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What does desperate look like?

I heard a worship song the other day, and one of the lines in the song caught my ear.  I think it’s a song by Michael W. Smith and the line goes like this:

And I, I’m desperate for you.

It was just one sentence, but it really sparked a thought in me.  Actually it was more of a question.  What does desperate look like?  That question has been rolling around in my mind for weeks now.  What would it look like if I really were desperate for God?

How would my life change?  How would my desires change?  How would the way I spend my time, my money, and my attention change?

The fact is, no matter how many times we may have sung that song in church, most of us are not really desperate for God.  I’m looking in the mirror and what I see reflected back is not a desperate man.  At least not enough to let it interrupt our lives or our plans.  We are not desperate enough for God to take us out of our comfort zone or our status quo.

The dictionary defines desperate as “utterly reckless or risky.”  How many of us are living lives of reckless pursuit of God?  How many of us are really willing to risk what we have, or even who we are, in pursuit of His glory in our lives?

So what does desperate look like? 

Just off the top of my head, here are a few things that might change in my life if I were truly “desperate for God”:

I’d be less concerned about my own needs.  A desperate man doesn’t cling too tightly to anything.  He’s willing to sacrifice anything to get what he needs.  A desperate man isn’t really concerned with his own safety or security.  He’s willing to go anywhere and do anything to achieve his goal.

I’d  be less worried about obstacles and difficulties.   A desperate man is on an all-out quest, and he’ll let nothing stand in his way.  He’ll run through walls if he must to get where he’s going.

I’d spend my time and attention differently.  A desperate man usually doesn’t sit on the couch vegging out, he leaves that for hopeless men.  He doesn’t seem to notice the distractions around him.  His focus is clear, his intensity is razor sharp.

Most churches don’t really teach desperation these days.  It’s more about having my needs met.  It’s more about finding programs that fit my family’s lifestyle.  Desperate people don’t build big buildings.  They’re too busy with more dire times and urgent needs.

I admit, I have a long way to go, but I guess you could say I’m desperate to be desperate.  I want to abandon all for the call of the cross.  I want to give all in care for the poor and needy.  I want to forsake all for the glory of God.  And I guess desire is the first step toward desperation.  Or maybe it’s surrender.

What would desperate look like for you?

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What if you feel like quitting?

One of the things I check regularly  is the section that tells me what search terms are referring readers to my blog.  In other words, if someone types “idolatry” or “grace” into Google, I want to know that they made it to my blog.

So last night I was looking at the incoming search terms, and one of them stood out.  Someone did a Google search for “what to do when you feel like turning away from Christianity.”  I have mixed emotions about that search.  I’m both happy and sad that person is thinking those thoughts, asking questions, wondering if what they’ve been told about God is all there really is.

That’s the purpose of this blog.  It’s the purpose of my book “The Church Must Die.”  I want people to think about what they believe, and why.  I want to speak to those who are fed up with what they feel is a bloated, ineffective, irrelevant modern church.  I want them to realize there is so much more to Jesus Christ than what we’ve made Him out to be.

I want the disillusioned, the discouraged, the downtrodden to realize there is something more.  I hope they can read these words and begin to grasp the enormity of God’s grace, a grace that goes beyond rules and regulations and dogma.  I hope they will understand there is a place of safety and love within the true body of Christ, the remnant of those who are willing to love like Jesus loves.  I hope they will find true meaning in giving their lives for a God who gave His life for them.

It’s okay if you feel like “quitting Christianity.”  The religion we’ve built on the name of Jesus is something He never intended.  It’s okay if what you see today seems like a sad reflection of the majesty of Almighty God.  Look away from man and look to Him.  Don’t judge Jesus by how I act, how Christians act, or even how you act.  Judge Him on His own merits, they are more than sufficient.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time we all quit Christianity and just started following Jesus.

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Between Here and There

Okay, I’m going to get a little existential on you, so get ready.  This was inspired in prayer the other night by a scripture I will share with you at the end of the post.

I am Here.  I am where I am.  I live in this place, right now.  I exist here, I think and move and act, right here and right now. It’s not where I want to be, but it is where I am.  Some might call it Egypt, I simply call it Here.

