He’s A Wonderful Life

baby jesusThis time of year you will often hear the religious folks say that “Jesus is the reason for the season” but you wouldn’t think it if you have been out in the world over the last few days.  The stores, the traffic and all of the holiday activity makes that notion a bit hazy.

Now that all the shopping, parties and rushing around is over, we have a day to catch our breath. Take a time out from the world. Some of you are enjoying watching children open their presents while you spend time with you family.  It is a day to reflect and maybe think about this day.

The excitement from watching the results of us buying gifts for others arrives and soon it will be over in a flash after weeks of anticipation.  The gifts that were open under the tree will eventually lose its excitement and our days will find its way back to the routine of our lives.  We are reminded that the gifts aren’t what makes us happy but it is the relationships with the people we care about that last.

In spite of the evidence we see, the birth of Jesus is the reason we have Christmas. No, it isn’t his actual birth date and there has been a lot of pagan rituals mixed in over the years but the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago was the most significant birth in the history of the world. Of course today people get so easily offended if you say anything about Him or wish someone a Merry Christmas.

That’s crazy. The birth of Jesus shouldn’t offend anyone. The problem is the people who try to sell Jesus or push their version of Him on people.

You can have a relationship with Jesus without having to be super religious. Sadly too many religious folks give Him a bad rap. Don’t be turned off by the crazies. You don’t have to act weird to have a relationship with Him.  He wants to have a relationship with us.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is the gift that many fail to open but can be the greatest gift of all. I won’t lie to you, your problems won’t be over but it will be different. I can’t possibly convince you with my words, you have to experience it yourself.

My own life has revolved around the church and being taught about Christ. It has just been the past ten years that my relationship with Him has changed and evolved into a more personal experience rather than the emotional cheerleader experience of the previous years. I have found a God that you don’t have to yell and scream (or speak in tongues) at to get His attention.  It has been a gamechanger for me.  I like this version of Jesus much better and He is more like the one I read about in the Bible.  No, my life hasn’t been perfect and I haven’t always done the right thing but life with Christ has been wonderful for me. His grace and mercy has helped me through the many ups and downs and twists and turns in my life.

The birth of Jesus is a gift to us from God.  2 Corinthians 9:15 says “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Would Jesus Wear A Jesus Tie?

Ever been around someone who is extreme or gung ho about Jesus? Yep, I can see your eyerolling right now.

I have recently been around someone like this and it’s annoying.

I have no problem with someone being excited about their relationship with Jesus but some folks take it a bit too far. Believe me, I have been around people who were the extreme before and would take any conversation and direct it back to talking about the Bible or Jesus. It’s just too much. I have also seen people who get wound up about their Jesus experience and later when they had a situation where God wasn’t as good to them all the time that they flamed out.

There needs to be a proper balance in one’s relationship with Christ. Let’s don’t embarrass Him and make His work even more difficult than it already is. I can tell you that it does more harm than good to be all gung-ho about your Jesus experience.

I worked with a lady once who wore an assortment of Jesus pins, played an audio Bible or preaching in her office all the time and was just all out there about her religion. People would go out of their way to avoid her. She also had a rotten attitude. She was difficult to deal with. Now what good did all those Jesus pins and preaching do?

I was in a meeting recently when I looked across the room to see someone wearing a tie with John 3:16 all over it. Is that really necessary? How is that “witnessing”? It is unbelievable how these folks are clueless as to the effect they are having on others. In their minds, they think it is a “tool” for witnessing to others. They think if they show Jesus or advertise Him in some way that they will come to Him. I hate to tell you but it repels people and having the opposite effect.

The thing that speaks to people isn’t that you wearing Jesus pins or ties. It is how you live. People look at your life, not your Jesus billboards. Let’s just stop this nonsense and just be a good person. Be a person with integrity. Do the right thing and treat others fairly.

I can tell you that I have never been the kind of person that puts Jesus up in people’s face. If you ask me I will tell you but I am not going to slap you in the face with my John 3:16 tie. Jesus doesn’t expect that from us. Yes, He did say to go into all the world and preach the gospel but He never meant for the gospel to be a sideshow. The world needs more people who are decent and have integrity in how they live. They don’t need another Jesus freak.

Many years ago when I was in the Air Force and serving in a remote location we had this guy that was the extreme. If you asked him about the weather he would turn that conversation into something about God. He was quite difficult to be around. You couldn’t carry on a normal conversation with him ever. He also thought it was his job to knock on my door every Sunday to remind me to go to the chapel. One morning I had enough, I answered the door and told him – in a nice way – that I had grown up in church all my life and really didn’t need him reminding me about going to the chapel. I asked him to live in the real world with the rest of us. He stopped knocking on my door but he continued to live life in the heavenly realm. He was the classic example of people who are “too heavenly minded but no Earthly good.”

We are not clones of Jesus walking around here. We are humans and real people with real problems. We need to relate to people, not scare them off. If you are going to wear your Jesus flair, you’d better live the example of what you are advertising.

When Your Day Gets Screwed Up

Yesterday I discovered a screw in our tire. It changed my entire day. I had plans that were altered by a metal screw on the road.

I didn’t fuss at God about it but I was very frustrated and unhappy about the situation. I am human just like everyone else so I didn’t exactly sing a song.

I really didn’t have time to think, I went into action mode. I changed the tire to the temporary spare and took the tire to the nearest tire store. I had more bad news when I was told that the tire could not be repaired and my other three tires also needed to be replaced. I didn’t have $700 in the budget for new tires. It’s not something you enjoy spending money on. Unless you are a car person, buying tires doesn’t exactly spark joy.

In the hours I had to wait, I had a chance to wind down from action mode and settle my anxieties about the whole thing. I had a chance to be thankful even when it screwed up my day. At least the flat tire didn’t leave us stranded somewhere on the road or result in a dangerous blowout. I was thankful that it didn’t happen to my wife either. Although it screwed up my day, the timing worked out in spite of the inconvenience of it.

It is often difficult to deal with the unexpected things that happen to us. Some folks want to immediately get mad at God. God doesn’t do stuff to us. Sometimes we just simply drive over a screw in the road which was dropped by some construction worker. Stuff happens. I don’t think there is anything spiritual about that.

I’m definitely not the model example of how to handle a screwed up day. My mind is always planning so when something unplanned happens, it temporarily throws me until I can adjust to it. It’s not always easy and I wish I handled these times better.

The Bible tells us not to be anxious about things and let God’s peace rule our hearts and minds. Well, that’s a nice thought and so easy to say when you aren’t going through something. You feel a bit scrambled and unsettled. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the person that is so holy that I can keep a calm attitude with my hands in a praying position when crappy things happen. I do think that the peace eventually settles us down.

So maybe the day didn’t go as planned. Perhaps I can learn something from it. It is certain that I can do a better job tapping into that peace.

When your day gets screwed up, remember that God isn’t mad at you. Do what you can to adjust quickly to the change and realize that there are things which we can’t control. That’s just life. We have to remain grateful in the midst of strife and discontent. No, it isn’t easy but it is certain we will have opportunities that will test us.

Which Way Is The Slant?

When I was growing up in the church I would always hear my dad as well as other preachers in our church talk about “rightly dividing the Word of God”. This always meant understanding what the Bible said about a specific subject and not only take just one Bible verse to base an opinion on.

In later years I learned that we weren’t exactly “rightly dividing” anything but more like slanting it in the direction of how we felt about something. One example was our church teaching on wearing jewelry. Throughout most of my life we were taught that the Bible was against the wearing of any jewelry – even wedding rings. However, in the 1990s there was a change in that “understanding” about jewelry. When that happened the crap hit the fan and even caused a split in the organization over it. When the church changed its stance on the jewelry my local pastor at the time refused to accept it and was against it. So you had preachers who would slant the jewelry issue in the way that they felt about it personally – not rightly dividing the Word as they liked to say.

Over the years, I have seen how people will slant their interpretations about what the Bible says about various subjects. People will totally astound you with these opinions they have from divorce and remarriage to the Sabbath. It gets a little crazy. I have known preachers who have been rigid against divorce and condemning people to hell over it but when their child got a divorce they changed their slant and were more “enlightened” about the subject. So does God change? Does the Bible change?

That’s why it is so important that we don’t simply accept every word a preacher or teacher at church tells us without studying it for ourselves. Anyone will slant a subject according to their belief but the only true way to rightly divide the Word is to keep an open – not an empty – mind and balance everything out. God doesn’t expect us not to use our brains. That’s what He gave us to use.

