"Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation." Psalm 91:14-16
As this season's journey seems to quickly draw to an end and the new situations that will govern the future, if only for a little while, become completed, I struggle; against myself, against the experiences of the past and the not-so-surprising expectations of a future devoid of achievement. It seems whenever I get knocked down, I get back up….only to be knocked down again. I have fought against the tendency to isolate myself….to present to the church a 'rosy' image of myself and my situation to obtain 'acceptance' of both my family and my purpose. I have spoken clearly and freely about my problems, struggles, failures and disappointments and once again, it seems to have marked me as an undesirable…especially for ministry. To the point where I have uttered the words I did back when I was sixteen years old and the church turned its back on me, unlike what it had did with my older brother.
"I think I'm done with 'church'"
Two specific events in the last evolution of my 'church' experience have brought me face to face with this unspoken heaviness. One, when I had that accidental collision with the unseen landscaping rock thrown out into the road by another car that spun out during the snow storm and cracked the transmission case to my car….$1,700.00 plus repair bill and me travelling an hour to and from work. I went to my pastor and asked for his assistance in trying to find a way to address the problem. I made the prayer request list, under the anonymous titling "car repairs". One brother, from Germany, offered to loan me the money…..I refused, on the grounds of the biblical instruction not to enter into a loan with a brother. It was one brother, part of the ultra-church ministry I belong to, who was blessed with a unexpected bonus who gave me the funds to buy another vehicle. Fine, I thought at the time, God decided that the larger would not be as powerful a testimony as the one, so He planned this to happen this way.
Three months later, the same pastor who didn't return my emails about the church's 'relationship with several repair shops, maybe we can get the costs down' information stood in front of the congregation and asked for cars to be donated "for a few people in need." There were men, he said, in the congregation who will fix them up and give these needing families transportation. I was within a day of losing my job because I couldn't get there and it wasn't needful enough, apparently. After all, the bible says to care for the single mothers and widows….not single fathers.
It is this same pastor that I requested a meeting with in June/July to discuss the problem with babysitting for my children over the summer and through the coming school year. He said that he would see if he could find someone who "can help in exchange for monetary compensation" despite my honest comment of not even being able to afford to send the kids to the 'summer camp' program the church was operating because of costs. He came to the conclusion that maybe I should investigate moving closer to family as it seems God wasn't opening doors in the Holly area. I've heard nothing from him all summer, even when the kid's mother lost her power for over a week and I had to find an alternative place for them to go…..it was another individual, through my work, that stepped up and helped with my children….and she had others who helped her with them.
Two nights ago I went to church and was talking about my eminent departure; two separate individuals said they wished they had known, one operated a childcare from her home and the other would've stepped into some kind of helping role. The pastor apparently never mentioned it to anyone and I wasn't worthy of a 'congregational request.'
I am too far gone to change course again and stay where I've felt I was supposed to stay…..it would take another miracle to work all the severed links back together and make the situation work out now. I feel that, because I am a male, that there are those who feel I don't have to deal with the same issues that a single mother would, or that I should have everything put together in a neat and tidy box…..after all, there's nothing in the bible that says 'care for the single fathers and widows.'
Do I think the pastor is ungodly? No, I think that he is in the wrong position for his spiritual gifts and purposing. Do I think the church is more worldly than godly? I think it has become a hybrid of a corporate mentality, for spoken godly purposes, and has become a weak vessel……an old wineskin…..to which new wine is being poured. Sooner or later, it will rupture into a ungodly and secular corporate entity: when the man-after-God's-heart pastor has moved on to his reward or has become a liability to the collection of congregations that he has gathered together over his years in ministry. A ministry or vision built upon one man, except for Christ, is destined to fall when that man is gone. Maybe years, maybe centuries later…..but history proves its truth.
