Not having cable TV at home, Kay sometimes indulges when we’re traveling. She gravitates toward HGTV. I hear the names Chip and Joanna (whoever they are) fairly often as I’m nearby, reading something written by a dead English guy with two letters in front of his last name. I don’t know much about the shows, but the title of one has stuck with me: “Flip or Flop?” The idea, best I can tell, is to renovate a run-down property, and if it sells for a profit it’s a flip; if not, it’s a flop. Feel free to tune up my understanding of the show’s premise.
As far as I understand it, the premise intrigues me, since, supposedly, the crew goes into each episode not knowing which four-letter f-word the project will earn. Kind of like the church.
Last week started a series of letters called “Right Side Up,” in which we’re trying to anticipate what Jesus’ next move is with his church. Have we been upside down and he’s about to turn us right side up? Or is he about to give us a quick reminder of upside down so we’ll recognize right side up when it happens. Most folks I talk to think the first thing, and so do I. But you know what they say about the word a-s-s-u-m-e, so let’s not take anything for granted. Instead, let’s take a look into the early church’s history, observe some of the flips and some of the flops, and try to cantilever our observations into Cobblestone’s near future.
Here’s a snapshot of the early church from Acts:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:44-47).
And here’s a snapshot of the early church from the letter of James:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).
If you were wearing your Bible School britches right now, you’d be saying, “Holy smokes, John, there were only about ten years between those snapshots!” And you’d be right. And then you’d be saying, “What the heck happened?!” Well, let’s see.
The stoning of Stephen happened (Acts 7). Persecution broke out against the church, and the church scattered (Acts 8). Believers were hunted down and dragged before councils to be prosecuted (Acts 9). The church’s most zealous and effective persecutor became an apostle of Jesus (Acts 9 again). Gentiles received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). Disciples of Jesus got a name: Christians (Acts 11). James the brother of John was executed for political gain (Acts 12). But the word of God increased and multiplied (Acts 12:24). That’s a lot to go through in a few chapters. What was the net effect over ten years’ time? The church became a friend of the world… an enemy of God (James 4:4).
Flop… and another four-letter f-word: fail.
It must’ve been awfully hard, going from the rockin’ good times in Jerusalem – thousands being added to the church, no needy persons among them – to the scattered, oddball existence in the wider world. I’m not throwing rocks at my long-ago brothers and sisters, only drawing from the history of our people to see what history we might be living right now. Cobblestone has never seen as much trouble as the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (James 1:1), but if we can recognize our tendencies and ask the Lord to make us able to wrangle them, we might get ahead of the curve and turn this next episode into a legitimate flip.
The question to ask at this juncture is, “Where do I tend to get friendly with the world?” Like you, I have to check my motives all the time. When I don’t, the worst ones take on a life of their own. The worst ones are like weeds, while the better ones have to be cultivated. This present crisis, centered mostly (but not entirely) on the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought some of my weedy motives into the light. The Lord has busted my chops a few times over the past fifteen days. I’m not sure it would do any good to get terribly specific at this point, but to call out one general category: With most of our “normal” church stuff stripped away, I’ve thought we can’t go on for very long this way. Maybe we can’t. Maybe the Lord has something radically different in mind. The world would say, “I want to know what’s going on,” and that sounds very appealing to me as well. I just got friendly with the world.
One of the best things we can do during this time is to weed out the world-friendly motives we would’ve brought together if we were doing “regular” church. I’m working on it, the Lord helping me. What are yours? I’d be willing to talk about mine more (geez, that was hard to write). Maybe the Lord is doing the same kind of work in you and me both.
James’ letter was one of the first to go out to the scattered church, running not far ahead of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Both letters are harsh (O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Galatians 3:1). If we were still in the apostolic age, I wonder what kind of letter would be on its way to us. Better than the apostolic age, which came to an end, we’re living in the ongoing age of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:27). Talk to me, Church. What heart-level idols are being revealed? Let’s work together on crushing those, and throwing the world-friendly motives on the burn pile.
There’s only one letter’s difference between flip and flop.
Grace and Peace (and flipability),