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.

incognito…

Over the Christmas holiday I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. I think I volunteered during the two coldest days to close out 2010 and my attire proved it. Between multi-layers of clothing, a hat, a hoodie, big gloves, and a thick bushy beard not only was I warm… I was incognito. I even brought my trusty sidekick… the big-as-a-bomb metal vacuum thermos full of coffee. Let the bell ringing commence.

I felt a bit awkward at first. This white boy doesn’t have much soul. I think people may have been giving money for the first hour or two so I would just stop ringing. I certainly have a musical way about me- I can make the beauty and glory of instruments sound as if they were made for the most diabolical purposes. So on that day my bell was a tin can on a stick, clanging out a wondrous off-beat cacophony that heralded and coerced each passerby to part with their dollar bills and spare change.

Did I mention my appearance? I appeared a little less than a ruffian, a product of the elements. I have doubts my own mother would have recognized me had she known better. That may explain why so few people made eye contact with me. I had friends who even walked by without noticing me. While I recognized them and attempted to make direct eye contact, they turned their heads and looked away.

Could it be a cloak of invisibility that kept people from seeing me? Could it be the uneasiness of people feeling pressured to give money so they don’t want to feel guilty by looking at me and then not giving? Or could it be that I was being judged by my rugged appearance?

I had a lot of time over the ten hours of bell ringing to think about these things and make some observations.

While I am completely convinced I do have a cloak of invisibility, because I have used it successfully in the past, I did not use it at all over this Christmas holiday. I enjoy seeing people I know and delight in conversation with them so I was not trying to be invisible. I had truly hoped this was the explanation for so many people looking away from me and not giving.

It wasn’t until a beat-up, rusty 1970’s Ford truck pulled up blowing exhaust in my face that I made a startling observation. A haggardly and elderly woman struggled out of the passenger side of the decrepit truck while her unshaven husband looked on. After parking the beast he made his way to the entrance of the store to meet up with his wife. Upon exiting the store with a few staples he turned toward me, looked me in the eyes, wished me a Merry Christmas, and reached into his worn, leather money pouch and gave more than anyone else had given over the ten-hour stretch. It wasn’t that he gave a handsome sum of money because it certainly wasn’t. It was that he was giving all he had.

What a moving experience. A person who was as shabby and worn as I appeared not only looked at me in the eyes and saw me but gave what little he had to help prisoners, victims of natural disaster, victims of human trafficking, and those who do not have basic human needs. It made me wish that others had his eyes and his heart.

What was different about this man? Was it that he could identify with my poor appearance? Had he been on the receiving end of judgment somewhere in his past for how he looked and he wanted to make sure I didn’t feel the same thing from him? Had he been a recipient of clothes, food, or other assistance and knew what it was like to need help? Could it be that those of humble and poor circumstance are less likely to judge and more likely to give than those of privileged circumstance? Everything in me fought against these questions but they were validated more times than not to my dismay.

As I neared the end of my charitable social experiment one of my friends began to approach the store entrance. This time instead of letting this person pass without looking at me I yelled out. I said, “Hey! It’s Brandon!” to which this person replied, “Oh my goodness, I thought you were some homeless guy and I wasn’t even going to pay attention to you.”

Let’s make a commitment beginning this year to humble ourselves and see people differently- to see each person as sons and daughters of God with value. Let’s make a commitment to give a greater portion of what God has given us to join people in their lowly circumstance and show them love by our generosity.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

brandon

considering prayer…

this will be a bit different than my previous entries…mainly because it is not one continuous thought. rather…it is a bringing together of a few insights i have had recently about prayer that i want to share with you.

1. many of us within the church get into a pattern of telling every person who has a problem or a need that we will “pray for them”…and then we don’t do it. we may really care about the person and have the very best of intentions…but we simply don’t do it for one reason or another. i know this is prevalent because i hear it from people all the time…and i have been guilty of this as well. if you say it…do it. keep a journal or put it in your notes. make a point of following through with your promise. this is not only important for the person for whom you are praying…but it is important for you as well.

2. we often neglect the simple instruction of Jesus as to how and what we ought to pray for. Jesus said… this is how you should pray- our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. give us today our daily bread. forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. we are quick to turn our prayers and our prayer requests into what WE WANT or WE WE THINK SHOULD HAPPEN rather than what God would have done according to His will. the result of this change in perspective may very well mean we find ourselves in situations we don’t necessarily like or in circumstances we find hard to bear…but we pray for His will to be done in the situation and not ours. have you ever considered that the valley where you find yourself is exactly where you need to be? have you ever considered that your prayer is being answered right there in that place? have you ever considered that God uses the valleys of life for your refinement and His greater glory WHEN you open your eyes to see it. when it is about God’s will and God’s way in your life and in the lives of others…we will finally see the mountaintop from the valley… and joy in it…rather than despair in it. do not lose hope my friends…just open your eyes to see that something bigger is unfolding and be usable in the process.

3. much prayer MUST be accompanied by fasting. i wholeheartedly believe that we will see miracles right in front of us if we ever begin to understand this necessity and then begin to practice it. in mark 9 the disciples had been trying to drive a demon from a man. they were unsuccessful. in response to this Jesus told them, ” this kind can come forth by nothing, but prayer and fasting.” abstaining from food is an absolutely essential accompaniment to our prayer in extraordinarily difficult or tough situations. i find it completely ridiculous and convenient that in the New International Version of this specific text…IT OMITS FASTING! have we made this a cultural option rather than a spiritual essential? i believe so. as i have prayed and fasted…i have seen mountains move, relationships change, and people transformed. ask me sometime and i will be happy to share them with you…

4. my great friend and mentor told me recently that it is essential to “pray while you are moving.” don’t confuse this with “pray without ceasing.” while we both would advocate being the kind of people who pray without ceasing throughout our day…he is talking more about how we convince ourselves that we cannot do anything until we have prayed and heard clearly from God on the path we ought to take. many times this leads us into paralysis…and inhibits us from going into the world and doing what we ought to be doing. there is too much mulling over, considering, praying and waiting… and not enough praying while doing. has God not given us to green light to go into the nations? be bold! live without fear! pray without ceasing! but PRAY WHILE YOU ARE MOVING!

praying for you…

brandon