The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 7 – “The 1700 year old wedgie”

This chapter has a title that I’ve never seen in a book before…I’ve had wedgies but I’ve never imagined what it would be like to have a “1700 year wedgie”.  Of course, that statement alone should raise your curiosity.  Essentially, this chapter is about “shooting yourself in the foot”…it concerns itself with taking a quick look at what occurred when the movement of “The Way” or what has for many centuries been called “the Church” transitioned from being an organism to an institution – in other words, the chapter takes a peak at Christendom.  Now, you can read many other books about Christendom (its rise and fall) by taking a look at what is available on the Net and on Amazon.  Even so, Hugh and Matt give the reader in this chapter a snapshot take on this crucial topic.

The point is this – it is time to “return” to a pre-institutional Christianity.  The chapter summarizes some of the “highlights” of the lifestyle that many followers of Jesus lived prior to the Constantinian era.  To sum:

“They were persecuted, on the run, without buildings or financial resources.  They didn’t have a bible or paid pastors to help guide them. They were held together by community, the teaching of the apostles and the Holy Spirit.  This type of church sounds great in some ways but it was also riddled with strife, doctrinal struggles, ethnic disputes, and that pesky problem called “martyrdom”.  This ancient church was, for many reasons, a marginalized people, a “counter-cultural” movement."

The authors take these historical facts and insights and spin a very compelling argument regarding the values that were embodied in this early movement of Christ followers that need to be embedded within our faith communities in the present.  They discuss sacrificial community, communal transformation through loving confrontation, and the value of being a ‘sent’ community.  In this last instance, Hugh and Matt outline the “talk” that they give to people who seek fellowship in their own faith community and how the passion, persistency and non-negotiable focus on “mission” shapes every conversation.  This part of the book (page 54) is worth a meditative look. 

As they bring this chapter to a close, the authors repeat the issue that has kept the Church stuck for centuries:

“…Church suddenly became a place you went to instead of a people you belonged with.  Imagine if you will, the president of the United States building all of our churches, appointing all our pastors, and then giving them a hefty benefit package.  That’s exactly what Constantine did…”

The contemporary perception of the Church is still being shaped by that which needs to be put to rest for good.  How many of us have had to deal with people who are confused about the role of the Body of Christ?  The Church is rarely, if ever, defined as a “people who” but almost always as a “place where”.  We still are stuck…the wedgie is still there…

“…we’re still entrenched in Constantine’s Christendom way of church.  Church is a place you go to, and the commoners don’t have much to do in the way of mission because the paid pros do it for them.  We show up to church to get what we want (which is feeding from the leader), not what we need (to feed ourselves and others).  And if we don’t get what we want, we head to the basilica next store because that chaplain is better at giving us what we want”. 

A bit tough huh?  Sometimes you have to confront the truth…even if it is bit hard to swallow! 
More to come…

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The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 6 – “Posture”

What should our “posture” be toward the current way the “church” lives out its life?  Should we take a stance of condemnation, indifference, antagonism…should we be arguing structures, size, the Sunday “presentation”, or staff?  Both authors remark, and I might add correctly and faithfully so, that we must begin with our own lives.  We must truly start not with all the things that we perceive must “change” if we are to begin to live missionally…rather we must adjust our minds to be those of missionaries.

Starting with the mission field – we must look at the assumptions, experiences, worldviews and emotions of people that represent those to whom we are going to attempt to reach.  At the heart of “missional” is the understanding that we are sent…instead of focusing on attracting people to our buildings, programs, and gatherings, we must focus on the fact that we are to primarily “go”.  Going not with a sense of spiritual arrogance, pride or insensitivity but with a renewed sense and dedication to the fact that we are NOW the contemporary incarnation of the presence of God in our world.  To quote the Hugh and Matt:

“…missional sentness is focused on leaving and everything related to going but incarnational represents how we go and what we do as we go.  God could have sent his son by asking him to set up a web site and download spiritual information to every billboard in the world.  But apparently he knew that information about him doesn’t help people understand or love him.  So the ONLY option for the Father and for us is to embody the concept.”

