Where Can I Go?
By Cathy Bihler
Where will it end? I am struggling with life. I want the Kingdom of Heaven. I want a real sanctuary. I want a real church that teaches the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I want a church that I can bring people into and know that they can find the light and life that they are looking for. I want to know that all of the leaders of my church are united in their purpose for Christ. I want to know that the denomination that my church is a part of is also united in its purpose for Christ.
I find myself in a church that God called me to. He showed me how to experience Him through the Word of God in a deep way for the first time a few years ago. I remember going deeper and deeper into scripture and thinking, "If I go in deeper now, I am making a commitment that I can never leave." And I said, "Im going in!" I took hold of the plow and didnt look back. I had no preconceived notions of where it would lead me. I was finally open to really hearing and obeying. Then, after considerable, nearly daily, Bible study for about three years, all of the sudden, an explosion of understanding broke through and into my limited brain.
God began speaking to me constantly in various ways. Various Bible verses seemed directed at me. I began paying attention and taking them to heart. Some of the verses troubled me greatly. I didnt want to accept them. But, there they were - pointing right at me. So, with a swallow and a sigh, I said, "O.K., Lord. These apply to me. I will obey them. Help me." And God did help me. In fact, He did it for me. He gave me the desire to do His will in all things that He showed me. Things outside of His will did not interest me in the least.
Then, one day during my commute home from work, I was listening to the book of Ezekiel on my audio Bible. (You see, by this time I was deeply involved in Bible study, facilitating one class and taking another. I had much reading and studying to do. Where would I find the time to keep up with this heavy study load? I found an audio Bible at a Christian bookstore. "Great," I thought, "I can do my reading during my commute to and from work. Since I was spending over 2 hours a day in my commute, this would allow me to multi-task and possibly allow me to keep up with my assignments.) So, there in the middle of Lake Washington, on the State Route 520 Bridge, I suddenly felt a strange, tingling warmth surround my entire body as I listened to the words in Ezekiel. Where had I felt this before? What is this? What is happening? I remembered! I felt this way when I accepted Christ as my Savior, many, many years before. The Holy Spirit! He is with me! This wonderful warm and refreshing feeling! For me, its like goosebumps but without the bumps and with warmth instead of chill.
When I figured out what was happening, I thought, "I had better rewind this tape and see what God is saying to me":
For many months I had been asking God what He would like me to do for Him. I was getting very weary of banking. It is such a secular world. Obviously, a bank has a focus on money and with it comes a certain amount of greed and lust for power. I wanted to work for God. So, I loved the first few words of the passage. "I am sending you to the Israelites." Thank you, Lord, you are sending me to my own. I get to work for You now? Thank you.
A couple of jobs were going to be opening up on the staff of my church. Surely, God has planned that I take one of them. I ignored the rest of the passage. The words didnt make any sense to me. My church was filled with wonderful people. They werent rebellious. Besides, Im not a son of man, Im a daughter.
I have always interviewed well for jobs. I would like to think that Im composed and self-confident. I make an O.K. appearance and should look the professional that Ive been trying to be for the past 20+ years in banking. So, I applied for a new position that was being created at the church: Director of Lay Ministries. I received an interview with the appropriate committee. I dont know who arrived in my body for the interview, but it didnt seem to be me. I know I appeared cocky, not self-confident, and I couldnt answer their questions well. The questions simply didnt make any sense to me. In fact there was one question, that to be honest, I cant even remember specifically, but it had to do with the kind of person that I am. I certainly remember some of my answer, though. I said, "Well, I can be an in-your-face kind of person if I have to, but I do get along well with others at work and my customers like me, etc." What was going through my mind was what I had to do as a collector during part of my career as a banker, working on problem loans. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted them back. The damage was done, though, and the committee was not looking for an in-your-face person. I walked away wondering what on earth I did to myself. Even the Sr. Pastor, who had encouraged me to apply for the job, was wondering hard about me. So, the job wasnt to be had at my church and God was absolutely sovereign about it. I was a fool in the interview. No chance of leaving banking for now. I knew, though, that God did not open the door for a good reason and that I just needed to be patient and let Him show me what He had in mind for me. "Just stick with the Bible studies for now", I thought. Maybe I had just experienced the kind of confusion that struck the minds of the armies that fought against Israel. You know when the battlefield was a mass of confusion and they up fighting and killing each other instead of the Israelites? The Israelites just stood and watched as the enemy killed themselves off. Well, our church committee just stood by and watched me knock myself right off of the contender list. Pretty embarrassing and humbling for me, I must say.
