I have been reading a book recently (I've already shared much of it with the MPC family over the last few weeks) and it has got me thinking about our attitudes toward church. Are we taking too much for granted? Are we running a risk of becoming attached to forms and trappings of Pentecost, with no real consideration for the power that we are capable of accessing in the Holy Ghost?
There is a phrase our world uses when speaking about one who talks about themselves so much and brags on their own abilities to a point that they convince themselves that it is the truth! Blinded by their own words, the world says, "they are believing their own press!"
We saw this during the US invasion of Iraq as their minister of public information was practically declaring Iraqi victory while American tanks filed into the background of his interview! He was convincing himself with his words, but benefitting NOBODY ELSE!
The apostle Paul spoke of some who possess some 'form of godliness' but deny the power. Is it possible that being attached to a 'form' of church can 'deny' us the power that should be resident in our services?? Do we sometimes get so busy doing the things that make US appear holy and right to the point that HE appears to be irrelevant? We never want to become one of those congregations who sing fast songs until somebody runs... who screams while preaching until someone gets to their feet... whose pastor pushes the right buttons to elicit a response to his message, while GOD'S MESSAGE gets lost in the shuffle.
We have no problem trumpeting the assertion that WE HAVE TRUTH... WE HAVE THE ANSWERS... but in a world as crazy and as answerless as ours, why are we not seeing greater results? Could it be a lack of effort on our part?? Do we really believe it like we say it??
I think that, for the most part, we live without giving proper thought to the conditions of our world, our neighbors, our community. Some of us probably do not even know the names of everyone who lives within a stone's throw of our homes!! If this is indeed the truth, how much stock and value do we really place on what we have?
In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard describes the church like this: "On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning."
I want to be able to see the needs around me. I need to understand the 'Help' that I have access to through prayer! I want to believe my own press and go do something about it!!! I don't ever want to be so busy 'killing a Sunday Morning' that I forget how to offer life to a lost soul!
The Bible is very clear in its directive that we ought not to judge one another at risk of being a fool (or at least, found to be unwise!). During the last few mornings, during my reading of the book of Joshua, I have come across a story that has piqued my interest.
We find the Children of Israel entering the Promised Land when, out of nowhere, arrives a detachment of emissaries from a 'land far away.' During conflab with these men, it appears that they prove the length and duration of their journey to the princes of Israel by producing some bags of stale bread and some shrunken wineskins. Also, they showed them the shoes and garments that were supposedly 'new' when they departed their homes.
The sad thing that I find here is that scripture records that the princes of Israel partook of their victuals and 'sought not counsel from the Lord'. They judged by what they were given without giving God a chance to speak.
The Children of Israel, Joshua included, made a judgment call with no point of personal reference. They were not authorities on the freshness of bread... they'd been eating manna. They had no benchmark for the wear of another man's shoes... they'd been wearing the same ones for 40 years.
When we judge by what we 'see', and seek not God's counsel, we are judging from our own perspective, our own experiences, which may be totally different than those of the people we are standing against in judgment!
If this is what happens when I judge a man without walking in his shoes, Jesus, make me a careful man! Before we ascribe motives and try to say what 'really happened', we need to take a minute and seek counsel from the Lord. He knows... and His judgment is usually (always?!) very different from mine!
I must confess, the title of this post, which was used as the moniker for my message this past Sunday Morning, is not original with me. As cool as it is, I wish I could claim it! But, alas, it was 'thunk up' by another man in another time...
The story of the Levite in Judges 17 stirred my heart in a way that I've been craving for awhile. We all say that we don't want to serve God for the loaves and fishes, but in reality, many of us do! As I read the story of this man, he was simply on his way to 'wherever he could find a place' (according to one translation) and the only impetus he had for putting down roots in this place was that it gave him a lucrative opportunity to do what he wanted to do. He could serve God on his own terms and collect some blessings besides!
The problem arrived in the form of five spies who 'knew his voice' from another time and place. They sought out his word, and wanted to know what he 'made' there. His reply had nothing to do with God, but rather with the 'such and such' that he received from the man who owned the house.
When they recognized the laxness of his religiosity, they knew he was the man for them. If he could be bought once, he could be bought again! And we see it happen... "He put his hand upon his mouth..." and allowed his 'service' to God to be moved down the road for what he supposed would be a bigger blessing.
I determined anew, and with no small amount of tears...
I will not have my service to God demeaned by 'ten shekels and a shirt'...
I'm not here for the loaves and fishes... I'm here because I love Him!
My worship will not be held hostage until I get what I want from God...
If He never blesses me again... I'm STILL gonna praise His name
If He never blesses me again... I'm gonna love Him JUST THE SAME
If He never blesses me again... He's blessed me enough already
As I sit here in my office on this Saturday Evening, I can hear the choir practicing in the sanctuary right outside my window. They are doing fantastic... there is just one or two little things that bother me.
Now, I am under no illusions about my singing abilities. I know I stink when it comes to vocal talent but... that doesn't mean I don't appreciate somebody who does it right, or can't tell when they do it wrong.
I wonder sometimes about how we appear to the world. From their perspective, they may think... I don't know how to do it, but I sure know that that's not the way!
Reminds me of a story I heard about a man who wrote a powerful tract entitled "Come to Jesus". It was widely used by churches and the man was touted as a great writer. One day, he was a little steamed up at the editor of a magazine who took issue with some of his theological stances and proceeded to write and mail this man a scathing epistle.
With no small amount of pride in his response, he showed it to one of his colleagues and eagerly awaited his response. When he finished, he really didn't know what to say. There was no doubt that the editor had been verbally 'sliced and diced'. The author looked at his friend and said, "I know it's good, but I haven't assigned a title to it yet. What do you think?"
His friend sadly smiled and said, "I think the appropriate title should be 'Go to the Devil by the Author of Come to Jesus'"
I hope fervently that my life is not such an oxymoronic representation of Christ. Our communities may not know The Way, but they are capable of recognizing it when it's done right... and when it's done wrong!
I discovered the following lines of verse in a book on Preachers and their Families that I came across in a bookstore. I 'captured' it with my iPhone and share it with you here. It was written by a man name Rob Morgan, and carried no title.
"There are few easier hiding places than a sadness which no longer hurts or a burden that is no longer heavy. We find ourselves with an ideal excuse to remain weak and comfortable, ideal because it spares us from being condemned. Few would criticize us for not going forward, while they think that staying put is so hard."
I find it interesting that Jacob wrestled all night with an angel, yet was the recipient of neither a blessing or a victory. It seems that the biggest problem he had was he was asking for the wrong thing!
Although his personal history would seem to indicate a preoccupation with 'blessings', a part of me would like to think that it should never have taken an all-nighter to figure out that he should be asking for something different.
As soon as he asked, "Tell me, I pray thee, thy name," Scripture records these words. "And he blessed him there." It seems that God is far more interested in blessing those who are wanting to know WHO HE IS more than WHAT HE CAN GIVE!
We can spend our whole lives begging God for things, becoming in nature what Paul rebuked some worshippers for one day. Thinking that we will get "for our much asking", rather than loving God and getting close to him, trusting that "no good thing will He withold" from us.