Jesus Killed My Church–My Meditation on Guidance, Destiny, and The Big Lebowski

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Jesus Killed My Church by Randy BohlenderSteve Bremner at The Fire on Your Head podcast pointed out that Randy Bohlender‘s book Jesus Killed My Church was free for Kindle on Amazon, so I bit. Hey, provocative title–and I’d met Randy years before when our paths crossed at Vineyard Community Church in the Springdale area of Cincinnati.

The gist of Randy’s book: God leads. Put yourself in a place to hear His Spirit and then go with the flow.

Autobiographical and an apologetic for why you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, Jesus Killed My Church documents Randy’s and his wife’s first encounter with the Holy Spirit, learning to listen and trust the hearing, and following God along unexpected pathways. They end up at a home for wayward teens in the hinterlands of North Dakota, an old-fashioned Tennessee church, the Brownsville Revival, Burning Man, The Call, and the defunct College Football Hall of Fame in Mason, Ohio, all the while keeping their spiritual eyes and ears attuned to what God had next. In between stops, the Bohlenders get input from folks I’ve broken bread with, Steve Sjogren and Rusty Geverdt namely, and they reject some voices that attempt to steer them away from their God-directed courses. I mean, who hasn’t received a phone call out of the blue from some “prophetic” caller pronouncing words that clash with someone else’s prophetic leading? Been there, done that.

All the words, dreams, infillings, and circumstances that seem too good to be circumstance land the Bohlenders at Kansas City’s International House of Prayer and their eventual founding of a Christian adoption organization.

Oh, and the church they planted back in Cincinnati withered and died, hence the title.

Now, I’m going to tie this story with The Big Lebowski. Because it’s obvious, right?

Probably the most beloved film in the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-filled arsenal is The Big Lebowski. Aging stoner and White Russian-quaffer Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski finds two thugs in his home who, in the aftermath of a shakedown for cash, promptly take a leak on his rug, a favorite household item that “really ties the room together.” Seems the thugs confused this Lebowski for another Jeffrey Lebowski, a wealthy one, who has a pornstar wife gone missing, presumably kidnapped.

While trying unsuccessfully to get recompense for his ruined rug, The Dude encounters a panoply of weirdos consisting of anarchists, pretentious artists, criminals, and denizens of a bowling alley, that sport serving as a metaphor for life. The slacker Dude stumbles from one bizarre scene to another, hoping against hope that something positive might go his way regarding his rug. In between, he sires a child, buries a friend, and tries to make sense of this nonsense as he’s swept from one odd happening to the next. Helping him to cope is a cowboy who drops in now and then to comment on the proceedings, because, hey, every mythic story needs its oracle.

I know it may seem strange, but I see Bohlender’s story and The Dude’s as linked.

Recently, I had lunch with a friend, and as we discussed the vicissitudes of life as 50-something white guys in America, he stated that the world we live in now may be God’s best possible outcome. I wondered then if it was best for the whole of the world at the expense of being the best for any one of us in it, and I still wonder that.

God may very well sovereignly make the best that can be made of this sin-sick world, but what does that mean in the lives of you and me? To fill the gaps and to make that “best world” happen, does it come at the expense (as God may require) of individuals who may or may not live their “best life now”–as Joel Osteen calls it?

We have this tendency to think that God is always working His best in our lives, but are we the focus? Or is the world the focus?

When we attempt to look at another’s life and draw conclusions from it, what can we really know? And does being a Spirit-filled Christian mean that we can make any greater sense of the direction of our lives compared with someone who isn’t Spirit-filled?

As a Christian, I believe God leads. But what happens when He leads and the outcome is not only unexpected but downright bad–or at least bad on the surface? And what if it’s not just bad on the surface but terrible no matter which layer you examine?

Bohlender paints a picture of guidance by the Spirit that seems wonderful and freeing in close-up, but when you stand back and look at the big picture, it seems no better than the random vicissitudes of life.

Is that how God works? Is this His “mysterious ways” we always hear about?

And how is this any different than the story of The Dude, who somehow ends up okay in the end, if not exactly in the outcome he expects? What separates the drifting pothead seeking nothing more than to get through another day from the ardent Christian seeking guidance to change the world?

Now true, one is fictional and the other not, but when we survey the lives of people, Christian or heathen, fact and fiction converge.

I believe my friend is right about this world being the best possible world God can make given mankind’s fallenness. What that means for what you and I experience of it individually–well, that’s much harder to grok. Some seem destined for greatness, while others get ground up in the gears, and it’s not always clear which camp they belong to.

All I know is a Christian knows that somehow it’s all in preparation for when this life is done, and sometimes the when, how, and why won’t make any sense this side of heaven.

How Western Christians Succumb to Disappointment with God and to Fear

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Steve Bremner of the Fire on Your Head Podcast posted this graphic, and it got me thinking:

Spirit of Fear quotation

I was immediately struck by a one-word answer: disappointment. Christians in the West become disillusioned when we anticipate or expect an outcome and it does not meet expectations. The next time we confront a similar situation, heightened fear results.

The following passage bedeviled me for decades:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
—Luke 11:9-12 ESV

I once had someone confess to me a lack of faith in God specifically because of me. How so? Because it made no sense to that person that someone who sought so hard to follow after God could have so many rotten things happen to him at the worst possible times as I did. That person had personally witnessed faithful, God-loving Dan asking God for eggs and getting what he thought were scorpions instead. Why serve a God who treated His most ardent followers that way?

What is behind that thinking? A Western view of entitlement and middle class privilege.

Jesus, a little later in Luke:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
—Luke 12:22-34 ESV

The Psalmist adds this:

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.
—Psalms 37:23-26 ESV

That said, when I look through the Scriptures, what I do not see is any promise of God that those who love Him should have a material expectation beyond God providing food and clothing. The Father promises not to let His children starve or go naked, but He makes no promises—for this life at least—that they will inhabit mansions.

Oh, and let’s make sure we look at all of the Luke 11 passage to understand what really matters most:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
—Luke 11:9-13 ESV

Read that concluding sentence again. What is God most concerned about giving us? His Holy Spirit. Him we can have without limit.

It’s not about stuff. It’s about God giving us more of Himself.

The problem for us in the West is that we’re not satisfied with more of God.

Truth is, we’re not even satisfied with our daily bread. Or with enough clothes to keep us from being naked.

Back in Jesus’ day, and throughout most of human history, if one had food and clothing, that was enough. Because too often, those items could not be assumed. Sieges during war rendered even a crust of bread a luxury, and war was a way of life. Enemies burned fields and stole livestock. Armies laid siege to walled cities for months and years until the people inside broke.

God tells us in His Word that His children should not worry about this. He will provide food and clothing.

For those of us in the West, though, that’s not enough.

Basic needs met? Pishaw! At minimum, we must have what the other guy has. Or more. Because having more than the other guy proves our smarts are better than his. Shows how we’re better all around. Wiser. More successful.

In the case of Western Christians, having more than the basics says that whatever we’re doing religiously, we’re doing it right. We are holier. We are more committed. Our doctrine is the right one. That poor slob of a failure over there? He’s reaping what he sowed. His doctrine was bad. He sinned. He let God (or in all too many cases, the pastor or the local church) down. The loser.

So if we have less, we get disappointed. If we think we’re doing this Christianity thing right and God does not marvelously fill our material coffers, then He is being a grinch. Even if we’re not living up to some “Christian” standard, we’re mad at God anyway for not dishing enough grace to help us keep up with the Joneses.

Disappointment.

That disappointment with our perception of God’s provision leads to fear. Fear that we’ve sinned somehow. Fear that our doctrine is wrong. Fear that our entire faith has been in vain. Fear that perhaps God is not there. Fear that if God is not there, then life is all on our shoulders, and it looks like we already screwed up that life or will do so in the future.

Fact is, the myriad fears we see in the Church today have basis in whatever past disappointments with God we let fester. Despite what God may think is best for us, we think He didn’t come through. Ultimately, it’s a complete breakdown in faith.

This is rampant in the American Church.

In some sectors, it’s prosperity gospel teaching that breeds this problem. In other sectors that consider themselves above prosperity gospel teaching and who look down their pious noses at any fool who believes such things, it’s the pride of American Dream living that breeds it.

Envy and pride. Unrestrained, that pair will always lead to disappointment, which leads to fear.

In the end, all you and I can do is be the person God has made us now. We turn to Him and can expect Him to give us food, clothing, and—without measure—His Holy Spirit. Comparing our reality against anyone else’s is wrong. If anything, I think the Bible teaches that material things only serve to weigh us down, to become the very worries that choke the seed we read about in the parable of the sower.

It’s not so much that we ask our Heavenly Father for an egg and He instead gives us a scorpion. It’s that we want a factory filled with eggs and want almost nothing of our Father Himself. And we get disappointed with Him when we see evidence that God might have something different for us. Then we become afraid that we will never get our egg factory and the world will think less of us for that “lack.” Suddenly, everything looks like scorpions.

