It’s easy to forget what it’s like on the other side. An adult forgets what it’s like to be a teenager. A married person forgets what it’s like to be single. A parent of older children forgets what it’s like to have an infant. A businessman or woman forgets what it’s like to be a student. A financially successful person forgets what it’s like to be mowing lawns. A seasoned musician forgets what it’s like to learn how to read music, let alone make the instrument sing.
Now that you get the idea, try this one on: churchgoers forget what it’s like not to know Jesus. Churchgoers sometimes forget what it’s like on the other side. We get comfortable. I begin to think that “church” is something for me, Christian.
So I look at what we do at church through my own eyes. Does the church please me? Is the atmosphere comfortable for me? Does the music suit me? Does the service work for me? Is the church culture understandable to me?
But what if I asked the same questions from the other side? What if I put the “other” ahead of myself? Think about your neighbor. Perhaps she’s a divorced mom with a teenager who has dropped out of high school. You know she struggles with alcohol. Her home has been for sale for two years now and you don’t know how she’s making it. It seems like there’s a different man over every other weekend.
Now, let’s look at church from her side. Does the church please her? Is the atmosphere comfortable for her? Does the music suit her? Does the service work for her? Is the church culture understandable to her?
Here’s another question worth bringing up at the dinner table or with some friends. Is the church to face inward or outward? Does the church exist primarily for the insiders or the outsiders? I can imagine someone responding, “Actually, the church is to be neither inward nor outward, but upward!”
Not so fast. We can’t bypass the question so easily, for the church exists in real-time and space, surrounded by real life. Yes, the church can be poised upward, but how will it get there, by going in or going out?
The Son went out in order to get up. The Incarnation (going out from God) happened before the Ascension (going up to God). Or, you might say, going out from God was necessary to going back up to God. Jesus had to go out in order to go up.
Jesus continues to go out. The church is Jesus’ spiritual body, charged with going out. That’s what the great commission is all about. Jesus commands his body to go out. That’s necessary to do before we go up, meeting Jesus in the air at his Second Coming.
Where do we go out? We go out to the other side. We enter the lives of those who are not yet aware of God’s unfathomable love in Jesus. That’s what Jesus did first for the church, when we were still on the other side, way east of Eden. Jesus put on our clothes and walked in our shoes. Jesus used our words and learned our culture. Jesus got in our heads by getting in our skin. He crossed over to the other side, completely. He sealed his humanity with loud cries and tears, blood and bile.
At the cross a window was opened, whereby humans can cross back over to the other side where God is. The cross is a standing invitation to return to your Maker. But the cross, glorious as it is, faces the other side. It faces my neighbor, who does not know God. It faces out in order to bring people up.
Jesus surrounded himself with the outsiders. His life faced those on the other side of religion. Maybe you’ve been facing in for too long. Maybe you’ve forgotten what it’s like outside of the church culture. My challenge is for us to go and lovingly listen to the heart of the other side. Then we must learn to tell the Jesus story, using the ingredients of their lives.
© 2010 by Samuel Kee