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“If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid a foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.” (Luke 6:48 Message)
Jesus said, “These words I speak to you are not merely additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.” (Luke 6:47 Message)
Sounds pretty important to me
But what was Jesus referring to exactly? What are we building and why?
Jesus was wrapping up his Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes, the DNA of the Kingdom of God, and the Lord’s Prayer, instruction on how to appeal to God for his help in fulfilling his mission in the earth. Jesus was a carpenter by trade; he used the metaphor of building to get his point across. His sermon was kind of like a builder’s “shop-talk” for the large crowd that gathered to listen to him in Galilee.
Do you find it interesting that the crowds that gathered around Jesus were often too big for the buildings of his day? On one occasion when Jesus did gather people in a house, a few determined men who sought healing for their paralytic friend “removed some tiles” from the roof, and “let him down in the middle of everyone.” (Luke 5:18 Message) Of course, Jesus healed the man because he and his friends had great faith.
The Building Process: Internal and External
Imagine walking through the trailer on the site of a major new building project. On the wall is a chart showing all the various tasks for each of the contractors. Jesus sermon was about all the tasks and tools used to build our lives, our families, our communities, and our nations. He was speaking of how to build a community which would soon be called the “Church.”
Jesus was teaching his audience about the tools of the kingdom, how to love enemies, how to be merciful, giving, forgiving, and not-judging. He said, “Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (v.42) He spoke of the organic nature of the kingdom when he spoke about fruit-bearing, “your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (v.45) It appears the “building” Jesus is referring to is NOT a place of worship; it’s a people of worship.
Who is doing the building?
Neil Cole, in his book “Organic Church” asks: “Do you trust laymen on their own?”
Look again at what Jesus said: “If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter …” Sounds like Jesus intends for “you” to be the builder.
Unfortunately down through the ages spiritual authorities, whether they are Pharisees or modern ministers, have too often failed to trust God’s people to “build”.
Roland Allen‘s important book focuses on the fact that Paul’s missionary activity was church planting and that he quickly turned over leadership to the “builders.” Without exception, all the churches that Paul planted in the gentile world were left alone; and, in every case, God’s people managed to survive and express Christ and His church. Certainly, Paul’s missionary work produced what we call “New Testament churches.”
Paul’s “New Testament churches” seem to be different than ours. Our concept of New Testament Church keeps coming up with a “senior” pastor and a passive and mute laity. Paul’s method was to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” which is to proclaim Jesus is Lord in every family, every community, sphere of society and every nation.
A Changing World
Today’s world is very different than the Paul’s world, but let’s look at the similarities. The first century was dominated by a single world power, Rome. Today’s world also has a single world power. At the same time, the Roman world was culturally diverse, pluralist. And today, when you visit any major city, university, or shopping mall, you will see and hear people from many cultures. In fact, there has never been a time in history like the first century quite like there is today.
And yet, the world is vastly different from the first century and any other time in history. Within the past few years, the demographic center of the Christian world has shifted from the North and West to the South and East. The new Majority Church is in the Global South. The accessibility to information technologies is rapidly changing the world, including the Arab world and China. It appears the pressures caused by the flow of information among the people in the Arab world will effectively change Middle Eastern nations and their primary business models. OPEC will likely face pressures and break up, releasing a more market-based system. Those nations will likely shift from economies based on a single product, crude oil, to a market-based economy. That change will likely also open the way for alternative energy sources; a change that is too restrictive now due to our dependence on foreign oil.
The emerging generation has more access to information and connection with “friends” than any previous generation. Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat helped frame the significance of these changes. Friedman’s book was out before the emergence of FaceBook. If Facebook were a country, the number of people on that one social media tool would be one of the five most populated nations on earth. It is second nature for most people today to collaborate for social change. This change alone will affect every modern institution including churches. The effect of these major socio-political, economic, and demographic shifts is “like a flood.”
Like no other time in history is it necessary to build on a solid foundation in obedience to Jesus. Building the people of God to do the work of God everywhere. We must trust God’s people to be the priesthood to proclaim the good news by every means, inside the domain of church ministries and outside that domain. If we do follow Jesus’ instruction and Paul’s method, what is built will be “build to last.”
