My last post I shared the above study that Barna Group put out that put my local context, Lancaster, PA (in with Harrisburg, Lebanon, and York) on the most Post Christian cities in America at number 38, above places like Austin, TX, Salt Lake City, UT, and Detroit, MI. I shared the fact that the ground underneath us is shifting, moving, and changing and that we are moving to a postmodern and postChristian world. Even Lancaster county, viewed by so many as a haven for all things Christian (Christian music, radio, theater, etc..) is definitely experiencing the same shift that is happening everywhere. Now I wouldn’t say we are on the same scale as the Northeast and the Northwest, but we are definitely further along in this postmodern, postChristian shift than the south especially.
So this post I’d like to begin to walk you through the process and the strategy that we are using as we continue planting Veritas in Lancaster. I will take this blog post to walk you through the overarching idea as well as the first step within the strategy. The next two blog posts will be on the next 2 steps within the strategy.
First, a few statistics:
The United States is the largest English Speaking mission field in the world.
The United States is also the 5th largest mission field in the world.
The world’s largest missionary-sending country has now become the world’s largest missionary-receiving country.
With these statistics and the understanding that we are living in a more and more postChristian setting, we need to realize that we are living in a mission field. And since we live in a mission field context we should take our clues about how to do mission, ministry and church more from missions, then from other areas of church life.
Let me give you a scenario. Imagine with me that God has called you and some friends to start a church in a place where you had no prior relationships, and where the culture is ever increasingly postmodern and postChristian, and is weary of religion, especially of the Christendom variety. This place may be London, Portland, Denver, Amsterdam, or other places (maybe even Lancaster)
What strategy would you use to start a community? What would you talk about at your first meeting after landing on the ground, getting housing, and finding jobs? Where would you start?
I believe the place where you would start is from a posture of a missionary or in this case a missionary community. I believe that as we move more and more into a postmodern, postChristian world, we need to move away from a “church planting” posture and into the idea that we are missionaries.
So you and the group that you have gathered in this postmodern, postChristian city or place, realizes that you need to think, and act as a missionary team, not a church planting team. But what does that mean? How would you move forward together? You would start by going through a basic missionary flow.
The first phase of any mission must involve cultural engagement. But what does it mean to engage the culture? Does it mean evangelism? Does it mean signs and shouting? It honestly is about working to develop relationships and friendships. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, in the book AND (where we got alot of these ideas) says this “Engaging Culture isn’t as much about doing evangelism as it is incarnating the presence of Christ in every relationship we form. If we fail at engaging well and living as Christ would live among our neighbors and friends, we fail as missionaries and the culture doesn’t see the visible beauty of the sent church.”
So now the question is how is the Veritas community being a missionary community and starting our work/continuing our work. We are continuing to ask those questions including the question “to whom are we sent.” But here are some ways that we are seeking to engage the culture.
1. 1st Friday Art Shows. Since our space in right on Art Gallery Row we have sought to connect to what is already happening on 1st Friday by becoming a part of 1st Friday by being an art gallery. We bring in local, upcoming, and emerging artists and give them a space to share their work.
2. 3rd Friday Music Events. 3rd Friday, though not as big as 1st Friday is all about music. And so our space becomes a music venue for local musicians as well as open mics for people to use their gifts. We have also been a venue for 2 years for the annual Launch Music Conference and Festival.
3. Being Good Neighbors. Kim and I are seeking to develop relationships with our neighbors by holding various events, or being a part of other events. We have hosted picnics, drive in movie nights, St. Patrick’s Day party (my favorite) as well as helping with the End of the School year Ice Cream party, breakfast at the bus stop, and various other events and activities.
4. Long’s Park. Every Summer the local park, Long’s Park holds a weekly Summer Music Series that happens on Sunday night. This summer we are encouraging our missionary community to invite their friends and neighbors to join us as we eat, hang out, and listen to the bands for the night. We are doing this to combined mission (reaching out to friends, etc…) and community.
5. Other ideas: We have some other ideas of Engaging the Culture including serving at Celebrate Lancaster (an event in June), serving on 5th Sundays, doing Open Studio art gatherings, possibly chalk the block where we use sidewalk chalk to write positive words of affirmation on sidewalks, and some other ideas that we haven’t thought of yet.
So we continue to engage the culture of Lancaster, building relationships, and loving those God sends our way. The next phase in Missionary Flow is where we’ll head in the next blog post, that of forming community.
Below is the text from yesterday’s message along with our discussion questions.
So today we come to the end of our 6 week series called Body Politics looking at some key components in how a local body of Christ gathered together needs to function or “govern” themselves.
We’ve covered a lot of ground these last few weeks and my hope and prayer is that these times together have grounded our community in some foundational ways of doing life together that will help us as we move forward. That when things come up, conflicts happen, and various other opportunities and struggles, we can look back, remember what we talked about, and apply these things to our communal life together.
The first week we talked about a reconciliation process that is laid out in Matthew 18:15-17 and how often this process is misused, and is not about reconciliation but judgment and destroying relationships. But this is a process that we need to use to heal conflicts and brokenness. And the process that I want this community to apply in a loving Christ honoring way.
The second week we talked about the defining mark of a community of followers of Jesus, who live under the lordship and reign of King Jesus. That being the defining mark of love. That when someone looks into a Christian community there should be (though often isn’t) this thought that this community could only be understood in light of the love that we have for each other, and only in light of the love that comes from Christ into us, and then out of us into each other.
The third week we had our open meeting where we spent time praying together, sharing what God has been teaching us, and then going out into the community to bless, pray and talk with people.
Two weeks ago we talked about the idea that the best way to build community is not by looking inward, but to be together as you look outward. To build what we talked about, communitas, which is community derived from a group of people who have a larger purpose or mission so to speak. That our community needs to be on mission together and then that is when true community (or communitas) happens.
And finally last week we talked about 2 metaphors for church, institution and family. We talked about the fact that we, as the body of Christ, need to live lives that look more like a redeemed family than an institution. Relationally driven versus function or programmatic driven. Or as some one said, family is what I can bring to the group; Institution is what I can get out of the group.
Today we wrap it up with what I feel is a crucial cog in the wheel of our body politics. The cog of body building, that each of us has a part to play in the building of this body of Christ Followers. That without each other, and the gifts that we bring, we are an incomplete body, severely lacking the parts that we need to grow, function, and develop properly.
Now I want you to stop for a moment and focus on the picture of Jesus that is on the screen right now. Do you notice anything unusual or interesting about this picture? What do you notice?
If you would look closely at this mosaic of a “picture of Jesus” you’ll notice little squares. Each little square in the wider picture is a smaller picture and those smaller pictures are people within the Veritas community (as many pictures of people that I could find). And that says it all. We make up the body of Christ and if I were to take one of you out of the picture, it would look like a very different picture and we would be missing a crucial part of the puzzle known as Veritas.
