So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore – Part 2

For many years, I struggled with both of my knees giving out. They felt like they were “popping” out of place. Ultimately I ended up on the ground with a constant surge of excruciating pain and when my legs were straightened a certain way, my knees would “pop” back into place. It hurt so good. =)

The doctors prescribed me sports therapy and x-rays which never diagnosed the real problem.

I did my online research and needed an MRI to see the anatomy of my knee. It took an act of Congress but I eventually went through the process to get the referral for an MRI.

The results are…..(Drum roll please)

I had both of my ACL torn to oblivion and a torn menicus.

I got the surgery I needed and now I can one day train for the Olympics. (Yea, right!)

If you’re curious what that type of surgery looks like press play on the video.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Reconstruction Animation

Chapter 2 – A Walk In The Park, is like my experience with knee problems. You’ll see Jake limping around in life until he gets the needed treatment.

The chapter begins with Jake reasoning with himself if that was actually the Apostle John. There was a rumor among the disciples that Jesus said John would not die. I love how rumors take a life of it’s own. When I took on the role as Children’s Ministry Director, a rumor was spread that I was going to be the Youth Director when we already had a Youth Pastor. Why do Christians do this to each other?

Jake is “torn” over his faith and doubts creep in if he was called to be the associate pastor. Did he catch the dangerous spiritual disease called religion? The witness of John has given him an “insatiable” craving to know our Lord and Savior in a deeper way. Jake realized that he’s been playing church instead of being the church. But it wasn’t always like that.

Problems arise in ministry and Jake has to put out these raging fires. One of the complaints was from a lady (who has been attending for two years) that the church was unfriendly and hasn’t been invited out by anyone. Then Jake’s assistant leader has become discontent with the how the church has become “impersonal” and plans on taking his family to another church.

Jake shares his background and resume with us. He grew up in the church and built a successful real estate business. As the church (he founded for 15 years) was growing, he was given the opportunity to go into full-time ministry. However, he took on the role because he felt guilty by traditional preaching that money was a god. Folks, this type of teaching is a trap. Just because you have a stable and successful life doesn’t mean you’re not doing God’s Will. I’ve had a believer comment that they noticed our new house and car, and instead of giving praise to God for blessing us, he turned it into a negative. Religion is such a deadly disease and many people don’t even know it.

Jake goes for a walk to the park where he stumbles upon John. I picture Jake like a wounded soldier about to bleed to death and John like a medic coming to his aide.

“I am really frustrated. It seems like everyone I’ve talked to lately is running on empty—even Christians I’ve known for decades. I met with one of our elders yesterday, who I’ve always thought to be a rock. Jim’s pretty disillusioned with it all these days. He told me he often wonders if God is even real or if this whole Christianity thing is just a crock.”

John’s counsel was:

“Understand something, Jake, this life in Jesus is a real thing. It’s not a game. When people sense something’s wrong, you know what I’ve discovered? Something usually is.”

“But what about you, Jake. Is it working for you?”

“Is what working?”

“Your faith. Are you experiencing God’s life to the degree you desire it?”

Ever heard of W.W.J.D? This reminds me of how Jesus always knew how to ask the right questions to draw out of us what we already knew or something we’ve been blinded to.

John continues to help Jake see the “disease” that is sucking the life out of him.

“Do you know why you feel so empty?”

“I haven’t really thought about it, John. I’ve been busy and it seems like he’s using me to touch people. I just figured this is the way it was supposed to be. I don’t let myself think about it too much. It’s too discouraging. I mean I have a lot to be thankful for, a loving and understanding wife, wonderful children, a nice home and I’m serving God with everything I have. But it’s hollow in here.” I punched my fist against my chest as my eyes moistened even more.

“Jim scared you didn’t he?”

“Huh?” For the second time, I was thrown off track.

“Maybe you feel just as empty as he does but won’t slow down enough to admit it.”

Below is biblical counsel that fixes things instead of masking or duck taping a problem. This is counsel that comes from someone who walks with Jesus. And maybe someone who was religious at one point and has sympathy and compassion for others trapped by it.

“You know what this whole thing is about, Jake?

