Welcome to Jerkville, Population Me


All I wanted to do was to take my family out for dinner. That’s how these things start.

It was a bad week for allergies here. My wife takes a particular medication for them, and we tried OTC solutions to no avail. We would have to bite the bullet because the longer her allergies persisted, the greater the likelihood she’d wind up with a sinus or ear infection. (With it being ragweed season, just about everyone we know is suffering to some extent.)

I priced the medicine last month: $65 for one month. So I swallowed hard and walked into the pharmacy only to have them hand me the pills and say, “$88.99.”

“Excuse me?” I said, my heart suddenly pounding. “Last month they were $65!”

“That was last month,” the woman said.

Kiss dinner out goodbye.

The drive home was a case of the grumblies. And trust me, I can grumble with the best of them.

By the time I’d gotten home, though, I’d found a solution. I’d received a $25 gift certificate to my son’s favorite restaurant a couple weeks ago. We would just spend that gift certificate. Problem solved.

Or maybe not…

Our church sponsors an appreciation picnic for all the church volunteers. As part of the worship team, I qualify, so my family had fun being served by the elders and pastor. A nice time.

Someone arranged a puzzle game at the picnic that required people to match some visual presentations of objects with well-known phrases. A boy I’ll call Nate came running up to me, saying, “Dan, I want to be on your team. Can I be on your team, please?”

I told him it wasn’t really a team event. Since the first person to complete the puzzle won, working as a team defeated the whole idea. I couldn’t help him and still win.

“But I want to win,” he said. “I’ll be on your team. You and I are a team.”

“I don’t know that I’ll win, Nate,” I said. “A lot of people are playing.”

“I really want to win, Dan. I know you’ll win.”

While I appreciated his faith in me, what could I do? I thought if I just ignored him a little, he’d forget about the whole thing. That failed miserably. I then tried convincing him of the truth that neither of us would win if we tried to solve the puzzle together. He’d wind up losing anyway.

“Why don’t you try doing the puzzle yourself,” I said.

“But I want to win,” he replied, already looking crushed.

Now the thing you need to know about Nate is that he doesn’t have a dad. He’s got some other siblings, too, and his mom’s had some tough times. I’ve tried to be there for them as much as I can, but I never feel as if I’ve done enough.

“You’ll win, Dan,” he said as the game was starting. “I’ll be on your team.”

About five minutes later, I raised my hand. “Done.” The gamekeeper checked my answers and handed me the $25 restaurant gift certificate.

“We won, Dan,” Nate yelled. “We won!”

He went over to the gamekeeper, his round face beaming, and asked, “What did I win?”

“Nate, honey,” she said in as comforting a voice as she could muster,”I think someone else won. I don’t have any other prizes.”

“But I’m on Dan’s team. Don’t I get anything?” You could wring the angst out of his words.

I can’t stand to see kids crushed. Even though I know life runs roughshod over us all, there’s something about the pain that kids feel that turns me to mush.

I called his slumped-shouldered self over.

“Hey, we’ll take your family out and we’ll all eat together, ” I said. “How does that sound?”

If Van Gogh had dabbled with florescent oils, he could not have painted a brighter countenance than the one that shone on the face of that kid.

End flashback.

Holding that bottle of pills that cost me 40 percent more than I’d anticipated, that bottle of pills I knew cost about $1.50 to produce, that bottle of pills that wiped out my dinner plans and the hope that I had to be alone with my family that evening, I stared at the gift certificate and said to myself, How would Nate know if I spent this right now? He’s a kid. He’s probably already forgotten what I said.

So I seethed. I thought about all the times that I’d canceled my plans so that someone else could benefit. I considered that other families go on vacation all the time, but we didn’t because we were always saving our money to help someone else. Someone who can’t pay her electric bills. Someone who can’t pay for his medicine. Someone who can’t pay the mortgage this month. Always some sick, elderly, homeless, fatherless someone needing something else.

And what about all those people who go away to their vacation homes or who have season passes to amusement parks? Those people with kids who never seem to disappoint them because they don’t have to say no when little Johnny or Janie says, “Dad, let’s go to Disneyworld!” What’s their deal? They get to do all these fabulous things while we never do. Why, again, don’t we?

Then that awfulness rises up inside me. I wish they’d all go away, every last one of them. Those that have and those that have not. Lemme have my stuff. Even if it’s not much, I want it to be mine and not someone else’s. And I hope all those folks who seem to always have money to burn likewise burn in hell for it.

It’s all too easy to hate, isn’t it?

The thing about being an S.O.B. is that it runs to the core of who one is. Welcome to Jerkville, population me.

I looked at that gift certificate in my hand, then tucked it back in the drawer for a time when Nate and his family could enjoy it with us. We ate a frozen pizza that night.If not me, then who?

And when I think

Of God, His son not sparing,

Sent Him to die,

I scarce can take it in

That on the cross,

My burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died

To take away my sin.

Who am I? Who are you? Do we realize what we’ve been given?

I know I don’t always get it. These days, it’s hard to see what the future holds, so I want to hang on to my little kingdom more tightly than ever. I don’t want to receive e-mails from people telling me that they’re about to go down unless someone, anyone helps—only to look around and see me, alone, standing in the on-deck circle. Me. You know, the one with the supposed home-run swing for the little girl dying of leukemia, or the old lady who needs someone to look after her because her mind is slowly fading along with her carpeting.

Here’s a depressing truth: I’m not the only one populating Jerkville. It’s not God’s ideal resort location, but it sure seems that a lot of people cool their heels there. Sadly, some never wise up enough to catch the Gospel Train out of town. Worse, some permanent residents consider themselves future inhabitants of heaven. I pray they’re not disappointed.

When I think of what Christ did for me, how can I say no to the Christ who shows up in need on my doorstep, to the Christ in the neighbors who lost a child and need someone to grieve with them, to the Christ in the little boy without a dad who wants to win this time because he’s lost so many times before? I may not have the perfect solution to their needs, but I’ll at least try to help because I have been given so much.

God help me, I’m slowly leaving Jerkville. There’s no life there and never has been.

I hope I’m not the only one getting out of town.

The Spirit Has Left the Building—More Thoughts


So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
—John 5:19

Last Friday’s post, “The Spirit Has Left the Building,” needed more analysis, so I hope to provide that today. I noted in that post that much of the problem we have with the twin church killers of entertainment-based worship and dull routine is largely due to a lack of the Holy Spirit working in those churches. They either try to make up for the missing Spirit by substituting dog-and-pony shows, or they just make do with emptiness (and call it the norm).

I believe one of the greatest mistakes we make in our churches is to assume. In this case, too many churches fall under the assumption of “Here’s our church program for this Sunday, Lord, now bless it!” That’s highly presumptive on our part. Worse, it tells God that whether He blesses our service or not, we’re going to do it with or without Him. What a sad reflection on our churches that we feel we can get along just as well whether God is there or not!

The fix to this is to structure our church meetings along the lines of “Lord, we are not blessed unless we hear what you wish to do this morning.” That humble, godly openness to receiving what God intends differs greatly from the presumptive, “arm of flesh”-based format so many churches adhere to.

This is not to say that a meeting can’t be planned, only that the plans should never stand in the way of what God ultimately desires to do in and through us on any given Sunday. It instead offers an environment of reception, where the church as a whole anticipates what God will do in and through them.

This is the church that makes a difference in the world. It mirrors Jesus’ understanding that the only work worth doing is the work God is preparing for us to do. We do what the Father is doing. As we all know, God is a spirit, so He blows where He will. And that will may not conform to our own. This requires that we be discerning, able to draw near to the face of God to know what He is doing.

Are we daring to draw near? Not always. We Christians talk a good game, but whenever I’ve pressed people in the past, the truth comes out. We’re really not all that interested in seeing what the Lord is desiring to do. It takes time to draw near, and who has that kind of time anymore?

So we should not be surprised when we fail to discern the Lord’s leading, to be deaf to His voice. For all our talk of prayer, I would dare say that few of us pray more than an hour a day. In fact, I suppose that we spend less than ten minutes a day pressing into God to see what He is doing.

Some of us are just lazy. We’ve told ourselves that God doesn’t speak like that anymore, so we toss off a few prayers and go blithely on our way. Although I suspect that if most of us read a book on prayer by E.M. Bounds, we’d get a far different picture of what it means to travail in prayer.

Others only seek their answers in the Scriptures, but—as controversial as it might be to say this—we’re not necessarily going to find a specific word from God in the Scriptures to the need at hand. Jesus knew the Scriptures better than anyone, but he withdrew for prayer for hours at a time in order to receive power for ministry and for seeing what the Lord was doing in the situation at hand. Yes, we will see the face of God in Scripture, but we must also seek His face in prayer.

Here’s one reason why we need to diligently seek God for our raison d’être as a church:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
—Acts 11:27-30

The church that actively seeks the working of the Spirit is the church that receives revelation for service. Again, that openness for hearing God direct us toward specific works in the here and now is critical to the functioning of the church. Otherwise, what we are left with is what God has done, not what God is doing. And we need to know what He is doing now.

The church of entertainment and the church of solemn contentment go stale because the Spirit is not there to guide them. In fact, I suspect they don’t really wish to hear from the Spirit because He might ask something difficult of the people gathered there. He might very well tell the people in a wealthy church to sell all they have and give to the poor. Or He may not. But how will we know if we’ve closed off the Spirit?

The church God uses is the one that lives in a state of openness to the leading of the Spirit, no matter the cost. But when we support churches that don’t want any of “that stuff” or are too busy buying disco balls, then we’ve shut down the very conduit of Christian life.

See also:

Nowhere Men


We visited the in-laws this last weekend. One of my father-in-law’s rituals is to play hymns on the piano before we head off for church. When I came downstairs after getting dressed, I heard the following hymn:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
— “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles, 1913

I admit that I always liked that hymn, but as I sat there last Sunday morning, it bothered me. A lot.

Forty-five minutes later we were singing “Fairest Lord Jesus” in my in-law’s church. And then we sang a modern worship song speaking of how beautiful Jesus is.

In the last couple months, I’ve had conversations with guys who confessed that God seems to answer the prayers of their wives more than He does their own. One went so far as to tell me that whenever he received a positive answer to prayer, it disappointed him to find out his wife had been praying for the same thing. He attributed the success in receiving that answer to prayer more to his wife’s prayer life than his own. In those times when his prayers didn’t line up with his wife’s, nothing seemed to happen.

It makes me wonder if Christian men today feel like second-class citizens of heaven.

Consider the image of Jesus we proffer in our churches today. He becomes a sort of benevolent, winsome character who is handsome (in a glossy, Western sort of way), considerate of others, good with children, intelligent, deeply spiritual, and a hard worker. In our churches, we sing about how much we love Him, talk about His beauty, go on about how we want to be near Him, and so on. In short, He sounds like the perfect husband.

I suppose that a few men out there are crushed by that notion, especially since nearly everything in our culture points out that men are stupid boors who think with their genitalia, love sports mindlessly, and mess up everything they touch. Then there’s Jesus who is none of those things. Is it any reason that the little woman loves Jesus? Or that it’s hard for men to identify with the Lord?

I think this is why I’m hearing that men feel their wives have got it all over them when it comes to being spiritual. I think it explains the disconnect that some Christian men experience when it comes to having a meaningful relationship with Christ. They look around and see that what they are told they must experience seems a bit off. They can see how their wives can go on and on about how beautiful Jesus is, Thinkin' about it...but to men, the contemporary image of Christ they are told they must assent to, and the way they are to live out their faith feels at times, well…gay.

There, I said it.

One of the problems of our age is that none of this is truly news. The modern Christian men’s movement has been trying desperately for a couple decades to counteract what they see as the emasculation of the Church, and I believe they have a legitimate cause there. However, I think that books like Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, the “Bible” of the Christian men’s movement, blows the solution to the problem by encouraging men to find answers by hunting bear with a pointy stick. That attempts to counteract the image of a weepy-eyed Jesus by telling men they need to be testosterone-laden, elk-choking scalliwags. We simply trade one graven image for another.

I don’t believe that the problem is with us men as much as it is with the image of Jesus we project today in our churches. Attempting to pump ourselves up will yield no change unless we re-examine who Jesus is.

In light of what I was thinking about that morning before church as my father-in-law played piano, the sermon proved fortuitous. The pastor preached on Jesus’ question, “Who do men say that I am?” I think that question sums it up for most men. Who is Jesus? And are we exalting a graven image of Him that drives men away from the Church?

What do you think? If you agree that we’ve distorted the image of Christ to make Him overly appealing to women at the expense of men, how would you rescue that image?

See also: