7 benefits of citizenship in the Kingdom

In the last post I looked at what it means for us to be citizens of a kingdom.  We are there to serve the King and do his bidding.  But we serve a loving and merciful King!  Recently I did an extensive study through the NT to see what the good news of the Kingdom is.  Here's a brief summary of the benefits we have by being in the Kingdom:

1.  Our sins are forgiven:

 If we
believe, turn (repent) from our sins and are baptized, we will be forgiven.

 This brings us peace with God. 

2. We've become a new creation

 His laws are now written on our hearts so we don't live by a rule book but by his divine nature inside us.

3.  Healing and
deliverance:

Jesus announced the good news of the
Kingdom to the poor and demonstrated it by healing every
kind of sickness and illness.  He had authority over every demon. We have authority
over all the power of the enemy when we use the name of Jesus. We can see the captives set free.  
The Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by
God's power!

4.  We have eternal life:

Jesus died on the cross, so that everyone
who believes in him will have eternal life—in fact, has already passed from death to life.  One day we will have resurrected, spiritual bodies, full of power. 

5.  The Holy
Spirit fills and empowers us:

The Holy
Spirit will never leave us but lives within us.  He  teaches us and leads us into all truth and testifies of Jesus.  He will convict the world.  He brings glory to Jesus

6.  We have a relationship
with God:

God is our Father and we are his sons and
daughters.  We are adopted into His
family.  Eternal life
is knowing God and Jesus. We are now friends of Jesus rather than
servants.

7. Relationship with others:

As his body, we are family together

Now all of that is Good News!!

A democratic Kingdom? Not!

Continuing thoughts on the Gospel of the Kingdom:

American flag

  

We are blessed to live in a democracy — or to be more specific, here in the States, a constitutional republic. It is "government of the people by the people and for the people" (Abraham Lincoln). The people have the power. As society changes, so do its laws, because there are no absolutes.

The United Kingdom, where I am from, is a constitutional monarchy. The government is a democracy and the Queen is its figurehead

Because we live in a democracy, when the Bible talks about the Kingdom, we have no real frame of reference to understand it.

A kingdom is ruled by a king. In an absolute monarchy, the king has undivided rule and complete sovereignty–supreme authority over his people.  He decrees how the people live, is responsible for the governing laws.  He is not subject to the will of the people; their responsibility is to serve him. 

The good news of the kingdom is that we have a king who has made a way for us to enter his kingdom. But is being ruled by a king good news? It all depends on the character of the King!

In the next post, we will look at what our king has chosen to do for us.

The Santa Claus Gospel

This is a continuation of the series, "Ways to see more harvest."

Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom.  What do we preach? Santa Claus 

I often think that we preach a Santa Claus gospel. We portray God to those who don't yet know him as some kind of divine genie who is there to give us an easy life.  "Invite Jesus into your life and he will give you peace and joy."   "You can know your sins are forgiven and you will go to heaven." "Raise your hand and Jesus will come into your life." We give the impression that God will answer all our prayers in just the way we want, that health and wealth and happiness will follow a decision to commit to him.

There is a grain of truth to much of this, but it is far from being the whole story.  So what is the Gospel of the Kingdom? The blessings are even more than portrayed above, but there is another side to it too.  Our side.  Our responsibilities as members and ambassadors for the Kingdom.

What do you think is the Gospel of the Kingdom?

A wonderful example of the power of listening to someone’s story

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the power of story telling and of listening to others' stories. Dan Hubbell emailed me with this wonderful example from one of his trips.  Enjoy it!  But also learn from it.

When we were in China on one of our early missions about seven years ago, we were equipping and training Chinese leaders.  We had committed ourselves for three years to minister as servants to these precious saints.  Knowing that we would be with them for this long period of time, I was praying about how best to personally know each of the forty-nine students who made up the training class.  The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, "Let them tell you their story".  So, I asked the principal of the training school if that would be possible.  He very reluctantly agreed, commenting that in the Chinese culture they did not emphasize the individual but rather the class as a group in their approach to training. 

