4 Things I’ve Learned After A Year Of Not Going To Church

I nearly forgot about this blog, as evidenced by my not posting for almost a year, but it’s been quite a year.  I left the prayer ministry I had been on staff at for four years last June amid a nearly-disastrous stormy time in my life. I made many mistakes, and I believed many lies about life, religion, and love. I felt spat out on the cold beach of unemployment and uncertainty about the future, wondering how I was going to make any thing of my life. My entire social scene was at the prayer ministry, my income was from there, I had skipped college to be on staff, and suddenly all that came together to stressful apex. I languished for several months, staying cooped up in my room when I wasn’t working odd jobs to make rent and buy groceries. Thankfully I still had some friends and my family, and I got a retail job and was given money for an extremely cheap car. For a month or two before leaving staff, I had stopped attending church services, and throughout my unemployed state I made excuses about not finding a new church (I didn’t have a car, which would’ve made it difficult, but I could’ve done it). When I got the job and car, I reconsidered, and almost went out to find a new church, but I would work most Sundays and if I was off or started work late on a Sunday, I’d sleep in (both are still true). I was okay with this most of the time, but would play it up to people as if I was totally missing church and wanting to get back into the church experience or whatever.

I haven’t had grape juice with an oyster cracker in sooooo long.

The truth is, I didn’t want to go back to church. Part of me still doesn’t. I’ve been hurt a lot by people in the church and spiritual leaders in my life. In my case, a lot of it resulted from my own boneheaded mistakes, and throughout the years I’ve changed my mind about some of the situations where I felt mistreated. That doesn’t nullify them all though, nor does it mean that I’m not apprehensive to the thought of finding a church. This experience has taught me some things though, and maybe you’ll learn something from this too.

4. Religion Is Poison To The Soul

I’m not saying that Christianity is poison to the soul. What I’m talking about is the guilt, shame, and propaganda that can be slipped into what Christianity really is, a relationship with your Creator. From definitions of sin that condemn a healthy social life, pursuit of goals and dreams, and self-preservation in the name of holy living, to prophesying national (or personal) doom and destruction or blessing and prosperity depending on what will garner the desired reaction. I’ve seen it, I’ve been in those church meetings. It’s intense, and I ate up a lot of. I felt so badly that I couldn’t raise support and relied on the “staff stipend” and my parents to pay my rent and have groceries. I felt so guilty when I watched films or shows that were considered too [insert bad thing] for a Christian to enjoy (“Even a little bit of poop spoils a brownie mix, so even a little bit of cursing spoils a movie!!!”). I felt like I was dying/should die when I watched porn. But I felt like that was all a good reaction, I wasn’t doing my part, I wasn’t doing what was right, so I should feel guilty. I should live in condemnation because I was living in sin. God was angry and disappointed in me all the time.

“I’m sorry!” … “No really! I am sorry!”…”Please stop looking at me like that.” — My internal dialogue

After about three years of this, I started not to care as much. I saw my staff designation as a job, not a ministry (I was being told that I was being a missionary since I was strengthening evangelists through prayer, and strengthening the prayer movement through service on the media team and then the bookstore warehouse), and I simply wasn’t being compensated enough to care. At the same time, I didn’t really see any other options, since I had no means to save money, and (for most of my time on staff) no vehicle to go find another job. I started skipping my hours in the prayer room, and began being passively (and sometimes outright) rebellious. At the end of my time on staff, I was told I could leave or undergo an intense inner healing class and be under close supervision for months at least.

“Yeah no, I’ll leave staff.”

Over the last year, I’ve become somewhat comfortable around alcohol, made friends outside of the church, and grown to appreciate quality secular music. I’ve watched many more shows and films that I would’ve been condemned for. I’ve made decisions concerning my life direction that I did not incorporate how many people I could reach for Jesus through or whatever. You know what? I still have a relationship with God. I still believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit hasn’t left me. It’s not as good as it could be, but more on that later.

3. Love Is Not Found Exclusively In The Church

I learned from my friends that people are capable of love while rejecting God. It had been drilled into my head that since God is love, that no one that doesn’t have God doesn’t really love. Well that’s a myth. There is a unique love seen from those who have a good relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean that all those who do not believe in God are hateful, awful people (they do exist, but so do hateful, awful people who claim a relationship with God). I’ve experienced great encouragement and great friendship with people who think Christianity is whack.