I’ve had people who didn’t agree with me to say that I was being deceived. People who don’t agree with you and will say all kinds of junk to sway you to agree with them. You have to be disciplined and level-headed about knowing what God’s Word is saying to you.

People always use 2 Timothy 2:15 that says “Study to show yourself approved” but they always stop there. It continues by telling us to be approved by God. Not a church or preacher. God is the ultimate approval we seek not the personal slant of others.

You can never just take one Bible verse and make a doctrine or religious rule about it. You have to read all the verses before it and verses after it as well as how it was interpreted from its original language. The customs of the times and the people of the time it was written.

It always amazes me about people who will quote the Bible yet they don’t read the Bible or have any understanding of it. You can’t be an expert about God if you don’t know Him or know what He has written in His book.

We all have our unique experiences, frames of reference and education. We have to be careful how we represent what God has said in His Word. We must work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12) seriously so use caution about so-called experts about the Bible.

Ephesians 4:14 warns us about the slant. We shouldn’t be babies about God’s Word and not be swayed by every teaching or how people can scheme us with their craftiness and deceit in their scheming. No, not everyone is trying to scam us but always consider the source of the teaching. There are some smart and educated people out there teaching God’s Word but having degrees in Theology doesn’t make someone an expert if they don’t have a relationship with God themselves.

Watch out for the slant.

You Are Not A Nobody

It’s easy to get lost in a world of billions of people.

One person.That’s all you and I can be.

There are celebrities and professional athletes that standout in the crowd in our world. Most of us don’t. We are the ones who seem invisible to the world around us. We work our jobs and live our lives hoping we have enough paycheck to pay our bills. It’s a routine that I often get tired of doing.

You and I may have times that we feel that we are nobodies. We aren’t rich and we aren’t famous for anything. Honestly I wonder sometimes how some celebrities became famous.

The good news is that our creator says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) That sounds pretty awesome but what does that mean to us? It means that God knows us intimately and personally. There is nothing about us that He doesn’t know. He even knows how many hairs we have on our head. (Luke 12:7) That can sound pretty unsettling that someone can know us that well.

it’s nice to know weren’t aren’t a nobody. He’s even interested in us talking to Him too. I know there are times when my voice either isn’t heard, not important or drowned out by others but God hears us and He’s interested in the details of our lives.

If you aren’t into God or the Bible, you still aren’t a nobody. Who you are is important. We all have the ability to make the world around us a better place. You don’t have to be the worlds’ definition of being a somebody. We can all make or break someone’s day. Being nice isn’t that difficult but it seems to be in short supply.

We may feel lost at times but we can find our direction. Sometimes we have to find our purpose. We all have a purpose for being here. We don’t have to be a nobody. We can be somebody with a purpose.

Don’t know what your purpose is? There is no need to stress out about it. It will find you. Don’t force it or allow someone to tell you what you should do. I was a bit anxious when I was growing up that I had to be a preacher since my father and grandfather were both preachers in the family. I was even named after my grandfather. I tried it but it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t me. Then I realized that the calling to be a preacher wasn’t something that was hereditary. Believe me – it takes a special type of personality to be a preacher. I realized that I did not possess that personality and did not have that calling. I had to be me. I couldn’t be another Milton Sweat or Billy Hooper.

Don’t let people make you feel like a nobody. People are quick to judge and classify you based on outward things such as your job, money, looks, etc. People can only make you feel like a nobody if you let them. Don’t give them the power to do that. You know you. If they really care about you, they would treat you right. Always remember that people’s opinion of you doesn’t mean they are right.

Let people think what they want. Let them underestimate you. Just be you. You can’t be anybody else. Something you say or do can change make an impact on someone’s life. Look for opportunities to do that today.

I’m Not A Christian…I’m A Believer

believerYes, there is a difference.

I was raised in a church/religious home and was told that we were “Christians”.  Tell someone you are a christian and see what kind of reaction you get.  It isn’t a positive response, especially today.

Many years ago when I went with a fanatical group on an Israel tour of the Holyland, our guide told us that people who believe in Jesus over there don’t referred to themselves as “christians” but “believers” because there is a history of bad things with Christians such as the crusades.   He said they were called believers.  I liked that and I have adopted that change in terminology since then.

