church


I am currently reading American Gospel by Jon Meacham. The following excerpt grabbed me, speaking to me very loudly. I am sharing it with you because I am hoping that it speaks to some of you as well. Here it is:

“What is essential–and what has long been part of religious intellectual traditions–is to draw not only on scripture but on reason and experience when contemplating the nature and problems of the world. In the seventeenth-century battle between the Catholic hierarchy and Galileo over whether the earth revolved around the sun or vice versa, it was Galileo–a Christian–who understood better than his persecutors how to reconcile apparent contradictions between faith and science. ‘If Scripture cannot err,’ he said, ‘certain of its interpreters and commentators can and do so in many ways.’ In other words, if reason leads humankind to discover a truth that seems to be incompatible with the Bible, then the interpretation of scripture should give way to the rational conclusion. In this Galileo was echoing Augustine, who wrote, ‘If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets scripture does not understand it correctly.’ … Augustine’s work enables thinking Christians to take advantage of scientific and social advances without surrendering the authority of revelation. Guided by these lights, believers have (however slowly) removed the biblical support for the ideas that the earth, not the sun, is the physical center of the universe, that women are property–and that slavery is divinely sanctioned. The lesson is that purely religious arguments may not be sufficient to get us to the right result. The faithful should see that God meant for them to use reason as well as revelation as they make their way through the world.”

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If you are experiencing difficulty discovering or living your purpose, I encourage you to work a Christ-centered 12-Step recovery program. You very well may have hurts, habits or hang-ups that are impeding you from discovering and/or living your God-anointed purpose.

You may believe that you only have to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior for your life to be complete and satisfying. The proclamation that “I am a born again Christian, my past is washed clean, I am a new creature, and Christ has totally changed me” is true. Our Spirits are born again. Our flesh, however, is holding on to a lifetime of hurts, habits and hang-ups. The likelihood that you have no behaviors, thoughts or attitudes that need to be changed and/or wounds that need to be healed is small to nonexistent. I believe that it is impossible for anyone to grow to adulthood without accruing some hurts along the way and developing some destructive habits or hang-ups.

To over-spiritualize the initial work of salvation may be to deny the actual condition of our lives. Giving our life to God, accepting his free gift of forgiveness and entering into a personal relationship with him is step three. Taking this step assures you that you will spend eternity with him in heaven. You can stop there. Many people do. If you want to live a life of abundance marked by internal peace, joy and fulfillment, however, you need to work the additional nine steps. Working these steps is what improves the quality of your life on earth and increases the possibility of your doing what you were created and shaped to do: making your unique contribution to the body of Christ.

another excerpt from manuscript I’m currently working on:

As the discrepancies between Roman Catholic doctrine and Scripture became clearer and clearer to me, I became very angry at the Catholic Church. I was angry at them for teaching me and countless others a distorted gospel—a gospel that leads to fear, anxiety, and shame rather than peace, joy and love. My anger at the Catholic Church simmered under the surface for years and would flare up when I would attend a Catholic Mass or observe other Catholic rituals or ceremonies. As my family of origin were still practicing Catholics, all family weddings and funerals were held in Catholic churches. Each of those events became times of much internal struggle for me. At times I was able to hold my anger in check, at other times I was not able to do so.

It eventually became clear to me that I needed to make peace with the Catholic Church if I was to grow in faith and truly walk the walk. With God’s help, I was able to accomplish this by learning to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. I began to look with appreciation at what the Church did do, rather than look with anger at what they didn’t do. What the Catholic Church did do is: teach me that God exists; that he made me; and that spiritual matters are important. The Church also instilled in me a belief that church is where one develops good morals. If it were not for the second lesson, I would never have brought my children to church and I would never have been led into a relationship with the real God.

I am now at a place in my faith journey where I am grateful to the Catholic Church for what they did teach me. Though anger at the Church still rears its ugly head from time to time, it is quickly replaced with a deep sadness for the multitude of faithful Catholics who do not know the joy and peace of resting in the certainty of their salvation and the unconditional love of their heavenly Father. At the same time, I am extremely grateful to God for leading me away from the Church and teaching me that it is not about religion, it’s about relationship.

