The Unexpected Gift from Jesus

Following Jesus Away from ChurchWhen I was a pastor, I committed myself to following Jesus wherever He led, whatever the consequences, no matter what!

So imagine my surprise when He led me away from church.

Following Jesus Away from Church

Some people say that sin led me away, and that I am justifying my “apostasy” by claiming that “Jesus made me do it” which only compounds my guilt.

I understand the feeling. That’s how I used to feel too.

But on this issue, I can say with Paul that my conscience is clear (1 Cor 4:4).

I still haven’t figured out what Jesus is up to, but He keeps beckoning me onward, and though I’m not moving fast, I’m still moving forward.

I still remember how, when I was a pastor, I thought that it was the good, godly, obedient people who “went to church” and everybody else was just irreligious or disobedient. Now I see that the lines are not so clearly drawn. In fact, for some church goers, the part of their life which they think is religious, may actually be the irreligious. Part of the problem of “attending” church is that we begin to think (even though we would never say this), that God is most active in those who also “go to” church.

Everything is Worship

But one of the surprise gifts which Jesus has given to me since I followed Him away from church is the recognition that I can see God in everybody and everything. No, I am not a universalist or a pantheist. Instead, I am beginning to see the truth of the image of God in man, dirtied as it is by sin, and the teaching of Scripture that all creation sings the glory of God.

I love church hymns, but now I hear a heavenly chorus in the sound of the wind rushing through the trees, and the birds welcoming the morning sun. I see the smile of God in the face of stranger when I let them go in front of me at the supermarket check-out line.

The voice of God, the hand of God, the worship of God is not just reserved for something that happens in a building on Sunday morning, but is a daily occurrence, an hourly experience. By following Jesus away from the church, He is showing me what church really is, and teaching me that everything, absolutely everything, is worship.

This path is not for everybody, but it is the path I’m on, and given my past, I could not be more surprised.


My Gift from JesusThis post is part of a post-Christmas Synchroblog. Here is a list of the other contributors:


Comments

    • Jim Puntney says

      With yo my brother, the journey to encounter/experience Christ, and to offer “break all that need broke in me” has led me down a similar path. I can say nothing is more worthwhile than to purse Him, to seek Him in and through His grace. Thanks for your blog!

  1. Nita says

    This really struck me because you are describing my journey exactly, Jeremy! Just about everything you say fits what has happened to me and your words, “given my past, I could not be more surprised” are perfect. Thank you for articulating this well and helping to give me words to explain where I find myself now…

  2. says

    Congratulations, as we say to the recovering alcoholic or the person who quits smoking. You have taken the first step. Now, can you try not believing in Jesus for five minutes? Five minutes today, five minutes tomorrow, then bump it up to ten? Keep increasing and eventually you can get through a whole day without believing! [Thanks, Julia Sweeny!]

  3. says

    Hmmm…yep. I have said more than once over the last couple of years that I have become what I used to fear…one that questions and tests and yes, even challenges. ;-)

    My current self is not so surprised at where this path has led, but my past self sure is. :-)

      • says

        Of course it a ‘phase’ you’re going through. ;-)
        If we experience growth at all, then life is a series of ‘phases’ or ‘seasons’ or whatever you want to call them.

        I know what you mean, though, I think….
        I sometimes wonder if I will ‘come to my senses’ and ‘return to the fold.’ But I have come to realize that that is simply the religious dogma of my youth/my parents trying to frighten me back into line.

        Breaking away from everything you thought was truth and following a path only you can see is scary, to put it mildly. When things got rough, the lure of the comfortable past is always there. But that comfort is an illusion and there is no peace in going backward.

        My thoughts for the day. ;-)

      • says

        Sounds to me like the “phase” your going through is called maturing, not needing to be spoon fed the pablum of institutional “Christianity”.

  4. Clive Clifton says

    Last week I mistakenly bought a book by David Icke called The Biggest Secret, I thought he was a journalist but I was wrong and was sent a book which reminded me of an encounter I had several years ago when I went to visit a friend from Church whos husband was and still is a Hindu. After spending six hours with him being fascinated, bored and left with a feeling of incredulousness, I realised that what I was expected to believe within the Christian faith was nothing in comparrison to this mans belief, he even had learned the Indian language.

