Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Why I Went Back To Church: Starting From Scratch

I'm not perfect...
I know that born again believers like to put their best foot forward and make it seem that they have everything under control, but that's not always the case. Our online presence depends on the reader's/viewer's perception of our own life, so it needs to be perfect. Look at all the influencers on the various apps out there... YouTube, TicTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, etc... They stress over projecting a positive and perfect persona. Some born again believers will show up at church and pretend everything is fine, even when their personal life is in turmoil. Well, I'm here to say that born again believers fail, and I'm no exception. This article will show how imperfect I am, and I'm not ashamed to share that with you and set the example of a born again believer who admits he's not perfect and sometimes falls. 

The walls go up...
In my life, I've endured decades of negative and hurtful experiences both in the church body and in my personal life. Because of that, I've developed major trust issues. I couldn't trust my mom, dad, or siblings (whose main concern was looking out for themselves); I couldn't trust my wife (who left me 7 times in our relationship) or her family; I couldn't trust my employers or co-workers (most of whom found no issue with stealing, lying, etc...); and I couldn't trust the people I was supposed to be able to trust... my brothers and sisters in the Lord, including church leadership (but that's another story). Church was supposed to be my sanctuary from the world, but I found the world alive and well within the walls of the church. Eventually, I became worn down enough to where I couldn't trust or depend on anyone. When it all got to be too much, I decided to protect myself from any further pain, so I erected an emotional wall to keep everyone at an arm's length. I left the church and I cut ties with my so-called friends. Still, to this day, I have no friends in the true sense of the word, and if a "friendly acquaintance," which I like to call them, causes me emotional pain, I remove them from my life. 
  • You lie to me or steal from me? Gone! 
  • You stab me in the back? Gone! 
  • You break promises? Gone!
This is one reason why I consider people I know to be just "friendly acquaintances," because I've refused to make the emotional investment in a friendship only to end up hurt and betrayed, which is what usually happens whenever I allow myself to get close to anyone. Although I don't consider people "friends," I can make them feel comfortable around me by smiling and laughing and cracking jokes. It's easy for me to project the personality of a "nice guy," because I'm actually a nice guy. When interacting with these friendly acquaintances, I'll show interest in their personal life and even share some of my personal life (only the parts of my life they won't be able to use against me as a weapon). Heck, I can even pray for them, but since I'm in constant defensive mode, they'll hit a wall if they try to form a closer friendship. 

The slow fade...
Since leaving the church, I've been what you might call a "Lone Wolf Christian." I had chosen to leave the church rather than continue dealing with the many negative issues that occurred within the church. I left in my futile attempt to go it alone, just me and God, and although I succeeded for a while, eventually my relationship with Him began to suffer. There are born again believers who have left the corporate church and flourished, but that was because they had other born again believers in their personal life with which to fellowship. I was void of face to face fellowship, and so I experienced a "Slow Fade," as the Casting Crowns song says. After a while, I didn't read as much and I didn't pray as much. I began filling my life with other things and, eventually, the enemy became a bigger influence in my life than expected, as I wandered further and further from the Lord. It seemed like the only scripture I was reading was through social media... short quotes, spiritual memes, and comments by other people. My prayers were confined to my meals, special requests, and the occasional prayer of appreciation for God's provision in my life. Sin crept in, but I had enough God-given wisdom to maintain my connection with the Lord. I continued watching Christian movies and continued praising and worshiping the Lord as I listened to my Christian music lists on my phone and YouTube. I lived my life aware of what my spiritual condition was and what it was doing to my relationship with God, but I still strived to do my best to remain faithful and obedient to Him in other areas of my life. I remember sitting down to read some of my previous blogs and to watch some of my previous YouTube videos, and thinking to myself, "Where is that guy? Where's that joy-filled and passionate guy sharing knowledge and speaking words of wisdom?" 

Needless to say, with everything I was experiencing, I still wasn't motivated to get involved with a church. Although my trust issues kept me away from church, unbeknownst to me, God had other plans. 

God spoke, and I wasn't happy.
A couple of months ago, God impressed upon me the need to go back to church. I wasn't too happy about that, and God knew it. I didn't feel guilty about admitting that to God, because He knows my heart and my past hurt that I was still nursing, and He already knew I'd be resistant to that idea from the get-go, but after thinking about it for a bit, I had to admit that I needed to make a sincere decision to lay down my own will and submit to His. I asked myself, "How can I remain isolated and still expect to grow? How can I have a relationship with Him or say I love Him if I don't love His body of believers? We're all living pillars in His Temple, so how can I exclude myself from interacting with them? By rejecting them, I'm rejecting God."

