First, a confession. Here it is:
“I, William Jonathan Cole of Marshall, MI, without corrosion of any kind, and of my own freewill, did watch and enjoy the 1960’s television show, Speed Racer.” It first ran when I was 10 years old in 1966. I, and my brother Bob, were there for its full three seasons with bated breath for each of its 52 episodes. I must have seen each one 15 times. It’s embarrassing to say. I was just a kid. Stupid-city, I know, but true. Whew! Thanks. That’s a load off. I’m glad you were there for me. Some of those brain cells have since started to grow back. I’ve even begun to walk again. Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I truly believe that I’m going to make a full recovery.
While we are at it, I have another confession. I publish this blog on the 24th of every month. Last month, I missed that date. Some of that could maybe be excused. I went on a long vacation out east and simply could not get the article ready in time for publication before I left. But I’ve been back for over a week now, and all that time I have purposefully allowed my internet absence run a while longer. This time my continuing lateness was on purpose. Why?
In my series, I have been talking to you about problems in the American church. Today, I want to talk about faithfulness.
About five years ago, I was going to pull a fast one on my congregation, mischievous pastor that I am. I was soon to be preaching on the topic of faithfulness. Looking ahead to the morning of the message, I contemplated not arriving to church on time. Yes, me, its pastor. I was going to miss Sunday School all together and half of its worship service. That would get them talking. When I would, at long last, arrive during the preaching time (a few minutes late then too), I was going to show in my PJs with a cup of coffee and a plate of breakfast with me.
Why! For the congregation to see, in full regalia, slothful unfaithfulness on parade. That is what it looks like, folks, when expressed in a life. It’s unkempt and on no time schedule. It shows up when it shows up.
I wisely asked for board approval to pull my stunt. I still wasn’t saying that I was definitely going to do it. I just wanted their opinion, should I. They loved the idea. They gave me a clear go-ahead. I thought and prayed about it some more. In the end, I didn’t pull any shenanigans. I delivered the message conventionally. Why? It felt wrong; clever, but wrong. I do not want to be marked at all by unfaithfulness. At least not the purposefully kind. I did a little bit with this blog in the past couple of weeks. Let’s leave that as the closest I will ever come to proving my point. “Lord, help that prove true.”
Nothing works without faithfulness. Not this blog. Not a train schedule. Mail delivery. Calls to 9-1-1. NASA launches. Child rearing. High school football games. TV program lineups. Brain surgeries. Weddings, let alone whole marriages. If successful, they all require most detailed faithfulness, and steady handed loyalty.
Let’s pull out just one of my examples for examination: the high school football game. What if the other team didn’t arrive until three hours after the scheduled kickoff time, with no phone call as to any problem they had encountered? What if every visiting team did that? What if the concessions lady left her key to the Snack Shack at home and there happened to be no spares around? What if the parent volunteers scheduled to man the gate thought cleaning out their basement that night more important than coming to the game? What if half the players from the home team decided to go on dates with their girlfriends that night? “Hey, it’s Friday with the latest blockbuster movie in its premier weekend?” What if?
No challenger? Barely a home team? No concessions? Indeed, not even access into the stadium? Do you believe the local radio stations and newspapers would keep on covering such events? That is unfaithfulness’ testimony; it produces nothing, but barrenness, as much of an oxymoron as that is.
The only reason things don’t get that bad is because of faithful people. Did you hear that? I’ll say it again. The sole reason that Friday night high school football games, as well as all other such events, are not that bad is because there are enough faithful people around. Unfaithfulness only takes apart, dismantling everything it touches, like King Midas, only in reverse, golden things into common stuff.
