Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Gospel Sermon

Indian Creek is currenty in a season  which we've been challenging people to live as missionaries.  Part of that missional challenge includes leading groups through the Tangible Kingdom Primer.  I got to share during that series a couple weeks ago and here is a copy of that message.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.... At least, on a different continent in a different hemisphere - things were not going so well for the Republic.  Which was really too bad, because things had started out so well for this fairly young nation.  But since the assassination of the nation's leader, the country had been in the throes of civil war. Years of bloody civil war.  Eventually, one man was able to unite several armies and gain control over the Republic.  Finally bringing peace back to a nation that had been torn apart by bloodshed.

This leader turned out to be more powerful than anyone had originally imagined.  He took this national Republic and turned it into a global empire - an empire that dominated the known world.  Every Empire needs an Emperor - and he was that Emperor.  This Empire promised perpetual peace and financial wealth.  And the Empire delivered on that promise.  At least to its citizens.  The Empire crushed anyone crazy enough to threaten its peace, prosperity or strict obedience to law.  And the Empire continued to expand its wealth and dominance by conquering more and more of its surrounding neighbors. 

The Emperor crushed rebellions.  Took more and more territory. Won battle after battle.  And after each  battle, representatives of the Emperor would run from city to city, from town to town and all the way to the far away villages - announcing the good news of the Emperor's victories.  The good news was that the Emperor and his Kingdom was unmatched and undefeated. 

The citizens of this Empire spoke Greek.  And the greek word we often translate as good news could also be translated another way - gospel.  The biblical word "gospel" actually came from the Roman Empire.  To a first century Roman citizen, the news of the Emperor's conquests was "gospel" or "good news."  The "gospel" of Caesar.  The good news of Rome's Kingdom.  Although, this wasn't such good news if you were one of the ones who were conquered.  Or a non-citizen.  But to learn more about that, read the book of Revelation. 

Rome's "gospel" started with their "son of God, Prince of Peace" - their first Emperor - Augustus.  Caesar Augustus had united Rome from its civil wars and had conquered all of Rome's enemies, making life pretty sweet for Rome's citizens. And that gospel continued, through the victories of Augustus' successors - Tiberius, Caliqula, Claudis, Nero and on and on.  To a first or second century Roman, their Kingdom seemed unrivaled.  It seemed like a Kingdom with no end.

Imagine then, the gall, the audacity, the stupidity even, of a small group of Jews - Jewish outcasts - who began to refer to the life of their crucified Rabbi as "gospel."  They called it the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, one writer, Luke, even started his retelling of the Christian "gospel" by declaring that it was a peasant born Jew, not Caesar Augustus, who was the Son of God/ Prince of Peace/ Ruler of a Kingdom that would know no end.  Feel free to break out into some Handel's Messiah right here...

First century Christ-followers took the word "gospel" from the Roman Empire and redefined it to mean "the Kingdom of Jesus." 

There's a reason Christians were thrown to the lions, crucified and set on fire; it's because they boldly declared that Jesus was Lord.  They broke their nation's laws. They refused to add to "Jesus is Lord" the good patriotic belief, "Caesar is Lord."

And the gospel for which they were dying was not the watered-down, neutered version of "gospel" that has been prominent in most Evangelical churches since the revivalist movements of the 19th century.  If you were to ask most American Christians to define the gospel, they would say something like this; "the gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, so that if I put my faith in Christ, I can be forgiven of my sins and have eternal life with Jesus."   Right?  That's probably how you would define
"Gospel."  That's what I had thought for most of my life.  Whenever I preached and gave people the chance to make an individual decision for Jesus, I was say that I had "presented the gospel."  But what I had actually done, what most of us have done, is to mistake the biblical idea of person salvation (Jesus dying for my sins) with the larger idea of Gospel.  pause - think

Let me say that again.  This is the part of the message where you have to be open to reconsidering strongly held opinions.  Jesus dying on the cross for my sins - that's not the gospel, at least not the entire gospel.  Rather, that's the plan of personal salvation.  Personal salvation is one part of the larger biblical idea of Gospel.  We aren't the main idea of the good news.  It's so much bigger.  Which is good news.

The Biblical idea of gospel is almost exactly the same as the Roman idea of Gospel.  But instead of the hero being Caesar and his Kingdom, the hero is Jesus and his Kingdom.  Ever since the tragedy in the Garden of Eden, the universe has been in a civil war of sorts, God's creation has been in rebellion against its creator.  But the good news is that Jesus has started the process of setting everything right again.  And one day, Jesus' Kingdom will have permanent residence in this world.  God's original intentions for his creation will eventually replace the present, sinful reality.  That process is not yet complete, but it has started.  The Gospel message is that Jesus is setting everything right again.  And anyone connected to Jesus gets saved.

With that working understanding of the Gospel - the entire Gospel - let's look at a passage that outlines for us this story of Jesus.  The passage is from 1 Corinthians 15 pass out bibles.  Before any of the words of our New Testament were actually written down, Christ-followers had been telling and retelling the Gospel of Jesus.  So when Paul writes this letter to the church in Corinth, he is simply writing down what Christians had been repeating to each other for decades.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7 After this part, Paul starts to go on a bit of a tangent, but the retelling of the Gospel tradition picks back up again in verse 20.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28  The bad news is that the creation has rebelled against its creator.  The good news is that King Jesus is setting everything right again.  All things are being redeemed and renewed.  Even us sinful humans. 

I want to make a few observations about this passage:

The Gospel is the completion of Israel's story  Jesus didn't show up out of nowhere.  Jesus' story is rooted in the story of Israel - the stories of our Old Testament.  Day one of the Tangible Kingdom Primer talks about God's calling of Abraham.  That's really where the story of God remaking the world began - with God calling a people to be his representatives in the world.  God first chose to reveal himself through Abraham and his descendants. Then through Jesus.  And now - through the church.  In Romans, Paul says that we are grafted into Israel's family tree.  Ultimately, Jesus is the completion of what God started with Abraham and the people of Israel.

Personal salvation flows from the Gospel  Jesus dying to forgive my sins is not the entire gospel story - but it is a part of the gospel story.  Through Jesus, God is rescuing the entire world and that includes individuals.  Through Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.

The Gospel is the entire life of Jesus  So often, we focus only on Christmas and Good Friday, skipping everything in between and even everything afterwards.  But Jesus did so much more than just die for our sins.  He taught, he was resurrected, he appeared after his resurrection.  And one day - that day really is coming - he will return to earth and set everything right again.  Jesus isn't going to snatch us away from this earth and then blow the whole thing up. While you might find that in the Christian bookstore, you won't find it in Scripture.  Rather, Jesus is returning to this earth and will restore this earth.  In Revelation, the New Jerusalem comes down to earth. Culmination of the story.  But we don't have to wait until the end.  We get to be a part of restoring creation right now.  The Gospel story is not yet complete, but it has started.  And we get to be a part of it. 
Here's another way to summarize the gospel message:

Jesus lived, died, was buried, was raised, was exalted and is the ruling King who is coming back again.  The Gospel is the story of Jesus and we get to be a part of that story.

Geoff and Sherry Maddock are two people who are living out the gospel story.  About 15 years ago, they moved into the poorest part of Lexington, KY.  A part of the city that is ravaged by the effect of sin - both personal sin and systemic sin.  No grocery stores in their part of the city, making it hard for families to find nutritional food.  Just corner convenience stores full of cigarettes, lottery tickets and junk food.  Simple things, like trees - are hard to find in their neighborhood.  No parks for the kids.  Things we often take for granted but are essential for healthy living in a city.  The ascetics of the neighborhood are terrible, too.  A bunch of abandoned and neglected buildings.  It's an ugly place to live.  The destruction of sin is evident everywhere.  The bad news seems to be the dominant story. 

So when Goeff and Sherry moved to this part of Lexington, their intention was simple - to live out the gospel - the entire gospel. I had the privilege of hearing them speak last week and they kept repeating one phrase over and over, "God is making all things new and everything is included."  So their plan of sharing the gospel with their neighborhood did not involve knocking on doors and telling people the four spiritual laws.  No, their plan to share the gospel was to start cleaning up the neighborhood.  Knowing that as they changed the ascetics of the neighborhood, they would be living out God's redemptive, re-creative plan for their city.  In other words - the gospel.

They started working with the corner convenience stores to get healthy food into the stores, so the kids could have more options than just cheetos.  They painted buildings and fences.  They helped plant trees in empty lots.  Eventually got the city to let them plant an orchard that takes up several city blocks.  Where there were just weeds, there are now trees from which kids can pick fruit off the branches when heading to school.  Think about that.  And in a lot where there used to be just a burned out building, they have now planted a community garden.  People from all over the neighborhood get to contribute to and take from the garden. 

One neighbor helped them grow a watermelon plant.  As the watermelons ripened, Sherry began to get more and more excited about enjoying that watermelon.  She didn't mind giving them away, because there was still one she was keeping for herself. Sherry was keeping her eye on one ripening watermelon.  Just as she was about to go out into the garden to pick that watermelon, another neighbor who had been helping her garden came over and asked for that watermelon.  Just as she was getting ready to pick it.  Sherry knew she couldn't say no. But she was kicking herself for not going out to the garden just 5 minutes earlier.  Sherry even let some self-pity overtake her. "I give so much to others, why couldn't I just have the one watermelon that I wanted?" 

The next morning, the neighbor came by to thank her again for the watermelon.  He told Sherry, I've got it sitting in my fridge cause my entire family is coming over today to enjoy that watermelon."  He then told Sherry that even his two sisters, sisters he hasn't talked with in 5 years, were coming over to his house that afternoon.

That's the gospel.  The recreating of this fallen world.  The bringing of the Kingdom of God into sinful corners of the world.  Bringing healthy food to kids who don't normally get balanced meals.  Making an ugly neighborhood beautiful.  Turning abandoned city lots into thriving community gardens.  And helping estranged family members reconcile over a big, ripe watermelon.  The gospel is that the King is fixing his universe. And we get to be a part of it. 

When Geoff and Sherry's neighbors ask them questions - guess what? They get to tell them why they're doing this.  They get to tell them about the love of Jesus and God's plan to make everything right again.  What Geoff and Sherry have done in their neighborhood is a perfect picture of how we proclaim the gospel.  There is a quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words." 

The Gospel requires a response.  No one will force us to join in Jesus' story of salvation.  It's up to us to choose how will we respond.  Part of the response to the Gospel is to choose Jesus as Savior.  To allow Jesus to begin to cleanse all of the junk in our lives and to remake us into the person he created us to be.  But the Gospel requires that we not only choose to make Jesus our Savior, but to also choose to make him our Lord - our Leader - the one who calls the shots in our lives.  Which means that we join him in helping to restore his creation.  That may mean we help clean up our neighborhood or maybe it's some other area.  But we get to be a part of God's story of redemption.  That's good news.  That's Gospel. 

As we move toward communion, I want to share a quote from the Tangible Kingdom Primer. 

A Kingdom life lived on mission is really about living ordinary, everyday life in community, with great gospel intentionality. 

Almost every time we gather for worship, we get to physically re-enact the Gospel.  We get to feel and taste Jesus' story of redemption.  We do this when we celebrate communion together. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 

When we choose "Gospel" we are saved.  And we join Jesus in bringing salvation to the world around us, too.

So when you take the bread and juice this morning, let this be an act of choosing the Gospel. Maybe you're making the choice for the first time ever or the 700th time.  But don't take the elements without choosing to join in Jesus' story of Gospel. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tangible Kingdom Part 3: The 3 Habits of an Incarnational Community

1) Sharing Friends
"Adjust your routine to include meeting friends, both saint and Sojourner, in public places that are comfortable for everyone.  I think you'll find that community begins to take shape, naturally."

2) Sharing Food
"God uses the banquet table analogy to speak about heaven, salvation, and evangelism... In Adullam, every eight weeks or so, we have what we call 'Big Table.'"

3) Sharing Life
"The key to this is the word 'spontaneous.'  This isn't rocket science, but we've come to realize that the compartmentalized approach to life, coupled with Americans' radical individualism, does make it hard for some people to live incarnationally."

"Most of us learned to view communing with God as primarily happening in either a church worship service or in our own personal devotional time.  A good majority of the transfer growth dilemma surrounds a systemic belief that corporate worship is the primary place God communes with us and we with him. 
We think it's shortsighted and historically ignorant to assume that every time Christians met throughout history, they had a stage, trained singers, overheads and well-choreographed vocal worship to help them connect with God... In Adullum we share scripture, Sabbath gathering and soulace space." 

