So many people say that they follow Jesus, but they don’t. They can’t. They don’t know Jesus. They know their pastor’s idea of Jesus. They know their denomination’s idea of Jesus. But they don’t know him for themselves.

All they have to do is read the Gospels for themselves, and ask Jesus into their hearts. It really is that simple. But they’ve been taught for years that they aren’t good enough to follow Jesus on their own. They’ve been taught that they need an intermediary, a go between.

Jesus is directly accessible to every one of us. We don’t need someone else doing the interpreting. He speaks directly to us if we let him.

Many of us were raised in churches where we were taught that we are not worthy, or that we are not capable of even approaching the idea of Jesus. Just look at the physical layout of the standard church. The congregation sits in one place and the minister sits in another. The minister sits closer to the heart of the holy space, which is removed from the people. If your denomination has weekly communion the altar isn’t right next to you. It is far back, removed. Sometimes it is up stairs. Sometimes there is a rail. Only the priest and a few chosen people are allowed near the altar.

This is exactly the same as in the Holy Temple, where only the High Priest could approach the Holy of Holies. Not the people. Not even a regular priest. Just one, just once a year, a special person was allowed to enter this sacred space. There were different levels of approach all the time, but this area was more off limits than most.

When Jesus died on the cross, that all changed.

Let us look in Matthew 27:50-54. This is just as Jesus is dying.

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (NKJV)

The veil of the temple was torn. This is what kept the common people from seeing the Holy of Holies. The old way of doing things has been removed. There is nothing more that separates us from God. There are no divisions. There are no barriers. There is no need for intermediaries.

Jesus did this for you. Yes. You.

He tore away everything that stood between you and God. He still does it now.

And if anybody tries to make you think that you are not good enough, not smart enough, not capable enough to approach God directly, then they are standing in your way. They are not acting in the place of Jesus, as they might say they are. They are doing the exact opposite.

Recovering church member.

Christians in recovery aren’t like recovering alcoholics. We are more like food addicts. We can’t do without food. We just need a healthy relationship with it.

When you are a recovering alcoholic you have to learn to live your life without alcohol. But you can’t live without food. You have to relearn how to eat. The trick is to learn what is a healthy relationship with food and what isn’t. The trick is to set up boundaries.

In the same way as food addicts, people who have been hurt by mainstream church (by the current definition of what “church” means) are renegotiating this relationship. They can do without the top-down leadership, the politics, and the obsession with money that comes with church as it is currently defined.

When we have had an unhealthy relationship with church, we have to renegotiate the deal. We often try to stay away from church. Sometimes we go back but to a different denomination and we find we are welcomed. Sometimes we find that welcome is short lived and we discover the same bad processes and unhealthy ways of thinking that plagued our old churches. Sometimes we start to think that the whole idea of Christianity is wrong, and we stay away from anything associated with the idea.

The only problem is that the thing that drew us to church, and the thing that got us to leave is the same thing. It is Jesus in both cases. Those of us who leave church don’t do it because we don’t love Jesus. We do. We just weren’t finding him in church, or at least any modern definition of it.

As for me, I wasn’t finding him in the activities that the church sponsored. I wasn’t finding him in the book clubs that featured books that had nothing to do with how to be a better Christian. I wasn’t finding him in the margarita karaoke evenings. I wasn’t finding him in the Bunco gatherings that were held in the parish hall. And I certainly wasn’t finding him in a minister who told me to stop talking about how God was and is interacting with my life.

I left church, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. The only problem is in trying to figure out how to have one without the other. Just like with food addiction, I need Jesus in order to live. I just can’t handle all the extras that have been added on top of him.

So much was put on my plate when I’d go to church that Jesus became the side dish instead of the main course. There were so many garnishes and condiments and appetizers and desserts that I couldn’t see him at all. When I left church and left all of that, I missed him, and I got hungry for him all over again.

I think this is true of many people I’m meeting. We love Jesus. We just don’t love how he’s been served to us.

Just like a food addict, we need to strip it all down to the basics and start from scratch. We need to reevaluate our relationship. We need to set up healthy boundaries. We need to figure out what we need and what makes us feel ill.

For me, one of the big things is that the group not have a permanent building. Jesus didn’t build a church with bricks, but with bodies. The church is the people, not the place. The more money that is spent on a church building, the less that is spent on helping people who need it.

Another thing is there needs to be no one minister. We are all ministers, by virtue of our baptism and our acceptance of Jesus into our lives. To have only one person sharing their story, and only one person making the decisions, is to take away the God-given power, voice, and ability that we all have.

So while I really like the gatherings that I’ve been going to, I’m still missing Jesus in them. I think we’ve all gotten so afraid of how we were treated at church that we’ve just dumped everything and been feeling it out. We are reassembling the jigsaw puzzle but without the picture on the box, and we are leaving out all the bits that we are afraid of.

While I like that the meetings are in friend’s homes and we all get to share our stories openly and honestly, I feel that we are missing something really important. We forget to invite Jesus to our circle. We don’t talk about him. We don’t have communion. Well, not openly. Tea and cookies can count, but it has to be intentional for it to count.

I think we feel that because we don’t talk about Jesus, because we don’t invite him to our circle, that we aren’t going to get hurt like we did the last time we were in a place that mentioned Jesus. And we might. We might get hurt because whenever we gather with other people, we gather with other people’s problems. I also think that we still need to try. Just like renegotiating a relationship with food, I think we need to renegotiate a relationship with Jesus. I think we need to invite him in, to help heal that brokenness and that hurt. I think if we don’t, then we will start to feel more and more empty.

