Yes, it has been a long time since a new post has appeared on this blog. A short break turns into a longer one without actually deciding to make it so. It just happens.
How many times do the unintentional things determine the courses we take, short and long term? It happens to persons, to families, to churches–even to nations. After all, did anyone in Congress set out on a mission to create the staggering debt with which the country is now saddled? It will all work out–it always does, right? So we can spend tomorrow’s prosperity on things we’d like to do and to have today. We wanted, admirably enough, to take care of the weakest among us; we wanted to assist the cause of freedom (whatever that is) in other lands, for other people than out own. So we created the welfare programs, sent spaceships into the heavens, devised new weapons and more efficient ways of deploying them–and all of them became goals in themselves, untethered from a singular vision of what a nation ought to be in the first place. But no one decided to let the means become the ends; it just happens. And we only notice this when the things we now must do interfere with the things we need to do if we are going to be what we set out to be in the first place.
We tell our children they need an education; and we’re right. But along the way we notice that there are barriers for some children in their attempts to attain the education they need. So we channel our efforts toward removing the barriers, only to find that we eventually erect so many more of them that we don’t know where the road is or where it was that we were going. We didn’t set out to do it; it just happened.
Churches are certainly not immune. We have become quite proficient at creating programs and events intended to meet the demands of serving Christ more effectively in the world. So the church(es) came up with things like sunday schools, youth retreats, which became camps and retreat centers, youth programs, mission societies, campmeetings, etc., etc. Each of these as well became an end unto itself. No one wanted it to go that way; it just happened.
Individually, we set goals for ourselves–or at least we have some idea of what sort of person we want to become. For the Christian, this of course has something to do with renewing the image of God in which we were all intended to live and which we are called to reflect. And we, too, have a remarkable tendency to get caught up in the activities that were thought to be instrumental in developing that character, sometimes to the extent that the activity itself becomes the goal. So we pride ourselves in having completed x number of years of daily readings of the scripture and going to God in prayer, of never missing sunday services except for serious illness, of giving a consistent percentage of our income to the work of the church, etc. We didn’t intend to focus on these as accomplishments in themselves, but sometimes it just happens.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. Keep in step with the Spirit. I know I need a lot of help in doing things this way; and I know that I am prone to resisting the assistance. Anyone else out there like that? The first thing we might want to do about it is to find more tools, but I don’t think that’s the answer. Anything but God’s own Holy spirit–not the things he uses, but the Spirit himself–can eventually become something that takes us from that kingdom focus. Perhaps we need to think more of being tools than of using them in our following of Christ. That would be retooling, I think.