Woe to You, Christians!

Let me tell you a story I recently heard.

A preacher was recounting a time several years ago when, during the “invitation hymn” after the sermon, a lady came forward to be baptized. Now the preacher had previously heard about this lady, as he had been told that she was currently living with her boyfriend, who was a member of the church. As they stood together in front of the congregation, the pastor reflected that he knew he “needed to confront her about her sinful relationship.”

And that is exactly what he did.

As they exited to change clothes and prepare for the baptism the preacher cornered her and said, “There is no way I can baptize you unless you quit living in sin.”

The couple gave him their assurances that they wouldn’t live together. The lady was baptized. And they never went back to his church again.

I wish I could tell you that a story like this is an anomaly, an aberration.

But it’s not.

I remember a time, when as a young man, I overheard chatter among people in my church about a lady who was wearing a mini-skirt and how she needed to be told to dress modestly in the “House of the Lord.”

As soon as the service ended, an elder of the church approached the young woman, who by the way had never been to our church before, and told her that if she was going to come back she needed to dress appropriately.

She never came back.

How have so many churches ended up comprised of “righteous gatekeepers” who believe it is their responsibility to manage and control who enters through the gates?

It is eerily reminiscent of Jesus’ strong words to the Pharisees when he said, “You shut the door of the kingdom of God in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

The absolutely fascinating thing about the words of Jesus, which ought to serve as a lesson to many, is that the very people who believed they were righteous insiders, were actually not even on the inside at all.

In fact, they were on the outside and preventing others from entering.

What do you think about that?

The Kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke, is all around us, but it is a reality into which we enter, changing our hearts and giving us new eyes to see the world.  The Kingdom of God is the present, in-breaking reality of God’s presence in our lives. A reality, that once embodied, looks like the life of Jesus, a life ruled, not by heavy-handed laws and rules or by “who’s in and who’s out,” but by grace, love, and invitation.

And the door to the Kingdom of God is always open and there is not one religious person or leader who can stand in the way of you entering. There is not one religious leader who can decide whether you are in or out. There is not one religious leader who can keep you from a seat at the table.

The religious may stand on the outside and try to close the door, and prevent others from entering, but Jesus opens wide the door of God’s Kingdom and invites us all to a seat at the table with him, without judgment or condemnation.

No matter your background, your present life situation, your socioeconomic status, your level of education, your appearance, your diseases, your addictions,  your afflictions, your offenses, your burdens, your heartache, your despair, or even your past or present sins, there is no single person, not one religious person, not one holier-than-thou person, not even the most theologically-minded, well-respected, or studied preacher who can keep you from the love of God, who can keep you from God’s forgiveness, who can block you from entering into the kingdom of God, or who can take away your seat at the table of invitation.

You are an honored guest. You have been invited.

In another instance, I heard the same preacher recall a funeral he was to give to a 19-year old young man he did not personally know, but whom he soon found out was a biker.  As the preacher was on his way to the funeral, he detailed his approach to the funeral home, seeing a parking lot full of “stereotypical [bikers] with long hair and tattoos all over the place, right there in public smoking their joints and drinking a [beer] with several of them having their girls along with them dressed immodestly on the back of their bikes.”

And as I listened to these heartbreaking words and the tone in which they were spoken, all I could think was- Would Jesus be riding passed these bikers and their “immodestly dressed girls” in judgment based upon how they look and then thinking how he needs to preach the Gospel to them when they come into the funeral home- or- would he have gone out to them, embraced them, listened to their stories of how they knew the young man, and then told them about the beautiful invitation and present reality of God’s kingdom and how they may enter in.

To me, the answer is clear and evident throughout the Gospels. Jesus was always at the table of invitation with various sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.

As followers of Jesus, we have not been given the task of shutting the door or preventing “sinners” from entering into the Kingdom of God.

Rather, we have been given the task of entering presently through the open doors ourselves and accompanying every single person of the world to the table so that they, too, can taste and see just how good the Lord is.

