In 1974, I walked down the aisle of my church, knelt at an altar and made the choice to commit my life to Jesus Christ. From that point forward, it’s been a crazy journey – one I would never choose to have missed.
However, what I didn’t know in the innocence of my choice that day, was that the most difficult times ahead would often come because of those who attempted to define how I walked that road with Jesus Christ. I lost my mother when I was 28 … that didn’t break me, it only made my faith stronger. I dealt with other personal struggles – none of which were impossible because my faith gave me strength.
No, the worst faith crises came from those who called themselves Christians and insisted on telling me that I wasn’t doing it right.
Do you want a list? Oh, I want to give you one, but these are just highlights and barely scratch the surface of how others have insisted I live out my faith.
1. Let’s start with my mother’s death. Believe it or not, during this entire ordeal, the most outwardly holy and pious Christians we knew told us that our faith wasn’t strong enough and that’s why she died. If we’d had faith as small as a mustard seed, she would have been healed. Thank heavens for our own strong faith and will, as well as an outpouring of love from people, both Christian and non-Christian.
2. Then there was my denomination. I grew up as a United Methodist. Somehow in the midst of the raging political and religious conservatism of the 90s, that denomination was vilified. If you were a Methodist, you couldn’t be a Christian because the denomination was too liberal. Nothing else mattered, the label was enough. To this day, I encounter pious Christians who hold themselves above others based on denominational choices.
3. During the 1990s, I was told that if I was not a Republican, I couldn’t be a Christian, because only extreme conservatives understood what the Christian walk looked like. Any other choice and I was apostate. I even had one person tell me that making a choice for a specific Presidential candidate revealed a person’s Christianity. We still base our judgment on a person’s faith based on their choices for political office.
4. Believe it or not, there continue to be people who insist that unless I read scripture from the King James Version, I can’t possibly be a Christian. There are still certain versions of scripture that when used will cause you to be named as a heretic. The word of God is not to be defined by one interpretation. It is much too big for that.
5. Then there was a day I stood in the sanctuary of my church and was told that no one was really a Christian unless they spoke in tongues. I’d heard this before, but was shocked at the accusation being tossed out at me. I had to be a little more pointed, I could tell, so I looked the person straight in the eye and asked if they were telling me that I wasn’t a Christian. A philosophical belief had just become very personal for him and he had no good answer.
6. The essence of my faith is disparaged by Christians on a regular basis because of disagreements regarding interpretation of Scripture. When I began attending seminary, I knew for certain that I would be exposed to centuries of various interpretations and I’m so grateful for that. What I learned was that there is nothing new under the sun. Even the hottest issues we argue about today created hatred and dissension within faith groups years ago. We’ve learned nothing. It is still easier for a Christian to hate … even me because I choose to believe differently … than it is to listen and to love.
While I say very little about this publicly, I am weary of having to justify myself as a Christian because others define my faith with narrow boundaries.
Jesus Christ came to change that behavior. He exploded the faith of Jews who had created a narrow, negative religion. They had a rule for everything and their rules were more important than the people they were to serve. It was a faith of dos and do nots. It was not a faith that could make great changes in or offer salvation to the world. They had become insular, tightly protecting their beliefs, not trusting that the God of creation could possibly be in control. They were so caught up in their definition of faith that they lost sight of God’s true purpose for them.
We are not here on earth to piously set forth the rules and regulations of Christianity. Even as you quote Paul’s words (which is where you find nearly all of those highly vaunted rules and regulations of Christianity), you miss Paul’s purpose.
The apostle Paul pointed to Jesus Christ in everything he did.
And Jesus points to God.
As Christ-followers, we have to stop insulating our faith – protecting our beliefs. We must trust that the God of creation is completely in control and HE DOES NOT NEED US TO FIGHT HIS BATTLES.
One lesson we should have learned from the Old Testament Israelites is that when they stepped back and allowed God to be in control, the battle was always won. When they asked other groups for help against a particular foe, they lost. When they tried to do it on their own, they lost horribly.
And when they decided to rule themselves using their interpretation of rules and regulations from Scripture, God sent His Son to turn the world upside down. Jesus didn’t come to earth because of some enormous sin that the outside world was committing. God sent Jesus because his own people were so caught up in piously living out their faith that they’d forgotten how to love others … to love those inside and outside their faith structure.
The Israelites were to be a light to the world (Isaiah 49:6). They were to represent the one, true God. They lost their way. Instead of representing God, they presented Him in their image, according to their beliefs.
Jesus said no. To a people whose lives revolved around the Law, when asked which law was the greatest, Jesus told them to love God and love each other (Matthew 22:37). When challenged by those who spent their lives reading and interpreting the Law of Moses (Pharisees), Jesus lived out love.
Love is not narrow. Love is expansive. Love is not defined by rules, it is defined by God who created things we have not yet begun to see, much less understand.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7, NRSV)
I will never be the Christian I’m expected to be. I just can’t do it. I’ve made choices that cause others to question whether my faith is what it should be and that’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t answer to them. The one thing that God promised me from the very beginning of our relationship was that as long as I relied on him, talked to him and loved him (and others), he would help me on the journey. He’s always been right beside me. He’s never failed me. I have sinned and been on my knees asking forgiveness, but love defines our relationship.
So I trust God … yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He’s removed rules and regulations and replaced them with love. He defines my faith. I don’t have to prove that to anyone else. I simply have to live so that others see His love in me.
As you define what a Christian should look like, how they should act, what they should believe and how they should respond to the world, know that I will never live to your standards. My life … my faith is in God’s hands, not yours.
Stop defining faith and start living it. Our faith is love. Perfect love. We can’t let ourselves become Pharisees who shut out the world in order to have a perfect and true religion.
Being a Christian limits me.
Following Jesus Christ who is the beginning, the middle, and the end of my salvation, my faith, and my life … allows me to live in love, without limitations.
It is completely unnecessary for you to attempt to comfort me or stroke my ego for making choices. I’m not looking for sympathy or accolades. This isn’t that kind of a post – it is simply my story and the thoughts that come from living it. My confidence lies within me and is based on one greater than anything I can ever be.
There were a lot of words in this post, but since y’all are readers, I wasn’t too worried. Apparently I had a lot to say.
Here ya go. This is every one of them snuggled up against my leg. It’s pretty wonderful to wake up to this.
Grey is tucked between Earl (on his back) and TB. I’m just out of room.