Friday, May 20, 2011
Doing dispersed church is a ton of fun, but it is also (for me) learning a whole new lifestyle, and I saw recently how easy it is to slip back into a weekly quota mindset.
I've lived my whole life as a church-going Christian, and for the most part I've enjoyed it. The notable exception was my three years in China. Make no mistake, I LOVED LOVED LOVED living in China. The part I didn't like was when the foreign missionaries would get together to have "church" on a Sunday morning. I liked the people just fine, and many of them were a huge support to me while we were there, but when we got together and pretended to have a "real" church service, it was dreadful. We tried to worship, we tried to preach, but it always felt a little forced. Then we went our separate ways and shared the gospel with our students, discipled new believers, went on prayer walks to local temples, gave to those in need, and supported each other in our homesickness. THAT was life.
But here in America, where you can have talented musicians and a paid pastor, I settled back into a mentality that actually inhibits the real life and activity that the church is supposed to be. I'm not saying this is what happens to everyone--not at all--but I don't think I'm alone in this reaction, so I want to expose it to others as I find it in myself. The reaction I'm talking about is this: when a weekly church activity is on the calendar, my mind says, "Oh good. That's when I'm being a Christian this week. The rest of the time is mine to do with what I want."
I've given enough of my life over to the Holy Spirit that the "what I want" looks pretty innocuous. I want to read good books (Christian or not). I want to be alone. I want to hang with friends. I want to enjoy the outdoors. I want to plan vacations--and take them. I want to sleep in. I want to see a good movie. I want to do beautiful things with fabric. I want to eat healthy foods. Sound sinful? Nope.
But look what's missing: I want to experience God's presence in worship. I want to get after it in prayer for a particular person I'm reaching out to. I want to give my time to someone who needs my help. I want to listen for the Holy Spirit's direction when I get up in the morning. I want to be intentional about being led by the spirit and not by the flesh. I want to love people, not just experience them loving me.
My flesh loves me so much. My flesh takes really good care of me. My flesh is always looking for a way to protect me, to make things comfy for me, to keep me feeling good. Jesus isn't really trying to do that. He's trying to show me that when I let my spirit lead, right on the heels of the Holy Spirit, my flesh squirms a little at first and then I break through into real LIFE. When my spirit is taking charge over my flesh, I get list two (above), and usually a lot of things from list one. When my flesh is taking charge, I get list one, and my spirit fights for some representation with some of the other things. I do them because I know it's right, but it feels like a fight--because it is! It's a fight with my own self.
When we left Desert Streams in January to be the church dispersed, I experienced some serious freedom of spirit-led living. I love Jesus too much to let a lack of church "attendance" cause me to dump everything I've been living for, so when I took away the formal church attendance, the weekly requirements, my spirit soared. Finally! My flesh couldn't check boxes, so my spirit got the upper hand. I couldn't believe how good it felt--how simple, how freeing, how genuine. Taking away the framework wouldn't have been able to reveal what wasn't there: I did grow and learn how to be a believer in a traditional church model, so I'm not saying it was all bad. I just allowed the framework to limit my expression of who I was in Christ.
So what happened recently to get me thinking about all this? One simple thing: we planned a weekly meeting to watch a DVD series. PLEASE HEAR ME: planning to watch the series with some friends was not a bad thing.
It's actually a significant act of outreach and spreading the Kingdom because we're watching it with some unbelieving friends who we love very much. Practically speaking, it made sense to pick a night of the week and stick to it. But we're learning a new way of doing things, and that was part of the old way. My sneaky flesh (wait a minute--isn't it supposed to be dead?) found a way of reasserting its protectiveness. "Oh--you're going to nourish your spirit with a sermon on parenting and reach out to unbelievers at the same time? Cool. I guess that means the rest of the week is mine." Can you believe the cheek of it? My flesh is so thoroughly devoted to the preservation of "me" that it has a pretty one-track mind and doesn't reason very well. Had I realized this was happening I would have done something about it right away, but I didn't see it at first. It's only looking back that I see that at the same time I stopped opening my home for dinners with the rest of my church. At the same time I tried to fit praying together into a different slot for the week and couldn't make it work. At the same time I stopped asking the Lord what He had planned for the day and started just sort of planning things out for myself. At the same time I lost the freedom feeling and found the old familiar flesh vs. spirit struggle.
So I repent for putting a framework on my spirit-life again. I guess I'll have to be less practical and really take it one week at a time, one day at a time. If it happens that for 6 weeks in a row the same group of people wants to meet on Thursday night and watch the parenting series, beautiful. The funny thing is this--it sounded like it would make things easier to decide on a meeting time and stick to it, but it actually made it harder. It triggered a flesh-spirit battle in me that wasted some valuable time, and it caused some frustrating scheduling angst because it turned out we couldn't keep it consistent after all. Wow. I'm trying to end this letter but I keep finding more things to learn. Bottom line, surprise surprise, is that people are the important thing. Relationships are the way Kingdom happens, and anything that makes an artificial relationship leads away from spiritual freedom. That's my experience anyway.