Monday, April 3, 2017

"An Article About Nothing"

There is a story involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the chief power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. The teams were playing in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his ceaseless chatter, intended to pep up his teammates on the one hand, and distract the Milwaukee batters on the other. As Aaron came to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, "Henry, you're holding the bat wrong. You're supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark." Aaron didn't say anything, but when the next pitch came he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, "I didn't come up here to read."[i]

In this story, Hank Aaron focused on the things that mattered in the game, rather than allowing himself to be distracted. Distractions can pull us away from the most important things, and get our eyes on less important things. When we allow ourselves to get distracted, nothing happens. Even if God is trying to do something, when we set our eyes on the wrong things, the result can be nothing at all happening in the Kingdom of God. In John 7:25-52 we read a story in which nothing happens. This may seem strange to read a story where nothing takes place—generally in stories things, you know, happen. The reason nothing happens in this story is because people allow themselves to be distracted from what really matters.

The story begins in verses 25-31 with Jesus teaching the crowds. I suppose you could say that’s something, but the problem is that they get so distracted they get nothing out of it. Jesus is trying to teach, but all they can do is debate with each other. Rather than listening to what He’s saying, they sidetrack one another. So nothing good comes out of it, but nothing bad happens either. Something bad happening—well, at least that would be something. But nothing happens instead. Jesus’ enemies try to arrest him, but they can’t lay their hands on him because His time has not yet come. So nothing good happens in the story, but nothing bad happens, either.

Then, in verses 32-36, the religious leaders hear that Jesus is teaching so again they send officers to arrest Jesus. Astonishingly, nothing more is mentioned of the arrest after Jesus begins talking with them about his plans to go where they can’t find him. They don’t understand what he’s talking about, and, as if by some Jedi mind trick, they leave without fulfilling the task they were sent to accomplish. They go back to the leaders and repeat Jesus’ words, and the religious leaders don’t understand it either. Instead, they simply debate with themselves about what Jesus means. So again, nothing happens.

The next day (verses 37-43), Jesus is handing out some major spiritual teaching, but nobody seems to understand what He’s talking about when He says He will give them living water to drink. Instead, they again begin debating with one another about whether Jesus comes from the right or wrong side of the tracks. So nothing happens. Then, temple guards again try to arrest Jesus but return emptyhanded (verses 44-49). So this is a story about nothing happening. And for this reason, this is an article about nothing.

The fact is, NOTHING can be a very dangerous thing. NOTHING is stagnant and meaningless. NOTHING is what the earth was before it was anything—formless and void. My friends, many churches are terrible danger of NOTHING happening. Just like in the gospel story, Jesus’ word continues to be proclaimed but instead of hearing and applying the truth to their lives, the people get sidetracked by debating things that just don’t matter. Whether the issues are about church politics, theological secondary issues, or getting involved in areas that the church has no business in at all, people get distracted and miss the main point. Jesus is calling out the whole time you’re debating, and Christians just aren’t listening. Instead of making a difference in the Kingdom of God, churches are declining because they can’t see things eye to eye, because of internal bickering or just apathy. NOTHING is happening in churches today, and because of the nothing, souls that might be saved are being swept away.

In the children’s movie, The Neverending Story, the mystical world of Fantasia is threatened by The Nothing. Rockbiter describes it, saying, “Near my home there used to be a beautiful lake, but then it was gone.” Tiny asks him, “Did the lake dry up?” Rockbiter replies, “No, it just wasn't there anymore. Nothing was there anymore. Not even a dried up lake.” Tiny asks, “A hole ?” Rockbiter says, “No, a hole would be something. Nah, it was nothing. And it got bigger and bigger. First there was no lake anymore and then finally, no rocks.” The rest of the movie is a quest to learn how to stop The Nothing. At the climax of the film, our hero Atreyu asks the werewolf G’mork, “But why is Fantasia dying, then?” G’mork answers, “Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So The Nothing grows stronger!” Atreyu asks, “What Is The Nothing?” The villain replies, “It’s the emptiness that’s left. It is like a despair, destroying this world … People who have no hopes are easy to control, and whoever has the control has the power.”

Today, the church is threatened by The Nothing. In the same way that Jesus’ audience got distracted so much that NOTHING happened, we have become experts at turning our attention to things that just don’t matter. We’ve forgotten how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, how to love God with all our hearts, how to care for the suffering and needy and oppressed. Instead we’ve become preoccupied with arguing over side-issues like worship styles, mingling politics with faith, and deciding who’s in and who’s out. All the while, The Nothing has been sweeping through, and the Church is dying like Fantasia. Christians have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. They live to sustain the past rather than find the future. The emptiness is all that’s left. It’s like a despair that the Church is in, like a black hole where souls are lost. The Church is going to need the same thing that Fantasia needed if it’s going to be saved—a little imagination and hope. In Matthew 13:16, Jesus says, “…Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.” Not everyone’s eyes are open to see what God would reveal, and not all ears are open to hear God’s voice. Distraction allows The Nothing to sweep through and take the Church. But when we watch and listen with creative imagination, God will do amazing things among us.

[i] Nehemiah, Learning to Lead, J.M. Boice, Revell, 1990, p. 38.  February 24, 2017.

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