AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Honesty is a critical part of spiritual growth. You can’t get closer to God by lying to yourself or Him, and yet when we’re so used to giving the answers that we think we’re supposed to be giving, it often takes effort to dig down and think about what our honest answer to a question really is. The question we’re about to ask you is one that you need to give serious thought to, because your honest answer to this question is having a profound impact on how you perceive your personal dynamic with God. So here it is: Do you think that God makes Himself more available to you when you are physically standing in a church or in a crowd of other believers? Don’t just throw out a quick answer. Really think about it.
For many Christians, going to church is a very stimulating experience. It’s a place where people are unusually friendly to them. Total strangers greet them with warm smiles and handshakes. Everyone is on their best behavior and there are very friendly leaders who are leading the whole group through a structured series of events. For many Christians, the worship time is their favorite part of the service, and this makes a lot of sense when you think about it. As humans, we all want to belong, and when you stand up with the whole congregation and join in singing the same song that everyone else is singing, there is a strong sense of unity that you can emotionally plug into. A lot of churches work hard to make the worship segment of their services very sensually stimulating and emotionally moving. It used to be that we cranked through a hymn or two before listening to a long sermon without any PowerPoint slides spoon-feeding the essential points to us. Now in many churches, corporate worship takes up most of the time while pastors are told to keep it short and entertaining. Because music is such a powerful mood setter, many churches strategically start and end with a rousing set of songs to ensure that everyone leaves on a peppy note. Songs are also squeezed in whenever there is a natural pause, such as the distribution of offering plates and Communion elements. Because music is such a powerful mood setter, it’s pretty easy for you to kick back and let the music take you wherever you want to go. For many Christians, the goal is to go floating up into some happy gushy place where they feel wanted, accepted, special, and loved. So what’s wrong with enjoying some emotional massage? Nothing, as long as you don’t get carried away in your interpretation of the experience.
Let’s use an analogy to understand the importance of not confusing feelings with facts. Mary and Rob are a married couple. Growing up without a dad has left Mary with an insatiable need for male affirmation, and she especially craves physical forms of that attention. Rob is a very gentle, kind man who naturally attracts people to his warm personality. When Rob and Mary are out in public, she finds herself feeling jealous whenever Rob starts having some pleasant exchange with strangers, and those exchanges are frequent events. Cashiers, waitresses, fellow shoppers—Rob is a naturally social guy, and he’s always reaching out to others with some friendly word. He’s not flirtatious, just kind, but Mary feels threatened all the same because she never feels like she gets enough of Rob’s attention. By the time she and Rob have some romantic moment, she’s usually feeling pretty desperate for confirmation that he really does still care about her. When they start getting physically intimate, Mary mentally interprets her sensual experience of those moments as proof that Rob still cares about her. So what’s wrong with this system? Plenty.
Rob’s feelings about Mary have nothing to do with him touching her. Getting physically intimate with his wife doesn’t make Rob love her more. In the day to day, Rob is deciding to maintain a certain level of commitment to his wife, and it is his own internal decisions that are motivating him to not flirt with other women and to treat Mary in respectful ways. Real love is a soul choice, not a roll in the hay, and Rob understands this (see Real Love vs. Infatuation). So as much as Rob enjoys being intimate with his wife, he doesn’t view such moments as the sole evidence of his love for her. To him, he is demonstrating his love for her every day in a thousand little ways. Sure, the intimate moments are fun, but you can’t make a life out of them. In the real world, you have to do other things like working, eating, cleaning, cooking, and sleeping. Because Rob is focusing on facts and not feelings, he has a much more positive outlook on his marriage than Mary does. Rob knows that his commitment to his wife is a real, steady thing, regardless of what else is going on.
Well, Mary doesn’t have Rob’s mature view of things. Mary is using feelings, not facts, to assess the health of her relationship with Rob. When they are physically apart, Mary feels anxious, lonely, and stressed. When they are together but he’s not totally focused on her, she still feels unhappy and full of doubt that he really cares about her. It’s only when Rob is totally focused on her, saying sweet things to her, and physically pleasing her that Mary finally feels a deep sense of relief that yes, he does still love her. For those few precious moments, Mary feels freed up from all of her insecurities. But as soon as those moments end, she quickly spirals back down into her usual anxiety. So what’s the solution for Mary? Well, she needs to stop using her feelings to assess Rob’s view of her. Instead, she needs to learn how to start putting her trust in the facts that Rob tells her about how he really perceives her in the day to day. Rob keeps telling her, “Mary, I love you all the time, not just when we’re together like this.” But Mary just doesn’t believe him. In her mind, she says, “Rob only loves me when I am feeling emotionally stimulated by him.”
It’s time for more soul searching. In your personal relationship with God, are you acting more like Rob or Mary? God says that He loves you dearly, that He’s always with you, and that He’s always listening to you. Are you trying to embrace these facts in the day to day? When God feels distant, silent, and indifferent, do you find yourself reviewing the facts that He has told you and trying to stand on them in faith, or are you pulling a Mary and saying, “Until I feel emotionally stimulated by God, I can’t accept that He really cares about me”?
Unfortunately, Mary’s method of interpreting reality is extremely popular among Christians, even though it results in a lot more misery and insecurity in the day to day. And while we can all understand why Mary thinks like she does, the reality is that her system is lousy. God’s love for us simply doesn’t fluctuate with our personal moods, and this is a critical truth that we really need to get if we’re ever going to experience any real security in our relationships with Him.
If Christian leaders really cared about the well-being of your soul, they would be encouraging you to put your faith in facts and not feelings. But instead, many of them are shamelessly teaching you to think like Mary and depend on your feelings to determine how God really views you. They then whip out the mood manipulating machinery and teach you to believe that all of those good feelings you experience during corporate worship sessions are evidence that God is suddenly paying more attention to you than He normally does. This is a gross abuse of influence and a flat out lie. But if humans can make you feel dependent on them to get you more connected to God, then what happens? You join their churches, pay them money, work on their projects, and admire them as spiritually superior to you. It’s great for the leaders, but terrible for you.
Suppose some random stranger came up to you and said, “Hey, I’m a doctor, and I need to boost up my practice, so do me a favor and start taking one of these poison pills every day. When they make you sick, come to me and I’ll charge you a bunch of money to fix you. Of course I won’t really fix you, I’ll just keep you sick, because it really works for me.” Would you do it? Of course not. And yet you’re doing a very similar thing when you sit in a church readily accepting every lie that Christian leaders throw at you regarding your own dynamic with God. When they tell you, “Hey, if you don’t attend church on a regular basis, your relationship with God is guaranteed to fall apart,” you believe them. When they say, “If you don’t read your Bible every day, God will never talk to you,” you just accept it. And once you accept the insane idea that you actually need other humans to keep God interested in you, what are you telling yourself about how God views you? You’re saying that God’s interest in you personally is non-existent.
Here’s an important principle of discernment that you need to understand: it’s impossible to have just one belief about God. Beliefs are like links in a chain: when you try to pick up just one, a whole string of other beliefs come with it. For example, a Christian tells you, “There is power in numbers. It’s more effective when many of us join together and present the same request to God.” It can’t be more effective for you to pray in groups unless it’s ineffective for you to pray alone. Before you can accept that you need other Christians to pray for you, you must first accept that God doesn’t listen to you when you’re praying by yourself. Are you seeing how it works? A Christian leader doesn’t have to come right out and say, “God doesn’t pay attention to you” or “God doesn’t love you.” All they have to do is get you to think that there is great power in numbers and you will be forced to accept those other two beliefs as well.
Cruise around a social forum like Facebook and watch how Christians respond to bad news. Over and over you’ll see them posting some anxious summary of what happened, and then they’ll plead for others to pray for them. But why? If you personally have God’s attention 24/7, and if you understand that He deeply loves you, that He is intimately involved in every aspect of your life, and that He is always doing what He knows is best for your soul, then why rush out and start begging other Christians to plead with God to help you? You simply don’t do this unless you personally believe that your own cries to God are falling on deaf ears. Such is the epic damage that is done by believing in “the power of numbers.” What sounds like an ego-pleasing doctrine about how we can gain great sway over God by simply massing together ends up backfiring into a belief that totally destroys your personal confidence in God’s love for you. It is utterly tragic how desperately dependent Christians feel on other humans to make God look in their direction. And yet this is where we are guaranteed to end up when we let other humans speak for God in our lives without sincerely seeking His feedback about the things we’re being taught.
Here’s a critical point to understand about God: He will not let you find truth without Him. If you refuse to acknowledge your dependence on Him as your only reliable Source of truth, and if you refuse to treat Him like the Supreme Authority that He is by checking with Him before you just believe whatever some human says about Him, then He will intentionally lead you into a whole mess of defeating deceptions until you’re one big spiritual mess. It comes down to an issue of soul attitude. God resents it when we act like we can do life without Him when that is such an obvious crock. He’s not just going to stand back and smile while you ignore Him and pretend like He’s some app you can customize on your phone. God is who He is—He’s not a choose-your-own-reality kind of Being. Just because we all want to control God doesn’t make it possible for us to do so. Just because we want God to be as impressed with numbers and titles as we are doesn’t mean that He is. We cannot impose our will onto God—instead, He imposes His will onto us.
Now because God is such a reasonable Guy, He doesn’t expect you to understand things that He’s never taught you. So when someone tells you that you have to physically be in a church before God will hear your prayer, you might not know whether you should believe him or not. But you can certainly recognize that as a mere created being, that human doesn’t have a complete understanding of truth, nor is he immune to making mistakes. So when he throws some statement about God at you, you need to treat it as just a theory which can’t be confirmed or denied until you receive feedback from God Himself. And while you’re waiting on that, it’s a good exercise to remember that all beliefs are like links in a chain which can’t be separated from each other. Then see if you can identify what other beliefs are linked to the one you’re thinking about. For example, if it’s true that God only listens to you at church, then what else must be true? Well, if He only listens to you at church, that means He doesn’t listen to you anywhere else. So this person who told you that God only listens to you in church is also telling you that God totally ignores what you say to Him at all other times, and that His interest in you depends on your current geographical location. Does it sound right to you that the God who created all things should be so invested on what particular patch of soil your feet are standing on at the time you address Him? And what qualifies a building as being a church—some sign out front?
Churches are built by humans wherever humans feel like building them. Well, if God only listens to people in churches, and if humans are the ones building those churches, then suddenly we’re giving humans a lot of power over God’s communication abilities. After all, until humans build a church in an area, God can’t hear any prayers addressed to Him. And every time humans knock down a church, it’s like God loses a cell tower and He no longer has any reception in that geographical area. Things are starting to sound pretty ridiculous, aren’t they? Yes, and this is how it always is with lies: when you start really thinking about all of the other conclusions one lie forces you to make about who God is and how He operates, it becomes easier to see how wrong they are. This is why so many Christian leaders don’t want you to think—because if you really think, you start seeing some serious problems with the stuff they’re telling you, and then you stop being so easy to control.
Here’s the problem with you staying in alignment with God’s will for your life: it isn’t going to help anyone else get rich quick. People want to profit off of you, and they can’t do that when you’re doing what God wants you to do. But spiritual rebellion is a huge money maker in this world, which is why the Church is pouring so much energy into getting you to accept all kinds of lies about God that will keep you out of alignment with Him. The more serious you get about submitting to God, the more you start scaling back your submission to people, and that makes you much harder to control. The more serious you get about embracing your dependency on God, the less dependent you feel on others, and suddenly you’re not feeling like it’s such a big deal whether you go to church or not.
