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What does revival look like? I was in a pastor’s meeting recently where the topic was discussed. I think they were correct when they said it’s like a wave that you cannot control. All you can do is begin paddling like a surfer to prepare to catch the wave.
What I have noticed, paradoxically, is that revivals down through history have rarely been met with a great welcome by the religious leaders of the community. When revival comes, it raises the hope of the community for a future with Jesus at the center of every home and every conversation. Revival brings a transformation of culture, a culture of hope.
I believe the way to create hope in a community or even a wider culture is to proclaim the good news by word and deed. The message of hope gets drummed up like a political slogan, but hope is much more than that. What is taking place in the Middle East today is the activation of a fervent hope for a future that honors individuals, families, communities, and whole nations.
We cannot control the destiny of nations, but we can participate. As a missionary, I believe hope can be realized in a community by consistently reporting the good news. The good news is the gospel story, but it is much more. Christians need to engage their world with active involvement, even in small ways. We can visit prisons, hospitals, shut ins, and neighbors. We can invite strangers, the lonely, and the lost into our homes. We can enjoy a simple meal with the hungry and share our time and belongings with the poor and needy.
Proclaiming the good news is done, not only through word, but also through deed. And hope is fostered in a community when those words of Scripture are matched with actions of love. Hope grows as we report on the many small actions that are making a difference in our community. You might call them “achievable wins”, simple acts of love in community.
Hope is not found merely in acts of charity, however. Hope must be firmly rooted in the Person of Jesus Christ. That hope should not be rooted in this world. Neither should the hope be rooted in heaven, which has caused too many lovely Christians to ignore the needs of this world. So proclaiming the good news, reporting on our “achievable wins”, must include a clear presentation of the overarching vision of relationship with Jesus in our daily lives and in our neighborhoods.
A culture of hope will grow under that vision and mission of Jesus. What grows in that culture are is a spirit of missional unity, which produce many missions partnerships. The hopes of pilgrims in the no-man’s-land of collaborative culture, those who recognize each individual, family, church, and organization’s identity as a contributor to the whole task of Jesus’ mission, is what makes up the culture of hope.
Some people will be early participants in this “culture.” They are the boundary spanners who are willing to examine and work to span the chasm between different groups, churches, and organizations. Though each expects something different from their emerging partnerships, they will work to enhance their part so that their group may in turn develop a culture of collaboration, a willingness to enhance the vision of Jesus in their community.
The early participants will often begin the task before everyone else is on board. They continue to remain open and hospitable, content to not be leading a large public movement. They choose rather to open their homes and share meals and prayer times with those who would catch the vision later. These courageous ones are willing to address difficult questions. They do not study theology; they DO theology. Their every conversation is dripping with theological hope. They are students. These disciples of Jesus are learning together in community. They are learning to manage tensions and complexities of the new places God is leading them and the new culture that God is promising. They are working like gardeners, creating a collaborative environment in order to produce a culture of hope.
These people embrace a high cultural value of personal responsibility, the language of stewardship and shared responsibility, recognizing the task of collaboration is not everyone else’s responsibility. These people are accountable to each other and to the overarching vision. They may work toward achievable wins, however they are not seeking immediate rewards; they are looking toward the long-term.
This culture shuns the zero-sum game with competitive winners and losers so often found in the religious movements of yesterday. This new culture resists isolation and looks for synergy. It is not stuck in past structures; it is open to a variety of possibilities and structures to serve the purpose of accomplishing Jesus’ vision. This culture is like a bridge, easy to get on and easy to get off, as necessary to the current task.
The question is when and how do we collaborate. Ultimately, these people embrace and create a culture that recognizes Kingdom values, that we are all already working together. Our calling is not to create unity, but to preserve it.
The effective Kingdom partnership culture is breathing out Spirit-filled prayers and exhortations, speaking truth with mutual humility. It is a “place” where Jesus is Lord, and the voices of all constituencies are heard, especially the voice of God. It is a partnership “by people in Christ from within organizations for the Kingdom.”
