Thursday, November 09, 2006

God's plan for the church echoed in nature

As a young boy I made many trips in the late summer checking a half-dozen apple trees that grew near my father's pasture to see if the fruit had ripened to edibility. As I remember it the trees were generally full of fruit and the branches well-pruned and healthy. I admired the prosperity in those trees and looked forward to grabbing an apple or two for a snack or eating the luscious pies or dumplings that would eventually glorify the bounty that God offered us from those trees. I also looked forward to watching the deer clean up the fallen apples in the last waning hour of daylight. The fawns bouncing about while the old mule-eared doe watched me intently for any sign of danger as I looked on from a distance they felt was safe. Those trees were a magnet for all sorts of life.
After my dad no longer pastured cattle and I and my sisters had left home the trees neglected to grow wildly, unpruned by the arborist, heavy with branch and leaf until some of those branches collapsed under their own weight.
The indicator of the health of a vine or tree is its ability to bear fruit. When a church is large it should produce large fruit and begin to reproduce itself and not be content with being just a huge mass of tangled vines with small, wormy, undeveloped fruit. I am not against large churches but when the focus of the church becomes self-centered it is time to prune, time to turn the church over to the master and release him to restore the church to vitality. Our culture has created many churches that have become centers of therapeutic delivery, weekend refuges from our sin and transgressions, a place for quick smiles and even quicker hugs while many hold back the tears of failing marriage, a broken engagement, an addiction that is destroying a life. If we just surrender all will be forgiven and we can leave washed clean and refreshed. It becomes an emotional roller coaster from one week to the next so we join a small group to provide a mid-week repreave.
When are we going to get it? So many have been teaching it but so few are getting it. Its not about US! Its not about our healing, our prosperity, our emotional tragedies. Its about HIM! Its about restoring our communion with him. Its about recognizing and rejoicing in his sovereignty. Its about being a subject in his monarchy. Its about doing what he tells us to because he deserves it, not because it will boost membership or solve society's illnesses or increase our treasures, or give us an emotional high. Its about doing what he tells us to do because we don't know what is good for us. Its about being obedient to the KING. We are so wretched that we don't know from moment to moment what is good for us and that is why ITS ABOUT HIM. We think our house is good for us, our cars are good for us, our jobs are good for us, our security is good for us but he says not to lay up treasure. We constantly ask for prayers for our financial concerns even while are bellies are full and are heads are dry. Our bellies may be too full and our heads may be too dry. Maybe what we really need is sacrifice. Maybe what we really need is to look upon all we have as the enslavement that it brings us. Maybe we should just repent of our consumerism and stop trying to find God in the middle of our cesspool. We are like children eating our self sick with candy. Our goals are based on building the numbers of people who say they believe in God and they don't even know who they believe in. I asked a couple Christians this morning what they think of when I say Jesus Christ and, from grown men, Jesus looked like a massage therapist rubbing away the pain of their own sin as he offers forgiveness. Where in the bible does this picture come in? Show me one place where Jesus was not at war with sin and those who embraced it. He did not hold the pharisees by the hand and walk them through flowing wheatfields with the wind blowing their fly-back bangs. He was FIERCE and he desires us to be fierce and find our strength in him. He commands us to turn away from sin, not reduce it. He tells us to go into all the earth, feed my sheep, feed my lambs, quench the thirst of the thirsty but he does not tell us to build big churches and pour a bunch of money into facilities and events to the end of growing membership. We'll be like the branches of those trees. There is only one of those trees left. The rest have broken under their own weight.

There are large churches that are meeting Christ's commands, Mars Hill Seattle appears to be one of them. I'm not against large churches just like I'm not agains large trees, as long as the fruit is more plentiful that the branches. How can we serve to allow Jesus to bring us to fruitfullness? The answer to that is found in the Father. Lets not reduce the gospel to a self-help book. We can't help ourselves.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to shout hellfire and damnation into the open air against all of humanity and I love the church.


Steve Coan said...

I dig the post, man.

The thing about pruning is it's so hard to see pruning as good for the creature when you're the creature. And that is why we won't bear it. It's too important to look the part. My former neighbor had a bunch of shrubs that he cut WAY back one year. Everyone drove by and scoffed. His friends and family told him he was a fool for cutting so deep. But in a few years they were beautiful. But a few years may as well be a few millennia in this culture. Who wants a few years of looking ugly for the overall health of the organism? Most churches would fold.

I also think it's not about us, but in a way I think it is about us. It's not about us as individuals apart from God. It's about us as we are the apple of his eye, trees of righteousness for the display of his splendour. It's no good trying to be holy without being whole--that has produced enough shattered faith and confusion as any movement ever (hey, you're wounded and unfinished--don't worry about that, just join this A-team, try to be as holy as you can, and everything else will work out---yeh right). I think we are the broken, and we need his healing, his blessing, and his provision, but not so we can be warm and well fed, but so that we can taste this thing called life and offer it to others.

Our culture has created...weekend refuges from our sin and transgressions, a place for quick smiles and even quicker hugs while many hold back the tears of failing marriage, a broken engagement, an addiction that is destroying a life.

And that's really the trouble with the system isn't it? Where is the idea that my life is an organic extension of God's, not a snap-on wratchet head that connects once, twice, or thrice a week to do some work? And more, where is the idea that we don't have lives, but rather we have life?

Sam Clark said...

Thanks for your sound off Steve. I certainly don't want to sound self-righteous because I've been the guy calling all to come to feast for peace and tranquility and healing without truly understanding what was required. There is not much more I can say but plenty to do and it begins, for my family, with cutting out the fluff and living as the poor so that we can give beyond what our own expectations have been and elevate someone out of destitution. It includes sharing the gospel that is not surrounded by daisies and peace but by blood and power and has been from the beginning.