Dreams arouse the motivation to change. Dreams scare the sweat out of people. Dreams inspire courage to do what is right. Dreams lead people to make foolish decisions. Dreams should often be forgotten. Dreams can even be the voice of God describing truth in our subconscious.
I had a dream. In this dream, I visited four churches. All four of these churches were located in the United States of America, but each were different. Different not only in physical appearance, but different in purpose.
In the first church, I could feel the hard surface of the wooden pew beneath my body. The pews reminded me of the church I had grown up in. It appeared that the worship service was already underway, because the pastor was preaching up on the stage. As I listened intently to the sermon, it became clear that the preacher was angry at something or someone. Even though the pastor was speaking many different words, the only words I could understand was “I hate you” and “I hate the world” and “I hate sinners” and these words were all dripping with the venom of a poisonous viper.
As the worship service came to a close, the song leader stepped up to the piano and led the congregation in the song, “They will know that we are Christians by our love,” but as I listened to the people around me singing, I only heard these words: “They will know that we are Christians by what we stand against!” I tried to clean out my ears, but no matter what, this is the only phrase I could hear.
Finally, the people were dismissed and as I stood up to walk out, I could feel the judgmental stares of the men and women around me. They could see my hidden sins and they were glaring into my soul with thoughts of “How could you?” and “I would never do something like that!” and “A good Christian would never even think about doing that!” and the worst one: “God is going to send you to hell, buddy!” An indescribable darkness surrounded me at that moment. I couldn’t find the exit fast enough. I needed to get out of this place. They might have felt like they were one happy family, but I felt like an orphan being thrown into the garbage.
I walked outside the church facility and noticed that there was a large clear bubble surrounding the building. Whenever someone walked away from the building and into the bubble, they would burst through it and receive a smaller bubble that would surround them as they would leave the property. They would be safe from the sinners in this bubble.
Standing in the parking lot of this church, I could feel a gentle breeze coming from the east. This wind whispered something to me: “This church knows the truth, but has forgotten how to love. Do not be like this church.”
I woke up from this dream sweating. For me, it was a night mare. I had lived this feeling too many times in actual churches from my past. I laid in bed staring into the darkness, not wanting to fall back asleep too quickly. Hoping that the longer time I spend away from my subconscious, the more likely I would avoid that dream sequence again. Immediately, when I drifted off again, I found myself in a large auditorium with nice cushioned individualized seats. The people around me were singing and lifting their hands and seemed to praise God, but floating above the raised hands of the people were phrases that shocked me: “I come for an hour to feel good about myself” and “God must be happy with my efforts” and “I wonder what I am going to have for lunch” and “I hope I meet a beautiful women here” and even “Games on this afternoon, get-together with friends tonight, this is a great day!” Hundreds of people were singing, but their minds were on autopilot. They were not trying to connect with the God of the universe. They were in the most ironic twist, worshiping themselves as they sang. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so-called Christians loving themselves in the sound of the beat. But there was no contrite hearts, no feeling vulnerable before a Holy God. This worship service was for their pleasure, and they were enjoying it.
After the singing, a man dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt stepped up on stage and gave an uplifting, positive talk. In fact, I felt like I was listening to a motivational speaker trying to convince the crowd to buy into his 8-step program so that they could become a success, just like he is now a success. But just as I was starting to feel great about myself, I looked down at my feet, and the floor opened up. At first, I fought against looking down, for I knew that I would be looking into hell. But something in me forced me to gaze into the fire beneath me. I could see someone with no face shouting up at the speaker saying these words, “Tell them about sin! Tell them about hell! Let them know that it is God who transforms their hearts! Help them understand that they need a savior!” I could hear these words, but the speaker could not. I could then look into the brain of the speaker and he was filled with happiness whenever people would laugh at his jokes and when the crowd would shed a tear for a touching story.
How could something that feels so good be so wrong? I thought to myself. As the speaker closed his talk in prayer, I didn’t bow my head, but instead my eyes were focused on a scoreboard that was lowered out of the rafters and hovered right above the speaker. God was keeping score. On the scoreboard it gave the number of days since the speaker had mentioned the problem of sin, the reality of hell and the depravity of the human soul. The scoreboard read, 2,378 days. This church had formed 2,378 days ago with a small group of people who wanted to focus on God’s love and encourage people, instead of focusing on anything negative that might turn people away. And they were growing. Who could argue against such growth? If it grows, then it must be God, right? Not always.
After the service, I walked to their lobby and saw dozens of people sipping on their coffee, all smiling, and conversing with each other. It seemed to be such a great place to hang out until I felt that breeze again come into the building when someone opened up the door. This time the wind came from the west, and it whispered a second warning to me: “This church is tolerant of sin and avoids presenting the complete gospel. They have forgotten that Jesus came to die on the cross to save sinners. They believe it is best to show a love that really isn’t a love at all, because they are sending people to an eternity without God by ignoring the problem of sin. Do not be like this church.”
I did not wake up from this dream, but disappeared from the second church and then reappeared in the third church, or at least that is what it felt like. There was something unsettling about this place, more so than the first two churches. Once again, I was sitting in a pew, this time with cushioned padding and the worship service was just starting. I was astonished as I listened to someone give an announcement about an event they were having at the church. This event would be a celebration of the very thing God condemned in His Word. As I looked around the sanctuary, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, for everyone in attendance had a chest blowing up with pride. They felt great about being inclusive of all types of lifestyles, and they paraded it for the world to witness. I sat there dumb-founded that this church promoted what was clearly spelled out in God’s Word as sin.
