bride of Christ

Identity Crisis

There is something that has been gnawing away at me for some time. It claws at me when I read articles about Christian ministries taunting atheists with billboards. It infuriates me when I become aware of teachings in the church that create more shame-filled rules we can’t live up to. It slaps at me when friends jokingly ask for permission to skip church for reasons other than illness. It breaks my heart when I hear it subtly wend its way into sermons and bible studies at church.

What is it? Identity. Or rather a lack of understanding who Jesus is and what that means for a Christian’s identity. I am still learning about my identity in Christ and some days I feel as though I’m on shaky ground. But I know enough to know this:

  1. God is amazing and we are made in His image so that must make us pretty amazing, too
  2. Failure is not a bad word. We learn as much if not more through failure as we do through success
  3. Asking questions about our faith and what we believe about God is okay
  4. There is a lot of fear out there in the Church, a fear of change, a fear of not being right, fear of not being good enough, fear of what others think
  5. When we are touched by the astounding love of God, fear starts to take a backseat to joy
  6. What the Church needs, what the world needs, what you and I need is not another set of rules we can never live up to or shame when we fail to meet expectations

What we need is a lot more Jesus and a lot less religion, fear, shame and condemnation. We need compassion and kindness and acceptance. We need God, not some bull shit that’s passed around as The Way. This got me thinking, as I do, about who God really is and who His bride is really supposed to be. I have to say, I don’t think we have it right most of the time.

Think for a moment. What if the Church were to shed its rules and religion? What would happen if we no longer had to sit in a pew on Sunday and attend programming during the week to be considered a person of faith?

What would the Church and Christian ministry look like if we stopped wasting time shaming people and started loving people? Not for who they are, but for who God says they are? What if we took Jesus’ teachings to heart and instead of debasing and degrading our enemies, we prayed for them and loved them ans showed them compassion?

What if we stopped preaching and started listening? Not just with our ears but with our hearts? What if we allowed our hearts to break for the broken? What if we cared for the widows and the orphans instead of leaving that for the government? What if we stopped judging and started seeking to understand?

What if we were unafraid of change in the culture around us? What if we stopped digging in our heels when it comes to belief systems that just don’t work and embrace seeking the truth?

What if instead of trying to isolate our youth and children from the world around us we taught them that critical thinking and faith can go hand in hand and that loving God does not mean hiding away from the world? What if we started talking to our youth and children about what is happening in our world with regard to sex and consumerism and lifestyle choices and talked about what Jesus did with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the forgotten. What if we showed them that instead of condemning others for harmful choices, we teach them to have compassion? And help them understand that love is stronger than hate?

What if we stopped pitting creationism against evolution and admitted that science and faith both have a place in the world and at the end fo the day we don’t really know how the earth was formed, just that God was behind it all? What if we stopped being afraid that science could really one day debunk God as a myth and start embracing science for what it is, a tool to help us understand the world in which we live?

What if we stopped being gnostics and stopped treating the flesh as evil? What if we admitted that God loves sex and sex is a wonderful thing and God wants us to enjoy it? What if we stopped trying to hijack marriage as a Christian institution and treat it as the civil contract it really is? What if we talked of healthy boundaries and loving others as we love ourselves instead of talking against dating and sex before marriage and abortion? What if we did away with all shame language when it comes to people and their choices?

What if we let go of our fear of failure and embraced the messiness of life and the gift of second chances? What if we were the first to extend the hand of hope and healing instead of slapping down with shame and fear? What if we started to see ourselves as new creations instead of sinners saved by grace who still battle a sinful nature? What if sin wasn’t the issue anymore?

What if we finally stood up for who we really are in Christ instead of standing against all the things we think are wrong with the world?

The Church has been having an identity crisis, it seems, ever since the first century. I’m not telling you to throw the baby out with the bath water because the Church is the Bride of Christ and before we decide we love her or hate her we have to remember one thing. We are her.

Every single one of us is part of the Bride. If Jesus loves us in the way a good and caring and compassionate man loves his wife, then we need to start looking at ourselves differently. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about because you haven’t experienced that kind of love, I suggest you look at some very well written romance novels, especially those written by Nora Roberts. The love between a man and a woman is an epic thing that is never taken lightly in a solid romance novel. I should know, I read a lot of them.

Jesus looks at us not as we are or as we think we are. He sees us for who we really are. Who God created us to be. I know it’s radical, but God looks at everyone this way. Everyone. God created everyone in His image, not just a chosen few. If we start here to really look at who we are, think of everything that changes. For those of us who live in relationship with God we can let go of all the false beliefs that hold us hostage to fear and shame. We can start to love ourselves and know ourselves anew. And we start to look at everyone around us the same way.

Our identity, it starts with Jesus and with compassion and truth.If any one tells you anything different, thank them for their opinion and love them. They may not understand they have an identity crisis.

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Genie in a Bottle

Earlier this week I posted a very personal word from God. Someone asked me why I would put anything so personal out into the world for all to see. The answer is simple. Everyone needs to know that regardless of what any of us has done or not done; regardless of whether we are living in relationship with God or not, we are divinely and uniquely made and we are all incredibly beloved by God. While there are personal layers and meanings specific to me in that word, the essence is for everyone. God. Loves. Us.

I have spent most of my life longing for and running from God’s love. Sometimes at the same time. If you had asked me about this at any point in time, I wouldn’t have seen my actions for what they were. I would have told you how I felt my relationship with God was based on how well I thought I was performing at the time. Or how steeped in religiosity I was. Or how beaten down and alone I felt. My response would have been based on emotion or performance, not on relationship at all.

As a young child, Jesus was my imaginary friend. We spoke all the time and often it was just Jesus and me because there was no one else.

In my teens there were times I treated God like a genie and times I treated Him like a welcomed confidante. All those hours spent in my room with the door closed were spent trying to figure out the hormonal angst that had become my life, however much of the relationship was one way. I was spilling my guts to God, but I wasn’t actively listening to Him.

In college I ran. I mean I really fled from God. Which is a little ironic as I was attending a faith-based college at the time. It was during this time that all my issues seemed to coalesce and I was confused enough to fall into pitfall after pitfall. There was a point in time when I felt like nothing was going right and God was allowing disaster to befall me in Job-like proportions. If God was going to punish me, I was going to walk away from God. At the very least, I was going to keep Him at arm’s length.

I look back now and I can hear the Holy Spirit snicker, “Yeah, good luck with that.” There’s no escaping God. Elijah learned that as he tried to hide from God after having battled the priests of Baal. Just thinking that there is a way to hide from God is a human attempt to make Him smaller than He really is. We are very accomplished at making God small.

And that’s what I have done most of my life. I have stuffed God in a box and put the box on a shelf and told Him to stay there until I decide I need Him. Then He’s allowed to step out in all His glory and set my world to rights.

This faulty thinking reminds me of Disney’s animated movie adaptation of Aladdin. When Aladdin was trying to wrap his head around just who and what the genie was, the genie explained that he was a being of phenomenal cosmic power trapped in an ity bity living space.

 

The genie was an enslaved magical being and not God, but I think this is often how we see our Heavenly Father. He’s majestic and mighty and the creator of our very universe, yet we treat him like His hands are tied. Just like Aladdin’s genie’s hands were tied.

If we view God as being too small or as less than all-powerful, can we really believe that God has this amazing and unfettered love for us? Can we trust that when God looks at us through the filter of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, He sees us as redeemed? Can we even begin to grasp what it means to be a much-loved child of God, let alone the ridiculously cherished bride of Christ?

It doesn’t take a gifting in the prophetic to see where this path leads. It leads to rules and religion and believing those insidious little lies about the nature of God that ties our own hands behind our backs and makes us less effective in the Kingdom than we could be. By making God smaller, we are diminishing ourselves, our ministries, our relationships, our experiences. God is bigger and yes, He can do great things despite our lack of belief or understanding. He can choose to give us amazing experiences and put incredible people in our path. At the end of the day, it’s our own values and belief systems that diminish what God wants to provide for us.

I’m learning this quickly. As God was giving me that incredible word, He also saw fit to shed light on some areas of my life where there is bondage and on the forces that have been working in opposition to God for years.

This is what I find truly amazing. God knows what He wants in my life. He has always known. He knew that for me to reach this next phase in growth that I would need support, that I would need desire, and that I would need to hear just how He sees me over and over and over again before the walls of steel and stone I erected around my heart could start to crack beneath the weight of His truth. Timing, it seems, is everything. I may have been offered similar windows of opportunity in the past, but for one reason or another I didn’t see them for what they were. I didn’t recognize them as gifts of great love.

This time is different. That box I stuffed God into, it’s starting to disintegrate. No more am I treating my Almighty father as a genie in a lamp or just a sounding board. This time I have a trusted friend and mentor in Claire. This time something has shifted enough in my belief system that I desire this growth and no longer want to walk this half-life I have been living. I want to take this time to break those bonds and to start to experience God’s goodness in all it’s fullness.