Memories of Church-Part 2~ “Relationship vs. Religion”

God doesn’t need me.😐

He doesn’t need you either.😯

Christianity is not a performance based religion.

We say we agree that it’s not, but we wholeheartedly embrace the idea that it is, without even realizing it.

It’s true though…He doesn’t need us, or anyone at all. It took me a long time to realize that God didn’t need me to go save the world for Him.🌍😧

And that was hard for me to wrap my mind around. I kept thinking-surely He needs me to spread the word..? Or maybe He needs a missionary in the Bahamas or something…😜🌴

But what I eventually found myself understanding more and more is that God is God…how could He possibly ‘need’ us to do anything that He’s not fully capable of accomplishing Himself?

So why do we spend so much energy serving, begging for people to serve, and complaining about those who don’t? We’re missing something.

He doesn’t need us, but He does want us. 💖

There’s a difference.

I’ll come back to that thought in a little while. 💕

When I finally broke free from the suffocating religious experience of my childhood~we did find a church. ⛪️ A church that still holds huge pieces of my heart. 💖A church that brought us back to life in a sense, and made us realize what church ‘could’ be instead of what it definitely shouldn’t be.

In fact, it’s the church that initially made me love…‘church’ instead of igniting feelings of fear and dread.

It was a typical church in many ways…it had an ‘in’ crowd, as most churches do..as well as meetings, potlucks, meetings,😰 favorite hymn nights, meetings, committees, ‘business’meetings, 😖mission conferences, meetings, building funds, meetings, 😩doctrine, meetings, by-laws, meetings,😐 fundraising dinners, those types of things.

Did I mention meetings? 😵😂

Aren’t you THANKFUL that when we re-unite with Jesus, we won’t be wasting our time sitting in meetings and such, listening to ourselves talk??? I can say this because I grew up Baptist…and lemme tell ya-Baptists LOVE their meetings. 😵 Nothing brings folks together like a good ole-fashioned business meeting about the budget.💰😂

Forgive my sarcasm. None of these things are bad things. They’re just part of the organizational ‘system’ and structure of church that we’ve become so accustomed to that we think they have something to do with Jesus. 😕

We can include Jesus in all of these things, I’m just not sure they’re always necessary.

But you wanna know what the biggest difference was for me in this church experience compared to the previous one?

We fit in. We belonged. I was part of that ‘In’ crowd. At least I think I was. 🤔Doesn’t matter now, because I thought I was. 😯The difference of being accepted versus not being accepted. And because I fit in, I loved it.

Is that what church should really be about?🤔

Well, in a sense..yes.

You may be thinking, ‘But church should be about Jesus!’ 😵😨😱

If you belong, if you are accepted, if you fit in, if you are loved…friends…that IS Jesus.❤️

That’s community. That’s relationship.

And the opposite…if you don’t feel you belong, if you aren’t accepted, if you don’t fit in, if you aren’t loved…that’s NOT Jesus. So how can it be church?😕

Think about it…when you belong~ you’re happy, you feel secure…you thrive. You may not remember anything the preacher ever said, but you definitely remember feeling loved.

But Jesus is squeezed in there somewhere. He’s in it. Where there is love, He is there. I did love Jesus, to the capacity that I’m even capable to in my humanness. But I think I may have loved the social aspect of it more. 👀

And that’s perfectly ok. Why? Because God knew I needed it. And He’s always about what we need. He wants us to thrive, to feel loved, accepted, included. One of my favorite characteristics of Jesus’s character is that everyone was always included, He never left anyone out and left them wondering what they did wrong. He always has our best interest at heart. 💞Anything else He wanted to teach me, it would come in time. He would do that when I was ready. And I just wasn’t ready for anything deep yet, I just needed to feel part of His community.

But if you feel the opposite, and you’re always preoccupied with the fact that you don’t fit in…how would you ever be able to see Jesus in that setting? You wouldn’t, because the fact that you don’t feel accepted doesn’t make sense in this thing we call “church”.

