Among the Barbarians…

I’m done. Finally. The withdrawal period from Churchianity ran its course awhile ago.

If your church teaches things I don’t agree with, I don’t care. You will believe what you want to believe and you will see what you want to see. I no longer feel a need to create a blog post regarding something that I see as “incorrect” with the church. I no longer feel the urge to engage in an argument over the same stuff all the time on Facebook. What’s funny to me is that I notice people still argue over the same things: tithing, worship, dress code, alcohol, cussing, legalism, etc., ad infinitum.

Literally, same shit, different day.

It reminds me of the song lyrics of “What it’s worth” which go, “Singing songs and carrying signs. Mostly say, hooray for our side”. That’s what it feels like and I just don’t care anymore. It’s a big joke and I’m not laughing anymore. Not even going to listen to the same old lines.

Literally zero fucks given.

 

Here’s the thing: I want the real thing. The real Christianity. I haven’t found it. I’ve seen glimmers of it, like the sun being reflected off the water in a fast flowing stream. Here one moment, gone the next, here again, gone again. The closest thing I have come to in regards to a real “picture” of our Lord and Savior, our Elder Brother, our One True Reflection of the Father, is in the book “Beautiful Outlaw” and in the audio series “The Life of Jesus”, both by John Eldredge. On the whole, they are a “retelling” of the Gospels. It’s the most riveting description of Jesus that makes me want the real thing. I’m not saying it’s 100% accurate, either. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with him on in his writings, or teachings, however he has been a great help over the years. This isn’t a book review. This isn’t even to praise John Eldredge. I mention those things here on the off-chance that you even care about what I am getting at.

You see, I don’t see that Jesus being discussed and shared in the Institutional Church. When I was a leader, I tried to bring that Jesus in. Some took to it, the majority didn’t. They wanted gentle lover, school boy, creepy religious Jesus. Enough, it’s not about that.

Inside and outside the Institutional Church has profited me about the same, spiritually, within being outside profiting me slightly more. Why? All I know is that I know enough to know that I have more planks in my eyes than I thought I did when I was in the IC.

Let me try it this way.

The early converts to Christianity from Ireland used to call the Holy Spirit, ‘The Wild Goose’. Because the call of the Wild Goose was haunting and to follow it over the moors and foggy areas into the Wild could be dangerous. Forgive me if I am slightly inaccurate here, just stay with me. In ancient Greece, the term “barbarian” could refer to anyone of a different culture. In Roman times, it was used for many peoples, Germanics, Celts and Gauls to name a few. They were the people “outside” the protection and borders of the empire. Outside the city gates.

Those outside the gates of the IC are barbarians.

I don’t hear any semblance of the call of the Wild Goose inside the borders of the “kingdom” of the IC. Once outside the city walls and in barbarian territory, venturing ever outward, away from the IC, I could barely, barely hear it carried on the wind.

Does the word picture make sense?

I want the real thing. The real Jesus of Nazareth. I know more “of” Him than I actually “know” Him. Do you know him or are you just leaning on your theological degree, or your latest euphoric worship experience? Just because we know His words in the Gospels doesn’t mean we know him. Do you know him like you know your best friend, or your close neighbor, or your brother?

Isn’t that the offer? To know Him?

Why would He say, “I never knew you.”, if that wasn’t the offer.

And honestly, it should scare the living shit out of us that we do not know Him!

I think I am looking for a different kingdom, a different city. Where the battle hardened soldier and the young choir boy can agree on the character and nature of Christ, because they know Him. Where the career criminal and the old lady who sits in the second row of your church can relate to each other about their experience of Jesus, because they know Him.

It’s probably out there, amid the lands of the barbarians. And I am content being out here in the wild, among barbarians for now. To paint another word picture: Their lives are unfettered, their communities are close-knit, their words are true, their mead is good, their feasting is magnificent and their tattoos are pretty damn epic.

