Jan 14, 2011
Letter from Felix
Going back without going backwards; something about that resonates with me. In fact, much of my experience living with God can be defined as a mix between moving forward into completely uncharted territory, and moving forward in old, familiar paths that I’d once abandoned. Like the scripture says, He makes all things new. One major “old” thing that I’m now having a brand-“new” experience with is the local church. Even though I've never been completely sold on what the "church" organization was all about, getting to know Christ personally has been the true desire of my heart for quite some time. I don’t think I ever really got any satisfying insights into His heart from my church’s services, though I did learn plenty of useful information that I’ve been able to apply in my life and see positive results. I enrolled in a church sponsored Christian university, spent tireless hours as an actor and performer for the church and faithfully attended every service, conference, and life-group meeting… yet at the end of the day, it was like eating a big plate of MSG laced Chinese food. I was full, but hungry. Thankfully, He's been helping me to know Him regardless of the limitations of church and has been teaching me in any and every way He could.
I found Grace through the experience of just feeling confused and frustrated as to why after all I’d done and learned, I still felt so far from Him. It became clear that my self-effort was certainly not helping, and possibly even hindering knowing Him. Everything in my heart was telling me to let it all go and pretty much give up. My mind fought me every step of the way, but my heart was adamant about throwing in the towel and hoping for God’s rain. Praise God though, it my moments of confusion, isolation and loneliness, I was left with nowhere else to turn but Him and Him alone. He started to teach me in such a powerful way. He taught me that today's church is like Samson wielding the jaw-bone of an ass: while he definitely did some serious damage against the enemy because of the faith with which he wielded that jaw-bone, the question burns, how much more damage could he have done with a proper sword? So I began to see the institution as a well-intentioned ass while I stepped away and decided to pick up the true sword of the word of Grace and complete reliance of Christ.
Just from separating myself from the church organization and forgoing all of the “Christian activity”, the freedom of Grace exploded in me like never before! It still feels kind of weird to say, but I stopped attending services. When you live on a small island like O’ahu, even if you don’t go to the church, the church has a funny way of coming to you. A church guy ran into me in Barnes and Nobles a few weeks after I was set free and went “into the wild”. Coincidently, I was reading "The Misunderstood God" for the very first time. It was wrecking me, in a good way of course. So as I put the book down and warmly greeted this former co-churcher of mines, he goes.. "Hey haven't seen you in church for a while!" How do you respond to that exactly? I began to shake a little, felt weird, uncertain and cold all of a sudden and very nervous. Suddenly, great warmth and comfort bubbled up from deep within my heart and I looked at him right in the eyes and said, "What do you mean? I am the church." He walked away with a puzzled look in his face, and in that moment I was just filled with joy. It was as if God was saying "That was great!" There was such joy, such peace, and I knew in that moment that I was free.
So then this winter, my mom came to visit me in Hawai'I for the very first time! I hadn’t seen her in a year, though we’d spoken for hours over the phone about church and how great it is to be a child of God. Having been looking forward to attending my church and reconnecting with my pastors (whom she'd known for nearly 10 years thanks to a yearly conference they minister at back at her home church). So for the winter season, we'd go to church together every Sunday. It was awkward. It was weird. I didn’t know what to expect, but I sucked it up and took one for the team. It meant a lot of my mom to experience the church that had become my family when I left home and came all the way to Hawai’I for college. I dreaded returning to the church as I had no idea what to expect. So here's a recounting of Day 1 back in the institution [A.D.] As is typical in this system, every time is pretty much the same so this serves as a pretty clear archetype of what the free-believer experience has been for me in the institution. Far from being a pew warmer, I was very active in the drama and performing arts department, so I was definitely a familiar face to all, and was treated to some grueling insinuations. You could almost feel the sense of pride and victory in the people who saw me "back in church", as if I were some kind of prodigal son who has now once again found his way. The senior pastor warmly greeted my mother and then assured her that even though I hadn’t been around for a while, they were gonna “put a lasso around” me and get me back. Insert awkward laugh. But these people are precious. Praise & Worship time begins, and so I grooved to the music… doing my own thing, talked… rhymed... and sang to Jesus with the melody of the band. It was really just a private experience. I enjoyed having the time to just focus on Him. Of course, there was a lot of "Come on and raise your hands towards heaven!" going on, but my hands remained snuggly at my side as I suddenly became aware of how raising my hands would insinuate that He's ALLLLLL the way up here, and I'm ALLLLLL the way down here. When you know He's in you, everything changes. Yet it was awkward to know that I was now "one of those people who don't raise their hands and cry dramatically during worship" strong sense of being perceived as a spiritual baby or a rebel, especially when I didn't answer the invitation for the congregation to come up to the altar and worship even more visibly and dramatically. I just wasn't feeling it. But oh were these people precious.
So after a few upbeat songs, and a few deep dramatic songs, it was time to "Continue our worship to the lord with our tithes and offerings" and we were all reminded once again that "The tithe is a measure of your obedience, and the offering is a measure of your generosity. You can't be a generous giver until you're first an obedient tither." Gee those words are so burned into my head, and I don't agree with a lick of it… but still, these people are all so very precious and their intentions were in the right place. So after giving some money to the outreach department (neither "tithing" nor "offering" stirred me, but contributing to their food pantry and homeless outreaches certainly warmed my heart) it was time for the sermon. It was the beginning of a new series called "Becoming a better you!" It was good… I mean, if you're into the idea that you're not good enough and feel the need to become "better" then I could see how a Christianized self-help series like that might be up your alley. I mean, you might as well get it from a Christian instead of some new-age guru “channeling spirits” or a pop-psychologist. So this sermon caused no major offense to me. Sermons like that helped me put my life together at times in the past, devoid of Christ as it may have been. At the very end of the sermon, the voice in my heart reminded me that "becoming a better you" is really all about knowing that the great and wonderful things that are said in the bible are true about solely about Him, and have become true of us only by nature of the fact that we are in Him. My heart assured me to keep the focus on Christ. I had to know that the great and wonderful “we are more than conquerors!” and “I can do all things!” and “Nothing is impossible for me!” or even “I am blessed and highly favored!” are true solely about Him otherwise my ego would be puffed up again and I’d fall right into trying to be all of those things and find myself stumbling.
What’s it that I hear from most Grace people that go to a church service? "I eat the meat and spit out the bones." Yea it was kinda like that. So anyways, after the alter call the pastor says something that finally went right into my heart as if highlighted by God himself and it was simply this, "God uses this place to help people." And at that moment, I got it. I understood what the institution was all about. Sure it isn't "the church" and calling itself that is incredibly deceitful, but knowing that it isn't truly "the church" I'm able to show more mercy and not measure it against such a rigid biblical standard. Rather, I view it simply as a "place that God uses to help people" because I know for sure that many lives have been helped in that place, including my own, and that is precious. Ok sure, later on I figured "well God could even use a Strip Club to help people! I mean He could touch a man's heart in such a way where he suddenly realizes the filth of his lifestyle, and feels how objectified those women are. He may then take a good long hard look at himself and realize that he doesn't want to be that way anymore, and He may walk right out of that strip club, never to return and find Christ in the process." So the fact that God uses the institutional church to help people really isn't a credit to the institution itself, but to our God's amazing ability to use what was meant for evil for the Good of those who are seeking Him.
So yea, I gotta say this.. I'm probably not going back to the institution full-time any time soon, but I decided that if I one day do return, it will be to give, not to receive. It'll be to be the warm, loving presence there that isn't afraid to be real. If I were going back to the "church" it would be for one purpose: To BE the change I want to see in the church. A phone-call from one of the pastors asking me if I could help them write and perform a short script about “Loving Church” gave me one such opportunity to be the change. Free as I was, I went into the church and utilized the platform it presented and wrote and performed a skit that exposed the phoniness of what church has become, while highlighting the potential that it has in Christ. So I guess I’m still a part of this institution, but more of in the capacity of coming in when they need help with drama and I’ll only do it if I have the freedom to be real. Here’s a low quality link to the skit I was talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCu_stGmCJY I used to think we believers were plucked out of the world-system to be taught and equipped in the church-system so that we could be sent back out into the world-system with our new values and ideals and cause a change in the culture. Now I'm thinking that some free-believers may be plucked out of the church-system so that they could be sent back into the church-system with their new values and ideals and cause a change in the church culture. So in conclusion; I've been to worse places than the institutional church. I think that the only reason why we judge it so harshly is because it calls itself "church" but we know better now. I'm not opposed to the idea of being more involved with the church in the future, because this reluctance that I now have about returning could likely just be driven fear that my identity in Christ isn't secure enough to not be influenced and conformed by their leaven. Kinda like how most Christians are afraid to see certain movies or listen to certain music because they're afraid that they'll get stuck in some crippling habits again: for a season, this is true. I know I had to unplug from all the world's junk for a good long time, but I also know that now, my conscience is strong and at eternal peace… and I do listen to and enjoy the world's music and movies without never once becoming CLOSE to changing my ideas about reality based on what I've been seen. Maybe one day I’ll get to that place of being so solid in who I am in Christ that I could endure ministering to those in the institution. But right now, I need more time to heal and learn to be real. When you know who you are, you can go anywhere and be an influential force. If you're not entirely sure who you are, you're one wind of doctrine away from captivity. Going regularly again doesn't feel like it would work for me right now. These people are master communicators and the environment is deliberately designed to send you into an emotional state during which you become highly suggestible. This does not deter me, except that I'm still becoming comfortable with who I am in Christ, the revelation is alive, the seed is planted, the tree is growing, but it may not yet be the greatest tree in the field. One day it will be however, and I just may end up right back in the institution for the sole purpose of being a living-letter of Christ, and a person that "God uses to help people" in a place that "God uses to help people."
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