Monday, March 23, 2009

Taking H and H Road

According to Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said: “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (TNIV).

We naturally take the wide roads, not the narrow ones. Jesus invites us to take the narrow road.

If I am taking a long trip south, I check the route on an Internet mapping program or on a GPS device. Every such program that I have used instructs me to take H and H Road, but I never do. H and H Road is almost directly across from my subdivision and it is definitely the shortest way to go if I am headed to points south. The problem is that the road is little more than a dirt path with ruts and holes and some pretty big puddles when it rains. Furthermore, H and H Road only trims maybe 1 or 2 tenths of a mile off the trip. So I take the nice, wide, hard surface Mount Pisgah Road instead taking H and H Road despite what the mapping programs and the GPS devices say.

I don’t know of anyone in my subdivision who routinely takes H and H Road. No sensible person would take that narrow road when there is a nice, easily accessible, wide road.

Jesus invites us to take H and H Road. The Lord invites us to travel the path that seems a strange choice to the prevailing notions of our culture.

Jesus told his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33). He told us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He said that, if someone strikes you on one cheek, don’t hit them back, just offer them the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). He told us to prize the lowly people of society rather that the prestigious people (Luke 14:12-14; Matthew 25:31-46). He said to give your shirt to the one who takes your coat (Matthew 5:39). He said to give to the one who asks you (Matthew 5:42), and to lend without expecting repayment (Luke 6:43). He said blessed are you who are poor, but woe to you who are rich (Luke 6:20; 24). He said blessed are you who are hungry, but woe to you who are well fed (Luke 6:21; 25). He said blessed are you when people hate you but woe to you when everyone speaks well of you (Luke 6:22; 26). He said blessed are you who weep now, but woe to you who laugh now (Luke 6:21; 25). He followed the path of the cross and he told his followers to take up their own crosses.

Do you see that following Jesus means taking H and H Road? He turns many of our values upside down. His teaching runs counter to the conventional wisdom of our society. Following him means being weird and most of us don’t want to be weird.

I guess that’s why we keep wandering over to the wide road.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The soul's disease and mere church attendance

In Untamed Hospitality by Elizabeth Newman, she describes the "inward/outward journey ... rooted in accountability and community disciplines" in The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. which is led by Gordon and Mary Cosby. The church requires that each member be involved in one of its "communal missions." Gordon Cosby said, "We try to make it as difficult for a person to merely attend our church as possible, because we feel this can be detrimental and contribute to the soul's disease rather than the soul's health."

When I read that line, I thought to myself, "In most Baptist churches we would love to get the members on our rolls merely attending."

How far most Baptist congregations stray from the fellowship ideal depicted in the New Testament. Acts 2:42 tells us that believers in the early church devoted themselves to mere attendance? No, "to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (TNIV). Furthermore, in the early church, "no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had" (Acts 3:32, TNIV). Surprisingly by today's standards, "there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need" (Acts 3:34-35, TNIV).

Yes, that does sound like a commitment far exceeding mere attendance. Yet many Baptist churches have members on roll that they haven't seen in some cases for years. We are more interested in stats than the New Testament notion of fellowship. Ironically, if we would just dedicate ourselves to the New Testament ideal of church involvement the stats would probably improve. But no matter what happens to the numbers we really must recover the New Testament ideal of fellowship.

Do we, in our neglect of genuine koinonia, contribute to the soul's disease rather to the soul's health?