Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Relevance, Part 1

Twenty-five years ago when I was wrestling with spirituality and religion, I struggled to find meaning.  After dabbling in various religions (e.g. Buddhism, Disco, Scientology, New Age, bowling leagues, and narcissism), I began to re-read the Bible.

My rationale for reading the Bible, wasn't in a search for truth, but rather to expand my rich literary background.  I considered myself well-read, and so, even though I was approaching this from an agnostic's skepticism, I thought it would be good to round out my knowledge.  Instead, I found God.

I wasn't raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, though my parents were.  In my teens, my family attended a Revelation Seminar and at its conclusion, we were all baptized.  Unfortunately, my conversion had more to do with the truth (lowercase), than it did with the Truth (see John 14:6).  It wasn't long before the pitfalls of legalism, shame, and guilt-trips pulled me down.

As I read through Genesis, I became re-convinced that there was a Creator and that He knows a few things about how my life could, and should, be lived.  I began to keep a sabbath - not the Sabbath - but a sabbath.  I began to pray, I began to worship, but I wasn't quite ready for church attendance.

In fact, I did NOT want to be a Seventh-day Adventist again.  The legalism, the rules, the regulations - it all seemed to ridiculous to me.  I explored other churches.  All I really wanted was a "normal" religion.  Somewhere I could show up on Sunday morning (like everyone else in the world), get a little encouragement and spiritual boost, then go about my life - normally.  Unfortunately, after multiple attempts, and meeting with various pastors or various churches, that model just wasn't working.

I was coming to the conclusion that religion is more about spirituality, and that spirituality has to be lived from the core of my soul.  The external motions didn't really matter - it's what happened in my soul that made any connection with God relevant.

Looking for a Church

So, began to look for an Adventist church that would accept me, for who I was - a recovering addict, a broken soul, a slightly rough around the edges kind of guy.  Someone who avoids the trappings of ritual, for the sake of getting to the real meaning.  With over 50 Adventist churches in the Portland-metro area, one would think there ought to be at least one that would take me for who I am.

Unfortunately, every time I attended a Sabbath morning worship service, I came away more discouraged than when I arrived.  I was looking for the Spirit of God to be manifest in the Body of Christ, but I wasn't finding it.  I would leave the service feeling hopeless.  If these people, these Christians, these Seventh-day Adventists who have the truth - if they haven't' found the power, what hope is there for me?

I got more out of a quiet morning at home, listening to music, reading the Bible, writing in my journal, and then spending the day outdoors - in the mountains, forests, or beside some quiet stream.  At the end of a day like this, I knew I connected with my Creator, my Savior, and my Friend.

As I fought my way back to God (Yes, it was a fight.  Satan does not let go easily.), I had several complaints, which I discussed at length with anyone who would take the time - my family often suffered the brunt of my struggle.

  • First, why did the church service have to be in the morning?  For those of us working alternative work schedules, the morning didn't work very well.  With over 50 churches in the area, couldn't at least one of them accommodate a different schedule?
  • How come there were no other 20somethings in the church?  Not only does that leave me feeling alone, but it says a lot about the church and its relevance.
  • Of course there were the various observations about the format of the worship service (i.e. old music, long announcements, boring sermons, etc).
  • Mostly though, I didn't experience God in these services.  That disturbed me.
My mother, bless her heart, had one standard answer: "We go to church to give, not to receive."  And while that answer has merit, I didn't have much to give back then.  I was pretty battered and broken.

Hospital for Sinners

Church is often referred to as a "hospital for sinners."  While that's not a bad metaphor, there is a component missing.  Some are well enough to get themselves to the hospital, but some need an ambulance to go out and get them.  That's pretty much where I was 25 years ago; I needed an ambulance to take me into the care of some very competent disciplemakers.

I'll stop here for now, but in my next installment, I'll talk about how I too became a regular church attender and how my search for relevance continues.

click here for Part 2>> >  >
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  1. Your words echo what so many of us feel. I have to say this...I'm so tired of hearing the phrase, "Church is a hospital for sinners." Ugh, that makes me wanna vomit! A hospital is where people go and GET BETTER, not stay stagnant or worsen. Those places are called retirement homes and hospice centers! Church is not a hospital for sinners, it is the place where sinners are supposed to find encouragement, refreshment and fellowship.

  2. @Catherine, just for the sake of clarification, do you have a suggestion (or two?) as to how churches could better serve those who want to get well?

    (or anyone for that matter...)

  3. aren't all our ailments rooted in sensed separation -- whether separation from God or from other people?
    but our "treatments" are themselves predicated on that separation, a la "God cannot be in the presence of sin" and "come apart from the world", so how can they ever help us heal?

    the premises that bind us together are faulty. i can't see how we can support the healthy development of the human family without revising our view of God and others. healing starts at One -- or interconnection.

    you've commented on church missional insularity yourself. it's hard to be insular when you understand you are not apart from the people "out there" and you have chosen to stand in solidarity with them.

  4. @KM, well said.

    Though I've chosen to follow Christ, I am virtually no different than those who have not. While I have the assurance of hope and a vision for improvement, still, all my best attempts are "filthy rags."

    The problem comes when we begin to see ourselves different, or better, than those on the "outside." However, in reality, I'm no different, nor am I better. I'm just being intentional about a direction.

    Having been on the otherside of the insular walls, I can say with authority, that I was just as intentional "out there" - first, in my pursuit of Hell; next, in my pursuit of self-ordained salvation; and third, in my pursuit of hopeless hedonism. And I wouldn't have pursued either of these paths if I didn't think they would lead me to salvation.

    So, does that make us better because we are making the "right" choice? Mercy? No way. For we are told that the only reason we make these right choices is because of the Spirit working in us.