“THE BIG PICTURE”
September 12, 2009
I used to love putting together jigsaw puzzles. These days I rarely have time for such leisurely pursuits, and if I did I would prefer reading, hiking, surfing the net, or enjoying friends and family. But I still fondly remember the thrill of finding that elusive piece that finally filled up a hole in Mt. Shasta, or allowed me to connect the fishing boat to the dock of the coastal village in Maine, or completed the rose garden beside the English cottage. And then there was that enormous sense of accomplishment when, after hours of back-straining, neck-creaking, and eye-straining effort, the last piece found its home and the picture was complete.
Let the celebration begin! Never mind the fact that I could barely move from my chair and would suffer back pain for weeks. Never mind the fact that all my hard work would soon be ripped apart and returned to the box from which it came. Never mind the fact that I had just wasted a significant portion of my life on such an inconsequential undertaking. The important thing was that the puzzle was finished and every piece fit together exactly as it was created to do. Somehow the world seemed a bit more manageable after such heroics.
My strategy was always the same. First, find all the “edge” pieces and put together the border. Once the area of the puzzle was clearly defined I would go to work assembling parts of the picture that contained sharp contrasts, or straight lines, or similar colors that marked them as belonging together. The more difficult parts of the puzzle were left to the last when searching for the right piece required sifting through fewer other pieces. By carefully referring to the picture on the box I could usually determine the general location of just about any piece. My proven strategy was defeated once, however, when some clever, if not evil, Christmas shopper presented me with a completely round puzzle, a picture of a pepperoni pizza! With no straight edges, no way to determine the borders, no straight lines, and an entire picture that looked exactly the same, assembly was next to impossible. I found myself longing for a pair of scissors in order to custom fit each piece into the location I desired. After about an hour of fruitless effort I gave up and called the pizza delivery service. If you can’t beat it, eat it!
Here’s a puzzle for you. You might want to purchase a larger card table; this one has millions of pieces. Though it is filled with many contrasting parts it has no readily discernable borders, and its shape is continually changing. And get this; there is no picture on the box, only some vaguely worded descriptions on its assembly instructions. The title of the puzzle is, “The Kingdom of God.” Are you ready to start putting it together?
“But Bill,” I can hear you all saying, “no one but God knows how to fit all the pieces of His kingdom together. For a mere human to attempt to do so would be sheer lunacy.”
I totally agree with you. But then why do so many people make that attempt?
For the past week I have been trying to unpack all that took place during the latest house church conference I attended over Labor Day weekend in Dallas. For some reason this one has taken a little longer for me to digest. What the Holy Spirit was trying to download to us wasn’t immediately clear, at least to me anyway. Now after a week’s worth of pondering I believe I know what the Lord was getting at. He was giving us a little glimpse of the picture on the box, a fleeting glance at a portrait of the kingdom. And the picture is much larger than I once imagined.
For the first time the conference included elements of both the simple church movement and certain mega churches. It was billed as a meeting of the micro and the macro, “the rabbit and the elephant.” The ability of rabbits to reproduce is legendary. Unfortunately, they are also known for their unruly, uncontrollable nature. They usually want nothing to do with elephants and have a habit of getting sidetracked by running down doctrinal rabbit trails. Elephants, on the other hand, can move mountains with their strength and size. They can produce huge piles of rich resources, and are capable of carrying much of the kingdom on their backs. Unfortunately, they have a nasty habit of stepping on rabbits, change directions extremely slowly, and take years to reproduce.
What happens when you put them both in the same room? You might think it was total chaos. Instead, guided by the Spirit, we were able to discern some tangible ways of how we can fit together in the kingdom puzzle.
We listened, amazed, as one mega church pastor talked of their vision for planting a million house churches world-wide. Others talked of their outreach into Muslim communities in America by planting simple churches and how that has led to doing the same in Turkey. Since we are experienced and understand how to plant indigenous, house churches cross-culturally, could we in the simple church movement partner with them and assist them in their vision? Would they be willing to help train and finance some of our own people to enter the mission field?
Other mega churches have responded to God’s direction and used their staff and facilities to create resources for the simple church movement by providing children’s ministry materials and producing videos for us, giving away these tremendous resources just to bless our ministry. We also heard from one of the many churches in this country who are in the process of transitioning from macro to micro in order to promote more intimate fellowship and provide the means of reaching into neighborhoods and people groups that would likely never attend a larger gathering. Again, since we have expertise in planting small, intimate fellowships, could we not help them in this process?
I would be untruthful if I painted a picture devoid of controversy. I did hear some grumbling at the conference over this year’s emphasis. Sadly, some people don’t seem to get it. It’s not about the micro vs. the macro, the rabbit vs. the elephant. It’s about the kingdom! Jesus mentioned the word “church” on only two occasions. He spoke about the kingdom dozens of times.
When He first burst on the scene he preached about the kingdom. “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” – Matthew 4:17. He sent out His disciples with the same message. “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’” – Matthew 10:7. One of His favorite subjects was describing the kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” – Matthew 13:24. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…” – Matthew 13:31. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…” – Matthew 13:33. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…” – Matthew 13:44. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.” – Matthew 13:45. “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake…” Matthew 13:47. Is the picture on the puzzle box becoming clearer?
We are told to “seek first his kingdom…” – Matthew 6:33. The Bible never tells us what to seek second. When we pray we are to say “Your kingdom come…” – Matthew 6:10. I’m now beginning to understand more of what that prayer is actually about. And we are waiting for the day when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” – Revelation 11:15.
It seems fairly obvious to me that the puzzle of the Christian life is all about the kingdom. The picture on the box is huge and encompasses far more than any single church, or denomination, or movement. It includes both micro and macro and everything in between. Why then do so many of us try to make it all about a tiny piece of the puzzle? Why would anyone draw their own arbitrary borders of the puzzle and exclude others with whom they disagree? Is it just a vain attempt to make the puzzle more manageable, more controllable, more comprehensible? If we make the picture smaller will our own piece seem larger? Are we guilty of trying to take a pair of scissors to other pieces in order to custom fit them where they really don’t belong, next to us in our mini-puzzle?
The kingdom of heaven has only one King, and we would do well to let Him establish His own borders and connect the pieces of the puzzle as He desires, as only He can. It is not a matter of micro or macro, but of building up His kingdom. Within the institutional church as well as within the simple church movement there are some individuals who are kingdom-minded, and some who are minding their own kingdom. The former are my heroes, no matter where they serve, and I am open to partnering with them for the advancement of the kingdom. After all, we still have a lot of work to do. I’m afraid we are a long way from celebrating the completion of the puzzle. There are far too many pieces yet to be found, too many holes yet to be filled, too many unreached people groups and neighborhoods yet to be connected. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14.
Bill, a child of God with his eyes on the big picture