As I neared the end of writing this book I had coffee with a close friend of mine. He told me a story about a young man that he had become friends with. This young man left the Church because his experience of it had been of a surface faith. He saw people calling themselves Christians, but living their lives as they pleased and caring little for those around them. Sadly, this led to not only his rejection of Church, but Jesus as well. He continues to be a spiritual man seeking God and attempting to live a spiritual life, but due to his experience of Church he wants nothing to do with Christians and thus nothing to do with Jesus. How many of us know people like this? Too many have encountered Christians not living out the culture of the kingdom and have as a result not encountered Christ. This story is why I care about the things I have written. That my friend’s friend was at the gate and walked away because of those within breaks my heart. It should break your heart as well.
A theology of answers neatly packaged with the goal of convincing people of the truth of the Gospel is not a substitute for a truly Christian style of life reflecting the love and character of God. We are called to be salt and light, prophetic signs that require authentic prophetic action and a commitment to love God and our neighbor. Jesus said that he had chosen his disciples out of the world and that they were no longer of the world. He also said that he was sending them into the world. He sends us into the world to bring his presence there, wherever we find ourselves, whether it be in the world of business or street ministry the call remains the same: be the presence of Jesus to those around you. This does not mean that we always have the answers that will solve everyone’s problems, nor does it mean we attempt to dictate the way the live their lives. It is simply to show love and compassion to others, to let the light of Christ shine before others so that they may see it. The power of a kind word to someone who is used to mockery or to sit with someone who is used to being ignored cannot be overstated.
The love of God is profound. It is the greatest power in the universe. It cannot be measured or
fathomed. All we can know about the love of God is that it has no limit, no point at which it ceases. Where the extent of our love fails, his is only beginning. Were we to grasp this truth as the Church our ability to touch the world would not be limited. If we are willing to establish that love as our central value we will not lose sight of our true mission and calling in the world. Our lives as Christians are based in his love for both us and others. His love is the basis of our spiritual culture and paradigm, a foundation we cannot afford to be disconnected from.
We love because he first loved us, John wrote. If we find that we do not love others it means we have forgotten his love for us. To acknowledge Jesus as savior and king is to accept the reality of God’s profound love for us and thus his love for all people. This love forms the reason for our Christian style of life and guides both our actions and our responses to others. We seem to require constant reminders of this simple truth: God is love and he loves us. The lives of those who grasp this truth and live according to it are the most powerful forces for transformation and change in the world. Nothing can take this treasure away from us, no earthly or spiritual power, no tragedy or blessing, nothing in life or beyond. This truth that we are loved holds the power to expand the kingdom of heaven across the globe for it answers the great loss of the Fall. It is a truth meant for all and it is the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Can We Change?
Throughout this book I have spoken about a Christian style of life based on adhering to the spiritual culture of the kingdom of heaven. This idea of a style of life arose out of a book titled The Presence of the Kingdom (1967) written by Jacques Ellul. In his conclusion Ellul wrote of the need for a Christian style of life, but he refrained from attempting to describe it, for he believed it did not at that time exist. It bothered me that he would say that this style of life could not be described. In some ways this book came out of my reaction to what I read. Though he did not see it in the Church of his day does not mean that it did not exist. I have tried to show that Jesus revealed the style of life Christians are to have, indeed that this style of life is described for us throughout the bible. That Ellul did not see it manifested in the Church meant that at that time what he saw were people calling themselves Christians who did not know what it meant to follow Christ (though Ellul understood very well what it did mean!).
We have the same situation today and we need to change. For those who are willing to take faith in Jesus seriously the Christian style of life is there to see and once we have understood it we must choose whether we will live it out. This choice is nothing less than choosing to follow Jesus.
While writing this book I have had many conversations with friends about what I was working on. Almost every conversation ended on the same note: Can we change? Can the Church change? Most feel that only a few will understand the difference between a faith in Jesus and a relationship with God vs. a faith that is merely religious. My response has been that I do believe change is possible, but that it won’t be easy. It won’t be easy because such changes hinge on individuals. It requires a decision made in one person at a time. When they realize that if they truly believe in Jesus they need to take seriously his teachings and his call to follow him. We need leaders in the Church today who are brave enough to admit that the system isn’t working, that the system is not faith. We need leaders
today who know Jesus and are willing to teach us how we too should and can know him. We need leaders today who are willing to uphold the culture of the kingdom over the culture of the world. Their voice must be the voice calling us to serve and worship Jesus alone. Many of us are looking for leaders who are authentic Jesus followers, who not only love him but love us enough to share the fullness of the message of the Gospel.
All this aside, I believe change is possible for an even greater reason. The Church is the Bride of Christ, she belongs to him. I have learned that despite her problems Jesus loves his Bride very much. I believe that God will and is taking action to correct her and renew her. He will have a people for himself that live the way he desires, reflecting who he is and expanding his kingdom. Those who resist him, who have not followed Jesus but set themselves up as his representatives will find themselves humbled and disciplined. The time for serious reflection is here and has been for awhile. Better to return to honestly seeking after Jesus and his kingdom now than to harden our hearts and stick to the system because it is comfortable.
I believe change is possible because I believe Jesus can touch the hearts of his people and I believe that most Christians today are thirsty enough for a real and authentic faith and relationship with God that they are ready to listen to him.
I grew up in the church. My family has been Christian for generations. At the age of four I accepted Jesus into my heart kneeling beside my bed with my mother. My parents were awesome in the truest sense of the word. I was very fortunate to grow up in such a love filled family. My brother was and is one of the most passionate Christians I have ever known. I have always had an awareness of God and have been talking to him ever since I can remember. Even as a child I saw into the spiritual reality that surrounds us, both demonic and angelic. Looking back over my life the evidence of the reality of Christ has been incredible.
Yet, at the age of thirteen I began a long struggle with depression. My teenage years were brutal as I withdrew into myself living in a spiritual and emotional storm that I cannot fully describe nor could express to my family during that time. Some may understand the desire to fall asleep hoping not to wake, this was my prayer often as I continued to talk to God through it all. Jesus was the only ear I trusted to share my darkness with. I caused those who loved me much pain and worry during those years, something I would like to apologize for.
Eventually I graduated from high school and in my early twenties I was severely depressed and nearing the end of any energy left to put into living. I had given up going to church and my faith, such as it was, had diminished to that last spark you see on a dying ember in the fire. I cannot tell you why my spirit descended into this chaos. I have never been able to discover a specific reason or trauma that led to my extreme depression. I was simply a young man with a ball of pain and darkness so heavy within I no longer wanted to live.
This chaos culminated one Saturday in mid-summer as I was house sitting for some friends. My lifelong best friend Eran was house sitting with me. He was and is a phenomenal drummer and he had been asked to play drums at his church, the Langley Vineyard, for a visiting worship leader named Scott Underwood. A musician myself, Eran invited me to church for the following morning.
“You should come. This worship leader is really good,” he said.
“Yeah, maybe,” I told him, fully answering “No” within.
That night as I lay in my bed journaling I wrote a letter to my brother. It was a goodbye letter to him. I had come to the very real decision that was going to take my own life. In my letter I apologized for this and told him that I loved him. Closing my journal I felt relief, as strange as that sounds. I prayed then, or rather, I told God,
“Well Lord, that’s it. I’m sorry, but I’ve tried. Unless you do something…” and I left it at that.
When I awoke the next morning I rolled out of bed and glanced at my clock. I was shocked to see that it was not noon, but only nine a.m.
“Well, that’s weird,” I thought to myself.
Eran had left for church already and I was alone in the house. The opportunity to carry out my resolve of the night before was now before me, but something nagged at me. That ever so quiet whisper we have all heard at one time or another said,
“Go to church.”
Now I’d like to say that I had a change of heart at this point, but that would be a lie.
“Fine! I’ll go to church!” I replied deeply angry.
I drove out to Langley and walked into the Langley Vineyard with a thundercloud over my head. I found a spot to stand at in the back, folded my arms across my chest, and scowled. Hard as a rock I stood there watching people and wanting to run out and leave.
“Stay,” the quiet whisper kept saying.
“What the ____ am I doing here?” I kept asking myself.
But I did not leave.
The music started, my friend Eran behind the drums, and the music was good as he had promised. About halfway through the worship time I had worked up the nerve and resolution to leave.
“One more song and I’m out of here.”
Looking back it was that decision to stay for one more song that probably saved my life. The song began, an upbeat tune called “You are My Shepherd” written by Scott Underwood. As the song went on I began to have the oddest sensation, a feeling I had not had in such a long time I could not name it: anticipation. I was drawn into the music and time seemed to take on a different feeling, like water was rising up around me slowing everything down. My body began to tingle all over accompanied by a strange warmth spreading from my chest outward to my hands and feet. I closed my eyes having no idea what might be happening to me. Then all sound faded away and my ears seemed to tune themselves to only the worship leader’s voice as he sang these words:
“And you know who I am.
And you made who I am.
And you love who I am.”
All I could see behind my closed eyes was white light as these words assaulted my inner walls demolishing years of pain, self hatred, and darkness. For the first time in many years I began to cry, not dignified crying either. I wept uncontrollably, sobbing and struggling to breathe. In that single moment it was as though Jesus had stepped down from heaven, walked across the room, and come to stand in front of me. When I think back to this experience I can see him standing there looking directly into my eyes and saying,
“I know who you are. I made you, and Eric I love you.”
This began my relationship with the living Jesus and it completely changed my life. It began the journey I am still on today of walking with him and getting to know him more and more. I wasn’t healed of my depression and still battle with it at times up to the present day. But I face this struggle, and all others, with Jesus, and in the context of our relationship I am able to overcome them.
There is of course more to my story since that Sunday morning, but this is not meant to be an
autobiography. I tell this story to answer the question that some readers may have: where is this guy coming from? That moment that Jesus so graciously and mercifully stepped into my life has formed my paradigm in many ways. I am one who knows he is alive. I have been a Christian all my life, but I became a disciple and follower of Jesus on that day. It is why I believe so passionately in the revelation of the reality of Jesus over any religious system or intellectual argument for the truth of the Gospel. He is alive, is the message that I have to give. It is always my prayer that others might somehow through me encounter Jesus as I have and come to faith in him because they actually meet him. The message of Easter has always been the incredible truth of Christ’s resurrection, a message that we have to share every day of the year. He is risen, he lives, and he was telling the truth when he said that he was the way and the truth and the life.