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Tuesday, September 23, 2008


As an update on my last post, my prediction of a prayer walk did not come to pass - glad to be wrong every now and then.  The prediction that someone would blame it on the supposed inroads we're making in the spiritual realm, on the other hand, was fulfilled.  Their solution?  Think Todd Bentley.

Although initially there was a lot of buzz about the Lakeland "revival", Pastor J wisely began to caution the congregation to not just accept everything being said and done there without question.  One thing that occasioned this was that someone in the congregation pointed out to him the whole "Emma the angel" thing.  Bentley was obsessed with angels: angel this, angel that, behind this bush and that bush, over and under everything.  He claimed frequent communication with and spiritual guidance from them.  Anyone could see that he was harping a bit too much on the angel thing.  But because the mantra of the day is, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," this nonsense - although frequently recognized as such - failed to stop people from following the Lakeland circus.  Moreover, Bentley's angelology has not been entirely ignored: the charismatics tried to salvage as much of it as possible.  Hence the new favorite topic at our church: angels!  Specifically guardian angels who must watch over the grounds of our church so that vandals can't attack it anymore.  These angels, who would seem to have been sleeping on the job for the 20 or so years I've been at this church, cannot be blamed for failing to do what they're supposed to: we forgot to invoke them to do their duty.  Although Pastor J wisely declined to answer the question of whether we're supposed to directly command angels to do their duty, others such as Bro. W spoke up publically and proclaimed their conviction that this is indeed what we're supposed to do.

Pastor J's sermon was all about angels and their duty to us as ministering spirits.  Another member initiated a conversation on our personal guardian angels stories, each of which featured a seemingly miraculous story of protection (usually car wrecks) but lacked an actual angel.  I found myself wondering why we can't just thank God for His providence, however He accomplishes His provision; why we have to envision angels in all those circumstances, putting their hands in between us and a steering wheel, keeping the other cars in the lane out of the way when we starting spinning, etc.  In the Bible, angels are usually visible if credited with doing something: if we are so convinced we are the recipients of a miracle and no angel appears to us, should we not just assume it's God Himself doing it?  Or is that not sensational enough?  Is God's providence really so much more cool or real if He uses invisible beings to work it out?  Well, angels are more fun to talk about than "God protected me," I suppose.  I'm trying to stay ambivalent on the issue of whether or not angels are actually doing things; my main point is that here again, I'm seeing the mindset of "a miracle a minute" plastered all over a healthy recognition of God's ordinary providence.  I am also sick of all this "angel" distraction.  This is an example of "being so heaven-minded that we're no earthly good."

So...no prayer walks.  But we have it on Bro. W's authority that angels are now stationed at every corner of the church grounds.  Dare I wonder if we would be having the vandalization problems if we had been ministering to the neighborhood for all the decades we've been situated there?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Works of the flesh

My church is situated in a somewhat seedy neighborhood.  Over the years, our church has had to deal with more than its share of breakins, resulting at least in busted windows and at most with the loss of expensive sound equipment (a keyboard and some wireless microphones, most notably).  Its membership does not reside in this neighborhood, but commutes from elsewhere. There have infrequently been surges of consciousness of the need for outreach in the area, but they don't last long: a bus ministry thrived for a good few months. The poor response from the community to our fledgling, toe-in-the-water efforts was attributed to our forcing things on God, working "in the flesh" à la Abraham and Hagar. Of course the major difference here is that Abraham was seeking to fulfill a promised blessing from God on his own, yet we were trying to be a blessing to others at our own expense using all the resources we have available - hardly a trifling distinction. Apparently we're supposed to wait for a "word of wisdom" or a prophecy before we know whether or not we should feed a hungry person.  Please don't breathe the concept of a "ministry" or anything like it: to these guys, you might as well be advocating converting the church to Roman Catholicicm (no offense - for me, that would be a welcome change).

Anyway, of late, I have been happy to see a resurgence of interest in meeting the needs of our community. Unfortunately, as has become typical in recent years, the leadership seems to think that supernatural methods of doing so can stand in for natural (read: practical) ways.  We've had a couple "prayer walks" through the neighborhood and, most recently, every Sunday we declare peace, prosperity, healing, a "spirit" of forgiveness, and a few other Candyland dreams over the neighborhood, convinced that this is going to effect change in the hearts of the people in the neighborhood, eliminate some recent vandalism, and perhaps drum up a little unction to do something.  Note that we don't pray for those things corporately; we declare them together: "We declare righteousness and peace for the neighborhood."  Feels like a cult of some sort incanting magic words.  For my part, I've half a mind to stand up and declare, "Listen up - I've got a word from the Lord: 'Inasmuch as you've done it to the least of these my brethren...'"  I mean, come on - if Jesus said it, we're pretty safe in saying it's a word from the Lord.  (Ever notice Jesus didn't get after the goats for not doing deliverance ministry to remove the spirits of sickness and imprisonment and whatnot?)

I just found out that, after our church just paid out the ying-yang replacing the copper tubing in our air conditioning units a couple weeks ago, the same druggies who stole the copper last time have taken the replacements this week, too. Apparently insurance pays for most of it, but the church has paid several hundred dollars in deductibles already, and it appears we will have to again. Pastor B bought some fencing for next time, but I have no confidence that will keep anyone out - they're dismantling the units and cutting out the copper, so I doubt a chain-link fence is going to keep them out.  When I hear about these things, I am reminded of the "declarations " we regularly make over the neighborhood and wonder how long it will take the church to tire of speaking into the air.

My prediction: this Sunday, a prayer walk will be announced. I also expect that some will try to convince others that the Almighty Devil is doing this because he's shaking in his boots over our church's "declarations".

Am I too cynical?  I hope not, but if so, it's come honestly: years of this kind of ineffectual talk of "power for the hour" has left me cold. I do believe in prayer and that we should ask God to guide us into doing things that please Him; we need His infinite wisdom and providence to pull anything off. At the same time, "God helps those who help themselves" carries some truth to it: knowing what we should do and asking for some wisdom in how to go about it is one thing, but ignoring the opportunities that He has dropped in our path because we're chanting and pacing around the neighborhood waiting on the angels and demons to hash it out in the heavenlies is tantamount to disobedience. Offering a cup of cold water in His name requires no special authorization.  Assuming supernatural solutions for our natural problems seems presumptuous and lazy. My church is afraid that taking practical measures is a lack of faith, whereas I see it more as a lack of faithfulness to our charge.