A few years ago, a local school was having trouble rounding up enough girls for the fast approaching softball season. This is a true story. In recent years they had fallen on hard times with terrible problems getting girls even to show up for practices and games. The players would make every excuse. They were “sick” all the time. Out-of-town, real important visitors were in. You name it. Tired of their now famous namby-pamby reputation, the coach got this year’s lean roster together in their meeting room and laid down the law. It went something like this:
“It is my desire that our school produce a competitive team this year. We will play so many games. We are limited in the number of players available. The good news in that is, it means lots of playtime for everyone. We won’t be perfect, but with hard work and practice, we will improve. The fruit of our labors will start to show on the field. What I need from you is one thing: commitment. We haven’t been dedicated in the past couple of seasons and it has showed in our performance. Personally, I am sick and tired of lousy results. If we are going to field a team, I want it to be because each member of that team really wants to be here. So that’s what we’re going to do. I want each member to commit to the whole, ‘I will be at every practice. I won’t miss one. I’m going to work hard this year, doing my best. I will be committed to my fellow players. I want to be good coming out of the blocks and work from there at becoming even better, all year long.’”
“Quite frankly, if we don’t get that level of dedication, we’re not going to move forward with a team at all. Who’s in?”
That team did not “move forward.” They did not field a team that season. As to the vision that was cast, there were only a few takers. No one else wanted to be committed to the team to that extent, which, if you know anything at all about sports, is a rather basic, elementary level of commitment.
My question is, coming out that first day, the ten or so girls that showed up for the team meeting wanted what? It would be perfectly fine with most of them to really stink things up week after week? Did they just want to sport the cool caps? Did they want out early from the last class of the day on game days? Were they looking for a phony varsity letter to sew onto a bogus school jacket? What? They sure didn’t want the game of softball.
Nothing, not one single thing in all the whole wide world works adequately without faithfulness. It’s true. You know it and I know it. Everyone knows it. Why then is there so much unfaithfulness around? And please, tell me why does unfaithfulness rear its ugly head in something as fundamental to the human experience as our walk with God. I might understand your giving up on any sport, maybe you should. There is a proper place, time, and manner for such things. Some of our endeavors in life change in the course of time, but unfaithfulness to God, our Maker, emanating from those who fancy being called “true believers?” At that point, I am a bit confused.
That school dismantled their girls’ softball program that year. Why fake on? As far as Jesus Christ is concerned, if you are unfaithful, is that really what you think of Him? Less than an average softball coach who no longer wishes to tolerate subpar allegiance? Do you believe that He, Almighty God, has the stomach to hold in and swallow such dispassionate offerings? If so then you might want to take a look at Isaiah, chapter one, and all of the book of Malachi.
By the way, after a year of not playing, that team started up again the next season with a group of girls that did care about what they were doing. Soon they were hitting the ball in the slot, turning double plays, sliding into second, with people in the stands supporting their admirable efforts. Life on the ball diamond was fun again. Their uniforms were being ruined with grass stains once more, as is the intended use of all good uniforms.
So it is possible to turn around unfaithfulness. In the Bible, Peter did. The gospel writer, Mark, did it. Nineveh too. Horrible, awful, woeful King Manasseh did it. Do you struggle with loyalty to the things of God? You can do it too.
When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “faithfulness” is seventh virtue in, nestled warm between “goodness” and “gentleness.” 1 Timothy 3:11 says to be “faithful in all things.” In Matthew 25:21, the word finds its home right alongside getting the report that our lives were “well done” and the news that the quality of that performance was “good.” Faithfulness.
What are the root causes when we see the lack of it?
I believe that it is not complicated. It’s little more than the unwelcome appearance of that nasty ol’ mole who burrows about the yard of our hearts – apathy. Not caring. Disinterest or diverted interests. Lack of love.
Run away apathy seems to have our whole country, including Christ’s church, in a veritable strangle hold right now. Very little Holy Spirit air is being let in or out. In many situations, things are quite terminal.
But for the time being, let’s leave that be. I would prefer to mention the ones who are faithful to God, those who hold to His commands royally and loyally and gustily. These think of the words of God the same as what end stage COPD patients think about their oxygen tubes. Why do they carry in their hearts such esteem? Precisely because it is these same ones who are blown away by Christ’s presence, overcome by His goodness, grace, and glory.
For the next few moments, let’s relive the experience of driving down a dark country road late at night, no other cars around for miles. After a while, you come upon someone driving towards you in the oncoming lane with his brights on. This has happened to all of us. A common experience. How does that affect you? It depends.
Mostly, it depends on the make and model of the vehicle approaching, and the power of its headlamps. If it is a Nissan Kickapoo compact, it may not do anything to you at all. You might even wonder if those are his brights. “They look like they are on? Sort of wimpy for brights. Maybe it is just brighter regular headlights.” Hardly worth your notice at all.
But then, we’ve also been in that situation with a passing large pick-up truck with real brights on, from the Shekinah Headlight Company. You know the sort. It’s the kind of truck that the police like to commandeer when doing nighttime searches across dark fields, with row after row of headlights up and down the front of the vehicle.
I had this experience a few nights ago. It was dark. I was rolling along peacefully between the rumble strips, listening to soft music, when suddenly, lights appeared from around a bend. Finally, the whole monstrous vehicle came out. At first glance, the thought was, “Hey, that guy has his brights on.” When the vehicle got a little closer to me, my face began to go into a contorted squinting as I thought, “They sure are bright.” Then things really started to turn dramatic as the guy got closer still. All I could see was Sun. My eyes were nearly closed to its intensity, as I reached blindly for my own headlight controller. This so that I could hurriedly blink a message, ship-to-shore, by flipping my headlights on and off in that Morse code we all know: “Brights on. Disengage immediately.”
That failing, he continued towards me. Nearing the time when he’d actually pass me, it got so intense, my car was now filled with little else but white light as I reenacted some deleted scene from the film “Interstellar.” Moments before death, I reached out to hold the hands of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway so that we could all go out together. Moments before impact, I felt like confessing something, clearing my conscience, so with arms, torso, and space helmet shaking due to the stress of our spaceship being fatally sucked into some theory of Einstein’s, I turned to Anne and said in a rattling voice, “I . . . must . . . confess.”
“Whaaaat?” More noises sounded of windows and space helmet visors cracking.
“I’ve . . . seeeen . . . Princess Dairies 2 . . . 19 tiiiimes.”
“Ooooh?” Car bolts were right then unscrewing, themselves.
“I . . . looove . . . your early stuuuff.” Several heat shield tiles sheared right off from the side of my car.
Just when the squealing of outer space death reached its peak, with myself screaming my primordial end, suddenly, it – FLASH – all returned to its former serenity. I was back cruising in the midnight and all was quiet.
Catching my breath, I looked in my rear view mirror to see the bed of a matte black pickup and the sound of country music receding.
Another time when this happened to me, the light was so intense, I kid you not, by the time the guy had passed, I had near completely stopped my car on the roadway. I kept slowing it more and more as the oncoming truck approached, so that I would not hit him on the one side or a mailbox on the other. By the time he was alongside me, I had little sense as to where I was at all on the road, it was that severe.
I knew what had just happened, but still, I had to ask, “What in the world was that?”
Last week, we enjoyed communion at church. You probably did too. Did the meditative thought of the death of Jesus do that to you? What I just described? Was He magnified brighter, and brighter, then brighter still in your heart, as you contemplated again God’s love for you? Or did He pass you on the left with all the impact of a Nissan Kickapoo? Did the thought of Christ’s sacred death on your behalf blow you away, to a standstill, right there in church? Which is the average Sunday experience for you?
1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
It sure blows me away, I can tell you, every time. I believe that it is this which keeps me faithful. It is certainly is not the peerless virtues of wonderful Me that does it. Men are faithful to that which they deem intense; never to the mundane or subdued.
I am asking you to do a thoughtful, serious review of your spiritual life. With it, invite a heart change to anything that is substandard. By God’s Spirit, do this. Make it your aim to never be faithless again. Change that. Surely be faithless to Satan. These days, he could stand much more faithlessness to his causes. But please, I beseech you brethren, never, ever again, not one moment longer be blasé to the eternally worthy purposes of the Brilliant One.