Excerpt from manuscript I’m working on:

Throughout my childhood and adolescence the emotional lessons I was learning at home were paralleled by the spiritual lessons I was learning in church (Catholic) and in school (Catholic). While I was learning at home that I had to earn my parents’ love and acceptance by what I did, I was learning in church and in school that I also had to earn my way into heaven. Church and school were virtually interchangeable. We would frequently attend Mass during the school day, and religion was part of the curriculum.

I learned that my salvation was dependent on what I did (good works) not on what Christ did for me. I learned a very complex system of checks and balances in which certain types and amounts of good works and penance made up for certain sins, and sins were divided into categories of venial and mortal. I learned that if I died with mortal sins on my soul that I had not sufficiently made up for with good works and penance, then I would spend time suffering in purgatory to purge my soul of these sins. The amount of time I would spend in purgatory would depend on where I was in this check-and-balance system regarding sins and good deeds at the time of my death. This greatly increased my anxiety and contributed significantly to my sense of not being able to measure up no matter what I did. Due to this I was not only afraid of life on earth, I was also afraid of life in the hereafter.

My picture of God was of a very cold, distant, critical God who didn’t care about how I felt or what I needed, and who had very high expectations of me, so high it was doubtful I would ever reach them, and he wouldn’t love me or welcome me home unless I achieved them. He certainly was not someone I could trust or depend on. He was someone to be afraid of and stay away from.

During my early adulthood, I drifted away from church and away from God.

Another excerpt from manuscript I’m currently working on:

A very important and difficult part of my spiritual journey has been coming to terms with my Catholic upbringing. The Catholic Church did not lead me to God. On the contrary, the Catholic Church erected many obstacles on the path to God—roadblocks that seemed impossible to overcome.

As I read and studied, I came to see how the Catholic Church took very simple concepts and complicated them to the point where it was next to impossible to understand them. The Church instilled fear and apprehension in me and solidified the toxic shame that developed as I grew up in my family. Rather than teaching me that God loved me, the Catholic Church taught me that I was not good enough for God and would never be good enough no matter what I did. The whole concept of having a personal relationship with a loving God was totally absent. It was nowhere on my radar screen.

As the discrepancies between Roman Catholic doctrine and Scripture became clearer and clearer to me, I became very angry at the Catholic Church. I was angry at them for teaching me and countless others a distorted gospel—a gospel that leads to fear, anxiety, and shame rather than peace, joy and love. My anger at the Catholic Church simmered under the surface for years and would flare up when I would attend a Catholic Mass or observe other Catholic rituals or ceremonies. As my family of origin were still practicing Catholics, all family weddings and funerals were held in Catholic churches. Each of those events became times of much internal struggle for me. At times I was able to hold my anger in check, at other times I was not able to do so.

It eventually became clear to me that I needed to make peace with the Catholic Church if I was to grow in faith and truly walk the walk. With God’s help, I was able to accomplish this by learning to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. I began to look with appreciation at what the Church did do, rather than look with anger at what they didn’t do. What the Catholic Church did do is: teach me that God exists; that he made me; and that spiritual matters are important. The Church also instilled in me a belief that church is where one develops good morals. If it were not for the second lesson, I would never have brought my children to church and I would never have been led into a relationship with the real God.

I am now at a place in my faith journey where I am grateful to the Catholic Church for what they did teach me. Though anger at the Church still rears its ugly head from time to time, it is quickly replaced with a deep sadness for the multitude of faithful Catholics who do not know the joy and peace of resting in the certainty of their salvation and the unconditional love of their heavenly Father. At the same time, I am extremely grateful to God for leading me away from the Church and teaching me that it is not about religion, it’s about relationship.

Any body, if it is to function properly and fulfill the purpose for which it was created, needs to be healthy. The body of Christ is no exception. If a local church is to be effective at continuing Christ’s work the world, it needs to be healthy

Note: Families tend to be classified as either functional (healthy) or dysfunctional (unhealthy). In reality, no family is one-hundred percent functional or one-hundred percent dysfunctional. Every family has functional characteristics and dysfunctional characteristics. It is a continuum, and each family falls somewhere on the continuum between functional and dysfunctional. In my opinion, the same holds true for church families. For the purpose of this discussion, church families will be referred to as functional or healthy if they have more functional characteristics than dysfunctional ones, and vice versa for dysfunctional or unhealthy.

