I just read a guest blog post on a blog that I subscribe to titled, “Dispelling the Darkness: Why The Gospel Without Justice Isn’t The Gospel” by a guest blogger, Dana Bruxvoort. Please take a moment to read this post (it isn’t long) before you continue reading mine. You can get to it by clicking this link.
Dana starts out with a confession: “I never wanted to be a missionary.” She grew up going to church wearing pastel dresses to Sunday school, an angel costume in her second grade Christmas pageant, and memorizing volumes of Bible verses along the way. Boy, can I relate. Sounds much like my own experience growing up in the church here in America.
Several years later, she had a “heart to heart” talk with God about all the holes in her faith concerning the things in the Bible that she always considered “inconvenient.” As she stated in her post, they were things like “sell all your possessions and give to the poor,” “care for orphans and widows in their distress,” “loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free,” and she thought “these things surely couldn’t apply to me, could they?”
Well, they did . . . as they do for all of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And it changed her life (now go back and read her post if you haven’t already read it to find out how).
In a society as prosperous as ours, whether or not we are prosperous on an individual basis, it’s easy to get lulled to sleep in the excesses of our culture and even in our Christian communities. If we grew up in the church, it’s easy to yawn at the stories in the Bible that once ignited a fire of excitement in us when we first came to know the Lord. And then life gets in the way, too. Establishing a career, raising a family, doing “church” stuff; becoming a part of the status quo. It’s so easy to fall into that trap. And every culture offers its own traps.
I’ve spent my entire life in and out of the church. As I got older going to church and being involved in church activities became just one more thing I did in my life, like getting up and going to work everyday. While I never raised a family because I never married, my life was still full of “stuff.” And there’s always been plenty of “stuff” in our culture to fill any void in our lives. And, I read all the latest “best sellers” by Christian authors and kept up with the latest “goings on” in all the different segments of Christianity (Charismatic and non-charismatic). I grew up in a Baptist environment (hence, the strong focus on scripture memory as a child) and to this day lean towards Baptist or non-denominational churches. As a child, Jesus was as real to me as my mom. Maybe even more real.
Like Dana, the author of the guest blog post I mentioned above, one of my greatest fears as a child was that God was going to make me become a missionary when I grew up–sending me off to a foreign land to be forgotten on some deep, dark continent. The church I attended as child had annual “Missions Conferences” and the missionaries that the church supported would come and speak to us when they were on furlough. I remember listening to their stories and knew that was not what I wanted to be when I grew up. Mind you, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up but I definitely knew I did not want to be a missionary. It sounded dull, boring, lonely, and, well, more than anything else, scary. No, I begged God to please not do that to me with all the childlike faith I could mustard at the ripe old age of five or six or seven or eight or maybe even ten. Yuck . . . to me being a missionary and going off to some deep, dark land was like entering “The Twilight Zone,” a somewhat scary sci-fi TV series (circa 1959-1964) back when I was young.
As my life progressed through my teens, my twenties, my thirties, and my forties, it took many different directions. In my late teens, I tried being a hippie (I wasn’t very good at it as I didn’t like drugs or a free-wheeling lifestyle) and my home church at the time hired two new pastors who opened the church doors to the hippies (much to the chagrin of the established crowd at the church) and the church grew to becoming one of the very first mega-churches before the term was ever coined and popularized in the media. I even tried being a “Jesus freak,” (hippies who were turned on to Jesus) and listened to all the music back then by “The Second Chapter of Acts,” and “Andraé Crouch and the Disciples,” and many other groups that began the modern Christian music movement.
My twenties were filled with joining the U.S. Army on a two-year enlistment so I could get the G.I. Bill and go to college, and I got to see a small part of the world when I served in South Korea, where I met my first fiancée who, as it turned out, was still quite married to his first wife. (Well, life can and does get complicated, doesn’t it?) He forgot to mention that little fact when we met at Camp Carroll Army Depot in Waegwan, South Korea, where we were both assigned. It was also at Camp Carroll that I noticed a cross high atop a church in the village right outside the depot and I felt it’s tug on my heart–a yearning to “come back” and discover more than I had previous experienced in my Christian life to that point. However, the “tug” was not strong enough to change the direction of my life at the time.
