I am reading a book right now that is rocking me to my core. Chapter three just totally captivated me this morning and I wanted to share part of it with you.Please excuse the longness f this post. I don’t normally write them this long, but it was just too good to pass up on not sharing this part of this book with you.
“Jake, do you see that boy sitting next to your daughter in the shorts and yellow t-shirt?”
“No. Not specifically.”
“Well, I’m not surprised. There wasn’t much to look at really. He wasn’t making any noise, just sitting there with his head down and his arms folded.”
“Oh, I know who you’re talking about. That must be Benji.”
“Benji. Did you notice that he didn’t know one word of that memory verse and he didn’t even get up to get the star he earned for coming today?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“How do you think all of that made him feel?”
“I hope it made him want to do better; to bring his Bible, to come more often, and to memorize his verses. That’s how we motivate the kids. Everyone does it. It’s for a good purpose.”
“But how is he ever going to compete against. . . .Sherri, was that it? Are his parents as supportive as you are?”
“He only has his mom and has never seen his dad. She’s a hard worker and loves him a lot, but you know how tough single parenting can be. I can’t even imagine it myself.”
“Do you think Benji will go away encouraged?”
“That’s what we’re hoping.” I thought about Benji sitting there with that distant look I had seen in his eyes so many times in the past. “But I guess we’d have to say that it hasn’t worked for him yet, although it works for most of the other kids. We have one of the most successful children’s ministries in the city.”
“Is it your point that Sherri’s feelings of accomplishment are worth Benji’s shame?”
I tried to answer his question, but couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t sound incredibly stupid.
“Did you go to Sunday School, Jake, when you were young?”
“I did. My parents literally raised us in church. I even won a Bible for memorizing one hundred and fifty-three Bible verses in one three-month contest.”
John’s eyes popped open. “Really? And what drove you to that?”
“The winner got a brand new Bible.”
“And I suppose you probably didn’t even need one.”
I paused a moment, remembering that my parents had bought me a Bible shortly before that. I cocked my head and squinted my eyes at him bewilderly as if to say, How did you know?
“The ones who win usually don’t need the prize.”
“I did have another Bible, but this one was special. I had won it.”
“A hundred and fifty three? That’s a lot of verses.”
“Memorizing has always come easy for me. I just read a verse over a couple of times and I’ve got it. It really wasn’t hard. Most verses I memorized in the morning before church.”
“How many verses did the second place winner memorize?”
“About thirty-five if I remember right. I really blew them away.”
“And you’re thinking that all of this is a healthy demonstration of spiritual fervor?”
Well now that you question it, I thought, but remained silent.
“What else did you win?”
“When I was around ten, I won a gold plated pin for two years of consecutive Sunday School attendance. The Pastor gave it to me one Sunday morning in front of the whole church. You should have heard the applause. I will never forget how special I felt.”
“It gave you something to live for, didn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been seeking ever since, that feeling of being special?”
It was as if a veil had just been lifted off of my eyes. Most of my decisions had been made craving the recognition and honor of other people. I loved people’s approval and often fantasized about it. If the truth be told, that was probably the strongest draw in leaving my real estate job and taking a position in ministry, where I could be up front, well-known, and appreciated. “Did that one moment cause me to seek approval?”
“Of course not. It was a lot of moments like that, exposing and nourishing a desire you already had way down here.” He pointed to my chest. “Who doesn’t want to be liked and appreciated? It’s an easy thing to use when you are trying to motivate people to do good things. The larger question is, did all that memorization and attendance help you know your Father better?”
“What’s easier for you to do? Pursue relationship with the Father, or your own sense of personal success? That’s the real test. It seems to me you wouldn’t be so desperate if it had really taught you how to know Father’s love. Instead, you are so busy seeking everyone’s approval, you don’t realize you already have His.”
“What do you mean? How can I have His approval when I am still struggling so?”
“Because you are struggling for the wrong thing. You think that you can earn Father’s approval. We’re approved not by anything we can do, but by what He did for us on the cross. Honestly, Jake, there’s not one thing you can do to make Him love you any more today; and there’s not one thing you can do to make Him love you any less either. He just loves you.”
“It is your security in love that will change you, not your struggle to try and earn it.”
My eyes began to moisten with tears. He had unlocked something I had never considered before. “So, all my efforts are in vain?”
“If they are directed at trying to get Him to love you more, yes they are. If you never counseled another person or taught another class, Jake, He would love you no less.”
What? I was speechless! I wanted to believe him, but he had just challenged everything I had ever worked for. While it would explain why so many of my efforts had fallen short, I had no idea how to embrace what he just said. Was I really trying to earn what He had already given?
“You know that morning you got the attendance pin? If that pastor would have really loved you, do you know what he would have said? ‘Ladies and gentleman we want to introduce a young man who has just completed a two year span of never missing a Sunday school class. We want to pray for him because that means his family priorities are so askew that for the last two years they never took a vacation together. It means he probably came here when he was sick when he should have been resting. It means that winning this gold-plated trinket and your approval is more important to him than being your brother. And not one day of his attendance will draw him any closer to God.’
further into the chapter. I hope that this post is not too long at the moment, but here is where the real light bulb came on for me. This is what I have been struggling with for the last year. Do not miss this part.
“One of the most significant lessons Jesus taught His disciples was to stop looking for God’s life in the regimen of rituals and rules. He came not to refurbish their religion, but to offer them a relationship. He wanted His disciples to know that the rules and traditions of men get in the way of the powed and life of His Father.”
“No prison is as strong as religious obligation.”
“I passed a synagouge and the Rabbi came out and asked if I could go in and turn on some lights for him because someone had forgotten to do it. He could not do it because he would be breaking the sabbath.”
“That sounds kind of silly doesn’t it?”
“To you it might be, and so would some of your rules and rituals to him.”
“Some of mine? I don’t do anything like that about the Sabbath.”
“Of course not, but what if you missed Sunday morning services for a month–just stayed home and gave your tithe to the poor instead of putting it in the offering plate?”
“Those are the same thing?”
“Yes, but I don’t do those things because I think they’re law. I do them because I am free to.”
“The rabbi would say no different. But if you were honest you would see that you do them because you believe they make you more acceptable to God and make Him more favorably disposed to you. If you didn’t do them you would feel guilty.”
Light bulb moment.
I will stop right here and let this portion of this chapter soak in for you as it has for me. Even that word makes me cringe. Guilty. I know that is the truth–the cold hard truth with me right now.
I am struggling with guilt.
And so many other things that this book is bringing to light for me. I will share more in another post. I have to step away and think for a bit.
The excerpts provided here are from a book entitled, So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore.