A Simple Mystery

The gospel is a profound mystery that has been made quite simple. A little child could grasp it. We have the deep sense that it is quite complicated, but it is really straightforward. For years, day after day after day, I have tried to jump high enough to attain some fragment of peace, but to no avail.

After a long period, I finally realized I couldn’t make it work. If God was going to save me, He was going to have to personally intervene. I just didn’t have it in me. He finally got me right where He wanted.

The simplicity of our faith needs to be declared; too many believe it is unattainable. C.S. Lewis once wrote about this simple gospel:

“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. … That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”
–CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Over time I realized, (actually it was more like a lightning bolt) that it wasn’t how high I could jump— but how low I could go. The ‘good news’ is designed for the simple; not for the spiritual athlete.

We must become “little children to enter the kingdom of God.” There is no other way. Jesus has made it clear. I simply can not attain salvation by my own merits, rather it is given out to those who can’t arrive at some vague legal standard.

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

We are a people who are engineered for achievement. We value those who have ‘arrived.’ But what if the opposite was true? What if it wasn’t greatness, but ‘smallness’ that opened heaven’s doors? Would you qualify? I ask these questions not to demean you, but to reassure you. I would only suggest that you reexamine your faith. It is only prudent after all.

Adopting the world’s attitudes is not surprising. We are saturated by her presence. She makes her presence known by everything we perceive. It is the basic environment that surrounds all that we do or think. Jesus’ gospel asks us to rethink some basic things:

  • Do I belong here?
  • Is this my real home?
  • What am I living for?
  • Am I a loving person?
  • What am I living for?

We ask these questions, not because they are somewhat profound; we ask them because they are so basic. 

Yet so much rests on each. We must clear away the world’s confusion, in order to grasp each question. We must become like little children, again. When we start to ask these questions— we are finally on our way.

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Standing With Her in the Rain

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“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2, NLT

By Lisa Schubert, Guest Author

Samantha approached me outside the church on Thanksgiving morning with her hair disheveled and her coat covered with dirt smudges and raindrops. She demanded to borrow my cell phone to find if the Thanksgiving dinner she had requested from a charitable organization would be ready for pick-up in an hour. I was in a hurry. I needed to be inside preparing to lead worship. I begrudgingly let her borrow my phone, but I insisted on dialing the number myself and standing with her in the gentle rain.

Samantha issued commands to the person on the other end of the line. When she hung up, the rant continued against our church, our staff, the weather, and this meal that would serve as her Thanksgiving dinner. I had to let her go mid-rant, but not before reminding her that I would keep her in my prayers.

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My encounters with Samantha have continued over the past few months. She’s almost always confused, angry and paranoid. She tells stories about growing up with another member of our staff, who never met her until recently. It’s hard to know how to respond to Samantha.

A friend called me recently to ask if our church had any resources for helping congregations to welcome those who struggle with mental illness. I pointed her in a few directions, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at www.nami.org. Even as I offered her the information, I felt uneasy. Connecting with those who have mental illnesses is a complex, difficult journey.

It was raining again on Monday when I saw Samantha. She was sitting in the front lobby of the church. She shouted at me as I walked out the door, “Be careful out there! Two guys tried to kidnap me, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.” Unwilling to believe her, I replied, “Samantha, I’m sorry you had a rough morning. I’ll be thinking of you. Hope your day gets better.” I continued out the church doors and opened my umbrella.

I later discovered that Samantha was mugged that morning. Thankfully, the police believed her while I had blown her off. They arrested the alleged perpetrators that afternoon.

I’m embarrassed by my lack of gentleness and compassion toward Samantha, and I know I’m not alone. I wonder what it means for the Church to embrace, accept and listen to those who have mental illnesses. I wonder how church leaders like myself can grow and help others to deepen their care for people like Samantha.

There are no simple answers, but I think the answer starts in a simple place: We stand with them in the rain.

Lisa Schubert is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Formation of North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis

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Sandblasted Saints

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“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”  

Isaiah 43:19

There is nothing that will increase your strength and your character like the wilderness does. It is God’s gym; he works you out on his equipment.  Good things will happen to all who exercise. The desert becomes a place of separation and resolve. It is not for the faint of heart.

This spiritual geography is also the launching pad for ministries: for Jesus’ public ministry was 40 days in the wilderness — the training for Moses’ powerful leadership of God’s people was 40 years in the desert — and maybe why you are serving your time in the wilderness, right now.  It has to be.  It is your place for this moment.

“In the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.'”

Deut. 1:31, ESV

Once in the desert, the Father keeps a close-eye on all his children. 

At times of strenuous activity/emotion–he comes and carries us.  He is exceedingly gentle, and he knows precisely what we need, and he sure doesn’t stint on his grace–he pours it out lavishly.

If you’re in the desert, know that your God is on duty.  Nothing that comes to you sneaks past His alert observation and consent.  (And after all, if you think about it, the wilderness is His as well.)

We seem to always be on the anvil; in the wilderness where God is shaping us for higher things. But, by faith, it is a rich place to be.

“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”

–Frederick Buechner

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Radical Ministry

“Turning Your Back,” Russian Folk Art

Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, the Condemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “

— Michael Yaconelli

Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches. Often we are pushed into hiding our true identity;  we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules.  We are expected to censor ourselves and say proper things at the right time.  Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.] 

If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or anxious, I will really upset the apple cart and muddle up everything. You may see me become as confused or uncertain.  I may be.

“Truth?  You can’t handle the truth?”  [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.] 

But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority. It won’t become a show.

Christians with mental illnesses have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church.  The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers.  He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.

We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re Call us the “audio/visual” department of the church.

If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture.  If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere.  We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.

But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine!  Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness.  Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him.  Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?

I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open. 

That we become transparent before others.  As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love.  If they look at me and I just want them to see Jesus.  And that is our ministry as mentally ill people in the Church.

Our weaknesses are really our strengths.

9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.”  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” 

10 “So because of Christ,  I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

                               2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

 

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[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]

 

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