Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Reminder

Who we are and where we are going...

     This month, I have posted below several of the sermons that I have been working on recently.  I had quite a bit of speaking to do in atypical settings for me.  One of these messages (Revolution) was for a church, but Bubble, Ski Retreat, and the Youth Retreat sessions were all geared toward young people or college students.  Since they were not typical audiences, I had more freedom to explore some broader themes within mission and the church. 

     Preparing these was challenging, but I feel like God was helping me both through the preparation and presentation of this material.  I was, at least, able to express some of the struggles and longings that I have been working through for a while now through these messages.  For that I am very thankful. 

    I know that there is a huge amount of text here this month, but I would be very thankful to anyone who would be willing to plow through a few of these and give me some feedback.  I hope that some of these themes will be further developed and expand through conversation. 
 
                  Thank you,

                             Zach

Youth Retreat Session III

Tonight, I would like to start with a little bit about my story. I grew up in a little town….. (testimony to Honduras). Especially in our first session, but I also hinted at it this morning, I said that God was doing something in the world to set it right and we can be a part of that. That is what caught a hold of my heart after Honduras. I could see something amazing going on and I wanted to be a part of that. So many times being a Christian was about going to church and not doing certain things. I was terrified that I was going to go to hell and wanted God to save me. After Honduras, though, my heart began to be opened to the idea that God might want to do something in me and through me. That I could be a part of what He is doing in the world.


However, what does that mean? Does that mean that we work hard enough and we can get everything right here on earth by our own efforts? Are Christians about building a utopia? Well, that is a hard question to answer, because it is yes and no.

Your theme verses for this week come from the end of Revelation. Now, these verses deal with the end of this age and the beginning of the age to come. The Jews believed that one day, this age where people rebel against God will one day come to a close and the age to come would begin where God would reign completely over all and the kingdom of God would be fully present. So, one theme verse is Revelation 19:6 where it talks about A great crowd shouting that God reigns. Then it talks about a wedding feast, the wedding of Jesus and His church. When Revelation talks about the end of the present age that we are living in, it describes it as a wedding feast, a party. Not many people focus on the party in Revelation, but it is an important part.

Your other theme verse is Revelation 22:20 where Jesus says “Surely I am coming quickly.” Then the author writes “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Now, we know that when Jesus comes back again, it will be the end of this age. The next age will begin. Why would the writer want Jesus to come and end the age? Isn’t that a scary thing? Isn’t that the end of the world? Why would somebody want that to happen?

Let’s ask another question, if Jesus is coming back, why would we need to worry about doing things like feeding people or helping sick people or planting trees or any of those things? Shouldn’t we just focus on staying out of hell? Shouldn’t we just worry about saving our souls and let everything else go? Why would we even try to be a part of healing all of creation if Jesus is coming soon?

I think that what happens between these two verses is very important. Let’s read Revelation 21:1-8. Now, many people think about what happens after we death like we are just going to be ghosts or angels in heaven forever. However, let’s read these verses and see what it sounds like. (read). It does not say that God destroys the earth or that we all float around on clouds forever. God made His creation, the earth, good. Here, though it is a bit mysterious, He is somehow making it new. Does this new mean He is throwing the old one away, or that he is making the old one new, as in renewed, as in made fresh? And look, it is like heaven and earth are meeting together. The New Jerusalem is coming from heaven and God is making His home on earth with mankind. It says that there will be no more sorrow or crying or pain in that time. The kingdom of God will be fully evident everywhere. All evil will be swept away. Swept away. Never again.

We Christians believe that, at that time, the dead will be brought back to life with new bodies. We will all be resurrected and never die again. That is what the Jews believed. They believed that at the end of the age the resurrection would happen, we would not be spirits forever, we would be whole people again. We become whole people and then get to join in the wedding party of Jesus and the people of God.

So, that will happen then, but we also find Jesus praying that the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven while talking about the kingdom like it was coming right then. The first things He says in the book of Mark are about the kingdom being “at hand.” There is a point where He talks about the kingdom being in us or among us. He says to seek first the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean?

We said that many Jews believed that at the end of the present age the dead would be resurrected and then the kingdom of God’s rules would be fully upon us, right? That was supposed to happen then, not now. So, what would it mean if, right in the middle of the now, someone was resurrected from the dead? That would be crazy, right? It would mean that something strange was going on. It would mean that the kingdom of God was partially breaking into the now. It would mean that this age and the age to come were somehow overlapping. It would mean that the power of the then was growing now.

That’s what happened. Jesus being resurrected was not just a nice trick or a miracle to prove that He was God, it was that power of the kingdom of God, the resurrection of the dead, the age to come, the time when God would set everything right, was bursting in among us. Something new was happening. God was beginning the age to come in the middle of the present age.

So, when God starts a new creation in us, that is what we are a part of. We are no longer the old age creations we used to be, we are citizens of a kingdom that is coming in us and among us. It is real here and now, even though we are still waiting for the day when everything is made right. We live in the power of this new creation. We are part of Jesus who is the beginning of the resurrection.

So, when the writer of Revelation looks at the end of this now as a celebration, it is. When he longs for Jesus to come back, he is not being weird. He is living now in the reality of then. He is living now as a citizen of the new creation, so he longs for the day when everything will be made right and all that is wrong will be swept away. He longs for the day when justice comes and the world, every part of it that is messed up and ruined, will be healed. That’s not weird. That’s not wrong. That’s hope. That’s awesome.

But what does it mean to live now as a citizen of then? How can people be channels and signposts of that reality that is coming and will one day blow all our minds? The kingdom of God is coming here on earth and in that day there will be no hunger, so, in this day, we, the agents of renewal, feed people. We find the church in Acts right there, living in that reality and feeding people. There will be no sickness then, so we, the children of God, build hospitals in Kenya now. In that day, there will be plenty and enough, so we give joyfully now to those in need. When the fullness of God’s reign breaks upon the earth, we will be the family of God, so adopting orphans and taking care of widows is what we do now. That’s what we find in James where he is urging people to take care of orphans and widows as the mark of true religion. The early church took the Roman Empire by storm because they cared about the dignity of human life. So, they would bury people who were too poor to afford burial. Instead of just letting the animals eat them, they buried the poor at their own expense. This was something new, something revolutionary. The Roman Empire said that abandoning unwanted babies outside was a legitimate means of getting rid of them. The church sent people out and scoured the city for these abandoned babies and either took them in or buried them if they got there too late.In that day, all of creation will spring to life and rejoice, so we plant trees now and care about our world. In that day, we will see fully the reality of God’s rule, so in this day, we speak truth to power and governments and stand up when they are wrong, like William Wilberforce, who fought for years to end the slave trade in Britain. In that day, all of our tears will be wiped away, so, in this day, we sit and listen and weep with those who have everything swept away by a wave of water, we do what we can to help, and we point to the hope that is here and coming. The Kingdom of our God is breaking in among us and that reality is reaching to heal all the brokenness, addictions, and self-destruction that we put ourselves through, which is why the founders of the Salvation Army would keep preaching while people booed and threw things at them, because they believed that the new creation could happen in the life of a drunk or an addict, even in the middle of a slum. They were servants of a Jesus who was Lord, and they would pray over the heads of their children “Others, others, others.” One day, multitudes from every nation will sing around the throne of God, so, in this day, we cross borders and oceans to show the hope of the Kingdom of God, to call people to repent and be made right and whole, and join in the great renewal of all things. For the chance to share that good news, Christians packed their belongings in coffins and went to Africa expecting to die there. That is how good and important they believed the revelation they saw in Jesus was. This is the work of the church. This is mission. We have a history to embrace and join in with. And, oh!, I want Him to do a new thing here. I want to see him do something beautiful, amazing, something unexpected and hope-creating through you, through me, through the lives here in this room.

I don’t know about you, but that big story of being a part of the kingdom, of gritting your teeth in the face of evil and being a light in the dark, of being a citizen of that new creation sounds really good to me. It sounds a lot better than just getting dusty in my pew every week clutching onto a small and selfish Christianity that is only focused on me and the minimum that I have to do to get to heaven. There is more. There is so much more, and I think that sounds like a good thing. Does it capture your imagination?

I am a missionary, and I believe we need many more missionaries in the world, but I do not expect all of you to become missionaries. The world is broken in so many ways and I do not know how God wants to use each of you to heal His world. However, I know He wants to work in your life and through you. I know He wants to make something new and beautiful out of your life. I know He wants you to be a citizen of His kingdom which is here and coming to set the world right. Do you want to be a part of that? Are you willing to do whatever it takes? Are you willing to find out what breaks the heart of God and care about those things too? If you are, if you really mean it, if you really want this kingdom to come in your life, then I am going to ask you to come up here and stand at the front.

Youth Retreat Session II

So, the theme is “Swept Away.” Now, a person can be physically swept away by a wave or a tornado or a really big broom or something like that, but we can also talk about people being emotionally swept away, right? Someone is in love and they are “swept off their feet.” Sometimes emotions are like that, we get swept away by them. Especially when we are in love, we act differently. We do all those silly things like send notes that say, “do you like me, check yes or no” or give them something extra in their valentine box at school or throw dirt at them on the playground to try to get their attention. We get swept away by love.


Do you ever think about God like that? Does it make sense when people say, “God is love”? Well, they mean something more when they say that than throwing dirt at the person you like on the playground. They are talking about a love which endures and gives of itself to put the needs of the other person first.

However, when you read the Bible, do you see God that way? Many people see Him as this stern person who is crazy about giving out laws and telling people not to do things. They see God as this Darth Vader going “I am your father…(heavy breathing). Don’t make me destroy you.” They see God as this God of rules and lists just waiting to hit them with a lightning bolt and kill them if they mess up too many times. I had a friend of mine in college that told me that, if he was ever about to go too far outside the lines, if he ever was going to do something too wrong, then God would just smite him dead before he even got a chance to do what he was going to do, so then he would get to go to heaven. I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit scary and it doesn’t seem like the world works that way. It seems like there is something else going on.

If God is about love and salvation and redemption and the clearest example of God is through Jesus, then why are there so many rules in the Bible? Why is this God constantly sending prophets to tell people to get back in line? Why doesn’t He just chill out?

If you have your Bibles, open it the book of Psalms, chapter 119. Now, this is a poem, a song, which was very popular among the Israelites. It was so popular that they put it in their 150 greatest hits book and passed it down from memory generation after generation. In this song, there are certain words that are used over and over again, like “law,” “statute,” “decree,” “ways,” “precepts,” “commandments,” “word,” “ordinances.” So, I am going to read and emphasize those words. You follow along and raise your hand when you hear them. (Read).

This is a really long poem, so we will stop there. We can pretty much say that the guy who wrote this really loved God’s law. Why would he do something like that? Why would he like laws and ordinances and rules? Is he just some crazy lawyer or something? It is the longest chapter in the Bible and it is all about commandments and precepts. What is happening here?

(Bring a guy up) So, let’s say there is this girl, right? Let’s say she is funny, she’s a Christian, she has this smile that lights up her face, she is really kind, she’s smart and easy to talk to, and, wow, she’s pretty. Okay? Let’s say she is out there somewhere, but, she would never date you. Nope. Never. Not in a million years. She is waaaaaaaaaay out of your league. No chance, okay? You with me. She’s wonderful, but you are not going to get a date… ever. So, does it matter to you that she likes it when guys wear cowboy hats? Are you going to wear a cowboy hat? No. What does that matter to you? No chance, remember. If you find out she likes the color green, are you going to buy a pair of leprechaun green tennis shoes to wear to school? No. Why would she care? She would never go out with you. Ever. Never, ever. Does it matter to you that her favorite food is spaghetti with meatballs? No. Not at all.

Now, let’s say someone told you that something amazing. Let’s say that you found out that this young lady, who is way, way, way, way out of your league, likes you. Let’s say she loves you. She thinks you are as special, funny, and interesting as you think she is. How about that? What would you do then? Would you ask her to go eat spaghetti and meatballs with you? Yes. Would you get that cowboy hat and those green sneakers? Sure you would. Let’s say you were a smoker. (Not that you are). Let’s say she came up to you and was crying because she found out that you smoked and she is worried that you are going to have lung cancer by the time you are twenty-four and you won’t be able to spend the rest of your life together. Would you stop smoking? If she was that important to you? (Send him back down).

So, use that. Tell me why this song-writer, this poet, who wrote Psalm 119, what does that have to do with love? …. …. …. … We find out that there is this God out there who is not only there, but He loves us. He does not have to love us. He does not need us. He could do better than us, but He loves us. He does not only love us, but He shows His love by working to set the world right. He is not just setting the world right, but He wants heal us, to set us right and have us be a part of what He is doing in the world. This Psalmist is saying that through the things God says, through the commandments that He gives, He is setting things right. Through His laws, we can see that the good God is not willing to let us suffer and destroy ourselves. He is setting the world right. He dies for us to set the world right. He loves us. If we love Him, then the things that He asks are not a burdensome, begrudging, doing something we hate because we have to. If we love Him, then we can find out what He loves and love Him back. Many times in the Bible we find God being described as a heart-broken lover, calling out to His people to come back, come back. Return to me.

What do you think of that? What would your relationship be like if you knew that God loved you and loved God back? What if you were in this relationship with God because of love instead of fear of going to hell?

You see that I have this mirror up here. There was a writer named George MacDonald who wrote a story about a magic mirror. It goes something like this: there was a student, something like a college student who had his own apartment while he was studying. He was not very rich, like many college students, but he liked stuff. So, his bachelor pad was a man-cave. He had a skeleton, a suit of armor, some old swords and battle-axes on the wall, piles of books, a table with a chemistry set and papers spread all over the place, and a mediocre sort of couch. Well, one day, he goes into an antiques store. In that store, there is this big, beautiful mirror with a wooden frame that catches his eye. He looks into the mirror and it is so clear, so perfect that the world on the other side looks almost more real than the world on his side. He does not have much money, so he barters with the antique salesman and gets the mirror. He takes it back and hangs it on his wall.

Something about that mirror is just so captivating that he could sit and stare into it for hours. One day, he was staring into the mirror just as evening came and, all of the sudden, he saw a beautiful lady open the door of his room and walk to the couch. Well, instantly, he turned around to see this lady, but, on his side of the mirror, he was alone. He looked back in the mirror and sees her sitting down on the couch. He turns around and his couch is still empty. He turns back to the mirror and sees her looking around his room. She looks at the skeleton by the couch, the weapons on the wall, shudders, puts her head down in her arms and begins sobbing. This young man does not know what to do. Something is happening on one side of the mirror, but he is stuck on his side. He sits there all night trying to figure out what is going on. His heart breaks as he watches this beautiful lady sobbing and sobbing, then falling asleep on his raggedy couch. Then, when the morning comes, she stands up, walks out the door and leaves.

This young man is beside himself. He cannot tell if he was seeing a ghost or going crazy or what. However, the next day, just as the sun was setting, the same thing happened again. The next day, the same thing happened. He was getting no sleep. He was in agony over the sorrow of this young lady. He was starting to fall in love with her and wanted to do something to help her. So, one day, he started to get rid of those things that scared her, the things she hated so much. He sold his skeleton. He took his axes and swords down off the wall and sold them too. He dusted his room, cleaned up his papers, put the chemistry set away, chased out the spiders and cobwebs, and put some flowers out. The next night when the lady came in, she stopped and looked around the room, gave a half-smile at the flowers, then sat down on his couch and began crying again, but without the shudder that she would used to have. The next day, he pulled his old couch out of the room, sold his suit of armor, and used the money to buy a brand-new, comfortable couch fit for a queen. The smile on her face as she sat down on the couch made his heart beat fast. However, the lady was still sad, so he began searching for what it was that made her sob night after night. He began to search for what was breaking her heart.

There is more to that story, but, I tell it to you to ask you this, is that the sort of love that we have for God? Is that the sort of love that we have for Jesus? Many of us here would say that we invited Jesus into our heart or into our life, but does that mean anything? If there was a magic mirror that you could look into and watch as Jesus walked into your room or your life, would there be things in your life that you know would break his heart? Have you said you are a Christian and that you love Jesus, but left all the ugly skeletons and battle-axes up? You know He does not like the way you make fun of and hurt people around you, but who cares? You know that the pornography on your computer is wrong, but you don’t want to stop. You know you should not steal things, but you really want it. You know you are not living like the Bible says you should be living, but what’s the big deal? Why should I change? Why can’t he just accept things the way they are?

That’s not love. That’s not being swept away by this amazing God who loves you. That’s looking into the magic mirror and just not caring. So, many times we are concerned about doing the minimum possible to get to heaven instead of hell. That’s not love. There is a God who is setting the world right. There is a God who takes our sin and pain and our stupid hatred and our self-destruction on Himself. There is a God who wants to make us new. There is a God who agonizes and cries out to us. There is a God who wants us to join with Him in healing all things. If we looked in the magic mirror and saw this God walk into our life, if we saw Jesus enter the room, the question would not be “What is the minimum I can do to get out of hell?” The question would be, “What can I do to bring joy to this God who loves me?” “What breaks His heart and how can I be a part of fixing that?” “How do I love this Jesus who loves me so much?”

Youth Retreat Session I

So, the theme of this retreat is “swept away.” I did not make up that theme and was told that “swept away” was the theme while I was being asked to speak. It is amazing how much that phrase has been a part of my life over the past few months. You see, I just returned from Japan a few months ago after making a trip up to the area of Japan that was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. I went way up north to a location where the wave came up over the sea wall and washed away people and houses and schools and changed many lives within a matter of minutes. I went to where people were living after losing their homes, jobs, and cars, and listened to them say the word “nagasareta” over and over again. It means “washed away” or “swept away.” One man showed me pictures of the remains of his house. One couple talked about their daughter who got out in the nick of time, but her house was washed away. One man was walking with his eighty-year old mother, holding her hand, and they were suddenly in water up to their chests. He tried to hold on to her hand, but she let go and was swept away. Thousands and thousands of people are living in temporary housing because their homes were swept away by this sudden wall of water. About 18,000 people are dead or still missing.


There were lots of sudden disasters over the past year. We had all kinds of tornadoes and hurricanes, flooding and droughts in the United States. What kind of world do we live in? How can something like this happen? How do 18,000 people get swept away in a matter of minutes? What does it mean? I have heard people talk about it like it means the end of the world is here. Is the end of the world here? I have heard people talk about it like those people died because God was angry at them. Did those 18,000 people die because God was angry?

Do you ever ask questions like that or does stuff like that just happen to other people and have nothing to do with you? I don’t know about you, but 18,000 people dying bothers me. It more than bothers me, it hurts. It hurts a lot. And, you know what? It does not take 18,000 people dying to make me pause. When I was in college, there was one young man in my dorm who died in a motorcycle accident and I struggled with why this happened to him. I asked what kind of world this was where he would disappear like that. How could God let something like that happen? I did not know how to talk with God for a while then and none of the answers people gave me seemed good enough.

So, let’s stop for a moment and be real with each other. The world is MESSED UP. It is not all lollipops and high-fives. Even if you are a Christian you do not get to ride through life on a rainbow unicorn and laugh at all the people who don’t have rainbow unicorns. Straight up. I am just being real with you. We got problems. Some of the happy-happy songs that we sing in church make it seem like having problems means you are not a Christian. False.

Well, what does the Bible say? It says that God made the world good, really good, because God is a good God, a really good God, but then things got MESSED UP. People decided not to follow God over and over and over and over again (in fact every person but one decided not to follow God) and so rejected goodness and life. Then you have a whole bunch of totally messed up people doing awful things in the Bible. Story after story of people killing each other, selling each other as slaves, cursing each other, stealing peoples wives, lying and killing people to cover up stealing other people’s wives, making bad decisions while drunk, having sex with family members while drunk, raping people, vengefully murdering all the people in the town where the rape happened, cutting up a woman and mailing her body-parts across the country, and talk of cutting up babies, smacking babies’ heads against rocks, and eating babies. If you think the Bible is all happy thoughts and angels on clouds, you are going to be very disappointed. The Bible tells it like it is. The world is messed up.

I doubt anyone here would disagree with that statement. We look around and agree that the world is messed up. Something is dreadfully wrong. There are wars, children who die of starvation every day, a guy setting tigers loose in Zanesville, Ohio and then killing himself, human trafficking on Craig’s list, a government launching rockets at its own people in Syria, and we could just keep going on and on. We probably do not have to go that far. In a group this big, I am sure that there are plenty of people here who would say, “Yeah, I am in the middle of a situation that is messed up. I can see that there is something wrong with the world from the way people in my family treat each other or the way people at school are just mean and hurtful.” We probably do not even have to go that far and point fingers at other people. If we were honest, we might be able look inside and say, “The way I treat other people is not right. The things I do are messed up. I have secrets that are dark and I do not want anyone else to see them.”

So, great, right? The world is MESSED UP. What are you supposed to do about it? I mean, great, so there is this problem in the world and it is ripping things apart, it’s ripping us apart, but what are we supposed to do? Well, there are plenty of voices out there telling us what we should do. Some of them say you just have to ignore it. They say, “The world isn’t really messed up, it just seems that way to you. Things are really fine. It’s just the way things are.” However, that voice does not seem very satisfying, because it sure looks like there is a problem when people are killing other people. Some of the voices say that there is nothing you can do about the mess, so you might as well just laugh at it. So, TV shows like Family Guy and South Park laugh at Osama bin Laden or people who molest children or anything else they can make fun of. The world is a mess, they say, so all you can do is laugh at this big, stupid joke we call life. Some voices say that you just have to kill all the bad people. A few more wars and then we will find peace. Some of the voices, not the least in our music, say that, since you cannot defeat the evil, you might as well join it. Be the person who shoots first, the person who sells the drugs; be the person who smashes people’s cars up with a baseball bat, take that Louisville slugger and smash his headlights, get revenge; be the party animal, be the rock star, live in excess and waste; cause chaos. If you cannot beat evil, you might as well be evil.

Do you know what I think of those solutions? I think they are MESSED UP. MESSED UP. The Bible says that is all MESSED UP. Why? Why is that messed up? Because it doesn’t do anything about evil, sin, the problems, or any of the mess. With all of those answers you just end up spreading the pain and hurt and sin and evil around in different ways and causing more pain and hurt for yourself and others in the process.

Is there another way? What does the Bible say? Does the Bible say that this is all a joke or it is all hopeless or we are supposed to just kill off all the bad people? Where is God in all of this? Did He just walk away and leave the world to figure itself out? No. The Bible says that, in the middle of this mess, God started a plan to set the world right. In the beginning, He created people to bear His image, to care for and rule over creation as His representative. People were not supposed to be weak and get sick and die. However, they rebelled against God and they broke themselves and their relationship with God and the creation. It is kinda like this (Creation-Abraham-Jesus skit).

So, in Jesus, God is setting everything that was touched by sin right. Paul says that we are being made into a new creation. However, everything is not yet right, is it? (Rearrange) There are people who are still killing each other and ruining the world and worshiping mountains instead of God. Jesus opened up the way for us to be set right again, but not everyone has accepted that. Things are still messed up, so what is our role? What are we supposed to do? If you have your Bibles, I want you to read with me II Corinthians 5:17-21. (Read).

Paul says that Jesus started something new, a new life. We have a chance to be a part of the new life, to be cured from the sin and mess that is ruining us from the inside out. Somehow, the blessings of God, the healing of God, God’s creative power to start a renewal in us is bursting forth through Jesus. That is not where it ends, though. It is not just about me. God loves the world. Paul says we have work to do. It is bigger than just me getting saved and escaping my problems. We are to be a part of reconciling people to God. When we are made new, we are made new to be a part of the healing of all things. We are agents of the new creation. That does not mean that everything will be easy or there will be simple answers to all of our questions. I do not have all the answers when 18,000 people are swept away by a tsunami. However, I know that God is working to set things right and we can be on His side. We can be friends of God. I know that it does mean that we have a purpose, work to do, and a way to stand up to the evil in the world and be a channel of renewal. Yeah, things are messed up, what are you going to do about it?

So, where are you in all of this? You cannot be a part of the healing of all things or be an ambassador for Jesus if the healing has not started inside of you. Where are you tonight? Is there something broken and wrong inside of you that is ripping you apart? Is there sin in your life that you are keeping secret and do not want to let go of? You do not have to carry that. You can be free tonight if you want to. Maybe you have never heard any of this, but the idea that you could be new and real and be a part of the healing of the creation sounds good and you want to be a part of that. You can do that. We want you to be a part of this renewal of all creation. Maybe you have lived all your life and been a Christian, but that Christianity has been self-centered, all about me, and you never thought that God could do something through you to set the world right. Maybe you want to let God know that you are in this thing with Him, whatever He wants from you. You have a chance to do that tonight. Where are you? Are you part of the mess or part of the hope that is changing the world?

Ski Retreat Messages

These are actually two sessions that I did for the Asbury WGM Center Ski Retreat.  There were illustrations and quotations not included here, but this is the main idea:

Well, tonight, I would like you to help me think through some things. I heard a song on the radio the other day by Brandon Heath called “Leaving Eden.” It caused me to pause. I listened to it again, looked up the lyrics on-line, and then went to his website to try to read through his thoughts. In Brandon Heath’s mind, this song is one part of a larger album, but the radio does not play whole albums in context, it plays one song. So, I wonder what people hear when they listen to this song and why it would be popular by itself. If you do not know the song, I am going to read it to you.




Brandon Heath, “Leaving Eden”

• Songwriters: Brandon Knell, Lee Thomas Miller

Headlines read like a warning, we're under attack

I just waved to a stranger, he didn't wave back

And if it weren't for my TV I wouldn't know what is real

My doctor can't do a thing for how I feel



Feels like I'm leaving Eden

Feels like I'm leaving Eden



People are losing their homes to hurricanes

Old lady living next door forgot her own name

Teacher is hiding her Bible but at least she's got a job

My local Salvation Army just got robbed



Feels like I'm leaving Eden

Feels like I'm leaving Eden

It's like I'm further away with every step I take

And I can't go back 'cause I'm leaving Eden



I'm going, going home

I'm going, going home

There's no place, no place like home

There's no place, no place like home



When you're leaving Eden

When you're leaving Eden

It's like I'm further away with every step I take

And I can't go back 'cause I'm leaving, leaving Eden



So, what does this song mean? What message do you think people are hearing?



What would you say is missing in this song? What does it need?



What do you think of this list of negative things?

 They seem rather weak to me. They seem like safe things to point out.



What does the speaker mean when he ends the song with statements about “going home”? What does that mean? What does it have to do with the problems?



So, when I heard this song on the radio, I was a bit shocked. This song by itself does not sound very right. Sure, there is no cussing and there are Christian words and themes used, but it is missing a lot. It seems to neither face evil squarely, nor give the Christian hope. It sounds like escapism.

Somehow the problems in the world that the speaker talks about and the evidence of the movement away from Eden are correlated with the speaker “going home.” In fact, between each example, there is a voice in the song that says, “One more step away…” So, the worse things get, the closer the speaker gets to “going home.” What sort of message is that? I think it is one that I have heard often from church people. They point to problems in the world, shake their heads, click their tongues and then say, “We are living in the end times, aren’t we? We have to be ready to go.” I have heard that attitude often in my life. Is it right?

The only note of hope within the song is for the speaker. He is going home. Other people are dealing with problems and suffering, but he does not offer any hope in those directions. The only one rescued is the speaker. What are we supposed to do with that? However, I think we can sing along with this song in our cars because the focus of our Christianity has been on exactly the same thing. It has been about me and my salvation first and foremost and “some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.” Does it mean the same thing when someone who is oppressed or in slavery sings “I’ll fly away” as it does when a middle-class, white-kid with a Playstation sings it? Dangerous thoughts.

If I were one of the people who was suffering and I heard someone singing about my problems and then heard the song end with “I’m going home,” I do not think I would say, “Alright, that’s helpful.” I think I would ask, “So, what? Is that all you’ve got? Is that all that your God is worth in the end? You all escape from the earth and then He blows it up and that is supposed to be justice? How is that justice? How does that make things right? What good are you Christians? Your theology just runs away.”

We need to pause there, I think. Have we bought into a weak Christianity? Have we bought into a weak Jesus who only cares about my salvation? Have we inserted our own name into John 3:16 so many times that we actually forget that it says God loves the world? Are we training ourselves and others to be more like Jesus, or are we practicing to become escape artists? Sometimes our view of missions perpetuates this. Sometimes mission groups have ignored issues that are too political or too environmental or too physical (as opposed to “spiritual”). We see the work of the church as evacuation of souls. Is it?

A couple months ago, I was back in Japan and went up to meet and talk with people who lost their homes, jobs, neighborhoods, and family members to the tsunami. I met a man who was holding the hand of his mother when she was washed away. I drank tea with people who lost their homes. I was in places where the bodies of neighbors had washed up on shore. Is there hope to give to these people?

Is Christianity and, by extension, mission about escape, or is it about the renewal of all things that is beginning to break out here and now? Is the goal saving souls, or are saved souls saved for a purpose, something more? Am I the center of the universe, the main player on the stage, or do I have a role in the renewal of all things, the healing of creation, goodness bursting forth? Is the Christian hope pessimism that ends in universal destruction or is it a hope that grows in the middle of adversity, that grits its teeth and claims that “This is my Father’s world” and brings the kingdom in spite of the raging, but conquered, evil around it. Brandon Heath shakes his head at Christian teachers hiding their Bibles, but I thank God that there are Christian teachers renewing the world with their presence. He says that the doctor cannot help how he feels, but the fact that there are accessible doctors and hospitals and nurses is a sign of hope, the legacy of an active Christianity that would not neglect the sick. Mr. Heath is upset that his local Salvation Army got robbed, but the fact that there is a Salvation Army is a bit of the kingdom of heaven breaking into the now. This is not the Salvation Army ski retreat, but they are a strong encouragement to me in what I do and I know that being robbed will not stop them any more than having bricks thrown at their heads ever stopped the founders of the Salvation Army. Sometimes we get so pessimistic that we mistake the signs of hope and new creation that are bursting forth around us. A truly Christian song, a truly Christian mission, a truly Christian theology looks evil in the face and hurts, but ends shining with hope.

If we are really Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God which has come and is coming at the same time. We are agents of the renewal of all things, working hard and rejoicing at the good things that we can see happening now and hoping for the better things that are coming. Genesis begins with a good creation and God making people His agents in that creation. Then people sin, the harmony of creation is broken, and the majority of the Bible is about God working to set things right. Revelation ends with the resurrection of the dead, the renewal of creation, and with God dwelling with us. That is Christian hope. Where is the escape there? Let’s look in our Bibles at Romans 8:18-25. What does Paul say? All of creation is waiting to be set right. It waits for the children of God, who seem to have a part in setting it right. We have the beginning of this renewal, but we are still hoping for the day when all of creation will be set right. We are somehow a part of that. For Paul, the eventual time when our bodies will be redeemed (not discarded or thrown away) is linked with creation being set free from bondage (not discarded or thrown away).

We find that God is setting all things right and our actions are somehow caught up in that setting of all things right. Yes, we are saved and that is important, because we cannot otherwise join God in the renewal of all things if we are not set right, but it cannot stop at me. We are made new so that we can be channels of this new-making. That is where mission fits. That is why we do not wish that we could pull out a gun and shoot people after they got saved (as I have heard some preachers suggest) as if there is nothing more but to escape. We are saved for purposes beyond ourselves. Too much of the world is broken for us to go on ignoring it. Jesus spent His life in ministry bringing healing, why would we do any less? We get to join in the renewal of the world.

We need to tell each other stories and sing songs and write poems and preach sermons and paint paintings that show this. The kingdom of God is coming here on earth and in that day there will be no hunger, so, in this day, we, the agents of renewal, feed people. There will be no sickness then, so we, the children of God, build hospitals in Kenya now. In that day, there will be plenty and enough, so we give joyfully now to those in need. When the fullness of God’s reign breaks upon the earth, we will be the family of God, so adopting orphans and taking care of widows is what we do now. In that day, all of creation will spring to life and rejoice, so we plant trees now and care about our world. In that day, we will see fully the reality of God’s rule, so in this day, we speak truth to power and governments and stand up when they are wrong, like William Wilberforce. In that day, all of our tears will be wiped away, so, in this day, we sit and listen and weep with those who have everything swept away by a wave of water, we do what we can to help, and we point to the hope that is here and coming. One day, multitudes from every nation will sing around the throne of God, so, in this day, we cross borders and oceans to show the hope of the Kingdom of God, to call people to repent and be made right and whole, and join in the great renewal of all things. This is the work of the church. This is mission.

If we are Christians, the question is not, “What is the minimum that I have to do in order to go someplace good when I die?” or “has God called me to be a part of what he is doing?” (He has called you to be a part), but “How will I join in what God is doing? How will I join in the renewal of all things?” How will you join in? We still have work to do and there is no escape.





