Thursday, January 29, 2015

31 Days: Input From You

I thought I might share a few tid bits from some emails/texts I have gotten from some of you readers. I didn't ask all of you for specific permission to quote you, but I will do so discreetly and anonymously. I have enjoyed the interaction with you readers tremendously! Thank you ever so much for sharing your input, I would love to hear from more of you. I have picked out a few pieces here and there of things that were helpful to me or of particular interest...

"Too many Mennonites play the comparison game.... "If she can do it and be a Christian, than so can I!" Wait a minute!!! This is a horrible question and thought process! We don't evaluate our standards against other Christian believers! We compare ourselves to the heart of Jesus and how He asks us to live!"

"Every concerned family (or organization) has guidelines/rules that they go off of. The children need to obey whether they understand them or not. That's not saying they can't learn why someday when they're old enough to get an in depth answer. I guess I don't think we need to have a big or bad reason for every guideline."

On changing to cape dresses --
"I could see the point of cape dresses - and even quickly learned to appreciate them and how they did help keep my heart away from endless shopping at the mall and slowly sliding my standards of modesty."

"You keep mentioning being different. I'm wondering if that's a bigger deal in your mind than it is in other people's minds? In our church there is a lot of variety, in my opinion that means we are *all* different. We all are the odd ball in some way.... The older I get the more I see we draw lines at different places. One family may draw a conservative line on dress, another family may...draw a strict line on curfew or internet use or being on time and showing up every time the church doors open. Is one better [holier] than the other? I think not. While it would be easier to raise a family in an environment where we all have the same dress code and curfew, etc that's just not life. We all have areas where we draw a line more conservative than our peers making us/our children the odd balls. But I am also learning sometimes those more conservative lines are not always readily apparent. We just won't all have the same convictions. And I have no business judging others because I think my lines are more righteous."

"My problem with Mennonites is I see and hear so much focus on light (i.e. calling uniformity unity) and the Life seems so secondary. Like the specific "light" of doing things one way proves that you have Life. I guess I don't understand why you're choosing to stay where (I think) the focus is so external."

"Maybe those who want rules have valid, workable reasons. Who said rules don't work? I mean who determines that they have/or haven't, do/don't work? I have to think of those who don't have well are they passing along values, etc? ... How can it be that someone from the world becomes convicted that they need to dress modestly and start to dress in skirts and wear a headcovering because they feel convicted about it, while we start down the path of looking more like they used to and do the things they wouldn't feel comfortable doing anymore?"

As you see, it's been an interesting month! :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

31 Days: In Summary

We have established that what is in the heart is what is important, but what should be in the heart? I think, if we are honest, we would all consider ourselves to be basically good people. Even the murderer would probably consider himself to be a basically good person. The Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, so it would seem that we need something outside of ourselves to evaluate our own hearts.

This, I think, is where the 'law' comes in. The law is meant to show us where our hearts are wrong. We read that we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves and we say, "Hmmm...... I don't really love my neighbor that way, there must be something wrong with my heart!" The law is meant to show us our sin and point us to Christ, but that is all. The law does not *keep* us in Him; does not *prevent* us from leaving Him, it only turns us in the right direction. Once we have found Him and He has changed our heart, the law kills the Spirit.

We *are* instructed to be DOERS of the Word not just hearers, so we know there is action required. I think we have tried to make people be DOERS by making rules to ensure that they DO. Instead of encouraging and promoting and teaching changed hearts, we have focused more on making sure everyone is DOING - or at least making sure it *looks* like everyone is DOING. I know this is almost heresy in our Beachy Mennonite circles, but I don't believe unity and uniformity are necessarily one and the same. I don't think God intended them to be one and the same. We have adopted the idea that they should be one and the same and the only way to accomplish that has been to ensure that everyone is DOING the same thing by setting out a list of specifics.

This, then, is really the conflict between the "Heart" and the "Rules" people: It is not *whether* there should be any rules, but WHO MAKES THE RULES.

What the "Heart" people are saying, is that God has already made the rules! He has already set down what is right and wrong. He has said "Be modest", "Don't steal", "Love your neighbor", "Be kind", "Think on these things"...... The "Rules" people seem to think they need to 'help God out'. It's not enough to let people obey God's rules - they might not all interpret them the same way! If God says "Be Modest", we need to define it. If God says "Don't steal", we need to define it. And by being so intent on defining everything, we miss the Spirit of the Law entirely!