    David Ickes book of a great world conspiracy culminating with Reptilian Aliens hiding inside the Earth was on a par with this Hindu man. I have another friend who’s husband is also a Hindu who has little elephant shrines around his home to the deity Ganesh. Do you remember the publicity a few years ago when a large statue of this god in one of their temples was drinking milk offerings.

    Dear Harold you are saying that being a Christian and going to Church are addictions. Addictions come from the evil one.
    These men I have just written about are also addicted to yet another lie of the evil one. They can not believe in a God that saves yet will put their trust in things that bring them into bondage to the evil one.

    If Jeremy feels called to have a break with conventional Church, I have no problem with that, what he is not having a break from is God, and is not trying to wean himself of anything. Sabbaticals are good thing, to withdraw or retreat from something, enabling you to take stock of where one has been and where one is going. Where one goes to is something I would find difficult, as what I may need is an Order where there is no conversation or writing allowed. It would probably drive me barmy, OK more barmy than what I am now.
    Clive

  5. says

    Although on a smaller scale, I’ve been having similar thoughts. Not about leaving church, but of putting less emphasis on some of the “things” often associated with Church (e.g., attire, certain procedures, doing certain things just because the pastor says to, even if I personally don’t feel like it). Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when the reason I don’t do certain things is due to my own fault, overall I’ve been thinking about the extent to which we sometimes treat church on Sunday as an “event,” not much similar to a concert or another type of emotional experience. In my opinion, a major purpose of church is to help us (through the word) and better encourage us (through fellowship) to better and more significantly represent Christ Monday-Saturday.

    And I totally agree that worship can (and should) be in everything we do. I remember at a Christian leadership conference a speaker once said that for the Christian, there’s no distinction between the sacred and the secular. He was basically saying that our entire lives should be reflective of our relationship with God.

    Ok enough of my rambling, lol! Great post, and thanks for sharing!

  6. says

    Jesus led us away from what we refer to as “religion” and instead led us to follow Him. Obviously we use the term religion in a different sense than you do in your post. I know many religious people from a variety of religions, including those who call themselves “Christians”. However, that term also means all kinds of things to various people.

    For us, “church” are the people who follow Jesus. We don’t think Jesus came to establish a new religion, but rather to announce His Kingdom.

    People who are part of the “Institutional Church” may or may not follow Jesus, but our experiences of that institution have included many things that smell much more like institution and religion than Jesus. Undoubtedly there are those followers of Jesus who are part of that institution who find meaning in that experience and institution, but we do not. Few people we know find meaning in that experience and institution.

    Admittedly, plopping down in a soft chair on a Sunday morning, after having deposited the kids in a room where someone will care for them, then listening to some songs and someone talking to us (which we will not remember a few hours later) is easy. Paying someone else to do this stuff, help the poor, carry the Gospel to the “heathen” and so on is simple. That’s religion. (Oh yes, somewhere in there is something about having once said some prayer and supposedly “believing” the right stuff, which obviously means mental assent and not much more.)

    But it does not look or smell like Jesus.

    • says

      Yes, Jesus did not want to start a new religion. Lot’s of people accuse the early church of inventing all sorts of things about Jesus, but the one thing they rarely get accused of (inventing a religion) is the one thing they actually did!

  7. Glenn says

    We are walking together on the same journey and it’s a good one. It’s the unexpected part and the times we feel alone that gets to us. It is indeed, “The Unexpected Gift.”

  8. Clive Clifton says

    You have certainly stirred the pot Jeremy. Somewhere there is a phrase, Like-minded. Someone also said that if you remove a hot lump of Coal from a roaring fire, that lump will soon go cold. To bring these two ideas together may not be easy. I have struggled for 30 years in my local Parish Church and have been tempted to leave several times but God has called me back as i eventually learnt that it’s not what I get out of Church thats the main thing, it’s what I can add, so if I remove myself I’m being mean spirited, I’m like a child who has a ball but if I don’t get my own way in a game of football, I pick it up and take it home so no one gets to play.

    Going to Church is where you Will meet the like minded, we need to avoid the ones who cause our spirit to anguish, these people are not your project. Form a Home group with those who feed our spirit, be selective, go where the Spirit leads not where your pastor try’s to squeeze you in to suit his/her agenda, the phase square pegs in round holes comes to mind. You don’t have to do what people tell you, they are not your employer, God is, you can’t have two masters as that means trouble.

    We have a new chap, Amir who has just joined our Church as he felt God was saying to him “you are not being in community” he was attending a Church that was miles away from where he lived and a Home group from another Church in both cases he did not live in the community so he came to us, he loves his new home group and the Church. The next hurdle for us is to love him back as we are very white middle class with only a few racial minorities, pray for us.

    Jeremy please do not stay away too long as you will get used to it and then find it impossible to return. Maybe you need a different Church or a different attitude. My attitude used to be my biggest burden until He started shouldering them for me, once I allowed Him to. Someone said “when you find the perfect Church don’t join it as you will probably ruin it” what does that mean, I think it means there is no perfect Church but if you join it you may be the catalyst it needs to change and grow, and conversely if you leave?

    I was just reading about Satellites and there are about 8000 circling our planet in low orbit, they are all isolated but are in communication with Earth keeping us up to date about the weather and other amazing things to do with planet earth and the galaxies, some enable us to use our Sat Nav in the car etc or make international telephone calls instantly, amazing technology. The word satellite means Attendant which is a slave position which receives no merit for it’s function yet without it nothing works. Jesus washed the disciples feet which was the function of the attendant slave who came and went without notice, yet had he not done his work, everyone would soon have noticed. Are you, am I willing to be just an attendant in His Kingdom here now on earth.

    Someone once said “I would willing just be the gatekeeper in the kingdom rather than outside” did he mean it or was it a bit of false modesty, hoping he would be at the table at the banquet. David said “you would not reject O lord a broken and contrite heart” the answer is a resounding “No I will not”, the problem is have we got one to offer.

    Clive

    • says

      Clive,

      I don’t actually view myself as “staying away” but as coming to realize that church is bigger than a building or a Sunday service. While I understand that these things are central elements to many’s people’s experience of church, I have begun to orbit around a broader definition of church which does not require buildings or Sunday services.

  9. says

    I left the institutional forms of church years ago and discovered authentic ways of being the Body of Christ in the world as well as authentic community that is richer than I ever experienced in the pew. For me it resulted in a redefinition of “church.”

  10. says

    I haven’t “left the church”, but have felt strongly that my mission and calling are no longer church-centric. Maybe a phase, maybe not -but I’ve been interested to find how many like-minded people I’ve found who are no longer comfortable living out their faith between the pews. I’ve found myself confronted with the ways those outside faith hunger for community, the ways the church has failed those who don’t fit our neat definitions, and the needs and longings that will never be met by church programs or people whose center of gravity is the institutional church. Maybe God is doing something new? Redefining his people? Thank you for sharing your journey.

  11. says

    I am very late on reading the posts from the last synchroblog but as they say “better late than never” LOL

    I too am on the same journey as you. I too am still shocked as like you for many years I thought going to church was the right thing to do and the thing that any good and faithful Christian will do. I miss being a part of a church community and am always on the lookout for any sign that I am being led back to church. So far it doesn’t look like it is time.

    Like you I am also learning a lot about worship during this time and I believe that God has shown me that worship is a little different than what I had been taught and believed. I now believe that worship includes things like getting together with friends and taking care of the environment.

    • says

      Liz,

      It is interesting, isn’t it, how many of us think that God doesn’t care about the environment, and so neither should we.

      But it was one of the first tasks given to Adam in the garden, to tend and cultivate the earth!

      I am still learning a lot about church and following Jesus. Every step of the journey is an adventure!

  12. Terry Zeyen says

    Jeremy, it would seem to me that you have a bit of a problem scripturally in that you are disregarding the pattern clearly established in the New Testament that believers are to fellowship regularly in the context of a local congregation.

    I understand the joy you are experiencing in the freedom that you have in Christ and in discovering God’s glory in everything. Nevertheless, additionally, the biblical pattern is clear — believers are expected to participate in, and be submitted to, the eldership of a local congregation. The epistles are written to local congregations. Even the Lord Jesus, in the Revelation, addresses his messages to believers who are in local congregations.

    You seem to be promoting opposition to this God-ordained aspect of His order. Remember the command found in Hebrews 10:24-25 which says concerning those who are separating themselves from the local congregation, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    God’s clear biblical order established in the New Testament is that of believers meeting together “regularly” in some sort of a local congregational setting where they are under the pastorship and oversight of biblically qualified eldership to which they are accountable!

    By purposely separating yourself from participation in fellowship, and accountability to biblically qualified eldership, both of which are found in the context of the local church, it would seem that you are out of God’s ordained scriptural order.

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