I meet so many people who grew up in Christian homes and who left their faith. In fact, I was one of those people. I left the United Methodist Church where my parents faithfully attended for my entire life when I was 16 because I thought that most of the folks, if not all, were hypocrites. I had other reasons as well, and that is another blog post. Oh, and we did not attend the same church all those years. But since my dad was in the Navy, we lived in numerous places. But we always found a United Methodist Church to attend.
My first refreshing glimpse into a new way of looking at the Gospels came when I was traveling for a year at age nineteen. Even though I didn’t believe in God, he told me to travel, and there I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I had been on the road for 9 months, and I still had not found what I was looking for–peace, joy, fulfillment. In fact, I felt almost suicidal. When I found the movie Godspell showing, I decided to go in order to try to escape my pain. I found myself uplifted, and went back 6 more times until I felt strong enough to keep going.
For the next 30 years I believe that I really wanted to follow Jesus, but I could not find many Christians who I respected accept for my friend Linda Williams who attended the Church of the Brethren. But I found the people at the church to be rather distant and cold, and so once again I was stymied. A lone loving Christian who’s church was not inviting to me was just not enough to inspire me to surrender my life to Christ.
Then at age 48, twelve years ago, I found a little church in the country where it seemed like people really were following Jesus. I was inspired to do more research about the historical Jesus. Josh McDowell’s book More than a Carpenter and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity really inspired me. I have since read many books and have studied extensively Christian apologetics which gives my intellect the food it needs so that I know I am not blindly believing. The most recent book I read, Cold Case Christianity, is one of the best studies in why we can believe that Jesus is real and that he is who he said he is…God.
Just over a year ago I came across the teachings and writings of Greg Boyd who is passionate about non-violence and helping people see God through the lense of Jesus. I like his teachings on the okay-ness of doubting, and apologetics. This series of very short videos was the clearest and shortest teaching I have come across that can inspire a person to understand why we can trust the New Testament to be historically accurate.
I actually found Greg Boyd because initially I had found Bruxy Cavey who shares most of the values of his friend, Greg Boyd. Bruxy is funny, smart and just comes from the heart in sharing how important it is to be in small house churches so that people can be real with each other and share the life of following Jesus together. The church he pastors, The Meeting House, is made up of small house churches and if I was ever going to start a church–I would use this model.
I wrote a series of blogs including this one. I sent him links to my blogs, and I received a message on my voice mail from Bruxy and his whole family. Bruxy told me that my encouragement was like spiritual multivitamins and a few other kind words. Then in the back ground I heard his wife and daughters say, “We love you.” He is the real deal:) I bought his book, The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus just before I left on my community tour. I loved what I read…but then I met a guy who was really sincerely searching for truth, and I gave it to him. But I think this book is well worth reading by any one concerned about modern day Christian spirituality.
When I was researching Christian intentional communities to visit last summer, I learned that at Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago many members use something called the Immanuel Approach. Living in community brings up a lot of issues that need healing because life is intense when you are interacting closely with other people who often are very different. Yet we are called to love each other, and learning to love usually means removing the blocks to love–like buttons that we have formed by childhood wounds. I immediately did a very deep study of Immanuel Approach and was inspired and empowered by the testimonies and free teachings that promised to help me connect with Jesus in a way that was real and that could heal my past.
I was so blessed to be able to meet Karl Lehman and his wife Charlotte when I visited Reba Place Fellowship during my month long community tour. I also amazingly had lunch with both of them along with Jessie Handy, the person who taught the inspiring classes that I watched on Vimeo. What are the chances of that happening?! I know you can’t get to know people just in one hour meeting, but there was something so life-giving in the way that the four of us shared that made me really trust these people. I have since found that the Immanuel Approach has helped me immensely and continue to stay in contact with these friends who pour their life into helping others with this wonderful method of connecting with Jesus.
I believe it was Jessie who encouraged me to look into the Life Model which was a way of looking at life in a way that helps people to thrive. Developed by Jim Wilder, this model has inspired many very talented people to renew their faith in Jesus. People who were pretty burned out with religion found a practical way to live out the teachings of Jesus and then share with others. I discovered that Jim mentored Karl Lehman as the Immanuel Approach was being developed. I decided to contact Jim since on the website it encouraged people to contact him if they shared his vision, which I did. You can download a pdf if you scroll down to the right bottom corner on this website www.lifemodel.org
Jim responded immediately to my enthusiastic response to the vision. We had a pretty intense dialogue for a brief period and I got to know him better. This is rare–to be able to communicate with a leader who has so many responsibilities, and once again I felt I was meeting someone who walked his talk. I asked him about the best resources I should buy, and he recommended the hot of the press book, Joy Starts Here I got the book, participated in the forum for a while, and really loved what I read. It was all about very logical things that help our brains and hearts and relationships to grow. Things I had studied about in secular areas for most of my life were being confirmed all in one place.
