Donut Church or Pizza Church?

Born into this world when I was 45 years old, I absolutely adore our three-year-old son. He is over-the-top obnoxious, oftentimes ornery and incredibly demanding…and yet because he is the child of my old age and has such a loving heart and awesome sense of humor (and for a myriad of other reasons), I just can’t get enough of him.

“Almost four” really is a great time in the life of a child; I am routinely entertained by how open and as-yet-unguarded his heart is; how he says exactly whatever is on his mind with absolutely nothing in the way of filtering. (There are downsides to this, of course…we’re working on it.) Put another way, Eli does not yet pause long enough to consider how whatever he is about to say will land on someone else, he just says it.

While this is not atypical behavior for a child his age, I think this trait of his strikes me deeply because he and I are nearly identical in heart attitude in many respects. While I may have acquired perhaps one or two filters for my own blatant selfishness over the years, the truth is that Buddy Eli, operating as he does at full throttle, regularly holds up a glaringly sharp mirror to my own heart. So similar are Eli’s and my heart attitudes and desires that occasionally my wife will – delightedly – introduce me to others with something like: “And here’s what a full-grown version of my obnoxious son will look like one day!”

So it is that whenever we announce to our young son that we need to get ready to leave the house, pile in the van and head to church, he blurts out the all-too-frequent question: “We gonna go to donut church or pizza church?” He simply wants to know what he’s going to get in exchange for putting down his Hot Wheels cars and/or plastic army men. This is, perhaps, not the sort of worshipful response we might hope for, but whatever else it may be, it is completely transparent: “How will this trip to church benefit me?”

Unlike Eli, I have “matured” to a place where at least most of the time I am sincerely headed off to church to worship and serve the Lord. But then there are days when I have to wonder if I, too, am treating my church attendance (and perhaps even my service?) as a dispensary of self-focused, soul-satisfying products. There are certainly many tangible benefits to being a long-standing member of a local church; friendships, community, connectedness and (lest we forget) free donuts. And these are all good things, for which we should be grateful.

However, I find that because our human nature is naturally self-focused, our desire for those tangible benefits that come with church community can easily overshadow what ought to be our deepest desire – to be in relationship with Jesus Christ.

One clue that this might be happening is those times when we get upset because the donuts aren’t fresh, the music isn’t exactly to our liking, or we don’t really appreciate the small size of the new paper coffee cups in the cafĂ©. “Thanks for the gift horse…would you please hold his mouth open for me?” It’s in those moments that we’ve forgotten why we even got out of bed on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t supposed to be about us, but Him.

If I’m not careful and constantly watchful, I find that my desires can wander from wanting to glorify God and draw near to Christ in worship, to wanting to glorify myself with my dedication to serving so faithfully and drawing near to the friends I haven’t seen in a while. I want to be entertained by the worship team, encouraged by the message, and sent home feeling better about life. In other words, without being quite so transparent, my heart can nevertheless match my son’s in that I, too, am looking for the benefits associated with pulling the family van into The Crossing parking lot on Sunday.

While most of us get better at hiding our selfishness as we age, our hearts are relentlessly at risk for returning to its three-year-old state. It creeps up on us before we realize it. I’ll humiliate myself just to make the point: Just a few weeks ago the donut selection during first service at The Crossing really was not up to the normal standard; I was astounded – and appalled – to find myself making a “squinchy face” as I reviewed a table of free food and found it lacking somehow.

Do you see why I see so much of myself in my son? Even his priorities – donuts! – mirror mine.

So, while we all laugh at the obviously self-centered worldview that can construct a question like “Pizza church or donut church?” the truth is that, absent the grace of God to change our hearts, we are all terminally three years old in the relentlessness of our self-focus. I am grateful to God for the life of Eli for more reasons than I can count, but one of those reasons is that my preschool son gives me an over-the-top example of self-interested behavior which daily reminds me to be watchful for and unmask the same heart attitude in myself, however well I may have learned to hide it.

God has rescued us from ourselves and given us everything in Christ. In addition to everything, He has graciously given us a community of believers, opportunities to grow in faithfulness and wisdom. Our motivation for showing up on Sunday should be all about worshipping the God who has poured such incredible mercy down upon us all. Given that truth, perhaps complaining about the limited selection of free food (or whatever) is not such a good idea after all? Discuss.

Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.

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