Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Kingdom Trajectory of the Distanced

PSA: This is an oddly “nerdy” post. A paper I’ve recently written for class. Reading back over it, I thought “wow, I like that.” So I decided to share it with you.   This does not endeavor to explore all theological issues, or explain/cover all the breadth of topics involved in God’s activity.  It’s just another blip of a pixel on the moving picture of a church talking about God together. 🙂

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Ken Schenck has said that, within the Bible, you can find a kind of trajectory, a “flow of revelation.” There is throughout scripture a common direction, and unified revelation of the heart and mission of God’s loving activity. Because of this, it can be beneficial to examine a given specific pastoral issue not only in the light of a certain scripture; but illumined by the whole of scripture. By doing this, we can observe the connections between scriptures. We may also come to a fuller and enriched approach to our topic, given the broad scope of the library within the Bible.

The pastoral issue being examined here is: “What does effective Christian leadership from a distance entail?” Obviously the term “Christian” would not have existed in a pre-Jesus world, but we can apply the term broadly to describe the approach to leadership taken by God’s people. In modern contexts, we may have anything from local representation by video preaching, to a desired “virtual presence” by pastors on social media. Before we set expectations of ourselves, or those leading God’s people, it is important to examine how God’s people have led from a distance in scripture.

In this paper, we will examine briefly both Old and New Testament contributions to our understanding, as well as what both offer us moving forward. The history, present, and future of a God who personally embodies leadership both “among” and yet “from a distance” offers us both a hope and a shape for our lives as we join His redemptive activity for Kingdom coming.

OLD TESTAMENT

Shaped by Law

After the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23). This creates a problem of “distanced” relationships that must for the first time be overcome. Relationships with each other, creation itself, and most importantly God, experienced a distancing caused by sin. Because of this, sacrificial systems are put into place, humanity must work the ground, and relationships are obviously strained and require more purposeful work than before.

This pattern continues with Abram, where within the span of just a few verses God calls Abram away from the land of his father and family (Genesis 12:1), and later promises that through Abram all the families of earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3) We can assume that “all” here encompasses his own family, and so we have a story of God’s people being drawn away for the purposes of being used to reach those they’re distanced from.

As the story of God’s people continued, distance continues to be a problematic result of a broken world. As a result, God’s people are enslaved by fellow humanity, but finally “set free” as God moves on their behalf, and begins to reveal himself as wanting to “re-place” the people closer to Him as he tabernacles among them. (Exodus 25:8) Doing so, God also offers words that are to shape His people as unique among all people. He gives His people the Law, by which they will be shaped uniquely as His chosen. Christian leadership from a distance begins here to take a unique shape of passing on, or declaring uniquely, the words given by a God who shapes His people by the Law. The same power found in God declaring “Let there be Light” (Genesis 1:3) is now seen in commands such as “Honor your Father and Mother”. (Exodus 20:12) God is conquering distance by shining uniquely through the light of His people into the darkness of a broken humanity.

The power of “word”, then, continues through the story of God’s people. When they listen and allow themselves to be shaped by His Words, they experience the blessings of a distance rendered powerless. When they forget or neglect these words, they find themselves struggling. Into such moments, God often sends someone to speak on His behalf. We see this happening in Jeremiah, as God speaks to His people living in exile. Even though they’re distanced once more from the “promised land”, God reminds them they needn’t be distanced from the careful ways He has shaped them as His own. Through the prophet Jeremiah, they are reminded of their identity and told that through the ways they honor God, the physical distance is rendered powerless. Even the distance of time itself is robbed of it’s power, as God promises that in 70 years He will restore His people.

Revelation of God

It’s important for us to remember in all of this, that even as God works to reconcile great distances, it is not only for those He is communicating with in that moment. As we saw in His words to Abram, through God’s people ALL families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3) Throughout the Old Testament we see God revealing Himself in unique ways through things like dreams (Numbers 12:6), visions (Isaiah 1:1), and the words of the prophets (2 Samuel 23:2). God wasn’t attempting to remain a mystery only to be unlocked by those who could decipher His ways. Gods’ desire was to be known, His Love experienced, and His people to join with Him, even and especially to those who still seemed most “distanced”. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

In practical terms, often physical distances were handled with words as well, in the forms of written word. In 2 Chronicles 30:1 we read, “Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (NIV) This is a great example and reminder that most often when someone is offering Christian Leadership from a distance, it comes in a form of invitation to counter that distance either by actual travel, or symbolically by responding to a specific call to respond toward God’s desire – as in Esther 9:30-31, “And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation.” As the festivals of God’s people were celebrated, His people were united across physical location and generations, thwarting any power of time and space to distance God’s people from each other, relating well to creation, or the joy of His loving desire for their lives.