Our posture?  Well, it can’t be solely about truth or what we say we believe…our posture needs to be about helping people want to hear the truth.  Our posture can either “obscure the truth or enhance and pave the way for a clear rendering of the truth.”  The most important thing is whether or not people are “attracted to the truth, drawn into the truth, and able to understand and receive the truth”.  Again, the authors clarify this point by saying the following…

“Because we found ourselves emotionally attracted to you all, we couldn’t preach at you.  We knew you needed time to process your faith, and the only way to help you understand the big picture was to stay with you longer.  We knew the message would make more sense if you saw it in our lives (paraphrase of 1 Thes. 2:7-8)…in our network, we specifically ask people not to try to be evangelistic.  We suggest to them if people aren’t asking about their lives, then we haven’t postured our faith well enough or long enough.  We’re observing that every story of conversion and transformation happened without anyone being approached with a message.  The message certainly has gotten out not as our main priority but as our gentle response to their curiosity…when the posture is wrong, you’ll always be perceived to be an enemy or a judge.  When your posture is correct, you’ll be perceived to be an advocate…”

Somebody once said, “preach the Gospel at all times…if necessary, use words”.  Here’s a question for you to process in terms of your “posture” – “if you could no longer use words to communicate the gospel, what would you do?

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 5 – “Moving Violations”

The name of the game today in “churchworld” is competition…despite all the talk about different paradigms in ministry, most churches are in competition with each other for a “shrinking” audience.  This past Easter, I think we received at our home mailbox about 4 flyers from local church “startups” (you know what I mean, those entrepreneurs who are attempting to start a mega-church with a worship team they moved in from out of town with the young, superstar aspiring preacher) that said, “come to our church – we do children’s ministry better, we worship God more deeply and we preach God’s Word more authoritatively than ANY OTHER church in town (especially the church you are currently going to).”  I think you know what I mean!

Chapter 5 in The Tangible Kingdom discusses the “moving violations” that Kingdom people seem to stumble upon when trying to take baby steps into living in a renewed sense of faithfulness.  Besides talking about the “we do church differently” problem, Hugh and Matt outline a few others that, if there weren’t so tragic, would be a bit funny.  The issue remains the same – when change is in the wind, even if the Spirit of God is attempting to bring about that change, there is resistance.  Whether people want to power up on others through mindless comparisons, or if they want to be the only ones on the block to hold on to what has been tried and true, or if they are handing the pressures of ministry by sticking their head in the sand and praying it will all go away…every strategy essentially comes from the same foundation – fear. 

We’ve got to discover ways to move forward – though the first aspect to embrace as you and me transition into a new day in ministry is to “do” what doesn’t come naturally – an embracing of humility.  The main point of this chapter is there is NOT one way of doing missional living…the bottom line is not that we adhere to ONE model of ministry that we can then reproduce, package, and sell as “the secret” to successful ministry in the 21st century…we can start wherever place we find ourselves in the present.  We don’t have to trash what God has already done or is already doing in our context.  Rather Huge and Matt say clearly,

“The call of this book is not to get everyone back on the front lines of mission but to get everyone involved in mission.  Whereas some would say we need to move past our existing church forms, we disagree.  We just need to see them as they are, accept their weakness and their strengths, and find ways to help them contribute.  It is true that to try to saddle up the horses and head in bold new directions as a group may be too aggressive and unsettling to the good that is being done within these more traditional church structures.”

More coming tomorrow…

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 4 – “U Haul”

It is hard to truly understand what it means for people to change.  Change has to do with purposely embracing disequilibrium…it is actually walking around with “dis-ease”, feeling like your world is falling apart as you enter a new world.  If there is one thing I’ve learned about studying the story of Moses and the people of the Exodus is that God had to take the children of Israel through the crucible of the wilderness to prepare them for a new life.  Deconstruction was what it took to transform a slavery oriented people into a free, responsive people…people who listened not with fear to their taskmasters but who responded in love and obedience to Yahweh.

As followers of Jesus enter a “new frontier” of missional ministry, there will naturally be fears that have to be confronted.  Moving into a new paradigm is not easy…to move from primarily being “inreach oriented with occasional outreach programs” to being a community that is “outreach oriented with occasional inreach programs” is a HUGE step.  When we no longer depend on an Attractional methodology for our ministry but move into an incarnational model where followers of Jesus are imbedded in relationships for the purpose of transformation and redemption…things are bound to get a bit confusing.

Hugh and Matt state this complexity in this manner:

“There’s no way to avoid it…it’s right in step with God’s usual way of engaging his mission…He just packs light.  He loves to trim off anything that would slow us down, hinder us, or make the journey more difficult.  Sometimes that includes people, just like when he thinned out Gideon’s army.  Sometimes that includes assets, possessions, and material concerns…sometimes that includes…those things that have brought us internal security, acceptance, and pride. Bottom line: The incarnational way doesn’t come easy, at any level…we have to remember that the ancient faith communties that set the course to change the history of the world did so without church programs, without paid staff, without web sites, and without brochures, blogs, or buildings.  Then were lean!” 

“As soon as you suggest that this new journey will include some genuinely “lost” people from the world in your church; or that they may have to open their homes once a week to create small communities; or that you may change the service time to accommodate searching souls; or change a little music; or let “nonbelievers” be involved in church activities; or give up their seating spot; or dive deeply into the life and activities of the culture around them, you’ll see the claws begin to come out.”

Change can be brutal…but that’s what God wants…look at the scriptural witness and you’ll see the same as I have seen – God calls for, longs for, and inspires NEW life.  So, if God looks for us to “trim our lives” to be able to be ready for mission, what is it in YOU that you may need to trim?  What are the essentials that you need to be ready for the leading of Jesus in a new way? 

More to come tomorrow…

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 3 – “Tremors”

I used to live in sunny Cali – home of beaches, Disneyland, traffic, In and Out (if you have to ask, you are out of it), and earthquakes.  Several shakers have knocked me around pretty good.  Everyone was a wake up call…the earth is beyond our control. 

The next chapter in The Tangible Kingdom is entitled, “Tremors”.  Many of us have realized that the foundations of Christendom have been not only shaken to the core but have completely been annihilated.  That causes many of us, according to the authors, to discern that we as followers of Jesus (individually and in community) are in a huge mess.  Yes, we have hearts for the “sojourners” in life who need a deep drink from the well of God’s mercy, life and grace…that’s a heart breaker. But we are also tired!  We are tired of church growth formulas, ego driven conferences, “success” strategies promoted by the Creeks and Backs and Keepers and every other movement out in culture.  Tons of ministry leaders and your average “Joe and Jackie” Christian are burned out – we’ve put our lives on the line for Jesus and we haven’t seen results (at least the kind of results that merits a book deal or some national recognition).  Many people are also fearful…change and transformation calls us all to have to deal with “cheese that has moved” (again, if you have to ask, you might be irrelevant). 
Hugh and Matt see a number of these dynamics alive and well and causing many faith-filled, passionate, and loving followers of Jesus to get discouraged.  They remark that many of these dynamics could be leading to an outright “civil war” in ecclesiastical circles as mainly two “camps” square off:

Jerusalem Christians = those who see the person of Jesus through their traditions and the literal interpretation of doctrine.  Often Jerusalem Christians turn belief into dogma…dogma that often makes the life of Jesus hard to see.  These are people who “tend” to be more literal and conscious of doing church “right”. 

Gentile Christians = those who see the Christian message through the person of Jesus and the narratives about his life.  They tend to deal more honestly with grey areas of life and praxis. 

Their pressing question in this chapter, instead of simply hammering away at a stated bias, is simply this – WOULD CHRISTIANS TODAY BE DIFFERENT IF WE ONLY HAD THE FOUR GOSPELS TO INTERPRET?  Would it be better “on the streets”?  They think so…yes, admittedly, we would miss out on the rich theology of Paul, Peter and others…but at least we would “default” to thinking LIKE Jesus and living more LIKE Jesus. 

What do you think?  Do you have tensions in the faith?  Do you feel tremors like those above?  Have you noticed any clear distinctions in how people look at the organized church?  I believe the answer is obvious…

More to come tomorrow…

The power of social media

Yep, a quick video for a cleansing of the palette…this is an "ad" in some respects but the information is worth taking a peek at…the world of communication is changing.  It astounds me how fast it is going…just when I feel more comfortable in one form another is birthed and explodes.  Take a look:

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 2 – “Elvis has left the building”

According to the authors, there needs to be a reshaping of spiritual community.  For many decades, even centuries, the concept of "church" has been locked in with an image of buildings, budgets and programs.  This book is about creating something new…well, not necessarily new from scratch but something different from the institutions and structures of church that have caused millions of people to not only leave organized "forms" of religion over the past 20 years but also those forms that have caused so many God seekers to look everywhere BUT the church on the corner for spiritual help or meaning for life.

When many people read or hear, "the church must change"…they usually fear the worst – they fear they will lose what is most precious to their own journey with God.  The authors bring some compassion to those fears as they write,

"although we call for church to change, we do not suggest that we obliterate all forms and habits of Christianity…"

Good news for the faint in heart…because new forms of "church" may look new but they are most often embracing those things that have been historically tried and found trustworthy…aspects of spiritual living that have "rerouted the legacies of family, nations, kings and peasants."  In one conversation that Hugh was having with a man he knew, he asked a profound question that sheds light on these issues of change:

"if Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed everyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too – and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested?  'Hell yes!' was the man's reply".

