I can be obsessive. The Bible says that whatever our hand finds to do we should do it with all our strength, and doing so is hardwired into my psyche. When I focus on something, I really dig into it and don’t rest till I fully get it. While my kids might tell you this can lead to some over-the-top board game competitions in my family, I don’t think on the whole it’s a bad personality trait.
The Bible also tells us to be wise and to take our thoughts captive. Doing the one without the other – that is, committing fully to something without being strategic about it – is a surefire recipe for a misspent life. In my youth, I gave myself to all sorts of projects and causes that, sadly, will not stand in light of eternity.
As a result, over the years I’ve learned to be deliberate about my obsessions, to guard my passions. I realize I’m past the midpoint in my life and I don’t want to waste my remaining years pursuing random, meaningless or selfish things.
As my recent string of blog posts reveals, for quite some time I’ve been focused on getting to the heart The Way that God desires for us to function as a Body of believers. Some folks have asked why this is so important to me, as it can seem like an obscure topic. No doubt it’d be easier for me to follow the herd and focus my attention on the latest football stats, celebrity gossip or political drama, and then sit in a pew and baaaa in unison with the rest of the sheep.
This pursuit has proven to be a challenge and a sacrifice, as it’s taken me into a territory where I often feel the need to tiptoe and whisper, lest I incur the wrath of those who are content with the status quo. But try as I might, I simply don’t think there’s anything more important for me to be obsessed about. This is where the Lord has called my attention, and I can’t rest till I complete my assignment.
As I see it, there are three main reasons why this is so important:
First is practical. For years I sat in pews, served on committees and paid my tithes at a local “church,” going through the motions of churchianity. All the while, we heard messages, sang songs, and participated in studies based on the Bible, which was said to be the inerrant Word of the God (the same God, we were told, who established this “religion” to begin with).
Call me a rebel, but I figured, if I’m going to give so much of my life to my “church” and abide by its rules for living, I should probably read its Holy Book and see what it says. In it, I found a number of crystal-clear promises like if I seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, He will provide for all my physical needs, and if I trust and acknowledge God above my own understanding, He will guide my steps. I also read that the Christian’s life is supposed to be marked by true and abiding peace, love, joy and contentment in all situations (which I certainly wasn’t feeling despite my devotion to “church”).
And so I decided to see for myself if all this stuff was legit. I mean, if the Bible is true and God is real, then He should be able to keep those promises, right? And if He can’t, then it’s all a big joke and we’re wasting our time with all this “church” stuff. If it’s not true, and there is no eternal judge or afterlife, then we’re fools not to live large and make the most of our time on earth. On the other hand, if it really is true, then we’re fools not to do every single thing He tells us to do, every step of the way. Living in the twilight zone in between these, as I did for so long, is a meaningless, pointless existence.
To get to the bottom of it all, I jumped into my part of God’s promises with both feet, and it wasn’t long before I saw first-hand that God is real and His promises are true. He’s given me everything He promises and then some, and has demonstrated His reality in countless, miraculous ways.
Grounded in this certainty, I’ve made my pursuit of the Living God and His perfect will my overriding obsession. I want to know Him more and understand – and obey – His Word as deeply as humanly possible. I’d be a fool not to. And since the thing we call “church” absorbs the lion’s share of the time and money we dedicate to God, I figured this was a good place to start digging into His will.
Fact is, if I found out “church” as we know it today is aligned with God’s desire, then I’d want to do it will all my strength. (And I’d want to know which one is right, because most claim all the others are wrong.) On the other hand, if the way we practice “church” is not what God desires, then why do it? If it’s for tradition alone, that’s a terrible reason. Think about it: If we’re off target with this, we’re flushing a massive, tragic amount of human time, talent and treasure down the toilet – and missing the full realization of the blessings God has in store for us.
So my quest for the truth of Church is, in part, fully practical. I want to know how God wants us to live, and I want to follow it to the best of my abilities – because I want to grab hold of all that He has in store for me, and I don’t want to waste my time on an activity He doesn’t endorse.
The second reason I believe this is a worthwhile obsession is because we are called, as ambassadors of Christ, to truly serve the needs of others, as He served us. This is the true religion that pleases God, and we are falling terribly short of it.
We were designed by God to fully thrive only when rightly connected to the Body, according to The Way put forth in Scripture. It is in and through the healthy Body of Christ alone that all our needs are truly met: financial, physical, emotional and spiritual.
Compared to the integrated, inter-dependent, egalitarian, dynamic, immersive, organic fellowship experience of the early Church, our “churches” today offer very little. Sure, there are often “fellowship” opportunities in the “fellowship hall,” and many are making headway with “home groups,” but these are insignificant in light of the richness of true Body life as God intends it.
The lifestyle of the early Church, as recorded in Scripture, is so foreign to us that we simply don’t know what we’re missing and how badly we’re failing. If only we knew how much better things could be for all of us – especially for “the least of these” – I believe we’d drop everything to grab hold of it. If the Body were to stand up in its full potential, we would transform the world overnight.
Instead, we live lives of disconnectedness … superficiality … lack … competition … fear … pride … despair. Scratch the surface of just about any “church” today and – if you are sober-minded and humble enough to admit it – you will find these in abundance. We should stop accepting this as our lot in life! It doesn’t have to be this way!
(Please understand, I say this in comparison to The Way that God desires for us. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m just trying to point us all towards Him. No doubt there are a huge number of “churches” that are much better than the cruel world. It’s just that to me, “better than” is not satisfactory when Christ came to give us the best.)
Here’s a hard truth: If you’ve sat in the same “church services” as someone for a long time, and you’re not integrally connected to each other – sharing possessions, truly serving each other’s needs, praying insightfully for each other, enjoying frequent fellowship, and so on – then you can call that place a lot of things, but please don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t. Deep, all-in, intimate interconnectedness, where we come together to fully meet each other’s needs, is the heart of the Biblical definition of Church. But it’s virtually unheard of in “church” today.
This kind of interdependence is such an inborn need that throughout history countless millions of people have fought and died for corrupt, counterfeit versions. In reality, the promise behind communism and socialism is nothing more than an empty, evil, God-less version of the promise of true Church. There’s a reason this political paradigm is a continual, global force to be reckoned with. The meteoric rise of “social networking” is another testament to this universal human need. God made us to crave Body life!
We will never have our own needs fully met, or be able to meet the needs of others as we are called to, until we rediscover The Way. We will never be able to fully practice the true religion that pleases God, or unleash our full potential, until the living Body of Christ rises up, free from the shackles of division, human control and traditionalism.
Until we do our job, fake, shallow and harmful counterfeits will continue to flourish, and the people of the world – even “churchgoers” – will continue to needlessly suffer.
