John 1:14 (my reading for the last couple of weeks):
“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.”
(The Message version)
Moved into the neighborhood…
Since I’ve been accused of not doing my homework before (even though I always do it), as a sort of preamble, here are a few specifics that are shaping the following thoughts:
The word here is often translated dwelt. It’s probably a good word, though in my mind (and I think mostly because of the misuse of this verse taught to me in my past) dwelt has a bit of an abstract, sort of alusive quality about it. I don’t ever say I dwelt with someone. I’d say I hung out with someone. I lived with someone. Or maybe I spent allot of time with someone. But not dwelt… That’d just be weird.
The Greek word here is eskayno’sen (if I can figure out to put the actual Greek letters here I’ll change it). The root is skayno’o. Here’s a little more of what it means: to pitch tent, encamp, to tabernacle, to dwell, have one’s abode.
Now this is not about camping. Or at least not how we think of it. Living in tents was a way of life for many people back then. Paul was a tent-maker. That doesn’t mean he worked for the New Testament version of NorthFace. People lived in these tents. When the people this was originally written for heard a word like skayno’o they were thinking of living places. Maybe even thinking back to Exodus times when the whole nation was living in tents and even the Ark of the Covenant, the very presence of God, was kept in a tent… a tabernacle.
Now, allot can change depending on the tense of a verb. An example in English might be, “I have eaten” or “I have been eating.” Both mean you were eating. But the former means you are done eating while the later means you may still be eating. This same idea is true in Greek although it’s much stronger. The tense of this word is the Aorist Active Indicative. In this verse it is used in the 3rd person singular.
All Aorist Active Indicative means is the simple past. It doesn’t give any indication as to whether it happened in one instant or if it went on for years. But it does mean it’s over with. It’s entirely in the past. Third person singular means the verb is talking about just one person and that person is neither the one speaking nor the one hearing (or reading).
So when we read “moved into the neighborhood” or “tabernacled” or “dwelt” it should be noted that he isn’t still. It happened entirely in the past. Now, I’m not saying Jesus isn’t still here somehow. I believe he is. But that’s not what this verse is talking about. This verse is talking about an event or a time that happened in the past; entirely in the past and is going on no longer. This word is also talking about a single person. John’s not talking about Jesus and disciples. And he’s not talking about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is singular… just one person; namely Jesus.
This verb is talking about a physical happening. There’s nothing mystical about someone moving into a neighborhood. A neighbor moves into the neighborhood and now he’s here. Period. He lives next door to me or across the street. At some point he’ll move out. Then he won’t be living in the neighborhood anymore. He won’t be tabernacling with me any more. It’ll be over. Past. Done.
I grew up thinking church was a place. I also thought it was an event. It was sort of like work back then. I mean, I didn’t have a job, but my dad did. Work was a place. It’s somewhere he went regularly. He had to wear a shirt and tie and sometimes a suit coat. Work was also something that happened while he was at this place. And so church in my mind had allot in common with work. Some of you may get a little up in arms about me saying that. Just relax… I’m talking about work from a kid’s perspective which doesn’t involve a boss or paperwork or stress. It’s just this thing that is somehow a place (where you usually have to dress nicely for) and this action that only happens while at the place. But it’s the same word used for all of it.
Like most people don’t like their jobs, I didn’t really like going to church. Mostly just because you had to dress up in these uncomfortable clothes that you weren’t allowed to get dirty and you had to be quiet and you couldn’t have fun “cause we’re in church!” Weird now that I look back at it.
All that being said, I love Jesus. I love following God and though I screw it up all the time, I’m trying to with my whole life. As I’ve learned to walk with Christ I’ve developed this aversion to church being much of anything like what I grew up with. I mean, making little boys dress up (which they should never have to do) and go be taught that Jesus doesn’t care about what we look like, but only what’s on the inside is just a confusing mess anyway. You’re really asking for trouble.
I feel like God has called me to plant churches. But of course I don’t want to plant churches like the one I grew up in. So I tend to have this aversion to church buildings and regular or traditional things. I used to say I like to think outside of the box. I once heard Rob Bell say something about thinking outside of the box that made me decide to never say that again… He said, “The problem with thinking outside of the box is that the box is still your reference point. Throw the box away and start thinking fresh.” That revolutionized everything for me.
As I set out to plant churches, however God wants me to do that, I need to try not to make the same mistakes of the church I grew up in. That’s true and good. But I also need to not do things in reaction to those mistakes or the possibility of making those mistakes. I need to try as hard as I can to learn lessons from the past while not running away from it either. Whenever you’re running away from something your focus is on what’s behind you rather than where you’re going. That’s no way to run through life. And I do want to run through life. But I don’t want to be thinking about what’s behind me. I want to forget what is behind and press on toward what is to come. I want to be focused and excited about what Christ has yet to come, not where demons won in the past.
So if I feel called to plant churches I need to not do things in reaction to the past, but try to just follow what the Spirit tells me to do.
My aversion to church buildings is largely due to my past. I need to shed that. But I would be remiss not to take the opportunity to learn from mistakes of the past as well. Church is not a building. I think it is a group of people, a community. It’s not just any community though. It’s a community formed in the name of Christ, to reflect him here on earth by living out the Kingdom of Heaven here and now and for eternity, by loving God and one another and teaching others to do the same.
So I feel like God has called me to plant a church in Detroit. In the middle of Cass Corridor and Midtown where the homeless and the college student populations meet and overlap. We’re going to open up a coffee shop, a small concert venue and have a big house where a bunch of people core to that community live in community. It was January 17th, 2009 that God started to give me this vision. For months now it’s excited and scared me. I want to follow him and see and be a part of all of the adventure that goes along with that. But I don’t want to plant a church that turns into a building.
That’s why this verse has meant so much to me recently. He moved into the neighborhood. There was a place. Now hear me carefully, church should never be a place. But that doesn’t mean it’s not ok for a church to have a place. A church should always be the community we talked about before. But I think it’s ok for a church to utilize a place to do things in. People are probably always going to slide towards church being a place. That’s something that will maybe always require addressing. But that’s no reason not to do what God calls us to. I am excited to see what happens in the unique community, this jungle of the Corridor as this new community, this crop of Dandelions is planted and begins to spread. I’m excited to see what happens as we as flesh and blood move into the neighborhood. May we then see the glory with our own eyes and I pray others do too, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, like disciples. As we are generous inside and out, true from start to finish. May we see the weeds of the earth become the beautiful flowers of the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in Heaven.
All that from “moved into the neighborhood” … Dwelt just doesn’t quite cut it.