Category: Church (page 2 of 52)

Kingdom > Church (Part Three)

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.

Peace,

Allan

Kingdom > Church

“Kingdom” is not a word we typically use in our everyday American English. When we say the word, it has an other-culture, if not a counter-culture, kind of feel. But “Kingdom” is a very important word for Christians. We use it all the time, mainly in church and church settings.

We’re citizens of the Kingdom. We do Kingdom work. We’re all about Kingdom business. We seek first the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we think the preacher’s going to preach ’til Kingdom come.

We use the word “Kingdom” to talk about things that are Christian as opposed to things of the world. But a lot of people use it to talk about church. Growing up, it seemed the words “Kingdom” and “church” were interchangeable, they were synonyms. Both the “Kingdom” and the “church” — same thing — were established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. I remember hearing several preachers in my youth declare that the Kingdom of God was the church! Some of us were told we should not pray the Lord’s Prayer because the Kingdom had already come — the church! And I remember looking around at my church and the people in it and thinking, “This is it?” No offense, but if this is all there is to the Kingdom of God, then I’d rather not.

Here’s my definition: The Kingdom of God is the time and place of God’s gracious rule in people’s lives. The Kingdom of God is where and when our God reigns. It’s when and where Christ is Lord and everything wrong is made right and everything that’s broken in you and the people around you is fixed. And it is right here and right now.

It has come; praise God. And it is still coming; Lord, come on.

God reigns on his throne in all power over all things right now; Amen. But someday… oh, man… every knee, every tongue, to the glory of God the Father.

The Kingdom of God — all its complexities and fullness, all of its here and now and there and later — is best expressed and experienced and revealed in Jesus. He brought it. He shows us what it is.

Jesus grieved over the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching reality of a world taken over by evil. “Woe to the world,” he says, “because of the things that cause people to sin” (Matthew 18:7). It pained him. He felt strong compassion for this broken world. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you are not willing” (Luke 13:34). It tore at him. It killed him.

Jesus witnesses this broken condition of men and women and he jumps right into the middle of it. God intends to redeem and restore what’s broken. The Father is bent on reconciling all of creation back to himself and he does it through Jesus. Everything Jesus came to do — his birth, life, teachings, ministry, healings, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection — is about fixing our shattered lives, mending ruined relationships, and repairing this broken world.

Jesus, the Son of God, began to work with broken people and he saw the Kingdom of God. He started to sacrifice and serve people and he saw the Kingdom. He saw the major changes that were taking place. He says at the beginning of his ministry, “The Kingdom of God is near!” He saw it. He knew it. That’s what he preached: The Kingdom of God.

In Luke 4, Jesus is healing crowds of people. Laying his hands “on each one, he healed them,” it says. He was driving out demons by the dozens. And then Jesus says, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).

In Luke 9, Jesus sends his apostles to cast out demons and cure diseases, to “preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). The Bible says they “went from village to village, preaching the Gospel and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:6). When they came back to report to Jesus all they had done, “He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9:11).

The Kingdom of God is about healing people. Healing people and the Kingdom of God are joined at the hip. They are inseparable. Eternally connected. The Kingdom of God is healing and fixing and making things right; making things right and fixing and healing people is the Kingdom of God! And it’s happening right here and right now. And it’s a whole lot bigger than church.

Peace,

Allan

Winterfest Superstar

When six thousand teenagers packed the Arlington Convention Center this past weekend for the largest annual gathering in the Churches of Christ, our daughter Valerie was on stage rocking her artistic abilities to glorify God and inspire his people. The story is long and the details are many when describing how Valerie came to be the artist selected to paint the murals in real time, on stage, to illustrate each of the keynote themes for the three day event. The bottom line is that our Lord has brought our daughter into holy community with  Dudley Chancey, the genius and driving force behind nearly 40 Winterfests, and there she is!

