Holidays are a time for overdoing it and binge eating aren’t they? This past week it has not been so much binge eating as binge learning. Every so often I find myself reading, listening or watching a series of materials that come together to create a whole new paradigm of thinking. It is not deliberate as I certainly don’t plan or organise it but every so often it just happens.
One of the books I that has been part of the binge this time has been Francis Chan’s book Letters to the Church. It is the record of what someone who was once pastor of a church numbering many thousands saw as the differences between that church and the early church. OK, not a new topic but in his case what he did was leave the church he founded and had a good long look around churches in other places like China and India. This enabled him to look at the strengths of those churches and see how different his experience of the American church was because they were definitely not strong in the same areas.
What I learnt
The more I read it the more I realised that many of the same comments about the gap between the early church and an American mega church could also apply to a small village chapel in the UK. Not all of them as there were some issues that arose simply because of the sheer size of the church such as providing activities for hundreds of children rather than the dozen or so who might go to a village chapel with a larger than usual children’s work.
Some of the issues could be resolved simply on the basis of a reduction of size but not all. Others were not so much a function of the size but the attitude and methodology of doing church. My experience of church is very different than Francis Chan. Over the space of about 30 years I have been a member of a series of 3 churches with under 30 members. As I read I found things that I could rejoice over in terms of being strong in those areas. In others I found areas where I was left thinking oh bother I have seen that in a small church as well. Some of those areas were things that have left me frustrated about the slow progress towards a fair society.
These include things that I can only summarise here, although I will be writing more about them as individual topics.
1 What does God expect of His people? Oh boy read these passages and you will get some ideas about where we fall short in that respect. John 5:12. Galatians 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
2 Too many come to church to consume things for their own pleasure and enlightenment rather than to improve their ability to serve others.
3 Too few know what their calling and purpose in life is and even fewer actually fulfil it.
4 Too many expect the trained ones to know what to do and to actually do it rather than attempting to do things themselves.
5 Too many just admire Jesus and too few are willing to do what it takes to be like Him.
6 Too few know what sanctification (i.e spiritual cleansing) involves and why it is important. BTW this does not just improve our mental health but it can improve our physical health and as such making it easier for us to do the stuff.
In fact I thought I knew a reasonable amount about the last point on that list but included in my learning binge was exposure to a whole new dimension of dealing with that issue. In fact it was obvious from Letters to the Church why I needed to do more in that respect. The fewer targets I have on me the better. After all I am recovering from the impact of having one target shot at.
If I had done more in that respect then I would not have had so much hassle these past few weeks. OK I came out of what could have been a very unpleasant experience relatively unscathed but much of that was because of how the problem was dealt with. It would have been much better if I had got my act together and the cancer had not developed in the first place.
What do I do next
I now know I have a tremendous amount of cleaning up to do. But the problem is what mum calls defiance but I am not sure whether that is quiet the right word. Defiance to me is digging your heels in and refusing to do something. It is not that I said no to injecting myself every day for nearly a month after having surgery but that sometimes the injections left me sore for an hour or so afterwards. Spiritual treatment is no easier at times because I don’t always find that easy and it can be painful. Put it like that and it is more like procrastination than defiance. You know you should because it is good for you in the long run but actually getting on and doing it is not easy because you dislike the process.
I had known that there were some things that needed cleaning up before I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer but procrastination had set in. It took that extra push to do some things that I should have been done for months if not years before. It took that to get round to removing the rights for some curses to land.
When you finally push yourself into doing what you should have done you realise that you were the one to blame for finding yourself in a tough spot and needing extra help to escape. The regret of not doing what you should have done earlier is not an easy burden to carry. You end up having to forgive yourself for putting yourself into the difficult situation that you put yourself in by not doing what you should have done in the first place.
I have a long long list of things that need cleaning up now. Things from my past which I have avoided as they have always been painful to go anywhere near. Things from my family history. Things that have tied me in knots in terms of finance and business. Knowing that there is so much to do is not particularly helpful either. Knowing that I am reducing the risk of further hassle like I have already dealt with is rather more helpful. One or two of these things have been on my jobs to do list for 20 years or more but I have not found the right time or place to do the necessary clear out.
I put off the things that are uncomfortable as much as anyone else. I think I am going to have to re-read the chapter on suffering again. Francis Chan wrote about people who rejoiced when imprisoned or beaten just like those in the early church did. They were willing to pay the price of being a true follower one that I am struggling to pay.