zygote, an embryo, just a middle-aged family man trying to unlearn what
the Church system has taught me and earnestly desiring to learn,
first-hand, what following Jesus and living the “abundant life” He
promised is all about.
beginning to see, for the first time in my life, what Jesus meant when He
said, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall
worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks
to be his worshipers.”
you, or me, or the redeemed church made up of the likes of
you and me from being the type of worshiper that the Father
seeks? What could it be? What could be so all-fire important
or so blissfully wonderful that we would let it stand in the way of
becoming a member of the Worship Minutemen? Oh, you’ve never heard
of these guys? They’re the ones who will drop everything at a
moment’s notice and render to the Lord the worship He desires. They
are the faithful ones, the ones He knows He can count on to worship Him in
“spirit and truth.” Can you imagine? Can you even grasp the
indescribable joy of being one of the creations the Creator of All seeks
in regards to spirit and truth, true worship?
It really blows my mind.
idea that it’s possible for us to be the kind of people He seeks to bring
Him unsurpassed glory and honor makes me want to once again ask the
probing question, “What keeps His church from being filled with the
‘spirit and truth’ worshipers the Father seeks?”
think I may have found the answer. Or, at the very least,
And I want
to share it with you in the hopes that we will see ourselves and change,
or do whatever is necessary to become the “true worshipers of the Father”
that Jesus spoke about.
compared to this, everything else in life is pretty much like oatmeal—
bland, boring, pale and not very satisfying.
The Two Truths
two nagging, undeniable, obvious like a stick-in-the-eye truths about
church and ministry that I want to share with you in order to shine some
light on the questions asked above. I guess you could call them the sum
total of my years in the professional pastorate. If I were to
condense, boil down and dehydrate all the experiences I have had over the
years with church people, both good and bad, and sift off the common,
underlying elements that run through them all, I believe I could summarize
church life in the following two broad-brush truths.
So hang on
or sit down, because the first truth is really profound.
Truth Number One:
what they want to do.”
most of you are probably saying, “Duh? Like tell me something I
didn’t already know.”
‘bout that. But give me a minute and I think I will.
don’t have a particular scripture verse or a single proof text to back up
and support Truth Number One. But what I do have is a
wheelbarrow full of Biblical themes that run the gamut of Scripture, both
Old and New Testament, and a boatload of experiences that will convince
you that Truth Number One is, in fact, true. Come to
think of it, we’d better make that a big boatload of experiences.
Maybe even a barge.
Oh, so you
want to hear about some of those experiences? You want me to tell
you about some of my experiences in church— you know, probably some of the
same experiences that you’ve had in your church— experiences that
clearly affirm the fact that people, no matter what their intentions, are
basically going to do what they want to do. Is that what you’re
this one on for size.
LaGrange or LaGrunge?
forget when I was presented the opportunity to pastor my first, full-time
church— Emmanuel Baptist Church in LaGrange, Georgia— which is a little
mill town located on I-85 between Alabama and Atlanta (that’s right on the
buckle of the Bible Belt for those of you not familiar with the South).
I was so excited about the prospect of being a pastor, full-time,
that I couldn’t think or talk about anything else. God had finally
answered my prayers and was going to use me to pastor one of His churches.
(Yeah, slap, slap, slap, high-fives all around). I was awed by the
blessing God had given me.
this was my solo shot. My maiden voyage. It was my first time
to lead a group of people to the promised land of spiritual intimacy and
Christ pleasing ministry. It was so thrilling to dream about
uniting, arm in arm, in partnership with a committed, vibrant, fired-up
congregation of Spirit-filled Believers that were just as passionate and
focused about seeing LaGrange won to the Lord as I was.
of you who have never had the privilege of serving on a Pastor Search
Committee, or Pulpit Search Committee as it is sometimes called, let me
give you a quick tutorial. Basically, the entire procedure plays out
like a primitive mating dance between the pastor and the church, where the
pastor dates the congregation and the congregation tries to woo the
than not, it goes something like this.
