As you have been reading in my story I was greatly disillusioned by what we called the ‘church’. But that is a good thing because now that my illusions about church have taken a hit, I am ready to see her as she really is-an amazing family from across the earth who are learning to live in Father’s love, surrendered to Jesus’ leading, and connected relationally as his Spirit desires. What a new way to live! What a freedom. I am including 2 chapters this time because 16 is so short. I am hearing from some really great brothers and sisters all over the globe…remember, I invite you to share your thoughts and questions on this blog!! Enjoy!!
Chapter 16: Freedom Emerges
The first thing I noticed on this journey was the absence of guilt. Then one day I actually felt the Lord’s love in a tangible way like never before. How could that be when I was doing absolutely nothing for Him. No longer was anyone telling me that I needed to go to church. I think they had finally given up on me. Nor were they telling me I needed to tithe more, read my Bible more or witness more. But even though I was not doing any of those things I didn’t feel guilty about it.
It wasn’t until this uninterrupted time with Jesus that I realized that in all of the years I was a member of a church it didn’t fulfill my thirst for Jesus. It surprised me that the Holy Spirit could use me in ministry in spite of my own hunger for Him that was not being realized. I was just a vessel He used to reach folks. The religious folks gave me rules and regulations instead of something that gave me life. I followed them because I needed rules to feel in control of my life. Instead of growing in Christ, I was “dying on the vine,” filled with fear, shame and inadequacy. At the same time I projected a picture of being so together that no one would have had a clue. I was totally unaware of what was happening to me. So it led to a breaking down of everything I thought I believed in. Talk about blind and desperate! I was still feeling confused, though quite enjoying the freedom, and I struggled with the fact I wasn’t working for it. I was really free. I knew that because of His grace, unmerited favor, if I never did another thing in my life He would love me just the same as He did at that moment because I am His beloved daughter. Despite my belief that I was alone He had never left me and never will. I know that now.
Chapter 17: Growing up
Sometime in the middle of this desert experience I lost my job due to a set of layoffs with the company I worked for. I had enough money to last me one month. Everywhere I looked for work I was rejected. As time wore on and my money dwindled I became despondent. I certainly couldn’t ask the Lord for help because I had done nothing for Him but complain about my plight. I wasn’t giving. I wasn’t teaching. I wasn’t around anyone else in the community of believers. I had pretty much become an isolated individual. Everyone knows you have to be a good worker for God before you can expect Him to meet your needs. Oh, I knew the bible said that He would be my husband and take care of me, but in my false perceptions I still thought I had to meet His criteria first.
One day a dear friend from a town close by called and invited me to drive up and go to her church with her on Sunday. I politely declined because church was the last place I wanted to be. She gently prodded me until I finally relented. At the church, just after we were seated we saw a woman waving at us. I recognized her as a very mild acquaintance of mine from a previous church I had attended. “Rats” I thought when I saw her approaching our pew. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. When she approached and asked how I was doing, I responded with, “Terrible. I am one week away from losing my apartment and I don’t have a job.” I had an attitude and didn’t care who knew it. She responded with such love and understanding I was so convicted about my behavior I felt even worse. After saying she would pray for me she left. After the service she again approached me and asked if I would do her a favor and come to her home the following week. I said, “Probably not. I have things to do.” She insisted I come and since I didn’t have a job I knew I really didn’t have an excuse to not go, so finally said I would.
The following week I made myself go at the appointed time to this dear sister’s home not knowing what to expect. Upon arriving and being cheerfully greeted by her and her husband they handed me a check that came to the exact amount of my rent. She had no way of knowing what my rent was. I was floored and didn’t know what to say. She then began to explain to me that there was a time in her life that she was in the same place I found myself in. A woman came to her and paid her rent for her to help get her through. It changed the course of her life. She vowed that if she ever met someone who was in the place she had found herself in she would pay it forward and do the same. God made sure it was me.
How could this be? As I drove away from their home I cried to the Lord in shame. “Lord”, I said, “I have done nothing for you. I haven’t been in ministry for years. I haven’t given you a dime of any money I made. I haven’t prayed. There is nothing in my account in Heaven to give you to give back to me. Yet, you are taking care of me in this very real and tangible way. What does this mean?” In my heart I heard Him say, “Precious child, do you think you can earn your way into my good graces? There is nothing you can do for me that will make me love you anymore than I do right now. It is not about what you do for me. You cannot earn my love and promises. I have already done it all for you. It was all done and completed when I gave My life up on the cross to pay your debts. I came to give you life and give you life more abundantly. That is not based on what you do for me. It is what I have accomplished for you to be free.” It was as if I had walked into a brightly lit room with no secret places, only light. I was always taught that God can only multiply what you give to Him, back to you one hundred fold. Since Jesus came we are to be givers but only out of our love for Him and as we feel we want to give and where we want to give. What freedom! He said when we give to the poor we give to Him.
