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Posts Tagged ‘kingdom’

We have tendencies to compartmentalize, tendencies to keep things in places where they are easy to control or keep track of. We do this with the things of heaven and the things of earth. We are practiced at keeping heavenly things out of the details of earth.

Acts chapter two disagrees with this theory as heaven spills out over the earth. It comes down like fire.  Fire is dangerous, still we are willing to use it. We are quite ok with fire as long as we can use it to our advantage. It’s not much different talking about God. God is dangerous, still we are willing to use God. We are quite ok with God as long as we can use Him to our advantage. 

If we are able to keep fire where it belongs, like in a fireplace, we can safely deal with it. If we can keep God inside some religious theory, we can convince ourselves He is safe to deal with. But on Pentecost Sunday, the fire got loose and did not stay where it could be controlled. It’s as if the fire left the fireplace and starts to light up the rest of the house. 

We keep trying to turn God into something safe to work with. Maybe that’s why we don’t talk much about Pentecost. We keep trying to put the fire back into the fireplace. We keep trying to put God someplace we can control Him. We keep trying to act as if heaven didn’t spill out on the earth. 

We sometimes try to tell ourselves that Pentecost is a wake-up call, a mini-revival where sluggish believers become full of the Spirit. The thing is, that doesn’t really fit the story the New Testament seems to be telling. In that story, Pentecost is more like the evidence that the kingdom of God is in play and it is in play “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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I recently had the opportunity to join some colleagues in listening to Michael Frost, Missiologist from Australia. I am very grateful. Frost is skilled at articulating missional philosophy. Even more interesting, he is actively experimenting with this philosophy in his home church. Though he might prefer to refer to church (due to assumptions formed when one hears the word church) as “a collective of neighbors who center our lives on Jesus.”

He shares important concerns. One of them being that church attendance is conventional. There is nothing radical or strange about church attendance because the church is only doing what other entities are doing, trying to help people to fit in with everyone else. Frost is right, there is a better way. There is a better way to be human (I think he was listening to Jon Foreman on the flight over). And the church should be leading the way.

The church should be salty. This collective of those who center our lives on Jesus should be delicious and enticing and inviting and interesting in their behavior. The church should provoke curiosity. He gave a list of ways to do this but I don’t like lists and tend to shut down after the first or second point. But here are the first two things he encouraged; 1) Bless three people each week. Bless someone from the Body, someone outside the Body, and a third person of choice. 2) Eat with three people each week. Eat with someone from the Body, someone outside the Body, and a third person of choice. Even for someone who doesn’t like lists, I think those sound inviting and interesting and lean in the direction of Christian behavior.

Frost says he doesn’t care about attendance or tithing. He doesn’t want the church to be busy recruiting new persons or becoming the coolest show in town. What he wants is for the church to show the world what the Reign of God looks like. Amen.

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I am a pastor. I serve with the folks at Christ Reformed Church in Duncannon (a borough named after the family Duncan, it says so on the sign when you enter town). Christ Reformed Church is a small church (a church named after, well I think you can figure that one out). I have come to realize it is silly to argue over the size of a church (an argument more natural in the world than the church). Small is not better, nor is it worse, it is simply our present reality. When we take a look at the kingdom, small churches are the most common expression of the kingdom (and I suspect that has always been the case). 

Karl Vaters says that “Small churches are like the cockroaches of the Christian world.” Though it may not sound like it, he means that as a sincere compliment. “After whatever cultural nuclear bomb comes along to destroy all other visible expressions of the church, small congregations will scurry out from under the baseboards. When the money runs out, small churches will find a way to keep going. When there’s a failure of leadership, small churches will lead themselves. After denominations topple, small churches will rise up.” 

I don’t know why I haven’t heard of this Vaters guy before, I agree as he goes on to say; 

After what’s cool and new starts feeling cliched and trite, small churches will still matter. After most of our church buildings, both large and small, are empty, demolished or converted into hipster apartments, small churches will find somewhere else to meet. After we’ve grown sick of programs and events, small churches will remind us of our essential need for relationship. After we’ve torn ourselves apart with politically-charged rhetoric, small churches will still be there to bring God’s people together. After persecution has come, small churches will meet in secret. After our plans have failed, small churches will still be a big part of God’s plan.” 