Committee is primarily made up of a group of leaders, family heads or
spiritually-minded people (hopefully?) who have either been elected or
appointed or shanghaied or drafted at gunpoint by the congregation at
large to serve as their “search and acquire” agents. They have a
mandate from the congregation to fill the pastor spot and complete the
church leadership roster— or to put a name in the empty slot on the sign
outside that says:
Emmanuel Baptist Church
primary job, or so it would seem, is to either tell you what they
think you want to hear about the church’s direction and goals and vision
and history or tell you what they think the church really wants in
regards to a pastor.
sales job either way you look at it. Smoke and mirrors.
when your first anniversary as the pastor of the church has come and gone,
you sit back and scratch your head and wonder how a group of people duly
elected to fulfill the desires of the congregation could have misread them
how could they have been that far off? We’re talking about miles
off. Light years! It’s like the church they described to me
and the church I now pastor come from different planets. In
it almost borders on criminal fraud.
back to the mating dance.
them about you and they tell you about them. Everyone is all smiles
and on their best behavior.
some reason, things at Emmanuel just didn’t seem quite right. It
wasn’t anything that I could put my finger on. It was more like a
feeling, an intuition. I felt like the committee wasn’t always
telling me the whole truth— like they were purposely leaving out some
details. And it seemed to me that I felt this way just about every
time they opened their mouth!
looking for a pastor who will help us grow deeper in the Lord.”
to move out. We don’t want to be inward focused.”
looking for God’s man to do something here in our midst.”
to win our community for Christ.”
back, these people must have been on crack.
So you sit
down with your family, commit the ministry opportunity to fervent,
expectant prayer and spend countless hours daydreaming about how fabulous
it’s going to be to live and minister around a bunch of Believers who are
as sold-out to Jesus as the ones at Emmanuel seemed to be.
can’t get much better than this!
“Why am I
so blessed?” you ask the Lord with genuine joy in your heart and this
stupid, naive, slaphappy grin on your face. “Lord, why me? Why
did you choose me?”
than two years later— uh, make that two long, arduous, disappointing years
on the religious Trail of Tears, you’re still asking the Lord the same
questions. Only this time the smile and the joy are gone.
with all the millions of people in the world You could’ve sent to Emmanuel
Baptist Church... why me? Why did You choose me? What did I
ever do to You?”
packed the house, loaded up the kids and moved to LaGrange.
beaming, slam full of anticipation and confidence that God was going to do
something wonderful in this church. Something beyond anything we
could even imagine or dream of.
was, Emmanuel Baptist Church reached its spiritual zenith several years
after the Great Depression. From that point on it was straight
downhill— on roller blades! Year after year they had struggled for
life, coughing and wheezing with the death rattle of a church that had
long ago lost its focus and forsaken its first love. Emmanuel was in
the final stage of church death and nobody, including the proverbial
“Unsinkable Molly Brown” young new pastor, wanted to admit it or recognize
the undeniable tell-tale symptoms.
a while the symptoms became impossible to ignore.
like trying not to notice the clinging stench of a decaying
corpse rotting in the middle of your dining room. No matter how hard
you try to convince yourself that “you know, the smell’s not really all
that bad” or how hard you try to fill each day with the busy activities of
life in the vain hope that maybe the smell will go away or maybe you just
won’t notice it any longer— at some point in time you simply must face the
stinking reality that you’re living in the midst of something dead.
there’s nothing you can do to change that.
you learn?” you may ask like Yoda to young Skywalker.
things. Some good and some not so good.
But one of
the first things that was permanently imprinted in my brain is the simple
fact that people— young and old, male and female, rich or poor, Christian
and non-Christian— do what they want to do. Truth Number One.
They’re the master of their own fate and will go down swinging just to
keep it that way. Hey, if it feels good to them, is deemed
profitable or somehow benefits them personally, financially or even adds
to their inner sense of well-being, self-worth or intrinsic importance—
count them in!
“climb every mountain and ford every stream” to make whatever sacrifice is
necessary or required to accomplish what they put their hands to.
What they want to do. What’s important to them.
People Do What They Want To Do!
people do what they want to do! Always have and always will.
And if you
recognize the validity of Truth Number One, then you must also
realize that the opposite of Truth Number One is also true.
won’t do what they don’t want to do. I’ll simply call that
Truth Number One (a).
think about it.
do what they want to do, then it stands to reason that people aren’t going
to do what they don’t want to do. They’re just not. Why?
Because change is hard— and painful. And we don’t like pain.
The fact is that no matter how hard you nag them or encourage them or
implore them or even try to shame them— people aren’t going to do what
they don’t want to do.
doorkeeper said to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “Ain’t no way. Ain’t
any Sunday after church and follow the caravan of minivans to the local
All-You-Can-Eat feeding trough. Stroll up to the first group of
overweight Baptists you see and say, “You know, the fried chicken isn’t
really healthy, why don’t you try the salad bar instead?” Or,
“You’re going to ruin your diet if you eat that. Be strong.
Stay focused. Just say, no.” Or, “Look Bertha, you can
barely squeeze into those pantyhose as it is now. Just think what
that dessert is going to do to you. Material can only stretch so
far. If you eat that dessert you’ll be busting out all over and all
of us will lose our appetite!”
later when you finally come-to and pick yourself up off the restaurant
floor, remember Truth Number One— people do what they want to do.
