In times like these...
Suddenly we're into complexity. I know church people who can explain Occam's Razor but not name the four Gospels. Shoot, there are lay people who have mastered the extracellular protein matrix of laminin but can't fill in the blank "Jesus of _________." Somewhere in the life mix technology has propelled us out of the simple into the complicated. If you can explain something in three words or less it's of little value. The seven greatest words of life (I love you, thank you, I'm sorry) are now just archaic logisms for emotions buried deep in the human psyche. Give me a break!
The basics of life have been authenticated by an old woman who lived in a shoe. On a more spiritual level, Jesus taught the bottom lines of faith to uneducated common folk and children who could grasp his parables and truth wrapped in life images. A group of us recently debated a more contemporary illustration of the church. Good grief, this thing veered in so many directions. One of the guys suggested the human body. Voila! You would have thought we unearthed the Holy Grail. None of us can truly grasp the mysteries of the human body. But, the basics are taught in ninth grade science. Surely the simple image of a functioning body is sufficient to understand how the church works. Well, duh!
Simple Church: Returning to God's Process of Making Disciples by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger (B and H Books, 2011) takes us back to the basics in the primary assignment of the New Testament church. Our affection for the complex may be one of the reasons the church seems to have lost touch with culture these days. Getting back to the simple processes demonstrated by Jesus and early church leaders is a refreshing turn from the program-centered multi-phasic science of church-ology
Even at that, and I do applaud Rainer and Geiger for their great work, there's even a more fundamental need in church life and in the personal lives of those who of called by his name. John the Baptist got it when the crowds were mistaking him for the Messiah. He said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30, ESV). Want to go simple in faith, yet without simplism. What is needed is more of him.
Years ago there was a poem penned in the back page of my Bible. I don't know who wrote it but I do remember scribbling it there during a conference of some kind years before my call to pastoral ministry. Once again, it is anonymous to me. And, simple.
We mutter and sputter,
We fume and we spurt. We mumble and stumble
Our feelings get hurt.
We don't understand things
Our vision grows dim.
And all that we need is a moment with him.
Oh yeah, BTW. It's profound too. When I'm doing strength assessments, analyzing values and mission statements, talking about DISC inventories, and Myers-Briggs studies the one foundational life principle that i know is most critical is barely mentioned, maybe a whisper. It's not usually on the list when I'm advising ministers about completing their curricula vitae or helping a search team develop questions for candidates. Working through the grief cycle with a bereaved individual or family, giving council to a troubled married couple, talking with a college student who's wandered away, or discussing life process with someone in crisis, it's hardly mentioned. Consulting pastor's of troubled churches we examine the demographics, graph the trends, explore technology, evaluate the staff, survey the congregation, conduct focus groups, and examine all the usual suspects of church vitality. Hardly ever do I ask him or them to tell me about their time with Jesus that day.
When Harriet and I visit my dad, The Chester, in Greenville, SC, we attend church with him at Taylors First Baptist Church. The pulpit ministry of Paul Jimenez is always a blessing. On each visit we worship in their traditional service, his preference. The other week Worship Pastor Kevin Batson led them in an old hymn that touched me greatly. The simplicity of the words and the fantastic music have been in my mind ever since. It was the hymn "In Times like These" by Ruth Jones. The words stir me right now---
In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor; Be very sure, be very sure Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!
In times like these you need the Bible, In times like these O be not idle; Be very sure, be very sure Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!
In times like these I have a Savior, In times like these I have an anchor; I'm very sure, I'm very sure
My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!
This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He's the One; This Rock is Jesus, the only One! Be very sure, be very sure Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock
My preference for fresh, contemporary worship music was seconded that day to the simple truth of this hymn. It's the simple truth that I and I believe many others often ignore in the complicated dynamics of the times.
We just need more of Jesus. In times like these, and in all times.