What You Won't Find In A Christian Bookstore

The following blog was originally posted on my MySpace page back in 2008 sometime… I’m still hunting for “Part 1”, which I have temporarily misplaced… I’m also working on writing Part 3… So now that everyone is properly confused, may I present a reprinting of my blog post from 2008 called “Sunday Go To Meeting – Part 2”. Enjoy! 🙂

Sometime in 2008…

Well, believe it or not, I found myself in “church” again a couple weeks ago…  In fact, since my last little rant, I’ve made two visits to the holy sepulcher… er… I mean sanctuary.  The first of my two recent visits was with a friend of mine who had heard about a new place in town called “The Living Room.”  He wanted to go check it out, in hopes that maybe it was a more informal, family style of meeting (i.e. a “living room” as the name implied).  He asked if I’d go along so I said, “Well ok…  I guess I could neglect my pillow for a couple hours less this Sunday.”  In case anyone is curious, this was with the same friend I’ve made visits like this with before… we’ll call him “J”.

J and I arrived in the parking lot (yes, this living room has it’s own parking lot… already I’m suspicious that this isn’t going to be a living room at all – hehe).   We walked up to the doors of what used to be a local casino and friendly (plastic-coated, mechanical) door greeters welcomed us in, handing us the morning service bulletin (you know, like you find at any regular living room).  As we walked in the door, there was a bedroom dresser on the left.  On it was some information about the “church” but laid out to look like the way items placed on a piece of furniture in a home might appear.  Ok, I’m already confused… I thought we were going for the living room effect not the bedroom….  Unfortunately, there was no bed in sight where this son of man might rest his head so I’m already feeling cheated (had my hopes up and everything….. ok, not really)…

To the right were two fancy red couches and a little coffee table.  These were tucked in the corner of the building and nobody was even sitting there.  I guess this was to complete the visual impression of a “living room” on first entry… but it’s already feeling like a poorly designed queue line for a theme park ride.

Moving past the “living room theme” and “dresser” we enter the main foyer.  In place of the old casino bar is now a coffee shop where the moneychangers in this little temple gleefully exchange “God’s money” for holy doughnut holes.  As we were looking around, a lady walked up to us and said, “Hi, have you been to the living room before?”  Kind of a funny question when you think about it.  I said, “no, just checking things out.”  She quickly smiled and said, “Oh, you’re absolutely gonna love it!”

“Love it???” (thought I with one eyebrow slightly raised)…  That’s when it hit me; how disconnected so many Christian church folks are from the way most non-church-attending people generally think.  As a member of the human race, I’m not really all that concerned about how cool of a building you have, how great of a preacher your pastor is, or whether or not you offer free doughnuts to new members…  I just want to feel loved and connected to people that GENUINELY care about me…. not “it”.

Church people, most often, operate on a totally different mindset; One that has been programmed into their head for so many years that it has become second nature to them (so that they don’t even realize they are projecting it).  Somehow they really think that if they have fresh paint on a nice building, a clever name, a hip coffee shop, an entertaining preacher, and an innovative program that this will really make people want to leave their cozy mattress and rush into their service early Sunday morning… This is without mentioning that they actually think THIS constitutes “real (or at least “advanced”) Christianity”!   They are so focused on bringing people IN to show off “what they got going on” as if a fine-tuned, well-rehearsed program is a worthy substitute for real, personable, loving connection OUT THERE in day to day life where it is needed most.  Worst of all, this often comes across as a kind of manipulative tactic toward the un-churched target; The thought essentially being that “if we can tempt them with enough clever, entertaining facets of our program (and teach all our people to be sure to smile and shake at least three hands before the service starts each week), we might coax them into becoming one of us!”  Many people who don’t attend church never will because of this very reason; they know they are being treated like dumb fish who are expected to bite the hook of religion.  So what does religion do?  It just keeps looking for more and more ways to attract those dumb fish.  They are so sure that God is interested in numbers of converts to their little program that they’ve never even pondered the notion that He actually might not care at all about that program, but rather is deeply moved with compassion for each individual whom He longs to have a personal relationship with (whether they ever darken the door of a religious organization or not).

The unfortunate thing is that so many church folks have no clue how to exist in the world without their fabricated religious bubble secured snugly around them.  In fact, they have convinced themselves that the very activity of sitting in bar with someone, spending time with unbelieving friends, or any number of perceived “non-Christian” activities is sin by their very nature.  So, rather than spend any time with people who don’t profess faith in Christ or (even worse) who don’t attend church like they do, they isolate themselves from the world and divide into their own little religious cliques and comfort zones (to safeguard themselves from “the unclean”).

It’s like they have forgotten the words written about the Jesus they claim to know so well; who was not often found favorably among the “religious” but among those that the religious marked as “unclean.”