The Kingdom of God is not a place that needs guarded or protected. It’s not a place entered into by the self-described righteous or religious. And it is certainly not a place where the untouchables, outcasts, or unholy sinners are banned or restricted.

The doors to the Kingdom of God are always open wide. There is always an invitation and a seat at the table. And Jesus is always standing there, at the head of the table, with his arms open wide for every untouchable, every outcast, every unholy sinner, every person ever pushed aside or crushed by the religious apparatus, and every single person who has ever been told that God doesn’t love them or that they are anything less than precious, worthy, and valuable.

The invitation into the Kingdom of God and a seat at the table is always there.

You are always, always, always invited.

Peace and love…

Brandon

A Prayer of Reconciliation to the World

Somehow I forgot to post this when it was written in 2010. Of course it seems as relevant now as it did then. This piece is an excerpt from my 2010 book Unearthed: How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World.

Father God,

Too many times we as Christians have been the loudest and most vocal voices and many times we have not represented or embodied the way, life, and teachings of your Son Jesus.

Our judgmental and condemning voices have become a poor representation of Jesus in the community and the larger world and have left many who do not know anything about Jesus with a bad taste in their mouths and a deep contempt for your Church.

Too many times we are quick to say that we are the “defenders of the faith,” or the “protectors of our Christians heritage.” Yet in our zealousness to defend, we have compromised the way of your son, Jesus, and have many times done it in his name.

Father we repent and ask for forgiveness, for we know that Jesus did not spend his time isolating and targeting special “sin groups” or trying to defend his positions through arguing and debating.

Father we ask humbly that you replace our ways with your ways.

For we know that the way of Jesus does not have to be defended; it must be demonstrated.

It never moves out in judgment; it moves out in love.

It never extends in condemnation to the world; it extends in grace and mercy.

The ways of arguing, defending, judging, and condemning always build up walls and embitters those in the world who are on the receiving end.

For every way that we as the Church have fallen short of representing you to the world, we ask for forgiveness.

Father, we are so eager to accept your grace, but are so unwilling to extend it. We are so eager to accept your love, but are so unwilling to demonstrate it. We are so eager to accept your mercy, but so unwilling to give it.

While we have known that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, we have believed that it is our responsibility to condemn it.

While we have known that Jesus said he did not come into the world to judge it, we have believed it is our responsibility to judge it.

While we have known that Jesus told his followers to “judge not,” we have instead decided to judge anyway.

And while we have known that Paul asked the Church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church?” we have instead decided that we should be the judges of the world?

God forgive us for not being like Jesus to the world.

Father, we need the strength to sacrifice our own wants, needs, desires, and pursuits.

Forgive us for the ways we have put idols within the Church ahead of you and your Kingdom.

Forgive us for the way we have worshipped facility and program over you.

Forgive us for the way we have followed human convention rather than your Spirit.

Father, we desperately need the fresh breath of your Holy Spirit to mold us and shape us into something useable and to open our eyes to the things that are not important to you.

We know that while we have been ignorant and negligent in understanding and extending your Kingdom, our calling and pursuit should be to model Christ by living and extending your Kingdom, giving ourselves self-sacrificially in love and service to the world, embodying a life of peace, justice, and mercy that becomes the yearning of all humanity.

Father, it is in this calling and pursuit that we have fallen woefully and painfully short. And it is because of our shortcomings with the world that we desperately need forgiveness.

Father, we need your power and strength to apologize to,and seek forgiveness from, any and all of those who have been on the receiving end of judgment, condemnation, or abuse from those of us who have labeled ourselves as Christians.

We deeply and prayerfully apologize and repent. We have not represented the love, grace, mercy, and heart of Jesus very well…and we desperately need your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world.

To the atheist, agnostic, Jew, and Muslim, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the homosexual, African-American, or any other minority that we have judged and oppressed in the past, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the poor, enslaved, or victim of injustice, abuse, and neglect, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness for judging you and turning a blind eye.