The third and most important reason I’ve focused so long on this topic is because I believe it’s central to God’s Big Picture, His original intent for creation and mankind.
God’s first words to mankind were the instructions to establish dominion, to conquer. Some of the last words in the Bible say that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” From beginning to end, and all points in between, the Bible gives us examples, instructions, promises and commands from God all pointing to His overriding desire for us – His children – to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Creation exists, and we are here in it, for this one purpose, and the end won’t come till we are done. We are not here just to “do our best” or enjoy “prosperity” until some random “end of the world.” We are instead here to conquer the kingdom of darkness; to follow His step-by-step guidance, and make use of His divine provision and power, to continually and successfully advance His Kingdom into every sphere.
The more I dig into it, the more I realize that God’s Kingdom is synonymous with His Body. The uprising of the Body of Christ is the same thing as the manifestation of the Kingdom come. The Body is the Kingdom – the Kingdom of righteousness, love, peace, joy and contentment in the Holy Spirit. It is the living entity that will emerge when we all let Christ live in and through us, and allow Him to knit us together in the unity of the Spirit.
His Kingdom cannot advance separate from true, organic Body life. It will come not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God – inside-out and from the bottom-up. Ultimate victory will not come through building projects, committees, mass-market campaigns, strident activism, or any amount of time and expense sunk into the institutions we call “church.” These things only get in the way.
We’ve been doing “church” our way for centuries, and yet we’re increasingly mocked, marginalized and fragmented. I’m passionate about God’s Kingdom, and so I am passionate about rediscovering God’s strategic plan for His Body on earth.
Advancing the Kingdom is our God-given mandate and purpose, and our only path to an eternal inheritance. By His design, there is only one way to advance the Kingdom, and that is by following The Way.
And so, yes, I think that getting to the heart of this is a worthwhile obsession. I wish more Christians felt the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Life in the Body of Christ as God intends it, and as practiced by the first apostles and their brethren, is night-and-day different from what it’s evolved into today. One of the hallmarks of Body life back then was that “all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
Literally going all-in for Body life was so central and vital to what they knew as Church that the Bible records an incident in which a husband and wife were struck dead by the Spirit for holding back from the fellowship a portion of the proceeds from sale of their property. (Acts 5:1-11)* They understood back then that following Christ required more than lip service or half-way commitment; it was an all-or-nothing deal.
One crystal-clear Bible reference is enough for most Christians to accept a principle. God must really want us to get this particular point because He re-iterates it numerous times in the New Testament, in detailed, no-interpretation-required passages.
Here’s another one: “… nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)
This tangible foundation of Body life was not unique to the faith epicenter in Jerusalem; rather, it was a key component of The Way they spread across the known world. Paul wrote about it extensively in his letters to the fellowships he founded.
To the brethren in Corinth, Paul explained the purpose of this key tenet of The Way was “that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” (2 Corinthians 8:14-15) Stop and think about that a moment. It’s a breathtaking contrast to our generally-accepted way of thinking today.
In fact, Paul made the point that this Way of living is not just at the center of Body life, it is at the center of true love. In his second letter to the followers of The Way in Corinth, Paul told them how the fellowship in Macedonia was not only sharing with their local brethren, but these impoverished people, in spite of their lack, were still sharing generously with their brothers and sisters in other communities.
As Corinth was a more affluent community, Paul mentioned this to them to illustrate the true meaning of The Way, and to challenge them to do likewise. “I speak not by commandment,” he wrote, “but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.” (2 Corinthians 8:8, emphasis added)
In other words, Paul was saying this wasn’t a law – because in the New Covenant we’re no longer under the law – but instead, the diligent giving of the Macedonians, who shared fully even when they had little, was the benchmark of the sincere love that is supposed to be the defining characteristic of our lives.
In light of Macedonian love, how are we passing Paul’s test today? My friends, if we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit we’re not even enrolled in the same class, much less ready to take that test. We’ve got a long way to go.
It’s certainly understandable how we’ve let this one get swept under the rug. We want to believe we deserve and own the things we have, and if others have less than us, it’s because they’re not as smart, hard-working or “blessed” as we are. Sucks for them. The patterns of this world, and our human nature, tell us that this level of trust, love and sharing is crazy.
But crazy love is the point, isn’t it? What good thing has the Father held back from us? What did Jesus fail to give? This is The Way God loves us, and how He wants us to love each other.
It’s also supposed to be how those outside the Body know we are Christians. Not because we “go to ‘church,’ or put a fish sticker on our car, or act holier-than thou, or even because we claim to really, really, believe in Jesus. But rather, because we don’t claim to deserve or own anything, and we freely share with our brethren as they have need, to the point that there is literal, full, complete equality of all things within the Body.
As Paul continued to the Corinthians, “… you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, emphasis added) This was not an abstract, poetic, feel-good statement. In context, and in light of the tangible acts of the Macedonians’ love, the brothers and sisters in Corinth knew it was quite literal. This is the love we’re called to reflect; this is what Church means, and how God eagerly desires for us to live, even today.
Paul went so far as to say that this Way of life is a sign of true conversion. “Let him who stole steal no longer,” he wrote to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. “But rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28, emphasis added)
In all the Bible references to the Body or Church and our roles in it, and in all the stories of the miraculous manifestation of the Kingdom come in those days, it is impossible to understand them if we don’t view them from this frame of reference.
More importantly, it is impossible for us to truly follow Christ or duplicate these same results if we don’t get it, and live it like they did. The Way really is a hard and narrow path. We really are called to be strangers here, separate from the world. All Christians really are supposed to be fully knit together, members of one another, like the cells in an indivisible, unified Body. Absolute, selfless loving-kindness really is supposed to be the most obvious characteristic of a Christian. God really does expect us to go all-in. This is The Way.
I must say, studying The Way our long-past brothers and sisters practiced their faith really convicts me, because it just seems so dang foreign. I mean, from our I-me-mine mindset – and I don’t care how “generous” I am, if “own” even one thing I consider my own, or if I know a brother or sister has less than me and I don’t do anything about it, then I’m guilty of it – the early Christians seem like a bunch of freaks from outer space. I mean really, if a community of believers today were to step out on faith and seek to embrace our true calling, most folks – even other “Christians” – would call them all sorts of things: fanatic, cult, hippy, or much worse. And that breaks my heart, because it shows me how far we’re missing the mark – and the mountain of work we have cut out for us.
God didn’t include all those stories and instructions so we would write them off as “quaint” or “foreign” or “irrelevant” to us. He included them to be a model for us; a blueprint for how we are supposed to be living.
Do we really believe what we claim to believe? Do we really trust the Bible, and the God who inspired it? If we do, then who among us is willing to put up or shut up?
