There will come a time in your life when you might say, I just don’t know about God. I just don’t know what I believe. Chances are, you probably got so much religion your whole life, or at least so many people telling you who He is that you always felt like God had to be bigger than that. Or maybe you felt like He wasn’t there when things got really bad. At some point, you look for the bleeding God carrying around the bandages. You find God in the alleys and behind the buildings and in the trash cans, and that is wonderful. I liked being with God there.
But you can’t stay there forever. There comes a time when you will learn to find Him with the people that have most misrepresented Him to you. That is where the good stuff happens. But it is risky.
A lot of us have gotten burned by the package, or at least we are highly suspicious of it. I mean the package that a lot of Christians come in. I have watched a lot of believers categorically reject “Christian culture” and lump into one group two very different kinds of people.
Sometimes we dangerously reject the genuine article on the basis of a person’s language or outward expression. Our skepticism of “Christianese” causes us to look at anyone using what we consider stereotypical religious or churchy language as actually being religious and untruthful. There are many people who either don’t have the words to describe what they have experienced spiritually, and the tried and true languages actually help them speak things that are wonderful and true.
At the same time there are those who prostitute such languages in place of an actual dynamic relationship with God. And God loves those people too, and he is very interested in freeing them up from religion. It’s very important that you become, at some point, willing to give up your presumptions about outer expressions and Christian culture or you will keep critiquing others on the basis of some idea that gestated in your hurt. Paul wrote that we need to learn how to discern the body (I Corinthians 11:29). This means that we actually need to learn how to perceive, spiritually, who are our brothers and sisters. There are many surprises when we ask Him to help us do this.
Many amazing teachers and lovers and shepherds and the truly empowered are passed by every day because of their haircuts. We reject all TV Christian programs. Or old Baptist language. Or the Charismatics. Or whatever.
It is true that in many ways the Christian imagination is starved and needs an authentic and liberating way to express itself. Every believer, in his or her unique identity, has something amazing to say, but the church has not yet arrived at her destiny of total freedom of expression. I believe that she will. Part of why the enemy has you trapped in judging the more predictable expressions of church life is that you are actually called to be an originator. In other words, you are actually one of those He has chosen to ring the freedom bells and lead the Pied Piper parade of expression up His holy mountain. He actually made you to be an original for a reason, and that doesn’t mean you are going to be a worship leader or any of those things that the church has sometimes asked you to be.
You may not give a damn and are just sittin on your couch and will not inch one foot in the direction of things that smack of Christian culture. Or maybe you take yourself to be a reformer and have damned the institution altogether. Rome has burned! you say. Or maybe you are working for the church and find yourself getting more and more resentful every day.
Maybe you just don’t need some of it for awhile. It’s okay to fast on Bible reading or church going, or whatever is becoming lifeless to you. I went through years where I just felt so fed up with it all. But I also stayed angry for a long time, and I’m just telling you that at some point you’re going to have to make peace with those inside the institution. Here’s a newsflash: the religious spirit wants you. It will hunt you down and tell you you’re not good enough even if you never read the Bible again. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the building or out, or if you’re hanging out with that group of Christians or this group, the religious spirit doesn’t want you to be free. It wants to keep you judging others. It wants to keep you feeling trapped in either isolation or petty reaction your whole life. It wants to take away freedom and love. It is going to constantly nag at you and give you its own extremely critical versions of how to improve the church, but it will never give you freedom.
It is risky. You gotta step out, eventually.
I said, “Ouch! They hurt me!!”
Then I said, “I want to be close to You!”
Then I said, “Am I being too cranky? Am I judging too much?”
Then I said, “I will have patience with myself, because You do.”
Then I said, “Thank you for your church, even the parts I don’t like.” (It was work to say this. So I kept practicing it.)
Then I said, “Ouch, I am starting to feel others feeling trapped by it.”
Then I said, “Ouch, I am starting to feel what you are doing to be freed up by it.”
Jesus hides his manna in the most unusual places. It may be right in front of you. You may have to chase it down, right into the house of your fears. I pray that you seek and find and seek until you find. Do not stop; do not stop where you are. There is freedom at that gate.