This past weekend (July 4th) we made a flying trip to the Bend area and in the process were able to see and reconnect with some old friends. The conversations varied but one theme somewhat stood out, centralized by the comment of one of my friends; “I don’t like the God of the organized church very well, but I do like the God portrayed by Jesus.” Now, had you not heard the ‘rest of the story’, some may have found this statement offensive, at least the first part.
The quote brings me to a theme that is close to my heart as a look back over the journey I have traveled, one filled with many things including frustrations and misguided theology. I have written of the fact that I did not really know (shocking truth) that much about how much God loves me, this following having been raised in a pastor’s home, college level training to become a pastor, and serving as a pastor for nearly 20 years. I was much more familiar with the God who carries a big stick, the one who wants to crush us as soon as we do wrong, the one who designed the slippery slope to hell. It appears to me that too many Christians have been introduced to this same God character.
It is true that God can be a deliverer of judgment, and He does. I’m very up on that one. But that is not what’s at the core of His character. The apostle John writes quite extensively that God is love and to think otherwise is to not know God. How scary to think that for so many years I taught primarily about the God with the big stick. I was talented at delivering the ‘bad news’ rather than the ‘good news’.
Once we begin to cross the bridge into an understanding that He really does love us, oh how it changes our perspective on what this journey is all about. We may find that ‘dutiful’ Christianity no longer appeals to us. Just going to church and following a religious order may even turn you off. Rather, living in freedom and enjoying our relationship with Jesus begins to take precedence over church rules and regulations. I can begin to simplify my doctrinal positions down to the basics as I realize that it’s only the ‘non-negotiables’ that really matter. These are primarily the ‘love’ issues. Love God (because He first loved us), and love one another. Most of the other stuff we have focused on probably falls under the banner of ‘negotiables’.
The church has spent decades if not centuries on trying to reach a lost world through scare tactics. Yes, hell is real, judgment is real, pain is real. Every one pretty much knows about these things because their personal journey can be rather hellish. The ‘good news’ isn’t more of the same. The ‘good news’ is that “God so loved the world…” Like any good parent (and He’s the best), He’s not into making our life miserable. He wants what is best for us. He’s on our side. Why is this so difficult to comprehend?
Yet, I’ve struggled with this fact for years. I want to lash out, get even, bring down fire, throw stones. What has been wrong with me? It’s this horrible misunderstanding of who God is. Years of teaching, indoctrination, training, environment, a portrayal of a God who’s doesn’t really like me, but grits his teeth while granting me merciful love out of duty. Oh my, how terrible to be immersed into such an ugly religion.
I see a revolution of sorts coming to the church. As people grow weary of ‘religion’, institutional church, following men who have a need to be recognized, the bottom will eventually fall out on all this. What will be left is the need to know a God of love who wants to be in relationship with His people. The fall of America that Jake writes about may be necessary to bring the American church to where it belongs. I will write more on this my next go-around.
By the way, He does love me!