Monday, January 27, 2014

Hating Church

I am more convinced than ever that everything we need is found in Christ. Let me give you just one example. Sundays had been my hardest day. Going to church was not only dissatisfying; it was also an emotional obstacle course.

I compared it with going to a singles dance, only to watch all the young ladies chasing the other guys. It was also like going to a gourmet restaurant. The waiter would bring all of his appetizing plates to my nose before placing it down in front of someone else. Frustration! Anger – absolutely the last time!

That was my church experience. I tried many churches, hoping to be asked to teach only to see the dishes pass me by to be placed down in front of others. I was angry! What the matter with me that I was consistently passed over? Silence was the only answer I ever received. How then was I to enjoy church – the very place where I was consistently rejected?

However, in the midst of this painful set of experiences, I was granted something far better – the assured and ever-present awareness that Jesus died for me!  I now love the hymns of His mercy and the price He paid for me. The confession of sins and the accompanying assurance of forgiveness have become more valuable to me than teaching 20 classes and rejoice that my name is written in the Lamb’s book! Confidence in His recognition has become more meaningful than any human recognition. In short, I now look forward to corporate worship!

How did this slow and necessary transformation occur? Let me try to explain it. However, it might not be as easy as I would like. I can’t give you three easy transformational steps. It comes from above as do all good things. However, I think that I can put my finger on the critical element behind this change – a growing awareness of the depth of my sin and my utter hopelessness before it.

Although I knew that I was a sinner, I had minimized its depth – its extent and ugliness. Self-righteousness is the human default. When we humans elevate ourselves, we diminish the Lord and His gift of righteousness. In order to do this, we cover our sins with rationalizations – good deeds, attainments, popularity, and even money. Adam and Eve foolishly attempted to cover their sins with fig leaves.

Our coverings are no less foolish. I attempted to cover mine with positive affirmations about my surpassing value as a person. But I was paying a tremendous price for this fix. For positive affirmations to work, they must be believed. However, when we believe them, we lie to ourselves and distort the way we see reality, even the way we regard our Savior! It also takes time to root out this blindness and to clearly see ourselves (Rom. 12:3).

Self-righteousness – the belief that we are worthy - prevents us from appreciating the extent of the mercy of Christ. After all, if we are worthy, we will not highly esteem Christ’s gift. Jesus’ disciples had asked Him to increase their faith. Instead, He instructed them to regard themselves as unworthy servants (Luke 17:10). As long as we regard ourselves as worthy, we will not appreciate the fullness of Christ’s worthiness and love for us. As long as we regard ourselves as deserving, Christ will not receive the glory and honor He deserves. The higher we value ourselves, the less we will value our Savior and the less we will rejoice in Him.

What has Christ taught me? This may sound strange, but, mercifully, He taught me that I am among the worst sinners – totally unworthy of anything that is His, even a smile or a “thank you!”

Oddly, this realization, as painful as it had been, liberated me from church-angst. Before, the hymns and other forms of worship had left me feeling that I didn’t fit. In my heart, I wasn’t adoring Christ as I ought. In this vacuum, my life was more about me and less about Him. However, as I began to see my unworthiness in 3-D, I grew in gratefulness of Him. My eyes therefore turned to Him and away from the bondage to self-obsessions.

As the Apostle Paul had stated, dying to self-esteem and self-trust is a critical element of the Christian life:
  • But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything [I had trusted in] a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  (Phil. 3:7-9)

Gaining Christ - our confidence in Him - is a matter of investing all of our trust in Him and not in our own pedigree or attainments. It is a matter of regarding our own “righteousness” for what it is – garbage!

Over time, this realization made a great difference in my life. I no longer have to prove myself. Instead, my entire identity and personhood are buried in Christ (Gal. 2:20). However, there are also other essentials. Professor of systematic theology, Joel Beeke, wrote:
  • Obedience increases assurance… William Ames wrote, “He that doth rightly understand the promise of the covenant cannot be sure of his salvation unless he perceives in himself true faith and repentance.”

This means that we are not going to have the confidence, joy, and gratefulness that we ought unless we are devoted to the Lord. In line with this, Paul assured would-be deacons that devotion to this work (among many other forms of service) would produce “great confidence in the faith” (1 Tim. 3:13).

In short, as we grow in faith and obedience, we will also grow in gratefulness to our Lord and in joy of worship, while we decrease in our own esteem. He must grow greater!

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