More of you, Lord, and less of everything else. Let us eat our bread and wear our clothes with glad, thankful hearts, and a deep, profound love for you and for others, while we treat everything else we may receive in this pre-eternity like gravy. For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.

Confusing Dross for Gold

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As I write, 53 is staring me in the face. I used to think that was old. Or at least, likely to place you in the group of “not with the times.” Out of touch. Maybe even a little confused by all the cool, happenin’ stuff the kiddies dig. You with me, man? Groovy.

So, recently…

I watched a 47-minute video on the simplicity of the Gospel in which the preacher didn’t once, to my recollection, state what the Gospel was. And if I was somehow lost in my befuddled dotage for the one time he may have briefly zoomed through it, he certainly did not go into any detail. Instead, he regaled us with numerous stories about the bang-up job he did personally ministering this mysterious gospel-thingy to random people he encountered. I wondered if those people got a clearer picture of the Gospel in those encounters with him than I did in the video.

My son said that in a similar meeting his group talked about the origins of Cain’s wife. Because teenagers around the world are giving up on a personal relationship with Jesus and wandering away from the faith because no one shared with them the facts behind Mrs. Cain’s being.

I sang a “worship song” that had me beseeching for the rain to fall on me. Or us. The plurality of the intended recipient(s) of that wetness is unclear to me now (again, the beginnings of dementia, I believe), as is the intent of being rained upon by what/whom and for what purpose. Still, after I was done singing, I felt like a full-blown pluviculturist.

Meanwhile, the media is telling me that Christians are up in arms—heaven knows my arms are tired from always being up about something—because of Starbucks’ red holiday cups. Of course, this has friends of mine who aren’t Christians belittling that up-in-arms-ness, whether actual Christians are upset by this or couldn’t care less. Somewhere, a Christian is miffed, so this is news and must be reported upon.

Somewhere else, a pastor is up-in-arms (there we go again) about consumeristic Christians picking and choosing churches like they pick which roast of coffee (served in a Christless red cup, no doubt) they prefer. Then those ingrates stop coming every week, like they’re supposed to. Because, consumerism. What sinners in need of repentance! This, of course, blames the people in the pews for reacting to the various marketing ploys hatched up by certain church leaders in an effort to draw more folks to their church rather than to the church across the street. Call it “The Great Church Growth Arms Race” (or “Mutually Assured Destruction, Christian Style”—as the case may be), as church leaders add one more thing they think will grab folks and then blame those folks for succumbing to the lure.

{ Insert colorful expletive here }

SlagWhen I was a kid, my brothers and I collected rocks. We even had a cool display of different types of raw gemstones and minerals.

One day, I encountered one of the showiest hunks of rock I had ever seen. It had layers of color, shimmered in the light, and featured weird, bubbly extrusions. Fascinating, but I could not identify it. A meteorite? Whatever it was, it just HAD to be priceless.

At a gem and mineral show, a lapidarist informed me it was a piece of slag.

The term the Bible employs for slag is dross. It’s waste left over from smelting precious metals. As leftovers from the real thing, it may look cool, but it’s still waste and therefore worthless.

I wonder if somewhere along the line, we Christians, in an effort to refine what we knew to be gold, wound up valuing the dross instead. I can’t make sense of life anymore unless I come to this conclusion. Nothing else fits.

After a while, you wonder if you’re the one off-kilter. That there’s something wrong with you when you find dross and recognize it for what it is, but everyone else thinks it’s beautiful and valuable. You begin to doubt if you still have all your aggies, jaspers, and swirlies.

I think the world is getting stranger, especially for the discerning Christian. More and more fellow Christians will confuse dross for gold as life gets more bizarre, and the discerning folks will be left baffled by their fellows’ confusion.

Nothing good ever comes to the person who says in public, “Hey, wait a sec, that ain’t right….” At least from an earthly perspective that’s true.

At one point, I questioned whether we should say anything. Perhaps silent, internal acknowledgment proved the best response.

But now, I think born-again Christians who are led by the Spirit must graciously, winsomely, and lovingly point out to fellow Christians that that object of admiration their fellows hold in their hands is most likely waste and not the pure gold they should treasure.

In an age when all correction meets with anger, it is certain that such speaking will not generate thank you’s, but it must be done. Again and again and again. Or else, we will all lose our minds, and quite possibly our souls too.