This time we’re telling the truth: You will not be able to park here this Sunday.
Here’s every forecast for snow in the city of Amarillo: We’re expecting anywhere from zero to eighty-five inches of snow, somewhere in that range. It’s predicted to begin Saturday or Sunday or, possibly Monday. And it’s probably not going to happen at all. All persons in the alert area should stock up immediately on all necessities in preparation for this record-breaking blizzard, or get ready for a beautiful day. Either way.
We are so blessed by God to be alive today during this particular time. We are so privileged to be alive during this current chapter of God’s Story. Right now, today, we are living during the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God! Because of the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on all people, through the Church, we get to see things and experience things nobody else could!
We get to participate as co-workers with God as he redeems and restores his creation. We get to experience Gods’ Spirit moving into and re-creating people. We get to watch as God moves into a place and reclaims it for his glory. The prophets could only speak of such things; we get to live it! Israel’s kings could only imagine the worldwide spread of God’s reign; we get to help fund it! Peter says angels long to see such things; we get to see them and live them every day!
Here at Central, we’ve watched and participated as the Route 66 strip club has been transformed into a place where every day 50 homeless and marginalized men and women gather for Bible study and grace and love and dignity and Christian community in the presence of God!
We’ve painted and prayed and stacked diapers and sorted car seats as the Planned Parenthood building down the street has become a place where nearly 900 young women last year said “No” to abortion and said “Yes” to God’s promise of life!
Open your eyes. God’s Kingdom is breaking out everywhere around us. Broken things are being fixed, what’s wrong is being made right. We’re so blessed by God to live when we do, right now, in the wonder and joy of his visible reign.
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, people will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you, their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” ~2 Corinthians 9:12-15
Two years ago the shepherds and ministers presented to the Central church a bold undertaking, a truly ambitious campaign: The Ignite Initiative. We wanted to fund our church vision, we wanted to light a fire under our mission. We wanted to impact our church neighborhood by enhancing the Christian ministry we’re already doing in and through our facilities — more and better parking, our main entry and welcome center, repairs and updates in our worship center, a better play space for our children’s ministry, and a large ground-floor ministry space. We wanted to increase and enhance what we already do so well in being generous with our building. We also wanted to partner with local organizations who are already meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people in our city. More money, more volunteers, more time and energy — we really wanted to deepen those partnerships together. And we wanted to bring our foreign missions efforts under the umbrella of the overall vision of Central. Not a separate priority, not a different value, but an equal part of God’s plan to work in and through our church for the sake of the world.
Two years ago we all pledged to give $7.9-million to fund the Central vision. In the past 24-months, we have given $8.3-million!
Two years ago we all prayed together in our worship center about Ignite. We dreamed about giving a bunch of money to Martha’s Home so they could hire their first-ever social worker. We believed that would dramatically increase the ministry they’re doing there.
We imagined giving The PARC a ton of money so they could be open five days per week instead of four, bringing more of our city’s homeless population into Christian community.
We had a vision of giving money to Bivins Elementary to level the playing field for all 550-students there with a goal of changing the at-risk culture of that school.
We dreamed of giving more money to Gratitude House so more women and children coming out of abuse and addiction can receive the Christian support they need while they learn to make it in their new lives.
We imagined giving a lot of money to CareNet to provide more education and resources for young girls and more counseling and training for unwed mothers and more Christian love and support for the devastated families; we thought it might change the city of Amarillo.
We planned to give more money to our foreign missionaries so more preachers can be trained and more churches can be planted and more souls can be saved and more of the world can be reclaimed for our Lord Jesus.
And we had a vision for finally starting to pay attention to our church building again so we can double, or even triple, the numbers of people and groups who use our campus every week; we dreamed of making our building an even bigger and wider on-ramp toward a relationship with God and God’s people.
That was two years and $8.3-million ago.
We cannot out-dream our God. We can’t out-imagine our Lord. We can’t out-give or out-vision or out-mission God.
Today, our Ignite Initiative has come to an end. Praise God for his miraculous grace that has worked in us and through us to his glory. But we don’t look back. And we don’t just sit where we are. We look forward. Over the past two years, our DNA as a church has been fundamentally altered. Our vision as a church has become more clear, our mission is much more focused.