Wikipedia strongly espouses verifiability and a neutral point of view, but critics of Wikipedia accuse it of “systemic bias and inconsistencies”. They say “favoring consensus over credentials gives undue weight to popular culture” in its editorial processes.
From a vantage point of a missionary, I see an important similarity here to the argument that laity, those lacking credentials from a church denomination or seminary, have no business leading a church plant or Missional community. The argument goes like this: “Those untrained leaders could lead their people into heresy or false doctrine.” That was a major concern of the early church.
If reliability and accuracy are really the issue, and not the status of “experts,” then it’s worth noting that “an investigation in Nature (scientific journal) found that the science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopedia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”.” In this Nature article, Alex Bateman and Darren W. Logan write:
“Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a free collaborative website, written and maintained by volunteers, would dominate the global provision of knowledge.”
So then, should an “untrained” leader draw together a group of Christ’s followers and attempt to demonstrate and declare the gospel of Jesus by making disciples from within their specific people group, their neighborhood, workplace, or school? Could such a group represent an authentic church gathering?
For centuries leadership of churches has been left to “experts”, those with credentials, degrees, and funny hats. Concern for this issue was pronounced during the recent post-colonial period, after WWII, when newly independent nations opened the opportunity for multiplied thousands of new independent churches which resulted in the greatest expansion of christianity in history, especially the Global South (see Inter-Varsity article). Many attempts to train the multitudes of new church leaders in Africa and China, through programs based mostly in the West, such as TEE (Theological Education by Extension), could not keep up the pace of church growth at the end of the 20th century. At issue: what would come of these “younger” churches? Would they slip into heresy and error?
Perhaps a little humility is required as we respond to these questions. The church in the West has not been without error, despite her theological “maturity.” The early church had error, the Medieval church had error, and the Protestant church has had error. Some error is difficult to perceive from a purely Western mindset. What could be wrong with promoting individual choices for Christ, reducing the gospel message to “three steps” or “four laws”? Well, getting “saved” for heaven is not the kingdom message Jesus preached. And it’s not the gospel message Paul preached. Salvation is much more comprehensive, and not just a private decision. The West has exported this erroneous gospel message through the modern missionary enterprise for more than a century.
Examining the laundry list of error in Western theology would require several other posts, so let’s just humble ourselves long enough to accept our brothers and sisters in the now Majority church of the Global South, not as immature “younger” churches, but as full fledged churches.
Like the world of Wikipedia, we now live in a new, “flat” and globalized world (See Thomas Friedman’s popular book, ‘The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century’), where information, correction of error and validation of facts now spread instantaneously around the world. Whether we are ready or not, it is time to consider our ways, to search the Scriptures for understanding the way to reach our new world.
Jesus did not make it complicated and neither should we. It is simple to experience community with those you already have an affinity, a similar culture. People who already share interest and time together are more likely to worship together and work together on a mission of Kingdom expansion.
This is the approach to missions and church planting in India put forth in the 1930s by Donald McGavran, the late missionary statesman who coined “Homogenous Unit Principle“, groups which can be a culture or language, a tribe or caste, a clan or geographical unit. McGavran was studied church growth, proposing a church which is not sending mission so much as it is itself sent. With so many different cultures in India, McGavran saw the need to encourage many cultural expressions of church. The different people groups should not be forced into one church cultural mold, like your neighborhood mega-church. Could it be that McGavran’s approach would also now be appropriate for churches in the Western world?
Lesslie Newbigin, another great missionary statesman, spent over 30 years living as a missionary working with the Church of South India. When he returned to England, Newbigin noticed something: the Western world had become as pluralistic as India, with new “faith” in materialism. (See Newbigin’s book: The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.) The West, especially Europe with the USA not far behind, had already lost much of its “Christian” heritage. Once vital Church structures in England are now nightclubs with names like “Ministry of Sin.” Newbigin saw the need to not only continue to send missionaries around the world, but also to receive missionaries to re-evangelize the post-Christian West. He suggested the formation and structure of Western churches require a new reformation in order to reach our Western society with the gospel. He and many of the leaders in world missions today, contend that the Church in the West must again become primarily a missions station sponsoring Missional communities among the people groups in our cities. The Anglican Church is championing “Fresh Expressions” of church formation for the communities in which it has been established for many hundreds of years.