Characteristics of a healthy (functional) church family:

1. Open communication is encouraged. Members feel free to talk about anything.
2. The structure and operating principles are not taken from a denominational blueprint. They are designed to fit the needs of that particular congregation and to aid that congregation in fulfilling its specific God-given purpose.
3. Members feel both accepted for who they are at present and supported to become who God created them to be.

My experience as a family therapist convinced me that any organization or system is only as healthy as its leaders. I saw this evidenced countless times with families. If the parents, the leaders of the family, were sick or dysfunctional, the whole system was sick or dysfunctional. When a parent or parents brought a child in for therapy, claiming the child was the problem in the family, I didn’t have to look long or hard to find the dysfunction in the parent or parents. As a result of these experiences, I have an unshakable belief that the marital relationship is the most important relationship in the family. It is the foundation of the family. The health of this relationship determines the health of the system. In order for this relationship to be fully functional, the mother needs to have a healthy relationship to herself, to God, and to the father; and the father needs to have a healthy relationship to himself, to God, and to the mother. If this is the case, the family is likely healthy, and the children have a better than average chance to be functional. If the opposite is true, the children will likely be stressed and will adapt in dysfunctional ways.

The same holds true for church families. I firmly believe that the relationships among the leaders of a congregation are the most important human relationships in a church. If the leaders of a particular church body or church family are sick or dysfunctional, the body will be contaminated, and the church family will likely be unhealthy. If the leaders are healthy and functional, the body will likely be healthy, and the church will have a better than average chance of bringing people into relationship with Jesus and helping them grow into mature Christians.

In my opinion, the health of leaders in a church family can be measured according to the same criteria as the health of parents in a biological family, that is, each leader needs to have relationships—with God, self, and the other leaders of that congregation—that are marked by love, trust, respect, and acceptance. When this is not the case, agendas other than God’s tend to take center stage.

I have been in the writing zone all day. I would like to share an excerpt with you. Here it is:

A very important and difficult part of my spiritual journey has been coming to terms with my Catholic upbringing. The Catholic Church did not lead me to God. On the contrary, the Catholic Church erected many obstacles on the path to God—roadblocks that seemed impossible to overcome…The whole concept of having a personal relationship with a loving God was totally absent. It was nowhere on my radar screen… As the discrepancies between Roman Catholic doctrine and Scripture became clearer and clearer to me, I became very angry at the Catholic Church. I was angry at them for teaching me and countless others a distorted gospel—a gospel that leads to fear, anxiety, and shame rather than peace, joy and love. My anger at the Catholic Church simmered under the surface for years and would flare up when I would attend a Catholic Mass or observe other Catholic rituals or ceremonies. As my family of origin were still practicing Catholics, all family weddings and funerals were held in Catholic churches. Each of those events became times of much internal struggle for me. At times I was able to hold my anger in check, at other times I was not able to do so.

It eventually became clear to me that I needed to make peace with the Catholic Church if I was to grow in faith and truly walk the walk. With God’s help, I was able to accomplish this by learning to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. I began to look with appreciation at what the Church did do, rather than look with anger at what they didn’t do. What the Catholic Church did do is: teach me that God exists; that He made me; and that spiritual matters are important. The Church also instilled in me a belief that church is where one develops good morals. If it were not for the second lesson, I would never have brought my children to church and I would never have been led into a relationship with the real God.

I am now at a place in my faith journey where I am grateful to the Catholic Church for what they did teach me. Though anger at the Church still rears its ugly head from time to time, it is quickly replaced with a deep sadness for the multitude of faithful Catholics who do not know the joy and peace of resting in the certainty of their salvation and the unconditional love of their heavenly Father. At the same time, I am extremely grateful to God for leading me away from the Church and teaching me that it is not about religion, it’s about relationship.

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