Let's Quit Playing Church

9:34 AMHeather

When I was little, I loved to play pretend.  You know, playing house and being the mommy with my baby dolls.  When my family moved to Iowa from Hawaii, I suddenly had a huge basement play room to set up my pretend games.  So, I created a whole new game of pretend.  My friend Beth and I would play restaurant.  I saved my Happy Meal boxes and made fake food from paper, along with some fake money.

It was so fun.  Playing pretend.  Using my imagination.  You know, the food is plastic (or paper) and there's no mess.  You can quit when you're bored. It's all just for fun.  Just for entertainment.  

I'm afraid the Christian culture has taken the same approach to church.  I'm coming to this realization more and more.  We want to play church.  Dress up on Sundays and clomp around in our heels--or our casual shoes since we don't really dress up like the olden days.  Keep it clean and not messy.  Quit when we're bored.  All just for fun and entertainment.  Nothing too involved or real about it.  Step in for the fun, step out for the rest of the week, or quit when it gets hard.

We want to bring our own playmates and not include the strangers down the street.  You know--only invite the ones we can play nicely with, who share well.  Be the master of the game, directing the play so that its fun and light hearted and goes just as we'd like.  Assigning roles with which we are comfortable.  Nothing too life like.  Just on the surface sorta playing.

But this is not what the church is to be.  We are not to be elitist or live on the surface or just pretend about our beliefs.  We are not to wear our Christianity on occasion or only when we feel like dressing up, as if we wear a costume.  Our faith is not to be just fun and games and entertainment.  

The truth is that the early church made a conscious choice to be radical and different and to get messy and to lay it all on the line.  Because their very lives were at stake because of their professions of faith.  They did not blend into the culture like a chameleon.  They were generous with all that they were and transformed by the Jesus they knew.  They did not sit together on Sundays, playing nicely, and then go on about their business the rest of the week.  

Being Christ followers should be all about being the real deal.  Being radical in our love and our grace and our mercy.  Digging deeply into the Word of God all week long, all the time.  Going on Sundays to offer our worship to our King of Kings as we do not neglect our assembling together.  Not for our entertainment's sake--but for the sake of His glory alone, pouring out thanksgiving and our deepest needs and hurts at the feet of a God who hears our every cry.  Being willing to be challenged and convicted in a call to choose surrender over entitlement.  Realizing that just as Jesus died for us, our call in following Him is to die a thousand deaths a day to self for the sake of serving and loving others.  

Here's the thing I'm learning.  While I'm digesting Jennie Allen's book Anything.  I'm afraid.  I'm afraid to pray the dangerous prayer of saying, "God, I will do anything you ask.  I will obey anything you require."  It freaks me out, bloggy friends.  Because what if He tells me to sell all I own and move to Africa?  (Which by the way, makes me wonder if African Christians fear selling all they own and being sent to America?  Just a side note.)

I don't know. I don't know what God will ask of me.  What He has in mind to require of me.  But I find myself gagging on the idea of playing church for the rest of my life.  It's not satisfying.  It's not fulfilling.  To just go pretend and play nice with others and then wrap it all up when I'm ready to move on with my day.  To gloss through the surface of who God is and what Christ was about.  To join in the game when I want to and to refuse to play church when I'm not feeling like it.  To box God in to my limited perspective and to be more concerned about the approval of others than I am about bringing glory to God.

It's not enough.  It's not why Christ left the comfort of heaven to walk on this earth. Playing church is not the abundant life that He offers because of the greatest sacrifice ever made on my behalf.  

I think of the lyrics to a favorite Casting Crowns song, All You've Ever Wanted.

I was chasing healing when I'd been made well
I was fighting battles when You conquered hell
Living free but from a prison cell  

This sums up so well the life I've lived as I've played church.  I'm chasing healing from old wounds or recurring "injustices" against me.  But, yet, I've been made well.  By His stripes, I am healed.  I am hurt by things that I count as offenses when God tells me that it's to my glory to overlook an offense.  And that love covers a multitude of sins.  I have been offered a grace and mercy and love so extravagant that I can hardly comprehend it.  Yet, I neglect to extend even an ounce of it to others and wallow instead in a self-pity fueled by entitlement about what I think I deserve.  

I work myself into a frenzy fighting battles constantly.  Yet, the Jesus I profess conquered hell.  I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me.  I have the power of the Word to stand on and to claim and to pray over my circumstances.  I have a God who is mighty to save, if I can just release my problems and issues to Him and trust Him to show up, as He sees fit, to defend my cause and to bring about His victory and His plan in His timing.  

Not to mention the battles that I create that I really should just ignore.  Things like updating my house or complaining about the speed of the wifi or a million other first world problems that are not even worth my time and effort and energy.  Oh, our perspective is so very skewed, as we count things as problems that are really blessings.  

I was reminded of this just this morning, in fact.  As I sorta stewed internally about the two baskets of clothes that have been laying around for a week, ignored by the dear ones whose job it is to fold.  In my pre-coffee funk, I let myself get irritated while I tackled someone else's job.  Until I remembered the photos of the boys from an orphanage in Ethiopia who have only the clothes on their back.  Indeed.  Laundry, as with most of the things I fret over and make into a battle daily, are truly miniscule and nothing in the light of real suffering and eternity.  

These are just some of the things that imprison me, emotionally and spiritually.  Because I allow them to bind me up.  These strongholds of anxiety and worry and fear and seeking the approval of man and keeping up with the Jones' and getting what I think I deserve.  These are the ways that I am living free but from a prison cell.  

Freedom is mine.  Through the Jesus I profess.  Through the faith that should be deeper and should be the definitive answer for a million things that I allow to take up space where it doesn't belong.  I'm challenged by the haunting words of Christine Caine, who asked those at the IF Gathering to consider why we live delivered when God has set us free?  We stand outside of big "impossible" walls that He can clearly break and shatter.  These walls keep us from Canaan, from the Promised Land, from the Land of Milk and Honey, from abundant life.  Walls of temporal concerns and petty worries and the immaturity of playing church.  

When Jesus calls us to a real and genuine faith.  A relationship, not rules or being religious.  He calls us to follow and serve as He did.  Offering ourselves, our time, our talents, our energy, our days to show His love and His grace and His mercy to a hurting world.  The time I'm spending in the book of John has a recurring theme that I'd never seen.  Jesus was laser focused, every day of his life on earth, to simply complete the will of His Father.  To fulfill the reasons He was sent.  The purpose and the call that His Father had for him.  He could not and would not be deterred.  All that He did was simply about doing what God called Him to do.  

This morning I read John 12:27-36. In this passage, Jesus expresses that His heart is troubled, yet He will not be deterred from completing His task as the appointed time had come for His arrest and crucifixion.   No matter his emotions, Jesus chose obedience to what God wanted Him to do.  Jesus went to the point of death in order to glorify the Father and to fulfill God's purpose for Him.

What must die in my life so that I can be obedient?  What gets in the way of my abundant life and genuine faith?  What thousand deaths to self a day must I be willing to endure?  These are the impossible walls that keep me in a prison cell.  Delivered.  But not free.

What old habits of playing church need to go away for good?  How must I put away a childish game of faith and become serious?  So that I am willing to get messy, to dig in, to do the hard things, to show His extravagant love and rich grace to those around me?  

Let's quit playing church.  We live in a culture full of games and manipulation and shallowness.  Let's quit making Jesus fit our legalistic and "safe" perspective.  Let's be willing to throw it all off so that we can choose to follow an unsafe, invisible God who wants to do more through us and for us.  Won't you come play with me?

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