Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Greater and the Lesser

One can be born into the church, and that’s a good thing, in and of itself.

But becoming a Christian is another matter, all together.

Being born in the church doesn’t make you or me a Christian any more than sitting in garage makes us a car!

I’m not sure we’ve always made this clear for one another.

We wonder, sometimes, why churches have more than their fair share of troubles, but part of the issue is simply this: lots of church members are a little foggy on the spiritual realities of following Jesus Christ, and, thus, we’re tempted by lesser concerns, like the color of the carpet and the kind of music we sing. Sure, carpet and choruses are important, but NOT that important. But if that’s all we have, then we make the penultimate ultimate, and that’s when church-folk are likely to squabble.

We’ve tended to accept, as good enough, involvement and service in the church, and plenty of good and decent folks have served the church well, but in so doing, we’ve substituted the bowl for the cereal and milk, and no wonder so many good, church-going, folk seem to be spiritually uncertain, and sometimes, even hostile to spiritual things.

To follow Jesus Christ brings us into the fellowship of faith, of course – the closer God draws us to Jesus, the closer we move toward one another, and that means the church.

But simply being a church member, and even serving the church in big ways does not make one a Christian, and, in fact, may even be counter-productive to our walk with Christ, as we substitute the lesser for the greater.

In so doing, we do our LORD a disservice, and we hurt one another, too, as we fail to help each other grow into Jesus Christ.

I know, I know – some of this sounds almost like a fundamentalist, because they’re always harping about following Jesus. But, ya’ know what, even a clock that has stopped is right twice a day.

I don’t know about the fundamentalist, but I do know about me, and the thousands of folks I’ve known over the years and the congregations I’ve served.

There is more to this thing called church, and it’s the more that only God can provide, and it’s God whom we have ignored some of the time – even as we do godly things.

But to use another metaphor – it’s one thing to hang an artist’s work, and it’s another thing to personally know the artist and the what and the why of the created image hanging in our living room. A great painting in our home might bring us prestige, but to know the artist brings us joy.

In these strange times of vast cultural change, it’s ever-more important for us to have the greater and not the lesser, to have the significant more of faith rather than the trappings of the church, even as the carpet fads and the music dies … because it’s the LORD who lives and reigns forever!

I think it’s tough to get a handle on this, and just because it’s tough, we might well nod our heads and then get back to doing our church thing.

But let’s see if we can push a little deeper into our faith even as we loosen our grip on the artifacts – buildings and pews and liturgies and styles and sounds and all the old and the comfortable things.

Let’s see if we can reach a little higher into the heart of God rather than settling for mere church work, as good as that is, and remembering that if we settle only for church work, we’re cheating ourselves and cheating others as well.

Sure, none of us are perfect in any of this. Yet as Paul writes so humbly and clearly, “I haven’t attained this as of yet, but I press on, forgetting what lies behind and stretching forward to the high calling of Jesus Christ.” The greater for the lesser; the future for the past; the living Christ for the artifacts of faith.

You see, Paul is going somewhere, and that’s the point.

A lot of good folks are sort glued into their pews; they’ve been in the same pew literally, and figuratively, too, for a long time, going nowhere fast. But that only means the world is changing around them, and that’s a mighty uncomfortable feeling.

They haven’t gone anywhere, but the world has, and that’s why they feel as strangers in their own land.

So, let’s push on, let’s reach higher and deeper. Even as we rejoice in the work of the church, let us strive, with all our might, to see the face of God!

To be faithful is one thing … to be full of faith is another.

Let’s strive for the latter, and the former will take on a fresh beauty and a delightful vigor.
Nothing better than church work done with the glory and the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts!

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