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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.

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