Walking Our Faith: We find our purpose as we find God (column)
June 15, 2018
How we find God is a mystery as individual as our fingerprints. I believe it begins as a whisper within our hearts. Whether that represents a longing our souls have for union with our Creator, or whether it is our heart responding to God's call to us, I don't know.
But in my limited experience, there is always a call. It begins with a yearning, a growing interest in God, even if we are atheists and our interest is expressed as ardently arguing against God's existence. In fact, the passion exhibited by some atheists in defending their position is preferable to the watered-down, safe image of God held by some who are so interested in not offending anyone that their definition of God becomes as ephemeral and meaningless as soap bubbles. Because God is not bland, he is the definition of passion.
When we finally accept God's call, our spiritual response can surprise us. We may experience an inward burst of joy, laughter and tears, which can only be explained as an encounter with the enormity of the Holy Spirit. This experience can take us by surprise, even scare us, but deep in our hearts, we know that we have encountered God.
Yet what follows the brilliance of this first meeting with God is often a period which feels like the exact opposite.
The best example I can think of is at the time of Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan, when the dove of the Holy Spirit rests upon him and the voice of the Lord says, "You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22). But this glorious moment is followed by 40 days in the desert where Jesus suffers deprivation of food and water and is tempted by the evil one.
Our own 40 days in the wilderness may last weeks or more likely, years. The joyful experience of God's presence we initially experienced may be replaced with a harrowing experience of what feels like God's abandonment.
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And yet, if we are brave enough to travel through the wilderness, we find ourselves transformed by the experience, so much closer to the person God created us to be. Why these two contrasting experiences? I believe the joy experienced during our first encounter with God becomes the 'manna' which sustains us while we do the necessary work of strengthening our faith in the spiritual desert.
This is what I thought of after listening to Liliana Stahlberg, pastor of Lord of the Mountains, as she recounted the path that brought her from a Romanian Orthodox Church. The journey, through a Pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit and two decades of human rights work led her to establish an orphanage in Romania, to work on women's rights issues and to find her spiritual home in a religious philosophy of Ecumenism. This led her to pursue a degree in theology and ultimately to her recent installation as pastor of Lord of the Mountains Church, in Dillon.
Liliana grew up in the Romanian Orthodox Church. She felt her first calling to God when she was a child of 5 years old, in what she describes as the "peace that surpasses all understanding." However, within the Orthodox Church there were few opportunities for women to serve or lead within the church.
In her early 30s, Liliana attended an inter-faith conference in Switzerland where she experienced what she describes as a Pentecostal moment — during worship song she was filled with laughter, tears and joy. Her experience in this moment is one which she describes as Ecumenism, discovering the oneness of Christian faith, the body of Christ in the world.
This eventually led her to form the Ecumenical Forum of Christian Women in Romania, made up of nine denominations, to promote women's health initiatives, which were desperately needed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Similarly, when the streets were suddenly filled with homeless children who were no longer cared for by state-run orphanages, Liliana founded the country's first privately run nonprofit shelter for homeless children, where she was the director for several years. Creating a place for homeless children was one of the most meaningful events of her life. She speaks of later encountering some of those children as adults and seeing how their lives had been transformed into men and women with families, careers and hope.
Liliana's decades of human rights work within Romania, and as part of the Ecumenism movement, eventually led her to obtain a degree in theology at ILIF in Denver, where she received a dean's award and full scholarship and became ordained into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She served for three years as a youth director at Advent Lutheran Church, and then as a redevelopment pastor at Highlands Lutheran Church.
Liliana was called to Lord of the Mountains Church in 2016 and then installed as its permanent pastor in February 2018.
When you listen to Liliana recount all the adventures and difficulties that brought her to this place, she mentions, John 10:10 as a guiding principle, "I (Jesus) have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance."
Liliana's beloved soulmate and husband, passed away suddenly last November. When she speaks of his influence and love, it is in the present tense. For someone who has experienced many trials and tragedy in her life, Liliana is filled with the joy of the Lord. Since her first experience of the Holy Spirit decades ago in Switzerland, she has not only discovered her life's purpose, she has lived it with passion, and used her boundless energy and talent, to help others and share her love of Jesus Christ. Pastor Liliana Stahlberg is a remarkable woman of God.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge
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