The Desert Church ... Part B
Intro: A Deliberate Selection
A thirty year old wizened and winced face glares two meters above the corridors of time, as He remembers through the piercing pain and the screaming sinews, those who others will most quickly forget. (Luke 23:40-43 John 19:25)
The brazen cheek, the callous laughter, the spoken abuse, no impediment to His view of those soon to be forgotten criminals who now bracket Him on Golgotha. The only Son of God dies between bookends of sin.
He speaks blessing to an abusive criminal. He cries love and care to a broken mother.He ‘hollers' forgiveness to the ignorant and breathes His last to His father, The Father.
Those who fail to fit (like Himself) He will call, adore and equip. Jettisoning comfortable contemporary religion, His cry from the cross is inviting relationship. Status irrelevant, a scholar is merely academic and a criminal is to be honoured.
Jesus engages individual's without examining their corporate values, their skin colour or skill base. He checks the heart alone. Ritual He rejects, in relationship He rejoices. A church of those who fail to fit will always fit with Him.
Jesus selection processes/criteria have not changed, they are still different to those of this world for His work. His introductions are again from the desert, not the daily tabloid, the halls of learning or the ubiquitous internet.
The Church ‘from the desert'.
Someone once cleverly said, ‘if you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space.'
What happened to John the Baptist while he was in the desert? Where did his wilderness walk take him? Surely John's desert experience had him ‘on the edge.'
God will always unfailingly use the traverse and the travail of the wilderness experience.
In ‘the desert' the dweller usually:
- Encounters the living God, distractions are removed. Time is now available to be still.
- Is sustained by God, the toys of life are absent,
- Is stripped of the things of life that preclude dependence,
- Is humbled and broken into dependence,
- Is self revealed, a mighty mercy of heaven,
- Is restored to serve again,
- Is empowered to a new and mighty work, for from one's deepest morass arises one's greatest ministry.
The wilderness is entered enervated and is exited energized. Surely John's time in the desert was one of purifying, perfecting and empowering. Did God take him through brokenness to blessings?
Through John God bulldozes a new road past old religion. John was the misfit for the masses, and Jesus the misfit for eternity.
God still chooses to use misfits - He delights in and desires the undesirable.
He who failed to fit, this desert-dwelling, locust eating, hirsute hermit, introduced Jesus to a nation based on a religion of ritual. This nation then were given the choice to pursue ritual or choose for relationship.
Jesus chose misfits to introduce Him to the world. They hung around Him at work, but left Him at war. He then built His kingdom on these same deserters.
Today's Church ‘in the desert'
Is the gospel more powerful in fact in the broken and in the ‘fringe dwellers'?
Clearly John the Baptist delivers re-instatement, authority and verbal power afresh to God's rule on earth.
God initiates the new work, this fresh favour through people ‘who go to places other people refuse to go to'. ‘Desert-dwellers' seek anonymity, for that is the very nature of the desert. They too cry with John, ‘He must increase, I must decrease.'(Jn 3:30)
Fringe dwellers, desert dwellers become initiators when released from the wilderness with His power alone (and their own removed).
To be on ‘the fringe' is to be in a position of favour. There is not the constraint that ‘middle dwellers' feel. No pressure from those around, because there are simply none around when one is on the fringe. The fringe may be a lonely place, it is neither safe nor secure. Conformity and peers are irrelevant in the desert. There are no others around to shape the desert dweller.
John introduces the necessary advance of God's rule. (Mt 11:12) This is not subtle, it is deliberate and strong. People who would take hold of His kingdom are not the faint hearted, the people pleasers or even the contemporary religious majority. They have forearms of flint and fingers of steel that will never release His righteous rule in their lives. In fact, they are probably people that can also survive well in a desert.
God is building His kingdom again through desert dwellers. Consistent to God's operations is His ongoing selection of the mis-fit and His distaste for those honoured by man. (Lk 6:26/James 2:5)
In a century of evangelical explosion God has multiplied countlessly first the Pentecostal church, then the parachurch organization and house churches.Concurrently the rise of the independent and even the mega church has been His doing. He does this for His kingdom and His namesakes to circumnavigate ‘the middle dwellers' from the centuries-old denominations.
Recognising a ‘church from the desert'
In a Post Denominational Christianity, God's ‘new' religion is His old one, again stripped bare of man's accumulated self importance and self perpetuating traditions.
The church that lives well in His ‘Post Denominational' time echoes John's “He must increase, I must decrease." (Jn 3:30)
- It seeks people not power, possessions nor perpetuity.
- It seeks influence not control.
- It seeks to teach stillness and not just service. (Ps 46:10)
- It sees itself as seasonal and releases itself from self-perpetuity.
- It looks to work where God is, looking for willing reception to missionary endeavour. (Lk 10:1-23 and Jn 15:16)
- It recognizes the time ‘to shake the dust from the feet'. (Lk 9:5, 10:11)
- It recognizes that God is most likely to use the least likely.
- It recognizes when the carnal rules the spiritual and refuses to accept such rule. It does not retreat into carnality when threatened and it will refuse to be ruled by the ‘carnal corral.'
As sin is multiplied exponentially through this world, so too the pursuit of righteousness is hidden and the boldness for truth resisted.
Sin is never left unattended. As the activity of the spirit of wickedness increases, so too the activity of the Holy Spirit of Christ.
As corporate Christianity continues to wrestle with its own all too real demons, God is not hindered and continues His work, again building His church from the desert.
A heart in heaven is a safe one.
The earth had his head, but heaven had his heart. John the Baptist again ‘lives' ploughing forward for God's kingdom, 2000 years after being served up on a platter.
His cries question the corporate Christianity that will tolerate sin and will live with injustice.
He cries over the desire for correct theological ritual (John 5:39-40) that forgets Jesus invites relationship. (Hosea 6:66, Mt 9:13, 11:28-30)
He cries, “I must decrease, He must increase!" (John 3:30)
His cry is to become spiritual fruit pickers of those who would call Christ Lord and then self promote. Churches like people are known by the fruit they produce.
He cries, that this world's fight is not just for the Written Word, but for The Living Incarnate Word.
People are known and characterized by their excesses, so too His church to this very day. (see Rev 2&3)
Jesus has built His kingdom previously upon 'new wineskins', this is in fact how He has operated for two millennia as He circumnavigates the barriers His previous wineskins have created. Regardless of denomination, caste or even theology, Jesus still died to have a permanent relationship with me.
He still invites, still secures and still works. In Post Denominationalism His kingdom still forcibly advances. His kingdom still has a place for those who fail to fit.
Remember, those who bring the most important messages may well look like the least important. (Rev 5:6-7, 11:3)