A couple of years ago, I was sitting on an airplane striking up a conversation with the guy beside me. Come to find out, one of his college buddies was a childhood friend of mine. As we continued to chat, he asked where I was headed and I shared that I was going to give a talk to a business group. When he asked what I was speaking about, I mentioned my book. My overview included words like, perspective and generosity and gratitude and confidence—I had become fairly adept at my airplane speech. He nodded in agreement and turned his attention to his cell phone.
About five minutes later, he noticed that we had the same phone and he asked me to help him with one of the settings. As I held his phone in my hand attempting to fix his issue, a notification popped up on the top of the screen. It was from his college buddy, my childhood friend.
The text message read, “It’s about God.”
What Works Versus What’s True
When I originally wrote my book, I was hesitant to incorporate faith into the story. For fear of turning people off and seeming fanatical, I dressed up the language for a “business” audience. According to the “experts”, it was ok to mention faith, but if I quoted scripture or acknowledged Jesus, it was certain death. I wanted a “crossover” book that would appeal to the wildly popular personal development genre. In short, I wanted what worked and I was willing to neglect what I felt like God wanted. My desire to become known was greater than my desire to make Him known.
Many Christians say that they wouldn’t deny Jesus if given the chance, but the truth is, our subtle actions hammer the nails that keep Him pinned to a cross. Sure, we worship Him on Sunday but we live by a different set of rules on Monday. Sure, He’s God, but we’re smarter than He is—we know what works. This is the ugly truth—the narrow space between real faith and its facade. A space where nuance and justification blur the lines and rob us of peace. The devil laughs.
In my case, something happened that made me aware of my own dishonesty. As I was finishing my manuscript, I was diagnosed with spreading malignant melanoma. Wrestling with a cancer diagnosis was something I never expected but it is exactly what I needed. I could no longer lie to myself about the motives underneath my actions. My friendship with the world was obvious by my unwillingness to make Jesus known for fear of being called fanatical. That was the turning point.
How grateful I am that the Holy Spirit continued the slow, methodical process to eradicate the things that held me captive. Instead of focusing on what worked, I was ready to pay attention to what God was doing.
Idolizing the Institution
The first place I thought to look was inside the walls of the church. It was comfortable and familiar. If I was pursuing God’s call for my life, the religious folks would know what to do. Moreover, they would welcome me with open arms. I began engaging in conversations, volunteering my services and pressing in to what it looked like to share my faith.
Pretty soon, I began to recognize the movers and the shakers within the religious realm. I interviewed them on my podcast, began reading their books and sought to connect as a way to perpetuate the work that God was doing. I soaked in their sermons and digested the latest pastor’s best sellers. Sunday was full of high-fives and hellos as I connected with my fellow parishioners.
But in that process, I saw another flaw. The Holy Spirit convicted me that I had begun to worship the institution and its leaders instead of the God that created them. Selfishly, secretly, I wanted to use the church as a platform to advance my agenda. Oh how subtle are the temptations of the enemy! But as Jesus told Satan in the wilderness, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Idolatry, even of a church or a pastor, is still idolatry.
Honestly, I was looking for the church to provide something only God could offer. I stepped away for a few months to clear my palate. As I removed the familiarity and comfort of corporate worship, I found myself alone with God, exposed and vulnerable. No more pulpits, no more pretense, no more facades, just faith. I was finally free to see Him for who He was.
And it’s as if He was saying, “Hello my son. I’ve been waiting.”
The Abundance of Heaven
Many might argue that Christianity is dying. Armed gunmen are opening fire in our churches and the institution seems to be losing its foothold in family life. Millennials are flocking away from corporate worship and churches are dying of old age. But I’m reminded today that the world has long thought that Christianity was dying. It first occurred at the crucifixion. But the man came to life again.
The very promise of God is life—nothing less. And not just life, but life abundantly. But too often we miss out on the abundance of heaven because we’re too consumed with the treasures of earth. It’s like settling for a lollypop when you’ve been promised a candy factory.
I have learned that until you’re willing to wrestle with God, you’ll go broke searching for Him in everything else. And when you encounter Him in the person of Christ you are forced to a decision. You either fall and worship Him as Lord or you deny Him and retreat. The one thing you cannot do is remain neutral.
Of course we all have or have had our reasons as to why we don’t believe: comfort, fear, anger, betrayal, doubt. But you must not remain complacent in your reasoning. The claims of Jesus should offend you to the point of wrestling them to the ground. And wrestle you must. Let Him in. Don’t settle for anything less than abundance. If but the willingness to be transformed is there, you will be.
It is About God
On the airplane that day, my childhood friend made a more profound statement than he realized. As much as I wanted to deny it then, he was right. My book is about God. But not just my book, all of life is about God. As the writer of Hebrews declares, God is “for whom and by whom all things exist” (Hebrews 2:10). Separating God from life is like depriving ourselves of oxygen. Without Him, we’re the walking dead.
My journey has been one of subtly denying Christ because of the fears and approval of man to seeking the institution of church as a substitute for faith. Neither worked and both left me exhausted.
My encouragement to you is to press in to the subtleties and step into maturity in Christ—a real, honest relationship whereby you become a son or daughter of the King. And if you’re afraid of the discomfort, the momentary pain of extraction will eventually fade and you will finally be free.