March 2008

I’m not sure if you’ve ever taken any time to read through the book of Habakkuk?  It’s a short little account of a prophet’s exchange with God.  It’s merely three chapters long and has a verse in the middle that if you’ve grown up in a church environment, you may be familiar with.  The verse often quoted is 2:11 that reads in the New International Version (NIV) as:

“The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.”

I’ve heard this particular quote used in various ways, but have most always understood it to mean that if we (the people of this earth) didn’t worship and praise the Lord, then the rocks would cry out instead. 

But the quote is actually taken out of context to get that meaning.  Habakkuk and the Lord are thought to be talking about the invasion of the land of Judah by the Chaldeans.  And when God is quoted with the 2:11 verse, He isn’t talking to Christians or the Church.  He’s speaking about a group of people that He’s allowed to come in and reign down terror on His own people. 

But I think that when we read Habakkuk, there is a message that is loud and clear to us as the Church in America.  First, if we take on the roll of God’s people in the story and stand alongside Habakkuk, we can see that when we lose our way and begin walking in the weeds instead of the clear path that He’s directed, we can expect to find ourselves in hard times, like the people with whom Habakkuk is associated.  That, I would consider, somewhat of a Sunday School answer.  Most people could and probably would deduce such a thing. 

But where I find this story fascinating is when we stand in the place of the Chaldeans.  God’s message to them reads 2:2-20 (NIV):

2     Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3     For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.
4     “See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous will live by his faith—
5     indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.
6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,
“ ‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
7     Will not your debtors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their victim.
8     Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed man’s blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
9     “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain
to set his nest on high,
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10     You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11     The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
12     “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by crime!
13     Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14     For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
15     “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.
16     You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17     The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed man’s blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
18     “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For he who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19     Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.
20     But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”

It’s clear that they are a strong, forceful group of people with the ability to take and do what they want.  They are a spiritual people, but worship what they’ve created and not God himself.  And we could learn that being overbearing and chasing after our own goals instead of following God will leave us less than fulfilled and foolish in the end.  Again somewhat of a Sunday School answer. 

But I said I thought it was fascinating to look at this story from the Chaldean point of view.  It’s one thing to read this from their point of view, but what if we were to put the Church in America in the place of the Chaldeans?  Some would argue that the American Church, like Habakkuk 2:4-5 suggest, has become arrogant and proud and have devoured other expressions of faith and packaged them in a nice little four walls with a Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night gathering times.  And there are some that would continue with verses 6-10 saying that the time of the Church in America (as it has been for years) is coming to an end; that the greed and arrogance that have consumed the institution will be its downfall. 

And that brings us to verse 11, in light of the Church in America; this would be our own houses of worship.  The places we’ve sacrificed so much to build.  When we no longer can afford to keep them open, we’ll ask those bricks and mortar to cry out to God.  And they will along with the ceilings echoing their cry against what’s been done. 

Verses 12-17 are something of a charge against us for the “crimes” we’ve committed in the name of Church.  And then verse 18.  What value is the idol we’ve created?  Or an image that teaches lies?  And then topped off with verse 19.  Woe to the person that stands and asks for these buildings to cry out to God for us.  Because the Lord is still in charge and worthy of our honor and praise (v. 20).

How much of that could really be directed at the Church in America?  Some would say absolutely none – or very little at best.  But I’d caution you before jumping on that bandwagon.  If that’s the case, why do we have a generation of Baby Boomers that have flocked to the seeker-sensitive churches in the late 80’s and early 90’s watching their kids and grandkids consistently walk away from the churches they’ve grown up in?  Why is there so much time and money spent on divisions amongst God’s own people?  Why are churches retreats from culture and society instead of the creators of culture within the community? 

So, should we scrap it all and abandon the whole church thing before the walls cry out?  I don’t think so.  But I’m extremely fearful that we’re heading that direction.  Particularly, I’m afraid that the economics of the Church in America (big buildings, full-time staff, and a dying generation of people with the funds willing to support such things) may do the job for us.  If we have become what Habakkuk is told of by God, and we’ve created this thing to worship instead of Him (all in the name of worshiping Him), then we are standing on dangerous ground. 

Stop what you’re doing.  Look around.  Step back and look around.  Have we become what God describes to Habakkuk?  If so, what are you going to do?

much love,
– mark

I started reading a new book this week and have been reminded of how I’ve gotten to where I am right now.  Now mind you, I’m only a little more than a chapter into Tony Jones’ “The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier”, and while I don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with Tony on his beliefs, the how’s and why’s of emergent are very similar to my own journey. 

That last sentence just turned a lot of people off. 

1.       It has Emergent (Emergent Village) – a controversial 21st-century Christian movement whose participants seek to engage postmodern people, especially the unchurched and post-churched
2.       It has Tony Jones – the National Coordinator for Emergent Village
3.       Did I mention it has Emergent in it?

This new book is an attempt to explain why Emergent came about and some of the things that they do and do not believe.  Typically, I would have passed this by as another book moving farther away from the history of the modern church, but the reviews on Amazon piqued my interest.  I’m not going to quote any of them because I would suggest reading them all.  You’re likely to agree with them all on some point made within the course of the book.  Some as passionately as the reviewer and some as a passing “whatever” or “yep”.  I remember just how alone I felt as I began to venture beyond the typical American church experience and I was lucky enough to be traveling with a couple of other people that shared my disdain.  We grabbed hold of many of the Emergent figureheads and hung on their teachings and writings because they were the only ones that seemed to be making any sense.  Not because they were presenting answers, but they were at least open to asking questions.  This book is doing a great job (so far) of reminding me of those early struggles and realizations.  It’s also bringing me back to some topics that remain unresolved and pushed back into the corners of my mind. 

Maybe you don’t feel at home in a church… even though you grew up in one and know how to work the system.  Maybe you’re the person that everyone stops and stares at when you walk in.  Maybe you sing the songs, listen to the sermons, sit in your life group week in and week out, but it doesn’t have any impact on what you do the other five or six days of the week.  Or maybe you’re perfectly at home in the church bubble and can’t figure out how or why anyone wouldn’t feel welcomed into the church in America.  If any of these ring true, then I think Tony’s book might be a good read for you. 

And in the meantime, from now until the time you get your copy, here’s a link to a series of blog posts that will serve as a great primer about emergent.

much love,
– mark