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Worshiping the Bronze Snake

Guest Blog by Mark Timm

When Ross Perot was appointed as one of the board of directors at General Motors he noted that, “I came from an environment where if you see a snake, you kill it. At General motors, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is to hire a consultant on snakes.”

In the 29th chapter of Numbers we read a short story about Moses, and snakes. The people were being killed by venomous snakes. They asked God for relief, so God had Moses make a bronze snake and hang it on a pole and when they looked at the bronze snake they were saved.

Later in II Kings the bronze snake appears again. Only this time, the people were worshiping the snake and burning incense to it. It was named Nehushtan. The new, righteous King broke the bronze snake to pieces.

In the first story, God used the bronze snake for his purpose, saving the people from death. But then people began to worship that which God once used instead of worshiping him. This is a common theme, that runs through our spiritual history. The bronze snake can be an object, a building, sometimes a person or a system or a program.

Many years ago I went to pick my daughter up from an overnight church youth event. One of the other dads was there to pick up his daughter at the same time and was wearing a ball cap. The former retired pastor angrily chastised the other dad, “take that hat off, don’t you know that you are in the House of God?” He was assigning spiritual significance to a building but actually it was just brick and mortar, like all the other buildings in town. God does not dwell in a temple anymore, today his temple is in our hearts. This building is not the church, we are the church. We call this room of the church the sanctuary, meaning holy, but of course it is no more Holy than a gymnasium or a cafeteria.

Last week we celebrated the purchase of our church building. When I am here alone and it’s quiet I can almost feel the people and events that have been here before us. I sometimes wonder at all that has taken place in this room, the weddings, funerals and life changing moments. But it is still only a building. Someday it will no longer exist, the only thing here that will last forever is us, our spirits.

In my early twenties , I attended a Calvary Chapel in Southern California. In two years what had started as a bible study by a couple of hippies grew into a church of 2,000. The pastors, Ron and Steve had no plan or strategy, no church growth expert guiding their moves, it just happened.

Calvary Chapel was started by Chuck Smith in the late 60’s and sparked the Jesus Movement of the era. Chuck’s daughter began to date a converted hippy who in turn introduced him to the hippy community in Costa Mesa. These were kids that were spiritually searching for answers but were unwelcomed by mainstream Christians because they didn’t conform to a superficial code of conduct that existed in almost all churches of the time. No blue jeans were allowed, no long hair, no guitars, the list was exhaustive. Chuck bought a big tent to house them in until they could build a permanent home.

Once they moved into their new building, they installed new carpet and one of the Elders put up a sign outside that said "no bare feet" in order to protect it. Chuck took the sign down, threw it at the elders and said, I will tear the carpet out before I stop one person from coming into this church.

We started to attend about 10 years after the tent days, old time members used to speak with affection for what they called the tent days. Already they were looking back at what God had done instead of looking to right now and asking what God wanted to do. The Holy Spirit is not sentimental thinking back to the old days and how great they were. The Spirit is looking for where it can do mighty things in the here and now.

Chuck believed that since Christmas had its roots in Pagan worship he did not celebrate it. Many in the movement adopted Chuck’s opinion but taught it as a doctrine although officially they said that where the Word speaks they will speak and where the Word is silent they will be silent. The people that we befriended in the church began to mock our Christmas traditions and practices. So already, ten years in, the denomination was creating its own culture, dressed up as doctrine, to impose on the body. Christmas celebrations were replacing blue jeans and long hair on the taboo list. How quickly non-critical issues can begin to build walls in the body.

I’ve seen a lot of building projects in churches over the years. These big bronze snakes become bigger and bigger and more ornate than the other guy’s down the street, for what? Our culture is comfortable worshiping in a public place, so a public building seems prudent, but it should never take on a greater importance than its purpose.

I believe that we were blessed by God to become the stewards of this wonderful, historic church building. Although we own it now in a matter of time we will pass it on to those younger that follow us. We are all but a vapor that appears for awhile and then vanishes.

Years ago, I spent a great deal of time trying to determine how we should measure success in the church body. One day I believe that God spoke to my heart and answered my question, we don’t. We are supposed to be obedient to his call and we leave the measuring up to him. And when we see a bronze snake arising in our midst, we are to stomp on it.

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