This will be some of the most transparent words I’ve shared with you so far, so I ask in advance for your grace as the reader and for your prayers as my friends. I am not a theologian, nor do I claim to be. I am just a woman who loves the Lord, who wants to live a life pleasing to Him, and who wants to encourage others to do the same. I never ever want to lead anyone astray and I always pray that God makes up the difference when I fail to represent Him well. Having said that, you should know that I have wrestled for weeks about how to say some of these things or even if I should share, but I feel confident that I may not be alone in my questioning and I truly believe that to live authentically, which is how I hope to live my life, that sometimes we have to be willing to be vulnerable and speak out loud those things that we struggle with most.
In the hopes of not being far too wordy, let me lay a quick foundation for you. I have shared previously that I was raised a church girl and grew up in a very conservative home. I have been a part of the same local church for 43 years. I am incredibly grateful for my upbringing and for Godly grandparents who built a firm foundation for my parents even before they met. Faith has, and I pray always will be, the foundation of our family and we have strived as parents to give that same solid foundation to our children. Although I’ve not always lived a life that I would call “pleasing” to the Lord, I have always been sure of His promises and of salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. In that regard, my faith never waivers and I know He has a place for me in Heaven.
But, having said that, I have to confess to you that my difficulty and confusion in recent days is with the concept of being relevant and noncondemning of others while still embracing what I have always believed holy living should look like. Do I have to be uptight and not fun to be holy? Am I unintentionally creating a barrier around myself that leaves the impression that I am judgmental? Am I more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees? Would anyone want to know more about Jesus because of my life? When I try to tease that all out, I fear that my idea of holy living, as shaped by my denominational upbringing, has been characterized by a list of “don’t do’s” rather than by a list of “do these things”. It is only as I have had the privilege to open the Word of God and share together with women of other denominations that I have started to understand a little better what freedom in Christ really means. I am learning to let go of legalism and to embrace grace. But, having said that, I can see in a very short time how Satan has found a crack in my faith and created a chasm. Praise God that He is faithful and hasn’t let me wander too far before showing me evidence of truth in His word.
God’s Word is full of promises, grace, and love. But it is also full of commands, punishment and judgment. Yes, we are New Testament Christians, but Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. His death, burial and resurrection gives us the opportunity to never be separated from Him and to spend eternity in Heaven, but it doesn’t give us free license to sin without consequence. Yes, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. We are not called to holy living to deny us, but to protect us. “Oh that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.” (Deuteronomy 5:29 NLT) I believe that part of holy living and of building a firm foundation is being an active part of a local church.
One of my favorite authors and speakers, Lisa Terkeurst says in her book, It’s Not Supposed to be this Way that “if the enemy can isolate us, he can influence us.” Because of technology, we are more connected than ever, but we are also more isolated than ever and there is a generation of young people who have grown up knowing nothing different. Their idea of being a part of a church is logging in and watching regularly or maybe occasionally attending a service where they can slip in and out without ever even speaking to another person. How do I know this is true? Because I have found myself falling in to this trap in recent months…..and I can now see how easy and how quickly it can happen. And even though I am in the Word daily and am faithfully reading books by Christian authors and doing Bible study and filling my heart with praise and worship music, I feel the void of not being part of my church….and my heart aches because of it. Satan has given me a critical spirit that I have used to rationalize my own stubbornness and my reasons for pulling away. He’s such a master manipulator.
No, going to church doesn’t save you. Yes, you can be a Christian and never attend church. Yes, there is value in virtual experiences and satellite ministries. But, I am a living testimony that we are not supposed to do life alone and our faith is made stronger by finding a body of believers, figuring out where we are to serve, and plugging in. Through that experience, we grow and our foundation is made solid. And as for holy living, I believe it comes from the inside out. Keeping a list of rules is not possible. If it were, there would have been no need for a sacrificial lamb. But, the closer we get to Jesus, and the more we serve others through the overflow of His love, the more like Him we become. “Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is not a list of moral do’s and don’ts, holiness is a desire to let God be the Lord of our lives and to let Him do the leading. When our hearts are set on Him, holy living becomes the by-product. But it will never happen accidentally.
If you aren’t an active part of a church body, I encourage you to pray about where God might have you visit and start looking for where you belong. If you are attending semi-regularly or regularly but aren’t part of a smaller community like a small group or Sunday School class, ask about how you can get involved. Find a group who you can do life with and who will hold you accountable. Find a group who cares about you enough to ask if things are okay when you are out for a week or two. Not because they want to know all of your business, but because they genuinely care about you. If you are actively involved in a small group but aren’t serving in any capacity, seek out those opportunities. In other words, take the next step in being an integral part of the local church. “If the enemy can isolate us, he can influence us”. You matter….your gifts matter…..and there’s a place for you. Churches are not perfect because they are full of imperfect people…but they are part of God’s plan for the Christian life. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25). And finally, make sure you are modeling the importance of faith for the generations behind you. “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on your doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT)
Thank you for letting me share my heart with you and letting me be transparent about my faith struggles. I am so incredibly grateful for people who love me and who have noticed my absence. For those who have prayed for me and those who I get to serve alongside. Church family is just that….family. All families have difficulties, but families stick together and hold each other accountable. Never forget that someone probably needs your encouragement this week. Pray about who that is and reach out. Maybe invite them to go to church with you. People are a lot lonelier than we realize. Be the difference for someone.