What am I proposing? Three things:
- First, I propose we learn humility, perhaps unlike or feeble attempts to humble ourselves in religious services, temporarily weeping at the altar and then returning to our comfortable lives behind our TVs, in our over-sized houses, and compressed lifestyles. We must humble ourselves, relinquishing our supposed rights to power, privilege, and too often prestige.
- Second, like Wikipedia, we should learn to trust every believer to gain access, participate, and contribute to theological conversations. We should trust those with a desire to be a witness to their community.
- Third, we should flatten our church hierarchies, eliminate the exclusivity of church “membership”, and commission believers to “go” into their world to plant simple church communities.
Imagine if Jesus could once again become the main focus of conversations and life in your neighborhood, your workplace, and on a your campus, perhaps it would also be possible for the message and works of Jesus to fill an entire city. No, I am not suggesting we merely “unite” churches (which tend to be organized in a competitive business model anyway). Unity is not something we create, it is something the apostle Paul exhorts us to “preserve”.
This vision for a new church-planting movement in our neighborhoods could only be realized if everyday believers, people like you and me, choose to go on mission in our sphere of influence, planting the church where you are through non-formal gatherings in homes, workplaces, and campus dorms. Of course, those with the status as “experts” may resist this missional movement for various reasons. But I am confident that the leaders whose hearts belong to Jesus will cheer ANY effort to reach our world with the good news.
The hard part is this: We have to renew our thinking, repent of our fixed cultural habits, and begin to walk worthy of this calling. Church is not just something you attend…it’s something you are. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you; that’s true of every believer. The good news is within us.
We need break our individualistic mindset in order to see our world is not just one big community of individuals. It is hundreds of people groups, small communities put together to make up your city.
So I am proposing ‘simple churches’ or missional communities to be formed by two or more believers among these people groups. Missional communities are incarnational in that they arise out of and focus on the communities they desire to reach. Imagine multitudes of new small groups of believers in Chicago, LA, and New York, and in university campuses, businesses and suburbs in your area… Leaders need to find courage to once again be the church and release a new generation of churches in their most localized and organic form. This is what I propose: Form simple churches that are “Wiki-Missional.”
Dave Fitch, Life on the Vine in Chicago area, writes…
“attractional and missional churches are such because they have divergent understandings of basic Christian doctrines. What we need is a theologically robust understanding [of] the relationship between the the Missio Dei [God's Mission], the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the Church. This will lead us not to the ‘best’ of these two models, but to a cohesive vision of a missional ecclesiology. This is the great error of ‘AND’ thinking; you never get to core issues because you spend all your time trying to artificially hold incompatible things together.”
Fitch is right. Simply trying to do both Missional and Attractional forms of Church will not work. We need a little perspective to understand and communicate a “cohesive vision of a missional ecclesiology”.
As a mobilizer for missions these past 25 years, my attention has always been directed toward Missio Dei, or God’s Mission, not to be misunderstood with “missions,” which is traditionally understood to be the Church’s missionary activity or a department of the institutional Church of the West. Consistent with a vision for God’s overarching Mission in the world, my part has been to work with university students, helping them grasp the love of God and global neighbor through obedience to God’s calling. My hope remains that if a sufficient movement of students engage with God in his Mission, a significant reform of higher education must follow.
That hope for the reform of higher education is only part of God’s Mission. Another reform is necessary. As my understanding of God’s work in human history has grown, my attention has become focused on reforming the Church, especially in the Western world, where christendom has been the established norm and expectation.
My missional journey began in 1982 when I was embraced by the members of Christian Community Church in Kinderhook, NY, a small community that worships in a renovated barn called “Solomon’s Porch” and celebrates community and mission as a lifestyle. The team leadership, led by George Isley (my spiritual father in the faith), the warm hospitality, and the commitment to listen and cooperate with God’s Spirit at Solomon’s Porch are the characteristics of community that have sustained me as a “sent one” in a wider world of mission mobilization with Youth With A Mission and the Student Mobilization Centre.
In recent years I completed a MA in Global Leadership at Fuller Seminary. That reflective period of study coupled with my extensive travels around the globe has deepened and widened my appreciation for what God is doing on planet earth. Many of you may know that the Majority Church is no longer in Europe and the USA. The Majority Church is outside the West; it’s the Global South, including Africa, Latin America, and much of East Asia. Not only is the Church larger in numbers, the Church of the Global South (see article from Lausanne Congress) is also now sending more missionaries than Western nations. Thanks to Lesslie Newbigin and David J. Bosch, (including Bosch’s book Transforming Mission, which I am currently re-reading) my understanding, and the understanding of most of the Church’s leaders around the globe, has shifted.
That paradigm shift in understanding is evident in the many African churches that are now sending missionaries to Europe and the USA. The fastest growing churches in Europe are led by Africans. Back to Jerusalem, a growing movement taking the gospel from China through Central Asia and back to Israel, has emerged out of the Chinese house church movement, where there is an estimated 100 million believers today. Like my brothers and sisters in the Global South, I now see the Western world, especially Europe but also the USA, is a key mission field. The need for reforming our understanding and practice of Church in our Western context is quite urgent.
In fact, I believe the call for reform today is greater than at the time of the Protestant Reformation, which began 500 years ago with Martin Luther’s appeal when he nailed 95 complaints against the established church on a university bulletin board, the Wittenburg Door. Reform today should, in my view, re-emphasize scripture, faith, and the grace of God. However, reform in our day should not be a re-instatement of a 16th century Western understanding of scripture. Instead, we would do well to be faithful to the scriptures by digging deeper. We should explore more thoroughly the authors of the New Testament texts, their backgrounds and understanding of words they introduced, such as Paul’s use of the word “Justification.” We would do well to pay attention to the “New Perspectives on Paul”, including N.T. Wright’s pursuit of a more faithful understanding of Jesus and the gospel Paul preached, and not only a 16th century European take on Jesus and Paul.
The current reform of the Church should not be merely structural, replacing the altar with the pulpit as in the Protestant Reformation. Neither should it be the putting on of a new image, a new marketing scheme, so often associated with Western “success” stories. Reform will require a recalibration of our spiritual and cultural posture in the West, from privilege and power to servanthood and simplicity. Certainly, reform will change the way we equip our leaders; it will reform higher education, beginning with seminaries and bible schools. However, I do not believe reform today will require a great struggle between two opposing ideals or two opposing structures, as was the case in Europe’s Thirty-Years War. Instead, reform will come quietly as believers follow the voice of God’s Spirit calling them toward a lifestyle of surrender, which can only result in a simpler, more relational, more sacrificial love of God and neighbor.
This reform is toward a missional ecclesiology. It’s not a dichotomy, an either or, Attractional vs. Missional. It’s a thoroughgoing change from the inside out, a heart-change in the lives of an emerging leadership, many of whom will not be well known even at the time of their greatest influence. These emerging leaders are fathers and mothers ready to open their homes, appealing to a generation longing for permission to dream with God, to hear his voice, and to create with him. This kind of leader is not new; like Paul, these leaders have always been in our midst offering a quiet and authentic, affirming and releasing example. They offer an example to those with eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand that God’s mission is his Church and it is through his church. As Fitch writes, ”we need … a theologically robust understanding [of] the relationship between the Missio Dei, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the Church.” It’s happening.
Paul writes to his friends at Corinth:
“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor. 11:26-27)
Why was Paul going through so much trouble? Because he lived his life preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.
Sometimes when I read of all Paul’s troubles, I find myself identifying a little bit with his story.
My family and I have been on the move too. As missionaries with Youth With A Mission, we went to Asia during the months of September and October to help with the outreach phase of our Discipleship Training School, YWAM’s introductory training course.
Are we missionaries to China? No. It’s not one people group or nation that God has called us to. We’ve got a global calling.
We’ve spent sleepless nights in countless airports and transcontinental flights. We’ve endured Montazuma’s revenge in Mexico, a Military highjack of our bus in Guatemala. We’ve gone without as faith missionaries, taking no salary for 25 years. We had $25 to our names the day our first son was born. And three weeks after our second son was born, a Hurricane left us homeless and deeply in debt.
We’ve faced dangers too. A Virginia river flooded taking out 25 bridges and stranded us and our outreach teams which were heading to Albania, Brazil, and Ghana. We’ve endured blowouts and breakdowns on highways across the USA. We’ve worked in war torn villages in El Salvador, taken treacherous white knuckle bus rides to work among the Quechua people in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the Rabinal Ache people in the mountains of Guatemala, and the Maasai People in the Savannahs of Kenya.
I’ve been stranded and up all night talking to people about Jesus in train stations in Vienna and with gang leaders in New York. My family took a 53 hour train ride from Beijing to Nanning where we held babies in an orphanage in China. I’ve had doors slammed in my face, slept on a flooded basement floor, in tents in the Mexican heat, and in houses filled with every kind of animal across the USA. I’ve preached outside the Justice Department and the White House in Washington, D.C. and in poor communities all over Central America and the islands of the Caribbean.
About 24 years ago, I walked through the streets with a blow-horn announcing a revival meeting and slept in a trailer in a vacant lot guarding sound equipment in South Philadelphia.
I’ve bunked in a thatch roof hut in the bush-bush of Africa, with no electricity and no water, except by generator for one hour a day. I’ve prayed until my throat was raw in campus meetings around the world, preached until my voice was gone, and had sleepless nights talking and listening to Christian moms and dads about their kids, and with university students who argue about God’s existence. Why would we go through all this trouble?
What good has come from all this?
Today the fruit of our ministry is spreading around the globe. For example, the first outreach team I led planted a church at seventeen thousand feet in the Andes Mountains of Peru. We’ve started businesses, established HIV/AIDS counseling clinics, medical clinics and pharmacies, water pumps, and schools in slum communities in the Belize, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, India, East Timor, Guatemala, and Kenya. We’ve equipped and deployed hundreds of students to follow God’s call and watched some of them become doctors in remote places like Kazakhstan and Viet Nam. When we were not already busy abroad, we helped church congregations in the USA become more missional.
Since 1986, we have sent 75 Student Internship Teams from nine nations and over 100 universities. All these students have served long-term projects that minister to the poor and needy in 34 countries. Our interns want to be spiritually equipped to respond to God’s calling to engage issues of global human need, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, clean water, and children at risk.
SMC also trains YWAM leaders for university ministries around the world. We started the School of University Ministries & Missions (SUMM) in Delhi, India in 2004 with twenty-four YWAM participants from nine nations. Since then, the 12-week course has run in Thailand, Korea, the USA, and three additional times in India. To date, we have trained over one hundred campus ministry staff now working in 32 countries. Our next SMC course will take place in Cartagena, COLOMBIA in January next year with a focus on 20 Latin American nations.
Why do we work with College Students? Because today’s college student is tomorrow’s leader. My passion is to train world-changers who will proclaim the kingdom of God in every nation and in every field, every sphere of society. Why should we be so concerned about filling the earth with leaders who serve Jesus, the king of kings? Because the Bible says, “The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea.”
Why go through all this effort? Because our task is to represent Jesus as messengers of the kingdom of God.
What is the message we are called to carry to the ends of the earth? What is this kingdom of God? The best place to get understanding about the kingdom of God is to look at some of the parables Jesus taught.
Jesus said his primary purpose was this: “I came to proclaim the kingdom of God.” He said: “The time is now, the kingdom of God is near.”
WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD “KINGDOM”, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF?
Do you think of Kings, Princes, Princesses, Armies, Power, Thrones, Palaces?
Jesus taught parables about the kingdom of God because people had the wrong idea about what happens when God rules! He was trying to change the expectations of the people. What was their expectation?
While the people listened to Jesus, they “thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Luke 19:11) The people had an expectation that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman Empire. SOON! or Sooner!
The Jewish people thought the kingdom of God was all about a revolution. Kicking Roman butt! A great deliverance! A King that would deliver the Israelites from their Roman oppressors!
Many of us think this way when it’s time to elect a President of the United States. We put our hope in a person. People naturally look to a leader to make their world a better place, but that was NOT what Jesus was talking about when he preached the Kingdom of God.
When he taught the kingdom, he knew the people had the wrong idea. His parables were simple stories that could only be understood by those who were humble and hungry.
