Years ago, I was looking for a professional plastic chess set in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had been searching the Internet for a local chess store in the Detroit area and the nearest one I could find was 40 miles away in Ann Arbor! I did not want to purchase a set sight unseen so I packed up one of my sons and we went to Ann Arbor in search of the store and a chess set.
I found the store I was looking for on Main Street in Ann Arbor after parking three blocks away, paying a ridiculous amount for parking, and then taking nearly an hour to find the store in the busy section of town. I probably walked past the store ten times as I walked back and forth, up and down the street looking for the store's address.
When I went inside the front doors, there was a long, large stairway leading down into a dark and dirty basement area. The lighting in the stairway was negligible, but the old musty smell of the wet basement brought images of a New York sewer system to my mind. As I descended the stairway, I fully expected to see a sign at the bottom of the stairway reading, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here!" At the bottom of the staircase stood a large wooden door that was made of oak and was warped into the door frame. Advertisements of visiting poets, musicians, political events, and causes blanketed both sides of the stairway as well as the door in front of me. After muscling the door open, I went inside.
Inside the basement room, my eyes slowly adjusted to the low level of light. Through a glass wall, I could see another room with all sorts of chess games in it. I went through a second door tentatively and yelled out a hello to anyone who may have been in the room working. Nobody responded to my loud greeting, so I walked in and made myself at home. As I was looking at the different chess sets, music came over a couple of loud speakers and a small man came out of a back room. This man was approximately 5' tall, of medium weight, bald on top of his head with long gray a pony tail dangling from the back. His clothes consisted of a tie-dyed shirt, worn jeans, and leather sandals - just like a hippie from the 1960's!
I introduced myself to the man and, after a little frivolous chatter, I soon realized this man had probably been sequestered in that store basement since the 1960's with no change in this man's life except the loss of hair and an occasional outsider coming into the store every blue moon. The music on the loud speakers was animating the man in such a way that there was a bounce in his step as he walked around the store with me. Trying to be nice, I asked the man if that was a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song that was playing and that he was singing along to. With a look of utter contempt, he told me that the song was The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty by Aztec Two Step! The what by who I said! The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty by Aztec Two Step he proudly stated again! When I told the man that I never heard of the song or the group and that they still sounded like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to me, I could see his hippie blood pressure rise without the aid of illegal drug stimulants. He launched into a history lesson about the group, their unrecognized musical genius talent, and the public's perverted and uneducated view of what constituted great counterculture revolutionary music!
I retell this somewhat humorous story as we head into a new year because I want to correlate it to the actions of most of the modern church. The old hippie was keeping watch over his small chess empire and relishing in days and experiences long past, refusing to move on with his life into a new future and content with living separated from reality. Similarly, most of the modern church and its people have retreated into a hermetically-sealed protective spiritual zone and have refused to face and address the needs of society as well as those in their churches. We have adopted the Rodney King philosophy of "can't we all just get along?" without the slightest inclination to judge actions and teachings that have flooded into the church and that will eventually render the church impotent, irrelevant, and defeated!
Indeed, we have all the trappings of being alive and relevant - latest Christian songs, numerous children programs, various mission outreaches, hip clothes, and whatever else passes for "The Christian Experience" these days, but the real power of Christianity is in covenantal committed relationships. Relationships, first of all, between Jesus and us. Secondly, relationships between his people - the church. Both these relationships, however, must be subjugated to the authority of God's holy word for their genuineness and legitimacy as well as their source of strength! To claim to be a "church" where Biblical covenant relationships are non-existent or superficial is to have a body without the beating heart and is a prime example of a "church" operating outside of any covenantal or Biblical context. This type of "church" is but a mere shadow of the real thing. Without a willingness and dedication to get to know our brothers and sisters on more than just an external level will leave a church with superficial relationships that will eventually erode once the real business of living and working with each other gets underway or when real persecution suddenly arrives. The early church in the book of Acts met daily, broke bread, prayed, worshiped, and lived together. They were intimately involved with each other's lives down to the smallest detail and proved it by the laying down of their property and lives for each other. This type of Biblical covenantal relationship transformed the entire Roman world in a matter of 40 years and changed the course of history forever.
As we head into 2013, may we come out of the proverbial basement, change our sense of time and what is really important - covenant with our Lord and with each other. Let's march confidently into the upcoming year with a new vision to serve the king and each other with renewed vision, strength, and purpose. Let us stop living in the past and upon past accomplishments and push out into deep waters to harvest a new catch. And unlike Aztec Two Step that was limited to a particular audience and small geographical influence, we have been called to disciple all men and all nations with the life changing and good news of the Gospel! Now, that's a two step I can dance to!
Stay Holy, My Friends!
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Readers - I'd love to hear your comments! - Pastor Don