Let’s turn to a portion of Scripture that addresses this crucial idea that each of us is a part of the body of Christ (the body is another metaphor for church) and that we desperately need each other (our gifts, talents, relationships, etc…) to be fully who God is calling us to be. Let’s look at 1st Corinthians 12:12-27 which says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
As I mentioned before, the Apostle Paul is using a brilliant metaphor or illustration of the human body and relating it to the working of the community of followers of Jesus, living under the rule and reign of King Jesus. Even as every cell in a human body is linked by a common root (a common DNA code) at the same time the parts of the body look different, are treated different, work different, and accomplish different tasks. Even so, there is a great diversity in the body of Jesus, both in appearance and function but each member has a common root and a common goal. The body like unity of followers of Jesus is not a goal to be achieved but a fact of be recognized and lived out.
Paul then begins to look at various parts of the body and uses them to illustrate the point that each and every part of the physical human body is needed for the body to be healthy, living, active, and functioning properly. No part of the human body is more important or less important. Each has a role to do and is tied to the whole. And it is no different in the body of Christ. Every part is needed for the body of Christ to be healthy, living, active and functioning properly.
Paul effectively addresses those who believe they have nothing to offer (unpresentable parts, etc..) and those who believe they have everything to offer (eye, head). The fact is everybody has something but nobody has everything. The body (physical or spiritual) must have different parts and gifts for it would not work together effectively as a body. And in the body of Christ, not only is diversity acceptable, it is needed and essential.
The Apostle Paul, in using the metaphor of the body, says much about body politics. The parts of the body work together. The ears and eyes don’t serve themselves but the whole body. The hands do not feed and defend themselves but the whole body. The heart does not only supply blood to itself, but serves the whole body. Sometimes there is a part of the body that only lives to serve itself. It doesn’t contribute anything to the rest of the body and everything it gets it uses and feeds and grows itself. It’s called cancer.
If you are a follower of Jesus than you are a part of something greater than yourself today. You are a part of a local body of Christ, and also the worldwide body of Christ. And you are crucial to the life of the body, especially this local body of Christ. No matter whether your feel unimportant, or over-important. Whether you feel like you are excluded because you don’t believe you have any gifts, or if you are excluding others because you think they don’t have your gifts, Paul says it best at the end of what we read, “Now you are the body of Christ and each of you is a part of it.”
But what does it mean to be a part of the body of Christ? What part of the body are you and what can be your contribution to the body of Christ (locally especially but also globally)? How can we seek to include and help each part of our body live out the calling and purpose that they have been designed for? And what does this say to us gathered together as the body of Christ called Veritas? That is what we are going to spend some time unpacking together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc… do you have regarding the message and the Scripture?
2. If you were a body part, what body part would you be and why?
3. You are part of the body of Christ. What part of the body of Christ are you and how can you use those gifts to help (contribute to) the body be healthy and growing?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Just yesterday I was driving to a lunch of Missional leaders and thinkers that happens every 3rd Thursday in Elizabethtown. As I was driving I was listening to a CD by Justin McRoberts. As I was listening to the song “When it Don’t come easy”, which is a cover originally done by Patty Griffin, I realized this song perfectly echoes where I feel the church in America currently is.
Let me share the song lyrics with you, and then unpack a few of the lyrics and relate it to a study that recently came out from the Barna group.
Red lights are flashing down the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the water’s getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
But if you break down, I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love, I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy
I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction
So many things that I had before
That don’t matter to me now
Tonight I cry for the love that I’ve lost
And the love I’ve never found
When the last bird falls
And the last siren sounds
Someone will say what’s been said before
Some love we were looking for
So why do I believe this song perfectly echoes the situation that I believe the church finds itself in? Just look at the 2nd verse with lines like, “i don’t know nothing but change will come” and especially the last 2 lines, “and all of the signs got blown away. Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction.” The ground underneath our feet is shifting, and shifting fast. Like he said, “time keeps moving from a crawl to a run” our culture is changing faster and faster. Some have called our time a time of discontinuous change. All the signs that use to point us in the right direction have been blown away and we aren’t sure we are heading in the right direction.
As leaders in the church, we are looking for signs to guide us in the right way. We are looking for the magic bullet that will bring us back to the “glory days”. We are looking for ways that will “return America to God”. But those days are long gone and we need to realize that we are in the midst of a systemic change in culture that a little tweak here and there of church won’t even come close to addressing. As Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
This systemic change that is happening all around us has been labeled many things. The two main changes that are happening together at the same time that I believe pose the biggest challenge (and as well the biggest opportunity) to the American Church is postmodernity and post-Christendom.
So what got me thinking about all of this? It was a study done by the Barna group addressing the 100 most post-Christian cities in America.
(The study can be found here: http://cities.barna.org/the-most-post-christian-cities-in-america
There is a couple of things that stood out to me. Out of the top 10 cities 8 of them are in the Northeastern part of the country. (not a surprise). That Seattle and Portland weren’t in the top ten (surprised). That Lancaster (teamed up with Harrisburg, York and Lebanon) made the list at number 38 (not surprised that it was on the list). And that Lancaster was above Austin, TX, Salt Lake City, UT, and Detroit, MI (surprised).
Now you might be asking what makes a city more Post Christian than another. According to their study, this is how Barna defines whether a city is Post-Christian, Highly Post-Christian or not at all.
Post-Christian = meet at least 60% of the following 15 factors (9 or more factors)
Highly Post-Christian = meet at least 80% of the following 15 factors (12 or more factors)
And what are those 15 factors?
1. do not believe in God
2. identify as atheist or agnostic
3. disagree that faith is important in their lives
4. have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5. have never made a commitment to Jesus
6. disagree the Bible is accurate
7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9. agree that Jesus committed sins
10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11. have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
Now you might have some issues with how Barna defines post-Christian. I have some minor issues with the list. But suffice it to say, if it is even at least a little accurate, then we are definitely feeling the affects of postmodernity, and post-Christendom.
You see this article confirmed two things for me. First, it confirmed what we are finding in our mission in Lancaster, especially with younger generations. That even in Lancaster, PA which seems like a hot bed of Christian activity (some call us the Bible Belt of PA) that we are indeed feeling the effects of the postmodern, and post-Christian shifts that are taking place in our wider culture.
The second thing that this article confirmed in me was in the way in which we have chosen to go about planting Veritas, from the perspective of being missionaries in and to our own culture. This also means that planting in a Post-Christian setting as a missionary/missional community will by nature take longer than in other places that are less Post-Christian.
