Religions Need to Lighten Up

Today in a discussion with a Facebook pal, I recalled an unusual incident from my adolescent past that triggered another memory from early adulthood. Both incidents happened in a religious setting although as a child I had no regular church attendance. I think you will find them interesting, and even humorous especially if you can “lighten up” coming from a religious background, Christian or otherwise.

The first incident was my baptism in a creek the summer I turned twelve. My mother belonged to a small denomination called the Church of God of Abrahamic Faith.  The Seminary for training clergy was located in Illinois but there were two small churches established in Texas; one on the northern border of Texas and one near the Mexican border in South Texas.

Since our family moved all over Texas during my childhood we never were settled near one of these churches, except for one year while in the south. Mother attended as many summer conferences held around the state as she could. We were at one of these when I made a decision to have my sins washed away the way Jesus did. As I went down under the water with the pastor’s handkerchief covering my face, I saw a brilliant white light and when I came up out of the water I did not walk, I ran over to the shore and kept skipping and running unable to contain my joy. I felt as clean inside as if I had swallowed a huge mint and felt as light as a feather. In my mind (consciously) I knew I had no sins at that moment. It felt so good to be totally sin free, as if I had never told a fib or had a bad thought or felt any fear.

As I shared my feelings and thoughts with the adults I was quickly reminded that if I did not confess and repent of any sins that would surely come along at some time, it meant that Jesus would return someday and throw me into a lake of fire. Not to worry. I believed I would never sin again. I was actually a good girl and so sensitive to lying I developed a compulsion to always tell the truth no matter what. The problem came later when I fell in love with my high school sweetheart and tried to keep secrets from my mother.  He was a grade below me and we became engaged at my graduation while he finished out his senior year.

So we move on to the next significant spiritual encounter in my youth. Mother was now divorced and we had no money for college, but my aunt and uncle were on the board of the church’s Bible College and had offered to pay my tuition and all expenses. I took my first train ride all the way up to Oregon, Illinois and settled in to college dorm life. It was grand to be in the cold northern climate where you could walk through the snow and put a coke outside your window to chill. Rules of the dorm required we have a devotion and prayer every night and I felt I was in heaven. I remember having a vision of Jesus standing in the middle of our prayer circle as we took turns praying. I did not tell the girls for fear they would think I was making it up.

Since I had received no money from anyone at home I took opportunities for baby sitting and ironing jobs in order to pay for necessities as the college bills piled up. I loved the Bible classes and the Sunday preaching by the seminar students studying to be pastors.

One Sunday a particular sermon grabbed my attention and I couldn’t get it off my mind. It was taken from New Testament gospels and the theme was “salvation.” Now this church taught the traditional Christian doctrine on hell, taken from scripture stating the “wages of sin is death “(in hell fire). There were sins of commission and sins of omission. Of course if you repented and sought forgiveness after sinning and got baptized in water and attended church and tithed faithfully, then you might be one of the special ones who got to go to heaven when you died. If you died “in sin” though, you would “sleep” in the grave until Jesus returned, at which time he would throw you into the lake of fire where you would be mercifully burnt to a crisp instead of writhing in pain forever as the Baptists and Catholics taught. Please forgive my “tongue in cheek,” but laughter is good medicine and we all have times when we can laugh at ourselves, I hope. If not, please be a good Christian and forgive me for any insensitivity.

Here is where it gets interesting. The pastor in his sermon that Sunday had used a scripture that said basically this: “Eternal life cannot be earned for it is a free gift.”I knew what a gift was and it was not what I was receiving from relatives at home, God bless them. At least they had played a role in getting me to this place and I am grateful for every important turn in my life’s journey.

So on Monday, I stopped by the pastor’s office and asked if I could ask some questions about his Sunday sermon.  I spoke to my confusion about the scripture he had quoted, indicating to me that a gift is given unconditionally. He turned to another verse in the Bible to try and make it clear that salvation does have conditions. The scripture he read only convinced me right there at that moment that salvation could NOT be earned and is FREE to all. It would be decades before I fully appreciated the magnitude of this truth: The Source of All That Is (God, no matter what name or title) loves every one of us unconditionally. That is profound and when accepted world wide it will unite us in peace and joy unspeakable.

But that day at that moment I had an awakening so powerful it pulled me out of my chair, out of pastor’s office running towards our little chapel at the end of the hall, where I could be alone and close to Jesus to pour out my heart. I was SAVED from hell and loved and approved right then and there. The chapel was empty, illuminated only by the light from the leaded glass windows and I ran to a row at the back between the pews, falling to my knees. I opened my mouth to express what was welling up from my heart. Instead of English, out came this Jewish sounding language. I was amazed but the words kept flowing.  I knew those strange words were being well received and tears of joy flowed down my cheeks as I communicated love and gratitude to my Savior.

If that teenage girl could have been supported and nurtured by the Holy Spirit as to the truth about a universal God of Unconditional Love, her journey would surely have taken a different turn from the one she actually lived for the next twenty years. But she had deeper things to learn and false beliefs to release. Transformation comes through challenges and sufferings, joys and victories.

That week all the students were to go on a “mission” trip to a nearby town and give a testimony. I enthusiastically let it be known that I was going to share about my experience with Jesus in the chapel and the good news that no one was going to be thrown into hell.  Before we were to leave it was made clear to me that I would stop speaking about that event. I was told that I was just overcome with emotion and that “speaking in tongues” was from the devil and other strange things that “Pentecostals” did like falling to the floor, handling snakes and yelling.  That was when I learned about the “holy rollers” down the street whom everyone laughed at.  I certainly did not want to be one of those and I filed away the incident deep within my soul until my next vivid encounter with Holy Spirit.

At the end of that semester I dropped out of school and took a job to pay off the college, saved the rest and returned home to enroll at A&I with my fiancé.  Within a year we married and began raising a family. I did not step into a church for ten years and then only after a divorce, a remarriage and a life-transforming encounter with Spirit in my beautiful home outside Houston, Texas. That is when things really started to get interesting.  I can’t transcribe it all here in my blog, but there is a lot of it in my book, The Mystery of Miracles.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing my journey and some of my special encounters. I pray you were blessed and encouraged to continue to take this uniting message of unconditional love out to others you know. What a great time to share good news with the world. We can if we “lighten up” a little.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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