Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.

alone…

I remember sitting down at a table with eight empty chairs around me. Everyone else was still in the buffet line trying to determine what they would fill their plates with. I, on the other hand, sat nervously poking at my food and wondering who out of the hundred plus crowd would join me. Sitting at a table in the middle of the room seemed like a good idea at the time, as I was sure that others would eventually join me. But as everyone found his or her place at other tables among already established friends and acquaintances, I soon realized that I would be sitting embarrassingly alone for the next two hours while feeling like the eyes of every single stranger were focused on me.

I felt completely alone.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt like an outsider or not part of the group?

Have you ever been in a situation in which it seemed as if the eyes of the world were upon you and were making judgments about how you looked and every move you made?

Have you ever felt utterly alone and wished that there was someone else who would just recognize you, say a word to you, or make you feel welcomed?

It’s true that my circumstance was only temporary but it was long enough for me to experience the ache of isolation, the pain of being an outsider, and the longing for inclusion.

I am not sure that when we are on the “inside” we consider or remember what it is like to be on the “outside,” to be the one coming into new territory, to be the one who feels awkward and alone, to be the one searching for a place to fit in, or to be the one desperately wanting someone to just give us an ear. It seems as if once we find our comfortable place, or our unique clique, it is easy to forget how others around us may be feeling or what they may be experiencing.

Even within my own church there have been many instances in which we naturally gravitate toward those with whom we already have established relationships with while neglecting those who are not familiar to us. It makes my heart ache at the number of people who may have been in our midst, or in the midst of any other church, and had this kind of experience. As we have been this way, we have been off the mark.

When a person is in the midst of the church, he or she should be completely enveloped by Christ. If a person has been alone, it is in the church where welcoming community is found and where a person will never again be alone. If a person has been cast aside by others in the world, it is in the church where loving, non-judgment is experienced and where even the toughest to love may find solace. If a person is dejected and questioning the value of his or her life, it is the church where encouragement, prayer, and the value of life is ever-present.

It is for these reasons why it is so important for each of us who are a part of the church to remember that our function and purpose in the world is not always for our own sake. Rather, our function and purpose in the world as the church (as the Body of Jesus Christ in the world) is for the breaking open and the pouring out of ourselves for the sake of others just as Christ did.

In the church, heaven and earth have collided. We are what it looks like for heaven to be manifest on earth through our lives. We are the embodiment…the visual representation of new creation. We are first fruits, the beginning part, of God making all things new. We are a living, breathing resurrection community where the old ways have been put to death and the new ways have awakened. And that is exactly what people should experience when they are in our presence.

There is not one person on this earth, when in the presence of the church, who should not say, “I have never experienced this kind of selfless love. I have never felt so embraced. I have never experienced so much concern and care. I have never experienced so much joy and affection. I have never experienced so much humility and service.”

Is that what people experience when they are in the midst of our church communities?

brandon