My next blog will focus on how we are seeking to address the postmodern and post-Christendom shifts that are taking place (even in Lancaster, PA)
Here is the message and discussion from yesterday’s gathering. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc…
So today we continue our series entitled Body Politics. This week we are looking at metaphors and ways to describe how the church should function together. And we wrap up the discussion next week looking at body building, and how a body grows strong together.
So this week as I said we are looking at various metaphors or ways to describe the way church functions. If you were to go down on to Prince Street and ask anyone who comes by what is the church or what is a metaphor for church, you would get a wide range of answers. You would get some good answers and honestly some answers that you probably wouldn’t want to hear. You would hear words like building, a group of Christians, the body of Christ, and those are the positive ones. You might even hear the word institution, and usually something attached to it like backwards institution, out of touch institution, etc… But I’m pretty sure you might never ever hear the word family when asking someone what a metaphor for the church is. But maybe the word family might be the best metaphor for the church that we can find.
Now I know that some of us, maybe most of us, probably have some baggage with that word family. We all come from different places, but all of our families are dysfunctional to some level and degree. But with all that being said, the body of Christ (which is another metaphor) I believe can be the kind of place where we live as family, and can redeem that word for us.
We are going to talk today about two different metaphors or descriptors of the church: family or institution. We are going to talk about how we function. Do we function as a family or do we function as an institution?
Let’s go to our Scripture text this morning and see what it might say to us about being family together. Ephesians 2:19-22 says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
So the first thing you should notice is this connector word consequently, which connects our text this morning with something that comes before it. But if 19-22 is the end result, what was the cause of this end result? In the passages before this the Apostle Paul is talking about the division that existed at the time between Jew and Gentile. And that the wall that was erected between them was totally ripped down torn apart, and wrecked because of the redemption that was brought by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And so because of Jesus life, death and resurrection, and his making one new humanity out of two, the Apostle Paul goes on to say that, “you are no longer foreigners or strangers.” And that the reason that we are no longer foreigners or strangers is that we are now citizens with God’s people in God’s Kingdom and part of His household. What Paul is saying here is that when you are no longer strangers and aliens, you are citizens in God’s Kingdom and you become part of something bigger than larger than yourself. What I want to call the family of God. A Part of God’s Household. A Member of God’s Household with God as the Father, the church as the mother, and each of us as brothers and sisters.
Now as I mentioned earlier we might all have some issues with calling the church family because our families are so screwed up in our own ways. And we might have trouble also calling the church mother. But many early theologians described the church in exactly those ways. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage said it this way, “Anyone who cuts themselves off from the Church and is joined to an adulteress is separated from the promises of the Church, and anyone who leaves the Church of Christ behind cannot benefit from the rewards of Christ. Such persons are strangers, outcasts, and enemies. You cannot have God as father unless you have the Church as mother.” And St. Augustine said “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” So here we see that while our families are screwed up, the church is too because it is made up of flawed individuals and not bricks and stones. But we need to be a part of this screwed up people because without it, we are strangers and aliens (notice those words again). I’m not so sure that you can be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, unless you are a part of a local family under the headship and Lordship of King Jesus.
Now it is important that when we talk about the household or family of God, we continue unpacking the Scripture that we are looking at today because it gives us the foundation of the family. All of our biological families have a foundation in something. That foundation might be money, might be status, might be based on lineage, might be on lies and deceit, and might be on appearances or something else either positive or negative. The family or household of God, according to the Apostle Paul needs to be built on only one thing. That being the Chief Cornerstone of Jesus.
Now when Paul refers to Jesus as the Cornerstone, he is referring to the stone places as the extreme corner, so as to bind the other stones in the building together. The capstone or binding stone that holds the whole structure together. The most important stone in the structure, the one in which stability depends. And so when our household of faith is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as our cornerstone, we grow together in beautiful ways, as a holy temple where God dwells in beauty and glory. So Paul here is declaring that the living God is constructing a new temple. It consists not of stone, arches, pillars, and altars but of human beings. Some Jews had already explored the idea that a community, rather than a building, might be the place where God would really and truly take up residence. But until Paul, nobody had said anything quite like it.
That is what I want our missional community of Veritas to be. A community in where God truly takes up residence. In other words, a family. But not just a family but a family of missionary servants who make disciples who make disciples who have Jesus as foundation, who are disciples of Jesus, whose mission it is to make disciples who make disciples, and who do life together as family But what does that mean? First of all, a missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family. If this is us we should see God as our Father because of our faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit. This means we should have and know of a divine love that leads us to love one another as brothers and sisters. We should treat one another as children of God deeply loved by the Father in everything — sharing our money, time, resources, needs, hurts, successes, etc. We should know each other well. This knowledge includes knowing each other’s stories and having familiarity with one another’s strengths and struggles in regards to belief in the gospel and its application to all of life.
But all too often churches function like an institution, which can be anything but what I just described. Not that I am saying that institutions are all bad or not needed. But I am just wondering if we have taken our cues of how we should function together as followers of Jesus more from institutional, business models than from Scripture. We have CFO’s of churches. We have Pastors who function like CEO’s, Boards, Committees, and other things drawn from the institutional, business world. Let me share something that when I saw it, I thought, this is a church? This is something that I would find in a business and not a church. It is a contract that people at a certain church have to sign called a Confidentiality Agreement form, which includes things like this; (share underline parts).
Some of these things in this form go counter to what Scripture actually says (especially the part about taking it to court). But also can you imagine having your family sign something like this? Now I am not saying there aren’t a few things that we need to do legally to protect the family (like background checks for those who work with youth and children) but this isn’t one of them and shows the difference between a family of missionary servants who make disciples who make disciples and an institution. And so according to what we looked at in Ephesians we are to do life together not as strangers or aliens but as members of the same household, the household of God with the apostles and prophets as foundation, and Jesus as the cornerstone. And if we are of the same household, the household and Kingdom of God, then we all have God as Father and we are therefore by definition brothers and sisters. A family and not an institution.
But so what does it look like to do life more like a family than an institution? What concrete things can we can do together to live as a family of missionary servants who make disciples who make disciples? And what is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it? Those are the questions that we’ll spend some time unpacking together.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc… about the Scripture and the message?
2. What are the differences in your mind in how an institution functions and how a family functions?
3. In what ways can we live life together as a family of missionary servants who make disciples who make disciples?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
A few weeks ago during our Easter Worship Gathering I had had one of our writers (Julia Pelsinski) write a piece or two about Lent, Good Friday, and Easter. She posted them to facebook and I am finally getting around to posting them for you to read and reflect on.
I am deeply privileged to work alongside a talented group of musicians, writers, artists, etc… who make up our Veritas community and I want to make sure that I give them the space to create, and the recognition that they deserve. And this blog is one way that I can do that.
the only masterpiece
by Julia A. Pelsinski
The canvas cloth was pulled tightly over the wood frame
That was hung on the wall of the museum
The cloth had no stain that touched it, it look as though it belonged to the wall
There was just something different about it, it had some kind of glow or softness.
Crowds from all over heard of this flawless masterpiece
The room of the museum was filled with people of all different worlds
The room would be silent, some would stare for days at this canvas
Others would be ashamed and walk in the other direction.
All they wanted to do was touch the softness of the canvas, the turns of the wood frame.
Somehow, people would leave changed, washed clean
Outside the museum doors people would be yelling and proclaiming what this picture has done
Others claimed they were crazy.
But, still the crowds would come back and stare, sit, listen, stand, wonder
Who has created this perfect piece of white? Where do i find the artist?
Others that belonged to the crowded had enough
They had enough of this canvas that everyone wanted to see
They were tired of never finding a flaw, or a spot of ugliness in it
They pulled the canvas off of its wall
Dragging the down the museum stairs
Screaming, yelling and crying was heard outside of the museum doors.
It did not stop them, they propped the frame against the doors, so all could see
Where is your artist now, masterpiece?
The others yelled.
The canvas was slowing ripping from the frame
And as it laid against the door.
People were in shocked,
The once pureness of white was slowing turning to red
The darkest of red,
That just bleed from the rip in the canvas
Dripping down the stairs.
The crowd wept, some walked away, others fell to their knees.
Some stayed and waited until the others pulled the masterpiece away.
The museum was silent and empty for three days
On the third day
There was word from someone in the crowd that the masterpiece, the same masterpiece is back
The artist brought to perfection back!
They all ran, pushing open the museum doors
And there the pureness, holiness and wonder hung.
It was wrapped in linen that filled the room with peace
by Julia A. Pelsinski
“And he said to all, “Anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Jesus, love, hope, newness, life, walk, death, openness, dry, hands, feet, seasons, soil, bloom, shine, heaviness, cross, lamb, green, shadow, freedom, knees, broken, mended, silence.
The picture has been painted and it still is being painted in and around me.
I am still staring at the colors I have splashed onto the white canvas, trying to figure why it all does not match,
The white canvas is not so much the background anymore. I have replaced it with shades of myself.
Imagining I know what looks good ontop of white, as if the color of my skin can cover that canvas
Or the the blend of childhood and my adulthood can be faded by the brush.
I thought if I just continued to paint over it all, I would start to see the white again.
The clear white canvas that once was that perfect shade of holy, only now was covered in my selfishness and brokenness.
I let the canvas dry, I stepped away from all the colors that were splashed and poured out
That were now staining my own hands and feet.
The canvas sat there for days, I walked right past it every time
As the days went by the smell of the paint was not as strong
a different color would be washed off my hands.
As those days passed,
I was effortless, I was weak and I was slowly fading.
But when that day came when my hands were clean, and I looked at that picture that I had thought I was painting.
I turn my eyes
There was nothing, just that clean white canvas
And all I could say was thank you
Here is the message and discussion questions from our conversation yesterday around the theme of Looking In by Looking Out. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc…
So today we are continuing our series entitled Body Politics looking at how the Body of Christ should function, do life together, or in other terms, “govern themselves.”
Our first week together we covered Matthew 18:15-17 and talked about a process of reconciliation and healing that our community should have in place in the midst of differences and relationships.
The second week in the series we talked about what a community of Christ followers, living under the rule and reign of King Jesus should be known for. That being love. We talked about how our community needs to have a love for each other than can only be explained by one thing- having Jesus the center of our individual and corporate lives.
Last week we experienced what John Howard Yoder in his book “Body Politics” calls Open Meeting. We read a Scripture talking about the fact that when we gather everyone brings something to contribute, we prayed, shared, and some went out on the street to pray with and for people.
Today we are talking about the importance of a community of Christ followers living a balanced life between mission, community and worship. That when we have a balanced life (as individuals and a community) the Kingdom becomes tangible and we see the Kingdom breaking into our reality. So we will talk about how we are called to live these three things out together, about an idea that when we do live it out we experience something called Communitas, and we’ll talk and dialogue around things we can do to keep our lives balanced and how to develop Communitas within our group. And we talk about looking in by looking out.
So to talk about this idea of looking in by looking out we are spending time together in Acts 3:1-10. Acts 3:1-10 says this, “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
What does this story have to do with balancing mission, community and worship? This thing called communitas? And this weird statement of looking in by looking out? That is where we are headed.
What we see in the text of Acts 3 is the narrative of Peter and John going up to the Temple to pray at 3 in the afternoon. You need to know a few things about this act of going to the temple to pray. First of all notice the time of prayer, 3 in the afternoon. You see Peter and John continued the Jewish custom of praying at certain hours. The Jews of Jesus day would pray 3 times a day at the temple, at the 3rd hour (9 AM), at the 9th hour (3 PM..when this story takes place) and at sunset. So they are going to prayer, keeping with the tradition that they were raised with. Secondly, where they were going was the temple. The temple, for the Jews of Jesus day was the place where heaven and earth overlapped and interlocked. But we’ll notice a few verses later that heaven and earth overlap, not in the temple, but actually at the gate called Beautiful in the life of a lame beggar.
So Peter and John are going to the temple, minding their own business so to speak. Probably preparing their own hearts and minds to focus on prayer and worship of the Risen King, King Jesus. And probably building their own relationship and developing the community between them, when this lame beggar asks them for alms, or money. So here we see two of the three circles of true Kingdom life, they were heading to worship and develop community. But they were open to the leading of the Spirit and to the inbreaking of the Kingdom. The Spirit and the inbreaking of the Kingdom led these men to stop when the lame beggar addressed them. And so Peter and John stop on their way to Temple, share with the man what they have which is healing (spiritually and physically) in the name of Jesus and then they take the beggar into the Temple with them.
It is here in the healing part of the story that we notice something profound. Look at verses 6-7 which says, “Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” Here we see mission in the way that it should be. Verse 6 puts the healing squarely where it should be, in the person and work of Jesus. We can’t heal, save, redeem etc.. any one. Only Jesus can. But look at the beginning of verse 7, “Taking him by the hand”. Peter had a role to play. We have a role to play in mission and the moving forward of the Kingdom of God. We are partners with God. Someone said “The Power was Christ’s but the hand was Peter’s.” Peter and John knew that Jesus had them on a Kingdom mission which included Discipleship, Mission, and Community and they were open and willing to be used to further His Kingdom in the world.