You can’t focus on what Jesus might be showing you because you’re too busy trying to figure out what’s wrong with you.

So really, what damage are we doing when we intentionally ignore people, don’t include them, de-friend them on Facebook, move their Bible to a different seat (witnessed this last Sunday!😖), spread your belongings, etc out on your “reserved” section, invite some to lunch and not others. Discuss them…disguised as prayer requests of course. 😳🤐

I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. And what’s interesting to me is that there are many who feel the exact same way. They may never acknowledge it, but they do. Everyone is trying to fit in in some capacity. And, many are struggling to find their place and have yet to find it. Some have been looking for so long they’re not even sure what they’re looking for. Some have given up, and they may come across as snobby, rude, or apathetic, but we don’t know their story. We don’t know how long they’ve been trying to find their niche. Some have an agenda in what they’re looking for, mostly about how a person can benefit them~and puff up their ego a little. Some just long to find some real people who want real friends with no strings attached. 🙋🏼‍🙋🏼‍🙋🏼‍

I don’t know where you fit on the spectrum. Maybe you’ve been on both ends like me. Maybe you’ve been part of the in crowd, or maybe you’ve been searching most of your life for that feeling of belonging but it never comes.

But if you’ve arrived at the top of the mountain, if you’ve found your people, your niche, please don’t forget what it’s like to be at the bottom.

Remember what it felt like. Step out of your comfort zone to say hi to someone you may not know. Engage them in a conversation. Send a text. Sit beside someone who doesn’t sit on your row or pew. Share your church blanket. Ask them how THEY ARE and don’t run away-actually listen. Just go be Jesus. Isn’t that the point anyway?

RELATIONSHIP.💜

Everything in life is about relationships. Every.Single.Part.

So if we’re not walking IN relationship with the three who spoke us into existence, we don’t have a fighting chance. We were never meant to do life alone, apart from our Creator. We try so hard to manage life on our own, but when we were not designed to function that way, how can it work?

Remember the Garden?

Did you know it wasn’t just God in the garden that day? Before Adam and Eve, He wasn’t alone. When He, or should I say They, created us, they were always together. Always in community. Always in relationship. He was with His two best friends. Sound weird? I know, it did to me too at first, but it’s Truth.

He was NEVER alone, has never BEEN alone, and will never BE alone.

The Trinity can’t just break apart, disassemble, or be separated for a certain time period, then come back together…does that even make logical sense? And, where was the Holy Spirit during the events of the cross? 🤔Definitely something to think about.

Jesus was not alone on the cross either, but that’s another topic for another day. They travel in a pack~Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the Trinity, which most of us are familiar with. They were not and have never been apart from each other.

“And God said, Let US [Father, Son, & Holy Spirit] make mankind in OUR IMAGE, after OUR likeness…” Genesis 1:26a

This was God’s original plan all along. ❤️To invite us into relationship with Him.

We would’ve never needed anything else.

But we had to go and take matters into our own hands, which we always do. And we totally screw things up when we do that-every.single.time.

But God wasn’t mad at us. We can see that very clearly in what happened next in the garden. He went looking for us. He’s always looking for us. He made clothes for us. He asked us what happened…when he already knew what happened. And I say ‘us’ because we see ourselves in Adam and Eve.

And thus began the Great Rescue-the plan to make everything right again. But so many of us still fight Him tooth and nail~when it was never intended to be so complicated. For the life of us we can’t give up the control.

But we don’t have control, because control is an illusion.

“The gospel never comes to control or manipulate through fear. God is confident in the fact that love always wins. Religion is afraid of losing control. God enjoys giving people freedom to think for themselves and to be persuaded by love.”

And that’s what happened when ‘church’ as we know it today, formed. It formed out of the need to control. It started out good-remember the first time Peter addressed the crowd, immediately following the Holy Spirit’s arrival. The results were earth-shattering.

