We switched to Summer PTs (physical training clothes) this week, so I ran all my stuff through the laundry and was preparing to pack it all away for the year. Then I got up this morning, and it was cold! I saw snowmen spontaneously forming out of the wellsprings of the earth. And then those snowmen turned to each other and complained about how cold it was.
Listening to Danny Kaye’s song The Emperor’s New Clothes, I’m imagining a modern version of the story. Due to a shortage of Emperors in our time, the ruler will have to be a president, and to make things safe, we’ll say that he’s the leader of a small nation with a wealth of natural resources, but little development.
In this new story, the hucksters will come selling a suit that is invisible, not to fools, but to bigots, racists, and other intolerant troglodytes. Everyone, not wanting to be called intolerant, will exclaim how amazing the suit is, except for the one little boy. At this point, though, nobody laughs at the president. Instead, we all come to a consensus that it is a terrible thing to have a nation so enlightened, and yet with one remaining intolerant person. A law is passed, the child is brought to court, and his family is fined out of house and home, and denied the right to practice their customary business.
The hucksters, of course, get honorary degrees, and a contract providing armor to the military.
Bat be rat got wings
All the children know that
But what I need to get to know from the Lord
Is how to get the wings on the cat
I am beginning to think that maybe I haven’t led my family well in prayer, because I haven’t led them well in Bible reading.
Thanks to Charles Ingalls, I have a new favorite hymn:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
And seize it with their eye.
When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thine armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.
All I wish now is that I had a proper recording of it.
Also, I want to be like this guy:
I just finished watching my free copy of The Incredibles, and I was thinking…
In a world where there are super villains, there will be super heroes. That’s just a scatterplot of the graph of ability and morality. But where there are no super powers, the villains will inevitably have a finger somewhere in government. The question is: where do the heroes go?
As we’ve been working through 1 Corinthians at church, our pastor has been pounding home just what it means to be the church – we are Christ’s body, God’s temple; if anyone destroys God’s temple, He will destroy them, etc – I’ve been reminded of a vision I once had. I went to look up the notes I’d written down, and discovered I had been a very bad writer indeed. So this is another attempt to say what I saw. (I say “vision” loosely. I had some pictures come to my mind as a kind of story. Those pictures have stayed with me over the years as a kind of tying together of some themes from scripture. They have been helpful for me to remember.) So:
I saw myself walking through a large mansion, with many floors and hallways stringing rooms in many directions, and I knew that this was the house that God was building, a temple not made by human hands. It was full of rooms, but not full of people, because every part of the house was made up of people – the foundation was Jesus Christ, and the walls and floors and ceilings were made up of the members of His church, each person tightly fitted to the next. The thing that struck me was that the house looked empty. The problem with a house made out of people is that there’s nobody in the house. Who is it for?
I saw that there was a steady flow of visitors to the house – people who were not part of the church. They would tour the rooms, see the architecture and the arrangement of the rooms, the fixtures, the lighting. For some it was like a tour of a museum, or a famous landmark – interesting, but not inspiring. And I thought to myself, that surely the house wasn’t meant for their benefit. Surely we are meant for something more than tourism! But there were others who were able to see more than that – something of God’s design for the world, a reflection of His glory. These people were overcome with awe at the splendor of what God was doing there., and they began giving themselves over to different rooms and walls until they laid down their lives completely and became a part of the building. And I saw that the house was intended for them, in the sense that they were brought there for the sake of the house.
Then I noticed that the air around me was flowing, not like the air of a fan, or the steady flow of a breeze, but the in and out of a bellows, or breathing. I looked around to see what was making the air flow like that, and I saw that the walls and floors were moving. The rooms were oddly shaped, with hardly any straight lines or regular angles, and the hallways connected everything in a kind of bewildering pattern. Each room was constantly changing. Some rooms were expanding and contracting, like giant lungs, which is what was causing the air to flow through the building. Some rooms were actively growing, dividing into new rooms, and changing function as the changed shape. Some rooms were even moving from one part of the house to another! Slowly it dawned on me that it wasn’t just the stones that were alive. The building as a whole was functioning as a living organism. The house itself was alive! Then I could see the house from the outside and saw that the building was slowly taking on the shape of a man, and I remembered what it says in Ephesians – “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man…”
Next, I saw that the entire house was shaken by a terrible earthquake. The ground shook with such force, that I was sure that the entire structure would be broken in half. Whole wings did collapse, and many rooms fell from a great height to be completely severed from the construction, but the building as a whole was not destroyed. However, the earthquake did start a fire that swept through every room, and it burned for a long time, because there was no system for fire suppression, and the rooms that had survived the earthquake were the ones that were most open to air movement throughout the building. When the dust had cleared and the fires had finally stopped, I saw that the house had changed dramatically. Instead of pristine, chiseled blocks, they were smoke blackened and scarred. Not one block was left untouched. They all had chips had broken off, and a network of cracks spidering through them. Dark ravine-like lines traveled the course of every block. The whole thing looked ready to crumble.
I was dismayed. It seemed completely pointless. What good was it to build a building with such character – a living building – only to subject it to earthquake and fire. There had been no attempt at all to protect the building from the dangers of natural disaster. In fact, it looked deliberate, which made the destruction of such value even more meaningless. Why would God do this to the living stones of His own dwelling place? It was awful! Then I heard a voice say,
But now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:26-29)
Slowly, my perspective was pulled back from the building, and as my view expanded, I saw something different. The house was now covered in a tight network of statues. Every wall was bas-relief; every pillar was a pose. Every floor and ceiling was covered in mosaic. It was as if the earthquake was the last “ting!”, breaking the plaster off a cast iron mold. God was building a house for himself, for his dwelling, according to His glory, and He wasn’t concerned about the impression He made on people who couldn’t see the whole picture.
“Ethan,” I say. “I don’t want to pick you up right now. I need to take a shower. I’m stinky.”
“Oh, stinky!” he says. And he takes my hand and begins walking me to the bathroom.
One of the honors my church has given me in the last few months is the privilege of writing study notes to go along with the Sunday Sermon. These notes are then available for use by home groups that meet throughout the week. We’ve been working through 1 Corinthians, and today I’m supposed to be working on the “how do you build on Paul’s foundation” part of chapter 3, but I’m stymied because of how hard this section pulls on my heartstrings. Build the church, man. That is what I am about.
Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
The second time I went to school to learn to be a minister was much better than the first. It was thicker, richer. And one of the first things that I realized was that my charismatic, independent, localized vision for the church was just too small. It didn’t even cover richness and breadth of the interconnected networks of secular society, and the church is greater than that.
Look, Nebuchadnezzar saw it. Daniel tells us his vision about the layered statue, with the golden head and clayey feet. The statue represented the governments of nations, and the stone which destroyed that statue was Jesus Christ. But what is the mountain that came from that stone, if it isn’t the church?
The shape of that mountain is important. It’s a single mountain that covers the entire earth. As I realized once in a conversation with some Mormon missionaries, it’s a single mountain, not a mountain range. So Daniel 2:” the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” No interruptions. That casts down any assertions that there was a true church, which stopped, and then an intermediate period with no church, or a false church, followed by a restored true church.
At the same time, the mountain is a good deal bigger than the statue. It’s a mountain, not a hill, so it’s taller than the statue, and it clearly covers more ground. I take that to mean that it lasts longer through the generations (hello? forever?), and that it touches more of society. Local congregations, private associations, friendships, national governments… all of these things, inasmuch as they are real and valid ways for people to relate to each other and work together and form a society, will be subsumed in the world-mountain that is the church.
All of it. I can’t read the news without my vision of the church getting bigger. I can’t read about economics without my vision of the church getting better. I can’t think about business, or logistics, or farming, without my vision of the church getting bigger.
And here’s Paul talking about building the church, like it’s all okay. Now, it’s not enough to be a component of God’s active retrofit of all of human civilization, he wants me (us) to build it. That’s exciting. It’s astounding. And it’s not too daunting, because as best I can tell, the church universal is still only made up of the church local. I build up the church by building up my church.
And, hey, look. I get to help build the church by writing review questions for a sermon about building the church. The challenge is following the sermon, and not the pictures in my head. (And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here…”) Talk about scope creep!
He was a good officer, always quick with a ready lie.