But all too often, we can miss the inbreaking of the Kingdom because we are too focused on ourselves, our spiritual walks, and our community and not on the mission that God has for us in the world. We sometimes miss what God is doing out in the world, because we naively believe that he is only working in here and not out there. Peter and John were going to the temple together to pray but they weren’t so focused on getting to the temple to pray that they missed the beggar at the Gate called Beautiful. And here is where the three circles of Kingdom Life (Mission, Discipleship, and Community) come together beautifully. But sometimes we can focus so much on trying to build two of the 3 circles of Kingdom Life we miss the fact that the best way of looking in (building community) is by looking out. Someone said it this way, which I believe is best played out in this text, “You worship best when you’ve been on mission. And you do mission best when you have worshipped.” And here is where this idea of Communitas comes into play.
How many of us have seen movies like Remember the Titans, Hoosier’s, Invictus or other movie’s that feature a group of people (team’s, etc..) working towards a common goal or mission? And in these movies we see the mission that drives these teams/groups cultivates community like nothing else. That it is community on steroids so to speak. That is what Communitas is. Community that is derived from being on mission together.
Let me give you some brief history of Communitas and where it came from. In the 1950s, anthropologist Victor Turner studied young boys from the Ndembu tribe who, at age 13, were thrust together into the African bush as a rite of passage into manhood. Turner used the word communitas to describe the unique community that developed as these boys faced a common mission…survival. They didn’t have time to squabble over insignificant issues because they were united by a common objective. Along the way, they became a community defined by something deeper than friendship. Turner discovered that there is no community like one that forms around a critical mission.
I would say the early church lived out communitas. And I believe the Scripture that we looked out today, is an example of Communitas between Peter and John. Their community with each other was grown and developed because they were on mission together. Their faith and discipleship was deepened because they were on mission together. As I said at the beginning one of the best ways to look in (develop community and discipleship) is to look out (into the world where God is working and is asking us to leave our comfort zones, to go where he is, and join him in what he is already doing). We need to be a Communitas of Jesus Followers and not just a community of Jesus Followers.
But what does it look like to look in by looking out? What does it mean to be Communitas together? And how do we seek to develop Communitas at Veritas? And how do we become a balanced Communitas, balancing the 3 circles of Kingdom Life (mission, discipleship, community)? Those are some of the questions that we will seek to unpack together in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and the message?
2. Where have you experienced Communitas before? Have you experienced it in a faith community before? In what ways can we be a Communitas and not just a community?
3. How are we doing in balancing the 3 circles of Kingdom Life (Discipleship, Mission, and Commmunity)? Where are we weak? Where are we strong? How can we improve and develop these 3 circles?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is going saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Here is the message from this past Sunday’s gathering. Our second week of our Body Politics.
Today we are continuing our series entitled Body Politics, looking at how the Body of Christ should do life together, or how we should “govern” the way we engage and interact with each other.
Last week we covered Matthew 18:15-17 which outlines the process of reconciliation that should happen when a brother or sister sins against you. We talked about the struggle we all have with this, as we have seen when this process blows up more than when it goes well. We talked about the need, in this process, to submit to one another, and to be Kingdom citizens who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus for this process to go well. We need to be a Kingdom community that lives in mutual submission to each other and to King Jesus.
Today we are talking about something that I believe goes hand in hand with not only last week’s theme of Conflict Resolution Jesus Style, but that is a thread that runs throughout our entire series and is the thread that runs throughout the whole of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. That of love. A group of people who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, doing life together as a Kingdom Community should be known by that one thing….love. All too often, however, in our world, Christians aren’t known for their love for each other, or others in the wider world. Just think back to the video that we played earlier. And take a look at this humorous picture that is all too often true. “They will know we are Christians by our T-Shirts”. But what does it look like to be a Kingdom Community of disciples that truly love each other? What does it mean to love each other and what is the purpose of that love? Let’s turn to our text this morning and unpack it together, John 13:34-35.
John 13:34-35 says, ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The first thing we need to understand in regards to this Scripture is the wider context in which Jesus is saying this. If you look at the beginning of John 13 we realize that this section of Scripture takes place in the Upper Room in the night before Jesus is crucified. We also see this is the section that contains, I believe, one of Jesus’ most subversive actions ever, that of taking on the role of the lowest of servants and washing the feet of his disciples, even Judas who was going to betray him, and Peter who was going to deny him. So when we talk about love, we need to realize that it is not an abstract proposition that is something outside of us. No. In fact, love is not an abstract proposition, but a person who embodies it. First and foremost that person is Jesus. He embodied love when he washed his disciple’s feet and so when he then calls all those who follow him to be known by love. To not just talk about love as a proposition, outside of oneself, but to actually be the embodiment of it. And when you have a community that embodies love, it is a holy and beautiful thing that not only makes a difference in the lives of the community of Christ Followers, but that it seeps out from the community into the wider world, and begins to impact the wider world with the love of Jesus. So much so that Lesslie Newbigin, a theologian and missionary said in his book ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, “the only hermeneutic (interpretation) of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” And I would say that that the only interpretation of the gospel is a Kingdom community that lives under the rule and reign of King Jesus, and the outworking of that rule and reign in their lives, is a radical, self-giving, self-sacrificing, Jesus-infused love for one another.
Now when we look at the text in John 13:34-35 we see Jesus saying, “A new command…” Was he really giving a new command, to love each other? The specific ancient Greek word used here for the world new implies freshness, or the opposite of outworn rather than recent or different. The Old Testament demanded that men should love neighbors as yourself. The new law is that we should love each other better than yourself and die for your friends.
But where was this new command rooted in? Was it rooted in the abstract idea of love? Or that you ought to love one another? Or is there a deeper root for the new command to love one another? Well let’s look at the next part of the verse where it tells us where this new command is rooted. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” So the new command to love one another is rooted in Jesus. Love in human form. And what a beautiful place to talk about love and rooting it in himself. That just before this he was taking on the form of a servant, stooping down and washing the feet of his disciples, culturally the act of the lowest of lowest servants. So what does it look like to root the new command to love each other? It looks like Jesus.
And what does love like Jesus look like? We already mentioned what took place right before this part of the chapter, but we also need to scan ahead toward what would happen only 12 hours or so after he said these words. That of Jesus going to the cross, to defeat the powers of sin, death, evil, violence, and hell. Love looks like Jesus on the cross, with his arms outstretched, forgiving those who put him there, taking care of the needs of his mother, and welcoming a thief into the Kingdom. That is what loving like Jesus looks like. That is what it means for a Kingdom community of those who seek to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus to do life together. It means forgiving others within our community. It means taking care of the needs of each other. It means being a body that welcomes people, wherever they are on the journey, and loving them no matter what. And most of all it means dying to your self (your desires for the community to be exact what you want, your ideas, your way, etc…) and submitting to each other in community.
