Gettin’ some Religion Part 1: Jesus is not a picture on the wall

Thinking back about what “religion” or “God” or “Christianity” meant to me as I kid was more about what it WASN’T than what it WAS. My family wasn’t very religious. We were “Methodist” which didn’t mean much to me except it wasn’t one of those “crazy” denominations … although I’m not sure exactly what that meant at the time either. Maybe it was the stereotype of those “Oral-Roberts-Jimmy-Swaggart-Jim & Tammy-Faye-Baker-type” religions with televised pronunciations of “You are HEALED!” resulting in fainting people and lots of “Praise Jesuses.” In fact I remember mocking that strong, Southern? accent of those preachers on stage with people lined up to be healed. It was mostly a joke to me. Not anything to really CONSIDER.

We attended the annual Christmas and Easter services, filling the church with others like us who felt the obligation on the “Christian” holidays. I think we attended Sunday school on occasion, but not sure why. Little chairs, the church basement smell, those colorful worksheets with Bible verses and lessons, and a picture of Jesus on the wall.

Later on in high school, there was a social component. Some of my friends were involved in the Youth Group at church. They were people I liked, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’m sure I was guided there by something (Someone) “Bigger Than” what I could conceive, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.

I don’t actually remember attending the Youth Group regularly, but I did go on a Mission Trip to Mexico one time. You’re probably thinking, “So this chick isn’t involved in church, doesn’t attend regularly, but GOES TO MEXICO with the Youth Group?” Yeah, I don’t really get it either. I remember certain parts of the trip, like stopping in Disneyland and getting in a water fight on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We got in trouble and had to wipe down the boat we were in. We also went to the zoo. I actually can’t remember anything about being in Mexico. I think we helped to build a house. I have a vague memory of being hot and handing people nails. I’ll have to see if I still have some photos to refresh my memory…  In any event, the memories of the trip are mostly of being social with my friend and LONG RIDES in vans. I would say that God may have been talking, but I definitely wasn’t listening.

There were a couple other trips with that group, but again, they were generally motivated by the social aspect vs. the spiritual aspect.

After High School, I can’t say that I attended church again except for a Compline service or two. I didn’t know how to spell Compline or have any idea of its significance, and of course I wasn’t Catholic, but the chanting was cool. After that … Nada. (And lest you be curious about what WAS rumbling around in my head when I was a kid, during high school, and then in my 20s before I met Kevin… Just wait, it’s coming.)

Anyway… I met Kevin in 1992. His upbringing was about as non-religious as mine, although it was even tinged with anti-religion. His dad was raised Baptist and apparently witnessed such hypocrisy that the proverbial Baby (Jesus) was thrown out with the bath water. I wouldn’t say it scarred him for life on curiosity about religion or making his own choices, it just wasn’t a part of his childhood either.

My Youth Pastor married us in the church where I had “attended.” I always liked him, but don’t have a memory of any spiritual discussions with him. Again, likely he (and HE) were talking, but I just wasn’t listening.

Fast forward about 5 years. We relocated to North Idaho in the summer of 2000 and Kevin suggested we “check out some churches.” Being new to the community, we thought it would be a positive way to meet people, and you know, religion is a “good” thing, right? (The Social aspect at work again). What we didn’t count on or expect that we’d actually have a LIFE CHANGING experience.

So, church shopping … Attended a few. Ended up at Real Life Ministries (back when they “only” had about 5,000 people attending). Kevin always liked to stay “off the radar.” He wanted to drift in and out of different places, make his assessments, and the eventually decide on the one that “felt right.” Well, on the way out of RLM at the very first service we attended, there was Jim Putman (senior pastor) at the door greeting people as they left. He spied us and recognized us as newcomers. I remember this vividly as he welcomed us and said this or that about coming to church. Kevin gave his standard, “well we’re just checking out a few churches, blah blah blah” answer and Jim said confidently, “If I could prove to you that the Bible is true without opening it, would you let me?” Kevin skeptically replied, “Well, you could TRY.” Challenge accepted. Jim showed up at our house, probably within the next week, and proceeded to freak us out.

He sat down at our dining room table and talked about the Historicity/Historiography, archaeological and scientific evidence, consistency, etc. He wrote notes on a pad of paper to outline certain points. As we watched and listened we both became increasingly more uncomfortable. The icing on the cake was when Kevin asked Jim if he could have the pages he had written. Of course Jim willingly handed it over. Kevin later said that if Jim had been hesitant to give us the page he would have been more suspicious of a “used car salesman” or “health club membership” ploy where you can’t take the “notes” home to review later and that deal is ONLY GOOD IF YOU SIGN RIGHT NOW.

In any event, after Jim left, Kevin said to me, “Are you as freaked out as I am right now?” We continued to mull over the situation. How could two intelligent people NOT KNOW THIS STUFF?

For the next 1-2 years we attended RLM, got Baptized, joined small groups, helped with the Children’s Ministry, etc. and made many connections and friends. It was sometime during this “transformation” that I wrote my sister the following letter… It was originally handwritten, but before sending it I typed it up (possibly for future review & dissection?)

