Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 1/11/04
"....with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:2,3).
Nothing has the potential to cause heartache and grief like having to leave the church one loves. It's akin to a divorce in the family. Someone is judged wrong and someone else deemed correct; everyone chooses sides and the battle is joined. It's one of those sad and painful occurrences in life which affects all parties involved, leaving scar tissue long after the fighting has ceased. Today's graphic illustrates that the church, the ecclesia, includes all of us even if we are not sitting in a pew somewhere, and a church that refuses to include everyone is missing something, very possibly the elect!
The Glory Road is a journey, not a destination. Lenny and I have been richly blessed by those of you who take the time to write and share your journey with us. We heard from a brother last week who had never written before, but his words touched us so deeply, I felt led to share them with you. He is in that awful situation, known by a great many of us, where we have to choose between following after the Lord's leading or trying to remain in fellowship with beloved brothers and sisters who haven't seen the same vision we have. He wrote,
"I have been 'practicing the presence of God' for 10 of my 15 born again years, and have just recently been allowed to enter the place of complete joy and love...I have almost constant fellowship (peace, joy, love) with my ABBA (Hebrew for daddy), whether in the dark nights of the soul or in the wondrous heights of clarity..Father has shown me HIS unconditional love for ALL only recently, and I am known for talking about things as I learn them, and I am starting to bother my Pastor with the things God is showing me and sharing with others. I go to a wonderful fellowship of Baptist believers. They believe that God glorifies Himself by committing Himself to the ultimate happiness of the elect, not ALL!"
He shared his indecision with us of whether to leave church and continue the pursuit of truth alone with God, or to stay and see what the Lord will do with the church family he loves. He concluded the first e-mail by saying, "The problem is that I do not want to sit quietly and not share this great and awesome gospel with these Christians, but if I do share, I would create much strife with my friend and Pastor Jack (not his real name). What to do?" End Quote. I had to smile at his musings, for he reminded me of my own inability to keep quiet when I had something I felt I would burst if I did not share.
Lenny and I advised this refreshingly open brother to listen to God's voice, to seek His counsel on everything, and to do nothing that He does not authorize. That's easier said than done, of course, but essential, not only to avoid being ridden out of church on a rail, but also to grow as God would ordain.
He wrote back several days later saying he believed God had made his decision for him. One of the board members in the church had called him, and when Tom (not his real name) had shared with him God's salvation of all, the man appeared to be not just interested, but joyful, wanting to hear more. Tom concluded from this that he was to stay in the fellowship.
Lenny and I rejoiced that perhaps God was changing the program, and in fact, that what had happened to so many of us when we shared this revelation with church leaders, was not going to happen to Tom. He wrote, "This morning in my quiet time, God showed me very clearly that if I would just die to my own desire to change the world with this new info that I am learning, that He would be able to handle things from here on out!!! I have a very terrible habit of learning things by the spirit in my quiet times and then trying to change the world in my flesh...I was told this morning by God that I have trust issues when it comes to 'fixing' and 'controlling' things...I never realized that I thought I could do a better job than God Himself." End Quote. I chuckled at these statements, because they reminded me of the scars I still have from tilting at windmills, taking on church authority in my own strength. Don Quixote never quite figured it out, but most of us do after enduring the pain of failure, and the agony of defeat in our fleshly efforts to play God.
Our joy for Tom's chance of staying in church was short lived. A couple of days later, he wrote, "I had my official meeting with my Pastor today, and he was very kind and gentle with me and he let me know that he supports me completely in this pursuit of truth as long as I do not speak to ANYONE about this.... I felt that this would be impossible and that it would be best to leave. So, now I have no church family, and he (the Pastor) has requested I do not contact anyone in the church unless I can keep quiet." The gavel of justice and conditional love had slammed down hard; authority had spoken; the divorce would soon be final. May God have mercy upon the broken hearts left in the wake of this Pastor's attempt to protect orthodoxy.