You believe what? SQUIRREL!

I’ve found that people are capable of selflessness, humility, empathy, and acceptance, all without having read the Good Book. I’ve found that people are capable of selfishness, arrogance, callousness, and condemnation, all having read the Good Book for their whole lives. It’s nuts.

2. Things Are Not Always Black And White

I’ve heard that America is going have more disasters and economic troubles because of gay marriage. I’ve heard that enjoying secular music is basically devil worship. I’ve heard that cursing (or enjoying a movie/song/book/whatever with cursing in it) is a sign that your salvation either isn’t real or it’s going to be cancelled. I’ve heard that it’s impossible for a film to have a sex scene without the film being demonic. I’ve heard that jokes are basically lies, and liars go to Hell (Revelation 21:8). I’ve heard that if you aren’t reading your Bible and praying every day, your salvation could be inauthentic or cancelled soon. I’ve heard the Devil is hiding in that bush over there.

The Devil smiles when you’re outside doing life, rather than being in your prayer closet.

Some things are legitimately evil, and Christians should abstain from them. There are reasons why, other than it’s wrong/evil. If you love God, if you believe in Him, that will guide your choices. I don’t believe that you can do anything to cancel your salvation besides renounce it yourself and change your core beliefs. I don’t think anyone else, any other action, any other words can separate you from God besides your own conscious decision, and even then, it’s nigh impossible. Everyone has their own relationship with God, and just as inter-human relationships are all unique, so a person’s relationship with God is their own. What’s wrong or right for that person can look slightly different than others, and that’s okay. I’m not saying that you can do whatever you want and call it right.

1. Attending Church Is Important

Yeah, I’m saying that the thing I’m not doing is important to do. Sue me. I did Mock Trial in high school, I’ll take you on. Finding a local church is important not only for a steady stream of new things to consider spiritually and encouragement to a tired faith, but also the community. There really is no community like a good church community.

But not THAT kind of church community.

That’s the main thing I look forward to whenever I finally go find a new church. A group of people who can relate on more levels than just living in Kansas City and some other things. A group of people who don’t find spiritual things to be insane (or who don’t believe insane spiritual things). A group of people I can look forward to worshiping with and conversing with every weekend that I’m not working. A group of people who can help me grow, even as I help them grow. That’s what I miss. Also Hillsong songs, I miss those too.

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What Do I Believe?

What drives me to make the choices I do? Where do I stand on the issues? In the past few months, my life has been turned on its head mostly because of choices I’ve made. I want to learn from those choices, but I think it’s more than looking at the results and trying to avoid the bad ones. That’s a legitimate way to learn, but what about looking at what caused me to make those choices to start with? What if instead simply attempting to resist doing I know to be stupid, I also try figure out why it’s something I want to do even though I know it’s stupid? What gear or cog in my belief system is off kilter and triggering this?

I’m writing with the assumption that my belief system is a Rube Goldberg machine. Bear with me.

It’s interesting to go from a place where the things you believe are being told to you every day…to nothing. I was on staff at a prayer ministry and was required to go to our Prayer Room for at least 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, and church on Sunday morning. Many of you reading this know that I left staff in at the beginning of June. I’m not going to go into what led to my departure, but it wasn’t out of anger or offense. I’ve been back to the Prayer Room once, I’ve been to a church service…well, actually I haven’t been to a church service since sometime in April or May. Now, I could lay the blame on many things, and the main place I’ve been laying is on something out of my control: my car. I couldn’t fix it because I didn’t have money to, and when I finally did get the money to, I wasn’t persistent or whatever enough to get in a shop (or friend’s driveway) sooner than the beginning of this month (not that it matters because it permanently died days later, and I’m in the process of getting rid of it). Now that to me has always sounded like a legitimate excuse. With no car, I can’t get to places like a different church, right? This is where one of those falsehoods I believe surfaces.

“I’m alone.”

I’ve known this is a lie I believe. I just haven’t been able to prove it wrong yet. I would think about my predicament, and it would sneak its way into my subconcious, “No one cares. No one wants to help you. You’re stuck. You should just leave everyone alone, because you bother them.” And that’s pretty freaking depressing. The problem is, when I get depressed, I pull away and isolate myself; it’s a great habit, I know. Thinking about calling out for help is still terrifying, really. It always has been for me. I’ve been the one who figures stuff out on his own and figures out how to do them on his own. Even just typing this up feels weak. Even though I know it’s totally wrong, I feel like it shows weakness when I ask for help.

