Archive for the ‘The Kingdom of God’ Category

The Meaning of Christmas

December 24, 2009

One night long ago, the real King of All comes to earth to put down the rebellion.

His is a curious way.

Death is the penalty for high treason, so the King calls for justice. The sentence is carried out, and he dies in our place.

This is the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2)

The Heart of Missional

August 26, 2008

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. – 2 Cor 5:14-20

Over the last two or three years years our church has had more than it’s usual share of broken relationships. Personnel issues, musical styles, lack of communication, and the normal stupidity that accompany the petty consumer mentality so prominent in the evangelical wing of the Body, have all contributed their part to a number of folks being at odds with each other.

I’ve come to a conclusion about this.

The problem isn’t the broken relationships. 

Broken relationships are par for the course living in a world where everyone is the little lord of his own two foot square realm. That’s just the way it is, has been, and will be until Glory.  And (I shouldn’t have to say this, but…) of course we should do our best to live at peace with one another. That’s part of being a grown-up.

The problem is what happens after feelings are hurt and relationships broken. Or more truthfully, what doesn’t happen.

The real problem is that we aren’t willing to reconcile.

A large segment of christianity in the West has taken “being missional” as almost a mantra. And maybe I’ve just missed it, but I’ve yet to hear one of the proponents of missional talk about reconciliation as the center point of the ministry of the church. I hear “re-thinking the gospel”, “story”, “relevant”, and “post-modern”. But I don’t hear “If you’re at the altar and remember that a Brother has something against you, leave your offering there, first go and be reconciled to him.”, or “Why not rather be wronged, why not rather be cheated, than to act this way in front of unbelievers?” 

The ministry we have been given, the mission of God, in and through us, is a ministry of reconciliation.

We are ambassadors of reconciliation. We are called to show people that they can be reconciled to God. One of, if not the primary way we show that to a watching world (and make no mistake about it, they are watching) is by being reconciled to each other.

Why don’t we do it? Just a couple of reasons that come to mind. One, because it requires us to actually do something instead of just talk about it. And two, because what it requires us to do is practice the three most difficult virtues in Gospel living; self-sacrificing love, forgiveness, and true humility, toward those we feel inclined to treat like enemies. 

Is it hard to do? Yep.

Is it time consuming? Almost always.

Are things always better right away? Nope

Does it always work? Unfortunately, no.

What if I don’t want to? Tough.

Can I even do this? Not without Jesus. Not without knowing how much he loves me. Because it is the love of Christ that compels me to live this out.

I know this sounds like Christianity 101, and it is. 

But here’s the deal. If I don’t do this hard work of the kingdom, no one, and I mean no one, will believe that they can be reconciled to God. If I can’t even be reconciled to the guy next to me in the pew over some stupid, silly squabble over how many time a chorus is repeated, no one should believe it.

A King and His Kingdom

July 11, 2008

There are four main images God uses in His word to clue us in to what He is like, and in turn, our relationship to Him. 

 

  1. Shepherd and sheep
  2. Husband and wife.
  3. Parent and child
  4. King and subject

 

We would do well to spend time meditating on each of these. Each one gives much needed relief and even correction to what ails us today. 

Over the last several years each one of these has captured my thinking and imagination for a season. Currently it’s the image and institution of a King and His Kingdom. 

For me, the more I think about something, the more it’s on my mind, the more I begin to see it everywhere. (Kind of like when I get obsessed with some “thing” I want to buy, and suddenly everywhere I go I see it. I didn’t notice it before, but now it seems like I can’t turn around without seeing it again and again.)

In this case though, it’s a good thing. Everywhere I look, especially in scripture, I see the King and His kingdom. So over the next few posts I want to look at  some of those passages. I may or may not offer much comment, I might even quote some folks way smarter, and more importantly, way farther along the Way than I am. 

I want to increasingly see, and begin to live in, the reality of The King and His Kingdom.

An Apprentice

July 2, 2008

Here’s a great quote from Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart. (I found it at Darryl Dash’s blog. Go check it out, he’s got some good stuff.) It gets at something that has bothered me for quite a while about the whole mindset of western Christianity. And that is that “salvation” is the end game.

It’s not. Disciples are.

“It is, I gently suggest, a serious error to make “outreach” a primary goal of the local congregation, and especially so when those who are already “with us” have not become clear-headed and devoted apprentices of Jesus, and are not, for the most part, solidly progressing along the path. Outreach is one essential task of Christ’s people, and among them there will always be those especially gifted for evangelism. But the most successful work of outreach would be the work of inreach that turns people, wherever they are, into lights in the darkened world.

A simple goal for the leaders of a particular group would be to bring all those in attendance to understand clearly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be solidly committed to discipleship in their whole life. That is, when they are asked who they are, the first words out of their mouth would be, “I am an apprentice of Jesus Christ.” This goal would have to be approached very gently and lovingly and patiently with existing groups, where the people involved have not understood this to be part of their membership commitment.” 

 

I love that descriptor, “I am an apprentice of Jesus Christ.” No membership dues, pew reservations, or emergency roadside service/member benefits when you join the church. 

You sign up as an “apprentice” to become a “master”, or at least enough like your Master to apprentice others in The Way.

Henri Nouwen wrote an article titled “Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry”. The simple summary is that we should follow Jesus’ example when He chose his disciples. He went away to pray all night, then chose his 12 and, then sent them out in ministry. Solitude to community to ministry in that order.

Our typical order is reversed. We come up with an idea for a good ministry, talk it up until we find enough volunteers to make it work, and the go at it hard until we burn out and have to take some time away, alone.

Without the foundation of an interior spiritual maturity, ministry and community are too heavy and burdensome for us to bear for long.

About 18 years, or so, ago I decided I needed to get serious about the things of God. I began to study and pray, and ask those around me how they were really doing spiritually. The surprise was that they’d actually tell me. Everything. Mostly it wasn’t good. After about a year of doing this, I had to quit asking. It wasn’t that I didn’t care anymore, it was that I didn’t know what to do with it all. I had no answers, I had nothing to offer them. I was ministering to them with no foundation. Sure I knew the scriptures pretty well, I’d grown up in the church, knew the stories, the principles, the creed, the sunday school answers. But I didn’t have the maturity of experience, and the wisdom born from applying the knowledge in my head to my life daily. I had to take some time to grow, myself, before I was able to offer anything to other folks. Then, and only then, could I bear the burden of a brother’s sin and brokenness, with something more to offer than an empty platitude.

 

I’m gonna say something else that will likely upset someone’s apple cart.

Your local church’s main job isn’t ministry.

At least it’s not your minister’s/staff’s job. His job is to equip you to do ministry. The problem is you and I have put him in an impossible position. We have hired him to “do ministry”, to do our job.

And we’ve made him so busy doing our job, he doesn’t have time to do his. 

His job, as I understand it from scripture, is to make sure that you and I are ready to do the good works that God has planned for each of us to do. Not to do them for us. 

Ministry mainly, or should mainly take place outside the walls of the church. By us, in our own “personal mission fields” to borrow a phrase from T.M. Moore.

So allow your minister to do his job. Then go do yours too.

Sinclair Ferguson on the church

June 23, 2008

From a sermon delivered to the EPC General Assembly last week. (HT- Jimmy Davis)

“When the church fails to be the church, individual Christians need to learn how to ask questions that will make ungodly people think about godly things. But when the church is the church, the people of God simply need to answer the questions that the very character of the church is prompting the world to ask.”

Go here to read Jimmy’s longer quote. Great stuff.

Revival?

May 31, 2008
Update: I just about finished this and realized that I wasn’t writing in the first person. BIG mistake. If you read this, realize that it applies to me first. Then anyone else that wants to join up, feel free. 

“It is my considered opinion that under the present circumstances we do not want revival at all. A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years.”- A.W. Tozer

Don’t tell me about Lakeland. Don’t tell me about emotional “worship experiences”. Don’t tell me about spiritual gifts. Don’t tell me about programs, projects, and long term strategies. Don’t tell me about good preaching or sound theology. Don’t tell me about looking at the “fruit” of a church’s (or a preacher’s) ministry if you mean numbers in attendance, or even converts (remembering the parable of the sower). God may be at work in all these.

Then again, he may not be.

The fruit we should be looking for is found in the letter to the Galatians.

We’re called to discern the spirits. Well?

Do you see evidence of this, “… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,…” in yourself, or the people in your congregation? Remember, this comes next, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Are your people, are you, more loving? Is this your aim, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2)

Are you increasingly more joyful? Does the joy set before you cause you to endure the cross and its shame? Is that joy your strength? Do newcomers to your group notice a deep seated joy that transcends circumstances?