As churches, we do need to hold up what God has said is right and wrong/good and evil. The problem is, we have become so focused on specifics that it is almost impossible for us to allow people to live out their Christianity in the broad measures of what God says is right and wrong. The "Heart" people's tendency then, is to be so general in their call to right living that almost anything seems to qualify as right living. The bottom line is this: We are called to be doers; changed hearts produce changed actions. Changed hearts produce people who's deepest desire is to know what God says is right and wrong and, in turn, do it. There may be some place for restrictions that are not *Saving* but are cause and effect 'saving' long as they are clearly marked as such! Let us not teach as Gospel and Truth what the Bible does not spell out as Truth. And, while we do need to decide what modesty (or any other Biblical principle) looks like in our own church or personal life, let's focus on calling people to Holiness - to what God says is right and wrong (modesty vs immodesty) and stop focusing on our own personal/church's application.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

31 Days: Where should our focus be?

It is so, SO easy for the Christian life to become about following a certain "formula" to make us Holy. Without even realizing it, we think that if we follow God than our lives will look like A B C. But that's not really the way it's supposed to work! There is no one perscribed way to please Him - if you drive a car with a black bumper it means nothing; if you wear black shoes Sunday morning it means nothing (what is it with black anyway?); if you always wear button up shirts it means nothing; if you choose to wear a cape dress it means nothing.

Christianity is about the relationship, not the actions. The actions are the result of the relationship, and just like my marriage doesn't look like everyone else's, neither does my relationship with God. Instead of focusing on "How are they doing it?" and "If it's ok for them it's ok for me" or "They can't be right if they're not doing it the same way as me", we have got to come back to our own personal relationship with the Father. And a personal relationship with the Father is all about the asking, the rapport, the we-want-to-follow-YOU-not-some-idea-we-swallowed.

I've heard it put this way: We fellowship around the Life that we have, not the Light that we have. The Life is our Lord Jesus. The Light is what He is showing us in our own lives. He is not showing us all the same things at the same time. If we try to fellowship around the Light, we will all quickly become frustrated with one another and go our separate ways. If we fellowship around the Life that we share, we can rejoice and encourage each other.

Monday, January 26, 2015

31 Days: Why the Focus on Clothes?

As Mennonites, we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on clothes. If we really want to call people to Holiness, it involves so much more than just the way we dress. Why don't we focus on how our houses look? Our businesses? Our possessions? The vehicles we drive? Seems to me God talks a lot more about riches in the New Testament than He does about clothes! Some of the plainest Mennonites I know have the largest, most elaborate houses and the newest, shiniest vehicles and the most immaculate, manicured yards and the newest, most up-to-date gadgets. How does this fit into the 'stranger and pilgrim' mentality we say that we hold?

How come we fuss and argue over clothing, but nobody can touch our riches? We seem to view wealth and possessions as a sign of 'Good Stewardship' and 'God's Blessing' and God forbid that anyone should question that! This, in turn, makes us very susceptible to a 'holier than thou' attitude when it comes to people with less. People with less are looked at as Poor Stewards and what do you expect? We couldn't help them out with our hard earned money because *gasp* they might go out and make poor choices with it!

I don't know. Somehow I just don't think that's what Jesus meant when He said "Give to him that asketh thee...." It might be what He meant when He said "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God" though! I don't know. What do you think?

If we are called to be Holy, shouldn't that include our whole life, not just the way we dress? Is it possible that we Mennonites have focused so much on dress that we have missed the importance of living the way Jesus would have us live in other areas of our lives? Does it soothe our consciences somehow to dress plain and set apart from the rest of the world? Does it make any sense to take the verses about the headcovering, and modesty and such, literally but come up with excuses to not take the verses about riches literally?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

31 Days: Asking Honest Questions

How do we deal the practical situations that come along in real life? How do I decide the answers to those questions I asked in the last post? I think it's important that we ask ourselves some honest questions about those things. "Why do I want to sew the extras on my dresses? Do I really think they will make me look more modest?" "Why do I want to join the crowds wearing the latest fashions? Do I really think it will increase my testimony to the world around me?" "When I stand before God and He says 'When I said women should have their heads covered, did you really think that's what I meant?' Can I honestly answer yes?"
The answers to those questions aren't based on rules, they're based on what I know of the Father's heart. Your answers to those questions might be completely different than mine and I have to be ok with leaving that between you and God. And, sometimes I think the answer is that it doesn't really matter! I don't really think God cares what color shoes we wear to church Sunday morning. He might care about our motive for the color shoes we are wearing, but the color of our shoes? I doubt it.
This whole idea is why, when it comes down to it, I don't believe it is necessarily 'safer' to raise a family in a group of people who look the same as us. I don't know but what children might be better off in a setting where everyone doesn't just do the same things! Children are not dummies. I have been amazed at the conversations we've had with our 10 and 12 year olds! You might be surprised how well children can answer those "Why" questions, and how much more permanently life changing is it to be pointed to the Father's heart then to be taught to live by a list of rules?!
Obviously it's possible to teach our children to think in any setting; it takes being intentional no matter where we are. But I think our Mennonite, run-by-standards churches have undermined the call to Holiness and have instead pushed the call to a list mindset way more than we realize! We're turning out children who have no idea how to ask the honest questions. Their only focus is "There's no RULE about this!" And if there is a rule "Let's do as little as possible to get by!"

