by David Y.
Fair warning here folks… Long-winded blog post comin’ at ya. 🙂 Over the past few months a lot has been going on in my heart, undoubtedly because a lot has been going on in my life. My wife, who is from Australia, finally was able to make the move here at the end of July (2010). Then, in August, we found out that we have a baby on the way. Like all of you, I have my daily concerns about things, such as where the money is gonna come from for everything. Yes, times are a little rough (I’m sure many of you can relate). In my heart I know that God will provide (just as He always has) and I know that Jesus said that if I seek His kingdom first, everything else will be taken care of. He also said that worry doesn’t help anyone and cannot add a single moment to our lives so flush it (my paraphrase of Matthew 6:25-34 of course – hehe); the day’s trouble is sufficient, so why waste the effort worrying about everything else? I love the sign I once saw that said, “If life give you lemons, KEEP THEM, because hey… FREE LEMONS! As funny as it sounds, I like that attitude. Certainly this is sometimes easier said than done (to look at life’s challenges in this way), but ever since about three years ago when I had a major panic attack (something I’ve blogged about before), something changed in my heart and I’ve learned to be more relaxed and more trusting of my heavenly Father.
Still, circumstances in life come-about every day, always seeming to test the victory you thought you achieved the day before. I’ve learned (and continue to learn) to be thankful through it all. I know God is working something in my heart and this deep, sustaining faith continues to grow stronger.
I know that lots of people seem to lose their head when times get hard or confusing, or when money is short, or when the stress pushes them to the limit. I know the feeling… But, lately, that’s when I feel this “rebel-like” reaction thing that kicks in… I don’t wanna give up like so many do. I don’t want to be a statistic. Most of all, I don’t want to be ruled by anything (least of all money). My peace, comfort and confidence are supposed to rest in God. So, when things get really hard, yes I sometimes cry my eyeballs out; asking God to make His way clear for me because sometimes I don’t have a clue what to do. But I have no problem being His dependent. He has never let me down. And isn’t it funny how it always seems that there are plenty of folks around who want to tell ya what you need to be doing (and it’s usually what everyone else is doing)? And then that rebel thing kicks in again and says, “Thanks for all the religious advice, but I’m still good with trusting the Lord on this one. You all can go ahead and do what everybody else does… I’ll just stay right here and wait.” There’s a deep joy I have in knowing I’m His kid and He’s got my back. As I said, He’s NEVER once let me down.
As a bit of a side note, when I attended church I remember how it seemed that God was pretty much presented as being “big enough” to handle anyone’s problems… unless of course those problems were financial (or involved someone failing to tithe faithfully or attend church regularly). Even more specifically, it apparently depended on the kind of financial problem a person had. If Jimmy and Sally needed prayer because Jimmy got laid off from the factory, that seemed to be a noble kind of financial problem and God would be happy to take the job of helping the situation… Heck, maybe even the whole church could take up an offering for Jimmy and Sally. Isn’t God good? (Yes, I’m being sarcastic… and, yes, God is good.) But what if Jimmy is just bad with finances and made some poor choices that got him in this mess? There’s not much reason to seek God about this one because everyone knows that Jimmy needs to get himself out of this mess. After all, God doesn’t help dumb-arses… right? (pardon my “French”) Sigh…
In case my analogy of Jimmy being stupid with his money is too vague, yes, I’m partially referring to my own financial problems in years past. I can tell you that, despite my struggles that were due to my own financial incompetence, God’s grace always abounded and He never left me without.
But I remember other times at church when I specifically asked for help. In fact, I remember one occasion when I directly asked the church leadership for some money to help me get into a house I was looking to rent. I figured, hey, I’m a faithful tither. I should be able to feel confident about asking for a little help in my time of need (after all, the Scripture says that if I tithe, God would open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing I cannot even contain… so certainly the church must have some access to at least one of these “windows”… they sure enough act like they do most of the time when they’re collecting the offering to begin with). Instead I was denied the help and given a lecture about finances (and yes, again, tithing). It immediately gave me the impression that God just doesn’t handle money problems (or at least that’s how the church reacts a lot of times)… You have to take care of those kinds of issues on your own… unless they are related to ministry of some kind (or maybe if your related to the pastor or on his staff). I can’t tell you how many times I watched people in my own church suffer while pastors remained well-taken-care-of and while the church building never lacked for cosmetic upgrades and maintenance (costing hundreds and thousands of dollars).
