He gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that we might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. Isaiah 61:1-3
When I felt I had begun to recover from my last church experience, I decided to try the Baptist church down the road. A man from their congregation had come around with flyers a few weeks ago. At the time I thanked the man for ministering to my neighbors as he sheepishly nodded and turned away. I am used to this reaction from church men. As single women in the church, it seems like we are often treated like lepers designed to make a man fall, and set in place for this purpose.
After 29 years of attending many different kinds of churches, I didn’t really feel like trying out yet another church. But something inside told me going to church was the right thing to do, even with the potential conflicts that could, and always did seem to eventually arise. The flyer told me everything I needed to know, the church was close by, and they had listed the services. I performed my little “church test” by calling the number on the flyer. No one was there as it was after hours, so there was no church secretary for me to evaluate. If she was rude, or un-knowledgeable about the church, such things told me a lot. Since no one answered, I left a message. It was the pastor himself who returned my call. This was definitely a good sign. I was very impressed. He answered my questions about tithing, and was surprised that I asked. “Only about 20% of Christians believed in tithing,” he told me (meaning giving the 1st 10% of one’s income to the church by faith), and he had just, coincidentally, finished a whole series on this topic.
When I arrived I found a comfortable spot on a church pew near the back. I looked around and noticed the congregants were dressed up, not as the other churches I had attended which emphasized a “come as you are” approach. I appreciated the music which utilized the hymnal and brought back memories from earlier church days at the Episcopal Church I was raised in. Someone with a warm and friendly smile handed me a visitor’s card, and I proceeded to fill in my personal information, as requested.
In that moment I realized, seeing my own name written down before me, how it had been a name despised. My last church, I hesitate to tell you, was listed some places on the web as a cult. They were authoritative and seemed to write their own rules. In short I, creative Katie, did not fit in. They never got behind the things which God had put in my heart to do for Him. What’s more, I was not ultimately directed by God to join that church, but to form my own music group to worship God, to do animal ministry with my very special and personable cat Elijah, and of course, to be a writer, as well as a recovery advocate for persons struggling with addiction.
This name I saw was not a righteous, but a dirty name, a name that caused trouble, a name I had learned not to like much, a name that some did not want around, as her truth only caused trouble. She was unloved, and undesired. But in this new church, my name shined. I was welcome and wanted. I could still come just as I was, but I wanted to be more. I wanted to dress up for God. I put myself forward and got to know people, following the service. I felt like a better person, and therefore a better asset to God’s kingdom, a necessary one which He had deliberately put here for a purpose.
As I began to muse over this new brighter identity, I seemed to be led to passages in the Bible the following day, which reflected my new-found righteousness. Philippians speaks of the “righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). And in Isaiah 61, God gives his children “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Later in the same chapter, it says “He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
Now wearing my “robe of righteousness,” I am more empowered. What my previous church had robbed me of was the God given “right to be righteous.” Nonetheless, I now know in this moment a righteousness given to me which I don’t deserve and could not earn, a righteous title, and not merely that of “sinner.” My new found self today empowers me to pass up former sins, to be more mature in my daily Christian walk, to take the time to clean my home, which is the dwelling place of one of God’s favored children. Seeing myself as He sees me, I am forgiven, free of the judgments of men, creative and beautiful. I am worthy of the love of my father, not because of anything I have done but because of what He has done for me. I am free from the former constraints of false religions, and free to love those who are walking in error and thereby hate me for speaking the truth.
Due to God’s presence, power and wisdom in my life, I am free to be a better person and imminently have more to offer to other children of His whom He loves. For it is He Who has given us, His saints, a new and better, and a righteous name in heaven and on earth, for the purpose of ministry and for knowing and praising Him in everlasting life, and for now, for the short time while we are here.