Recent comments by blogging friends have kept me thinking on some things. One thing that William said has stuck with me (commenting on "How Will They Know?).
"In coming out, we have made a good first step, and I think it remains unclear how God will use us now as salt and light. In my case, I think my saltiness can only improve, since being a church Christian was not making me very acceptable, influential or impressive to people around me. I have long understood that about myself, but was powerless to effect change. Perhaps now, God will be free to create in me the image he wanted to begin to create 38 years ago, before I made the mistake of starting to attend church."
I have been struggling with my new "identity" in being an out-of-church Christian, since so much of the understanding of what being a Christian means is tied up in church attendance. In fact, millions of un-believers call themselves Christian simply because they attend a church. So it was interesting that yesterday, after reading this comment, I found myself in conversation with a woman at work.
I don't believe this girl is a believer. She is, however, a faithful, church going Catholic. We talked about plans for the weekend, and I told her I would be attending a conference in Ohio about House Church. That opened up a huge door for a conversation around my faith, church history, what "Church" really is, etc. etc. And we made plans to have lunch today.
In restrospect, I see how very insightful William's response is. For one thing, it ehoes my own frustration of many years in church. I did all the "right" things; I was there, as the saying goes, "whenever the doors were open". I was involved in nearly every "ministry" going. I did countless Bible Studies. I took extra courses. I went to prayer meetings. I read my Bible every day, and suffered appropriate guilt if I didn't (tongue in cheek here). I made every effort to drag people into church for services and special events. I tried numerous strategies to make opportunities to talk about my faith. I posted scriptures up around my desk, and for a time had a "religious" screensaver on my computer at work. I talked about "church" whenever possible, with the hopes that talking about it would lead into talking about God.
I did all of these things in the sincere hope that God would "use" me. And I know that He has, many times, over the years. Yet I have been frustrated. I have felt restrained somehow, as though I had to remain in a certain "role", and couldn't simply be myself. As though I couldn't simply love people without having an agenda attached. As though I had to be so careful in how I responded to them, and must always give the "correct" (Biblically referenced) response to whatever part of their lives, or questions about things important to them, that they shared with me. I'm sure many can relate to this.
(I in no way want to discredit spiritual disciplines as a necessity in the life of a believer. They are the ways and means that God by His Spirit transforms us, teaches us, and empowers us to live a victorious, God glorifying Christian life. They can, however, become such a focus that they obscure the beauty and necessity of a heart to heart, intimate walk with Jesus.)
Lately, however, I am happy to say that it is as though I am climbing out of the cocoon of my wrong understanding of what God wants me to be. I am making the wonderful discovery that He simply wants me to be myself! How incredibly liberating this is! Apparently, He can use me in spite of the fact that I don't have all the answers, and I can't quote scripture at the drop of a hat. In fact, it seems as though just being honest with people, and walking in this incredible new freedom, and the joy that accompanies it, might just make people more comfortable around me. Perhaps now the first thing they think when they see me won't be "Oh oh, better watch my language". Perhaps they might see that I am not all that "religious", but that I know something they don't. Or that I know Someone they don't know. And they might just ask me the reason for the hope that is within me, without my having to sneak it into the conversation.
A dear friend gave me a list yesterday. It was a hand-out she had received from Sunday service at church. I think the title had to do with how to grow close to God, or something along that line. As I glanced over the first few "guidelines" that were listed, I automatically began to score myself as to whether I were doing those things or not. It seemed that I was, just naturally. I turned the page over to read the rest, then suddenly felt a familiar sense of not-quite-condemnation, maybe closer to fear, but most certainly a pressure to perform. As though I were standing in front of the teacher, having just handed in my exam, and not sure if I had passed,was holding my breath, waited for the axe to fall. So I stuffed the list into my Bible. It seemed to pose a threat to me somehow; perhaps as a reminder of how I have lived most of my Christian life (and before that, how I lived my Catholic religious life).
I think that list represented the power that I have given to others in my walk with the Lord. I have let them dictate the standards I should live by. I given them permission to "score" my performance as a Christian (and it has been a performance, in many ways). There have been many people that I have granted this authority too, believing that I should submit to a variety of godly, wise, and mature Christians, living and dead, whose stamp of approval I thought I needed.
Lately, however, I have been enjoying a season of unlimited acceptance. God has said to me "all of Heaven is open to you". Clearly. I heard Him speak it to my heart. There is nothing and no one between He and I. I never want there to be anyone or anything standing in the way again. I have His word, His Spirit, His love and acceptance in Christ. There is no other authority but His in my life. This is a wonderful reality, and I cherish this newly realized freedom most dearly.
So William, thank you for sharing. I look forward to hearing how God works through your life, and brings you into increasing freedom in Christ. I pray that more and more people will come into an understanding of what it means to walk free of religion. One step at a time, by God's grace.