Saturday, May 17, 2008

So what, exactly, is it that God wants from us...?

I think we have all wondered this, if we haven't exactly voiced it out loud. It seems that no matter which denominational background you come from, you get a set list of things in answer to this question. What is it that God wants from me?

So, I went to a Catholic mass tonight. It's something that I've had running around in my thoughts for a month or more, so tonight, I went. To understand why this is a big deal (some of you have probably already stifled a gasp ;-), I guess I need to explain what I was taught growing up. The denomination I grew up in never came right out and said it from the pulpit (at least not that I remember hearing), but they talked about it among themselves - and maybe it was mentioned in Sunday school or asked in Bible class - Catholics were not Christians they were heathens and worshipped idols. Some thought they might even be the Antichrist. They were dangerous. Stay away from them. It's kind of funny, in a very sad sort of way. Many of them were taught the same things about us...

I was a little unsure of what to expect. I had been in a Catholic church before, but not alone and not for no 'auxiliary purpose.' And it was not big deal. In the end, I have realized that just like every other denomination I have encountered, they have some 'spot on' truth, some whopping doctrinal fluff, and there are some very sincere followers of Christ in the pews next to some very sincere followers of traditions. I know, I know, there are some things that are very different from the protestant churches. Big surprise. That's the reason there ARE protestant churches. But before I get back to what I learned tonight, I have to say that I have seen a good number of various protestant 'believers' who put their faith in their church/denomination to save them, not Christ.

Okay. Back to tonight. There was a lot of ritual. No surprise there. Traditions, though, are simply that. Ritual. Trappings, not substance. The substance is what I was there for. The message that the father gave - that was what has had me thinking all night. In a nutshell, it was this - he asked the question, "Who is God for you?" Then he talked about the fact that, above all, He is a God of relationships.

Hmm... that is a familiar strain - I have heard it much over the 15 months since I walked out of the church I had been in. Relationship is more important than ritual. That has been the theme - it is all about the heart. God is a God of relationships. This is something I Absolutely agree with.

I can hear some possible 'yeah, buts' coming. So, I will share what I have seen this past year and a half...

Hmm... whether you are Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Charismatic, Word of Faith, Methodist, Lutheran or what ever, your denomination has a list of things that are 'the way things are done.' If you want to please God, you will follow this list - you will do what we tell you... God (seriously) help you if you disagree with the 'official steps' to being a 'good Christian.'

What I see is that no matter what background you come from, there is a list, compiled by men, that give the '1, 2, 3' steps of Christianity. Come to our church, do what we tell you, agree with what we preach, don't question the 'tenets of our faith' (translation: what the head office says is God's word), and you will get the good seats in heaven. If not, well... you MIGHT make it, but do you want to risk it? Works, works, works. Blah, blah, blah.

You know what? This is what I have found - what He has said...
"And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, Where are you?" Genesis 3:8-9 (Amplified)
From the beginning, He had a relationship with Adam. God came down to earth and walked and talked with Adam.
"And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham [My friend and servant] what I am going to do, Since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through him and shall bless themselves by him?" Genesis 18:17-18 (Amplified)
Hmm... God called Abraham His friend... He had a relationship with him. He actually came down and talked to him.
"And the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Mesos returned to the camp, but his minister Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the [temporary prayer] tent." Exodus 33:11 (Amplified)
Hmm... as a man speaks to his friend.
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 (Amplified)
Hmm... Come here. Talk to Me. I will fix it all if you let Me...
"Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel--which, when translated, means, God with us." Matthew 1:23 (Amplified)
He came back to earth as a man... to restore the relationship that Adam severed... to be with us, on a personal level.
"God's Message: "Heaven's my throne.
     earth is my footstool.
  What sort of house could you build for me?
     What holiday spot reserve for me?
  I made all this! I own all this!"
     God's decree.
"But there is something I'm looking for:
     a person simple and plain,
     reverently responsive to what I say.

  Your acts of worship
     are acts of sin:
  Your sacrificial slaughter of the ox
     is no different from murdering the neighbor;
  Your offerings of worship,
     no different from dumping pig's blood on the altar;
  Your presentation of memorial gifts,
     no different from honoring a no-god idol.
  You choose self-serving worship,
     you delight in self-centered worship - disgusting! 
  Well, I choose to expose your nonsense
     and let you realize your worst fears,
  Because when I invited you, you brushed me off.
  You did the very things I exposed as evil,
     you chose what I hate."

  But listen to what God has to say
     to you who reverently respond to his Word:
"Your own families hate you
     and turn you out because of me.
  They taunt you, 'Let us see God's glory!
    If God's so great, why aren't you happy?' 
  But they're the ones
     who are going to end up shamed." Isaiah 66 (Message)
Hmm... this could fit a lot of church services I have seen... It is SO not about following ritual...
"For [the Spirit which] you have now received [is] not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption [the Spirit producing sonship] in [the bliss of] which we cry, Abba (Father)! Father!" Romans 8:15 (Amplified)
"And because you [really] are [His] sons, God has sent the [Holy] Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, (Father)! Father!" Galatians 4:6 (Amplified)
He is my Papa God... relationship...
"Now that we know what we have - Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God - let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all - all but the sin. So lets' walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help." Hebrews 4:14-16 (Message)
Hmm... that was part of the point - God becoming human to understand what it is to be human - to restore relationship...
"God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun" Romans 8:29-30 (Message)
"Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you." Revelation 3:20 (Message)
So, where I am at - what I have learned this past year and a half is that it is all about the heart - getting the heart in the right direction and being in a relationship with Him. To be in a relationship with Him, you have to get to know Him. We can do all the little rituals and follow the 10 steps to Christian faith and whatever... At the end of the day, we must be in relationship with Him - know Him...

That passage from Revelation was written to a church - Christians. I guess going to church and being a 'Christian' or even being saved does not mean you have a real relationship with Him. That's what He wants. It is what He has wanted from the beginning. 
"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life - to God! - is vigorous and requires total attention.
     Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.
     Knowing the correct password - saying 'Master, Master,' for instance - isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience - doing what my Father wills. I can see it now - at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' And do you know what I'm going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.'" Matthew 7:13-23 (Message)
Hmm... strong words. It is not what we do, it is who we are that matters. And who we are comes from relationship...

Will having a relationship with God - with Jesus - with the Holy Spirit - be easy? Yes and no. It is easy to come to God and ask. But there will be hard things - letting go of religion - letting go of what people think - letting go of what we have been taught - sometimes, letting go of friends or family. Hmm... yeah, it can be hard. And yet, the more you get to know Him, the more the hard stuff isn't hard, somehow. Yes, it hurts sometimes, but there is comfort in the pain - strength - peace. 

The more we know Him, the more we begin to truly know ourselves. Not the selves we thought we were - were taught we were - no... the selves we were made to be - by Him - before the first words of creation were breathed.

Hmm... so, I guess were I am at is laying aside the lists of thing to do that have been handed to me by men (or women ;-) and trying to get to know Him well enough to know what His plan is. Man, what He has planned for us will blow our minds, it is so far beyond what we could even imagine. My loving Papa, my God, has been telling me one thing consistently - over and over this past year and a half: "Relax and trust Me."  He's got my back. He has me in the palm of His hand. He's not letting go. I am His and He will make me stand.

Man, I wish I could convey in a very real sense what it is to begin to know Him....


Gary Means said...

Good thoughts. A lot of reading though.

I have been having thoughts about the fact that I have forgotten what it is like to actually seek to walk with God, talking to Him throughout the day, submitting a thousand decisions to Him. I used to surrender these things, not waiting for Him to bless or dismiss, but rather, to acknowledge Him and His presence, to honer the fact that He cares.

But then it seemed that He began to gently ask me to make changes, and I balked. That was several years ago when I gradually started walking away from Him because it was too threatening to be in His presence. It seemed like a gradual process.

And it's not like I believe there is a straight and narrow pathway, anymore than there is in any other relationship.

Well, that's enough rambling for now.

Gary Means said...

One thing that I noticed in the years that I have been blogging is that my longer posts receive few comments. People have a difficult time wading through them. While it is my natural tendency to go on at length, I had to train myself to be more succinct and to limit the scope and length of any one post.

I mention this not in criticism, but just as an observation. I did read through this post, but it felt a bit long. Good thoughts though.

xenia-alien said...

Wow!! Go Katherine!!

I, personally, don't mind long posts! I've spent this morning reading your whole blog. You have my attention and if you need it! I/we (me and my husband) left our "church" home of 24 years about the same time you quit going. We've been going through the same type of reexamination and questioning of how/why we put up with the elitism, legalism & abuse for so long. Your post here says most effectively what has become our perspective on 'church' vs. relationship with God. We don't see how we could ever again belong to any organized 'Sunday club'...we have no desire to do so at all. The freedom of thought and inquiry we have experienced in these recent months has been wonderful, exhilarating and sometimes scary...still dealing occasionally with worry over going off the deep end & into heresy, etc. And it has been difficult trying to explain our stance to family members (at least those who will listen!).

Bottom line, it's good to know that God has our back & nothing will separate us from His love and friendship! That's all I'm counting on these days!

Katherine Gunn said...


Sorry it took me a while to get back to you. Welcome.

Thank you for your kind words. Hmm... it is scary, sometimes - that little panic vice that says, 'what the hell are you doing?' But I always come back to Him - what He has told me - and He is leading me and He won't let go of me, even if I do stray a little here and there. ;-)