50 First Dates

In the 2004 Hollywood movie, Henry is a successful veterinarian with serious commitment issues, until he meets Lucy and falls in love.  But, alas, Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss so whenever she and Henry see each other it is like they are meeting for the first time all over again.  They have to be introduced again each day, and rediscover each day that they are good together and should get to know each other.  As you look back at your faith journey this past year, specifically your experience where you congregate to worship, does it seem like you went on 50 first dates?

What do I mean?  In the movie, Lucy did not remember ever meeting Henry, so every day he went to great lengths to stage situations where he could give Lucy an opportunity to meet him… again.  Similarly, many churches are overly focused on carefully staging a weekly encounter event where the unbeliever can bump into Jesus and be smitten.  Every effort is made not to “scare off”, “confuse” or “offend” people with the message of the Gospel.  The weekly event is carefully contrived, paying attention to lighting, stage design, coolness of band members, the wattage of the greeter’s smile, and a message that may have a different title, but when unwrapped is another call to believe in Jesus.  Many churches have been quite successful at this, bringing in a large number of people.  The problem is that those of us who don’t suffer short-term memory loss are longing to get to the part where we get to know God deeply.  God?-Yes.  Sinner?-Guilty.  Jesus died and rose again! - Hallelujah!  And then?  It’s like being stuck on Groundhog Day…. Okay, maybe I am getting carried away with this movie thing, but do you follow?

The analogy used in scripture is that of being nourished by milk or solid food. In 1 Peter 2 he writes that once we have been saved we must crave to be fed by the milk of the Word so we, like infants, can grow strong in the fundamental truths of our faith.  Paul tells the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:1-2) that, as the infants in Christ that they are, he fed them milk, not solid food because they were not yet able to receive it.  But once we have learned that part we must move on to the meat of God’s word.  The writer of Hebrews admonishes his audience like this:

Heb. 5:12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 
Heb. 5:13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 
Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Of course, the scriptures above are clearly exhorting the believer to do his/her own digging into the Word, especially today when we have the full counsel available, so handily bound into one volume (or simply a click away).  Undoubtedly, thorough Bible study is ultimately the individual responsibility of every believer; we are called to cultivate the spiritual discipline of studying God’s word.  It is the way we grow in our relationship with God, the way we spend time in communion with Him.

But notice that every passage makes reference to someone who feeds.  Scripture calls us to congregate and gives us teaching on what is to happen when we assemble (1 Cor., Hebrews, James).  God made us social beings, and in saving us and bringing us into the context of His family, He wants us to enjoy the shared experience of growing in maturity together (1 Thes. 5:11-15).  And He has placed among us those who are called to be teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12)  The troubling aspect is that the lack of depth of the weekly teaching may be symptomatic of a general lack of maturity in that ministry.  It may be a sign of a congregation whose leadership is not committed to systematically growing disciples, to equip them to the point where they could become “teachers” as the writer of Hebrews expects.  We take our cues from our leadership, and many who come to faith in this kind of environment don’t know any better.  How many times have you heard a pastor say, “I don’t want to go into the whole theology of this.”  Why not?!  That is why I came here!! 

For us there is great danger of growing comfortable with the weekly milk, with replaying that first meeting where we learn each other’s name.  After all, falling in love is such a rush; it makes you all tingly and warm.  And cultivating a real relationship is, well, hard.  But living a Christian life of perpetual first dates with Jesus can never bring us the satisfaction of a real relationship; there can be no shared memory, no growth, no spiritual intimacy.

So what are we to do?  If you are uncomfortable with your current situation, God is calling you to take action.  Is he asking you to find another place to congregate?  Maybe.  That is something you must consider prayerfully, earnestly seeking God’s will.  You don’t want to be reacting out of cynicism, or a selfish desire to be served by “the church.” Read the devotional “Tell Me Why It’s Good” for a nice dose of reality-check.  But if you believe you are being called to do so, here is a great article on how to find a good church.  Or maybe you are now recognizing that you have been trapped in that loop of short-term memory loss, complacent not to venture any further.  I hope not.  

Whichever the case, your dissatisfaction with the weekly ration is a clear nudge from the Holy Spirit that God is drawing you to come meet with Him every day in that place where you can get past the initial introduction, His word.