Not Done Yet.
When I was a junior in high school my basketball team made it into the state finals for our little conference. My school was small and Christian. Those two facts alone meant that we played in small, loosely assembled conferences with other small, Christian schools. Despite this fact, we soldiered on and took every game as seriously as if we were playing in the NCAA Final Four. In the league tournament we defeated a school that had beaten us badly in the regular season to make it into the championship game. I started that year as a forward. The guy who had been the starting forward, a senior, had gone down at the beginning of the season with a torn ACL. It was one of those storybook moments---if you daydream about those kind of things. You know, awkward underclassman thrust into the limelight, stumbles at first, but then after a few Rocky training vignettes finds his inner chi and wins the game in slow motion.
Bummer that it didn’t turn out that way, but it was still a good story. In the championship game I had the almost impossible task of guarding and playing against a junior from some small, Christian school from Brevard County, Florida who was 6’6” tall. We only lost by three points, and it was a heartbreaker. For a long time I had this picture of our team standing on the court with me raising the second place trophy high into the air. I think I was trying to imitate that moment in the old “Bad News Bears” movie where one of the kids held the second place trophy up and said something like, “Take this trophy and stick....” Ah, well, you probably saw the movie.
The following year we fully expected to return to the state championship to get another shot at the team who had beaten us. As it turned out, we did. Now that would have made a good story, right? One that would have rivaled the Karate Kid, no doubt. The ending would have been a good one, with a shot of me leaping high into the arms of my teammates where the film would freeze in a still of my triumphant expression and raised fist while my team held me up and a song by Survivor played in the background. Unfortunately, reality sort of messed it all up. That and my stubborn pride. Story of my life, really.
I have a lot of regrets in my life. I regret that I didn’t go to Boston that time when I had tickets to see the Red Sox at Fenway Park. My wife and I couldn’t afford the trip, but I wish we’d gone into hock to do it. I also regret that I didn’t keep my Best Buy stock and then sell it when it split like a hundred ways and was worth a gazillion dollars, and then sold it before last year, of course. I regret not going into the Peace Corps. I regret breaking up with my wife when she was my girlfriend and taking 5 years to reunite with her. I regret the chili I ate for lunch.
But one of my deepest regrets is that I decided to quit my high school basketball team the week before the state championship game.
There’s no excuse. I did it because I wasn’t going to start the game, and would have to come off of the bench. The coach had announced that he was going to start a senior in my place--a guy who was big, but horribly clumsy. I quite because of this. I did it because I was angry, and my pride was injured and I cared more about my pride than about a Karate Kid moment. I cared more about my pride than I did about the rest of the guys on my team. I cared more about my pride than I did about the years of regret that I would have to live with as a result. And my empty, stupid, useless gesture of protest and control was not worth it... not at all.
Funny. We all dream of being the hero, but most of us only want to be the hero if it doesn’t cost us too much or isn’t too uncomfortable. And so in the end, most of would rather deal with potential regret than risk something, anything for the greater good, for our future, for unrealized dreams and potential. Instead of embracing the unknown and stepping into risk with a sense of adventure, most of us in our culture have decided to wrap our arms around Complacency and it’s relative comfort. It’s easier to risk nothing and never be disappointed or deal with regret.
While complacency is a cultural epidemic, it has affected the Church in devastating ways. For those of us who call ourselves Christians our complacency has blinded us to the ways that God is working in the world around us. Our complacency has kept us from hearing the voice of the Spirit, leading us to where the Spirit is willing us to go. Complacency has become our drug of choice to numb the guilt we feel for not being the people God risked everything for us to become.
There is this great story from the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Joshua. The People of God have entered into the Promised Land that God had covenanted they would possess, and their struggle (for the time being) with neighboring tribes is at an end. When it comes time to divide the land up among the 12 Hebrew tribes, there is this wonderful moment where a man named Caleb steps up to claim his stake in the land of Canaan. Caleb had been one of the original 12 spies who were sent into Canaan by Moses to report back whether the land could be taken by force. Along with Joshua (who would eventually succeed Moses) Caleb returned to give a positive report. He and Joshua were the only two out of the 12 who believed that the Hebrew people had a chance to fulfill God’s promise. They were overruled. As a result, they people of Israel ended up wandering, homeless in the wilderness outside of the Promised Land for another 40 years.
Now if anyone had a reason to settle down, find a nice piece of land with a good view, build a rocking chair and placidly rock there watching the sunset it was Caleb. The man was 85. He had been a relatively young man when the Hebrew people went into their 40-year wilderness hiatus. Now he was not. He had every reason to be ticked off, bitter, and crotchety--like an old guy who lives near a school and constantly screams at kids to stay off his lawn as they walk past. The best years of Caleb’s life, which could have been spent farming, growing his family, enjoying the fruits of his labors were gone. He was due a rest.
But he didn’t want to rest.
In fact, Caleb gives the following speech: “And here I am today, eighty-five years old! I’m as strong as the day Moses sent me out. I’m as strong as ever in battle, whether coming or going.”
Then comes the kicker.
“So give me this hill country,” Caleb says, “that God promised me. You yourself heard the report, that the Anakim were there with their great fortress cities. If God goes with me, I will drive them out, just as God said.”
Seriously. The guy was 85 and was still ready to go out and kick some.... You get the idea.
The name “Caleb” is derived from the Hebrew word “kalev” which was usually associated with the word “dog.” It could be used negatively to indicate that the “dog” in question was not a good person, was crafty, sneaky and filthy. We sort of do the same thing in our own vernacular---Why are you such a dog? (as in womanizer) Yo, don’t be doggin’ me! (as in don’t give me grief) or You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog (as in Elvis is still alive, seriously) But in the Hebrew language, the word kalev could also be used positively. A “dog” could be faithful, loyal, dependable--a true servant.
Caleb was a dog. How cool is that? He was also a straight up warrior. When I think of Caleb, I sort of picture “Dog the Bounty Hunter” from that weird reality show on A&E. I’m not making any kind of assessment on Dog from the TV show. I hear he has some issues. But still, he’s kind of old-looking and still ready to suit up and go find “bad” guys-----which qualifies him for my imaginary version of Caleb. When I think of God now I always picture Morgan Freeman. So, it’s not too much of a stretch that I would picture Dog the Bounty Hunter when I think of Caleb from the Old Testament.
And here’s something even more intense. Caleb asked for the hill country where these people called “The Anakim” lived. The word Anakim is a Hebrew word that quite literally means “The wearers of the necklace.”
I have no idea what that means.
But they were supposedly giants, and the people of Israel were terrified of them. Except for Caleb, of course, who claimed the land where the Anakim hung out---and then talked smack about driving them out. Beautiful.
Caleb could have embraced complacency. He could have just been satisfied with some easy, already conquered and peaceful property. He didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, and least of all to his fellow Hebrews. After all, he’d suffered some serious hurt at the hands of the people of God. He’d put himself out there plenty and all it had gotten him was 40 years of wandering and worn out sandals. He could have said, “Enough is enough. Hand me my barco-lounger and a shawl. I’m going to sit right here.” Instead he strapped it on and went out to fight some giants.
Here’s something true.
If people become satisfied with the status-quo, if they have grown complacent enough to accept unreservedly what is right in front of them , they run the risk of forever quenching their desire for something more, something great.
When those of us who call ourselves Christians grow complacent, we run the risk of quenching our desire for the things that are near to the heart of God. When Christians become satisfied with their own spirituality they cease to be the people God has called them to be.
We need to develop a sense of spiritual dissatisfaction.
When we feel satisfied with our own spirituality, we soon discover that it becomes easier and easier to tolerate sin. Yeah, I used the s-word. Sin abounds, my friends. It’s systemic and personal, and we tolerate it because we don’t think we are strong enough or “holy” enough to struggle against it. There’s always someone else, right? Someone else who will do it for us. Some hero. Maybe.
So in the end, the tolerance---which in so many cases seems to be viewed as the ultimate virtue---attached to our complacency becomes a way of life for us.
We tolerate the fact that there are people starving in our own neighborhoods.
We tolerate the way the poor and the marginalized become poorer and more marginalized.
We tolerate war and violence.
We tolerate the evils of racism and sexism.
We tolerate the hate-filled way that so many people who call themselves Christians have ostracized and labelled our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters---children of God, whom God loves.
We tolerate the sin that keeps us from loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength--and our neighbor as our selves.
We tolerate the ways that the Good News of Jesus Christ has been hijacked by the legalists and the fundamentalists.
We tolerate the way that people have forgotten how to pray and neglect to read and listen to God’s Word.
We tolerate the way Busy-ness has become the idol that we bow down each day of the week and only bend our knee to God for an hour on Sunday.
We tolerate the watering-down of the Christian faith into something that is easy to swallow and easier to follow.
And we seldom change what we can tolerate.
What would it look like if the people of God, who make up the Church decided that it was no longer acceptable to keep settling for some piece of land that has already been conquered?
What would look like if the Church set its sights upon the hill country and went there to fight giants?
Maybe it would like the kingdom of God.
Maybe it would look... heroic.
Victor Hugo once wrote, "there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come."
It's time. We’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.