s plan through discussion with other followers of God. We talked and laughed and cried about so many topics but they began to listen in ways I never even hoped I’d reach.. It became clear as they returned each Sunday with questions about the lesson from the previous week that they had read their Bibles between classes, in both personal study and by paying attention.

Whenever the adult service would gather for questions and answers, I encouraged them to be as comfortable with the adults as they were in Sunday School class. Eventually my class was the main source of questions for those services. Many of the lessons involved games, to put fun and practice into the association while they learned. We got  together at bonfires, games, or anything else I could do to make sure they were active and engaged in the church regularly. In a matter of months, I took the teenager population from sleeping during the sermon to taking notes for questions later. It meant the world to me to see them grow in Christ. I had found my focus. I loved teaching them. They made studying my Bible fun and challenging. I couldn’t just talk about Solomon and his temple, I had to know the measurements and value of the thing, cause they would ask me anything and everything. Youth Ministry was my calling. After so much fighting, God had brought me there to give me hope in my faith again.

If you continue in My word…

As I was becoming accepted by those in leadership, I was still dealing with my own doubt. I felt like I was missing part of the relationship with Him. Typically, when faced with a problem where I seem to be the only one not getting it I do one thing; take it apart and learn every piece one by one. I assume that because there are others around they must have figured it out, it must work, the issue therefore is me. So I made sure that I learned it better than anyone so I could help others find what I was clearly missing.

My immersion started with learning the rules and doctrine of the Message better than anyone around me. If this thing was to be what my eternal destination was gauged off of, I would own it. My fellow believers were happy to provide me with books and tapes and quotes. Digital copies were passed around like they were the Holy Grail. The amount of money made off of those first 30gb ipods (27ish gbs were needed to hold the message at that time) must have been insane. For much of my church, this became a convenient way to expose themselves to God’s word, which I too fell into. I listened to recordings when driving, read the books on my lunches, and studied my bible at all hours of the night.

Due to this and my Father’s appointment to assisting minister and deacon in the church, it became known that even as a young man, I was ahead of most in doctrinal understanding. I was becoming respected for having my life together.. I was often invited to the men’s breakfasts and other gatherings; it wasn’t long before I was involved on multiple levels. I took over the recording and reproduction of the services at our church, assisting with almost anything technical. Eventually, I was ordained into ministry and spoke from the pulpit on a number of occasions, which was rare at only nineteen.
Eventually as the previous youth minister stepped down, he and the assistant pastor came to me and offered me the position. I laughed. I was young; I didn’t know how to be in charge of kids not that much younger than myself. I prayed about it and finally. During prayer and fasting I felt like the lord had told me to “Be strong and of good courage, and do it: Fear not, nor be dismayed: For the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” (I Chronicles 28:20)

I had never been so nervous in my life. Standing there in the suit I’d preached to hundreds in still left me shaking in front of these kids. I was a young and naive twenty years old about to face my first class of 11 to 17 yr olds. I was tasked by the Pastor and his assistant to fix the problem of the teenagers not being engaged and wanting to give up on church. I was to turn them towards Christ. I had to show them the missing pieces that I, myself, had barely found. They reminded me every day that even I didn’t know how to find God in the Message all the time, but that I was going to find the answers for them, because my pastor and my God had asked it of me.

Look for the helpers

‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Fred Rogers
I have been writing some about the churches I left and the church that eventually caused me to almost give up on God because of the mishandling. So today, I want to sidebar into a lighter short about what I learned about church and why it has always been worth the struggle and hurt I endured to get where I am today.
In speaking about my experiences in church, I can come across as rude, angry, and bitter. Those emotions are certainly there. I am a passionate person who without major self discipline wears his emotions on his sleeve for all to see and poke at. I often times get carried away wanting to rail against those who have not only done me wrong but hurt those I love. I take up arms and want to fight a war to save them, that is in my heart. I would spend a lifetime trying to tear down those would enslave people by any means let alone in the name of God.
Waging war may win you a cause, but it is never without high cost. I lose sight of that so many times. I can feel so vindicated, so justified in my righteous cause that all I’m doing in that moment is creating more collateral damage for others to clean up. Church is not for us to fight one another; it has but one purpose: sanctuary for all.
Church is to be a place of healing. You don’t check into a hospital in perfect health expecting to just hang out. You go because things beyond your control are happening, and you need help. Your soul may be hurting from loss, your spirit broken from betrayal, your body sensitive from an unwelcome touch, anything. Church is supposed to be the place you can come to, not that everyone there is some expert. Most are just as wounded and hurting as you are. However, there are always those helping in the church that have been as hurt and broken as you and are ready to be there for you, a place where you can be understood and listened to.
Church is not meant to be judgmental. The Bible teaches us that God judges the heart of men. So regardless of our tattoos or scars, our rags or suits, we should be able to come and sit next to one another without judging. God is working in all of us. (Matthew 11:28-30) He hasn’t gotten you further along simply because you look better. Have you already forgotten the mental battles you were facing as you dressed nice for church? We all have our own struggles, pitfalls, and path. We can never know what someone else is going through. Encourage them, don’t stare. Smile, don’t shake your head. God is the one who will sort things out after all is said and done, not us.
The Bible also shows us that God is a gracious and loving father. If we have a need and ask for something he won’t punish us for it. (Luke 11:13) Why do we turn to those we’re supposed to be showing love to and do this then? When someone comes in battered from a rough week at work, at home, or just in their mind, why would we do anything but help them? There have been times if you stop to think of them, those moments that turned an entire situation around for you. The moment someone gave you the words you needed or the smile that changed your outlook or even the money that got you past the due date. Someone somewhere helped you when you couldn’t help yourself. That is the goal of church.
On the field of battle in the med centers they don’t belittle soldiers for how they got wounded. They don’t withhold medicine unless you’ve said the right things. They want you in top shape so you can be back out there fighting for the cause asap. That is how we should be, looking to be that pick-me-up that someone around us may need. So in all this, I want to help. There are those in the cult fighting just as hard as those outside it. I want to help those on both sides and those stuck in the midst of cross fire. I want to be a helper. Not someone who makes the yoke of Christ heavier than it was intended. I love you all, even when we disagree about things, know that I am praying for you, and I hope you continue to do so for me.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Proverbs 3:5-6 New International Version (NIV)

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I have always loved this scripture. Even when some use it to tell me I shouldn’t try to figure things out, that I should leave it to Him. I tend to think that I can’t handle a lot of things in my life, and it gets overwhelming. To me, this has always been more in the direction of keep trying because he is always there. Rely on him to be in control of all things. I have always believed in God’s works through our hands, that he chose normal people from among us to do his works, when he never needed us for any of it. I always want to work towards the things in my life, with God leading the way, rather than to wait for good things to come my way freely. I’d like to start Wednesday night discussions based on a passage of His Word, with my take and hopefully all of yours. Tell me what they mean to you, how we found them and if it came to us in study or time of need. I would love to hear from you all since you’ve taken the time to listen to my ramblings till this point

El retablo de las maravillas

For years I could tell you the services that would generate a revival at the end. The services where the Spirit would come down and we would spend hours afterwards singing, dancing, screaming, etc. All this was our evidence of the Spirit of God. I hated these services, not because I didn’t want to be a part of them, but rather because I knew how to make them for others. I found that I could only sit and watch as the spirit moved and touched every single person but me. I spent thirteen years in a Message church watching the moments that were built upon, encouraged, all to better experience the worship. I could tell exactly when the songs were just right and the preaching struck a cord and the people would be touched. I was trying desperately to understand the mechanics of it so that I could break it down and make it work for me. I wanted nothing more than to give myself over to the spirit of God as it rolled over the people. After years of traveling to multiple churches it was a shock to actually stay in one where my father wasn’t the lead minister. So I determined to try and understand what this prophet and pastor had that I needed. The Message had regulations for nearly every part of life, and I was desperate to try anything if it would mean I would get it. I never wanted to feel ashamed when everyone was discussing the time it became real for them, and I had nothing to share.

I was never able to ask questions though. My pastor and most of the men in the church that held positions of authority, didn’t like someone constantly asking how they’d gotten it. My father had asked me to listen and obey when we were around others, to trust in his faith and that all my questions could be answered later. The Message used this trust in my father and my pastor that everything would be answered later to put all possible questions “on the shelf.” The answer to everything became, “Only Believe.” Many of those questions would sit on that shelf until long after I left the Message, thirteen years later. Until this point in my life people loved discussing and debating and sometimes arguing God and the Bible. I wanted to break this down so that if I could understand it; I could share it with others. My father’s primary point in a sermon was always, if I can understand it being the simple man I am, then anyone can understand the Word of God. I had to get it so I could share it like him. Trying to go back and ask my father would earn me, “I just haven’t listened to enough tapes for that yet son, give me time.”

I was afraid my entire time under that belief that I had somehow lost God, in my failure to see what everyone else was seeing. I thought that maybe everyone else in there had an answer or a piece that I hadn’t yet found in that level of my faith. It took me thirteen years of desperate praying and searching to realize I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t getting all it was made up to be. I tried in every way I could for years to make the experience more for those in the pews, to show them the power of the Spirit, in teaching and audio/visual directing and in supporting my brothers and sisters of the faith. I put my heart and soul into my sincerity, looking for the key that would make it all click together for me. I wanted that piece whatever it was, for years.

I started to wonder as I found the cracks in everyone else’s faith where they just didn’t have answers. I’ve seen so many very solid intellectual debates on doctrine crumble because someone didn’t know why something was done in that manner, only for the purposes of doctrine and tradition. If so many, not only within my church building, but the other Message believers and the prophet himself were witnesses to the Spirit within them, working through them, then I had to be the one that was wrong. We are taught that we are already undeserving of so much, so I could only think that I was the one that was lost. I realized slowly that not everyone had the missing piece I was driving at, but they were still able to receive the Spirit in worship and in hours of prayer, that I never could seem to achieve. I realized as I began to let go of my anxiety to find it, to go through the motions as though I had found my piece, many of those “elect” few that had been ordained within the Message with me had the same look I had before. I watched so many who I had thought of as having solved the puzzle that were coming to find out how I had finally found “it.” It tore at me that everything real to me as a child in my church life was now a facade I lived for others to see while I was secretly still trying to find the missing bits, alone. It only scared me more when the leadership of the church, which I was fast joining, suddenly began to look at me with an almost comfortable confidence that I had finally settled into this position.I was afraid for the first time in my life that the Bible may not have the answers I was looking for, that all of the sources of trust that I had upheld couldn’t help me, and I was lost.