FREIGHT TRAINS AND CHICKEN

If your only window to the world was cable news you might conclude that as long as you’ve heard a freight train and tasted chicken, then your experiences in life are complete.

  • “Tell me about the tornado that passed through your neighborhood.” “Well, it sounded like a freight train coming down the street.”
  • “That night the locals served alligator. It tasted just like chicken.”
  • “You just survived one of the most powerful hurricanes in history. Describe it for us.” “Well, it sounded like a freight train blowing by our house.”
  • “When we finished listening to their folk songs, we joined them for the family meal. I had never had squirrel before. It tasted just like chicken.”
  • “The fire burned the whole hillside in just a few minutes. I couldn’t believe how fast it was moving. It sounded like a freight train.”
  • “After the roundup, the cowboys gathered together for supper. The cook served rattlesnake. It tasted just like chicken.”

In my younger years I served on an elite firefighting crew in the Sierra Nevada. We killed a lot or rattlesnakes and cooked them just about every way a group of 20-something guys would—fried in butter, breaded and fried, fried with the skin on, fried with the skin off, and deep fried. More times than I want to remember I’ve sat in a safety area with my fire tent on my lap praying as the fire burned over us—fires in the front country, fires in the high country, grass fires, brush fires, and timber fires.

This is what I know: Rattlesnake does not taste like chicken and a wildfire does not sound like a freight train.

The only people who accept the freight train and chicken arguments are the ones who have never experienced and tasted the real thing.

There’s a lot of freight trans and chicken talk going on in the church. It’s hard to find a church leader who would honestly say, “What I’m experiencing seems nothing like what you’d expect to experience after reading the Book of Acts.” But when I probe into what they’re actually doing, the get a bit touchy.

  • “No, our staff doesn’t actually meet with people one-on-one or even in small groups teaching them the Bible and how to walk with Christ. They put together great programs that a lot of people come to. It may not be the type of mentoring you’re used to, but it’s effective. It’s just our way of doing discipleship.”
  • “Why are you always asking about ‘leading people to Christ’? If they’re truly seeking God, He’ll find a way to get the gospel to them. And if one of our members actually knew a non-Christian, they’ve been to classes on salvation. It’s our way of doing evangelism.”
  • “We’re not that interested in new believers actually coming to our church all the time. They probably wouldn’t understand a lot of what we do and we don’t feel like we should have to make a lot of changes just to make them happy. But once a year we call in an evangelist. He’s real fiery and that’s when some of our members invite unsaved people to church. It goes on every night for a week and we put signs outside and everything. He always has an altar call at the end. Now that’s a revival.”

No it’s not. Neither is a program discipleship or a theological explanation of salvation evangelism.

And if you’ve ever experienced genuine New Testament revival, you know it. But you may be afraid to say it. I had that problem, and it restrained my passion for revival for years.

I didn’t know any better because I came to Christ on the street as part of a great revival, the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s. I just assumed that this was the way Christianity always was. When I started asking questions about the tamer, irrelevant versions of Christianity I was experiencing in church, they told me to calm down.

Respected church leaders and esteemed Bible teachers would tell me that my dissatisfaction with the status quo is wrong, that I expected too much. I knew I wanted to lead a church that looked more like what Luke described in Acts. That vision drove me! But to pursue that vision, I would have to stand against an entire culture of evangelical Christianity and some powerful leaders within my own church. That petrified me!

I’d tell myself they were right, that I should stop pushing for change. One of my seminary professor’s sentences would come to mind, “Fly low, go slow, don’t blow.” And another week of mediocrity added up to another month, another year.

It took a bout with lymphoma to shake me awake with the sad realization that this was a freight train and chicken argument that had sidetracked me, and hundreds just like me for years, decades!

As my revival heart awakened, I knew I wanted to feel the fresh wind of New Testament Christianity in my face again.⇦Tweet that! I could almost hear the revival fires roaring all around me and taste the joy only those with a front row seat to God’s power know.

It was only then that I realized how dangerously near to being housebroken I really was.

That was in 2000, and I’ve never looked back.

Question: How have you felt the taming pressure of churchianity when you’ve wondered out loud why what you’re experiencing now doesn’t seem like what they were experiencing in the early church?