Our Misappropriated Exuberance

On a side note before I get going, Alan Keyes is one step closer to being the Illinois Republican Senate candidate.

The following is a generalization. I know their are spiritual people and churches that aren't like the stupid pelicans in the following story. On the other hand, I observe a lot of pseudo-spiritual people who are.

I don't know how closely you pay attention to the news, but there was a slightly funny, albeit disturbing, story I heard on NPR on the way home from work. In Arizona pelicans were mistaking the roads for lakes. A quote from the story reads, "They try to land on the water, but it's asphalt and it's 'Bam! That doesn't feel so good."

This story popped into my head yesterday. Sometimes I think we, as Christians, are like those Pelicans. We mistake some direction for God's will and dive in. When by doing so we cause more damage to ourselves and the church.

(Amos 5:21-24 NASB) "I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. {22} Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. {23} Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. {24} But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Israel's solemn assemblies, offerings, and songs were meaningless to God because they were substitutes for the things of God that really mattered, justice and righteousness. The church is guilty of the same sort of things. We substitute worship service for service projects. We place offering money in the plate while we are surrounded by people in need. We give lip-service to loving one another when our relationshps haven't gone past a Sunday morning handshake. We have forgotten love while we cling to our assemblies, our offerings and our songs. We are no better than the Israelites of the Old Testament who so often ignored God's will for their kingdom. If we're no better than them, then why should we expect God to accept ours?

The worship service and education at church should spur us on to serving our communities. They should not be acts that stand alone in themselves. Instead they seem to satisfy our need to feel spiritual.

The church should be the one heading up meeting needs in our community; however, we just continue on plugging all our money into various programs, curriculum materials, paid staff, and a building. I am in the wrong if I give to my church knowing that none of this money will be used to help people in need. But I feel I am also in the wrong if I take my offering money and decide where it goes myself. We need healthy churches that take the commandment to love in the New Testament more seriously than things that aren't even suggested, or if suggested are side issues.

The church should be the center of loving relationships. People outside the church should see us and notice our differences from the rest of society. "These people are friends, and it's not for anyone's selfish benefit. They truly love one another."

We're even worse than the pelicans. We haven't learned from smashing into the church and hurting ourselves. When we recover from the damage inflicted on ourselves, we just turn around and dive into the church again. We think that the results might change this time. Trying the same thing will usually produce the same result. The problem is the church isn't the water we are looking for. It's a road that wound us when we mistake it for the water.

The host, Doug Kaufmann, on Lindsay's favorite health television show, Your Health Matters, says, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." Benjamin Franklin also said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

The problem is we aren't learning. It wasn't in the newspiece, but I remember it from NPR. The pelicans who dove into the road and hurt themselves were better off in the long run. The Arizona highways they were diving into were over 200 miles away from where they would find food. The problem is that they would never find food or water in the middle of Arizona. The ones who dove in to the road were the lucky ones. They were fixed up and driven back to where they should be. Those who never injured themselves would wind up dying of lack of water and food.

We, in the church, are the same way. Many never get injured in the institutionalized church and, therefore, are never brought to a better alternative, a place of spiritual water and food. Sometimes I get a glimpse of the church in all its greatness, and it excites me like nothing else. A place of love, of growth, of righteousness. It is a group I want to be a part of. It's what God made us for. But then I come back to earth and see churches making side issues, main issues and throwing away what really matters.

If my church has the best praise team and worship service in town, but we do not have love, we have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if we have the best preachers, and have been educated adequately in the doctrines of the Christian faith; and if we have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, we are nothing. And if we have programs out the wazoo to feed the poor, and if we sacrifice our bodies to the point of tiredness in executing these programs, but do not have love, it profits us nothing. Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (A paraphrase of I Corinthians 13).

Disclaimer: I know there are many healthy traditional churches out there. There are many unhealthy non-traditional churches out there. There are few churches that focus on love. I am talking about churches that don't focus on love. We need to find churches that do and quit trying to find health in churches that don't.