Years and years ago, when I was but a wee lad of 30 (1988) I took a dream trip to the U.S.S.R. (back when it WAS the U.S.S.R.). I traveled as a composer who, together with a Soviet composer, an American playwright, and a Soviet playwright, wrote a musical to be performed by an acting troupe of High School actors from both the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. (a local youth theatre from the Pacific Northwest). We had a truly life-changing time, getting to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway, watching the country go by and ending up in Novosibirsk, Siberia where we rehearsed together and learned from each other.
There were many warm and wonderful people that we met, and many of them were eager to tell us all that THEY knew and loved about America. This was the age of perestroika and glasnost; the country was much more open and people more willing to be free about their opinions. There was a genuine friendship and willingness to connect with the Americans. These people wanted us to know that they admired many things about us and our culture.
One of our hosts showed us photos that she had collected from “grey-market” LIFE magazines: pictures of Presidents past, photos and articles of space exploration, as done by the U.S. There was the English Teacher, who wanted to always speak English with us, so that she could practice her idioms.
Then there was the 60-something-year-old man in Siberia who, after a dinner at his home (a larger apartment, because he was a high-ranking party member), and a few glasses of vodka, wanted to show us his pride and joy. We walked outside to the back of the complex where he led us to a series of locked garages (cars were a luxury and there were few of them) where he unlocked the padlock, opened a small door within the garage door, turned on a light and we looked in disbelief at a spotless garage containing a shiny, like-new, baby-blue, American, 1957 Chevy.
Even those of us (like me) who didn’t know much about cars were astounded at several things: it was in pristine condition, inside and out, it was sitting on a large oriental rug…AND IT WAS AN AMERICAN ’57 CHEVY in the middle of Siberia!
I’ve forgotten much of the story, told by him through our interpreter, but remember enough that it was a gift given to him by a German who acquired it from an American soldier. It was sent to this man (Ivan was his name, I believe) in pieces, which he put together by find photos of the vehicle…which was not easy at that time. He was a tool and die maker in Siberia, so he fashioned implements he couldn’t find. His eyes filled with tears when he saw the astonished admiration of the teen-aged boys who looked at every detail…and encouraged them, and us, to go ahead and touch it…he would polish it again tomorrow.
We left a very happy man, tinkering with it in his garage that night. But before we left, the interpreter with us, my new friend Misha, called me over to the hood of the car and said…”look at this”. He opened the hood and inside was…nothing. There was no engine. Ivan had received some parts of the engine, but not enough yet to rebuild it…partially because the engine parts were so valuable that he used some of them to fix the car that he actually drove.
What we had here was a beautiful vehicle, looking like it hadn’t aged a day since it left the factory in the U.S.A…but its main purpose was all but forgotten.
There are Believers & Followers…and even entire congregations…who are just like that car. We look good on the outside, and even sparkle with beauty. But our intended purpose is missing. This is a person/church without the Breath of God. The entire PURPOSE of a 1957 Chevy is transportation. The beautiful design and structure is to cover, protect and enhance the performance of the engine…the purpose is to carry people and things from one place to other. Somehow in this story the design & structure became a shell…the purpose being lost. Sometimes the design and structure of a Believer & Follower or a congregation becomes the MOST important thing and POWER (The Holy Spirit/Breath of God) is gone and can’t support the PURPOSE. So, churches polish the structure and make sure that it’s a beautiful “vehicle” that doesn’t go anywhere.
The lesson? “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”, let’s surround ourselves with a beautiful structure ONLY after we are assured that the engine is powered by the Breath of God, and tuned to His Word. Only then can we get the car out of the garage and see the world today, in our Chevrolet!