Within the last several years, my heart has gone through many changes. There has definitely been a drastic change in how I view the world, others, and how my whole perspective of both has developed into what it is at this very moment. There was a definitive moment in which these drastic changes began to take place. There was a time, approximately six or seven years ago, when something changed within me. It was right around the time I’d decided to have a go with a, at the time, very misunderstood version of a man named Jesus. I will try to explain how the beginning stages of a choice began a very complicated journey, which in turn led me to a very peaceful place within.
I had a reluctance that accompanied my curiosity. It was not the greatest thing to get dressed up and go to a Pentecostal church with my wife. I believe we started going because my wife’s grandparents had invited us? It was a church that my wife had grown up in. There was a long period where she had stopped attending, but many years later her grandparents persuaded her and I both to attend. We began attending Sunday morning service. It was not something that I was used to, and the very first day was hard. A card was handed to me on that first morning, and it asked one simple question. It asked, “Are you a member?”
I had a very different view of Jesus for several years prior. I went through a period for about a decade where I struggled to believe that the Bible was the work of the Lord, and not just the work of a bunch of religious freaks. I suppose it was just my ignorance and arrogance that painted that picture? I just didn’t think that men could know about the creator of our universe, and I sure didn’t believe that the Bible was any more reliable than the Tao Te Ching, the Koran or Bhagavad Gita. I had a very open mind when it came to God, or the knowing of the way to him. I believed that Jesus may have been a very wise man, or a prophet, or even possibly a sorcerer.
It was a struggle, but I had felt like I should go and learn more about the Jesus guy. My wife was far more interested than I was. Besides, she would get to see her aging grandparents. It was that first day that really rubbed me the wrong way. The card which asked if I was a member. I remember being very puzzled by such a question. “Am I a member of a belief?” I checked the box next to “Yes.” This was the first experience I had with question of my affiliation with a local church. I was not a member of a place. I was so unaware of the existence of those institutionalized questionnaires that were being passed to newcomers.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. -John 14:6 (KJV)
I was in that little church one morning when a message was being preached by the guy up front who gave himself a title. This “Pastor” was speaking about the Jesus that was part of God. The Son. A triune God made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He then spoke about Jesus being “The Way.”
That was something. That captured my attention. I honestly cannot remember details from those days, but I am going to talk about how those few words started my walk with the loving God I know today, as well as the walking away from the hateful world of the religious.
The “Way” was not easily understood as I began to search for further understanding. I would keep going back to that little church each week and listen to that guy yell at the audience. He was really becoming a painful thing to observe. He would talk down to us. He would say things to make people feel guilty. He would try to manipulate people by taking the Bible and beating them to a pulp with it. It was starting to become a gruesome event that eventually had me running away from his abusive, self-appointed headship. I began to believe that he believed that he was “the way.” It didn’t take long for me to quit attending a place where I was not considered a member of anyway. That was also a start of wondering what all of this “member” business was truly about.
My wife and I skipped around to two other churches. One other Pentecostal, and a Baptist. We met some nice people, but further into our time at both we experienced even more abuse and rejection. People are cliquey, stuck-up, two-faced and so judgmental, and they all seem to use the name of the Lord in their justifications. When we heard the last pastor say that he had gone two weeks without sinning, and that he was needing more money from the congregation to build more church building, we ran out of the doors, grabbed our children up, and never went back.
My family and I have attended a few different churches since leaving the others, and we had very little interaction with the people. One was a mega-church. You could get lost in the vast stadium-like cathedral and just listen, observe and embrace the emotion-driven production. The messages were encouraging, but it was just another money-making spectator sport that encouraged people to give much to support the staff. To support the coffee shop, book store, electric light and sound system, salaries, electric blinds on the windows, and the ego.
My wife and I rarely attend a service of any kind these days. Our kids still go to two different youth groups, because they want to. We all attended an Easter service this past spring, but really, nobody cared to say much to us except for the pastor and his wife.
So I’ll be honest. In my experience, the people of the religious groups that we call brothers and sisters in Christ have made a big mess of “His Way,” and made it into their way.
I’ll shed some light on this true story. The building is not the church. We are His Church. I encourage you to read the following…
I have learned that church membership is a thing that man has made. When I checked “Yes” that day, I was correct. Yes, I am a member. A member that is washed clean by the blood of Jesus! Hallelujah!
In closing, may I just say that anyone could pick my words apart and begin the “remove the plank from my own eye” spiel. Honestly, what others find as judgment, I find as discernment. I believe that the fruitful in-home studies and the fellowship that we have in small groups is more edifying than anything I have experienced in the past. There have been a few so-called “Sunday School” classes we have attended that were nice, but they were short-lived. We just enjoy being the hands and feet of His Church. We do this in a number of ways.
My relationship with God has taken the religious way out of this journey, and placed His ways within my heart. I now see with clarity. I now know His depths. I can sense His divinity in this life of His grace. I can understand His Way. His Truth. His Life. I can run towards people who won’t judge me, and away from those who do. I can run towards those who love me, and pray for those who don’t. My Lord, may we all be united. May we not divide our Body. May we walk away from our non-Biblical denominational divisions. May we stand together, and be united in His Way. May we run from our ways, and into the truth of His. May we love all of our neighbors, all of them, and stop building walls that only separate the free gift of His Son. We should be a living and breathing example of His love, so everyone who does not know Him will desire to run into that same light that shines within us.