After reading it, I thought of a #11-
Jesus is not defined by your experiences.
Jesus is not loud music and flashing lights that made you feel good at a youth event. He is not defined by your infant baptism or the card you filled out during an altar call. He is not whether you spoke in tongues at a charismatic event or saw 50 kids come to Christ at VBS. Jesus is not defined by your personal spiritual experience.
I was thinking about this and had an illustration come to mind that I hope will be as meaningful to you as the above blog link was to me.
Here you go:
The Church today looks a lot like the Houston Rodeo (or whatever rodeo you visit. Mine just happens to be Houston). For the sake of continuity, I will # it for you.
- The Entrance - We all walk in the first time with a sense of excitement or trepidation at what lies ahead. We are ready to take it in and create our own story of what the rodeo is by what we personally experience there.
- The Food - Some people define the rodeo (church) by what they consume. The Houston Rodeo is known for excellent barbecue but also delicacies like Fried Twinkies. There are a lot of people who go to the rodeo to sample the “food” and define their experience by how well “fed” they are.
- The Rides - There are some crazy rides at the Houston rodeo. I am personally not a fan of being suspended in the air and losing my stomach on a piece of metal and bolts that was put together in a day but that is not part of my illustration. What I am trying to illustrate is that some people define church by the highs. They pass from ride to ride and high to high. If you ask them about their time, this is how they will define a successful visit.
- The Convention Center - At the Houston Rodeo, we have a large indoor area that is pretty safe. You can casually walk around without being exposed to the elements, high rides, or delicacies that might push you beyond your comfort. You can stay in there for hours and see a safer presentation of the animals and even have a few experiences but nothing too dangerous like what is taking place outside.
- The Stadium - This is where the action happens. Faithful Houston Rodeo goers (like churchgoers), you know the kind who holds season tickets and volunteer their time to its success, will say that you haven’t truly experienced the rodeo unless you have entered the NRG Stadium. The NRG is where the “real rodeo” takes place. It is where kids race on the backs of sheep, where teenagers wrestle cows, and where real cowboys are thrown off of bucking bulls.
*Here’s the meat (in case you are scrolling) - Those who make it into the Stadium are a step ahead of those who just consume delicacies, move from high to high, or play it safe. However, even they have not fully experienced the rodeo. No, they buy a ticket, sit in their seats, watch the action, consume their food, and cheer or heckle from the safety of their row. They see the action firsthand, but even they are not true rodeo participants.
Those who truly experience the rodeo are the few who
dare to enter the Arena.
My friend Bernie and I are reading Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown. In her books, Brene' talks about the courage and vulnerability that it takes to step into the Arena, get your ass kicked, and then do it again. She even says, “If you’re not in the Arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Now those of you who are more concerned that I said “ass” twice than about what I am trying to illustrate are probably seat holders. My friends who are serving orphans in Bolivia are probably giving me an air fist bump and saying “hell yeah” about now.
I have watched bull riders get thrown off, stepped on, and kicked in the ribs then stand up and throw their hands up in victory. I have seen Christians do the same. They limp off stage for a night, mend their wounds, and come back ready enter the Arena again.
I think of Katie Davis (Kisses from Katie) serving in Uganda. I think of fellow adoption moms who have lost heart babies and then gone back to adopt another. I think of pastors who are beat down by congregations who just want to eat fried twinkies but go back to work on Monday committed to make a difference. I think of my friend who sold everything so she could serve in Brazil. I think of the persecuted church in the Middle East. I think of my friend who dedicated her life to set up tent clinics for those who don’t have access to healthcare around the world. I think of the wife who hits her knees every night and prays for her husband who does not know Christ while listening to him daily criticize her faith. I think of my friends who have experienced two heart-wrenching failed adoptions but are back at it because they feel called to care for orphans. THEY are in the Arena.
While it is part of their rodeo experience, the Jesus of those who enter the Arena is not defined by highs or delicacies and He is certainly not safe. Walking with Him occasionally comes with an ass-kicking and yet somehow it is the kind of ass-kicking that makes you stand up, throw your hands in the air, and want to go back in. That is the power of fully experiencing the Church.
To go back to the beginning of my post, that is what I want my kids to learn at Church: I want them to learn how survive and succeed in the Arena.
Brene' Brown has one more quote worth mentioning and closing with here:
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.” –Brene Brown