Let's call him Jay. He was nice, so my friend Lauren and I had no problem becoming friends with him. By the end of the night he had given us pretty much an entire bag of Andes mints.
As the restaurant began to empty, Jay swept the floors beside our table and asked us what we did for a living. Lauren answered first about her job at the chiropractor's office. Then when he looked at me, I told him with a partial-smile that I was basically in the process of figuring all of that out.
Funny how being openly confused about your life opens up opportunity for other people to feel safe in being openly confused about their lives, too.
Jay shared about how he grew up Catholic but got saved at a Southern Baptist church with his wife. After their divorce, however, he sank into a life of drugs and alcohol and ended up in prison.
He knelt beside our table and lowered his voice. "When you spend months in solitary confinement," he said, "you have a lot of time to get bitter. But you have a lot of time to do some searching, too. And when all you have is the Bible, you figure some things out."
I wanted to scoot over in my booth and ask him to sit down and tell us more about what he was figuring out. But his boss was peering through some fake plants around the corner, so Jay apologized for taking up our time and scurried off to sweep some more floors.
I've been thinking about the church a lot recently. The church in all its variations across America and the world. And then I think about Jay in solitary confinement with his Bible, and how now he's involved in AA and working two jobs and going to school and seeking the Lord.
I once heard a pastor ask the question from the pulpit, "Is there any more important time during your week than the 70 minutes you spend in church?"
I had shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wanting to raise my hand and say, "Yes, yes there is," but I didn't.
Oh, my friends, we are missing it.
I love the church: big church, small church, house church, mega church, church plants, missional communities. So many good things are done through so many different avenues and the name of Jesus is being preached.
I would love for Jay to get plugged in to a church, to be discipled, to find community, to grow with others and be encouraged and challenged by a body of believers. But his transformation began in solitary confinement with nothing but a Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Transformation comes through opening the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit speak through it to change your heart. It is feeding your mind with His words. Every day. Over and over. Again and again and again. Repeat.
You do not become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled simply by walking in and out of the church building every weekend. You don't go in dirty and come out clean. It is not a carwash.
"We should be able to say every year, 'I am more loving, peaceful, joyful, patient, kind, and gentle than I was last year.' If we can't honestly say that, then we are not growing." - Neil T. AndersonHow many of us are missing this. How many of us are sitting passively by, letting preachers preach at us, watching worship leaders entertain us, drinking coffee in our seats for 70 minutes every weekend and feeling like we are better people because of it. Like we got what we came for and we're good to go for the rest of the week until next time.
I am often guilty of this.
My friend Lauren and I stood out in Olive Garden's dark parking lot for a couple of hours talking about these things, so I have lots of words I could very passionately write here, but I won't. Maybe later I will. Maybe I won't. I don't know; there's a lot.
But here's what I will say, here is what I am learning, here is what I am challenging you and me with: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Put yourself in solitary confinement on purpose. Memorize the Word of God. Tuck His words into your heart and repeat them to yourself and to others. Cling to His promises. Know God's truth and use God's truth as a weapon against the ways Satan will try to trick you.
You will not be transformed by watching others. You will not be transformed by observing. You will not be transformed by shaking the preacher's hand and saying, "Good sermon today, Pastor."
Pick up your Bible. Open it. Read it. Digest it. And be transformed.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. - Jesus (John 17:17)And Psalty the Singing Songbook is here to help, too: