I received the following letter yesterday after the author had read So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. As with many people it seemed to fill in some piecing pieces in his own journey. I’m really touched when I hear from people like this who began with a taste of goodness, got sidetracked into the barren wasteland of religious performance, and then come to discover that God’s life has always been there for them.
This is the story of James Gray and I reprint it here with his permission and in hopes that it will encourage others who down deep inside wonder if there must be something more to all of this:
(I started out as) a little boy of seven trying to answer the meaning of my existence in Christ (and) the cultural answers left me empty to say the least.
I tried everything to quench the gnawing inside of my being. I spent many years in foreign countries preaching and teaching in villages no knew existed. I was told after working for the cash and then going into these foreign lands for years I needed to start an organization, and let people pay the bill. After that happened the joy of my Christian walk lessened with everyday. So I pioneered a church and it grew. But the more it grew the emptier I became.
I was told to start a ministry. Hungry for the fullness I had experienced, I did that but it only left me more saddened. Soon I found myself surrounded by men with answers but lifestyles that didn’t seem to have an abundance of Christ, to say the least. After all this time I endured many years of exhaustion trying to get back to my beginning. I didn’t have an inkling of where to go or what I had lost. I felt guilty for making mistakes and (because of ) my questions about where is Christ, I was branded by other pastors as a anarchist. Out of guilt I quit what I thought the ministry was and went into what some call the wilderness. That was 1980. I picked up (some) answers along the journey, but when I brought my heart questions up, I was banished from what I thought was the body, which only heaped on more guilt. I really thought over the last 26 years I lived on an island. Many came to the Lord during this time just out of my questions but soon dropped by the way side through time due to what they endured years later.
During my years prior to becoming culturally organized I held mass crusades taught me by the best in Christian circles. It was hard to abandon the new ones. I told so many it was like giving birth and telling them to go to the orphanage of their choice. Because of the numbers of hands raised and televised, when I walked away it was said by my teachers, which used numbers as a thermometer, that I was abandoning the new ones. Some preached that I didn’t care for the lost.
On the contrary how can you give birth to a newborn and leave them in the fields to raise themselves? Or put them in churches that don’t know their names or their wounds? So you see, my brother, this book became a great tool for me to answer questions where others only heaped baggage when I asked them why? Sometimes the why is a God kiss, but so hard to answer. It takes so many years and there are so many pieces to the answer.
I was like I had a puzzle container with the picture of what it was supposed to look like on the front, but so many of the pieces were missing. Thanks for the lost pieces. It means more than you’ll ever know.
There was a great price to pay for my decisions to find Jesus, especially when he is not where you think to look. The price which was great was worth the wait, and the price. My appetite would only be satisfied by him. I read your book several months ago and waited if life would grow. That is one of the keys if it is God it grows after you eat it.
When I was a little boy my father took me to an old kitchen in the south where he worked as a young man. He had me taste the barbecue of an old, black gentleman. It was the best food ever made. That was my standard for barbecue. So for 4 days while on our way home I would see a barbecue restaurant sign and ask my dad if we could stop and have some more of that great food. My dad said, son trust me it’s not the same if we stop we just loose time and leave disappointed. In the beginning I tasted Christ and thought I would stop at the signs and taste only to find it doesn’t taste the same as it did the first time I sampled him. The vast freedom flavor is so sweet, and I don’t stop at every restaurant. I think I know what Christ taste like now as well as what he doesn’t.
Thanks again, my brother, I haven’t found all of the pieces yet, but now since the major parts have been placed in the picture the smaller parts will fall into place organically.
In this landscape of religious activity, how many of us get caught up in doing things for God that don’t ever bear the fruit they promise? Jesus didn’t ask us to do things for God; he let us know that his Father wanted to live life with us. Once you taste of that, nothing will ever satisfy again, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself, or others try to pressure you that what you’re hungering for does not exist. But the heart knows better. It keeps beckoning us on to find him through all the clutter and let him pour into our lives the life that really is life!
You know it’s there. You’ve tasted it before. Don’t let the substitutes convince you that they are good enough. They’re not.
That’s what Jesus promised—all of us!