Imagine for a moment I have a vending machine for selling sodas. Just for fun, I post the following instructions:
Insert coin(s) in slot
Jump three times, spin around and pat your head twice
Sing a song
Tap out a rhythm on the front of the machine
Push the button for the soda you desire
Retrieve soda, open and enjoy!
I’m sure there are quite a few folks who would follow these instructions and have fun doing it.
And it just might happen that word would get around: “That’s a cool machine over there. It’s a lot of fun to do, and really entertaining to watch others.”
Folks would come from miles around. Over time, the jumping, spinning, singing and drumming would take on a life of their own, and various styles would emerge. Many would take great pride in their performances, and form clubs around their preferred styles.
It wouldn’t be long before the whole thought of getting a soda would become secondary and eventually fade away. The show itself would become the point, folks would schedule specific times and places to gather and perform their routines, and they’d forget all about the fact that the whole purpose of the exercise was once to get a cold drink.
Think this is crazy? It happens all the time. Take competitive duck calling. Yes, there really is such a sport. Real duck calling – as in, using a call in the wild to attract ducks – is a true art, requiring great nuance and years of woods-wisdom. Competitive duck calling, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with calling ducks. Sure, competitors use the same equipment, and may even wear camouflage when they do it, but it’s evolved to the point that judging is all about how loud, fast and long a fellow can blow a duck call. It’s all a show, with no bearing in reality. Were a world champion competitive duck caller actually try to call a duck, the darn thing would fly away in a panic, as the caller’s “skill” has evolved to the point of absurdity.
Back to the soda machine. Say in the midst of all the hoopla regarding the ritualistic routine, I walk up and really do want a soda. So I put my money in the machine, push the button and pick up my pop. Think the folks would relate to that? Rather, I imagine they’d consider me something of a party pooper. There’d probably be some who didn’t even know the machine they danced in front of had sodas in it to begin with. If I told them all I wanted was to get sodas, and that I thought their routines were pointless, you think they’d let me join their club?
With duck calls or silly soda machine scenarios, or anything else that’s evolved to the point of absurdity, it’s really no big deal. Live and let live. If guys get their kicks making loud, unnatural noises with duck calls, so what? More power to ‘em.
The problem is that this same phenomenon has happened with Church. Compared to the way God intends it, Jesus modeled it, and His early disciples practiced it, what we call “church” today has evolved to the point of absurdity, and the real purpose has been long lost.
Sure, we’ve become masters at building the Christian country clubs we call “church” today. We can erect beautiful buildings, organize committees, entertain and motivate audiences, raise money, train and ordain clergy, and make a big deal about it.
But underneath it all, we’ve lost the heart, the real meaning. The soda has been relegated to long-ago stories that many folks think are fables, and when we blow our calls the ducks fly way.
I was thoroughly steeped in churchianity and well into my adult life – and even in full-time ministry! – when I first heard the words “God” and “relationship” in the same sentence. The very idea of having a literal, back-and-forth relationship with the Creator is foreign today, and Jesus saying “My sheep know my voice” is a puzzle. The Gospel of the Kingdom – the good news of the unimaginable power, global victory and royal destiny promised us in Christ – is rarely taught from pulpits, as it is unknown by most “pastors.” The idea of actually sharing everything we have with our brethren, so that “he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack” is shocking.
The real purpose of Body life has been eviscerated, and replaced with religious rituals, bureaucratic organizations, rules for living, “prosperity,” popularity, and spine-tingly sensations when the music is played just right. “Ministry” is outsourced to the professional clergy class, and “church” has become a place to go and a thing to do.
Strip away 2000 years of layer upon layer of tradition and distraction, and underneath it all there’s still a soda in that machine, and it tastes really good. In fact, it’s just what our Body needs right now. Once upon a time, that was the whole point of it all. Once upon a time, the people experienced the raw power of simple Body life, and the manifest reality of the Kingdom come. That time can come again!
What if someone who grew up thinking the whole purpose of a soda machine was simply to serve as a location to jump and spin were to finally get the revelation of the soda inside, and that all the traditional showboating was nothing more than a distraction that kept people from finding what they really need?
