Starving at the Banquet

I think one of the most tragic aspects of Christianity in this nation and modern society is that while church attendance may be dwindling, there are so many people who attend the services but get nothing from them. Why is that?

It’s so sad that people go to church to fulfill some duty, moral obligation, etc., and they leave exactly the same way as they were when they came. What God has placed before us, in this age, is a feast, a banquet, and we ignore everything he’s placed before us and live like empty husks.

We have powerful speakers, stunning music, amazing works of spiritual thought, the Bible, fellowship, etc., and we are so busy looking at our watches, wondering what we will fix for dinner, thinking about the next work week and what the kids will need for school, we totally sit there starving our spirits in the midst of God’s gracious bounty. He is offering us abundant life and we run past it on our way to a football game.

God longs for each and every one of us. He loves us so much he gave His only Son to die for our sins, and we sin in church itself by not taking what he offers. His spirit weeps over service after service, calling out for people to open up their hearts, minds and spirits to His leading, but we turn away or sit in the pews like wooden statues, not letting Him in, building brick walls around our hearts because we are much too smart to need Him. Is that it? Do we think we can handle life just fine without Him? Are we so busy trying to keep control of all of the mad, whirring plates spinning in our lives that we don’t see that He is still in control and that we don’t always have to be?

Won’t we let him fill us? Open up your spiritual mouths and feed, I pray. Listen to the gentle Jesus calling, weeping over you that he longs to gather you as a hen her chicks, but you won’t let him.

While our bodies may look healthy and plump, our spirits are dying. Listen to them as they cry out for nourishment. They are starving right in the middle of the banquet hall! No wonder we are weak. No wonder we feel lonely, afraid, sad and lethargic! We are starving our souls. We are letting them waste away when everything we need is right before us!

Don’t let another moment go by without taking some of the rich fare God offers out of his gracious bounty. He loves you. He wants you to feast and be strong because He needs you. There are people who are trapped in darkness and we need to shine a light, but how can we do that if our spirits are too weak to carry that torch? Why do we, as Christians, look just the same as the rest of the world? Because they have empty spirits and so do we. But that can change and it must.

Hear the calling of your God today. Open up and feast. Feast on his goodness before you waste away. Your spirit will thank you.

Our Dry Bones

We’ve just finished observing Pentecost Sunday. We wore our red clothes and talked about the Holy Spirit. We read Acts, where we’re told the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the disciples in the Upper Room. We read how they were able, upon being filled, to speak all of the languages of the people who had gathered nearby from all over the known world. It’s an exciting story and it’s often designated as the birth of the Church.

Our pastor also spoke about the story in Ezekiel where the Lord showed the prophet a valley of dry bones, told him to prophesy to the bones and caused a wind to enter into the bodies and brought them to life. In Ezekiel 37:14 it says (and God is speaking): “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…”

It struck me that our nation and the church in the U.S. is full of dry bones. I got the picture during the sermon. And, the reason it is full of dry bones is that we have forgotten and ignored the breath of God – His Spirit. And, it seems to me, we shun the Spirit willfully.

In my heart, I feel that we are too afraid of what the Spirit will do, and how He will lead us if we follow Him. He is at work in our country, but, I fear He has very few cooperating with Him to accomplish His purposes. We are afraid that the Holy Spirit will not stay in the boxes we want to put him in. All we want from him are good, warm feelings when we hear a sermon or a song that moves us. That’s about it, it seems.

But, what if He is doing a new thing? What if He leads us to repent of things we don’t even recognize as sins? What if He leads us to reach out to “those people?”

What if I told you, that while the mainstream church seems to be shrinking in size, that more and more lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people are identifying themselves as Christian? In a story from The Advocate, it says that 48% of LGB people identify themselves as Christian, up from 42% just two years ago, even while the American population who identify as Christians is declining? Could it be that the Holy Spirit is at work among people that the mainstream Church largely ignores or even condemns? But, do we remember that when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Gentiles for the first time that it caused quite a stir in the early church?

Peter was challenged by a vision in which he was told to eat items that were, by Jewish law, unclean. He was told, by God, to kill and eat what he had considered to be unclean. But, God said to him, in Acts 10:15 “what God has declared clean, you must not call profane.” That lesson was shown to him three times before he was ready to accept it.

Then, the Spirit told him that three men were coming to visit him, and he was to go with them. They had been sent to take him to Cornelius, a righteous Gentile and centurion. Peter obeyed. Peter began to preach to Cornelius about Jesus, and as he spoke, the Spirit came and fell upon all who heard that word. And, that entire household was baptized. Later, Peter had to explain himself to the Church at Jerusalem when they asked him why he went to the house of uncircumcised people and eat with them. Peter told them of his vision and how the Spirit fell upon them. He said he remembered the word of God when it was said that John baptized with water, but now people would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Then, in Chapter 11, verses 17 and 18, it says, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Do you know that there is a Gay Christian Network? Do you know they have conferences and at those meetings, the Holy Spirit is clearly present?

So, I ask you, if God grants people that many Christians designate as unclean, His Spirit, how can we hinder God’s work among them? If the Holy Spirit is leading and bringing more and more gay folks into His kingdom, who are we to deny them?

But, that is just one way the Spirit might be leading us in new ways, that if we ignore, we are in danger of becoming dry bones. There may be many other new works he is doing that we might miss if we refuse to open ourselves up to His leading in the world today.

When God’s Spirit led Peter to eat food that had been considered unclean before, he was pushing Peter outside of his box, or comfort zone. When Jesus came, he too stirred controversy amongst the devout because He revealed that God is not content to live inside the boxes that “righteous” people put him in. Jesus flew in the face of the pious’ Sabbath rules, He circumvented the laws of Moses about how to deal with enemies, what adultery is, and even about tithing. He was speaking with authority that just following rules, without loving God or people, was empty and dry as dust. He called the Pharisees white-washed tombstones, that looked good on the outside, but inside were full of dead men’s bones. Are we like them? Do we want to be?

God is not in the business of keeping us comfortable. He is in the business of radically changing us and the world. He’d not in the business of endorsing our narrow views, or righteous rules. He’s in the business of changing hearts and lives. He is love, and love will not be contained.

Are we willing to let the Spirit breathe new life into our old bones or do we want to keep lying in a heap on the valley of decision until we blow away to nothing? Do we want to follow Jesus, or do we want to follow religious leaders who tell us what to think? Do we want to let the Spirit guide us, or are we getting our guidance from 24-hour news’ shows and pundits? Is there room in our hearts for the Spirit, or is He crowded out by anger toward perceived enemies?

All I know is that the Spirit has led me, step by step, in a way I wasn’t sure I wanted to go either – and it was the way of showing people who were outside of the Church, that God loves them and wants to be their friend. Who are we to fight against what God tells us to do? Open up your mind and heart to the leading of the Spirit and look around you to see who is there around you that needs to know that God loves them? Have we forgotten the commission to make disciples? Have we turned away from what we consider unclean, while all the while the Spirit is there ministering and we are missing it?

Come to life. Let the Spirit reign in your hearts, if you call yourselves Christian. Don’t be afraid to follow Him to places that your human limitations would tell you are out of bounds. God is at work. Will you be a part of that? I pray we will wake up. I don’t want to be a part of the bone heap. I am excited about the way the Spirit is working in the world today.