The notion of the “Cosmic Race,” popularized among Latinos by Mexican author Jose Vasconcelos, is a philosophical basis for pride in the mixture of races. González writes, there is “no single perspective or a single clue to ‘reading with Hispanic eyes.’” Therefore a people of varied backgrounds sharing a single identity is dubious. However, this is Paul’s vision and the message he preaches to the Gentiles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul (or one of his disciples) writes that Jesus’ “purpose was to create in himself one new person.” He (or she) continues with the message of solidarity, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Eph. 2:15, 19 NIV) This “unity in the faith,” misunderstood by Paul’s contemporaries, has also been misinterpreted in every generation since.
Before meeting Jesus, Saul/Paul’s aim was to eliminate the threat that the new sect of Jesus followers represented to Judaism. Ethnic and religious purity, which was tied to the ultimate conquest of Israel’s Messiah over all nations, defined his worldview. Sadly Spanish missionary endeavors in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries interpreted the Scriptures envisioning a kind of religious purity through coerced conversion in Latin America, which appears to be an amalgamation of the purity ethic of Second Temple Judaism and the conquest ethic of the Roman Empire. Modern Protestant missionary endeavors continued a triumphalist interpretation, albeit separated from military coercion, by expanding into the “frontiers,” which implies redrawing the “borders” of Western civilization. Western individualism, informed by the Protestant Reformation’s doctrine of justification by faith, which possesses an important “supporting role” in Paul’s gospel, became the central understanding the expanding Protestant missionary enterprise. Today, when Westerners read the stories of Moses at the burning bush (Exo. 3:1-10) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-35), they read how the individual finds God, rather than a calling, “to go back to their people to do the work of God with and among them.” Westerners interpret the purpose of the Church (and of the Bible) to be a functionary agent to meet individual needs, rather than an expression of the gospel itself and a “foretaste of the kingdom.” This misinterpretation of the gospel message has resulted in a new form of “exile,” “a dislocation from the center,” as people are either left out, pushed out, or choose to remain outside the center.
Do you ever wonder what Jesus really meant when he spoke of the “law and the prophets”? He was referring to the Scriptures, those that we now identify as the Old Testament and some other apocryphal texts. The law and the prophets refers to the testimony of God’s word to his people and the traditions of those people. These two, testimony and tradition, converge and clash at the time of Jesus.
Jesus represents that clash; he had a high regard for the law and he also challenged the teachers of the law. He said he came to “fulfill” the law, but there are looming questions that arise from his behavior. He obviously broke the Sabbath to provoke the Pharisees and to make a point about how we are to interpret the law.
Jesus announces that the kingdom has come. What did he mean by that? The kingdom is the “place” where God’s rule is evident. God rules all things, but his rule is limited by something. Otherwise, Jesus would not even need to announce “the kingdom has come near you.” What limits God’s rule? Traditions.
Jesus said, “thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.” (Matt. 7:13) When he makes the announcement that the kingdom is near, we need to see that it is Jesus who is the fulfillment of the law. The rule of God has finally come, not in written code, but in the person of Jesus. Jesus declares that the law is accomplished in him.
By saying “the law is accomplished”, was he implying that the law is actually temporary?
Now that Jesus has come, the law is fulfilled, and the law is accomplished. Do you sense the tension in Matthew’s Gospel regarding obedience to the law? Matthew’s congregation apparently needs some understanding, and so do we. We need help navigating between the amazing liberty we have received in Christ and the dangerous license that has too often resulted.
Jesus did not abolish the law. In fact, he calls for an adherence to the law, which is “greater than the Pharisees.” How do we live free from the law and at the same time under the “rule of God” as citizens of the kingdom of God?