“For God is not a God of disorder, but peace…”

The priest at my former church used the argument from 1 Corinthians 14:33 as a justification for stopping my deacon discernment process. That is –

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace–as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (NIV) In the New American Standard Version “disorder” is translated as “confusion”.

There was no confusion. It was just different. I wasn’t confused or disordered. It was different from my normal.

She said that the fact that I was saying that God was waking me up at night to tell me things was a disordered way of being. She said that God loves me and wants the best for me, and that wasn’t something that God would do.

It wasn’t hurting me. It was surprising, because it had never happened. I’d not been trained in how to deal with it or what to do with the information. But I wasn’t suffering. I wasn’t sleepy the rest of the day. I was fine.

Perhaps she forgot about God waking up Samuel.

I Samuel 3:1-10
3 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Perhaps she forgot that God sent an angel who wrestled with Jacob throughout the night.

Genesis 32:22-32
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Perhaps she forgot about God waking up Joseph, four times. He protected Mary and Jesus by obeying God’s command that came to him in the middle of the night. At first he was going to leave Mary, when he found out she was pregnant. God sends him a dream to change his mind.

Matthew 1:20-21
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Then Joseph gets another dream-message from God because Herod was sending people to kill Jesus.

Matthew 2:13
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

And yet another dream –

Matthew 2:19-20
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

He returns, but then there is another dream.

Matthew 2:21-23
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene

Joseph gets four different dreams from God, and he acts on all of them.

Imagine what would have happened if Joseph had gone up to some priest and asked what he should do, and the priest told him that he was crazy.

Perhaps she forgot that the verse she quoted is from Paul, who said that women shouldn’t talk in church in the very next verse. Paul would be totally against a female minister.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35
“34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The Bible is useful to prove your point, but you have to use all of it.

We spend our days with anything except stillness and quiet. Of course we can’t usually hear God. We go out of our way to block God’s voice out. Of course God talks to us when we are quiet and still at night.

We are told that if a prophet’s words come to pass, then that person is a prophet.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22
21 You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a message the LORD has not spoken?’22 When a prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

We aren’t told to discount someone right away. We have to wait and see.

Immoral? On the gay teacher who was fired from her Catholic school job.

I recently read a story about a lady named Carla Hale who was fired from her job because she was in committed relationship with another woman.

She worked for 19 years at a Catholic high school in Ohio as a physical education teacher. When her Mom died, her partner was mentioned in the obituary. A parent at the school contacted the school saying she was “appalled” and Carla was then fired. The school has a policy about “immoral” behavior as a reason to get fired. Employees “can be terminated for immorality or serious unethical conduct” according to their contract. According to a post “The school informed Carla that she was not fired because she was gay, but because her relationship was printed in the local paper. The obituary amounted to a “public statement” of her relationship.”

While Ohio is a state where it is legal to fire someone because they are gay, the community where the school is located makes it a crime for employers to discriminate based on sexuality. So there is a little murky legal ground here. It appears the school is using doublespeak. They aren’t firing her because she is gay, but because her being gay and in a relationship is public knowledge. And that, to them, is immoral.

Fortunately the students are protesting her firing to the local diocese, and the teacher is planning on fighting the termination. There are over 63,000 signatures in her favor on a petition. But this whole story shouldn’t have happened.

I would think firing someone right after her Mom died would be immoral. I would think that forcing people to hide their loving relationship, their adult, mutually reciprocated loving relationship, would be immoral.

I can understand the church having issue with people of any sexual orientation having sex outside the bonds of marriage. So why would it be a problem for two gay adults who want to spend their lives together? They aren’t being promiscuous.

I have two new friends who are a gay couple. They went to the trouble of getting married in a state that allows them to marry. Sadly, Tennessee is not that evolved. But I digress. The mother of one died after an illness, and there was a bit of a fracas over the fact that his spouse was listed in the obituary merely as a “friend.” This is a huge downgrade. This is an insult. It was deeply painful at a time of great emotional distress.

I wonder if the funeral home did this because they were afraid of an adverse reaction to the term “spouse” or even “partner.” The funeral home is in a small town. Members of the community may not have known her son was gay. Of course, it never does any good to make up stories about people and their motivations. But look how the obituary at the start of this post caused problems. Perhaps they thought they were being kind.

To be honest, the obituary didn’t cause a problem. Inanimate things don’t cause problems. People do, when they don’t think. The parent didn’t think when she decided that the teacher’s sexual orientation was a problem. Then she didn’t think when calling the school. Then the school administration didn’t think when firing the teacher, who had worked there with no problems for 19 years.

What is the problem with having a teacher who is homosexual around children? “Homosexual” does not equal “pedophile.”

But I’m trying to make sense out the policies of a church that has equated women getting ordained with the crime of pedophilia. I’m trying to make sense out of a church that attacks the very people who are doing the work Jesus told us to do. They censure nuns who won’t advocate against homosexuality and are for birth control, while serving the poor and the sick.

I’m trying to make sense out of a religion that has diluted the commandment to love and substituted “mind everybody else’s business.” I’m trying to make sense of how far we have gotten away from Jesus’ message. Some Christian denominations teach that the Jewish people are mislead because they don’t follow Jesus. Remember what Jesus said about the plank and the speck? Many Christians don’t follow Jesus either.

They follow the rules of the church rather than the rules of Jesus. They follow tradition, not scripture and reason. They follow the words of Paul, not Jesus. They actively discourage their parishioners thinking for themselves because it might lead to dissent.

I’m not anti Jesus. And I don’t want to be anti church but the more stories I read like this, I realize I don’t have a choice. For me, in order to follow Jesus, I can’t follow the church as it is. A person can’t serve two masters.

We must not be unequally yoked. If you feel that Jesus is going one way and the church is going another, you are obliged to follow Jesus.