And they won't see it coming. Because, as another pastor said to me, 'I may not agree with everything this doctrine (name-it-claim-it healing) says, but it is definitely having results'. I believe that the Gospel does not go out void….God says it will not….and the enemy fully knows this. So, with a bit of scriptural sprinkling of truths coupled with wrong theology and understanding, results are garnered in the expectations of the humanity called "church" and any unbiblical or godly means to get to the 'results' is glossed over…..congregations grow to critical mass, property is bought to house the elaborate decorations of thousand-strong communities, worship becomes a stage-show that rivals the concert venues of culturally favored musicians and groups and slowly the erosion of the congregational responsibility to its family members and the community to which it is supposed to serve becomes commonplace……and the purpose to which Christ built His church looks more like a profit-loss graphic during the board meetings of the 'elders' and 'leadership' teams.
The community of 'believers' grows larger and larger, to the point where a pastor doesn't know the sheep he shepherds because it is simply logistically impossible and the mentality of the church is 'growth is progress', community involvement is 'public relations' of a cost-benefit ratio and true discipleship is a weeding field where the productive are advanced and the troubled are either conformed or shuffled to the darker corners of congregational life. And the excuse is "The need is too great for us to help everyone."
The individual becomes less important than the many 'possibilities' of dynamic lights, sound and stage presence. The message of one man, one God, becomes less important to remain truthful to than a water-down, we'll-get-em-later, message of somewhat Truth.
It no longer seems unlikely that 144,000 of the remnant will remain on this earth to herald the tribulation. The true believers of this world will either be gone through attrition or herded up into isolated communities to be wiped out at the convenience of the populace. The 82% of the American population that claims Christianity is actually only 8%....and the tides of cultural tolerance and corporate worship will whittle that down to almost zero…..if the current treads are true and 90% of the children today will never step back into a church setting once they hit the first year of college.
"Teach a man to fish" mentality; let's formulate what it takes to make a person in the congregation be 'spiritual', financially stable and happy so that we can develop them to support our ministries and services in the big building down the street. If they struggle, there's a study program or group…..if they are troubled, they've not gotten enough of the spirit….if they stray, then they must not be honestly converted and we'll have to cut them loose….. so that we don't have to do anything than our 'title' and can 'suspend' the common expectations of relationships in favor of the need to feed the vision of the 'mega-complex' down the road. That way, it seems, the expectation becomes not one of discipling to leave the community to support or redeem another but so that the congregate, in their self-supporting life, can support the church and the leadership visions for the church congregation. They can then sit back and watch it grow…….and feel accomplished, feel the 'work' is done.
It seems the lessons are quickly given, illustrated once and then the 'trainees' are sent to the fish and tackle stores to buy their own tackle and rods. Some have to go cheap and find themselves alienated by the better equipped individuals….and still starve. Others get to the store, having lost their list along the way, and find themselves rejected from getting a copy of it again…..and still starve. Some buy the best equipment, designed for easy fishing, and then when the equipment breaks, they have forgotten how to fish in a basic way….the equipment did the work for them….and THEY starve.
What would happen if we, the church, took the 'seasoned anglers' in our congregation and coupled them with younger fisher-wannabes (physically or spiritually)? The young anglers would be under the mentorship of the elder ones until the point where; regardless of the situation or equipment, they will still land fish…..then, they are seasoned anglers and the process begins again. If they fall, starving because of unfruitful fishing, the still-lifelong-paired mentor would know it and be able to address the failure in a productive way.
It would be "I'll teach you, watch you and then help you do the same to another" fishing mentality. Fathers take their sons time and time again….and then step to the side..going further down the stream until they are out of sight, ready to jump in and help, but watching to see the growth and maturity of their sons as they do it on their own…..the sons, properly taught, teach their own….and a legacy of fishermen are born. Doesn't mean that there won't be times of starvation…in those times, through the network of mentorship and relational community, there would be those who had more to feed those who have less. Doesn't mean there won't be times of correction, for even the professional anglers make mistakes….but mentorship/relational community would again be there to help them learn and recover.
The chief ingredient isn't a formula of this bait, this lure, this line, this pole and this river/lake/stream……it is individualized, direct and hands on relationship, commitment and above all…love.
