Building the Kingdom

We tend to talk about building the kingdom and expanding the kingdom. I use that language fairly often, and I don’t disagree with it. But, there is a sense of understanding the kingdom as something we first and primarily receive and enter into.

The kingdom is also the place from which we are sent.

Of course there are things to do along the way. But it is the way in which we do them that communicates the gospel. Anyone can bring humanitarian aid to a city, and it will be received with gratitude.

But, when someone comes in the name of Jesus, and brings needed help, the benefit is not only the help; it is ultimately the presence of Jesus that they experience through us being there with them.

In 1 Peter 2, we read that those who trust in Jesus are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s possession. As a result of being a citizen of the kingdom of God, we are sent to show others the goodness of God. We are sent to shine the light of truth into the darkness.

Peter writes in chapter 3, “Be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.”

The work of the kingdom is not about a checklist. It is about a transformation. We are sent on a mission of transformation and citizenship.

This is wonderful because it means that whatever we do, whatever we have in front of us, can be received into the kingdom of God and transformed by the Spirit of God to be used to bless others.

To be sent by Jesus is to enter into our local and personal activities in a way that is given character and shape and direction by Jesus. It is not a list of things to accomplish, but a way in which we do everything.

Book Nearing Completion

I wanted to have it done over a year ago. But alas, it is nearly done. One more chapter and the conclusion, and then off to get it edited. My goal is to have it published by the end of November. It is titled (un)Worthy: How a right view of our unworthiness proves the great worth of Jesus (or something like that).

Here is an excerpt from chapter one:

We read in Matthew 8:5-13 about a Roman military commander who asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus said he would go to his house and heal the servant. But the commander responded and said that he is not worthy to have him in his own house. Do you know how Jesus responded? He said, “with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” According to this story, Jesus wants us to consider ourselves to be not worthy of him. He wants us to see how we are unworthy and how he is worthy.

This is not about self-deprecation, or a false humility. This is about forgetting ourselves as we gaze into the glory of Jesus. This is about knowing just how much we need the approval, the blessing, of Jesus. We need to start with this view of ourselves and of Jesus because without it, we cannot follow him. When we think we can do without Jesus, even subconsciously, we follow our own wisdom and we reject Jesus.

Mammon or God

Mammon is a genuine rival to God. We must choose one or the other: Mammon or God.1

The crass heresy of the prosperity doctrines and the “health and wealth gospel” is the bastard child of corrupted calling.

There are two economies—a “calling economy” as well as a “commercial economy”—and for followers of Christ the former, not the latter, is supreme.2

Yesterday I was driving and listening to a song called “When I lost my heard to you” by Hillsong. “You have my heart… hallelujah… I found your love when I lost my heart to you.”

Such simple words, but such a deep prayer. There is nothing more precious than the fact that God, our Creator, has my heart. He knows me deeply and is shaping me in ways I cannot fathom.

If I listen closely enough, and am attentive to God’s voice in my heart, I will become aware of what he is doing in my heart and what he is doing in the hearts of others. This is a bonus reward, as I need not require awareness of God’s work. I only need to trust him and the word he has given us in Scripture and in the life of Jesus. Being aware of God’s work is like a boost to my faith, and normally comes when my faith is at its weakest point; when I need a very personal reminder of God’s faithfulness.

But these words, “you have my heart” are not true when I am chasing mammon. Either I find success in being known by God and being accepted by God, or I search for success by working hard for mammon.

Hallelujah, God has not left me to chase after mammon. He has my heart and I have his acceptance. That is enough for me.

  1. Mammon, as define by Os Guinness, refers to money when it assumes an inordinate place in our lives until it becomes a personal, spiritual, god-like force that rules us. []
  2. Guinness, The Call, p.  134-35 []

What Is God’s Calling For My Life?

Note: this is a summary of a sermon I preached from Jeremiah 1. You can listen to it on the Bergen Church website.

If you have begun to follow Jesus and trust in him, you might be asking yourself, “what has God called me to do?” It’s a good question.

The typical next step when asking this question is to take a spiritual gifts or personality test to determine how God has wired you. Maybe that’s helpful, but more often than not we need to forget about those things while we think about what God has called us to. It is hard to shake this way of thinking, but we need to think less about our role in our society and more about our relationship and identity in Jesus.

Os Guinness, in his book titled The Call, defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to His summons and service.” (p. 29)

He explains that there are two levels to being called by God. The first level is a general calling that is the same for all people. It is a calling by God, to fellowship with God and to live entirely for God. It is the call from Jesus to follow him and to live according to his way. It is the call to learn the teachings of Jesus and to depend on the Spirit of Jesus as we journey through life.

God is asking all people to answer his call, to live a life of complete devotion to following Jesus, and to leave the outcomes to God. Oswald Chambers says it this way: “the one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for him.”

Our primary call is to be in fellowship with our Creator.

But there is a second level of calling, which is more specific. The second level of calling is about what the first calling of God looks like on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis.

It is, in considering who God is as completely sovereign, thinking, speaking, living, and acting entirely for God in everything we do and everywhere we go.

When we submit ourselves to the primary call to follow Jesus and be devoted to satisfaction in God, we will soon discover that the second level of calling moves forward in a way that is almost indiscernible at first, except by reflecting on the past.

Os Guinness explains that answering the call of God is “by its very nature a stepping forward to responsibility… We have heard the call, and we acknowledge and assume our responsibility. We are responsible to God, and our calling is where we exercise that responsibility.”