Lots of churches spend all their energy thinking about yesterday and today. Most churches either spend their time talking about the glory days of long ago or putting out the urgent fires of right now. But that’s not Central. Central is oriented toward the future. For 110-years, this church has always looked ahead, we’ve always planned for tomorrow, we’ve always given and prayed and planned for what’s next, what’s coming. With everything we know God is doing in our immediate neighborhood, with everything we know God is doing in our city and around the world, now is not the time to back off or sit tight. Now’s the time to hit the gas.
“We constantly pray that our God may count us worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of ours and every act prompted by our faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, and us in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
Jesus is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is Jesus. He brings it, he embodies it, he reveals it and shows us what it is. Jesus is the time and the place, he is the where and when God rules graciously in people’s lives. And as subjects in his Kingdom, we are called to be transformed into people who live completely under his lordship. We share his values, his vision, his mission.
But our view of Jesus’ agenda is sometimes obstructed by our own ideas. Centuries of church development and rule-making and decision-making cloud our vision. When we see the Kingdom as Church, we tend to focus only on the features and characteristics of the Church.
Jesus tells the religious leaders they are looking for the Kingdom in the wrong places:
“The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” ~Luke 17:20
The Kingdom of God is an elusive, dynamic, spiritual thing that cannot be confined to any institution. It’s much bigger and much more powerful than that. The Kingdom of God is the person, the activity, the ministry, the power, and the eternal reign of the Lord!
Our challenge in our churches is to flex our autonomy enough to insure that our identifying characteristics genuinely correspond to those of the Kingdom Jesus is preaching and practicing. Maintaining our institutional status quo is not necessarily the same as being faithful to Jesus and his mission. Being a member in good standing or being a good middle-of-the-road church isn’t necessarily the same as living under the reign of God.
The true marks of the Kingdom have very little to do with what happens in between prayers and announcements in your worship center. The Kingdom of God is firmly grounded in and expressed through the weightier matters — those are Jesus’ terms — of justice and mercy and faithfulness. The requirements for us subjects of the King are not keeping the rules as much as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God.
The church in Rome was arguing and dividing, complaining and drawing lines in the sand over all kinds of issues: sacred food and sacred days, worship styles and traditions, praise teams and women’s roles, divorce and remarriage, alcohol and dancing, creeds and translations, politics and preachers, song leaders and small groups — they were splitting the church over these things. And Paul says plainly, “Knock it off! Cut it out! The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by all people” (Romans 14:17-18).
But what if we’re talking about a “salvation issue?”
Yeah, I can hear it now. We have to be clear on the “salvation issues.” We have to make sure we’re right on the “salvation issues.”
What is a “salvation issue?” Will somebody please tell me what a “salvation issue” is? We get into discussions about salvation issues and we start ranking things in order of importance to God. We argue in terms of what’s going to save us or condemn us. And we’ll vigorously debate baptism and church and the authority of Scripture and worship styles, we’ll argue about church services and church structures and church policies, but we never talk about feeding the poor or loving our enemies. We don’t mention love and grace and forgiveness and mercy. Scripture says those are the weightier matters, those are the salvation issues! Those are the things we’ve got to get straight! That is the Kingdom of God!
Building schools in Kenya and training preachers in Brazil and housing teenagers in Ukraine — that’s the Kingdom of God. Reading to a 3rd grader at Bivins Elementary and having dinner with a woman from Gratitude House — that’s the Kingdom of God. Serving food at The PARC and praying at Heal the City — that’s the Kingdom of God. Paying water bills for government workers and taking groceries to your grouchy neighbor and talking to the teenager who feels like she doesn’t belong and forgiving you dad and doing all these kinds of things for others in the name and manner of Jesus with the heart of Jesus who fulfills and embodies in every way the eternal blessings and promises of our eternal Father — that’s the Kingdom of God! Where these things prevail, where these things are obvious, that is where and when the Kingdom of God has come and is coming!
I long for the day when those are the only things God’s Church is passionate about. Don’t you?
Our King came into this world in order to serve and save. That’s the business of his subjects, too. May our Lord bless us as we love and serve, rescue and save, in his name and for the sake of his Kingdom.
By far the most entertaining thing that happened last night. More creative than anything I saw in the commercials. More “wow” factor than the halftime show. And definitely more inspiring than anything that happened on the field in Atlanta. I might argue that, other than Peyton Manning’s lines during the over-produced CBS opening, it was the ONLY entertaining part of the Super Bowl.