The Lovers and The Search, Part 1
Why New Covenanters See God In Everything
Some time around the fall of AD 50 or early 51, a lone figure stands before a group of Stoic and Epicurean men atop a hill devoted to Ares, the god of war. Having recently escaped prison chains and a riotous mob, fighting with a pagan deity is not high on his list. How had he gotten here? Did he belong?
Earlier, playing the tourist, the man had gone for a walk. He was supposed to be waiting for his friends, but, greatly troubled at the city’s condition, he could not help but begin The Search. Observing everything around him, he had wandered for some time. Looking, for what, he did not yet know… but surely the Shepherd’s staff was with him.
On the hill now, the ground-breaking mojo of a genuine apostle is about to manifest. Needing no lectern or teleprompter, this emissary from Planet Love* addresses the crowd, having discovered the object of his search at the site of a pagan altar. The gaze of his spirit man widens to encompass, if not the whole of human experience, enough of theirs to sidestep their formidable intellect. With the clarity of an open heart, he sees the arts as the yearning of all men’s hearts for the Unknown. He is not afraid to carve revival from their own stones, nor does he think it carnal to interweave his evangélion with Greek verse— even that of Zeus, the king of their idolatrous pantheon. For, if in God we all live and move and have our being, then in Him no bone is disconnected.
Just as Jesus, the apostle to the dead, descended while in the rich man’s tomb to address the spirits in prison (1Pe 3:18–19, 4:5–6), Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, has taken captive a captivated audience and, on wings, bears them past all the idols and all the gods into the throne room of the one true Allfather. Some in the crowd open to him, “We will listen to you again concerning this.” Others wilt in the light, chafing at the notion of rising from the dead. But, in revealing an Abba who is ready to receive all His offspring, the man of Tarsus declares,
None are too distant.
No one too far gone.
In my early twenties, after many years avoiding anything to do with God or religion, I reached an endpoint. It was then that I too had an unexpected encounter with a Christian, and later that night, found myself on my knees beside my bed. For the first time in years, I tried to pray. Awkwardly, but sincerely, I asked the ceiling if God was truly there. I have never forgotten the good-natured reply:
“I never left you.”
One word from Him can change a life. As Bill Johnson once said, “The gospel begins when God calls your name.”
The world is groaning for lovers. Lovers like God, “for God so loved the world.” They alone have ears to hear, but also to understand what the Spirit is saying— in any medium, through any vessel, be it refined or wildly, inappropriately, raw. How many layers of dirt and dust, how many spider webs and serpent threads had sought to obscure the lost coin of Luke 15? Yet the woman left all to find it. Had she glimpsed a bare silvery edge in the darkness? Some reflected gleam captured in the strength of her lamplight?
In the great task of human redemption — what Paul called the ministry of reconciliation —a life-or-death principle is that “we no longer judge anyone according to the flesh.” Appearance, background, position, education, hearsay, none of it affects our weigh-scale of value. As one prophet, Daniel Aytes, says, if we want to actually build something, we can no longer afford to see people in a way other than by the spirit.
Any ministry that discriminates based on outward appearances will inevitably define success as re-branding sheep as opposed to reaching the lost. Their gospels will presume hardness of heart, rejection of truth and glass-half-empty, Pyrrhic-style failure. Their missions will be replete with scorched earth tactics, personnel conflicts and legions of the burnt-out.
“But all of our evangelistic endeavours seem to be failing! What if, in leading horses to water, we can’t make them drink?”
First of all, I don’t believe there are any horses who are unthirsty. Any backpacker in a bunk hostel knows the stuff that crosses cultures, languages and religious backgrounds, missiology aside. Deep down, we all feel something of that distinct human pain.
I believe the real issue is that the horse does not know that it is a water-drinker. From Jesus’ perspective, sin is merely an expression of thirst falsely satisfied. Not “merely” as in of no consequence — sin is still deadly — but the solution could be simpler then we think. “Dead in your trespasses and sins” does not imply immunity to drink, it means not knowing that the tree of life “is not far from each one of us.” All the minister need do then is, when drinking, make sure to splash around a little!
Oh! Taste and see that YHWH is good. — Psalm 34:8
As Jesus demonstrated, with the woman at the well and so many others, our job is not to continue incriminating men for eating of the tree of right and wrong, but to offer feasts from the tree of life. This is why Jesus took such care to host a last supper with his disciples, all of whom would go on to forsake, deny and even betray him within twenty-four hours. It is why a breakfast of fish was his welcome-back gift on the beach. Going to the cross — real atonement — means not giving up on feeding even if you die.