COLUMN: Entrusted with a forward moving mission

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, October 21, 2023

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We continue in our fall sermon series at my church, all built around lectionary passages of the season. I mentioned last week that “A Trustworthy Church” is the overall theme for the next several weeks. This week, we visited Exodus 32: 1-14. 

In this scripture, Moses has climbed the mountain to spend some alone time with God. Now, apparently fickle people have had a little too much time on their hands. For inexplicable reasons, his own brother Aaron gives in to their call to replace Moses with a statue of a bull. 

They pass the hat and collect up enough gold to smelt and cast into this graven image. God will pass on to Moses a summary of this distasteful action that has taken place in his absence. God will urge Moses to go back to the people and let them know that God is moving on from them. 

Their trustworthiness has been lost, it seems. Instead, Moses appeals to God on Israel’s behalf. He argues that he believes he can get them focused once again. Which does appear to be the case once Moses descends the mountain and rejoins them. 

A few things are stark, and we ought to apply them to our own day if we can. First, God’s forward moving mission will not be derailed. God voices here a willingness to set them aside and still make a great nation from Moses’ descendants. A similar promise to the one originally made to Abraham. 

Also noteworthy here is that God changes God’s own mind and does not follow through with that plan. Moses’ intervention hits the mark and buys Israel some more time in the story.

But don’t miss this. God’s nature does not change. God’s forward mission appears not to change. However, twice in the last few weeks a scripture we were studying patently says that God’s mind did change about a strategic or responsive detail. 

I can understand why we’ve seen a shift in where God’s wonders are being worked and where there is growth in Christianity. Of course, I speak in generalities here. For the last couple of decades, Asia and South America have been where remarkable growth has been happening in Christendom. Those people seem grateful and aware that God’s grace is not to be taken for granted. God is using them powerfully.

But both European and American Christianity is in marked overall decline. I understand, and have observed in this column space, that the American Church has its own complicit cause in that. I get it. Still, the calls to gather regularly and to serve have not been rescinded.

But perhaps we’ve also gotten bored with religion as a culture. Perhaps in our fickleness, we’ve supplanted God with other things. Travel sports and online entertainment, not to mention unprecedented and constant travel, have for many people taken the place of the once sacred Lord’s Day participation in church. 

We haven’t crafted a golden calf. But we have remade God in our own images when we don’t have time nor inclination for the sacred gathering of God’s people. Sadly, in our current age the experts now define an active church member as someone who attends 1.5 times per month on average. 

I’ve noticed something. Every time there is a social ill, all fingers point to the Church in America as one of the players who ought to do something about it. Every time there is a natural disaster, people sure are glad that a Church organization showed up and helped out. People feel like the Church in general has a responsibility to help out with needs. 

None of this is a slight toward those who physically can’t participate. That is not my subject today. However, so many fewer people are active at churches in any meaningful way these days. Fewer, still, actually contribute financially to the church they claim membership in. 

This won’t be popular, but here is what I think. If you don’t show up for your church, and you don’t contribute proportionally to your means, truthfully you have no right to say what any church ought to be doing. 

I’ll bet my own church’s members would like to be a trustworthy church. I have so many dedicated and generous people with whom I get to serve. But here is what I know. God’s mission will keep moving forward. That’s one of the unchanging realities. My overarching prayer, and maybe yours, too, is that God will continue to find us trustworthy enough to be usable.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.