The truth is that none of us escape this life alive. The only one that we know of that has come back from the grave is the one we place our mustard seed of faith in. And all we know is that He is preparing a place for us.

That’s it.

You and I have to deal with this black wall of Mortality that creeps ever closer to us each and every day. Not a single one of us knows the day that we will meet our end. We just know it’s coming. And if we are truly honest with each other and ourselves. We would admit that none of us, not a single one, can see past that curtain. You don’t get to. I personally suspect anyone who boasts of being able to see through that curtain as trying to manipulate or sell me something.

If He truly is preparing a place for us, then we need to know him. Really know him. He would be our only glimpse of what is over there and only because He came back.

I can’t settle for anything less than actually knowing Him.

Really.

I can’t waste my time on anything less.

I won’t.

Is your church worship “pagan”?

I’ve spoken many times regarding the sacred cow of worship, this article nails it down in many ways.

Check it here, “Is your church worship more pagan than christian?”

But, but, but! What about the scriptures that talk about “coming into His presence/temple/gates” with “thanksgiving and praise”? What about “he inhabits the praises of his people”?

Wrong covenant, sorry.

Inspired by the comedic words of a “blue-collar” comedian,

“If you think that singing songs is what moves God, you might be a pagan christian.”

“If you think that God needs to be entertained for his Presence to come, you might be a pagan christian”…. i could go on, but I’ll stop.

Grilling a Sacred Cow: Healing

Now this is going to rub some church-goers in the wrong way. I say this because there are many “leaders” who base their whole “ministry” out of (or off of…) the “gifts” of healing, and prayer/healing groups, etc. There are many churches who “boast” of their miraculous healings and the “proof” that God is active in their church by these healings. I’ve gone back and forth for awhile on whether or not I should post this. However, it holds true to the purpose of this blog. Dealing with and exploring the questions, especially in the journey of faith.

If you are offended, I would ask you to stop and ask yourself, why exactly, are you offended?

So…here we go.

I was reading through and deleting some old Facebook “Notes” and I came across one that I had posted roughly six years ago, labeled, “Tom is getting Healed!”.  With the exception of brackets where I removed names, here is the original post:

For those of you who know and those of you who don’t.  I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease around March of this year. This was the “mysterious” ailment that plagued me on and off for the last five and 1/2 years with bad vertigo spells.

Basically, Meniere’s is an inner ear disorder in which the ear tells the brain that the room is spinning when it’s not.

Since then, with the doctor’s suggestions, I’ve changed my diet, kept working out and have been taking natural supplements that help decrease vertigo symptoms and promote inner ear health.

Truth be told, I haven’t been ultimately GUNG HO on being healed as far as what has been provided to me through the sacrifice Jesus made for me. I’ve trusted that I will be healed in due time as I follow the instructions of my doctor and as I stay in the Word.

Sunday during worship I felt led and instructed that I needed to take it to the next level and increase my focus and trust in this area, which is where I ask you my friends to agree with me. I went forward during worship when [the church pastors at the time] asked for people who need prayer to come forward. [My wife] came up with me and in agreement with [one of the pastors] we prayed that I would accept nothing less than healing in my ear.

I went to my Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for my checkup today and he said that after the holidays I can start weaning off the supplements I have been taking!

I will be off my supplements by March 2009 – OR EARLIER!

I know that I am healed!

Now – two things struck me.

  1. I’ve been dealing with Meniere’s disease “officially” for six years now, “officially” meaning since I was diagnosed and 11+ years if I count all the symptoms and attacks pre-diagnosis. Thankfully, it has been quite awhile since my last episode, over two years and that last one was so violent that blood vessels broke all over my face.
  2. I’m STILL dealing with this damned thing…I haven’t had a violent episode of vertigo, nausea and vomiting, but I do get disoriented every now and then, only briefly, and I still have tinnitus (ringing and hearing loss) in my right ear.
  3. O.K., three things struck me.  The last being my naive level of “declaration” and so-called “faith” displayed in the note that was written. Oh how the times have changed!

