27 December 2010
A snapshot from the study/conversation our Axiom church planting team is currently journeying through.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all in their various ways about God going public on earth about the kingdom of God. The central message is that the Creator God, Israel’s God, is at last reclaiming the whole world as His own, in and through Jesus of Nazareth. That is the message of the kingdom of God, which is Jesus’ answer to the question, What would it look like if God were running this show?
Arguably the fullest vision of what the Reign of God looks like is contained in the great discourses of the Gospels, The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Matthew 5-7) and The Sermon on the Plain in Luke (Luke 6: 17-49). Here we are presented with beatitudes which turn the world upside down. The things which the world blesses; violence, greed, power, comfort, hoarding, self-defense, physical-indulgence, vengeance, selfishness and wealth are not blessed by God.
Instead, Jesus says that God blesses the meek, the teachable, the generous, those who hunger for truth, the desperate, those persecuted for their loyalty to Jesus, those who carry burdens for others, the pure in motive, the forgivers, those who are relaxed in God and not anxious for more, the welcomers or hospitable and the peacemakers. This is an astounding vision and one so at odds with the way the other empires of life tempt us to live! Jesus summons those who would be participators in His Kingdom to radical devotion and radical dependence on Him. His followers must be meek, must not retaliate, must go beyond the letter's law to its spirit, must do what is right when only God is looking, must depend on God for their needs and pursue his interests in the world rather than their own, and must leave spiritual measurements of others' hearts to God. In short, true people of the kingdom live for King Jesus, not for themselves, not for institutions, not for laws, not for governments, not even for moral codes. The vision of the Kingdom is an ever expanding community, permeated with the presence of Jesus and is to be the catalyst for goodness, justice and integrity in the world.
Yes Jesus did, as Paul says, die for our sins, but his whole agenda of dealing with sin and all its consequences was never about rescuing individual souls from the world but about gathering humans so that they could become part of his project of renewing this world (the Kingdom of God). The resurrection of Jesus is to be seen not as the proof of life after death or a heaven and a hell but as the launching within the literal world of space and time, the now public reality of new kingdom with King Jesus at its helm. Within 30 years, this was announced under Caesar’s nose openly and unhindered. The reason those who made that announcement were persecuted is, of course, that the fact of God acting in public is deeply threatening to the rulers of the world and the allegiance they require.
The incarnation, the crucifixion and resurrection are the defeat of evil, sin and Satan and the return of YHWH to his human project. The church has been entrusted with the ongoing task of implementing this achievement in the world. Our partnership with God is too build the foundation of His Home.
When Jesus said “the Kingdom of God has come” he meant it. He meant it to the audience in front of him, in their time, on this planet. But the typical evangelical church struggles with this literal earthly 1st Century vision cast by Jesus because of a lens they read with. This tainted lens reads that all prophecies are in the future for us. This is a poor interpretation and a very western-centered hermeneutic. Many evangelicals think the world is getting worse and that the book of Revelation prophecies a world headed for destruction (the apocalypse) and somewhere in the time line we are raptured out of here and then God eventually ends everything.
When this "end-times" lens is employed it is very difficult to take Jesus words literally and therefore take our task of community, renewal and sacrificial-love seriously. If we relegate the Kingdom of God to a “heaven up there” we do not take Jesus at his word. When He said it was near, he meant it was near. When he said it had come, he meant it had come.
Inspired by Walter Brueggermann
21 December 2010
If you are quiet enough in your kitchen, you will hear a noise. It is a continuous sound, a long, droning noise with no particular beginning or ending. It is the same flat noise, and it goes on and on and on, hour after hour, day after day, making that sound, mostly unnoticed, there in the corner of your kitchen. It’s the buzzing of your refrigerator. We forget that it’s there but it just drones on in our house. If we unplugged it and shut off the buzz we’d probably be shocked at how loud it is. This is very much like the feeling of hopelessness that sometimes settles on our lives and goes unnoticed. Usually because of past expectations not being met or disappointment with circumstances a buzz of pessimism can begin to drone in our life.
