are you listening?

 

I had a thought last week- With all of the people who are speaking and writing about how messed up, misaligned, and disconnected the Church is from Jesus Christ… is there anyone within the walls of the Church even listening?

That has been a question I have been wrestling with over the last three years.  And, it is ultimately what prompted me to write a book about how disconnected from Christ the Church has become, but more importantly what it begins to look like for the Church to discover the Kingdom of God and then to begin embodying it.

The beginning point, of which I wrote about last week, for the Christian and the Church has to be Jesus Christ, centrally and unequivocally.  Oddly enough after that post, by buddy wrote a note to me and asked, “I would love to know what inspired your most recent blog post?”  This was my response:

I think the thing that sparked it this morning was seeing tons and tons of people on Facebook and Twitter continually posting the same old, tired articles about how broken the Church is…and never engaging the Church on what it would actually look like to begin changing.  I hope some people will read it and actually have a conversation about it.

I have certainly been one who has taken the Church to task over the years… and I will continue to do so, in love, because I believe the best days of the Church are ahead of us as we begin to look and speak like the Jesus we follow.  But my commitment is to go out of my way, not just to address the issues, but to help Christians and churches understand what it begins to look like to embody Jesus Christ in our community and the world.  Generalities only go so far.  We have to get specific.   

Our beginning point is Christ and Christ alone- with his spirit being submissive, gentle, loving, peaceful, humble, forgiving, and graceful…and his path being at the bottom, below everyone else in the world, so as to come up from below in humility and service.  The way of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom does not assume the position of honor at the front table rather it humbly takes the unassuming table in the back of the room.  It is an attitude of the last will be first and the first will be last.

There cannot be enough emphasis on this truth for Christians and the Church:  we must become people of the bottom; people who are below; people who are last; people who are in the back; people who are the least.  We are people who put the interest of others before ourselves becoming a servant to all- our friends, our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, those wildly different than us, and our enemies- in order to demonstrate the love of God.  We are not to be loud, showy, boisterous, obnoxious, or holier-than-thou.  We simply follow the low and humble way of the suffering servant and we do it in every situation and every context, for the low, humble, submissive, and loving way changes hearts and minds.

As such, we are to be transformed like Christ to the unfair boss, the slow store clerk, the rude or obnoxious salesperson, the junkie on the street, and the antagonistic loudmouth.  We are to be loving, patient, and long-suffering to those who offend, trespass, or violate us.  God’s love is to burst forth from our lives in such a remarkable and profound way that the world is drawn to this Christ whom they have never known before because they see Him demonstrated through us.  In our own power we do not have the capacity to act in such profound ways; it is only by the power of God working through us that we are able.  It is never us, only God.

Let’s get even more specific- too many times I believe that we as Christians become so identified with the culture of our churches and “the way we have always done things” that we leave the way of Jesus in the dust without ever thinking much about it.  We have enabled, rather than confronted, the small, petty antics that hardly look like Jesus and His Kingdom.  Think about how misaligned and feeble our ways are and how petty our ways look compared to the awesome, transformative, and magnetic ways of Christ and His Kingdom.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you judge people by who they are, how they are dressed, how they look, or how much money they have?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world divide people into classes and judge them for who they are, what they have done, and what they have or don’t have. In the Kingdom of God there is no judgment because we only see others as the children of God.  We also recognize that we are the “chief of all sinners” not any better or any worse than anyone else.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you easily hurt or offended by your brothers and sisters in your church- or- by people in general?  Rather than walking the pathway of humility, peace, and reconciliation do you run away to other churches and hide from your issues.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world encourage pouting and resentment when one gets his feelings hurt.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward humility, submission, and forgiveness with anyone and everyone who speaks poorly of us, hurts us, offends us, or even strikes us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you get your feelings hurt if you are not officially recognized by the preacher for your service, or accomplishment?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote accomplishment, recognition, and accolades for a job well-done.  In the Kingdom of God we are happy and joyful when we can serve our God in secret; in such a way that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you withhold your offering in protest or organize to force your own way and agenda when you are not in agreement with a decision?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world are bent on political power and influence and teach us that it is best to manipulate in order to get what we want.  In the Kingdom of God we pray together in unity for the Spirit of God to be our guide, so that we may bear with each other in grace and love.  We carry each other’s burdens while seeking God on our knees in prayer together.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you negative about someone or something in the church (or outside of the church) and work to divide one person against another with your words and/or actions?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to fracture, hurt, and divide individuals and relationships, pitting one person or group against each other.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward the uplifting, encouragement, and building up of each person in his or her life and relationships.  We work toward the healing and the restoration of people, relationships, and church bodies.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you always demanding the way you like things, forcing your own individual way and your own individual agenda on others and on those within the church?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world teach us to look out for our own interests, the survival of the fittest, and the necessity of taking care of “numero uno.”  In the Kingdom of God we work together in unity considering the interests of others before our own while making sure that each person is taken care of and ministered to…most especially the weakest and most modest parts of the Body among us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you neglect the cause of the poor, the imprisoned, the widow, the orphan, or the oppressed?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to ignore, push, and marginalize those already on the edges of society further into isolation, destitution, and misery.  In the Kingdom of God the outcasts are met where they are at in mercy and grace and welcomed into loving, whole, and healed community that gives worth and value to every single person despite their circumstance.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you still dislike or hate those whom you have labeled as enemies…seeking to avoid, not forgive, and/or get revenge against them?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world label and divide and actively pursue retribution against anyone who is seen as an enemy or adversary.  In the Kingdom of God every person in the world is a beloved child of God and a brother or sister to whom we extend grace, love, and forgiveness as we embody the way of Christ equally to friend and enemy.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you a “minister” who seeks attention and puts your way before others in order to receive special recognition from the congregation.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote and give special attention to great leaders for their accomplishments and accolades, celebrating the achievements of one man.  In the Kingdom of God each part of the Body is equally important with no one part being any more important than another.  Each part of the body uses his or her God-given gifts, with all praise and attention going to God.  As a result, each of us ought to submit to one another, washing one another’s feet in humility and service as Christ would do for us.

This list of questions could go on and on forever, but don’t miss the point.  As followers of Jesus Christ, as those who have been made new by the Holy Spirit, as those who operate by a new set of standards in the Kingdom of God, we must confront and die to the wicked ways of the world and be the Church God has made us to be.  For His salvation has allowed us to embody presently, not the old, worn-out, and self-interested ways of the kingdoms of the world, but the Life-givingKingdom of God.  And this is the way we ought to live every second of the day.

Praise God that He can move in such spectacular ways in spite of our lack of cooperation.  Praise God that He does not give up on us when we continue to fall so miserably short of His ways.  Praise God that, even now, that He continues to patiently wait for each of us to surrender our hearts and our lives to His reign and His rule and His Kingdom!

peace…

Brandon

to my youngest daughter…

When I was younger, I always wondered about many things:

Who would I marry when I got older?

What job or occupation would I have?

Where would I live?

Would I have any kids?

If I did, how many kids would I have?

What would my kids be like?

As a 37-year-old man today, I can answer just about all of those questions.  I say “just about” because the number of kids increased recently and I didn’t see that one coming.

But it is just recently that I have been able to more fully answer that last question, “What would my kids be like?”

Anna and Caroline are amazing children with unique gifts, talents, and abilities that make me extraordinarily proud as their dad.

I will get to talk about Anna in more detail in the near future, but since today is Caroline’s day…let me tell you a little bit about her.

Caroline is one of the most sensitive and tenderhearted children you will ever meet.  She is wildly empathetic and cares immensely about people’s thoughts and feelings, and stands up for others when she feels like someone is being treated unfairly.

Caroline and I were having our Monday morning breakfast with each other at Starbucks a couple of years ago.  I always ask the girls what they have been thinking about or what questions they have that we can discuss.  On this particular morning Caroline began to tell me about a little girl in her class who was living with her grandma, because her parents left her.  Caroline befriended this little girl and spent time with her.  On day on the playground another little girl began verbally harassing Caroline’s new friend.  Caroline asked the bully to leave her friend alone, but the situation escalated from verbal taunts to kicking.  The bully began to kick and harass the defenseless girl.  It was at that moment that Caroline, with amazing love and courage, put her body in front of her friend in order protect her from the kicks.

I was so proud of Caroline for standing up for that little girl.

Caroline is the servant in our home.  She is always willing to help and she always wants to please.  Anything that Caroline has…she will gladly share it with you.

Just last week Caroline had a few bucks and asked if Jenny would take her to the store.  When they returned, I asked Caroline what she bought.  She said, “I bought some stickers for Anna.”  She didn’t buy anything for herself with her own money, but used her money to buy something for her sister.  That is typical Caroline, always wanting to do something nice for someone else.  She is incredibly selfless.

It makes me very proud and honored to be Caroline’s dad and to be a teacher and example in her life.  One night last year after Caroline said her very sincere and heartfelt prayers I said, “Caroline, in your life you are going to be such a powerful pray-er for other people.”  She took in my words and responded, “Just like you daddy.”  Wow.  It made my heart just swell with gratitude.

One day a few weeks ago Caroline was excited to show me her thankfulness journal.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  Maybe a list of people and things for which she is thankful?  To my surprise, when I opened up her journal I got a glimpse into what thoughts and questions were on Caroline’s mind.  Some pages just had questions, but other pages had questions that she answered.

What is outside of space?

Where is heaven?

How old is the earth?

All people should be thankful for God and Jesus.

How many people are in the world?

Where is God right now?  In my heart.

Why did people kill Jesus if he was such a good man?

It is not about anyone.  It is about Jesus.

The Holy Bible is God’s Word.

Jesus is our Lord and Father.

God will be in our hearts forever.

Everybody is the same.

No one is perfect.

If someone thinks they are better than you they aren’t.

God guards you through the night.

