Dessert-ed Islands

Peter: “Lucy, why didn’t I see Aslan?”
Lucy: “….maybe you weren’t looking for him.”

The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian  : CS Lewis

I was chastised recently by someone, albeit sarcastically, for posting quotations from movies – like the Jerry Maguire manifesto (“it was just a mission statement”). It seems that quoting Christian authors who think very deeply – much more deeply and profoundly than the common man – is a preferable tactic with Facebook evangelism. This sense that saying something fathoms above a common person’s head makes it holier…less defiled.

A few weeks ago, I quoted the Jerry Maguire Mission Statement. Did you know there was an actual document, written by the author of the screenplay? It wasn’t just a few lines tossed into the script to make the movie make sense. There is a whole document, of which I quoted,

Let us start a revolution. Let us start a revolution that is not just about basketball shoes, or official licensed merchandise. I am prepared to die for something. I am prepared to live for our cause. The cause is caring about each other.”

Timothy Keller, or John Piper didn’t write this. It was penned years before pragmatist Rick Warren put a purpose driven pen to paper.

Crowe continues in the document:

A life is not worth living if you are sleepwalking through it. Because that is what feels like death. That is what causes athletes to, out of despair, get drunk and wrap their cars around a pole. Or lash out at someone they love. Or that is what might have caused Mimee to careen into another car in an oncoming lane of traffic. It is the feeling of sleepwalking. Of others living life around you, keeping their fists tightly wound around whatever dollars they can muster, caring little more than nothing about those around you. We cannot sleepwalk. We cannot just survive, anything goes. We can take control of our lives, we can quit sleepwalking, we can say – right now, these are our lives, it is time to start living it. It is time to not second guess, to move forward, to make mistakes if we have to, but to do it with a greater good in mind.”

I hosted a small group study, and was notorious for quoting movies. Not because I am any less versed in my Bible – but because I see God in the writing and acting played out of authors and directors reaching to describe universal truths – in the absence of Christ they have no definition or reference point.

Why must Neo die to end the war between Zion and the Machines?
Why is there good (Force) and evil (the Dark Side) in the world if we are cosmic accidents?
Why doesn’t wealth, fortune, and innumerable women satisfy a successful sports agent?

All around us – a world of people searching for answers to these questions of love, sacrifice, justice, and hope. Of Good, and Evil. A quest for peace – for answers and purpose.

About one year ago – an ember of discontent and dissatisfaction began burning in my life. A sense that I didn’t really believe the things I had read. A sense that others who professed Christ around me, didn’t really believe it either. I was pulled backwards into my Bible and forced to look at it again, for myself, and measure my fealty against the commands of my professed King and Savior.

I wasn’t really loving the people in my Church family. I wasn’t sharing life with them throughout the week. I wasn’t sharing my stuff with them, or eating dinner (breaking bread) in their homes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and 80% of Sunday.

I wasn’t really feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, offering drinks and hospitality to the thirsty and strangers of my life.

Lastly, I was actively ignoring the clearest and last directive Christ gave before ascending into heaven. I was not making disciples, or baptizing anyone for that matter. In the year we hosted a small group of individuals in a formally structured Bible Study, I couldn’t think of one person invited who needed to hear the message – who was curious – who had questions. I couldn’t point to a single person (with myself included) across the 16 of us who gathered that could say, “God used me to lead ‘so and so’ to the Lord”.

A phrase came to mind to describe the modern Western phenomenon I’d experienced in my life, and observed in the lives of the people around me. I called it “Dessert-ed Islands”.

This idea that we all have our homes – our safe havens to return to, our base of operations that we spend most of our time within. I say “dessert-ed” because we fill those homes with any one of a number of mind numbing anesthetics that calm the stirring anxiousness in our hearts that is the Holy Spirit saying, “Can we get up now?”. Staring at 50″ 3D L.E.D. flat screens that studies have actually shown put our brain waves into what is termed “Alpha Waves”…the same 8-12 Hz brain wave pattern experienced by people who are hypnotized, or asleep. We surround ourselves with digital alcohol and electronic eclairs that within 1 minutes time devolve our thought processes into suggestive states.

I started asking myself a most fundamental question. Do I really believe what I tell people I believe? Do I believe I’m going to live forever?

If the Bible was really the inspired Word of the Creator of the universe, why wasn’t I reading through it daily – searching its pages for answers in my life?

If the number one defining trait of a true faith was an obvious-to-society love for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – why was it uncomfortable for people to hear me tell them, “I love you”. To be asked, to confess their sins to me as I confessed my sins to them? To ask them to (and conversely to be asked) to participate in their lives throughout the week – beyond the forced 60.02 minutes under the same roof once a week.

If I really believed this message was the difference between eternal salvation, and eternal punishment and damnation – why the hell wasn’t I fighting harder to tell the people that WOULD hang around me about this gospel…this good news? If death is gain – what had I to fear, no, how selfish was I to sit quietly and pretend everything was okay. This get-out-of-jail-free-thought that maybe someday that person would stumble into a church building and hear a carefully crafted sermon prepared by someone with a Master’s of Divinity degree.

If I believed that this life was just the short end of a very long piece of rope, than something was horribly wrong in the matrix. If I looked at it from a pure Engineering perspective – and analyzed the time I spent doing things that preserved my pride – my comfort – and followed what everyone else around me was doing….versus reading the Bible for myself and looking at what Jesus told us to do, how He told us to live, the summation was a pie graph about as silly as this one:

So I’ve been sharing that struggle online. Mostly for myself. I read and re-read my posts. It helps me discover what I really believe, and what I’ve been told to believe. It forces me to look at myself the way others see me.

I’ve had multiple discussions with people who are “concerned”. That somehow my posts are confusing people. Causing them to question things. Conversations with several individuals that started out cordial enough, only to reveal not too far into the dialog that a reprimand of sorts had been prepared for deployment when the opportunity was right. It’s always fun to get to the point in a conversation with someone where you realize that they really weren’t interested in talking “with” you, but were waiting the entire time to talk “to” you and get the point they had driven miles with to tell you.

I’ll tell you what I told them – all related to my dessert-ed islands theory.

I don’t think people meeting in a big building once a week to sing songs and face forward to hear a sermon is wrong. I don’t think that the “early church” model was a de-facto prescription for every church. I do think that 120 minutes of your life each week (more like 90 if you take out cake and coffee time) spent listening to someone else’s observations about the bible is unbiblical, though. Fist bumps in the fellowship hall isn’t “loving” one another. When I read my bible – whether in Acts or Ephesians – I see the most tightly knit group of people in history living life so close as to be confused with Hippy Communists.

People say, “well Michael – they met in homes, and then they also met in the synogauge once a week”. Yes, they did. Interestingly enough about that verse in Acts chapter 2 Calvin in his commentaries states,

 Continuing in the temple We must note that they did frequent the temple for this cause, because there was more opportunity and occasion offered there to further the gospel.” Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50]

Calvin’s primary observation interprets the early church as meeting constantly in each other’s homes during the week – celebrating communion together and their stuff and their meals and their love- and then going out into the “big building” where their other Jewish “Non-Christian” friends and family members were already meeting to convince them to follow Jesus as well.

I’d never heard anyone talk about this before. This idea that the Church was living life together throughout the week – and then meeting in the Synagogue to evangelize. One begins to realize that this was completely opposite of modern/western life, where believers come together for 1 hour to “share life”, and then go back home and live their lives with their secular families and friends. It would be like a modern Evangelical church deciding they were all going to meet at the local Jehovah’s Witnesses building and try to reach the people in that congregation. This isn’t the cast though in modern times. Something shifted at some point.

I don’t think a preset liturgy – this checklist of do this do that do this go home leaves any room for the Holy Spirit to do much of anything. In scripture, we see these groups of people praying together, all night in the same room refusing to leave until their prayers are answered. Miracles happen. We see Paul teaching about how people are to individually exercise their gifts in a service – everyone – gifts of song, of prophecy – of teaching – and interpretation. The one prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray starts with the word “OUR”, not “MY”. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, the majority of minds begin to wander as though trapped in the movie, “Groundhog Day”. We know exactly what is coming next. What words will be said. We wait for the fast song. Then the middle tempo song. Then the slow song. We go from “Copacabana”, to “Mandy”. Then turn and shake someone’s hand that we’ll never talk to again, before we sit down. We then take out our notes and start reading them like word puzzles, guessing what the blank could be when we read,

“Paul teaches that these things remain….faith, hope, and _______________”

Then the seventh inning stretch song, followed by the offering, followed by the benediction, followed by the muffins, followed by the soccer game.

I’ve gone through and read all my “esians” and “onians”. I don’t care how many degrees you have or what you can or can’t say in greek or hebrew. Jesus said, “I have to LEAVE PLANET EARTH so that SOMETHING BETTER CAN COME TO TAKE MY PLACE”. That was the Holy Spirit. This person who would lead us, direct us, and guide us, among 50 other things the Holy Spirit (who we’re supposed to be “in contact with” constantly) does.

