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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Living in the Present

 SEASONS…of Divorce and more

Not long ago I was rejoicing at seeing the flowers blooming and birds returning that signals the start of springtime.  It won’t be long now, till we officially reach summer with the hot days and muggy nights.  And for those who are really big fans of summer, vacations and camping and boating and skiing and swimming and mosquitoes and sunburns….sorry, just can’t help myself I guess.  It sounds like I don’t like summer, but that isn’t true.  I actually enjoy all the seasons.  My sister lives in the Pacific Northwest, and she claims her summer is about a week long.  She also claims that she has missed the turning of the seasons over the years as she lived in southern California and now the Pacific Northwest.

As for me, I find each season has good things and not so good things, and it is up to us to decide which we want to focus our attention upon.  My book titles, the whole Seasons of Divorce concept…is a simple recognition of the changes that come as one phase of the process passes and individuals move on into the next.  The Finding God part of the title is that, as in life, God is always present for those who will look and seek him, but can easily be missed if we focus on the wrong things.

People have used the images of seasons to talk about life in general, with the springtime of youth and the autumn of later years.  I wonder, in what ways are you experiencing some kind of “seasonal changes” in your life?  It could be related to a relocation, to a job change, to the physical changes that come with aging, to the change in relationships as children mature, or in the area of personal growth and spiritual maturity.

How do you do at handling those changes?  Life is full of them.  In fact, it’s like the old saying:  The only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!  Life is like that.  The moments and experiences you have today are here for a season, only.  Enjoy them now.  Treasure them now.  Find the good in them now.  Find how God is using them now.  Too often we long to be able to have once again one of the special time of our lives, to relive some special experiences.  But we cannot.  They were here for a season, and in this new season there is also always something special for those who seek it. 

The principle is true in the aftermath of divorce.  After my divorce, I had a season in which I enjoyed the advantages of being single and free to use my time and resources as I chose.  After that, I moved to the season of a second marriage, and have enjoyed all the wonderful experiences that have come with it.  But you don’t have to go through divorce to know that the seasonality of life is always fleeting.  I spent time with some good friends today, reminiscing about some special experiences we shared in our spiritual journeys.  Those experiences, too, were for a season, though the impact is forever.


I simply want to challenge you to not spend so much time longing for the past, or hoping for the future, that you miss the joy God has for you in the present!  And I want to remind you that so much of our lives is seasonal, fleeting and temporary.  I encourage you to make sure that you are investing in those things that are eternal, and not merely the things that will fall away as time passes and as your life draws to a new season, or to its conclusion.  There are lots of opportunities to Find God throughout whatever season your life is in right now.  Don’t miss them!

Monday, May 14, 2018

When it's Time to Choose a New Church

TIME TO CHURCH SHOP?

One day you wake up, find yourself in the situation of facing a divorce.  

Perhaps it is because of bad behaviors on the part of your spouse.  Perhaps it is because of your own bad choices.  Perhaps you had no say in the matter.  Perhaps it is your only hope for survival.  

In that wakeful moment, perhaps you recall a sermon in which your pastor made plain that he believes divorce has no place in the church, and therefore will not permit a divorced person in any leadership position in his church.  

Perhaps you recall that you spouse has more respect in the church than you do, and you are not sure what your place would be on your own.  

Perhaps you simply feel the embarrassment, the awkwardness of walking into the sanctuary you have attended for years alone, sitting in your usual seat alone, or worse yet, walking into the sanctuary and NOT sitting with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse who is seated across the room!  

Suddenly you wonder whether it is time to make a change. 

How do you know if it is time to consider changing churches?  And what do you seek when you go searching?  The first suggestion I would offer is this:  don’t get in a hurry to move churches.  

Why?  

Because if you do decide to move to another church, you want to do so as a well-reasoned decision under the guidance of God, not because of a knee-jerk emotional reaction to a difficult situation.  And because while there may be individuals in your church who may be difficult to be around, it is also likely that you have some significant friendships within the church, and those friendships may give you the strength you will need during the upheavals and loneliness of divorce.  And because the only legitimate reason to change the church you are attending is out of the certainty that God is leading you to do so, and a decision of that magnitude requires time devoted to prayer and biblical reflection.  Presumably you sought God’s leading when you joined the church you attend, so it is God’s leading you must seek to know that it is now time to go elsewhere.  Without that, you risk stepping outside of God’s plan for your life, and that is never a good path to take. 

