God Is Always In The Rain
Last night I performed a beach, wedding vow renewal ceremony for good friends. The groom of twenty-five years worked hard on making this all a surprise. He lied like an old dog at a breeding kennel. He sneaked and snuck to buy a cake, a new wedding band, and secure all the necessary components. He corralled the likes of a pastor, a celebratory restaurant, photographer, and his original and hand-written vows. The once-again bride had no clue of the effort exerted to knock her off her flip flops.
All this work was nothing compared to the work already put in to have a great, enduring marriage of twenty-five years. My groom friend has led, endured, loved, kept his eyes focused on Jesus, restrained, laughed, encouraged, and prayed his way to this renewal day.
As we set out on the beach, some thought (mostly Sherry) we’d have to hurry. Dark storm clouds were gathering. Sometimes these kinds of summer storms don’t even make it to the beach. They remain inland. I smiled and said, “Relax! We’ve got this. It’s not going to rain.” So on cue, my guitar playing son began plucking “Here Comes The Sun.” THAT was the first tinge of wedding vow renewal curse. Then we moved into the vows. The wind was whipping up sand in our faces. “Repeat after me,” I barked the vows. “… for better for worse…” THIS was the second tinge of wedding vow renewal curse. And then, as if I wasn’t in charge, God opened the heavens. It was as if He needed to fill the ocean a thirsty inch from the day’s evaporation. We huddled under an umbrella. Sherry, Julie, Stephen, and myself. Trying to salvage any semblance of a photogenic moment, Morgan was under another umbrella. Michael and Jacob squeezed under the umbrella with Morgan. Ironically, Michael continued to strum the Beatles’ standard. But the sun was not coming. It had left us. We pushed through the ceremony quickly. Umbrellas on windy, rainy beaches don’t work. We were all soaked and made our way back to the condo. The wedding vow renewal curse was lifted twenty minutes later after the skies cleared.
This is one beach anniversary my friends will never forget. I thought to myself, “For a couple to sign up for another twenty-five years of marriage is a commitment to endure, lean into God, stay, focus, pray, laugh, love, lead, and practice disciplined restraint.” I really did have that thought inclusive of all those hard words. This couple had just metaphorically and powerfully sustained life and God in the storm. They were able to handle the rain because God is always in the rain.
Such ideas are warring with culture. They are prohibitive. A successful marriage of twenty-five or fifty years requires what some think are handcuffs keeping them from grabbing adventure and happiness driving most. Things of marriage and family, especially in traditional or Biblical form, are viewed as not being relevant anymore.
Paul Zweig writes, “Adventure becomes an act of revolt, an access to the underworld of romantic energies.”
There’s a lot of work these days on keeping the church relevant. Music, lights, live streaming, casual dress, untucked pastors, and official approval of the word “sucks” all attempt at keeping the Bride of Christ relevant. Churches are scrambling in a culture where the allure of adventure, spectacle, and shallowness reduce people to mere images. But my question is this: Do we want to be relevant for believers who are bored, or for lost people needing salvation? The thirst for adventure rages both inside and outside the church walls. It’s a thing of personal fulfillment in finding the next big thing.
Dorothy Sayers notes, “… the achievement of happiness has been erected into a moral obligation.” Denying ourselves, then, of any fulfillment (sexual or otherwise) just seems weird or “unimaginable” as Mark Sayers writes in “Facing Leviathan.”
Leviathan is the unleashed chaos following the lifting of restrictions like ethics, justice, marriage, family, and communal standards. Why would we do this?
Mark Sayers does an excellent job reviewing specific points in history reflecting the unleashing of Leviathan throughout history. Leviathan raises it’s ugly, huge head when leadership philosophies clash — mainly, mechanical and organic. Mechanical leadership often touts tenets like power, duty, formal, traditional, linear, stability, work, success, and conventional. Organic leadership would lean into words such as creativity, casual, fluid, communal, cool, imaginative, and authentic.
Our staff at CCC has noted the definitive change at recent Leadership Summit Conferences. A decided shift from mechanical leadership speakers and workshops to more organic forms. Organic pushes back on the mechanical and often requires deconstruction and chaos to attempt life from what is deemed dead and dysfunctional.
I talked with a young girl in her mid-twenties recently. She was skeptical of Biblical values, the cross, and hell. Rigidity had pushed her to explore. The mechanical was moving her to the organic. Restrictions and commands were giving way to a more superficial quest for freedom, happiness, and self-fulfillment. A god who doesn’t need to shed blood because we’re all basically good, is a god created for self. If love wins, then tedious ideas of wrath, judgment, and justice can be quickly discarded. This is God made in our image. This is the cultural battle facing the church in 2016. There is a selfish idol of adventure left wanting as many leave or move past the church to a form of spirituality without accountability. It’s a form of godliness without the power. (II Timothy 3:5)
Mechanical leadership moves younger generations towards organic leadership and so the cycle goes. Instead of offering harsh critique, the challenge is to lead in offering grace and the Gospel. This can be hard. These mechanical/organic cycles often precipitate storms. God and the Gospel are IN those storms. Does the church miss the opportunity of the storm for vain attempts at relevancy? Church adventure? In the mean time, what do hurting, confused people need in the storm? Better lighting or the Gospel? More adrenaline or Jesus?
What a fascinating ride “Facing Leviathan” is to consider mechanical to organic shifts in the 1800s in Paris, France to Nazi Germany of the 1930s to now. IN the 1930s, young people called the “wandering birds” of Germany wanted to be free from mechanical leadership. They wanted the freedom to wander and gain the ‘utopia of the picnic” without any restraints. Organic. Sound familiar? Hitler was, by all accounts, wanting to give space to such thinking. Restrictions and rules and prohibitions became motivation for killing those who represented such. The Jewish people were the prime example. Hitler wanted to create a greater, more free, more self-gratifying Germany than Paris had ever been. The chaos ensued. In the end, the beautiful, free life was found shallow. Hitler’s lonely suicide is but one proof. People became mere images with raped souls — instead of image bearers who were soul-filled.
At the heart of the problem is this: We cannot defeat the chaos of Leviathan because the chaos is in us.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus enters into our chaos, and defeats it. Leviathan is defeated. Sayers concludes: “Instead of worrying about moving from the mechanical values to the organic values, we (need to) simply begin a culture of living wholeheartedly for the God we find in the storm.” Becoming a liquid church in a culture that’s liquid only allows the church to wash away.
“Facing Leviathan” is such a rich, great, informative read. It’s encouraging. There is a cultural shift happening. But against this kind of hellish leviathan the church will prevail. Sayer’s writes, “Christianity’s revolution understands that the ruler of who must be deposed in this Christian revolution is the self — the human individual who ultimately wishes to be a god, who through their striving disrupts the created order and turns creativity, sexuality, and the pleasure into ends in themselves.”
Being relevant as a church means relying more to the Gospel than we do on style and the pastor’s hair mousse. Thank God.
May the church continue to experience wedding vow renewal ceremonies even in the middle of storms. God is always in the rain.