To every single expecting mother who sought an abortion, we ask for forgiveness for judging you and turning you into an issue and not demonstrating the lengths to which we would go to show you love, guidance, help, and assistance

And to every single person who has experienced anything less than the unconditional love of Christ from the Christian, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

In Jesus name we as the Church in unity pray, Amen and Amen.

Jesus is Not My Bro

The beginning and focal point of the Christian and the Church must be Jesus Christ.

The crowning achievement of God is Jesus Christ defeating sin and death so as to pull heaven and earth back together under one head, initiating His reconciliation plan through humanity who has submitted to His way and His Kingdom. The celebration of the Ages looks centrally at Jesus Christ and the reestablishment of God’s rule and God’s reign throughout the entire cosmos. The towering pinnacle of the Ages is Jesus Christ breaking into the rogue kingdoms of the world and establishing a Kingdom to be the face of God’s love and righteousness in the world. It is in Jesus that the full reign and accomplishment of God centers and extends. God was pleased to have his very fullness dwell in Christ so that he might have reign and supremacy in all and through all.

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1: 15-20

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. Ephesians 1: 9-10

It is under the headship of Jesus Christ where we find the Body of Christ, the Church, the people who embody the union of heaven and earth, the people who are the first fruits of new creation, the people who are the first part of what is yet to be revealed. Christ, the Head, directs the workings of the Body. It is through Jesus Christ that the Church finds its purpose and fulfillment. It is through Jesus Christ that the Church moves in righteousness and holiness.

This is the magnificent accomplishment of God- that through Jesus He would finally have a people of His name and a people of His way.

It is under the Lordship of King Jesus that a Kingdom of loyal subjects has been established to extend His rule and reign throughout the world in righteousness and mercy in order to demonstrate and then to disciple others into this life of fullness and abundance. The infusion of and the connection to Jesus is the Life-giving exclamation to humanity that there is victory in the best and highest ways of God.

We, as individuals and collectively as churches, have become sorely disconnected from Jesus, and we have lost knowledge and awareness of His Kingdom. We have been walking in utter darkness with only glimpses of the light of Christ to direct our ways. We are hardly an entity that embodies the supremacy and majesty of God incarnate as a visible representation of Jesus Christ to the world. We have become incredibly passé and casual in our understanding of and our surrender to the might, power, and profundity of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and His in-breaking Kingdom. Our awe of the cosmic Christ who has reconciled the entire cosmos, including precious humanity, is significantly lacking and has been replaced by a very casual “Jesus is my bro” attitude.

Yes, Jesus is incredibly relatable on a personal level, but we are grievously lacking in a view in which Jesus is the supreme centerpiece and masterpiece of God’s accomplishment to whom we give our love, our lives, and our all.

The mystery of God is this…

That the One who is the visible image of the invisible God; The One in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells; The One who is the living essence of the Trinity;

The One in whom eternity lives, breathes, and has its being; The One who is before time;

The A to Z, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end;

The Firstborn of the created universe, who rose from the dead never to die again; The Conqueror of death, sin, and the grave;

The Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and Forgiver;

The One who holds all creation together in Himself;

The One who is the power of glory and might;

The Head, the authority, and source of the Church;

The One through whom and for whom all things were created;

The One in whom all things find their meaning and reality;

The One who reconciled all things in heaven and earth to God;

The One who nailed to His bloody cross every law, every rule, every regulation that would condemn the beloved people of God;

The One who is supreme in every realm and hold the first place in all things- the Son of the Father’s love;

The One whose significance is unmatched in human history; The One who hold the title deed to the universe…

This glorious, limitless, amazing, incredible, expansive, incomparable, marvelous, stunning, staggering, majestic, mighty, matchless, spectacular, outstanding, tremendous, immense, infinite, vast, grand, triumphant, victorious, precious, radiant, peerless, wonderful, magnificent Christ has chosen to place all of His fullness where? INSIDE OF YOU! Jesus Manifesto, Leonard Sweet and Franklin Viola

No one person or thing is as Life-Giving as Jesus Christ. The very fullness of Christ in our individual lives and in the life of the Church is all we need, nothing more. Yet we have weakened and cheapened- and in some instances removed- Christ in such staggering proportions that we are left longing for something that will fill us. It is no wonder that there is so much sickness with the individual Christian and within the Church. We have replaced that which is Life-giving with gimmicks, fads, and styles. We operate as if we have to “compete” with our culture and our society for the attention of the people.