The pastor wore a long, black robe. When it was his time to speak, he decided to spend his 18 minutes lecturing about how “love wins” and that we all must accept every lifestyle no matter what because that is exactly what God would do for us. At first, I was captivated by the idea that everyone can do whatever he or she wants and we should just accept it and even lift up the idea that if it makes them happy, then it must be good. But my soul just couldn’t accept this teaching. I knew the truth, and if everyone is right and there is no wrong, then there is nothing but chaos. And worse yet, if what the Bible says is a sin and yet it really isn’t a sin because we interpret it differently than we used to, then what is the point of following the Bible anyway?
As the congregation was reading the apostle’s creed in unison, I heard something else from their lips. It was eerie to watch their mouths open and speak these words: “My freedom to live how I want is more important than submitting to God. I desperately want to be loved by this world. I want people to praise my efforts and tell me that this is how the church should really be engaged in our society. I will not be convicted by the truth, but will listen to the pride of my heart and allow what God has called an abomination to be an act of worship here in my church.”
When the worship service ended, the people exited the sanctuary, and I was frightened to see demons suspended just a few feet above them. These evil spirits were patting them on the back, telling them, “You should be proud of yourself. You are enlightened. Those other churches are close-minded bigots. You are doing a great work. You will bring about a utopia!”
After the last person left the sanctuary, I could feel the breeze again come into the building. This time from the south. This wind whispered a third warning to me: “This is not My church. This place is a den of the devil. This is not a reflection of My love. For My love is holy and pure and I have standards in which I demand obedience. Their pride has puffed them up and their destruction is near. Do not be like this church.”
I woke up again. This time I was freezing. Not only did I lack covers, but I had fallen off the bed. This last church disturbed me to such an extent that I could not fall back asleep for about an hour. I laid there, tossing and turning, thinking about these churches and how the majority of churches today fit in one of these categories. As I started to drift back to sleep, my mind wondered what kind of church God wanted. What does a God-honoring church look like? I thought to myself as my consciousness turned into the subconscious.
In the fourth church, I could not tell if I was standing or sitting. I could not tell if I was in a traditional style church with a steeple or a modern auditorium. There were no pews or chairs. I couldn’t tell if the church served coffee or donuts. Everything about this church was blurry, except for one thing. There were two words standing up on the stage and they were of equal size and both words were speaking at the same time. As I looked upon the stage at these two words, there was a spotlight that came from the rafters that lit up the words with a radiant light. It was almost as if there were two kinds of light. One part of the light was physical, and there was another part of the light that allowed these two words to be seen outside the building from miles away.
These two words spoke with such passion and yet gentleness. The two words were bold and kind and revealed the complexity of God and applied faith to practical living. When I comprehended what those two words were, my heart filled with joy. I could sense that God was well pleased with the presence of these two words in His church. The first word was TRUTH. And the second was GRACE.
TRUTH was so clear and honest as it spoke. It called sin an abomination to God and told everyone to repent of their wickedness. But as TRUTH spoke, it pointed to the word GRACE and said, “Here is your hope! Here is your salvation!” GRACE then took over and agreed with TRUTH and told everyone the good news of God. The good news was that Jesus came to this earth to die for each sinner so that he or she can have full access to God. The good news is full of TRUTH and GRACE. You cannot have one without the other.
After looking upon the stage, I glanced around me and saw all kinds of people of all different kinds of color. I could see in their hearts as they looked to the stage. Some people were in a right relationship with God, while others were living in sin. Some of the sinners were listening to the TRUTH and GRACE in order to break free from the chains of their past mistakes. And there were other sinners who were offended at TRUTH and they convinced themselves that they didn’t need the church. It all looked messy, but there was a beauty in the mess.
I didn’t want this worship service to end, for I knew that I was experiencing the will of God for His church. But then all at once it ended abruptly. I could see every kind of weapon…bombs, guns, knives, chemicals…being used to destroy what was happening. Even though this should have been a disturbing sight, it brought a peace to me, because I knew that Jesus promised that His truth church would have trouble in this world.
Once again, I heard the gentle breeze on the back of my neck. This wind was from the north, and it had a new kind of warning about this kind of church: “TRUTH and GRACE are the foundation of My church. But few churches know how to balance TRUTH and GRACE. This church is under attack because it is My church. It is the true light of the world, and the evil one hates this and will do anything to destroy it. A time will come when My church will not be tolerated anymore. But do not lose heart, for I am with you always.” And I woke up with a warm feeling surrounding my entire body. I could sense the love of God around me.
The entire next day, the haunting reality of this dream followed my thoughts constantly. I knew in my heart that this was the problem with America. It wasn’t “Washington” or the “liberal media” or “Hollywood.” It was the American Church. Instead of being a light to clear the way, the Church has become confused as to what its purpose is on this planet. And because the Church is confused, the people are confused and no one wants to follow someone who is confused.
The day after the dream, I had hoped that I could just forget about those first three churches. “It was just a dream,” I would tell myself. But every time I would try to convince myself that it was just a dream, my soul shouted out the truth: “When the end is near, many people will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).