The angel showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal. The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. It flows down the middle of the street of the city. The tree of life is on each side of the river, and it produces fruit every month, twelve times a year. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2
I understand that growth is a natural process, and that part of the definition of life necessarily involves change, but sometimes I’m blown away by how dramatic biology is when it runs rampant in the garden and beyond.
We’ve had good rains over the past couple of weeks, plus sunshine in between. The result has been green, and lots of it, leaves bursting forth, and Wake Forest turning pretty much into Wake Jungle overnight.
It’s hard to witness this kind of vitality and not think about how we measure up as Christians compared to the constituent markers of real life. In case we’ve forgotten, here are a few:
Life is revealed by change, by growth, by an active metabolism, and by replication. If an organism is alive, then we see evidence of all these processes.
The same question is telling when it comes to the Body of Christ, the church. We are often afraid of, and resistant to, the very processes that turn out to be signs of life.
- Change is often considered an enemy;
- Growth can threaten our sense of identity and control;
- An active metabolism (the processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) requires a steady diet of exercise, fresh air, sunlight, and nourishment;
- Replication can make us nervous because it demands an active interface with the world around us.
Many faith communities die because change is evidence of the breath of the Spirit of God, and that’s not something that fits tidily into our club rules. We say “no thank you” to living water because it’s not something we can control. We hide ourselves from the light because we have become too used to the dark. And we neglect to feast on the bread of life because – as Jesus said – “My food is to do the Father’s will,” and we’d rather starve than follow Jesus outside the safety of our church fortress and take his kind of life into the world of pain and need.
Consequently we don’t breath, we won’t drink, we can’t bear the light, and we take a pass on real food. Churches like that fail to exhibit signs of life because they’re hardly breathing. They die because we won’t change, don’t grow, fail to metabolize, and refuse to replicate.
The very things Christian communities often resist are the exact things that will ensure we do more than simply survive, they will help us to thrive!
When we insist on remaining rooted to our own dogma to the extent that we shut out the Spirit of God, then we have failed the “vital signs” test of life. We can protect the status quo if we want to, but in the final analysis the status quo is always ours, not God’s.
Lightly Christianized religiosity will no more earn us a berth in God’s kingdom than any other religion, or any other anything that’s not animated by living water, the bread of life, and the breath of the Spirit – and marked by the evidence of life (change, growth, an active metabolism, replication).
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations….”