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Saving Oklahoma

oklahomaYou may not be aware of this, but I did my best, as a young man, to save Oklahoma City from spiritual tragedy. It’s a story that needs to be told, and Lord knows I’ve waited a long time–but, I think now is a good time. Maybe it will be an inspiration to some. Let me tell you more about it.

I was probably about 14 years old or so and a vigilant member of my church youth group in Abilene, Texas. I knew the five steps of salvation by heart and at least one-hundred of the best hits from the blessed book, Great Songs of the Church–that I could sing or lead upon demand! I was on high alert because the group and I had been praying fervently for the second coming, in between school, band concerts and other things.

Our youth minister was on fire as well. At one time he had been a missionary to Switzerland–and he had a bell in the living room of his home, the size of a small cow, to prove it. To keep us sharp, the youth group met three times a week.

One week, at Sunday Night Devo, our youth minister announced that because our youth group was so wonderful and well-known, a church in Putnam City, Oklahoma had requested we come north to the big evil city to help them with some mission work. God’s call was upon us, it seemed, and thus we chartered a bus to head north on our three-day mission.

When we arrived, things were as bad as we had been told. The church seemed small and only had a few young people. Few in the congregation were willing to do the hard work of knocking on doors to save souls and invite folks to attend the Gospel Meeting. It was a good thing that the local minister had the good sense to call our youth group.

And knock doors we did! Streets, blocks, and neighborhoods–one after the other. I would knock on any door. As I recall, people were nice–I don’t remember any door slammers. A few would even talk to me–but usually not for very long.

Most who answered the doors were pig-headed and half-hearted about it all–taking the flyer and mumbling a few words as they closed the door. What can you say? I guess you just shake the dust off your shoes and go to the next door! We were prepared. “If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you’d go to heaven and be with Jesus?” we would ask. I don’t believe I ever did get to go through the entire presentation. But I was ready should the opportunity arise.

But even though the hearts of the wicked people in Putnam City could not be stirred for good, the trip was not an entire loss.  One of the girls I knocked doors with took a liking to me. I had never had a girlfriend before–and this one seemed to want to sit by me at the Gospel meeting–so there was that!

One of the biggest moments of the trip was when our group of about 25 or 30 young people entered the Casa Bonita Mexican Restaurant. What a place! Raise the flag and get more food! Do you remember? The restaurant was filled with people. To those with worldly eyes, that place may have looked like an ordinary but restaurant. But to those who had blessed with eyes to see, such as the saved from Abilene, Texas, it was an opportunity to share the Lord.

We all gathered in the middle of the restaurant, and there we sang four or five of our most resplendent hymns–to the amazement of the crowd in the restaurant. Some were so moved that they just bowed their heads and wouldn’t even look at us. Then, we followed all that glorious singing with three or four testimonies from our boldest young men about the Lord’s goodness and blessings. When we concluded, we boarded the Jesus bus once again where our youth minister praised us for our courage to stand-up and share the Lord with all in the restaurant.

As I said, that was a long time ago—but those memories haven’t faded one bit. As I think back on this, one thing continues to trouble me. Why didn’t any of those people from the restaurant attend the gospel meeting? And come to think of it, I don’t believe I saw any of the folks from the homes of the doors that I knocked. People’s hearts are hard.

But, it’s a good thing I was there. I did my best to get them there. And later I would do my best in Fort Worth and Saint Louis–with the same results. But you know, even though I didn’t see visible results–seeds of goodness were planted! Maybe we’d have better results if we had sung one, more, song!

Today, as I remember this story, I feel the same way as I do when I watch old I Love Lucy reruns! You know the feeling where you just want to shield your eyes because you can hardly bear to watch what’s happening? But I must own all of this. Yes, I was an impressionable young man trying to do what I thought I was supposed to do; yet, there is a greater story here.

In my religious life, I have done some very foolish things because I was told to do so by religious people I trusted (aka authorities). I was told that loving God meant I should knock those doors, sing in those restaurants, boycott movies, tell people they were lost because they did not believe as I did or worship as I did. I even remember wanting to attend a church, much like Dayspring, that had captured my heart. I thought being a member there would be marvelous and make a difference for me; but, I didn’t go. You see, families on both sides were opposed to this and said—I shouldn’t worship there. My heart said…yes! They said no! I don’t know how many of you can identify with that—but I suspect a lot of good folks have done things in the name of religion that, looking back, they wished they hadn’t done.