1) Scripture
"Ager you read the scripture, ask these five questions and let people answer as they feel led:
1. What did you like about what we just read?
2. What didn't you like?
3. Was there anything you didn't understand?
4. What did you learn about God?
5. Regardless of where your faith is at right now, if you were to apply what we learned about God to something in your life this week, what would it look like?
Keeping this simple grid around scripture allows you and your community to function without any preparation and will never create a sense of 'in or out.'"

2) Sabbath Gathering
"The problem with church has been that we communicate that God is up in heaven, monitoring his cosmic seating chart, and he really wants our church buildings full. 
That's just not true.
Church gatherings were never the intended goal; they were the natural result of people finding others who were living their alternative Kingdom story.  The goal of the missional life is not to grow churches,  The goal of the gospel is not to get people to church.  The result of the gospel is that people will find each other and gather because of the deep meaning of a common experience.
People were naturally dispersed because of mission and the gathering was their way to hear the faithful stories of others."

3) Soulace
" The last habit we move people into is what we call 'soulace' spaces.  These are simple gatherings throughout the week where people can be together for a more communal experience in scripture, silence, prayer and reflection.
Whereas the Gathering provides the largest intersection for relational connection, celebration and vision, and villages provide the most integrated opportunity for a group to be intentional with incarnational mission, soulace space creates a web of spontaneous connections that provide for more soul growth."

"Christians often come into a church for communion; Sojourners more easily come in through community and mission."

1) Benevolent Action
"In Adullam, each village chooses where they will live out their benevolence together."

2) Sacrificial Giving
"It is within the context of mission that we ask people to give of their resources."

3) Spontaneous Blessing
"We've learned that everything gets taken care of if you give people vision and permission to spend their money wisely on real people... What if every church was able to get every person to commit 5 percent of their income to the general church fund, but mobilized the other 5 percent to all the needs of their communities?"

4) Sending of Leaders
"In a given month, each village commits one evening to a party at which they can share their friends, food and fun.  We ask them to commit one time to experiencing some aspect of mission, service or benevolent action, and we suggest that a couple of times they gather as a community to open the scriptures, pray and do anything that would help them commune with God."

In closing...
"People will always be drawn to people who look, smell and behave like Jesus and if you're committed to caring for people who move toward Christ through you, church will become a labor of love for you as well.  Fresh faces, new stories and a web of relationships will witness to the tangible world Jesus called his Kingdom."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tangible Kingdom Part 2: Barriers to Incarnational Community

This is the 2nd part of a summary of Matt Smay and Hugh Halter's book, "The Tangible Kingdom."  As a side note, Hugh Halter spoke some much needed truth to me today, which I might blog on later.  The 2nd part of this book describe the three interconnected circles that constitute the life of their church; communion, mission and community.  "Communion represents 'oneness' - those things that make up our communal connection and worship of God.  Community represents aspects of 'togetherness' - those things we share as we form our lives together.  And mission represents 'otherness' - the aspects of our life together that focus on people outside our community.  We believe that whenever you see a group of people who find a rhythm or balance among communion, community and mission, you will always find the Kingdom.  It will be tangible."

There are three barriers to this type of church life:
INDIVIDUALISM - "a deep-seated Western-Modern bias that fights against commitment to anything that doesn't directly serve our individual interests.  Most specifically, this relates to our interaction with people."  This individualism is expressed in everything from watching too much tv to having your kids in too many activities; any over-indulgence that keeps a person from having enough margin in their life to live on a mission.  "We win out over individualism by discipling togetherness, through gentle confrontation, and by eliminating spiritual services that allow people to remain autonomous or invisible."

This barrier keeps us from moving from communion to community. 

CONSUMERISM - "the belief that I can't help others until I help myself, that my own wants and needs trump the needs of others... Church can be a huge consumer trap.  We provide large, comfortable worship centers, encourage pastoral staff to give us everything we need spiritually, and, at the end of the day, we don't have any money or time left to extend blessing and resources toward 'mission.'"

This barrier keeps us from moving from communion to mission.


