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Monday, April 18, 2005


absent

A shadow fell across my laptop screen and I looked up to see my friend standing over my shoulder, holding his usual 4-shot mocha.

"Finishing your book?" he asked.

I nodded and smiled.

"Time for a break?"

I nodded again, so he eased himself into a chair across the table from me. We talked briefly about his job, my deadline, and why Starbucks insists on playing their music so loudly. And then my friend began talking about church ... and why he doesn't go.

I didn't know that. He'd mentioned something about his church once, so far as I knew, he went regularly.

"I went every Sunday for awhile," he said. "but I quit going after about three months. I just didn't enjoy it anymore."

On occasion, I hear things that leave me speechless. My mute state doesn't last long, but in that span of confusion, while I'm trying to force illogical words into recognizable patterns, I can't think of a single response.

During this pause, my friend continued. "I don't need it. I can just worship God by myself."

I regained my ability to speak. "Well, sure you can. I mean, God isn't locked in a building. You can worship him anytime, anywhere. But why do you suppose he told us to not forsake gathering together? And what about the fact that Jesus--through whom all things were made, including the synagogue, the priests and the scrolls they held and read from--went to that synagogue regularly and sat through the teaching?"

My friend smiled and nodded, as thought he had no issue with what I said. Then he shrugged. "I just don't enjoy it. And I don't force myself to do things I don't find enjoyable."

What?

I like this person. Since meeting him about a year ago (through a mutual friend), I've loved talking with him about the Bible. Though not typically a reader, he'll stay up late reading his Bible. It's been a blessing to hear his passionate outbursts about something he'd just read. But this new announcement startled me.

I felt as if we spoke different languages. To my way of thinking, if God says to do something, you do it. And if we're followers of Christ, we imitate Christ. So that settles the matter, in my opinion. But my friend went by a different standard. To him, if it feels good--do it. Otherwise, stay home. How could we reach an understanding with such conflicting foundations?

I appealed to his desire for maturity. "We grow as we yield. The more we obey, the more God uses us. But if we only obey in the things we want to obey in, we remain spiritual infants. Our obedience can't be based on our emotion--it has to be based on our willingness to love and serve God."

I think I offended my friend with that. "I do lots of things I don't want to do," he insisted. He then went on to list all the things he does around his home to help his wife. They were good things, all of them. But it still didn't answer the question of why he wouldn't plug into a church.

"But if you obey in forty thngs and keep one thing back for yourself, one thing that you refuse to give over to God, that's the very thing he wants from you," I said. "And this isn't even a hard thing. This is simply fellowshiping with his people and being strengthened for the coming week."

He didn't budge. So I appealed to his sense of responsibility. "You've been given a spiritual gift. God gave you something unique, something the body of Christ needs from you. It's not yours to hoard. For the body to function properly, we need to use our gifts to bless one another."

He still didn't budge. I couldn't get him to acknowledge a single thing I'd said. And after a half an hour of unproductive conversation, my friend wished me luck on the last chapter of my book and left.

When I turned back to my work, after watching him drive out of the Starbucks parking lot, I couldn't write. My heart felt incredibly heavy, and as I sat there sorting out my thoughts, I realized the one question I could have asked that may have pierced my friend's stubbornness; the one question that should be asked of each of us who claim to belong to Christ:

What won't you do for your Savior?

What line will you refuse to cross? What command will you deem unreasonable? What suggestion will you ignore? What blessing will you withhold ... from the One who withheld nothing for you? Is it possible to picture the broken body of Jesus hanging on that rough, bloody cross and see those eyes looking straight into your soul and determinedly hold your ground? "This, Lord. This is the thing you may not have from me."

Oh, God. I'll turn this around and point it straight to myself. Teach me, God. Teach me to hold every dream, every passion, every preference, every desire with an open hand. Give me the strength to obey whatever you ask, to yield when you say yield, to stop and go at the slightest whisper from you. Let there be nothing in all the world I would not do or give up for you.

Jesus, you proved your love with an extravagent sacrifice. Help me to do the same.

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9 Comment:

At 4/18/2005 6:08 PM, Blogger Teresa had this to say ...

I GREATLY enjoyed your post. I would have answered your friend as you did a while back. But I can understand your friend's point of view. Could it be that he is not having a true connection to the people of God, or maybe he does not like the 'disconnection' and 'show' of the institution that we've created that is not what God intended. God did create us to need others, but is that need being fulfilled, for him? You might want to check out the book Jaded by A.J. Kiesling and then give it to your friend. Your friend does not sound like someone who is running from God, but just does not like church in the box that it is in. Go to this link and read: http://sojourner.typepad.com/house_church_blog/2005/03/church_as_we_kn.html

 
At 4/18/2005 8:42 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Hi Teresa! Thanks for the link. I'll go check it out.

Actually, the people at his church sound very nice (and I've always heard good things about this particular church). I might wonder the same thing--that maybe he wasn't connecting--except the only complaint he voiced about church was that he didn't like and didn't see the need for a "worship" time. He said we make it all about music (which is partly true) and it seemed to irk him that most churches had a half hour of worship time before the teaching. He made the comment that he suspected "all churches are the same."

I really like this person and I was grieved more than anything else by the fact that he based his decision to go or not on how it made him feel emotionally. That scares me, because if we base our decisions on our emotions rather than on what the Word says, eventually our emotions will lead to something destructive.

But I agree with what you said about connecting. If a person can walk through our doors and not feel that they've been seen, or that anyone cares that they're there, we've failed to extend the love of Christ.

Thanks so much for visiting--and taking the time to leave me such a well-thought out comment! :)

 
At 4/18/2005 10:27 PM, Blogger Donna J. Shepherd had this to say ...

We're on the same wavelength. I posted about this very same issue last week. We need each other. The body of Christ needs all the parts to work at best efficiency, and in harmony. So the church needs us, and we need the church. We find strength in the Body, and encouragement. I could go on and on, but as a PW, I hear far too often from people who claim they don't need the church, and it saddens me. Great post.

 
At 4/18/2005 10:39 PM, Blogger dotbar had this to say ...

I fought a long time with legalism and, finally, in my burned out state, I stopped going to church for awhile. Oh, I guess that was after we lost our position as pastors for being just a little too honest. That's another story, though, isn't it. Sometimes, all a person needs is a little love and acceptance and a lot of grace. In fact, that's what we all need. None of us is quite a "there" as we think, but you will never know it unless God strips you down to bare bones. When all pretense is gone, you have a chance to see what is really in your heart and usually, it's not quite as noble as you would have thought.

 
At 4/19/2005 5:06 AM, Blogger Monica had this to say ...

Great post, Shannon. I thought long and hard about the question-what wouldn't you do for God--

I am not so vain as to not appreciate one thing--I would have loved to live in the time when Jesus walked the Earth as one of us-but I am so grateful I never had to find out which part of the crowd I would have been. I love him so much but I would hate to know who I would have been back then.
The only thing that comes to mind today is Abraham/Isaac--the thought of sacrificing my child or being willing to. Of course, he did go to war and my younger son wants to go to Marine basic between his junior and senior years-do I "sacrifice" him by signing the papers?
No. Maybe that is my one thing. I just cling to the promise-God only gives us what we can handle and nothing more.

 
At 4/19/2005 5:50 AM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Thanks, Donna--I have GOT to get over to your blog! I'm still wrapping up my book (editor gave me another week since she's so backed up she couldn't possibly get to my manuscript till then), but when it's off my desk, I'm going to spend a whole day reading other people's blogs. :)

Monica, I think you hit on the line most women (people, probably) struggle with. And I think you're right about already crossing it for your son. Your posts have really touched my heart.

Dotbar, I'm a legalism hater myself. I hope nothing I wrote in that post led you to think otherwise. The difference between legalism and obedience is motive. Jesus obeyed in everything, but you would never call him a legalist. Legalists work for approval, often out of fear of either man or God. But to obey because you're motivated by love and gratitude is entirely another matter. I followed your profile to your blog and saw that it's entitled "The Bitter Christian." I'm so sorry you've had hurtful experiences in the past. I pray the future hold more tenderness for you. God bless you!

 
At 4/19/2005 9:38 AM, Blogger Teresa had this to say ...

Thanks for responding Shannon! You know singing is only part of worship and for the longest time, my husband did not like singing or even listening to the music in church. As he grew in his faith, that changed: now 8 years later, he is a pastor. God may have great plans for your friend, just love him!

 
At 4/21/2005 11:20 AM, Blogger HerWryness had this to say ...

This post has been on my mind and heart more than I care to admit. We will be more faithful in our search for a homechurch because of it.

 
At 4/23/2005 12:07 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Let me know how your search goes, Robin. I'll be praying God leads you to just the right group of people.

 

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