Honestly Christians have really given God a serious public relations headache.  My wife and I passed a guy recently who was preaching and condemning anyone who walked by.  Yeah, that’s really getting the job done.  I’m really sick of Christian people embarrassing God and making things more difficult for the rest of us who aren’t the weird, radical fringe.

It’s not about a church either.  Been there done that and had the church flag to prove it.

It’s about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s it.  Either you believe in Him or you don’t.  I’m not going to get in your face and yell at you.  I’m not even going to debate you.  If your mind is set against it then what words could I possibly use to convince you?  Really, unless you have a relationship with Christ, how can you possibly know?  This is something you have to experience.  I can’t open my Bible app and read you the thees and thous and hope that some spooky magical spiritual spell will cause you to turn from your heathen ways.

I was in the weirdness of a church for way too many years.  It wasn’t until I left that I was able to remove all the clutter that separated me from a true personal relationship with God.  It wasn’t in the yelling, tongue-speaking or Bible quoting but in the stillness of God’s presence.  It isn’t some Eastern meditation crap either.  It’s discipline to sit still and actually listen to God.  It’s not about asking a bunch of stuff for Him to do either.  I had to unlearn a lot of things I was taught and a lot of things I thought I knew about God to finally find who He is to me.

I’m a believer.  Pure and simple.  If you don’t like it I’m not going to hate you for it.  This is me and who I am.

Church.  I don’t need it.  Shocking I know.  I spent many years doing the church thing and feeling worse when I left then when I walked in.  I’m done with that feeling and not going back to that.  I’m not saying church isn’t important.  Some people need it.  Whatever folks need to survive I am not going to judge.  Some people need a preacher to stand up behind a pulpit to give their interpretation of the Bible.  I have learned that people will slant it the way they want.  That’s human nature.

I believe that God loved this world so much that He sent His son to die for my sins.  Now I can’t explain everything about God.  How can God have a “son” and how the Holy Ghost is a part of this trinity?  Sometimes you just can’t explain everything.  I save the theological debates for people who are into that kind of thing.   I don’t have a doctorate degree in theology.  My only experience is my own and real life.

You can think what you will about all of this but you haven’t walked in my shoes.  No, I’m not perfect and I have sinned.  We all have.  I have done the stone casting before the stones fell back on me.  Christians have a difficult time admitting that they are wrong.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here with the definitions of Christian and Believer.  To me there is a difference.   When I Google “Christian vs. Believers” there are a lot of folks out there who score the term “Christians” higher on God’s food chain than “Believers”.  I know the difference.  I have lived it.  I want no part of Christian.

Sorry if I rocked your boat about this.  That’s okay, I believe that Jesus can walk on water to pull you back into the boat.

 

When You Have Been Hurt By The Church

Church is supposed to be a safe place. A positive place. A place where you gather with God’s people. There are some good churches out there but unfortunately there are bad ones that hurt people.

If you’ve been hurt by the church, I feel you. I have felt the pain of being burned by a pastor, church leader or fellow believer. It hurts bad. It’s not a hurt you can easily overcome. I recently drove by a church sign that had the message “If you have been hurt by the church we’re sorry”. It was quite an unexpected message on a church sign but I was impressed by the honesty of it.

Having been hurt by the church myself, one of the most important things I can tell you is not to let it affect your relationship with God. Instead of hindering it, let it motivate you. Now, this isn’t easy. I won’t lie about it. It can be difficult to separate God from the church.

The church is made of people and people aren’t perfect. They can disappoint you. Unfortunately we tend to hold church folks to a higher standard than other people and when they fail us, we are dealt a blow. That blow can defeat us if we aren’t careful.

People can be cruel. Yes, even church people. I have had church people fuss at me for sitting in their pew. At another church I greeted people as they entered. I had to deal with some grumpy ones who would complain about anything and some would even complain to me about the pastor.

One important thing I realized about church people is they don’t really know you. They might think they know you but they don’t and they often have their own ideas about you based on the few hours each week you are at church.

If you are to remain faithful to your church you have to be good at forgiving because you will have to do it a lot. You will also have to have a realistic expectation of others. Realize that people fail and will let you down but don’t let it bring you down with it.