I have seen divorced couples remain in the church they attended when they were married.  I have seen divorced couples both leave to find another church, or even to quit attending at all because of the loss and betrayal they have experienced.  I have seen instances where one partner remains in the church, and the other goes elsewhere.  I have even seen instances where individuals left the church because they were asked to by church leadership who didn’t welcome divorced people into their church. 

It truly is a time of significant upheaval.  It is a time that Satan will use to push individuals away from their faith and their churches.  It is a time when you will be severely tested, and in which it is easy to lose your way, or to make decisions from intense emotions that aren’t always the wisest choices.   

May I offer some suggestions?

1)      As I said above, don’t get in a hurry to leave.  You may want to take a short leave of absence, you may want to change your routine by attending the other service your church has, you may want to sit in a different spot, and you may even want to visit another church or two.  But don’t rashly sever the ties and endanger the support network you have built up over time.  Get through the emotional rollercoaster first, then make your choice.

2)    If you are in a situation where you are clearly not wanted and made to feel unwelcome, then it is reasonable to consider that God’s way of nudging you to somewhere else.  But even then, if you don’t rush that decision, your presence may be the means God uses to help your church friends learn that there is grace beyond divorce and that your church needs to find a way to learn the road of grace in this area.

3)    Journal some of your experiences to help you focus.  Write down those scriptures through which God seems to be speaking.  Record the encounters that cause you to think it is time to leave, or the reasons you believe it is best to stay.  Keep track of the ways God is speaking to you in this area, so that in a more stable time you will be able to assess wisely the lessons you are learning.

4)    Don’t leave your church to avoid facing the pain you have to work through.  Let the hard experiences teach you, and learn the lessons from them that can become your path of healing.

5)    Evaluate your church involvement…whether your current church or the next church you may choose, based on whether God is calling you to exercise your ministry gifts where you are, or in a new Christian body.  Don’t make your decision rest solely on how YOU will benefit in a church, but how YOU can benefit OTHERS.

6)    Don’t shift churches to find a church whose theology more easily fits your experience.  At least, not right off.  Consider that your theology sometimes needs to be challenged and stretched by being around those whose views do not feel so comfortable.  Sometimes the combination of difficult experiences and uncomfortable theology can be used by God to teach us something fresh and lead us to a new level of understanding.  Fleeing those difficult times short circuits the growth opportunity.


Let me say one final word.  Over the years, I have had individuals come to churches I have pastored after having been battered and bruised through the trauma of divorce.  

I have always been proud of my churches when they stepped up to the opportunity and wrapped their arms around these struggling individuals and imparted God’s love and grace.  As a result, I have seen some of these people become some of the best church members I have ever had, because they have been through the fire, then come out on the other side knowing that God had carried them.  Perhaps that will be you, if you are in the midst of this kind of turning point in your life as well.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Supporting Beth Moore

BETH MOORE SPEAKS OUT!
Well, friends, not to chase another rabbit, but after my last post about the troubling statements by a seminary President down in Texas, Southern Baptist Bible teacher, Beth Moore, wrote a very telling blog, and I just can’t let it go without adding my comments.



Click Beth's name for the link to the blog, if you would like to read it yourself.

My first experience with Beth’s teachings was years ago, when some friends and I used one of her books in a small group Bible study.  There was good material in it, but I was also aware that there was some lack in her comments regarding Greek usage.  Reading her blog, I now have a better sense of WHY that was lacking, which was that she had to pursue her learning on her own, since within her denomination there were not women being taught, apparently, at the seminaries.  I know that a few years ago, when the Southern Baptists split and a new group called “Cooperative Baptists” arose, the role of women was one of the key issues that the Cooperatives were protesting. 

I find it odd that Beth was unable to attend a seminary if she wanted to, as one of my dear friends (now deceased) actually graduated from Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary way back in the early 1900’s!  I want to offer some kudos to Beth for not remaining silent, but daring to challenge the Southern Baptist (and other ultra-conservative) groups for their attitude about women. 

My denomination, American Baptists, have ordained women for many years and have many ordained women in the denomination….although there is still progress to be made in terms of whether or not some of our churches are open to their leadership.  But many churches are supportive of women in ministry.  

In fact, one of the things that impressed me when I first came to the church I currently serve was that their board of deacons includes both men and women, which is very scriptural if you examine the texts carefully.  

Beth points out the various women who are honored throughout the New Testament, but there are others.  Some of the ultra-conservative churches interpret the gift of prophecy to mean preaching, which would be problematic for them if they read their New Testament, because the book of Acts describes four daughters of Philip who were prophets and quotes a promise in chapter 2 that announces that both sons and daughters would prophesy when the Holy Spirit comes!  In Luke, Anna is listed as a prophet, and the Old Testament has a number of women described as prophets as well.  I don’t know how someone reconciles not allowing women to attend seminary or preach, and yet believe that preaching is the biblical role of a prophet…which was a role clearly practiced by women THROUGHOUT the scriptures!

Beth is correct that many in very conservative circles (but not all evangelicals or all conservative Christians) tend to treat women as second class, although don’t be so na├»ve as to think it only exists in conservative circles, or among Christians.  Making women second class citizens has not always been the case with the Christian church, despite claims to the contrary.  In fact, one of the hallmarks of the New Testament and early church was the opportunities afforded women and the elevation of their status in society!  However, that perspective has often been hijacked by men who refused to see women as equal partners created by God.  It is interesting to note that, in the Creation story, God is described as creating humans in his image…male AND female…because, of course, God is NEITHER, and both perhaps.  A close reading of scripture shows many places where not only masculine, but also feminine characteristics are used to describe God (such as his acting “as a hen gathers her chicks”).  It is also worth noting that it is a foolish mistake to take the grammatical masculine pronouns referring to God and apply male gender to God as a result!  Even Jesus’s use of the term Father is about relationship and roles within the Trinity, rather than gender.  God is far beyond what we know as male and female!

I am sure Beth will experience even more abuse now that she has spoken out, but I also believe that because she has had the courage to work within a system to help bring change, she has earned the respect that gives her the platform through which her speaking out carries much more weight than it would have earlier in her life and career.  At the same time, the truth of what she says should carry weight just on the merits.  As a white male, I am always troubled when other men denigrate women or treat them in abusive ways, because it negatively impacts the kind of friendships I am able to have with those women as well, and also creates a poor impression of the rest of us who happen to be Caucasian males.  (I feel the same way when I hear about racist white men, too.)

I would like to add one thing that Beth only alludes to in her blog.  In those environments where women are demeaned, devalued and denigrated, both abuse and divorce are higher frequency.  It is NOT a healthy way to live, for the men or for the women!  Beth is right to attribute it to a sinful attitude that leads to the way they interpret scripture, for people can twist scripture to justify almost anything if they try hard enough.  Even Satan twisted scripture’s meaning when he tempted Jesus. 

Beth, if they reject you down there, feel free to come join our churches in the ABC/USA…we aren’t perfect (and neither is anybody else), but we are a lot further down the road than what is happening in that environment.  But remember, as I said in my last blog, and I appreciated Beth pointing out, it is wrong to paint churches and denominations with a broad brush (or races or genders for that matter).  Beth recognizes that there are those who have treated her differently than the misguided people who call her heretical.  All too often, as the old saying goes, people throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I have always treasured a comment by Roger Breland of the musical group Truth, who many years ago said, “the church, with all of its problems, my friend, is still the best thing that ever happened to this old world.”  Education, feeding the hungry, fighting for abolition of slavery, caring for orphans and starting medical facilities are but a few of the many ways Christianity has impacted our world for the good, and we need to be able to not allow ourselves to become single issue critics. 

My prayers are with Beth as she takes her stand for something she should not even have to say in a church that is truly following the teachings of Christianity.  I encourage you to hold her in your prayers as well.