A friend recently told me he’s not sure anymore why he goes to church. It pains him to admit that. I see that as a good thing. The right pain point can change everything.
Two weeks ago we began going further up and further in. Last week we saw how further up is the first frontier. It’s a boundary few believers have crossed. Why not? Simple. No pain point.
Harvard Business School professor John Kotter says the first step for making changes is having a sense of urgency, what he calls a “gut-level determination to move… now.” Endeavors fail when we don’t feel a pain point. In our case, the faith has a pain point—but few feel it.
I felt it as a pastor. Our church grew rapidly. Many came to faith. But I had a pain point. I could give the opening prayer in the Senate. But I was then politely asked to leave as legislators got down to business. The faith was irrelevant to the legislative process. It pained me.
It didn’t pain many in my church. They were glad that I was invited to pray. I grieved. I wasn’t alone. Dallas Willard grieved the “repositioning” of the faith on the public stage. We went from a public resource for knowing how reality works to a privatized faith focused on church activities.
This suffocated my faith. But I had a deeper pain. Willard wrote that the “weakened effect of Christianity in the world today” was the result of our evangelical system. We don’t understand the gospel as the availability of the kingdom of the heavens. So we’re living an illusion. That hurt.
Willard didn’t mean to offend. He simply felt we miss big themes in scripture (e.g. the kingdom of the heavens). So, we say “this is the gospel” and “this is discipleship,” but we’re using these words differently than scripture uses them. “This is a painful truth,” Willard writes.
Painful only if we remember that God properly names things (c.f. Genesis 1). “This is light.” “This is darkness.” Adam properly names things. “This is a dog.” “This is a cat.” We reflect God’s image by properly naming things. “This is the gospel.” “This is discipleship.” We don’t do this.
Is this painful to read? I too don’t mean to offend, but I hope this is somewhat painful to read. This is a Western culture problem, not just a Western church problem. Ross Douthat, a follower of Christ and New York Times columnist, sees this. He wonders if the Western world is living an illusion.
Morpheus didn’t. He knew we’re in an illusion. Watch this clip from The Matrix. Morpheus tells Neo: “What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it… that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind.” A splinter is painful.
Morpheus then identifies Neo’s pain. The Matrix. “It’s everywhere. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” What truth? The Enlightenment has blinded us. It’s the Matrix.
Psalm 78 is a back-and-forth between God and his people. He gives, they refuse to change. Then, in verses 33 and 34, God introduces a pain point. The people repent. They change.
When my friend told me his pain point, I introduced him to the kingdom of the heavens. His reply: “This changes everything.” It does, but only if you have to have a splinter in your mind.
And not just any pain point. The right one, exile. The church is in exile, an outsider. If this is merely an interesting idea, or a concept—anything less than a pain point—you won’t go further up and further in. You’ll look into scripture and miss what Lucifer missed.
But that’s next week. Hope to see you then.
Be sure to check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/
 Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperCollins, 2009)
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (HarperCollins, 1998), xv.