But here is the important point, even when I was doing those things, it felt wrong! You know what I’m talking about. Somethings just felt all wrong! My heart, that I didn’t know how to listen to back then—said, “This is wrong.” The heart talks to us in its own language. It will bring you peace and it can make you feel uncomfortable.  The heart is always talking to us. Sadly, I was listening to the religious folks—at the wrong time.

It was a strange message that was being communicated between my heart and the religious folks I loved. “The message was this, even if your heart says, ‘This is wrong,’ do what we say God wants you to do.” For many of us, this is the beginning of crazy making religion. That may sound like a cruel interpretation—but it is true. I did feel uncomfortable—and I was to set that all aside to be “Pleasing to God.” Yes, I was certainly raised to believe that how I felt, was less important than making sure I obeyed God—as if somehow, the two were unrelated.

But you know, as you get older, and you start reflecting on the important things of life and faith, I’ve since come to realize that we are not to decouple our God-given feelings from obedience–and there are several reasons for that.

First, it is God who gives you those feelings in the first place–and they are important! And we need to pay attention to them. The bible speaks of the peace that passes understanding. Peace is a feeling. Galatians speaks about the “The fruit of the spirit.” Notice how many of them are feelings.  These include peace, love, joy, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Yes, I always heard that self-control was more of something we did; but I actually think it’s the feeling we have when we pay attention to Spirit. We all know that feeling we have when we know we are in control of something—and that something is us! There is another reason why we should not decouple our feelings and obedience.

When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest command?”  He answered from the prophets, “Love, the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your might and love your neighbor like yourself.”

Did you catch this? “Thou shalt love…” Love is a verb—the action of which is to be directly tied to our hearts and minds. We are NOT to decouple our hearts, soul, mind, and strength. To love God means—we link with each of these as we practice our religion. All of these belong together—and that is the best form of loving God.  There is something else to look at.

Those years ago, when I felt bad in those restaurants, a lot of it was because I was doing what others said I should be doing. I let other people, good people, interpret for me what supposedly was pleasing to God—and in the process I decoupled my heart. But, just because a person says, “God says,” doesn’t mean, that God says.

There are a lot of interpretations of scripture out there today. We at Dayspring are not immune from it. As a family of God at this place, we hold many beliefs that are similar. That’s a good thing I think. But we should never forget, that our relationship with God is FIRST a personal and spiritual one.  We should follow it before the interpretations of others.

And as loving a church as this one is, never forget that our relationship with each other in this church is as much religious as it is spiritual. If our spiritual understanding of God is warped, our religion goes sideways. Religious traditions have their own ways of going rogue!  My last point is this.

Some people will follow their religion even if it breaks their hearts. I’m sure that on that day when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus, I sure some felt bad for what they thought was about to happen to her. I’m sure that some of them must have thought, “It’s a shame we must stone this woman to death—but Moses said it so we’ve got to do it!” So we too, if we are not careful, will do things in the name of our religion and faith—even if it breaks their hearts. And so many will do it without a thought—like telling someone they are going to hell for not doing what they think is right–or even disowning, or threatening to disown, their children when they don’t meet their parent’s understanding of the bible.

I could go on, but I think we are just as responsible for harm done in the name of religion as for intentional harms and wrongs. No one gets a pass for just following orders.

Our relationship to God, on the other hand, is personal and spiritual. And spiritual people, strictly speaking, are willing to listen to their heart to follow God—even if it breaks their religion!

  1. Jesus ate with the sinners and tax collectors.
  2. Jesus praised the woman, perhaps a prostitute, who broke open the bottle of expensive oil and wiped his body with her hair.
  3. Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from death.
  4. Jesus praised the sinner who confessed his sins before God.
  5. Jesus healed on the Sabbath.
  6. Jesus ran people out of the temple,
  7. He praised the Samaritans and embraced the children.

There are so many Christian leaders in the public eye today telling any who will listen what they should think, feel, and say. They are quick to use the scripture to condemn all kinds of people they don’t think measure up. They feel righteous in doing so. They will condemn you if you don’t join them. More than one of the many candidates running for office this Tuesday here in Oklahoma are announcing their faith bonafides in television ads–right along with other qualifications that are hardly Christian at all!

Jesus quoting Isaiah 29 said:

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

It’s good to be religious, even more so to be spiritual. But, do as the Lord commands and show your love for God by using your heart, soul, mind and strength together. You follow God–And, if necessary, break your religion!