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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for 149 – Everything New

I had to. I had to save myself, my life, and the loving God of my mind. I could not find any rest in this vindictive meanie residing up in the clouds. This notion of this type of HE didn’t work for me. You see, I lived in an airtight bubble of a theology that blatantly and/or discreetly stressed that God is a) mad at us, b) sending us to hell, c) is waiting for us to screw up. This is a wretched theology that does not instill anything but fear and negativity, terror and anxiety. Nevertheless, that’s what I learned.

From the time I was a very small child, this ‘fear theology’ never seemed right to me. I still remember the uneasy feeling I got in a particular church building week after week. I recall the coldness in the air, seeping through the walls. I specifically remember looking at a bulletin board laying out the path to salvation. This included an upward dotted line, showing how, if you did the ‘right’ things, you would end up at the top, in heaven. This felt so off-kilter to me, even as a little girl. I remember my little brown eyes straining above to see this board which was at adult-level, but meant for kids. I knew nothing of grace and mercy, but my gut told me this theology was way off-base. You know when something just “feels wrong?” This board did that.

Things weren’t any better beyond the bulletin board. There’s no need for me to elaborate, just know that I saw things completely at odds with what I was being taught. This is a really good way to create confused children; tell them God wants them to be one way, then those same adults act in the opposing manner. As a highly sensitive kid, I picked up on these infractions, these inconsistencies. The message was, “God wants you to do this. Do this. We won’t, but you do this.” Therefore, I got baptized at 13 to get a fun pizza party. Because it was “time” to. Because it was “what I was supposed to do.” Did I honestly know about God at 13? Of course not. I was following some whacked-out, earn-your-way, bulletin board salvation routine. Pay your ticket to heaven by what you do. That’s what I gained from 18 years of this church theology. And it didn’t work for me. I suspected God and Jesus were better than this.

So I forayed into life, struggling with God images, rejecting God-love, and fighting to figure out who I was and who I wasn’t. I was involved with the wrong people, some also subjected to this conflicting theology who never felt they quite added up…others way too convinced they had conquered all the dots to reach perfection. But the resounding thing I found out “in the field,” was that everyone was hurting and searching. Even if they didn’t say it with words, they said it in their self-righteousness, their racism, their addictions, their self-hatred. They might work the steps, but they simultaneously rejected people who looked or worshiped differently. They might work the steps, but they simultaneously drowned themselves in perfectionism, work, shopping, and idolatry. Simply put, the bulletin board didn’t make them any better…it made their lives worse. Self-understanding? Absent. Awareness? Obsolete. Compassion? Present to a certain extent. I know this because at some point it was all me.

I had to endure so much gut wrenching anguish and loss to finally readdress my issues with my wacky childhood theology. Which I did. When I was 40. I long had abandoned the heated threads of hate weaving through the painful fabric I’d been covered over in. I was done with that ache. After so much loss, I decided life must be better than this God-talk cloaked in hell-hurt. So, what does one do? Enroll in seminary,
of course. Thank God I did. I finally met the God I had always felt connected to outside of that childhood wackiness. God was good. God wasn’t expecting me to work the steps like an exercise program. God wasn’t a jerk. God wasn’t yelling at me to get it right. God was….well….God.

Mercy, grace, compassion, tenderness…the visions we see of Jesus in the Gospels. The kindness we see of Jesus at every turn for the stranger, the foreigner, the sinner…this God was the God I could delve into life with. The God who loves despite, the God who loves anyway, the God who rejects none, the God who is filled with endless mercy. Yes! That’s the God I understand. And once I understood God that way,
it immediately made my compassionate heart submerge so that I could love people. When we can see God as love, it gives us a cue to follow suit; not as a dark, contrived demand, but as a communal effort to want to spread goodness and grace to all. God works in us, we work with God. This is so much more of a harmonious, beautiful way of communicating the graciousness of God than a construction paper bulletin board of have-to’s. The fact is none of us will ever measure up to Jesus, but we can all express his love and compassion for all people. And that’s how they will know us…”by our love.”

We are excited to announce our newest Featured Author here at Wineskins, D.J. Bulls. You can read D.J.’s bio below. We are excited to have him writing for us so he can share his wealth of knowledge about worship!

DJBullsD.J. Bulls…Husband to Meghan, father to Mackenzie…loves baseball, the Texas Rangers, and Alabama Crimson Tide Football.

Bulls has 17 years of ministry experience in churches large and small with emphasis in worship, music, and communication. A frequent arranger for colleges, universities, churches, and worship groups, his arrangements are sung by churches in all fifty states and all over the world. He has studied at Abilene Christian University (B.A.), the University of North Texas (Choral Conducting), the UT- Arlington (M.M.), and did his PhD work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Church Music, Hymnology).

D.J. is currently a composer, contributor, and music committee member, and on the Executive Committee for the Timeless Psalter & Commentary Project. He was recently appointed as the Chairman of the Timeless Hymnal Project, who will produce a new Psalter Hymnal in the next few years, an incredibly worthy and important project for the Church.

