My Journey to the Way-Part 3-Hope

Hope – “This day you shall be with me in paradise.”  The grace of God is obviously not limited to those who have taken the Orthodox way of Chrismation, Baptism and the Eucharist.  The thief on the cross experienced none of these and yet Christ made this statement to him.  Christ looks on the heart. I suspect there are many hearts outside of Orthodoxy that belong to Christ.  He is a God of mercy and grace and He loves mankind. I believe that “He will keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

Father Timothy said there is disagreement within Orthodoxy on some of the issues.  They seem to be pretty laid back on many things, but strict on others.  I hope as I become more familiar with Orthodoxy that I can discern which ones are which.

Human nature is the same across the board in whatever church one belongs, and it takes a miracle to change human nature.  I am grateful to have observed the change that God can make in a person’s life.  I saw it  in my mother first of all.  She was not perfect, but instead of displaying bitterness and hate which she had many reasons to do so, instead, I remember hearing the sound of her voice  praying in her room. I knew that is how she survived.  I had great reason to follow her example many years later.

I see the difference in my thinking of my children when they choose the way of darkness over the way of light; the way of Christ over the way of self.  I see the struggle in them, and I hope I can always say of them, “at least they struggle.”

I see the wisdom of those in my life who have followed God and the difference they have made in the lives of others.  I know there is light in some, and darkness in others.  Some despair. Some have hope. Some live by the dictates of self. Some live by the dictates of God. And it is obvious. There is also a difference between those that are good, and those who are good because of the light of God in their lives. The difference is the reason, the motive, their philosophy of life. The light of God shines from their eyes.  They are happy, and they have peace.

One of the greatest disappointments I encountered as a teenager, was finding out that there were those in the church who did not truly follow Christ.  I define it as “the end of childhood.”  It is a transition that is more severe for some than for others.  However, one of the greatest joys I encountered as a teenager was finding out that there were those in the church who truly loved Christ and showed this by loving others. For instance, I was the oldest of 6 children, and we did not have much money, to say the least.  There were a couple of women from church who would take me shopping for shoes, or invite me along to see a play; take time  out of their day to notice me and take an interest in me. How great was the difference I saw back then between those who loved Christ by loving “the least of these,” and those who were more interested in image.

I believe with all my  heart that there are those in other denominations who have been regenerated by the life of Christ within them.  God meets us where we are.  He met the thief on the cross while He was on the Cross, so He meets us in our  pain, our place of misery and aloneness, because He has suffered as a man and sees fit to lift us up to dwell in Him.

What in the world would I have done as a child, with all I went through, had I not known Him?

So I am comforted.

“I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

 

My Journey to the Way

Realizing that the foundation of my faith was not God, but my interpretation of God; not faith, but my interpretation of faith; not belief, but by interpretation of belief; not the Word of God, but my interpretation of the Word of God and what made sense to me; realizing that the foundation of my faith then, was me..has been one of the most devastating truths of my life.

 

My dad was a Sunday School Superintendent and deacon in a Southern Baptist Church.  My mother was a Sunday School teacher, Training Union teacher, Soloist and singer in the choir and special groups and I followed her example in singing and enthusiasm for spiritual things with a hunger for God. I would often hear my mother praying out loud in her bedroom. I knew she loved God and wanted her children to do so as well.   We attended 2-week long revivals, tent meetings, tabernacle meetings, neighboring church’s weeks long revival meetings, traveled to other churches and events to sing, attended VBS every year and won contests in biblical challenges often.

I married a baptist preacher. I was an AWANA leader and my children attended AWANA and excelled in its awards and championships.  I homeschooled my children and made sure they knew God’s Word and His principles.

But things were not as they seemed.  One after another God knocked all the props out from under me and my children.  The foundation of our home eroded.  The man we leaned on and counted on let us down. My husband’s life did not reflect the salvation of God nor His power to overcome sin.  The same story was true of my dad.  Those two men destroyed our lives and made us question everything we believed.  While that sounds devastating, and it was, it also caused us to embark on a search for truth.

My son, Danny, has always been concerned about the truth even as a young child.  He has read widely and also has a blog called “The Search for Truth.”  He grew disillusioned by fundamentalist baptists, as we all did, and began to look elsewhere.  He became very interested in the Catholic Faith and shared what he found with the rest of us.  We searched and investigated as well.  There were many things that drew us to Catholicism but there were many things that held us off.

It is devastating to lose trust in Christian leaders/pastors; and that lack of trust made it impossible to accept a pope who says he speaks for God.   We had known many Christian leaders, my ex-husband being one of them, that claimed that had some divine knowledge and /or claimed that God told them something, but treated their loved ones cruelly and/or had immoral life styles, manipulating the people around them for their own purposes.

 

So that cut out Catholicism.  What was left?  Was our choice Protestantism or Catholicism?  Then we discovered Orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy seemed to be governed by councils, scriptures, tradition, and laity, much more reliable than the word of one man.  This was much more appealing.  I studied Orthodoxy for  one to two years.  I watched Fr. Josiah Trenham’s Rock and Sand and went through the Orthodoxy 101 sessions by Fr.Barnabas Powell along with other Orthodox teachings and books.

I learned just how shaky Protestantism really is, how it was a movement away from Catholicism for good reasons, but opened up a plethora of 100’s of denominations each with their own “pope”. and their own interpretations which more often than not, disagreed with the others’ interpretations.  It was constantly evolving and eroding with no agreed upon stable doctrine by which to abide.

I had seen first hand how the Baptist Church had moved from a traditional service of hymns, gospel songs, and choirs to choruses, 7/11 songs( 7 verses, 11 times),  contemporary music with a worship leader who claimed that this new venue was so everyone could be included, not just one song director; however what took place was the exact opposite as the want-a- be  rock musician worship leader pretty much took the limelight no matter what, singing songs that were unfamiliar to the the congregation, a congregation made up of mostly young people who quickly learned the new format and joined in  with their sways and arm motions that gave off an air of spirituality gauged on the amount of movement and participation. The older people who were used to doctrine filled hymns and gospel songs, were left in the dust and either left in search of a venue of greater comfort level, stayed and was dissatisfied even though they tried their best to sway and  move like the younger crowd, not knowing if this was still a Baptist church, nondenominational church, or out and out Pentecostal, or just simply dropped out of church altogether.

It was disconcerting and destabilizing.  So, who does speak for God?

 

Turns out, He doesn’t really need someone to speak for Him excathedra. He has spoken and then has said “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

 

We do not need something new or something that appeals to the young people, or something that needs changing with the culture.  We need the Word of God and the teachings passed down from the apostles to us.  And that is Orthodoxy.  That is what I have learned and that is what I am learning.

 

My son, Tim, and I have been going to an Orthodox Church now for about 4 weeks as of  this writing.  It took courage to go.  The first time we went, we got almost to the church and looked at each other. We discussed whether we should turn around and run, or be brave and go.  We turned into the church.

I had been praying for some time that God would send me help (someone) to guide me in this new endeavor.  I felt like the the one who plead, “Come over into Macedonia and help us!” or the Ethiopian eunuch who needed understanding and Philip came.   I had asked God repeatedly for help, and I think I had expected someone to drop out of the blue and ask me to go to an Orthodox Church with them.  Well, when we turned into the church, we parked along side another car that just arrived and a lady got out and started walking into the church the same time we did.  Tim asked her, “Can we follow you into the church?”  She said, “Sure.”  I explained that this was the first time we had every been to an Orthodox Church. She introduced herself as Nadine. She told us she had been brought up in the Orthodox Church and that her grandparents were Orthodox in the old country (Russia).  We went in with her and after conversing a little with one of the greeters, we went in to sit down.   Nadine asked us if we would like her to sit beside us and guide us through the liturgy book.  We eagerly and thankfully, said, “yes.”    She was a huge help, for we would have surely been lost as we  bounced back and forth between the liturgy book and the writings in the  bulletin.

 

Afterwards, we talked to Father Timothy who was very nice, and introduced us to Dale who operated the library and taught the class on Monday nights which we have attended a couple of times.  We bought the book for the class and a prayer book.

 

The first class, Tim could not attend, so I went and met Rebecca, Vicki, Peter, Kim and Dave.  It was a good class about grace and at the end I shared a little about my family, Amie, and my background.  They said they would pray for Amie and they were very friendly.  The subject of grace as an Orthodox views it still escapes me a bit.  I am wondering if it is just another way of saying “Christ’s life in us.”

I did not know the prayers they spoke at the beginning and end of class.  I am still trying to learn them as of this writing. Dale explained how to make the sign of the Cross.  I do not want to do this by rote, which I told Father Timothy in my meeting with him. I want to know the meaning behind it and how it applies to me, before I commit to it.  Father Timothy explained that it was used frequently as a refocus, that it can be used as an exorcism (which kind of freaks me out, I will have to find out about that).  Anyway, that explanation is not quite satisfactory to me.  Maybe I can find more out about the sign of the Cross later.  To me, if I were to do the sign of the Cross right now, the meaning I would give it would be this: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life which I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  I can identify with that completely.