Just over two years ago, before I walked away from participating in “regular” church services, I stopped the declarations and expectations of miraculous healing.  I stopped standing, wishing, hoping, praying. I got a huge case of the “fuck-its”. Some well-meaning people would want me to “come to the front” when the call for prayer and healing came and I would gently oblige them, hoping deep down that maybe…just maybe I would experience the miracles like in the days of old. Just maybe, this time I would be totally and suddenly healed. At the same time I was conflicted and guarded, not wanting my hopes to raise up too high.

Follow along in my thought process leading up to my case of the “fuck-its”:

I have “stood in faith”.

I have done the “having done all to stand, stand” thing.

I have had numerous pastors, “special speakers”, evangelists, etc., etc., pray.

I have had numerous “words” from the same people regarding my healing.

I have walked to the front of church service after church service, stood up during many “special services”, “conventions” and “conferences” when people were challenged to take a “stand in faith” for their “miracle”… so … many … damn … times.

I have “declared”, “decreed” and done all the formulaic bullshit that I have been encouraged to do.

Am I healed of this ailment? No.

Here is the kicker in the whole thing: I still believe in God healing people. We have accounts of it in scripture. We see Jesus – who is supposed to be the exact representation of who the Father is – say, “I am willing, be healed.”, and hope rises inside us. I’ve had a few experiences in this area, but not many. Yet I can’t even get a fucking headache to go away in prayer much less Meniere’s disease. I remember one time I faked it regarding a headache, mainly because we prayed and prayed and prayed, time passed and nothing happened. It wasn’t an over the top, “OH MY GOD! I’M HEALED” faking, it was more of a, “Yeah, I feel better now, thanks.” faking. I was done.

You might be wondering if I am mad at God? No, not really. It is a bit frustrating to not understand what is going on, but then again, there is this great big universe out there that none of us have the full capacity to understand anyways, so there are things that I won’t understand.

What I am mad at is the whole circus in christian circles regarding healing, from evangelists promising miracles up to and including people choosing to put their children’s lives at risk because of their “faith”.

I am mad at any person who “guarantees” healing if someone “just stands in faith” or “gives to the man/woman of God” or has some simple X,Y,Z formula for healing.

I’m mad at all the “believers” who will just point a finger of blame back at people like me who haven’t received healing. They will say it’s our fault or that God “knew” that we would eventually falter so he didn’t heal us, or because we don’t tithe, or because we didn’t worship properly or enough, or we didn’t fast and pray long enough, etc. All of these things normally bring condemnation on the person who doesn’t get healed because they didn’t “truly” have faith or they didn’t “give enough” or they didn’t “commit” to the formula for healing. They just didn’t do enough, apparently, to get or merit God’s attention and miraculous power to heal. It’s as bad as child abuse, really.

I am mad at all the “healers” out there who say that they could go to any hospital in the world and start healing people, but “they have discerned” that the approach they wish to take isn’t “wise” and isn’t in “God’s will”.

I am mad at all the believers who will point to scriptures for “proof” that God doesn’t heal everyone because even Jesus didn’t heal all. No, Jesus didn’t perform miracles in certain areas because the people there wouldn’t receive him. They didn’t believe in him. We have believed and stood and we have gotten very little…

I am mad at all the believers who say that God will purposefully send sickness, disease, injury, etc., to teach us a lesson. Again, that sounds like child abuse. You would lock me up in prison and demand the harshest sentence if I broke my child’s leg on purpose or exposed them to dangerous bacteria in order to teach him or her a lesson! Yet, God can get a free pass on this?

People get sick, people get hurt and maimed, people die. And for those of us who pray and stand and trust God for a miracle, it shakes us to our very core that things didn’t turn out better. Right now, worldwide and in the very town you reside in, there are people suffering and dying. There are people standing in faith and trusting God for miracles, and they won’t get what they are after.