My interpreter and I met with the first student in our living quarters on the compound (which was a deserted factory where these students were "hiding out") to be trained as evangelists throughout the Mainland.  My Chinese interpreter reminded me not to be surprised or disappointed if the students did not respond to my request for them to "tell me their story".  

The first student to come in was a precious little sister.  After I explained to her that I wanted her to tell me her story, I waited in silence for a few moments.  Then she began to pour her heart out to me and shared interrupted for over an hour.  As she told her story, tears streamed down her cheeks.  I felt so humbled and blessed just to be there to hear her as she opened her heart to me.  

As she began to complete her story, I was praying for the Holy Spirit to help me know how to conclude our time together.  I couldn't see just having prayer with her and asking her to tell the next student to come in.  And the Lord spoke plainly to me, "Let me do it".  I wasn't sure just what that meant but I told her that Jesus wanted to minister to her.  I really didn't know what Jesus was going to do, so we both just waited in silence until I heard in my spirit the Lord saying "I have come to heal your brokenness, bind up your bruises and set you free from everything that holds you captive."  

I simply laid my hands upon her, spoke these words the Lord gave me, and waited upon Jesus to minister to her.  She began weeping, sobbing and heaving.  It was such a sacred moment that I didn't feel worthy to even be present.  After a while, she got up from her chair and came over to me and embraced me with a vice-like hug that nearly took my breath away.  She again began to weep only this time it was with gratitude and thankfulness. 

As it turned out, not only did all the trainees come to tell their stories, but so did the principal and his wife, his mother, elders of the church, grounds keeper and cooks!  And all we did was to ask these precious saints to simply "tell their story"!

Core competencies: Recognizing a ripe harvest field

Ripe harvest field

What makes a ripe harvest field? Many of us are living in comfortable suburban homes, and we assume that our neighborhoods will make a great harvest field. But we may be trying to reap a harvest in the wrong places.  Jesus gave some indication of what makes a ripe harvest. For example, he said:

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…" (Luke 4:18)

Where will we find these people? They are much more likely to be found in the low-income housing projects than amongst the wealthy. They are more likely to be found in AA groups than in success seminars. In our neighborhoods, where is the couple going through a divorce? How about the family going through bankruptcy? Do you know people who are hurting?

Others who are often open to the message of the Kingdom include New Agers, young people, those living on the streets, or in half-way houses, refugees etc.

Jesus also said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

Where will we find people who know they are "sinners"?

Obviously we need to be open to wherever the Holy Spirit is leading us, but as a general rule, we are more likely to find hungry people in places where we are not necessarily comfortable.  As Neil Cole says, we need to learn to sit in the smoking section."

Another thought: No farmer would consider trying to harvest a field where no seed had been sown. What does it look like to sow seed? Hint. The seed of the kingdom is the word of God (Luke 8:11).




 

Core competencies: Story telling

A couple of the core competencies that I mentioned in the last post have provoked some comment. So this post will look at the first of these: telling stories.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich. When asked whether he would change society by revolution or reformation, he answered, "Neither of these. The best way to change society is to tell an alternative story." People love to listen to stories, and they will listen to our stories when they will not listen to us preaching. They also like to tell us their stories, and it is important that we develop good listening skills.

One of our favorite ways to start with a group of not-yet-believers is to ask them to tell us the story of where they are on their spiritual journey. It's a great open-ended question, and they will tell us a lot of things that we would like to know — do they have any kind of church background? Are they into some other religion?

I remember when we did this with a group of young people aged 17 to 25. The first girl to share her story told of a divorced background and how she had to leave her mother in California following an argument and come to live with her father here in Texas. It was in the middle of the school year, and some of her credits didn't transfer and she went from being the head cheerleader to a school where she knew nobody. She became more and more depressed, and eventually one evening found herself in the bathroom with all the medicines from the cabinet lined up in front of her. But before she attempted suicide she cried out to God, "God if there is a God, will you help me?" And God met her. A couple of days later she met on daughter, and now here she was in our living room telling us her story. The interesting thing was that there was not a dry eye in the room. All of us were profoundly moved by his story, and it provided a natural entree into talking about Jesus.