One last comment from Tom with a request that you include him in your prayers as you feel led: "My 14 year old son and wife want to know what we do now for friends that are Christians, because they all seem to meet on Sundays in churches that will not accept us! Are there denominations that believe the way we do, or are we destined to be loners till the end?" (He lives in Tipp City, Ohio. If you know of a fellowship near him, please let us know. Jan).
We hear from others who have had similar experiences, and in fact, I sent out an e-mail recently called "Out-Of-Church-Christians," by Andrew Strom, in which he talks about the enormous response he had from a website he created (See link at end) for those who have no church home and who wish to dialogue about it with someone who will not condemn and judge them.
I don't include Tom's experience as a way to bash the church, because Jesus died for her, His body, and His bride. The gates of hell shall never prevail against her. Sadly, that church cannot be found on planet Earth today, for the church on Main St., Any Town, Planet Earth, is sectarian, controlling, and conditional. Yet within those churches, some of whom hate each other and other denominations, there are the elect, those whom God has sent as manna from heaven, a witness to share the Good News with those who have not yet heard it. We know many dedicated, wise Christian men and women who are still serving God within the church structure. They are very special people to me, because God has given them grace to stay, even as He has called others to leave. Both responses are from Him.
I had an e-mail once from a man in the Church of Christ, who wrote to chide me because I am no longer a member. He admitted the problems found in that denomination, but said the church was the loser because I took my passion and ability to articulate my thoughts and left. I wrote him back that he was thinking about me with his natural mind, not asking the Spirit of God about me, just laying his own judgment upon me, and that his ability to stay, is a gift from God, the same One who called me out for His own purposes.
No one leaves church, and certainly not one where loved ones remain, without a powerful unction from God to do so, though, it may feel like a boot on the backside. Like Tom, in my youth, I came home to Neosho, to the church where I grew up, called the elders and preacher together and told them that we were so wrong about our belief that the Holy Spirit went back to heaven when the last Apostle died. With great joy and expectation, I announced, "He's alive. He's here with us today!" That was my first experience at tilting at windmills, at encountering the conditional love which most churches hand out, pretending it is the real thing.
The second time was in Thousand Oaks, CA, at a church where John Gavazzoni was Pastor. Many of you know about his tremendous ability to articulate the deep things of God from reading his writings (See Link at end). He was that kind of Pastor as well, feeding the flock meat, not pabulum. Because he had confided to a deacon over lunch that he believed God would save everyone, they tossed him out, told the congregation he was deceived, even demon possessed, and sternly warned the flock against listening to him in any capacity. His wife Jan was within days of delivery of their third child, and they cast him out without pay, without so much as a shred of the kind of unconditional love that sent Christ to the cross. It wounded me deeply.
The Holy Spirit is the great Counselor, and after many, many sessions on "The Divine Psychiatrist's Couch," I moved on, painfully to be sure, but over time, God brought tremendous good to all of us involved in it. Lenny and I were both friends with John, but we didn't know each other because it was a big fellowship. At the little meetings John began to have in his home, Lenny and I met, fell in love, and were married in his "upper room" (upstairs family room) in 1981. We have our 23rd anniversary coming next week. God rewarded me with joy that far exceeded the pain!
Still, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Lenny was exactly what God knew I needed, for he lives in the unconditional, seeing God in everyone and everything, and unbelievably to me, he saw God in me. He was the first one who told me, "Be yourself. Otherwise God can't use you." Who I perceived myself to be, was not what I thought "a good Christian" should be, but gradually with Lenny's unconditional love and support, I came to listen to the Holy Spirit's evaluation of me, and realized that this person I had been fighting all my life, trying to whip into being a better Christian, a more godly person, a woman with a meek and gentle spirit, this very person was just who God had made me to be. It was another one of those emotional born again experiences.
I grew up in a conditional church and, no surprise, came from a conditional family as well. Simply put, it means, "I'll love you IF you obey/agree with me and never rock the boat." I was born asking, "Why?????" Now, I know that the only one who can answer that question is God Himself, and He does so willingly.
I feel the reason the church is so impotent in the world today is because it cannot tolerate spontaneity and any vision or revelation from God other than what the leadership has received. Often times, the leadership is operating on canned spam, old light that is gasping its last, and the last word anyone heard from God was "Build an ark." So, build one they did, and they are still worshipping in it. As Peter said on the Mount of Transfiguration, "Lord, let us build three tabernacles." I'm sure he would have tried to do that, had the voice not said plainly and firmly, "This is my beloved Son. Hear ye HIM!" The voice is still saying that today. Listen to Christ, not the doctrines and traditions of men, even your parents.
God's unconditional love sent Him to the cross, where He did NOT count men's trespasses against them (II Cor. 5:18-19). When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He didn't die for the righteous, but for sinners. Some churches today would spit up if a known sinner came into their midst. The flock might be corrupted, led astray by a bad influence. This is the spirit of the Pharisee. "Thank God, I am not like that sinner over there."
Over time, I have begun to think that Ultimate Reconciliation, as the revelation that God will ultimately save everyone is called, is not allowed to be spoken in church because it is "bad for business." Churches are run much like major corporations. When we were attending a local church here in Neosho, they were pressuring the members to go out and sell the Vacation Bible School to unsaved children. They said to use a 3"x5" card, on which to write the prospect's name, and note the date and times they contacted them until the "sale" could be made, i.e. agreement reached for the child to attend. They were offering a prize for the church member who brought in the most children. Reminding me of real estate seminars we attended on how to increase your personal production, it sickened me that the church Jesus bought with His own blood has lost sight of what the early church knew and the Apostles taught, that it is God who finished His work before the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:30). "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39, RSV).
I want to say plainly that I am NOT advocating abandonment of church membership with this essay. For those who are forced to leave in order to maintain their personal integrity and follow Christ, it is a painful, lonely road. Here's an illustration which may help.
Lenny had his first session of physical therapy Monday, to help him deal with painful fibromyalgia, a disease affecting muscles and soft tissue. They showed him gentle stretching exercises designed to loosen the muscles and maintain mobility. It hurts to move, and to protect himself, he has cut back on any activity which causes pain. The exercise he did, gentle though it is, hurt him dreadfully and he suffered a sleepless, pain filled night. When he told me about it the next morning, it flashed across my spirit that this is why church has gotten itself into such a dreadfully impotent condition. It is easier and safer, not to move, theologically speaking, not to risk the pain of a new thought, a new vision, or a new idea, but the end thereof is death, death to the spontaneity of worship, death to the vigor of missionary activities, and death to the individual soul. Afraid of encountering false doctrine and especially of being ostracized by church peers, millions remain in a coma, content to stay right where they have always been, believing what their parents believed, afraid to rock the boat. This is NOT their fault, because as Lenny would say, "It is God's fault." By that, He is not casting aspersions on our heavenly Father, but merely pointing out that God is the author of ALL THINGS, the giver of all light, revelation, and unconditional Love.
Therefore, people are in church because that's where God has put them and left them, for now. By the same token, people are out of church because God has called them out for what may well be a season of painful wilderness wanderings. He wants them for Himself, to teach them, to lead them, to guide them, never just for their benefit, but so they can ultimately be a blessing to others. This is a painful road, a lonesome road, but it eventually leads to glory, which is why I have often said that the way is often a gory road before it is the Glory Road.
Father, without a vision, Your children perish. Without Your light, we stumble in darkness and fall into the ditch; without Your unconditional Love, we cannot love each other the way You love us. Our hearts are hungry; our souls are thirsty and our spirits are on fire to know You deeper, better, clearer. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"God with skin on"
"Out-of-Church-Christians" by Andrew Strom
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page us uploaded to the web on 1/8/04
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/16/08.