Spiritual Numbness

Lately, I have found myself turning to God in prayer more often. I must admit, if I am honest, that I am playing with God. Teasing him with my affection. Actually I have been cold toward God for a long time in many areas of my life but when I want something I can certainly turn on the love. Just like marriages that can grow numb but interact with a level of intimacy to keep things together, so has been my relationship with God.

Our relationships within our churches are just like a marriage that has grown numb. Possibly this is why the church is called the bride of Christ. We go to church each Sunday, sing our songs, feel a good feeling, maybe raise our hands, listen to the messages and take our notes. We smile our smiles, shake hands with people we don’t really know at a gut level and then move along to the donut table.

Yet at the end of it, we actually feel closer to God. We think that this “church experience” has helped us “grow in our relationship with God”. We have an emotional bond with the church because of some commitment we made in years past, but the passion is gone and we are empty shells of our former selves.

The problem is, being Stupid Church People, what we actually think is a strong intimate connection and a tight relationship with God is only once-a-week spiritual intercourse. It makes us feel as if we are intimate with God, but nothing could be further from the truth. Intercourse in a marriage does not make a couple close although they feel close when making love. It is intimacy (defined to me by someone recently as “deep closeness”) that makes our marriages work.

So how do we achieve a “deep closeness” with our Creator? Well, obviously I am no expert, but I do know what is not working. Church sitting. I do not get closer to God by going to church and anyone that says they do has their heads buried deeply in the sand. This is the great lie of the modern church. Now I am not throwing the baby out with the bath water…and if couples stopped having sex, they wouldn’t stay married for very long. But it has to be more.

I am starting with this one simple thing…responding to what I know to be true about what God does care about. He cares about hurting people. He cares about the sick. He cares about the hungry, the naked, the homeless. He cares a lot about the lost sheep (those outside the church). He wants us to be outside our churches reaching people where they are instead of trying to get them to come to our cool new buildings.

So for me what it means is responding to my Creator’s desires. Just like responding to a wife’s desires makes a man closer to her, really listening to my Creator makes me closer to him.

How does this look? Well, for me it was walking out of a burger place the other day and having a homeless guy ask me for change. I said that I didn’t have any and walked away (which was the truth – except for about three crisp $20 bills that I wasn’t about to give to this loser). Then it hit me, and I listened…”turn around you idiot”. Go back, talk to him. Show him some damn respect. Just don’t brush him off.

So I took him inside. His name was Chris. He was on his way to San Diego hoping to find some work down there. He had no family (his mom and dad were dead). He didn’t know where his wife and kids were but he was certain she didn’t want him around. Oddly enough, his brother ran a homeless shelter, but it was one of those “religious ones” so he wasn’t going there.

I bought him a burger, fries and coke. Gave him the change from the $20 I used to buy it with. Then we talked for a few minutes about his plans. I tried to encourage him and let him know that I thought he had a good head on his shoulders. “You can do it”, I told him.

He asked if I was a “religious type”. I told him no…but that I believed in God and wanted him to remember that someone like me actually cared about his life. I told him I hoped he would remember meeting me and thinking about that when he was feeling sad or lonely.

In doing this small thing that took 20 minutes out of my life, I connected with God on so many levels. God was present in me at that moment. He was in Chris as well. I was listening to my Creator and responding to his needs…his desires. For those few moments I was fully alive to Him in my life. No church service in the world can accomplish that.

No Easy Answers

There are no easy answers for pain. I recently read this quote at the beginning of a book as I begin to search for direction in the midst of a painful situation unfolding in my life. No need for details except to acknowledge that the pain I have is not only my own and I recognize that what I am going through is also painful for the other people involved. This is why I am searching for some answers.

In a recent message on Sunday at my church, the pastor quoted Gregg Lavoy who said, “Jesus promised those that would follow him would only have three things: They would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.”

Well I don’t know you Gregg Lavoy – but you, my friend, are an idiot.

You have not either lived life long enough, experienced life enough or maybe you have just decided to bury your head in your “pie-in-the-sky” existence of Christianity.

Those that follow Christ are not promised happiness and they are not promised fearlessness. While believers should probably live their lives on the edge enough so that they are in trouble at least some of the time, most of them are searching for happiness and are seeking to avoid fear.

Maybe I am in too tender of a place to see what Lavoy meant, but I am enraged by his words.

My experiences of late show me that following Christ is only about simpy believing in him and trusting in his grace. It is definitely not about being happy. You could never meet someone that is more of a sad-sack right now bordering on depression. Sure, that’s just what a depressed Christian needs to hear: You are promised absurd happiness. OK, thanks a lot Gregg…got any Xanex?

Following Christ is certainly not about being entirely fearless. I am currently more frightened then I have ever been in my life. The uncertainty of this present situation and lack of clarity are overwhelming. Add to that fact that I am really not in control of the outcome and feel powerlessness to change the end result…well does that sound lack a man that is entirely fearless?

In all actuality it is the sadness and fear that are currently drawing me closer to Christ and my Creator. Any confusion, lack of clarity or doubts I may have about my past or my future are certainly able to be sorted out by the One who knows me best.

I do not want a life full of happiness or free of fear – or I wouldn’t need God. I wouldn’t need faith. But if I am being honest I would like some easy answers….but I know that I wasn’t promised that.

Cherished Moments with a Son

Many have asked me how not going to church this past weekend went for me and my family. Well, for the record, this past Saturday and especially Sunday were a whirlwind that has given new levels of angst and reflection in my life. It was one for the ages so to speak. But more on that in another post.

Lost in these unfolding events was a moment that I will never forget with my 10 year-old son.

Because of scheduling with my son’s junior basketball schedule, it ended up being he and I alone for most of the morning. At lunch we went to Taco Bell and as were sitting there it hit me that this might be the only alone time he and I have on this day to talk about something of a spiritual nature.

So while sitting there I commented on the amount of food they had given me with my order. There was so much I just couldn’t eat it. You know the routine, you only just want two tacos, but the combo for three tacos and a drink makes it just a little cheaper. So you order more food then you can eat.

We were talking about this and I told him I wish we could give this food to someone that was hungry. We begin to talk about the homeless and I asked what he thought about them. He said they are scary but probably would be nice if he got to know them.

I asked what he thought homeless people should do. His answers were get a job, find a house or go live with their families. We begin to talk about those options and possibly some challenges the homeless have. He then said, “Maybe the homeless should go to church.” Then he paused and finished, “But the church probably wouldn’t want them to come there. Would they?” “Why not”, I asked. “Because they stink and act a little crazy”, he replied. That’s amazing insight from the mouth of babes.

So I asked what he thought Jesus would do. “He would make food and feed them. Help them not be crazy”, he said. I told him I had a good idea. Let’s take this extra taco and go find a homeless person and feed it to them. “Really”, he said, “A real homeless person?”

So off we went, in search of our homeless person. We drove for awhile and eventually there he stood on the side of the road with a sign that said, “Will work for food!”. “There’s one Dad,” my son said. “What do we do?” So I told him to roll down the window and put the bag out and give it to the man. As he did, I said to the man, “We wanted to share our lunch with you today. God bless you!”. He said thank you and we drove away.

My son was smiling from ear to ear. That wasn’t hard he said. Then added, “He kind of smelled but he didn’t act like he was crazy.” I asked him how helping the man made him feel and he said, “It really felt good to be able to let him know someone was wanting to help him.”

We drove on home. I know it wasn’t much but I thought it was certainly a lesson we wouldn’t have learned in church that morning. And it taught me that taking my children to church does not abdicate my responsibility to teach them spiritual lessons at home. For too long I have been missing this in our family life. I regret the time missed but will look forward to a future of more cherished moments.

The Coming Revolution of the Church

Revolution Defined:
1) The completion of a course or cycle.
2) A sudden, radical, or complete change.

Both of these definitions apply to the future of the church.

As for #1 – It is my belief that there is a completion of sorts occuring within the American church today. There is a discontentment, disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the current course of our churches. The cycle of “church growth seminars”, meeting “felt needs”, marketing the church and “supermarket” church programs is coming to a close.

It is my firm conviction that the mega-church will see a decline within the next decade. Churches such as Saddleback, Willowcreek and others like it will level off or decline in numbers and significance. The “franchising” of these churches will also decline as churches seek to express themselves in more relevant ways that do not fit the 1980’s model of the mega-church.

Concepts that have sought to change the church, such as the current “emerging church” are nothing more than contemporary expressions of the the old paradigm. They are a start but often even these churches find themselves emulating ideals and programs (although more relevant) of the old models they despised.

As for #2 – We are on the eve of change. The discontented, disillusioned and dissatisfied are beginning to either demand change within their churches or are stepping out to discover new ways to express their faith. New phrases describing these individuals, such as de-churched or outchurched are beginning to immerge.

These individuals are banding together to radically alter the course of the church. They are not joining together in a building, conference or seminar, but through the internet via blogs and podcasts. They are inspiring hundreds and thousands of readers and listeners to change from the inside/out as individuals first and foremost – then move outward. Their call is not to seek to influence the church, but to influence the world by becoming living examples of Christ to those around them.

This is the church of the people, by the people and for the people. This is not the church of the paid professional (although they are welcome to join our crusade) but it is the church of everyday people who desire to love and serve God.

I am calling for the revolution to begin within each of us. If you are discontent, disillusioned or dissatisfied – join us. Join us and find freedom from the cage you currently call church. Discover with us a church that is not confined by walls or defined by progams or designed by men. It is being crafted and refined by hearts seeking to be and do all that God has created us to be and do.

We are the revolution. It begins with me and it begins with you!