But Lord, I don’t want to quit church!

Have you ever been fully devoted to your religion?  Did you love going to church, mass, mosque or to temple?  Were you in love with the personal elevation that your commitment provided?

Did God begin to tug at your heart and say, “Let it go”?

And then did you reply as did Peter, “Not so, Lord!”?  . . . But eventually you surrendered to Him?

If you once depended on the acceptance that you received from others at church, and the purpose that your obedience to your religion gave you, and if you have walked away . . .  then you are a rare specimen whom I’d like to meet (leave a comment below!), just like Suzette once did.

Suzette left a comment on one of my blog posts this summer, and from there an email correspondence began.  Two weeks later, in August 2017, despite the fact that our homes are 1,200 miles apart, we were able to meet in person!  While traveling to a family wedding, my three teenagers and I needed to wait around the Sacramento airport for a few hours before my husband’s arrival.  Turns out it was Suzette’s day off of work.  As my kids sat and stared at their phones, I got to meet my new sister in Christ and fellowship with her amidst all the Baggage Claim carousels.  🙂

Despite the groovy Gododoincidence that allowed us to meet face-to-face, what has actually bonded our friendship is our shared experience with being die-hard legalists.

We didn’t burn out, we were pulled out of Church by God’s direction.

Having been set free for ten years now, I have come to realize that people like Suzette and I are unique.  It seems that most people tire of their Churchianity slowly, like the fire from a candle that has been burning for hours and slowly extinguishes itself.

Suzette and I, on the other hand, were more like a firework that was sparkling and alive one minute, and then completely gone the next.  As a Bible Study leader once told me, “Oh!  You were a modern-day-Pharisee.  That’s pretty rare!”

Of course, that wasn’t true.  Nobody has ever come close to the ambitious zeal of the Pharisees.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5:20)

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that Suzette and I loved church.  Why?  It gave us an outlet for our religious pride!

We loved how much “better” we were compared to those lesser folks who didn’t work as hard.  We loved how good we were at obeying all of the rules.  We loved how important we were in the eyes of others.  We were convinced that we were “serving God,” and we loved that!  It’s gross, isn’t it!?  That is what the sin of religious pride feels like, and it sickens me to remember those times.  Obvioulsy we were totally deceived and in error, but nonetheless, the fact remains:  church energized us.

If you are in the same boat, and if God is tugging at your heart to quit church . . . please follow His leading.  Don’t be afraid.  If the Lord is leading you that way, say, Yes, Lord!

Jesus wants to set you free from the bondage of religion.  He wants to be your God, instead of church being your god.  Trust Him!  You won’t be disappointed.

You will no longer be wandering in the wilderness of Sinai; He will bring you into the New Covenant.  He will lead you right through the door which is Jesus Christ Himself, and He will plant you by the green pastures and still waters of the Promised Land of Rest.

Allow your legalism to kill you.  Whether it’s the rules of your denomination or the 613 Mosaic Laws themselves, allow the Law to kill you.

Paul said, “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.” Galatians 2:19

Believe the truth that you are completely forgiven, and that He now loves and accepts you on the basis of you being a new creation in Christ.

Allow the Law to kill you so that you might die to the Law and begin living in a close relationship with your God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And if you’d like to hear more on this topic, please check out my blog:  Outside of Churchianity.

 

 

Grace Given to Me — my personal testimony — Part 1

Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.   (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

In 1990, when I was 21 years old, I began getting my hair cut by Rick. He was this tall, bulky, motorcycle-gang-looking guy who worked alone in his studio. An entire wall – from the floor to the top of the ceiling – was covered with Christian bumper stickers. You would sit there during your haircut with all of these witty sayings staring you in the face. Things like, “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter.”

As he cut my hair, Rick would monologue about the exploits he used to have with women in the back room of his salon in the days when he was still a heathen sinner. Embarrassed by his stories, and wanting to change the subject, I once asked him, “Soooo, Rick, what’s the deal with all of these bumper stickers?”

It worked. He began to talk about something completely different.

He explained that the wall of bumper stickers was there to proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth for a reason, Rick said.  He died on the cross and rose from the dead to offer salvation: something I could accept or reject.

Rick opened a door, and asked me to walk through. He made it clear that I had a decision to make: was I willing to believe in the gospel?

I was a Roman Catholic.  My Mom was Italian; all four of her grandparents were born in Italy.  (Irish Catholics may be devout, but Italian Catholics are proud.)  I didn’t see any need to believe in this message because I was already on good terms with God.