And so when this happens. When those of us who seek to live in the Kingdom of God, under the rule and reign of King Jesus, begin loving how Jesus loved, that is when people begin to say, “They must be disciples of Jesus, because they love each other.” To understand that more deeply, you have to understand where the term Christian originated in. In Acts 11:26 we read, “And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” You see in the early church Christians were family, they called each other brother and sister, which led to the charge of incest. But you see that the early church was the only place in society where you would have Jews and Greeks, Slave and Free, Women and Men, Poor and Rich, children running around. All the social strata that people were so accustom to having in all the other areas of society, in the church they were broken down. And the love that flowed in between these people, whom wouldn’t be together in “normal situations”, could only be attributed to one thing, the love of Jesus that transcended all those social standings.
And the term “Christian” was something foisted on the early followers of Jesus, because they way they loved each other, could only be described as they looked like “little Christ’s.” So the watching word saw the way that the early church loved in other, despite all the differences that would normally separate and divide, and could only conclude that “those people are disciples because they truly love one another.” And so even in the midst of what seems like an internal community (IN) concept like loving each other as brothers and sisters, there is an OUT part of it as well. That when the world sees our community, will they automatically conclude that these people must be followers of Jesus because they love each other? Not a normal love for each other, but a Jesus-infused, self-sacrificing, radical, Kingdom of God, Calvary-type of love. Will the watching world see our community that way? That is my prayer and that is what should drive the politics of this body.
So we come to the how does this play out part of the time together. The part where we take time to unpack what it might look like for us, as a community, to truly live this out in our every day life. So we are going to dialogue together and we are going to be exceedingly practical and grounded in our discussion of what it might look like to have a body politic that is defined by this type of love that I have been talking about.
And here are the discussion questions that we discussed after the message:
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have about the message and the Scripture?
2. If the watching world saw our community would they conclude that we must be disciples because we love each other? If so, why? If not, why not? What are some things and ways we can make this Scripture more of a reality in our life as a Kingdom Community?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
So yesterday we began our series entitled Body Politics by looking at Conflict Resolution Jesus Style. So below is the text of the message and the discussion questions. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc….
Today we begin a 6 week series entitled Body Politics. But don’t worry we will not be talking about Politics, in the normal sense of Republican, Democrat, voting, etc…. And no we aren’t talking about the Human Body either.
We are doing a six week series entitled Body Politics centering on the Body of Christ and how Jesus calls his body to do life together, or in other words, how we “govern” our communal life together.
Today’s Body Politic that we will be unpacking together, is where I believe a community of Jesus followers need to begin, and one that is very difficult to truly live out. We have entitled this week “Conflict Resolution Jesus Style.” And we’ll be unpacking Matthew 18:15-17 together.
In the heading of Matthew 18, someone has entitled Matthew 18 in which our verses from today are located, as Qualities of a Kingdom Citizen. Meaning that if you are a citizen under the rule and reign of King Jesus, and that you are a part of his Kingdom, then this is how you are to be living your life. How you live under his rule and reign in all areas of life and especially in how you interact and engage with others who are also seeking to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus. And when multiple Kingdom Citizens are seeking to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, we become a Kingdom community, and Matthew 18:15-17 says much about how we are to relate to one another in Kingdom communities.
Now before we get into the text for the morning, I have to say this. All too often this text and the application of this text in the life of a Kingdom community has been misunderstood and/or totally misapplied. This is to be a model of reconciliation but all too often these verses has been used for the very opposite thing, that of alienation. This Scripture is meant to give guidance towards restoring relationship and not as law. I am saying that of course we need to invite people to repent and put their lives back on a good track- good for the people involved and for the community of faith. But all too often however this text when applied badly, which many of us have seen so we feel like we can’t apply this text without screwing something up and we end up feeling like this picture. (Show slide)
So let’s jump into this text together. Matthew 18:15-17 is a model of reconciliation for Kingdom Communities, that are made up of people who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus. Matthew says this, ““If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
So the first thing we need to see is the statement “if your brother or sister sins.” So we need to realize, as I said before, this is a model of reconciliation for those who are followers of Jesus. This model doesn’t apply to those who don’t live under the rule and reign of King Jesus. So please don’t try to apply this text word for word with someone outside the community of Faith. It normally won’t be received well, trust me. It is to family that this process is put into place for, not those outside the family of faith.
It is essential that we go to the offending party first- not griping, gossiping, etc.. to others, especially under the guise of ‘sharing a prayer request’ or ‘seeking counsel’. As hard as it is, as difficult as it is to do…we need to speak directly to the other person. And so if you do, it is possible then to gain a brother or sister back in 2 ways. First the problem has been cleared up and secondly you have gained them back because you have not wronged them by going to someone else.
So then what happens if they don’t listen, then you take 2-3 others with you. Why 2-3 others? It is a connection to the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says, “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” But it is really important in who you take with you in this process. If you take the wrong people, it can easily look like ganging up, judging, and condemnation and not trying to resolve a matter. The people you choose should be persons of influence or authority and also they should be that person’s friend or those whom he or she could put their confidence in.
If they don’t listen or refuse to listen to the 2-3 witnesses, then you take it to the church. Now this is 1 of the 2 passages in the gospels where the word church is used and here denotes the local congregation. But I really believe that this doesn’t mean the entire congregation, but leadership which represents the local congregation. But know this the circle of people in the situation only becomes wider as the offending party refuses to listen, never before.
The last part of the process, if we get to that part is where, I believe, things can go haywire and we might have gotten the understanding of this part of the text wrong. First, we need to know something about the writer of this gospel. Matthew was a tax collector before he met Jesus and left it all behind to follow Jesus. This I am sure influenced the writing of this part of the text. You see everything in Jewish religious culture of the day said, “If you are a tax collector, you are not one of us.” But yet how was Matthew, the tax collector treated by Jesus? With love, grace, compassion, mercy and he stilled said to Matthew, “Follow Me.” You see the “unrepentant offender” should be treated as Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans- with great love, with the continued goal of bringing about full repentance and reconciliation.
And there is where I wonder if we have read this wrong. We have read this part of the text as this, “Treat him like a Gentle or Tax Collector. Which really means get him out of here. Having Nothing to do with him.”
What if, and I mean what if, we have read it wrong and forgot to focus on how Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans? What if Matthew was writing this because of exactly how he was treated by Jesus? What if the exact opposite reading is true? What if instead of “Get him/her out of here and have nothing to do with him/her” it means “Love them. Accept them. Invite them. Eat with them. Oh, and keep on challenging them to be transformed into a faithful disciple of Jesus.” That last part is super super important. Don’t stop challenging them to be transformed into a faithful disciple of Jesus. All too often I believe we come into a false dichotomy here. We say either we need to remove ourselves from them and have nothing to do with them until they repent. Or we say we’ll just act as if nothing is wrong, stop challenging them, and just move on with life. No. I would say when we stay in close proximity with someone loving them, caring about them, continuing to be in their lives, and continuing to help them in being a more faithful disciple, that is when I believe change in you and change in them can truly happen and be unleashed.
