Kingdom

Meeting the Church

Several months ago I began waking up early, before everyone else in my house, and sneaking off to Starbucks. After a few weeks of arriving five days a week at the same time, I became a regular. Baristas knew my name and order. And the other regulars welcomed me with nods and “good mornings”. 

The truth is, I was there to be alone. There is a sensitive balance, as a stay at home mom of toddlers, between your need to be alone and your desire to be with other adults (both of which happen rarely). So Starbucks trips allowed me to start the day apart from being needed, apart from the piled responsibilities and laundry, surrounded by familiar adults, and alone with books, writing, and the Holy Spirit. 

One morning I noticed that Craig, a semi-regular, was reading the Bible, and I commented something insignificant about us studying from the same source side by side. This struck up a conversation about faith that caught me by surprize. I was intrigued by what he mentioned so I asked if I could sit down with him and interview him some time. We set a day and got back to our studies. 

Little did I know, my Starbucks experience was about to change. Eventually, I got to sit down with not only Craig, but also Howard (another regular) and discuss the work of God in each of their lives. They are so very different, but they possess a similar mission: pursuing God. 

Here is what I learned:

Craig had his life turned completely around at age 25. He lived a pretty rough life, but didn’t know a better way. Soon after repenting and dedicating his life to God he attempted to surround himself with friends and roommates that shared his new-found mission. Then something happened.

He found that this new “church culture” was nothing like the Jesus who had saved him. Instead, they refused to associate with him at meals after discovering that he ordered the occasional beer. This rattled him in a severe way. Why is it that they fixated on self-defined markers of moral correctness rather than the work of God in his life? He decided that they didn’t really know the same God.

From that point on he made this commitment to himself and to God: No Golden Calves. 
He would not accept bowing before anything or anyone other than God. This meant carefully praying over and studying any new teaching he heard about God before acquiring it as a belief. 

As Craig shared his different experiences with church congregations he told me of many upsetting experiences in the process of learning what it meant to be a Kingdom Person. What baffled me, as someone who has served on a church staff, was that some of these experiences seemed harmless, if not helpful. For example, it offended him that upon visiting a church a man, not much older than him, approached him after the service and introduced himself as the Discipleship Pastor. The pastor then offered to get him “set up” with someone to disciple him. Craig never went back. Why? Because before getting to know Craig, someone assumed that because of a job title, he was to act as mentor to all that entered, not mentee. “What if God sent me to that church to teach him something?” Craig exclaimed!

I paused. 

I felt myself wanting to judge Craig, at first, as unteachable. But then, as I continued to listen I realized how wrong I was. He went to church to listen and learn. He found the sermon valuable for his own life. But the Church was only there to “serve” not be served. 

I know, I know, “It is better to give than receive.” But if you take a moment and think that through, you will find that in order to love someone, you have to both receive and give. You have to allow others the gift of giving by receiving. And to disciple someone in how to receive teaching, you have to be willing to demonstrate a listening stance. 

Craig could find no home in a place where he was not seen as valuable, where God’s work in his life had no weight against a man-given title. 

I asked him, “So what is Church to you? Where do you find community?”

“Here.” He said. “Here, and at that Smoothie King right there. At work, and at the grocery store.” 

He continued to explain that once he realized he was part of a the Monarchy of God and just a sojourner in this place, he discovered that there are fellow sojourners all around. He talked about his Kingdom citizenship the way a recently arrived immigrant may find themselves saying, “In my country…”

Breaking from his previous allegiances wasn’t and isn’t easy for Craig. He explained that a crucial part of learning to live as a citizen of the Kingdom is the need to unlearn the former commitments to political party and the “golden calf” of country.

He said that regularly hears himself saying or thinking something then catches himself with, “Wait. Why do I believe that? Who taught me that? This is the old me repeating something without really knowing it’s true.”

“No Golden Calves” meant not allowing others to become idols, but also not returning to old ways of thinking without bringing those thoughts before King Jesus. 

This intentional repentance of former worldview was empowered by prayer. 

