A Stick & A Grapefruit: Today’s Church

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We all walk this planet, some of us better than others. When it rains we all get wet. When it snows we all get stuck inside. Death chases us all, mosquitoes are the only real vampires and everyone thinks their region has the most unpredictable weather. Pain and sorrow cling to us like polyester after its been in the dryer. When a boy band breaks up we all celebrate while hoping no one knows we secretly used to sing their songs at the top of our lungs as we commuted to our very professional jobs. Life is this beautiful mess that seems objective in its mess and subjective in its beauty. But there in lies its purpose. Our walking this planet is less about the mess and more about the beauty, and everyone’s journey is different.

If our search for beauty is genuine we inevitably find the source of the stream from which beauty flows through the messes of our lives. If we are smart we chase that stream through every mess of our life, striving to always drink of its water and eat of the fruit it bears along the way.The journey of Christianity is much like the chasing of this stream. It’s a journey to find the source of pleasure and delight in this life that satisfies, empowers, and transforms our lives. Making them look less like the messes of this world and more like the trickle of the stream, carrying all that is worth living in this life.

The journey of Christianity is about Jesus. The stream we are chasing is His blood and the banks of that stream are His veins that flow through every mess and season of this life straight to His heart. The path He has made for the stream is unpredictable. One day you follow this stream and realize it runs underground requiring more than your eyes to track where it resurfaces. Other days you follow it to a hungry black bear looking for food. Just as you spot him, he spots you. You wonder if you are as fast as you are tasty. Some days the stream offers giant pools to jump into. Allowing you to bask in the joy of its nourishment. Other days it’s barely a trickle and you have to stick your lips to the ground to get just enough for a sip. No day is alike.

Presently Christians have a problem in their pursuit of this stream. The problem is not its unpredictability, but when its believers stop becoming what the stream makes them, and start trying to make their own stream. They dig their own man made pools to jump into. They put up dams, trying direct the water where they want it to go. They make their own journey and end up as lost as they were before they found the stream. What’s worse is they begin to actually think the stream they have made replaces and in some ways has evolved to be better than the original.

Christianity in our time is in danger. Not an aliens invading from outer space type danger. But I fear the danger in Christianity today is that those on the inside have become as lost as those on the outside. We’ve turned love into discipline, faith into creed and evangelism into marketing campaigns. We forgot not just what this is about, but Who this is about. We’ve exchanged the community of Faith for a country club and Jesus for an institution. We’ve built the church to memorialize great men and their social and religious achievements. We do this even while knowing their greatness was a gift from the only Man deserving to be memorialized.  

We in the church, Christians in this modern age, have lost the beauty and duty of delight that makes us stream followers. We have forgotten the wonder of our salvation. The joy of our broken hearts becoming transformed by worship. The passion of being like those disciples who cast their livelihoods aside to follow Jesus. We’ve forgotten the peace of having a heart that is satisfied when we lay in bed at night. The beauty of sharing the truth of Jesus and watching it take someone from pain to life. Because many of these things are lost we don’t love or live the way we were intended to.

Christianity is in danger because we have labored for too long to make it in our image instead of letting it transform us into its (His) image. Christianity isn’t a way of life, it’s life as we were created by The Creator to live. It isn’t an institution that we strive to keep afloat, it’s God’s institution that we either remain a part of or leave to build our own lesser institution. Which is much like going to a Major League baseball game, setting up outside the stadium and trying to sell tickets for people to watch you play by yourself with a stick and grapefruit. While that may have entertainment value, it leaves the players and the watchers longing for something more.

Many have pointed to the causes for the dangers facing the church and many of us have spent the last decade fretting over possible solutions. While the church has done so well in so many areas, and we all know so many Godly loving leaders, there are many pastors, leaders, teachers et al who have created some of the dangers by being manipulative and abusive. Many Christians have contributed by being hurtful in their zeal to please God and hypocritical in their love for others. The church has mostly been behind in the practical aspects of cultural relevance and lost in their understanding how to serve and not judge this enigma of a generation. Yet NONE, not some, of those things are the issue nor the reason the church is in danger.

The issue is that we’ve forgotten the lesson that Martha learned when Jesus reminded her of the importance of the stream.

The story of Jesus coming to Mary and Martha’s house is fairly well known. Jesus comes to the house of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (yes the former dead guy). Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus receiving in admiration. Martha is in the kitchen preparing food and frantically trying to make everyone feel welcome. She works herself into such a frenzy that she interrupts Jesus and tells him to make Mary get up and serve with her. The famous line from Jesus comes with what I picture as tender inflection “Martha Martha you are anxious and troubled about many things, but One Thing is necessary.”

The church in our time is facing many issues, and many of them are as important as it was for Martha to want to serve the Son of God in her house. However, Martha missed the point as we do today. We have forgotten the “One Thing” that is needed. We have become so busy being anxious and troubled about our culture and its love or hatred of the church that we’ve neglected the Son of God sitting in our living room, offering us the solutions to all that makes us anxious and troubled.

It’s the stream we were created to follow; it’s the one thing needed. When we are in pursuit of the life of Christ and we feed our hearts on His stream, we become less hypocritical. When we feed ourselves on His stream, we find tenderness in our presentations of His truth. We find courage to stand in the face of persecution. Most importantly, when we feed ourselves on His stream we are awakened to the peace that it’s about Him and not us. He becomes our source and our message.

Christianity isn’t about us. It isn’t something we have made. It’s testimony of Jesus and something the Holy Spirit is committed to establishing in the hearts of anyone who will receive. It’s the story of a loving God separating us from a fallen world. The church will be victorious because Jesus is determined to make it so. My question to us in this hour of Christian history is here in this run-on sentence: How long are we going to anxiously labor to make ourselves look like the fallen world we were saved from, while neglecting the answer for that world sitting in the living room of our hearts?

One thing is needed. Chase the stream.