Temple of Doom – or – Who’s Got Your Heart?

The other night I went to a friend’s bible study and we watched a short video to get the discussion rolling.  The video was called “Sunday” and featured a young, hip-looking pastor of some mega-church out west sitting at a table in some local diner.  He had frosted blond spiky hair and a pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses.

Now, I must diverge here for a moment to point out that everybody from Rivers Cuomo to every slightly visually impaired hipster in Cambridge wear these type of glasses, but I remember a kid named Shawn McGoldrick who wore these things when we were in high school.  High School.  We’re talking 1996 here.  The only people wearing thick, black framed glasses in 1996 were Garth from Wayne’s World and Shawn McGoldrick.  So props to Shawn.

So anyway, twelve years post-Shawn McGoldrick, here’s this youngish pastor in a somewhat hip short video sermon and he’s talking about going through the motions of church attendance and tithing.  He’s talking about the passage in which Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for their practice of public prayer and fasting, going through the motions so that they’ll be viewed as devout by the people in their neighborhood.  But their hearts are far from God.  Right.  Not Good.

So the gist of the pastor’s point is that we shouldn’t go to church and tithe just to go through the motions.  The young pastor said, “Do you think God needs you in church?  Do you think God needs your money?  No.  God wants your heart.”

Now, I think he had a decent point to some extent but I couldn’t help but think how many people might be fast asleep this Sunday morning with fat wallets thanks to this video sermon.  Why haven’t you gone to church?  Oh, I’m just not feeling it this week.  Why haven’t you tithed?  I’m just not sure my heart is in the right place right now.

What does that last statement even mean?  I swear, I’ve heard these words from Christian friends and I’m willing to bet that you have too.  How many abstract terms can we fit into one excuse?  What is this heart?  It’s certainly not the organ that pumps blood through our circulatory systems.  What is the right place?  How does this indefinable heart get to this vague right place and how would you know when it got there?

How many dollars might not be given while Christians convicted by this video sermon sought to achieve this state of joy and passion they were supposed to have about giving away their money.  This pastor was essentially arguing that if you’re not feeling excited about God and church and if you’re not feeling passionate about giving your money to the church and to the poor, then you’ve got a problem.  All of your church attendance, all of your tithing, all of your charitable giving, it’s not pleasing to God if he “doesn’t have your heart.”

Well, okay, but does that mean we should stop going to church?  That we should stop giving our money away?  Here, this pastor charges us with making sure we have “given God our hearts” before we can please God through church attendance.  But how do I know when I’ve given God my heart, barring some special revelation on God’s part, except through a certain subjective feeling of having done so?  And might it be possible to confuse the feeling of wanting an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning with a failure of my heart to be with God that particular day?

I think this system of “giving hearts to” and “getting right with” God is dubious at best.  I remember talking to a friend in college about a short-term mission trip we were both considering going on.  She told me that she would like to go, but that she just wanted to be sure that God was really calling her to go.  We were going to build a school for poor children in Guatemala.  Why does God have to call you to do that?  Even if he doesn’t call you, do you think he’ll mind if you go build a school for poor children in Guatemala?

I told her I was pretty sure it’d be okay.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think our Evangelical culture places too great an emphasis on feelings.  We feel God’s calling in our lives; we feel that our hearts are right with God, etc.

You know what?  Sometimes I don’t feel like going to church.  Sometimes I find church downright boring.  Okay, if we’re being totally honest here, sometimes I can’t wait ‘til church is over and I can go out to the pub and watch football with a nice, juicy hamburger and a frosty beer (preferably a pale ale).  And if we’re being TOTALLY honest, sometimes I think organized religion is inherently corrupt and populated by self-righteous, power-hungry hypocrites and that I ought to give it up altogether.

Surely, my heart cannot be much further from God in these moments.  But I go to church anyway.  And I give money to the church and to Christian causes because I think it’s the right thing to do.

The pastor is right.  God doesn’t need our money.  But poor people definitely do.  And the church probably appreciates it as well.
What I’m saying is that there is no way I can be sure that my heart is right with God because this heart, as we’re defining it, does not actually exist in actual, real life.  But my butt does exist.  And I can sit my actual butt down in church and I can sing with my actual voice and I can listen with my actual ears and I can think with my actual brain and I can actually write a check with my actual hands and give actual money to actual people who actually need it quite a bit.  Sometimes that’s all I can do.  And I’m not excited about it or passionate about.  I just do it.  It could be called obedience or doing the right thing.  And I think my heart gets closer to God through obedience, not vice a versa.

Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 4:16 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Loved it… Laura and I have been sleeping in and not attending church recently in order to maximize our day of rest.

    Another thought on this blog, you are an English guru and I feel a bit out of my league by leaving comments because I know the high degree of intelligence and ability of the author and his readers. Kind of like if you were to send me an excel spreadsheet. I get that feeling of the fat slow kid on the dodgeball court at recess. But I will jump into the game because I want to be with the group.

  2. Busch, love the blog. I’ve now spent the majority of my morning at work reading it and doing no work whatsoever. Half the time I time I think it’s complete BS, the other half, I couldn’t agree more.

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