On December 11, 2012

Names #5: The Towers We Build

In the 18th century, there was a Spanish philosopher named Miguel de Unamuno who came up with one of the best questions to illustrate the human condition. This was the question: If you had to choose between creating amazing works of art that would last forever and would make the world a better place, but you would remain anonymous; or you could become a famous, world renown artist and painter but your works would be totally forgotten. Which would you choose?

Insignificant fame or Anonymous blessing?

So this is a series on a small theme in the book of Genesis. Namely, that Genesis cares a lot about names. Apparently the Bible cares a lot about the language we use to describe the world and each other.

Last week I talked about how after the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve try to find their own names, independent of God. But what happens when that stops just being a problem for a couple of people and starts to be the way the whole world operates?

Just eight chapters later, Genesis tells us about how the how the whole world was speaking the same language. And they all got together because they wanted to build a tower. Which actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I mean we build towers all the time. But Genesis is telling us something here. They are trying to exceed the limitations of being human. They are trying to be gods.

The real reason they wanted to build a tower was because they wanted to “make a name for themselves.” (The actual Hebrew here is Donald Trump).

Now think about this for a second. They aren’t actually concerned about the project they are building. Their real goal is to be important. Their real goal isn’t the tower, but to justify their existence.

And God doesn’t like that goal at all.

So God comes down, and confuses their language, in a little project called “Let’s Stop Talking” God takes back their ability to name each other…Not because God is cruel but because only God can make a name great.

But what’s fascinating about this story to me, is that just a few verses later, God is going to approach an elderly, barren couple and ask them to leave their home and family and scatter (the very thing that people of Babel were afraid of). And then God tells them this:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

The very thing that the people of Babel wanted, God was going to give Abraham and Sarah as an act of grace.

Most of the time when I hear people talking about the Tower of Babel, they are talking about whether it really happened or not. The truth is, the Tower of Babel is a story that happens all the time.

After the famous actor, Marlon Brando died, they said that his favorite two words were “Marlon” and “Brando.” Now to be fair, he was in the Superman movie. But this is the human condition. We care more about the names we make, than the kinds of persons that we become or the things we do with our lives.

And this is just as true in church world as anywhere else. I’ve noticed that church leaders don’t think that you can be saved by works, unless they are church works. But that’s heresy too. Towers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and just because we put a cross at the top of it doesn’t mean it’s not a tower.

Think about the language that Christians use to talk about the Kingdom of God. We say “build” the Kingdom or “advance” or “bring in” the Kingdom, but that’s not the way the Bible talks about the Kingdom of God. In the Scriptures, The Kingdom of God is something you enter or receive. The Kingdom of God is a gift. And we’re not the ones who build it.

Recently I was at a Highland Leadership team meeting with a few of our Shepherds, and we were talking about a particular ministry of Highland. It’s a ministry that is close to mine and a lot of other people’s heart that exists to bless some of the under-resourced people in Abilene. But as we were talking we realized that there were several other kinds of ministries exactly like it in town, and as far as we could tell, none of us really were really partnering with each other.

And that’s when one of our Shepherds, asked this question “Do we care more about this ministry being accomplished? Or about getting the credit for this ministry being accomplished?”

What a great question.

I wish every church and ministry and non-profit in the world had somebody on their team asking that question.

Are we really trying to do what we say we are? Or is this just another attempt at something that humans have been trying to do since the beginning of time? Are we really trying to serve? Or are we just trying to make our name great?

After being in ministry for over ten years, I have come to the realization that this is the greatest temptation for any church leader or minister or someone who is trying to serve God.   It is to make the ministry that we are in the tower that can name us. This is why churches rarely take risks. It’s why ministers sometimes can’t receive criticism or suggestions well. Because somewhere along the way we started seeing our ministry or service as the thing that justified our existence.

This is the temptation to reach for a name that God didn’t give us.

This is the temptation to not believe the Gospel.

Only God can make a name great.

It’s time to enter the Kingdom of God, and stop trying to build it.

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  • Mandy McLean

    The WORDS here are wonderful; are there ACTIONS to back this type of thinking up? (not to YOU in particular; general question). That is my biggest question to people who want to ‘re-invent’ the ministries and people who most don’t even know of in this city alone. Do people sitting in church buildings each week ACTUALLY know the people who are “under resourced”? Is this a label? I know many of them and they REALLY know the greatest ONE who is the resource. They may just not look like the people coming to the buildings on Sunday mornings. It boils down to relationships, not programs. Are we willing to be in relation with the people who don’t ‘act right’. I believe Highland is making great waves to allow people to hear this and to implement such thoughts so please do not hear that I am bashing any one church….Just my thoughts and questions to ponder.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Mandy, and great question! It is one thing to say we don’t want to compete with other ministries or want to help people, and another thing to do it. 
    Last Sunday night at Highland we had a meal for the neighborhood that Highland is in, and I loved every minute of that. Watching professors and business owners eat with and serve alongside the neighbors and homeless people around us. In other words, you’re exactly right, the answer is building relationships without thinking us and them. And I’m encouraged by how much it is already happening. Thanks for weighing in.