Prayer was perhaps the most recurring topic in our hour-long conversation. I was convicted when he told me how frequently, intentionally, privately, and openly he prayed. He invited others to pray with him in many different settings. He brought all of his desires before God in prayer and witnessed miraculous provision and correction. 

Prayer was also a common theme with my other Starbucks friend, Howard. Howard could not be more different than Craig. Howard is a mystic. He embraces the unknown of God and in return has found that God will meet him to comfort his worries, and challenge him to trust fully in God’s love for him. 

As I talked with Howard and we shared with each other about the painful seasons in our life, during which God always came near, there was an ease about our conversation. 

I kept thinking back to Craig’s response to my question about where he finds community and where he gathers with Church. “Here.” 

The beauty of the Body of Christ is that we need both Howard and Craig. We need those who will seek God relentlessly for truth, and those who will sit in wonder of God’s mystery. We need them in our coffee shops, construction companies, hospitals, AA Meetings, and library story times. We have to be ready to “go to Church” wherever we are, learning from those who are seeking God along side of us, without paying mind to status or longevity of membership. 

God is at work in the lives of those around us, and if we listen and look, we will see Him and be changed. I now know this to be true first hand. 
 

Easter People

We are a paradox people.
We look at loss of prizes,
But by our cries of desperation,
God Almighty rises.

The world in search of power,
Sometimes within our titles,
But those who are the remnant,
Are found kneeling for survival.

“Hosannah” is the battle cry,
Not vengeance but request,
That God himself would save us-
He alone ease our distress.

We do not march with fear,
But with holy recognition,
That without his saving grace,
Ours is a hopeless condition.

He climbed the hill stripped naked,
Spat on and disgraced.
He gasped for breath and whispered
On his murderers, God’s grace.

All man considered holy,
Was finally exposed,
As fruitless acts of godlessness-
Stem of thorns without a rose.

Unprepared in a borrowed tomb,
His body lay in death.
Scattered were those close to him,
Confined to sabbath rest.

How could one rest without him?
Impossible endeavor.
Uncertain of the past,
And uncertain of forever.

“Hosannah” in her rising.
“Hosannah” in her care.
She gathered what she needed.
For death she was prepared.

Her heart already broken,
She clung to what she knew.
The air escaped her grieving lungs,
“Hosanna! Where are you?”

“Alive” was her answer.
The lips of angels reached her.
The start of something beautiful,
This world’s first Christian preacher.

This truth brought hope and fear,
It was Jesus that she needed.
Overwhelmed she wept until,
“Mary,” her King greeted. 

This tomb was meant for death.
This garden marked with sadness.
But God restores the shattered,
And gives us hope of gladness. 

If you are entering this Easter
Carrying burial preparations,
Certain evils can’t be changed,
No faith in restoration-

Set down your baskets and behold,
Christ, on whom you can rely.
He greets, by name, the mourning,
Feasting with those whose lips deny.

“Hosanna!” We are here.
We’re blessed because you hear us.
Though evil tempts with worldly gain,
We’ll chose to have you near us. 

Rejoice for he is Risen! 
Our King is risen indeed. 
His Spirit expanding his Kingdom,
Through those still in great need.

He will meet you when you seek him,
His expectations gracious.
His table has a place for you,
For the desperate, seats are spacious.

 


We are Easter People. The Kingdom of those reborn by the resurrection. 

Gather your people.

Raise your glasses. 

The Toasts of Easter Feaster

(Based on the 4 cups of the Passover Meal.)


The first toast is the toast of Sanctification. Now is a time to raise your glass and share a way you have been sanctified this year. Do you feel set apart by God? How so? How has God assured you that he is still active in your life?


The second toast is the toast of Salvation. What have you been saved from? Maybe it's a bad habit or sin that you are no longer enslaved by. Maybe it's a toxic mindset that you have been freed from. Maybe God spared you from a consequence you deserved. Tell us, how has Jesus saved you?


