The preacher is a little angry. Perhaps you’ll see it as a holy fire, not petty spite.
Everything we do is provider-centric. Read that a couple of times and let it sink in. We’ll come back to it.
When your average church or religious organization plans it’s various human activities in pursuit of the gospel message, chances are that the whole thing is deeply infected with human reason. Granted, reason is how we get things organized, but reason has to follow the heart. And how many churches do you know about that teach the heart-led way?
Stop and think about that. In my personal journey, long before I stumbled across the concept of heart-led living, I was already trying to implement it using terminology I had been taught in religious college. Back then, I referred to it as “conviction” and spoke of how it’s something implanted in your soul by God. The image I used was a bedrock of our existence, and how that was the bedrock of commitment to Christ. It comes from God, not from anything we can do. And I taught that God wrote with His finger in that bedrock something unique to us as individuals He Created for His glory. Our first duty was to discern what was written there, in part by pulling away the rubble that God didn’t put there. I suggested that, for most of us, it was several layers deep.
You should have seen how much Hell I caught from religious leaders for that. While the particulars they picked over varied, I could tell there was something fundamental about it that they rejected. At some point, I began to understand that it was a threat to religious leadership itself. These people had a vested interest in maintaining a system that was forced to deny that teaching. It happened in several different Protestant denominations.
When I discovered that the heart was quite literally a sensory organ in itself, something measurable with scientific instruments, a lot of things fell into place. Slowly I realized that the scientific works was misguided, but served to illustrate something that science could never understand, anyway. Never mind the physical realities of the heart; the heart is a symbol with deep traditions in the Ancient Near East, and particularly appears in the Bible. I already knew from biblical scholarship that Hebrew people regarded the heart as the metaphorical seat of the “will” — a term that roughly equates to conviction. At that point, I understand a lot of Hebrew imagery that never made sense before.
For all their talk of the “priesthood of the believer,” the American Protestant religion remains deeply centralized. Sure, you are free believe what drives you, but you can’t hang around with your church family in any meaningful way unless you toe the line of orthodoxy. I’ve had enough of religious leaders enjoying my talents while putting chains on me within “their ministry” so I didn’t weaken their authority.
So if someone tells me that this or that expert on something is “Spirit led,” it really tells me more about the one saying it than it does about the expert. Have you noticed how that works? “So-n-so is a deeply spiritual, man of God” — whose teaching just happens to keep the speaker in power. Whatever happened to the man of God wholly willing to surrender his position at any moment? Whatever happened to the kind of moral leadership that demands you work through all the questions yourself before you try to join up and follow him? And that you keep working through them and keep reaffirming that it’s good to follow for now?
I’m not interested in what some organizational leader tells me is the right way to go about doing the work of God, regardless whom he cites as the expert, nor how many experts he lines up to back his ideas. Since when does anyone have the mandate from God to decide what my calling and ministry should be? Give me your opinion, but don’t stand in the way if God leads me in a different direction. As the DeGarmo and Key song says in reference to religious debates:
Will you still love me after I choose?
Doesn’t the issue stand upon this truth?
Up on a cross he died for sinners!
Up on a cross between two thieves!
Up on a cross he died for you and me!
(DeGarmo and Key, “Up on a Cross,” Streetlight 1986)
Suddenly all those resources that they insist belong to God were denied me and they loved me gone.
The ministry of the gospel is donor-centric: It centers on God. God decides what talents and calling I shall have; He decides how it shall be carried out. The results are measured in terms of His glory, not my personal success as humans measure such things. Don’t tell me my talents are better off under your control, doing something that pumps your prestige. Don’t tell me that I have to meet the people where they are, when what you really mean is you want me to bring them into your shadow.
Nor does it matter what any human on this earth thinks that people out there really need. I can’t give them what I don’t have from God. God is the One who knows what they need, and if He can’t tell me Himself, it’s likely because of all the crap someone else put into my head that gets in the way of His direction.
And what they need is the heart-led life. That’s what this parish is all about. Not because I say so, but because each of you discovers for yourself that it’s true. That’s what I’ve discovered for myself, and that’s what I’m trying to share. I already know that this means there won’t be very many takers, at least not at any one time. I already know this means that I can’t invest much effort and interest in what most of humanity imagines is a good idea for making the world a better place. Sure, I’m a trained and experienced logistics and management guy; I bring order out of chaos. But I keep that in its proper place. It’s quite likely that such skills will get me into some place where I can help a lot of folks with material needs, but the real issue will be those few who see my faith in my work and are moved to ask about it. Those few are the real issue, the real reason God put me in that position.
The Hebrew word for “my provider” is jireh. Our ministry here together is centered on the ultimate Provider of all things; His name is Jehovah Jireh.