So this past weekend was the world-wide event known as IF:Gathering. Actually, I hesitate to call it an event because it’s more like a movement, or a gathering, equipping and unleashing of women for the Glory of God and the good of all people – oh wait, I guess that’s their tag-line, so that pretty much explains what IF:Gathering is. What an honor and a privilege to be able to host what is known as an IF:Local, along with 6 other wonderful servant-hearted women who love Jesus and love people. We gathered around tables with about 50 women for two days of teaching and discussion, wrestling with questions about faith and the believing-life and anything else that needed sorted out.
I have learned so much from the IF:Gathering content and I love how those involved have invited me to see and experience Jesus and the Bible in new and unexpected ways. The Gathering is always an interactive experience, which I think helps the things we hear in the teaching segments sink deeper into our bones, as we engage the content right away with those sitting at the table with us. Somehow it makes what we’re hearing more personal and it sticks better and longer.
But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is something that has not really been talked about all that much, if at all. I know IF:Gathering makes an effort to make this experience one that is not tied to one particular denomination or theology, with the vision of finding common ground in the places that matter most (Jesus!) and letting go of everything else. This has been incredibly refreshing and life-giving for me. While I may not have agreed theologically with everything I heard, I am choosing not to focus on what we don’t agree on. I want to take the things I heard that God was using to speak very specific things to me and let them burn deep into my heart. Furthermore, I am also choosing not to reject out-of-hand the things I may not have agreed with or the things that raised questions for me – I want to hold those things with open hands, as I ask God to show me what is true, and pure, and from His Heart, and whether this is an area He want to grow me in. I want to remember that my perspective may be different from other’s perspectives, and that simply because they’re different, it doesn’t mean that either is necessarily wrong. This is probably one of the biggest shifts for me since I’ve attended several conferences and events that embrace multiple denominations and theologies – that there is more than one way of seeing any one thing.
When you grow up believing that anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the way you do, or practice Christianity mostly the way you do (think rules and standards), or doesn’t have it figured out quite the way you do, then “they” are the enemy and “they” are dangerous. Well, I’ve found out that “those people” are not the enemy of me and if they’re dangerous, they are probably dangerous for me in a good way, in that they mess with my golden little pet theologies in all the best ways. I have come to love and appreciate diversity, and the unity that comes in embracing the different ways God has called us to live out our lives and our faith in Christ. This is what IF:Gathering has embodied for me – this embracing of each other, of affirming and celebrating where and how God has called each one of us in, as Mary Oliver puts it, this “one wild and precious life.” In short, I’ve fallen in love with the Church of Jesus Christ with its many, many beautiful dedicated followers of Jesus who are bringing God’s Kingdom to earth through their reflection of Him in their every-day walking-around life. The Church is alive and vibrant and beautiful, regardless of what its many flaws and short-comings may be, and regardless of how we may think that should look. The Holy Spirit is at work all around the world (that would be everywhere, folks!) and we are all invited to join Him in that work, wherever we might find ourselves at any given moment. I want to join Him, but I also want to join my fellow-believers, wherever that may be and however that may look.
We must move beyond being afraid of each other and begin to link arms with each other, because we’re all fighting the same battle, not against each other, but against our common enemy, the enemy of our souls. We can’t afford, nor do we have the time, to not come alongside each other to encourage, to bless, to call out the image-bearer, to teach, to equip, to lift up, to give a nudge out of the nest if needed – all of that, for our sisters, and brothers, who are on this journey with us. We must join together, in unity, celebrating our differences and recognizing that God uses those very things to further His Kingdom, not divide it. This brings to mind a very important conversation we were privy to this weekend, one of racial reconciliation and healing. It was so, so good and so very necessary. It was a real picture of precisely what I’m talking about. Not only do we need reconciliation racially, we need reconciliation denominationally and theologically. We need to see each other through the eyes of Jesus, with love and grace and mercy, and Lord knows I need His help to do that!
I loved how our little gathering of 50 was diverse, representing a dozen or more churches in our area, many of them different denominations and with different views on any given issue. It was so beautiful to worship together, to listen to each other’s stories and to encourage each other on the journey that God has each one of us on. We have so much to learn from each other, so much to do together, so much to celebrate together! This was by far the most special part of the weekend for me, sitting with women who love Jesus and are following Him in the way He has called them to follow Him. So I’m over here cheering you on!! Run your race the way God is asking you to run it, and run it well, no matter what that may look like! May we fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. If our eyes are collectively fixed on Him, how much better to run the race He has set before us.