Some Thoughts About the O.C Outreach

The Indescribable OC Uprising in California
02 September 2011

In the seven days since returning from The Orange County Uprising – the evangelistic “outreach” in Huntington Beach, Calif, – I haven’t been able to solidify a satisfying conclusion, a good summation or accurate description of what I’ve seen.

I think, in the end, that’s because of the nature of God himself.

It seems many 21st century conversations concerning God have to do with the idea that “God cannot be put in a box,” meaning in general to limit the reach of the Almighty. It appears there exists plenty of desire for some “out-of-the-box” thinking concerning God. A variety of approaches and devices are employed by pastors across the country to help congregations “experience God.”

But in my observation it seems many people don’t really want to experience God. They want to experience God-in-a-box and call it “God.” There is a completely understandable reason for this: God, unleashed, can be scary. Ask the children of Israel who begged Moses to hear God for them instead of on their own.

I don’t mean it’s good to be scared of God. I’m saying the mind naturally freezes when it suddenly realizes its not in full control anymore. Imagine being in a slow-motion emergency, such as a car accident on a snowy slope, when moving vehicles skidding across icy pavement are coming sideways to the one you’re in and there is nothing you can do but watch. Freeze.

This seems sort of similar to what many churches look like on Sunday: “Don’t do anything that’s going to scare me.” Many pastors accede to this unspoken request because, of course, they want people to believe, receive “salvation” and feel confident God loves them. Shepherds want to gather the sheep, not scatter them. God has not given us a spirit of fear. after all.

The problem is this doesn’t simply create a calm congregation as it appears. It can create an insular crowd who cannot conceive of a God who would ever rattle their cage for any reason.

There are many books, sermons and appeals by 21st century pastors trying to talk their flocks out of being so timid and taking the idea of a living God seriously. The Rev. David Platt — a Southern Baptist “mega-church” pastor and author of the recent book “Radical” — is just one of many challenging believers to rethink the “Americanized” approach to Christianity. Books such as these are a good sign of the times.

But a problem with many so-called “breakout” tomes is they seem to employ tactics that got us into some of the spiritual trap in the first place: overly heavy reliance on intellect, the mind, the reason. Modern American Christians — having grown up in the shadow of the “scientific method” — cannot conceive of a faith not intellectually driven or academically understood. It is almost heresy to modern believers if they conceive they are being asked to somehow “check their brains at the door” for any reason.

The dilemma is that God cannot be solely communicated with the intellect. Those who try are doomed to the imperfection implicit in a partial Gospel. Because intellectual faith is comfortably controllable, however, much of the American church appears content to live with this disabling imperfection. America has the highest material living standard in the history of the world, for goodness sakes. What’s not to like? “If this is what spiritual imperfection looks like,” many seem to reason, “hey, we can live with it.”

The Orange County Uprising addressed the obese, sluggish spiritual malaise our country has sunk into as a result of too much — of everything. Pastors in “The OC” defined “suffering” to me as having “too much of everything and wanting for nothing.” Pastor Bill Welsh of Refuge Calvary Chapel in Huntington Beach, one of the participating churches told me, “Materialism is crushing the spirits of people all around here. It’s a suffering of a different sort.”

The Uprising squared off against the weakened perceptions of a God-in-a-box theology as a result of analyzing to a fault and communing spiritually as an after-thought. Uprising meetings demonstrated with conviction that a real, living God could be “called down” and bless his tiny creations with his presence, insight, wisdom, power, love, compassion, deliverance, authority, joy, healing, comfort — all of it. When God shows up, it seems everything shows up with him like a flood.

That’s what I saw; all good things come trailing in after as God “walks through the door” and disperses gifts gleefully to everyone in the room, tent, trailer, house, car, airport, sidewalk, restaurant, store, beach, park — and even a church building. This is what The OC Uprising was, facilitated by God-NOT-in-a-box and allowed by teenagers and 20-somethings who believed their God was an awesome God.

Who can describe this? It was too varied, too unique, too fine, strong, subtle, comforting, exciting, exhilarating, revelatory, humbling, quieting and restoring to accurately articulate. Let’s just say “God moved” in Orange County and leave it at that. I’m hoping people will hunger and thirst after what happened in The OC Uprising like a deer panting for the waters.

I’m pretty sure God would be happy if they did.

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