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.

self made man…

My friend and I made preparations to wash feet. Everyone from our church was invited to come. No one knew what we were doing. We filled four or five water basins and put them strategically around the room. Beside each basin was a hand towel to dry the feet after washing them. On the screen were the words of Jesus to his disciples- as I have done for you, now you must do.

We didn’t give anyone any instructions. This was going to be a demonstration in humble service. We were simply going to take the water basins and begin washing the feet of those who were there. So we began. As we washed the feet of two or three people something remarkable began to happen. Those whose feet we had already washed stood up, took the extra basins of water, and began to wash the feet of others as well. Upon seeing this I set my basin down and took a seat to observe what was happening.

That is when I was completely caught off guard.

My wife and my good friend both came over to me and knelt down. They took my dirty sandals off and began to wash my feet. Unexpected emotions began to surface as tears filled my eyes. I was so humbled to be served in such an intimate way by those I love dearly. It was truly an honor.

But despite my feelings of appreciation I couldn’t fight the most unexpected emotion that crept into this holy service. My pride.

Instead of savoring the joy of those who were serving…all I could think was: I am capable of washing my own feet. I don’t need anyone going out of his or her way to wash my feet. They don’t need to imposition themselves on my behalf.

The truth is that it was hard to be served.

These same feelings came rushing back to me over the last couple of weeks, as I was the recipient of two incredible “random acts of kindness.” Both of the acts left me speechless and profoundly appreciative of how kind and selfless people can be…but they also left me struggling with being served by another person.

I started asking my friends, “Is it easier for you to serve someone else, or to be served?” The answers were shocking to me. Although my impromptu poll was far from scientific…the people I asked stated unanimously that they have a much easier time serving others than being served.

Beyond the straw polls and evidenced through many of my own personal anecdotes of wanting to serve others in need, I have found that people resist being served because they do not want to “inconvenience” others.

Why is that?

Have we been so molded and shaped into a people who believe we need to “pull up our bootstraps” and get the work done by ourselves that we fight being served?

Have we developed a wild sense of independence and pride that keeps good-hearted servants at arm’s length so they can’t help us?

Have we become so insulated and isolated from people…for fear of getting hurt or owing someone something…that we do not give others the opportunity to give selflessly without them not expecting anything in return?

I know this is a broad stroke of the brush…but I have come to the conclusion that we do not have a “serving” problem as much as we have a “reluctance to be served” problem.

Too many times we make the moment about ourselves, our pride, and how capable we are of doing things on our own…that we completely miss the greater point. It isn’t about people seeing our deficiency, our inadequacy, or our inability to do things for ourselves…it is about the great joy others take in serving us. And when we deprive others the opportunity to serve us…we deprive them of the profound joy of serving Christ.

That is the lesson I learned while my feet were being washed. As I watched my wife and good friend each wash one of my feet, I didn’t see them grumbling. They weren’t thinking less of me. And even though they could have made some snide comments about the smell and unkemptness of my feet, I didn’t even hear a grunt from them. Instead…I saw something else displayed in them. They thoroughly washed and dried my feet with as much joy as if they were serving Jesus Christ himself.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord.” But also ready yourself to be served when others want to serve you.