Next door to my family is a boarded up abandoned house, they’re all over our city. At one point this house next door towered as a beautiful stoic home; now it’s’ a wreck, rotted and dilapidated. In the last year it’s had a guest (they call them squatters in our neighborhood). This house guest has been mowing the lawn, working on the exterior, genuinely trying to take care of it. I’ve become friends with our guest. He loves this broken down house, loves it. He knows about all its unique architecture and history. But the major problem with the house, despite its vintage qualities is that the roof is like swiss cheese. When it rains the house floods on every floor. Mold is creeping throughout because of the steady stream of water. He wants this house so desperately that I fear he might start moving furniture in. My concern is that until this place gets a new roof everything on the inside gets rotted and ruined.
Figuratively, I’ve watched this ruininghappen on the missional frontier. In the last 10 years I’ve met hundreds of people who have left the faith. Over a drink, a few tears and some repressed anger they’ve shared their slow personal migration away from following Jesus. I’ve observed that some item of furniture (prayer, scripture, personal walk, justice issue etc) in their “house of faith” eroded overtime or suddenly. There was a trusted dependance upon a piece of furniture to support the weight of their spirituality. When it became no longer dependable there was a diminishing desire to stay in the house. What has been the common denominator? Listening to these real-life stories, a common theme emerged; they had no roof or a porous one at that.
The roof on our “house of faith” is intended to be the Kingship of Jesus. From the opening scenes in Genesis, to the family of Israel, to the arrival of Jesus, the winding drama has a fragile thread woven throughout. Will image bearers welcome and embrace God as their King? Does God have the right to rule over their active lives? In Genesis the challenge of God’s right to rule is hovering in the air. The Trinity empowers the Garden of Eden community to flourish and create. The Enemy pokes at this arrangment “don’t you think these boundaries seem arbitrary and a bit stifling?”(my paraphrase). The connection between partnership with God and submission is linked from the onset. Again, this quarrel and tension is exposed in Samuel 8, when the people ask Samuel “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel and the Lord told him: “Listen to what the people are really saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their King, leaving me and serving other kings.” In many ways Israel impeached God and God gave them space for this preference. Climatically when Jesus moves into the world, he unfolds the Sermon on the Mount manifesto. Jesus proclaims that he has come to “fulfill the prophets”. This is a historical kingly declaration. I’m not a linear thinker but Jesus is clarifying the scaffolding of this in-breaking kingdom. The Kingdom’s flourishing, it’s new creation comes into existence under submission to his authority. We must walk in the wake of Jesus to enjoy the partnership.
The Harsh Elements
This quick narrative theology highlights the primary linchpin that must be in place and be put back in place and then be nudged back in place and then be wrestled back in place — Jesus is King and has the right to speak over our lives. C.S Lewis said so precisely “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed and is calling us all to take part in his great campaign.” If this Roof is not our primary identity then everything else will get soaked, moldy and eventually will erode.Leaks and water damage are the two greatest nemesis of a house causing the foundation to weaken, therefore, endangering the whole structure of it. The wind, the rain, the snow, the cold, pummels faith, even faith on fire. We’re fragile creatures surrounded by a world of seemingly hostile facts. I’ve known many excitable Christians young and old who lost their pulse, unknowingly neglecting the maintenance of the roof. Our histories with human authorities cloud our sensibility for Jesus’ authority. We are so polarized around the issue of God’s authority; either being repelled by it or using it to control others. We must interrupt the swinging pendulum caused by ‘ditch-to-ditch’ theological over-corrections. Abuses need to be rebuked but for the sake of survival we must arrest back the beauty of submission to the Lordship of King Jesus.
When most peoples imaginations of being a Christian are whittled down to their simplest loyalty, Christianity is encountered as a “personal relationship with God”. This explanation of the faith is failing us. I contend this way of “experiencing God” cannot hold up to the harsh elements of doubt, desert seasons and distracting kingdoms. It is not the Roof. What does personal mean anyway? Physical? Visual? I suspect the mental icon of a “personal relationship” is heavily influenced by the individual-consumer-experience economy and less by good hermeneutics. There are very few uses of the word “personal” in the scripture. We highlight heroes of the faith who’ve had unmistakable intimacy with God but conveniently ignore the masses behindthese heroes that missed out on this literal quality. Moses, David, Isaiah and the apostle Paul are not templates for a personal relationship. It’s a mystery why they had privileged closeness with the divine while their flocks did not. We all long for a divine connection that will soothe the pain of our human dislocation. But Jesus says ‘Thomas you believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen yet believe “John 20:29. Please acknowledge there is a distinct and real imaginative difference in not physically encountering Jesus. When speaking of our affiliation with the Holy Spirit Jesus says“The wind blows where it chooses, you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where its going. So it is with God’s spirit” That is all wonderful sounding but relationally it’s totally inconsistent and often times frustrating. When personal nearness experiences serious disturbance it begins to unhinge everything else. “Personal” is a feature, a luxury furniture item and it should not be the primary fueling agent of our faith. Too many become unsettled and gradually distance when they become tuned into the nagging feeling “God is not very personal to me”. In effort to keep their imaginations alive many are tempted to make any intuition or good thought a message from or the voice of God. When the vibrancy of our faith is glued to this connection we will get soaked.
Vocabulary is important. When we speak of faith in Jesus we must be careful not to erect an imagination that makes our “personal intimacy” primary. As I survey the drama of scripture, frequently faith is trimmed back to its roots, our loyalty to the reign of God in Christ.This is the challenge: to be an alternative people submitting to the rule of a not-yet-fully-realized King. This is the Missional Minimum. The reign of Jesus must take on a particular, local, communal tangibility or it merely will blow out to sea as a cliche. A missional community inhabits together the domain of Jesus’ Lordship while feeling the incessant bombardment of counter-kingdoms. Discipleship must cultivate a social existence that takes seriously Jesus jurisdiction over our individual and collective lives as we’re sent deeper into the neighborhood. There is a difference between the furniture and the roof. Furniture fills out the home, brings comfort and can be moved around. The roof is a nonnegotiable; it’s the most costly feature of the house.