Carrie-Anne and I had so much fun from the fifth row, watching Valerie paint, listening to her interact with the likes of Jeff Walling and Eric Wilson and The Skit Guys, and watching her legions of fans from Edmond CofC and Pleasant Ridge CofC flock to the front of the stage before and after each session to talk to and take pictures with her. Eric Wilson was effusive in his praise for Valerie’s skill, interrupting his own Saturday night presentation to step over and marvel at her work. Jeff Walling was more than generous in his interactions with Valerie during his keynote Sunday morning, acknowledging her talents and her growing fan base. It was just so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Six thousand teenagers! Worshiping God! Our students! Committing publicly to telling others about the Lord! Our kids! Promising to live for Christ! This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

God’s Church has seen a terrible decline in this country during my generation’s turn at the wheel. It’s our fault. We’ve messed it up. We’ve gone about church in the wrong way and it’s time we admit it. We’ve compromised our allegiances. We’ve pursued power and glory, control and fights. We’ve shied away from suffering and sacrifice and peace. We’ve lost our way. We’ve embraced a distorted version of discipleship and communicated to the world a twisted vision of our Savior. We’ve lined up with the ways and means of the world and totally turned off everybody my age and younger. People are rejecting the Jesus our generation has expressed, they are leaving the Church we’ve modeled. And we deserve it.

God is going to use this upcoming generation to get his Church back on track in this country. These young men and women are going to show us how to embrace the way of Jesus, how to pledge allegiance to only one Lord, how to sacrifice and serve, how to live the eternal life we’ve been given right now instead of only after we die. This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Valerie is right in the middle of them. Painting and singing and serving and encouraging, smiling and laughing and giving and loving in the name and manner of our Lord.

Go Rams,

Allan

Church People on Church Days

Jesus heals the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. The man was instantly cured. His life was eternally changed. Jesus made him well. Jesus made him whole!

But it was a church day. And because it was a church day, some of the church people got upset. The guy at the pool is not the only sick person Jesus ran into this day. There are some really sick church people in this scene.

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat!'” ~John 5:9-10

The church people, the self-appointed guardians of the truth, immediately put this man on trial. They’re in his face. This is an interrogation. “You’re not supposed to do that! Why are you doing that? Who said you could do that?”

It’s quite incredible, huh? A man is made whole and given new life by the will and power of God, and the opposition comes from church people. Not evil people, no. Good people who mistake their religious traditions for the will of God. These church people are sicker than this paraplegic ever was.

The Law of Moses was very clear that the Sabbath Day is a holy day and it needs to be recognized as part of the covenant between God and his people. It needs to be a sacred day and nobody’s supposed to do any work. But the Jewish teachers and scribes had added to it. It wasn’t specific enough for them. It wasn’t strict enough. It was too gray. How can we judge people, how can we know for sure who’s right and who’s wrong unless we make this more black and white?

So, to make themselves really happy and everybody around them really miserable, they came up with their own rules and restrictions as supplements to God’s Law. It came to be known as Mishna — pages and pages and books and volumes of their own interpretations they bound on all the people. Regarding the Sabbath Day alone, they had 39-different categories of things a person could not do. And they used these interpretations — and that’s all they are — to control people. It gave them power and authority. And if you threatened their interpretations, you were in for a fight. These church people were willing to kill to protect their interpretations.

So, after they publicly berate this guy, they go after Jesus. How dare you work! How dare you heal! How dare you help this man on the Sabbath! And Jesus’ defense is simple: “My Father is working today and so I am working today.”

Jesus goes on in the following verses to explain that every single thing he does, he does because of his Father. Jesus claims he is sent by God, he’s on a mission from God, he’s doing the works of God, he’s obedient to God, and he’s bringing glory to God. And that ticks them off even more! So now Jesus finds himself on trial and he starts bringing out the witnesses in verse 33: The Scriptures testified to me; John the Baptist testified to me; God in heaven testifies to me by these works he’s given me to do. But you…

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” ~John 5:39-40

This is what upset Jesus the most. You know every letter of every word, you’ve interpreted every passage, you’ve memorized it, you argue to the death one verb here and one participle there — you think you have eternal life in the Scriptures. But you don’t!

Dear reader, eternal life does not come from the Bible; eternal life comes from Christ Jesus to whom the Bible points. Our trust and faith and hope is not in the Scriptures; our trust and faith and hope is in the holy Son of God to whom the Scriptures point.

These church people are sick. They know the Word of God frontwards and backwards, but they don’t know Jesus. Their disbelief was deliberate, their diagnosis was severe. They love their church life and their traditions and interpretations, but they had forgotten how to love God and the people God is healing and making whole. Their expression of church had become horribly twisted. They had turned their life-giving and soul-saving faith into something life-taking and soul-destroying. Instead of being a source of joy and light, they were using their religion to suppress and judge. They knew the Word of God, but they totally missed his will. They had counted every letter of the Scriptures, but they had totally missed the truth.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this feel familiar?

I think we’re all — every one of us — susceptible to this sickness. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

Do we want to get well?

