Saturday, November 10, 2007


November 9, 2007

It was the most ambitious construction project in the history of the planet. Experts in architecture, engineering, and various building techniques had gathered together from many surrounding countries along with a crew of thousands to erect the world’s tallest skyscraper. It would have been man’s greatest achievement. Tragically, their blueprints had one fatal design flaw. The purpose of the structure was to bring glory to mankind, not to God.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…” – Genesis 11:4.
When God saw their intentions He used the incident to confuse their language, divide their cultures, and scatter them across the face of the earth. Instead of being a project to unite the peoples of the world, it became a colossus of confusion, a source of separation, a tower of division. I’m referring, of course, to the tower of Babel. Last night as I lay in bed trying in vain to fall asleep the Lord brought the historic tale to my mind and revealed its significance to what we have been experiencing in recent weeks within the simple church movement and to what I had just witnessed earlier that same evening.
We had gathered for church in the East Bay community of San Pablo at the home of some Hispanic friends of ours. Two days before when I spoke with Carlos at the restaurant where he works he mentioned what we would be eating that night.
“I’m going to fix ‘mole’,” he said with no little amount of pride. “It is my favorite dish.”
“Remember, Carlos, I don’t handle spices very well,” I cautioned. “You’re going to be feeding perhaps the wimpiest tongue on the planet! I try to steer away from even normal table salt because it’s too spicy for me.”
“Don’t worry, Bill,” he assured me. “I’m going to make it real mild. You will love it!”
With great anticipation along with some unsettling concerns my wife and I drove the 35 miles to San Pablo to fellowship with this wonderful family. Before dinner Babs asked Carlos’ wife how “mole” (pronounced moh-leh) was made.
“Oh, it’s a sauce made in different ways depending on where you live within Mexico,” responded Susanna. “My family makes it very sweet with chocolate.”
For an instant I breathed a sigh of relief thinking I might just live through the evening. Unfortunately, my relief was quickly dispatched by her next comment.
“Carlos’ family likes it very spicy with many different kinds of ground up chili.”
“So who is cooking tonight?” I asked nervously.
“Oh we are letting Carlos’ mom cook tonight in honor of her visiting us from Mexico.”
Immediately my stomach began to tie itself in knots in anticipation of the fiery ordeal it was about to endure. As we sat down at the dinner table and a plate of steaming food was placed in front of us, but not in front of Susanna or her own mother, I grew increasingly alarmed.
“Are you not eating anything?” I asked.
“Oh, we already ate something else before you arrived,” Susanna answered. “We don’t care for ‘mole’ being served this way. It’s a little too spicy for us.”
I’m doomed, I thought to myself. If these with Hispanic palates believe this is too spicy how will I ever come out of this with my intestines intact? But the Lord reminded me of the passage of Scripture we have been studying as we are learning to follow Him into the harvest.
When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you…” – Luke 10:5-6.
Okay, Lord, I prayed. We are following your directives. Help us manage to swallow this food without gasping for breath and calling the fire department.
Surprisingly (thank you, Jesus!), I was able to handle the flaming fare without too much trouble. It was actually very delicious although it did burn my lips and clean out my sinuses. During the meal, as I repeatedly wiped the tears from my eyes and blew my nose, Carlos’ mother pulled out some ancient photographs of her children and proudly showed them to us. We all laughed at scenes of Carlos as a curly-haired infant in a dish pan getting a bath.
We are discovering the Lord’s wisdom in teaching us to gather around the dinner table in the home of a “person of peace.” There is just something about sharing a meal that draws people together, even those from radically different backgrounds, and opens up hearts to the message of the Gospel. After dinner I broke out my guitar and we sang songs from two different cultures. We all laughed as we strained our memories to come up with the lyrics to old sixties’ rock ‘n roll tunes. Carlos’ mother and brother spoke almost no English but I could tell they thoroughly enjoyed the music. When we began to sing some of the worship songs popular with our own home group Susanna did her best to translate the words. It was touching to see these wonderful believers in Christ smile at the recognition of the Gospel story. As I put my guitar back into its case I pulled out a book and handed it to Carlos.
“This is a gift for you,” I announced. “It’s a Bible, written in Spanish. In the back it has a program you can follow that allows you to read the entire book in three months. It would be good for you and your wife to read it together. If you have a question about anything you read, write it down. If you are moved by anything, write it down. If you hear God speak to you, write it down. We can discuss it all next time we meet.”
