After a few years of laboring in the professional ministry world, I was convinced that something quite profound was off kilter. I wasn’t sure what, or why. I simply knew that the church I read about in the scriptures was something that had been foreign to my experience up to that point. After taking a three month trip overseas (Middle East, China, Tibet, Nepal & India) in 2006 to experience the church outside of a Western context, I started to understand that the body of Christ described in the scriptures was completely different than the organization that many were calling church.
Over the course of the next couple of years, I sensed the Lord showing me many things about the nature of His heart, and what He desired for His bride. At the time, many of my associates and friends were institutional pastors and folks who were involved in professional religious work. As I openly shared my heart with them, I heard two very divergent messages coming from this group.
The majority of my pastoral friends warned me about the dangers of falling into the errors of the crowd who, in their opinion, were angry with the church. I remember sitting in the office of a pastoral friend of mine as he talked about a book George Barna wrote with Frank Viola called Pagan Christianity.
My friend went on to say that George Barna went too far with this book, and was throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. He could no longer be trusted. According to my pastoral friend, this book was dangerous and was going to cause people to make a mess of their lives. When I heard him say this, I felt a rush of fear flood over my body. I told myself that I didn’t want to become one of those ‘angry’ people who attacked the church. I was going to avoid that book for sure.
Nevertheless, the more I shared my heart about what I was realizing regarding the church, others would ask me if I had ever heard of a book called Pagan Christianity. I would tell them that I had heard of the book, but I hadn’t read it. Then, I would quickly change the subject. I kept hearing about this book, and it was starting to frighten & irritate me.
One particular morning, I traveled to south Florida to spend some time with a friend and mentor of mine. He was from the professional religious world, and I respected him. I always found him to be open minded, so I felt free to share with him what the Lord was stirring in my heart about the church. At the end of our conversation, he recommended a book to me.
I politely listened to him as told me that he read this book, and it seemed that what I was sharing was similar to some of the things talked about in the book. Although I greatly respected this person, the fear of this book had deeply lodged within me. I desperately did not want to become like one of those people. I had absolutely no intention of reading it, no matter who recommended it. The more I heard people compare my thoughts with this ‘dangerous’ book, the more I felt that maybe I truly was going too far off the deep end. It was discouraging.
An Afternoon At The Park
At the height of my struggle, I decided to take a day to spend time with the Lord in solitude. I needed to sort all of this out. As I pulled into the park, I heard the Lord loudly and clearly speak to my heart. This is what I heard:
LORD: Don’t go to the park to spend time with me just yet. Go to the Barnes & Noble bookstore across the street. I have a book for you there.
ME: What? This is crazy.
I completely ignored what I heard. I pulled into the park and got out of the car. I brought my bible and journal with me to have some good ‘quality’ time with the Lord. That’s when I strongly sensed the Lord speaking to my heart yet again.
LORD: Why are you here trying to ‘spend time with me’ when I told you to go to Barnes & Noble across the street to buy a book?
ME: What? Seriously? What book?
Ok, it appeared that my plans for a nice quiet afternoon with the Lord was getting interrupted. I was not happy. I got back in my car and went to the Barnes & Noble across the street. I walked in the store, went up to the second floor where the Christian section was, and this was the first book that I saw…
Someone had pulled this book out of its place on the shelf, and the cover was facing forward. The red cover with the word ‘PAGAN‘ caught my eye. As soon as I saw this book, I knew this was the book I was supposed to read. In the same moment, however, I felt fear grip my entire body. If I read this book, I might go off the deep end. What will my friends think who told me not to read this book?
I stood there looking at this book for what seemed like an hour. I argued with the Lord. I looked for a way out, but I just couldn’t walk away. I ignored the fear that gripped me, and I purchased the book. I drove back across the street to the park. I opened the book and started to read.
The fear broke, and the tears started to flow.
I had been lied to. Fear is a liar. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was everything that the Lord had been showing me. I wasn’t crazy after all. All the people who told me not to read this book were speaking from ignorance. They had not read the book, and they were speaking from fear.
Fear lost a major hold on my life that day. Reading that book was not the end of my journey out of the religious system, but a major step forward in this journey. This experience taught me that I never need to be afraid. The truth (Christ) lives in me, and He is able to guide me into His reality. He will not fail. Truth is self-evident, but it is fear that makes things muddled and complicated.
Perfect love drives out all fear.