Hopelessness seems to be all around us lately. Whether it’s the economy, a cruddy church experience, failed promises or family brokenness there seems to be plenty of fodder for feeling a measure of despair. Cynicism is extremely popular right now. “Whatever it is, it will let you down. Whatever you do, don’t get your hopes up. Whatever you think it is, it will burn you, just give it time.” This is the sound that often goes unnoticed and starts to drone in our life and its name is hopelessness.
One thing I’m learning is what hope is not. Just the other day I noticed my 6 year old son pouting and sporting a “cranky face” as we call it in our house. I asked him why he was so sad. He said quite boldly “I didn’t get what I want and I’m only happy when I get what I want”. That’s quite the statement from a 6 year old but I wonder how often as adults we act the same way. If our sense of hope is dependent on the circumstances we are in then we will be emotionally tossed to-and-fro by what comes our way.
Romans 5 says “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And true hope does not disappoint, because God love us and the Holy Spirit is our help."
This scripture speaks in the front end about the intentional treasuring of what I have and who I am. “I have peace with God” which I translate as “I now have belonging with God”. That is where my identify lies, not in accomplishments, not in my goals being scored, not in how people perceive me and not in my personal dreams being fulfilled. The second part speaks of the equation of hope. Hope is the finish line after pain, emotional struggle, continued movement forward and embracing the surgery on your inner life. This hope tastes much different and it seemingly comes late in the marathon of suffering, determination and character development. The third part declares an intimate truth that needs to be the nourishment for any Kingdom runner “I am loved by God and he is striving (the Holy Spirit) with me as I go through these hope stages."
Hope really is a choice. It’s easier for us to take on the spirit of a 6 year old and take our frustrations out on those around us, blame someone, claim life’s unfair, and indulge in ourselves even more. That inner voice may say "give up, move on, life sucks" but hope that does not disappoint whispers, "keep moving, stay focused, God is with you.” I’m learning that I can’t let the drone of hopelessness settle into my life because some things didn’t happen for me when I expected. My good buddy Bono (I wish) once said in an interview "this world is looking for a little bit of hope -- not the wispy stuff, but the battle-hardened hope, forged in the grim, with a purposeful spirit."
I need to choose to embrace the marathon of Hope. Hope is serious work. A great mentor in my life recently admonished me with this phrase “cynicism poisons the soul but hope gets the heart beating again.” As I round the bend of this track in 2011 I’m not sure where I am in the process of hope. I do believe the dream God has birthed in my soul will bloom. But God is more passionate about the process of hope then He is about the speed.
14 December 2010
During this season of Advent, here are some profound nuggets of truth I'm learning on a deeper level.
Advent is the time when we practice the discipline of waiting. We focus our attention on the hope to come. We set our hearts on God’s not-yet-seen promises rather than our unfulfilling circumstances in the present. We join the saints who even now are crying “How long?” before God’s ultimate Kingdom shows itself (Rev 6:10), longing for the world to be put to rights. We take the long view, keep our eyes on the big picture, and walk on.
Henri Nouwen in his writings points out that waiting is not doing nothing and twiddling our thumbs. Waiting is a vital, engaged, active stance we take in the life of faith. It’s a matter of responding to God in the present—right here and now, in the wilderness—hearing and nourishing ourselves on the presence of Jesus. (Ps 27:14)
Henri Nouwen’s words drive this home. He describes waiting as “nurturing the moment.”
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.”- Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons
God is teaching me tons about waiting as we plant Axiom Church in Syracuse. I must remember that waiting is active. Sitting under the weight of this tension forms my heart and character. I’m tempted to find a way to slink out from under this weight. But the vision is being nurtured in my own soul as I sit still. Being with Jesus changes me more than doing for Jesus.
inspired by Henri Nouwen and Chaplain Mike