This is a concept known as prevenience:  God is at work in our lives before we surrender to him, and when people tell their stories, we can see God at work even when they don't yet know him.

But now we need to learn to tell our story without it sounding like a sermon, or a "holier than thou" diatribe. Unbelievers are turned off by our use of Christian language and probably don't understand it. We need to learn to tell our story without using any Christian jargon such as sin, salvation, redemption etc. This is a skill that can be practiced. If you  look at the times that Paul tells his story in the book of Acts, he describes his life prior to knowing Jesus, then his encounter on the Damascus road, and finally what God has him doing now.

You can develop stories for different situations too.  Someone has financial problems; was there a time in your life when God came through for you financially?  Someone has health problems; you have a story of when God healed you or dealt with the fears you had about your condition.

Suggested activity:  Spend some time working on your story, getting it to where you can tell it in 2-3 minutes.  Then find a friend who will listen to you tell it, stopping you whenever you use a word that is "religious."

[Note: There is an activity called Bible storying which is primarily used in oral cultures where Bible stories are told in chronological order.  I believe this will become a skill used more and more in a Western context too, where people are increasingly becoming a-literate--they can read but choose not to.  It is very effective.  I remember demonstrating it once, and a couple of weeks later, found the story I told blogged about by someone two steps removed from the person I had told the story to.]

Ways to see more harvest: 6 core skills

Laughing fish I am no fisherman (in the natural, that is)! On the few occasions when I have tried fishing, I have never caught anything. In fact, I vividly remember one occasion when Tony and I were taken fishing by some friends on a shrimping boat in Canada. It was a spectacular setting, mountains in the background, and a beautiful sunset, and the fish were biting. Our companions on the boat were reeling in the fish one after another, but neither Tony nor I caught a single one! I think the fish were laughing at us!

The problem? I lack the core skills. I have never been taught how to fish.

One of the problems that many people face when leaving the "legacy" church and involving in simple/organic church is that they have not been trained in some of the core skills needed when reaching out to others. In the past these things have often been left to the "professional." So what are some of these core skills?

  1. The ability to tell a variety of stories appropriate to any situation without using "Christianese."
  2. The recognition of a person of peace.
  3. Being able to naturally introduce spiritual topics into a conversation.
  4. Having the confidence/faith to pray for somebody and if God doesn't show up, we look stupid!
  5. Knowing how to pray for healing, inner healing, deliverance etc.
  6.  Recognizing a "ripe" harvest field.

Any other ideas? Are there any of these you would like us to discuss further?

Ways to see more harvest: a paradigm shift

For years, we have invited people to come to church.  Successful evangelism has consisted of persuading our friends and family to join us at church.  We have run special and exciting meetings with professional bands and gifted speakers.  Even many of our simple/house churches have had this same mindset; invite someone to church, and pray that the presence of God touches their lives.  And, praise God, many have found the Lord in this way. (First Corinthians 14 makes it very clear that there will sometimes be unbelievers in our gatherings.)

One problem:  it's not what Jesus told us to do!  And it's not the most effective means of changing lives. 

Jesus told us, "Go (or more specifically, 'as you are going'), make disciples."  As we go about our everyday lives we are looking for opportunities to make disciples.

Why is this important?  If we invite people to come to our church, who moves out of their comfort zone? They do.  Church is a very strange culture for most people who were not brought up in it.  When we go to them, we are the ones that cross cultural boundaries and go to their culture where they are comfortable.  Not only that, their friends and families are comfortable there too.  If we extract people from their own culture by getting them to join us at our church, usually they rapidly become Christianized and lose much of their effectiveness within their own circle of influence.  If they become Christians in their own environment, we have the opportunity to reach out to their oikos.