Imagine what it would look like if all we did.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
*Yes, this story is traditionally explained in such a way as to suggest their only crime was lying to the Spirit. In light of the centrality of all-in sharing in the early Church, I think this traditional interpretation waters down the bigger point. We must look at it in context. This couple wanted to be considered part of the brotherhood, and said they would live up to the obligations, but they were unwilling to do what was required.
I am convinced that a person can only grow as much as the grace they’re given. We lock people in boxes of expectations based on recollections of past mistakes. The greatest gift you can give a person, the greatest way you can serve them, is to give them grace and expect them to grow. This is what God gave us in Christ, and what we are to give each other. Grace gives everyone a fresh start, allows them to hit “reset” in their lives, and helps them become the new, improved person they hope to be.
Grace compels us to take a person we love at face value. Of course, trust is a different thing; it must be earned. But even so, grace takes risks to allow them to earn it! Grace erases the negatives in the trust account, and allows them to start fresh, every single time they slip. Under grace, every day is a new day.
The Bible says that God is working to make us perfect; we won’t get there in this life, but we get closer every day if we let Him lead the way. Grace compels us to realize that our brother is NOT the same person you used to know; he is a work in progress, and progress is being made! He is more perfect than he was yesterday! Grace recognizes this, and says, “what the heck, I’ll give it a shot!”
Grace doesn’t seek to save face. Instead, it recognizes that we ourselves are being made perfect, each and every day. I am a better person than I was yesterday. I made mistakes and hurt people I love. I admit and repent of those things; I don’t make excuses for them. Please, don’t lock me down with the expectation that I will repeat those those bad things today; your grace will set me free to grow.
It really isn’t rocket science. Heck, the HARD thing is to keep track of all the details of who did what to whom. Keeping accounts of who needs to apologize for what, laying blame, and trying to remember “why was I mad at her to begin with?” will do nothing but tie you up in knots. That’s the trap of the enemy. Forgiving, accepting personal responsibility, hitting “reset,” starting over, giving grace – while it’s not natural in our flesh – is actually the easiest thing to do. It allows us to keep a clear mind, a clean slate, and a light load.
With grace, every day is an adventure, full of pleasant surprises. Sure, we’ll hit some rocks in the road, but when we don’t stop to pick them up, they’re just minor bumps on an otherwise peaceful drive.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
If you keep up with my blog, you know that lately God has been doing some serious re-wiring of my mind, especially in the area of “leadership.” I’ve come to realize that the modern idea of a leader – by definition “the guiding head of an organization” – is not a role any person is called to play. Instead, God desires that we come under the headship of Christ and allow Him to call the shots, through His Holy Spirit. God certainly does call coordinators, instigators, administrators and agitators from time to time, but every Biblical example of this shows these people are to serve for a reason and a season, under step-by-step direction from God, and they are not to solidify their authority or seek to hold onto it beyond the term of their specific project.
This is 180 degrees contrary to the way we have built “churchianity” today. As a Body (or, rather, as a widely fragmented assortment of “church bodies”), we have chosen a “leadership” model which is nothing like what God desires, where we designate a flesh-and-blood man to serve as the “head” of our congregation, most often under the authority of a voting board of directors.
When the Israelites, in rebellion against God, demanded an earthly king, their stated reasons for wanting one were: 1) so they could be like all the other nations, 2) to judge them, 3) to go out before (represent and guide) them, and 4) to fight their battles for them. If you get to the heart of it, this is exactly why we subscribe to the traditional “churchianity” leadership structure today – and we do it unashamedly.
Sadly, for the vast majority of Christians, this man-made, not-God-pleasing organizational structure is the very definition of “church” – even though it has absolutely nothing with that word as God defines it! For them, anything else simply is not “church.”
Along with my posts I have recently had several good conversations on this topic, some with folks who are staunch defenders of the status quo. Often, when they run out of Biblical legs to stand on (because there IS nothing in the Bible that justifies the status quo) they turn to the practical and ask, “so…what do you propose as an alternative?”
My answer is this: It’s something we haven’t seen on this earth in more than 1700 years, and it’s so far outside our frame of reference that a lot of folks will throw stones and say, “that’s not church!” (Remember, Jesus said, “the old wine tastes better.”) At the same time, I believe God will lean forward on His throne with a smile and, looking down, say, “Aaaah, finally someone is starting to get it again!”
True ekklesia/koinoneia (the Greek words we translate as “church”) is nothing more than a deep, intimate fellowship of those who are called out by God to advance His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It was called The Way by the earliest Christians, and it is a “religion” without ceremony, or professional clergy, or dedicated assets, or a specific meeting time, or a mailing address. Instead, it is a bottom-up, inside-out, Spirit-led movement with the power to transform individuals, families and whole communities.
It is a growing family of people who have a personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, who frequently gather in each other’s homes to praise Him and report on His daily interactions with them, who bond together to serve each other so that nobody in the family lacks anything, and who freely pool all their earthly resources to truly serve those in need.
True Church, as God intends it, is fully under the headship of Christ. What I mean by this is that each and every member has a personal connection with His Holy Spirit, and receives their direction from Him alone. They each recognize their God-given giftedness, and give it fully to each other, so that the Body is infinitely stronger than the sum of its parts. (Yes, administration – as in, serving the Body by coordinating efforts – is a lesser spiritual gift, but that does not justify building all our “church” structure around this single function, as we have.)
And so, when I’m talking with folks who have asked this question, this is where they tend to jump in and say, “You can’t really believe that, can you? That sounds like utter chaos to me! People most definitely DO need an earthly leader … otherwise, what’s to keep them all from going different directions?” (Very similar to the Israelite reasons Nos. 2 and 3 for demanding a king, wouldn’t you say?)
Bingo! This is where the heart of the issue lies. It’s all about trusting God! You see, I, for one, have never seen the Spirit of God contradict Himself. If He gives me a direction, and He wants us to work together, then He’s going to give you the same direction. God is not the author of confusion!
If we are doing our job, and helping our brothers and sisters grow closer to Him and discern His Living Word – and if we truly have a real relationship with God ourselves – then we simply must trust that He knows what He’s doing. “His sheep know His voice,” by the way, and “whoever is led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” This is what we’re supposed to be all about!
The next issue that comes up is, “well, how are we going to pay for all that, anyway? If everyone is off doing what they think God wants them to do, it’d be very expensive!” Are you kidding me? You really asked that? So 1) you DON’T think people should do what God directs them to do because it might be beyond the “church” budget, and 2) if they do seek to be obedient to His calling, you question God’s ability to pay for it all? Last I checked, it was Jesus Himself who told us to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and that if we do, God will provide everything we need and then some. I, for one, believe that His Word is true!
