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!

a story for the skeptics…

I am going to share a story with you that I have only told a handful of people.  It’s one of those stories that is so unbelievable that you could potentially think I have completely lost it… and maybe that is why it has taken me two years to share it with you.

The way I figure it:  you either already believe I am completely out of my mind and have been for quite some time -OR- you believe that I am on the verge of being completely out of my mind at any moment.  Either way I have absolutely nothing to lose!

As I have previously written and to serve as some context:

I am a doubter, a cynic, and a skeptic and I confess to you that I have even been known to roll my eyes when people have told me that God spoke to them.  Not that my eye-rolling wasn’t justified a few times, but my cynicism and skepticism kept me from believing that God would, or could, actually speak in a way that a person today would really hear Him.  But God has a way of silencing the fools, and (again) I was about to be silenced.

About two years ago one of my best friends and I decided that we were going to spend seven days fasting from food so that we could spend our time praying and seeking God’s guidance for our individual lives and for our church.  This particular fast was different than others in which I have undertaken.  While I typically fast from food, I would also be abstaining from coffee as well.  If you don’t know me that well…I survive on coffee.  In fact…I am sitting at Starbucks right now drinking black coffee as I type this story.  I love this marvelous, beautiful liquid…and I knew what life was going to be like without it for seven days.

It was going to start off with headaches.  I could not function for the first two days.  Headaches.  Body aches.  And headaches.  Did I mention the headaches?  I began to wonder if it was even worth it as my heart pounded in my cranium.

But on the third day…I came back to life.  Did you like that?  Yeah…I found new life at the beginning of day three.  I could actually spend the remaining five days focused on something besides myself.  So I began to pray.

I think it may have been a Wednesday night.  I went upstairs and was preparing to go to bed.  I nestled into the sheets, read for a bit, and then turned off the light when I could no longer finish a sentence without dozing off.

I vividly remember my prayer after turning off the light.  It may seem an odd prayer to you…being that my writing may reflect a tremendous amount of faith…but I just remember repetitiously asking God several questions:

Why do you not reveal yourself and make things obvious?  Why do you not speak to me clearly so I know that you are there and understand what you want me to do?  Why do you make faith so difficult?

I don’t remember finishing my prayer that night as I faded into sleep mumbling the same words over and over.  I was sound asleep.  That is…until our home phone began to ring downstairs.

I immediately awoke and tried to collect my thoughts as I ran down the hallway and then downstairs- What time is it?  Who on earth is calling me at this hour?  Is there something wrong with my parents or Jenny’s parents?

I frantically lunged for the phone, “Hello?!”

On the other end of the phone someone was crying hysterically.  My heart began to race and more questions flew through my head- Are my kids ok?  Is Columbus, Indiana under attack?  Is my family in danger?

“Brandon, it’s Rebecca!  Are you alright?!”

A hundred more questions came to me all at once as time seemed to slow down- Why is Rebecca calling me?  Why is Rebecca calling me at 3:30AM?  Why is she crying hysterically?

Rebecca is my cousin’s wife, and to my knowledge, she had never previously called my house.  Even more…I don’t think I had ever spoken with her on the phone before…period.  When I call my cousin, who lives out of town, I always call his cell phone and talk directly to him.  She didn’t have my home phone number… so she had to look it up!  This early morning call was starting off very bizarre, to say the least.

“Yeah, I am fine…why?”

Sobbing, Rebecca continued, “Is your family alright?!”

Utterly confused and almost second-guessing myself I responded, “Yeah, everyone here is ok why?”

Her crying intensified, “Because I was having a dream and God told me that I had to call you!  As I hesitated in the dream to call you…God screamed at me, ‘IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!!!’  At that point I didn’t have a choice…I knew that no matter how weird it may seem to you…I had to call you!”

I completely lost it.  Tears began streaming down my face as I recalled my intent prayers before falling asleep.  As best I could, I tried to explain to Rebecca how completely miraculous and profound this was.  We both agreed that it was more than coincidental. But as the conversation settled down and we said goodbye, neither of us knew how unbelievably coincidental this whole situation was about to become.

I went upstairs where my wife was intently waiting to hear what all the commotion was about.  I emotionally told her everything in detail about this extraordinary event.  We were both amazed at the unbelievable string of events.  Even though it was going to be hard to get back to sleep after such excitement, we turned off the lights and just laid there talking.

“Brandon, do you smell something?  It smells like a burning, electrical smell.”

I smelled the same thing and immediately got up to investigate.  I have an excellent sniffer so I made my way through the house like a hound dog on the hunt.  I went from room to room, upstairs to downstairs, downstairs to upstairs but couldn’t find anything suspicious.  Both Jenny and I could definitely smell this burning electrical but were perplexed as to where it was coming from and even more perplexed as to what to do about it.  But like any sane and overly cautious human being who just got spooked out of his mind by a crazy phone call only 30 minutes prior and who now smells something burning in his house…I called 911.

“Uh…I am calling because we have this burning electrical smell in our house but we can’t find where it is coming from and we are concerned that it may start a fire.  Would you please send the fire department to our house to investigate it…and please tell them to not turn on their sirens and wake the entire neighborhood?”

Jenny went up stairs to wake up our kids and I went out on the front porch to wait for the firefighters.  It wasn’t long before I could hear the sirens screaming from a mile away.  The concert tour bus sized fire engine came blazing around the corner onto our road and was calling for everyone in our neighborhood to get out of bed so they could see what the emergency was all about.

After explaining the burning smell to the fire chief, he and the volunteer firemen made their way through our house.  They moved from room to room, upstairs to downstairs, downstairs to upstairs but couldn’t find the culprit.  Perplexed, but trusting his intuition, the fire chief asked where our furnace was located.  I led him downstairs and he immediately began to investigate.  It wasn’t one minute before the chief made his professional determination.

“Well, it’s definitely your heater…and it’s a good thing you were awake and smelled it because the motor is all burnt up and the wires were catching on fire.  You were about 30 minutes from a fire in your house.”