We are all trying to create a church environment unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Without having had a previous conversation with you, I’m convinced you are living with an internal tension toward the gap that exists between what your church is and the redemptive idea God had on His heart, known as Church. You are working tirelessly every day trying to close this space between what is and what should be.
Closing this gap is a matter of death and life.
But not in the typical Christian sense of hell and heaven. This is about the mysterious and terrifying economy God has created that invites people and powers to die to themselves. I heard a pastor recently talk about the invitation Jesus made to the first disciples. He described it as being a safe and simple welcome to follow Jesus. But the truth of those stories is the day the Savior of humanity locked eyes with those young men, their lives were wrecked.
Jesus showed up in the middle of their work day, in the middle of their career path and crashed into their world with an abrasive interruption to life as usual. The dropping of nets and walking away from tax tables was the putting to death of their personal agenda. It meant following the light of Jesus into the darkness of the day.
They left the jobs they were good at. They walked away from the educated expertise that made them important at dinner parties. If you are alive, you must die to yourself—your Twitter, your blog, your ideas, your church attendance, your fears and the things you think make you important. In God’s economy, life follows death.
But death isn’t always personal.
Our church movements smell like sheep and cattle sometimes. Our institutions and preferences have sounded like money being exchanged. These are sights and smells Jesus stumbled upon when He walked into the temple courts and saw that it looked like a market. Oddly enough, Jesus didn’t immediately start flipping tables. He actually walked out. John 2:15 says He “made a whip out of cords” (TNIV). We know Jesus was handy, but we often don’t think about Him gathering all of the materials necessary and making this whip Himself. I almost picture Him sitting somewhere as He was putting it together, rocking back and forth out of righteous anger. What happened next is something that doesn’t get taught in seminary courses about how to pastor your church like Jesus. He destroyed and disassembled the temple courts with His whip and with His voice.
What’s bought and sold in the temple courts continues to change from generation to generation, but the story remains the same. When we give names and brands to following Jesus, we clutter the temple. When our organizations, churches and networks are elevated higher than the name of Jesus, they need to die. We have to keep the proper perspective that our role is not to create waves, our role is to ride waves that God Himself initiates. When we try to engineer false currents, we look like fools boasting about our little wave pools, oblivious to the ocean next to us.
My wife was born and raised on the island of Maui. She often talks about how volcanic soil is the most fertile soil—it’s why you find such lush, tropical paradises on islands formed by volcanoes. Somehow, over time—where once there was a black, charred wasteland of solid burnt rock after a volcanic eruption—there grows lush plants and wildlife—rainforests that hold the most breathtaking blossoms and even the scientific secrets to life and health for the whole planet.
But this paradise takes time to grow. The volcanic rock doesn’t yield the flowers and trees easily. Time must spend its energy on the barren wasteland. The wind blows harsh, and the rains beat mercilessly down on the desert. With the passing of time, birds fly over this darkened earth that looks like death and drop their seeds. While the rest of the world is distracted by the things that come easily, the changing of seasons will produce a sprout that pushes its way through a crack in the deadened granite. If you’ve ever seen a photo of a volcanic flower, it’s the most peculiar site. In the midst of the dark, lonely, desolate rock, there is one single flower that stands in contrast. This flower becomes the beginning of paradise.
May this become our story. May death lead us to life.