I imagine that person would have a hard time in many ways. For one, when he went and got his soda, and then sat by and drank it while all his former buddies went thirsty through the useless rigmarole, he’d probably feel he was missing something, like a part of him had been amputated. He’d have fond, thankful memories of the good times he had jumping and spinning, the esteem he felt among his friends when he did it just right, and the wisdom he learned from his club leaders. Still, once he tasted the soda, there’d be no way for him to go back, yet his joy in the soda would sometimes seem bittersweet.
He’d also feel frustrated for all his friends. He’d know that, back in his jumping and spinning days, if “one of those crazy soda drinkers” would have tried to persuade him to stop the ritual and just drink the soda, he’d have felt the guy was a divisive troublemaker and written him off as a hack. And now he realizes, he is that crazy soda drinker, and all the people he loves the most write him off as a hack. The challenge, frustration and heartbreak could drive him to militancy, or silence, or exile – or probably some confused mishmash of the three. Yet when he looked at the good, well-meaning people trapped in his former pattern, even in the face of their painful persecution of him, his love for them, and his passion for the truth, would keep his hope alive.
This is how I feel about “church,” and I know a lot of people who feel the same way. It’s not woundedness that compels us, or anger. It’s love and hope for people, passion for the truth, and a burning desire to see God’s Kingdom come the only way it can: By abandoning the Christian “religion” and returning to The Way of authentic Body life.
If our words seem divisive, that’s because there IS a radical difference between what God desires and what we generally practice today. But that’s not division, it’s discernment. Fact is, true unity can only be found in the truth, and will never be found in the structures, rituals, hierarchies, and traditions of man.
We’re not rocking the boat, we’re trying to bail water, because it’s sinking fast. If you’d stop rowing it so fervently in the wrong direction and tried to “be still” for a moment, maybe you’d realize this, too.
Please God, I pray your people will finally stop jumping and spinning, and just push the button and drink the soda.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Jesus prayed for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. There is a divine design in Heaven for how God wants us to do things here. Jesus and His early disciples modeled this Way, and it is clearly recorded for us in the New Testament.
Of course, there are other designs we can choose to follow. The enemy offers counterfeit ways that can seem right to us. Tradition – that is, trusting our predecessors above the step-by-step leading of the Spirit – is a powerful rut we can fall into that will inevitably lead us away from The Way. Same with intellect, insecurity, ambition, competition, and all the other patterns of this world.
To know The Way, Paul said, we must intentionally stop conforming to these patterns, but instead let God renew our mind – because His way is way different than anything we can come up with on our own. Doing things on earth The Way they are designed in Heaven doesn’t make sense to the human mind.
Fine people, who truly love God more than themselves, can still be trapped in doing things on earth as they are on earth. I’m certain the Apostle Paul, when he was Saul the persecutor, really loved God, and thought he was serving Him by killing Christians. He was stuck in the earthly way – the way of tradition, intellect, insecurity, ambition and competition – and was oblivious to the true Way of Heaven. Paul had to literally be blinded by The Light before he could see the light, and afterwards it took him living many years in the wilderness for God to be able to fully renew his mind.
There are a number of take-aways we can glean from Paul’s transformation, and one is this: Fine, faithful people, who truly love God more than themselves, who are trapped in doing things on earth as they are on earth, can feel deeply offended by, even compelled to hunt down and kill, those people who are seeking to do things on earth as they are in Heaven. These people, as Jesus said, believe “the old wine tastes better,” and that the “new wine” of The Way is a threat the structures they’re so fond of.
Correspondingly, we must realize that if we do seek to follow The Way, there are quite a few good people out there – even respected “church” leaders – who will feel offended and threatened by us, and who may even work to take us down hard. Finding and following The Way requires that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, willing to lose our lives. There is no other Way.
There really, ultimately is just one choice set before us. It is the same choice that was before Adam and Eve in the garden, Jesus in the wilderness, Paul on the road to Damascus, and every human who’s walked the earth. This is our line in the sand: Are we going to live “as it is in Heaven,” or as it is on earth? Following The Way requires a conscious decision and commitment, and it’s all or nothing. If you’re not intentionally all-in on The Way, then you’re not in The Way at all. There’s no two ways about it.
So, what is The Way of Heaven?
First, it is complete submission to the headship of Christ, step-by-step obedience to the leading of the Spirit, regardless of the apparent earthly consequences. On The Way, we do not lean on our own understanding, and we don’t worry about any earthly thing.