NEW TESTAMENT DEVELOPMENTS

Shaped by the Law Fulfilled

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17, NIV) Jesus helps open the New Testament by providing continuity to a God who offered the law as a response to the brokenness of humanity and a people being called out for the sake of all others. Now these people would have a “living word” (John 1:14, NIV) through whom God was communicating a living version of that which the law, comparatively, had only begun to reveal.

The power and presence of the word continued to grow at this point, as Jesus invited humanity to “Follow me”, and transformed this group of people by removing the power of distance – both physical/literal, and figurative/spiritual. This continues even after his death and resurrection, as the Holy Spirit empowers and continues through all people what had begun in Christ. As Paul writes a letter to the early church in Ephesus, he shares a prayer that they would receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17) for the purposes of knowing God better. Such knowing is in direction of defeating any power of distance, and bringing invitation to receive the hope of that which Paul saw as the direction of God’s activities found earlier in that same chapter. “when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10, NIV)

With this new understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, the growing collection of writings seem to shift. Now centered on Jesus, the focus moves beyond understanding how to follow commands and measure requirements for cleanliness, toward communicating and proclaiming the Lordship, Love and New Creation Life found in this community shaped by following Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the temple curtain is torn, we understand the distance between humanity and God has been transformed forever in important ways. No longer exiles, all were now invited and given place at the banqueting table of the Kingdom of Jesus (Matthew 22).

Revelation of God in Jesus

As the Kingdom trajectory of those formed by the living Word of God continued, it grew increasingly important for the word to be shared exponentially throughout a humanity that was now completely engulfed in invitation to New Creation. Especially in the beginning, the number of people who had heard or experienced Jesus first-hand was incredibly small. Still, the desire for God to be known and revealed is powerful, with all the resources of humanity and creation at God’s whim. Transforming lives such as Saul/Paul, God discovered and created unique ways to spread the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ throughout the ancient world. This happened both through letter writing, experiences of lives transformed/made new, and simply population growth in areas where humanity flourished.

The letters of Paul make up about ¼ of the New Testament itself, and in them we have revelations of God and his heart for a creation made new. His focus on the good news of Jesus Christ was central to the development of the early church. As John MacArthur writes, “Virtually every one of Paul’s New Testament epistles defends and clarifies some crucial point of doctrine germane to the gospel message.” (MacArthur, 2017)

This pattern of Christian leadership from a distance continues throughout the New Testament, even through to the final book “Revelation” written by John from the island of Patmos. In a series of letters meant to traverse great distances of time/space/brokenness, he is instructed to write letters to seven churches. Each of those letters communicate important truths to the global church today, seeking to faithfully follow, proclaim, and embody the Love of a God who is omnipresent. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are connected and able to connect others to this New Creation. As scripture reminds us, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This “life of the age to come” is something mysteriously connected to and transforming the words we speak and write, in many of the same ways as those original words “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3)

CONCLUSION

“According to the book of Revelation, Jesus died in order to make us not rescued nonentities, but restored human beings with a vocation to play a vital part in God’s purposes for the world.” (Wright, 2017) This is not a “new idea”, but rather something God has been actively pursuing and bringing about for thousands of years already (Ephesians 1:5). Even from the beginnings of distance caused by sin, God was working to bring redemption and healing to the brokenness.

Of all the debatable elements found in specific types, styles, and methods of Christian leadership from a distance then, we have discovered at least this one thing: Christian leadership from a distance always seeks to bridge distance and separation, uniting that which has been impacted by sin, and bringing all things to respond to His invitation and declaration that Jesus is now Lord of all. By our words and actions we declare that distance retains no power in the realities defined by Jesus.

“Christian leaders guide from a distance by reminding recipients in letters that God overcomes distance by being near to us no matter where we are, and by uniting believers who are distant with the same hope, same word, same Holy Spirit, same stories of deliverance, and same celebrations of festivals.” (D. Freemyer, personal communication, December 3, 2017) We are drawn together, united across time and space, and beyond any power of sin to hold us back. By the Holy Spirit of Jesus we have access to the throne of God, the Life of the Age to come, and are set free from the constraints and futures determined by the brokenness of sin. In Jesus, we are invited and empowered to exist and communicate as living declarations of a fully revealed future – “undistanced” from each other, from New Creation, and from God.

RESOURCES:

MacArthur, John. (2017). The Gospel According to Paul. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Press, A. (2003). New Interpreter’s Study Bible-NRSV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Wright, N.T. (2017). The Day the Revolution Began. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne.

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hope in the weakness of God.

In college I remember learning the distinction between two types of “time” in scripture.  There was “kairos”, and “chronos”.  “Chronos” is an easy one, it’s where we get our word “chronological”.  We have calendars, and monthly planners, and even down to the hour of what we’re doing each week.  We know what time things have happened, are happening, and will happen.

