If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, and organize the work, rather teach them the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean. – Antione de Saint-Exupery
On March 6th, 1997 my life was forever changed. Even though I grew up in a Christian home where we regularly attended church, and even though I had encountered the Lord repeatedly throughout my childhood, it was on this clear spring night that I became part of the movement.
I knelt at my couch and repented of every sin I had been committing. The list was long… but The Blood of Jesus proved more than sufficient. I got up from that couch a new person. Chains had been broken, healing had taken place, and a new life was born.
My life was instantly and radically changed. Colors appeared more colorful, I found joy in the most routine things, and a sense of destiny permeated my soul. I was so hungry for the things of God, and all I wanted was to know Jesus more. I found a good church and was there every time the doors were open… literally. For instance, at 19 years old I became the youngest member of the senior’s morning prayer meeting… I was so hungry for God. Things I had heard all my life suddenly came to life. When we sang “Bless the Lord, oh my soul”, it was as if I could feel my soul bursting forth with praise through the frailty of my mortal body.
For the first time in my young life, I had tasted real life, what Jesus would call “Life to the Full” (John 10:10) , and there was no turning back!… or so I thought.
Fast forward 4 years: I was now a Bible school student, a youth pastor, a husband, and… well… miserable. I was sitting in the passenger’s seat of my pastor’s Mercury Grand Marquis (the official pastor car of the time), and with tears streaming down my face I explained to him how I was burnt out, deeply internally frustrated, and didn’t know what to do. I had lost the joy of my salvation. I didn’t want to quit, but I also didn’t want to go on like this.
What happened? How did 4 years change so much? Did “Christianity”, the “Church” or “life” somehow remove my peace and replace it with frustration? Why did my dancing turn to mourning?
There is a monumental difference between the movement of Christianity (originally called “The Way”) and the institution of the Church. Yet, so frequently, they become confused as the same thing. The forms and structures of the institution of church can sometimes hinder the powerful effects of the movement of Christianity. While movements are simple, institutions get complicated… and the church is no different.
The movement that had started in my heart in 1997 was based in a simple thought “I can’t believe God saved me, and I love Him and want to know Him so much.” However, the church institution I had become a part of was now forming me into its image. Like any institution, it had expectations… and these expectations were now forming my life. What I once had done out of love, was now being done out of obligation. Prayer, Bible study, and church attendance was no longer my joy. It was my duty. The way I dressed and acted were now based on what people within the institution would think of me. In fact, my whole life now revolved around a church… but it no longer revolved around God.
I had un-intentionally become conformed to the pattern of an institution, and in the process I had lost the joy of the movement that had started in my heart. I was doing the right things, for all the wrong reasons. Christianity had moved from my heart to head. I had become institutionalized. I had all of the religion, but none of the relationship.
This is the tension of The Church. Jesus started a movement, He did not start an institution. Yet as the movement of Christianity grows it gets complex, and therefore needs systems, procedures and organization… boards, policies, and spreadsheets… trustees, budgets, and buildings… So as The Church grows, it naturally becomes more institutionalized.
Here is the struggle: A movement without any systems will die from lack of organization. But a movement with too many systems will be so controlled that it becomes bound up, stalls and dies…. And by the way, the word “religion” means “to bind up.” So there is a unique balance that we must maintain in the church.
Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, He came to start a movement. A movement that sets people free, not binds them up. A movement that gives life, not takes it. A movement that empowers creativity, not destroys it. A movement that is based on two simple expectations: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) Love God, and love people… It’s really pretty simple… Not always easy, but simple.
So how did I return to enjoying my salvation? How was my mourning turned back into joy? How did the tears of sorrow shed in the passenger’s seat of my pastor’s car turn into tears of joy and worship again? It’s really quite simple. Like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, I had lost the simplicity of my first love. And all I really needed to do was find it again… to uncomplicate my life, and simply love Jesus again.
This is the ethos of the Jesus movement: Love God, Love People. If that seems too simple, you’ve probably become institutionalized.
If you have lost your joy, I encourage you to simplify your relationship with Jesus again. Remember how He saved you and let that thought lead to a simple and pure lifestyle of worship and adoration.
The purpose of this devotional/blog, and this 2019 theme at ARISE, is to reawaken the spirit of the movement of Christianity. To defy the tendency of allowing the institutions of the church to hijack the movement of Christianity. Jesus came to start a movement that would liberate the captives, bring wholeness to the human spirit and change the world. A movement that we are each called to be a part of.
So consider this your invitation to JOIN THE MOVEMENT.
Esse Quam Videri,
Meditate and reflect on this verse and questions:
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
- Whether 50 years ago, or 5 days ago, think about the day you were born again. How did you feel? What was it like? What were you thinking?
- How has your relationship changed and matured since then? Are there areas in your walk with Christ that you need to simplify?
- What do you think is the difference between positive spiritual disciplines and dead religious practices?
– Pray that God would give you a special grace to hear His voice clearly during this fast.
– Pray that God would help you return (or remain) to your first love.
– Pray that every decision you make, every word you speak, and action you take is filtered through the great commandment to love God and love people.
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