Monday, January 28, 2008

The Church and the Kingdom IV

I'm going to wrap up this little series soon. I've got some other things I want to address, but there are some rich quotes related to the church and the kingdom that I want to share before I leave this focus.

Here is today's thought: The church is the custodian of the Kingdom. Which doesn’t mean that we clean the Kingdom…it means we are the keepers, the guardians, or the caretakers of the Kingdom.

Here’s another helpful quote by Dr. Arthur Glasser, “…the church is nothing less than the missionary people of the Kingdom of God. The church does not establish the Kingdom. It is rather the custodian of the good news of the Kingdom. It bears witness to the fact that the Kingdom has already been set up by its King.” (Glasser, Arthur with C. Van Engen, D. Gilliland and S. Redford eds. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003)

We don’t bring the Kingdom. Jesus did that, and the Holy Spirit continues to do that today. We are simply called to be missionaries: obeying the teaching of Jesus and living as Jesus lived in our unique contexts...exposing the Kingdom, inviting others into it, learning to see it in new ways as we pray for its coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Church and the Kingdom III

Let's continue on in this examination of the relationship of the church and the kingdom. Here's today's thought: The church is the instrument of the Kingdom in that the works of the Kingdom are performed through its members as through Jesus himself.

Jesus spent an awful lot of time explaining why he was sent. Dr. Arthur Glasser notes, "“Forty-four times in the Gospel of John, Jesus alluded to his being sent by the Father…” (Glasser, Arthur with C. Van Engen, D. Gilliland and S. Redford eds. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003).

Here are some of the things Jesus said He had been sent to do: “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18,19), to preach the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43), to do God’s will (John 4:34), to represent God (John 12:45), and many others. Just prior to his death, Jesus had sent the disciples out as twelve (Luke 9) and as seventy-two (Luke 10) to do these exact same things. Then, when we come to John 20:19-21, we find Jesus commissioning the disciples to partner with the Holy Spirit to reach outward and incarnate the presence of Jesus in everything they do.

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

Dr. Gregory A. Boyd summarizes this idea in this way: “Jesus planted the seed of the kingdom of God with his ministry, death, and resurrection and then gave to the church, the body of all who submit to his lordship, the task of embodying and living out this distinct kingdom.” (Boyd, Gregory A., The Myth of A Christian Nation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)

So, what do you think? How is the church doing at embodying the life of Jesus and the mission of the kingdom?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Church and the Kingdom II

OK, I intended to continue this little series last week, but got distracted. Here again, are my working definitions for the church and the kingdom.

The Church: a people on a common mission to love and serve one another and a broken world in Jesus’ name and for God’s glory.

The Kingdom: God’s hopes and dreams for His creation. Jesus declared its presence (which we pray for and work to expose) and He also described a future consummation of the kingdom (where everything God wants done is done) that will come at His return.

And here's today's thought: The church is not the kingdom.

"The Kingdom of God is the conception placed above that of the church; the church is not the Kingdom of God, but the church owes her existence to the Kingdom of God. She exists for the sake of the Kingdom; she represents the Kingdom of God on earth in the present age till through the coming of Christ in power God will grant full and final victory. In the Kingdom of God the church has her ultimate frontiers; from the Kingdom she receives all her substance, her power and hope." (Skydsgaard, Kristen E. "Kingdom of God and Church." Scottish Journal of Theology 4, no.4, 1951: 383-97.)

So, we must be careful that the church doesn’t become the focal point. Our weekend services, our internal programs and bible studies, our small groups, our choir rehearsals, our buildings, and our staffs must not become the focal point. Jesus sent His church into the world to represent the Kingdom. The Kingdom is to be our focal point.

More on this tomorrow...I promise!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Theirs is the Kingdom

The director of a Christian community development organization lent me his copy of the book, "Theirs is the Kingdom" by Robert D. Lupton. This little book is incredibly profound, with bite-sized stories about transformation in the inner city. I have been moved again and again as I read it and I would challenge every Christ-follower to pick up a copy. I am going to share an excerpt from one of Lupton's chapters that challenged and convicted me.

"A passion for excellence. Diligence. Drive. Efficiency. The competitive edge. These are the values of achievers, the essence of upward mobility and the stuff of which success is made.

Enter Jesus, the Christ. Might God. The Everlasting Father. Emptied. Weak. Dependent. Here to show us the way to greatness, heavenly greatness, by becoming least. King turned servant. Downwardly mobile. What sort of ethic is this?

There are those who will find it exceedingly difficult to understand, the Teacher said. Like the wealthy, successful, educated ones. But there will be a few renegades and other out-of-step people who will be given eyes to perceive the kingdom. They will listen to the homeless leader who owned one change of clothes, didn't budget to pay his taxes, and was an affront to self-respecting, responsible believers.

'Take no thought for tomorrow...don't worry about what you will eat or wear...don't lay up treasure here...give your coat...share your bread...lend without expecting a return.' Wonderful rhetoric but highly impractical. Suidical if taken literally--and so the reasonable folks did not take it that way.

Indeed, his teachings are suicidal for the successful. The downward mobility of the kingdom strikes at the very heart of our earthly strivings. It feels like death to let go of our diligent preparations for the next step up and the investments that insure our tomorrows. Who in their right mind would gamble away a reasonably predictable and secure future on a high-risk, intangible faith venture like the kingdom of God? A balanced portfolio makes more sense. A good mix of earthly investments with enough heavenly stock to carry us if the bottom falls out of the economy. The best of both worlds, we might say.