People expect me to ask for help moving something like this. I don’t.

Now, the thought crossed my mind that it’s really just pride that’s making me like this. I don’t want to admit my weakness, because of pride, so I haven’t and have dragged myself down into depression and isolation. But I don’t know if dealing with my pride is going to deal with it. Maybe if I knock over my pride, it will in turn knock over my feeling of utter weakness, and that will knock over my chronic loneliness like dominoes. But I don’t know. Maybe they’re all weighing me down, and if I can deal with one, the others won’t be as difficult. Or maybe they will all be as difficult regardless.

So what do I believe? I believe that the God of the Bible is real for some reason. I believe that Jesus was real, and that the Gospels tell a true story for some reason. I believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within me and keeps me from completely going off the edge. I think that’s a better than the worst possible start.

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Processing The Process

For the last couple weeks I haven’t had work or a properly working car, so I’ve had a lot of time at home, alone. I’ve tried to keep myself distracted with Netflix and games as apparently many unemployed 20-somethings do, but it’s not really effective. In fact, I’m miserable. I want to get out there and do…anything. While it’s clear my time at my old job is over and done with and I wasn’t entirely happy there, I miss it. I miss the routine and sense of purpose.

Unlike this tree. Why are you even there, tree?

Like everyone, I’ve always been interested in doing the least amount of work for the highest compensation possible. As a kid, that seemed like the best life possible. If you told thirteen year old me that I’d spend a month as a 22 year old with nothing on my schedule and no way to get anywhere to put things on that schedule, I would have imagined it to be a fantastic time of awesomeness (I also think 13 year old me would use those exact words). Now that it’s happening, 22 year old me is looking back at that 13 year old with a fair bit of head-shaking and pity. It’s childish, really. Now I could hate on myself (and others) for thinking childish thoughts, but that doesn’t make any sense and helps no one involved since hating people is kinda childish too. While I do want to be busy and working now, it’s not like I’ve been completely transformed.

Above is an example of imminent transformation for you visual learners.

I don’t know if I’m just an enigma and no one else has experienced this, but there is a lot of pressure to think like an adult after you pass a certain age. It’s not unfair to expect those of adult ages to act like adults. How does one learn to be an adult? I’ve stuck with doing what I saw other adults doing and hoping it works. But how does one think like an adult? Does that just come with doing adult stuff and figuring out what works? Maybe as you figure out what works, you start shaping your thought process to come to similar conclusions faster. Actually, this reminds me of algebra class with Mrs. Martin back in my freshman year.

This picture will make sense in a sentence, I promise.

Well, that’s quite a segue, eh? I had algebra I as my last class of the day for my entire freshman year. I remember there were many times when a classmate would ask why we were learning it, and I don’t remember if Mrs. Martin answered it, or if I came to my own answer. It’s about learning how to think. It’s about looking at a problem, not as a static, unmoving series of steps to come to a solution, but as something you might have to shift around for the solution to present itself. That’s what I learned in algebra, and I think Mrs. Martin would be happy with that. Now does that mean I approach every problem with that mindset from the beginning? Nope. Especially not large ones that seem daunting and possibly lethal.

Daunting and possibly lethal. The only solution I see is NOPE.

I guess what I’m getting at (and I’m mainly talking to myself, as with all my blog posts) is that it takes a long time to learn how to think differently. For over 20 years I’ve avoided work, and while my life experiences have taught me that having a job is actually a good thing and somewhat fulfilling, I’m not fully changed from that old mindset. I shouldn’t really beat myself up over it either, because changing mindsets takes time and that’s okay. I’m getting there.


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Choices, Choices, We All Make Choices

I’ve made some pretty bad choices. We all make bad choices, it’s what you do with those choices (and their consequences). The most natural thing is to regret and wish to correct them; everyone, besides John Wayne Gacy, does that. It’s good to recognize what you did as wrong and regret it, that’s a good first step. A small step, but still a step.


You ain’t ready to drive yet, kid; first steps aren’t the only steps!

Learning from your mistakes has pretty much turned into a cliché these days. I think that’s glossing over some very difficult steps, personally, and it’s misleading. It makes it sound so simple and makes one feel like an absolute idiot if they can’t just do it. Maybe it’s a little easier if you actually know what that entails. A tiny itsy bit easier. I don’t know about you, but if I have a list of things to do (and if it’s something new, listed steps of how to do said things) I am way more likely to do them than if a broad general task is given (i.e. “clean the house!” vs. “Here’s a list of all that needs cleaned to what depth”). I’m not claiming to have this all figured out, but I believe that I am on to something with what I’ve got, and it’s helping me; maybe it will help you.


“Guys, I think ‘N’ means North. Or Not Correct, I don’t really know. Guys?”

I think a step in learning from your mistakes is recognizing that you made them. You did. Now if you didn’t know that what you were doing wasn’t a good idea, then I think that’s a different story and you don’t do that again. Bam, mistake learned from, now go eat some fries. But I’m talking about doing stuff you know to be a bad idea, but you do it anyway. It is so easy (so easy that I [and I am sure I’m not alone in this] do it automatically) to lay the fault at someone (or something) else’s feet. You know, “If Tommy wasn’t so mean, I wouldn’t have punched him”, “I haven’t been sleeping well because The Office is so addictive” (I’ve said that), “If my superior (boss, parent, etc.) wouldn’t be so strict, I wouldn’t rebel as much”, or “It was staring at me, so I put it in the microwave!” Okay, that last one is a little extreme, but you know what I’m talking about. You might not even realize that you’re blaming others, and don’t feel too weird if that’s the case; it’s pretty normal. Now I will say that factors do play into our decisions, of course they do. For example, if you eat too much junk food, and you discover that because you drive past a Frito’s plant everyday you are smelling the salty pieces of Heaven. thus triggering your desire for salty oily goodness. Now you understand why it’s so easy to make that choice, but it’s still your choice. You chose the chips, they don’t chose you.


Frito’s aren’t the thug life.

Okay, so you’ve taken ownership of your choice to do whatever you did. Now what? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think it all depends on the situation. In some situations, now is a good time to take a look back to see what led you to make that choice and take steps to avoid that from getting your attention again. In others, you’ve learned enough to never do that mistake again. In still others, you’re at the very beginning of changing the way you approach life. That’s all I’ve got right now. I’m now regretting not having any Frito’s or chips or any kind in my cupboards because I really want some.

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If Dating Is Distracting You From God, You’re Doing It Wrong

This phrase has been rolling around in my brain for the past week or two, and hasn’t let me go, so here’s my thoughts. First, I want to assure you that I do think there are those times in life where God does indeed have you in a season where having a significant other just wouldn’t be healthy.  But I also think hiding behind an excuse like “I’m focusing on my relationship with God right now” is being dishonest with yourself and/or the person you’re having that awkward DTR with. If you are not focused on your relationship with God while in a dating relationship as much or more than when you were single, I think you’ve made that significant other an idol. That’s not a healthy relationship, Jack!

Not you, Jack, you’re too young to be thinking about this stuff, go play with some dirt or something.

“But Jonathan, if I’m dating someone, I’m thinking about her all the time! Isn’t that idolatry?” (I know the guy’s side better, so I’m going to stick with it mostly) Well, hypothetical 20-something male, what is your thought life like now? You’re probably thinking about how single you are. You probably spend a good amount of time thinking about the various interactions you’ve had with your crush (or crushes, let’s be real here), reading into every little detail, wondering if there’s a chance for you. Okay, so what if you would man up and get into a relationship? Now your thoughts might be more “Dear Jesus, don’t let me mess this up!” Okay, that might be a little shallow. But seriously, wouldn’t you want to make sure that you’re going down the right path? Wouldn’t you want to pursue her heart purely? Guys, your girlfriend will most likely look to you to lead, so you better not disregard your relationship with God if you care about her.

I feel like I should probably give my definition of dating at this point, just make sure we’re all on the same page. At it’s most basic level, I see dating as making sure you would enjoy having the other person being around you for the rest of your life. You should’ve already gotten to know this person pretty well before pursuing something as serious as marriage. Now does this mean that on the first date, you’re thinking about marrying that beautiful girl across from you? Heck no. Don’t be rushin’ stuff, Ivan!  That being said, I don’t believe that there is a model that all dating relationships should follow. I think that for different couples different things work and don’t work. It’s fine.

So if you’re choosing not to date with the excuse that you’re focusing on your relationship with God, I’d challenge you to make sure you are actually consecrating yourself to God, not punishing yourself for past mistakes you’ve made in relationships, or putting another label on being afraid to date. Be real with yourself, and don’t lie to people.

