My first struggle is with the discipline of writing, a part of that may be my conviction that one should not write if he or she has nothing to say, and some mornings that is in fact the case. Does “nursing” this blog every morning mean that I write regardless? (I’ll await a response).
My second struggle is that the more I reflect on life and the more I read from others, who are also calling for transformation within the church, the more I struggle!
I have been reading Mark Batterson’s two books, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and now, Wild Goose Chase. My sister, the wife of a wonderful pastor and missionary, gave me the two books as an early Christmas present, thinking I might identify with his writings. Interestingly enough, one of my best friends (don’t mean to hurt you Randall) pastors the church in Naperville where Mark’s father-in-law formerly ministered before his untimely death. I feel some connection just from that.
Beyond that, it seems that the two books are in fact taking me somewhere…the first moved me to continue more passionately my pursuit of the Lion…not one to be slain by me but the One that was slain for me!
Another book, which I am now working to write, Judah: The Journey to Delight, is my attempt to frame three era’s of my life in the church, The Desire, The Discipline and the Delight. The latter, Delight, I have been told to expect as I grow older in the church, yet I am seeing little of it in the lives of the generation just before me, as they seem to retire and fall off the spiritual map…some even ending up in “senior warehouses” with little of their wisdom conserved. I know there are exceptions and I want to be one.
I am not sure that the “Jesus” that has morphed out of the American Church is the Lion of Judah, the God-man who arrived on the scene two thousand years ago, crushed the skull of the enemy, shook the world of Judaism and rocked the streets of Jerusalem, even to the ends of the Earth! Somehow, as moving as church worship is, our traditions, our songs, our Doxology often fail to capture or convey this Lion.
In Wild Goose Chase, Batterson reflects on a recent trip to the National Zoo, peering “through the protective Plexiglas window at a four-hundred-pound caged gorilla: I wonder if churches do to people what zoos do to animals.” This one stopped me dead in my tracks!
I had to wonder what my life might have been like had I continued to journey with The Lion, using only the roadmap of scripture and the voice of His Spirit. Yes, certainly fellowshipping with the saints, but also truly suffering with the Savior in the streets of the marketplace, never entering the cage or at least not allowing the door to close behind me!
I must pause here and do what Batterson also did, that is to express my love for the people of God, for the Body of Christ; to differentiate for those who hold the mechanics of church so sacred that they misread my thoughts. I just have to wonder what might have happened had I continued in the very way the Lord first found me. You see, I didn’t jump into the pit with this Lion, He jumped into my pit, into my sins…”He sought me and He bought me with His redeeming love.”
What if, when I walked in on my Dad that night of January 3, 1973, while he knelt, praying for his wayward son and God opened the door for my salvation; what if, I had simply continued to follow Christ alone? What if, as I struggled to express the life change that others apparently witnessed, I had simply continued steadfastly to share the Christ, as I daily discovered His intimacy?
My teacher friend Carla was also struggling at that time, attending a small Methodist Church by invitation of a student, where a spirit-filled evangelist couple had been asked to minister. Within days, Carla also came to the Lord, and our school began to change. Then another teacher whom I was coming to love, LaDonna Setzer, now my wife, prayed with Carla and accepted the Christ which she had only heard of in catechism but somehow never met in church!
We three began praying together, and eventually Ronnie, Carla’s husband… whom I recall earlier as concocting a mixture of Hawaiian Punch and grain alcohol in that same friend’s kitchen sink, Pink Jesus (PJ) we called it…came to Jesus.
Carla’s gifted and talented class began to meet with us in something called the God Squad. “Kodak Moments” were captured in my mind of four teachers and a guitar, setting in a smoke-filled living full of kids, singing newly discovered choruses, as Ronnie played and we wept and worshipped. The Lord soon dealt with us about our habits and our lives began to change, even more so outwardly.
This is when we began to attend our first prayer breakfast at the invitation of our school principal. Every Friday morning we would rise early to join with a group of brothers and sisters from various churches in the community, though we were unchurched. In fact it was odd that many of them were simply there hoping, that revival would come to their own churches…that is, that what we were experiencing on Friday mornings could in fact happen within their own sanctuaries. Gradually local pastors would venture in, some hoping that prayer breakfast participates would follow them back to their own churches, and we did!
It wasn’t long before all of our efforts were being placed on bringing revival to our city through a small church; holding all night prayer meetings, praying for resources and for church growth, then attempting to disciple those who came to Christ, though most were simply church transfers. Of course if you work hard you get noticed, and eventually I was involved at both the state and national level within my denomination.
Again, I am not wanting to go church bashing here, just thinking out loud after 35 years in the church and in fact, participating seriously in financing the construction of several churches. I now wonder if any of that money proportionately changed the cities where those churches were located. I think so, and can even cite examples where individual lives were changed, but what if those same funds had been utilized by passionate Christians, who never forsook the assembling of themselves together…they just invested less money in real estate and more time in learning how to share life together in the marketplace, truly meeting the needs of those whom God brought into their lives within their places of work, rather than concentrating a disproportionate amount of time and resources in their places of worship? You remember, like we all did in the first few weeks and years of our experience with Christ.
What if the storehouse of God is more inclusive than the local church and in fact what we have esteemed as the sole means God could use to reach our nation has become a containment strategy of the enemy, a cage for Christians?
Can I not think out loud?