Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sorry, We're Closed

If we are to take a survey of all Protestant churches in the world, I wonder how many of the church doors of the main hall/auditorium/sanctuary are closed, padlocked, electronic locked or chain-locked most of the week. These doors are only opened for church services or other activities which usually last one or two hours. If, for example an average church has two Sunday services (4 hours), a midweek prayer meeting (2 weeks) and a cell group or Saturday activities ( 6 hours). This adds up to 12 hours a week or 0.07% of a week (168 hours). In other words, the church front doors are locked 99.03% of the week. The church’s mandate is to bring people into the Kingdom of God. This may be difficult to do if the church doors are locked. Of course, you may argue that we need to lock the church because thieves may come in and steal things. Again this is interesting because the church is the followers of One who has no place to lay His head. Should there be anything to steal?

Maybe it is not an issue to anyone that our church doors are locked and closed most of the time. What of our minds? Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. For our minds to be renewed, it must be open. Open to new ideas. Open to reviewing our thinking. Open to changes. We are living in a world where changes are the only constant. A closed mind becomes fossilised very fast. A closed mind is like driving a car forward while looking at the rear view mirror all the time. Throughout church history, the Holy Spirit has always worked though people with open minds. The numerous revivals and renewals of the church are spearheaded by people who are open to new ideas, open to reviewing old ideas and discarding them when they are no longer relevant and insisted new ways of seeing and doing things. Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola are examples of Christians whose minds are open to the Mind of God.

Inside the safety and security of the Christian faith community, our eyes may be closed to the pain and suffering of the world outside. Continuous exposure to violence, terror and gory images through movies, CNN, news media and novels has desensitised us. We can watch an old woman crying in the ruins of her home after the devastation of a hurricane while eating dinner with no problem. Pictures on TIME magazines of adults and children dying of AIDS in Africa do not move us to tears because our eyes are closed. We look around with our closed eyes and asked, “Where are the poor, the sick, the defenceless and the helpless?” The darkness behind our closed eyelids does not move us to action. Open eyes to the needs of the world lead us to feel the Heart of God. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dame Cecily Saunders who started the hospice movement and Dorothy Day are Christians who see clearly the needs of the world and do something about it.

A monkey trap is a metal tin with a small hole and has sweets inside. When a greedy monkey reach into the hole and grasp a handful of sweets, he cannot remove his arm from the can because his closed hand grasping sweets is bigger than the hole. That’s how monkeys are caught. We grasp our gifts and our wealth with our closed hands and refused to let go. Instead of blessing others, we deprive others and slow the expansion of the Kingdom of God. God blesses some of His people with acute business sense and abundant wealth so that they can finance the frontline troops who are the missionaries and full time workers. Unfortunately these front-liners are suffering because of the closed hands of the supply lines. Mueller of Bristol was able to tap into the Abundance of God and raised support for orphanages, schools and the China Inland Mission because he had open hands.

We closed our hearts to the pain and hurt on our neighbours’ face because we do not want to get involved. Our time is limited and we do not welcome the interruption to our lives that involvement with others will cost. So we closed our hearts and build walls around it. In time, our closed heart becomes hearts of stone; feeling neither love nor pity. Life becomes a series of goals and objectives. We use people instead of things to achieve these objectives. People are used and discarded. Disposable humans become the norm. Marriage becomes a convenience rather than a covenant. Divorces become common because in a closed heart there is no room for commitment other than to self. Eugene Peterson, Marva Dawn and Dallas Willard try to open us to the Heart of God who is Love. A Christian faith community is a place for open hearts.

May God have mercy. This reflection is inspired by the following prayer.

Spirit of God,
you are the breath of creation,
the wind of change that blows
through our lives,
opening us to new dreams, new hopes,
& new life in Jesus Christ.

Forgive us our closed minds,
which barricade us against new ideas,
preferring the past to what you might
want to do through us tomorrow.

Forgive our closed eyes,
which fail to see the needs
of your world,
blind to opportunities of service & love

Forgive us our closed hands,
which clutch our gifts & our wealth
for our own use alone.

Forgive us our closed hearts,
which limit our affections to ourselves
& our own.

Spirit of new life,
Break down the prison walls
of our selfishness
that we might be open to your love,
& open for the service of your world:
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

[source of prayer unknown]

Soli Deo Gloria



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