So, here it went:

Dear Cam –

Hey. I can’t sleep! It’s 4:30 am on Saturday morning. I started thinking about you and how you wanted to know what’s in my head and heart – what I’m thinking/feeling, etc. Thought I’d try to jot down some ideas.

Becoming a Christian is a complicated process. My first instinct is to try to “save” all my family, but the point is not to try to convince anyone that JC is the answer, because that’s usually the very opposite thing to do. I guess my goal is to plant a seed and get you thinking. They say that God knows everything and will talk to you if/when you’re ready to hear – not like it’s some exclusive club or anything J but more like your heart has to be open. It’s funny – If someone had told me a year or even 2 months before we started going to church that I would truly BECOME A CHRISTIAN I’d have thought they were crazy. The word “Christian” had all sorts of negative connotations for me – WEIRD, CLOSE-MINDED – ANTI-SCIENCE – FREAK, UNEDUCATED, LACK OF FREEDOM, LACK OF THINKING, AN ESCAPE OR EXCUSE FOR WEAK PEOPLE. When CL told me a couple of years ago that she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior I was like, “OK… Uh… That’s nice…” and I thought, well, another one bites the dust and she’s going to change (for the worse) and not be the same person, etc. I really thought of it as a negative thing.

Anyway…I think Kevin has been closer to REALLY believing in a supreme being for longer than I have. He’s more of a thinker and analyzer on the subject and for a very long time he’s believed that the universe is WAY TOO PERFECT to have just happened by chance. I was definitely more BIG BANG and evolutionary in my thoughts about it all. Actually thought, I’m getting off track because I think that YOU think there is some sort of God/Supreme Being – so that’s not really the issue.

Let me way this about what I believe to be facts –

That there IS a God, and that when Adam and Eve sinned, they separated us from being able to talk to God. We could worship and praise Him, but we couldn’t really have a relationship with Him because we were/are imperfect and have sinful natures.

I believe that Jesus was sent so that we could have a relationship with God, AND, that by his dying on the cross, he has taken all our sins away – we are forgiven and we can be in a relationship with God now.

Now, I know that is hard to swallow. If someone had told me that 5 years ago, or 18 months ago I would have said, “Oh that’s nice… You FREAK!” At this point I have NO interest in convincing you that this is true. I would only say one thing. Kevin and I are NOT patsies. Kevin especially DEMANDS to see the evidence, ask questions, research, etc. before he accepts ANYTHING (Almost to a fault). And I am not such a mental pee wee myself. I just ask you to consider that if we have investigated, researched, etc. (the supporting AND opposing evidence) and BELIEVE – that this be worth a second look, consideration, etc.

I realize it’s kind of scary. When Kevin and I were first presented with pretty compelling evidence (prior to us doing more research), we were like, “OH S*&T!” because we realized that taking the next step(s) was going to point our lives in a WAY different direction than we expected – and that we were suddenly (or eventually) going to be in a DIFFERENT place spiritually, emotionally, mentally, etc. than our families, many of our friends, etc. It was kind of a scary yet exciting place to be.

Anyway…That was a bit of our “intellectual” process, and like I said, I don’t have any interest in trying to convince you – I can give you books, resources, etc. if you want, but me sitting here preaching to you about it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So, what DOES make sense?? Let me share with you want becoming a Christian has meant to me.

Wow. I can’t even think of where to start. I think two important and integral concepts are:

  1. Jesus is my LORD and SAVIOR, and
  2. I’ve “died to self”
  3. Jesus is my Lord and Savior: Jesus is the boss of me. He is my Lord. A Lord is the person you look up to, who watches over you, who you measure yourself against. He is who you should consider in all of your actions (WWJD kind of thing). Jesus was a servant. He was perfect. He had no sin. He is the leader of my life. Now – does that mean I always do the right thing”? No. He is the guide – and many times I go on a different path – one that I know is not the right one. But that is OK because Jesus is also my Savior. He died for me; he forgives me for EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER DONE and loves me anyway. He makes it possible for a poor wretch like me to go to heaven, be forgiven, not live with guilt, etc. So – on one hand he is the boss of me, and there is the potential to cower in fear at his authority, but on the other hand, if I make a mistake for this boss, he says, “That’s OK, get up and try again, do it better, etc.” He is TOTALLY COMPASSIONATE – not a dictator or a cold, hard boss. I don’t know if I’m doing a very good job of explaining this.
  4. I’ve “died to self.” This isn’t exactly true because actually “dying to self” happens everyday and is an ongoing and never ending process. Basically, dying to self is GIVING UP ALL THE BS DOWN HERE – the pursuit of STUFF – money, cars, attention, pride, things that are supposed to make us HAPPY and realizing that the most important thing we can do is live a life in service to God/Jesus and to others – basically to LIFT UP others, give of ourselves, etc. The biggest way this affects me is by trying to CONTROL MY LIFE. Now, this does NOT mean, “Oh, God is in control of my life so I’m just going to do whatever or sit here like a bump on a log because it’s all been decided so it doesn’t matter what I do.” What it means to me is, that MOST of the time, if I make choices or decisions based on what I want then I am going to make the wrong choices – because by nature we are selfish and we don’t serve or make choices with the TRUE, RIGHT motive (not all the time, but the majority). Now, if I make my choices/decisions based on what God wants, I am putting myself OUT OF THE EQUATION – WWJD – Ouch. Sometimes this sucks – and sometimes it doesn’t make sense, and sometimes it really ticks us off, because it seems like God wants us to make a choice or do something that we DON’T WANT TO DO. But this is where the TRUST comes in. We have learned to trust God and to know that whatever path we’re on – there is a reason for it. We may not understand the reason right now, and sometimes it may be a long-term thing that we won’t GET for a long time – but that’s OK.