Plus, my favorite grandmother had recently passed away; she didn’t believe in this gospel, so if I did I would have to forsake the chance of ever seeing her again. In fact, I would have to forsake all of my family and friends!

No, it was impossible; I could not believe.

“I’m sorry, Rick, but there is no way I can believe what you are telling me.  If I did, then I’d be admitting that everyone I love is going to hell.”

Rick replied, “You can only make the decision to save yourself, Lisa; you can’t save anyone else.”

That seemed logical.  I thought to myself, “what if this is true? Am I going to reject Jesus Christ, am I going to reject heaven, just because everyone else does?”

I grew up surrounded by Catholics and Jews; I had barely any prior experience with Christianity. Rick was the first person to ever preach the gospel to me, and his message was in total opposition to my own beliefs.

The way I imagined God was that He created the heavens and the earth, and then withdrew into His isolated heavenly realm to watch us all from above. Left on our own, we had obviously messed things up; we had generated a problematic world of pollution and poverty. I figured that God was disappointed, but as a good and loving Father, He forgave us for our mistakes. I certainly didn’t believe in hell, or even in the existence of evil. As God’s children, we were basically good at heart. Everything would be okay in the end since we would all end up in heaven living together happily ever after.

By my sophomore year of college, I had given up the attempt to be Catholic.  During my junior year of college, a series of events led me to admit I was not “okay.”  I actually had faults.  My happy childhood was useless to protect me from my own inner inadequacies.  And it was during my senior year of college, that I met Rick the hairdresser.  Even though I rejected the gospel message that he presented to me, I was nonetheless intrigued. I was recovering from a phase of depression, and was open to new ideas.

In order to get to that place, God used three special people to call me to the Savior:  Molly, Willie and Byron.  Each of these Christians planted seeds in my heart that God watered.

The first one was Molly.  She was the first Christian I ever met.  It was 1989, and I was a junior at FSU.  She became my closest friend that year, but her closest friend was Jesus. Her obvious relationship with Jesus Christ was strange and intriguing to me.

Before long I met a flaming Pentecostal named Willie.

Willie was a blind man working on his Master’s degree in Theology. I was hired by FSU’s Department of Blind Student Services to type his papers as he dictated them to me. We developed a father-daughter friendship, and it became his personal mission to save me. He insisted that I ask Jesus into my heart.

I was like, “Sure, no problem.”

So I got into the habit of asking Jesus into my heart every morning. In the morning Jesus came in (I assumed), but by the evening, it was quite obvious that He was gone.

Willie gave me my first Bible. It was a tiny green Gideon’s pocket Bible, and he suggested that I begin with the Psalms and Proverbs.

Like an obedient child, I said again, “Sure, no problem.”

I noticed that Proverbs divided people into groups: the ‘foolish and the wise,’ ‘the wicked and the righteous.’ This was a brand-new idea to me, because I had always imagined that God saw all of us as equals.

A verse from the Psalms said: “Lord, cleanse me from my hidden faults.”

This one jumped out at me. What hidden faults?

In my astonishment I asked God, “What does this mean? Do I have any hidden faults that I need to be cleansed from?”

It had never crossed my mind that God saw me as a person with faults. All of my mother’s hard work was in vain: although she brought us to Confession every three weeks in order to get forgiven by the priest, I had never personally embraced the Catholic teaching on venial and mortal sins.

Consequently, seeing this verse in the book of Psalms about having “hidden faults” made a pretty big impression on me.

While working at the Department of Blind Student Services I went through an atheist phase.  I felt uncomfortable and unsettled living this way.  And three months later, God used Willie Davis, the blind man, to share a Bible verse with me that helped me see clearly.

I was back to believing in God.

In the summer of 1990, I worked at FSU as an Orientation Leader with this boy named Byron. Whenever we had a free moment, Byron would preach to us that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.

Meanwhile, God had begun to answer my prayer from the Psalms, “reveal to me my hidden faults.”  Byron’s preaching, therefore, was getting through my thick skull.

I returned to Tallahassee for my senior year of college deeply humiliated by a series of personal failures.  I often prayed for death. I lived as a hermit for many months, brooding over my misery.

However, my feelings of hopelessness diminished with time, and I eventually decided to stop blaming everyone else for my problems. I resolved to accept responsibility for myself. As I began my last semester of college, I reentered society.