I picture the Holy Spirit at most pre-organized services sitting in the back saying, “Is it my turn yet?”…..”Can I go now?”…….Don’t get me wrong. I believe there’s a place for teaching during a service. For singing hymns and songs and praises. But when those things are so planned out…so carefully orchestrated that there’s zero room for the third person of the Trinity to do anything differently or spontaneously, something’s off. If 5 people out of 1,500 used their spiritual gift during a service, something’s off. It’s not okay. Please stop telling me that it is. Many of you already sense and know that it’s not.  You sense that there’s something inside of you that longs to participate in the service. That you have something to offer. An insight to share. A confession to make. A prayer to pray out loud. A Hymn to sing. A sense that these services should be more like a family reunion than a Kiwanis or Rotary club meeting. You understand what Paul was saying when he wrote to the Church in Corinth,

“Well then, my brothers, whenever you meet let everyone be ready to contribute a psalm, a piece of teaching, a spiritual truth, or a “tongue” with an interpreter. Everything should be done to make your church strong in the faith”. (emphasis added). Service is not a spectator sport. It’s an organized spiritual parade where everyone is in the street, and no one is on the sidewalk, and the Holy Spirit is leading and choosing which road to turn down next.

The natural side effect of spectator services are those of you in the 15% of people that do 80% of the work…the people that never step out of their circle of responsibility who experience burn out and disillusionment. These positions that never get rotated out of. The same people are always in charge. Newcomers with zeal and direction are told to sit humbly and be quiet. Newcomers who eventually walk away, never to volunteer again, lost in the ocean of forward-facers. I’ve seen the cycle happen in the largest and smallest of churches. The best and the brightest just step down and leave with what little energy they have left.  This isn’t okay, but it’s the inevitable end effect of a Spiritless, or Spirit limited get together.

Finally, it’s not okay to think people should “come and hear”. We’re told to “go and tell” the people back home who look and think and dress and sound like us – the people we have the most credibility with, who’ve seen our lives transform before their very eyes. People who say, “Michael, you’re different than when I first met you…what happened?”. Instead, we have this sense that we should invite people to “church”, where the professionals can get after them. Where the slow song playing will tug on their heart strings. We’re simply not capable enough. We haven’t had enough training. We can’t conjugate “ABBA” in the greek, yet.

How many of us can really say why we believe what we believe?…can do what Peter tells us to do in 1 Peter 3:15-16

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (emphasis added)

Penn Jillette, of “Penn and Teller” Vegas Magic infamy confessed on his Video Blog that he has no respect for Christians who don’t proselytize, or try to evangelize everyone they meet. He said, “If you have the keys to eternal life, how much do you hate me by not trying to convince me” (paraphrased).” He says that religion is junk (he uses harsh words) but that he respects people that are actually living out what they believe.

Then there’s this web page I found tonight – from a Christian turned atheist.

He writes,

I’d like to understand Christians better. So, Christians: I have a question for you.

If you really believed some of the people you love dearly were going to spend an eternity in hell, wouldn’t that motivate you to try harder to save them?

Let’s say we all lived in Poland at the start of World War II and you got word that soon, the Nazis were going to invade the town where several of your friends and family lived. The Nazis were going take everybody off to concentration camps in chains, and possibly kill them. And let’s say this information came from a very reliable source, so that you really believed this was going to happen.

Would you just go on about your life? Would you just mention this to your friends and family in passing, and send them the occasional tract with information on the threat of the Nazis? Would you merely pray for them to see the threat and save themselves?

Or, would you do everything you could to save your friends and family?……

But this is not what Christians do for their friends and family who they really believe are on the verge of falling into eternal torture, even though they say they really believe this, and even though they feel they really believe this.

So something weird is going on. Millions of Christians really believe this stuff, but they don’t act like it.”

I’m not sure what to even write after that.

It does make me think of something C.S. Lewis also wrote – besides “The Chronicles of Narnia” he wrote a series of fictional short stories called “The Screwtape Letters”. In those letters, we are led to believe we are reading the back and forth dialog of demonic forces that have been entrusted with keeping the Christian Church ineffective in the battle for souls. In those letters we read about their strategy for keeping the Church of Christ impotent, apathetic, and indifferent. We read one such instruction to a “demon in the field”,

Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him, and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the state of his own mind–or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties of directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate the most useful human characteristics, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.
C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

I don’t want to be that guy. That guy who “practices self examination” for an hour every week, without seeing the obvious about myself. Stuff that the world sees, like the atheist author or Penn the magician. I want to see Aslan. But to see Him, I need to be looking for Him. My bible says that if I ask Him, or talk to Him that :

“He speaks to, in, and through us”. (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:11; Heb 3:7; Matt. 10:20; Acts 2:4; 8:29; 10:19; 11:12, 28; 13:2; 16:6,7; 21:4,11)

Do I really believe it?

What would the world look like if we all really believed it…if we paddled off our dessert-ed islands and lived like we were Immortals?

I think this is a thought worth exploring. If you’re not interested in exploring it, you shouldn’t read my blogs or tell people that I’m “the problem”.  Own up to reading it and post a comment on your own. Tell me why I’m wrong – show me in scripture where I’ve faltered. Let’s have the dialog.

Our moms, dads, sisters, brothers, co-workers and neighbors are waiting for us to have the dialog.

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