The lesson of the wilderness

Bear with me on this. I may be trying to do more than I can.

Dan Dick wrote another excellent post about the obvious and simple things we in the United Methodist Church should be doing to move forward. As usual, his points are obvious but necessary because they have been generally ignored or overlooked. He writes about putting the focus on the wrong things and failing to do the right things. The post deserves to be read in full, so I’ll encourage you to go do that.

Dan’s post came to me this morning as I was reading an e-mail from a former candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church who has left the church and writes that he no longer has anything to do with Methodism. Among other things, he shared some observations about Christians.

We act as though the Holy Spirit is not truly present and active in the Church in a way that it isn’t in, say, Wal-Mart, the Sierra Club, or the Justin Bieber International Fan Club.

So many Christians are, for all practical purposes, deists. They say that God is real and they may believe it, but they act as though he’s not really ruling the Church, except in the most nominal way that Queen Elizabeth II “rules” Canada.

As I read Dan Dick’s blog, I thought of this e-mail.

Do we fail to do all these obvious things that would move the church forward because — in the end — too many of us are functional deists? We don’t actually believe God is powerfully at work in the world or the church, so we don’t place any real importance on doing the things that are required for the church to live out its mission.

We ignore evil. We let leave the lost to wander without lifting a finger. We make vows that everyone knows we will not keep. We talk about God, but we act as if he has no more influence in the life of the church than the Queen of England has in Canada.

And so Dan Dick is forced to write again and again about the blindingly obvious things we should do if we actually wanted or desired to be obedient to our God. Dan thinks our problem is that we are caught up in fear. I wonder if the real problem is that our fear is misplaced. We are afraid that our local congregation or denomination will falter and die. We are afraid of disagreement. We are afraid of changing our routines. Instead, we should fear God.

We should fear God not because he is mean or cruel, but because he actually is who the Bible says he is. He is the God beyond all human comprehension who came to live among us and draw us to himself. He is the God who burned the soaking offering at Mt. Carmel.

In the end, I wonder if the reason why we can’t get out of the wilderness our denomination has been wandering through for more than 40 years is because we have not yet learned to fear, to trust, and to love God more than our idols and the fleshpots of Egypt.