I hate to say it but it’s inescapable: For someone to throw out these issues as reasons not to pursue The Way of true Spirit-led fellowship makes me question whether they truly know the leading of the Spirit themselves. If they truly knew His personal voice, trusted His profound promises, and experienced His divine provision, then they would passionately want others to experience this Way of life for themselves, and would not be afraid that “it won’t work.”
Sadly, these objections have come to me mainly from those who have a vested interested in preserving the status quo. I’d chuckle at the irony, but it’s really not that ironic when you think about it. Makes perfect sense, really.
As for resources, why should a “church” settle for trying to squeeze 10% (with the average being much less than that) out of its members? When the early Church followed The Way, they literally received 100% from those who were involved – they sold all they had and pooled it to keep advancing His Kingdom! And the Lord added to their number daily!
If we want Book of Acts results in our world today, we need to do it The Way they did back then. God’s been waiting a long time for us to get it. What are WE waiting for?
Yes, it’ll be a big adventure. Yes, we’ll be forging into the great unknown. But I, for one, trust our Guide. Do you?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
There is power in the name of Jesus. And politicians of all persuasions have sought to wield that power for more than 1700 years, since Constantine marched on Rome under the sign of the cross. (In fact, Constantine was the first person to use the cross as a “Christian” symbol, and he did so as a campaign logo of sorts, much like the Obama “O” of his day.)
It seems genuine believers in the political arena, on both sides of the aisle, believe they have a monopoly on the “real” way Jesus would vote, and are often quick to point accusatory fingers at their brethren on the other side of the issues (often accompanied by the most inflammatory, hateful language).
This may shock my “conservative” friends, but yes: there are genuine Christ-followers who adhere to a “liberal” worldview. And this may shock my “liberal” friends, but yes: there are genuine Christ-followers who adhere to a “conservative” worldview. And you know what? I believe both are equally sincere in their love for the Lord – and equally manipulated by the dark princes of American politics.
To all believers, we must wake up and realize that the enemy – yes, our real enemy, not those people who support different candidates than you do – is the only one who wins when we are divided, regardless of who prevails at the polls. Christ calls us to unity, and our unity will only be found in Him. We will never find unity if we seek it through partisan victory or political domination.
It’s a sad state of affairs when conservative Republicans believe that corporate tax breaks and harsh treatment of honest yet undocumented immigrants is the “Christian” way, and that anyone who thinks differently is morally bankrupt. It’s just as sad when liberal Democrats believe that Christ is honored by bloated government bureaucracy or poverty-breeding entitlement programs, and that anyone against such things is greedy and hateful.
Does Jesus really advocate unquestioningly supporting the modern, political nation of Israel, and turning a blind eye to their brutal treatment of Palestinians? Are modern Israelis (in contrast to ancient Israelites, who actually had predominantly Hebrew blood and adhered to the Old Covenant) really God’s chosen people? ‘Splain that one to me.
Many years ago, I made a living as a political consultant, until I felt the Lord call me out of that arena. I’ve kept an active interest in politics, and stay in touch with my friends who are still in that game. I’ve also been the C.O.O. of a television and radio news network, an officer in a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist, and worked in publishing much of my career. Here’s something I know: I’m no “conspiracy theorist,” but fact is, for every big issue out there, there is big money at stake. Fortunes to be made and lost. Moneymen behind the scenes of the political game pull the strings that make every candidate and activist dance. They manipulate the media and the message, at every level, in every detail. That’s just the way it is.
Joseph Goebbels, the evil genius pioneer of modern propaganda, masterfully manipulated the German population to support Hitler’s Third Reich. The tools at his disposal were primitive by modern media standards. Today’s propagandists have exponentially more power at their fingertips – and they use it, with Goebbels’ passion, to advance their own purposes. We are fools if we don’t accept the fact that our political arena – and the people in it (that is, us) — is just as manipulated as it was in Hitler’s Germany.
Does Jesus really care about the American tax code? Does He care who is in the White House? Does He care whether the person picking produce on a distant farm has a Green Card or not? Does He care if I can own a gun? Does He care which way I vote, or if I vote at all?
Maybe He does, maybe He doesn’t. Folks who knew me back in my activist days may be surprised to hear me say this, but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is this: The first thing Jesus cares about is the hearts of people. His Kingdom is not of this world; instead, it is within each of us. Genuine followers of Jesus Christ are but strangers here; His eternal Kingdom is our home.
Am I saying that we should sit on the sidelines of politics? No, I’m not. We are to be the salt and light of the world, seek first the advancement of His Kingdom, and glorify Him in everything our hand finds to do. And in a democratic nation, that includes politics.
What I AM saying is this: We must refuse to follow those who divide us. We must question our own reasons for supporting the issues and candidates we support, and cut the puppet strings that are tied to every single issue we debate. We must operate in courageous meekness, pursuing unity, in the role of peacemaker. We must not be afraid to buck the trends, reach across the aisle, change our minds and speak the truth. We must find a new voice, a new way, to glorify God in our civic activities. We must let Christ, and Christ alone, pull the strings that guide our actions and votes! When we do, I believe we will find that Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat, neither liberal nor conservative – and that there is good and evil beneath each of these headings.
The Kingdom of God is advanced from the bottom-up, and from the inside-out. Love conquers all. Love your political “enemies.” Get to know them, and minister to their deepest needs. Stop the angry rhetoric, finger pointing and closed-minded rejection of everything that is counter to your favorite party, candidate or ideology. Win hearts for Christ, and let Him take it from there. The Holy Spirit is a better voters’ guide than anything any advocacy group can publish.
When the people turn towards God, and are yielded to His Spirit, the issues we’re fighting over will disappear — selfishness, suffering, brokenness, illness, betrayal, crime, rage, greed, corruption, destitution, and every other social sickness will fade away — and His Kingdom will rise.
And I believe that’s a cause we can all get behind.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
God has taken me far and wide in His service. I’ve been blessed to spend time in remote villages in Brazil and Honduras, the streets of Paris and London, big cities and rural villages in Tanzania and Nigeria, and communities all across America, including a recent mission trip with a group of young people to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. I’ve dined in the Ritz in Paris and a thatch-roofed hut in a village that had never before been visited by an outsider. I’ve sat behind Billy Graham’s private desk and behind natives in dugout canoes; preached in opulent American sanctuaries and an overcrowded Third World prison; jetted in First Class and been sandwiched in rundown, foreign taxicabs. And along the way, I’ve been privileged to get to know presidents, governors, celebrities and billionaires … and indigents, addicts, lepers and hardened criminals.
Even as I write this, recounting these adventures feels like watching Forrest Gump share his life story. I never set out to travel or to experience all that I have; it’s only by God’s grace and good pleasure that I’ve witnessed so much of this world and met so many interesting people. Along the way, I’ve done my best to extract every bit of knowledge and wisdom from these experiences, and now I feel burdened to share as much as I can of what I’ve learned with others.
In my missionary travels, one thing I’ve seen over and over again is the tragic disconnect of American elitism. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud to be an American, and I am thankful for our nation’s relative freedom, security, prosperity and Godly heritage. But sadly, it seems we American Christians – and the people we seek to reach – are deceived into thinking our material prosperity is somehow akin to godliness. It’s like everyone thinks we have it all figured out, and that our ways are the best ways, in every way. As a result, folks around the world tend to be drawn to us like moths to a flame. They generally come with their hands out, and we’re generally way too eager to fill them with stuff – and then consider our missionary work done.
Our money. Our technology. Our buildings. The way we do “church.” All these are craved by the “have nots,” who tend to think, like a cow straining for the “greener” grass on the other side of the fence, that material things and empty religion hold any real value.
Let me tell you, it’s true. The first thing you notice when you visit an impoverished area of the world – including here within our own borders – is all the things they lack that we take for granted. But if you spend enough time there, you begin to see the opposite – the things they take for granted that we lack. And when you step back and look at it all in perspective, you find that, in every important way, we’ve got our whole value system upside down. Because the society the world calls “rich” is one of the most impoverished in the world in the things that matter most – and the “poor” of this world are some of the wealthiest in every important way.
I just got back from a 3-week trip to Southern Nigeria. It is very similar to the other Third World countries I’ve visited. Every Christian I spoke with there has experienced and witnessed countless, authentic miracles. Try finding a mainstream American Christian who has seen one. The people in their “poor” culture put God first, value family, honor their elders, crave knowledge, walk with dignity and respect, and work tenaciously for a better tomorrow. (I visited a large, public, state university, and you know what? In every possible way, it was more of a Christian school than any “Christian” school I’ve ever seen in America!)
Sadly, these are mainly far-out, abstract “ideals” for Americans – and no longer the bedrock values upon which our culture is built.
And even sadder, they seem to think that if only we could be more like America, then everything will all be better.
Yet saddest of all is that we tend to think the same way, too! So our missionary goal is to export “Americanism” – the worship of stuff; the pursuit of physical comfort and stimulation above all else; the hollow sensational, showmanship of our churchianity.
Sometimes I feel like screaming, “STOP! We’ve got it all wrong!” We’re the ones who need missionaries from there! We need to go there with our ears open and lips closed. THEY have what WE need, and not the other way around!
In my most recent mission trips, some simple truths have begun to crystallize in my mind. Everywhere I go, and everyone I meet, all share the same needs – and the same solution to their ills:
No matter who they are, their potential is inborn. It’s not something you or I can give them; it is a gift of God alone. Every single human being has the opportunity to be adopted as a full offspring and heir of the Creator and King of the Universe. They have royal blood and birthright! The very best thing we can do is simply recognize that in them. How do you recognize royalty? With honor and respect! These – nothing more, and nothing less – are the keys to unlocking their full potential. They cost us nothing, and yet we tend to find them the hardest to give.
Our Provider is their Provider, too. There’s not one thing you can give them that God can’t give them better and more abundantly. The same promise applies to them as to you: If they seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, He will give them everything they need, every single day. Of course, if God puts on your heart to give something – money or other – do it joyfully, only give credit where it’s due, and don’t go beyond His leading. Just remember, they don’t need another thing, they need the King! Introduce them, and He’ll take it from there!
They sure as heck don’t need to be indoctrinated into our traditions. Their unique way of doing “church” – whether it be through dancing to drums, or seemingly chaotic celebrations, or praying in sweat lodges – so long as it’s Christ-centered and Spirit led – may very well be superior to what you and I have come to call “church.” Once again, open your ears and close your mouth. You may very well learn something. If our forefathers had done this, our world would be a brighter place today.
Peace, joy and love are fruits of the Spirit, not byproducts of any material things. And they’re contagious! Just walk the path the Lord lays before you, step by step, and these things will be manifest in and around you.
Their best path forward is the one led by the Spirit. It’s not according to the “American Way,” because, as a nation, we’ve lost our way. Introduce them to the Father through the Son, and help them hear the voice of the Spirit, and you’ll be equipping them for an incredible destiny.
The best thing of all is, you don’t need to be rich, or eloquent, or brave to forever change the world. You don’t even need to be far from home. Don’t let your abundance — or your lack! – get in the way. Wherever you’re from, and whatever you have, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). And when all is said and done, that’s all that really matters.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
The other day I wrote about the possibility of using our established “church” infrastructure to actually advance God’s Kingdom the way He intends. This would require a 180 degree turnaround, and could only come about as a result of a wholesale paradigm shift among congregational members and leaders.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. I do believe the hearts of most “church”-goers are in the right place. It’s just that 1700 years of tradition have led us, gradually, in a direction that is far from what Christ instituted. Yet the Glory of God is that no matter how far we stray, His path is always just one step away. If we open our eyes and ears to His Spirit, and let Him lead us the right way, things will change, dramatically, overnight.
Today I want to invite you to daydream with me about what this might look like.
In the business world, there’s a well-understood concept known as fiduciary responsibility. A person who holds fiduciary responsibility – like a trustee, or a member of a board of directors – is legally obligated to seek the very best interests of the stakeholders. In a for-profit entity, this means maximizing financial return on investment for the owners.
Most congregations have trustees, or a church council, or elders, or a pastor, who hold this stewardship. Most of these folks, I’m sure, sincerely exercise their fiduciary responsibility to the best of their abilities. But from my observation, it seems that most of them do so with the wrong stakeholders in mind. What I mean is that the vast majority of “church” facilities and resources I’ve ever seen are tailored 100% to serving the interests of the congregation and “seekers” in the community, and not God.
With very few exceptions, most “church” buildings sit virtually empty most of the week – especially the auditorium, which is generally the biggest and most opulent part. And even when they are occupied, they exist mainly to serve the comfort of the membership and “seekers” (who are generally believers looking for an upgrade from another congregation).
Now consider a paradigm shift. Say the decision makers for a congregation all of a sudden realize that their sole stakeholder is Jesus Christ, and not the members and other believers in the community who are looking for a more comfortable “church home.” This should be the case, shouldn’t it?
Jesus said that whatever we do “for the least of these” we are doing for Him. And the Bible also says that “true religion” is helping widows and orphans and those in need. We are called to show people we are Christians by our lovingkindness, not our fancy stage shows, fiery oratory and pre-packaged programs, right? Being Church is about true, ongoing, around-the-clock, intimate fellowship, as we work alongside each other to serve the Lord, right?
So I ask … What if we accepted our fiduciary responsibility as the mandate to maximize every resource to do what Jesus did — that is, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and care for those less fortunate? He discipled His followers as He served the needs of others; they worked alongside Him, step-by-step. What if our leaders truly sought to follow His lead? (Now really, why is this such a “radical” idea?)
If we did this, would our “church” buildings sit empty most of the week? Would we truly dedicate so many square feet to what is effectively an exclusive entertainment venue? Would we spend another penny on stage lights, sound systems, stained glass, organs or padded seating?
Just imagine if “Church services” once again became actual services that the Church performs around the clock – “true religion” style — instead of a newspeak euphemism for the ritualistic, weekly concert/oratory/fundraising events that today count as “church services.”
Is another weekly stage show or another “Sunday school” class really the most vital need in the community? Is that really the best use of our time, talent and treasure? Can we truly not think of a more productive thing to do with those square feet of space? Could those kilowatts of electricity not be directed to a more meaningful purpose? Is there nobody and no no cause anywhere around that needs a roof over their head, or a meal in their belly, or a shoulder to cry on? The way we currently practice “church,” we’re saying, “yes, entertaining our members in air conditioned comfort is our top priority.”
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the word of God meaningless. This is exactly what He meant! Our fiduciary responsibility to our only true stakeholder, Jesus Christ, demands that we re-evaluate this, starting from Square One. We must heed Paul’s injunction to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, and stop conforming to the patterns of this world. Then God will renew our minds, and we will be able to know His true will. Today, we are far, far from it.
With the jillions of dollars worth of facilities, huge budgets, and countless eons of man-hours invested each year, if all these were focused to truly serve Christ – the way He modeled and desires – instead of ourselves, would we have so much hunger, homelessness, brokenness and sickness in our communities? Would we even need a public welfare system, or retirement homes, or day care? Would our society be such a fragmented, painful, harsh place? I don’t think so!
Would we need to fight so hard to be “relevant” and respected in the world today (which, as we’re currently practicing “Christianity,” is a losing battle)? I don’t think so!
When we switch our view of who the real stakeholder is, and we dedicate our fiduciary responsibility to serving Him alone, our world will change for the better – immediately and dramatically. We will truly become the salt and light of the world!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Continued from Part One.
Ok, so I guess I bit off quite a bit yesterday with Part One. Several people have sent me messages saying, “I’m looking forward to Part Two…” and I replied, “So am I!”
I didn’t know exactly what to write, and I expected it would take a while to collect my thoughts. But today when I sat down at my keyboard, this came out. It’s very hard to summarize something as grand as the Gospel of the Kingdom in a short blog post, but I think this does a respectable job. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to read my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is the overarching message of Scripture, spanning from beginning to end, and encompassing all points in between. It is the back-story of creation – encapsulating God’s original intent and grand plan – and the truth that He most desires for us to grasp. It is the great, unifying reality of the Bible, tying up every “loose end” and perceived “contradiction.” And it is the only foundational message with the innate power to finally unify the Body of Christ and lead Her to global pre-eminence.
To understand this message, we must first understand the original Greek word which we translate as Kingdom. The word is BASILEIA, and it means “royal power, kingship, dominion and rule.” It is not a physical place so much as an order, a way, an empire. The word does not refer simply to “heaven,” but to all beings and things – eternal and temporal – that are under the royal power of the King
God created creation for one purpose, and that is to raise eternal offspring to inherit His eternal Kingdom. All of time and space sit in front of His throne as an incubator of sorts. He engineered this world as the perfect environment for cultivating a crop of sons and daughters with the character necessary to rule with Him in eternity. This place is so fertile, in fact, that the Bible says Christ Himself grew in obedience, wisdom and stature through His experiences here. If He who was perfect can benefit from this life, how much more can we? Everything in our world, and all our life experiences, boil down to this one underlying purpose: God is working to groom His sons and daughters for their eternal destiny.
Our Father cast satan and his rebellious followers to this environment to advance this purpose. Our created, defeated, and defanged enemy did not sneak into the garden, or pull one over on God. He would not be much of a God if satan could do that! Similarly, the war for this world is not against God and the devil. God’s crushing defeat of the rebellious angels was immediate and absolute, and never in question. No, the war is against us and the devil. So why are we stuck here with a fierce, powerful, and hateful enemy? Not so he can beat us up and punish us, but the other way around. Like a mother lion dragging a crippled, wounded rabbit to her cubs for their training, our loving Father has cast the enemy here so we can learn and grow by fighting against and defeating him, and this is to his ultimate punishment and humiliation. In Christ, our power over the enemy is absolute, and we have nothing to fear. Indeed, the devil’s greatest fear is God’s sons and daughters realizing their true identity and power.
The adolescent Jesus told His earthly parents that He must be about His Father’s business. He knew why He was here, and it was His all-consuming passion. His Father is ours, too, and we should similarly be about His business. His business is our divine training program, designed to prepare us for our eternal inheritance. This is not haphazard or mysterious, but clearly spelled out for us starting with the very first words God spoke to Adam: “Go and establish dominion…”
Establishing God’s dominion – expanding His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, conquering the enemy and bringing every person and thing on the planet into His loving empire – is our purpose and destiny here on Earth, and it is directly tied to our eternal inheritance. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus says seven times in a row that “he who conquers…” will receive every piece of our eternal inheritance. Later, in the next to the last chapter of the Bible, it says point-blank that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” We are here to be prepared for our inheritance, and our inheritance is tied to the act of conquering the world for Christ – establishing His dominion, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
God’s grand plan and purpose for creation and mankind is made more clear by the fact the Bible says repeatedly it is the completion of this task that will trigger the end of the world as we know it. Jesus said in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that when the sons and daughters of the Kingdom reach maturity, the Father will gather them in harvest, and that will be the end. Seven separate times, the Bible says Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, waiting till His enemies are brought under His feet. (Contrary to modern pop-theology/mythology, Jesus will not grow tired of waiting, get up, and come finish the job for us!) The Apostle Paul wrote that God will continue to give spiritual gifts to men until the Body of Christ reaches the full stature of Christ on earth, and only then will Christ return. The full coming of God’s Kingdom, through our hands, on earth as it is in Heaven, is inevitable, in one generation or the next. “Nobody knows the day or the hour,” because God has put it in our hands – for our training – and we have free will.
The Kingdom of God is not a theocracy or man-made “church” system. God is love, and therefore the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Love. The Bible says, “the Kingdom of God is within you,” and that it is “peace, joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit.” The Kingdom of God is advanced through personal relationships and discipleship, by bringing people, one-by-one, into a right relationship with their Father through Jesus Christ.