Sometimes our vigorous preservation of our church traditions counts more than the openness and spontaneity of faith. We know our Bible, but sometimes we use it to defend all the wrong things. We know our Bible, but sometimes that’s all we know. Our allegiance to the way things have always been done sometimes gets in the way of the healing and saving work of Jesus. We can’t appreciate or applaud the good that’s being done because it’s being done differently.

And Jesus deliberately challenges these rigid traditions. He goes out of his way to do things on the Sabbath, just to make the point. So much so, it becomes his habit.

When the apostles picked grain on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law and Jesus said, “Relax. Look, we’re hungry. We need food. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Remember? In that same chapter, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on a church day, in church, and when the church people tell Jesus, “Hey, that’s not how we do things in church!” our Lord says, “People are valuable to me. People! Their physical needs, their emotional needs, their spiritual needs — their souls are valuable to me. It is good to do good. On the Sabbath or any other day of the week, it’s good to do good for people.”

That’s his attitude.

And we should be constantly re-evaluating our own attitudes. Is our church so well-defined and so safe and so comfortable that if Jesus showed up with his attitude, we’d interrogate him? Would Christ’s attitude be OK in our church?

A Scriptural service is when people are healed and made whole. A correct worship service is when people experience the love and grace and mercy of God. What makes a biblical worship service is when God is praised and salvation from Christ is proclaimed and Holy Spirit people eat and drink together and encourage and bless one another. After that, in church, nothing else really matters much at all.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Last Part

You can talk too much about the Holy Spirit. You can focus on the Spirit too much. We don’t want to give too much attention to the Holy Spirit. That leads to who knows what. Where are you going with this? Where is this headed?

We know exactly where this is headed. We know what this leads to. If we’ll pay more attention to the Spirit, if we’ll listen to the Spirit, if we’ll give God’s Holy Spirit total control over our churches, we already know the result.

“The fruit (result) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” ~Galatians 5:22-23

I’m going out on a limb here, but, I think the Church could use a little more love and joy and peace. I believe Christians need more patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness. Am I wrong? We could all stand to gain and demonstrate more gentleness and self-control. When the Spirit accomplishes that in the Church, that’s so much more powerful than speaking in tongues or healings or spiritual trances. When the Holy Spirit produces this kind of result in God’s Church, the whole world might flip out!

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Part Two

Near the end of the fourth Gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his gathered followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I am sending you to do the things I’ve done in the ways I’ve done them. I’m commissioning you to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. I’m charging you to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And, with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We do not have the abilities on our own to do what Jesus did in the ways he did them. Church is the Body of Christ — the real, tangible, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood  presence of Jesus in the world. That’s the call. That’s the charge. That’s the point of the Church, our mission.

But how? We can’t.

He knows. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit transforms our inabilities. God’s Spirit teaches us things we could never come up with on our own. The Bible says we can’t even make the Christian confession — Jesus is Lord! — except by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our inabilities and provides the gifts and the powers to do things we could never do by ourselves.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” ~Mark 13:11

No one naturally loves his enemies. No one naturally turns the other cheek. Nobody naturally lays down his rights or would rather be wronged than to fight for what is hers. Jesus says those are exactly the kinds of things that separate Christians from just good people. Those are the things that are required if we are to be his Church. And the Holy Spirit infuses us with the abilities and the power to do it. The Spirit forms in us the character traits we need to live like our Lord. He gives us strength so we can follow the way of the weakness. He gives us power so we can take care of the helpless. He gives us peace so we can endure the hostility.

If being a Christian is just about being a good citizen and giving to charities and not cussing too much — you don’t need the Holy Spirit for that. This is about following Jesus. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without the fellowship of the Spirit who transforms our inabilities and provides us the power to live like people without the Holy Spirit don’t. Can’t.

And it takes time. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening and other times it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. It’s hard to measure. It’s difficult to track. God doesn’t send us quarterly reports. But we  know his Spirit is working on us. Changing us. Transforming us. We know that we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness in ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Loving your neighbor is different from just being a good guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not the same as the peace of having your mortgage paid off. Turning the other cheek is not even in the same universe as self defense or protecting what’s yours. Doing justice is more than forwarding a Facebook petition. Showing mercy is more than sponsoring a co-worker in a 5K.

The fellowship of the Spirit is where our abilities are transformed together and how the Kingdom of God is made real in a broken and dying world.

Peace,

Allan

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