Focusing on the right soul attitudes is guaranteed to drive you closer to God, and the closer you get to Him, the less you care about pleasing people, and the less profitable you become to those who just want to use you to advance themselves in this world. Because the Church functions like a business which depends on profits to stay alive, she needs you to stay profitable, and she’ll train you to stay that way without any concern for the long-term health of your soul. To keep you useful to her, she needs to keep you feeling dependent on her, and she accomplishes this by constantly bombarding you with teaching, prayers, and songs which all suggest that she has the power to increase your connection to God if you just play by her rules. The worship song House of the Lord by Jeff Pardo is a good example of this. With enticing lyrics and a pleasant melody, House of the Lord subtly entices you to accept the idea that there is something magical about standing in a physical church among fellow believers. In this song, Christians are singing to other Christians, and telling each other to believe that God is more present and attentive to them because of their geographical location. The physical building is exalted as a place where miracles are guaranteed to happen—the obvious implication being that you’re not so likely to experience God’s help when you’re somewhere else.
[Verse 1] Come broken, come weary, come doubtful, come empty;
Come torn apart, bring every scar, you are welcome here.
You are welcome here.
[Chorus 1] This is a house of healing.
Come as you are, and believe
This is the place where hearts can be restored,
Here in the house of the Lord.
As a general rule, humans don’t feel very accepted by other humans. We all have baggage, and we all know that if we get too open about our issues with other people, those people will shove us away in disgust. Does walking through a church door magically transport you into a room in which no one practices conditional love anymore? Of course not. Christians are just as hung up as non-Christians, and we shove each other away all the time. In this song, you’re claiming that you totally accept your fellow humans, no matter what. Now there’s a load of hypocrisy. If you were to really get a faceful of some of the baggage your pew mates were hauling around, you would no doubt feel repulsed and threatened and anxious to get away from them.
We’re not God. We don’t have His ability to embrace the good with the bad. We can’t even face the extent of our own depravity without feeling totally despaired and disgusted, and that’s why we spend so much of our lives trying not to look at who we really are. So when we stand around inviting broken people to let it all hang out and trust us not to judge them, we’re offering them something that we just don’t have. Certainly there are some of us who have been specially equipped by God to be more compassionate than most due to the kinds of work He’s called us into. But this song is intended for corporate worship, which means there is a whole room full of folks declaring themselves to be safe people when the truth is that many of them aren’t safe at all. And after grossly exaggerating how welcoming and accepting we are towards our fellow human beings, we declare the building we’re standing in to be a “house of healing.” Then we urge each other to “believe this is the place where hearts can be restored.” Well, why should we? What’s so special about this particular building that makes it such a magical center of inner healing? Well, it’s “the house of the Lord.” But what does that mean?
God is an omnipresent Being. He is everywhere at all times. There is nowhere we can go from His Presence. Well, these might be the facts, but Jeff Pardo wants us to rely on feelings to discern reality instead. Merely being in the presence of other humans is going to stimulate your senses to a certain degree. Throw in a pleasant melody, inclusive lyrics, and the unifying feeling of doing what everyone else in the room is doing, and it’s like Rob and Mary bonding in the bedroom. In such moments, Mary feels extra good, and she interprets her change in emotions as an indication that Rob is suddenly more interested in her than he was before they got all cozy. In the same way, Jeff is encouraging you to interpret the natural stimulation that comes with being in a crowded room to make you believe that God is suddenly extra interested and focused on you. It’s when you’re in this place that suddenly your heart can be restored. Before you came to this house, that restoration wasn’t available. You have to be in the house of the Lord before the Lord will consider dispensing healing. What a bunch of rubbish.
[Verse 2] He knows us like family, His love is unending.
Like chains that are falling, lay your burdens down.
Lay your burdens down.
[Bridge] Lift up your eyes, see the arms of our Father
Open so wide for His sons and His daughters.
Since when does our loving Father only offer to embrace us when we’re standing in church? God is always with us, He’s not extra with us when we’re at church. We really need to stop thinking of God like an order of fries that you can ask to be supersized so you can get more potato sticks. You either have God or you don’t—He isn’t some program that you can partially download.
So long as we’re talking about facts, this line about God’s love being unending is another deception. If God’s love never ended, then He wouldn’t be telling us that we need to choose between salvation and damnation. Just because God loves us as we actually are doesn’t mean His love is unconditional. If we don’t submit to Him as the Supreme Authority that He is, then He says we won’t be experiencing His love in eternity.
In their haste to escape any sense of accountability to God, Christians like to downplay the great importance of soul choice while they make God out to be some undiscerning Dispenser of blessings. Notice that this song says nothing about God bringing trials into our lives for good reasons, nor does it encourage us to practice any of the soul attitudes which God says are pleasing to Him. Instead, we’re encouraged to kick back and let the magic flow from God to us as He waves a wand and fixes every little problem that we have. But wait—since when does God promise to rain healing down on our heads just because we’re standing in a church? He doesn’t, but Jeff wants us to believe that He does, so he wrote this twerpy little song. Notice how in this second chorus Jeff says that it’s in the house of the Lord that mercy opens up its doors. And obviously if mercy has to open its doors, those doors were closed before. The clear implication is that when we’re not in church, there is no healing, mercy, or miracle cure available to us.
[Chorus 2] This is a house of healing.
Come as you are, and believe
This is the place where hearts can be restored,
Where mercy opens up its doors,
And we’re not who we were before, here in the house of the Lord.
Instead of communicating some God-honoring sentiment to our Creators, this song is nothing more than Christians encouraging each other to pretend that the building they’re standing in has magical powers. What a bunch of idolatrous rot. It’s the house that has the healing. It’s the house that forces our normally indifferent God to start coming forth with the mercy. Before we came here, God was ignoring us and leaving us to languish in problems which Jeff seems to think God had nothing to do with causing. But now that we’re standing in the magic house, God is suddenly acting receptive towards us. In fact, Jeff tells us that we were all magically changed upon entering this place which is why “we’re not who we were before, here in the house of the Lord.”
When you start exalting some manmade building as having super powers, you’re embracing a soul attitude of idolatry, which God hates. This obnoxious little song clearly suggests that a mere physical building is mysteriously controlling God’s behavior, for we must first enter the building before we can receive God’s love, attention, and help. We should expect such superstitious nonsense from those who worship false gods, but as Christians, we should know better than to treat a physical building like some magical conduit to God. What’s next? Circles in the dirt and magic potions? Sadly, we’re already there. From flinging holy water to waving crosses to pretending that we can control the flow of God’s Divine power by merely laying our hands on each other, Christians are up to their eyeballs in absurd rituals that all come down to us trying to imitate the dark arts. It’s as if we’re all stewing with envy over all of the fun the demon worshipers are having, so we’re always trying to imitate what they do. When we see them having physical fits and laughing hysterically during periods of demonic possession, we say, “Hey, we want some of that,” so we start slaying each other in the Spirit (see Is getting drunk in the Spirit worth an eternal hangover?). When we see them chanting their curses and spells, we’re jealous, so we start chanting Bible verses and pretending that we, too, have a powerful book of incantations which can make supernatural beings do our bidding. We’re being idolatrous idiots, and while we’re busy trying to compete with spiritual halfwits, we are only building up God’s wrath against us. No, God really isn’t confined to some ridiculous house. How dare we suggest that we can choose where He will meet us simply by slapping up four walls and a roof? God is everywhere, and there is nowhere we can run to escape His reach. If we keep provoking Him with this nonsense about magical buildings, we’ll discover just how capable He is of spanking our rebellious behinds beyond the walls of His so-called “house.”
You need to think about the words that you sing. It’s really not okay to stand around encouraging your fellow humans to pretend that God is only present in buildings which we’ve decided to give special names to. It’s utterly obnoxious to describe a church as a “house of healing.” Houses don’t heal people. God does. But since God is the One who also passes out the afflictions, we need to be asking Him to help us learn the lessons He wants to teach us through the trials that He brings into our lives (see It’s Personal: Understanding the Divine Perspective of Trials). It doesn’t matter how many immature rebels the Church places into positions of leadership around you—hiding behind them isn’t going to get you off the hook for not seeking God in your own life. Before you just join the throng in promoting some obnoxious theory about the way things are, you need to be asking God what He thinks and obeying the convictions that He gives you.
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Fellowship In Perspective
The Christian Idol Industry
Understanding Idolatry: The Problem & the Cure
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