Over the last few days I’ve been converting some of our home movies over from video tape onto DVD’s. As everyone tends to do, we see things in our home movies that we had long forgotten about and the memories come flooding in. Along with those memories, however, comes a realization of just how much time is slipping away from you.
As I was sorting through the video tapes and watching some of the video, there was a lot of video of the activities we participated in at our old church. Children’s Christmas plays, annual Fall Festival events, Vacation Bible Schools, missions banquets and the like. I began to think about just how much of our life was wrapped up in our previous church’s activities. Basically, if the doors were open we were there. For a bunch of years we volunteered for just about everything our church needed help with. This not only included activities, but we were very involved with all of the spiritual stuff such as bible studies and youth services.
This high level of activity went on until about 2 years ago when my wife and I began to become a little burned out from all of the activity. At first, we just backed off a little to take a bit of a breather. We had both “hit a brick wall” in our spiritual growth and we realised all of the busyness could be the culprit. Keep in mind, we didn’t “quit”, we just went from about ten things per month down to maybe seven. We were both spending so much time with church we didn’t have time for God.
My wife, especially, was involved in almost everything the church offered. If they served the community, she was there. If they had a banquet, she was there. If they had virtually any children’s activity, she was there. She worked a lot of long, hard hours and was glad to do it because I had been blessed with a good paying job that allowed her not to have to work outside the home.
What happened, however, when we backed off a little and began to turn down requests for help here and there shocked us. Suddenly it seemed as if our spiritual condition was in question. As if our standing before God was somehow now suspect.
You see, most of our evangelical churches preach a message of God’s Grace. His unmerited favor. Of how Jesus died on the cross for our sins and he offers His salvation freely to us. All we have to do is ask for His forgiveness. Most would agree that this is a free gift from God and nothing we do earns His free gift of salvation. Most would also agree that we can’t do anything to “hold on” to that salvation either. However, in practice, far too many churches these days don’t live like they really believe that God’s gift of grace is truly free.
Whether we know it or not, the guy who’s at every event moving chairs, cleaning up afterwards, showing up at every church workday, working as a church greeter in the lobby, and the like is considered to be “on fire for God”. Contrast that to the guy helping his unbelieving neighbors mow the lawn, fix their cars, on his knees every night praying and studying his bible and participating in every Sunday School class faithfully. Most of what the second man does is unseen in the eyes of the other church members and whether we want to admit it or not, the second man isn’t seen as “spiritual” as the first man.
The guy physically working harder is closer to God……that’s the way it’s viewed by the bulk of the church these days. The more you sweat for the church, the more you love God. The less you sweat for the church, the more you love the world.
As the “seeker friendly” or “purpose driven” methods of doing church have swept through our churches, this “work harder” belief has spread. The “seeker friendly” or “purpose driven” church seeks to get people involved in the church. The belief of these church models is that if someone comes into a church looking for a church home, they are more likely to stay if they can become involved and feel like they belong. Because of his belief, churches seek to find any little thing for someone to do hoping the new seeker will feel important and decide to stick around.
The problem with this belief, however, is that over time it’s become the litmus test for our spiritual condition before God. I mean, if we really loved God, wouldn’t we want to be at His church all the time?
My wife and I had poured our blood, sweat, and tears into that church……….we had become smug. We had come to believe we were blessed by God because we were working harder than the others. If you were to have asked us, however, we wouldn’t have admitted to it because we didn’t really realise it ourselves. This “earning God’s favor” thing was lurking in the dark corners of our lives waiting for the opportunity to leap out when we least expected it. And it did.
In almost a tsunami of judgement, we fell out of favor in our old church so fast we were left stunned….without a cross word ever being exchanged between ourselves and our church leadership. At all. All because we wanted to reduce our workload in order to spend more time getting our family life back in order.
But we needed it.
We had grown too arrogant and self righteous. Sub-conciously we were confident God was proud of us for all we were doing for Him. I was “his boy” and my wife was “Daddy’s Little Favorite Helper”.
You see, this attitude that we are anything before God is the oldest lie told by Satan. You wouldn’t even be able to read this blog without the unmerited favor of God. You wouldn’t even be able to take your next breath unless it’s granted by God. You wouldn’t even be able to walk into the next church service or serve on the next church committee unless God granted it to you as a gift. We’re all incapable of anything apart from God.
How arrogant is it of us to think we “got it all goin’ on” because we attend every church service when ol’ Sister So and So only shows up every other Sunday? We have no idea what ol’ Sister So and So is having to go through at home every week. Maybe her husband beats her every Sunday morning. Maybe she was molested when she was a little girl. Maybe the fact that she’s even able to overcome the shame of these events in her life and make it every other Sunday is actually a testimony to God’s Grace in her life.
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Romans 4:4-5, ESV)
I don’t know where the road I’m on is leading right now. One thing I do know, though, is that I’ve traveled the “Man Pleasing” road far too long and I only found it led me further and further out into the desert far away from Bread and Living Water.
Surprisingly, though, there sure was a lot of people out there.