Barb and I just got back from Zimbabwe. I traveled there with three women and while there I was usually accompanied by four women...I learned things like how to say, “He/she is such a sweet person.” “What a wonderful person ____ is. Just wonderful.” I learned every place you go you should take pictures...even if you have been there hundreds of times before...be quiet and take the picture. I learned a lot...and did not talk much. No room in the inn.
Enough whining, it was a great trip built around much praying. Lot of praying...at any time...in any place. Pray. Now! Awesome, really.
Now Barb has a thing about rhinos...pictures of them...carvings of them...statues of them. Rhinos...she looked for them everywhere we went...and bought a lot of them. It is my fault she has fallen in love with the rhino...not because of my body type. A few years back I did a sermon series titled, “Crashing into___” I read a book written by Erwin McManus titled, “The Barbarian Way” and in the book he talks about a trip to the San Diego Zoo he took with his children. At the zoo they would give you the names of what a group of animals were called. Dolphins are a pod. Flamingo are a Flamboyance. My personal favorite...buzzards are a Committee. So the chapter goes until he comes to the Rhino. A herd of Rhino is called a Crash...yep a Crash. Why you ask? Thanks for asking. Well, a rhino can run up to 30 MPH but can only see about thirty feet out. Hence the name crash...if you or something else is out about 31 feet by the time they see you...crash!
So why does she love rhinos so much or what does she get from that image? Why did I title a sermon series “Crashin‘ Into___”? For me and Barb the image of the rhino running that fast and seeing so little in front of them is a great description of the kingdom of God crashing into the kingdom of darkness. Both John the Baptist and Jesus came on the scene proclaiming the kingdom of God coming...now...and in the future. This was not a timid statement with a lot of religious connotations stuck to it. It was a declaration...of war. What happened as Jesus declared the presence of the kingdom? The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame run...the captives chains are broken...the poor hear the good news. Darkness was pushed back...the religious became uncomfortable...those living in shame were lifted up.
Jesus gives a model prayer to pray...”Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matt.6:9-15
We have tamed this down a bit by repetition but this little prayer is another declaration of war...against the ruler of this age. Christianity has been tamed a bit...well quite a bit I think. What was once a radical call to follow Jesus and live our lives counter to culture has adapted to culture. The group that once offered healing and help now entertains and hides the power in the back room...kind of embarrassing those emotional, charismatic type. In much of the world people die for naming the name of Christ...here we fight to be popular...liked...accepted. Kind of interesting Jesus told His guys they would be hated like He was hated...and yet we fight to be accepted and liked. To be seen as accepting and tolerant...and then the biggest...to be seen as cool. Sigh...
So on our trip to Zimbabwe our team went to a game preserve where we could see elephants, giraffes, lion’s and rhino. Yep rhino...Barb was excited for sure. Well, we found the rhino and they came right up to our trailer where we were seated. I was getting kind of nervous...wouldn’t you? That big powerful animal coming right up to you...then I noticed they were being guided towards us...by skinny guys with sticks. Then the guide fed them some sweet mix of grains. Then...then Barb fed them. Are you kidding me...these beasts eating out of her hand and she is petting them on the head. What!!!!???? They were tamed...gentle. It was nice to be close to them for sure but is this how it is supposed to be? Something felt wrong...really wrong. Don’t get me wrong it was fun....but still.
Later as we left the thought started coming to me...just like we see the rhino as the kingdom of God crashing into the kingdom of darkness with the Church leading the way, this picture of tamed rhino reminded me of the church. What was once powerful filled with surprise and even chaos has been tamed. Where we once ran full speed with our eyes fixed on Jesus...the author and perfecter of our faith, we now take our cues from culture. What once ran into culture, in the opposite direction now drifts slowly, peacefully along with it. We once said give us our daily bread...like we could only see thirty feet in front now needs five year plans and CEO’s at the helms of corporations meetings budgets and projections. Acts says, “ Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” Acts 5:11+13 Well in many cases no one wants to join us but we are not highly regarded either.
Sure it was fun seeing tame rhinos...but not scary...and not impressive either. It would have been much more fun and intense if we had caught a glimpse of one knowing at any moment he could turn on us and chaos would ensue. His power unleashed and untethered, loose to explode at any moment. Your heart rate goes up...an encounter that could be life changing...or even ending!
I was talking with some friends the other day and I told them, “I don’t think church should be safe...from God...maybe from strange people...but God needs to be free to get their attention.” The taming of the rhinos is kind of a sad thing...but the taming of the church is even sadder. We are moving in fear...afraid culture won’t like us anymore. Some of our own super stars are pushing us to make peace with culture...to stop living counter cultural but adapt to it. Take the message of the kingdom and tone it down a bit...change it where needed. Take sections of scripture that makes us uncomfortable and explain away...or just ignore because they are offensive to many. Inside and out of the church.
I just celebrated another birthday recently and I realize I may be running out of birthdays soon...well at least I know I am way past middle age...unless I live to be 124. I know my days being a pastor of my church family could be winding down...and I have decided...along with Barb...we refuse to turn over a tame, calm church over to our successor...it won’t be a likable, easy going group looking for hand outs and just trying to be liked by everyone. We refuse to drift with culture enjoying the sights as we go...we will swim upstream, against the current. We will embrace the power and the chaos of the power of the kingdom breaking in. We are not going to feed the rhino from our hand, we are going to hop on the back of one of those crazy animals running 30 MPH knowing they cannot see where they are heading but knowing no one is going to stop it. I cannot imagine when Jesus said, “Behold the kingdom of God is here.” He saw what we see now...a Sunday morning product, rehearsed and perfected, with lights and smoke. I cannot imagine when Peter stood up on that Pentecost morning, he could envision services that would last less than an hour...parking lot attendants...an order of service. That one day we would look at the gifts of the Spirit and say, “Deny not, seek not.” That would have driven Peter back to fishing for sure. Many of our places cannot relate to “Silver and Gold we don’t have.” Lots of that around for buildings and such...but neither can we say “Stand up and walk!”
Enough for today...but you get my point...my loooong point. I may design a new bumper sticker...”Free the Kingdom of God”
PS...You thought I was done didn’t you? So did I. I remember on our motor cycle trip to Sturgis how we stopped in one of the National Parks. As we rode along a large herd of Buffalo began crossing the road and walking close by. Now these animals are not tame or use to people. They are angry and crabby...kind of like me I guess:) We sat there close to a baby with the dad coming up from behind...he began snorting and looking at us. The idea of trying to feed him and make friends with him never crossed my mind. I was looking for an escape route...my heart rate picked up...I knew at any moment this calm picture taking opportunity could get crazy real quick. Totally different than my rhino experience...and many of my church experiences! But it was memorable...