The third toast is the toast of Redemption. God makes broken things beautiful and revives dry bones. What has God redeemed in your life this year? Did you have any truly terrible things made beautiful by the presence of the Creator? What has been turned around in your life this year? What has been mended?


The fourth toast is the toast of Hope and Restoration. This is the toast of Kingdom still to come. We raise our glasses and say, "I believe God will make all things new, and once again, mankind and God will walk together in the garden." Proclaim your hopeful expectations. What do you long for that you know will come to pass when Jesus returns?

In a final toast, raise your glasses all together and say, "We praise you, Jesus. You are our King, our Savior, our Redeemer, and our God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. Hallelujah!"
 

What do they see?

When those who don't know about the Kingdom of God see Christians, what do they see? 

This question has been sitting in our house for a while, about three years, actually. 

At first, you might respond:

1) We need to please God, not man, right?

2) We need to be "above reproach" by abstaining from anything questionable. Shouldn't we show them that there is a very different way? 

If those questions settle okay with you, I would like to counter with two more questions:

1) What did those far from God think of Jesus (the one and only man whose life was pleasing to God)?

2) Whose reproach? Have you received criticism from people far from God about the way Christians dress, what we eat or drink, our use of four letter words, or what establishments we hang out in?

For us, these questions became crucial to answer. Somehow, amidst sincere desire to live our lives for Jesus and his Kingdom, we could no longer keep up with trying to please God AND other Christians. 

Jesus threw caution to the wind when it came to pleasing everyone. And who did he disappoint? Two groups for sure: the religious folk and those who called for unquestioned allegiance. 

So we decided to do the same. As it turns out, the narrow path feels a lot more like a rickety rope bridge hanging over the cliffs of arrogance, heresy, and loneliness. Without the Spirit of God himself, it is impossibly dangerous. But he is faithful. We can trust that he will not allow us to wander past the fences of his love, and even more so, find that this way is actually better. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
— Psalm 23, ESV

I used to think this Psalm was for those darn valleys that I sometimes found myself in. Ol' David was going through a hard time. Sometimes life sucks. People die. We get sick. We get stressed. 

Lately though, my worldview has changed.

Our whole life on earth is in the valley of the shadow of death. Our enemy is always pursuing. We can invest our best effort to making life pleasant, but that is only a mirage because in this world, the pain doesn't stop. Even with our headphones in and the Contemporary Christian Pandora station blaring, no amount of distraction will stop the suffering in and around us. Thankfully, there is hope. In the midst of this bleak life, God has chosen to BE WITH his people. And in His presence, peace is found. 

Right here. In the same body that is shaking with anger, grief, or stress, God can grow a green pasture. He can guide us to the still water.

"But how?" we ask.

Pointing, "Look there, my enemy is rushing toward me!"

He knows.

But He does not fear.

"Sit." God says, commanding, "Eat." 

"Let me comfort you with oil and quench your thirst, for I am not afraid of your enemy, and I am not leaving you. I know the way through this valley, and I will guide you to the other side. See that mountain top? I have prepared a place for you. Trust me."

But the story is not over with that. 

"Go get the others." He calls out. 

"Teach them to follow me."

If suffering pursues us, than establishing our own houses and neighborhoods of propriety is foolishness. When an assailant has targeted you, there are two good options: fight, or flight. Throughout history, God's people have been set apart by The God Who Fights For Us. He has led his people to do seemingly moronic things, with only one explanation for victory: God himself. Are we seen that way now? People who do daring, crazy, radical acts: pushing back the darkness in a way that leaves God Himself as the only explanation for our success?

 

The life that matters

This broken-turned-beautiful life matters. So what should those far from God see and hear from us?

Our life should tell the story:

I see the brokenness and feel the pain.

But God has shown me the way to peace.

Turmoil may be around every corner, but I know my future is secure.

I am not afraid to meet you wherever you are.

Your mess isn't too messy for me, because the King of all Kings is with me and his holiness and forgiveness are cleansing.

He will be with you too, if you want him. Would you follow him with me?