Outside the Box

Act 11:1-4, 18 - “The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened:…When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (NIV)

Over the years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take long to build a religious box. Once it’s built, it takes a bulldozer to knock it down. Sometimes, it takes an earthquake to blast open the door and walk out. The Church is a legendary box builder.

Think of it. Our movement began as the most “outside the box” people group the planet has ever witnessed. Our Savior came in a virgin package, died, and rose from the dead. While on earth He worked miracles and promised that even His lowest disciple on the spiritual totem pole could do the same if he only believes.

Followers of Jesus were infamous for breaking from culture and religion. The Lord reached the known world, not through people who had developed a good theology, but through people who had had an experience with the living God. Nothing wrong with good theology—we need it and it works a whole lot better than bad theology. But even a good theology without an encounter with God makes us more religious and builds a protection around us that keeps us from launching out in faith. The greatest advancements of our movement were grassroots movements, people who had a fresh experience with God.

For example, in 1858 during an economic downturn, a local New York City businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, asked a few other businessmen to join him for noontime prayer in a local church on Fulton Street. Over weeks, the prayer meeting grew so much they held three simultaneous prayer meetings in other parts of the building. Prayer gatherings began popping up all over the city in other churches. By March newspapers carried front page reports of over 6000 people attending daily prayer meetings in churches throughout New York. Prayer meetings began breaking out in Pittsburg and Washington. Soon, a midday sign on businesses read “Will re-open at the close of the prayer meeting.” One source says “By May 50,000 of New York’s 800,000 people were new converts. New England was profoundly changed by the revival and in several small towns no unconverted adults could be found!”

This, my friend, is what believers in Jesus were born for. We’re outside the box people. Christianity does not work well as a system. No, let me rephrase that. Christianity does not work AT ALL like God intended in a man-made system.

In order for the gospel to spread, God threw Peter out of his Jewish mindset when he gave him a vision of himself eating all kinds of reptiles and pigs (Acts 10:9-15). Not a big deal to us, but a huge issue for a first century Jew. Later, he used Peter to shake up his Jewish counterparts by baptizing the household of Cornelius, a gentile. Again, no biggie to us, but it rattled first century Christianity.

In a few short years the church had already built a safe haven of trusted leaders, so God gave Saul of Tarsus a vision, knocked him off his horse (or whatever he was riding), blinded him, and saved him thoroughly! God sent him to the church hiding out in their homes, and in Paul called an apostle who didn’t fit the church’s paradigm of an apostle. Paul’s experience of God is what changed the world.

So what do we do? We build our own religious boxes (mindsets, ideals) to protect what we experienced in God when we were outside the system. Sharp, huh?

What changes the world is not the desire to look or be different, but a passion to know God in a way we’ve not known him previously, this causes heaven to collide with earth. Following a God they had experienced, Peter and Paul easily walked away from what they had known.

The agenda of God followers is not to “look cool.” They just chase after God. This drives them and everyone they come in contact with beyond their comfort zones. At some point (no one knows where this is) the church embraces it as “cool,” different, even courageous. Their love for Jesus positions them to be what they were born (again) to be. This gets messed up when we simply mimic actions of Christianity without possessing a passion for Christ.

Thirty years ago, I hid my church’s hymn books in a closet. Not a thing wrong with hymns or the books that contain them. Most of their lyrics are wonderful. It was my fervor to experience God with new freedom that drove me to drop the book so I could lift my hands. When I did, God came and I experienced him. Back then, this was outside the box.

Today, sometimes I feel that churches sing songs like I sang after I hid the hymnbooks because it’s cool. The music is current, good music. But, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, are we chasing God or coolness? My fear is that we’re in another box that we’ve labeled “contemporary.” Have we packaged ourselves to look current rather than yearning for Him?

When Peter and Paul met God outside the box, they were changed. So was their world.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory...” (John 1:14).

The world saw God when Jesus got outside the box. The world will see Him again when we get outside ours.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful Pastor Bill. Your words are a blessing.

    Scott Whitley