Saturday, September 19, 2009

Relevance, Part 2

Annunciation tapestryImage by Lawrence OP via Flickr
When I look around at others, and I try to understand people's motives for church attendance, I am often baffled. I don't really understand why people choose to attend a weekly church service – or get involved at a deeper level. But my not understanding probably says more about me, then it does about the people I'm trying to understand.

Typically, I am not a joiner. I tend to not just go along because everyone else is doing something. As a certified introvert, I tend to prefer my own company over that of others. So, when I see groups of people gathering – for anything, not just church – I am left a little confused as to what their motives, or intentions are.

It is really easy for me to start down the path of criticism and to unfairly judge people. When I was younger and more brash, I would loudly disdain those who attended church because they were “supposed to.” I ridiculed those who had been lifelong attenders, but were still mere spectators. And, unfortunately, I sneered at those who seem to revel in positions of responsibility, especially when their actions and behaviors don't appear to reflect Christ's character.

Now I'm a few years older, and a little more broken. I have experienced a significant number of failures, disappointments, and hypocrisies in my own life. Looking back, enables me to look forward a little more clearly. I realize that we all have our reasons, and we all are trying to whatever it takes to survive – maybe even thrive!

I never really planned to be a part of a church again. As I wrote in the first installment of this series, when I would attend a church worship service, I would often leave more discouraged than when I arrived. Then there were all the inconsistencies I saw in doctrine, practice, and belief. Tradition too often trumped theology, and behaviors too often ridiculed people's faith. It's one thing to know that I'm not a joiner, it's quite another thing to experience a loss of integrity in order to join with people I don't necessarily want to be with.

"And yet, here I am, 25 years later, not only attending regular Sabbath worship services, but involved in service and leadership. How did that happen?"

It started with surrender. It's a simple concept, yet quite powerful. I never really learned about surrender in my first run at being a Christian. But the second time, fresh from 12-Step meetings, and seeking serenity, I now understood that I can't fix myself. I didn't have the tools, the skills, nor the wisdom and experience to make it alright again. I had given it over to God and I was determined to follow His steps.

The picture began to unfold for me...

So, even though I didn't want to become a part of a church, my wants weren't really part of the equation. Through my daily Bible reading, prayer and meditation, and a little book that I still try to read every year – Steps to Jesus – I discovered that God had a plan for my life. I'd be a fool if I didn't follow that plan.

It was as if I was alone and wandering through a vast spiritual desert – looking for food, water, and shelter, but hopelessly lost. I began to see Jesus as the pilot in an aircraft overhead. He knew the terrain ahead, He knew where I had come from, and He knew my exact situation. More than that, He knew where the food, water, and shelter could be found. All He had to do was get my attention and help me to understand that He had my best interests in mind.

Well, now He had my attention, but understanding His benevolence was another matter indeed. When I finally figured out that not only does God know my past and my current situation, He loves me despite that information. In fact, as Cherie Peters is wont to say, “He's crazy about me!” The picture began to unfold for me.
  • First, there is a God. That was a huge step. Even today, I have trouble wrapping my mind around this concept – but I'm ok with that. My finite self could never contain an infinite God, It is a mystery that I will spend eternity unpacking – and that's why eternal life will never be boring.
  • Second, this God is omniscient. But not just about the ethereal things, the universe next door, and all that metaphysical stuff. This God is omniscient about my life – personally. He does know my past. He knows my present. He understands my motives, my failures, my brokenness, and my ugly insides. In other words, he knows me even better than I know myself.
  • Third, despite this knowledge of me, He is still crazy about me! Seriously – this is crazy. Erwin McManus once said that dating is a series of conversations where we try to suppress our real selves. In fact, most relationships are that way. We're afraid that if people really knew us, they would certainly run away. But not only does God know us better than anyone else; and not only does He not run away; but He wants to be with us. He loves us so much, He'd be willing to do whatever it takes to be with us.
  • Finally, because of this love God has for me, He wants me to be fed, sheltered, and and quenched. Not just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and actually. He wants me to find water, food, and shelter. He wants all of us to find these things.
Understanding this image of God gave me greater freedom to surrender.

In other words, I was learning to trust Him. The more I trusted, the more I let go of my own preferences. The more I let go of my own preferences, the more He was able to lead me. And the more He led, the more I trusted Him, and the more serenity I found. This – this is the abundant life Jesus spoke about in John 10:10.

Sometimes we don't – or can't – know why something works. It just does. In the 12-Step program they told me to go to meetings and keep going. We can't explain it, they said – it just works. Paul, on inspiration from the Holy Spirit gave us basically the same advice. Remember to gather together, he said (Hebrews10:23-25 ). So even though I'm a person who not only despises joining, and I'd rather be by myself in the woods than with a group of people in a building, I heard God telling me to go to church.

You see, because I trust Him, I listen to what He tells me.

Even down to the detail of which church I attend. It's not about me sometimes. Well, in fact, it really is never about me. When I surrender less, and take my own preferences into consideration, I find that I begin to lose ground spiritually. When I lose ground spiritually, I lose my serenity. When I lose my serenity, I lose the abundance of life – and a little part of me begins to die.

For me then, it's just easier to surrender.

That's why I started going to church. But why do I keep going to church? That's a good question. I'm glad you asked. I'll answer that in part 3 of this series on relevance.

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