I awakened early Tuesday with the task of preparing to speak to a group of men regarding my faith and life journey.
What would I say? Yet, even that seemed to come with ease, as I continued my read through the prophets. This week, Haggai scolding the people for their neglect of the house of God.
“Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Of course that set off my own current set of concerns, given a church on every corner and more church plants every day, while our nation seems to drift further from righteousness and justice with each passing year.
Then as we move to the New Testament, we can only envision Jesus walking through Jerusalem, looking at these same temples, now more beautiful than ever. If well-kept Houses of God were what he was after, why the statement: “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.” There seems to be a mixed message between the Old and the New?
I am reading a book entitled CHRISTIANITY AND THE SOCIAL CRISIS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, which addresses the social challenges we are facing given the growing divide in schools of thought, even within the church at large.
Walter Rauschenbusch, the author comments that though 500 years have passed since the reformation, what we are feeling in our churches is the cresting of the slow movement of change initiated by the reformation!
Is it possible that even given the radical divide in the institutional church brought on by Luther and others, that within 100 years we have reconstructed the same means for accommodating religion as existed before, changing little beyond the name of the movement, with the real issues just now coming to bear? Religion was never what Jesus was after, rather transformation of human lives.
Do movements like our local NCS-WS and now Davie, even earlier Promises Keepers, simply attest to the need for a different approach to spreading the gospel, other than what our institutions now provide; meanwhile the number of church facilities serve only to divide the body of Christ and absorb the resources otherwise available to address the social concerns that seem to grow more daunting by the day.
The deeper I got into my preparation, the more I began to sound like Haggai with the same word that the Lord spoke to me in 2009 only now seems more real: “My church is in foreclosure.”
I read a devotional the other day that talked about naiveté, a word that to a 65 year old would seem like an insult, yet the word naïve is derived from the Latin word “natural,” True naïveté can thus describe one who shows absence of artificiality or unaffected simplicity of nature, one who has no hidden agendas or duplicitous motives. I trust that my motives are pure.
That is what I strive for, I just cannot get away from the probability that prophetic change is coming to America and the church may be ill prepared in terms of what that might look like or even require of the children of God.
I constantly try to keep my heart open and my hands and feet in play within the community. Of course the headwinds of age are blowing harder against my face. My greatest enemy is the vessel that holds my spirit.
My life has been extraordinary, anchored by God moments, some miraculous, always with a vision of impacting a city! I recently read the story of artist who prepared a large canvas upon which he would paint a beautiful tree that he so often envisioned in his sleep. Yet he was so captivated by the details, so determined to paint what he could hardly express apart from canvas, that by the time of his death he had painted only one leaf! Only to discover after his death, his vision already existed in the place that he would go. He was simply catching glimpses on this side of something that God was preparing for him in a later life then in the heavenly. Is that where my city will come into play relative to my vision, given I have “painted” little more than a single leaf at this point?
My vision seems far from complete, yet my greatest joy often comes in sharing with next generation leaders. I seem to attract find young men and women who have become the victims of cynicism, the images and promises of destiny spoken into them from childhood, now stained by the observation of ineffective churches. My conversation often serves up a more realistic understanding that faith is a dark journey; we only walk toward the light, with love being the path which we walk upon. We were not promised an easy walk, only a transformational one, painful as it often is.
We are meant to be change agents, never status quo, which the American church seems so often to produce. The institutions that now serve our nation are becoming more and more inadequate, and though our gut would tell us that the answer does not lie in those institutions, they do provide some comfortable framework for us to frame our lives around.
In education, its neither public nor private but individual parenting that makes the difference; in church it’s not pastor or denomination but the spiritual quality of the pew; And politics, whether republican, independent or democrat, it’s all about true community capital.
What Haggai was getting on to the people about…neglecting the house of God now seems contrary to what Jesus was saying as he spoke against their elaborate temples of stone.
Again, institutions seem to be necessary evils, framing the things we know to be critical but they can easily become museums of our history rather than tools for our transformation.
The answer is Christ in me, in you. Be the change that is needed in the education of the next generation by volunteering; be the spiritual role model for your place of worship among a generation that seems to find less and less benefit from traditional religion; and yes, engage in the politics of your local government, otherwise the people who learn to matriculate through the system for positional purposes only, will eventually be spending your money on things you would never support, insulated from your control by the very institution your entrusted them to serve.
How does one stay effective, whether young or old, avoiding burn-out, when so passionate about change?
Richard Rohr prescribes beginners mind: “ ‘Beginner’s mind’ is actually someone who’s not in their mind at all! They are people who can immediately experience the naked moment apart from filtering it through any mental categories. Such women and men are capable of simple presence to what is right in front of them without “thinking” about it too much. This must be what Jesus means by little children already being in the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3-4). They don’t think much, they just experience the moment—good and bad.”
By the end of the chapter Haggai seems to have regained his perspective, composure and confidence in God…another way of defining a beginners mind: Haggai 2:3-8:
3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.
What’s next for me: using what I have learned in education (my formal training), the church, politics and community?
Discerning the platform, keeping my health and guarding my tongue are the current challenges.