Hey world! It’s been a while.
A lot has happened in the last 6 months or so. I got engaged, married, went to the beach, moved into an apartment, built a desk, and put together many pieces of furniture. I’ve spent the majority of the last 6 months working, serving in ministry, learning to love hard to love people, and exploring what it means to truly let go.
This evening I sit in a Starbucks on a cold, rainy december night. It never snows here in December. I’d love for it to be snowing. If it’s going to be cold, I want it to be snowing. I want treacherous roads, ghastly conditions, and the possibility of losing power and huddling around a fire to stay alive. But alas, all I get is rain. Cold, nasty rain. Icy roads is usually the closest thing we get to snow for the most part. Nothing exciting ever happens around here.
Most normal people are probably thrilled to not be getting snow, but not me. Because with snow, comes the thrill of adventure. There’s not just a change of scenery, but if you have to go ANYWHERE (and lets face it, most of us do….job, school, groceries, etc) then it is a thousand times more exciting. Mostly because no one in Tennessee knows how to drive in bad weather conditions, and I think Chattanooga has maybe ONE salt truck. When driving in the snow/ice here, the thing you have to be most concerned about isn’t the slick roads, the weather getting worse, or somehow getting stranded. Mostly, you just have to worry about the other drivers. If you can stay out of everyone’s way as they go barreling into the ditch, have your phone ready to dial 911 a few times before arriving to your destination, 9 times out of 10 you’ll be fine.
I find myself fighting a life of complacency. In this area, not much has changed. You can go back in the ole archive of blog entries and see me writing about this very thing years ago. The only thing that has changed is the scenery. I’m less cynical these days. I’m much more sarcastic though. One might think those two are related, but they aren’t. They can be best of friends though. I’d rather focus on the comedic timing of life, than the dramatic, usually intense, and almost always negative sides to life. Irony is so much more fun. Why can’t we all just take a moment to appreciate how great of a sense of humor God must have? It’s so easy for me to get fired up about certain things, and I still lose the battle of trying not to get heated, but I’m passionate. God made me passionate. I can’t help but be a bit intense from time to time. I’m not talking about the kind of intensity you might hear come out of my mouth when talking about super-heroes, my favorite movies, or whether or not you liked the ending to Dexter. No, I’m addressing the intensity that comes with the seemingly endless sea of idiocy and ignorance that many people possess.
Lately I’ve found myself reading many articles, blogs, and books on the state of our country, our culture, and our faith as of late. I don’t know how all these things keep finding me, but I keep reading them. One thing we all have in common with our predecessors is that we all, as a whole, care about all the wrong things. We completely miss the point in almost every area. I understand I’m being vague, so let me be more specific…
For you churchgoers, what would you say is a typical Sunday morning? You get up, take a shower, get dressed, drive to church, walk in the doors, pick up your bulletin, grab coffee (if your church is hip and cool) and find your seat. The music begins to play, the cool(er) pastor gets up and welcomes everyone and tells everyone to greet one another. When everyone FINALLY gets calmed down enough for the worship leader to grab everyone’s attention (and lets face it fellow worship leaders, the only way to effectively do this is to just start praying. Most people feel too rude to keep talking while someone is talking to God.) The first song begins, and you start singing along. Maybe this isn’t your favorite song, but you keep singing anyway. After the worship leader has sung the chorus for the 4th time in a row, you have officially decided this is not only your least favorite song, but you are ready to start gouging your eyes out if he sings that chorus one more freakin time. Finally we get into the second song. This one isn’t really your favorite either, but at least it’s shorter than the last one. We get into the last song and you are looking at your watch and thinking that the music portion of the service has gone on about 4 minutes too long, and you’re getting anxious that you won’t get your favorite table at AppleBees. The Pastor will definitely talk over his 20 minutes of sermon time, and then this same worship leader will probably pick some long ballad of a song to sing for 7 minutes at the end, and that will surely put us behind schedule today. At the same time, you’re getting increasingly aggravated because the worship leader didn’t play a hymn today, even after you’ve complained at least 3 times in the last few weeks. He must be targeting you and passive-aggresively sending you a message. Well that’s ok, because you’ve been here longer and you don’t have to like him. He won’t last anyway. Eventually someone will come along that leads worship the way you want them to. And if they don’t, well there’s at least ten other churches on this street alone. Of course most of them are the wrong denomination so you’ll have to filter out the “wrong” churches first, and go visit the others to find the right one and let’s be honest, that could take months! No, It’s probably best to just stick this out. You’ve already invested so much time here. Eventually they will listen to you if you keep complaining about the same thing over and over. Eventually they will do church the right way…Your way.
Finally, The sermon. Oh but this is one of those sermons where we are talking about money. Man, you hate it when they talk about money. You are convinced that they are just trying to manipulate you into giving more money because it’s the “right thing to do” but you already give about ten percent every month so this sermon doesn’t apply to you, so you tune out and start thinking about that nap you can’t wait to have right after lunch today. Finally that torturous 25 minutes is over. (you knew he’d go over on his time) and the band is called back up. You don’t really care for this song either. This one says the same 7 words like 45 times. SERIOUSLY?! How many times can they expect you to sing the same thing over and over again? The last song ends, the pastor prays a benediction over the congregation. You’ve heard it so many times you know the words. Maybe you say them along with him. And its time to bolt for the door. You fight the crowd, into the lobby, avoid the greeters, and finally you make it to your car.