A stepping forward to responsibility. Hebrews 1 says, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

The word of God has come to us, and we are called by God to proclaim the gospel. We have a responsibility to respond. We are witnesses to the greatest and most important truth ever proclaimed, and we have a responsibility to pass on that truth.

Each of us is called by God in a general sense to be devoted to following in the way of Jesus. But each one of us is also called in a very specific way. But it is not completely about what we do. It is about living in such a way that bears witness to the power of Jesus and the life of Jesus.

So, regardless of what you find yourself doing, ask God, how can I invite others into this fellowship I am enjoying with you? And then look for opportunities to bless others with the presence of Jesus.

Trey Pearson and Sexual Orientation as Identity

I’m responding to an article posted on the 614columbus website about Trey Pearson, a musician in the Christian Rock band Everyday Sunday. The article is focused on Trey’s recent coming out as gay. The entire article is incredibly helpful and insightful to me. It reveals the struggles of someone who has lived with same-sex attraction as a Christian. It explains how difficult we have made it as the church for people who struggle with what has historically been viewed as a particularly ugly sin.

I sympathize with Trey, and I am disappointed that he did not find the freedom to talk to someone about his struggles until just recently. The church should be a place where we can be open about our struggles. We should be a place where judgment is rare and grace is common.

I want to address an important theme in the article about Trey Pearson, and throughout our society as it is shifting to be more accepting of alternative lifestyles.

The theme is homosexuality as an identity. I was listening to news radio the other day and heard that Justin Trudeau will be the first Prime Minister to participate in a Pride Parade, and how this marks a dramatic change in Canadian culture. I read and hear about the celebration of the LGBTQ community and how we are crossing over into a new era of acceptance.

I am saddened by this. I am saddened because we are celebrating a part of humanity that is so very broken. It is not broken because we have rejected those with alternative sexual orientation or lifestyles. It is not broken because of the fact that many do struggle with sexual identity.

It is broken because we have put such an emphasis on our sexual orientation and expression. I am saddened because we are celebrating the fact that we have completely lost sight of what sex and romantic intimacy is meant to express between two people.

Trey Pearson, in the article mentioned above, said this: “Despite our best efforts, however, I have come to accept that there is nothing that is going to change who I am.” He is referring to his marriage and any attempt at being a good husband and lover for his wife.

That statement from Trey broke my heart. It breaks my heart just as much as it breaks my heart knowing how the church has failed to be a safe place for him to be open about his orientation. The church has failed Trey not only by making him feel guilty about his orientation. The church has also failed to tell him that his marriage is not dependant on his sexual relationship with his wife. The church has failed to teach him that being a husband–being human–is far larger than sex.

Not long ago someone asked me for my opinion on public washrooms becoming gender-neutral in our country and in the United States. She was concerned that it would cause problems and wanted to know what I thought would be a better option.

I said, we have a much larger problem. Our problem is that we think our identity can be reduced to our sexual orientation. We think we have to distinguish ourselves as straight, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, etc.

I said, this problem would go away if we saw ourselves and each person as unique not because of their sexual orientation, but because they have been made by a very creative and loving Father, who has filled each of us with characteristics, personalities, desires and passions that are meant to reflect his infinitely deep character and imagination.

I believe that we need to stop this nonsense of celebrating the freedom to express our sexual identity and orientation.

I don’t have much to say about whether or not God made Trey Pearson to have same-sex attraction. I honestly don’t know and frankly don’t really care too much about that. It’s a reality he faces every day. But I don’t think the issue is same-sex attraction. I think his issue is that we have made such a big deal about it being a source of identity.

By identifying himself as a homosexual, Trey is limiting and reducing his uniqueness to sexual orientation, and that is the greatest tragedy in this entire issue. I don’t blame Trey, I blame the church. We have failed to disciple people like Trey in the true Way of Jesus. As a pastor, I want to be part of the solution by standing on the truth that, for Christian people, sex does not give us our identity. Jesus Christ does.

Practice What You Preach

You have heard the saying. Practice what you preach! We say it to someone we are judging as hypocritical. Someone who is telling people to behave a certain way, even though the person doing the telling does not behave that way.

I was thinking about that this morning while working on my sermon for this coming Sunday. I often think, when I’m preparing a message, “is this something I am practicing in my life?”

I ask that question not because I think I should only preach about things I’ve mastered. If I did that, I would not have much to offer in terms of content for messages.

But, I ask that question because the content needs to be something people can practice. The content needs to be approachable. The hearers need to be able to pick it up and observe it, play with it, experiment with it.

The saying, practice what you preach, should maybe be re-written: preach what can be practiced. The content of my sermon needs to direct people to a way of living that has more to do with a posture, an attitude, a daily acknowledgment that none of us can actually practice what we preach.

That leads me to the point I’m trying to get to. If I am supposed to preach what can be practiced, my preaching needs to be more about our dependance on the grace of God and less on our performance.

Of course, the life of a follower of Jesus includes obedience. But, biblical hypocrisy is not about failure to perform. It’s about claiming to be righteous based on our performance. Failure to practice what we preach happens not when we fail to measure up to the message. Rather, it happens when we preach about a righteousness that can be earned.

Preaching what can be practiced is about preaching a message of righteousness through trusting in the sacrifice and resurrection life of Jesus.