But Martha [overly occupied and too busy] was distracted with much serving; and she came up to Him and said, Lord, is it nothing to You that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me [to lend a hand and do her part along with me]! Luke 10:40 AMP
Would the pastor of the typical local church prefer that their congregations be filled with Marthas or Marys? If they were filled with Martha’s no volunteer slot would ever go unfilled. However, with the Martha’s, there might be a bit of quibbling here and there (and everywhere?), but at least the show could go on. When I read Jesus’ response to Martha’s complaint, it caused me to tremble a bit for her and the things built upon her labors.
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; there is need of only one (or but a few) things. Mary has chosen the good portion [that which is to her advantage], which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:41-42 AMP
I was still “attending” church while the Mary in me was growing and I began saying no to various responsibilities. While I still kind of wanted one, I can promise you that just sitting around at the feet of Jesus and listening did not earn a gold sticker from my local 501(c)(3)(church).
A confession is necessary here. I know Martha because I have been Martha. There may still be some Martha in me, but I am choosing the better part (Christ over performance) more frequently. As I watched my local 501(c)(3) using and often wearing out good people, I started asking myself questions, the largest one was, “Is this really church?” That led to another, “What is church?” I didn’t know it initially, but with that question I had become an alien and a stranger (even a threatening enemy) to my local 501(c)(3). Institutional church culture permits you to ask yourself these questions but insists that you do not ask them publicly. Note: if you do, prepare to be unfriended.
When I found myself being censored, I knew my decision to leave the institutional church was being made for me. Most members of local churches have been conditioned to be more respectful of religious cultural strictures and to back up before they get near the boundary I’d inadvertently crossed. Some have learned to thrive (even make a living wage) in the context of traditional Christianity. And some are dying in this same context. Are those dying in the local church rebels, or are they Martha’s God is rescuing from guilt-driven, performance-based religion?
The gulf between the obedient traditionalists and myself continued to grow as I tried to reconcile my experience inside the traditional model of church with the New Testament. It shocked me at how little resemblance there was in either—both in structure and outcome. My research and study was like Watergate. As the Deep Throats continued to feed me incriminating information on the current administration, I was slowly realizing that the cover up went all the way to the top.
If you are happy and believe that you see the congruency of what you are experiencing in your local church with the New Testament, by all means, do not read any of the following Deep Throat Documents; Revolution by George Barna, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church and Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola, The Pastor Has No Clothes by Jon Zens and Neil Cole, So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobson, An Army of Ordinary People by Felicity Dale. On the other hand, if you feel stifled, censored, hungry or thirsty, these informants might save your life. I can also refer you to dozens of others if you are so inclined.
Oh yes, regardless of whether you are a gold sticker Christian or are persona non grata with the local church, by all means, read He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobson. This book reveals the cure for MS (Martha Syndrome), another RTD (Religiously Transmitted Disease). (Note: a brief mention of another RTD, RHSCD, which like MS, impairs hearing, was exposed in Monday’s MwM offering. You can access that at middlewithmystery.com. Past posts are all archived there.)
Once again, a big “thank you” to JLB for the Blue Book. It has been a powerful encouragement to the Marys in many of us—that thing that desired to, and was destined to, know Christ intimately and contribute to the expansion of his Kingdom. (Unfortunately, the Blue Book is out of print. However, its author tells me it may be published later this year. May it be so.)
Father, help us to put on the breaks and ask ourselves those few, simple questions we’ve managed to evade. Help us to slow down and be caught up into the slip-stream of your Spirit where we may cease to labor, where we may simply enjoy you and bearing more fruit than we even thought possible. May you assemble your army from those who have chosen the better part and have armed themselves with the superior advantage of knowing you intimately. May we see your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook explores seven stages (or mansions as he call them) of spiritual growth. Here is a related excerpt from Chapter 6:
“By the time we come to make our home in the third mansion, we have developed a relatively balanced life of discipleship. Regular church attendance and ministry, consistent prayer, a concerted effort to live the Christian life and a genuine desire to please and honor God are all present, evidencing spiritual growth…It is worth observing that the third of the seven mansions is about as far as most churches go in their teaching about spiritual life. It’s an important phase of our growth, and many of us get stuck here. But we will see that there is more, much more… You may feel stuck there now. You may even feel that your church has locked you within its walls, even if you’re its pastor. But the truth is that Jesus, in His love for you, has allowed you to taste more and want more.”
Father, may you convert the lost to believers and the believers into children. Let it be.