I was intrigued one morning by a newspaper article about New Age philosophy. It described how the power that moves an ocean wave is the same force that gives flight to a butterfly. I did something unusual and cut out the article for safekeeping.

Butterflies were on my mind, so when I saw a yellow one the next day while on a solitary walk, I intently observed him. He was the picture of happiness. He flew around performing all sorts of loops and rolls, truly delighting in the joy of flight.

Turning towards home, I walked slowly in order to keep an eye on him, eventually realizing that the butterfly was following me. He followed me all the way across campus, along my course home. Twenty minutes later he was still behind me! Past the library, I crossed a two-lane street; however, the butterfly refused to cross.

“C’mon little guy! Come on over! …No? …All righty then.”

I walked back over to his side of the street. He then led me in a direction that was perpendicular to my intended course.

We walked past two student dormitories – Landis Hall and Broward Hall – then arrived together at a spot on the edge of campus where, across the street, stood three buildings: on the left was a bar named “The Phyrst,” in the middle was a candy store named “The Sweet Shop,” and to the right was a United Methodist Church that was basically an outreach ministry to the college students.

The yellow butterfly then flew across the street. I followed. He flew to the right, towards the church. There was a sign on the lawn in front indicating that tomorrow’s service was at 10:00 am. The butterfly flew diagonally across the church’s sign. He then, literally, disappeared from sight.

I stood there on the church’s front lawn waiting for him to reappear. I waited for minutes, looking and searching, but he was gone. I got the message, though. The following morning, I was in church promptly at 10:00 am.

When my Italian mother later found out that I was attending a Protestant church, she did not take it lightly. She was upset and angry, and argued vehemently that the Catholic Church is the only true church.

“It is only at Mass that you can receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist,” she said.

“What? …Wait, you actually believe that, Mom?”

“Yes,” she answered, “I have faith.”

I was sorry to be letting her down, but I liked this church and the new ‘crowd’ that accepted me. Plus, it was an eye-opening cultural experience to observe the guilt issues of these Christians.  I had never seen anything like this before in my life.  After a Saturday night of drinking and revelry at some fraternity party, they were plagued with sorrow on Sunday morning – often tearfully answering the ‘altar call’ at the end of the service in order to rededicate themselves to the Lord.

I was witnessing first-hand the cycle of “repentance, obedience, failure; repentance, obedience, failure,” that defines the life of many evangelical Christians.

It was at this time that I began to get my hair cut by Rick. He was known as the best hairdresser on campus and a master of ‘big hair,’ a popular style on the East Coast in those days. When you left his salon, your hair would be poufed out to five times its original volume.

On the day that Rick preached the gospel to me, the blinders on my eyes were pulled back ever so slightly; God gave me a glimpse of my unbelief: an important reality to accept. Though I rejected God’s offer of salvation that day, He did not give up on me. I don’t think He ever gives up on anyone.

Rick the hairdresser gave me two cassette tapes of sermons by his pastor at Calvary Chapel Tallahassee. I listened to those messages over and over again during those last months of my senior year, and I even went to Ricks’ church a couple of times. Since I’d soon be graduating, he encouraged me to check out Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale.

I graduated in May of 1991, then moved back into my parents’ home in South Florida so that I could be with my sister, who had also recently moved back home. After a summer of heavy partying, we were both ready for a change. She enrolled in Nursing School, and I turned my course towards Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (CCFL).

I decided that I belonged there. God had clearly revealed to me my hidden faults, and I believed that going to church would help me to improve. I still didn’t believe a word of that “you gotta saved and born-again” stuff, though.

One of the worship leaders there at CCFL reminded me of my mom. They looked so much alike that, from a distance, I could imagine my mother as the one on stage singing about Jesus! It was an incredible sight!

Introducing myself to her after the service, I related this to her and said how delightful this was for me in light of the fact that my mother was not even saved. A few others were standing near us and this lady announced, “C’mon guys, we need to pray for her mother’s salvation!” We gathered in a circle, and as we grasped hands to pray I told them, “Actually… I’m not saved either.” So, the group prayed for my salvation as well as my mom’s.

Several Sundays later, September 1, 1991, Bob Coy taught on the first of the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Though I had never committed adultery or murder, I had clearly disobeyed the First Commandment. God alone is the one to be worshiped, and did I worship Him? No. My whole life revolved around me. I worshipped myself! The weight of my sin and guilt grew heavier and heavier with each moment, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)

Realizing that my sin deserved punishment, I was prepared to accept the gospel (the word gospel means good news or glad tidings). Paul says in Romans that the gospel “is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” God brought salvation to me that morning.

