In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.…(Matthew 7:13)
In his brilliant book, Man’s search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel, who was a prisoner in the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the holocaust speaks of the stages a person goes through when despair has set in. It is always clear when a person is going to die, when they sit down wherever they are, and do nothing.
“Let us recall, for instance, what sometimes happened in extreme situations such as prisoner-of-war camps or concentration camps. In the first, as I was told by the American soldiers, a behavior pattern crystallized to which they referred to as “give-up-ti-tis.” In the concentration camps, this behavior was paralleled by those who one morning, at five, refused to get up and go to work and instead stayed in the hut, on the straw, wet with urine and feces. Nothing – neither warnings nor threats – could induce them to change their minds. And then something typical occurred: they took out a cigarette from deep down in a picket where they had hidden it, and started smoking. At that moment we knew that for the next forty-eight hours or so we would watch them dying. Meaning orientation had subsided, and consequently, the seeking of immediate pleasure had taken over. Is this not reminiscent of another parallel, a parallel that confronts us day by day? I think of those youngsters who on a worldwide scale refer to themselves as the “no future” generation. To be sure, it is not just a cigarette to which they resort. It is drugs.”
Let me explain what I mean before we go on. By religion, I mean the man-made obligation of duties and practices which are based on particular scriptures, but not necessarily biblical, and certainly not relational towards God. For example, I have a relationship with my brother. I can call him at any time. We laugh together and can talk for hours. We can also be very serious. We can do business together, or we can watch a movie. Whether the activities are shallow or deep, our relationship is based on who we are, not what we do. Still, that relationship could be ruined by what we do, regardless of who we are to each other. My relationship with a delivery person is different. It is focused exclusively on what they do, and the health of the relationship is based solely on that. A delivery person’s service is used for a purpose. They can only please me by what they do for me. I will not hug them when they bring my order. I will not ever call them for any reason except for the delivery. I only want them for what they can do for me. They are not family.
God is family. He is the Father - the best Father, ever!
My experience with Christians suggests that many of us view God more as an employer than family. Do good work, and you will be fine. Do bad, and you're fired. Go to hell where you belong. This is what religion teaches – heartless devotion – activities designed to appease an angry deity without ever reaching the innermost parts of our being. Sad.
Religion is an escape from reality; an opiate which gives temporary relief, until you come home from church to hold the hands of a fictional deity, and go spiritually passive. Do you get it? God is impossible to find as a religion. We can't reach Him by entangling ourselves into the religious web of church attendance, social activities, or even worship? Yes...worship, which is not truly worship at all unless you consider mumbling the latest guitar driven melody while half distracted to be worship. The world is spiraling downwards as we take in another drag of pious smoke. It doesn’t change the situation or impact anything in particular; it just relaxes us for a while. Another puff, and another…the music gets louder. The preaching gets more passionate. The prayers get louder. Here it is – sweet bliss. Inhale…hold it…exhale. It feels so good. The music, the sermons, everything is so peaceful; so awesome.
It’s all an illusion. None of it is real. It is the drug. Religiosity is the drug. Most of those in attendance cannot find God anywhere, and that’s why they don’t truly worship him at home. Let’s be honest. Do we all really worship God at home, like we do at church? If not, have you ever wondered why? Isn’t He just as real on Thursday morning as He is on Sunday morning? That’s the heart of the matter here. For many Christians, He is just not real – a lot like having an imaginary friend who makes you feel guilty when you do things wrong, and justified when you do things right.
For much of the modern church, the details of His agenda are not important. The drive to go deeper is not really there. Yes, the strobe lights and smoke machines are there. So are the modern buildings and the youth ministry rock concerts. But if statistics are correct, most of us check in to church on Sunday morning, and check out on Sunday afternoon. We do not see ourselves as the church. We go to church. Afterwards, God is in the background, as our clouded-out conscience navigates the noise of this busy life.
Could it be that the message of the cross is for us, personally? I mean, we say it all the time that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship, but is that what we live out day by day? Is He really a family member, or an employer? Is there growth? Has your life really changed? Has mine? Let's just face it: real change is not easy to find within the church. Of course, there are a few shining stars, but transformation is not common, although the Bible suggests that it should be. Still, a survey among Christian congregations found that, “…few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence” (Barna: Six Mega themes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010 ). There is a lack of connection, and it is not a problem exclusive to “carnal” church members. It is a problem for most of us. Somehow, many of us (perhaps most of us) are just not getting it.
I’ve been there.
There was a time when I had to reevaluate everything, taking an honest look at my relationship with God, my church, and my family. I had to examine my character and my dedication to God’s agenda. In the end, I realized that although I did all the “Christian” things such as going to church, volunteering, giving, and leaving behind a few choice sins, my life was not much different from the man who did not go to church, pray, or volunteer to do anything – but I was trying. Still, there was no real change; no power; no passion. I only felt guilt, as though I did not amount up to enough to accomplish those things that were important to me, or God.
Have you been trying? Perhaps you have been pushing ahead for years, only to wonder if any of your efforts were worth it. Maybe you have been doing everything you knew to be a “good” Christian, only to look back and wonder what happened to your life. Has anything become new? Has there been change beyond the separation from a few sins, and a new Sunday schedule? Maybe you have stopped doing a lot of things since being a Christian. But what has begun? What journey have you embarked upon lately that required you to be a new person? These are the types of questions I asked myself, and I was not impressed with my answers. I realized that I spent far too long managing trials, and being weighed down by the cares of this world. Over and over again, I missed God’s still small voice calling me deeper. He was calling me to life – true life. He wanted to reveal His purpose for me, but I was becoming something entirely different.
What are you becoming? Have the cares of this world led you to a destination that is contrary to where you intended to go? Did you purpose within yourself to become what you are today, or did life just happen, and then leave you stranded? Are you willing to reexamine everything?
In some ways, this can be a dangerous thing to do, as it may alter the course of your life. Reexamining everything may cause you to reverse some decisions you made years ago. It may cause you to walk away from some things you’ve worked hard for, or even prayed about. Relationships may be affected, as everyone may not agree with you. Your career may be impacted. The way your marriage and family functions may fundamentally change. It may not feel good all the time, in fact, it may hurt to make some changes, but they must be made for true transformation to take place – and it is not too late.
Change can begin now, if you are brave enough to go in a different direction – not away from Christ, but right out of the snares of heartless religion, and directly in the arms of Jesus. True life change may not answer every question you have, but it will enable you to be the person God had in mind when He created you. The answers to the deepest questions of life are inside you, but you have to be willing to step back, look at life, and admit that the direction you are going is not what you intended – or God. If you can admit that, then you are on your way to finding the One you have unwittingly been seeking, perhaps since you were very young.
SUGGESTED READING: Humility by Andrew Murray
Tonight, Marsha Waterman of Warrior's Refuge will be joining us to share what Christ can do through you to reach those who are oppressed. Warrior's Refuge brings hope to hurting lives - spirit, soul and body. Volunteering and contributing to her organization is one way you can take that verse above, and apply it with the goal of bringing joy to the Father. Come out and learn how God can use you to BE the miracle in someone's life.
Maybe I sound like a broken record, but here is that verse again:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46).
I can’t read this verse enough. It keeps me grounded on what is important to God. I’ve been doing the work of the ministry for close to 30 years, and I am embarrassed to tell you how few of those years were spent in making the above verses a priority. A program? Maybe. A priority? No. Still, according to the words of Jesus, this story ought to be of utmost importance. Many of us have spent far too much time gathering in church to be perceived as spiritual people when in reality, we were not. See, spiritual maturity is not measured by how well you speak in tongues and prophesy. Your depth is not measured in your theological scholarship. Francis Chan writes in Letters to the Church that, “The theology that matters is not the theology we profess but the theology we practice.” If that is true, then the verse above ought to be of grave concern to all of us. In fact, it should make us tremble.
If you want to find Jesus, look at the suffering masses all over the city. What you have done with them is a reflection of what you have done with Jesus. Let that sink in. I have learned in my own life that for far too long, I have made myself worthy of nothing more than God’s displeasure. It’s not that I have hated Him. I ignored Him. I was indifferent to Him. I was more interested in my own pursuits than I was in the things He views as priority. I did this by ignoring the needs of the oppressed and the poor. I closed by eyes to those who were in bondage and addiction. I sought to build a life that primarily benefitted me – even in ministry! I’m sure you have your own story.
Seeing this, it often becomes overwhelming to think that perhaps you are the key to the freedom of the oppressed in your city. But, that’s not true. Christ is the key. When it comes to reaching the “least of these,” you don’t have to see the whole thing through. One plants. One waters, but God gives the increase. What happens in our pride is that we often want to be the ones who give the increase as though the world needs us, and not God. This approach is actually a faithless approach to reaching people. While well intentioned, it is rooted in pride and arrogance. We and our plans are not the key element to their freedom in Christ. Our simple obedience goes further than our best intentions. We must trust that the body of Christ will function in the things we cannot. We must do our part, and allow God to move beyond our own capability – often, through someone else. Your offering of food, simple prayers, water bottle of clothing donation goes much further than the BEST committee meetings on church growth strategy and outreach. This is why we must go out to those who are oppressed. We are far from reaching our full potential in our outreach. There is so much more to know and learn about reaching.
One final thought: We often wonder why we don’t see miracles in America. Could it be because Jesus cannot be found in our pedicured lawns, latte shops, and polished pews? His presence, power, miracles and perfect grace is waiting for us in the most ugly places in the city. But, will you follow? If so, it might cost you everything. If so, will you still go?
It’s been a busy week, with many emotional ups and downs. Never take my even-keel temperament as though the adversary does not do his best to turn me into an emotional wreck. He fights me, every…single…day. Sometimes, I am not ok. Sometimes on Fridays, I am longing for the Holy Spirit to preach to me as He is speaking to you. Today is no different. To be an intercessor is a blessing and a burden all at the same time. The reason why is because the more you pray on behalf of the nation, the church or…whatever, the more you see what is coming. And, what is coming isn’t pretty. I can handle that, though. I’m sure you can also handle that. We’ve all faced issues in life that hurt, badly. None of us are unfamiliar with the tough things life throws at us. What alarms me the most is the lack of desperation.
When I see what is happening in our world, my heart grieves to the core. It’s funny…I used to go to Facebook to laugh, catch up with old friends, and have (often humorous) chats about common interests. Now, social media puts me in a bad mood, but I can’t look away. It’s like driving past a car accident. You won’t like what you are going to see, but you still look! Still, what I see breaks my heart. On Sunday, I saw churches on social media livestreams, and none of them were addressing the idea that the world was burning! No mention of ANTIFA/BLM, no mention of impending political upheavals, and no mention of race riots (some churches were in greatly affected cities). None mention human trafficking or abortion (late term or otherwise). They all focused on how we can make our lives better. But, what does it mean to have a better life if the world around us perishes?
Woe to them that are at ease in Zion…(Amos 6:1).
This is why we gather to pray. We are watchmen on the wall who will not hold their peace, day or night. Remember, we were praying about human trafficking before it became a hashtag (#SaveOurChildren). Since then, scores of offenders have been arrested, and hundreds of victims have been arrested in several cities around the country. Your prayers are working, but we have to continue strong. This war is nowhere near ending. I have been praying for each of you, and will continue to do so. I have not asked much of anyone of you since we began this fellowship. However, I am asking this: PRAY. Come to prayer. Make it a priority. The times demand it, and we cannot be relaxed on the matter. Let’s be different. There’s too much at stake.
I love you all.