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If The Prayer Room Would Stop

Last night I dreamed a dream (of course I dreamed a dream, what else would I dream, a pound of bacon? I wish.). In this dream, I was at the Prayer Room at IHOPKC where I work currently. I was talking with a friend in the lobby, and she told me that for Christmas, we were going to have people sitting at the front of the room with eggnog and Santa hats. I don’t remember what I said, but I said something about how I disapproved of it. I then went into the Prayer Room, and noticed that it was packed. Then I noticed that in front of each side room was a welcome mat with a different NFL team logo on it. Somehow I knew that it was because it’s football season and they (whoever they were) decided to decorate the Prayer Room accordingly. I went to my seat which was at the front on an angle. I remember seeing that the room was packed with college-aged popular types, who were worshiping , but it felt shallow. Jon Thurlow’s team was on, and they were rocking it (naturally) when the power suddenly cut out. That’s when I noticed that the stage was encased in glass because you couldn’t hear anything. Someone in the crowd quickly got out a keyboard and started playing (because in dreams, everyone carries around battery powered keyboards) as the team assembled on the front of the stage outside of the glass. And that’s basically it.

So as I mulled this dream, I thought about the attitude I sometimes have that looks to the skilled singers and musicians to keep my interest. I thought about how sometimes I don’t take the prayer part seriously. I don’t think that it’s sinful to appreciate skill, or to have fun and laugh in the Prayer Room, but if that’s the main reason you’re there you’ve missed the point of the Prayer Room. When I notice someone in the Prayer Room who doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously, my immediate thought is that they’re being irreverent. Of course, I cannot read hearts, and I usually remind myself that they most likely aren’t irreligious and rebellious.

I don’t want to advocate treating the Prayer Room as if any little thing will somehow defile it. The Prayer Room at IHOPKC is not a basilica with monks and holy water where it feels like you’re being disruptive if you breathe loudly, but it’s also not your personal prayer closet or living room where you can do what you want, it’s a public place set aside for prayer and worship.

Another thing I got from the dream was that it really is about the heart, not where you are exactly. Yes, God may have led you to a certain church or ministry, but if that ministry or church sells out and/or becomes shallow, that does not mean that you are called to become shallow. Here at IHOPKC, I’ve learned to pray for long hours everyday, but if the Prayer Room would close tomorrow, would I still pray as much? Honestly, not at all. I’ve been terrible at developing a prayer life outside of the Prayer Room, and I currently fear the day that I don’t have a Prayer Room to go to. It’s time to make some changes.

There also something about marketing the prayer movement, but that’s another subject for another time.


Have Hope

I’m sick and tired of life right now. I don’t want to be in the Prayer Room at all, and I don’t want to live in Kansas City anymore. My soul is unsatisfied; my spirit is restless. But you know what? I have hope. Not much, but it’s as effective as a candle in a cave. Why do I have hope? Because love. Because I am loved by God. Tonight I was in the Prayer Room, staring into nothing, internally freaking out over my life. My Bible and journal lay unopened on the table in front of me. My Bible loomed in my mind as a source of guilt, a guide to the pitfalls of my own life. My journal is already filled with angsty, angry, and desperate entries, and I didn’t feel like adding to that pile. I stared for a good half hour, the tension of it all twisting my stomach and pinching my spine. Finally, the Holy Spirit broke through and spoke to my heart, “Read the part where Jesus tells you not to worry about your life.” As I opened my Bible I came across Jeremiah 31, and felt a nudge to read it too.

In Matthew 7, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drops some bombs.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.(Mat 6:25-34 ESV)

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m to the point that I worry about food or clothes, but I certainly am anxious about my life. I don’t plan on faking it until I make it or something, I believe God desires us to be honest about how we feel. But I will make more of an effort to look at Him rather than the questions that press me from every side. When Jesus was telling the disciples about how to become the greatest, He made a child the example of how to live. Most would say His point was childlike faith where you believe and trust God like a child trusts its parents, and while I agree with that, I go farther. I believe He also wants that honest communication that children are so famous for. A child gets upset over seemingly trivial issues, but a good father doesn’t trivialize and shame the child for feeling so strongly about whatever inconsequential thing. A loving father walks the child through it until the child realizes how small the problem is, or simply remedies the issue for the child if he can.

So take hope, God is the perfect Father, He knows what He’s doing.

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