Why do you do this every week again?
Have you ever thought about what the real point of going to church might be? Aren’t you tired of just doing it to be doing it? No one is pressuring you to go (even though it sure feels like it sometimes if we’re honest). What benefit does experiencing church this way really have on your life? What is the point? Well I have news for you, and this may be a little shocking….But there is no point. That’s right. You heard me. There’s no point to going to church and having ^THAT^ experience. There’s no point in singing along to a few songs, listening to some speech that falls on deaf ears, throwing some money at an empty charity, maybe on a good day shedding a few self-indulgent tears, and going home, expecting that to make you feel better about your life. If that’s all there is to church, faith, christianity, and God, then well….It’s no wonder so many people think we are all idiots believing in a fictitious being.
But what if there was more? What if you just missed the point?
Sadly most of America attends church this way. We expect to have some fun songs played for us to make us forget about the world outside the doors, have some watered down sermon spoon-fed to us in a way that we like, and if they don’t make our spiritual meal just the way we like it then, by God, we will take our tithe elsewhere…Because that’s definitely the loudest way to tell the church leaders we didn’t like the way they were doing things.
Well maybe there’s more to it. If you ask me, this view of church doesn’t have a lot of “love God, love others” in it. There’s not a lot of serving the least, last, lost, and lonely. Where’s all the encouragement, hope, freedom, and redemption everyone keeps talking about? Maybe you’ve asked the same questions. It must be the church’s fault, right? What is the church? A better way to ask that question is to say it like this…. WHO is the church? Here’s another shocker for you….YOU are the church.
You go to a building. A building where other people happen to show up at the same time. That building is used to house the church. This church is meant to be a portable, growing, supernaturally powerful means in which Christ HIMSELF touches a lost world, shines light into the darkness, and pulls people out of graves. You were meant to be a part of THAT church. The one that Jesus called His bride. But His bride has forgotten her first love. She traded her white dress for filthy rags. She declared the slums of our culture her home. She settled for fleeting false loves. She gave herself to one night stands, public exploitation, and cheap thrills. She sold herself for money until she found within herself a hollowed out shell. She felt empty. Now she visits the place she once called home as though it is a graveyard, void of life…void of light. Here she can almost remember her love, the one whom she would call for in the night. The One she once longed for, but can no longer remember His name. Now all she feels is pain. All she gives is cynicism and hate. All she feels is judgment, and all she wants is attention. Sadly, THIS is the church of America. This is what we have done to the beautiful, glorious bride of Christ. But it’s not too late! We can still come back from this. We say His name, but it has lost it’s meaning. We should know His name the way we know our spouse’s name. We should know it intimately. We should know HIM intimately.
He promised He would come back for us. He said He would not leave us. We should be living our lives as the bride that would prepare for her groom-to-be. Bathing herself in oil each night, keeping the lantern lit in the window to show the way, awaiting the sound of her groom blazing through the city in the dead of night, waking every living thing to announce that He has finally arrived to claim what was always His, for whom He has paid so very much.
Don’t let this Sunday just be like last Sunday. Don’t miss the point. Take a moment to think about what you expect to get out of church, or what you plan to GIVE to church. Because it’s not about you or me. It’s not about the music, It’s not about how good the sermon is, or if they played your favorite song, or how many hymns they picked, or if they recited the right prayers, picked the right liturgies, served the right coffee, or if you’re sitting in the right seat at the right time, in the right place. It’s not about if the music is at the right volume, the lights are at the right level, or the leaders are wearing the right clothes. it’s not about how much money you give, or how many times they’ve served communion this month. It’s about JESUS. The day it stops being about Jesus, you have missed the point.
It breaks my heart to hear about people complaining about any number of things, wishing it was the church they imagine in their head, while completely missing the point. I plead with you to take a moment and consider that maybe you don’t know all there is to know about Christianity, the Bible, and God. Maybe you and I still have more to learn. Maybe we don’t have it all figured out, and that’s ok! It’s alright to not have it all figured out because that means the best is still yet to come! The depths of the mysteries of God are unsearchable, inscrutable, immeasurable, unfathomable, and unimaginable. So let’s start today by keeping an open mind, and going to church with the perspective that we are very small, very weak, and still have a lot to learn. And maybe…just MAYBE, we will find the One who is very big, very strong, and knows all things, from beginning to end. Maybe we will find ourselves devastated by a love that will ruin us of all other loves, and we can look at ourselves complete. Only then can we really change things. Only then can we find our proper place in the universe…on our faces giving everything we have to the One who is worthy of infinitely more than we have, begging forgiveness for what we have made Him, and finding true freedom from all that holds us captive. THIS is my prayer for us, my friends. Let’s reclaim the victory we have been given, and live this life in the light of things to come. Amen.