Tuesday, July 7, 2020

People of God

As we look at the way that the apostles carried the message of Christ into the world (see yesterday), we cannot neglect to look at how that was a radical deviation from the way that God's people had lived for many generations before the time of Jesus.

When God created man, He created him with the intention to walk together in this world. We were made for that kind of intimacy. And for awhile, it worked; God walked with Adam and Eve in Eden. Until, well, you know.

For thousands of years after this ill-fated bite of fruit, the people of God spent their lives seeking Him. They spent their lives coming to the Temple to worship. Bringing sacrifices to the altar to atone for their sins. Attending festivals and feast days at the place appointed by God. In fact, when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, her question about being a person of God is, "Which mountain am I supposed to come to God on?"

So the fact that the apostles are carrying the message of Christ into the world at all is a significant development in the history of God's people. No longer are they a people drawn to a place, but they are a people sent from one. Their holy ground becomes the place from which they journey out into the world, not the sanctuary to which they retreat from it. (I do not use 'retreat' with the intent to indicate a running away of any sort, but simply to signify a place where the day-to-day grind of life was left behind for attention to worship.)

Perhaps this is part of our difficulty as we consider what it means to bring the Gospel into our own world. We have churches today who have such an emphasis on being places of welcome, of getting persons in the door, of inviting "seekers" to an "encounter" and, don't you see? It's like we're inviting our neighbors into an Old Testament faith. "This is the place where we go to meet God." And then we struggle because we can't figure out how they ended up with a conception of an Old Testament God.

You've heard it. We all have. This God of ours is vengeful. He's all about the rules. He is overly concerned with what we do and how we do it and why we do it. He's taking attendance at His buildings on Sunday mornings. The resistance we hear against Christianity follows much of the same line. Our world can't believe that our God requires us to be in a certain place at a certain time. They can't fathom a loving God who 'takes attendance.' And yet, here we are, trying to tell them that the church is the place they ought to be. Because it's the place that we go.

But what if it wasn't?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't go to church. No, not at all. I'm not saying that we should abandon our buildings and set out into the world to forge a faith on our own. The New Testament is very clear about the value of our meeting together and God's emphasis on fellowship. We absolutely need the church.

What I'm asking is...what if the church wasn't the place that we go to meet God or to worship Him, but what if the church is the place from which He sends us out into the world? What if the church isn't where we end up, but where we get started?

What if we trade our Old Testament faith for a New Testament one?

I think this goes a long way toward getting us back to our intended discipleship, where our world hears the Gospel without ever walking in our doors. Where Jesus is the first word off our lips when we speak. Where the end game is not to lure our neighbors to church, but to introduce them to their Savior. I think it goes a long way toward shaping us into a people who go out from the church with grace and do good works along the way, just like Jesus did, and showing our world a God who walks beside them in the same dust and dirt that soils their own feet...instead of a God who dwells in a Temple and makes His people come to Him. I mean, we can't keep dragging our friends, our neighbors, our communities into our buildings and then trying to tell them that God loves them so much that He intended to walk with them forever...and that He meant that so deeply that when we went astray, He put on flesh and came to remind us all over again. The message doesn't resonate when we've got such an emphasis on being in our pews.

We do good works so that we can get others in our doors so that we can share with them the Gospel in the hopes that they 'come to Christ.' But what if...what if we bust out of our doors with passion and purpose and share the Gospel with others, doing good works along the way, so that they understand that Christ came to them?

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