What I Have Learned

I haven’t updated this blog in over a year. It has been a long, hard, busy year. I became the team leader for my church’s small group program, Connect Groups. This has been one of the most stretching things I have ever done. I have never felt like a failure more, and I have never felt dependent on God more.

I watched my aunt die of cancer. I saw her life become more and more restricted and painful. I waited for the end and prayed that she could be freed from her torment. I did my best to support my mother even though I often felt helpless.

I once read that suffering and pain and failure can make you bitter or better. I’ve found that suffering can either drive you further away from God or further towards Him. It would be a lie to say that running away has never been a temptation. Sometimes it seems like my life would be a lot better if I was a little more selfish, if I gave in to all the things the world says I deserve.

But that isn’t what I have chosen. I’ve needed to daily remind myself that I have chosen to follow wherever Christ leads me.

The title of this site comes from one of my favorite quotes from Oswald Chambers: “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” If there is anything I have learned in this long, hard, busy year, it is that this is more true than I have ever imagined.

Our Gospel Is Too Small

I went on an overseas missions internship in college. When my team was in Kenya, we had the opportunity to do some door-to-door evangelism. Now this is not a technique we really use in America anymore; many of us felt uncomfortable with it.

Nevertheless, being eager college students, we decided to do our best. At one of the houses we visited, I had the opportunity to present the gospel, and I presented the gospel I had heard most of my life.

I don’t remember the exactly what I said, but I’m sure it went something like this: (1) all people are sinners, (2) sin separates you from God and ultimately leads to death and hell, (3) Jesus came to save you from your sins by dying on the cross and rising from the dead, (4) if you believe this and confess it you will be saved from hell and given eternal life (5) now you can experience peace with God both now and in eternity.

Afterwords, one of my team members complimented me on my gospel presentation. I thanked her, but inside I felt troubled and uncomfortable. Only later did I begin to understand that I no longer believed what I was saying.

It’s not that I disagreed with any of the individual points of this classic American gospel formula. It’s that I disagreed with the story it tells, a story about us and our wants and needs. It is a story about how we can be saved from punishment and have a better life. And if that is all the gospel is, it is no better than all the other programs, religions, and spiritualities the world has to offer. It is a small, tepid gospel for small, tepid churches.

Thankfully, this American gospel is not the gospel. I would encourage anyone reading this to stop, go to the Bible, and read the early apostle’s presentations of the gospel (Acts 2, Acts 10, Acts 13, I Cor. 15 among others).

Their gospel story is about Jesus. It begins with Jesus, it ends with Jesus, and Jesus is in the middle. Peter’s concluding statement of the gospel is this: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him [Jesus] both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This is a big, powerful gospel that spawned a big, powerful church.

This gospel call was not one of vague belief for salvation and a happier life but one of repentance, submission to Jesus, and devotion to Someone bigger than ourselves! A big, powerful gospel calls for a big, powerful response, and that is what it received. After Peter’s first proclamation of Christ, three thousand people were added to the church in Jerusalem.

I pray that we, the church, can resurrect this gospel again. We need to stop proclaiming all things we have replaced Jesus with (heaven, blessings, morals, etc.), not because they aren’t true but because they aren’t the point. Jesus is the point. Jesus should be the beginning, middle, and end of our gospel. If he’s not, maybe we aren’t proclaiming the gospel at all.

Philosophizing Is Easy, Living Is Hard or Why I Came Back to Church

I was stuck. I had left the standard American church behind in search of something better, more true to the vision I saw in the New Testament. And I had failed to find it; truthfully, I had almost given up looking.

But I started to feel a nudge, well, really nudges. I was lonely for spiritual company. People to discuss God with on a regular basis, iron to sharpen iron. My circle of local Christian friends was small and I wanted more.

More importantly, I felt like a hypocrite. If you had asked me what I thought an individual believer’s relationship to the church was, I would have told you that the church was vitally important, that no one is meant to seek Jesus alone, that we are saved to be part of a body. And I was doing the exact opposite.

Those nudges turned into pokes. God was poking me. Sure I didn’t have my dream congregation, but I had plenty of others to choose from. (My town is hardly short on churches.) It was time to start dying to my dream and waking up to the reality God had placed me in. It was time to start living what I said I believed.

One of those aforementioned pokes involved a friend from community theater inviting me to come to her church. And so I did. Eventually, I started going regularly. My reasons for picking Litchfield Christian Church were hardly spiritual. Frankly, I decided to keep going because I already knew people there.

And yet, God used my very unspiritual dislike of strange crowds to put me exactly where He wanted me to be. There were time I questioned my choice, and wondered if I had actually betrayed my principles by trying to live them out.

On the surface, LCC seemed rather complacent in their old-fashioned style of church. In many ways, they were what I had run away from. But as I became more involved in the church, I began to detect a stream of discontent with the status quo and a strong desire for change. We wanted to see new disciples coming into our church, and that wasn’t going to happen if we kept things the way they were.

As the church elders began to be more open about these desires for change and as changes began to actually happen, I knew for sure that our new mission and focus was something I could believe in, participate in, and contribute to.

I still get frustrated sometimes with church life. But it is a healthier frustration, one born out of community with others instead of isolation, a frustration of impatience more than impotence. After years of searching, I believe I am where God wants me to be.

Greater Things or Why I Stopped Going to Church

When I was in college, one of the more popular worship songs in chapel was “Greater Things” by Chris Tomlin. During my senior year, I was going though a lot of turmoil about the church, it’s purpose, it’s structure, and whether we had completely lost our way.

One particular day while all my fellow students sang that song enthusiastically around me, I wrote this:

Greater things: what are greater things? are they thousands of people, megachurches, huge movements, “revivals” that grow a church and don’t change the community? or are they faithfulness, small but true communities, life change that can’t help but be shared? acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control?

I didn’t mean this as a criticism of the song. I had and have nothing against Chris Tomlin or this song. I had and have no idea what he means by “greater things.” All I knew was that I was no longer sure that the things I had been told were greater actually were.

I’m still not sure what God doing greater things looks like. I know that no matter if they are big or small, they look like Jesus. And that if what you or your church is doing doesn’t look like Jesus, you need to step back and reexamine what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

A lot of what I was seeing being done in His name didn’t look like Jesus. A lot of what I saw being done by churches was so far from fulfilling what what their purpose should be. And so I left. I left it all behind because I couldn’t sit through a “church service” without my gut clenching and my mind screaming at me about how futile it was.

I left in search of other people who felt the same way. Other people who, hopefully, wanted to form a church focused on Jesus and being his body in this world.

I didn’t really find anyone. I found a lot of great believers. I heard hints and rumors of what I was looking for, but it was always too far away or it no longer existed or it turned out to be more dream than reality. It felt like I was chasing a shadow or a puff of smoke.

After awhile, I moved from Minneapolis to small town Minnesota. It seemed like there was an even smaller chance of finding what I was looking for. The dream of a true church never really died, and my devotion to Jesus was the same. But I was drifting, isolated and stagnant, until God woke me up.

But that is a story for another blog post…