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.

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

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!