Have you ever stopped the world for a second and taken a long, hard look at what we have become? I have, and what I have seen has shocked me to my core. You see, to conform inside of the Cult of Normal truly is the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, you just go along and get along. Members in good standing shouldn’t question anything that is happening; you just accept that if it appears to be “normal”, it must be right.
In order to break free from the Cult and see things as they really are, you must begin to question with boldness. And the only reason that anyone would have for truly starting to question what they see and feel and do is if they take a chance and contrast and compare what “normal” looks like.
This is true with much of life. A person who is third generation welfare considers this state of affairs to be truly normal. You live on food stamps and are never ashamed because that is what “everyone” does. To get disability when you turn 18 is normal, to equate having babies with a larger check is normal. And to get these people off of the entitlement system is proving to be almost impossible, because why should you go to work and lose the free money, free healthcare and all of the benefits that are gained from your dependence on the system?
In order to free their mind from their perception of normal, you would have to immerse them in a completely different normal and let them learn to begin to see things with a fresh perspective. Sadly, for most who are trapped in a faulty worldview, the only world that they see is the one that has helped define what normal is for them and they can never truly break free from it.
For us as Christians, the journey must start with canceling our subscription to today’s normal Christianity and stopping that world completely in order to take a fresh, clean inventory of all that it is and has become.
Let’s begin this with some very simple questions: what was “normal” to the first church? I said the first church here and not Jesus because it becomes too easy for most people to disbelieve things when it comes to Jesus himself. You want to chock it up to His divine nature, supernatural power and sinless life. So for most people, being like Jesus is nigh impossible and so what He would consider to be normal is too far out for you to start to comprehend, much less empathize with.
So let’s talk about what “normal” looked like in the first church.
1. They continued steadfast in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and prayers. Acts 2:42
2. All that believed were together and had all things common. Acts 2:44
3. They sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Acts 2:45
4. They continued daily in one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house and ate their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Acts 2:46
5. The world expected miracles when they were around the Church. Acts 5: 12-16
6. They were imprisoned for their faith. Acts 5: 17-19, Acts 8:3, Acts 12:4, Acts 16:23
7. They were martyred for their faith. Acts 7:59, Acts 9:1, Acts 12:1-2
Now, let’s contrast and compare the original church with today’s version in America.
1. They follow many different teachers, all teaching something different. You have fellowship with close friends but little with the Church as a whole. Corporate prayer is nearly lost.
2. All that believe are separated by thousands of denominational groups and are expected to fend for themselves. Pentecostal handshakes and care for our own has nearly vanished in practice among today’s churches.
3. We give approximately 2.3% of our paychecks to the church, most of that going to uber ministries and not a local body. No one would dream of selling all that they had and giving it to the church.
4. We generally don’t visit the Church building daily. You attend service on Sundays, it must start at a certain time and finish at a reasonable time and if you are a fanatic, you attend a mid-week service as well. We don’t go around breaking bread from house to house as our private life and church life rarely intersect. We don’t really know what singleness of heart even means.
5. At best, the world expects bigotry, close-mindedness and intolerance when they are around the church. At worst, the world expects scandal and hypocrisy when they are around the church. Very few are convicted of their need for a savior or expect miracles.
6. Not in America, with few exceptions.
7. Again, not in America, with few exceptions.
As you can see, when we begin to contrast and compare what is considered to be normal, there is a wide gulf between experiences. Most will shrug this off as idealistic and simplistic, feeling that due to the age that the first church was occurring and the very nature of society at that time, a comparison would not really be fair to us today.
But we are not talking about society; we are talking about what is considered to be normal. The only way that you should expect output to change is if method and industry were to change. If method and industry remain the same, output would also remain the same. Because method and industry are internal mechanics and outward circumstances can only affect those if they are allowed to.
For instance, a winery that uses the same fields, the same methods of care and harvest and the same storage methods would be expected to produce a consistent product, that product would be considered to be normal for that winery. If on the other hand, the winery changes its fields, methods and storage facilities in order to keep up with the times or the demands of its consumer base, then the product must necessarily change as well. And what would be considered to be normal for that winery would therefore change and its output would be considered to now be inconsistent.
Somewhere deep inside of us, we know this inherently. Having been raised in a plastic world full of substitutes and alternatives, meant to streamline the process and mass-produce product in the name of convenience, we hunger for the real thing.
If you have ever tasted the difference between an organic tomato and one that is raised year-round in a gas filled chamber, there is no comparison. A pineapple picked directly off of the tree is miles removed from one that has been cold-packed and shipped 3,000 miles. The taste of an organic free-range chicken is totally different than the sad product generated from the tragedy of modern processing plants. And on and on it goes; real butter from a churn does not taste anything like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”
And real Christianity tastes nothing like the genetically altered mass-produced and sterilized version that is foisted on us today.
There is a movement going on in the world today, particularly here in America. We are fed up with the substitutes and something deep inside of us desires the real thing now. We are tired of apartment buildings and cities full of traffic and pollution, we are fed-up with working for a corporation that pays us wages that are equally divided up between the government and other corporations, leaving us with little to nothing of our own.
We buy our food from corporations, spend our leisure time watching a corporate product or using one. We are constantly being bombarded with corporate slogans and offerings. And in the end, as we lay in a corporate bed with corporate covers, watching a corporate commercial, we know that something has gone terribly wrong and we are just not satisfied anymore.
Many of us dream of wide-open spaces and dirt between our toes, raising our own food and placing our own fences for our livestock. We secretly desire to escape to a place where we can raise our families without government or corporate intervention. We want to taste real meat and real vegetables and never again ingest sugar-filled substitutes that we suspect are killing all of us in inches.
But to do that seems too hard for many of us and so we content ourselves with buying something that claims to be organic at Wal-Mart or recycling our plastic bags or wearing a hemp necklace or wool socks. We know that something is wrong in our churches as well, it just feels- wrong somehow. You suspect that what is considered to be church in the 21st century is just another cheap knock-off, a substitute that has been genetically altered so that it can be mass produced for a greedy public.
Real salvation is too hard, try Salvation-Lite! It looks like the real thing but it is easily affordable even for the person willing to pay almost nothing! You can now be a Christian, fill your religion needs and not have to do anything for it at all, don’t change a thing!
You can choose the Church of your choice based on the Pastor’s style, the worship experience, its Children’s Church facilities. I tell you, a world of choices await you out here in the Cult of Normal, individually prepared and packaged for your convenience. If you tire of the product, why just switch, it’s all here for you!
Does it taste like the real thing? Sure it does, all you have to do is change the definitions of the words a little, based on today’s standards and voila, you are experiencing the same product as the first church. Salvation means either belonging to a church or praying a prayer. If you have done one of those things (based on your personal preference, of course) then you are as saved as Peter. Repentance means feeling sorry after you have been caught. Have you ever felt sorry after you have been caught doing something? Then you have repented, just like Paul.
The power of God? Why that is either a feeling of peace, a shiver you feel or being transported to the Third Heaven, as you like. Miracles? Well, life is a miracle after all, isn’t it? We are all surrounded by a thousand little miracles every single day here in the cult of Normal. Fellowship is simply having some friends and unity is when you are all getting along. Evangelism is suggesting that someone come to a church service with you and holiness is best seen through the lens of grace because no one is perfect, right?
And though all of this is considered to be normal and though the spin masters have tried to sell us on the idea that what we have is what they had back then, we all know in our hearts that it is a lie. That Christianity has been imitated and duplicated and sold to us in such a way that all of us can look like we have something that we know we really don’t.
I used to say in church that if we were to have a Jesus altar call, no one would answer it. For him, it was “Come and take up your cross and follow me”, “Sell all your goods and distribute to the poor”, etc. And I would juxtapose this with today’s Christianity-Lite pitch that tells you that if you raise your hand in the air with no one else looking and repeat a prayer under your breath that the whole room is praying, you too can be saved.
Now I understand that it is deeper than just the methods employed, it is a matter of value.
Pleather was created for the clothing and upholstery fields, a cheap mass-produced leather substitute that allowed you to have the feel and look of real leather, at a fraction of the cost. And today’s Christianity is nothing more than spiritual pleather, which looks good from a distance but could never really be confused with the real thing. The reason that it couldn’t comes down to value.
Nate Saint, who was martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in the 1950’s said “People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst, they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted”. The question for Nate came down to value. How could something spent in service to Christ ever be considered to be a waste when the value of obtaining Christ was so much greater than the value of what was being spent for it?
When I contrasted Jesus’ altar calls with modern ones, I thought that the difference lay in the process but I was wrong. The difference lay completely in the perception of the value of the item gained.
The merchant who discovered the pearl of great price went immediately and sold all that he had to obtain it. The reason that he did that was because the value of the pearl that he had discovered was worth far more than what he had to give in trade for it. All that he had and all that he had acquired up to that point in his life was worth less than the value of the pearl that he had found.
No doubt, had he discovered a cultured pearl as he was shopping, he would have been willing to give far less in trade for it. The value of that which was obtained determines the cost that is to be assigned to it.
And we have mass produced Christianity and cheapened it to the point that the only thing that it is worth in trade is the potential embarrassment of repeating a silly prayer in public and an hour of your time on Sunday at the church of your choice. Our salvation that is offered is pain-free, cost-free and hassle-free not because of what someone would be willing to pay for a genuine item of great value but because we assign very little value to it ourselves.
We bought a whole string of cultured pearls at little to no cost and what fool isn’t interested in getting something for nothing? If you can live blessed, happy, forgiven and carry diplomatic immunity in regards to sins that you commit and on top of all of this, have eternal life too and pay exactly nothing for it, I mean, who wouldn’t want that? It looks like pearls, feels sort of like them too, all at a fraction of the cost. Why would you need the genuine article, which is so costly when you can have the exact same thing for next to nothing?
Spiritual pleather- as good as the real thing and at a price you can afford!
We all like something for nothing, friends, but here is the problem, your pearl is a fraud. And you know that it is, why else would you attempt to hawk something of infinite value as a blue-light special? Why would you cheapen it and give it away at bargain basement prices to whoever comes down the street if it weren’t for the fact that you ascribe no value to it yourself? You got yours for nothing and ascribe exactly that value to it yourself. Because what they sold us was a lie, a cleverly marketed spiritual pleather that they spun out of whole cloth.
And you know it and I know it.
This is why the normal of today is so different than the normal of the first church; we aren’t talking about the same item. The pearl that they could gain was so precious that giving up all of your goods to give to the poor was nothing in comparison to what they got. To have all things common and make sure that everyone in the church had enough, that is a bargain! To die a martyr’s death and receive a Crown of Life or be imprisoned for your faith were of such small cost when compared to the Excellency of Christ and knowing Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings that they gladly paid it in exchange.
In the Moravian church, they were willing to accept insult and injury and risk their lives for the sake of Christ and spread the Gospel all over the world.
In the Reformation, they were willing to be burned at the stake by people claiming to know God because it was worth it.
All throughout history, people have discovered the pearl for themselves and the awful prices that they paid in exchange for receiving it paled in comparison to what they got. But here, today, no one wants your pleather Jesus and no one is willing to pay a dear price for it, not because He is any less worthy but because you see no value in him yourself. And though you may get offended at my saying this, check the value you place on Him, dear heart, you will see that I am right.
How can we ever have a return to normal if we don’t even understand the value of Him?
You get what you pay for, don’t you?
What does God say that salvation should mean and how much are you willing to give in trade for that?
What miracles are they that Christ says that we are to expect and what are you willing to give to see them?
What does the Word say that deliverance, freedom from sin, holiness, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, evangelism, fellowship, unity, healing, peace, love and joy and true community all look like both in the Scripture and in the past lives of those who have attained them and told us of their wondrous power and what exactly are you willing to pay to see them for yourself?
The state that we live in of continual disappointment and spiritual excuses for why we don’t see more is a direct result of our unwillingness to pay for it. In fact, climbing up onto your cross willingly is the first step that is required of you. And the refining process continues until He receives you to Himself. We must give up our sins, our self-importance, our pride, our goods and our ties to the world, our virtues, our strengths and our identity to Him in fair trade for the privilege of seeing who He is.
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3: 7-11
Some will no doubt claim that there is no price to pay but these are they, which paid nothing for what they got and are desperate to claim it as the genuine article. Jesus paid it all, they say and to this I say, “all to Him I owe”. There is a price to escape the Cult of Normal and there is still a precious value in the Blood of the Lamb.
It costs everything you are, everything that you have and everything that you will ever have and I can’t think of a better deal. There is something about this Jesus, that when you see Him as He is, when you look into His eyes and see the tenderness and care, nothing is too great of a price to stay there.
So, attention please, all you preachers and pastors, prophets and pimps, you teachers and intellectuals and liberals and conservatives. Listen up you mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and relatives, spouses, lovers and acquaintances, you bosses and co-workers, you sons and you daughters. Everyone, please, if I could get your attention; would you please stop the bus, I’d like to get off.
I don’t like where you’ve taken me and don’t like where you are going. I am sick of the smell in here and I feel like I need to stretch. I see something else out there, out past the finger-smeared window in front of me. I see a vast horizon and an adventure that is waiting to happen. I see freedom of movement, away from my seat and the restricted way that I am forced to endure these cramped conditions like I was just meat being taken to market.
I see freedom out there for my head and my feet, for my heart and my lungs and I simply cannot take this guided tour of the make-believe movie of someone else’s freedom anymore.
I have got to go now and see what is out there for myself. Somewhere, out there, outside of these confines that you have laid out for me, I see a twinkle in the dirt, the light has caught on something and though I don’t see it clearly yet, my heart is stuck in my throat at the thought of what it could be buried out there, undiscovered.
I have a pearl to attain and I know that it will cost me all that I know and maybe it will cost me my relationships with all of you on this bus. It will cost me everything and I don’t really know what life will look like out there but I have heard of it, as a whisper in my spirit, God has told me that it is worth the cost.
So stop the bus, I don’t want your normal anymore, I have a pearl to gain.