God is love….and those who are of God are His representatives of that love.
Is God a cookie-cutter, formulaic God? Did He throw the lesson book out there and LEAVE? Did He look at your mistakes, even after the point of conversion, and say…."Well, guess you're hopeless?" Is He consistently loving, faithful and true…..delivering upon His promises, inviting us to work with Him in His larger story to bring glory to Him and furthering the kingdom? Faithfully wrathful, judgmental and angry in a level of righteousness consistent with His loving, merciful and compassionate grace…….
Is He disconnected from us, or as the song goes and the verse above testifies, "He walks with me and He talks with me……and He (repeatedly) tells me I am His own." He promises never to leave us, even in the depth of our disobedience, but is faithful to wait for us to reconnect to Him….and He doesn't just sit there, listening to our despair…but sends us help when we cry out to Him…..in ways we often don't recognize until later….when our spiritual growth is enough to see it.
Because we love Him…..from love comes desire….from desire loyalty….from loyalty obedience…..born out of love's intentional relationship with God that makes us want to please Him….and the only way to do so is to……
From that action on our part, He responds in the same….loving us enough not to leave us where we are, helpless and hopeless against the onslaught of the enemy's intentions, but to grow and nurture us to join Him in the work He is already about. We aren't required for God's plan and aren't simply story fodder for His grander, pure Story….but are active and willing participants who are continually enticed by the Reader and Author of the story to join its telling. He's read the story, knows its end and still is entranced by our participation, caught up in the moments of our story within His….equally delighted when we hear and relate with Him….inviting Him to journey with us in the writing of our own smaller part in the annals of His story…….
God doesn't have formulas, He has solutions…He doesn't smash humanity into a thin mishmash of dough and apply a cookie cutter to its width and breath of life so to have automatons of the same molding…….The structure is in place, undeniably and un-individualistic dependant…..but our involvement in it is individually crafted, and unforced…..
Because of LOVE
A love born in a redeemed heart, lived in the woundedness of this broken world, painful and sorrowful because of the corporate humanism that plagues our very beings from the moment of our birth…..until we are more like our Creator…..more tranquil, more joyful and more illogical in our loving than we could ever realize……
Being relational with those who are in pain, suffering or burdened by the world…..not just for conversion's sake (for it is not us who CONVERTS) but because God so loved us……we fish with the broken, not just to teach them to fish, but to give them the ability to fish, the desire to fish and the confidence to fish………
So, when our legacy is called upon at the moments of our 'graduation', those left behind can see those who will ensure generations of fishermen are grown up.
We have become a people of manufactured, chemically-enhanced and man-designed fish eaters eating something that tastes like fish, is shaped like fish but has the nutritional value of cardboard…..and celebrate those who have the flashy lures, the fanciest poles and the graceful moves as legendary anglers, even though they don't 'really fish' anymore but are 'demonstrators'…..flocking to hear what they have to say and let them feed us. The old, wizened anglers who fish for the sake of fishing……who know more about fishing with a string and a stick than the latest fancy move in casting…who never make the competitions but feed their communities….are forgotten or labeled 'antiquated'.
It is not the 'we' in Christianity that God calls us to, through formulaic and ritualistic worship in cushy seats of grand cathedrals…….
it is the "I" in Christianity that He entices us to…….so that we can be the "I"
…….that rescues the lost
…….protects the weak
…….answers for the speechless
…….stand by the persecuted and oppressed
…….deliver the tortured souls to God
……..by standing as a living testimony to the salvational mercy, unending grace and agape LOVE of the God who sent His only begotten Son so that none will perish but have life everlasting.
It will be those in the end days, individual in their testimony and working as an organic living and breathing part of the 'catholic' (universal) church that will not meet in the halls of grand visions or the fields of lush red crushed-velvet seats, who will live and work beside the broken, battered and bruised of this world…..loving and caring for them at the cost of their lives to harvest the fields of souls for the purpose of their Savior.
That is the bride that Christ is coming back for…..and that is what God promises to protect, guide and prosper.