Mark 2:15-17 (NIV) – While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    Note: Isn’t it interesting that the preceding passage actually regards sinners as “followers of Jesus”?

Luke 15:1-2 (NIV) – Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (i.e. religious leaders) muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Matthew 11:18-19 (NLT) – (Jesus said) “For John the Baptist didn’t drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, ‘He’s demon possessed.’  And I, the Son of Man, feast and drink, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst sort of sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by what results from it.””

Matthew 21:28-32 (NIV) – “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.  Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

Luke 7:36-48 (NLT) –  One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to come to his home for a meal, so Jesus accepted the invitation and sat down to eat.  A certain immoral woman heard he was there and brought a beautiful jar filled with expensive perfume.  Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.  When the Pharisee who was the host saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, “This proves that Jesus is no prophet. If God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”  Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “All right, Teacher,” Simon replied, “go ahead.”  Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people-five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty pieces to the other.  But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”  Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” “That’s right,” Jesus said.  Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You didn’t give me a kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in.  You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.  I tell you, her sins-and they are many-have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”  Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 19:5-10 (NLT) – When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today.”  Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.  But the crowds were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.  Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”  Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham.  And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost.”

Isn’t it amazing to read a few of these passages again?  Does it grip your heart as it does mine do see the love Jesus had for everyone, everyWHERE He went?  He ate and drank in the homes and meeting places of AVERAGE JOES – especially those who were not “part of the club” (so to speak).

But church folks have little idea how to let the real love of Christ work through them in non-church environments because, I dare say, most of them haven’t really embraced Christ as the central focus to begin with.  They have swallowed whole a substitute for relationship with God and His family and don’t even know it.  In fact, if some of them read this paragraph, they will likely become very angry with me and reject such a conclusion.  It’s very easy to love those who love you back and while sheltered inside familiar walls of comfortable religion.  It’s another thing to love those outside those walls… and I mean GENUINELY love them… not just look at them as though they were some kind of object to be won over to a religious mindset.

Now, on the other hand, the more “enlightened” church folks are aware of the damage caused by church groups that are afraid to touch the lost… so they channel their energy into a church mindset with a “vision for the lost” and engage in a “fresh agenda” to not do church as usual but to “reach out” and hopefully encourage non-believers to want to give their extra special program a try.  It sounds good, but in too many ways it ends up having the same basic mindset behind it; one that sees people as numbers to be added to the program.

These church folks are often proud to say that their church isn’t like other boring churches.  Ironically, they are pretty much exactly like every other church out there.  Sure, maybe their pastor sits on a bar stool instead of standing behind a pulpit… or maybe he tells better jokes and has one of those cool mini microphones stuck to the side of his head instead of an old-school lapel mic.  Maybe the congregants sit at tables and are allowed to enjoy pastries and drink coffee during the service, but it’s all the same smell.  The whole things is a program intended to entertain and give believers a sense of purpose, belonging and spiritual legitimacy… but none of these things are necessary for the genuine child of God who is already fully and completely legitimate because he/she belongs to the Lord.  The sincere disciple of Jesus need only be accountable to one Master, Jesus, not a program and doesn’t need a religious routine to pacify him either.  The free believer already understands that they are a valid member of Christ’s one Church because they are born into Christ and there is no other obligation to be met or organization to join.  True believers don’t need constant reminders to “greet people so that they feel welcome and loved” because they find genuine motivation from the love of God that already is at work within.  They reach out and make friends because they want to and because they enjoy it, not because it’s part of some organization’s vision to reach people and absorb them into the weekly routine and try to get them involved in the system.

It’s not that people who engage in these religious mindsets don’t mean well or that they don’t want to follow the truth.  I think many do, but so many have been repeatedly subjected to this overwhelming religious mindset that they have come to believe the lie that such things are essential to faith in God and also constitute fellowship.  Thank God that many people are starting to discover that there is far more to relationship with God than religion and, in fact, religion (i.e. doing the typical church routine) is not even necessary in the least!

I’ll save the rest of my comments for a larger article perhaps and post it on my website.  For now though, I will continue with my story…

Opposite the coffee shop/bar there were some glass windows and doors looking into the main sanctuary.  We walked inside to a fairly average church worship service.  The music was decent and the sound guys did their job flawlessly.  Other than this, however, it was not anything different from virtually every other church service I’ve attended.  I did happen to look around just to observe the facial expressions of people in the service and, to my surprise, despite the lively music and light show most people had solemn expressions on their face.  Not solemn as though they were “seriously concentrating on Jesus” but solemn as in “I’ve never been so bored in my life… when will this be over so I can go out to lunch?”  Each song ended with applause from the crowd, just as you might expect at a concert (except this applause was an almost “programmed” response).  It was clear that this “worship” service was primarily a spectator sport for people well-acquainted with the routine and had very little “spiritual” anything associated with it.

After the concert… er… worship service, the pastor invited everyone to move out of the sanctuary into the next room to have a seat at a table.  As we moved into the next room, which was full of little round tables, we sat down and waited for the next segment of the show to begin.  After a few minutes of people munching the free doughnut holes sitting in the baskets on the tables (along with the sound of cash machines ringing in the background – “cha-ching” – as people purchased draft sodas, snacks and espresso) the pastor, along with one of his associates, mounted a small platform at the head of the room and they both sat down on barstools and began a very contrived-sounding conversation while holding their microphones.  I don’t want to be unnecessarily cynical in my commentary but, in truth, this was the dumbest thing I’d ever observed.  It was like a badly rehearsed cable access program.

For the next 20 minutes or so, these guys went on and on about how wonderful their church was.  The pastor held up the morning newspaper which had a full page story about a pastor who was leaving town to live in Rwanda for a year…  The pastor in the story was also the same one talking about the ad.  He noted that the newspaper got the story wrong and that he wasn’t actually leaving for a year, but then cracked a little joke about how he hoped people weren’t too happy about the idea of their pastor being gone for a year.  Both pastors on the stage laughed at the little joke and people in the crowd chuckled.  I’m sorry but it was pathetic.  They went on about their “missions vision for Rwanda”, which (as it turned out) was actually more about going over there to hold “tryouts” for an African children’s choir, which they hoped to fly home at some point to show off in the States.  This was their great vision they were so proud of???  To start a choir of African kids?

On and on we listened to them boast about how no one is doing anything as much as “The Living Room” in this town to help Rwanda.  This, naturally, led to even more boasting about how unique The Living Room was from other churches.  They were so proud of the fact that they play (what I call) “musical pews” every Sunday and have doughnuts holes while the pastors rap with each other on the stage.  I mean, this is groundbreaking ministry here!  This (they seemed to believe) was “real” fellowship!  Like I said before, pathetic!  This was just another attempt at post-modern church organizationalism.

In the end, there was nothing particularly unique or amazing about this church.  I have been to so many different churches by this time in my life that I’m quite confident in making the statement that they are basically all the same (where the “organized” agenda is concerned).  Some people like this and so they should continue to enjoy it.  I’ll not tell them they shouldn’t and I won’t waste time pointing out errors to them or treating them like lesser individuals.  God loves all of us, no matter what hang-ups we have along the path… and He will be faithful to lead us to freedom as we open our hearts to follow His lead.  I know that I still have plenty of hang-ups that God is setting me free from the more I yield to Him each day.

But those of you who relate to my comments here and are weary with the lifeless religious routine (typically called “church”), please know that there’s nothing spiritually wrong with you for feeling exhausted with it.  It is a total lie that you have to involve yourself in this routine to be close with God or to enjoy fellowship with God’s people.  True believers exist and thrive REGARDLESS of religious or denominational affiliations.  True Christianity is NOT a religion and is not qualified by participation in a religious organization.  It’s qualified by one thing; your position in Christ Jesus!!!  If other people, who claim to be Christians, are not willing to associate with you on the basis of a mutual relationship with Christ according to His Gospel, then do not fear their criticism.  They are only confirming to you that they are blinded by deception and are not following the same Master (Jesus).

In the first century (in John chapter 8 of the Bible), many of the religious people refused to accept that Jesus was the anointed Leader sent by God and likewise they did not understand many of the things He taught, nor did they accept those who followed Him as legitimate children of God.  In short, they were not even willing to identify the faithful according to the Christ Himself.  They had their religion and anyone who was not a part of it was not believed to be “authorized”.  But Jesus exposed this sham and told them plainly that their actions only proved they were following a different “Father” and it was not Father God…  Yes, they used the same terminology and they proudly proclaimed they were true believers who followed God as their Father, but Jesus said that their father was actually the devil, because they believed in lies and refused to identify HIM as the Christ, the one Leader sent by God.  In the same way, true believers today should identify one another based solely on CHRIST, not on any other qualification such as church or religious affiliation.

Today’s church system OFTEN preaches a different message than that which Jesus taught!  For example, they say we have many spiritual fathers and leaders that we are supposed to submit to in order that we be regarded as legitimate Christians…  (Sometimes this is not said in such direct terms, but the mindset exists that “if you don’t have a pastor who is your spiritual father and covering, then you are not a practicing Christian”) but Jesus said something different:

Matthew 23:4-12 – They (the religious leaders) pile heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and won’t lift a finger to help.  Everything they do is just to show off in front of others. They even make a big show of wearing Scripture verses on their foreheads and arms, and they wear big tassels for everyone to see.  They love the best seats at banquets and the front seats in the meeting places.  And when they are in the market, they like to have people greet them as their teachers.  But none of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters.  Don’t call anyone on earth your father. All of you have the same Father in heaven.  None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader.  Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others.  If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.

