If you didn't hear yesterday's message would you please take time to do so? It's important to the conversation we're having as a church. And it sets up things I need to say next.
Click here to watch the 25 minute version.
I had to say what I said because some of the things we have seen as essential to the practice of our faith simply didn't fare well under the shaking of the past year. The disruptions have been a test of our faith. But it's not only a test to see whether we will keep the faith. It's a test of the quality of our faith. It's a test to see if what we have built into our life survives the trials of life.
Some parts of our faith failed the test.
As I've watched Christians from various traditions and every walk of life respond to the disappointments of the past year, many have a faith that's pretty wobbly. It doesn't survive the shaking.
I don't mean that as condemnation, but as the grace of truth.
As human beings we're very resilient. When something falls over we stand it back up. When something falls apart we patch it back up. But some things shouldn't be stood back up. Some things shouldn't be patched back up.
And so I felt it necessary to name three things that should not be picked back up. At least, if you do pick it back up, let it be that you prayerfully considered the correction and determined that God wanted you to pick them back up.
To be clear, it's up to each of us to decide whether we do.
But I'm saying we shouldn't.
What do you think?
Did these things stay strong under the testing?
Did they fulfill their promise?
Were they elastic enough to not tear and strong enough to not shear?
And I guess the most telling question for any of us is this:
If anything about our faith failed the test, can we bear the thought of building something better that can't be shaken?
Again, listen to the whole teaching for understanding. But I'll tell you right now what the three things are. These were revealed by the shaking as not able to survive the shaking.
Now, I heard lots of amens on the first and second ones. I figured I would. And yet I'm sure some were offended. It may be that they heard me to say something I didn't say, or that they really do believe the first two are essential to our practice of the faith.
But the third one was pretty quiet. I expected it to be.
Let me clarify briefly for each of the three things. I want to make sure you know what I'm not saying, so that you can hear what I am saying.
1. I personally voted for the candidate whose policies most lined up with my moral convictions and fiscal sensibilities, and that's not what I mean by having "hope in earthly kingdoms."
I'm actively interested in politics, and have my own opinions about the next four years. I think it's good for Christians to be engaged wherever we have civil responsibility. That's not what I'm talking about when I say "hope in earthly kingdoms." We can participate in the political process without putting our hope in earthly kingdoms. But we must not put our hope in earthly solutions to address spiritual problems. We are already receiving an eternal kingdom. And it is not represented by any earthly kingdom even if there is a nominal association with it.
2. I believe God heals, and God provides, but not always.
Lazarus was raised to life the first time he died, but he wasn't the second time he died. We all die. That means that every single one of us will one day experience the finality of God's decision to not heal us of whatever fatality befalls us. (That is, if we're not still alive when he returns.)
God doesn't always heal. In fact, God always doesn't heal, at least once in our lives.
Likewise, the faith chapter (Hebrews 11) mentions heroes of the faith who went about destitute, living in caves, some of them never receiving what they earnestly believed for, and yet they are listed as exemplary of what it means to have faith.
God doesn't always provide the things we ask for.
So, I don't believe that when someone gets sick or dies or loses money, it is attributable to a lack of faith. And I'm sad at how this "prosperity gospel" has lulled so many Christians into an expectation that if we have enough faith we won't have to suffer for our faith. That's the exact opposite of what scripture says.
3. Buildings and programs serve a purpose, but they are not essential.
My family lives in a building, and has various "programs" that help us accomplish the things of being a family. We call the building a house, and our programs are jobs, and a budget, and schedules, and a commitment to mow the lawn regularly.
The house and programs serve a valuable purpose. But having a house is not essential to being a family. It's just helpful. If the house goes away, we are still family. If the jobs go away, we are still family. "For better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part."
When we consider this, it helps us to realize what it really means to be family. And it helps us to make better decisions about things like houses, jobs, budgets, schedules, and commitments.
It's the same with the church. Buildings and programs serve a purpose, but they are not essential. If the building goes away we are still church. If the programs go away we are still church.
Until we can openly consider this, and allow it as fully true in our thinking, we will make bad decisions about buildings and programs. But when we remember that without them we are still church, we will be able to make good decisions about buildings and programs.
I'd love to hear from you about any of the above three things, but I'm especially asking you to engage with me about the third one.
What fears and hopes do you have when you hear me talk about buildings and programs not being essential? I ask because three weeks ago I said that we were starting a conversation as a church about this. And I mean that. I want it to be a conversation.
If you weren't here for that annual meeting, or if you just want to be refreshed on it, email me and I'll send you a link to the video of it. This conversation affects who we are as a church, and what we attempt to do as a church. I'd hate to make such decisions without you in the conversation.
So, watch the video from yesterday, and comment below about any of the above. And yeah, I'll be saying more about this next week. :)
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.