He leads worship at events across the U.S. each year, coaching worship leaders and church leaders in the areas of worship leading, new music, and congregational change. As you can see, his research specialties include hymnody, congregational singing, and Restoration Hymnody.

DJ Bulls 2

Current Work
D.J. has been the worship, music, and communications minister for  Riverside Church of Christ in Coppell, TX since mid 2015.

He is also the Founder/Artistic Director/Conductor of the MidCities Chamber Singers, a semi-professional choral ensemble in DFW, now in their second season (www.midcitieschambersingers.com).

DJ Bulls 3

We appreciate Heather Heflin Hodges sharing from her wealth of knowledge on art in worship and ministry. I hope you will consider what she has to say over the next few weeks and also hope that you will share these with people you know will be blessed by it. Often our artists are severely underutilized in the life of the church. It wasn’t always that way, nor does it always have to be that way. A shift is coming.

One of the things we learned when studying psychology is that most behavior is functional on some level. At some point in time the behavior worked for us. It may not be healthy behavior but it served some function. Dysfunctional behavior always comes with a story. Often over time behavior that served a function makes less and less sense, especially as the behavior becomes more extreme.
You would think that in an organization or congregation that clarity and specificity would be valued but that is not always the case and usually for reasons that actually make quite a bit of sense. Here is what church guru Peter Steinke had to say about clarity and healthy churches,
“Healthy congregations are clear about what is and what is not beneficial to their well-being. Less healthy congregations will allow more fuzziness, indecisiveness, vagueness, and secrets or disguises.” – Peter Steinke, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach, 33

There are a number of reasons churches learn to have fuzzy communication and none of them are good and it always goes back to the leadership, or lack there of. In my experience, the most common reason for lack of congregational clarity is that there is an attitude that nothing needs to be defined. Nothing needs to be defined because everything has already been defined. Everyone should know how things operate but no one will say how it is supposed to operate. This passive approach to leadership lacks vision and direction. There isn’t much of a mission or direction. Sense no one know where it is headed there is no clarity. Everyone is stuck right where they are and anyone who branches out from status quo is shut down because they will have to seek clarity in order to move ahead and no one wants to provide it.

Another reason congregations lack clarity is all about personalities. This type of confusion is expressed through discombobulated roles, responsibilities and who has actual authority. If you are new to the system it takes quite a bit of effort to find out who is in charge of something. No one wants to tell you who is in charge and you get bit if you step in on what someone else is doing but no one told you they were doing it. The person with the title is not always the person who makes the decision and because a direction hasn’t been set things just coast along for years. Old timers are comfortably confused and new comers are uncomfortably confused.
A third reason has to do with accountability. There is less accountability when things are left unclear When things go unreported they can go unchecked. Sometimes church leaders have things they wish to protect that aren’t in the best interest of the overall health of the congregation. It may be co-dependency in keeping someone’s feelings from getting hurt (protecting people from discomfort is actually protecting someone from an opportunity to grow). Maybe it is a leader (deacon) who isn’t doing their work and instead of addressing it the leadership lets it go on forever. Then everyone else has to work around the official leader and everyone is confused about who has authority to make and execute decisions. Another way this happens is when a leadership lacks transparency because they one the details are given they know someone will complain and they don’t feel like dealing with it.
We cannot expect Christians to thrive in a healthy Christian life and faith in a church culture that is not healthy itself and unhealthy church culture is almost always a direct result of unhealthy church leadership (be it ministers, elders or deacons).
 
This gets difficult because being direct is not always valued. Being transparent means you often get shot at. Unmasking things no one wants to talk about can create anxiety and a pull back to subterfuge and illusion to escape difficult (but needed) conversations. The easier path is the path of being unhealthy because being healthy takes constant effort. The same is true with our physical bodies. There is more to keep up with if you are determined to be healthy.
 Steinke-HealthyCongregations
The only way to improve the health of congregational communication is to know who you are, what God has asked you to do and to move forward with the conviction that comes through having a bigger sense of purpose and mission and a smaller view of complaints, anxiety and fear. This conviction will enable leaders to deal with the complainers and deal with the anxiety of bringing clarity that initially reveals everything is not okay and hasn’t been okay for quite some time.
If your view of anxiety and fear are bigger than your vision and mission you will perpetuate unhealthy environments. We must learn that the functionality of poor communication is not healthy and that the only way to a healthy future is going to take making some tough decisions about transparency and accountability in order to bring clarity. This is why they call people leadership. It isn’t easy.
 
If you want a good resource on what it takes to have a healthy congregation check out Steinke’s book on Healthy Congregations. he has several other excellent books in addition to this one.

Scripture is full of reminders that God is a God who makes all things new. What we are told at the end of the story, “I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5) is just a summary startement of the previous 66 books of the Bible. From Adam and Eve to God’s fresh start with Noah…from Abraham and Sarah having a child in their golden years to Joseph and his brothers getting a fresh start…from the Exodus to the Promised Land…from Exile to return…and finally to Jesus and the resurrection…God is always taking old, worn out, dead things and turning them into new and better things.

This month we will focus on the God who makes everything new. I hope this is a good start to your 2018 as we look ahead to new opportunities, new growth and finding life where we once only found death.