It is a privilege to be Caroline’s dad and to walk with her in this life.  Each of you have had a part in Caroline’s life- molding her and shaping her into the person she is.  And this is just the beginning, there is so much more that God has in store for Caroline and her life.

Today, Caroline is giving her entire life to God and to following the way of Jesus in everything she does.  She joins the community of faithful believers, which is all of us, and trusts that we will walk with her- guiding her, shaping her, teaching her, and modeling for her God’s righteousness here on earth.

Caroline, we love you and are very proud of you.

Love,

Daddy

living beyond the church answer (part 2)…

What if the purposes of God have been all along to repair that which is fractured and broken.  What if the purposes of God have been to mend, heal, and restore his good creation so that there would once again be a perfect union of heaven and earth.  And what if humanity has the opportunity to be the first part of that which God is mending and repairing through the work of the Holy Spirit in order that we might have life to the fullest NOW?  And then…what if our primary role is to continue outward and onward helping God in the repairing process?  How might this change the identity, role, and function of the Christian in the world if we understood our faith to be more than just “getting people to heaven?”

Consider the following passages in light of the previous questions:

John writes that, “The reason that [Jesus] appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

In the book of Luke, Jesus tells a crowd of followers that, “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

We can conclude that since the work of Satan has been to disrupt, fracture, break, oppress, enslave, and destroy God’s good creation (including humanity)…then the purpose of Jesus was to undo the work of Satan.  To mend…restore…reconcile… unburden…liberate…and piece back together that which has been broken.

In order to begin undoing (or destroying) the work of Satan, Jesus preached the primary message of the Kingdom of God.  The message of the Kingdom of God would take root in the hearts and minds of those who heard and believed…and as a result would undermine the work of Satan by liberating those have been enslaved and oppressed and would open the eyes of those who have been living blindly in the world.

The message of the Kingdom of God confronted the ways and wisdom of the world.  The message of the Kingdom of God confronted every oppressive system and ruler on earth.  The message of the Kingdom of God offered a new way of life…lived in all its fullness and in great abundance.  The message and embodiment of the Kingdom of God…in and through Jesus Christ…offered people an alternative of freedom and liberation and an escape from the crushing and oppressive forces at work in the world.  The message of the Kingdom of God was that life does not have to be this way.  It can look different.  It can be experienced in ways that you have never known before…in ways you have never considered…and you will be taught and empowered so that you may have it and experience it now.  And then, you will be sent out into the world to extend this Kingdom alternative (this life to the fullest) to the rest of the world.

Jesus said it himself, “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.

And then, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you:  Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them in baptism in the three-fold name:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.  I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

So while we anticipate our future hope…we anticipate and embody it presently.  We operate by a different standard…a new way of thinking and being…a new way of being human…that is given to us freely by God through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit refines, restores, shapes, and pieces us back together and makes us whole and healed.

The Spirit takes us from a conditional way of living into an unconditional way of living.

We not only love our friends but our enemies.  We experience joy, not just in the good times but in the bad as well.  We extend peace, not only when times are calm but also when others are warring with us and around us.  We are patient, not just when people and situations meet our expectations but when they do not meet our expectations.  We are kind, not only to those that are agreeable but to those who are disagreeable.  We are gentle, not only to those who are closest to us but to those who are considered outcasts.  We are self-controlled, not only in situations in which others can see our actions but also in situations when no one can see what we are doing.  And as the Spirit is refining, molding, and shaping us into the likeness of Christ, we become the vessel or the conduit through which the Spirit works to extend healing and restoring to the world.  Seeds are planted in the fertile ground of our hearts and minds being watered by the Holy Spirit in order to produce abundant fruit…that will then be used to plant more seeds in the fertile ground of other hearts and minds.

As such…the Christian, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, operates with a different mindset…a different value system.  It isn’t a mindset or value system that looks like the way of the world.  It is a mindset and value system that looks like the mindset and value system of Jesus.  It looks like a life where God is reigning in the hearts and minds of every person.  It looks like a life in which heaven is breaking out on earth through the words, actions, and disposition of every follower of Christ.  This is why it is absolutely essential that we are a Spirit-filled, Spirit-seeking, Spirit-led Church.  There is no point in gathering together unless the Holy Spirit is working and moving in power in us, through us, and among us.  Without the Holy Spirit working through us in power, we could just as easily be a civic group, a nice charitable organization, or a country club.

It is through the free gift of the Holy Spirit that God is raising to life the Body of Christ (or those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus Christ).  In the Holy Spirit, God is breathing a breath of new life…new creation…into this Body of Christ that picks up its cross and dies daily to the old sinful ways.  This Body of Christ is given power (dunamis– greekdynamic, forcee, power, capacity, potential, potency, capability and faculty (ability, skill, or power), not simply to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control)…but to embody and extend the reign of God in and through our lives as we teach and train (disciple) others in this abundant life.

But while we have taken some steps in understanding the situation in which we find ourselves presently and the great need we have for the Holy Spirit to be working in us, around us, and through us…we are still left with one primary unanswered question.

What exactly is life to the fullest anyway?

continue on to living beyond the church answer (part 3)…