…It’s about life—God’s real life filling your own. The life of God is not some theological abstraction. It is fullness, freedom, joy and peace of living in him that endures in the face of your worst circumstances. That life was in the Son and he came to share it with anyone who would put his or her trust in him.

“It’s not about working hard, big ministries or new buildings. It’s about life that you can see, taste and touch; something you can frolic in every day that you live. I know my words fail to describe it adequately, but you know what I’m talking about. You’ve had moments like that, haven’t you?”

“Yes. Yes I have, but they were always so fleeting. I remember how much like that it was in the early days, but I’m a long ways from that now. What’s wrong with me? How can I be a Christian for so long, be so active in the church, and still not get it? How do I lose touch with that life, I’m certainly not trying to.”

“I’ve watched it happen over and over again. It is epidemic today. Somehow our spiritual experience makes the wrong things important and we end up distracted from his true life. It happened in the early church too. Do you remember what happened in Ephesus and what Jesus said to them in his Revelation letter? Their theology was impeccable. They knew the truth so well they could spot error like a gnat in a bowl of soup at a hundred paces. They were not afraid to confront those who put themselves forward in ministry to find out who was telling the truth and who was fabricating a message just to build a name for themselves. Their endurance in times of suffering was second to none in all Christendom. Suffering seemed to make them stronger the longer they faced it and they never complained when assailed by others. But for all that was Jesus pleased with them?”

I call this “darn-right” christianity. The church of Ephesus was merely going through the motions (and emotions) and the more they got “busy” they became more like Martha, instead of like Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus. Even good things like too much chocolate chip cookies and icecream can be bad for us. =) (Sorry, I’ve got a bad sweet tooth)

Their conversation is getting better and better….

I had recently taught that passage, so I knew what John was talking about. “No, he chided them for having left their first love.”

“That’s right. Amazing isn’t it? What they lacked created such a vacuum that any good they might have accomplished was swallowed up by it. They had left the ravishing love they had for Jesus in the beginning. Without it their service was meaningless. You can get so busy working for him that you lose sight of knowing him. Not one bit of it was motivated in their love for him or his for them. That made everything else they did not just worthless, but destructive actually.”

“That’s me! I said. You are talking about me.”

“It’s an old story, Jake. It’s been rerun a million times under a million different names. Do you remember the day the love of Jesus first captured your heart?”

Here is the whole chapter in a nut shell:

We are so quickly captured by a work-driven religious culture that devours the very love it thinks it sustains.

…”In Ephesus it was ferreting out false teachers. In Galatia it was getting everyone to observe the Old Testament rituals. Today it’s to get them to cooperate with the church program. It doesn’t matter what leads people away from God’s life, just so it preoccupies them enough to act like an adequate substitute for it. It’s easier to see the problem when the standard is circumcision in Ephesus than when it is Sunday morning attendance in Kingston. But both can lead to the same place—bored and disillusioned believers, no longer embracing Father’s life.”

Jake has to cut his meeting short with John so he can catch his appointment. John gives Jake the cure for his disease:

Just be real with Father and resist the urges to crawl back into your shell and silently endure lifelessness. Your struggle stems from the call of God’s spirit to your own. Ask him to forgive you for substituting anything for the power of his love and invite him to show you how your diligent efforts at good works for him may be obscuring his love for you. Let God do the rest. He will draw you to himself.”

…Won’t it be a joy again to wake up loved by God every day, without having to earn it by any act of righteousness on your part? That is the secret to first love. Don’t try to earn it. Know that you are accepted and loved, not for what you can do for God, but because he chose you in Christ by his incredible mercy.”

… “This is not difficult, Jake. In this kingdom you really do get what you seek. That is the point of the whole thing. If you are looking for a relationship with God you will find it.”

I’m just amazed in how God is using this novel in my life as it applies to many areas I’ve experienced and still experiencing. I liken it to days after my knee surgery; it was painful to the core (even with pain meds). And my first physical therapy session was scheduled a week later, but I was on the road to recovery.

It’s been over a year now and my knees feel stronger…As a matter of fact, I might pursue my cage fighting career in the UFC. (Yea, right!)

Brandon Heath – Jesus In Disguise