And Truth Number One (a)— people won’t do what they don’t want to
do. No matter how many facts you throw at them or how well-meaning
your words of encouragement are.
ain’t gonna happen.
trying to lead a dead dog on a leash. He’s not going anywhere.
The best you can hope for is to drag him around behind you and try to
convince your friends and neighbors that are giving you these strange,
puzzled stares that you’re really just taking him out for a walk.
Both of you having a good time. Walking together.
tired, that’s all.”
Hard sell. It’s just not going to happen.
People Do What They Want To Do
could give you example after example of specific, personal situations
where Believers, when faced with a choice of doing what is right,
Christ-exalting and Spirit-minded, will almost always choose the
path of self-gratification and blindly follow what feels good for the
moment or “seems right in our own minds.”
same dilemma Paul spoke about in his letter to the church at Galatia when
he wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the
desires of the flesh.”
could give you numerous personal examples to prove the point.
let’s look at a few of the big guys and see if they practiced Truth
could have told the truth about Sarah being his wife when he fled from the
land God had given him to escape the famine in Egypt. He could have
honored and protected her and been an example of a Godly husband and
provider to his kid (who later did the same thing to his own wife. Like,
duh!). He could have placed his trust in the Lord and not in the
fear of man. He could have thought more about the ones he loved than he
did about himself.
words, Abraham could have walked by the Spirit and not given in to the
desires of the flesh.
could have. He should have.
could have continued in the path of humility and spiritual intimacy with
God and joined the other desert travelers as they set up camp in the
Promised Land. He could have followed God in earnest and retained an
almost unparalleled, face-to-face relationship with the Creator of All.
He could have spoken as commanded and not struck the rock with his staff
to bring water gushing to the grumbling, never-satisfied, chronically
complaining, redeemed children of Israel. He could have also never
uttered the thoughtless words, probably uttered in sheer frustration,
“Shall we bring water from the rock” and, in doing so,
pridefully deflected God’s glory from the Creator to himself. (I can
imagine God saying, “We? Tell me Moses, what was your
part in bringing water from the rock? What was your part in the ‘we’
words, Moses could have walked by the Spirit and not given in to the
desires of the flesh.
Moses could have done. So much he should have done.
could have been out leading his armies during the time of war instead of
just hanging around the palace, bored, twiddling his thumbs, with way too
much time on his hands. He could have shielded his eyes or looked
the other way when, by chance, he saw a woman who was married to one of
his friends bathing alone on the rooftop. He could have said “no” to
his lustful thoughts and sexual fantasies and not bloodied his hands with
the stain of adultery, deceit and murder just to have her fulfill them.
David, a “man after God’s own heart” could have spared himself the horrid
judgment of God that was delivered by the prophet Nathan as he proclaimed
the chilling words, his bony finger pointed, aimed directly at the center
of David’s chest, “You are the man!” David could have even
experienced the incredible joy of seeing his son grow into manhood and
taking a wife for himself— of seeing his son raise his own children.
David could have even held in his own arms the grandchildren, maybe
many grandchildren, that would have filled his aging heart with such
peace and purpose as his hair grayed and his steps slowed with the passing
of years. Instead, David had to relive, over and over again in
living color on the anniversary of the innocent child’s death, the sad,
guilt-ridden memory and pain of the consequences of his own sin.
sleepless nights David could have been spared had he done what was right
and walked by the Spirit and not given in to the desires of the flesh.
things David could have done. So many thing that he should
could have finished the task God had given him strong— out front and on
top. He could have retired the Undefeated Heavyweight Champion of
the world. Think about it, Elijah, the one with the Rocky, “I’m not
going down no more” spirit boldly stood and single-handedly stared down
450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. That’s 450 to one! Not
great odds in our way of thinking but chump change for the Lord.
Elijah could have then faced Jezebel with the same quiet, unnerving
confidence and determination like Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and not run,
tail between his legs, praying to die, totally panicked, like the lovable
poster boy of worrisome wimpiness, Barney Fife.
words, Elijah could have walked by the Spirit and not given in to the
desires of the flesh.
Elijah could have done. So much he should have done.
disciples, the twelve, the chosen ones could have determined to honor
Jesus during His last Passover with them and not picked and bickered among
themselves as to the supposed upcoming pecking order they would be in
after the Great Judgment. Can you imagine? Jesus had just told
the twelve how much He “earnestly desired to celebrate this last meal with
you before I suffer.” He had lovingly washed their feet in order to
show them what true humility, true ministry and real life in His kingdom
was all about. The bread, just like His body several hours later,
was broken for them. The wine, rich, dark and crimson, was freely
poured out for them like His blood was to be by noon of the next day.