A parable does not fully explain what something is like. Like trying to describe a song or a painting, a parable is a story with words that are laid alongside the thing you want to describe. The parable can’t fully explain, but it can give a hint. Or it can be a story that describes exactly what the kingdom of God is NOT.
Look at this parable from Matthew 22:
“Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his field, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
So, are you excited about THIS kingdom?
I think this parable is very misunderstood. What kind of king is Jesus describing? It should be obvious that the king in this parable is NOT “like” God.
In this parable, Jesus did not say, “The kingdom of God is LIKE”, but rather “the kingdom of God is compared to” or more literally, “is made to look like”.
God is not a tyrant, or a narcissistic sociopath, who kills people that do not come to his party. In this parable, the king calls everyone and anyone to come to his party at the last minute. That sounds fine, but then this king binds and drags one person to outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, just because he doesn’t look right to him. It’s no wonder the man without a wedding robe was speechless.
Some people read, “many are called, few are chosen” and think God probably doesn’t love them. In fact, I know someone who believes they are NOT chosen. Because of this parable, people wrongly think God is an angry unjust judge. But that is not what Jesus was saying!
And most of us know that where God is king, it’s NOTHING like the kingdom in that parable. Instead this parable describes what happens when the people demand a king, when they turn to a human leader. In fact, the original Greek in verse 2 literally translated reads like this: “The kingdom of heaven has been made into one in which a human king gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
The people wanted Jesus to be the king of Israel, a king who would deliver them from all their enemies and make the world a better place. They wanted to take him by force to make him their king. But Jesus was teaching what the kingdom of God is NOT like. It’s NOT a human kingdom… okay?
I think we can all agree that the Israelites had the wrong idea about the kingdom of God, but many Christians today still think the wrong thing about the kingdom of God. Too many Christians think we will only experience the kingdom of God when the end comes, after Jesus returns to earth to establish his kingdom reign.
But Jesus says, “No.” It’s not an overthrow of the Roman Empire or any country’s government. It’s not the setting up of a human king, or prime minister, or president. AND it’s NOT a heavenly kingdom that we need to wait for until he returns.
So then, what was Jesus talking about?
Read this next parable, the one Jesus told his disciples was the most important parable: Luke 13:1
That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. “Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. “Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. “And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? It sound boring. Like farming? What?
WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD “SEED”, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF?
Tractors, Fields, Soil, Plants, Crops, Workers…Work! Eventually, we think of work to be done in a garden or a field.
Jesus goes on to teach another parable of the kingdom and it’s about the workers. See Matt. 20:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner (FARMER) who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard (FARM). After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
This parable seems to point at two different responses related to WORK and PAY. One response is jealousy, envy, and inequality (the First Workers), and the Second response is grace and gratitude for generosity. Both responses have work and workers, but they are very different.
My story? I have learned a few things about work. lived in Wisconsin where there is a lot of snow, so in 5th grade I began knocking on neighbor’s doors to ask if I can shovel their walks and driveways so I could make some money. I also raked leaves and then in 7th grade, I bought a lawnmower to cut neighbor lawns. I had a morning paper delivery route in 6th grade through 8th grade. I delivered papers during the cold winters in Wisconsin and one hot summer in Hollywood, CA.
In 7th and 8th grades I sold cokes at football and basketball games at the University of Wisconsin. The summer after 7th and 8th grades, I worked as a caddy at a golf course. I had to wake up at four in the morning to go wait on the caddy’s bench to get hired each morning.
As a young adult, I had a bunch of jobs too. As I worked my way through college, I worked as a dishwasher, a cook, an electrician’s laborer, a landscaper, a sewer pipe layer, a waiter, a clerk in a liquor store, a door-to-door salesman, car salesman, and a security guard. I even worked as a sub-contractor in a steel mill cleaning soot off the beams six stories over the Old Hearth Furnace. After I graduated college, I took a job as an accountant with a major accounting firm and I hated it. Then I took a job as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America, where I worked for three years.
When I was 27 years old, I resigned from the Scouts. My home church prayed over me and sent me out to preach the kingdom of God. For the past 25 years, I’ve not worked for money. I’ve worked as a faith missionary and God is the one who supplies my family’s needs. This kind of lifestyle does not happen without at least some understanding of the kingdom of God.
So what IS the kingdom of God like? It is like working in a field, sowing seeds…
Jesus sums up his kingdom parables saying…
Mt 13:31 “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”
Like a seed, the kingdom starts small, gets buried in a field, in the dark earth, it dies, quietly without excitement, with nothing visible. Only faith and hope remain. And then, without any control by the worker who sows the seed, it grows like a plant really big…
Jesus again sums up the kingdom with this parable…
Mt 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
This parable highlights the value, and the joy of the kingdom. It’s like a treasure, hidden in an open field, not a forest, not a jungle. It’s hidden in plain sight, in a field. And to get the treasure, you gotta buy the whole field? Why?
Why do you have to buy the whole field before you get the treasure of the kingdom of God? Perhaps it is because the field and the treasure are connected? Could it be compared to water buried deep below desert land? If you want the water, you have to buy the land. You can’t have the water without buying the land.
Let’s recap what Jesus is teaching us so far:
• We must remember. The kingdom of God is not a human kingdom. It’s not better when human beings try to control everything. The kingdom of God is the place where God rules!
• We must remember that the kingdom of God is not a kingdom that will only arrive when Jesus returns. It’s near, now.
• Jesus will return and he is the king, but he has taught us that his kingdom is like a seed sown into a field.
It’s a treasure in a field, waiting for you to buy it right now. But where is this field?
Many very intelligent people have searched the scriptures and researched the holy land and thought about this question for 2000 years. Where is the field?
Jesus already answered this question:
LUKE 17:20-21 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
Your heart is the field and the seed is the word of God. The kingdom of God is near you when God rules your heart.
But not everyone allows God to rule their hearts. Jesus taught about that too. He said:
Mt 6:23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Lu 11:35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.
It’s your choice. You can live in the kingdom of darkness, where there is jealousy and envy, or with hunger and humility, you can enter the kingdom of God, where there is grace and gratitude for God’s generosity.
Jesus’ brother James writes:
James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
The message of the kingdom is not a one-time confession of faith, like a contract that God must fulfill to save your soul. Instead, the kingdom of God is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. Your heart has two spaces in it: one space for a cross and one space for a throne. You and Jesus take up those two spaces. Which space should you take and which space will you allow Jesus, the king of the universe to fill. If you remain on the throne, he must remain on the cross. If you come down from the throne, and surrender your life to him, then Jesus can take his rightful place as the king of your heart. That leaves only one place for you, the cross. In order for Jesus to reign in our hearts, his kingdom, we must live a life of full surrender.
When you do, you will find yourself like Paul, willing to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the kingdom of God. You will be willing to “be constantly on the move, be in danger from rivers, from bandits, from my own countrymen, from Gentiles; in the city, in the country, at sea; and from false brothers. You will be willing to labor and toil and go without sleep. You may know hunger and thirst and go without food, but you will know the love and generosity of king Jesus.”
Like N.T. Wright, I admit that I drank the “koolaid” and I’m a “fool for Christ.” I’m in agreement with Wright and Paul that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Jesus followers are most to be pitied. We’re living in “cuckoo-land.” With that in mind, it’s become increasingly clear to me that postmodern theologians are more true to the first century practice of theology, which we see in the way the Gospels are written, than are those who refuse to engage the truth in their contemporary cultural context.
Frustration has mounted over the years as I have listened to many church sermons and bible teachers who seem to have a disconnectedness from the historical Jesus. We should be concerned about our culture and setting, our local communities as we preach and teach the story of Jesus. However that concern and contextualization of the message should not be at the expense of the story of Jesus who walked the earth in Palestine in the first century.
Mine has been not only a concern for my local church and ministry community; I am also concerned for the global community of Jesus followers. I have been especially concerned about how Western Christians relate to the new Majority Church in the Global South, including China’s 100 million believers. I have been concerned about christian university students from around the world who are trying to find their way in a postmodern world.
Interpreting the Gospels, discerning any differences between the historical Jesus and a community’s own Christ of faith, is necessary to respond to the concerns we have for our communities. We must respond to the extremes of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus as well as the often simplistic conservative reactions to any scholarly quest to understand Jesus of history. For my part, I want to offer the hope of a vital connection with the Jesus of history to a postmodern generation no longer anchored to a Christian tradition.