Did you watch the Lone Ranger growing up? That pillar of black and white television hit the screen in 1949 and kept streaming out ample heroic goodness for 220 more episodes. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels were some mellow but macho dudes who had an uncanny ability to knock off the bad guy in the nick of time. They were men with chests, and I spent a few summers in my youth soaking up reruns of Tonto and his Quimo Sabe in front of the little television in my Lilburn home. How big of an impression was made on me as I sat in my house alone at 9 years old during the summer months, watching the masked man upon his white horse. He was a tough dude who had one true friend, and nobody else was holding him back or slowing him down from his black-masked, solo ride across a desert. I somehow thought to myself, as a little boy, that living life riding as the Lone Ranger would be the ideal – nothing but me and the setting sun!
Living life as a maverick makes for great television but lousy Christianity. We’ve seen the trending from the time of our nation’s conception go from being a Republic presumably founded upon God, to passionately founded upon nationalism, to the current alarming foundation of individualism. We are a country of me’s, and the resulting dysfunction is impossible to deny. The local church has now become a post-modern alternative for many who profess love for Jesus Christ, whereas it once was regarded as the highest of prioritized places in the life of a believer. I’m not that old, but I can still remember a time in the Southeast when it was a slight stigma on a person or family who disregarded a weekly gathering with the saints. What do you mean that you don’t go to church!?!? Today, many scrunch up their noses when you tell them that you actually love your local church, and they often reply with something akin to “Whaaaaaattttt?” Bewilderment is now paired with an awkward patronization for some who still get up early on Sunday and journey down to the building where the Christians meet to pray, sing, love, serve, give and grow together. In the last few generations we’ve seen people holding their Lone Ranger masks as metaphors for their lives more so than holding their bibles. Yep, we’re not in Kansas anymore, and an undeniable tide has turned, leading people to a diminished commitment to the local church. I’m not whining about it, I’m asking us to consider it, and to discern if this is a healthy trend in the Kingdom. Local churches are certainly not the only valid expression of Christian community, but a local church is the most accessible one, and the one that has been proven blessed by God for multiple cneturies. It’s worth our consideration.
Does your church have a covenant? Most local assemblies do, and they are typically worded as a commitment between individuals who covenant together in spiritual oneness for the purposes of advancing God’s Kingdom together, sharing resources, time and effort for the cause of Christ. Now here’s the follow up question – is it really a covenant to you? Church membership is not really a satisfactory representation of what is to be understood concerning local assemblies of saints. I have memberships in a couple of business places but my covenant with New Bridge is one of only two I have in this life. I made a covenant with Amy on November 22, 1997. I told her that I belonged to her and that I would live for her. We covenanted with one another in selflessness and intentional prioritizing of one another. We have weathered storms and endured each other’s failings and weaknesses. We have chosen to love one another at times when the emotions associated with love were off hiking somewhere in the Himalayas. Our covenant anchors us to one another, and it was made for the purpose of keeping us in oneness when lesser forces tried to lead us away from one another. We do not believe this covenant can ever be broken. Now, I recognize that a church covenant is not exactly the same thing as a marriage covenant, but I emphasize that neither is it a commitment that can be walked away from in a no-fault divorce mindset. Our covenant with our church is not to be dissolved for selfish purposes or even whims of preference. The blessings are enjoyed over the long haul, and through the conflicts and struggles. When we covenant…we apply our honor to our word and commit to an ongoing direction with others. It still means something to a lot of us. I want it to mean something to everyone who enters into it.
This week I will likely officiate a funeral for a woman who took her covenant with her church seriously. She endured discouragements, disappointments, departures by others and defilement in the lives of those she once looked up to. Kathy went home to glory unexpectedly this past Saturday. She was serving until the end. She was smiling. She was singing and looking for ways to helps others rediscover their own misplaced song. By the way, Kathy didn’t own a maverick’s mask. She was no Lone Ranger. She stood before Jesus, eager to worship and serve. She remained steadfast through hurts, sicknesses and deeply challenging circumstances. She did this for decades in the churches where she and Don threw down their tent stakes. People like her rob us all of our excuses of why we sometimes want to give up on the local church. In the end she will stand in glory and likely receive a crown of endurance which many of us will never even get to slide a finger across. Think long and hard with me this week about your heart’s posture toward the local church. Think about the impulse of selfishness which whispers in our ears that we deserve something better, something that suits our own tastes, something that let’s us be us. Think of the folly of the Lone Ranger theology and where it leads to in the end. Or think of Kathy who persevered, endured, and remained steadfast and strong as God gave her the unspeakable gift of…joyful longevity.
Friends, you can keep your holster and spiritual silver bullets which make you feel like a modern day Lone Ranger. Give me an extended tenure in one place, making a difference for Jesus in the lives of others over a long haul. Sure, all local churches are flawed. Good ones will admit that. So often people talk about the hypocrites down at the old church house but is there any hypocrisy to be considered from those who use that as the excuse for why they don’t go there anymore? What about the hypocrites in their families? At work? In the government? On the ball-team? My guess is that they don’t walk away from those places and people groups due to the presence of hypocrites. No, curiously its only the church that has that particular exit door. Me? I think I’d rather continue to walk beside a few hypocrites at church in hopes that some authenticity might rub off of me and onto them as we share the years together. I’ll take that hopeful potential over a black mask and a long solo ride across a desert any day.
Out of space, but not not of thoughts.