If you finally decide to give it up, it doesn’t mean you have to give up God either. I know this goes against what people will tell you but you can still have a relationship with God and not go to church. How is this possible? Discipline. It takes a lot of self-discipline. You have to be personally committed to your relationship with God. It is a PERSONAL experience.

Pastors and church people will make you feel guilty for not going to church. They will use the verse “forsake not assembling yourselves together” but it isn’t a commandment. It does you no good to force church on yourself out of guilt when you’ve been hurt. You don’t need to add more hurt on top of what you already have endured.

If you need church and you have been hurt by it, take a break or visit other churches. Don’t be afraid of taking time to heal. Being hurt by “God’s people” is not to be taken lightly. God understands and He can heal.

if you’ve been hurt by the church, don’t let it jade you. Don’t cast your net of hurt upon all churches. Focus on your personal relationship with God so that is more important than any church.

If you are in the church, don’t guilt trip people who are hurt. Give them some space. Love those who have been hurt. Don’t do it for the motive of getting them back to church, do it out of love for the person.

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8

WAIT!

waitThat’s a four-letter word.  I don’t like it.  Waiting isn’t an easy thing to do when you see the goal you want to reach.  Being still and patient takes a lot of discipline.  I haven’t always been good a waiting.

So what’s up with waiting?  Is it a game that God plays with us?

Many thoughts go through you mind when you are put on hold. Believe me…I  have been in many holding patterns during my lifetime.  In the end, after that waiting has passed and I look back on it I see why I had to wait.  Instead of doing what I thought should be done I usually see how it was better that God worked it out HIS way instead of mine.  I’m sure He gets a good laugh from my plans.

I still don’t like waiting and I never will.

Psalm 27:14 tells us to “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

I can love that verse and quote it all day long unless I’m having to live it.   I have to remind myself of past times of waiting.  I also have to caution myself about making things happen or trying to take matters into my own hands.  Hopefully I have learned how I have either messed up or delayed things longer.   Sometimes you just have to do the hard things to get to the end.

I always quote the Apostle Tom Petty (I’m kidding of course) when he sang “The waiting is the hardest part.”   There is no way to describe the feeling when the wait is over and your answer has come.  In our time of instant communication, instant food and instant conveniences, we are not always capable of having a good attitude when we are forced to wait.

In case you wondered, I am in a position where I am waiting.  My wife and I both are trying to keep positive during this time of waiting.  I may not show it but I have a lot of mental hand wringing going on in my mind about the situation.  It is a situation where I have absolutely no control and all we can do about it is wait.   It’s in these times I try to remind myself of past experiences.  He’s the same God.  We don’t know what He’s doing or why He’s doing it but obviously there is a reason for it.  My feeling right now is that it has to do with timing.  This situation is also dependent upon other people and God isn’t going to force them to do what they don’t want to do.  Pieces have to be moved around and timing is crucial.

You know I would love just to know what’s going on.  I think that’s what makes waiting so hard.  We don’t see what’s going on or how much longer we have to wait.   I suppose that’s why He’s God and I’m not.

I’m sure Job would have liked to know when his suffering was going to end.  I know that Joseph would have liked to know he would eventually be released from prison.  These guys didn’t have the luxury of knowing the whole story like we do now when we read about them in the Bible.  They simply continued trusting God and believing that He would come through for them.

So I wait.  I wonder what will happen next.  Will we reach the goal or will it be changed to something else?  The unknown is scary.  Having no control over the situation makes me anxious but I take heart and only do what I can do.  That’s all we can do when we are waiting.

If you are waiting on something and feeling anxious, hang in there.  Don’t forget to remind yourself of past experiences when God came through for you.  It’s so easy to focus on what we need now and not what God has done before.   What He has done before helps our faith for what we are going through now.

I never like the waiting part but somehow it always works out.

Waiting To Be Remembered

In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, Joseph found himself in prison after he had been falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of rape. When the baker and the butler were in the prison Joseph interpreted their dreams. The baker didn’t have a good result but the butler did. When the butler was restored to his position Joseph had asked to be remembered but he was not and he spent another two years in the prison before he was remembered.

I don’t think we can fully comprehend what he went through because we already know the end of the story. Two years is a long time to be forgotten.

I have spent many times in the forgotten place. Those are some of the hardest times of your life. It is difficult when you are waiting. It doesn’t matter how many times you have gone through this it is just as hard the next time. Experience doesn’t make it any easier.