Saturday, January 24, 2015

31 Days: Who Makes Me Behave?

Okay, so now that I have given myself the freedom of opening the door and have chosen to go ahead and keep being a Mennonite, how do I live my life?

Let me be clear here: I am not talking about being part of a church that has written standards that line up with or are stricter than your own convictions. If you are a part of such a church you have agreed to uphold those standards and therefore, in my humble opinion, you should uphold them! If, as is often the case, the standards were made a very long time ago and half of them aren't being kept by half of the people or they don't make sense in this day and age but no one is willing to talk about changing them, maybe it's time to either a) follow them anyway because that's what you agreed to do or b) find another church!

But what if you find yourself in a church where there are no standards, or where the standards are way more liberal than what you want for yourself, how do you decide how God would have you live your life? Please, no offense to anyone here, I'm just trying to be practical --- How do I decide whether it's important to wear black shoes to church Sunday morning? If the 'scarfy deal' (as some people around here call them) is the thing everyone is wearing these days, is it ok if I join the crowd? If sewing trim and ruffles and extras on dresses is the norm, how do I decide what's ok for me? If other little boys wear shorts when it's hot and some little girls wear pants when it's cold, howIf a small, lacy veil is considered having one's head covered, should I consider that sufficient for my head too? I could go on and on here, but you get my point.

This reminds me of a conversation Chris had with one of our children. The child had done something and argued that we hadn't *said* not to do that! Chris said, "But come on, you knew it wasn't a good idea, right?" The child had to agree that they knew. Then Chris said, "There doesn't have to be a RULE about everything. Who makes me behave??" Weeeelllll, the child was sure that he's an adult and therefore he just....behaves! We laughed about that, because we know you don't just suddenly become an adult one day and magically start behaving!

We say that if we just KNEW what God wanted us to do, we'd do it!! The truth is, most of us are like the child who knows deep down when something isn't a good idea but a lot of times we just don't really feel like behaving! There's not always a specific rule that God spells out for us, but usually if we want to please Him we know deep down what He wants us to do.

I really think that's what God longs for from us - I know that's what I long for from my own children! Yes, it pleases me if they keep the 'rules' we make for them as a family. But what I really want to see, what makes me the happiest as a parent, is when I see my children in a situation where I'm not there to spell out how to behave and they behave anyway!

Friday, January 23, 2015

31 Days: Why Mennonite?

Why AM I a Mennonite? In the midst of all the questions over what kind of church we should be part of, I got the place where I wondered if it even mattered what kind of church you go to?! If the bottom line is our own relationship with the Lord, why can't I go to any old church?

To be honest, I suppose you could! Still, there are SOME specifics set out in the Bible and, for myself, I think the Mennonite's core beliefs line up the closest with what God lined out for Christians in the New Testament. For that reason, I really don't want to be part of any other church. I don't believe, however, that all the Mennonite's applications are nearly as "Thus saith the Lord" as we like to make them sound. For example, I don't believe a cape dress is the only way to be modestly dressed. I've seen plenty of cape dresses that are anything but modest depending how they're made! But, for myself, I think it's a good application. It's what we both grew up with; it's what seems respectful to both sides of our families so it's what seems right for us at this point. But that doesn't mean it's the only way.

I guess that's what I've been trying to say. Most Mennonites can't be honest enough to say "A lot of what we do is really tradition, not right or wrong." If they say that, their whole belief system is suddenly threatened! So, instead of opening that door, they try to keep everything inside of 'the way we've always done it.'

There is freedom in being able to open that door and say "I know I don't have to be a Mennonite to get to Heaven. I know dressing this way, doing these things, aren't the only way to live out what the Bible says, but I don't think it's a wrong way, and for me -right now- I think it's a good way." And I know. Saying it and really living that way are two very different things. How well I know! But I think it's the right way.