MATERIALISM - "this is not all that different to consumerism, but it is more closely related to the struggle of Sojourners to tangible be a blessing in the world.  For example, often, when Sojourners enter into our Tangible Kingdom vortex through community, they've found friends and are moving toward faith, but they still haven't adjusted their lives toward God's blessing in the world.  Because they have had little focus on God or personal stewardship, they are weighed down in debt and the extra work that is required to keep up.  Whereas consumerism holds some aspect of entitlement ('this church should provide... this leader should provide...') materialism is simply about wanting stuff."

This barrier keeps us from moving from community to mission. 

"The more we do 'together,' the less INDIVIDUALISTIC we'll be.

The more we become 'one' with Christ, the less CONSUMER ORIENTED we'll be.

The more we do for 'others,' the less MATERIALISTIC we'll be." 

In his workshop today, Hugh Halter said that at their church, they define discipleship as primarily being a"non-individualistic person," a "non-consumer," a "non-materialistic person" and a "non-religious (pharisaical) person." 

When asked whether they define discipleship in positive terms, Hugh said that they sometimes refer to discipleship as taking on the fruit of the spirit or being on a mission for God.  Usually, however they stick to these "un" definitions because they are so effective at confronting the pharisaical self-centeredness of most Christians.  Hugh defined a Pharisee as someone who knows a lot of stuff but doesn't care for people and can't interact with the world.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tangible Kingdom Part 1: An Introduction to Missional Communities

I recently finished one of the best books I've read in a long time, "The Tangible Kingdom." I'll start my two part summary with the book's definition of what it means to be missional.  "'Missional at its essence means 'sent.'  The idea is the exact opposite of waiting for [people] to come to use us.  It's the antithesis of trying to "attract" them to us, our programs, our buildings, or our gatherings... 'Missional' has an inseparable twin. It's called 'incarnational....' Said another way, 'missional' sentness is focused on leaving and everything related to going, but 'incarnational' represents how we go and what we do as we go."

This type of living can happen in what the authors / pastors call "Incarnational Communities."  In order to live as a community on mission, however these Incarnational Communities need to commit to three practices.  The authors are pastors of the Incarnational Community, Adullum Community.

1)  LEAVING:  "intentionally giving up what is comfy, easy, and familiar and going somewhere else, doing something different, and giving up time so that we can connect with people.  Leaving isn't just about going overseas.  It's about replacing personal or Christian activities with time spent building relationships with people in the surrounding culture."  The authors recommend having or doing dinners out with Sojourners, "Leaving is committing at least one night a week or one meal a week to Sojourners." 

2) LISTENING: "Listening is watching and sensitively responding to the unspoken and spoken needs of Sojourners in ways that demonstrate sincere interest." 

3) LIVING AMONG:  "Living among means participating in the natural activities of the culture around you, with whimsical holiness... [being whimsy], therefore allows you to be with people regardless of their angle of life without casting any judgment their way...  Whimsy may be the missing element of Christlike love in today's world.  It's the essence of missional posture that helps gain someone's heart so that, someday, their behavior may also change... Whimsy implies that you can seamlessly interact in the culture with ease, humor, love and holiness without being swayed from clear biblical boundaries."

"[The biblical idea of blessing] wasn't just nice things you said to make people forget about their problems.  It was actally doing something about their problems... The real essence of biblical blesing is that it's done with NO STRINGS ATTACHED.... Learning to receive God's free, no strings-attached offer and then graciously living a life to extend blessing to others without charge and without exception is different.  When we become comfortable with unconditional love, I think we will find that it does witness correctly to who God is.  And it's a power that naturally draws people in."

"Living out habits are not steps to evangelism.  They are habits of a Christ-follower who wants to live faithfully like Jesus lived.  The rest is up to him.  We suggest that if you focus on these habits, you won't have to worry about the rest.  People will begin to love you, respect you, and take your life and the life of your community seriously.  You will also find that your spiritual life finally makes sense, because each habit breaks down your human selfishness. Each of the four habits of living out has a correspondin internal resistance.  It's a good place to center your prayers.

Selfishness is the enemy of LEAVING.
Fear is the enemy of LIVING AMONG.
Expectations are the enemy of LOVING.

Let developing these habits be your prayer and your commitment to God."