 

I met with Father Timothy and it enjoyed it tremendously.  He was very willing to answer my questions, of which I have many but shared only a few. We talked about salvation.  I told him that Dale had said he did not know if he had salvation.  That kind of blew my mind, because how can someone expect to “acquire the Holy Spirit” and not even be sure they have salvation?  Is not salvation criteria to acquiring the Holy Spirit?  I suspect that the word “salvation” has different meanings to Orthodoxy. I do know though that they believe what I had learned as a Baptist:  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. I said to Father Timothy, “When a person is saved, Christ’s life is in him, he thinks differently, he acts differently, he is a different person, a new creation. He does not look at things that way he once did. How can he not know he has salvation?  Does not God want us to know that we have the salvation he offers to us?  And having this life of Christ born within us, can it die?”  I am not sure he answered the first part, but he did say that after a person is saved, he still has the freedom to choose to reject it. I don’t know what to think about that.  It seemed to me that salvation is a covenant I have with God, but also a covenant He has with me.  I always believed that He would keep me and not let me go.  Instead, he would discipline me, chastise me as needed and bring be back to repentance as His child; as we do our children, without disowning them. I guess what  I am wondering is, can a true repentant believer really reject Christ?  2Tim 2:13:  If we are faithless, He remains faithful.

 

 

Father Timothy talked about book ends.  He said that in the beginning, God created man in His own image.  But man fell.     Then at the Cross, Jesus called out, “It is finished!”  By that the work was done that made a way to restore man to God’s image.  Plan A vs Plan B which was meant all along to be Plan A?

 

Father Timothy made many references to pride during our conversation. Did I appear proud to him, I wonder?  I do not think I was  proud in coming to him.  I am a sincere seeker who really wants to please God, because I have failed Him so utterly.  I ask, not because I am contrary, but because I want to sort out the truth as I know it, and debunk it if is wrong.  I just want to know for sure it is wrong before I reject it. I feel like I have been so deceived in many ways.  The thing I greatly feared (deception) has come upon me for sure. The last prop to be knocked out from under me was the very thing that kept me going in the hard times of life, the rock that I clung to, the song that I sung.  I have to sort out which part of all that is the truth and which is not. Did I have a right to trust the Rock if I never had the Eucharist?  or been Chrismated?  This thing within me, this desire for God, to please Him, to love Him, to rely on His death on the Cross to save me, to reconcile me to God.. it has to be real… doesn’t it? It has to mean that if I die trusting in Christ, I will go to heaven…doesn’t it?

I will seek Him and I will find Him, for I will search for Him with all my heart!

 

I told Father Timothy about Amie.  I told him that when she came out a few years ago, that it devastated out family.  We did not lose faith in God, but I know that I lost faith in the way I thought He worked.  I thought that if I trained up my child in His ways, that she would not depart from that.  I was wrong.  O I have been wrong in so many ways.  I was wrong in that I did not see what she was going through. Or maybe I did not want to see it.  I know that many times I wanted to ask her about it, but I did not want to offend her.  Little did I know that she would not be offended. I failed her.  I failed God.  And I felt like He failed me.  Obviously He does not work in the way I thought He did.  That translated into other areas of my life, with the obvious result that what I thought mattered to Him, probably did not matter. Consequently, I made some very unwise decisions. Unwise Huge Decisions.  Ironically, the decisions I made were so ghastly, that it led me right back to the principles of God with a greater stronger sense and conviction that His ways as depicted in His Word are always right, NO MATTER WHAT.

 

I told Father Timothy about “What Dreams May Come,”  a movie starring Robin Williams, in which he goes to hell to rescue his wife who committed suicide when their children were killed in a car crash.  He went through horrific levels of hell to get down to where she was.  He thought she would be happy to see him and to be rescued, but this was not the case.  It was as if she did not even know she was in hell.  Instead of leaving,  turned away from him and sat down.  Although she rejected his pleadings, and he knew she would not come with him, he did not leave her.  He loved her so much, he sat down beside her to stay.

I told Father Timothy that this is exactly the way I felt about Amie, even though she does not even know that she is in hell and will not leave her lifestyle.  I love her so much I would do exactly what Robin Williams did if she goes to hell.  Christ loved us so much He died for us.  He gave me this mother-love.  What do I do with it?  I love her.

Father Timothy said to me, “She is not in hell, but you can sit down beside her and love her. God is not through with her.  She is on a journey.  Take care of yourself, just like they tell you on an airplane, that when the O2 bags drop, put the mask on yourself first, before you put it on your child.  It is sound logic.”  I think he was saying that I need to be at the place spiritually, where I can be of the most help to her.

I have been reading, “Know the Faith,” by Rev Michael Shanbour. It is the book we are reading for our Monday night Orthodoxy class with Dale. Even though I had some questions about the Orthodoxy view of salvation, I must say that the things in the chapter about Justification by Faith, are exactly what I have held to for years and years.  I am pretty sure I was taught it at Beulah Baptist Church, where I grew up, but I know that it is what I studied since then through many other books and speakers. We are partakers of the divine nature and our “old man” has been regenerated and renewed by being joined to the resurrected humanity of Christ. The chapter goes on to reiterate exactly as I have believed. I am relieved about that.

 

…to be continued..