The other word, “kairos”, is a bit more complex.  Like when we were teenagers, listening to our loud music, fists raised to the air at a concert shouting, “this is OUR time!”  Or when my wife looked at me, pregnant belly packed tight with our 3rd daughter, and said, “I think it’s time.”

As we began our adoption journey, we knew in advance this was probably going to take a lot of time (chronos).  But we were also assured by many friends and family, and even by our own faith, it would all happen in God’s perfect timing (kairos).  We felt God’s “yes” to what we were stepping out toward in faith, and looked forward to how His kairos fit into our chronos.  All along the way, loving people around us have assured us everything will work out in God’s timing.

Then we entered a world where the Lordship of Jesus seems to be very absent.  Or at least, the way we want to see His stuckfilm_fullsize_story1Lordship.  That’s been a hard thing to let go of….and continues to be.  This is a road, and an experience, where hearing the phrase, “All in God’s perfect timing” ceases to be something that can bring peace.  Surely none of this suffering and pain, cruelty and sadness, injustice and delay of rescue – has anything to do with God  sitting on His cosmic throne saying, “Allllmost ready…..just a liiittttle more suffering and death; and then what I’m about to do will be awesome!”  Nor do we believe, as some have asked us, if the delay simply means perhaps God hasn’t actually called us to adopt.  We’re not alone here….sooo many families are where we are, and have experienced what we’re experiencing.

We believe in a God who, at the beginning of all things, declared it is “Good”.  This “Goodness” has not been destroyed by the brokenness that humanity has introduced to His world.  Because what appears to be “powerful evil”, is actually bankrupt and powerless against the already spoken “Good” of God.

That’s the Hope that came to us in the form of a baby…as we were still living lives of suffering and brokenness.  His Love compelled Him to enter into our suffering.  To give us a living statement of “I Love You”, that speaks louder than any wait.  God became subject to the “powerful evils” of our world, and let them do their worst.  They were found to be power-less.  The ways of God were revealed to us in Jesus.  Not the Jesus who is powerful and swoops down to bring rescue and crushes His enemies underfoot.  But the Jesus who Loves, and becomes broken and poor.  The Jesus who makes his dwelling place among the disenfranchised and forgotten.  Who has no place to lay his head.  Who was born in an animals feeding trough.

The Jesus who is spoken of in Mark 13:32, “But that day or hour (chronos words here) no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  This is a Jesus who enters into the complete suffering of humanity…even to being subject to God’s “chronos”.  This is a Jesus who, in the midst of enduring the suffering of a broken world, used every breath to proclaim that this moment, these days, have been claimed as God’s “kairos”.  Now is the time of God moving in our world.  Now is the time of Jesus Christ being established as Lord.  Now is the time for Kingdom to come already, even as we continue to wait in suffering.  God’s “good” has never gone away, and is re-emerging even now.

People will continue to say it, and I know they mean well.  So I will smile, and be grateful they hold us up in prayers.  But “all in God’s timing” doesn’t help me to sleep well at night anymore.  Thankfully, there is a phrase that brings more comfort than ever before….come what may…

“and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us“).” – Matthew 1:23

Every day we wait…He waits with us.  Every tear of joy or pain, His eyes are also filled.  His presence is constant and steady, and in the power of His Spirit we are joining our quietly spoken “good” to God’s…

final words.

We’re trying to teach our kids about Jesus.  To go beyond teaching them “Jesus is your ticket to heaven”, and actually connecting their lives with the story of God bringing redemption and healing to a broken world.  Consistently pointing out, and calling forth the Love He is giving them, which is meant to transform the world.  The world of which He is already Lord.

But every once in a while, it seems a bit larger than we know how to talk about.  buskids

Enter, the helpful illustrations of Paul.  As he was writing to his “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), and trying to encourage him to live for Christ.  Even from prison, Paul was desperate to encourage Timothy to live out the good news that was found in and through Jesus.  Limited on time, and probably paper, he packed as much as he could into every message.  The outcome, is a bit of a scattered bag of metaphors, as in 2 Timothy 2:3-6:

“Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

It almost seems like Paul is playing some really important game of “Catch Phrase”.  He can’t quite get the complete Truth of what he’s trying to say to Timothy into words, so he’s moving from element to element of that important Truth.  Instead of simplifying it into something really easy for Timothy to swallow and move on, safely in his pocket; with every phrase he breaks the chains of expectation and makes this Jesus-thing a whole lot bigger than in the previous sentence.