What’s so stupid about all this is that, often times, there is plenty of generosity to go around right there in those pews every Sunday morning, but they are not permitted or encouraged to express it. They are instead expected to hold on to that money for something “righteous” like contributing to the remodeling of the church office… painting the church building… repaving the church parking lot… or sending pastor on that three week vacation to Vegas (because he just works so hard all the year flapping his jaws and collecting those paychecks). Of course, we can’t forget the pastor’s salary (his boat, house and car) and all those missionaries down in Southern California on vaca… er… I mean ministering. I know my comments will agitate some who think I am over simplifying things, but after sitting in those very pews for 30+ years, I think I’ve more than earned the right to speak on the matter!
I have routinely watched people frown while dropping their nickels in the plate every Sunday (not really having a clue where it goes, but feeling obligated just the same)… and then I have also watched people smile and cry tears of joy while filling up a bucket with cash to help a fellow brother or sister in Christ when the opportunity was presented. I remember one time when a friend of mine got so excited about the subject of giving that he decided to start a private collection to help buy a van for a single dad in the church who had no means of driving his little girls around, except to take the bus everywhere. We all loved the idea and started pitching in. One afternoon, in the church office, the pastor got wind that uncharted money was floating around amongst members of his congregation and he inquired as to what was going on. When he was told of the great idea to help a fellow brother, there was zero enthusiasm and he certainly did not respond to the need. The attitude was as though he were saying, “Isn’t that cute how you silly little young people think you know something about giving… I just hope you’re not neglecting your tithes and offerings in place of irrelevant little endeavors like this one.”
One thing I’ve learned is that true believers LOVE to be generous… and when everybody gets into the event it only takes a little to make a lot. In some of these large church groups, if people had a mind to do so, it would be so easy to help folks pay their mortgages, medical bills, and even to help them get out of the financial pit some of them dug themselves into. The Scripture says that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) and God forgives ALL of them. Why do Christians make money problems the sin of sins in so many cases?
Yes, I want to help the fools become wise (for I’ve been one myself). But I still love to help people when the opportunity presents itself. I am not anyone’s judge and God is able to do amazing things through us when we learn to love and forgive and reach out to one another, regardless of the sometimes stupid things we’ve done to dig our own pit.
How quickly people forget that it was the prodigal son that the father basically handed the checkbook to again after he had been out carousing and acting foolishly with his money. The concern of the father wasn’t how badly he had handled his inheritance, but rather the genuine, repentant heart of the son – and the fact that it was his son, whom he loved so dearly and who had finally come to his senses and returned home. His compassion and grace weren’t affected by the type of circumstance that caused the problem. Love ruled and the son was restored completely!
But, like that elder brother in the story who was mad that his younger brother was treated so well despite his errors, religious folks are EXACTLY like this! (Yes, I’m referring to you sir, back there in the third row.) And what’s more, they often don’t realize that they are as “prodigal”, if not more so, than their younger brother who messed up and came home because they’re still standing outside the Father’s embrace, grumbling about their siblings who aren’t towing the religious mark… They’re mad because the foolish brother got what he didn’t deserve (grace, forgiveness, love, blessing, joy, peace, comfort, restoration, etc.). The difference is that the wayward brother humbled himself and came to the Father. The older brothers out there are still wayward themselves… they just can’t see it yet because they’re still blind by their religious pride and the cloak of false spirituality they wear all the time. Sadly, many church are FULL of “elder brothers” (they usually love to be called “elder” too).