Such humility. Such love.
disciples? Grumbling in small groups, oblivious to the intimacy of
the moment, more concerned about who would be the greatest in His Kingdom.
before He was to suffer, Jesus was thinking of them.
now, before His death at the hands of violent men, the disciples were
thinking about the same thing They were thinking only about themselves!
People Do What They Want To Do
people do what they want to do.
Number One is true of the members of Emmanuel Baptist Church and
equally true about their former pastor— me. And I would bet it’s
also true about you.
probably the people you go to church with, and minister along side, and
look up to for leadership or look down at in derision.
Truth Number One is true of your pastor and probably also true of our
larger-than-life religious icons and heroes like Billy Graham or D.L.
Moody or Martin Luther. Why? Because “doing what we want to
do” is our right, or so we seem to think. It’s the inbred,
hereditary, ever-present curse of our Laodicean, hot and cold, “vomit you
out of My mouth” spiritual climate that we live in and have been raised in
and nurtured in.
pretty much all we know. All we’ve ever known.
something radically changes, it’s probably all we’ll ever know.
become, over time, the acceptable, normal Christian life. The
steady, systematic lowering of the bar of spiritual fervency. The
slow dimming of the light until we live in the shadowy, gray areas of
spiritual apathy and lukewarmness.
the land of Laodicea.
discovered in my first pastorate is that the verbal desires that roll off
people’s lips, many well-meaning desires and longings may I add, are not
necessarily the desires of their hearts. And if the heart says no—
nothing happens. Why?
talk is cheap. Wal-Mart cheap.
about wanting our church to grow…er…just as long as nothing changes.
Pastor, we want our church to grow. After all, that’s why we hired
you— to bring in the new people. But that’s just as long as the new
people understand that Emmanuel is our church. Not theirs.
We were here first. We don’t want any new programs. We don’t
want to spend any money. And we don’t want the music to change one
bit. We kinda like the old hymns. Oh, and the order of service
has worked fine for us since we came home from WWII so we don’t see any
need in messin’ with that either. And don’t expect us to get any
more involved than we are right now. You just keep doing what we’ve
always done and things will go fine. Got that? Good. So
you go out and win this town for Christ.”
words, we want growth without change.
Give me a
Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
But I also
find this true in my own spiritual life. How about yours?
constantly moan and lament and cry and complain and beat ourselves up over
the fact that we’re not as close to the Lord as we want to be— yet nothing
“I know I
need to read my Bible more, but...”
“I wish I
had a deeper prayer life, but...”
“I wish I
was used by God to win more people to him, but...”
“I wish I
had a deeper intimacy with the Spirit, but...”
the fact that I worry and I doubt and have fears all the time. I
wish I had that peace that passes all understanding that Jesus talked
“I wish, I
wish, I wish...”
more that just empty wishing.
simply click the heels of your ruby slippers together and mumble under
your breath, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like
home.” Or, “I wish things were different. I wish I were more like
Christ. I wish my church was better” and expect instant results.
Get the point? There has to be a proactive, concrete commitment and
sacrifice for things to be different tomorrow than they are today.
yesterday, for that matter.
therein lies the problem. The dilemma.
brings us face to face with Truth Number Two. “If things are going
to change, then I’ve got to change.” No easy way out. No
shortcuts. No spiritual pill we can take at night and wake up the
next day 20 pounds lighter and 12 years younger.
“Ain’t gonna work that way.”
Remember Truth Number One.
people are going to do what they want to do.
things are going to change, then I’ve got to change. Truth Number Two.
keep using the same bait and expect to catch different fish.
If I want
the outcome to change, I’ve got to change my bait, the time of day I go
fishing, the fishing hole I fish in, the…”
that make sense? Nuthin’ truly profound ‘bout Truth Number Two!
drive it all home this way.
Final exam. Just a couple of quick questions that you’ve heard
believe the church can change society?
believe the grace of God is stronger than anything Satan can throw at us?
believe the power of God is stronger than your apathy? How about
stronger than my apathy or the apathy of others?
want to be different? Really different? Or, do you want to
keep doing the same lifeless, boring, rote religious stuff over and over
again that didn’t work in the first place and then lie to yourselves by
saying that it amounts to something important? Something spiritual?
want to experience the abundant life Jesus promised us? Or,
are you sadly satisfied with the status quo?
Love Jesus, yet find yourself loathing and Hating Church?
answer to these questions is yes— then I’ve got some good news for you!
You can change. You can be different.
deep breath and turn the page.