There are enough question that pop up on the subject of healing that it is enough to make one believe that God is no longer in the healing business, or doesn’t want to. Yet some of us, hold on to a fool’s hope that maybe this time…it will be different. I would venture to say that possibly, we see the miracles of Jesus performed as “illustrations of the sermon” so to speak. What I mean is, when someone “comes into the Kingdom” there is restoration. The blind see, the dead are raised, etc. I’ll spare the questions that start to raise even here.

Now, to close this up with maybe a bit of positive thought. I have definitely done what I can with what I have regarding this health issue in my life. By fighting it, by not giving up, it has made me a better person. Though I don’t know how to gauge my “spiritual” growth, I am definitely stronger mentally. You gain a lot of mental strength when you have to go through a violent spell of vertigo, throwing up until you can’t give anymore and then dry heaving for what seems like an eternity while fighting to breathe. I am definitely a healthier person because of this. I am definitely stronger physically too.

Well, I’ve said my piece. Take it for what it is.

Hopefully it has provoked some thought and questions in your own journey.

Performance Anxiety

Happy Halloween!

Well, we’ll see how this goes.  In short, I’ll just say that if this is helpful to you, great, if not, then discard it from your mind when you are done.

First, I want you to pretend that you don’t go to church.  If you don’t already, then obviously you don’t have to pretend:  you are ahead of the class!  I want everyone to try to go through this exercise “from the outside”, as a non-church goer.

Now, pull up your favorite search engine and do a search for images of “church stage design” and see what you come up with.  (OR…click the link, I dare ya!)

O.K., now go back to your search engine and do a search for “concert design” and see what you get. (Another link…go ahead…you know you want to!)

There are even Pinterest threads about this stuff, don’t believe me?  Click here, here, here OR here.

Now, keep in mind up to this point, you are supposed to be looking at this from the “outside”.

Can you tell them apart?

There might be small differences, but really:  the designs are, for all intents and purposes, pretty similar aren’t they?

Why do you think that is?

O.K., the exercise is over.

What I am talking about is nothing new, this stuff has been evolving for quite some time.  I’ve talked about worship and life as worship before.  I don’t know…maybe I just like grilling sacred cows.

My blogger friend, Kevin Daniel, a former Worship Pastor/Leader, couldn’t have said it better:

“Since Christian musicians can’t call what they do a concert, or performance, or take any credit, they look for confirmation where they can get it. In my day, I’d count raised hands, or note those having an “experience.” Every worship leader does this. They’re lying if they say they don’t. The problem with this system is that we inevitably pander our services towards gaining such responses, both consciously and subconsciously.

Things get shallow, fast.

It’s not us, we say. It’s God. Then we pat ourselves on the back for having a good show, I mean set, I mean God is good, all the time.”

Now, before you jump the gun, let me say that I believe God does work inside this type of venue / environment / atmosphere because He created music and music can be, and is, an amazing medium for one on one interaction with the Spirit of God.  People can and do have good experiences in these “corporate” settings. 

However, once you’ve seen it from both sides…it’s different, things indeed get shallow, fast.

Friends, I used to take part in this stuff.   I used to be behind the scenes as well as a participant in the congregation.

For almost three years I was the “sound board guy” for a church I attended and I have found that my experience there, “behind the scenes”, turned out to be pretty much universal in the churches I visited or called home no matter the size as I spoke with and talked to people on various worship teams, sound techs, etc.  By the way, if you can watch with an unbiased eye, the dynamic between the sound techs and the worship participants on stage (what they say to each other, what they say about each other behind their backs, how “worship practice” goes, what happens when things go wrong or not as expected during a live “performance”…etc) is quite enlightening.  I’ve been a volunteer and leader in many areas from the nursery to the children’s ministry to young adults to recovery programs.  I’ve preached, taught and exhorted from the pulpit.

As a participant of the worship service, I used to go to youth and young adult church conferences.  I used to take part in monthly (or more) special worship services that allowed “us” to “create” a more conducive “atmosphere” for us to rock out more than on Sunday mornings .  I used to be a ‘Jesus Culture’ fanboy.  I’ve seen the evolution of “the stage” in three churches I’ve attended over the last ten years or so.  And since I left the institution about a year ago, I’ve witnessed many, many social media posts from friends (even some who are on worship teams) that still go to church, posting pictures of their “new” stage designs (and these posts are all from separate churches).

I’ve seen and heard the “talks” encouraging young adults and youth to “make sure” they are up in front at church during worship services so people can see their “radical worship” in order to “encourage” others to do the same.  I’ve had young adults come to me and tell me how they have been told to stand up front, even when they don’t want to, in order to be seen.

From this view-point:  It all looks the same.  It all feels the same..

It is a stage. 

It is a concert. 

It is a performance.

I personally have found it harder and harder to “worship” in a corporate church setting because I know all the crap that can and does go on behind the scenes.

I am simply asking:  Is this the way?

Or is there another way? 

A better way?

A simpler way?

I’ve been writing, editing and re-writing one form of this blog post or another for over a week now.  This is the 27th + revision according to my blog stats and I realized something last night as I was reviewing the latest version.

While I could just point to “them”, I realized that this is more about me than it is about the God-certs or those who promote, produce and participate in them.

The God-cert just represents some of the reasons why I left the institution.

I’ve grown tired of the super-spiritualizing of…everything.

“You don’t want to miss this Sunday night’s special worship service, we have XYZ coming and you don’t want to miss out on this amazing worship experience God has planned for this night.  Don’t miss your divine appointment with God!”

“Wow…wasn’t that worship just amazingly anointed?  God sure showed up today!  Such an amazing atmosphere of worship is in the House of the Lord today!” 

“Our worship team is SOOOOOOOOOOO anointed!  You should visit sometime!” 
 
“Our worship team is ushering in the Presence right now!  Come on down, it’s not too late, don’t miss out!  #worship #notmywillbutyours #heisworthy #awesomegod #ilovemychurch #anointedservice #amazingpresence

Any of that look or sound familiar?  Seriously, I have seen social media posts, complete with hashtags, that people have placed while the service is still going. 

If someone were to say to me:  “Hey, Tom!  You should come check out our band!  We perform on Sunday mornings at our church, I think you’d really like it!”  I’d probably go to check it out.  Why?

Because they are being honest.

They aren’t advertising the band behind religious catch phrases to try to perk my ‘christian’ interest.

We say ridiculous things from the stage about the “atmosphere” and the “Presence” and we ask the audience if they feel it too (which isolates the many who didn’t have an experience like yours and makes them wonder if they are missing out on God somehow) and then ask them to “give the Lord a hand-clap”.  Seriously – we don’t say “round of applause”.

WTF is a hand-clap anyway?

We use the Psalms to back up this church experience and encourage others to partake: “Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving and His Courts with Praise!” , and we talk about how the worship service is important because it “ushers in the Presence of the Lord”….forgetting the The Cross changed everything

It.  Changed.  Everything.

Honestly, I prefer the other commonly used phrase from Psalm 118: “Today is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it!”

Sigh…

So, to be fair, since this is about me, let’s turn the tables on me for a second: 

O.K. Tom, what are YOU doing about it?

Well… from one viewpoint, I guess you could say I’m doing nothing. 

Not a damn thing.

I’m not building or starting a church.  I don’t have a grand “vision to build God’s Kingdom.  It’s not my Kingdom to build and it’s not my vision, it’s His.  I get to be a part of His vision for His Kingdom. 

I’m not interested in joining a church, getting involved and politicking in order to influence and impact that body and change it from within according to my ideas.
 
I’m not trying to join another like-minded church. 
 
