This morning began like so many others with the reading of the local news, followed by my usual reading of scripture, which always sets the stage for my daily prayers. Yet by the third cup of coffee, I was ready to revisit a nagging pain of compassion that remained from my earlier reading of a Letter to the Editor by a local Christian turned atheist. This was a deeply felt testimonial that I must admit resonated with me, regarding the relief he experienced once he released himself from his Christian belief system. I did that as well at 16 years of age; a belief system, “reinforced by a cosmic system of fear, rewards and punishment.”
That my friend is the age old story of religion and unfortunately the consequence of a life trapped by such a system, regardless whether its source be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or any other of the plethora that now exist around the world. My readers are now in shock, as my lifelong journey has truly been about pursuit of a relationship with God!
Don’t get me wrong, I daily spend time with God and for the most part, am in constant communication with him as I make my decisions about life. Just yesterday, in a business meeting, I requested a link to a certain body of knowledge contained in the “cloud.” I listened to the particular sound my friend’s computer made, as this virtual data bank was whisked my way. I could not help but wonder why we have so easily bought into the virtual reality of our day and yet see the Kingdom of God as fantasy!
For those who can recite my litany of failures, I did say for the most part! That works well, as long as I attend to that occasional “physical,” taking my spiritual temperature as a means of avoiding the infection of religion, now so probable in an environment where the virus is rampant. Freedom of religion is a beautiful concept, yet if America is the laboratory, it may no longer be all that our forefathers intended; not because of the beauty of God and the liberty each should have to pursue a relationship with God, but for the fact that so many variants have developed, each of the many perpetuating their own cultural expectations, articulating a static system of belief (or nonbelief) that is more “group think” than personal experience. If your religion is PC, you might even identify with the word “faitheist”! In America, at least, we are living in a religious heyday.
My objective is not to oppose freedom of religion but to challenge those who have accepted a belief system, externally imposed from birth perhaps, but untested personally.
Again, I am so often accused of being religious, and in fact am even a Deacon in a local church, which is not a bad thing in itself. I feel called to engage with people whom I believe are seeking something more than religion, a relationship with a higher being. God is awesome enough that when pursed, He/She, if that masculine pronoun causes you pause, will find a way to fellowship with you intimately. There is a place in everyone’s heart for fellowship and love, yet there is a danger when one allows conformity and acceptance with their particular huddle of folk to supersede the need for their own personal relationship and pursuit of God.
I am labeled as a Christian and when that means that I am a devout follower of Christ, I take no offence. Do I wrestle with the system that Christianity professes? Daily! Do I understand such theological constructs as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the decent into Hell by Christ, followed by His bodily resurrection and ascension? Hardly enough, but it is upon that intellectual scaffolding that I pursue God daily and with that pursuit, I am coming to understand just where such ideas originated.
Does it come with much study, daily devotionals, Bible memory and the sorts? Not necessarily though I do use these tools daily. Does it come with much prayer? Yes, if one considers a constant dialogue with the Spirit prayer. I will even share that each morning my day begins with a time alone and mostly on my knees; a posture befitting for this human (humus) who is awed by this Being called God, who reigns in a Kingdom with which I have been privileged to engage, though unseen beyond the occasional vision or visitation.
Perhaps I am getting a little edgy for my reader’s comfort as I attempt to articulate this treasure that I have found during my 40 year journey with Christ. How do I know with such certainly that my faith is real and not just some religion imposed upon me by my relationships with other gullible and needy human beings, “robbed of happiness” as stated by letter writer described above?
Perhaps my life is somewhat privileged, as my faith came not from church attendance but in fact the very opposite. I came to know Christ by way of a most unexpected confrontation in my Dad’s living room during a time of severe wounding in my life and in fact, quite the opposite of the brother recently turned atheist, that is when I found happiness and a future. I was at best agnostic, engaged in ever illicit activity imaginable and I seemed happy with seldom a bad night. It was the compounding effect of those “happy” nights that caused me pause when I reflected upon where my life was headed morally.
My response that night when I walked in on my Dad, a devout Christ follower, who was in fact on his knees praying for his “lost” son: I somewhat arrogantly challenged God with these words, ”God if you are out there and you exist and you will change my life, I will give it to you.” I don’t know why, but my life changed radically and my question as to his existence was forever resolved.
Fortunately, I did not immediately engage with other Christians but for about a year, simply shared my life change with others who were struggling, some within churches and others still held captive by the lifestyle I had just abandoned. I began to follow after the only model I knew that had made significant difference upon this earth, Jesus Christ. His model was simply love, not judgment, fear or condemnation, though I must say, it has been quite rewarding. The more I pursued that model, the more Christians began to encourage me; both because of my evident life change and perhaps their sense of need to disciple me (Uuhmm).
The benefit of this distance from church was, that it gave me a time to learn on my own; perhaps, how to access Christ out of pure struggle, not only from what was revealed in the scriptures but revelation that came each time I spent time contemplating this great “Person.” The difference between that and becoming “churched” was that I learned to accept nothing that did not add value to my new walk with Christ or that I could not experience for myself in communion with Christ.
That does not mean that I did not eventually learn the benefit of serving alongside sincere believers for the greater good of my community. I just was cautious as to buy-in to a belief system other than what my simple journey with Christ afforded. Somewhere along the way, I was privileged to be convinced of my own uniqueness and the fact that the God of the universe (and there can be only one, by virtue of definition) truly values that uniqueness, enough to cultivate it daily, as we journey together.
I believe in a Personality that is far above human and yet sets over or possible within this “matterial”(sic) creation. I believe that the Kingdom to which I have been called is equally as real, but somehow exists within a dimension that the physical cannot define.
Beyond that Personality which I call God, I have been positioned by grace to live a life of love demonstrated by Himself when He became flesh and dwelt among us in the man called Jesus Christ. Yes, God became human that I might participate in His divinity! That is not sacrilege but privilege.
Yet, there is so much brokenness in my person that living into some religious system in order to measure up never seems to work, the Old Testament affirms that. I must lean fully upon the empowerment of that same God. Amazingly, that provision is made possible by the righteousness of Christ imparted to me and lived through me by The Spirit that lives within me. The life I live, even what good I might occasionally participate in, is not my own, but is the Person of God, in Christ, manifest by His Spirit. Maybe I do get the concept of the Three in One!
I know this sounds like Christianity but believe me it is far beyond what is being proffered in most of our “Houses of Worship” today; and though we mean well, religion’s product at best is too often only a few good deeds made possible by the combined efforts of a team of congregants; at worst broken, disillusioned young men like the one who testified in the local newspaper this a.m.