Jesus, the Christ. Mighty God. Destitute. He says we can't have it both ways, that our security is either in God or mammon. He tells us that the servant is not greater than his master, that greatness--his and ours--is found only in servanthood, in choosing the lesser positions while yielding the better places to others. It is only in laying down our privilege, our control, our comfort for the sake of others, he says, that we can know life as he created it to be.

Heavenly hosts burst forth in hallelujahs (not tears) at the sight of their naked, helpless Creator in the straw. Heaven's best lavished on the least of the earth. Glory to God, they exclaimed. The first fruits of a new world order have come, and he has revealed the values of his kingdom: vulnerability, obedience with abandon, lavish giving, faith that defies reason, volitional downward mobility.

Foolishness. God has chosen the weak to lead the strong and the foolish to confound the wise. His end? That all may know his utter dependability to care for those who will risk trusting him." (Lupton, Robert D. Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Church of the Savior

A friend of mine, a fellow missional church planter, sent me the link below. The link leads to a Vineyard newsletter that contains an article about Church of the Savior in Washington DC. I learned about COTS a few months ago, but this article was the first time I really understood what they're doing. I was surprised by the similarities between COTS and The Well. I pray that we can look back in another 50 years to see so many great accomplishments for the Kingdom.

The article starts on page 10. If you take the time to read it, be sure to come back here and post your thoughts.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Church and The Kingdom

Let’s spend some time on the church and the kingdom. Here are my working definitions for each:

The Church: a people on a common mission to love and serve one another and a broken world in Jesus’ name and for God’s glory.

The Kingdom: God’s hopes and dreams for His creation. Jesus declared its presence (which we pray for and work to expose) and He also described a future consummation of the kingdom (where everything God wants done is done) that will come at His return.

It’s interesting that Jesus spends hardly any time teaching about the church. He is all about the kingdom. Over 120 times on 30 different occasions distributed throughout the gospels, Jesus talks about the Kingdom. Only a few times does Jesus ever mention the church. But, what Jesus does say about the church helps us to see that He regarded it as a powerful force for advancing His message of the Kingdom…and advancing the kingdom itself.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18

This should put an image in our minds of the Church forcefully invading the work of Satan in this world. Notice that hell is not on the offensive here, they are defending themselves behind the gates…trying to withstand…which, according to Jesus they will fail to do. So, we have this powerful imagery which represents Jesus’ firm belief in the potential of the Church to come together around a common mission to affect storm the gates of hell.

Of course, the weapons we wield are love, joy, peace, compassion, generosity, sacrificial service, etc. The more we put these weapons to their intended use, the more of the kingdom that gets exposed and the weaker the gates of Hades becomes.

More on this tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Random Thoughts about House Churches

I’m working my way through an excellent book by Wolfgang Simson titled, Houses That Change the World: The Return of the House Churches. Simson has made some insightful and refreshing observations throughout the book—mostly about matters unrelated to house churches. So, it’s very much worth reading, even if you’re not that interested in the house church movement.

I've read a couple of books about house churches and I’m not sold on house churches as the next step for the church of America. If more professing Christians had a truly Biblical worldview, then house churches would be ideal. But, in my opinion, most Christians don’t know what it really looks like to follow Jesus. And those who do are often too scared to step out and try it. So, shutting down the institutional, attractional model to switch to house churches would result in the blind leading the blind. There just aren’t enough theologically astute men and women out there to lead orthodox and mission-minded house churches.

And, I’m afraid that the broken small group model has made an indelible impression that is wicked hard to break free from. How do we overcome our life group mentality when the house church experience still gives off a pretty strong life group “vibe”? We’re struggling with that at The Well. We call our small community environments “house churches”, and I really believe that these smaller communities function more as the church than the larger group. However, just today, I spoke on the phone with a Weller who referred to her house church as a life group. I bristled, but let it slide. However, I do believe (and I pray) that some upcoming changes with our house church structure will help people readjust their approach to house church.

This post is a little random, I know. I didn’t actually intend to post this, but my thoughts found their way to the word processor. I’ll share a quote with you later from Simson’s book that has really got me rethinking the purpose of the worship service.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Is America a Christian Nation?

Happy New Year everybody! Not only is it a new year, but it’s an election year which means we’re going to get more than our fill of politics in 2008 (well, at least I am). If you’ve been watching the news, then you are aware that faith continues to be a key issue in the presidential primaries. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stood by several comments during a speech he made at a Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 that said he planned to “take this nation back for Christ.”

It’s statements like this that motivated Greg Boyd to write the book, The Myth of a Christian Nation. I read this book last summer and it is absolutely one of my favorite books. Boyd devotes an entire chapter to “Taking Back America For God” and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

Here’s the book description from the back cover:

“When the kingdom of God is manifested, it will wear the face of Jesus Christ. And that, says the author Gregory Boyd, has never been true of any earthly government or power. Through close examination of Scripture and lessons drawn from history, Dr. Boyd argues that evangelical Christians who align themselves too closely with political causes or declare that they want to bring America ‘back to God’ are actually doing more harm—both to the body of Christ and society in general.

Boyd shows how Jesus taught us to seek a ‘power-under’ kingdom, where greatness is measured by sacrifice and service. There are no sides or enemies because we are meant to embrace and accept everyone. In The Myth of A Christian Nation, Dr. Boyd challenges readers to return to the true love of Calvary and the message of the cross—setting the ‘power-over’ politics of worldly government aside.”

I hope you’ll read this book. It’s an easy read and I guarantee that it will make you stop and think. If you’ve already read it, then feel free to post a comment and share your thoughts. The handful of people I know who have read this book have given it rave reviews. I think you will too. Pick it up at Amazon at: