Idioms of staleness.
Colorful, expressive language often depicts the condition of staleness. In food it usually means tasteless or old, the absence of being fresh, crusty and flavorless. In people or organizations it may be more about function---the inability to accomplish something intended because it's no longer new, interesting, or exciting. Stale can be something out of date, or an activity that is repeated so often that meaning or purpose is lost. Something stale can seem futile, without value, or energy. To top it all off, stale people or activities may be boring.
Results oriented people can scarcely stomach this kind of stale. We've invented dozens of axioms and idioms as word pictures of useless activity. Running in circles, taking a fast train to no-where, running the treadmill, going no-where fast, doing the same ol' same ol', chasing our tails, moving in a trance, flying on auto-pilot, operating on cruise control, coasting, living in a rut, and many more express the sense of aimlessness that overlays life when things go stale. It happens in careers, relationships, marriage, education, and just about any human environment. Even faith and the disciplines that develop us spiritually can become routine, movements we accomplish by rote, automatons of scripted practice. Shoot, www.powerthesaurus.org lists 1,057 synonyms for "stale". Click here if you'd like to freshen up your stale language.
The New Testament warned about this kind of faith. Paul wrote to the churches about empty philosophies, endless conversation, and meaningless discussion of so-called first century knowledge. Jesus spoke about blind guides, falling in pits, and the useless rituals of legalistic religion and show-piece movement accomplished only for the fulfillment of human traditions. Over and over they taught the dynamics of this new life, the spiritual fervency of a relationship with Christ, and the power that attended the proclamation of the gospel. Even as the first century church experienced hardship, persecution, men being sawed in half, death, and the ridicule of others, there were notes of rejoicing, spiritual vitality, and genuine celebration. The Greek pantheon, Roman emperor worship, pagan magic, and lofted philosophies were portrayed as the fast tracks to no-where, the metrics of lame faith. Faith in Jesus was an invitation to life---living bread, living water, the living Word, and life eternal for those who believe.
So, how does it become stale, this living Gospel? Well, out front, know it is not about the Gospel, the Lord, the idea of the church, the movement of grace, or the power of Christ to change even me. It's stale because humans grow weary in well doing, because we love to find a comfort zone and lock into it, because we allow this wonderful miracle of Christ in us to become routine. It has certainly happened before. Isaiah the prophet wrote, "This people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13). Stale people offered stale worship that then translated to stale living, stale mission, etc. . And, it gets us no-where, spiritually, fast.
Church pastors and leaders must declare the full counsel of God and position God's people to break out of the man-made traditions that so often put us on the mission treadmill. I always challenged our worship and mission leaders to place something in front of God's people every week to spring us from the comfort zones of repetitive words, predictable orders of worship, and to introduce truly spiritual elements of Scripture reading, prayer, musical interludes, and even media to inject a fresh spirit into our worship, teaching, and mission ministries. Even in preaching I tried to deliver the truth of his Word passionately, seasoning the message with fresh illustrations and accompanying material. The gospel is fresh indeed, and the assignment to touch the world with it too. But, it must ignite the leaders first. That would be me and you.
Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard illustrated the dynamics of mission positioning through a vivid description of worship. He said that humans typically see worship as a stage production. The worship leaders are the performers, the congregation is the audience, and God is the prompter. Of course, he reversed them to portray God as the audience, the congregation as the performers, and the worship leaders as the prompters. In the same way, these positions are more profound when applied more broadly to the mission of the church, the outreach, serving components, teaching, and disciple-making, to mention a few. Living it out in this manner insures proper positioning, and therefore serves as a conduit to the fresh presence of Christ in what we do.
He didn't send us here to spin our wheels. Certainly there are seasons of waiting, times for endurance, moments of steadfastness, doing what he told us until he tells us something new. But, there's purpose and meaning in this making disciples enterprise. And, when it's fresh, there's traction, and an idiom exchange---putting the pedal to the metal, what my grandmother said about me having ants in my pants (don't go there), getting there with bells on, bouncing off the wall, chomping at the bit, bright eyed and bushy tailed, going the extra mile (see Matthew 5:41 about this one), fast as lightening, no holds barred, and you get it.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet." (Matthew 5:13, ESV). He was talking about the uselessness of stale or tasteless salt. It is a biblical idiom of human staleness. And, Jesus was making the point that we should always be fresh and vital as salt of the earth. We're to season life around us. And, that means staying fresh and new.
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