Yesterday I read of a man who survived for 11 days beneath twenty feet of rubble in the wreckage of the earthquake-stricken disaster that is Haiti. He was twenty years old and said as he was rescued virtually unscathed, “I’m going to give my heart to the Lord because He saved me.” Why does it take tragedy and such desperate circumstances to have someone open their heart to the Lord, and to begin to comprehend His presence and love? Perhaps being trapped, entombed, buried alive, is the extreme form of learning to ‘be still’ and discover what is left |(or has been deposited) within ourselves when there is no technology or distraction.
I don’t for one minute believe that God relishes being discovered as real and compassionate under twenty feet of rubble; but if that’s what it takes. I was sitting in the coffee shop filled with people and wondering how do we make an impact… so many people wandering, finding meaning through games, drink, drugs, sex, work, television, the list is endless… I sat next to a man I’ve known for years last night – nice guy, drinks a lot… every night…. he was about to go south to the sunshine for two weeks. “I love the chicken down there, it’s cheap, and the opportunity to party..” Empty days, empty words, empty visions of the future blanketed in ceaseless ‘parties’ with other lonely people. Sound depressing… yes and no…..
Back to the coffee shop and my musings with the Lord. My thoughts wandered around the dark bleakness portrayed in the movie, The Book of Eli…. The world has been forever changed after a catastrophic event and Eli wanders through it thirty years later with a Bible… searching for a place to begin again. It’s violent and depressing – looks much like the prison camp scenario we’ve talked about where everyone is in survival mode. It was as if the Lord was underscoring yet again that the whole world is lost and all people can do on their own is to try their best to make the prison experience (life) bearable, maybe even enjoyable. But to know joy we need power and money – so we think…. it gets complicated.
Imagine if in this dark world we could see the spiritual condition more clearly… perhaps it would look more like the Book of Eli movie set. Or imagine if lost and wandering spirits took on the form of disease and all the people in the coffee shop were in various states of discomfort and decay…. How would you know who was Christian? What if you could tell Christians by their state of health… in a black and white movie they were the ones in full color! What if the Christians had limitless supplies of penicillin available to any who needed or asked, and as they received they witnessed their darkness fading, their diseases being healed, and their color returning?
Christians without personal experiences of the love of Jesus and the power of God the Father will not have much passion for sharing the revolutionary love of the Father with anyone. They will not comprehend that once you have seen what penicillin can do against disease you cannot but speak of what you have seen and heard… it is great news!
We know the world of the prison as our familiar home… where passion and joy are rare and usually dependent on circumstances, or holidays, or everything being ‘just right’. Except external factors seldom remain stable and ‘happy inducing’ for very long. It’s the place where dog eats dog and some maintain ‘we get what we deserve’. We tend toward isolation and hide the truth of who weare and it’s a lonely and desolate existence.
All of this leads to underscore the potential and value of the local church community – a fellowship of those who follow Jesus and are discovering the new life and resources He has released to them, among them, and in them. A community filled with joy, hope, laughter, and a sense of identity and belonging that is entirely independent of circumstances.
Imagine a community who are learning to live life as citizens of God’s Kingdom where isolation and loneliness is unheard of, where the fear of abandonment or rejection is never realized, where belonging and encouragement can be almost tangibly ‘felt’ in the atmosphere. What would it be like to discover a whole new level of interdependence where concern for another’s welfare is of greater interest to me than preserving my ‘stuff’?
I guess I’m grappling with words to describe a vision of a church being a stark contrast, a relevant and real counter-culture, a place to shed the grave/prison clothes, where victims and grasshoppers become proactive and enthusiastic disciples. Coming out of hiding and allowing God to release us into new identity, authority, and a more positive demeanor is an ongoing process – like a potter molding clay (of which we have been speaking on Sundays).
We do not naturally grow in Christian character manifesting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and so much more. Left to ourselves we invariably slide backwards into a prison mentality – which is why God builds His character within us as we gather together around Him, reading His word (the Book of Jesus), participating in worship (proclaiming another as greater than me), and sharing our various journeys and challenges with love and care.
In Ivan and Isabel Allum’s book entitled ‘Your Destiny’ (an overused phrase these days) they write about the local church….
….”I have heard through the years people say, “Why do we need to go to church? We can have a relationship with the LORD without having to go to church.” Recently a fad has arisen in this regard; more and more people are talking about taking a break from church. This clearly is a strategy from the enemy and is targeted at wounded and disillusioned Christians. Scripture tells us not to stop gathering as some have a habit (Hebrews 10:25).
It also talks about how wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1). …..I know the strategy of the enemy… Yes, it is true that one can be saved without going to church, but the purpose of the church is the same as with the buffalo (image of herd of buffalo providing mutual safety against the prowling lion hunting for stragglers out on their own apart from the herd). Church is a place where we gather, in unity, to help and encourage each other. It is a place where we can be accountable to others, encouraged when things are down, built up and nurtured by each other. It is a place where faith is built together, and where we can fight together to finish the race. There is safety and protection as we are together in unity but the enemy is roaring like the lion seeking whom he may destroy. As soon as one steps out of the circle, he or she becomes lunch for the lion and, because they are alone, no one can help and rescue them…”