I’m probably ranting a bit here, but there is another reason this all comes to mind as I write and that is actually the positive potential element of “church” if you must have the term. Good things can happen when people gather together and organize THEMSELVES for a united purpose… like helping Jimmy and Sally with their house payment. Sadly, most churches can’t seem to function with such simplicity though. They get distracted with the business of running an organization and maintaining a building and its staff (not to mention the weekly campaign to raise money for this operation to keep it going)… and even when they try to implement programs to help the unfortunate or struggling among them, they often inadvertently turn into cold, lifeless endeavors (sometimes not much more helpful, simple or compassionate than a government welfare handout). It’s no surprise that, even in some of the biggest most “successful” church organizations, people drop out of the system… feeling alone, unfulfilled, over-used, and fed up with all the legalism. Something intended to be good often becomes quite bad and often the leaders are oblivious to this reality.
It’s not long before everything takes on the nature of a strategic program rather than a sincere group effort that is birthed from mutual concern, love and excitement. Even the so-called “lost” are no longer seen as simply fellow neighbors who just haven’t realized how cool the Lord is, but they are suddenly the strategic object of a campaign to “win them” and invite them to church. All the words are there on the surface (i.e. preachers talk about God’s love, His heart for the lost, the joy in the kingdom of heaven when one soul turns to Jesus, etc.) but, for all practical purposes, they are simply numbers to be added to pews.
I’ve sat in hundreds of corporate church strategy meetings (which, oddly enough, often happen on Sunday mornings during the service) where “the lost” are discussed and ideas are presented for how we might draw them into the church. Note, I did not say, “draw them or direct them toward Christ”… but even if the right wording is used, the underlying purpose is generally the same; Church evangelism becomes the big operation employed to increase the size of church membership, which -in turn- keeps the overall organization running smoothly. It must sound especially strange in the event that one of these “lost” people happen to actually be sitting in that service where they are being discussed as the object of a campaign to win their confidence. Let me tell you, it does not come off well at all.
In these “strategic meetings”, church members are encouraged to brush up on their manipulation… er, I mean “evangelism” skills… In other words, they have to be reminded to be friendly each week, reach out to people, invite them to church, smile when you’re at church… make the place feel friendly for everyone. Whether or not it feels genuine or not is really irrelevant because the point is to make the place attractive for new blood.
Whatever happened to people just falling in love with God and letting His Holy Spirit cause actual fruit to bear out in our lives? It’s one thing to encourage one another in the faith and to pray that God would help us be a light in a dark world, but so many churches get so tangled up with organizing evangelism that the Holy Spirit really has nothing to do with any of it, let alone any genuine spiritual fruit acting as the evidence that God is really among them! So people’s well-intentioned efforts still end up degenerating into more lifeless religion.
Believe me when I say, I know that there are many good intentions out there among both pastors and among those who warm the pews. But organized religion has, in many ways, become like radiation… Regardless of how healthy a person is or how many good intentions they have, the poison starts affecting their system and the effects spread and become more prominent. The end result is still disease and often death.
I’ll be honest in telling you that if it weren’t for this cancer that so typically infects the modern institutional church system, I might still involve myself with aspects it on occasion. There are often many wonderful people who dearly love the Lord that attend institutional churches. My heart is to still look for the optimistic side of things. I want to believe there are groups out there who operate on a very simplistic mindset; that are not over-burdened by the pressure and persuasion to create some kind of great church system that beats all the others out there, but who simply and genuinely love just hanging out together and walking with Christ together.
I’ve visited so many kinds of churches and talked to a number of pastors who seem to express this desire to “not do church as usual”. My heart goes out to them because I know some of them genuinely feel frustrated with the typical degenerating routine of church (yet they still hope in it). I know there are some who really want to experience God’s life without the pollution of religious decay… but it seems that so many of them think that they will get a different result by doing more of the same. It was Albert Einstein, I think, who identified this process of thought as a form of “insanity”; doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
So then, what’s the solution (many will ask)? Even this question is typical and part of the same insanity that has infected the whole process to begin with. Many folks want a pattern solution to fix the problem. They think, “if we can just learn from the mistakes in our routine and perfect it, then the problem will go away.” But the problem is that they’re still looking at the Church as a program that is orchestrated by men with formulas and agendas and routines. They have first got to realize that the Church of Jesus is a LIVING ORGANISM that is built and birthed by ONLY Jesus Christ! It’s not something that can be controlled, manufactured or maintained by man! It can’t be “improved” by adding a better program nor does it need any program or any kind of human organization to exist or thrive. The Church functions as she is intended to when believers in Jesus (who themselves are member of His Church) are submitted to His Lordship. Period! When people are walking in genuine relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit, their lives WILL bear spiritual fruit. It’s simply the byproduct of that relational engagement. If believers could grasp this, then they might stop being anxious about their gatherings. Furthermore, whatever other organizational endeavors they do happen to engage in, may at last be pure and not the central focus of their existence.
I started off this long-winded blog post talking about financial struggles and the stress of life and trusting God despite the status quo opinion. When the struggles of life hit, plenty of folks say, “You really need to find a good church Dave. This will provide fellowship through difficult times and God will be able to speak into your life more clearly.” Sigh… While I’m sure some are very sincere in their comments, many seem to spout this off as though I had just exclaimed that I don’t desire true fellowship in my life or as if I were, inadvertently, admitting that God doesn’t speak to me… Neither of which is the case.
It might come across as a surprise to some when they hear me say I agree, at least in some respect, with their comments… and if there were a close knit group of brothers and sisters tangibly nearby (who are not infected by all the junk I have just been speaking of), I think I would happily gather with them.
I have no problem admitting to you that – brace yourselves – there are times that I ponder whether or not I want to attend a church (if only on occasion)… Yes, you heard me right; Dave, the guy with the TruthForFree website that isn’t into church at all, sometimes thinks about going! The reason, I hope, is a little more clear in light of what I have shared in this blog post (and through several of the other articles on this site). It’s not because I have a guilt complex or worry that I may be missing God in some way by avoiding church. It’s not because I worry about “forsaking the assembly”. It’s not because I think I need to be tithing or that I’m not being effectively used by God unless I attend somewhere… It’s not because I don’t hear the voice of the Lord anymore. It’s not even because I like church because, to be honest, I generally can’t stand that environment any more. Getting up early just to sit in an uncomfortable pew for two hours, while listening to some guy try and impress me with the speech (and crappy jokes) he’s worked on all week, and shaking sweaty palms with a hundred folks all repeating the phrase, “the Lord bless you this morning,” is just not my idea of a fun Sunday morning. I’d much rather stay home, enjoy my pillow for a couple extra hours, then have pancakes with my wife, and maybe go for a nice walk outside after and see the beautiful day the Lord made for us to enjoy.
So why on earth would I think about going to one again? The reason is pretty simple; I like people. My wife likes people too. We both like people. 😉 And when you compare the world’s typical meeting places (i.e. bars, social clubs, movie houses, casinos, etc.) to that of even most religious institutions, at least with “church” you can meet with generally nice folks who exist in the same planetary district (where God is concerned). Yeah, for those of us who are much less interested in religious mindsets, sometimes some of the folks may appear to be more like Martians than they do like-minded brothers and sisters (hehe), but they are usually good folks who are seeking to know the Lord better and whom (beneath all the religious mumbo jumbo) genuinely want friends for mostly noble reasons.
I completely believe that, for many, it is important to step completely away from the religious scene for a period of time… and for some this may even be forever. God must lead each one in this decision. I have always said this. For me it has been the last 8+ years! I have often said that it’s far more important that a person’s heart remain free of religion than it is for them to avoid people who are still in it. It was actually a pastor friend who once told me, “Once you change your playground, you have to change your playmates.” There is a lot of truth in this. It’s not because the folks we used to associate with while engaged in the religious routine are somehow evil… but they can, inadvertently, distract us from the freedom God intends for us, as well as the process of growth He desires to lead us through – without all those external voices telling us what to believe, what to do, why to do it, when to do it, how to do it, etc. For many, the exodus from “church world” is really about learning, at last, to hear God’s voice for themselves and to establish full confidence in His divine leadership. No other human on earth should occupy His place of authority in our lives; no pastor, no elder, no nobody!
Sadly, for many Christians, this is exactly what their churches and their pastors are to them; the voice of God. Imagine how dangerous this is when those pastors and churches fail to rightly follow the true voice of God! It can be devastating!
Recently, a friend sent me an article from an older book called The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent that chronicles much of the “forgotten” history of the Christian Church from Pentecost up to the present time. These are true stories of believers in Jesus that didn’t join themselves with any churches, but were content only to be joined with Christ. The history is surprising and refreshing, but it is a history that has been overlooked and largely hidden from most of today’s Christians. My friend, Matthew, shared one article in particular from the book that encouraged him and I thought I’d pass it along since it struck a chord with me also… especially considering the subject matter of this already-too-long blog post today. In the following article, a man by the name of Kaspar von Schwenckfeld (who lived in the year 1526) wrote about his heart to serve the body of Christ while not being a slave to organized religion. In fact, this was the very reason he kept himself free of membership to any church organization, so that he could be free to serve all followers of Jesus without respect for petty denominational differences and religious legalism. I found this brother’s attitude most encouraging and enlightening.
After having been set free from church world, it’s easy to harden your heart against the possibility of ever entertaining the notion of fellowship with those that still attend. Over these last eight years, God has been softening my heart and growing me up in Him. I still hate religion with all my heart, but I love Him with all my heart even more and God is teaching me to love His people even more, especially those who are still part of the traditional church routine (despite my personal disgust with so much of it).
Gone from my life are those chains of guilt and anxiety about church attendance. I am free in Jesus! I am happy to be completely unaffiliated with any denomination or church organization in any formal regard. But this article encouraged me that it may very well be that one of the reasons God brought me out and gave me such an intense distaste for religion is so that He could teach me to love without fear of religious infection. If that be the case, God be praised! I confess I don’t know exactly what this means for me or my wife in the days ahead, but my heart is open and the wisdom of those who have gone on before, like the brother in the following text.
Thanks for enduring another one of my long-winded blogs… Writing often helps me to sort out what’s whirling around in my head. Perhaps some of you will relate and it will get you thinking and talking about these things too. I would love to hear some of your comments in response. Use the comment area below the blog post to chime in! Thanks!
In His grip,
Kaspar von Schwenckfeld (1526):
- Oh would to God we were truly the body of Christ, united in the bonds
of love…but alas there is a yet no sign of anything that could be
compared with the first church, where the believers were of one heart
and of one mind…We will, however, stand fast in the liberty with
which Christ has made us free, and not enter into any human sect, nor
turn away from the universal Christian Church; we will not be bound by
any yoke of bondage but only cling to the One divine sect of Jesus
Christ…My desire and the which of my heart is that I might help
everyone to the truth and unity of Christ and His Holy Spirit and not
that I should be a cause of sectarianism, division, or falling way
from Christ…As there are now four that are called churches, the
Papal, Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Baptist or Pickard, and each condemns
the other, as is to be seen, that Luther condemns the Zwinglian Church
and the fanatics, one cannot help asking whether all of tham are, or
which of them is, the true assembly of the Church of Christ, where one
ought to be found and where one may be blessed… We will answer the
question in the words of Peter…’Of a truth I perceive that God is no
respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him, and
worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him'(Acts 10:34-35)…So the
more these churches condemn one another, so much the more will those
who fear God and live uprightly and Christianity, be, in the sight of
God unexcluded and uncondemned… Although I have so far fully joined
myself to no church… yet I have not despised any church, persons,
leaders, or teachers. I desire to serve everyone in God, to be the
friend and brother of each who has a zeal for God and loves Christ
from the heart… Therefore I pray God to lead me aright in all
things, to enable me , according to the Apostolic rule, rightly
recognize all spirits, especially the Spirit of Jesus Christ; to teach
me to prove all things and to distinguish, and to accept and hold what
is good, so that in this present state of divisions and separations, I
my attain, with a clear, sure conscience in Christ, to Truth and
unity… My Liberty does not suit all… some call me an eccentric…
and many look on me with suspicion…but God knows my heart..I am…no
sectarian, and with God’s help, will not be a disturber of peace.
Rather than destroy anything good, I would die. And therefore I have
not fully attached myself to any party, sect, or church, so that I
might, in the will of God, through His grace, apart from party serve