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Peering behind the curtain

By Rev. Chris Surber

I love the Wizard of Oz. In one of the most iconic scenes, the major characters have returned to the Wizard with the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion were elated! Surely the wizard would now grant them the desires of their hearts. Surely he would give them what they wanted and thought they needed.

Wrong. It turns out the wizard was just a humbug, a fake, a phony, a talking head made of smoke. He was just a hologram with no substance or real power. It turned out he’s like a lot of the things that Christians are looking to today to find truth, value, meaning and worship.

In my experience as a pastor and a missionary, I’m finding a lot of people growing increasingly dissatisfied with the smoke and lights. I’m running into more and more people who have come to view the smoke and lights of modern praise bands and lightshow services to be lacking one thing: substance.

The same is true of traditional worship, too.

My wife, Christina, and I are encountering a growing dissatisfaction with the stuff of our religion in general. What good is a fellowship lunch if it’s primarily an opportunity for gossip? What good is a light show to get people excited, if that excitement doesn’t turn to sacrificial passion for the Gospel? What good is a mission trip to visit those who are poor and needy for want of basic necessities of this life, if it doesn’t become an opportunity to realize how poor and needy I am for want of Christ?

I know a lot of pastors who are feeling and sensing the same thing. Those pastors, like me, are looking for more ways to facilitate one-on-one discipleship and press our parishioners beyond the curtain — beyond the smoke and lights, the religious edifices, the “Bless your heart,” into the heart of God.

Many of us are tired of looking for life in entertainment, lasting love in emotional fixes, passion in hype, meaning in fun and real spiritual nourishment in flavor.

When we see behind the curtain of the stuff of our religion, it has the potential to drive us to despair, asking, “Is this all there is to be known of God?”

Hope comes in looking beyond the man behind the curtain to the God behind the rent veil of Heaven.

We can pray for revival for others in the Church, but it won’t come until we seek revival in us. Seeing behind the curtain is dangerous. It can damage your faith. But if you allow it, it is a grand opportunity to go deeper in faith.

I once heard it said that, “Revival is God’s finger pointed right at me.”

If you’re like me and so many others who’ve seen the feet of the religious humbug behind the curtain, don’t despair. Don’t ditch the church. Make it an opportunity to draw closer to the One who tore the curtain of religion and opened the way to real life and peace with God.

“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” (Luke 23:45 ESV)

The Rev. Chris Surber is the pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk and co-founder, with his wife, of a ministry in Haiti. Email him at chris@chrissurber.com. Thurman Hayes’ column will return soon.