Friday, June 28, 2013

Once a Mighty Army. . .

"A pastor stands before his congregation, 
Once a mighty army for the Lord. 
But now he stares into the lifeless eyes, 
Believers leading carnal lives. 
He wonders what they're fighting for..."
(-Casting Crowns, Spirit Wind.)

       Sometimes it's tempting to be very nostalgic and dewy-eyed about the past. If only we could get back to the days when things were good and men were moral. If only we could rewind to the pre-Enlightenment days. If only we lived in the simple time of the early Church. If only. . . We seem to have a very idealistic --- and rather unrealistic --- theory that "back then" life was just good.

Well, not to burst anyone's bubble. But it wasn't.

Actually, the descent began way back in Genesis 3: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, an they knew that they were naked." That was when things started to get bad. That was when we had to leave the Garden. And the rest of the story is about God bringing us back. Sometimes it gets pretty messy.

The early Church, contrary to wishful thinking, was full of divisive, adulterous, jealous, deceitful, quarrelsome, selfish people. Just like it is today.

But still, despite everything I've just said, there was something different about them. We look back at them as men and women whom we should imitate. But, they were just desperate, fallen people. Like us. And they sinned. Like us. So where's the difference?

Well, I think the difference was, not in the sin itself, but in the response to sin. Earlier on, closer to Jesus's life on earth, closer to the Garden, closer to how life should be, they fought sin. "Watch and pray," Jesus told them. "So that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41.)

Now, sadly, I don't think that verse is true at all for the majority of typical American "Christians". Nowadays, the spirit isn't so willing. And the flesh is weaker than ever. We've been tricked into believing that we can be passive and Christ-followers, at the same time. If you follow God, you'll be healthy, wealthy, and wise, the preachers say, preaching the prosperity gospel. No matter what you do, God won't get angry with you. Because God loves you,  just the way you are. 

. . . I'd like to know what those prosperity gospel proclaimers have to say about Job.

Yes, He does love His children. He loves us so much that He won't let us stay the way we are. And we shouldn't want to stay the way we are. That's like wanting to act like a baby forever, only drinking milk, crying to get what you want, making messes and not cleaning them up. I think that's what we have on our hands today - many, many grown-up people who want to pretend that they're babies.

Whereas, in the early Church, they sinned, but they also resisted the sin. They knew temptations would come, but they believed that God is faithful. They believed that He would never let them be tempted beyond what they could bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). They grew up in their faith, instead of sitting there, stagnant. Part of this maturing had to do with trials. In America we have it so easy that we don't even know how easy we have it. In one way, I'm extremely thankful. But at the same time --- we don't have any guarantee that things will always stay easy. And I sometimes wonder what would happen if we did go through some real tests on our faith. How would I respond? . . . How would you respond?

Have we become a multitude of lifeless eyes? What's happened to the army? Well, all that's really left now is the remains; the skeletons; people who aren't motivated enough to resist.

That's why it might be the most important job in the world to raise up the next generations in the way that they should go. That training can be the ultimate evangelism. Fill them to the brim with Truth, Goodness, Beauty. . . and laughter.  Remind them over and over and over again what they're fighting for. Make them dangerous.


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