Friday, May 15, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong

(Part Nine of an ongoing series. Starts way on down below and works upward)

Boxes Versus the Glow of Life

Sometimes, in fact many times, the glow I am talking about may very well be concentrated within one of the boxes. Yet it is the glow, not the box, that stands out to God, I believe. The glow does not cooperate well with the neat shape and finite limitations of the boxes. It is hard to contain brilliant light within a box. Boxes have dark corners and holes in them that allow “glow” to spill out over the boxes’ lines.

More amazingly the glow shows up constantly completely outside of the boxes where two or more gather in His name. The glow can be seen in homes, in work places, in schools, on the streets, and even in some very surprising places that would never, through human eyes, be called “church.” Imagine flying over the planet in a chopper, seeing the glow of Kingdom activity through God’s eyes. Imagine that the finite edges of the boxes fade into the darkness of the night, but that the warm, florescent glow of Kingdom activity lights up whenever and wherever two more gather in His name. That, I have come to believe, is exactly what God sees when He looks out upon creation and sees His church.

Still We See Boxes

So why do we continue to see boxes? Why do we become so fixated on the boxes that we really believe they are “the church?” Our eyes have been so trained to see boxes in every area of our lives that we just cannot help ourselves.

The boxes are not bad in and of themselves, they are just artificial. They are comprised of lines that simply are not real. They keep us from seeing reality. There are examples of the boxes in every area of our lives. When we think of medicine, for example, our human eyes see boxes. We see hospitals, HMO’s, and insurance providers. When we think about shopping for merchandise, our human eyes see boxes. We see Wal-Marts, Targets, Mejers, Costcos, online retailers, outlet malls, and name brands. When we think about education, our human eyes see boxes. We see schools, universities, degrees and certificates, academic disciplines, text books, and exams. When we think about the law, our human eyes see boxes. We see law firms, courts, and government entities. It is no wonder when we think about God, our human eyes see religions and all the other boxes described above. How bizarre it is, really, that we have been so conditioned to see everything through “boxes.”

We’re so accustomed to looking at everything through boxes that we do not even think about how strange that perspective really is.

Why do we see things through “boxes?” Why, for example, do we not see things relationally, by seeing the people, instead of by seeing the boxes? If we looked at things relationally, then when we thought of medicine we might first think of a doctor or a nurse before we thought of a hospital or an HMO. If we looked at things relationally, then when we thought of shopping we might think of a grocer or a merchant instead of a Wal-Mart or a Meijer. But we do not even use the words “merchant” or “grocer” very often in our vocabulary any more. If we looked at things relationally, then when we thought of education we might first think of a teacher instead of a school or a university. If we looked at things relationally, then we thought of the law we might think of an attorney or a judge instead of a court or a pre-paid legal service. If we looked at things relationally, then when we thought of the church we might think of people instead of an organization.

Seeing Things Relationally, and Familially (is that a word?)

If we were conditioned by our culture to see things relationally instead of as boxes, it would change our understanding of church. But I want to take my point one step further beyond seeing things relationally. What if we looked at things not merely relationally, but in terms of family relationships. In other words, what if we were conditioned to see things as familial, or as based on family-type relationships?

This would change everything in an even more dramatic way. Then I believe we would think of a family doctor when we thought of medicine; of a town merchant when we thought of merchandise; of a mentor when thought of education; of a family or town lawyer when we thought of a law. And when we thought of church, perhaps we would think of fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.

Think back to the days of old when the family doctor would come to the house and make house calls when somebody was ill. If you are like me, you cannot remember such a time yourself, but have to rely on the reports of those who went before us to remember such a time. I am not old enough to remember such things as doctors who made house calls. But I am told about a time when medicine was not only thought of in relational terms, but in downright familial terms. The family doctor really was the family doctor, and he did much of his work right where family happens, in the home.

Even though it may seem like a strange idea upon first impression, I think most of us would really like the idea of a family doctor coming to our home. I think we would love the idea of a trusting relationship in the area of medicine. We would really like it if medical care was based on a trusting relationship with a family doctor who we trusted enough, and who cared enough, to come to our home and care for our most important physical concerns right in the most intimate setting of our lives, our homes. We would prefer the family doctor over the HMO we deal with, over the crowded emergency room or quick care we deal with, and over the insurance provider we deal with. In fact, I think if we really believed it could happen, we would prefer to have every area of our lives based upon a trusting relationship with someone rather than through a “box.”

We've Learned to Live With Boxes

Yet this is no longer our experience. We have learned to live with boxes. In some ways we have grown to like boxes because at least we can hide in the crowds that they provide and not have to risk relationships with people who we do not actually trust. Boxes are safe when we do not really trust people. But this is not the way life must be experienced. In fact, I maintain that it is not the way we really think is the best way to experience life.

Seeing Church Through the Relational Image

It has changed my life to attempt to see “church” the way God does – using my imagined overhead heat-sensing surveillance. Most nights I sit down for dinner at my house with my wife Rebekah, my daughter Tori, and my sons Lucas and Niles. I believe that when we do this, we are in a very real sense an expression of the church, especially when we become aware that we are meeting together in His name. I think God looks down and sees His church during our family dinners. But on many of those same days as each of us goes about our daily activities, Tori and Lucas to their respective schools, me to work, and Rebekah (with Niles) to a variety of household responsibilities and children’s activities, we become expressions of the church at various times with people we encounter. Any time one of us gathers with others who follow Him and become aware of his presence, we are in a very real sense the church. At least that is how I believe God sees it from his divine perspective. This is not only true for my family, but it is true for all of His families all over the globe. Think about the magnitude of that. At any given moment in time, the glow appears in various places all over the globe. And a few minutes later, the glow has re-arranged itself to new various locations. No wonder only God can really see His church as it really is!

Now We See a Dim Reflection

The power that we would unleash if we stopped focusing on the lines that form the boundaries of the boxes and start seeing life more from His perspective! Of course, someday all the boxes will disappear. That is the glimpse we get in the last chapters of the book of Revelation of a city not needing a temple because God Himself is the temple. We will be His people and He will be our God. I read that as a description of God’s church without the boxes. What I am suggesting is that the vision in Revelation of a church without boxes already is the reality. We just cannot see it clearly yet. Only God can. However, we can chose to start living out the reality of church being familial, not based upon boxes, right now in our present lives if we wish to do so. In fact, if we wish to do so, we can by faith begin living out that reality which is a much more complete way to live than to continue to live within the confines of the boxes. The choice is ours. Great blessing is available to us now if we are willing to let go of our culturally-dictated reliance on the boxes and, by faith, trust that there is a greater reality to what really is church. Even if not by sight, we can live by faith that the church is what God sees. We can trust him that the Revelation picture of the church is reality. We can do that if we wish. We can simply be His people.

It is like trading in your HMO for a trusting relationship with a family doctor who comes to your house. Only much better.

If we trust God to be our Father, and simple be His people, then the boxes will start to fade in their importance as the glow grows stronger and stronger. And as the darkness around us becomes more powerful, it is the glow that will stand out more and more.