But at some point, we thought we needed to stop following the Holy Spirit’s lead, and follow ours instead. We had good intentions, we really did. We usually do. We tried to keep Jesus in the center, the focal point. But when the need to control sneaks in…we lose sight of Jesus.

So after centuries of trying out every possible scenario of church structure and organization, hierarchy, programs, doctrines, by-laws, agendas, we have come up short every single time. Why else do so many churches close their doors, and why are thousands people walking away?

Some of us (🙋🏼‍6 years and counting) are JUST now coming to the realization that this was never how it was supposed to be. Church was NEVER meant to be a building that we gather in with a structured program and outline (you may know that as a bulletin😳) complete with 2 songs, an offering, a ‘special,’ a message, and an invitation. Was this life in Christ really meant to be reduced to an outline on a piece of paper? How tragic.

But, like it or not, it’s what we’ve made it. And God isn’t mad at us. He knew it would happen this way, but He meets us-exactly where we are. And He does meet many of us in that church/religious setting-because He knows it’s all He has to work with. He enters our religious ideology and that’s how many of us meet Him-that’s how He met with Abraham when He asked him to sacrifice Isaac. He entered his religious mindset in order to show him who He really was. After he told him to put the knife down, He told him (paraphrased) ‘see, Abraham? I don’t really require a sacrifice like you think I do.’ Which was a great life lesson for Abraham, and for us.

Even if it was one of those ‘hellfire and brimstone’ sermons,🔥complete with fists pounding on a pulpit, that literally scared you out of Hell when you initially met Jesus, it’s ok. He will make Himself known to you in whatever way He can, and for many of us that was our first introduction to Him.

Don’t misunderstand -It’s still a real encounter. But it’s unfortunate. Because if we think about it, does it make any logical sense for Jesus to begin a relationship with anyone based on FEAR? But that’s how many of us met him. Would you want to begin ANY relationship with ANYONE based on fear?

Why do I bring up Hell? Because our entire ideology about God is based on the fact that there are two places we can end up-Heaven and Hell, so this framework shapes and dictates everything in our life. How can Christianity not be performance based if we’re working toward an end goal?

If fear of Hell was your first encounter with Jesus, I am truly sorry. I can relate though, because it had a lot to do with mine too. I was terrified of hell but also plagued with the peer pressure to be ‘saved.’ And that’s how I came to know Jesus. But it was a REAL encounter, no doubt. But He had to show up there because He knew all the lies I had been taught and believed about Him were not going to be unraveling any time soon. But when we’re ready, he begins the process of the ‘unraveling’ and fixing everything that’s messed up.💖

I’m not against church. Earlier I mentioned that we did find a church that was experiencing a healthy season, and good memories far outweigh any negativity.

I met some of my closest and most cherished friends there, all of which I still hold close today.💕

I learned the importance of having a solid group of friends in those challenging teenage years. Friends who can hold you accountable, be a support group and help you deal with everything life throws at you. 💞

Friends who know everything about you, and still stick around. We went through and experienced so much together.💖

Friends that know and love your family. Friends who come back years later for your dad’s funeral..I still remember that like it was yesterday. And those friends were there to support me with tears in their eyes because they loved him too. ❤️

I’m so thankful for memories like that.💝

I remember goofing off during choir practice. Like seriously goofing off so much that we had tears in our eyes from laughing so hard and could barely breathe long enough to sing. 😧🎶

I remember loving on little kids and babies while working in the nursery, preschool, children’s choir, and everything under the sun that involved children. I had so much more patience back then!😱

I remember one choir practice when we all watched in horror as our youth pastor’s little boy fell through the ceiling..😬😬😬 (he was ok!😵😄)

I remember VBS’s and backyard bible clubs and soccer⚽️ camps and tent revivals and choir tours and mission trips and youth trips and conferences.💗

I remember ‘Praise Ensemble’, a group we formed that sang ‘specials’ at church. 😊I remember one friend reading a particular scripture in Isaiah to introduce a song, and she had tears in her eyes as she was reading it.

