[Small is the gate]
I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things. I made assumptions, and I had preconceived notions about things that I knew nothing about, as well as the people who believed them. (This happens when you don’t know the full story.)
Technically, I’m still unlearning the things that I thought I had right, and I’m still searching for the words to express it all. I’m also trying to figure out how I’d respond to someone who believes that Christianity is false, a crutch, or a delusion.
My dad once used the word crutch himself to describe religion. That was the first time I can remember feeling as if I was stumbling over my words as I tried to explain what I believe, and why I believe as I do. All I could tell Him was, “That’s not what I’m doing. being a Christian isn’t easy. In fact, at times it can be very difficult.” Try being the only believer in your family; that isn’t always so easy. I didn’t say that to my dad, (maybe I should have. I don’t know), but words escaped me that day. I sure didn’t feel prepared to give an answer for the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15).
Before I became a Christian I didn’t have such a high opinion of religion, and Christianity once fell under that title for me. I didn’t want anything to do with it—religion that is. In a way, you could say I still don’t. Try telling that to someone who doesn’t understand what you mean by it. It’s confusing to them. It doesn’t make sense. Isn’t Christianity just another religion?
If you define religion as the belief in God, then yes, absolutely, I do believe in God, but that’s not what I’m referring to. That’s not usually how religion is seen or defined anyways, and that’s not how I ever defined it myself.
When I think of religion I’m thinking about meaningless words and actions; I’m thinking about those who try to earn their way to heaven; I’m thinking about idols and adhering to man made rules, but that isn’t true religion. Because C.S. Lewis so often puts thoughts into words better than I can, in Mr. Lewis’s language, this is what I mean:
“The word religion is extremely rare in the New Testament or the writings of mystics. The reason is simple. Those attitudes and practices to which we give the collective name of religion are themselves concerned with religion hardly at all. To be religious is to have one’s attention fixed on God and on one’s neighbor in relation to God. Therefore, almost by definition, a religious man, or a man when he is being religious, is not thinking about religion; he hasn’t the time. Religion is what we (or he himself at a later moment) call his activity from outside.” C.S. Lewis/The World’s Last Night
My childhood was immersed in “those attitudes and practices to which we give the collective name religion,” but we didn’t know God. I’m not speaking of what my grandparents believed, but my parents generation and onwards didn’t know Him.
What’s the difference between that empty religion and knowing God? It’s definitely a heart thing, but It’s also a knowledge thing. My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and only because this was our family religion. They were born and raised into it, but they never chose it, and they never chose Jesus. At least I never heard anything about it, or anything about Jesus Himself.
Originally, my great-grandparents were Anglican, but one of their daughters became involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses; eventually my grandma followed her sister and started attending too, then my great-grandparents followed after them. My great-grandpa even lead the work crew that built the Kingdom Hall that we attended, and later he preached sermons.
Amazingly, what happened to my family happened exactly as I wrote in Made to Follow. Sheep will follow sheep, but who we’re following matters. It makes a huge difference. Somewhere along the way, who our family was following was either misplaced or was never understood or accepted. I do believe, however, that my grandparents knew God.
My parents went through all the motions, but I wouldn’t call this faith. We went to what they called “meetings,” dressed in our very best, but I was too young to understand what this was all about. Beyond a few Bible stories, I really didn’t know what we believed. My parents did pray at the dinner table, but that too was lost on me, and I have no recollection of any talk whatsoever about Jesus other than praying in Jesus name at the dinner table. This isn’t even something I remember; it’s something I’ve been told.
When my parents did disassociate from the Jehovah’s Witnesses I was 12 or 13 years old. I feel that I learned more about God after this event because religion wasn’t looked too favorably upon in our home. I learned to distrust people who talked about God. I also learned to distrust what Scripture taught also. It all suddenly just became religion to our family.
So I hated religion. When God was mentioned it made me cringe; It made me squirm even. I was doubly dubious of those who said, “Jesus loves you.” I had no clue what this really meant, but I knew it was religious. At least it fit into my definition of religion.
Those who televised their religion weren’t tolerated too well in our home. You know what? Some of these televangelists are truly scammers (Not all). One particular commercial drives Andrew and I both nuts; this guy is selling so called “miracle water.” Really? Come on… That doesn’t even fall under the category of religion; that’s just some smarmy salesman preying on people who don’t know any better; that’s just a scam artist using the guise of religion for his own gain. Some people in this world will do that, but that isn’t what I want to be a part of. What I believe in is loving and helping those in need—not using them.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” –James 1:27
My parents influence, and their experience with religion was what I gaged things on for a time. Their opinions made it clear to me that they felt religion was foolish, though my dad had something to say about God when I’d bought into the idea that evolution was the origin for life. Apparently, He did believe in God after all, so evolution was a ridiculous concept to him. What was I supposed to think and believe? This is what I was being taught in school. It was all so confusing, but if my parents didn’t trust religion then I didn’t trust it either–that is, until I began to have my own experiences and was faced with my own choices.