Paradigm shift: If we invite someone to come to church, we will reach that person.  If we go to them, we will reach them and their circle of influence too.

Ways to see a greater harvest: 5 things to do if your church is not focused outward

DNA  

Neil Cole likes to define the DNA of house/simple/organic church as:

Divine Truth

Nurturing Relationships

Apostolic Mission

Most of our simple/organic churches have the first two—we base what we do and teach on Biblical truth, and we have a depth of community based on family relationships that others envy.  But many new churches, especially if they have formed by existing Christians coming together, may not have a missional emphasis.  After all, in what they have known before, evangelism was often the job of the professional.

Roger Thoman, in his blog, talks about the stages of simple church development.  As we "reboot" to Jesus, he infuses us with a passion to take the message of the Kingdom out into our communities. 

We have come across an increasing number of situations where, after a period of adjustment to simple church life, Jesus leads people clearly into the harvest.  For example, a network of churches in a city about an hour from our home had a men's prayer group that met in someone's home on a Monday night for several years.  Last spring, however, the Lord clearly led them to change the location to the local Starbucks.  The very first evening, one of the other customers became a Christian, and now, just over a year later, there are more than 50 people who have become believers because they changed venue. 

A group focused inwards will eventually die. So what can you as a group do if you sense that your church is not reaching out?

  1. Pray that God changes your DNA.  Many fear that reaching out will somehow interfere with the close fellowship they love.  Will the group have to stop meeting together in order to accommodate new believers? As a natural family grows, we rejoice when our kids get married and have their own families.  It's a normal part of life.  The same is true here.  
  2. Pray the Luke 10:2b virus (everyone set their alarm for 10:02 and beg/beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest).
  3. Ask God to show which group(s) of people he wants you involved with.  God has a strategy for your area (Luke 10:1). Listen to God and do what he tells you.
  4. Make a list of the unbelievers you individually know and reach out to them in friendship.  Maybe start a life transformation group that includes not-yet-believers.
  5. Choose to spend time in situations that bring you in contact with other people.  Is there a natural group that fits your group's makeup.  For example, if you have lots of young kids,could you involve in a mothers of preschoolers group. How about getting together at a coffeehouse rather than in homes?

Any other ideas? Any stories where people have seen a group change focus? 

Ways to see a greater harvest #2

 Are we willing to sit in the smoking section? (Neil Cole)

 smoking cigarette
 

Many of us believers are so busy with our Christian friends or with church related activities that we have no time to make friends with other people. Not only that, some have an inbuilt fear that we will somehow be contaminated by rubbing shoulders too closely with "the world."  (Love not world, neither the things that are in the world.) Or maybe we are concerned that we will not be able to resist temptation if confronted with it.  Perhaps we feel guilty for enjoying "worldly pleasures"  (I am not talking sinful situations here but the normal everyday pleasures of life.)  How sad!  The result is that we live isolated, legalistic lives, irrelevant to much of society.

Jesus himself related very well with the ordinary people of his day. Sinners loved him! Luke 15:1 says, "Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach." Jesus was not scared to be in a compromising situation with the woman at the well  (think Jewish man alone with  Samaritan women of doubtful reputation); he did not mind when a prostitute washed his feet with her tears and then anointed them with perfume. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners (Matthew 11:19). Jesus preferred to risk being identified with sinners than with the religious.

We will ony see the world won for Christ when we are willing to leave our church pews or our sofas. Jesus said that the sick are the ones who need a physician. The challenge is to get out into a world that so desperately needs him, to get into the trenches in the dirt and guts of life. As Romans 10: 14 says, "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?"

How do you make friends with someone? It takes time! People instinctively sense insincerity if we make them projects rather than having a genuine friendship with them. They rightly run away from this.

So where does that leave us?  Are we willing to risk our "good Christian" reputations to befriend the outcasts and marginalized of our communities? How do we form genuine friendships with not-yet-believers? 

What ideas do you have?