"So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore"--an unexpected journey, by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman. This is the title of the book I'm reading now, but the title doesn't really tell what the book is about. The authors aren't writing about not wanting to go inside a building and sit in a service. The journey spoken of challenges the reader to wonder if he is just "going through the motions of Christianity" when what he really wants to do is "mine the depths of what it really means to live deeply in Christ."
We hear this story from Jake's point of view. He meets a man named John who has so much wisdom that he wonders if this could be the apostle of Jesus. At one point in the book Jake is having many problems and questions God's care for him. After all, hasn't he done a lot for God?
John says, "You think suffering is a sign of God's displeasure with you. Didn't Job make that mistake? Suffering often indicates that (in the suffering-my addition) God is setting us free from something so that we can follow and embrace him more deeply. Walking in his life will always mean you are living against the grain. Don't expect your circumstances to conform easily to this journey. They will resist it at every turn. God wants to teach you how to walk with him through these things so that you can know a joy and peace that transcends circumstance."
This part struck me because I sometimes want to fall back into that way of thinking. If I do good, then God will certainly have to reward me for my efforts. Haven't we been taught that in church--in school--in society? In school, effort equals grades, awards, acceptance, popularity. In society, it is special tributes, mention in the newspaper, television interviews, and money. In church--stars or gifts for memorizing our Bible verses, coming to church and working our you-know-what off in various ministries.
When my girls were young, if they attended Sunday School for one full year without missing, they received a gold lapel pin. We were out of town one week end and overslept, missing SS. I hurried around and sat them down with a Bible story. Then I called (believe it or not!) the SS person in charge of keeping the records and asked if that could be counted as SS so my girls could still get their pin. Of course, I got his permission and my girls got their pin. Which, by the way, I bet they have no idea where those pins are now. I don't think the perfect attendance made one whit of difference to them, but it did to me.
John goes on to tell Jake that "the hardest thing you'll learn in this journey is to give up the illusion of controlling your own life or that you can manipulate God to bless you."...... "God is not a fairy godmother who waves the magic wand to make everything the way we want it. You won't get far if you question his love for you whenever he doesn't meet your expectations."
Here's the kicker that Jake has to tell John. "He's your father.---He loves you." He has to tell Jake that through it all, "he will never forsake you." How is it, with Jake being an assistant pastor, he never learned that?
I know for a fact that in my own life God never left me. He's brought me through some pretty rough times--times that should have destroyed me. When it was all over and I looked back, I could hear him say, "See. I never left you. I walked through it with you. I didn't forsake you then, and I won't do it now."
That's real peace. That's real Christianity.