As much as I didn't initially want to submit to His leading, I allowed myself to recall past experiences of being broken before Him. It's not an enjoyable experience when the Potter breaks you in order to form you into a better vessel through which He can work. Although those experiences were brutal, reaching down to the core of my being, I must confess that those experiences of complete brokenness resulted in immense spiritual growth and resulted in a more intimate relationship with Him. What He was asking of me now (going back to church) was emotionally difficult, but how could I deny Him, not only because He's God, but because I knew He had my best interests in mind? He loves me so much that He stepped in and convinced me that my isolation from the body wasn't healthy. By submitting to God, I was trusting Him (the only One I truly trust) to begin healing a part of my life that was holding me back from His plans for me.

Finding a church...
I started making a mental list of the churches I thought I'd visit. I immediately decided that the church I was attending when I made that decision to leave the church in the first place would be excluded from my short list. I opted to attend a church I had been involved with many years ago. It wasn't too far from home, and they had a new pastor. I procrastinated for a while, but then pulled myself up by my boot straps and headed out to a Wednesday night service. It took a lot for me to just leave the house, let alone get out of my car and enter the building. I mean, with my trust issues, I didn't want to associate with anyone in that building. Wouldn't you know... I had an issue in this church from the get-go. I no sooner sat down when they were announcing their Trunk or Treat event. I remember thinking that this was exactly the type of experience over which I left the church. I actually had to force myself to sit in my seat for the entire service. Why? Because God was leading me back to church, so I wasn't about to run out on Him. As difficult as it was, I attended that church two more times before I decided that this wasn't a church in which I wanted to invest my time and effort, so I stopped going and continued my search for a new church.

A hospital visit changes everything...
During this time, my adult daughter was hospitalized for several days. Although her diagnosis could be life altering, that experience resulted in a huge blessing because she rededicated her life to the Lord (Praise God!), which encouraged me to stop dragging my feet in looking for a new church. A couple of weeks later, my daughter and I pulled into the parking lot of a new church and headed to the front door. That first visit was a positive experience, for the most part (I don't want to nit-pick), which encouraged me to give it another try. As of this date and time, we've visited the church twice (the past two Sundays), and we plan to return next Sunday.

I still have things to work on...
I don't want to give you the false impression that my trust issues have been resolved, because that's not the case. My trust issues still remain. In fact, during the service, I emotionally pulled away from everything for about 10 minutes and became an "observer." I looked around the sanctuary to see how it was set up, I observed how the congregation worshiped and how they behaved during the sermon. You can tell a lot about a church just by taking the time to observe the congregation and the church "staff." Also, during those times when the pastor or worship leader instructed us to look at our neighbor and repeat something, I rebelled and refused to do so. That comes from my issue with blindly following instructions from authority figures. If I'm going to follow the verbal instructions of someone in authority in the church, it's because there's value in it, not because someone in authority tells me to do it. That comes from my need to make sure that I don't put people in authority on a pedestal, which some in the church are prone to do. "Stand up, sit down, repeat these words, turn to your neighbor and say this, that, and the other thing, etc..." I'm likely to resist those instructions, but I don't expect anyone, or encourage anyone, to do the same. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have a aversion to blindly following someone, whether it's someone in the world or someone in the church. It's a skill that's come in handy more times than I can remember.

So that's where things stand right now. I'm able to get my foot in the door, I'm able to open myself up to the worship service instead of worshiping alone at home, and I'm open to biblical teaching from the pulpit. A couple of months ago, if you knew me, you wouldn't have believed it was possible, but here I am. 

You may have the impression that I'm looking for a "perfect church, but my desire is to fellowship with a body of born again believers who strive to seek a closer relationship with God and don't take their salvation for granted. I can deal with a church filled with imperfect people, but not one filled with hypocritical people. There's a difference. 

As the months pass by, I'll try to make it a point of either updating this article, or writing a companion article to share my progress in this area of my life (if you're interested). Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and for interacting with me in the comment section if you choose to do so. God Bless!!!



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