Jesus rules his kingdom. Jesus critique of the Law is not so much about obedience to a strict set of Pharisaic laws, but rather the heart motive behind that obedience. Jesus critiqued the traditions of the Pharisees, which made the Law of “no effect.” Jesus sought to reveal the underlying kingdom values reflected in the law, while also unmasking the dangerous effects of tradition. Jesus calls us to a deeper obedience, a new way of life in the kingdom of God.
Have you ever considered the difference between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God? There’s really no difference. Why the question? Because Matthew’s Gospel writer used “kingdom of heaven” and chose not to use the Name of “God.” This was likely due to the author’s sensibilities as a devout and scholarly Jew. Most of us understand from Scripture that the kingdom of God will include a future new heaven and new earth, however that kingdom is not just a place. The kingdom of heaven is the present reign of God.
To me, the “reign” has always been the “place” where the presence of God is honored. The kingdom is not just the “place” where God is present. God is everywhere. God’s presence in a place should be enough, but without honoring God’s presence with faith, he apparently does not reign in that place. In Mark’s Gospel (Mark 6:5 RSV), it says Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Why? Because the people questioned, doubted, and rejected Jesus, the carpenter’s son.
This tension between the extravagant grace and riches of God’s kingdom on one hand and the earthy, calloused hands, and dusty toes of Jesus the carpenter’s son, is making me think about my own expectations as a citizen of the kingdom. Too often we have equated the kingdom of God with the Church. They are not the same, though we hope God is truly honored in his Church. What is important is to see that God may be honored outside the Church and the kingdom of God may show up in odd places like nightclubs, college classrooms, and tatoo parlors. My understanding of Jesus is changing as I consider the dusty roads, the smells, the difficulties of life in Palestine. Jesus was not only born in an animal stall, he lived without indoor plumbing and refrigeration. God chose the setting to introduce his kingdom. Consider the smell of rotting fish and sweat in the heat of the Judean countryside.
Jesus might have been handsome in the eyes of his mother. However Scripture tells a different story. Isaiah 53 tells of the coming Christ and declares “he was despised and rejected…and we esteemed him not.” The expectations of his own people, those who waited for their Messiah, were far different. Instead of a king who would deliver them from their oppressors, the one who stood before them defiantly disobeyed their traditions and pronounced judgment on their nation. This carpenter’s son is the king. We will likely be surprised in the same way as were the people of Palestine.
This messy incarnation and bodily resurrection of Jesus implies an “earthy” eternity, in which he (and we) have feet, hands, eyes, ears, mouths, and taste buds, perhaps with bodily functions. How Jesus reveals the kingdom, through special grace and common grace, is not going to be recognized by everyone. Some will despise and reject the very witness of his kingdom sent to them. If we love our traditions and our religious expectations of God’s glory and power, we may miss the simple expression of the kingdom in the earthy containers of his servants touching the lives of others. This king and his kingdom is likely still far different from our expectations.
This week I’m looking at the Western Church. Many formations of the Church have emerged all over the world. However, the Western Church emerged by aligning with Roman power. This formation has resulted in centuries of failure to truly bear witness to the good news of the kingdom of God. Despite human failing, the Holy Spirit continued to pour out into many cultures, such as Ireland, with little structural support.
Today, the Western mindset tempts church leaders around the world to continue the Roman formation of structural, positional, and hierarchical or authoritarian power. Even after the Reformers re-articulation of the “Priesthood of All Believers,” most church structures continue to fail to demonstrate it. Churches in the late twentieth century have gone a step further, linking success to the capacity to meet the religious needs of members. Because leaders are presenting “church” as a spectator event, cultural christians pick and choose the church gathering that most appeals to their individual needs or wants.
Too often captive to a materialist and consumer culture, most church-goers do not see how the Western Church has been the beneficiary of institutional power, wealth, and influence. Therefore many Christians fail to represent Christ and His kingdom through community.
If we are captive, what steps should we take to break free to truly become a community witnessing to the good news of the kingdom of God?