Church Stew

There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.

The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.

Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.

The Assumption

Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!

Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

—Revelation 7:9-10

Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.

It’s Stew

That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.

So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.

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The Great Calm

Following is the commentary I mentioned in my last post. It is my take on Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I decided to go ahead and re-post it now because there’s so much rage in our country that we are in desperate need of calmed souls. Here it is:

The Great Calm

A word of comfort to us, that, be the storm of trouble ever so loud, ever so strong, Jesus Christ can lay it with a word’s speaking.

─Matthew Henry

 

great_calmIt’d been a busy day, but now, finally, they were leaving the multitude behind and sailing off in a small cadre of boats. They were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to hopefully get a little quiet time with their Master and perhaps some sound sleep. But not even half way into their journey “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so it was already filling.” Jesus was, of all things, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat.

This may be a familiar record to some; it’s from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41 (it’s also found in Matthew and Luke). Apparently, even today, it is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee to all the sudden have storms sweep over its surface due to its somewhat funky geography; it is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains that reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level.  When warm air from the lake rises to meet the cold air from the mountains it can sometimes produce sudden windstorms.  Here is just such an occasion. The disciples, in our vernacular, are freaking out, while Jesus, however, is unmoved and blissfully sleeping.

Fight Familiarity

Being too familiar with this record risks becoming jaded to it or blind to the reality of the situation. I’ve had the opportunity to white-water raft several times in my life. We go with a seasoned guide and always wear our life jackets. Still, there are times when hitting the rapids just right blasts a white wall of water right into my face and body. At the same time, I am of course, being soaked by cold water, being jostled by the turbulent river and smacking into my fellow raft mates as we all struggle to stay in the raft. And sometimes I fall out; that can be especially frightening. Most especially when trapped under the raft; but that’s another story for another time.

Through it all, the experience is exhilarating but at some points, terror does overtake the exhilaration, especially as the wall of water interrupts my ability to breathe or blinds my sight. The disciples in the boat were experiencing the same terror, but theirs wasn’t the kind of terror that would quickly dwindle as the rapid fell to their rear; their terror was a continual onslaught of strong winds and waves beating into their boat and into their faces; tearing their sails and tattering their clothes. If a wall of water smacked into one of their faces as he was trying to breathe, he could very well begin choking. If the water hit his eyes hard enough he could be rendered momentarily blind, just long enough to flip over the edge of the boat into the raging sea, most likely to a watery grave. Or he could blindly bump someone else off the boat to their watery demise. This was no summertime raft trip down the Deschutes or Rogue rivers. This was literally life and death.

No wonder they were so fearful; I would be as well, and most likely so would you.

Finally, they awoke Jesus.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the winds ceased and there was a great calm (v. 39, emphasis mine).

Great…Calm

There’s more to the record of course, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. As many times as I’ve read this record, I’ve never stopped to ponder the words: great calm.  The word “great” comes from the Greek where we get our word mega. Mega, obviously means “great”, but a thesaurus will provide such synonyms as “mammoth”, “jumbo”, or “super”. The word “calm” comes from an unfamiliar Greek word that can also mean “tranquility” or “stillness”.

Putting ourselves back into the shoes of the disciples, we will undoubtedly notice the deafening cacophony of howling winds and roiling seas; and quite possibly the screams of terrified men. We’ll also feel the biting spray blowing like tiny darts flung off the tops of curling waves while our clothes whip against our bodies in slapping stings, leaving angry welts.

Piercing through this din is the voice of Jesus; somehow I don’t think his voice was high and squeaky with fear, but was deep and resonating—authority emanating from every fiber of His being. Suddenly what was chaotic cacophony is instantly super tranquil. All that is heard is the heaving chests of breathless men.

The juxtaposition of this record astounds my imagination: chaos to calm, rage to tranquility, terror to peace, all in an instant, and all at the voice of Jesus.

And as an exclamation point to this record, as soon as the boat finally makes land, they are immediately accosted by a violent man that is hopelessly tormented and untamable (see vv. 5:1-5). But when he encounters Jesus, his storms are equally calmed and he finishes the evening “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).

You see the similarities? The man went from raging insanity to being in his right mind; the storm went from chaos to calm. What is it that Jesus can do in the depths of our souls? It reminds of the lyrics from a song I can’t recall the name of that I think is from MercyMe; the line is something like this:

He calmed the raging sea/He can calm the rage in me.

There’s no great formula for entering this calm, or more aptly put, for having this calm enter into us. We simply invite Jesus into our heart as savior and Lord. If you’ve already done that, then lift your burden, your rage, up to the Him in prayer. It need be no more difficult than crying out in sincerity, “Jesus, I’m scared because _________________, please help me!” Or “I’m so angry and hurt because__________________, please calm this anger!” He may touch you with an unmistakable warmth or with chills, but He will touch you and lead you “beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).

Again, because He calmed the power of nature’s fury and the power of demonic fury (the man suffering from insanity), then He can certainly calm the storms in our souls as well.