The Big Game
Typical church life is like a football game. At least that is what I am suddenly discovering.
I have been listening to an audio version of a recent book that I hear has been quite a sensation recently. Now that I am halfway through it I can certainly see why it has caused such interest. I highly recommend it to anyone who is really serious about knowing God more than just being satisfied with a routine of Christian appearances. The book is called, So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Jake Colsen.
Amazingly, or more likely providentially, I find myself in extremely similar circumstances in my own church just at the time when I was introduced to this book. That to me is obviously a God kind of coincidence, not just an accident. This book is just what I need to hear when I find myself at the center of a vortex of intense emotions and flashpoints and controversy in my own church body that challenges me to know where I stand in my own relationship to God.
I will not go into much detail about my own situation for that would not be necessary or even helpful at this point. But something came to me last night after listening to some of the most insightful chapters of this book that describes issues so clearly and that helps me to understand better what is really going on in my own life.
Church as most of us know it, is nothing more than an arrangement not unlike a football game or some other competitive sport. What takes place there takes two sides most of the time – offense and defense. Unlike a regular football game I suppose, church may often appear to be rather calm on the surface as long as everyone maintains their proper codependent roles. But as soon as someone gets a little out of step with the traditions and control mechanisms in place the action begins to heat up.
One problem is that too many times I find myself seeking answers from God about how to out-maneuver my opponents instead of realizing that the whole setup itself is the real issue. You see, for the game to continue to function there must always be an offensive side and a defensive side. I have too often missed the point that from heaven's perspective the whole game itself is a decoy of the enemy to keep us from relating to each other the way God intends for real heart-based Christians to live.
As long as I keep trying to employ the tactics of defense or offense either one, then I continue to propel the game forward. As a result the sense of advantage continues to move from one side to the other, the crowds continue to roar their approval or disapproval from each side and the emotions and confusions continue to escalate as the game progresses. All of this generally causes the participants and onlookers to play their roles even more intensely and continue to believe that it is their job to be the 'overcomers' in this contest. Of course the problem with that notion is that we fail to understand what it is we are supposed to really be overcoming.
But I am now starting to perceive just a little bit more clearly after hearing some of this book and being convicted by the Spirit of God in conjunction with that, that the real problem is not how to win this game but that I am participating and assisting in the game at all. But then that brings up yet another confusing option. The real problem of participation or not is not usually resolved by simply walking away from a church. Choosing that option is very often only a subtle and dangerous trap of Satan that actually can keep us locked firmly into the game even if we are not physically present any longer in a congregation.
The game is not always played out in the church itself. One can leave the fellowship of the immediate church and still continue to participate very much in the game. So leaving the church as a way of trying to escape the controversy and emotional problems involved in the game does nothing to address the real issue at the core of our problem. The game is in no way limited to the confines of the church. In fact, the game is being played in various forms and under different labels in the lives of every person on this planet who is caught under the influence of sin. For sin has created the whole pervasive atmosphere that causes everyone to intuitively follow the rules of this counterfeit way of living life. Some people may have different versions of the game that look different than our particular religious way of thinking, but the fundamental rules of the game are extremely similar no matter where you look.
Jesus came to this earth to reveal the fact that the games we play employing offense and defense are all counterfeits of the way heaven designed for us to live. God's way of interacting with people is so foreign to people in Jesus' day that they found Him highly offensive to them and accused Him of violating of their game rules that they followed. But no matter how much they tried to get Him to react defensively (which would immediately have draw Him into playing the grand game of life according to the counterfeit rules invented by the great deceiver) they could never get Him sucked into their schemes or induce Him to react in ways they could manipulate. As a result they themselves became totally frustrated with their inability to gain any control over Him through their rules or intimidations they were used to using, and so they had to resort to outright fraud and violence to kick Him off the playing field altogether.
The very same thing will ultimately happen to anyone who dares to continue to remain disengaged from the games that people want to play, either within the church or outside of it. These games and their unspoken rules are the way all of us are used to living in relationship with those around us. As we begin to awaken to the real problems and the only real option we have of escaping all of this nonsense and enter into the other reality outside of this game that Jesus offers us, we are inevitably going to find ourselves the target of anger and resentment on the part of those who feel it their duty to keep us playing the game like we have for so long. We will be accused of breaking the rules, of causing disunity, of harboring a spirit of rebellion against authority, of all sorts of game infractions in an increasingly desperate attempt to get us back into our 'proper role' in the game again.
Since I have never really known much about life outside the game, I find it compelling what Jesus said to Nicodemus about this very thing. He knew that anyone who took Him up on His offer of getting out of the game would find themselves at serious odds with those who remained as active players or even part of the crowds in the stands. For everyone has been involved in their respective way in promoting the game and keeping others in their 'proper' places.
The roaring crowds compete to be louder than the opposing crowds from the other side of the field;
The attractive cheerleaders try to draw attention to their beauty and skill;
The commentators give their spin to all that is going on;
The coaches strategically try to outsmart the opposition;
The various functions of the players on offense or defense – all are an intimate part of making the game 'successful' and helping one side or the other to achieve being the 'overcomers'.
Yet from heaven's perspective we have completely missed the whole point of who or what it is that the Bible had in mind when it talks about overcoming. As long as we play in this game we cannot really understand what Jesus was talking about or what all those words really mean. We have transposed the meaning of most of the Bible and its terminology and have embedded all of that into our own game rules and terminology but with subtle shifts of meaning. Thus it is even difficult to explain what life outside the game might look like to a person still steeped in religious terminology and logic. Only a radical new birth experience affected by the Spirit of God can move us into the unfamiliar realm of true reality that is so different from what we have known all of our lives up to this point.
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:5-8)