Jesus is sufficient and does not need to be dressed or hyped up. He does not need a marketing campaign, slick advertising, or demographic studies in our churches. Reread the excerpt from The Jesus Manifesto above. Does it sound like Jesus needs bells and whistles to completely capture the imagination and blow the mind of every man, woman, and child? No, he doesn’t.

We are guilty not just of trying to dress up and sell Jesus to people, but of neglecting to simply present this mind-blowing and world-altering Christ! God forgive us. We are left longing for something, and many times we are not even sure what it is. We become “church shoppers” and “church hoppers” looking for something that will make us happy or fill the hole in our lives. After the “honeymoon period” is over in one church, we are off to another. Whenever the buzz wears off of the glitz and the glam, or when we figure out that these people are sinful and jacked up, it is time for a new buzz and a new group of people to hang out with. Our error in thinking is that we believe the next group of people will not fail us or hurt us.

Can we not see the sickness in what we are doing? Can we not see how misaligned we have become in our priorities? Can we not see how consumerist- and non- Christ centered- we have become. Can we not see how our churches have continued to perpetuate the consumerist sickness by offering a smorgasbord of everything while watering down, and in some instances losing, Jesus?

We so desperately need Jesus and Jesus alone, presented in all of His mind-blowing, mind-altering, awe-inspiring richness and fullness. We have become so misguided and misaligned in our attempts to fill the hole with unfulfilling junk, we have missed the most important and Life-giving thing.

It is only when we, as individuals and as then as churches, finally figure out that style, preference, and gimmicks need to die within our houses of worship that Jesus can once again stand alone in majesty and supremacy and take center stage for the filling of His people. When we finally figure this out we will begin to change the consumer mentality within our churches and the petty arguments between generations about the style of music and the types of clothes that we wear at church on Sunday. Our preferential interests will be eclipsed by a Christ-centered awe and celebration that we, as sinners can finally come together under His Lordship in one accord. It is when we hunger for Christ and His Kingdom alone that we will change.

We will finally be a people enveloped by Christ in every pursuit. Christ in our prayers. Christ in our worship. Christ in our psalms. Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Christ in our baptism. Christ in our fellowship. Christ in our solitude. Christ in our silence. Christ in our words. Christ in our testimony. Christ in our blessings. Christ as we rise. Christ when we work. Christ when we eat. Christ when we play. Christ when we sleep. This is the union of the believers to Christ in all we do.

When we join together in fellowship, Christ is the centerpiece. When we lift up our praises and exalt the victory of Jesus over Satan, the kingdoms of the world, and sin and death, Christ is the centerpiece. When we stand together and speak the Psalms in one accord as our prayers with Christ, Christ is the centerpiece. When we join around the table to commemorate the body of Christ broken and the blood of Christ spilled for the forgiveness of sins, Christ is the centerpiece. When we hear the Good News of the Kingdom of God proclaimed and preached, Christ is the centerpiece. When testimony is given, declaring that the Lord brought us out of slavery and bondage and into the freedom and riches of His glorious Kingdom, Christ is the centerpiece.

When we finally put Jesus back at the center of our lives, worship, teaching, preaching, prayer and testimony, the petty bickering, complaining, “church shopping,” and “church hopping” will cease, because we will have finally been confronted by, and will have found fulfillment in, Christ alone. When Christ, His ways, His teachings, and His Kingdom are made the centerpiece once again, we will be united in our churches with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The truth is that we belong to one another through the only thing that holds us together…the only thing we need. And what an enormously tight union we find in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom!