"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Ten Degrees Off Center
mis-di-rect Function: transitive verb
1 : to give a wrong direction to
2 : to direct wrongly
3 : what the enemy wants Christian leaders to do
The dart bounces off of the little plastic part around the bullseye, falls flailing to the floor, and the game is lost.
I'm standing in my kitchen tossing darts into the laundry room. The boss (aka "dear lovely wife") declared long ago that my dart board could not find a home in any room she had decorated. That left the inside surface of the door to the laundry room bathroom, which works if you open that door just right and you stand one foot to the right of the refrigerator between it and the spice rack and throw the dart down the hall past the pantry.
But hey, darts are all about accuracy. It does make it a bit awkward for company though.
I go pick up the dart, and I am thinking that if the dart had been only the barest fraction of an inch to one side, it would have been a clean bullseye. As it was, it had tumbled to the floor and the shot was less than worthless.
Just a nudge, and it made all of the difference.
I was active in the church when the "charismatic" movement started sweeping through it. I was young and eager and fresh from the 60's Jesus movement, and the display of spiritual gifts was very enticing to me. I would go to services and see the most amazing things. I remember the first time I ever heard someone speak in tongues. I remember the first time I ever heard that done in an assembly setting, and hearing it followed by an interpretation. I remember the first time I ever heard a prophetic word uttered in church.
Problem was, that sort of thing is addictive. And I can certainly understand that.
The church I regularly attended was a pretty formal Presbyterian church, but even there the charismatics were making inroads. I remember the outrage some expressed when someone raised their hands in a church service one Sunday. I also remember the impact when some person delivered a "prophetic word" during a Presbyterian retreat at Montreat college. I use quotes because later I went back and checked that "word" and it had specified a time and place that something was supposed to happen. It didn't.
(Note: Some prophetic words are indeed from God. I have hosted a site dedicated to that for about eight years now, you can find it at Joel's Final Outpouring.)
Eventually, the charismatics and non charismatics split that church down the middle. Sorry, but you just can't convince me that this result was God's result. Why did this happen, why did so many good Christian men and women on both sides of the issue break their fellowship?
I could name fifty or a hundred instances just like that one. Probably so can you.
Did you know, if you took off in a plane in New York City to fly to Los Angeles, and its compass was only ten degrees off center, you would land in San Francisco?
A miss is a miss.
I look at the dart in my hand.
I saw something happen here in a church once that was excited and growing and reaching out to help the community. The pastor began teaching what he said was going to be a three Sunday series on "discipleship." But, in the first Sunday, he read the passage from Joshua book 7 where Achan hides treasure in his tent and God curses Israel, and concluded that the meaning of this passage was that all members of his congregation had to swear an oath to support his church.
My wife and I discussed it on the way home, and we both had grave reservations about doing so. We both felt that it would be a very misdirected pledge, but we would go back the next week to hear the second sermon, and make our minds up then.
In the second sermon, the pastor simply declared the same thing in stronger terms. He said the church would not grow and would be cursed if it was not "as one," still relying on his admittedly off-track interpretation of that passage.
Imagine our chagrin when he cut the "three part" series short at the end of the second sermon, and asked everyone who was willing to make this oath of following this church and his leadership to stand and affirm it, right then.
The entire room leapt to its feet. My wife and I were the only ones who remained seated.
It was a very uncomfortable moment. Fortunately we were in the back.
"You know what this means, don't you?" my wife said to me in the car on the way home. "We can never go back to that church. If we do, and something does not go right, they will blame us for that."
I agreed with her.
Ten degrees off center. Focusing on the church and not the Lord.
Several years ago I was in Niagara Falls Canada, and passed a street preacher on the sidewalk in front of one of the larger hotels. I usually take some time with folks like that, so I stopped and we talked.
It became very clear very quickly that his focus was not on Christianity, but on a specific doctrine taught by a specific person. In his view, every single other church on the entire planet was sending all of its members to hell.
What an incredibly fortunate thing for me to end up in his city, huh?
Well, it rather surprised him when I pulled my own Bible out of my back pocket and began to try to show him verses about love, and how it was such a vital part of our faith. He would have none of it, and began backing away from me on the street shouting something like "Abomination! Demon!"
Well, all I can do is try. Sadly, his little nine or ten year old daughter witnessed this. He has chosen this path, hopefully she will one day be rescued from it.
Because if you go just ten degrees off center, you'll miss the target altogether.
OK, so where am I going with all of this?
Here, for me, are the tests to make sure I am not gliding off to one side or the other.
1. To whom does something point? Is what I am doing giving credit to God, or only to me? This is key, because sometimes we can be tricked into thinking that our own efforts to make ourselves better are giving glory to God. If its your effort, pointing at you, it gives no glory to God at all.
2. This one is the key one. Is what I am doing an act of love? Now, by love I do not mean weepy yielding love that allows whatever doesn't hurt ("Oh, poor thing! It's OK, God and Allah are the same!"), and I also don't mean the "tough love" that is really just unadorned arrogance ("They said we would be hated and reviled, so if you hate me I am doing it right.") No, I mean the mature unself-centered love that is willing to silently sacrifice itself for others, the Love that Christ showed to us.
If what we do does not pass those two tests, the enemy has nudged us ten degrees off center, and we will miss the mark.
By these things examine thyself. By whose rules am I acting; in whose name; in whose strength; in whose glory? What faith, humility, self-denial, and love of God and to man have there been in all my actions?
Jackie Mason (1934 - )