My wife and I have not been associated with a denominational Christian gathering for most of the past seven or eight years. During this time we have continued to fellowship with friends and others, mostly in a small group/home group setting. Some who participate attend Sunday church and some don’t—the bottom line is that we are all Christians-In-Process.
We continue to meet from house to house and share a meal, worship with music and exchange thoughts on common scriptures. Occasionally there is a “teaching” but most often we relate to one another around where we are in our Christian lives.
This past week as wintery weather arrived in Boone, NC, my wife and I reminisced about how we used to feel so compelled to attend church on Sunday’s, that we often found ourselves in foot deep snow or traversing slippery, icy roads in order to get to the weekly meeting. In was almost as if the most important aspect of our walk with Christ was making sure we were present and accounted for at each and every meeting.
Hindsight is 20/20 and what we now realize is that we were part of a system that rewarded outward actions in order to show each other that God loved us and accepted us. This is part of what can be called living under a “religious spirit”. We deny the power of grace when our relationship with God is centered around our ability to perform spiritual tasks. God does not love us because we pray, read our Bibles, attend church or act nice, yet many Christians think God is mad at them if they don’t perform these and other duties.
Galatians 5:1 reads: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
I am pretty sure that what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church at Galacia was the fact that they had begun their journey with Christ by faith and were now trying to redeem themselves by the works of the law—the do’s and the don’ts. They wanted back under the religious system from which they had been set free partially because it was what they knew and partially because being a slave seems so much easier than being a free-man—as there are fewer decisions to make as a slave.
In Matthew 23:23 we read: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
In this passage Jesus was addressing a group of people who had perfected the art of spiritual performance. With them, it was all about outward appearance and not about the state of their heart. According to their tradition, it was ok for them to ignore the needs of their immediate family in order to bring their offering before the congregation (Matt. 15).
I guess that I have said all of that in order to say this: walking in the freedom spoke of in scripture is not as easy as it would seem on the surface. As human beings we are a tangled web of history and habit—actions and responses—do this and don’t do that’s. We have grown up in a culture that shouts everything is relative and have it your way in a 50 shades of grey landscape. We have arrived at a time in history where same-sex marriage is not even at the tip of the iceberg even though many think this is at the top of the long list of our sinful actions.
Recently I was placed in a situation which brought me to this thoughtful point—how do we exercise our personal freedom and yet fulfill our responsibilities to one another.
I met with a group of believers every other week on Sunday afternoon for worship, prayer and fellowship. Though I don’t consider myself to be a “praise and worship” leader per se, I do have a musical gift, no matter how basic, that I often share in a group setting. Sometimes the simple songs I bring open up the heavens and allow us to enter into a dimension of Godly perspective. During the past several months I have had the opportunity to lead worship by myself and also back up people who have come in order to share their gift of music with us.
Last week, a young man came into our meeting with his guitar and sat across the room from me. I had arrived early and had my guitar plugged in and the music stand up and was ready to ease into a few songs that I had practiced for this time. I invited him to set beside me so that he could see the music and after a short opening prayer, without even looking at me, this guy started playing a current, contemporary praise song. With that intro, he continued to play for the next hour or so without so much as giving me an inch to move into the musical flow. As he was much more talented than I and being slightly insecure anyway, I tried to play along with my uke and or harmonicas but the wind had been taken out of my sails and I felt discouraged and disrespected.
As I hadn’t talked with this fellow beforehand, I really didn’t know what he had or had not arranged with the pastor of this small fellowship. I tried to let my feelings go but I felt like a bucket full of cold water had been poured on me and all I could manage was to bide my time until I could pack up and leave. For some reason, I couldn’t find it within my self to take part in the music and bring it back to where I thought I was supposed to go with it when I showed up that afternoon.
In talking with the pastor later that evening, he wondered what had happened to me and asked why I had “let” this young man take over the entire service. I told him I didn’t know what had been arranged and that I would not “fight” for a place to fit in order to play music. He then apologized to me for letting the situation go and at that point I asked him what his expectations of me were.
You might be asking yourself at this point, where does walking in freedom fit in within this scenario. I am not totally sure but will attempt to flesh out my thoughts surrounding this concept.
First of all, we live in a world filled with expectations and obligations—commitments and consequences.
When I showed up on Sunday to fellowship and meet with this group, although it was unspoken, I felt a responsibility to exercise my musical gift. Since I had played during the last several meetings, the expectation was that I would continue to move in this direction.
Yet at the same time, there is an implied freedom within this group to follow the spirit’s leading and as a result, I am “free” to attend or not depending on the circumstances in my life. Since I feel that I am a part of this group an obligation exists on my part to let the leader know if I am not planning on being there so that other plans for music, etc. can be arranged. Yet even that curtesy is not specifically required for attendance and/or acceptance.
Hopefully you can see where I am attempting to go with this post.
In other words, walking in freedom does not eliminate our obligation to one another to be respectful and considerate within all of our interactions.
Freedom does not mean that I can do anything I want anytime I want without regard to how my behavior affects others around me.
My value as a person and my relationship with God is not determined by whether or not I make it to “church” on Sunday but at the same time, how I handle myself before, during and after a meeting is a direct result of my commitment to a lifestyle based on a relationship with Christ.
It is a wonderful feeling to not be tied into a belief system that rewards you for doing stuff for God. But navigating within this freedom is not something that can be taken lightly. It is much harder to be flexible in our relationships than it is to follow a set of rules and regulations.
Ultimately, even though I was offended by this young musicians behavior, I believe that God causes all things to work together for good and even this situation, which hurt me in the making, has pushed me beyond my understanding and into a new realm of being. As I have mentioned before, I am still in process and still open to the hand of my heavenly Father ushering me through another series of events in order to bring me to a better understanding of the freedom He has offered me.
Not a bad “ride” for a cold, wintery day. Enjoy yours.