This is the third post in a series.
To give context, here’s a snippet from “irreconcilable differences.” – the first post in this series:
“I had come to the church campus that Wednesday morning for a Christian yoga class and after yoga, I found myself walking into the empty sanctuary instead of to my van. I picked up a pew Bible and climbed the steps to the stage to sit in the same spot I stand when I sing with praise team.”
The second post is entitled “the assumption of Christ.”
At my church, corporate prayers emphasize our need for God and that God is a good God. A compassionate God. A loving God.
Never a mention of the fact that God is a just God and that He can’t look upon sin – of which we reek.
Never a mention that all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
Never a mention that we desperately need Jesus Christ.
Corporate prayer is safe and appropriate to the occasion. I couldn’t remember ever experiencing intimacy with Christ, being moved to desperation or overwhelmed with adoration and gratitude by corporate prayer.
Conversations are about the logistics and scheduling of programs and service. When I went to them (I’ve stopped going), discussions in classes and studies were theological, academic and intellectual.
I couldn’t remember ever being convicted or personally challenged by a sermon message or class discussion.
My church is grounded in the assumption of Christ.
and I couldn’t remember it ever being otherwise. I have attended this church for 12 years. 12 years. How had I not seen it before?
I had been asleep. Numb. On autopilot. I had forgotten. I had been distracted. I had spent 12 years nestled in the security of familiarity and comfort.
Now I am awake, stirred by the Holy Spirit. Through God’s grace, I’ve been prompted to switch off my autopilot.
Now my vision is vertical and unobstructed.
And I am wrenched about what I see and how much time I’ve wasted.
I am ashamed. Ashamed to have wasted so much time. Deeply ashamed that I have allowed my children to believe this is what church is.
I looked out into the empty sanctuary that Wednesday morning and I saw a beautiful building.
And I remembered something. When the sanctuary was being built, after the walls went up, but before any painting or flooring, the youth of the church had been invited and encouraged to write scripture on the cement foundation and the walls. Under the paint and flooring of that beautiful sanctuary was the Word of God. Covered up. Hidden.
Hidden by beautiful things, but still hidden.
I read Matthew 15:8-9 again:
“This people honors Me with their lips,
but their heart is far away from Me.
But in vain do they worship Me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
Did Matthew 15:8-9 describe this church? I couldn’t say no with any confidence at all. We didn’t talk about Jesus much here. We talked about god. And yes, that lowercase “g” is intentional. Church has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the reasons I thought I was a Christian before I ever accepted Christ. But for every church I’d attended, I was suddenly able to recognize which ones didn’t place Jesus at the center. This wasn’t the only one, just the most recent.
My church is grounded in the assumption of Christ.
And I am desperate for a Christ-centered church.
I believe I am facing the end of a season of my life and I am profoundly sad about it. It keeps me up at night and it wakes me up before dawn, filling my thoughts and prayers.
I know that continuing in the status quo is not an option. Something has to change. I can’t un-know what God has revealed to me.
A few weeks before that Wednesday morning in the sanctuary, this was my prayer:
“Lord, I pray your forgiveness for finding long lasting delusion and comfort in places that only hold the appearance of dedication to You. Forgive me Lord, for being satisfied with serving others instead of abandoning my will and my ideas of what service looks like and allowing YOU to use me – however you see fit. Please forgive me for settling for appropriate and acceptable instead of wholeheartedly and unashamedly living out my faith in Christ, even when others see my thoughts, feelings and ideas as inappropriate, insufferable or naively dismissive of cultural norms. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the disapproval of people who don’t know me to dampen my enthusiasm and derail my dedication to live a life examined through the filter of Your Word. Forgive me Lord, for allowing so much time to pass before I found the courage and motivation to honestly face and process the reality of my surroundings and circumstances. My affinity for your people blinded me to the growing undeniable evidence that You are more an icon than THE reason this church exists and gathers. I want to be where You are. Please God, lead me to that place.”
And yet, after praying that prayer weeks before and reading what I believed to be a Word from God in Matthew 15:8-9 that autumn morning, I still prayed for revival. Filled with doubt that God would lift a finger, I prayed for a miracle.
I don’t want this season of my life to end, but I know that I can’t stay immersed in the assumption of Christ. Something has to change. My soul longs to be part of a church where talking about hard things doesn’t make people uncomfortable. I need to be part of a church where I can be open about my own sin without people rushing to assure me that I am a good person. I dream of a church where I can be a Jesus Freak and not freak people out. I ache to be part of a church where saying all this wouldn’t be met with disapproval or dismissed as coming from a wack job with too much time on her hands.
I desperately, desperately need to be part of a church where I’m not belittled or patronized because I think too much, pray too much or love Jesus too much.
“Deep within we long for the Father of all galaxies to fall on us weekly and take us to the mat with His full weight. Is that happening in your church? When was the last time you were gripped by the greatness of God?”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
This post is the third in a multi-part series, written mostly in early autumn 2012, published now for the first time.
The fourth post in this series: “desperate prayers. “mean” prayers.”
To read all of the posts in this series, CLICK HERE.