A few short weeks later, our churchs Annual Conference was held. At the Conference, there were two items on the agenda that have been hotly contested within the whole United Methodist Church: 1) Whether or not covenanting ceremonies for homosexuals/lesbians could be performed in United Methodist Church sanctuaries; and 2) Whether or not self-confessed homosexuals/lesbians could be ordained as ministers. Its my understanding that the majority of the delegates at Annual Conference voted in favor of these two items.
As a result of the Annual Conference, members in our congregation wanted to know how delegates from our church voted. Our Sr. Pastor decided to have an all-church meeting and invited everyone to come and hear about the issues. Meetings were held in two consecutive evenings. We have three pastors at our church. Our Sr. Pastor is generally recognized as the primary spiritual leader and carries the most respect and authority. All three pastors were going to speak on the issue, with our Sr. Pastor taking the lead, opening discussion. I have considered him to be a great pastor, who stays with traditional, biblical teachings.
Although I knew that these issues were developing a big split in the UMC, it seemed remote and didn't affect my church or me. I knew enough about it to form my own opinions and the Holy Spirit had already been working hard on me with teachings on sexual sin. (Separate story, but He had been busy removing a log from my eye on my own sexual history and my broken marriage.)
Our Sr. Pastor shocked and surprised many people, including the church staff and his family, but came out that evening in 'lightly embracing' homosexual marriages. As a pastor, he wanted to have a compassionate alternative counsel for those homosexuals who are truly committed to each other to live an acceptable lifestyle. He didn't want to have to counsel homosexuals that their life had to be one of celibacy. Our two associate pastors appeared to me openly delighted with this new stand. Our Children's Ministries Pastor has a homosexual brother and a homosexual son and told the congregation about her pain and their pain. The new pastor's stand was one of trying to make the case that the Old Testament doesn't really apply anymore and that Jesus didn't say a word about homosexuality and how Peter had a vision that made all things clean.
We were literally a split church overnight.
Many of us felt so wounded. We couldn't believe what had just happened. We all (separately and collectively) began having meetings with our Sr. Pastor, writing him letters, sending him e-mails, calling him. Members reactions were varied: outraged, hurt, and disgusted, as well as supportive and happy. I am amazed that, for the most part, the other two pastors seemed to me left out of the whole struggle, as if it's a foregone conclusion that they are too far gone to worry about or their opinions don't really matter all that much.
One of the women leaders in our church organized a prayer meeting about a week after and gave those she knew were hurting a chance to voice their opinions more and we prayed a great deal. The people who came for the most part were the ones hurt and outraged. Our Sr. Pastor came and spoke a bit more at the end. One thing that he said was that he was acting out of compassion for the homosexuals and that this stand felt good so that it must be from God and to please give him credit for knowing what is from God. He also stated that he thought about nothing else for about a week before the meeting, that he had immersed himself in the issue.
At the end of the evening, we joined hands in a circle and prayed again. I was standing next to our pastor and just sobbing my eyes out. At the end of the prayer, I told him that I thought God was leading me away from the church. He said to me, "So, is this goodbye?" It didnt sound very loving to me and I suddenly changed my mind and thought, "I'm not leaving, after all. I'm staying to fight this. Oh, my Dear God, I am going to be an in-your-face person, arent I? You knew, Lord, You knew. Thank you for making me the fool in the job interview. What would have happened if I had taken the job and then found myself at odds with all of the pastors and some of the other staff? What a disaster that would have been! I thank You, Dear God, that you are absolutely sovereign. All praise be unto You!"
Out of that prayer evening, there were four of us women who gathered together one night to talk some more. As the evening wore on, we felt we were led to take a stand and stay in the church and fight. I'm not sure of the others, but I felt just a touch of the awesome power of the Holy Spirit that night as I was praying for boldness and to make our church a shining beacon for Jesus. It felt as if the heavens opened up for just a brief moment and poured strength on me. So, I was convinced God would like me to stay and fight the fight for truth that sets us free. Maybe I ought to go back and look at that passage from Ezekiel again.
I have always HATED politics. I have stayed as far as possible from them, other than to vote in public elections! Now, here I find myself in a very political fight. It's hard for me to believe. I guess it's the cause that drives some people into politics.
Last fall, our Sr. Pastor notified the church that he had changed his mind and was returning to his traditional stand on homosexuality. (It is sin and people of the homosexual persuasion should practice celibacy.) He seems very sincere, but also said he is tired of apologizing for being a weak leader during this crisis. Praise Our Most Gracious Father!
I see that our Sr. Pastor is trying to rebuild our church into a united congregation. Yet, alas, we are still split. The other two pastors still appear to me to have their agenda in front of them and many of us still are licking our wounds. Our conference has indicated the way that they want to go and it affects my church.
My own human response has been what an animal would do: fight or flee. I have alternatively done both, but my first natural response is to fight. And fight I do. I wish I could say that I dont go looking for a fight, but I have. Im reading things into what is said, whom its coming from, etc.
Lord, forgive me for I have sinned (again!). You sent your precious Son to die for me, to reconcile me with You, to reconcile me with Your other precious children. And I have come to recoil at the word reconcile. There are people who have chosen to use the word to mean that we accept homosexual acts as sinless and want to celebrate it in Your sanctuary and in Your pulpits. You have stated in Your Word that homosexual acts are abominable, so when words like reconciling and inclusiveness come at me, I have come to hate them. I have a difficult time loving the people that say them. I dont want to invest time and energy into loving them. I want them to leave. I want to "throw out the baby with the bathwater." Forgive me and show me Your way to deal with this.
What has happened? When I was a child the church spoke about sin and death and the fallen nature of man and how Jesus can show us the way back. It spoke about how we can be saved from the death that our own ways lead us to. It spoke about the joy you can find in Christ. And how when you find the joy you naturally want to share it with others.
But I walked away from Christ about the time that I was a senior in high school. I stopped hearing the words of redemption and healing, because I left where they were being spoken. I went the way of the world. Fortunately, God never left me and I was led back by the faithful Holy Spirit.
In the interim, something happened to the church. Today, I see a church that is very divided over what scripture actually says. I want the United Methodist Church to show the way. There is only one way to God. Its not an easy way, for we have to give up ourselves. And we absolutely cannot listen to the false things of this world.
Our culture is sick. There is perversity all around me. I have two children that I am concerned for. At school they deal with drugs, violence, theft, pornography, cross-dressing, homosexuality. How can they learn in this environment? Im trying to raise them to be solid Christians.
Where is my help?
If the United Methodist Church does not stand on the rock of Jesus Christ and the Authority of Scripture and the Book of Discipline, where can I go for help? If the United Methodist Church does not hold the entire church accountable, where can I go for help? What will happen to the other mainline churches? They are facing the same problems.
Thank God I have the Holy Spirit. He teaches me alone in my bed at night, reading the Bible. He put a passion in my heart for His Word for a reason. He put fire in my spirit for a reason. I am a strong person, and the Lord will strengthen me more. Somehow, the Lord will see me through the teenage years of my children.
But what about the entire laity attending United Methodist Churches across the nation? Have they all accepted Christ and been given the Holy Spirit? And who will teach them the whole gospel truth if some of the pastors dont believe it and teach it? Lives are at stake here. This is serious!
The Holy Spirit led me to a book recently, which contained the sentence "I am raising up an unlikely leader." I felt these words were meant for me. O.K., Im a leader of sorts. I was a cheerleader in high school, I lead Bible studies, and I speak out in classes, in committee meetings and at work. People in my classes have been changed for the better (not by my doing, but His). A couple of people have stomped out angry, though (not by His doing, but mine). The word unlikely is pretty humbling, though, huh?
Well, I am pretty unlikely. When I speak out, I want to turn to some kind of list of my credentials and I dont have any. Who am I? Im just a sinner who is living with the after-effects of her sin, but thrilled that God loved me personally and has put me in a place where I might be of some use by God. Anything I know theologically, therefore, is not from me, but from God. Im so unlikely, that I have a hard time believing some of the things God is telling me actually apply to me.
But I do believe the truth of Scripture. I dont pretend to understand it all and I may not like some of it, but I do know its the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And I love it with all of my heart.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
May we remain in Him, who provides for us and shows us His ways. Lord, please show your other faithful servants and me, called to this task of reviving the Gospel, what to do. May we find each other and put the whole body back together with Christ as the Head. Amen.
Cathy A. Bihler
[Click] button If you would like to add your to the UCM Article
<Back to News