The issues in new forms of Christianity really have to do more with the impact that people who follow Jesus make on their surrounding world.  For example, do people take you as a follower of Jesus seriously?  Do they respect your way of living?  If someone were looking for guidance, would they be more apt to talk to you, visit a local church or buy a self-help book?  The authors are pointing out that there need to be some "new wineskins" when it comes to followers of Jesus living for the Kingdom.  They assess that the church has lost its "flavor" (i.e. saltiness from Matthew 5:13-16) and is living in various degrees of spiritual blindness.  The statistics are there…the realities are humbling. 

Tomorrow…on to some of the tensions in how many feel about their faith journey and their identity as people in faith communities.  More to come…

Tangible Kingdom – Chapter One – “Fiona”

Everybody has a story.  Everyone has a life that is lived with shared experiences with others but with a twist of humanity that marks each life with a stamp of uniqueness.  The Tangible Kingdom opens with a story…a story of a leader; a person who loves God and loves what God has done and is doing in our world through people.  Hugh Halter has spent many of his days planting churches and training church planters…chapter one is his summary of why he does what he does.  His main motivator?  What gets him up in the morning?  An incurable curiosity about people who don't know/follower Jesus.

As Hugh states on page 2:

"when I walk into Starbucks, I don't think about coffee…I ponder the lives of everyone I see.  I wonder about the spiritual journeys, their highs and lows…and where they look for direction in their search…"

It was a collapse of a church plant that initially appeared to be "successful"…"irreconcilable differences" that led to a breakdown in spiritual community, a smashed cell, a resignation and a self-imposed "exile" from organized church that was the beginning of a new birth in Hugh.  As Hugh mentions on page 4, "my dream church became my nightmare church". 

On an extended trip to New York City, a young waitress in a neighborhood pub befriended Hugh.  One conversation led to another and soon Hugh found himself surrounded one night by the pub's owner, a few other waitresses, and bartenders.  An honest conversation followed where, over time, Hugh realized that sharing the four spiritual laws or the fact that he was a pastor was going to be futile.  He remarks,

"I just talked about the only thing I knew they might like – Jesus and the alternative world he called, the Kingdom of God.  They loved it just as much as I did, and lapped it up like hungry pups."

Out of his jadedness, God called him to a new vision and, while "messing with him", led Hugh to a new home, a renewed spiritual passion, and a new dream of a greater church and maybe another small church that someday could be an easy and relaxed home for searching souls like Fiona and her friends.  A broken heart and a "tapping out" of organized, traditional, institutional church actually became the seed bed for a lifestyle of living the Kingdom that has taken Hugh for the ride of his life.

Tomorrow…chapter two.  In the meantime, ask yourself about your vision for your life…what is the part you play in God's desire for the Kingdom of God to be experienced in the here/now?  Are  you satisfied, stifled, frustrated, apathetic with what you experience?  More to come tomorrow as The Tangible Kingdom begins a frank look at the reality of "church".  Come back and see us, OK?

The Tangible Kingdom – A Chapter by Chapter Sum with “editorial” comments – Introduction

N12909201594_6000 [tan-juh-buhl] – adjective

1. capable of being touched; discernible by the touch; material or substantial.
2. real or actual, rather than imaginary or visionary: the tangible benefits of sunshine.
3. definite; not vague or elusive: no tangible grounds for suspicion.

It
was centuries ago when a man was encountered by God in relationship in
entered into a covenant with him.  One of the aspects of that covenant
would be that he would be the "father" of many nations…that his
descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15). 
That's a tangible promise…it is not a mystery to be able to discern
whether God has come through on his end of the bargain…the covenant
had results that were capable of getting his hands around.  The beauty
of the nature of God is that he is a God of incarnation…he makes
himself real…something that doesn't get simply comprehended or
imagined or theologized…it is something that isn't vague or
suspicious because it can't be experienced.  God is experienced in
life…he makes himself real and continues to make himself real through
the reality of his Kingdom in the here and now in the lives of people
who love and serve Jesus. 

Without a Kingdom that is tangible,
all we have is a fantasy…an illusion…something that doesn't have
the power to impact of life.  But a Kingdom that is tangible, that's a
dangerous and subversive Kingdom..something that calls us into a new
reality. 

I recently finished my first "read through" of The
Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  Over the coming days,
I'm going to do my best to summarize their thoughts and then ask
questions of application and praxis that could make a difference in our
journey as people of God.

Stay tuned…you and I need to
understand…the blessing that Abraham looked forward to experiencing
in his experience of the covenant, has now fallen to you and me.  We
are the living fulfillment of God's action in the lives of people…it
is our responsibility to carry out the call and challenge of making the
Kingdom tangible in our time.  Let's learn more on how that can
happen…more to come…