Friday, January 8, 2016

The Journey of Being Christian

I became a Christian at age 38, which is now fifteen years ago. In that time, much dross has been squeezed out and I’ve been through many phases in living out my faith.

There was the “must go to church and be in a Bible study phase.” 

Then there was the “giving back” stage, where I took it upon myself to become involved in the Christian recovery movement. 

That led to being enthusiastically involved in evangelicalism: attending the local Lifest rally with all of its cool Christian bands and speakers. Co-mingled with that was a deep dive into conservative causes and politics.

And then, three years ago, I attended seminary. No, I didn’t lose my faith, as many do in the “higher study” of the Bible and God. In fact, I lost my phases

Attending seminary was my capstone, and I not only graduated with a certificate in Biblical Studies, but more importantly, the freedom to simply be a Christian.

I no longer consider myself an evangelical. 

I no longer involve myself with politics other than to listen to the presidential debates in order to make an informed decision at the polling booth. 

I no longer am motivated by the corporate church-imposed mantra to evangelize. 

I no longer attend Christian conferences and seminars. 

And I no longer attend a corporate church (I can’t stop attending church, because the Bible makes it clear that all Christians are the church, wherever we are and at all times.)

This trajectory away from corporate church and programming has grown my compassion, not lessened it.

It has tuned my attention to the insights of Scripture, now purified of a denominational or a pastor’s bent.

It has forced me to take seriously the command to be like Christ and not use excuses such as, “I may have sinned, but at least I’m in church every Sunday.”

I am becoming more other-centered, not less, and am moving from an individual spirituality to one that encompasses the often difficult people and situations I avoided by hanging out with like-minded Christians from my corporate church.

Seminary gave me a great gift: that of learning how to read my Bible. The only thing left now is to read it and live it.

Oh, I was loyal to my daily Bible reading during my past phases. But it didn’t always stick. In fact, in the daily things, like relationships, more often than not they continued to be tainted by obvious sin: impatience, ingratitude, frustration and animosity. The list goes on.

And sure, I may have been serving homeless people in soup kitchens; flying to Mexico and Arizona for mission trips; and participating in a Bible study. But I wasn’t living it in the nitty gritty of life. 

I wasn’t living it when my kids wanted to play Monopoly and I didn’t. 

I wasn’t living it when my reaction to conflict was the silent treatment. 

I wasn’t living it when I maligned people who were a threat (real or perceived) to me or my family. 

But I rang the bells for Salvation Army. I bought the kids of prisoners Christmas gifts. I wrote devotions for church ministries.

God, in his mercy, has admonished me that I must be Christian daily, that that is the only thing on which to hang my hat. 

That means forcing myself to learn to love others through actions, not feelings (hoping the feelings will follow). 

It is practicing grace in every situation and with every person, even those that have a negative history or present current challenges. It is remembering, always, that God forgave me first.

Corporate church, and all that goes with it, is neither here nor there to me. If one loves attending church and can remain free of the many ways corporate church tempts people to sin, great. And if one does not measure faith by worship attendance, wonderful. Many people have found warm, supportive, inspiring community in corporate church, along with Biblically-grounded teaching.

But many have not. Or they become easily distracted by church politics. And their faith, perhaps still being weak, does not grow strong in certain church atmospheres. Many are deceived that church attendance is the only prerogative in being a Christian. Many never get beyond church to personal sanctification. While Scripture does teach us to continue meeting together, it doesn’t define that meeting as the corporate church of today.

Being a Christian is up to me: not the pastor, the life group or the corporate church. 

I must hold myself accountable to God in living out what I read in Scripture and what the Holy Spirit is guiding me to. I have no one else to blame if I fail. The problem with “accountability partners” is that they aren’t with us in the heat of the moment. So what they become is confessionals. We, alone, must learn to hold ourselves accountable to God at all times, knowing that He sees and hears everything, even our thoughts.

This can be the model even if one continues attending church. 

It might be worthwhile to take a sabbatical from corporate church and para-church organizations just to see what it’s like when the rubber meets the road between just us, and God; to see what it’s like to not have a sermon, pastor, consistory, building committee or small group leader to complain about. It might be surprisingly revealing, for a change, to see just how much we place the blame for our own sinful thoughts, attitudes and actions on others, when in reality, the finger is pointing at us.

This is what I’ve discovered in making faith not about what I'm doing religiously “out there,” but instead making it about how I’m thinking, speaking and acting “in here.” And what I’ve discovered is, I have much work to do. But what I’ve also discovered is, that it’s finally begun.

copyright Barb Harwood

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Romans 14:5

“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Romans 14:8-9

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