The journey...

Life is in the journey, not the destination, so do what you can and take it one day at a time. Go slow, do it right, and make your changes permanent — then help out others who are where you were.

~Jillian Michaels

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Women of Faith Conference 2010

This was my first Women of Faith conference and I was blessed with the opportunity to go when a customer of mine offered me FREE tickets to join.  I loved the concerts performed by Mary Mary and Natalie Grant.  The first night, Mary Mary had everyone up on their feet dancing, jumping and shouting for joy!  I had the opportunity to get a picture with them after Friday night, however, it's not sending from my phone or else I'd add it.  The second day I went and sat the majority of the day alone and it was a beautiful time to just really focus on God and soak in what I was hearing without being distracted and feeling obligated to interact with people around me.  Natalie Grant performed and left me in tears when she walked off the last stage for her portion of the WOF tour because she's expecting a new baby in a matter of weeks.  I was glad that Kansas City made her list of performances because I'm incredibly moved by her music.

I really connected with ALL of the speakers, but I connected most with Kim Cash Tate and Sheila Walsh's message.

Kim is an author and she talked about how she loves writing (and so do I) and how she has the opportunity to become best friends with the characters in her stories.  She gets to take them to beauty from ashes.  She gets to plan out the plot from beginning to end and has the privilege of redeeming her characters.  She talked about how she became so used to writing the life story for her characters that she attempted to write her own life story.  She had everything planned out and how it would work and soon realized that if God is the author of her life, she can't have the pen too.  That spoke to me because I personally love writing too and the best way I know how to make sense of my life and what runs through my mind is by writing.  I'm not guilty of trying to write my own story to "success," however, I have repeatedly attempted to write my own way out of the "pits" I've made in my life.

The second speaker I related to was Sheila Walsh. Sheila had spoke about a time when she was admitted into a mental ward and made the statement that "Sometimes God will take you to a prison just to set you free." That single statement penetrated my heart and I applied it directly to the past year of my life. Lately I've had to come face-to-face with some deeply rooted issues from my past (and present) that I've tried suppressing for years. Although I haven't been in a literal prison, by my free will, God allowed me to walk through nearly 12 months of my own spiritual prison.

Sheila talked about meeting a missionary and a Pastor while she was in the mental facility. The Pastor was burdened by attempting to live two lives, one in public and one in private. The missionary had been molested when she was younger and felt the guilt and shame of that violation and felt she had to make it up to God by doing missions, although she absolutely hated it. Even though it was Sheila sharing "her" story, I related to both the pastor living a double-life and the missionary trying to please God in ways that were ultimately contrary to His perfect will for her.

I'm at a place where I feel like I'm relearning everything that I've ever known "in Christ."  What are my convictions and what convictions have I been told I'm supposed to have?  With what I listen to, what I watch, what I drink, who I communicate with and how I communicate with them.  Where I go and who I go there with.  "Fellowship" vs. "friendship" and if there is a difference between the two.  When it says "friendship with the world is enmity towards God," does that mean that I should not allow myself to befriend someone who is not a believer and "in the world" because I'm hating God by doing so or does it mean that I shouldn't partner in doing the DEEDS of this world and it's system?  I've got so distracted by trying to uphold my own religious standards (or that of those around me) that I was choking out the pure JOY there should be in living my life for Him.

My "mission" had become such a chore (going to Church, trying to read the Bible, trying to pray, avoiding ungodly people, trying to live a good life) and my "works" were moreso to appease my own guilty conscience.  The sporatic happiness I had in my life, I masked as joy. There is a vast difference between happiness and true joy.  My "happiness" was primarily found in making other people happy (even over God) but I felt guilty behind closed doors because of the deep secrets in my heart, in my life and in my mind.

A few days ago I just felt to look up the verse that says, "It's for freedom that Christ has set you free, stand firm, then, and don't let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  I had actually just parked my car when I decided to look that up and so I did a word search on my smartphone.  I've never read too much from the Message translation, but for whatever reason I looked it up in the Message and the whole chapter of Galatians 5 hit home hard!

Galatians 5

" 1 Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

2-3I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ's hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. 4-6I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love."
I highlighted two portions in red because I never INTENDED to live by my own religious plans and projects, I simply tried to live the way I'd been taught I was supposed to live in Christ.  Then it goes further to say that we expectantly "wait" for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit.  WOW!  Right now I am literally at a place where God is helping me out of one of the deepest pits I've ever dug in my life due to my own choices to sin, but in the midst of it I'm more satisfied in Him than I've ever been since "coming to know Him."  I hate that I'd have to fall so terribly in order to have my eyes opened to how my blindness came far before I consciously made the choice to blatently sin.  I've spent YEARS expectantly waiting for that place of "satisfaction" in Him and trying to do more because obviously I either wasn't doing enough or my heart was just too screwed up to be changed.  I'm learning that it's likely my own "religiousness," my own means of trying to make myself righteous when only HE can make me righteous and my own "rule-keeping" LAW that has kept me from experiencing His fullness of joy. 
In my "rule-keeping system," I pulled away from family, rejected GOOD friends because of "low" standards, disassociated from anything and anyone that may have caused me to look like the world because I worked hard to "avoid the appearance of evil."   I never even realized that I was hearing that verse out of context, I just accepted it the way it was presented to me.  Just before this verse it talks about warning unruly, comforting fainthearted, upholding weak and being patient with ALL.  Even in my working to "avoid" this appearance and association though, I was still considered rebellious for the few I did choose to keep in my life (friends who edified me and encouraged me but didn't fit the mold).   Now the Bible does talk in other places about disassociating with believers who willfully choose a lifestyle of sin (not wanting to reject it), but I was quick to lump them with the Christian who truly was walking out their salvation with fear and trembling but may have had a slightly different view than me or was currently struggling with sin more than me.  Where is the faith expressed by LOVE in that?

I have exhausted so much time and energy trying to abide by the "rules" that I wasn't living a life of freedom at all.  I was bound. My Christian walk wasn't received as a blessing, it was the burden that kept me chained down rather than setting me free.  Kinda like chaining a pit bull to a pole when he wants to be loose, I felt so overwhelmed by the "rules" of living a life for Him that the times that I broke away from that legalistic chain, I ran full speed to sin.

I've always heard that freedom in Christ isn't a license to sin and so I've quoted it a thousand times, but I never have understood just what "freedom in Christ" really means though.  I'm at a place right now where I'm opening my heart to learn who the "FREE woman" whom Christ has redeemed is.  I'm learning that "losing my life so that I may find it," and "dying to myself daily," is about being liberated from the old person who has to wrestle daily with a set of "rules."  We hear it all the time - but I guess I never believed it.

When I begin pouring my heart out on Him, loving Him and spending time getting to KNOW Him for myself, I don't need rules, I'll LOVE living a life that pleases Him. I wont need a list of "don't do's," because I wont be doing them, my hearts desires will gradually become more and more like His. I'm not there yet - but I'm starting to see a different picture than the one that was always painted in my mind before. Don't get me wrong, I understand that "rules" are important, Jesus said that He didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17), but the reason he takes the commandments further is because we can disregard the "rules" in our hearts without ever physically participating in the sin.  Just because I've got my big religious list telling me not to listen to secular music, go to the movie theatres or watch certain movies, be friends with that person because we all know they sinned or drink that thing doesn't mean that my heart is pure before God.

My list of "can't do's" isn't going to draw anyone to the knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ and cause their hearts to open to the power of His saving grace! My list is what makes me the person so many searching people in the world do NOT want to be. They are HUNGRY to have a void filled in their hearts, but not if that void is getting what I have - a set of rules. If you are already bound, where is the freedom in that?

FREEDOM in Christ isn't bondage to rules.

FREEDOM in Christ is a heart issue.

FREEDOM in Christ takes away the "I can't do this" and replaces them with the "I don't desire to's."

For months I've gone through a vicious cycle of setting rules only to break them, sometimes just as quickly as I'd set them. I was in a prison of guilt, shame, depression, fear and failure, all in direct result of my sin and not knowing how to just "do what is right." As if my sin weren't great enough, add to that the fact that I was unable to keep my own new "rule." I felt even more inadequate. Hypocrital. Weak-minded. Worthless. Rejected. Lost. Confused. Hurting. I hurt more every time that I tried and failed because I tried and failed in my flesh. I knew all of the things that I was NOT supposed to do, so when I did them I felt like there was something wrong with me. (Romans7)

"Why are all the other Christians able to follow the rules, but I can't break this cycle?"

I saw my faith as a "rule-keeping system" that if I happened to disobey, I'd have to start all over at "Point A" so in turn I've spent a good deal of time dropping out of the race just to go back to the starting line. I've had more fear of being kicked out of God's family and God's Church than I had a Holy fear and reverence for His grace and mercy. I've spent the majority of my Christian walk fighting the thought that something just didn't take for me, something went wrong in my conversion. I never realized that I was bound more to the you have to do "this, this and this" to please Him and don't even think about doing "that, that and definitely not that!" I didn't find that place of "FREEDOM," I felt more bound than before I knew Him. At least then I wasn't falling under condemnation every other day. God's KINDNESS leads us to repentence, but I had a skewed viewpoint that resembled a student writing sentences on a chalkboard repeatitively in order to get the lesson ingrained in his mind. That viewpoint leaned more towards strict discipline than deep compassion. Although I know God most certainly causes us to tremble in fear and shows times of wrath and terror due to our sin, there are also times of Him drawing us out into the desert to "allure" us like He did Gomer in the book of Hosea. He causes the things we've found ourselves depending on to FAIL us in order for us to see that He (our first love) is the only one who will never leave us or forsake us. God really does work in mysterious ways, but I'm thankful that He knows how to call a wayward heart home (and not every heart will respond to the same call).

I'm breaking free from my well-trained religious rule-keeping system and am beginning to LOVE letting go and living for Him.  I'm learning how to LOVE others and how to love myself.  I learned how to deny myself, but I didn't learn much about loving myself.  He's giving me His grace and peace in the midst of it all. It's scary to really have faith for Him to work in me rather than just "say" I believe and have faith. I'm now making the choice to walk in the light and keep myself accountable to God and the godly counsel of others. I feel like I'm becoming a whole new "me" all over again, but He does make ALL things new and I'd made an incredible mess of what I was becoming.

Well, that's the summary of my gleaning from the Women of Faith conference. I'm sure I could go through my notes and share more, but this was what really hit home the most for me. It was a TREMENDOUS blessing to be able to go this year and I hope I'm able to attend again next year.

I'm living and learning how to LOVE life!


1 comment:

Critical Nincompoop said...

It's hard to know exactly what you've learned and it's probably difficult for you to truly express it. The moment you say you learned "not to do this" and to "do this" you're doing exactly what you learned not to do! :-P. But I think you've basically hit it on the head. It's not about rules, but it's not about freedom to sin. It's about following the Spirit in all things. If the Spirit is guiding your actions, you simply WON'T sin. I've recently been contemplating the concept of 4 types of people in the world:

1. Those who just downright live for all that is evil
2. Those who live somewhat morally but still for self
3. Those who live morally and may occasionally help people as needs arise
4. Those who go out of their way to specifically help people as they do not live life for themselves at all.

I'm finding a lot of 2 and 3 in the world and very few 4. Oddly enough, I think Jesus only ever preached 4!