Monday, June 22

Automatic Christianity

“Some people soon brought to him a crippled man lying on a mat. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the crippled man, "My friend, don't worry! Your sins are forgiven." Some teachers of the Law of Moses said to themselves, "Jesus must think he is God!" But Jesus knew what was in their minds, and he said, "Why are you thinking such evil things? Is it easier for me to tell this crippled man that his sins are forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk? But I will show you that the Son of Man has the right to forgive sins here on earth." So Jesus said to the man, "Get up! Pick up your mat and go on home." The man got up and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were afraid and praised God for giving such authority to people.” (Matthew 9:2-8 CEV)

I met with my campus pastor this Sunday past before the commencement of services for the congregation. It was the only time that he had, what with the upcoming move into the building and the host of other circumstances and responsibilities that befall a pastor of a growing congregation. With the work that God is doing within my life as He molds me to be an effective instrument in the call to His service and entices me to join Him in the abundant work of the harvest of which He has planted, nurtured and is preparing to harvest, I felt the need despite the other ‘negative’ responses from the church family to sit down with the pastor and speak what God had burden me to bring to his attention. Pastor Cliff is a dynamic and energetic man, with a passion that burdens his heart and has brought him into the position to which he serves the membership of the church. His brothers are also pastors, of the mega-church Northridge. His story would be interesting to hear, for the formation of the man lies within the story of himself. And I have come to know that there is no one upon the face of this earth that has not been wounded in a way or has been affected by the story of their past. It is either realized or not, redeemed or not, in the context of the larger story of God.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that I disagree with the apparent ‘building over people’ pursuit of the church in regards to the purchase and acquision of the property; Christ could’ve very well have demanded His disciples provide Him with shelter, food and other amenities that would make Him comfortable, yet He forewent such for the people…it was always about relationship with Christ, and still is today. And as Christ Himself said, ‘I can only do what I’ve seen My Father do.” So, if Christ was relational, then so must be His Father…and when a church limits itself to make the finances look good for capital building, when a body focuses more on the funds to furnish and remodel the ‘worship center’ of the new building, postponing a valuable outreach to pregnant teens in the local community…..well, I wonder if it is just another example of temple building and not a vision of God that has been suborned to man’s timing.

As I told my pastor, I am not in the leadership of the church and do not know all that is there in the process of this ‘vision’ and I am fully trusting in God that if, indeed, this is against His timing, plan or vision that He can redeem it and bring His full disagreement into undeniable focus. It is not for me to decide, though I will speak what I feel God leading me to do.

That said, I tried to give the pastor a bit of background to my story, for truly we cannot walk into a relationship with our brethren if we do not know their story and so it is vital, at least in my opinion, to know something at least of our brothers and sisters stories so that we can ask the questions that God would have us ask; What is He doing in this person’s life? How do I help this person grow closer with Him in this? I came to the pastor to speak a need and to see what he, as the leader of the church I attend, would say…what actions he would take….and simply to fulfill what I felt God leading me to do; speak out my need to the brethren and leadership of which I’ve submitted myself under. And, please don’t read into this, but the pastor offered more than what I thought he would and still gave me what I have come to expect within the body… automatic response.

If you have read any of my previous offerings to you, you know of the journey that I find myself on; one of rediscovering the beloved son that was murdered at the hands of his own earthly father so long ago so that I can become the father, the elder and the man that God has designed and purposed me to be. You will also remember the situation that brought me to the village of Holly and within the congregational body of the church I have taken membership with for the season that God has presented me with in this small ‘hamlet’ of Michigan. The hope and prayer was that God would provide the method and the position in Flint, so that I would be closer to my new home that He had provisioned for.

With the self-destruction and government intervention of GM and Chrysler, such hope is long beyond the hope of being resurrected, at least for the time being, and so I spend an hour driving to work and another hour and a half traveling home each day. With the loss of my friend’s above and beyond offer to help with the babysitting of my son, things have been hard. The children’s mother, with the loss of her father a few months past, has been pursuing work herself, so the typical summer stay with her has become problematical to say the least. The situation seems untenable, and so I went to the pastor with the need in hopes that he might know of a family or a couple that might be able to move into this need and provide some assistance.

And I genuinely feel that the pastor heard my need and gave some consideration to the capability of the body to fulfill, at least in the short term, it. He offered to bring it to a few people to see if there was a ‘grandmother’ type of member that would and could be willing to step into this for the time. All I would need to do is provide for the funding that their care would require. As for the longer term, the bigger picture, he gave the statement, “Though I am not in the habit of recommending that someone move out of a church, it would seem with God not opening the door here in Holly (i.e. job) that you should move closer to your job and/or a situation where it can become tenable.”

In other words, I should move back down south near family, friends or into a situation where my work hours and school hours are closely matched. It was, in his mind, the only solution and indicated direction that God had given for the situation.

But, even in the study that I'm doing with Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King Experiencing God: Knowing And Doing The Will Of God, such statements seem like an automatic and impersonal response to the personal trials and struggles that I face. Indeed, it is not only the pastor who has said it, but some of the brothers I am in ministry with. But even then, it doesn't seem to sit with what God seems to be doing in and around my life in the little village of Holly in the state of Michigan. Far from it, to me and in relation to my story, the opposite seems to be desirable of God's focus: the body moving into relationship with me rather than me seeking relationship elsewhere among another body. As one friend said, it seems almost as if by recommending movement away from the church I call home, it would create the ability to ignore the missed opportunity rather than dealing with the messiness of being in a relationship with a human being on a personal, real level.

As I've quoted from Blackaby and King's book, George Mueller (who built four orphanages that cared for 2,000 children at a time and over 10,000 through them distributed over eight million dollars provided through prayer and died with a net worth of 800 dollars) said of his method of knowing God's will:

"I never remember…a period….that I ever sincerely and patiently sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Ghost (Spirit), through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but I have been always directed rightly. But if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellow men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes."

Unfortunately, we seem today to require that God provide a clear and concise 'door' for us to move into rather than sitting patiently upon His revelation of what we are to move into. And God doesn't promise that the situation, position or job that we are led to is going to be easy or unsupported by others….He calls us to trust in His provisions and move in spite of fear.

I find myself not looking at the 'requirement' that God has provided in His silence as a need to move away from the church or the community in which I live, but am burdened by the sense of wonderment that God isn't looking to provide an 'open door' because He has already done so…..the door remains obscured because the people or group or church that He has appointed the task to is largely silent and automatically looking in the opposite direction.

Not through some vain attempt to ignore what is painfully obvious but because they automatically are looking at what hasn't been provided instead of looking into the situation, circumstance and seeing what God has provisioned for already.

Whether such a honest and God-seeking look would provide another response, well I think it is obvious what I think, but until such is done, can we really say that God has closed the door in Holly for the reason so automatically given?

Honestly, I think we can't.

The body met in the temple and each other's houses, fellowshipping and eating together….selling what they owned to give according to each need…without question, without hesitation….it is only when the humanity of the early church was brought into the spirituality of the early church that the corruption that we see in too many of God's fellowships today started. Circumcision debates threatened the harmony that once flowed like honey…and it set Paul and Peter into conflict that was resolved by one man's refusal to move into the 'automatic' response by aligning himself with the 'elder' apostle in his sinful error.

As the verse above hit me in the devotional time I spent today before hauling my children down to their birth mother's house on my way to the job……Christ asks, "Is it easier to say….or do the act…." And it is by the authority to do the more visible (albeit from a human perspective, the more difficult) of the two that He proves His authority to do the less evident of the two, but the more important. He didn't do the 'automatic', though I am sure that there were those around this event that knew He had done it before…….He moved into the non-standard expectation before He fulfilled the obvious.

And this isn't the first time Christ does it and isn't the last. So why are we, as His people, so bent on automatic responses to the brokenness of the world? And how much more effective, healing and a living testimony would we be if we moved in non-traditional, more personal responses when it came to the lives of those brothers and sisters in our immediate church family and the lives of the broken to which we are called to minister?

God is working around me… I the only one who is noticing? Or does my personal story affect my vision slightly to where I am missing the point of God's work? All I know is that as I grow closer to God, the more I realize He isn't an 'automatic' God…..but a living, breathing and involved God who calls His people to be non-standard in a world in chaos, to go into the darkness to save souls rather than run from it, and to be willing to die in order to live.

Sounds like a pretty none standard response to me………

No comments: