A night of introspection

Note: This was originally written last Wednesday night (4/21/04) after church. I've put off posting it so I could reflect on it a bit and get some input from a friend on it before posting it.

Wow, tonight has turned into something unexpected. This was men's midweek, but we were locked out of our meeting place, so we met at a nearby park. It was cold and damp, so it was difficult to concentrate at times. The theme scripture was Nehemiah 9 and the subject was confession of sin. He spoke about how the Israelites treated their sin and responded to it. They took full responsibility. It wasn't their circumstances or environment or how others treated them. No, they did it and God's punishment was just. This is perhaps the most important step in change, admitting our sin. How can we change, if we don't see the need to? But how easily we are deceived! I've spoken about the desire to believe a certain thing, intellectual inertia I called it. We want to believe that we see our sin completely and we're dealing with it. But do we actually see it or is that belief a convenient fiction to make us feel good?

Also tonight, one of the Deacons of the church stepped down from his position both as Deacon and as family group leader. I spoke to him afterwards about it. There were several things encompassing his concern for his physical and spiritual family that went into his decision. It was not a one issue decision. It was a shock to my system that I was not prepared for. He and I have had several deep conversations about God, discipleship and our church. We have grown close and I have grown to respect him greatly as a result. It was his concerns for his 'spiritual' family (our church) that impacted me the most.

So it's no surprise that I left the park feeling all out of sorts, fumbling for a foot hold. I spent the 30 minute ride home in prayer to God, pouring out my heart, waving my hand in the air as I drove (what a sight I bet I was). It was his leaving leadership that disturbed me the most. You see, it's been a challenging year for our church. I've mentioned it here before but never really explained it. We've seen a lot of who we really are revealed over this past year, both in my local congregation and through our family of ICOC churches. Several strong, spiritual men I respect greatly here spoke up about how we had grown distant in our relationships, that our love had grown cold. I could feel it myself; my friendships weren't what they once were. Frankly, my eyes were opened to a great deal in how we had been operating. We had taken liberties with God's word, going too far in our authority, calling people to obey more than we ought. What's worse, we hadn't loved like Jesus. Our love was superficial and easy, not the dirty, difficult, in the trenches love that Jesus showed us. Over a period of months I watched these men, all in some sort leadership position, plead for change in these areas. One by one, they stepped down from their positions and eventually left our fellowship for another. I was disturbed as I watched my mentors, my heroes of the faith, leave, and now one more has stepped from leadership. Time will tell what that means.

Change has come to our church through all this. There's a new emphasis on grace and less accountability. The old, harmful practices are mostly gone. I had become pleased with where we were going, the preaching was (and is) deep, moving and powerful. However, the truth I was ignoring, the elephant in the room, was that our relationships weren't changing. I had gotten closer to some, but many of those had left. What disturbed me the most as I drove home tonight was how little I had recognized it. The heart of the church was the same as it had been, and I was asleep at the switch. The outside of the cup was clean, but the inside was just as dirty (Matthew 23:25-28).

I've learned much over these months. I've reorganized my priorities and realized what's really important. But, to be brutally honest it's been mostly an intellectual exercise. I came to realize that I fell into the 'intellectual inertia' trap. I wanted to believe that it was all good, so it all became good. I wanted to believe that we were making changes, so it felt like we were making changes.

Last fall as I realized what was lacking in our church, I had made a commitment, along with my wife, to spending some time each week with another family or just other folks. It would be our goal to have someone in our home each Friday. Some weeks wouldn't work out, but it would be our goal to do it each week. I wanted to rebuild those relationships, to get into people's lives. I had hoped to gain some mentors and be a mentor, to really know people and help them. It went well for a few weeks, then the holidays and then nothing.

I am a wretch and a hypocrite. What's worse is that my writing this smacks of self congratulations for seeing it and more of the same. Frankly, I am afraid that I don't have the strength of commitment to change. Not the strength to change, mind you, I know that I don't have that. If I did there would be no need for Jesus to die on a cross. No, what I'm afraid of is weakness of commitment. Do I have the will to buckle down and do what I committed to do? Do I have the guts and courage to honor God in that way? Am I willing to lay myself on the line and really love people?

Frankly, my church is floundering because of such a lack of conviction. Worse than that, its people, God's people, are dying for lack of love and solid, deep relationships. I've seen it in myself. If I were truly honest, one of the reasons I started this blog is to hopefully get some of those relationships that I miss. Frankly, that's not going to work. Not because you aren't good people or don't care, but because you can't really know me over the internet. What I need are real people in my real life to really know me, people who see me at my best and worst and aren't impressed by the former or frightened by the latter. That's what the folks in my church are longing for too. Do I have the conviction, the courage and the willingness to give it to them like Jesus did? Will I get down into the filth of their lives (don't kid yourself, we've all got filth) with them and help them navigate it? That's what Jesus did.


Doug, I'm sad to hear about the struggle you and your church home are going through. It has echoes of the transition my faith went through when I left my undergraduate discipleship ministry. It was a highly structured ministry, and almost all of us rebelled against that structure at some point. But years later, when we had thrown off that discipline, we all wondered if we would ever have true spiritual brothers and sisters again. Sadly, I for one have not. Others from that ministry have forged such relationships, but very few.

I hear you about the limits of the internet. You're right that we can't really get to know you through this forum, not in any tactile sense. However, I do feel like I know you somewhat, and I certainly look forward to your entries. One day I hope we can meet. In the meantime, I hope you don't stop blogging, because I need your perspective in my spiritual life. It was your consistency in reading my blogs and commenting on them, lovingly, that kept me going.

I think that the internet cannot provide many aspects of human relationship. But it can provide the kind of "sharpening" that proverbs refers to between spiritual brothers, and I think blogs are a great forum to foster that kind of interaction. But even at its best, that is no substitute for true friends.


Thanks for the kind words. It really means a lot to me to know that my words have meant something to you. It has been a privilege getting to know you in this forum. I was impressed by your honesty about the state of your faith, your desire to believe and the obstacles in your way. Frankly, not many people are that vulnerable about their lives, though I think more than not, people have very similar feelings but put on a good front to hide it. As you may have noticed, I too have gone through a similar, but different, upheaval in my faith.

As far as me and my church goes, don't be sad. Only if it produces nothing in real change in my heart and life, then be sad. We had a couple that we haven't spent much time with over last Friday. It was so encouraging; I wonder why I hesitate to do this. I set out to encourage and strengthen them, but I'm pretty sure I learned and received more than I gave. We shared where we've been over the past year and all expressed the same lament that I expressed in this post. I think it can change and we can have those kinds of relationships, but it takes work. Mostly it takes being willing to put yourself on the line, to look foolish and to risk being hurt. The reward is huge, absolutely huge, however.

There are several here that share these feelings, and I believe that we can make a difference. Love is the most important and powerful thing we can do, and Scripture says that "Love never fails." (1 Cor. 13:8). Never is a mighty long time. I have no desire to be a part of the traditional American church of distant, shallow relationships and, if I have anything to say about it, my church will not go that route.

I too hope we can meet one day. My in laws live in out your way and, depending on the route we take; we pass through your city on the way. Perhaps we could stop and have a meal together sometime.

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  • Doug, I'm sad to hear about the struggle you and your church home are going through. It has echoes of the transition my faith went through when I left my undergraduate discipleship ministry. It was a highly structured ...