What about peace? Are you a peacemaker? Are you known as an ambassador of reconciliation? Or does your proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom mostly convey strife and division? The Gospel will always have an unpopular, prophetic edge to those who smell death instead of life, but which direction are you headed as a people?

Patience? Are you content? When people interrupt your plans how do you react? Is the desire for your vision of ministry frustrated by the very people you are shepherding? How do you react to those weaker brothers?

Kindness?… anyone?… anyone?… kindness?” (read in your best Ben Stein voice) How do you measure yourself and your folks when you read this from Henry Drummond?

“‘The greatest thing,’ says someone, ‘a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of His other children.’ I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are? How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered.” (The Greatest Thing In The World)

What about goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?

(*crickets*?)

What about the first things that history tells us happened in almost all, if not all, real revivals. Prayer, and Godly sorrow leading to repentance?

Ruthlessly look at your own heart, see if you are at least moving the right direction, then I’m pretty sure you’ll know what real revival would look like.

Life to the full

May 16, 2008

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV)

The spiritual life is not a disembodied life. We are not redeemed souls trapped in damnable material bodies.

The bodily resurrection of Jesus (and our own in the future) should be enough proof of that to quiet any objection.

We are whole.

Too often I’ve viewed the body as an enemy to be battled and overcome. “For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

But my body is also the temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m to love God with heart, mind soul and strength. And how exactly am I to love my neighbor if not in concrete, material action?

I know this is not news to most of you, but It seems to infect a lot of what I see and hear. Don’t we seem to separate the intellectual from the material? I know I do. I tend to keep my theology as academic, and idea oriented as possible. The blogosphere is a perfect place for this tendency. I was reading the comments at another blog and came on this,”It’s nothing personal at all. I was just interacting with ideas.” I know what the guy meant, but it stunned me when I read it because it was a summary of a lot of my life with God. “Nothing too personal, please. I was just interacting with ideas.”

If spirituality includes mind, soul, heart and body, here are some new questions I’ll be asking folks I meet with.

Are you; getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well?

Do you have a sabbath time of rest and recreation?

Do you actually do stuff with (and for) family, friends, neighbors?

I, as much as I don’t want to, will be asking myself these same questions.

What if….

May 2, 2008

Is there a more dangerous game in all the world to play than the “What if…” game?

What if…

… I won the lottery?

… I had that house?

… I got that job?

… I could do that?

… I didn’t have to do that?

Or a little deeper and darker.

What if…

… I hadn’t done that?

… I had done this instead?

It plays both ways, it could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing. It can make you dream big. It can make you dissatisfied with what is. It can make you fearful of what could be.

Visions of “what if” sometimes lead to great advancement. Business, nation, and individual have all moved forward by playing the “what if” game. All innovation, all creativity, all invention at base come from someone saying, “What if…?”

There are also visions that make us wake up in cold sweat. What if I lost my job, there were an accident, my marriage falls apart, a bad test result comes back?

Scripture both tells us to take up something like a version of the game, and tries to help us not take it too far.

Luke 14:25-32

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Counting the cost is quite a bit like asking the what if question. “What if…

… I start and can’t finish?”

… I don’t want to die daily?”

… it’s too hard?”

Jesus does it again with the rich young ruler. But he doesn’t let him even play the game, he spells it out for him. He makes him count the cost.

Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Playing the game in this sense isn’t playing at all, but a sober, assessment of what is likely to be required, or in this case what is actually being asked of us.

What I tend to do, however, is change it from a sober assessment to asking “what if” about things that might possibly be required, or asked of me.

I see Abraham asked to sacrifice his son, “What if I…?”. I see Mary’s reputation ruined, “What if that…?”. I see Paul’s multiple stonings, afflictions and persecutions, “What if I were…?.

In short, I see in scripture the lives of the saints upended and changed forever, and try to imagine myself in their situations. “I don’t have that much faith.” “That scares me to death.” I begin to brood about what God might take from me, and how I would react. It’s all fiction, but it makes me fear tomorrow. “What if…?”

God knows I”m prone to this, so here comes the help I need to try and put this stuff in perspective. 

“Don’t fear, little flock, the kingdom is yours.” “Don’t worry about how you’re going to live, your Father knows what you need.” “Don’t worry about tomorrow (“what if”), today (“what is”) is enough.” “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray, and give thanks, asking your Father, and he’ll supply your need.” “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “You didn’t receive a spirit of fear, but of adoption, and power, and love, and self-control.”

Lord, have mercy.