Sunday, March 29, 2009

Faith and Grace

I was studying the book of Galatians with my husband. He asked me an interesting question..."How was Abraham saved if Jesus came AFTER Abraham?" This question has come up a bit during our Bible Study Groups over the past few years. In Galatians 3, Paul was saying, "Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." Paul was telling the Galatians that Abraham believed God through faith. Stephen was showing me that this passage proves to us that Abraham was saved. And just as Abraham believed through are we to do through Jesus Christ. The verse that jumped out at me was Verse 3... "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? I felt like God was talking to me! I struggle with just accepting Christ's grace and power that he has available through his Spirit for me. After all, it is by grace (alone!) that I am saved and not of works-lest I should boast.

For most of my life growing up, I was extremely active in church doing: adult choir, teen choir, singing in a trio, witnessing, bus visitation, Sunday school classes, Children's Sunday School, Beacon's Nursery, Volunteering in the Church Office, and anything else I could find time to do. During this time, I went through a period of thinking that I was "DOING" a pretty good job at being a godly, Christian, young woman. I had plenty of people coming to me and giving me approval or a "pat on the back" for just following Jesus. I would not say that I did everything in vain; however, it wasn't until later that I realized what the true motivator behind these "ACTS" of good works.

My family went through a very rough period. Dad and Mom struggled in their marriage and we eventually left the church I grew up in. This was difficult because I was so involved in my home church. I didn't put up a fight to move because I wanted my family to be together and I was glad that we were going to join another "Solid, Independent, Fundamental, Bible Believing, Baptist Church" whew! What a mouth full! :) The next weekend after joining this church, I was already plugged into a singing group, choir, and bus visitation. The church really gathered around me and made me feel welcomed. I made good friends and continued "serving" the only way I knew how. Mean while, things started going south around the home front once again. I remember reading about Jim Elliot and I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around some issues I was reading about in this autobiography. I spent many hours discussing these new discoveries with my brother. I couldn't understand why God used Jim Elliot and many other missionaries who came from different churches (Methodist, Brethren, Community, Presbyterian). I was raised in a Independent Baptist church and we really did not associate ourselves with other churches like these. I thought to my self, "How could God use men who smoked a pipe and drank whiskey (Charles Spurgeon and others)?" The way I had been raised...this just was not acceptable. Even though I was taught about these men and women growing up, these specific details never were brought up. I thought that these other groups of churches were believing some kind of crazy religion and may not even be saved! Meanwhile I came across these verses where Paul was addressing the Corinthians about the division that was happening among the churches:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.

I was too afraid to dive deeper into the meaning of all of this, so I decided (and my youth leaders encouraged me) to go to a very conservative Bible College. I guess I was doing too much "free thinking" and I had never thought outside of my little bubble before. This was making me doubt myself so I quickly shut it off and pursued the life style I had always known. I thought that this very dogmatic, legalistic, environment would keep my thinking "on the straight and narrow." However...God had other plans.

In Dec of 2004 (right before I planned to leave for that college), My dad, brother, and sister moved away. So I decided to stay with my mom and we headed back down to San Diego (the completely oppisite direction that "I" wanted to go. However, I was excited to attend the church I had grown up in once again. I was eagerly trying to find normality so I rejoined everything that I could possibly help out with. It was hard to go back to this church without my family even though I loved seeing old friends! Thankfully, God crossed my path with Stephen's for the first time in 8 months. He was going to a different church but just came to the church I was at to visit("randomly", we both visited the exact same night). Although my heart leaped for joy to see him, I felt like God was still speaking to me about some serious issues so I waited 2 months to talk to him.

In those two months, I continued to wrestle with God about questions like: "Why is it forbidden for women to wear pants? Why do we only read the KJV? Why do we only sing old hymns? Why don't we have syncopation in any church songs? Why can't we have freedom to praise You however we want? Why do we only attend "Independent Fundamental" Baptist Churches? Why don't we associate ourselves with other believers even if they're not from our "bubble"? Why don't we live like Jesus lived while He was on this earth? Why do I follow all of these rules?!" I was sick and tired of the answers that I have been given all of my life. I wanted God to show me from his Word the answers to my questions. I had a strong religion inbedded into my heart, but not a strong relationship with Christ. I wanted eagerly to change that! I wanted to be completely honest with God and allow him to shine his light of truth on me.

I started attending Shadow Mountain Community Church in April of 2005. I had well meaning Christian brothers and sisters warn me against going to this "liberal" church. They had actually never been there before, but somehow had SO much knowledge of the type of church that it was. Since I had decided to start allowing God to speak to me directly, I didn't listen to them and went to check it out for myself. To my great surprise, guess what I saw? I saw other believers from all different walks of like coming together for one worship God. I heard worship songs with a beat, saw people kneeling, jumping, or swaying to songs that were speaking truth to their hearts. This was unacceptable in my churches growing up, but I was determined to watch and listen with an open heart. Were these strange Christians really worshipping the same God as me? The songs that they sang brought me to tears each week. When the preachers gave the message, I knew God was speaking the truth through them.
I felt like God was opening up a door of some kind of freedom for me. Freedom in Jesus Christ! Reading Romans 14-15 gave me greater understanding as to the liberties we have in Christ individually. I attended SMCC and my original church at the same time for 6 months. It wasn't until God spoke to me at church and gave me specific direction that it was time for me to "get out of the boat and start walking on the water" did I then start attending my church I'm currently at full-time. This was a difficult decision as I didn't want to lose the approval of the leaders that I grew up with. I knew that after I left, they would no longer associate themselves with me. In my mind, I was going to lose everything that I knew and have to begin from scratch. However, the moment I made the decision...I felt a flood of freedom flow over me. Not weird and mystical...I just had never had so much peace and reassurance about such a difficult decision. It was a HUGE step of faith for me.

April 09 marks my fourth year in this "new world" of Christianity. :) A world of throwing "religion" in the trash and seeking a "relationship" with Jesus. I'm not longer a religious person...I only strive to follow Jesus. I try not to "DO" spiritual disciplines because I can cross it off my list of "good things to do today"...rather, I now WANT to do spiritual disciplines because I want to draw closer to God in a real relationship with Him. It has been an amazing journey that I feel like God has taken me by the hand and lead me through. I started attending Stephen's Bible Study in the spring of 2005 (before we were dating) and I am proud to say that I continue to learn with Him today in our Bible Studies as a married couple. I am so thankful to have married an amazing man that encourages me spiritually. He is a gem and one of a kind. I'm excited to see where God continues to take us on our journey through faith and grace in Jesus Christ!

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