A Thought For Valentine's Day.
Valentine’s day presents yet another opportunity for gift giving. We feel it is important that we demonstrate our love and so we spend a great deal of time choosing just the right gift. Then we seem to spend just about as much time in choosing the right packaging for the present; the right size box, the appropriate paper, the ribbon, and rosette and message card.
It is important to get everything just right. It is inconceivable to think of bundling the gift up in brown paper and tying it loosely with string. The packaging is key to the presentation. At least it seems to be the way for we humans, but maybe God doesn’t see things the same way.
Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is the gift promised from before the foundations of the earth (1 Peter. 1:20) and the Jewish people waited for his coming with great expectancy. They had already preformed their opinion as to how this gift of God would be packaged.
He would be a king, from Bethlehem, powerful and strong, one who would lead them to victory and freedom from their Roman oppressors. However, in the event, the gift came in quite a different package.
Instead of a king from Bethlehem, he was a carpenter from Nazareth, (“can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46). Instead of proclaiming power and strength he talked of turning the other cheek and being the servant of all. Finally, instead of defeating the Romans he was crucified by them.
Most of the Jewish people at the time missed out on the gift because they perceived that the package was unsuitable for them. It was neither what they expected nor what they thought they needed.
The gospel message of God’s unconditional love is also God’s gift to those he is calling. From the world’s point of view, this one time and forever gift is represented by the Christian church in all its various aspects. However, the church is an ongoing and ever-changing package.
Ever changing because we see that the packaging of the first century changed after the first century and even more radically after Constantine the Great’s conversion in the 4th century. The packaging of the Dark Ages changed radically in the Renaissance and then again in the Reformation. The Age of Reason, the Great Awakenings, the Pentecostal outpourings, etc. all produced changes in the packaging, i.e. the church. Nevertheless, the gift, the gospel message of God’s unconditional love to those he is calling, has been unchanging over the centuries and is still the same today.
So what about today? Is the packaging the right size, shape and appearance for this postmodern age? From the results of surveys and viewing the national records of falling church attendance, the answer would seem to be ‘No!’
The congregational model of the church – a definable group of people who regularly meet at the same place to engage in religious routines and programs under the guidance of a paid pastor who provides doctrinal teaching and organizational direction - has been the dominant force in peoples spiritual lives for hundreds of years. So why is it losing ground so rapidly at this moment in history? (George Barna. Revolution. Tynedale House Publishers. 2005. p62)
Good question! Is there an answer? What are we to do? What can we do in this ever changing world ? Do we stick to the packaging that worked fifty years ago, grow old and grey, die off one by one and take the gift to the grave with us? Or do we research the culture that surrounds us? Take a real look at those people ‘out there’; the ones we don’t see in church every Sunday; the ones whose lifestyle and conversation make us feel uncomfortable; the post moderns who say that all truth is relative, that there are no absolutes, and that what works for you is OK for you, but I do what works for me and we are both right. How do we engage with people whose main source of information is the Internet; who communicate by texting and never seem to switch their iPods off?
Its certainly not be by inviting them to sit for an hour or more as part of a captive audience in a large building. The old packaging required us to go out and bring the people in. Maybe the time has come for us just to go out and meet them where they are at, on their turf. We must engage them in a way that they can relate to and we must focus on presenting the gift, not the packaging.
The end result may be a group that meets in a coffee shop, or at a gym, or at an artistic venue, etc. etc. There would be no central ‘authority’ except for the Holy Spirit; with meetings, discussions, spiritual exploration and growth outside of our control. Have we faith enough to trust the Holy Spirit and to let God be God in the individual lives of others?
Most of the Jewish people missed out on the gift of the Messiah because they perceived that the package was unsuitable for them.
The question is, how many people of today are missing the gift of the gospel because we insist on presenting it in a package that they perceive as unsuitable for them?
Radical change is always a challenge, but is often a necessity for survival. Making fundamental changes to the way we package the gift may make us feel that we are throwing away the box, the wrapping paper, the ribbons and so forth - all of which are so precious to us.
We might feel that we are bundling God’s precious gift into brown paper and just dumping it out there. But if that is what it takes to get the gift to the recipients, then so be it. The probable alternative is that we will end up sitting in our empty boxes, because the Giver will be presenting his gift somewhere else in quite another style of packaging.