Going to church is easy. Right? It doesn’t make you a Christian. I know when I was in junior high and high school church was a place for me to hang out with my friends. But that didn’t make me a Christian.
To give you a little back-story, I grew up in the church. My parents were Christians and going to church every weekend was normal. When I was in kindergarten I gave my life to Christ. In fact, I gave my life to Jesus every day at recess for at least a week. I just wanted to make sure that I was going to heaven. Not going to hell was very important to 5 or 6 year old me. And while I don’t question the validity of my commitment at the time, 5 or 6 is a young age to take such a huge step and make a life commitment.
So life happens. We get older and our teenage years have us wanting to fit in and be cool and have lots of friends. I was not cool and didn’t have lots of friends. But I had some core friends who I would get into trouble with. But I still went to church. I loved church. I was home schooled, so church and youth group were the times when I got to see my friends and hang out with people. Sunday morning service, Sunday night bible study, and even Wednesday night youth group; I lived for church. I was more faithful about going to church than my parents were at the time in my life.
My problem was I lived for church and not for God. Like I said, church and youth group were a time for me to hang out with my friends. Bible study wasn’t always a time I got to hang out with my friends but there were pretty girls at bible study and it was a time for me to show off my debate skills. I knew the bible and I knew how I could use it to argue points brought up in bible study.
I had grown up in church. I knew what to say and how to look to act right. I would volunteer to pray over meals or for service. When it was time to worship, I would raise my hands and sing loudly. I was good at doing church.
The problem with being able to do church really well is I wasn’t doing a good job at following God. I wasn’t always very nice to my friends. I would use people, as it would benefit me. In being the bible study debate champion, I would say some hurtful things. And honestly, I wasn’t very happy. I was an over-weight, dorky, home schooled kid. I was into punk rock and heavy metal and just didn’t really fit in with my friends or the people I went to church with. I felt like an outcast.
The turning point came when I was 16. I was at a conference with my youth group, a couple months before heading out on a mission trip.
Let me preface my next statement. People say all the time that God told them this or they heard from God that. And I don’t discredit or disbelieve any of that as being true. And so when I say God spoke to me, there are only 2 moments in my life where without a shadow of a doubt, God spoke to me. It was a little more than an impression. It wasn’t an audible voice but it was without a doubt God speaking to me. And this is the first instance.
We were sitting in this conference and the worship band was playing the last night. I don’t remember anything else about this conference or even this session except that during worship I heard God say to me “Are you going to be real with me or keep faking? Because if you’re going to keep faking you might as well quit all together.”
In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller tells a story of when he decided to stop believing in God. Miller said, every night he would go on a walk and tell God all the reasons why he couldn’t believe in him anymore. And one night he heard God say, “If you don’t believe in my, how come you keep talking to me.”*
*Note: I'm not entirely sure why I included this little piece in my message. I'm sure there was a point but I didn't really tie it to anything.
I knew at that moment that I had been giving God lip service and not actually following him. I cried. I apologized for all the people I had wronged but more importantly, I had to ask God’s forgiveness for being such a bad representation of who God is. I don’t think the weight of my half-hearted commitment sunk in until I was on the mission trip. I was having a conversation with one of my best friends at the time and he said, “Bryan, you’ve always been someone I looked up in church. You gave me the courage to raise my hands in worship and pray and be outspoken about my faith. I want to thank you for being a great example of what it means to follow God.”
Guys, I was crushed. It broke my heart. I had had such a huge impact in someone’s life, who I didn’t know was paying that much attention or looking up to me as leader, and I was faking it!!! It killed me. Think about how much greater an impact I could’ve had if I wasn’t so busy trying to act cool or get my way but instead just actually served God.
In Matthew 23 verse 25-27 it says:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
I love coffee. I drink coffee and tea a couple times a day. Have you ever poured your coffee or milk or soda into a cup with checking the inside of the cup? This happens to me more often then it should. I will wake up, stumble to the coffee pot, grab a cup and pour my coffee. And I drink. Every once in a while I will get to the bottom of my cup and as I am drinking the last sips of my coffee I see the bottom of the coffee cup… And it’s filthy. All sorts of brown caked on awfulness. Whatever it is, I don’t want to have just drank it. But it’s too late that point right? I thought my cup was clean but it was just filthy on the inside. That’s what Jesus is saying here! He’s saying make sure the inside is clean. Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees doing church and Jesus had a problem with me doing church. God doesn’t want us to go to church and look like we belong at church and do all the right things and spout the right words. God wants our hearts and our love and affection and time and talents.
And it doesn’t matter what’ve done or what we might be doing. Romans 5:8 says that God loves us so much that even though we are sinners and even though we were not or are not following God, He still sent his Son, Jesus Christ to die for us. That’s great news. Because I didn’t need to get right first and I’m not able to do enough that God will stop loving me and go back in time and make Jesus not die me.
What I do know is God loves you. And at the core of the bible, God just wants you to love him back. Life isn’t perfect when you follow God. I still have rough days and disappointments. Life doesn’t always seem to go the way I planned or dreamed. But I know God works all things for the God of those who love him as they have been called according to his plans and purposes. Life isn't perfect, but life following God has been worth it.