Imagine what our letters might be like, trying to communicate to our children through one final letter.  Knowing this will probably be the last thing we’re able to write before we die.  Given limited time/space/resources, trying to scrawl by candle light, one last effort to give them the Hope we have in Jesus Christ.  The book of 2 Timothy is an amazingly emotional letter, packed with encouragement and life for Timothy and the rest of us, as we peek in on what someone dying for Christ might say to their followers/children.

The good news is this:  You’re not waiting to die in a roman jail-cell.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Take a deep breath, and be thankful.

Now realize, you’re not limited to bouncing around between metaphors.  YOU are the living illustration.  Telling our kids about God’s love in their heart is awesome and needed.  But what is even more likely to transform their lives and connect them to God’s story, are parents & grandparents and extended family and close older friends who are living examples of the Words of God becoming flesh.  As we live out the prayer “Thy Kingdom Come”, and invite our children to follow us.  Not to “get their ticket to heaven” with us.  But to actually join us in the Kingdom and Lordship of Jesus Christ breaking through into our world by moments of genuine love, forgiveness, justice, and living sourced by His Spirit; denying the ways of a world of self-centeredness, and living together in Christian community…

May our days be filled with living out our “final words”…and may those who walk in our footsteps be blessed in receiving them…

hard sell?

I’m a pretty good salesman.  I’m also a horrible salesman.  It depends on what you’re measuring, I suppose.  When we first followed God’s call & relocated closer to family, I took a couple different sales jobs.  I volunteered at a small church in town, and learned what it was like working 9-5 (or 8-6, as it often was).  A few months was spent in Radio Advertising, and almost a year was with Pitney Bowes, selling “postage meters/folding machines/etc”.  I was pretty good at connecting relationally with my customers.  I even closed deals.  I could talk excitedly about what I had to offer them, and honestly believed I could help them out.  But when they asked me for the best deal – I’d usually give it to them.  So even though I made sales, I wasn’t the profit-generating machine that was celebrated in the sales realm.

Because of working on the world of advertising/ROI and the like, my radar picks up on sales-pitchy things much more than legosit used to.  I shrink back quickly from anything that smells like being a “salesman for Jesus/Heaven/Youth Group/Church”.  Unfortunately, that’s a large percentage of what’s out there for people seeking Christ to consume.  Bible studies, self-help books, and small group curriculum all geared toward convincing/reminding humanity that to come to Christ is to come to the end to all of your problems.  To arrive at the doors of the church is to arrive at an oasis of plenty.  To believe in Jesus Christ is to have all your prayers answered, every day is a holiday, and every meal’s a feast.

In a broken world, that sounds awesome.  We’re in debt, and even credit is running out fast.  We realize that something better than what we’re experiencing must be out there.  So when the man with the Bible, the nice smile and smooth words tells us that coming to church (and perhaps buying his book) will help fill the void we’ve got, and open doors of potential we previously thought were closed….we’re quick to follow.  The problem comes after some time of believing.  Time of offering our devout faith to a God/Genie, and becoming frustrated when nothing we ask for happens.

You might be nodding while reading this, agreeing that yes – we need to be honest about our expectations.  We need to remember that a call to follow Christ, is a call to the cross.  That we’re not promised what we want will work out the way we plan, by simply “trusting really really hard”.  But at the same time, I want my children to know the Hope we have in Christ.  I want them to experience putting their faith in Him, and having a life transformed.  I suppose it all depends on what we emphasize:

1 – We could emphasize the wrong things to our 5 year old.  Tell her that God wants everything to go perfect for her, and if she invites Jesus into her heart, it will enable all her dreams to come true (Jeremiah 29:11, right?).  Or, we could take the threatening route and tell her that someday she’ll either spend forever in flames or in golden streets and whipped cream.  If she asks Jesus into her heart, she won’t have to burn.  Sure, these spiritual things are bigger/different, but it’s important to speak in a language they simply understand, right?

2 – We could be honest with our 5 year old from the very start.  Tell her that people have made some really bad choices, that make this world a hard place to live sometimes.  But tell her how God has moved in our family already, and how He’s calling & enabling us to be different.  That we can choose to love/forgive, even when it’s hard.  We can be humble, and look for ways to serve others & love our neighbors globally.  We can pray, and know that spending time in God’s presence changes us.  We ask him to fill us with His love, so that in the simple ways we live, God is changing the world.

Sometimes that will lead us down paths where people know our name and smile or applaud.  Other times it may lead us down paths where people know our name and angrily yell.   Still many more times it may mean know one knows our name, but God is with us.

We are never alone, and that seems to be a pretty big point to a savior who was called

“Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’. “

But in a culture where more and more churches and youth ministries are selling the fun/loud/exciting/blessing/health/prosperity/nice teeth/etc…it may become increasingly difficult to be heard.  Still…this is what we speak.

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