These were good things.💕

I remember the many activities and memories in the infamous ‘fellowship hall’. I’m certain that every fellowship hall across the country holds unique memories for every believer at some point in their lives. 💕

I remember the night we were at Stoby’s, our favorite hang out, when a friend got the devastating call from her parents that her little brother had been killed in a car accident. 😪💔

This is Community. This is Relationship. This is Doing life together, and it’s always been God’s plan.

I ‘discovered’ I actually had a talent for singing, because someone took the time to notice. I had so much fun and it brought a lot of joy to me to sing in various capacities there.

But isn’t it funny that NONE of these experiences or memories signify anything deeply spiritual whatsoever.

But Jesus was there.

We don’t have to leave Jesus out of our fun things. We don’t have to keep him in the religious, reverent box and keep everything else separate, in the fun box. Jesus wants to be a part of our everything. He wants in on the fun. ❤️☺️

And get this-I don’t recall any memories doing bible studies or memorizing scripture. I don’t remember a SINGLE thing from any sermon, lesson or anything of the sort. Isn’t that wild?

And don’t get me wrong-I LOVE bible studies, I am a bible study nerd. (current, relevant, and ones that speak Truth of course😍)

But the things I REMEMBER most significantly are not those churchy things. It’s the community and the relationship part that made the difference.

However, at some point in the midst of this awesome community of Jesus followers, the ‘need’ for serving began to dominate me. He showed me what both scenarios looked like-the joy of community and the burden of being overly committed and burned out. Of letting serving turn me into a not so fun person at times.😕 When my bestie and I led some mission trips, she lovingly nicknamed me ‘Hitler’ 😧because I was so intense.😖 Everything had to be perfect and I was in charge. I ended up stressed and angry. But she actually had time to love on the kids we went to serve instead of frantically making sure everything went perfect. Sounds similar to the story of Mary and Martha to me. 😯

This is when I had to discover that God didn’t need me. He didn’t need me to do all the stuff I was doing . Does He WANT us to serve? Sure…if WE want to. When we learn to live and walk in community and relationship-serving is a natural by-product of this.

God’s plan, from the beginning of creation, was to bring people into a relationship of love that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have shared for all of eternity.

He wants nothing less…and nothing else.

He doesn’t need us…but he wants us. He wants so bad for us to experience the JOY of serving Him, which becomes as natural as anything you find yourself doing on a regular basis that brings joy and fulfillment. To give it all up, throw in the towel, and just begin coexisting with Him. It’s so simple, yet will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But you’ll find what it says in John 10:10 becoming a reality.

“…I came that they may have and ENJOY life, and have it in abundance” [to the full, oil it overflows]💘

Everything you’re searching for is ultimately found within the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. That doesn’t mean you have to put your ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ dreams on the shelf and try and fit your dreams into a religious box. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes we make, we think we have to be a missionary or work in a church or just sing christian songs if we want God involved in our plans. We’ve been deceived. When we live in partnership with the Holy Spirit~our desires end up matching His. He may want to tweak our plans a little if there is anything in them that doesn’t resemble Love. But He speaks our language, he knows better than we even do the desires of our heart, and until we allow him to show us and be our partner in the process, we will be frantically searching the rest of our lives to figure out ‘God’s will’.

God’s will for each and every person is to do life with us. Every part of life. When we discover this and give up all the trying, self effort, etc, everything else will fall into place. That’s God’s will. He never intended for us to ‘figure it out’. We just naturally find ourselves walking in it when we resolve to do life with Him. He’ll give us enough grace for each new day.💞

2 thoughts on “Memories of Church-Part 2~ “Relationship vs. Religion””

  1. So true. Jesus is a friend to sinners. God didn’t reject Adam because he sinned and he doesn’t reject us because of that identification with sin. He sought Adam – he sought the entire world.

    Liked by 1 person

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