I believe that this sort of good treatment when we make our convictions about belief clear, has the potential to lead to genuine repentance and to a reconciled community. And isn’t that what we truly want? A reconciled community, that doesn’t ignore issues hoping they will go away, or pretend that those issues aren’t happening? We want a reconciled Kingdom community of followers of Jesus who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus. And sometimes to get that we need to go through some of the difficulties of community life with each other.
So let’s unpack what this looks like and what this means for our community today. What it means to be a reconciled community. And I also want to create space and time for some possible reconciliation to happen, if it needs to happen. So let’s take some time to discuss, share, confront, and love together.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. to the Scripture and the message?
2. Share a story when this process went bad. Share a story when this process went well. What were the differences between the two? Why did one go bad and one go well?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Here is the text and discussion questions from yesterday’s Easter gathering. If you have any questions, comments, insights, questions, etc.. we’d love to hear from you.
So today we come to the conclusion of our 6 week series entitled Surprised by Hope. Today we not only come to the conclusion but we come to the crux of the entire matter. The crux of our entire series, but not only that. The crux of the entire gospel, that of the resurrection of Jesus. Our entire series was based on the fact that the resurrection of Jesus was and is a reality and that a new reality was born on that first Easter morning.
Everything that we covered over the last 5 weeks (The Hope of the World, the Hope of Heaven, the Hope of Jesus second coming, the Hope of salvation, and the Hope of the church rests on our topic of conversation this morning…the Hope of the Resurrection. Without today, everything crumbles to pieces. There is no hope of the world. There is no hope of heaven. There is no hope of Jesus second coming. There is no hope of salvation, and there is no hope of the church, without the hope of the resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul says it this way in 1st Corinthians 15:12-20, But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
So let’s take a look together at that first Easter morning to see what it means that Jesus was raised to life. Let’s unpack what resurrection is all about, and what it means to have the hope of the resurrection.
To look at that first Easter morning we’ll look at the text found in John 20:1-10. John 20:1-10 says, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.”
The first thing that we see, no pun intended, (and I know I’ve said this before) is found in the very first verse of John 20. The fact that John starts the resurrection narrative with these words, “Early on the first day of the week” should make us think of something. It should take us right to the beginning of the Bible where we see creation coming into existence on the 1st day of the week. So apparently John is making the connection that the resurrection of Jesus is connected to the act of the creation. Or should I say recreation. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of that new life, that new creation, the first grass growing through the concrete of corruption and decay in the old world. That final redemption will be the moment when heaven and earth are joined together at last, in a burst of God’s creative energy for what Easter prototype and source. Jesus death and resurrection began the process of new or re-creation. He went first, than we get to be recreated, and the entire creation itself will be recreated, and be as it once was and as it should be. Everything, including ourselves, the world, everything will be made right again. The Hope of the Resurrection is more than anticipating we will leave this world some day and go to heaven. Rather, it is a bold confidence that God’s Kingdom, presence and power are breaking into our world today and a whole new creation has begun. It’s what we see when we read Colossians 1:20 which spells out what took place by Jesus’ death and resurrection when it says, “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.” Resurrection is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. Jesus of Nazareth, by his death on the cross, and his resurrection ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.
So on that first day of the week, the first day of re-creation, we see Mary coming to the Tomb to take care of Jesus’ body, as was the custom. Custom was that you anointed the body of the dead person, but because Jesus died so close to the Sabbath, they had to put him in the tomb without preparing his body. So Mary comes to the Tomb that first Easter morning, with no hope of a resurrected Jesus. No concept of the resurrection. She gets to the tomb and finds that the stone was rolled away. So she takes off and goes to the disciples. What is telling about her response to the disciples, is that she believes someone has taken the body of Jesus. She is Surprised by Hope. Surprised by the Resurrection of Jesus.
So after she tells the disciples, Peter and John take off running to the tomb, because you know you can’t trust the report of a woman. (I’m totally kidding but that is actually how people viewed it in that time. Women couldn’t be used in a court of law as reliable witnesses. Which to me proves the resurrection. Why have a great deal of woman report about the resurrection, if their reports wouldn’t be viewed as reliable. It goes against the common thought of the day.) So John gets there first, because he was younger than Peter, he stops outside the tomb, looks in and sees the strips of linen lying there, but doesn’t go in. Peter gets there finally, and as his personality is very brash, he just goes right into the tomb. He sees the linens lying there, neatly placed and folded and realized that it couldn’t have been a tomb robber, or someone who stole the body away because the linens would have been hastily thrown in place.
Finally after Peter sees these things, John goes in and sees the same things and believes. But what does he believe happened? It couldn’t have been that Jesus was raised from the dead because the text right after it says that John believed says that they still didn’t understand the Scriptures that said Jesus was to rise from the dead. So we need to go back to the context and see what he would believe and we find that more than likely he believed what Mary had told him, that something had happened to the body of Jesus. That someone took it, or moved it. But it wasn’t that Jesus had risen from the dead that first Easter morning. But that is exactly what happened that first Easter morning. Jesus had risen from the dead, conquering sin, death, and evil and setting in motion God’s new creation. And so the resurrection of Jesus is more than a belief that his body was dead and came to life again, though it is definitely that and that is true. It is an awareness that there was a cosmic explosion when Jesus rose again, and the power and the repercussions of this reality echo throughout the ages to our own day and into eternity.
But then what is the meaning of the resurrection for each of us and our world? What difference does it make that Jesus was raised back to life? I believe it is about a new bodily life in this world and for this world. God’s new creation, started on that first Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead, and we also have a job to do. The resurrection empowers us to live in new ways today, working with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the act of new creation. Our calling then is to be advance foretastes of that new creation. To be signs and a lived out reality, of what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, the way that it is when heaven overlaps earth, when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. To live in the power and the hope of the resurrection, that means a new way of being. A way of being fully human, fully the way that God has made us to live, which is in submission to the will of our Lord, King, and Savior Jesus.
So when you live this way, hope is what you end up with when you realize that a different worldview is possible which is the same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus and that worldview shift is the shift that will enable us to transform the world.
But let’s spend time unpacking what it means when the rubber hits the road when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. How does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference in our lives and in the world? What does it mean to live out new creation in our work, neighborhoods, family and the world? That is what we’ll be discussing together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and the message?
2. What does it look like to live out, individually and communally, new creation? To be the advance foretaste of that new creation?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?
Here is the text to the next to the last message in our Surprised by Hope series. This one is on the Hope of the Church. So feel free to comment, ask questions, add your insight, push back, etc… Would love to hear from you.
So we are now coming close to the end of our series Surprised by Hope, but not before we hit two more major topics of conversation. Two weeks from today, of course, we are covering the crucial topic of resurrection. What is it? Why does it matter? And how we understand it in light of everything that we have been talking about during the last 4 or 5 weeks.
Today we are covering the topic of church by looking at the Hope of The Church. What is the Hope of the Church? What is the mission of the Church? What should we be doing together as the church? And what is the church anyway. So let’s dig into Surprised by Hope: The Hope of the Church and see what we might unpack together.
So before we go any deeper into our text for the morning and our conversation, let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard these words before, “The Local Church is indeed the hope of the world.”? What do you think about that statement? A large part of me disagrees with him, as I believe Jesus is the hope of the world. The church can’t redeem, save, renew, and put to right the world, at least not in its own power. But a part of me also says that if the church partners with Jesus, truly lives out the Kingdom calling, by being disciples, and the seeks to build for the Kingdom (cause only God can truly build the Kingdom) than we can be the hope of the world. In the heart of God, we are partners in bringing his hope to the world. But what is the hope of the church and what we are to be about? Let’s turn to a Scripture together that I believe answers that in some way.
Now many of us when we talk about the purpose, hope and mission of the church would jump right to the text at the end of the gospel of Matthew, normally called The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20 which says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” But I’m not going to use this text, save to put everything in the context, that the hope of the church, the mission of the church, is to be disciples that make disciples. And so with that foundational understanding of the mission of the church, that our community is to be a disciple making community, we can move on to, what I believe, being a disciple (and disciple making community) looks like, and how then that becomes the hope of the world.
The Scripture that we’ll be looking at together is found in Micah and is only one verse long. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” According to this Scripture (and many others) the hope of the church is more than just what lies ahead some day when Jesus returns. It is our experience of God’s Kingdom breaking into our everyday journey of faith as we do justice, extend mercy, express love, offer compassion and celebrate beauty…all in the name of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus does not move us to a passive and sedentary life of waiting for God to show up some day in the distant future. As I mentioned last week salvation means that you want to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, and his rule and reign in your life, is then lived out through you. And what does it look like when the rule and reign of King Jesus gets lived out through you?
Just look at Micah 6:8. This is what God desires of those who call themselves followers of His. This is what the Lord requires of those who seek to follow after Him. The first think it says we are to be about (in the context of being a disciple) is about the work of justice. Now before we can go to the outworking of justice, we need to know what that really means. When someone says justice has been done, or where is the justice in that, they are appealing to the idea that things have either been set right, or they haven’t been set right. In fact, much of the time when you read the word righteousness, what it really means is this idea of justice being setting things to the right, making it the way that it once was, and how it should be. Back to the state of the Garden of Eden. So part of the Hope of the church is partnering with Jesus in the setting of everything to the right. To act justly is about using our lives for good in our world. All too often I believe we limit discipleship to inward things (spiritual disciplines like prayer and bible reading) while in fact discipleship is an inward and an outward journey. To be a follower of Christ means that we will work for justice in our world. Scripture bears this out. God has a heart for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. There are over 2,000 verses of Scripture that deal with poverty, the poor, the needy, and the afflicted. In other terms this would be out missional, Kingdom life lived in the world. The hope of the resurrection inspires and empowers Christians to stand strong, work hard, pray more fervently, and live with compassion. As the power of the resurrection fills our hearts, homes, and churches, we stand firm, we let nothing move us, we always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know our labor is not in vain!
But just working for justice isn’t enough, there is more to the hope of the church than just that. It also is about how we do it, and why we do it. And there is where the next part of the verse comes in. That we are to love mercy. Why do we need to love mercy within the church? Think about it. You have been shown so much mercy from God. Each day you live, each breath of air in your lungs, everything you have been giving is a gift because of the mercy of King Jesus. But what exactly is mercy? Mercy is defined as compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power, a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion, or compassionate treatment of those in distress. As Christ followers we have been shown mercy- in that Christ has taken the penalty for our sake. In other words we don’t get what we rightly deserve. And as we have been shown mercy by God we in turn should show mercy to others. We realize that it is not anything we have done or will do. Titus 3:4-6 says this about our lives and God’s mercy, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” As we grow deeper in our faith journey, one of the fruits that we should display more of is mercy. We should love mercy, because without it we would be lost. We should love to show others mercy, because we realize that we are no better off than anyone else. Someone once said that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. I believe this trait of discipleship is severely lacking in our world today. We need more Christ followers to show mercy, to not judge others, and to be filled with compassion, grace, and love for all people. When we see ourselves how we truly are (loved by God but sinners saved only by the grace of God) then we are able to show others mercy.
But as I said above there is not only an external part of the hope of the church, there is also an internal part as well. There is definitely an external, outward focusing part of the Gospel, but at the same time there is an inward, internal focused part of the Gospel, and the hope of the church is to perfectly balance those two calls. If we are engaging in the work of new creation, in seeking to bring advance signs of God’s eventual new world into being in the present, in justice and beauty and a million other ways, then at the center of the picture stands the personal call of the gospel of Jesus to every child, woman, and man. Which brings me to the last part of Micah 6:8, which calls us to “walk humbly with our God.” This is the area of discipleship that we talk about the spiritual disciplines such as prayer, solitude, bible reading and study, silence, and fasting. To walk humbly with our God requires a humility that means that we don’t have it all figured out. We don’t have God in a box, because as soon as we think he is in our box, he breaks the side of the box and escapes. The Christian church needs to relook at this idea of walking humbly with God. You and I need to relook at this idea of walking humbly with God. That the life of a disciple is about a journey and not an end destination. That is about walking with God, traveling with him through life and learning to see things and people through his eyes. To be about his Kingdom and not building our own kingdom. To partner with him in what he wants to do in and through us, and not try to do it in our human power and strength (which can’t be done).
Putting it succiently the hope of the church is to live out Micah 6:8. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. And I believe that if we take justice, mercy, and humility with God and putting them in terms of the anticipation of God’s eventual setting to rights of the whole world, we will find that they dovetail together and in fact that they are all part of the same larger whole, which is the message of hope and new life that comes with the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
So what does it look like on the ground to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? How do we do that as individuals, and more importantly, as a community? How can our church partner with God in building for His Kingdom? And what is God saying to you about the work of justice, mercy and humility and what are you going to do about it? And what is God saying to us about this and what should we do about it? Those are the questions that we’ll unpack together.
Here are the discussion questions that followed the message:
1. What does it look like on the ground to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? How do we do that as individuals, and more importantly, as a community?
2. How can our church partner with God in building for His Kingdom?
3. What is God saying to you about the work of justice, mercy and humility and what are you going to do about it?
4. What is God saying to us about the work of justice, mercy and humility and what are we going to do about it?