On The Way, we realize there is nothing we can do for God – in fact, all the things we endeavor to do for God only drive people further away from Him. Instead, we must allow Him to do things through us, and these two things are polar opposites. His presence is the only place we wish to be, His words are the only words we wish to speak, and obedience to Him is the only thing we wish to do. On The Way, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.
From another perspective, The Way is synonymous with Body life – that is, true Church as God intends it. There is a divine, Heavenly design for the Body of Christ, for Church. We must be passionate about functioning this Way, and never settle for or indulge anything less. This Way is clearly spelled out in Acts 2:42-47:
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Pretty far off from what we call “church” today, don’t you think?
As this passage indicates, they had tangible fruit from following The Way. That’s because the Kingdom comes when people follow The Way of Heaven, and there’s no other way it can. When we, as a Body, can finally find the courage to do it same Way they did, the same results will be inevitable.
After Jesus modeled The Way and sent out his disciples to experience it, they came back excited that even the demons submitted to them in His name. Jesus said that when we follow The Way, we can do greater works than He did. This was demonstrated daily by the early Church through signs, wonders, healings, deliverance, miraculous provision and other manifestations of Heaven on earth. Indeed, Jesus said these very things are how we can identify those who follow The Way, and this statement is just as true today as it was when He spoke it.
The other day, I enjoyed a lively discussion with a “church” board president who rigorously defended the traditional practices of churchianity. His primary argument was the statement, “But it’s taken us 2000 years getting to this point!” Although he didn’t outright say it, the implicit premise of his argument was, “… and this is a good thing, because all our predecessors must have known what they were doing.”
Here’s my response to that line of reasoning: After 2,000 years of tradition, are we closer to The Way of Heaven or further away from it? Are we still growing “in favor with all the people,” or are we increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world? Are we better at functioning “in one accord” with all our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, or are we increasingly denominational and divided? Are we better at sharing “all things in common” and giving away our things “as anyone has need,” or are we more possessive of our money and things? Do we see more true, overt, dramatic miracles daily – real healings, real deliverance, real signs and wonders – or are these occurrences few, far between and far away? (Or worse, has our “denomination” adopted the false teaching that these things just don’t happen anymore?)
The fact is, we are way, way off The Way in what we call “church” today. I’m almost to the point of Elijah, when he believed he was the last one on earth who understood what God was all about. Now, I know that’s not true – there is indeed a growing remnant, and it is only by God’s grace that He’s revealed His designs to us – but it sure feels that way sometimes. Sadly, today The Way can be a lonely path, but it’s not supposed to be!
There is a line in the sand. On one side is The Way that leads to life, and few so far have found it. On the other side is a bright, wide, well-worn way that ends in death. Which side are you on?
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name.Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Continued from Part One.
Ok, so I guess I bit off quite a bit yesterday with Part One. Several people have sent me messages saying, “I’m looking forward to Part Two…” and I replied, “So am I!”
I didn’t know exactly what to write, and I expected it would take a while to collect my thoughts. But today when I sat down at my keyboard, this came out. It’s very hard to summarize something as grand as the Gospel of the Kingdom in a short blog post, but I think this does a respectable job. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to read my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is the overarching message of Scripture, spanning from beginning to end, and encompassing all points in between. It is the back-story of creation – encapsulating God’s original intent and grand plan – and the truth that He most desires for us to grasp. It is the great, unifying reality of the Bible, tying up every “loose end” and perceived “contradiction.” And it is the only foundational message with the innate power to finally unify the Body of Christ and lead Her to global pre-eminence.
To understand this message, we must first understand the original Greek word which we translate as Kingdom. The word is BASILEIA, and it means “royal power, kingship, dominion and rule.” It is not a physical place so much as an order, a way, an empire. The word does not refer simply to “heaven,” but to all beings and things – eternal and temporal – that are under the royal power of the King
God created creation for one purpose, and that is to raise eternal offspring to inherit His eternal Kingdom. All of time and space sit in front of His throne as an incubator of sorts. He engineered this world as the perfect environment for cultivating a crop of sons and daughters with the character necessary to rule with Him in eternity. This place is so fertile, in fact, that the Bible says Christ Himself grew in obedience, wisdom and stature through His experiences here. If He who was perfect can benefit from this life, how much more can we? Everything in our world, and all our life experiences, boil down to this one underlying purpose: God is working to groom His sons and daughters for their eternal destiny.
Our Father cast satan and his rebellious followers to this environment to advance this purpose. Our created, defeated, and defanged enemy did not sneak into the garden, or pull one over on God. He would not be much of a God if satan could do that! Similarly, the war for this world is not against God and the devil. God’s crushing defeat of the rebellious angels was immediate and absolute, and never in question. No, the war is against us and the devil. So why are we stuck here with a fierce, powerful, and hateful enemy? Not so he can beat us up and punish us, but the other way around. Like a mother lion dragging a crippled, wounded rabbit to her cubs for their training, our loving Father has cast the enemy here so we can learn and grow by fighting against and defeating him, and this is to his ultimate punishment and humiliation. In Christ, our power over the enemy is absolute, and we have nothing to fear. Indeed, the devil’s greatest fear is God’s sons and daughters realizing their true identity and power.
The adolescent Jesus told His earthly parents that He must be about His Father’s business. He knew why He was here, and it was His all-consuming passion. His Father is ours, too, and we should similarly be about His business. His business is our divine training program, designed to prepare us for our eternal inheritance. This is not haphazard or mysterious, but clearly spelled out for us starting with the very first words God spoke to Adam: “Go and establish dominion…”
Establishing God’s dominion – expanding His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, conquering the enemy and bringing every person and thing on the planet into His loving empire – is our purpose and destiny here on Earth, and it is directly tied to our eternal inheritance. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus says seven times in a row that “he who conquers…” will receive every piece of our eternal inheritance. Later, in the next to the last chapter of the Bible, it says point-blank that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” We are here to be prepared for our inheritance, and our inheritance is tied to the act of conquering the world for Christ – establishing His dominion, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
God’s grand plan and purpose for creation and mankind is made more clear by the fact the Bible says repeatedly it is the completion of this task that will trigger the end of the world as we know it. Jesus said in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that when the sons and daughters of the Kingdom reach maturity, the Father will gather them in harvest, and that will be the end. Seven separate times, the Bible says Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, waiting till His enemies are brought under His feet. (Contrary to modern pop-theology/mythology, Jesus will not grow tired of waiting, get up, and come finish the job for us!) The Apostle Paul wrote that God will continue to give spiritual gifts to men until the Body of Christ reaches the full stature of Christ on earth, and only then will Christ return. The full coming of God’s Kingdom, through our hands, on earth as it is in Heaven, is inevitable, in one generation or the next. “Nobody knows the day or the hour,” because God has put it in our hands – for our training – and we have free will.
The Kingdom of God is not a theocracy or man-made “church” system. God is love, and therefore the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Love. The Bible says, “the Kingdom of God is within you,” and that it is “peace, joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit.” The Kingdom of God is advanced through personal relationships and discipleship, by bringing people, one-by-one, into a right relationship with their Father through Jesus Christ.
As much as He desires this to happen, God will not directly intervene in this, as it would undermine His entire purpose of training His sons and daughters. Instead, He has constrained Himself to working through people to accomplish His goals. This has been the hallmark of creation from the very beginning: all things were made through the man Jesus Christ, just as salvation came through Him. God didn’t just snap His proverbial fingers; instead He instructed and empowered His firstborn Son to do the work. The same power is available to us, Jesus’s eternal brothers and sisters, when we follow our Father’s step-by-step instructions.
There is nothing we can do in our own strength or understanding to advance God’s Kingdom. Instead, God has sent His Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, words and actions. His full power, provision and protection are fully available to us only when we, like Christ, do only those things that our Father instructs us. (The sword of the Spirit, Paul said, is the Rhema – personal, intimate, spoken – Word of God to us, which guides our path, step-by-step.) When I function this way – that is, when it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me – nothing can stand in my way. The Christ in me can defeat every demon, heal every sickness, pull down every stronghold of the enemy, and demolish anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. When we all grow in maturity to function this way – which is inevitable, someday – we will walk in global unity, peace, power, health and wholeness, and then the end will come.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood, and yet it is a very real war. The enemy, too, is constrained to working through people, and he does so with fierce brutality. Many have been and will be martyred for the cause. Enduring through the trials and battles of this life requires that we view things from the perspective of eternity. Every person has a choice. Will we live to satisfy our mind and body in this world – seeking our best life now – or will we instead advance God’s Kingdom at all costs, realizing that our best life is yet to come? We cannot do both.
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the Word of God meaningless. The Kingdom of God is ancient and eternal, yet always fresh and new. The Gospel of the Kingdom, Jesus said, is like new wine which can’t be held in an old wineskin, or unshrunk cloth that should never be stitched into an old garment. While it is the oldest truth we can ever grasp, it will never fit comfortably into our traditional “theology” or established “church” organizations. Its very essence is disquieting, as it continually calls us beyond the status quo.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I have a serious question. It’s really been weighing on me.
Since when is “likeability” the most important measure of a person?
I’ve been in this world for going on 42 years, and this week is my tenth anniversary in full-time ministry. And I must say, this is one of the biggest issues in the body of Christ, one of the most important questions we can answer, and it’s something I’ve never heard ANYONE talk about. Instead, we seem to operate under an unspoken law that likeability is next to Godliness. And I believe this is a terrible trap of the enemy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m passionately about real relationships, being sensitive to people, putting their needs first, treating others with honor and respect, and living in a way that people are drawn to the Christ I serve.
But does all that automatically mean that every person I meet should “like” me? Does it automatically mean that if they don’t, then I’m somehow flawed or at fault?
I believe our slavery to “like” is one long, strong arm of a man-pleasing spirit. This is the demonic spirit that controls us through “coolness,” peer pressure, insecurity, self-consciouness, and “popularity.” It steers us down wrong paths, leads us to go with the herd, and keeps us fearful and timid — afraid that if we are strong in the “wrong” way, we might not be “liked” anymore.
Here’s a question for you. Had you been alive back then, and lived in His hometown, do you think you would have “liked” Jesus? Before you rush to fill-in-the-blank with the Sunday School answer – ”oh yes, He’s my best friend!” — really think about it. Fact is MOST PEOPLE HE ENCOUNTERED DIDN’T SEEM TO LIKE JESUS VERY MUCH. His hometown homies? Nope. The religious leaders of the day? Nope. The crowds who followed Him around? Not after His teachings got too hard for them. Even His closest friends abandoned Him, and claimed not to “like” Him when it came time to lay it on the line.
Think you would have “liked” Paul? Doesn’t seem that was a big concern for him. “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Jesus Christ,” he said. His old colleagues wanted to kill him. The assembly of apostles in Jerusalem didn’t seem to “like” him very much, either. Heck, he was so hard to get to “like” that he stirred up riots all over the known world!
The dictionary definition of the verb “like” is “to take pleasure in, to find agreeable or congenial.” For someone who desires to be separate from the world (as we’re called to be) … for someone who “has nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose(s) them,” as the Bible calls us to do … for someone who is zealous about God’s Kingdom and righteousness … who follows the narrow path … who doesn’t value earthly treasure … it seems that being “liked” should be way, way down on the priority list, if at all!
Jesus said, “all the world will HATE YOU because of me.” If we want all the world to LIKE us — or if we make “likeability” our first and most important measure of a person – then who are we really serving?
Here’s my commitment. I will not let my “like” or “dislike” of someone get in the way of my being able to receive TRUTH, MINISTRY and LEADERSHIP from that person. I will not make ”like” a pre-requisite for a relationship. I will NOT equate “likeability” with any REAL, valuable ability. To do so is NOT Godly.
Yes, a winsome, naturally likeable personality is a gift that God gives to SOME people. And He doesn’t give it to others. Many PURSUE this gift, even if it’s beyond what God desires for them. And for those who do have it, it can be a CURSE just like any other gift that we disproportionately value or use the wrong way.
I refuse to be swayed by the man-pleasing demonic spirit. If petty people who are controlled by that spirit (and they are legion!) seek to diminish, demean or disregard me because God didn’t make me as naturally “likeable” to them as some other folks, then I will not continue to throw my pearls to them.
Where’s the grace? It seems we can look the other way or forgive someone so long as they are “likeable” — but, for some reason, if we find them “unlikeable,” that’s an unforgiveable thing!
I have many dear, close, deep friends. I would sure love to have many others. They “like” me. And you know what? The Bible says that God likes me, too … by definition! He takes pleasure in me!
I dare say, “like” is a function of the flesh; a cheap counterfeit of true, Godly love. We can “like” or “dislike” someone for a whole host of reasons — many outside of their control — like they way they look, sound or smell, for the way they dress (maybe they can’t afford better), for the “look in their eye” … or maybe because they always appear detatched or distracted (maybe there’s a lot weighing on them right now!). Maybe we just don’t “click” with them (maybe they’re smarter than us, or come from a different culture), or their personality is a bit rough around the edges (as Paul and Jesus seem to have been much of the time). All of these are superficial, flesh-based, grace-less and love-less, and entirely irrelevant to what they have to offer to the Body of Christ, and who they are on the INSIDE, where it really matters.
When we follow the unspoken, seemingly universal rule of making “like” a priority, judging books by their covers, we miss the entire point of the life Christ is calling us to. We are to look beyond the surface, and connect at the heart.
I will continue to be passionate about real relationships and sensitive to people, to put their needs first, treat others with honor and respect, and live in a way that people are drawn to the Christ I serve. If they like me, fine. If not, it’s their loss.
Of course, there’s a lot more to this, and I could go a lot deeper, but this is a blog, not a book. Just throwing it out there as something to think about and discuss.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty my friends! (Even if the folks around you don’t like salt!!)
In Part One, we saw a fellow shoot down a traditional “churchy” evangelist-type who knocked at his door. Now here’s the same guy, the next day, in a different setting.
Hey Joe, do you have a moment?
You know, we’ve been working alongside each other for several years now, and I’ve gotta ask you something. I’ve got something in my head and I just can’t shake it. I know this sounds funny coming from me, but I don’t even know quite how to express it.
Lately it’s like I’ve hit a wall, Joe, and I just can’t seem to get over it. I don’t even know why I’m asking you, and it doesn’t really make sense to me. But it’s just that … well … you seem have something that I really want, and I just can’t find IT anywhere else – and I’ve tried everything!
You know, folks say, “life sucks, then you die,” and I’ve always thought that was just a joke. But damn it, Joe, that’s what’s happening to me, and I don’t want that! I don’t want life to suck, and then I die. When I look at you, your life doesn’t seem to suck at all, and I gotta tell you, that’s sorta frustrating as hell to me.
You see, that’s what doesn’t make sense. I mean, you know that over these years, I’ve played the system, virtually lived here at work, and made a lot more money than you. (No offense there, right? … ok…) And my wife works, too – and I know yours stays at home with your kids. So here we make, what, two or three times what your family makes? We’re able to buy everything we’ve ever wanted, and then some … the best of everything. But you know what? It’s all just so empty! There always seems to be something more, just out of reach, that if we get it, then we’ll have IT. So we work harder and get it, and then there’s something else, and we never really find what we’re really looking for. I’m beginning to think the whole “American Dream” thing is more of a nightmare!
Ok, so when I realized that wasn’t working, I thought, maybe there’s more to IT than that. But I just can’t find what it may be! I’ve slept around, drunk my share – and even tried cocaine. And it’s all just like the other stuff – like I’m almost there, just one more woman, one more drink, one more snort and I’ll finally find IT … and then, well, then there’s always just one more, and one more, and IT always stays just out of reach!
So then I thought maybe that “religion” was the answer. We even went to church for a few years – yeah, me, in church, can you believe it? And Joe, I wasn’t playing around, I really gave it a shot. I raised my hand, went to the front, said “the prayer.” We joined the committees, went to the classes, sang the songs, sent our kids to youth group, and even put money in the plate. Heck, I even started listening to “Christian” music and my wife put a fish on her car! I even quit partying and chasing skirt, for the most part – I really tried to walk the walk and talk the talk. You now, I really liked the services – great music, a heck of a show! – and that pastor really seemed like a heck of guy who really had IT. He can sure get you motivated!
Joe, I wanted it to work. I really did. I grew up going to church, you know, and a lot of my good childhood memories are from there. But you know what? In the end, it was just like everything else! What I really wanted, what my family really needed, was still just one step away! Sing a little louder, memorize a bit more Bible trivia, serve on another committee, sit a little closer to the front … and of course, give a little more money! … and so we did. And did. And did. And we never found what we were looking for!
I really didn’t want to give up, I figured this MUST be the right ladder to climb. But then I stepped back and looked at all the other folks, the ones who seemed to really have IT together, and you know what? While they acted like they had IT, they really didn’t! What’s sad is I recognized those same folks from before — we went to the same titty bars, shopped at the same liquor stores, and even bought coke from the same dealer – yet then on Sunday they’d deny they ever knew me. It was all such an act!
What’s sad is, not even the pastor really had IT! I really do think he meant well, but he was the biggest actor of all! I know I shouldn’t have, but I overheard him one time talking to his wife at the hardware store. I was on the next aisle and they didn’t know anyone was around. And you know what? They actually wanted to get a divorce, but were afraid of how it would look to the “congregation.” You shoulda heard the stuff that came out of their mouths! I was shocked! This was the guy who was trying to tell me how to get IT, and he didn’t even have IT!
And I still didn’t give up. Instead, I went to one of the elders — they’re bound to have IT, right? And you know what? That was even worse! He started talking church politics, about keeping up appearances, and even said that he was afraid that if we had a scandal it would hurt “giving,” and we couldn’t do that, especially in the middle of a building project!
I gotta tell you, Joe. After that I ran like hell, and I’ve never looked back. That was three years ago, and brother, I’ve pretty much quit. My marriage is on the rocks, my kids don’t respect me, and well, I figured I should just quit looking for IT. Life sucks, then you die, right? Might as well make the most of it. Maybe if I stop acting like I believe IT exists, then I can get through my days ok. But that’s not working!
And then I started watching you. I know it sounds crazy – I mean, you don’t make much money, you don’t drive a fancy car, you don’t party. You don’t have anything that the world says will give you IT. But of everyone I know, Joe .. . of anyone I’ve ever seen or met .. if there’s really an IT in this world, you have IT! Joe, you gotta tell me, is IT for real?
I mean, all I’m looking for is just … well, I just want some peace! And hope! Maybe even true love, if it’s not just some myth. Darn it, I want to be content, Joe! That’s all. Is that possible? Please, brother, you gotta tell me. Tell me if IT’s real, and if IT is, tell me where I can find IT! I’ll do anything ….
What’s next? Go to Part Three
–You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
It’s not about me, and it’s not about this life. I can’t expect to understand the plans of the God who stoked every star, engineered every insect, and knows every grain of sand. His plan is bigger than me and my ability to comprehend. Faith means realizing that I am at best an insignificant part of a very big strategy, and being comfortable with that.
I may live a blameless life and still die in disgrace, due to the lies of self-serving men. And those men may live in luxury and die high in man’s esteem. A day of reckoning will come, but for me it may not be on this earth.
It’s also not about my vision or plans. God understands His glory better than I do. If I am faithful, He will use my efforts – but not necessarily in the way I intended them to be used. I need to always remember that it’s never about image, assets or organizations. It’s about love. Only love can guide our steps, motivate our mission, and serve as the measure of our success. If we seek success, joy or God’s favor any other way, we will achieve none.
Trials come when we are faithfully following the steps God puts before us, and it ends up leading us to a place that deviates from our comprehension; when God’s perfect plans and desires don’t line up with our imperfect ones, however sincere we are about them. Serving God requires that we persevere through such trials, and we are blessed when we do.
Perseverance must finish its work, and that can be a life-long challenge. Facing the beginning of a trial is like facing the planting of an unwanted seed in the garden we’re trying to grow. When it’s just a seed it can be easy to accept. It’s small, hidden, and doesn’t affect our plans that much. True perseverance means facing not just that seed, but being willing to accept the eventual existence of the mature plant, even if that plant grows to choke off everything we had hoped for. We must be willing to tend to that unwanted plant as if it were the one we intended.
Put differently, when we have mapped out a path to a desired destination, it’s easy to be content following an alternate path when we believe it to be a temporary detour. But when that alternate path leads further and further in a different direction – and we realize that it’s not a detour after all, but instead is taking us to another destination entirely – can we be content with that?
We must find joy and contentment in the pursuit of God’s plans and desires, not our own. If Jesus could end his earthly life on the cross, tortured as a common criminal and betrayed by everyone he knew and trusted, how much more can we expect?
Let love guide your steps, take it one step at a time, find joy in obedience and nothing else, trust that Father knows best … and persevere.