Family photo 2013

Family photo 2013

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In Which I Started Reading the Bible and Stopped Going To Church

During my early 20's, late on Friday and Saturday nights, in the small apartment I shared with my mother, I would sit on my bed and read the book of James, over and over. I carried a Young's Concordance with me, along with my Bible, to work as a nanny so I could look up the meanings and occurrences of New Testament Greek words while the boy I cared for napped. {Oh, the coolness I exuded!} I signed myself up for classes that offered Biblical "training," one of which lasted two full weeks. I took vacation from work and saved my less-than-gigantic paycheck to attend. An avid listener of Christian talk radio, I drank up the daily sermons, pastor after pastor. Memorized verses traipsed through my mind at night as I waited to fall asleep, Hebrews 12:2, John 14:12, 1 John 1:5....Longing to know Him well, I studied Biblical topics and concepts and words and expressions and ideas.

And yet, while the Bible has long been a sincere interest of mine, it wasn't until I began homeschooling that I started actually reading it through it - front to back.

It was that very act that thrust my Bible loving, Greek word studying, Christian concepts grasping, world into a tailspin.

By the third year of reading (basically the entire) Bible to my kids in an earnest, heartfelt attempt to firmly root them deeply within the foundation I felt was my responsibility to establish for them, I was thoroughly perplexed. I wanted to answer their questions, with good, solid, Christian-family-friendly responses that would put their sweet little minds at ease. I wanted to fold God up into a box in which He nicely fit, where we could discuss His motives, as sure as the day is long that we were right, tie it up with a big red bow and hand it over to them - a prize, to hold dear and cherish forever. I just couldn't. I stumbled over my words trying to form coherent replies that would give them confidence in the the loving God I was asking them to fully trust.  What did it mean that Japheth's daughter was "sacrificed to the Lord" and why did God allow her father to offer her? Why did God have all of Achan's family killed along with him? Was it good that Rahab lied? Did God want her to? If so, does He ever want us to lie? Why did He go so far as to have the angel of the Lord smite the Egyptian firstborn children? Is there truly such a thing as "innocent children" in His eyes? Was it ok that David and Solomon and Jacob had more than one wife? On and on....and on....their questions wentThe more we read, the more they asked and the less sure I felt that the God we were reading about was the familiar one described in church. The answers we were taught, the commentaries I read, weren't adding up as they once did. I wasn't sure what to say. "I don't know, honey" was a phrase with which I became intimately acquainted, while the God I longed to be intimately acquainted with became more of a mystery.

I began to meet people that despite my best efforts, would simply not fit into my preconceived, neatly prepackaged boxes with stark black and white labels. There was the devout Hindu woman who illustrated graciousness and commitment like I had never seen before. Followed by the gay couple who had one of the most honoring, kindest relationships I had ever witnessed. And the politically left winged, liberal, God fearing, woman who truly loved all types of people and showed it by putting her money where her mouth is far better than any staunch conservative I knew. Finally, the atheist family who like me, adopted children from Ethiopia, because they felt it was their responsibility to help. Was it God's will for those kids to join that family that doesn't believe in Jesus?

I don't know honey. I really don't know....

Maybe God isn't quite like the one I thought I knew during all those years spent studying Him. There is a chance, that I can not predict His actions the way I once figured I could, that I don't have the right answers to satisfy the questions of my children, or myself. I might not fathom exactly how His goodness plays out or what it means for Him to be all light, why He chooses to allow what He does, what makes Him decide to intervene or to step back. He may not micromanage to the extent I thought He did. Perhaps, ensuring the best deal on shoes at Target for me is not on His agenda.

After reading The Good Book straight through a handful of years in row in an attempt to understand Him more, I find myself able and willing to compartmentalize Him less. My guess is that He's far bigger than I ever could have dreamed Him to be. That he exceeds the limited capacity of my brain cells to encompass Him.  That I may not ever know why He did what He did as I read about His actions in throughout the Bible, why He does what He does today, why He allows what He allows, stops what He stops.