I met a number of people who practice the Immanuel Approach, and the amazing things is that they all seem so peaceful, loving, and open-hearted. No, not perfect…but I liked them!
I need to digress and say that after of few years of following Jesus in the little church that I was part of, some things happened that were very hurtful and which inspired me to start doubting my faith. That is when I dove deep into reading everything I could by free-thinkers, atheists, Christians who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, and others. I concluded that they all had some kind of agenda and they didn’t seem very logical or grounded in facts. Then I poured myself into Christian apologetics which was helpful–but did not establish a relationship with Jesus that I yearned for.
I came across the book The Shack at a time when I was feeling depressed, empty, and desperate for some reassurance that Jesus was the real deal. That story is pretty amazing. I was so inspired and uplifted by the book that at one point I started a whole blog about my “Shack” journey. Wow! I just skimmed that blog and I felt inspired remembering more details about how I came to find the book and other ways it impacted my life. Something about it helped me to realize that God loves me especially–and he loves everyone especially. This was key in my journey to have a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Another book that impacted my life early on was The irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. Hey, I got to meet him on my community tour–now that was wonderful. I have a video of an interview I did with him–some day I am going to learn how to upload it to Youtube! I loved his teaching about how we need to really reach out and be the hands and feet of Jesus, and his example of living in the poorest neighborhood in Philadelphia with some friends where they have made a tremendous difference. Once again I got to meet a Christian who was walking his talk. First I met him through his book, and then about a decade later–in person!
My friend Alexander also got to meet Shane Claiborne when Alexander did an internship in the area. He highly recommends another book by Shane called Jesus for President. I can’t wait to read it, Alexander:)
Okay, I really need to wrap this up! I have been writing for a few hours and the time is standing still as I recall these wonderful memories. I hope this has helped you, reader, to be open to some new ways of looking at being a follower of Jesus. But I am not done yet!
Another author who inspired me was Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis. Reading this at a time when I was wavering in my faith helped me to be more open to other interpretations of the Bible. Later, though, when I heard that Rob Bell was teaching things that were similar to non-Christian teachers, I remember being afraid to learn from him any more because I was insecure in my faith. I was in a period where I wanted to please my fellow brothers and sister in Christ and didn’t want to make waves.
About 18 months ago, I skimmed through his book, Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. The controversy about this book was outrageous. People were so hateful if they disagreed…but comforted and happy if they were open to what Rob had to say. I couldn’t make up my mind about what I thought at that time. Since then, everything I have come across reinforces what Rob is saying–that there is no place where God is eternally responsible for torturing people simply because they don’t believe a certain way. Heresy, many would say. But according to Rob’s very scholarly take on the Bible, and what I understand, this is truth.
I loved this interview with Rob and two guys with wonderful English accents. One of them definitely did not agree with Rob, but the conversation was entirely civil and loving. I just can’t see a loving God needing to set up a system of punishment that he would have to oversee since he is the Creator of the Universe. He is too smart for that:)
I just came across this website which is one of the most inspiring I have come across yet. David and Jan have similar stories as those who come across Jim Wilder’s Life Model. They were burned out and wondering where they were going on this Christian path. Meeting Jim and his friends really helped them to re-form their understanding of their walk with Jesus. In the past four days I have felt compelled to keep going back to this website called Kingdom Formation to get refreshed and inspired on my walk with Jesus.
I love all these resources because I can go back and visit them regularly. If I want some spiritual inspiration and I want to get the dishes done, I almost always will turn to Greg Boyd or Bruxy Cavey’s well organized and very current sermons to get motivated. Fortunately my daughter, Mahriyanna and our whole community likes these guys so that works out. Here is something I came across a few days ago which really inspired me–about how nine spiritual temperaments have been discovered which can help you realize how you best connect with God. I hope to get this book , What’s Your God Language.
Hey, while searching for the link for this book, I came across this interesting book called Teaming Church: Ministry in an age of Collaboration. Now I am all about thatl kind of stuff. This is how I find all these cool resources. There really is a movement of people who are passionate about following Jesus who have great things to share. I love it!
I hope you will check out these resources and if you are inspired and energized, or just glad you have found a kindred spirit–I hope you will comment on this post. I am passionate about sharing these resources because I would have liked to have read something like this when I was having doubts (for the second time in my life) about my walk with Jesus.