While I was raised with a belief in Jesus and baptized "into" a Baptist congregation as a teen, I didn't come to really know the Lord until my mid twenties. And when I made that commitment, I made it whole-heartedly. Everything that the modern American church says you're to be if you're a "good Christian"? I was that. I taught Sunday School, VBS, and LTC; my kids were in youth group and Sunday School; we never missed a service unless I was deathly ill; I set aside a significant portion of my income to give to the congregation weekly; and I most definitely held to the doctrines of my particular group of Christians... I was a poster child for serious American Christianity.
Today, things are different.
I have no doubt that some of my friends who knew me back in the day question my faith today. I'm not a fan of any extracurricular "church activities" - particularly if they are entertainment focused - and so we generally don't participate in any; I don't believe the bulk of my giving money should go to a local congregation to be used to keep up a building and programs; I loathe the idea of church buildings; I don't buy into the modern church structure and hierarchy; and I question all "church doctrines."
And I've never been closer to God in my life - or been more obedient to His Word.
Since I came to the Lord in 1992, I've been passionate about following Him - and I never questioned what I was taught that God wanted - I just did it. I definitely felt like a "good Christian" - as far as any of us frail, prone-to-sin, humans can.
But, it's hard to be very "close" to anyone you've never seen - someone with whom you have a pretty abstract relationship and, while I was a "good Christian," I still longed to be closer to the Lord.
Because I so wish someone had shared this with me in my twenties, I thought I'd write about how the Lord took me from an "arm's-length" relationship and drew me nearer than I ever thought I'd get this side of Heaven...and how He draws me still nearer as I continue to come close to Him in these ways.
Five Things That Completely Renovated My Walk with God
1. My Husband and I Took a Leap of Faith. When our 4th child was about a year old, my husband and I were discussing whether or not we should "try" for another child. Our 4th was more than 11 years younger than the 3rd, and it made sense to me that he not be, essentially, an only child. During this conversation, the hypocrisy of our "planning" a family that was supposedly "surrendered" to the Lord hit us in the face. While we realized that planning our family size was, in effect, choosing to withhold that area of our lives from the Lord, it still took us a few days to actually let go of that control and offer it up to the Lord. We have experienced blessing after blessing ever since.
Don't get hung up on the family planning issue; that's not the point. The point is that my husband and I decided to turn something over to the Lord that, frankly, frightened us. We decided to trust God with the consequences and walk in faith in this area. That is the point.
It's easy to say we trust God - like it's easy to say I trust my husband's sharpshooting skills. Sticking the target on the top of my head, however, not only causes me to really question what I mean by "trust," but it would also prove my trust - to him as much as to myself.
"By faith Abel...offered. By faith Noah...prepared an ark. By faith Abraham....obeyed. By faith Moses...refused...left Egypt...kept the Passover.
Faith acts - it acts in crazy ways that fly in the face of the wisdom of the culture. And when we began to act on our faith - particularly in ways that were unpopular among the Christian people in our circle - the blessings were incredible.
So, it's not surprising that, while we challenged our faith, we also...
2. Stepped Up our Obedience. Once we committed to surrendering all to the Lord, it became apparent that we could no longer withhold anything from Him. We determined that whatever command we saw in the New Testament Scriptures we would do. We also determined that we would follow New Testament examples for church life and Christian living.
So....headcovering followed. And changes to how we handled our giving money. We wrestled with the format of the modern American church. It was (and still is) an exciting time...and a challenging time. All of a sudden we found ourselves making decisions - Biblical decisions - that were not always in line with those of people we had long respected in the church. It was definitely a test of our commitment to the Word.
Since we were stepping out in faith and radically obeying God's Word, it probably isn't surprising that we began to read it differently.
3. We Read God's Word as it was Intended. A life long student, I had been reading God's Word as a textbook more than anything else. As I began to read God's Word as He intended it, His book became so much clearer - deeper and more meaningful - than I realized was possible. It went from a good, but dead, book - to a life changing letter from the One who loves me more than any other.
The Old Testament contains books of history, poetry, law, and prophecy. The New Testament contains the Gospels which are biographies of Jesus' life. It also contains one book of history (Acts) and one of prophecy (Revelation). All the rest are letters to individuals or congregations. I think I experienced the greatest growth in my relationship with God when I began to read letters as they were intended. When did you ever read a letter from a loved one a few paragraphs at a time - pausing for a day even in the middle of a thought? Yet, that is precisely what many devotions do...and nearly all theologians parse Scripture without any respect for the book itself - and how it was intended to be used. When I took God's Word for what it is (inspired encouragement and advice from faithful brethren who went before) the Bible completely changed for me - and it changed me, as God's Word should.
Perhaps the hardest thing of all - something that my husband and I still struggle with - was tearing off the filters of man-made doctrine to see God's Word as it was intended. For instance, what we saw in Scripture about headcovering was not what we had been taught all of our Christian lives and, yet, there it was in black and white. Unfortunately, many of those we had worshiped with thought we were crazy for coming to this conclusion. Some even thought less of us for not accepting the approved doctrine on the subject. It became clear that this was where we would choose to please God, or to please man.
In the end, we realized that what we needed to do:
4. We Laid Our Worship on the Altar. As the conflict between what we were seeing in Scripture and the practices and doctrines we had been taught grew, we knew we had to do something to resolve the tension. So, we put it all on the altar: our doctrines, our beliefs, our preferences, our prejudices, our acts of service, our way of worship. Everything.
This is was the point where we essentially jumped ship from the American Church as we had known it. Based on what we read in the New Testament, instead of "serving" in Sunday School and VBS, we began to serve our brethren in Christ - here and abroad. Instead of giving to our local congregation for the electric bill and new curriculum, we cut our giving there and began giving to orphans and widows around the world. We stopped elevating the beliefs of modern "church leaders" and became attuned to God's Spirit and followed Him instead. We threw off the spiritual shackles of the modern church's fetish with human-ordained "clergy" and hierarchy and embraced our place among the royal priesthood.
5. I Dug Deeper. The writings of the earliest Christians - recorded in Scripture and outside of Scripture after the apostles died - definitely impacted my walk with the Lord in a crazy-beautiful way. I was struck by how the earliest Christians held nothing dear except the Lord and His people. I was amazed to realize that, unlike American Christians today, they expected Christ's return any moment - and lived accordingly. I saw that they considered it an honor to be counted worthy to die for Christ - as opposed to our modern, soft, version of American Christianity. Modern preachers and scholars cannot possibly understand Christianity better than the first Christians and, yet, we find ourselves following the wisdom of men who lived centuries after Jesus, rather than those who walked with Him - or those that were taught by those who walked with Him.
Instead of just believing the wildly-varying doctrines of theologians, I embraced God's Word as it was written (unless there was good reason not to)...which just happens to coincide with what the earliest Christians believed.
It has been crazy to me to realize how far the modern church has fallen from what the apostles instituted - not just in doctrines and practices, but in relationship with Him. I think that we are most often not taught how to draw near to God because our church leaders don't have that experience themselves. And I don't even think they realize it. How beautiful for the Cowboy and I to begin to experience it - and be able to pass the information on to our children.
What about you? What has worked for you in drawing nearer to the Lord?
Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up by David Bercot
Will the Theologians Please Sit Down by David Bercot
Common Sense by David Bercot
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
Radical Restoration by F. LaGard Smith
Making Room by Christine Pohl
Recommended with some reservation:
Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
Reimagining Church by Frank Viola
Pagan Christianity by Viola & Barna