As Carlos and Susanna lovingly held onto their new treasure and carefully explored its contents, I continued. “The Bible says it is not just some words written down thousands of years ago. It is alive and active today which means God will speak to us through this book about issues we are facing personally right now. This is where He is teaching us about this new way of doing church, which really isn’t new. This is the way the church began, in small gatherings in peoples’ homes around the dinner table. Somehow, over the ages, we have strayed from this simple form of worship to embrace huge crowds in large, expensive buildings with professional priests being the only ones who can understand God’s Word. The truth is God will speak to anyone whose heart is open to His voice, and the best fellowship is found in small, intimate gatherings. It only takes two people plus Jesus to have church.”
When he heard this last comment Carlos began to sing a song from his childhood he obviously learned in some church setting. The words were based on this well known Scripture. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20. It was clear he was beginning to grasp the concept of simple church.
Carlos’ home resides in the shadow of St. Paul’s cathedral, the church from which San Pablo derives its name. He has attended mass there often for many years, but he knows very few of the people and considers none of them to be his personal friends.
“You are my only real friend, Bill,” he told me recently. “I have told you things I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling anyone else. You are welcome in my home anytime.”
We closed our time together last night with an intense time of prayer. We shared some hugs, promised to return, and drove home. But the events of that amazing evening kept coursing through my mind. As I lay on my bed pondering the meaning of it all, the Lord brought the tower of Babel into my thoughts. What did this simple church gathering in San Pablo have to do with ancient Biblical history?
I certainly do not want to alienate any of my friends who still serve the Lord within traditional churches. I know many such congregations that are marvelously kingdom-minded and are totally focused on lifting up the cause of Christ. But like the builders of the tower of Babel, many institutional church adherents in this country have been following a fatal design flaw. Their efforts have often brought more glory to man than to God. They have lifted up the name of their own denominations (or non-denominations) as much or more than they have magnified the name of Jesus. They have labored more at advancing their own programs and institutions than advancing the cause of Christ. They have sacrificed more to build up their own campuses than to build up the kingdom of God. They have invested more resources into raising their own facilities than in raising the fortunes of the truly needy that live in the shadow of their edifices. They have rivaled the world with the quality of their entertainment but have fallen short of what it means to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. They have championed pet doctrines rather than glorified Christ, embraced a narrowly targeted culture rather than welcomed all peoples into their midst, promoted congregational rivalry rather than kept the unity of the Spirit, and focused on increasing their own numbers rather than increasing the citizenship of heaven.
I believe it was Billy Graham who proclaimed that Sunday morning at 11 o’clock was the most segregated hour in America. Instead of being a force to unite the peoples of the world under the name of Jesus, the institutional church has, for the most part, become another colossus of confusion, a source of separation, a tower of division. Before God passes judgment on this modern day tower of Babel something needs to be done to transfer our focus from ourselves to the Son of God.
Is there a counterpart to the tower of division? Is there an antidote to the human tendency to build flawed edifices in a vain attempt to reach heaven in our own way? Yes, there is a tower of unity, a high-rise of peace which reaches, not from earth to heaven, but from heaven to earth. It is crude, blood-stained edifice built with rough-hewn timber and used as an instrument of capital punishment. I’m referring to the cross. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” – John 12:32.
The closer we come to the cross of Christ, the closer we will come to one another. As we gather around the cross all thoughts of self will vanish in awe over the One who willingly suffered there for us and any value we may have placed on our own towers will melt away into insignificance. At the cross, we will see our neighbors through the loving eyes of our Savior and do everything we can to bring them into fellowship with Him and thus, into fellowship with us as well. At the cross, personal and corporate ambitions will diminish in favor of growing our relationship with the Lord and cultivating our relationships with others. At the cross, selfishness and pride will be crucified and the needs of others will be elevated above our own. At the cross, we will find the courage to enter into a different culture sacrificing our own comfort in order to help draw others to Christ, even to the point of “eating whatever they give you.” At the cross, we will find the only tower we will ever need.
As I write these words my stomach has been filled with a meal from yet another culture. Tonight we dined on Asian cuisine at the home of some Singaporean friends where we also have been meeting for church. My appetite has been wonderfully satisfied, but my heart has been filled even more by enjoying the amazing diversity and intimate fellowship found amongst those who gather, not within the towers of division, but around the cross of Christ.

Bill, a child of God, hungry for more fellowship


Post a Comment

<< Home