II. Outside Voices





So, last night, I rambled on and on about how the redemption of God and the work of the
church is really about God working through us for others and for all of creation. I said that seeing redemption as simply about me or my group and discounting others is wrong. I also hinted that there is a cosmic and environmental aspect to this redemption and that our point of view is not complete unless we see our task through that lens. Well, today, I would like to ask the question of what the big deal is. Why does it matter if our theology is broad enough in scope? Sure, maybe the generations before me had a narrow point of view, but they did not go to hell because they had a narrow point of view, right? So, Zach, why do we have to work so hard and think about things like this? If God is going to put things totally right in the end, what is the point of cleaning up litter in a park or feeding hungry people or getting medicine to sick people? People keep getting sick, they keep getting hungry, and they keep throwing litter in the park. Why isn’t escapism good enough?

Well, to start off with, let’s read some more from Romans. Romans 1:20-23. (Read) What is Paul saying here? He is talking about all of us who did not have the revelation that the descendents of Abraham did. He is talking about Gentiles who create and worship idols. He says that truth about God has been evident in creation, but that people did not follow that truth back to God and ended up worshipping the creature instead of the Creator. Paul encounters other religions and claims that their search for truth took a wrong turn somewhere. Paul seems to be willing to enter into conversation with other religions, recognize that there are roots of truth to be engaged, while pointing toward the clearest revelation of God, Jesus.

Okay, let’s keep Paul in the back of our minds, and I am going to read something else. Last night was a song, but this is more of a prayer:



May I be a protector to those without protection,

A leader for those who journey,

And a boat, a bridge, a passage

For those desiring the further shore.



May the pain of every living creature

Be completely cleared away.

May I be the doctor and the medicine

And may I be the nurse

For all sick beings in the world

Until everyone is healed.



Just like space

And the great elements such as earth,

May I always support the life

Of all the boundless creatures.



And until they pass away from pain

May I also be the source of life

For all the realms of varied beings

That reach unto the ends of space.



(Don’t read yet) a guide to the bodhisattva's way of life – shantideva



What do you think of that? Who do you think wrote it? What is it about?



If you were to compare it with last night’s song, do you find it more satisfying or less satisfying? Why?



This is a Buddhist writing. It is a guide to the bodhisattva’s way of life. Does anyone know what a bodhisattva is in Buddhism? He or she is a person who reaches enlightenment and chooses to become a Buddha in order to help all the creatures that have not yet reached enlightenment attain it and alleviate the suffering of the world.

Now, if you are a missionary in a Buddhist country or you just have a Buddhist friend, how big does the scope of your Christianity have to be in order to really engage in a conversation with something like that? I think your Christianity needs to be big in scope and well thought through. Is escapism going to cut it at this point, or will it look like a sham? Is there a root of truth here that might even hold a mirror up to what we have called Christianity? Can you engage someone who prays earnestly to relieve the suffering of all creatures with a Christianity that sits on its hands when it comes to any issue beyond “spiritual” issues? Can you engage that point of view with an imperialistic, pro-consumerism, pro-exploitation Christianity? I don’t think you can. I think there are many types of Christianity running around in the United States that would not be able to stand a friendly conversation with Buddhism.

I worked for two years as a missionary in a country with a massive Buddhist presence. Have I gone Buddhist and lost my Christianity in Buddhist thought? No. There is some truth in Buddhism and it can be helpful to engage in conversations with Buddhism, but that does not mean the full revelation of God is to be found there. The full revelation of God is Jesus. Through Jesus, God is doing a new thing here and now among us. If we really grab a hold of the amazing thing God is doing, the renewal of creation that is coming, that we are agents of, then even this Buddhist perspective would look like escapism. Escaping the continuous cycles of rebirth does not deal with the problem of evil, which is why Buddhism has to deny that there really is evil. Everything is one. On the other hand, we have a God who is engaging the evil in creation and working to make things right in us and through us and will bring redemption, judgment, and justice to all of creation. I do not have to add anything to Christianity to come to this conclusion. It is there in the Bible, if we are willing to engage it.

I asked at the beginning why a small scale redemption that focuses on me and my salvation is not enough. Why is it not enough to just forget about feeding people and stopping sex trafficking and let big businesses rip through whatever natural resources they want to, and just focus on saving souls? I think, by now, you can see where I am going. Every evangelical Christian group wants to talk about how important it is to have a good witness, right? This usually involves some sort of witness for Jesus to the world (and many times involves more talk than action). However, what sort of witness is it when we do not give the full beautiful picture of a God who is redeeming all of creation and instead make it all about my salvation and going to heaven when I die? There is more than that. That is not the end. Other religions have enough truth to know that that cannot be the entire story, and there is more. There is God affirming the physical creation as good. There is the resurrection of the dead. There is creation being made new. There is God coming to dwell here. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. There has to be more, and there is, if we are willing to claim it as our own.

If you want to see people in Japan become Christians, then we have to be the agents of renewal that we were meant to be. We have to be beginnings of the Kingdom that is here and is coming. We have to be active citizens of that Kingdom. When I engage in a conversation with a Buddhist person in Japan, it would be much easier if I could point to a vibrant church that is exploding with life and hope that transforms the world around it in every way. It would be easier if I could point to a church which is living the big picture of joining in the work of God and being channels through which He is setting the world right. That sort of church would be beacon to the goodness and life in Jesus that is unstoppable and beautiful and winsome here and now while declaring the coming day of full justice and healing. If you can see that, but still want to live a me, me, me Christianity focused on my soul getting into heaven, I do not know what else to say. You are not the only soloist in this symphony; you are not the only dancer in this ballet; you are not the last word in the story, and that is a good thing. There is more.

N.T. Wright wrote an essay called “Jesus is coming – plant a tree.” In it, he says this: (Read). What do you think of that? That sounds like something very good to me. That sounds like a view of what is coming that I can reach for, that I can be a part of. If our theology is something where we say, “Yes, taking care of the environment is a good thing so we will tack it on the outside somewhere and say we have to be good stewards,” then our framework probably is not big enough. If doing good things in the world always ends up as bait for conversion, then we are probably missing the big picture. Yes, God wants to rescue us from our brokenness, but he is also wants us to be a part of renewing the world. In Christ we are new creations and, in Revelation, the voice of God says “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Why do I care so much about this? I have a cousin who believed that there was nothing more to dig into in Christianity, who saw the farce of self-centered, “I’ll fly away,” Left Behind theology and walked away from it. I have a friend who could not see the beauty of what Jesus is doing in the world anymore and walked away. If you accept less than the whole picture of what God is doing in the world, someday what you think is Christianity may not be enough. It may have no answers when you need it to. My wife recently had lunch with a Japanese lady here in the United States who was angry at Christians and saw my wife’s friendship as nothing more than bait in a trap of becoming a Christian. That was her idea of Christians – people who show up and do nice things because they have an agenda. We have to do better than that. Not digging deep and just accepting the status quo is not good enough. We need people who have a beautiful, honest to goodness, no traps, no bait, full and complete message of Good News. I need you to help me in this. The kingdom of God is at hand, what are we going to do?