We still read the Bible as much as ever - beginning to end -  I just no longer pretend to have the answers to the questions that are bound to arise. I'm not sure I have to.

For now, I try not to speak for Him other than to say He is my great, unsearchable Lord. The One whom I love, and seek, and worship.

Annual trip to Fort Collins for Bobby's birthday. ♥


Hausfrau said...

This was a timely post for me....thanks! I have three(used)books on the topic on their way from Amazon as we speak.

Barry said...

Let me start by saying, I actually read your blogs :) Ever since we first met you guys I have loved your questioning, don't just accept what's said, and deeply spiritual mindsets. I loved that you had "studied Biblical topics and concepts and words and expressions and ideas." It's sad that that's such a refreshing thing in Christians. The few discussions we had were always thought provoking and challenged my status quo which I LOVE. I am a questioner and truth seeker above all else and I love people who make me do so. You're kind of the opposite of my atheist friends. They make me think of my relationship with God from the view of outsiders and you guys (and your blog) make me think of that relationship from those who are inside.
Having said all that I just had to respond to one of your blogs... "In Which I Started Reading the Bible and Stopped Going To Church". Come on you can't have a title like that and a minister reading and not expect a response :) (I'm perfectly okay if you just erase this and would rather leave the blog as a place to simply share your thoughts).
I just wanted to share some thoughts I've had about the subjects you bring up from the view of a guy who "Started Reading the Bible and Learned to Love the Church".
You mention that the more you read the Bible, and the more you have questions asked of you, the less sure you felt that the God you all were reading about was the familiar one described in church. I came to that same conclusion. It's why the Bible has to be central to whatever group of Christians I unite myself with. Too often a community of Christians makes God in their image because it's comfortable and avoids conflict. Therefore, their God becomes a little too safe and sanitized. Not the God I see in scripture. And when the church does that they lose out on some of the beauty and purpose of the Church to encourage and build us up (I Thess. 5:11)

Barry said...

But, I've discovered that it is within a community where I find people who put the Bible as their final authority and where questions are allowed to be asked and talked about that my faith and beliefs are stretched and I find growth. Too often I would find myself in groups where either everyone just seemed to mindlessly believe whatever the group believed or that was offended or terrified when I would ask a question good Christians shouldn't ask (Why would God allow a child to be born that He knows will end up in hell?) [A question to which I think, along with Christian friends willing to discuss the question, I've got a satisfactory answer that makes me bow before God more than ever!]
Unfortunately, I think that in the current church culture those groups don't happen easily. It takes time and frustration and dialogue and some pain. But, the world and the Church need that type of reformation and I am committed to playing a part in it.
You also mentioned that the God "you longed to be intimately acquainted with became more of a mystery." Isn't that awesome! But, although He can't be completely understood (He wouldn't be God if He could) He does want to be intimately known. He does want us to be able to love Him with all our minds as well as our hearts. He has made it possible and desires for us to come to Him and reason out His ways (Isaiah 1:18). I find too often Christians use the idea that God is beyond our comprehension as an excuse to just not do any hard thinking or take any action.

Barry said...

I so echo your thoughts about God maybe not micromanaging as some seem to imply. I knew a guy who said He prayed every morning for what socks God wanted him to wear and for a while I actually felt guilty that I didn't rely on God that much. Then I determined God is just lovingly laughing at that guy and I do too :) I've definitely come to be content with the fact that, as a questioner and searcher, the process will never stop with God. Right when it seems I've figured Him out on one issue He presents another aspect of Himself that seems so far from my grasp.
But, I think God uses that "chase" to once again help us to become mature effective servants. I think in one aspect you're right to say, "I try not to speak for Him other than to say He is my great, unsearchable Lord. The One whom I love, and seek, and worship." But, if that means we aren't to keep searching and chasing Him we miss out on all He wants for us. He is "unsearchable" in the sense that we can't figure Him out unless He lets us figure Him out... and He has!
“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:2
Sweet! When I ask Him He'll reveal to me "unsearchable" things!
There are plenty of places in scripture where where God reveals "mysteries" to us and then calls on us to "speak for Him". It was the entire job of prophets in the Old Testament. The book of Romans, which for me is the best book in the Bible to learn the unsearchable things of God, gives us, His Church, that same job.
"Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen." (Romans 16:25-27).
I still read the Bible as much as ever, I don't kid myself into thinking I have the answers to all the questions that are bound to arise, and I don't need too, but I keep searching and searching and chasing and chasing. Though I know I will never catch Him in this life, through the chase He is making me more and more into the image of His Son and, hopefully, an effective servant in His kingdom.

Barry said...

Anyhoo... that was my response to the stuff in your "How I Started Reading the Bible..." section of your title. Now quickly to the "Learned to Love the Church" part of my title. I couldn't help notice you didn't tie how reading the Bible, finding questions you can't answer, and seeing church as sometimes at odds with what you read, led to you stopping attending church? For me it was the exact opposite.
I can't read the Bible and not end up loving and desiring and seeing the need to be with God's people as much as possible if I want God to work within me as much as He'd like. When I see things like the Church described as a body and how others are a necessity to my growth and I am to be a necessity to their growth. When I read all the "one anothers" of scripture that require my living life with a regular group of other Christians. (Some would like to think we are just generically supposed to do good to everyone but Galatians 6:10 really made me see that I have a "family responsibility" first to God's family.) When through all my questioning of God about why we have to work through such an imperfect tool as the Church I came to see that it is HIS chosen tool that He thought was worth dying for. I have gotten to a place where I love the Church He died for flaws and all and find that imperfect me belongs there. I found that it is precisely through the frustrations and struggles I have with others within the Church that God grows and matures me. I know there is a movement afoot to redefine "church" as an unorganized group of people who just kinda "hang out" together, and boy do I have have strong sympathetic leanings to that point of view, but I just don't think the fullness of "the body" as seen in scripture is best lived out that way. I think there is a God given purpose for "going to church". I also believe that idea needs some reforming but I don't think it can be simply thrown out. I really buy into the cliche that "the church needs you and you need the church".
Boy, this ended up being really long, which means this will probably end up as a sermon series at some point :)
I want to end with just some general thoughts...

You mentioned all the non-Christian but "good" people you've met. My grandparents were atheists and yet seemed to be nicer and practiced "goodness" more than many of the Christians I knew. But, never forget "good" is not synonymous with "righteous" and forgiveness is not bought with good deeds. Everyone is capable of doing "good" but only through Jesus can people be made righteous and find true forgiveness. Their inclinations for doing what is right is a great opportunity for us to lead them to the source of goodness and kindness and that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4).
As for: What did it mean that Japheth's daughter was "sacrificed to the Lord" and why did God allow her father to offer her? Why did God have all of Achan's family killed along with him? Was it good that Rahab lied? Did God want her to? If so, does He ever want us to lie? Why did He go so far as to have the angel of the Lord smite the Egyptian firstborn children? Is there truly such a thing as "innocent children" in His eyes? Was it ok that David and Solomon and Jacob had more than one wife? I've had great conversations with people about all those and have some real interesting takes on it we should discuss some time.

Thanks for letting me hi-jack your blog! Hope to see you in church some time ;)

Tisha said...

Wowza! Now, that's a blog comment! ;-)Thank you Barry for taking the time to reply. Really, that means so much.

I told Bob recently, (after I told you we would come to church before discussing it with my family, oops!) that if we were ever to choose a church family, Meridian Point would be all we could ever ask for. We've never had a pastor that we knew personally and could actually have a real conversation with! You all are a warm, kind, unpretentious, generous, welcoming group of people. Indeed.

Um, let's see. I don't know if I've got time to address all the things you talked about right now or not - I may have to come back to some of it later. I think I can hit some high points though.

It really was a culmination of things that let us to stop attending church, not {just} reading the Bible. ;-) One of the biggest issues for me, is that after reading entire books of the Bible, I no longer felt like we could pull verses out of context and claim them for ourselves as if they were written directly to us. i.e. Jeremiah 29:11 - when I read that it looks like God is talking (very specifically) to Israel about the time He is going to release them from captivity. NOT to me as I dedicate my baby and choose a "life verse" for them. Which makes sense, as lots of people do not experience what we would call a prosperous future, at least not ((here on earth)). Some Other examples are Deut. 1:30, Phil. 4:13 etc....

Tisha said...

The typical church lingo sort of started to make me cringe too. When we were unable to have another baby following Bobby's vas reversal, I'm not sure how many times I was told, "God has a plan." Now, I'm not saying He {doesn't} have a plan! I honestly have no idea if He has a plan - or if we go about making choices (to get a vas in the 1st place) and living with the consequences, unless He decides to interviene for His own purposes. Whenever something bad happens, that's what's said in response. Maybe His "plan" was for all of us to freely procreate without barriers! Are we sure that's not His plan? I don't know....

Same with our adoption. According to most church folks, it was "God's will" for M & F to be here. Which, I suppose means it was God's will for their parents (they both have a living father) to lose them to another family? Is adoption redemptive? Certainly. But it's born out of horrific tragedy and I have a hard time buying that our blessing is at the hand of God who would have had to curse their birth parents so that we could have our good lot - making us practical heroes!

Someone recently told me a story about how much God cares for her little girl's chicken, because it was spared from a fox that came into their yard. My first thought in response, is "what about the hungry fox? Isn't it ok for God to care for him too?"

How can we possibly figure we have God and His plans and His motives and His desires for us all figured out? Maybe people do and I'm missing something. As of yet, I don't see it.

I doubt we can say it's explicitly clear that the business aspect (although possibly inevitable if we are to keep 'doing church' in buildings, with programs, etc.) of church in America is necessarily exactly where God wants us to be.

I'm not sure I called those examples of people I mentioned, "good" per se. Some are certainly devout, perhaps deceived. I don't think I believe in the simplicity of a decision or confession made at whatever age - resulting in a water baptism - that carries a person throughout the rest of their lives. If they had died yesterday ??? what would have happened to them? But because they were baptized today the deal is sealed? I'm not sure it's that cut and dry, nor that literal. I'm not sure what it means to "reject" truth. (Romans 2) What does it mean to "follow evil?" Is there something in between following evil and the Christian confession -where most people are? If I was born in India to a devout Hindu family who sought to live the best, most committed life they could, I think there is a pretty good chance I would be Hindu.

I do see lots of examples in the Bible of men and women doing remarkable works for God. I don't see a lot of examples of Joe Blows. I wonder what the multitudes who believe are supposed to do? Were some of the admonitions given in the gospels and Acts directly to the apostles, or do they apply to all? Again - the broad application we seem to sometimes assume.

I really would like to know. I'm not trying to be obstinate or stiff necked. I have always been inquisitive by nature. And, I have always, always loved God and the Bible. So much.

Have to run now, but would love to chat more. Maybe later. :-)

Thanks again!!

Tisha said...

Ha! My response *may be* a bit scattered and not make the best sense. Sorry! There's a chance I'm a better blog writer than comment writer. Typing in these little tiny boxes throws me way off. ;-)

Barry said...

I always regret stuff in things I post so I hope I'm making sense!
My first inclination is to say, "Hey, we've talked about alot of those things in church!" But, I don't want to be snarky :)
The reason I responded so longly (yes I made up the word) is because I have a real passionate love for God's Church and although it never really bothers me if people don't fit in our congregation it does get me going when people avoid church in general. (And selfishly our family really likes you guys and miss seeing you as much as we could (Upward reminded us of that), we do need to get together and just blab).
Let me just respond to one of your biggest issues. I think the Bible is meant to be understood on several levels (historical, personal, perscriptive, descriptive, etc.). It's important to read it in it's correct and various contexts. So Jeremiah 29:11 does apply to me personally in principle: God has plans to do what's best for me (that verse reveals some of God's nature that applies to all people at all times) and it applies historically to the people he was directly talking too (you're going into captivity but it's for your good). The context also points out that "plans to prosper" were referring to a time of captivity! Not exactly a "life verse" I'd wish on my kid (and I'm not sure where "life verses" are found in the Bible anyway).
So, in context my paraphrase of the principle found in that scripture is God saying..." I know your current situation doesn't seem like a good thing but, if you'll let it turn you back to Me, I've got your best interest at heart. And what is the best thing that could happen to you? That you turn to Me. That's My plan." If a someone has instead taught that verse somehow means God plans to make us healthy and wealthy then they need to be lovingly questioned, a noble thing to do according to Acts 17:11.

Barry said...

I'm going to try to be blunt and understand I'm not trying to be snarky (this time). It seems like you are failing to act on general things we can know... "God has a plan" "He's wants us to be in His family the Church" "God wants to care for the chicken and the fox".. because it can be hard to grasp everything... "What are the details of the plan" "But, the Church has some real problems" "The fox went hungry but the chicken was spared."
I've found when we follow what we can know the answers to the other stuff tends to be found (just usually not on my time schedule). But, if I don't act on what I can know life just get's more frustrating and confusing.

Barry said...

"How can we possibly figure we have God and His plans and His motives and His desires for us all figured out? Maybe people do and I'm missing something. As of yet, I don't see it." I have God and His plans and His motives and desires figured out... just not ALL figured out or always SPECIFICALLY figured out. God is my creator and father. He plans to do what's best for me. His motives are pure love (doing what's best for someone else no matter what the cost to Himself). His desire is to see me have a perfect relationship with Him and help others find the same thing. That's enough for me to start.

Barry said...

Trust me I'm often a victim of "analysis paraylasis" as it's been referred too :)

I've still found the best way to move past it is by being in good community with God's Church. It's there that I find purpose by serving others and growth through the input and interaction with the rest of God's body. And it's okay to do it in a building together, God designed the first one (the Tabernacle) :) Okay, that was snarky again.

Tisha said...

I love this part: I have God and His plans and His motives and desires figured out... just not ALL figured out or always SPECIFICALLY figured out. God is my creator and father. He plans to do what's best for me. His motives are pure love (doing what's best for someone else no matter what the cost to Himself). His desire is to see me have a perfect relationship with Him and help others find the same thing. That's enough for me to start.

I'll think on it. Thank you.

Well, I suppose we knew it was coming to this, right? The reproving admonishment to the sinful, lost sheep family. :-)

Of course you, of all people, will say God wants us to be at church! I would expect nothing less. You wouldn't be much of a pastor if you said otherwise....

I AM acting on what I know. I am praying. I am faithfully reading the Bible and memorizing Scripture. I am given to hospitality. I am fellowshipping with believers on a consistent basis. I am serving. I am taking care of extended family. I am sharing the Bible with my children.

I have not walked away from God. I do not, for one second, believe that not attending a typical, evangelical, American church in 2012 is synonymous with walking away from God. (Not that you said I did, it just seems to be sort of implied.)

Still, you're likely very right about it being a good place to be.

Thanks for the chat. :-) Off to see The Lorax at the $1 movie....

Barryzimm said...

That would be what I mean by regretting some things I post. I didn't intend to say or imply you are lost sheep or have walked away from God or that the church can ONLY meet in a US church building. I did notice i seemed to imply you weren't acting on what you know. I didn't mean that in general I just meant it in regards to the idea of meeting with a local congregation. And I think you know me well enough to know I rarely if ever say things as a Pastor but as Barry, a Christian, who happens to be a pastor. I actually just said in church a few weeks ago that I'm not interested in people coming for the congrgations good but because I truly believe it would be for their good. I've worked with and debated and advised all kinds of congregations from people meeting in houses to groups meeting in fields (literally) to "megachurches". I'm not interested in promoting certain types of congregations just healthy ones and I've seen healthy and unhealthy styles of all kinds.
However, once again working from what I am sure of in scripture to what I'm not sure of I do know God wants His people to meet regularly, meet in big and small settings, have aknowledged leaders, and accomplish all the one anothers to be healthy. If that is happening... cool beans. Keep it up, spread the word, and I pray your congregation has a powerful influence on the world around us! If not I know of a place that's trying:)

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