God removed the blinders on my eyes so I could ‘see’ the choice I had to make: on my left was Jesus Christ and His offer to me of eternal life, and on my right, was an eternal hell. I understood that I justly deserved to go to hell, and that God would not have been unfair to send me there. Which would I choose?

Grace Given to Me — my personal testimony — Part 2

I chose Jesus. This was a private moment between God and me; all I did was respond to the offer that He presented.  Responding to the gospel is described in the Bible as the “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2). It is not a “work;” it’s the acceptance of a gift.

When I received the free gift of Jesus, I passed out of death and darkness because Jesus is “the life.” (John 14:6) He gave me His life, and His life saved me.

If you want to receive salvation, you simply need to believe in this message of grace and decide to trust in the good news. Tell God that you trust that Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sins; that you believe He paid the debt that you owe. Tell Him that you accept the free gift of the Holy Spirit; that you need His life to save you. Thank Him for the gift of eternal life.

It was 1991, and I had become a brand-new creation. Once a foreign concept, I now understood that to be born-again was real! This was proven to me the day after my salvation.

I worked with my mother at a law office, and in the hallway, I noticed the obituary of the lawyer’s father posted on a door. The article related how he had attained great wealth, success, and fame.

Suddenly, I began to cry. My heart ached with sadness over this lost man.

My reaction surprised me; it was as if someone else were living inside of me and giving me a new way to view the world. That was exactly the case.

I had received the Spirit of Jesus; I now had access to His mind. God’s view of success was radically different from my own: true success is finding the grace and peace of God, and has nothing to do with fame and wealth.

A few months later, my parents called a family meeting in order to discuss my strange new behaviors. They were disturbed that I was going to church four times a week, reading the Bible at the kitchen table, and worst of all, they were angry that I got baptized in the Atlantic Ocean, a very offensive thing to them in light of the fact that I had already been baptized as an infant.

The family meeting gave me the opportunity that I was looking for to tell them that I had accepted Jesus and was born again!

They did not share in my enthusiasm. As they saw it, I had joined a cult. I was a fundamentalist, a term I had never heard before.

“What’s a fundamentalist, Mom?”

She answered, “It is someone who takes the Bible literally.”

“Oh!” I said, “Then it must be a good thing to be a fundamentalist!”

My mother set up an appointment for me to meet with our Parish Priest. I explained to him that I found God, and had become a new person.

He said, “No, you found God and received the Holy Spirit when you underwent Confirmation at age 13. You are welcome to come back home whenever you are ready. Once you realize the mistake you’ve made, the doors of the Catholic Church will always be open for you.”

Of course our Catholic priest was wrong; I had found the true God. To illustrate His reality in my life, here is a diary entry from December 9, 1991, just three months after my salvation.

 Dear Diary, 

God gave me understanding today as I was taking a shower. Thank You, Jesus, my God. My wonderful, loving God! I didn’t even ask for this – but I needed it. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for knowing my needs. God revealed to me the fall of man. 

Before sin, Adam and Eve were in perfect union with God. They had a perfect relationship. That is why and how God created us to be. Adam and Eve lived in perfect peace and happiness. Then Satan came along, stealing God’s serpent to speak through and tempted Adam and Eve to commit sin.

“No, God’s word is that we can’t do that.”

Satan said, “Oh, c’mon, you believe God’s word? Would he really punish you? He’s God. Did he really say that? C’mon, do what I say and you will know what evil is. Your eyes will be opened. You will know all things.”

O.K., they said. They were tempted and they followed and they sinned against their father’s word. God was grieved – he was hurt. Now they could see good and evil. Now they were unclean, unworthy of God.

God could not change what happened. He created us with the free will to choose him or to reject him. Adam and Eve chose to reject God. So the punishment for sin is death. Sin would have to lead to death. Sin had to be killed.

As Adam and Eve procreated, all their children were born as they were – separated from God by their sin. Nothing they could do could change that fact. We are born ungodly creatures. We are born as children of the devil. Our bodies are destined to death. Sin is contained inside our flesh and our soul. But God desires and yearns for his creation.

God does not want any of us to perish. But when he saw how sinful we had become, he sent a great flood and wiped out most everyone. That didn’t work. Then he sent us the 10 commandments and the Law spoken through prophets. It was written down and called Scripture. But the law couldn’t save us or take away our sinful flesh. God told us that he would send us a son. He said a child would be born by a virgin.