I had been doing everything required of a “good Christian” and still missed out on what it means to know Him and be involved in a best friend relationship with Him. This relationship would transform me to love as He loved because I was coming to know Him in a personal way. Even after all those years of “working” within the structure of the church and including women’s ministries I started and labored in, resulting in much fruit, I was still so blinded to my own issues. But, again I realized I was just a vessel being used by the Holy Spirit to help His sheep. He was just beginning with me. It wasn’t until I lost all, that I conquered my addiction to ministry and gave it all up. I was open for this new adventure with Jesus alone. I had been performing repetitive rituals thinking that doing so would bring me closer to God? How many of us embrace ethical rules or doctrinal issues thinking that doing so ensures God’s blessings? I had let my control issues draw me right into this “club” of control.
At first this period of my life was very disorienting. After years of being steeped in the rules and regulations of organized religion, I still fought with the pull of the “I should be doing somethings.” I was still angry at Christians in general. At first I thought that many were phony in their so-called friendships. But I came to realize that I was judging them, for judging me, which made me just as guilty. It was my choices that brought me to the place of seclusion and aloneness. But even in that God had a plan. He always has a plan. The Christians I had known had issues too and were blinded or simply on a different walk than me. I needed to find forgiveness and apply it in my life and quit blaming my walk on others who hurt me. They were operating out of their own misconceptions. The Lord works with all of us differently. Every time I would ask the Lord about someone else’s walk I would hear Him say, “What is that to you? You follow Me, and don’t worry about them.”
When we stuff God into a box, we take away from His life and power, proclaiming that we are the only ones with the absolute truth thus moving us into judging others. We begin to judge others spirituality and the truth they walk in by the denomination to which they belong. When I read about Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John I couldn’t find where He taught His disciples how to gain a following or build institutions. He didn’t teach them how to meet on Sundays at a certain time with a worship band and a leader to lecture the others. The early church met all over the place–in homes, outside, under arbors. They gathered for fellowship, to eat together and to share the their giftings that had been given to them by God. He didn’t give them a set of rules and behaviors to follow. He told them to build His church of which we are; made up of those that have received Him, A community of believers that we can learn and grow from sharing in each other’s callings. This was very different from my structured religious life. I cringed at how many people I probably imposed this set of rules on in my past “service” years. Lord, forgive my ignorance and acceptance of these teachings without really checking them out in Your words and teachings.
I am a member of the church. If you know Him you are a member of the church. It doesn’t matter where we gather with others who know Him. He said where two or three gather together there He would be in our midst. That is the church in motion. I realized this freedom could be threatening to those who found their security in a religious system. I know it was to me. I felt secure with all the rules, rituals and organization. I felt important to be a part of it all. But it was all man made. I was very intimidated by strong men in ministry because of my back ground having been abused by the most important man in my life at the time. I wanted so much to be nurtured, loved, trusted and accepted by them. But this excessive neediness was based in my need to fill that father role that my earthly father failed so miserably by repeatedly molesting me. I had begun to think that you could trust no man. Unfortunately, the religious system fueled my need by producing some leaders in ministry who needed to be in control of people. I had a difficult time finding that acceptance from those authority figures. So, ultimately I eventually became the maverick in ministry and would do my own thing in spite of what anyone thought. The positive result is that I was willing to risk disapproval by stepping out and doing the things I believed God was calling me to do. I was a risk taker. Unfortunately, it also produced a hostile reaction from many of the church leaders. I had made a huge mistake by assuming that fellowship with believers took place just because we attended the same event together or because we belong to the same local church.
Church happens where people share the journey of knowing Jesus together because we are the church. It consists of open honest sharing, transparency and genuine concern about each other’s spiritual well being, and encouragement for people to just follow Jesus, however he leads them. This opened the door to so many new ways of thinking for me. I had been in a prison and was just learning what it means to walk in freedom and grace. Think of the possibilities.
If you really think about it, how can we be the light in the midst of darkness if we don’t go out into that darkness? How can we be the salt that makes people thirsty for God if we aren’t out there in the midst of the needy people? If we are only in our buildings each week and think that is enough, how does that get you, the church, out into the marketplace? So, why not take the church (us) out into the market place so that others can see and desire to live in that kind of community?
For many people who don’t know Jesus Christianity is a joke. They have witnessed Christians treating one another horribly. They watch us kick our wounded when they are down. They watch us judge other religions and what people are doing like we are God Himself and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Then we proclaim that we love one another and that God is love. No wonder so many think it is a lie and look at Christians so negatively.
I think many of us have experienced much pain as we have tried to fit the life God intends for us into a box. Many, like myself, hung in there until the cows came home thinking we could make it better. But we eventually learn that unless we live according to the rules of men and not the word of God the freedom we need to grow in Him is in direct opposition.
Coming soon: Chapter 18: Forgiveness