As much as He desires this to happen, God will not directly intervene in this, as it would undermine His entire purpose of training His sons and daughters. Instead, He has constrained Himself to working through people to accomplish His goals. This has been the hallmark of creation from the very beginning: all things were made through the man Jesus Christ, just as salvation came through Him. God didn’t just snap His proverbial fingers; instead He instructed and empowered His firstborn Son to do the work. The same power is available to us, Jesus’s eternal brothers and sisters, when we follow our Father’s step-by-step instructions.
There is nothing we can do in our own strength or understanding to advance God’s Kingdom. Instead, God has sent His Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, words and actions. His full power, provision and protection are fully available to us only when we, like Christ, do only those things that our Father instructs us. (The sword of the Spirit, Paul said, is the Rhema – personal, intimate, spoken – Word of God to us, which guides our path, step-by-step.) When I function this way – that is, when it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me – nothing can stand in my way. The Christ in me can defeat every demon, heal every sickness, pull down every stronghold of the enemy, and demolish anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. When we all grow in maturity to function this way – which is inevitable, someday – we will walk in global unity, peace, power, health and wholeness, and then the end will come.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood, and yet it is a very real war. The enemy, too, is constrained to working through people, and he does so with fierce brutality. Many have been and will be martyred for the cause. Enduring through the trials and battles of this life requires that we view things from the perspective of eternity. Every person has a choice. Will we live to satisfy our mind and body in this world – seeking our best life now – or will we instead advance God’s Kingdom at all costs, realizing that our best life is yet to come? We cannot do both.
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the Word of God meaningless. The Kingdom of God is ancient and eternal, yet always fresh and new. The Gospel of the Kingdom, Jesus said, is like new wine which can’t be held in an old wineskin, or unshrunk cloth that should never be stitched into an old garment. While it is the oldest truth we can ever grasp, it will never fit comfortably into our traditional “theology” or established “church” organizations. Its very essence is disquieting, as it continually calls us beyond the status quo.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note: Several years ago I took a one-week personal sabbatical and retreated to a cabin in the remote South Texas countryside. I had no idea what God planned for me during that time, and was ready to do anything He asked of me — even nothing. I was hoping for some time to catch up on sleep, yet God had other plans.
Almost the very moment I walked in the door of the cabin, the words started coming. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. (Actually, it felt more like taking dictation!) By the end of the first day, I had typed nearly 50,000 words! At the end of the week, I had completed a manuscript, which I entitled Living God. (Funny, I felt more refreshed at the end of the week than if I’d slept the whole time.)
I showed the manuscript around to a handful of close friends, one of whom is a successful writer, and while everyone encouraged me to publish it, I never felt a release from God to do so. He just kept saying, “Somday, but not now.” As I went forward, it became clear I was supposed to first publish UPRISING. And so, Living God has remained on my hard driving, collecting proverbial dust.
Just recently, the Lord prompted me to pull it back up and start working on it again. I’ve learned much since that week in South Texas, which I must incorporate. Also, I didn’t put in any proper attribution or references as I wrote it. Taken as a whole, the revision/editing process has loomed as a daunting task. Then the idea dawned on me to pull it out, one chapter at a time, and serialize it here on this blog, chewing the elephant one bite at a time.
I pray it blesses you.
It’s all about the fruit
We are all made in the image of God. From the poet to the diesel mechanic, from the primitive jungle dweller to the president, from the truck driver to the symphony conductor, and everyone else – male and female, rich and poor, intellectual and ignorant – we are all bearers of His likeness. We hold this image in jars of clay, each one fragile, cracked and incomplete.
His majesty is greater than any one of us can contain; we can each only bear a miniscule fraction. Like a drop of water, which is indeed completely H2O and has all the properties thereof, the image of God we carry is fully God. But it is not God in full. God is like the ocean, we carry but a drop. Only Jesus Christ was, could be, and is all in all. He came and lived among us to make God manifest; to prove that a being who is fully human could fully carry the image of God.
Driving through the countryside in America’s Old South, one can’t help but notice the sprawling vine known as kudzu. It is a non-native plant that is taking over, covering literally everything in its path. Left unchecked, it will cover forests, trees, farms … anything. What is incredible to think is that, while kudzu is not from America, everything that constitutes that aggressive and ubiquitous plant really has been there all along, in the soil, water and sunlight of the South. Nothing is there that wasn’t already there. Not one cell, fiber or nutrient was imported into the state. Nothing, that is, but the DNA contained in one single seed. That seed, planted into rich the Southern soil, slowly but surely is re-organizing its environment into a living thing that is taking over the state.
Just like it took only one seed of kudzu to take over the South, it takes only one kernel to produce a full crop of corn. Plant it, and it will grow into hundreds. Plant those, and they will become tens of thousands. Plant them; millions. Plant them … and from one seed you can feed the world.
Jesus came as the seed of God. I believe that, just like one seed becomes many, we who believe are implanted with a piece of Him. We are the many who came from the One. Our hearts are soil carrying a seed of Christ. Yet the seed in each of us is but a small part of the whole of God. Yes, it is fully God, like the drop of water is fully water. But the seed in each of us is not the fullness of God; the fullness of God can only become manifest on earth through the Body of Christ. The first coming was a body of one. The second coming will be when He returns as the Head of a Body of many. He come again after the growth and knitting together of each individual believer into a unified whole. (See Ephesians 4:11-16)
The DNA in your fingertip is the same as the DNA in your eyelash. Exactly the same. Leave a fleck of skin off your finger or one eyelash at a crime scene, and they will know it came from you, because the DNA is fully you. But it is not the fullness of you. I marvel that even though the information in each cell of our body is identical, the fact is each cell is unique. Cut off the tip of your finger and a fingertip grows back; each cell just slightly different from the other so that the end of your finger completes itself. Lose an eyelash and an eyelash grows back, just slightly different in form and purpose than the eyelash next to it. How does each cell know where it belongs if the DNA is the same? Only by the design of God.
Just like this, the seed of God that is in us, the DNA of Christ, is implanted not so that each of us can grow into little autonomous Christs, but so each of us can grow into our own unique part of His Body, each with a purpose, each with a place, each a little bit different from the next, so that, when we all reach maturity and join in unity, the Body of Christ will be complete. And when the Body of Christ is complete, that will usher in His second coming. He came originally as God in full, in the form of one man. He will come again, as God in full, as the head of a body comprised of many men and women. And then His fullness will cover the earth.
Understanding it this way, our purpose in this life becomes clear: Our job as believers is first and foremost to cultivate the Christ in us, so that ultimately He’s the only thing people see when they look at us. Then second we are to help plant and cultivate that seed in others, so that He lives fully through them, too. And third, we are to knit each cell of His body together through Koinoneia, which is the deep, intimate, loving, Christ-centered fellowship of believers. That is our job, and it is in concept really quite simple. Of course, it is also the most difficult thing we can do; it is the grand fight and struggle of this age.
