Month: October 2014

Above All Else: Clarity

pen-and-paper_400x295_39(Check out the first and second installments here and here.)

This week, we’re asking God for clarity to find Him in the storm.

It is neither new nor uncommon for a Christian to cry out in prayer for relief in the face of opposition or difficulty.  At times we spiritually scream at the top of our lungs for help.  There are times when we do the courageous thing and take the glory of Jesus Christ into the storm and then await rescue.  With every passing moment that deliverance is delayed, we begin to doubt the decision to trust in the word and take it literally into the storm.  These can be moments that test our faith in far greater ways than the initial crossroad where we chose to trust the words of Jesus and allow him to overcome.  These are the moments where we gasp for air in the fiery furnace or strain to maintain spiritual centeredness as the refining fire scorches our sensitive Christian skin.  The promise of deliverance has been made, the leap of faith to trust in the promise has been leapt, and now all that remains is to wait for a miracle.

The way we approach this “refining fire” and the way we understand its purpose will shape our view of our existence in the flames.  If we view God as completely outside of the flames, then what we experience within is severe loneliness and helplessness.  When we are up against a difficult situation there are few greater burdens placed on the human heart than that of isolation and loneliness.  The feeling of being alone magnifies the suffering and heightens the pain.  If we view God as outside of our current situation, we limit our experience with God and his promise to be “God with us.” We find ourselves without hope.

A God that does not enter the flames with you is either a God that does not care about your current suffering, or has no control to do anything about the situation.  Either way, with a God outside of the flames, there is little hope left to hold on to.

Of course, the opposing perspective is a God that follows us into the flames.

As we begin to feel the heat of the fire, the prayer that is usually first to emerge is, “God, get me out!” In some cases, maybe that prayer is answered directly: we are rescued from the flames unscathed and alive.  But both the Bible and our own lives are full of evidence that such moments of the miraculous are not prevalent.  More often than not, we remain in the blaze, seeking answers and explanations to our delayed rescue.

The question of suffering is a difficult one for most non-Christians to grasp and sometimes more difficult for Christians to explain.  When discussing Christianity with non-Christians, the issue of suffering and a God that allows its continued existence is always an issue: ‘Why would a good God allow so much suffering? Pain? Death? Destruction?’  There are plenty of answers and explanations for this question. But often in answering it, I find myself simply left with “I don’t know.”

There are biblical explanations to explain the nature of suffering in this world: the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, for example. However, explaining the very real presence of suffering by referring to a story of a garden with fruit trees, naked humans, snakes and flaming swords hardly satisfies the troubled mind.  But while we cannot know the whys and purposes and resolutions of suffering, we can explain what the reasons cannot be.  It cannot be because we have a God that does not care for us and it cannot be because our God does not have the power to stop it.

Throughout the Bible we read time after time that God can put out flames of suffering and sorrow whenever he desired at a moments notice.  We know that he performed miracles repeatedly, from Scriptural accounts as well as in the lives of many people living today.  Therefore, the question remains: Why does he allow suffering to continue?  The only explanation from a God that claims to have plans beyond our understanding is that the suffering exists for a greater purpose.  Perhaps the suffering persists so that greater healing can be revealed and experienced.  If we are willing to plead ignorance concerning the presence of suffering in this world, we must be willing to admit ignorance concerning the purpose.

Against difficulty, against pain, the first option is to quit and give up.  Our suffering is too much to handle. The effort to fight and overcome seems hopeless.  Quitting seems to be the most reasonable and pain saving option.  But the truth about quitting is that, in most cases, quitting does not satisfy. Instead, it brings regret. The second option is to take heart and continue onward.  Whether coming from a religious or non-religious background, most people agree that the decision to press onward through suffering typically results in a stage or period in life that we look back on and value.

All throughout the Bible we see moments where God chooses to allow suffering to persist.  In each instance where suffering is allowed to persist there follows a greater moment of healing that proved to be the original purpose of the suffering.  Whether it is the story of Joseph or the story of Lazarus, God always expresses a desire to bring about more healing than what we could have possibly foreseen.  This multiplication of healing is born out of the seeds of suffering.

The God of the Bible is never unclear about the realities of suffering or his views on our suffering.  He sees it, he knows it, and he never stops caring.  In the Bible, we see a God that accompanied his believers into the flames for all to see, a God that accompanies us into our human experience to truly be called, “Emmanuel.”  The God of the Bible cannot exist outside of the flames of suffering because he is God with us.

Tuesday Devotional: Ruth 1

bibleRuth 1:15-18

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

An encounter with the living God must completely and radically transform us. This encounter will contradict nearly everything that we have previously known as “true.” As the living God enters into our lives, “truth” is measured and found only in God Himself. This transforms the entire landscape of our personal life. While the choices we make as we are led by God defy our past rationale, the degree of opposition to our newly found path with God is minimal compared to the degree of danger we now see in the decision to proceed on our own, without God.

Encountering the living God does not add to, assist in or enhance our life. If we believe that, we are sadly confusing an encounter with God with a surge in emotional desperation and the need for temporary gratification. To encounter God as He is and not as we desire Him to be is to lay our lives at the feet of our Father and Creator, demanding only His forgiveness and direction. Once we encounter God through Jesus Christ there is no other way. There is no other name.

If we claim the name of Jesus Christ yet do not completely abandon our plans, desires and direction, we bring shame to the name of Jesus. We simply add to the problems we face daily, problems that Jesus came to heal and eradicate. God does not desire to produce in each of us mere moments of joy, peace and fulfillment. God did not send His son Jesus to die so that we could have temporary respite from our pain and suffering. To approach God in this way is to continue in a life where we remain the ultimate judge of what is and what isn’t true. This ultimately is the biggest lie of all, yet the easiest lie for us to believe. God is truth. To encounter Him is to ultimately find truth. From such an encounter, the only true life is found in Him and the only true life is directed and guided by Him. No other thing can come between.

Above All Else: Courage

(See the first part of this series here.)pen-and-paper_400x295_39

Today we’re talking about courage

Courage to take God into our storms.

One thing we can all unanimously agree on is that life is not easy.  Jesus never hesitated to make this clear to his disciples:

“In this world you will have trouble…”

This world has been broken and we all experience its brokenness daily.  The days that we view to be perfect are few and far between, typically outweighed by days are a struggle in some form or another.  It is in the face of these daily “storms” that, as Christians, we are meant to carry our cross, to never stop “running the race,” to finish while also continuing to “fight the good fight.”

This holy expectation is much more easily said than done.  When we face life as we know it, with all of its uncompromising and unaccommodating realities, it can be a challenge to “just have faith.”  Using our own power to manipulate a situation or force an outcome seems more appealing and realistic than turning toward a higher, and unseen power.   Turning to God and seeking His direction and power is always something that, as Christians, we know we ought to do but is more often than not something we feel is quite impossible to do.

When we hear the word, “courage,” we often conjure up images of a person who takes on a situation in a way that is not typical, a way quite unlike the way the rest of us would.  We apply it to soldiers, firefighters and people suffering severe oppression without giving up or quitting.  We wish we had more of it, or any of it.  Courage is not normal.  It’s fitting for the superheroes among us, but not something that the average person can ever entirely possess.

Courage is simply doing something that most people would not because of fear, whether of harm or failure or anything else.  It’s to do something that seems unlikely to succeed but admirable to attempt.  In addressing courage through these eyes that we see the heart of Christianity.

Christianity was, at its foundation, inauspicious.  In a quick overview of the initial years of this new religious sect called “The Way,” it is a surprise that it ever went anywhere beyond the neighborhoods nestled in the hill towns dispersed throughout Israel, let alone expand into the global faith that it is today.  In its delicate beginnings, there was every reason to believe that this sect would quickly die out, and that the world would soon forget or never hear the name ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ within several decades of his death.  As for the Christians that followed Jesus and continued to preach the Gospel, there was every reason to believe that their message would die out as they gradually did.  These men and women held no powerful social standing or political influence to make their growing faith a force to reckon with.  They were predominantly peasants and outcasts, with limited resources, preaching a word that condemned them to brutal persecution and social oppression.  However, regardless of the dire state of things, they continued to believe, they continued to preach and they continued to experience the living God.

Courage.

From day to day we all encounter difficulties that seem hopeless or at least try us, emotionally or physically.  These difficulties could reduce faith in Jesus to wishful thinking or outlandish mythology.  But upon reaching this crossroad it is clear that only one road requires courage and the other does not.  Taking on our problems ourselves is not only void of courage but, as a Christian, quite pathetic.  To seek the power that was despised and rejected, to seek the council of the Spirit that no one understands is to do the one thing that no one would expect you to do.  Holding true to a minority position often requires courage.  It is in the minority that a Christian truly finds Jesus.  Considering this, the choice to take Jesus into the storms of our lives is courageous. In doing so, we find common ground with our brothers and sisters of the early Church.  Their choice to take Jesus to every storm they encountered paved the way for us.  They witnessed the end of the statement of Jesus as well as the beginning:

“In this world, you will have trouble…”

But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Tuesday Devotional: Judges 2

bibleThe angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I  swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim.[a] There they offered sacrifices to the Lord.

 

We often assume that as we grow older, wisdom would follow.  Certainly there are examples of wisdom increasing with age. But there are also many instances that leave one questioning this rather flimsy logic.  At the character level, are the desires of a five year old all that different from those of a 45 year old?  While we avoid this kind of question due its potentially humiliating nature, it is worth asking.

A five year old always thinks that he or she is right and knows what’s best.

A five year old often criticizes her parent for not giving her what she wants.

A five year old often questions the motivations of his parent concerning discipline and order.

A five year old often desires things that can harm in often fatal ways.

As we examine the nature of the human heart in the presence of God, we might be surprised by the parallels.  In many ways, the worst and most cruel thing that God could ever do is give us what we want.  It pains him to see us pine after things that can offer us nothing but heartache and pain.  However, God desires not that we follow him simply because he is God and we are man.  God desires that we follow him because we know that with him we are safe and without him we are not.

We have the uncanny ability of dressing up a thorn so as to forget its sharp point.  While we might juggle daggers and avoid getting slashed for a short period of time, eventually they will draw blood. Eventually, breaking Gods protective laws leads to suffering.  God simply wants us to play with the things that will only bring us joy. He weeps at the fact that we continually choose to juggle knives and thorns.

Thursday Reflection: Above All Else, Part 1

pen-and-paper_400x295_39Before I truly met the Lord in a personal way, I was pretty suspicious of this idea of spiritual revelation and communication with God.  When I heard Christians saying things like, “I just wait to hear what God will say,” I always felt like that was simply something to say, like a mantra, so that the heart could rest at ease amidst otherwise inexplicable troubles and challenges.  This idea of the prophets communicating directly with God and God directly inspiring Christian thought and direction seemed as likely to me as Santa responding to my Christmas list.  That simply would not happen. This was my position when it came to the idea of spiritual revelation.

The emergence of the fruit of the Spirit is most often a surprise.  The fruit of the Spirit is not a developing seed that we can observe as it grows.  The seeds are simply planted and, depending on the soil, they grow.  They grow constantly and usually without our knowledge.  One of the fruits of spiritual growth I experienced was a total reversal of my old beliefs about spiritual revelation.  In other words, as I “conversed” with God, God began to talk back in very perceptible ways.

What I mean by, “conversed,” is that there seemed to be a heightened response time to prayer.  This doesn’t mean that every prayer was answered or that I received everything I prayed for.  However, I saw responses to my prayers when it came to spiritual leadership: which way to go so as to better serve him and bring glory to him.  I saw a shift in how these prayers were answered in real time.  In some instances these answers came before the prayer was even finished.  It is such an experience that inspired this series of reflections.

Early one Saturday morning in Daegu, South Korea, as I was walking to the first Bible study of the weekend, I found myself making my way down the usual list of intercessory prayers for family and friends.  At this moment in time there were several members of my family, distant and immediate, that were encountering obstacles and challenges in their lives.  I found myself asking God what I should pray, and how I should pray, for each of them.  Before I could finish my “prayer for prayer,” my train of thought and inner-monologue seemed abruptly interrupted by four distinct statements.  These statements were statements I had never heard before and was not in the process of constructing before they suddenly appeared.  They came suddenly. Out of the blue.

It went like this:

 Father, above all else, give me;

Courage to take you into the storm,

Clarity to find you in the storm and,

Joy when I discover you in the storm.

 I was amazed at the clarity of the prayer. Not only did it apply to all of my family members and simultaneously address all of their distinctly personal issues, it related three ideas that I found so foundational and applicable to all Christians, regardless of where a person is in their spiritual growth.  They were three things that I believe all Christians should be mindful of as we take each progressive step along the narrow path following the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll be looking at each of the three parts of that prayer: courageclarityand joy. Join us on Thursdays, and comment with any questions.

Tuesday Devotional: Joshua 1

bible 1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’” 12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said,13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.” 16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

The world that we are confronted with on a daily basis must be met with courage, strength and caution.  If we attempt to confront this world without the presence of any of the three we will undoubtedly feel overwhelmed and defeated.  The question is, where do we find courage, strength and caution?  Repeatedly we try to find them in ourselves but over time we find what we possess of each of them is not nearly enough.

The reality of this world is limitation.  As much as the human spirit can achieve unbelievable feats, ultimately we all fall short.  Therefore, our faith in courage, strength and caution will only ever be as good as what we can muster, if that faith is limited to what is only present in this world.  However, finding courage, strength and caution in the presence of God is entirely different.

God is the source that not only understands the dangers that will test our courage but also possesses the strength to overcome them.  Our life in our own hands is far too heavy a burden for us alone to carry.  Our life in the hands of another person will likewise be too heavy for them.  Our life in the care of something else will similarly be too heavy for it.  Only in the hands of an entirely omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God can we ever find the courage, strength and caution to overcome the limitations of this world and ourselves.  Only by allowing Jesus Christ to follow through with His desire to carry our burdens can we thoroughly experience the faithfulness and power of the living God.

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, Part 4

pen-and-paper_400x295_39This is the final installment in the Why We Eat series! For Parts 1-3, see here and here and here. 

This reflection is inspired by 1 Peter 2: 2-3.

Today we talk about Necessity.

Living in modern western society I am blessed with an abundance of provision.  Compared to the rest of the world I live extremely comfortably. My needs and wants are met on a daily basis.  Awareness of this fact does little to help me relate with the many living around the world in extreme poverty.  The number of individuals with little to no food to eat compared to those of us who always have enough food is horrifying.  Due to this unfair reality, I cannot fully understand what it means to be literally starving.

The word “starving,” used in the way that it is supposed to be used, describes, to me, one of the worst physical challenges.  I cannot imagine going without food for days, weeks or months.  I have heard of various accounts of people who have endured such hardships and the testimonials are painful in description alone. I pray that with each passing day we can see more people fed and fewer people dying of hunger, although the obstacles to this miraculous feeding of the millions remains stubborn and strong.

Although I cannot fully empathize with someone who has experienced hunger to this degree, and not to trivialize hunger in any way, I do know what it feels like to be hungry.  I do know what it feels like when your stomach begins to alert you that food is needed.  In this moment, it is difficult to think of much else.  At first, hunger is the deep pains of the abdomen.  Next, hunger inflicts headaches, weakness and perhaps dizziness.  The search for sustenance becomes a top priority, distracting you from any other task.  This is a state of physical emergency that is impossible not to acknowledge.

This prompts the question: do I really hunger for God?  Do I need God like I would need food in this situation?  Do I feel weak and without strength in his absence?  These questions can be humbling and convicting but are, nonetheless, vital to a Christian life of honesty and integrity.  Living a Christian life is not intermittent snacking out of boredom.  Neither is it one where we force feed out of respect for a host.  In the life of a disciple of Jesus, existence without him means death and existence with him means life.  It is that extreme.

There is a reason that Jesus compared himself to bread.  To the ancient world, bread meant more than fulfilling carbohydrates and plentiful calories as it does to the bread-loving world of today.  Bread, to the world that Jesus preached, symbolized “life.”  At the feeding of the 5000, Jesus says these words:

John 6:35

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Jesus is telling us that to take part in a relationship with him is to be ultimately and completely satisfied.  To eat of this bread Jesus describes means to never feel in need and to never want to go without.  This understanding of the Gospel of Jesus leaves no room for Christianity lived on the foundation of boredom or politeness.  God does not want us to come to his altar just because.

“Just because” is void of thought, intention, and meaning.  God put all of those into his creation, and He knows what He desires.  God desires us. Quite simply, he desires that we desire him. True worship comes when that desire is met and reciprocated, when we feel our hunger for Him and Him alone.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Deuteronomy 32

bibleDeuteronomy 32:48-52

48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

The true value in walking with God ultimately has nothing to do with what we have received or will receive in return for our walk.  The true value of walking with God is simply that: the walk.  As we walk we receive insight into his character and are welcomed into a relationship with him that is close, personal.  This walk only reveals truth and is grounded in love.

A true relationship is “being” and not “getting.”  Being with that person is the only reward you seek.  From this understanding of God and our experience with him, we are then prepared to face the confrontation between God’s will and our own with complete understanding.  If our walk is based on the expectation that our efforts will reward us, we will be left bitter.  However, if our walk is anchored in the walk itself, the experience of walking with God as his beloved child will remove any preconceived notions of what we will receive or what he is supposed to provide.  The walk with God cannot survive disappointment if avoiding disappointment was the motivating factor for walking in the first place.  A genuine walk with God results in heartfelt thanksgiving of blessings received along with “blessings” withheld.  It is never about the getting or the giving.  It is simply walking.

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, part 3

For parts 1 and 2 of this series on why we worship, go here and herepen-and-paper_400x295_39

This reflection is inspired by 1 Peter 2: 2-3.

Today’s source of hunger: Pressure.

Imagine this scenario: we are invited to go out to eat with family or friends. Unbeknownst to them, we have already eaten.  It would appear rude if we were to reject such a kind invitation, so, we carry on through the meal as if we hadn’t eaten in days.  Throughout the meal, we are neither interested in eating or even enjoying the food but, to be respectful and polite, we carry on without letting our true feelings be known.

Unfortunately, this scene clearly resembles the way some of us Christians practice Christianity.  To some of us, doing  “Christian things” comes from an obligation to the other Christians around us.  Or perhaps the motivation to carry on is even an attempt to “be polite” to God, as if we are doing him a favor.

Growing up in a household with strong Christian parents left me with a clear realization that certain things were right, and expected of me as a Christian, while other things were clearly wrong.  These rights and wrongs were not general social standard dos and don’ts.  These were things like praying, reading the Bible, going to church, and trying to live my life under the banner of “what would Jesus do?”

However, there came a point where the effort made versus the yield of “blessings” seemed uneven.  The more I tried to do all of these things and keep in line with my fellow Christians, the less I noticed any return on my “investments” or “commitments.”  This left me asking myself, “What is it all for?”  My answer for many years was just to put my head down and keep doing what I was doing.  Just because.

For many there comes a point where the elements of Christian life become routine, where being a Christian is painfully predictable.  Christian songs sound the same, discussions with Christian friends sound the same, the sermons or homilies sound the same, and the outlook on personal life as a Christian is left unchanged and uneventful.

Although in our most personal thoughts we might ask ourselves what the whole point is, many of us continue to follow the path of Christian living…just because.  There comes a point where the only reason we continue to “act” Christian is because we know we should, and we are too far along to do something radical and start over. Not because we actually want to participate.

This sad state of Christian living is all too prevalent.  This idea of the “Sunday Christian” is well known inside and outside of Christian circles. But to live this way is to totally misunderstand what being a Christian means and what God desires from each of us.  God never ordered us to march purely out of the desire to watch us snap into formation. God never told us to not put any thought into what He wants us to do, but to simply do it “just because.”  When Jesus went about preaching for three years, never was he found dragging the disciples around against their will.  On the contrary, Jesus always gave them plenty of opportunity to turn back and leave him should their hearts have desired it.

Yet never in the Gospels do we read of any of the twelve disciples refusing to go where Jesus led them.  The reason Jesus compared himself to a “good shepherd” is because when a shepherd leads the sheep, he does so from the front of the flock and not from the rear.  He does not prod the sheep forward with rebukes and abuse.  Rather, the sheep follow the voice of the shepherd because the direction of the voice is the direction of safety.  Being a Christian means choosing to be a Christian. To claim the title Christian under any other pretense is to not be a Christian at all.

When I read through the Bible for the first time in its entirety, several things shocked me.  First, I was shocked by how different Jesus was from the perspective of some present day Christian modes and actions.  Second, I was shocked by how clear God was throughout the entire Bible in his desire for honest, joyful, willing worship.  Repeatedly, especially in the prophets, God says that he would rather not have any offerings at all if the heart does not willingly bring them.

To hear God tell me that he didn’t want my present-day offerings of church attendance and Christian activity if I didn’t want to give them was surprising and belief-shattering.  I had always understood that going to church and doing all of these Christian things were just things we do, maybe thinking that doing them bought my ticket to heaven, and my job as a Christian was just to keep doing them—just because.

However, what God was telling me was entirely different.  What God, not a pastor, was telling me was that if I didn’t want to do all of these “Christian” things, then he didn’t want to have any part in me doing them. 

He made it quite clear that if I continued going to church and doing all I felt the “Christian way of life” required without any real desire to do so, then it would not be to please him, but to please myself and satisfy my own self-diagnosed needs.

In the end, “going through the motions” is utterly sinful.  Sin is simply placing self at the center of the heart instead of God. “Going through the motions,” is at its essence the definition of self-centeredness and, thus, sin.

It might be polite to eat when invited to dinner regardless of our hunger.  However, to eat at the Lord’s Table and to mimic an appetite when there is none, is to sin in God’s presence, to betray him with a smile and a kiss.