At this time in my life I am waiting. I hope that I will be remembered. I will have to confess that I am have been discouraged. It is difficult being Joseph in the prison. The hardest thing is to refrain from forcing something to happen. Yes, here we go with that dreaded patience word again. I have already established the fact that I am not very good at waiting but I have also learned how important that patience can be from my own experiences.

I have always heard the cliche that “God is good all the time and all the time God is good”. He is and I don’t dispute that one bit; however, that cliche has always sickened me. Yes, God is good but I’m a little less interested in some Christian cheerleader chant during these forgotten times. When it seems that you are forgotten or your prayers have been forgotten you really don’t want to hear a cliche and it certainly doesn’t seem God is good at the time. I know this doesn’t sound very holy like but I’m being honest. Yes, maybe some people can whistle their way through being in the prison but most of us cannot.

It is hard to continue to go each day without an important prayer going unanswered. Each prayer seems empty. The energy dwindles with each word.

This week I was struggling with the discouragement of being forgotten by God. It seemed that nothing was happening. I was honest to God about what I was feeling. I simply asked for a little encouragement. I didn’t need anything big just a little something to give me a lift. Yesterday, Steven Curtis Chapman released his latest music video for the song “Remember to Remember”. The song reminds us to remember that God had been there when we’ve been on the mountaintops and the times we’ve been in the valleys of our lives. That song hit me right where I needed it. I am often amazed how God can work through a song but He does. No, it wasn’t a huge thing but something I needed and something that will push me on. I may still be in my prison of unanswered prayers but I am not forgotten.

If you are like me, we have to hold on and keep the faith. It isn’t always easy but it is always worth it. Always.

Why I Left The Church (Part 3 of 3)

left_church

In 2010, I left the church. Church had been a major part of my life and my family history for 46 years. I have shared with you in the past two weeks of this series, my experiences of growing up in the church. I do not write about my experience for anyone’s sympathy or for you to pray for me.  I do it to share my journey and how I was able to maintain my relationship with God in spite of these experiences.

There were a lot of things that made life in the church very frustrating for me. I grew in fear of the church and the belt.  It was a very strict and judgmental life.  Someone once condemned me to hell when I slipped and told that I had seen “The Empire Strikes Back” at the movie theater. If you read the “Advice to Members” last week you will know that going to a movie theater was on the list of don’ts. Yet the person who said I was going to Hell had a cable subscription to HBO.  It didn’t end well when I called them out on it.

What I have recounted to you in this series were all contributing factors that led to my point of decision to leave the church. So what was that one thing that caused me to leave the church?

This one thing is something that wore me down over a number of years. It wasn’t just one single event or one moment.  It was a building of frustration. It was the frustration of attending church every Sunday and leaving feeling worse than I did when I came. This cycle repeated every Sunday for many years. The sermons did nothing and the worship changed nothing. It was the most frustrating experience of my life. It was the definition of insanity which is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  Maybe it was just me but I have a feeling a lot of people have experienced this frustration or are currently facing it.

I spent years hearing loud preaching and services where the “Spirit” moved but once the service was over it changed nothing. I hated my life. I told God many times that this wasn’t the life I was meant to live. I fought it and I tried to push my way through, still believing in all the hype. It took a toll on me.

During this time, I went through a divorce and found myself at decision point in my life.  I won’t deny the fact that I was broken and needed to be fixed. One day I went to watch the movie “Robin Hood” at the theater. It was the with Russell Crowe as Robin Hood.  There was a line in that movie nudged me into the course my life would take. Robin Hood’s father said to Robin Hood “Are you ready to be who you are?”

ARE YOU READY TO BE WHO YOU ARE?

I was ready. I made the decision that I was not going back to the church.  The funny thing was that I had expected it would be a struggle and people from the church would do everything possible to reach out to me and pull me back. They did not. It was totally not what I expected and leaving the church was easier than I had ever imagined it would be.  Since I left the church, I can honestly tell you that I am better than I was.  I have a feeling that my frustration probably showed and perhaps it was best that I left.