When a seed grows in good soil and with proper care, at maturity it becomes a plant that produces fruit. Fruit is nothing more than a seed or seeds surrounded by the nourishment it needs to begin its own new life. From this perspective, our job is to be fruitful: to grow ourselves into healthy maturity, so that through our existence, our species – in our case, Christ – expands and grows exponentially with each successive generation, in the same way that one acorn can over time become a forest of oaks.
Each one of us has been implanted with a seed of Christ. That seed is indeed fully the image of God, but it is not God in full; it’s just a piece of Him with a specific purpose and destiny. We are all called in general to be fruitful; more than called, we are required – the tree that does not produce fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire! But the fruit of each of us will not all be identical. Those of us who are fingertips will multiply similarly, for example. All good fruit will carry God’s likeness, but only a piece of His likeness. In this regards, the Kingdom of God is sort of like a fruit salad – we all produce fruit, and all fruit comes together as one. Or better yet, the Body of Christ is like a living garden containing all kinds of fruit bearing plants. (Sound familiar? That’s how Eden was described.)
Finding our calling specifically means knowing who we are. For me to know who I am is for me to know my specific purpose, what kind of fruit I am to produce, my purpose and my destiny. Your unique identity in Christ IS your calling.
Metaphorically, the Kingdom of God is like a kudzu plant. Starting with the DNA of Christ that was planted in the grave and grew into new life, drawing off of the nutrients that God placed in the earth and in our hearts, and re-organizing everything for His purposes, He will eventually take over all that is seen and known.
Analyzed in detail, He is in actually one vine with many branches, each one unique.
Looked at even closer, each branch produces and multiplies slightly different fruit, so that piece by piece we may comprise the fullness of Christ.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
I have a serious question. It’s really been weighing on me.
Since when is “likeability” the most important measure of a person?
I’ve been in this world for going on 42 years, and this week is my tenth anniversary in full-time ministry. And I must say, this is one of the biggest issues in the body of Christ, one of the most important questions we can answer, and it’s something I’ve never heard ANYONE talk about. Instead, we seem to operate under an unspoken law that likeability is next to Godliness. And I believe this is a terrible trap of the enemy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m passionately about real relationships, being sensitive to people, putting their needs first, treating others with honor and respect, and living in a way that people are drawn to the Christ I serve.
But does all that automatically mean that every person I meet should “like” me? Does it automatically mean that if they don’t, then I’m somehow flawed or at fault?
I believe our slavery to “like” is one long, strong arm of a man-pleasing spirit. This is the demonic spirit that controls us through “coolness,” peer pressure, insecurity, self-consciouness, and “popularity.” It steers us down wrong paths, leads us to go with the herd, and keeps us fearful and timid — afraid that if we are strong in the “wrong” way, we might not be “liked” anymore.
Here’s a question for you. Had you been alive back then, and lived in His hometown, do you think you would have “liked” Jesus? Before you rush to fill-in-the-blank with the Sunday School answer – ”oh yes, He’s my best friend!” — really think about it. Fact is MOST PEOPLE HE ENCOUNTERED DIDN’T SEEM TO LIKE JESUS VERY MUCH. His hometown homies? Nope. The religious leaders of the day? Nope. The crowds who followed Him around? Not after His teachings got too hard for them. Even His closest friends abandoned Him, and claimed not to “like” Him when it came time to lay it on the line.
Think you would have “liked” Paul? Doesn’t seem that was a big concern for him. “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Jesus Christ,” he said. His old colleagues wanted to kill him. The assembly of apostles in Jerusalem didn’t seem to “like” him very much, either. Heck, he was so hard to get to “like” that he stirred up riots all over the known world!
The dictionary definition of the verb “like” is “to take pleasure in, to find agreeable or congenial.” For someone who desires to be separate from the world (as we’re called to be) … for someone who “has nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose(s) them,” as the Bible calls us to do … for someone who is zealous about God’s Kingdom and righteousness … who follows the narrow path … who doesn’t value earthly treasure … it seems that being “liked” should be way, way down on the priority list, if at all!
Jesus said, “all the world will HATE YOU because of me.” If we want all the world to LIKE us — or if we make “likeability” our first and most important measure of a person – then who are we really serving?
Here’s my commitment. I will not let my “like” or “dislike” of someone get in the way of my being able to receive TRUTH, MINISTRY and LEADERSHIP from that person. I will not make ”like” a pre-requisite for a relationship. I will NOT equate “likeability” with any REAL, valuable ability. To do so is NOT Godly.
Yes, a winsome, naturally likeable personality is a gift that God gives to SOME people. And He doesn’t give it to others. Many PURSUE this gift, even if it’s beyond what God desires for them. And for those who do have it, it can be a CURSE just like any other gift that we disproportionately value or use the wrong way.
I refuse to be swayed by the man-pleasing demonic spirit. If petty people who are controlled by that spirit (and they are legion!) seek to diminish, demean or disregard me because God didn’t make me as naturally “likeable” to them as some other folks, then I will not continue to throw my pearls to them.
Where’s the grace? It seems we can look the other way or forgive someone so long as they are “likeable” — but, for some reason, if we find them “unlikeable,” that’s an unforgiveable thing!
I have many dear, close, deep friends. I would sure love to have many others. They “like” me. And you know what? The Bible says that God likes me, too … by definition! He takes pleasure in me!
I dare say, “like” is a function of the flesh; a cheap counterfeit of true, Godly love. We can “like” or “dislike” someone for a whole host of reasons — many outside of their control — like they way they look, sound or smell, for the way they dress (maybe they can’t afford better), for the “look in their eye” … or maybe because they always appear detatched or distracted (maybe there’s a lot weighing on them right now!). Maybe we just don’t “click” with them (maybe they’re smarter than us, or come from a different culture), or their personality is a bit rough around the edges (as Paul and Jesus seem to have been much of the time). All of these are superficial, flesh-based, grace-less and love-less, and entirely irrelevant to what they have to offer to the Body of Christ, and who they are on the INSIDE, where it really matters.
When we follow the unspoken, seemingly universal rule of making “like” a priority, judging books by their covers, we miss the entire point of the life Christ is calling us to. We are to look beyond the surface, and connect at the heart.
I will continue to be passionate about real relationships and sensitive to people, to put their needs first, treat others with honor and respect, and live in a way that people are drawn to the Christ I serve. If they like me, fine. If not, it’s their loss.
Of course, there’s a lot more to this, and I could go a lot deeper, but this is a blog, not a book. Just throwing it out there as something to think about and discuss.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty my friends! (Even if the folks around you don’t like salt!!)