So, where does that leave us? How does that make me feel?

Cam, I have PEACE like I’ve NEVER KNOWN BEFORE. Peace and joy. Even though it’s been a tough year, marriage struggles, financial stress, busy, etc., it has been the best year of my life. There is a fullness that was not there before. Before, I wondered, what is the meaning, why are we on this treadmill (or rollercoaster) – this chaotic life that we spend trying to FIND something or GET something – basically HAPPINESS is futile if the pursuit doesn’t have the missing piece.

There is the greatest passage in the Bible – Philippians 4:12-13 that basically says, whether I am hungry or well – fed, have much or have little, have shelter, or am out in the cold (that’s not right, but you get the point), as long as I have the Lord I have the strength to do anything. It’s a lot better than how I just described it, but I just feel and TRULY BELIEVE that it’s true.

Nothing – No THING matters. It’s just stuff. God, Our families, our friends, doing GOOD for other people – THAT MATTERS. There is NO JOY like serving people, helping people. Doing what God wants us to do, BEING the people God wants us to be – is VERY Cool. I can’t really explain it, but it ROCKS.

And do I feel like I’m missing out? Do I feel like I’ve lost my freedom? NOT AT ALL. I am still completely free to make choices. God set it up that way on purpose. He doesn’t want to force or guilt anyone into doing anything. And ALL THE TIME I think, “Crap, I shouldn’t have done that,” or “Jesus would NOT have done that.” But when I slip or fall down – that’s totally OK. The point is that now I have some dialog with myself about it and THINK about the consequences instead of just blowing through life like my actions and behaviors don’t have any repercussions.

It’s VERY easy to get mired in the “clutter” of life, and to lose track of what’s important. Society makes this super easy. Just watch some of the crap on TV, or eat some of the crap in the frozen food section – society has made CRAP totally acceptable. It’s easy to say, “Well, I may not be perfect, but look at THAT loser.” The thing is, we are not supposed to compare ourselves with anyone DOWN HERE J. Oh – do you wish you hadn’t asked!

Some people use religion as a crutch. Some people say, “Oh, you just want to believe in God/JC as an excuse/crutch/catch all. I would say that more people us their LACK OF RELIGION as a crutch. If they don’t have to EXAMINE their lives, they can go on living in blissful ignorance. I don’t mean to sound negative here, but I TOTALLY believe that I was ignorant before, that I didn’t really want to learn about God/religion because I liked my life the way it was, thank you very much and didn’t want to GO THERE, uncover flaws, dig up the past, examine the present, BE TOLD TO LIVE A CERTAIN WAY, give up my life, etc.

I am still the same person – I like to do the same things, but now I just consider those things more carefully, AND am aware that my choices are important. I feel like there is an aura or spirit (hey, the HOLY spirit) in and around me that sort of acts like a filter or a buffer  – the “outside world” doesn’t influence me as much through this filter, and my actions are moderated, my thoughts are considered, etc. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it helps reduce the impulsive, destructive, momentum behaviors that are natural in all of us. I guess it IS the Holy Spirit (that confusing Trinity thing J). I am the same – the Holy Spirit thing is new and different, and VERY POSITIVE cuz it affects EVERYTHING. It can ONLY help/improve/benefit. (Like I said, it doesn’t always work perfectly, but it’s there). It has been ADDED to my life. I don’t feel like I am missing ANYTHING. IT’S VERY COOL. Okay – Now I’m getting dopey. Maybe I’ll go back to bed now – I think it’s about 6:00 am!

************

Do ya feel a little … Uh… UNCONVINCED?

Born Again and Baptized (Whoo hoo!), but I look back I realize that the level at which I “committed my life to Christ” at that time was pretty superficial.  I re-discovered this letter recently and when I read it, all I could think of was “all brain, no heart.” I’m sure I believed it and felt it, but hmmmm. I didn’t have a clue.

The fast & furious immersion in the church was fine. The sermons were good. The music was good. The marriage struggles throughout those times were not good. The counseling and support of several RLM staff during the rough times was good. But man, I was just NOT in a place to feel the REAL LOVE of Christ, or maybe the real love of ANYONE at that point. We burned out. Kevin had a discussion with Jim that ended sort of badly. We wore them out. We were worn out. I think I went for a while without Kevin, explaining that Kevin was thinking about checking out a new church.

I was a little offended at the time when Jim said something to the effect that “you won’t go to another church.” Well, we tried a few times, but he ended up being right.

And there ends Part 1 of “Gettin’ some Religion” in North Idaho.

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