While I didn’t marry my first fiancée because I couldn’t (after all, he was still married), I did go to college for two years on the G.I. Bill while working a 3-11 shift at a local hospital where I continued to work for several more years as a secretary on the day shift after I received my associate’s degree. I was also very involved in my home church (which became one of the largest churches in Iowa). When I turned 30 I met my second fiancée (a man who, unfortunately, made lying a big part of his profession but at least he wasn’t still married to his first wife). It was also at this time my mother’s health took a turn for the worse (she was diabetic) and she died three months shy of my 31st birthday. At this point I cancelled the wedding about six weeks before it was scheduled to take place, broke up with this fellow, and quit my secretarial position at the hospital to move to Ames and go back to college to finish my bachelor’s degree at Iowa State (I also worked as an editorial secretary at Iowa State during the two years it took to finish my degree).
As I completed my bachelor’s degree and moved through my thirties, I wasn’t very active in church during that decade. I call them my “prodigal years” because while Jesus was still very real to me, my previous experiences in church didn’t fill the void and while I knew something was missing, I didn’t know what it was I was searching for and I wasn’t finding it by attending church. After completing my bachelor’s degree I worked as an assistant editor for a small regional fishing magazine (the owner died suddenly at 41 and the company closed) and after that I worked for two curriculum directors (both were women just a little older them me) in a K-12 system and got inspired to go back to college and work on a master’s degree at Iowa State. A few months after completing my master’s degree I applied for a one-year doctoral fellowship at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and was awarded one of two administrative doctoral fellowships for the 1992-93 academic year.
My forties opened with a bang when I landed in Fort Lauderdale to start the doctoral fellowship. It was a whirlwind year full of activities and I was able to complete all of the coursework and research projects with the exception of the dissertation within that year. After completing that year I continued to work in a grant funded position at Nova in Orlando until the grant ended, at which time I accepted a position at Barry University (in Miami at first and then I was promoted and sent back to Orlando to manage an off-campus site) for just under four years. After that I worked at the University of Central Florida for over four years; and I was active in two churches during this time (and into my early 50’s)–a small church in Miami for just under two years, and a large mega-church in Orlando for seven years.
It was during my forties that I felt a strong pull to get back involved in the church again, which lead to my church activities. Still, I felt something was missing in my life, even thought I knew Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord and I had since I was a child. Like Dana in her story, I felt like there were holes in my faith. I’d read the portions that she mentioned in her story plus a lot of others and wondered where they fit into my own life. Much of the Christianity I had been presented with in recent years seemed to focus a whole lot more on us and what we could expect or hope to get from knowing Jesus instead of what Jesus expected from his followers. It seemed that nobody ever talked much about all those “inconvenient” verses that we mostly just ignored.
This issue was not resolved in my forties. In fact, it followed me well into my 50’s even after I started working at a Christian university when I was 52 where I worked for over four years. Many conversations over lunch tables and among work colleagues focused on the blessings (as in materials blessings) we could expect from God but rarely about the cost of truly following after Jesus Christ. It added to my confusion about what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but at the same time I wondered if I was missing out on some of those “blessings” (e.g., material blessings–possessions, wealth, even status) because of a lack of faith on my part.
At that point I tried to have more “faith” to believe that those blessings could be mine. Well, things didn’t improve. In fact, they got worse. About six months into my third year my division was suddenly dismantled and while a few of the people working in my division (there were eleven of us) ended up losing their jobs; I did not lose mine but my whole reason for working there had been dismantled with that division. At that point I began an active search for a new job . . . which eventually landed me in Houston.
When I applied for the director position in Houston, I honestly didn’t think I would get it, and it scared me to think about starting all over again in a new city in a different state when I didn’t know anyone there (not to mention that I was also 56 at this point). However, I was very excited about this particular job because it was in a very creative environment. In fact, I was so excited about this job that I knew I wouldn’t let my fear of having to start all over again in a new city where I didn’t know anyone get the better of me. The interview process began in May and ended in August when I was flown to Houston for an on-site interview, and a week after the interview I was offered the position at the highest salary on the salary scale (and I didn’t even have to negotiate the salary), and it was almost $15,000 more a year then I was currently making at the time.
At this point I was thinking there really was something to this “blessings” thing that I had missed out on all my life. I thought that perhaps this is what I felt I had been missing in my Christian walk, although I have to be honest when I say I still had my doubts because many true followers of Jesus Christ living in other countries around the world have far less then even some of the poorest among us here in America and they didn’t experience these material “blessings,” either. And in many of those countries Christians were and are persecuted to include torture, imprisonment, and death just for following Jesus Christ. And I knew there could not be two distinctly different types of “Christianity” on this earth.
I arrived in Houston on September 25, 2008, a few days before I started that job on September 29th. It was during these few days when I was recovering from the long drive and unpacking my stuff to make a home for myself in my new apartment that I woke up one morning with a distinct feeling that God was giving me a “wake up” call and that I absolutely needed to heed it. It was every bit as clear as what Dana describes in her blog post. And I knew that if I didn’t heed the call that it would be the last “wake up” call I received. I could either choose to give my life back over to God and let Him show me what this life in Jesus Christ is really all about, or I could keep going down my own path thinking I was following after God (disguised as material blessings).
At that point it was still a couple of days before I started that job and I had no reason to believe that the job wouldn’t be a good one and that my life wouldn’t be materially blessed due to the significant increase in salary and also from working in a very creative environment that I knew I was going to love being a part of. However, I did not let that deter me from God’s wake-up call. I did an immediate “about face” from a lethargic spiritual life mixed up with the desire for some of the material and cultural excesses we’ve gotten used to here in America to allowing God to have full reign in my life without any hold on anything. In other words, God had my full attention. And as Dana stated in her blog post, suddenly the holes in my own faith were filled in. She states:
My black and white faith became full of color. It was as if with each word I read, light bulbs went off. I devoured the gospels with fresh eyes, observing the character of Jesus – what He said, the way He acted, how He treated people, how He righted wrongs, how He approached injustice, how He truly cared about people, how He loved the least of these. And my heart was burdened by how poorly my life reflected His.
I made this decision just two days before I started that ill-fated job which turned out to be the worst work experience of my entire life. Materially, I lost just about everything I possessed at the time including that job and big salary, but I gained more than I ever could have imagined as I came to know Jesus Christ in a way I had never quite experienced before. And God protected me all during those incredibly difficult seven months that I was employed there and all during this time I’ve been unemployed since that time. And if you’ve been reading my blog posts over these past almost two years, you’ll know just how much He has opened up my life in ways I never could have imagined.
We live in a culture that has embedded itself and its lifestyles in so many of our churches today. And we look at (and seek after) material blessings as proof of God’s blessing in our lives–so much so that we’ve totally lost our focus on what the kingdom of God is really all about. And it’s not about us, our status, or material possessions.
I believe that God is giving Christians all over America a “wake-up” call. It’s a call back to Him and away from all the material excesses, greed, and personal desires that fill our lives up with the superficial and finite instead of the eternal and infinite. In some cases, like it was in mine, it is a “last call” to get very serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ. He never forces His way, but if we don’t heed the call, we may never get another chance. He’ll let us have our own way, but the consequences, in the end, will be costly.
Hebrews 3:12-15 states:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”
So consider this your “wake-up” call . . .
Just don’t roll over and hit the snooze button . . . .
YouTube Video: “Days of Elijah” sung by the Northland Church Worship Team: