“You’re not a Christian.” He said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know God. So, you’re not a Christian.”
“Of course I know God.”
“I can tell by the way you talk that you don’t know God. People who know God talk about God. They talk about the Bible too. They might not remember all the details, like the names of people or places, but they know the stories. They talk about the stories. And they talk about God.”
“You’re clueless! How can you accuse me of not knowing God? Of course I know God.” I used my fingers to tick off each argument. “I’m the drama leader at church. I sing on the worship team. I read Christian books and only listen to Christian radio. I belong to a small group. I’m part of the women’s ministry.” I flung my hands in exasperation. “Don’t be stupid. Of course I know God!”
“But,” he asked, “Is it the God of the Bible?”
My friend’s question hung in suspension. Could he be right? Was it possible I didn’t know God?
When I became a Christian, I did what all Christians do; I went to church. Once there, I was eager to learn, and I looked to those in leadership to provide guidance. The pastorsencouraged me to get involved, and in my zeal, I participated in everything that was available to me.
The book studies.
The small groups.
The choir practice.
The three-point sermons.
The children’s ministry.
The youth group.
The drama club.
The exercise class.
The writers’ group.
The women’s breakfasts.
The chili feeds.
The prayer circles.
The Sunday service.
All of it.
All. Of. It.
I did it all!
All of it—a DISTRACTION.
A distraction from the very reason we go to church. The church is supposed to be a place where we learn about God. Instead, we are “plugged in” to activities. The church claims the activities provide instruction for Christian living. Thus, the church activities create an illusion of discipleship. Under the Christian living model, activities foster relationships and relationship equates to discipleship. Ill-conceived activities flourish because leadership requires little to no training. The leaders are simply expected to lead by example. But this is not the example provided to us in Scripture.
Scripture tells us that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is, therefore, arrogant to presume that others should follow our example. Rather than ourselves, we should use Scripture for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16); yet the church continually downplays the importance of Scripture. Instead, activities introduce us to book clubs, not Bible studies; to programs not discipleship. It’s lazy and fraudulent; and it runs the risk of robbing people of their salvation.
When my friend accused me of not being Christian because I didn’t know God, I knew the church had failed me. I realized the futility of my involvement at church. I felt like a fool for participating in so many activities and I was embarrassed by my roles in leadership. I wondered if it was all fake and if everyone who went to church was as phony as I felt. Was Christianity a lie? Was God even real? My faith was in crisis. I had no way of knowing the truth and no one to ask. The only solution was to reconsider everything and to start over.
I said goodbye to my friend and then drove home in a daze. I want to know God, I thought. But where is God, if He isn’t in church?
In the privacy of my living room, I fell to my knees and prayed.
God, how can I know you? I don’t know where to turn or how to connect with you. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. I went to church. I showed up, but, now, I wonder, if I’ve been making you up? Please reveal yourself to me. I need to know that you are real. If you are, then please let me know you. I cannot trust the church. I cannot trust Christian radio. I cannot trust Christian books. If you are who people say you are—who I believe you are—then I know that you want me to know you; and that you can reveal yourself to me.
I somehow understood that knowing God also meant knowing the Bible. How could I not, with my friend’s question still palpable: “Is it the God of the Bible?”
So, during my prayer, I promised God two things. First, I would read a chapter a day from my Bible for a year, beginning in Genesis. Second, I promised to pray every day for one year. In addition, I stopped going to church. I stopped listening to Christian radio. And I stopped reading Christian literature. I decided I wouldn’t do those things for at least a year. I don’t know why I chose one year as my cutoff other than I knew God could reveal Himself in that amount of time. I was prepared to turn my back on Christianity if He didn’t.
It turns out God didn’t need a year to revel Himself. That was a decade ago, and today I read and pray every day because I love being in fellowship with Him. And knowing Him.
And, yes, He is the God of the Bible.