Philippians 3 (The Voice paraphrase) 12 I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. 13 Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. 14 I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed. 15 All of us who are mature ought to think the same way about these matters. If you have a different attitude, then God will reveal this to you as well.
For the last four years, as a faith community, Peace has embraced a lifestyle of living the Kingdom of God in our midst. There have been understandable moments of confusion in this journey because living the Kingdom of God instead of simply being a local institutional church are two divergent definitions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To put it plainly, we have decided to GO instead of demanding that people “come” to us. We have challenged ourselves to invade our neighborhood and community with God’s love and grace instead of waiting for people to grace our doors. The world has changed…culture has changed…and, by all means, the life of a local church has changed. There are not denominations Christians beating down doors to local congregations…there are not people hiding out in their homes waiting for an invitation to come to “church.” Rather, people are living their lives, in most instances, not knowing or caring what a local institutional expression of religion is doing on an average Sunday.
Faith communities across the country are facing the challenges that ours is facing. Pressures, both financial and numerical, make it increasingly difficult to do what came as natural and easy in decades past. Guarantees of happy families and growing membership rosters simply because of denominational loyalty or a culture wide embrace of the Christian story are now vestiges of the past. WE live in a time of not only increasingly apathetic attitudes toward institutional expressions of faith but we also live in a time where people put higher value on self-indulgence during their free time (which is usually at the expense of traditional worship habits) as well as a general distaste or distrust of organized religion. Mega-churches, once a phenomenon within American Christianity, are now commonplace and, more and more, are the expression of choice by consumeristically driven religious customers intent on enjoying a wide array of “goods” offered by these sprawling expressions of the post-modern religion. To be in a small faith community means more transparency, more responsibility and more likelihood of the consumer being asked to be “self-feeding” and intentionally spiritually responsible. Usually, that doesn’t jive with the average 21st century American Christian who wants religious convenience over community…a plethora of choices over the personal responsibility to own the faith journey.
VBS Soccer Camp (from 2011-2014) is our faith community’s attempt to live another way…not pretending that we have our act together versus any other expression of local church but rather our commitment together (in time, lives and treasure) to graciously love our community without expectation. We challenged each other to love children and their families NO MATTER what their ilk and/or religious background. We said that we were willing to sacrificially give of our time and lives and resources to simply “love on” kids and provide a week of organized fun and recreation in partnership with other local organizations. We were HUGELY blessed and surprised this year when a number of Monroe institutions contacted us about forming a coalition of partners in providing this service to our community. The Police Department, School District, housing and relief agencies as well as four other diverse faith communities bonded together to do something that would ONLY bless our neighborhood. And that it did.
I don’t have a clue what God will bring out of this…all I know is that “seeds were sown” not in secret but publicly, under the glow of the sun that can produce a harvest beyond my wildest dreams. Could this become a Mustard Seed story (see Matthew 13)? Maybe, maybe not. Did we do this to get more “butts in seats?” Absolutely not…we did what we did, pressing on to the goal of glorifying Jesus in and through our efforts without expectation and relying on God and God alone to bring about fruit. God is the one who brings growth…all we accepted responsibility for was to offer our lives as living sacrifices and trust God with the results.
So, after 250 children, 100 volunteers, many local agencies involved, adult classes, meals served freely to the children and their families, we are exhausted but blessed in the knowledge the we are reaching for the prize. Do we know what God will do with this? Nope! And you know what? That’s OK! We served and loved…that’s what Jesus called us to do…love Him and love others. To tell you the truth, I’ve never felt MORE like the real Body of Christ than I felt last week. Worship experiences are good things, don’t get me wrong, but when the table is turned and we “worship” through loving action, the Kingdom becomes real in a manner that is surprisingly delightful and unexpected. Instead of waiting for the “real presence” to come to us, we became the presence of God in our community. People saw that…kids felt that love…the grace of God was palatable…and that’s really all that matters!
For those of you who are reading this and you were part of our effort and ministry, God bless you this week as you seek some much needed rest and peace. But take pride in the fact that you were LIVING THE KINGDOM…you got a dose of eternity last week! Savor that memory and pray that your hunger for MORE of those moments will only deepen. For those of you who weren’t, what are YOU doing to live God’s Kingdom in your life? No, we all don’t have it all together at any one moment but we do press on and seek the Spirit’s presence and guidance in being faithful to our Lord Jesus. That is the challenge of a lifetime!