Church, or Experiencing God?

It is interesting to note that Abraham had no church affiliation, no denomination and no spiritual designation other then “Man Who Knows God.” His children and his children’s children had no religion either. Abraham had a running conversation with God for well over 25-years, yet God never felt it necessary to tell him how to live, how to worship or how to raise his children through a set of rules. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were without a religion, yet all three had mighty encounters with God.

God told Abraham to leave his country and to follow Him (Genesis 12); Abraham obeyed and was richly blessed for the rest of his life. Isaac was so blessed that even the evil sinners in the land recognized that God was with him (Genesis 26:28). Jacob, following after his dad’s pattern, was quite the deceiver, yet God gave him many children, finances and great favor. Even Esau (Isaac’s favorite son), from whom Jacob stole the blessing and the birthright from, prospered far above those around him.

It appears that none of these three men attended a church. The scripture never mentions that they followed a pattern of what we would consider worship, tithing or sacrifice. None of these men benefited from living in a country that was Godly or from teaching tapes, great preaching or what we would consider spiritual gifts.

Yet, all of these men walked with God in the middle of a grossly sinful and violent culture. They more then survived; they were wildly successful to the point that surrounding kings took notice.

When reading the story of Abraham and his children, it almost feels as if they have no way to know God except through a real experience with Him. There is no Christian worldview for them to be intellectually swayed by; there is no excellent worship service that would draw them in emotionally; and there are definitely no cultural benefits of serving just this One God.

Their relationship with God was raw and real, open and honest. They were rugged men who heard and responded to the voice of One they came to know better and better. They did not base their knowledge of God upon what someone else told them, but rather walked according to who they knew God to be from personal experience.

What has gone wrong with God’s people in this day and age then? We have leadership books, marriage seminars, get-rich-the-Christian-way conferences, healing tapes, CDs, religious schools, spiritual entertainment and a myriad of other tools to help us maintain a Christian walk in the midst of a world (at least in America) that is fairly kind and accepting of how we live our lives.

But many Christian still abuse others, get drunk, divorce, lie, live gluttonously, cheat, steal, hate, dishonor, and live sinfully at about the same rate much of the rest of the world does.

What has gone wrong? Have we accepted the idea of God intellectually without the life-transforming experience found through repentance? Have we felt the Spirit of God in the music and melodic message of well-trained communicators and emotionally agreed with the kindness and peace within that Spirit without accepting the life-giving death of Christ at the cross? Have we accepted all the cultural Christian trinkets without accepting Christ, replacing the reality of a blessed Jesus connecting us to God with just another religious pattern of how to look clean while remaining sick and filthy? Have we industrialized God in such a way that we cannot find Him in the midst of all the religion? In the midst of everything we need to do, need to know, need to say, need to wear and need to act like, have we forgotten the simplicity of just living life with Him?

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My prayer is this: Help me hear. Challenge me to live large. Challenge me to death. Challenge me to poverty of self so that You can be seen in me. Challenge me to clean out my ears of the religious rubbish that I seem to be addicted to. Challenge me to shut off the voices of temporarily great preaching and ankle-deep teaching so that I may be able to hear your voice.

Maybe the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is our story—as they were God’s people outside of a church setting, so we are called to be. The New Testament Church lived within community, but it was always meant to benefit those outside the community (and never meant to be an introverted, self-serving group like it became within several centuries).

Maybe this story of Abraham, a man living and moving as God’s temple (even before “you are the temple of the Holy Spirit”), is a story like Jesus’ also. He was brilliant at an early age and could have used it for position within the current church structure, yet Jesus founded His Church in the midst of heartache, misery, pain and defeat. Jesus gave us the model of how to be the Church, yet even today we are more concerned with how to do church.

Our story is guaranteed another page and another chapter; there are more opportunities to be explorers, heroes, great dancers and mighty fighters. There are more mountains, valleys, rivers and deserts to travel. As we move to the next page of this journey, let us be sure to write something new instead of re-writing what we already think we know.

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