A few years back, “cardboard testimonies” were all the rage.
If you haven’t seen them, it’s essentially a very very simple “before and after” story of the difference God has made in a person’s life.
On the front of a small sign, you write the before, something you were struggling with before coming to know the Lord. On the back, you write the after, how that struggle has been resolved.
Churches would have services were lines of people would wordlessly come out, show the front of the sign, flip it over, and show the back. It’s an incredibly powerful demonstration, a starkly simple and focused presentation of the transformative power of grace.
But at church recently, I got to thinking about what happens to the cardboard signs that only have one side.
It seems sometimes like we have set a very performance-based value proposition for God.
I went to a church service recently where people were being baptized and sharing their stories, and couldn’t help noticing how easy it to discuss God in terms of our lives. “My life is great, so God is great!” “God is good because He does so many good things for me!”
But what if He doesn’t?
There’s a gentlemen in one my church groups who has been fighting a very long and very heated custody battle, and recently marked a major victory along the way. Everyone in the class talked about how faithful he’d been, and how God had honored that, and used it as evidence of how good God is.
But what if it had turned out differently? What if the custody situation had turned out differently. In any battle, there’s a winner and a loser. What happens when you’re on the losing side? What does that say about God? What does that say about His goodness?
The Bible talks about the people who didn’t get to see the fulfillment of the promise. The people who didn’t get the happy ending they wanted. Moses, who didn’t get to enter the promised land. David, who didn’t get to build the temple.
We like to downplay those stories. They don’t fit our version of a performance-based system for rating God.
But what do you do with that when your story isn’t happily ever after?
Where would Moses and David fit in our churches? Do they get to walk across the stage with their pieces of cardboard? “Spent 40 years in the desert.” Flip. “Died without entering promised land.” I’m sorry, Mr. Moses, that’s not the sort of testimony we’re looking for; why don’t you watch from the pews?
God isn’t performance-based. He never promised you a happy back side of your piece of cardboard.
He promised comfort in the hard times. He promised eternity. He promised Himself. We need to stop selling Him short by promising people happy words on cardboard when what He has is so much better.
I want to see a church where people walk across the stage with their pieces of cardboard, and flip them over to reveal blank reverses. I want to see the same thing written on the back as the front. I want to see the back side be worse than the front.
And I want that to be OK. I want the church to be able to celebrate those stories, and those people. I want people with those stories to know that there is a place where they are welcome and valued. I want a church where Moses and David could share their testimonies.
I want to go to the church of the unseen promise. Anybody want to come with me?