Church is fantastic - Part 3
Heavy boots clumped across our nice new deck and the
ranchslider was wrenched open with a jerk that nearly lifted it off its tracks.
Big Carl stood framed in the opening.
But let's begin at the beginning.
It was one of our Thursdays. (Last night, to be prezact.)
And, in case you've forgotten, we have Open House on Thursdays. Anyone from
the village is welcome to drop in, eat our tucker. We've got the confounded
cheek to call it Church - because we are. (Aren't you? Yes or no. If
'no': get saved.)
And what do we do? Go to bed early if nobody turns up. Talk,
argue, put the world to rights, whatever. No programme, no hidden agenda, no
barrow-pushing - or maybe everyone pushes a low-key and interesting barrow or
two. A nice mix of believers and pagans.
Last night was something we'd been looking forward to. It's
close on a year since we returned from Israel - we're homesick for Jerusalem
already - and friends of ours, Jock and Moira, had just come back from their
first time in the Holy Land. So we intended to keep quiet and just enjoy
listening to their experiences.
But Big Carl had to march in.
There's nothing wrong with being a giant of a man with an
appetite like somebody starved him. Nothing wrong with a voice that rattles the
teacups and sends Lucy-our-hyperactive-huntaway scurrying for shelter.
But Big Carl belongs to a decidedly way-off cult and is
dogmatically evangelical about it. Believe it his way or else, style of thing.
Us two, we heaved a somewhat sad sigh and made another plate
of doorstep sammies. The evening was as good as ruined already. Except - we'd
reckoned without Jock, Moira and Someone with a sense of humour: God.
You see - Jock and Moira were unstoppable. They'd gone to
Israel just as our dear, caring, mummy-knows-best government issued a warning to
all Kiwis to avoid the Middle East like the plague. Yet in all their travels,
they never saw any action. Unless you count a few million lunatic motorists.
Unstoppable, like we said. (Jock and Moira, not the
motorists; please concentrate!) They'd done a tour, then spent four exhausting
weeks scrubbing toilets, tiled floors and dishes as volunteers.
Big Carl opened his oversize mouth at one point to argue.
Then closed it. Moira was explaining how the work, the boss, the heat, the
stairs had all gotten too much for her.
'That was it; I was quitting! There and then. But at that
point, God...' And she and Jock explained just how the Lord changed them. Not
the work, nor the boss and the heat. Them.
We were sitting where we could watch Big Carl. He was
actually smiling. Not thinking up some smart put-down. Simply enjoying
the reality of God in the lives of others.
There was more, much more. But you get the idea.
Then, this morning, we had to drop some equipment off at Big
Carl's place. Instead of listening to his hard-sell pitch for some funny
doctrine his cult teaches, we heard him say : 'Y'know, I think I've been
brainwashed by my group. Come in for a coffee and we'll talk it over.'
The transparent, spontaneous, far-from-perfect enthusiasm of
Jock and Moira for God, His land and His people, had cut all the cackle of
off-beam dogma and had reached into his heart.
Looking back at yesterday evening, it had been one big,
untidy, family-type party. No 'us and them', 'saints and sinners'
condescending division. When Jock and Moira chatted about God, they took it for
granted that we all - Big Carl included - knew whom they were talking about.
Right or wrong?
Conventional wisdom says that saints know God, sinners don't.
Not true. Not nohow. Have a few texts to chew on.
There's the much-abused one in Revelation 3:20: 'Behold I
stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open...'
Who's speaking? Jesus. Who's he speaking to? His Church.
And the little 'if' word implies that not every one of his people
hear and open. Oops!
Try another scripture. This time in John 1:9: 'He [Jesus]
is the true light that lightens every man who comes into the world.' Not some
men. Every man. Sure, that's not salvation. But it does mean that by
the time you get to say your piece into somebody's life, they've already
had something personally tailormade for them, courtesy of Father, Son and Holy
And you thought you got there first? Get real. Let's
explain the mechanism behind all this...
Forget the nonsense about liberty, democracy, human rights
and similar rhetoric. Those are myths. Twenty-first century fiction.
People understood reality better in the Middle Ages and
earlier. When kings, lords, chieftains ruled. Ordinary guys obeyed. End of
story. And everyone, kings included, knew that behind the social pecking order
were the real rulers, spirit rulers: Principalities, Powers, Thrones, Dominions.
Scripture lists them. These were the real movers and shakers.
And they didn't pack up and go home when elections came in.
When slaves were emancipated. When women got the vote.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus was a wee bit uninterested in
Roman Occupation? Or in the tragic fact of slavery? Or the burning (burning
what? Don't answer that.) question of women's lib? The answer may surprise
or offend you: he didn't want to be side-tracked by trivia.
The Son of God was dealing with the biggie: the rulership of
this ball of real estate and the ownership of every last Joe and Josephine who
strut their stuff thereupon.
We either belong to the Kingdom of Darkness or the Kingdom of
Sure, if you're a believer you know the theory behind this.
'You are not your own, you are bought with a price.' 'Delivered from the
Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved Son'. 'Bondslaves of
Christ'. There are a few hundred verses around that theme. Unfortunately...
...unfortunately we get all excited over the all-important
contest 'twixt Ms. Clark and Mr. English. Because they're in the papers and
on the box and put fliers in our junk mail, so they're real.
Whereas this Kingdom of Darkness business isn't very scientific,
is it! Or sensible! I mean to say! Just imagine how Paul
Holmes would give that wonderful smirk of his if you tried to explain on-camera
that there are, er, spiritual rulers who actually want to crush God's people.
In fact, we sympathise with folk who find it hard to remember
that there's a war on. We do, too. Just be aware that it's going to be made
a whole heap easier any moment now.
Because militant Islam is on the move. Count the number of 'incidents'
that involve Moslems. And know that the spiritual wickedness that nearly
conquered the western world has been awakened and is on the move.
May we teach you a chorus? It goes: 'When we've killed
the Saturday people, then we'll kill the Sunday people.'
It's a chant you can hear in Gaza. Along the West Bank. In
Iraq, Iran, North Africa. Wherever militant Islamists can express themselves
openly. And if the meaning of the words escapes you: the Saturday people are the
Jews, the Sunday people are the Christians. Get it?
So - back to how we started this article - when Big Carl saw
a glimpse of the Church yesterday, and something went boinng in his
spirit - that was more than God saving him from hell. Okay, that's part of the
package. But the here-and-now important feature is that Big Carl (or you, or we)
gets his ownership papers updated and transferred.
And - equally importantly - gets used to saying 'yes, Sir!'
to a new boss.
Getting saved isn't so we can sing songs to God. Or do any
other ritual. Getting saved is - or should be - the start of and expectation
that life from now on is an active involvement in a minutely detailed plan God
drew up before the Ages began.
He's directing the picture. Sure, it's an epic, with a
cast of millions. But the secret of a great film is that the crowd scenes aren't
just a bunch of third-rate unemployables yelling 'rhubarb, rhubarb' when the
cue cards are held up. Every actor, not just the centre-stage stars, has his or
her specialised part: the moves, the lines, right place, right time, that carry
the incredible story along to a breathtaking climax.
And it's the reality of those rôles, the normalcy,
the everydayness, that makes the difference between a lack-lustre made-for-tv
flop and a record-breaking blockbuster.
So what we're saying is that, if we've read the script
correctly, the next part is going to be a battle sequence. Okay, we're ready.
And so are you.
And even if those scenes are still a few years away, there's
drama, comedy, cameo rôles, adventure...
Like we say: Church is fantastic.