Everything I believe now—well, that’s by the grace of God, through faith. I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t even know what this was. Obviously my parents felt pretty duped by what they found in their religion, and I don’t blame them. My parents constantly had elders coming to their door harassing them until they were so sick of it that they took up smoking to purposely get themselves dis-fellowshipped. (They did quit smoking after this.)
What I found, however, was something very different: I found love and acceptance. I also found the only fix to all the chaos in this world: Jesus Christ. Yes, I know exactly how that sounds to an ear who hears only “religion” in His name. I once rejected Him also as if He were some sort of bad plague. In truth though, it was God who found me. I was the one who got lost in the confusion. I was the one who couldn’t see Him through all of the religion.
When I didn’t know what to believe, and I was pushing the notion of Him away, God Himself reeled me in, hook, line, and sinker. You could say I was tricked if you like; I was bamboozled or hoodwinked even, but the only line I fell for was the one that He dangled in front of me. The bait that He used was the Christian man that I’d marry. (Yep, I’m calling Andrew the bait. Hey, whatever works right?) I fell for it alright, and I’m glad that I did because it was a two for one deal. Andrew wasn’t the only one who won my heart.
Because I’ve viewed life from both sides of the fence, I can see the difference between going through the motions, and knowing and following God. It’s that empty religion that’s the problem–not God. It’s people who twist and use religion for their own gain that’s the problem; it’s also those who prevent others from finding Him by pushing their own rules and badgering others, that’s the problem—not pure and genuine religion as God sees it, and not God Himself.
What does God want? He wants to be acknowledged for starters; He wants to be known; loved; obeyed; trusted and He wants to give us the best He has to offer us; His very own Son, Jesus Christ. He also wants us to love one another; He wants us to take care of those who need help; He wants us to protect those who aren’t getting a fair shake. He want’s us to become more like Jesus. This is why we accept Jesus into our hearts and follow Him, because it’s only through the blood of Jesus Christ (His Sacrifice on the cross) that we are set free from our sins, and it’s only through Jesus that we come to know God and understand what He desires of us.
How I got from point A to point B is a miraculous thing to me now. I was the one who couldn’t stand the name of Jesus. I was the one who reacted objectionably when It was even suggested that I was a Christian (It was a classmate who asked me, and at that particular point in time I didn’t even know if I believed in God.) “No, I’m not!”, I protested. I didn’t want to be associated with that!
I was also the one who was handed a Bible tract at the mall by an elderly lady. (In a way you could call that an invitation to get to know God.) However, when I opened it up and saw what it was, I couldn’t throw it in the nearest garbage bin fast enough. To me, it was just “religion” as I understood religion. I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things.
I never wanted this. I never wanted to find out more about Jesus, but thankfully He wanted me. While dating Andrew I had to make my choice, and so I did. I committed to the journey—not only the life that I’d share with Andrew, but also the one I’d share with God. Twenty-three years later, I can honestly say that I have no regrets. I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise. Instead, I’d likely be mocking and resenting something I thought was foolish also.
I do believe in the transforming power of God; I’m walking evidence of it. I do believe that the Bible is God willed and breathed–every word of it. People will call it foolish, or whatever their choice word is to describe what we believe (I did it too before I knew better), but now–more than anything–I just want those who don’t know Jesus to have what I have: the peace, the joy, and the freedom that comes with knowing God. This is why I’ll keep searching for the words. I needed to be caught (or found) by Him. I could never have accepted these things otherwise; I could never believe what I believe without the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 16:8; John 16:13-14), nor could I say that Jesus is Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”–1 Corinthians 2:14
“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” –John 3:6-7
So, I guess that’s what I’d want those who believe that Christianity (or religion, if that’s how it’s viewed), is false, to know. Despite what others might believe, I don’t believe that all roads (or religions) lead to God, more specifically to Salvation, which is a restored relationship with God. The way to God is through Jesus Christ. He is the small or narrow gate, as Scripture puts it, through which we must enter the Kingdom of God. It’s not an easy way. It’s indeed the narrow way, meaning that the journey is difficult, but you know what? It’s worth it.
Jesus is also the only way to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is deposited in our hearts–and is the guarantee of what God promises is still to come (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:14
“‘Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” –Acts 2:38
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” –John 3:16
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”–C. S. Lewis
If you’d like to read Made to Follow <— click and read. I’ll link you back to the rest of my story from there, otherwise continue on to “Another day Another Dollar.”