This child was born and he claimed to be God himself. But his words were rejected. He was hated and eventually was killed. The blood He shed on that cross fulfilled God’s word. That blood took away our sins. God rose from the dead and therefore overcame death. Satan was defeated, forever. But since we are sinful, we must now turn from our sin and accept God.

If we don’t believe that God’s blood was shed on the cross as a sacrifice to us, then how can we be saved? If we don’t believe, we are still living in sin. We remain as simply a creation that has rejected God.

When we come to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice and that God rose him from death, then we become God’s adopted child and heirs to his kingdom.

How are we saved? All one has to do to be saved and to have eternal life in Jesus Christ is to truly believe that Jesus was sent to save us from our sins. That takes a leap of faith. Believing that is all you have to do. Then, to secure your salvation he sends the Holy Spirit to live inside of you.

Once you have the Holy Spirit – you are saved and you know it. You may not realize it is the Holy Spirit at first, but you will feel a rebirth. You are no longer the same person. You have been made whiter than snow on the inside. God now can see us and have a relationship with us. Because, when God looks at you, he sees the pure blood of Jesus. You are now justified. You have been born-again.

All you have to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus was sent from God to die for us, and that he was raised from his death. You believe by faith, and you are saved through God’s grace. Ask God for the faith to believe. Ask God to reveal your sin to you.

God, help me to understand salvation. I want to share it with everyone. Lord, I want to be with you in heaven. I desire to love you, God. I want to obey. (End of diary entry.)

Meanwhile, my church was teaching me to walk away from Christ. This was actually a popular teaching at CCFL:  that maturity in Christ is the ability to walk on your own.

One of the female deacons could see that I was fully depending on the Lord, and that He was working in and through me. So, she set me straight.

She told me, “Yes, God is holding your hand now, but as you grow in the faith He will let go of your hand and teach you to walk on your own.”

One day I would be on my own? God would eventually push me away from Him? How deflating and discouraging it was to hear her say those words! But, she was popular, and well respected, so I trusted her; I believed her.

I allowed this falsehood to begin to permeate my thinking. In fact, I began to like it.

My prideful nature began to assert itself.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…” (Gal 5:17, ESV)

I didn’t want to struggle with sin; I wanted to be perfect and holy. I didn’t want to have to wait around for God to continue leading me; I wanted to take control. Sure, I had read the verse that says “God would be faithful to complete the work in me that He had begun,” but I wanted to be faithful to complete the work myself.

“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Gal 3:3, NIV) …Apparently, yes; I was that foolish.

Fifteen months after getting saved, in January of 1993, I moved across the country to California in order to attend Calvary Chapel Bible College. I was thrilled to be in an environment where I could commit myself 100% to works-based-sanctification.

“Sure, positionally you are sanctified,” we were often told, “but practically you are not.”

I lost sight of my closeness to Jesus as I focused my eyes fixedly on myself and worked tirelessly to accomplish my sanctification.

One of my roommates complained to the Dorm Dean about me. My behavior made her feel uncomfortable. Well, sorry, but I was not going to change for HER. I had a mighty God to please!

I continued with my 5:30 a.m. quiet times, attended all of the prayer meetings, wrote the best papers that Pastor Larry Taylor had ever seen, fasted once a week, went street witnessing in L.A. every Friday night, did the hospital ministry, the phone hot-line ministry, the Junior High ministry, wore baggy clothes, and taught Sunday School.

Without acknowledging that I was in a competition with the other students, I did realize that I was at the top of the food chain: after all, I had been asked to come on staff and manage the front office. I was practically in full-time ministry, thank you very much.

Despite my efforts to be godly, I continued to struggle with the temptation to binge on junk food. This bizarre behavior had confounded me for eight long years; it was painfully obvious that there was nothing I could do to change myself. And then one day­­, I said a very sincere prayer: “God, I am completely fed up with this. Could you please give me a new sin to struggle with?”

As it turns out, God said ‘yes.’

This event should have proven to me that my efforts to ‘sanctify myself’ were futile. We cannot conquer our own sins, but the Lord God can choose to change our hearts. And on this day, He chose to deliver me.

For years, it had been like walking down a long, dark alley with a scary man following me. The fear of that man had been with me for eight years. In the months to come, I would occasionally turn my head to check for him, worried that he was still there lurking in the darkness, but he was really gone. As I said, I had begged God to give me a new sin to struggle with, and He did. But that is an entirely different story.