Today I strolled out to the open grass between our base gym’s track and the four co-located baseball fields. I visited places where my wife and I spent hours when we were dating, and the wide spaces I went to on my own when I wanted to be alone and think about life, and God, and myself, and maybe just watch the stars.
Twenty years ago, a small concrete bridge made a way across the drainage that splits the field. During our long nighttime walks, Jami and I would often sit there and talk.
The bridge is gone. It has been for years now, in fact. But there used to be a patch of lighter concrete where you could see its absence. Even that is gone now, the whole drainage ditch a uniform moldy-looking shade of dark grey.
Buildings are long gone that once marked the start of our relationship: a solitary dormitory where one of our mutual friends lived on the opposite end of the fields, and the H-style dorms where Jami and I first met, torn down and replaced with better, newer, four story facilities. The hills look roughly the same, places where we laid in the grass on the slopes and watched the clouds or stars, depending on our shift schedules. The stone bench I’m sitting on, under a tangled mess of trees, still stands and sees occasional use, judging by the trash left beside it.
Me from twenty years ago came to this spot and looked forward, uncertain what “a few more” years of military service might bring, and what new experiences might follow afterward. That young Airman moved with youthful energy, some combination of strength and naïveté, a blissful ignorance and hopeful expectation.
He never would have guessed that I’d be sitting here one day, looking back at him.
Nearby stands one tree which looks more like five twisted together, all on its own on the slope of emerald and caramel and sand-colored grass. Trunks and roots bent and cracked, body slumped over as if halfway broken by a typhoon–a crippled and damaged thing, reaching for blue sky but brought back to earth by the weight of its limbs. Vibrant leaves blossom from every branch; this tree is alive, without a doubt. But it looks broken and scarred, burdened with past trauma, a fighter knocked down, resting on one knee with a gloved hand on the mat for support, catching his breath, straining to rise again but wobbling with the exertion of staying upright.
I wonder, is there healing for that tree? Is there some path to restoration, some hope that one day it will stand–perhaps not upright and firm, but at least a little steadier, a little less bowed, a little more whole…?
Or are there experiences that, though we survive the ordeal, no, contrary to the popular wisdom, they do not make us stronger? Things that leave their scars and cracks in the thickest of bark, that rend and tear and splinter the sturdiest and freshest of young wood?
Can a gnarled, hunched, and wearied thing like this at least become something reminiscent of former glory?
I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.
But first, I want some caffeine and some water.
So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.
So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.
“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.
Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.
Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”
Lukewarm is sickening.
So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?
I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.
I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”
Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.
If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”
Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:
That question is, “Whose?”
Whose demands are to be met?
Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?
I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”
This is what Jesus Christ wishes.
I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.
He says plainly what He desires.
I WISH YOU WERE HOT.
Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.
The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”
God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.
But let’s be clear here.
That is not hot.
There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”
My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?
I watched her the next time, and found the problem.
“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”
Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.
Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”
What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.
There’s a problem with that.
It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.
(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)
When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.
We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.
We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”
Are we past-tense or present-tense?
If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.
If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.
If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?
If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.
You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?
“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”
That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.
Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.
Far beyond any concept of “enough.”
He doesn’t aim for that.
Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.
On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.
It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.
Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:
“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”
What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?
Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?
Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?
My coffee has been heating up while I type this.
I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.
Over the years, I’ve had friends ask me why or just make the comment that “Christians are crazies looking forward to the end of the world.” The Left Behind series and its immense popularity (as far as Christian fiction sales go) is a good example from a few years back. There’s always a curiosity about “the end” even if we know it’s not really the end… a pastor makes a rapture prediction that becomes a news story, and the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and what about those asteroids out there that are supposed to pass close to Earth in the next decade or so? The end of the world holds our interest, and it seems like Christians are actually seeking it.
Apocalypse is defined as:
1. A writing prophesying a cataclysm in which evil forces are destroyed.
2. The name of a book of the Bible
Cataclysm is: a violent change or upheaval.
The English versions of the New Testament often use the word “revelation” for the Greek word “apokalupsis” (which also is the Greek title of “The Revelation of John”).
1. an act of revealing
2. something revealed; esp. an enlightening or astonishing disclosure
The Greek word “kalupsis” is translated into English as “veil.” It is also defined in the phrases “to hide, cover up, and wrap around.” In the way that our skin covers our inner body parts, it serves as a “kalupsis.”
Apo-kalupsis is simply adding the prefix that means “off or away.”
The word apocalypse has been transformed as the years have gone by into the meaning as defined above. Taking the title of the last book of the NT and applying it to other similar texts may have started the trend, and as such trends go, the meaning is further distorted when people assume their definition is correct. Apocalypse is now often used as if it means “the end of the world,” or at least “a terrible catastrophic situation” (which is close given the “cataclysm” reference in the definition and the events portrayed in the Apocalypse). All this is simply meant to say that the word apocalypse carries a very negative connotation.
Interestingly enough, looking from a Christian perspective, many people view a literal apokalupsis as a cataclysm in their lives. When the veil is taken away (2Cor 4:3-4) a person has to face who they really are, what’s “under the skin” within their hearts and minds. This is true of both Christians and nonChristians. Few want to face their own failings and weaknesses. But such an apocalypse is necessary in order to grow. You cannot change the problem you are not aware of.
Jacob’s apocalypse on the day he wrestled with God’s Angel is a great example. Before he could receive “victory” he had to acknowledge all that he had been… “What is your name?” His name is Jacob. Supplanter. Schemer. Trickster. Swindler. In recognizing who he is, he becomes someone he is not… Israel.
But he had to lose his ‘skin’ to get there. Notice the violent manner in which this change takes place. This is a cataclysm in the life of Jacob. It really is the end of the world as he knows it. It affects him both physically and figuratively for the rest of his life.
What’s my skin, I wonder? What stuff from my past is keeping me from the better things God has in store? What about the church at large? Where are we missing the mark? Where are we walking around blindfolded or veiled?
Maybe it’s time to pray for an apocalypse in the Church of Christ. An uncovering. A violent upheaval. A complete change. Revelation of who we are.
Maybe even the end of the world as we know it. One can only hope. And pray.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.