I currently run the opposite direction from anything that smacks of church programs. 
 

I AM interested in living a christian life separate from a church building and countless programs to attend or worrying about whether or not what I do is under a Pastor’s “covering” or “anointing” or not.  It is a really interesting “walk” when you aren’t tallying up worship services, church attendance, volunteer “opportunities” and church programs as part of your christian walk.

I AM interested in small, simple gatherings.

I AM interested in real, seriously real, fellowship that goes beyond the cliché and the inadequate, often two-faced “Hey brother, I’m praying for you!” that happens commonly on Sunday and Wednesdays or whenever you happen to bump into someone from your church throughout the week.

I’m more interested in going to a rated R movie (GASP! sinner!) with the guys and watch the good guys laying waste to the villains and then later being able to pour my heart out to these same men or them to me, while we share a round of Guinness, knowing that it’s not part of a church “accountability group” and that we have the freedom to say whatever we want, however we want to say it without them questioning “my walk”.  Totally free.

So – like I said, I’ve revised and rewritten this many times.  There are things to say, but the wording isn’t there yet.

I’m sure there will be more of these posts in the future as I process things or have more clarity as to all the reasons why I seek Christianity without the institution.

Conversations: Paul & Timothy

A letter that Paul never wrote to Timothy…

“Timothy,

I‘m writing this letter to you in order to help you lead the congregation during your weekly church meetings, especially regarding understanding the Lord’s presence and worship.  There are also some important issues you talked about in your last letter regarding this very subject that I wish to address.  As I have traveled recently, I have observed certain things that I believe you need to be made aware of .  For one, I know that you are not including certain things in your worship services that help the everyday believer feel the presence of God.  The using of a Shofar, or interpretive dance or the waiving of flags and banners.  I am witnessing other churches do this and I say that this is a must.  In my explanation below, you will find the answers to your previous letter.

People aren’t satisfied with knowing and understanding that it is God within them, the very Spirit of Christ within them that is their hope of glory!  It is a very frustrating thing, but if we want to continue growing the numbers of your church congregation, we need to focus more on exterior factors to help people grasp God’s presence. 

To put it another way, how can people know if God’s presence is there unless we blow on the Shofar, shout, raise our hands, run around, dance or wave some flags and banners?  How are they to get excited about God if none of these things take place?  It is definitely a good idea to have your announcers or elders ask the congregation if they can feel His Presence and challenge them to ‘press in’ to His presence and to ‘be hungry’ for God and His Presence.

You see, Timothy, as if I needed to repeat myself with you, people need external assurance and signals that God is present.  We have witnessed in countless towns and gatherings that our teaching that God now resides within the believer is fruitless to a point because of this excessive need for an external assurance.  They quickly receive it with gladness but the ‘novelty’ of that teaching, for lack of a better word, seems to fade quickly.  So hopefully you can see, Timothy, how we need to have these indicators in the church services to let people know God’s Spirit has ‘arrived’ or that His Spirit is ‘moving’.  We don’t want them to miss out on God now, do we?

For men such as you and I, it is enough to have faith in and rest in the hope that we no longer have to do spiritual jumping-jacks to please God or to ‘bring’ His Presence in to any place, for He is with us always.  Our hope resides in the resurrected Christ and His indwelling Spirit never leaving us nor forsaking us, even if we cannot ‘feel’ anything.  This faith, this hope and knowledge brings forth a natural form of praise and worship that takes many more forms than just song and dance, even though you and I have shared in a hymn or two in fellowship.  This being said, I have full assurance that you will honor me in this request and do as I am instructing you to do with your worship service.  In doing so, I guarantee that people will feel more fulfilled during worship time and be more excited to hear whatever you decide to talk about.  And more importantly, church attendance will definitely grow.

I look forward to hearing your report and seeing the growth of your church when I return to you again.

Grace and Peace in Christ.

~Paul”