How many churches are you aware of that practice this most basic instruction of Jesus as we just read in Matthew 23?  How about this next passage?

Matthew 20:25-28 – But Jesus, having summoned them, said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, shall be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave;  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Notice how Jesus immediately uses the Gentile system of government as the example for how NOT to do things in His kingdom!  What was that Gentile system?  Hierarchy!  Yet isn’t it amazing that this is, predominantly, exactly how the modern church system is governed?  We have a head CEO of the organization, called the Senior Pastor, and he has a host of under-leaders that he directs and administrates; associate pastor, elders, youth pastor, etc.  The people (i.e. the laity) are at the bottom of this totem pole and they are expected to serve the leadership and take orders as given.  In one popular leadership teaching series I am familiar with (that features a guide book titles “Under Cover”) congregants are taught that obeying religious leaders, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE IN SCRIPTURAL ERROR, is equated to the act of obeying God.  This doctrine teaches that, as long as you obey a church leader, it doesn’t matter if they fall into error because God will honor your obedience as though it were directly to Him because you were following His so-called authorized channel of authority.  This is a flat out, unbiblical lie!  But even in church organizations that do not publically seem to emphasize this rank and file type of leadership (at least with a heavy hand), make no mistake, it does exist and things will erupt when the authority structure is challenged.

In John 10, Jesus flat out said that a man who takes money for “shepherding” (i.e. pastoring) is NOT a true pastor, but a thief and illegitimate.  Yet how many pastors have you heard of that care one bit about the Lord’s teaching on this point?  Most take a salary for their so-called service.  Most find clever ways to manipulate Scripture and justify it.  Many use Old Testament expired laws like tithing (which have NOTHING to do with money or supporting church organizations) to provoke people to donate their money rather than going out and getting a regular job (as the Scripture plainly teaches religious leaders to do) like everyone else!

Jesus pointed DIRECTLY to these kinds of things, yet the modern church system ROUTINELY ignores them and instead puts forth its own list of requirements and expectations.  I don’t mean to unnecessarily rub anyone the wrong away here, but those who preach religious lies like what I have just described are only demonstrating that they do not love the Truth.  They are not following the instruction of the Master Jesus and, therefore, they need not be followed or feared!

Some will probably get offended that I talk the way I do about church world…  I’m sorry for their discomfort, but I’m not trying to impress them nor am I intending to curse them with this testimony.  There are some who will have ears to hear what I’m saying and some may laugh in agreement and totally get it.  While many in the religious world often complain that the problem with people who generally disconnect from church is that they pull away from everything godly, we who love the Lord and are weary of religion know this is just an anxious religious manipulation…  True believers don’t walk away from the Truth; they run toward it harder than ever!  True believers don’t care about the commentary by religious Pharisees because their primary concern is the voice of their Master, Jesus.

And true believers don’t seek to isolate themselves from the body of Christ (as church folks often accuse), but rather they understand the spiritual reality of the body; which is qualified by our mutual standing in Christ, not according to what “church organization” we may or may not attend. It is this understanding of the body that causes us to desire genuine fellowship as GOD does the work of assembling us together… This stands in contrast to the mindset of the organized, institutional church system that refuses to allow God to divinely assemble His body but rather forces their own method of “assembly”. But just a pile of car parts in a junk yard do not automatically make up an “assembled” and properly-working vehicle, neither do a bunch of people crammed together in a religious edifice once a week make up a biblical assembly.

Wouldn’t it be far better for all of us who have pledged our life to the Master to simply concern ourselves with His instruction and to regard one another with genuine love than to make ourselves anxious about religious affiliations, programs, routines and the threats of illegitimate leaders?  Sure many pastors mean well, but that doesn’t make them less false or less in need of repentance for their gross errors.  God loves us all and continues to call us to Truth and repentance.  So, my prayer is not that anyone would get offended with my disregard of religion, but that each of us would look into our own hearts and ask God to cleanse us of all false religion and set us free to worship Him without any distractions whatsoever.

Finally, if I had to thank God for one thing about churches like the one I described in this blog today, I guess it would be that they installed doors which are as easy to exit from as they are to enter.  The happiest moment of my visit was the moment I got to leave.  May God help all those who feel they must put in their time in those walls to be accepted as true believers and fellow saints in the kingdom of God.  May the day soon come when people stop identifying themselves against one another by the question, “Where do you attend church?” and instead regard one another only on the basis of a union with Christ!  Those are the kind of people I want to fellowship with.  The rest appear to be of a different spirit and a different father that I no longer submit to.

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