This past November, I was scheduled to leave for Iraq again. We were going to fly out on the 27th for another year-long tour, and I really didn’t want to go. I mean, I figured that I’d done my time over there and didn’t really need to serve another year in the desert to prove anything to myself, but in reality, I just didn’t want to leave the comfortable veneer of respect I’d been cultivating for myself the past three years. Yes, I’ve been an upstanding young man, and yes, I’ve done a pretty solid job in the Army. But it’s one thing to portray something on the outside while you’ve got something totally different going on inside, and inside, I was spiritually dead. I mean, deader than a doornail. I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t want to study the Bible, I didn’t want to lead worship; for some reason, I was growing really bitter against the whole establishment, and I’m not even sure what that reason was.
One week before our departure date, I drove my car over to this little taqueria for a nice collection of breakfast tacos. I ordered my food, sat in line listening to my iPod, and then I woke up in the hospital. Yes, it was just that sudden. One second I’m eagerly awaiting my breakfast tacos, and the next thing I know I’m in the emergency room strapped with heart monitors, EKG materials, IV lines in both arms, and oxygen tubes on my face. The doc explained to me that I had a seizure, and though I really didn’t understand what that meant at that moment, I quickly figured out that it must have been serious, because my platoon sergeant, first sergeant and troop commander were all sitting by my bedside. They talked to me for a few seconds before I passed out, probably from some mixture of medications designed to keep me drowsy while they ran needles into me. I can handle needles, though; I’ve volunteered to be a “sticking dummy” for medical training classes so many times, I can’t even remember all of them.
When I woke up again, I was still in the hospital. My squad leader was there, and he told me they were going to release me. We left, and since I was no longer allowed to drive my vehicle, he took my car keys and driver’s license from me. When we got to the aid station, our PA told me I wouldn’t be going to Iraq, because I couldn’t handle a weapon or drive a vehicle, and really, those are pretty good reasons for not being in Iraq.
So I went to our rear detachment, where my old medic platoon sergeant was in charge. Several days went by, and then I had another seizure. Yes, great news. Spent another day in the hospital when the docs never really figuring out what the problem was, and was discharged. Had another seizure over Christmas.
Meanwhile, my buddies had left for Iraq. I spent a few months on Rear D before finally realizing that I really, really needed to be over there. My best friends, the guys I’ve been training with for three years, are over there suffering in the desert, and I need to go suffer with them.
So here’s two of the things that I have learned, and the things that I suppose the whole point of this series of posts are:
<strong>I have come to realize that the Gospel, and Christianity as a whole, is relational, and that my passion in this life is for helping people.</strong>
Is the Bible and our relationship with God really supposed to be based on systematic theology? Are we supposed to know more about God by memorizing more scripture, by reading more text about the nature of God? Theologians are some of the smartest people I know, and they seem to know more about God and Jesus and the Godhead and everything else than I’ll ever be able to comprehend.
Does this equal a relationship with Christ, though? I don’t believe so.
The Garden of Eden was about relationships. The twelve disciples were about relationships. Jesus Christ in the communities was about relationships. The ancient church was about relationships. In fact, if you look at every major event in the Bible where something major happened, some miracle occurred, you’ll find that relationships, and not theology, were the major focus.
Today we’ve got two thousand new books on how to improve your walk with God. You can read 101 Ways To A Better Life, or books that tell you how to instantly multiply your earnings by giving a certain percentage to God and praying a certain prayer every day, or even books that tell you how to bring God into your business dealings so that you’ll have more success.
It’s not about success. It’s not about multiplying your finances, or forcing God to help you with business dealings, or reading lists that tell you how to get closer with God.
It’s about RELATIONSHIPS. The entire reason we were put onto this earth was to have a relationship with Jesus, and with the people in our community. Nothing else matters.
Community. My home church (Faith West) has been pointing towards this type of thing for several years now. Instead of doing with the typical Sunday-and-Wednesday services, they’re starting more community-based efforts that involve getting deep inside the Katy community and trying to reach people on their own level. Community isn’t about forcing people to come to our buildings and worship the way we want them to. Community isn’t about getting them all to vote conservative and support the war. Community isn’t about trying to get people into counseling so they can confess their addictions and sins, and thus be a little easier to make them look just a little more like us.
It’s never been about that. Jesus didn’t try to rescue the prostitutes, taxmakers, and murderers from the situation they were in and try to force them into the church’s idea of community. Jesus went INTO the places they already existed, an he hung out with them. Not only did he hang out with them, but he actually called them a friend. And you know what? The people who shared that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ were forever changed and never went back to their old ways, because He loved them enough to love them where they were at, instead of where He wanted them to be.
This is key. My calling, as I’ve said before, has always been about worship, but up until recently, it’s only been about the music. I love playing a good song, whether it’s in a club or on a worship stage. Now, however, I feel a much larger calling has been placed on me; one that involves using worship as a way to build community. It’s not about “look how amazingly well I can play this song” — it’s about building those connections with people that enable you to have discussions, to dialogue, and to worship together in a way that is both real and much more based on truth than anything else you’ll find in the world. I’d much rather feel like I didn’t connect with the music on stage and still have people come up to talk with me about worship after church than to be the most amazing “worship artist” on the planet and never feel that connection.
<strong>Jesus actually loves me.</strong>
This was a major thing for me, to realize that no matter how far I’ve run away or how low I’ve crawled, Jesus is still in love with me. He’s loved me the same since before I was born, He loved me during my high school and college years, He loved me in my going-nowhere years when I couldn’t buy a clue for ten cents, and He loves me now. This is not a revelation to underestimate, especially for me, because I’ve always suffered from insecurity issues. I know I’m not the most attractive person in the world and I know I’d done a lot of shady things over the years, but the past six years or so, a lot of my self-worth has been wrapped up in me telling myself that I’m just not good enough. I listened to those little whispers for many, many years, and the past year or so it’s totally affected me. It’s ended the relationship with my dream girl, it’s put a strain on my job (because I need confidence in what I’m doing), and it’s given me all kinds of complexes. You know what, though? Those complexes are melting away, simply because of the realization that Jesus loves me, that I’m actually a pretty nice dude, and that no matter what others have thought or may think about me in the future, man, Jesus LOVES me. It’s helping me to love myself, which is something I’ve never done before.