But there is another place.  It is the place I want to be.  It is the person I want to be, the person I know God has called me to be.  I’m not exactly sure where that place is, but I know it’s not Here.  Some might call that place The Promised Land, I call it There.

Then there is the land between.  The space between Here and There.  It is a place that is often dry, often lonely, almost always hard.  It is a place of frequent trials and failed tests.  It is a land of looking forward, and too often looking back.  It is a land of longing.  How could it not be?  It is not There.  Some call this place the wilderness, I call it The Land Between.

Too often the source of my despair and discouragement is from the fact that I long to be somewhere other than Here, I long to be There.  In those times I overlook the Land Between.  I think of it as a waste, of some time to kill until I get There.  But The Land Between is much more.  This place is the real essence of what it means to be a Christ follower.  It is the place where the fire of affliction burns away my imperfections.  It is a place where I am put to the test, where my motives are revealed, and where I am found wanting to be more like the One I claim to follow.

The Land Between is a place is where sorrow and tears and trials forge in me a faith that cannot be shaken and a resolve that cannot be broken.  It is a place where my losses are sometimes greater than my gains, where one step forward is often followed by ten steps back, where I am often tempted to sit down and give up.

But where can I go? Here is not where I want to be.  There is yet too far away, and I am left with a compass that often resembles the one owned by a certain Capt. Sparrow.  For me there is only The Land Between, the space between Here and There.  So I will walk.  I will set out for a destination unknown, trusting I will recognize it when I find it…or when it finds me.

The funny thing is, when I start the journey I find I’m much closer to There than I ever imagined.

“…do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience, inherit the promises.”  ~ Hebrews 6:12

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An open letter to Christian leaders

I want to start this post by saying, right up front, I say these words with fear and trembling. Who am I? I don’t have the right to say this. But it burns in my heart, and I must.

Not long ago, my family and I were in a restaurant where we received excellent service. A mistake was made on our order and the manager immediately corrected it with his apologies. I made the comment to my son that, good or bad, service starts with management. There’s no such thing as an employee problem, it’s always a management problem.

I think the same can be said with the church today. I look around and see so much worldliness, so much narcissism and selfishness, so much “me-ology” instead of theology. Yet I don’t think the problem begins with the body. I believe we have a leadership problem.

I’m being challenged by the words of Paul in Colossians 1:24 where he says,

“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.”

I’m wondering how many of our leaders today are willing to “fill up their flesh” with the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the body? I’m wondering how many leaders today are willing to lay down everything and literally become servants to the body? To suffer and travail for the good of the church of Jesus Christ.

I see a lot of leaders for whom “ministry” has become a career. I see a ministry class that has become separate from the body, in many cases above the body. I don’t see a lot of leaders who are willing to suffer on behalf of the body. I don’t see a lot of leaders who are willing, like John the Baptist, to live in the wilderness with no comforts of home in order to challenge the people of God to repentance and obedience.

Jesus warned His followers of the “leaven of the Pharisees” and how that leaven can leaven a whole lump of dough. He warned His followers about the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who held the rank and file to a standard they themselves did not keep. He warned them about a ruling class that would exert power over God’s people for their own personal gain.

And He said that leaven would leaven the whole lump. If there is a problem with worldliness in the church, follow it back to the leadership. If there is a problem with hypocrisy in the church, follow it back to the leadership. If the church has failed in its job of taking care of the orphans and widows, follow it back to the leadership.

I’m begging our church leadership. Please consider whose kingdom you are building, Christ’s or yours. Please consider whose money you are spending. Please consider how we could have come to this: multi-million dollar buildings while so many suffer, meaningless programs meant to suck up to donors while the world is careening out of control, and a form of Godliness, but no power of the Holy Spirit.

Please know my heart. I know there are a lot of wonderful men and women who are in leadership in the body of Christ. But the church is sick, the temple of the Holy Spirit – the people of God – lies in ruins. And the rebuilding of that temple begins with repentance at the highest levels. It begins with leaders who are willing to step down from the pedestal and suffer and travail for the body of Christ. It begins with leaders who are willing to fill themselves up with the sufferings of Christ, that His body might be nourished and replenished.

Until the head finds its healing, the whole body will remain in its sickness.

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This is the thanks I get?

King Hezekiah was one of the truly great kings of Judah.  He was faithful to God like few kings before or after him.  He tore down the pagan altars, cleared the debris of idolatry from the temple and restored true worship to the nation.  Hezekiah did everything right.

We might think, if there were ever a soul that deserved the blessing of God, it was good King Hezekiah.  So what happened as he finished cleaning up the land and turning the hearts of the people back to their God?  He was besieged by the king of Assyria.

This might have been an opportunity for Hezekiah to complain to God and ask, “Why?  I’ve done everything you asked me to do.  I’ve done more for you than any other king before me, and this is the thanks I get?”  I know I certainly would have reacted that way.  I react that way at a lot less hardship and trouble in my life.

But Hezekiah did not lose faith.  He did not give in to the fear.  He did not question God.  Instead he cried out to the Lord.

Often, after we have restored true worship and committed ourselves to faithfulness, we will then suffer attack.  I have seen it time and time again, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others.  This is an opportunity for God to test us, to see what we are made of, to see if our faithfulness is really genuine.  Will we complain to God when our lives are besieged?  Or, like Hezekiah, will we remain faithful?

2 Chronicles 32 tells of of some very specific steps Hezekiah took as he trusted God through his time of testing:

He stopped up the springs so that the Assyrians would not have water.  He cut off that which would have strengthened the enemy.  He was going to make it as difficult as possible for the Assyrians to besiege him.  We must cut ourselves off from anything that would feed the attack against us.  Make sure our own actions are not strengthening our enemy and making his job easier.

He strengthened himself, built up the broken wall, fortified the city and armed everyone. He committed to preparation and everything he could do to be ready.  We must strengthen ourselves as well with the weapons available to us.  That means more prayer, more time in God’s word, and more time with fellow warriors.

He encouraged the people and strengthened their resolve so that they would not be prey to the Assyrian threats and intimidation.  He reminded the people that, “there are more with us than with them.”  We must use the word of God to strengthen our resolve.  We must view this siege as an opportunity to build our faith.  Stay in the scriptures that encourage us to trust in God, lean on Him, and wait on Him.

He humbled himself and cried out to God.  He joined with the prophet Isaiah in prayer and petition before God.  Hezekiah was humble enough to recognize he could not do it alone, that he needed a man of God to stand with him.  And,  ultimately, he recognized his utter inability to withstand the attack apart from God’s power fighting for him.  He did not rely on his own strength, but on God’s.

Maybe, like Hezekiah, you have been faithful to God.  And yet, like Hezekiah, you hear your enemy on the wall hurling taunts and insults your way.  Maybe you’ve been questioning where God is.  And just maybe you’ve been thinking your own faithfulness and goodness is enough to carry the day.  Maybe that’s why you’re in this place.

The attack is meant to humble us, to remind us that no matter how sincerely we follow God, we are not saved by our own righteousness.  It always has been and always will be God’s power that will get us through.  Period.

So don’t give up.  Follow the above steps.  Strengthen yourself in His word and in His presence.  Don’t submit to the fear and questioning.  Don’t listen to the intimidation and humiliation the enemy throws your way.  One day you will see the victory of the Lord.

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What’s that I hear?

1 Samuel 15:9  ~  But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

“Destroy the despised and worthless” was not the command that God had given Saul.  The command was, “Destroy everything.  Kill all that breathes  Totally wipe out the Amalekites.”  Why?  Because the Amalekites had ambushed Israel on their way out of Egypt.  God had promised to punish them for this act, and Saul had been commanded to carry out that punishment.

But Saul did not obey God.  As Samuel arrived at the camp, Saul announced that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions.  “Then what is that sound I hear?  The bleating of sheep?” asked Samuel.  Instead of destroying everything, Saul and the people kept some of the best of the land, supposedly as a sacrifice to God.  The despised and worthless they destroyed, but the best of the flocks they did not.  And for this disobedience, the kingdom was taken from Saul.

God also says those words to me: “Destroy everything.  Destroy every work of darkness, every temptation that can ambush you along your way out of Egypt.”  And, like Saul, I’m okay with destroying the despised and worthless things.  I don’t have a problem getting rid of what I perceive as the “big stuff.”

But what about those things that are attractive to me?  What about the things I enjoy?  What about the seemingly harmless things that, if allowed to live, may someday ambush me?  The “big sins” are no problem.  But what about how I spend my time or money?  Have I crucified those desires?  What about my thoughts?  Have I allowed those to live?  What about unhealthy relationships, unprofitable habits or secret fears?

In verse 15 of this chapter it is clear that Saul thought he was doing God a favor, sparing sheep he had been commanded to kill, saving them as a sacrifice to God.  But God made it clear, He demands obedience, not sacrifice.

How many have had the kingdom of God die in their hearts because they hold on to things that should have died?  For how many as the love of God grown cold because of divided attention, divided love, and a divided heart?

Do you dare to let it all die?  Do you dare to hold nothing back, to cut ties with all that has ambushed you along the way?  God has chosen us by His overwhelming grace.  It is now up to us to be obedient to His will, to carry out His commands.  Until that happens, giving up the “big sins” is just window dressing.

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I’m just going to say it

Many people might assume I hate the church.  With a book titled “The Church Must Die”, I can understand how they would arrive at that assumption.

But they are wrong.

I actually love the true church of Jesus Christ.  The problem comes in because what most people would define as “the church” today is not really what it should be.  We have lost the correct definition of church.  What I hate, what I think must die, is the modern incarnation of church.  Actually, it’s not such a modern incarnation.  It is one almost 2000 years in the making.

If you define church as an institution, then yeah, I hate that.  If you define church as a building, I hate that as well.  If you define church as something you go to on Sunday morning or something that dominates your life with religious rules, then I most certainly hate that.

Many people might assume I hate Christianity.  With my blog called “Quitting Christianity,” I can understand how they would also arrive at that assumption.

But they would again be wrong.

It’s just that “Christianity” and all its derivatives have become loaded words.  They are full of so much negative baggage.  Say the word Christian, and people’s minds are instantly made up.

To some it means “a religious way of life I was taught by my parents.”
To some it means rejection, judgement, arrogance, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.
To some it calls to mind every time they have been made to feel less than valuable.

Whether right or wrong, these are the perceptions when you use the word “Christianity.”  I don’t want to play into those stereotypes.  I don’t want to give in to assumptions.  I don’t want to erect a wall even before we have the chance to talk.  Even if that wall is mostly deserved.

Modern Christianity has largely given Jesus a bad name.

The Jesus we claim to serve was harsh with the religious purists, those who thought they had it all figured out.  We reward those people.

The Jesus we claim to serve was merciful on the poor, the helpless, and the sinners.  We are harsh with them.

It is completely backwards.  I am clueless how those who claim to serve Jesus could have erected a religion any more antithetical to His teachings than what we have today.

Think I’m wrong?  How do you feel about gay people?  How do you feel about Muslims?   How do you deal with an atheist?  What if a smelly, drunk homeless man wandered in to your Sunday service and plopped down next to you?  How would you react?

Far too often I’ve been the one turning away, looking away, running away.

So where do we go from here?

It is not enough to condemn our modern incarnation of church and Christianity.  We must redefine those words.  We must reclaim them as something authentic and real.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe that starts (and probably ends) with love.  I’m talking about simple communities of believer who are deeply committed to loving each other and the world around them at the cost of everything else.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  He said this to His disciples immediately after He had demeaned Himself by taking on the lowliest of possible tasks: washing their feet.

The leadership lesson was clear.  Jesus demonstrated the kind of servanthood He expected from His followers.  He expected those who called themselves by His name to literally kneel before the world in service and love, humbling themselves.  The very word “ministry” in the New Testament is defined as “service, like one who waits tables.”

We have to get back to that kind of love.  The kind of love that serves others.  The kind of love that forsakes its own interest in favor of those it seeks to lead.  The kind of love that says to a woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.”  The kind of love that looks and feels and smells and acts like the Jesus we claim to serve.  All the worship services and sermons and megachurches cannot replace the simple acts of love and mercy that were demonstrated over and over again by our Lord.

I’m not there yet, but I want to be.  I want to take that journey that ends in me loving those that disgust me.  I want to find that place where I serve even those whom I find repulsive.  You may disagree with what I’ve said.  You may think I’m too harsh, or that I’m too hard on the church.  You may think that I’m just some bitter complainer.  Think what you will.  But I hope you’ll still join me on the journey towards dying to self and loving like Jesus.

I’m tired of messing around, I just want it to be real.

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