A Powerless Church

Remember that old rhyme, “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers let him go. Eeny, meeny, miney, moe”? It’s kind of ridiculous, absurd, really. How could anyone catch a tiger by the toe? That’s just asking for trouble. Such a powerful and dangerous animal could never be captured so easily. The would-be captor would be immediately overpowered. “If he hollers”? A tiger’s roar can physically stun its prey, and then it’s all claws and teeth from there.

The church, majestic, powerful, and dangerous as it is, has indeed been caught up. We have been captured and imprisoned and robbed of our strength and power. There is no thundering roar in response, just a heavy sigh or a dull whimper as we muddle through another Sunday service, a long day at the soup kitchen, another boring Bible study, and another round of that popular, overplayed worship song or tired hymn.

We need to holler. We need to wake up, and see how far we’ve fallen (Revelation 2:5). We need to repent.

We are a people of systems. We want formulas and steps. We look to the Bible for “5 steps to a happier you,” or “7 keys to success.” We tend to work Christian service like a barter system where we do good to gain favor. We give to get. We are convinced that God has a specific plan for each of our lives and that we have to work hard so we don’t stray from it. We refuse God’s grace, and embrace, in practice, a works based theology. We need to repent.

Jesus gave an amazing illustration about what needs to happen in each of our lives. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). We need to die to become fruitful, but we just want to be fruitful. We want to “do things for God,” but God doesn’t need your help! He’s been doing just fine without you. Jesus invites us into his yoke; he doesn’t offer to join us in ours. We need to die to the sentiment of our own importance. Our need to accomplish tasks and achieve goals and make something of ourselves is holding us captive in a manufactured habitat. It might look good at a glance, but it’s not what we were made for.

We lack power and influence because we lack God. We have religion, tradition, and obedience. We have service, something we call worship, and, if your church is big enough, child-care. We have Bible studies and tons of information, but we lack the presence of God…or at least a life-changing awareness of God’s presence. He stands looking at us through the glass of our paddock and weeps at what we have become. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door…” (Revelation 3:20).

It may sound like I’m calling us all to abandon the corporate church. It may sound like I’m calling for the rejection of tradition and establishment and making a case for something like the emergent church movement. I’m not. The church, as an institution, can serve a very important function, but we need to challenge and change what we believe about the church. I am calling us to seek out and believe what Jesus called us to, rather than what we have built up around ourselves.

So, what are we to believe? As Jesus called us to repent and believe the good news, he didn’t call us to a new belief system. He hasn’t given us replacement traditions or a new system of form and style. We see no checklist of steps and keys to the abundant life we long for through the glass. He is not, in this simple verse, calling us to anything. What are we called to believe? Himself. Jesus is calling us to himself – the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is telling us to turn from ourselves, and that which we can manage, manipulate, and control, and believe on the person of Jesus.

It sounds so spiritual and useless, like when the Jedi Knights tell each other to “be mindful” of this or that. It sounds good, but does it really mean anything? Ask yourself, “Do I do this?” Have I turned away from my efforts and the familiarity of what I know and do and understand, and believed fully on who Jesus is? If you’re like me, you have to answer, “Not really.”

Jesus’ life declares Good News. What we live isn’t good news. What we live is the same old rat race that every heathen gets caught up in, but while they pursue treasures on earth, we claim to pursue something more … something that we acknowledge, in theory, cannot be obtained by works. How ironic … or hypocritical.

Grace has accomplished what you and I cannot. Grace offers us what we seek and sorely lack. The Good News is that the grace of God is made available to anyone who would simply acknowledge their need, and turn to look to God.

Believe the Good News, then. Believe that grace has won the day, that grace has made you who God intends for you to be, that grace has overcome your sin, and that grace is making you stronger, wiser, and whole. Believe that your salvation is a work of God, that he has made you acceptable, and not by anything you have done, but by his grace alone. Believe that your Father in heaven loves you, that he is doing what is best for you (even in the trying seasons), and that you have his unmerited favor. If you don’t believe the words of scripture, or of those who walk in faith beside you, then believe on God’s lavish provision! You have air to breath, sun and rain to nourish you. Every day you wake is a day full of opportunities and things to be thankful for—grace upon grace.

Repent, and believe the good news.

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