Of course, when you sort through the pieces of your life and the experiences of the church, you have to sift it and find the things that were good.  Too many people have left churches like I did and went to the other extreme and rebelled against everything to do with the church and God.  For me, I realized that my relationship with God wasn’t the relationship with the church.  No, it wasn’t a perfect experience but if you read about the people in the Bible, they weren’t all perfect either.  They all had their own dysfunctions to overcome.  When I looked back at the past, I was thankful that at least I had a basic foundation of a having a relationship with God even if the church wasn’t the best experience.  One thing I still think about is that there is nothing I can do to change what happened.  There’s no sense to blame anyone for it.  I had to make my own way now.

I always remembered that, although my father was strict, I never remembering him lying or being anything but having integrity in what he did.  Yes, it was always about the church and what the church said growing up but now I had to make my own way.  I had to unlearn some things that were wrong about the church.  I did that but I have tried to do that with the same integrity.  I found myself as living my life as a believer – not a Catholic, Baptist or Pentecostal.

There are two things that helped me more than anything else in this pivotal change in my life.  One was that I remarried a wonderful woman who has become the true definition of what God meant when He created a helpmeet for man.  She has made me become a better version of the me I always wanted to be.  I can not stress how important it is to be with the right person.  It makes a huge difference.

I guess you can read between the lines here and see that I divorced and remarried.  As I told you last week, the church was debating the issue of divorce and remarriage as I left.  I can’t speak for this whole debate or for everyone that has ever divorced and remarried but I can tell you that it was a new world for me.  I was given a second chance to be a better husband and that is something I don’t take lightly.   Regardless of what people may think, you can’t really judge it until you’ve gone through it.  It has been a change for the better.

AbbeyChurchInteriorThe second thing that helped me was a spiritual retreat I took at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  The monastery is under the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) which is more commonly known as “Trappists” monks.  It is currently the full-time home to approximately 48 monks.  I spent a few days with the monks at the monastery and learned a lot about myself and God.  After a lifetime being around loud preaching and Holy Ghost tongue speaking, I had an amazing experience in the quiet and reverence of God.  I will tell you that I’m not Catholic and I know nothing about all the rituals they went through at the monastery but I can most definitely tell you that I have no doubt about feeling the presence of God there.  It was like nothing I had ever felt before.   There were no revival meetings and there wasn’t any tongue speaking or shouting going on.  It was quiet.  It was simple.  I was able to search the depths of my soul.  It takes great discipline to sit in complete silence.  In today’s world of social media and constant noise, it can be a little unsettling to simply sit quietly.  Try sitting quietly for 10 minutes and see how difficult it is.  It can be quite a challenge.

During my time at the monastery, I wrote down some things that I will share with you.  The very first thing was that “The Lord will work out His plans for my life.”  (Psalm 138:8).

One night as I spent a time of silence and searched my soul about my experience with the church and trying to make sense of it all, I took my pen and wrote these words:

“I wasn’t in the weirdness, I was with you.  Loving you and guiding you for your life ahead.  While the man-made ordinances were peculiar, you did learn of me in spite of that.  Your heart became fond of me.  Your desire to server me was above all other things.  That’s where I was.  I never let you down.  Your dependence upon those other things let you down.  Some were true but many were not.  The main things came to the surface.”

Since leaving the church I have visited other churches.  I don’t have a phobia against churches but I refuse to be in bondage to fear of a man-made church.  I have also spent many times alone in churches that are open during my lunch hour.  My “church” is just times I have alone walking nature trails or spending time in a quiet place.  I think church has become too much “stuff”.  It has become a spiritual pep rally or a bunch of activities.  It is no longer simple and just about a person’s relationship with God.  Throughout my life I have seen people who have no clue about maintaining balance in life.  They will get “saved” and then they are extreme Christians and totally gung-ho about it.  Some call them “too heavenly minded and no earthly good”.  I don’t know about that but there can be extremes in anything.  I have also seen people that will only get serious about church when their relative is in jail and they need help from the church.  I guess you could say that I needed a break from all that.

I won’t say that I will never go to church or be a part of another church ever again, I just know that – for now – I am better off without it.  Things are less cluttered and more clearer than they have ever been.

If you are attending church I would certainly not discourage you or tell you to stop.  That’s your choice to make.  I would never criticize anyone for going to church.  That’s not what this series has been about.  This is about people like me who have been disenchanted with the church and those struggling with living a life of frustration.  God more real to me now than He ever was before.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I have kept with me during this journey.  He prayed:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”