Obviously, some of what Vaters says is true of churches no matter the size. Still, it is true of small churches. Not better, not worse, just our present reality. And whatever comes our way, even when cultural bombs go off and if hipster apartments rise up all around us – we remain a big part of God’s plan.

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A Quote

“Lash yourself to a child and be prepared to see things you have stopped looking for. Get ready to notice things you have taught yourself to ignore. Learn again what you have forgotten. Become as a child, that is your ticket to the kingdom.”

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In the Gospel of Matthew there is a fishing story where a coin is found in a fish’s mouth. Who doesn’t love a story like that? Trout season starts March 31, this kind of story might cause us to examine a fishes mouth very carefully while removing the hook.

This isn’t the only time Jesus talks about fishing. We shouldn’t be surprised since he did spend a lot of time hanging out with fishermen. I can almost picture a scene where Peter and Andrew argue with James and John about the best ways to fish the Sea of Galilee. And then they try to pull Jesus into the discussion to settle the issue.

Back to the story about the coin in the fish’s mouth. In some ways it starts like a bad joke. “So, a tax collector, a fisherman, and Jesus walk into Capernaum. And the tax collector said to the fisherman…”

We know how this story goes. But the punchline is not that the coin is where Jesus said it would be. The punchline is that his ability to perform such a miracle affirms his announcement that the Kingdom of heaven is near. The punchline is that citizens of the Kingdom of heaven are not subject to the same duties citizens of the state are subject to. But it also insists that in this Kingdom there is no room for offending the state over something like taxes.

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The Beatles are in the news today as satellite radio launches a new station all about the Fab Four. I am certain there will be mention of the music invasion that came along with them. I hope to hear them sing “You say you want a revolution… We all want to change the world…”

Recently, another ambassador from across the pond has brought up the idea again. N. T. Wright has caused the word revolution to be used more frequently in church vocabulary. At least he has caused it to be used more by me. I have always been pulled in by the idea of revolution, but my new fondness has me using the word even more. Revolution is not only a great word but a necessary action. Certainly we are beginning to discover that to have faith in government to guide us in a healthy direction is a bit naïve.

It is time for a revolution. N. T. Wright would have us believe it began one Friday afternoon in first century Jerusalem. If we agree with that on any level, why do we remain so interested in solutions proposed by the rest of the world? And why do we often talk as if Washington, D. C. should do something about it?

It is time to shed the artificial labels we are wearing and to begin acting like people who belong to a revolution. If we truly believe that there is a story, one story, that can actually make a difference, why are we hanging onto small time peripheral loyalties?

Our literature tells us about early successes in the revolution. We were intentional about entering space with the peace and love of Jesus. We can find faithful moments of loving neighbor and enemy. We can read accounts about differents becoming one, of enemies becoming friends, of sins being forgiven.

The place this revolution begins is not the capital. The revolution begins in the local church. All other loyalties are too small for the kingdom of God. The kingdom of earth as it is in heaven. We do not have time to be duped into other loyalties. If we truly believe a story exists that can make a difference, it is time to embody that story and stop dabbling in convenient mainstream stories that actually run counter to our story. May we be a people who show the revolutionary love that was demonstrated by our king. “You say you want a revolution…”

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In the New Testament Satan claims to have the authority to hand over the kingdoms of the world. Satan may have thought he could handle Jesus the same way had always handled other situations. So he makes a power play, offering Jesus all kingdoms. Evil converged together in all its might. But God showed up as well, and showed up as Jesus.

Greg Boyd suggests the New Testament contains an emphasis on cosmic warfare. And he goes on to say we are either fighting the powers or we are being played by the powers.

The rulers and powers of the world will still do what they do. But, ever since Jesus showed up announcing that the Father has a different plan about kingdom and power they will not have the normal results. The rulers have been defeated. Jesus has won the victory. A revolution is underway.

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