Revolution Message

Today, I would like to talk a little more broadly about mission, who we are as a church, and what God is doing through us.




Philemon 15-21



Now, to give a little background, this is a letter by Paul the apostle, a missionary, to this man named Philemon, a church member and the owner of a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus has run away, apparently met Paul in that process, became a Christian, and is being sent back to Philemon. So, Paul is sending a letter to Philemon to make things right.



(read)



Does that passage shock you? Does it make you angry? Does it shake the framework through which you see the world? I do not hear many sermons on Philemon. Maybe people find it too specific. There are not many of Paul’s gigantic “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” moments here. Some people look at this and wonder why Paul does not just stand up and say owning slaves is wrong? Why is he so friendly with a slave owner? Maybe Paul sounds too weak here.

Let’s get a little more background, then. This is the Roman Empire. This is a place where the voices of the people and messages that are broadcast say “Caesar is Lord” “Rome is eternal” “The gods are on the side of Rome” “Peace comes by conquest” “The Roman soldiers bring peace wherever they go” “Food and entertainment are all people need to be kept happy (and easily controlled)” “Slavery is the way the system works” “Some are born to lead and some are born to be human tools” “Oppression is the status quo.” If you did not believe these things, well, you’re wrong. You’re on the outside. There is no Christian majority. There are temples to Caesar, Zeus, Athena, etc. in every city, not church steeples.

If that is the world that this letter is written in, is it shocking now? Is this a revolution? Paul begins this letter like many of his letters by declaring Jesus as “Lord” and he ends this letter that way. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not. Do you feel the earth shake when you read “Lord Jesus”? Paul is striking at the foundation of the empire through his letters. He is writing this letter while sitting in prison and still he is declaring that Jesus is Lord.

So, we go back and read 15-21 and remember that this is written by Paul on behalf of a slave, a human implement, property. Even more, this is a runaway slave, a criminal worthy of punishment. It is here that we find Paul calling Onesimus a beloved brother and asking for a welcome worthy of Paul for Onesimus. Do you see what is happening here? There is something revolutionary going on. It is revolutionary because the voices and messages swirling around in the Roman media were nothing like this. If Philemon was not angry when he got this letter or if it did not stick in his craw, then Philemon was a saint. This is Paul putting into action his idea that, if Jesus really is Lord, then in Jesus there is no Jew or Greek, there is no man or woman, there is no slave or free. All are united in Jesus the Messiah. Those were not just words to Paul. Paul meant what he was saying and he was willing to put his money where his mouth was and stand up for a nobody; a runaway slave. He was willing to take a risk in order to turn the world right-side up. That’s astounding. That’s the beginning of something new. That’s revolutionary.

Revolution seems like it is popular once again in the world. We have the Arab Spring going on in many of the Middle East nations. We have the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to other cities and other parts of the world. There were people in Russia who came out to demand proper electoral process and transparency from Putin. It is hard to say, though, what people hear when a word like revolution gets thrown around. It is hard to tell whether people hear a good thing or a bad thing. However, I would like to reflect with you today on the nature of the church, the nature of the church’s mission in the world, and this revolution called Christianity.

I lived and worked in Japan for two years. Japan is a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian. There are not churches on every other street corner. In fact, there are villages, towns, and cities where there are still no Christian churches. Most of the churches are very small. So, this is a place where people outside the church do not understand what Christianity is. They would not darken a church door because it just doesn’t have anything to do with them. Here in the US, people assume that everybody knows something about Christians, even if you are not a Christian. There being a Christian is an oddity. Buddhism and Shinto are the norms.

As I was around Japanese Christians, I began to understand what it means to follow Jesus when that can put you at odds with family, friends, and co-workers. We are so individualistic here that it is hard to imagine the pressure a Christian feels in a group oriented society where being a Christian puts you at odds with generations and generations of tradition. Many of these Christians had to really dig in and stand up to the culture around them in order to be a Christian. My mother-in-law’s parents threatened to cut her off from the family when she became a Christian.

Sometimes Christians in Japan would look to the United States as a “Christian nation” and an example of what they were supposed to do. I would be asked how people do this or that in the United States. People would proudly say that their family has been Christian for two or three generations and then find it amazing that I did not know how many generations my family has been Christian. Questions would come about how we do church or youth group in the US.

When questions like that come, it makes you look at the state of the place you came from. I wanted to say, “No, please, do not look to us as an example. Don’t look at the United States.” I wonder what a Japanese person would see when they look at the church in the US. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are and have been many good things about Christians in the US, the church is doing good things, but, after two years of traveling in and out of churches and camp-meetings while raising support and listening to radio and television preachers, I have to admit that there are some very lame versions of Christianity out there. After listening for two years, my heart breaks for the church in the United States. It breaks because so many of us have no vision for what it means to be the church. I do not think we are being the revolution we were meant to be.

We can fill up stadiums with smiling people in dresses, ties, or polo shirts on Sunday, but are we having the impact that we could? Does it mean anything? Is church just some place I check in every week because I have to? Does being a Christian shake any of the frameworks and structures around us? Does it call into question the messages that we hear all around us that “My Job is Lord” or “Money is Lord” or “National Security is Lord” or “My Entertainment is Lord” or “Sex is Lord” or “I am Lord.” There are some messages coming from churches that sound more like “I am Lord” than “Jesus is Lord,” because they are all about how God will bless me, how I can get saved from hell, and it does not go much further than that. A me-centered theology is not good enough. A theology that is focused on my prosperity does not put Jesus at the center and is too small. It is not enough. I do not want the Japanese to get a hold of something like that and mistake it for the real thing. There has to be more than that. There has to be. There is more than that.

Jesus is Lord. The kingdom of God is breaking in among us and in us and through us. We are part of a new thing that God is doing in the world. He is rescuing and redeeming His creation from the touch of sin and we can join with Him. We can be agents of the Kingdom of God. We can be citizens now of the reality that will one day break fully upon us but is bursting through the darkness and powers and lies of the current times. We have purpose and hope and work to do here and now. There is no room for a be-good-and-wait-until-you-die Christianity. This unshakeable kingdom that we are receiving, as Hebrews says, is far more beautiful, splendid, life-changing, winsome, hope-filled, and joyful than that. It demands daring, dreaming, loving, believing, writing poems, painting paintings, eating meals together and sharing, sharing with anybody who wants it.

Jesus is Lord, so the Apostle Paul’s relationship with a runaway slave is transformed, even at the risk of his relationship with Philemon. Paul, though, trusts that Philemon is enough of a part of this revolution with him that Philemon himself can also be transformed. They pushed each other to be more and more examples and signposts of the reality of the Kingdom of God that is coming, but is also being set loose among us. We know that in the day the Kingdom of God breaks fully upon us, there will be no more hunger, so we find the church in Acts living in that reality and feeding people. That is why it is beautiful and fully Christian when a church like this partners with ministries like Refuge of Hope here and now, today. We know that in that day we will all be one family and we will not be alone, so in James we find him urging people to take care of orphans and widows. So, it is part of the new creation when a couple that I know here in the area decides to adopt a child from Haiti and another couple we know adopts and rescues children from the terrible orphanage system in Albania. That is real. The early church took the Roman Empire by storm because they cared about the dignity of human life. So, they would bury people who were too poor to afford burial. Instead of just letting the animals eat them, they buried the poor at their own expense. This was something new, something revolutionary. The Roman Empire said that abandoning unwanted babies outside was a legitimate means of getting rid of them. The church sent people out and scoured the city for these abandoned babies and either took them in or buried them if they got there too late. Some people thought Mother Teresa was just being idealistic when she spoke out against abortion and said, “Please give me the child” that you want to abort, but she was actually standing in line with a church that once did things like that.

Jesus is Lord and the church has experienced so much goodness from that message that they decided that it was not enough for God to save me and us to the exclusion of them, the people who have not yet encountered this new and life-giving reality. So, they crossed mountains and borders and oceans because Jesus is Lord. Jews, Greeks, Italians, Celts, Moravians, British, Americans, Koreans, and Kenyans all moved to welcome those who have not yet heard the truly good news that the arms of the family of God are open and in Jesus there is no Jew or Greek or Italian or Celt or Moravian, or British or American or Korean or Kenyan, there are brothers and sisters who have no separating boundary and the world is being made new. For the chance to share that good news, Christians packed their belongings in coffins and went to Africa expecting to die there. That is how good and important they believed the revelation they saw in Jesus was. We still believe the Good News is that good, so we still send missionaries to places like Japan where there is so much hopelessness and 30,000 people commit suicide every year, because we believe we have hope to share in the message that Jesus is Lord.

Jesus is Lord and that reality is reaching to heal all the brokenness, addictions, and self-destruction that we put ourselves through, which is why the founders of the Salvation Army would keep preaching while people booed and threw things at them, because they believed that the new creation could happen in the life of a drunk or an addict, even in the middle of a slum. They were looking for brothers and sisters. They were servants of a Jesus who was Lord, and they would pray over the heads of their children “Others, others, others.”

If Jesus is Lord and there is no slave or free, but sisters and brothers, then something new happens. That reality is what William Wilberforce clutched tightly to as he struggled and fought for years and years and years to end the slave trade in Britain. Something new happens like Underground Railroads and church services where people get saved and then signed up to be abolitionists. The status quo was not good enough. “Oppression is the way the system works” was not good enough. There had to be more and these people wanted to be a part of that more. This is not a revolution that is about killing off the oppressor, though. It is about transforming Philemon and Onesimus, so Martin Luther King Jr. was able to lead people in marches in the face of dogs, fire-hoses, and violence without resorting to violence. It was about everyone being transformed, everyone being rescued from hate and violence. Something new, something beautiful, something revolutionary happened there. And, oh!, I want Him to do a new thing here. This is what the church is about. This is where mission fits. We have a history to embrace and join in with.

I know that every one of those examples there were people who went to church every week and could not see that Christianity was anything more than me or maybe me and my family escaping hell and going to heaven when death comes. There were people who sat there, grew dusty in their pew, and totally missed the idea that God might want to do something new through them and their church to bring healing to the world. So, they disapproved of missionaries and disapproved of abolitionists, and made sure feeding people and visiting prisons stayed somewhere on the outside edges of what it really means to be a Christian. Then they passed their tiny version of a god who cares about me, me, me on to their children. So we end up with churches filled with thousands of people who believe Christianity is about smiling more, instead of being people who grit their teeth in the face of the mess that the world is in and get their hands dirty, because they are agents of a kingdom that is coming on earth as it is in heaven; an unshakeable kingdom that shakes the foundations of any other that would claim lordship.

I want that unshakeable kingdom. I do not want the weak version anymore. It is not enough. I want to be a part of that meaty, inspiring, complex, mind-blowing story where God is rescuing everything that is touched and twisted by sin. I do not want God to just do something in me; I want to be available for God to do something through me. Are you with me? I need you to be with me. When the Japanese ask me about their brothers and sisters in the United States, I want to be able to point to churches here with their sleeves up, churches that understand who they are and what the reality of Jesus means here and now. I want to be able to point to churches that are renewing the world around them in the power of the Holy Spirit and bursting with life. Is that you? Is that this church? Maybe I am just preaching to the choir. Maybe you have this down. I hope so.

Many times I have given messages in churches that end with a plea for people to help support us in Japan or a call for people to become missionaries. However, I feel like many of the people leave saying, “Well, that was nice, but God is not calling me to Japan, so this doesn’t really have anything to do with me.” I am not going to let you off that easy today. If you are a Christian, God is calling you into to be a part of what He is doing. The world is too broken for us to just wait until the right missionary comes along to do anything. We are the church. Mission is our life-blood. We serve the good God who came searching for us, so we go out searching. Where is God challenging you? You are making God-resolutions for 2012, what can He do through you this year? Does someone need you to bake them a pie this week? Do you need to prayerfully and financially partner with a missionary somewhere in the world? Do you need to invite someone outside your family to come eat a meal with you? Do you need to say, “I’m sorry” to someone today? Can you lend someone a car and a suit so they can get a job? Do you need to watch how you spend your money so you can give to causes like stopping sex trafficking or helping children whose hands and feet were blown off by landmines? Do you need to be more careful how you spend your time watching T.V. so that there is time for others and for writing letters and for listening? Is God breaking your heart for orphans or the hungry or those in prison? How will you join your brothers and sisters in this work? How will your life declare that Jesus is Lord when you come to the end? You have a place in this story. You have a place in this new creation… if you want it. Do you want it?

Dear Lord Jesus, challenge us. Unsettle us. Keep us awake at night. Break our hearts with the needs and pain that we pass over and ignore so easily. Please don’t bless us with money, or power, or health so that we can waste it all on ourselves. Teach us to be givers and lovers and neighbors and brothers and sisters. Teach us to be agents of your Kingdom. You are Lord, amen.