I woke up this morning from the most vivid dream I’ve had in years. I was scheduled to speak in a church or auditorium and kept checking on the crowd. I felt I wasn’t physically ready, so I went into a side room to work on my tie which I haven’t worn in years. I struggled with it for a while and then felt like it was fixed, but when I looked closer, I realized that I had tied a knot in the wrong end and the tie was now upside down. My host helped me untie it and then he made it look right. Then I looked down and noticed that I had no pants on, just a long white dress shirt. I asked my host if he could stall the meeting while I went to my car to get my pants. I got to the car and saw my pants in the back sea. Then I woke up.
All my life, even as a child, I have struggled with formal, institutionalized religion. That struggle increased when I met and began to follow the risen Jesus as a freshman in college. I longed to see the instructional church approach Jesus as living and present. Since then, I’ve never been able to attend a church without trying to help people encounter and follow Jesus in fresh lively ways. I even went through years of boring, unbelieving seminary to become an ordained Cumberland Presbyterian minister always challenging my professors in their denial of clear biblical faith and doctrine (like the bodily resurrection of Jesus).
As a pastor I tried to help people encounter the risen Jesus and get on fire for Him. Some people did, but the congregations didn’t like that. Both as a pastor and as an attendee I would make congregations so uncomfortable that I would need to move on. Rather than feeling hurt or rejected, I would feel sad that congregations would miss out on the glorious, demonstrated reality of the living Jesus.
I roamed the country looking for a congregation that would break out of the religious mold and let the risen Jesus literally direct the church service according to 1 Corinthians 14:26. I never found one.
Then in 2008 The Salvation Army asked if my wife and I would like to start a “non-traditional” church in an empty chapel they owned. We jumped at the opportunity and for ten years oversaw sermon-free Sunday morning meetings where anyone could speak as prompted by the risen Jesus. It was a glorious and miraculous decade that I’ve described elsewhere! (Search for my book: “Beyond Church Ekklesia.”)
Finally, a Salvation Army leader came to town and demanded that we switch back to the traditional one-man sermon church service. As a matter of conscience, we couldn’t so we were forced to resign. We left with deep gratitude that a Christian denomination had allowed us the freedom to let the risen Jesus lead church services for 10 years.
Since then, we’ve discovered that following the living Jesus is really a heart-thing and not dependent on any religious affiliation. Every week we interact heart-to-heart with numerous Christians from various churches, with some who no longer go to church, and with nonbelievers. We often pray on the phone and in person with various people as prompted by the Spirit. We are intimately connected with more believers than we ever were by just attending church.
Several months ago, within a week’s time, three different people who don’t know each other prophesied over me that I will be preaching to large crowds of people around the country. I have no idea how that can happen, but I was blown away that three people would get the same message for me. One of the three also added that I would be speaking completely from the heart without following a script, notes, or plan (which is always how I would preach when I was a pastor).
I don’t want to quench the Holy Spirit by letting a religious spirit cause me to hold back. I don’t want to hold back what God wants me to say or do regardless of the consequences. Yet, like anyone, it’s hard not to be influenced by religious protocol.
Back to the dream: I want to speak freely as the Spirit leads. I don’t want to focus on getting a necktie (or anything else) to align with people’s religious expectations of me. I don’t want to hide the profound nakedness of my heart as I speak about the glories of the risen Jesus.
Please pray for me!