What Jesus Began… He Continues Today; In You.

What Jesus Began… He Continues Today; In You.

I want to encourage you with something today. Something maybe you have forgotten. Its this: Jesus still changes lives, heals the sick, and sets the oppressed free; just as He did in the pages of Scripture. It could be physical healing or it could be the victory over a destructive habit—no situation in our lives is too far out of reach for the power of God in Christ Jesus to reach us. The timing and method is with God—but I know that He still does them through His Holy Spirit. 

This past week in our church there was a woman physically healed from severe pain in her legs. She walked down with a cane praying for physical healing. She walked back without the cane. The following week a man got up to share how Jesus had set him free in his life from various things that he had been carrying for so long. The common thread in all of this? Jesus is still at work changing lives. But I am not sure many of us still believe this. 

In fact, it seems there are two kinds of people in the Church: There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively.

There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively. 

The first group lives with a confidence that Jesus is still at work both within as well as through their own lives to others. They are those who are seeking to love and serve others, share the message of Jesus, helping others to repent and join the church, those who are boldly praying for the sick, casting out demonic spirits, and more. They are a people of action.  

The second group lives with a theoretical knowledge that Jesus was who he said he was. They ascribe the right doctrinal beliefs. They seek to do good, be kind, tip their waiter well, tolerate and love all people, smile on walking paths, mind their own business, and then wait to die to go to heaven. They are a people of passivity.  

You may find yourself in one of these groups. I pray it is the former. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I go to church! Why wouldn’t I be at church if I wasn’t passionate?” I get it. But does that equate to being the passionate disciple of Jesus that He is looking for? My dad always told me growing up that “Going into a church building doesn’t make you a Jesus follower anymore than walking into a garage makes you a car.” He would tell me this to remind me that to be a Jesus follower is what matters most. 

The reality is that Jesus wants all of you so that he can transform all of you. He wants more than your Sunday attendance or confessions when you messed up. He wants all of you so that you can experience His full love, and truth, as well as enlist you in His Kingdom work. We do not have the option of being one foot in and one foot out. Jesus taught the opposite in fact. Jesus says in Revelation 3:15-16 the following blunt truth. 

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The Holy Spirit is looking for women and men of God set on fire for Jesus, not lukewarm. Joyful, passionate, excited about the potential that Jesus offers for themselves and others who are lost because they are needed—What Jesus began; He continues today. In fact we can take this deeper. Not only does his work continue today but his Kingdom still reigns as well. 

The Kingdom Jesus Began… Still Reigns. In You.

Luke writes in his Gospel that there were those who did not realize Jesus still lived and reigned. Here is a sample from Luke 24:36-39, 44-49 NIV

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”….44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 

Early in the chapter before the above, we have two men walking on a road and the resurrected Jesus appears to them in their sad and mourning state as they thought Jesus was gone, hope was dead. He appears to the disciples and speaks very clear instructions to them in what we read this morning. They too were startled unsure that Jesus was really alive—even though He told them this would happen. In both cases He helps them come back to life as effective witnesses for His truth. Essentially what he is doing is reminding them that “Everything I told all of you. Everything that was spoken about me in the Word. Everything I did while among you: healing, providing, loving, releasing, and more—all of it is still for today.”

Luke then writes a sequel to all of this called “Acts” which has been called the Acts of the Apostles but is more appropriately named the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of what happens next after Jesus resurrected and ascended to the Father. Essentially, it is our story. There was no expiration date on the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Luke says in Acts in 1:1-3:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Do you see how Luke writes, “…what Jesus began to do and to teach…” Luke is affirming that even though he ascended, Jesus began “something.” Something best defined as the reign of God’s Kingdom here in our time and space. Jesus could have discussed anything with them. But he chose to speak of the Kingdom of God. 

This Kingdom is the reign of God that pushes back the evil and darkness. Beginning first in the hearts of humans who respond in faith, and then permeating their thoughts, words, actions, and manner of life. This is where we get the understanding of the “victorious life.” That even through difficulty, tribulation, and even death—we still reign with Jesus. This victorious life is Kingdom living. 

In our desire to be understanding and empathetic we will often cater to the more difficult and broken parts of our stories in a desire to be real and authentic to be relatable. We could call this “Messy Spirituality.” While sometimes needed, we must remember that Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us. 

This means we are to pursue a holy life. Free of sin. Free of addictions, secret sin, perversions of the flesh, and everything else that damages our relationship with the Lord. We can be set free. His Kingdom still CAN reign in our thoughts and actions.  

Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us.

The desire of God is that His Kingdom would reign in our lives victoriously. We are to be those “New Creations” that the world sees and is attracted to. 2 Corinthians 5:17 brings this to light:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

We are to be new creations because of Jesus. We are not to resemble the world but rather be those who are called out of it. We are the New Creations who are still living in the “Acts of the Holy Spirit…” We are those who bring this same Kingdom in thought, word, and action—resembling the life of Jesus—to those whom God places in our path.

Two things will happen as you read that statement above. You will either feel emboldened by it, encouraged, and recharged and passionate to commune with the Spirit and receive instruction. Or you will feel a large disconnect followed by feelings of unworthiness, defeat, and shame because you are not living your full potential of divine purpose in Christ. I beg you to remember that there is hope. Our God is an amazing God of mercy and promise! He knows and always knew that we would need help to continue the work of Jesus and expand His Kingdom today!  

So lets think this through together: What Jesus began… he continues today in our time and space. The Kingdom Jesus brought… still reigns today in our time and space. But there is one more peace to this that Luke shows us in Acts 1:4-5:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

What Jesus Promised… Is Still Here. For You.

What Jesus Promised… is still for you. This is the missing part. But what in fact did he promise? He said, “You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can imagine the disciples hearing the commands of Jesus to GO and do this and do that. The fear and anxiety of doing it alone without Him must have been unimaginable. 

But Jesus promised them. It was an ancient promise. It was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. And when the masses thought they were all drunk and crazy because they heard them praying in tongues, Peter got up and boldly said something that was to forever alter the church moving forward to present day. Look at Acts 2:38-39:

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 

For as many… The promise still holds true today. For you. Jesus promised help. Help has come. You do not have to do any of this alone. Continuing the work of Jesus isn’t easy. Submitting to the Lordship of Jesus and His Kingdom in our lives isn’t easy. The Holy Spirit of God is our greatest friend and ally in learning how to overcome and walk in wisdom.  

You would be crazy NOT to embrace this gift and allow it (Him) to saturate you… right? Or think of it this way. If I gave you 1 dollar but promised you I could give you 20, what would you say? If I gave you a toy car but promised you there was a real car in the parking lot for you, what would you say? In both cases, you would receive with joy the 20 dollars and the new car. This is the same reality many are living in their pursuit of Jesus. We are settling for a drop when we were promised rushing rivers. Jesus makes this clear in John 7:37-39.

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” c 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 

A River Awaits

This river is for you; the local church; the church in this nation—we are to be a river of God’s justice and goodness flowing to all who are in need of the message of the Gospel. So ask yourself: What am I scared of? What holds me back from being filled with God’s Spirit again and again? What frightens me about the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Why am I playing it safe keeping one foot in and one foot out? 

I promise you this. Jumping head first into the things of God brings about a joyful transformation that nothing on this planet could touch. And you know what else? So much is on the line.  I think about marriages. How will they survive if both are not receiving the transformation from the Holy Spirit? I think about women and men. How will we battle the onslaught of the enemy in this world with lust, power, identity issues, insecurities, anxieties, greed, and more—unless we are filled and overflowing with God’s Spirit? I think about our children. How will they be raised up in the ways of Jesus if us parents are not being led by the Spirit through daily time in the Word and prayer? It wont happen. We must be intentional and saturate ourselves with the Spirit of God.

Connect the dots with me. If what Jesus began still continues today… if His Kingdom he began still reigns today… and if the Promise of the Holy Spirit is the One He gave his disciples (us) to achieve those first two… wouldn’t it make sense for the Enemy to get every single one of us to be weary, lukewarm, cynical, stuck, passionless, and defeated? He is winning if that’s the case in your life. But John tells us in 1 John 4:4 that, “He who is within you is greater than He who is within the world.” 

Rise Up Woman/ Man of God. Your Helper Is Here.

So I encourage you today. Rise up man of God. Rise up woman of God. You are called and anointed by God to overcome with the Holy Spirit within you. The sin which plagues your thoughts—can be overcome. The shameful acts committed in darkness—can be destroyed. The toxic decisions and habits made again and again—can be overcome. How? By submitting, repenting, and asking Jesus to baptize you in His Holy Spirit. You dedicate more time to prayer and the Scriptures and daily asking to be Filled for that day’s work—and watch and see what the Holy Spirit will do. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still in the business of setting people free. 

Last week I got a message. A woman I know well was an atheist for many years. But a long time ago she heard the Gospel of Jesus preached by myself, Michelle, and others. Years later she found herself experiencing demonic oppression and satanic attacks. She remembered the name of Jesus! She began to cry out “Jesus!” She spoke with me days later telling me she was experiencing peace and things were better. She brought books and items that were not of God to be destroyed here to the church to get rid of them. These messages didn’t shock me one bit. You know why? Because what Jesus began; he still continues today. 

So which are you?

Do you follow Jesus actively?

Or do you like Jesus passively?

Jesus is ready to set you on fire with His Holy Spirit. But are you?

Obedience.

Any mentioning of the word in Christian circles will conjure up diverse emotion. In many corners of Christianity, it has become a word of obscenity. Whether the context is obeying Jesus or learning to obey spiritual authority—no matter the context, this word has become problematic on many levels. A linguistic parriah. 

Don’t get me wrong; I get it. I really do. It seems that reports of sexual abuse and corruption from those in places of leadership in the Church are coming out by the week as more brave women and men step forward. The result is a large distrust of the church as we have known it as well as leaders within the church. Obedience and human spiritual authority is an entirely separate topic. Again, I understand. I have lamented for many hours in prayer over it.

Combine this with the origin story of my homeland, the USA, and we can understand on another level why this word is hard for us. The USA has a deep and innate obsession with individualism, autonomy, and freedom. It has come at a great price. There are positives to this part of our national identity. For the Christian though, if we are not careful, those positives can become problematic to our allegiance to Christ if not kept in check. If not kept in check, obedience in any form, drops into our ears like a threat to everything we hold dear.  

Though for the Christian, obedience is very much a foundational principle to live by, regardless of where we call home. Following and obeying Jesus in Scripture was never based on our emotional disposition or ease of comfort. There was never a standard to be met before we could obey. Following Jesus has forever hinged on pure obedience. Not the kind of obedience that comes across legalistic. Costly, yes. Difficult, yes. Painful even, yes. But never legalistic or shameful. The way Jesus speaks of it, is tied to a deeper submission of the heart to that which we are following. 

The Promises of Obedience to Jesus

This can be seen when Jesus, in John 14:15-15:16 includes or alludes to twelve promises which accrue to those who love and… obey God. 

  • 14:15-17: If you keep my commandments, I will send you the Helper, who will abide with you forever.
  • 14:18: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
  • 14:21: He who loves me will keep my commandments.
  • 14:23: We will come to him who obeys and make Our home with him.
  • 14:26: The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of my words.
  • 14:27: Do not be afraid, I give you my peace.
  • 15:7: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
  • 15:8: My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit.
  • 15:9-10: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.
  • 15:14: You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
  • 15:15: I no longer call you servants, but friends.
  • 15:16: You did not choose me; I chose you–that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.

Do you see how the above Scriptures highlight the role of obedience and it being for our ultimate good as Christians? This is what the unbelieving and secular society needs to see: indiviudals who walk out their faith at all costs. 

Unbelievers find faith in Jesus not because of a mental ascent to certain beliefs. They find faith in Jesus because they stepped out of their current existence and into a new one by faith; doing and following what they see within the Gospel of Jesus. Of course belief has a part to play.

But remember, Jesus first called out, “Follow me” to the disciples. Not, “Believe me.” 

Apart from unbelievers, followers of Jesus are renewed and find fresh faith themselves, not because they devoured books or went a week without a certain sin. They find renewal by obeying what they know to be true but have ignored for some time. That which we have read again and again but have been slow to put into action.

Following Jesus is not built on our terms. Following Jesus is built on his. He calls us to obey; submitting our whole hearts to him.

I pray that today you find yourself desiring to live out your faith in fresh and new ways. Seeking to crucify your own flesh and ego and with childlike faith, trusting the planted seed of the Gospel which has been planted within you. 

Lest you fear obeying Jesus like he desires is attainable, remember you have been given his Holy Spirit to lead you to a rediscovery of the deep things of God. In doing so, you will discover that obeying Jesus is not an adventure into drudgery. Obeying Jesus becomes a doorway into a hope and future that finds meaning in the present. It brings our faith to life!

To the point where, like the Apostle Paul, we are are able to say, “For I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Those things God has been calling / commanding / inviting / requesting you to do; those dreams which require you to put action to your lips, its time to move. Nothing will ever come by theorizing, talking, and dreaming. The things God destines for our lives come through our obedience to his Gospel truth. You can do this; the Holy Spirit is with you. The greatest transformations I have ever experienced have been the direct result of time of prayer when I know, read, and hear what God is inviting me to–and with fear and stumbling I step out and obey. I wish I was better at it. But I am learning. Learning to obey his voice above all others. Joy is found in no other place than obedience to Christ.

Yes by all means you should live a “perfect” life.

Matthew 5:48 [widescreen]

pərˈfekSH(ə)n/

n. – the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

Ever met someone who was a spiritual perfectionist? Or someone who lived their spiritual life in trying to be so perfect they tried to manage, control, or manipulate their life to project they “have it all together?” Yea I’ve never meant one either (cough cough). Yes I have been guilty of this in my life.

This word “perfection” in the above Scripture has often been misunderstood and even twisted down through the years. Its even been dumbed down and included on bumper stickers like “Christians aren’t perfect; only forgiven” (insert child like sneer). Even in this bumpersticker a noble minded Christian is furthering the misunderstanding of this word.

This verse has been used by Christians who tend to be legalistic in nature. I used to They use it to justify their self-righteousness and in doing so tarnish and twist the original meaning and context of this word.

I used to live and think that to make the Father proud, to do this “Christian thing” right, I had to be perfect. I had to analyze my daily list of do’s and don’ts. I had to have all my stuff together. I had to ensure that each thing was lining up for my moral life so that what I was projecting on the inside really was perfect just like Jesus says. Thankfully, I have come to understand what Jesus was saying.

A Harmful Word or An Unfortunate Translation?

Kathleen Norris, a famous New York Times bestselling author said something fascinating in her book “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” She has this to say about the “disease of perfection”:

“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know. It is a marked characteristic of contemporary American culture, a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks and causes them to suffer when, although they’ve done the best they can, their efforts fall short of some imaginary, and usually unattainable, standard. Internally it functions as a form of myopia, a preoccupation with self-image that can stunt emotional growth.” Amazing Grace, 55.

Norris is right on. This is a frightening verse and word for many of us. Thankfully when we look at the Christian landscape it is not so much a scary word that has harmed us but rather a scary translation. What often happens in the transmission between the Greek text into English is that we impose certain meanings on the original language that were not present in the original context. This is one of those times. On this one, we are imposing our American and Western understanding of perfection as opposed to a first century understanding of τέλειος which when transcribed is teleios.

This is usually what our concept of perfection in American society and even the American church looks like. Sadly, we’re missing it.

 

Perfection according to Jesus

Teleios, in the way Jesus used it and in this context refers not to a purity that is free from flaw or garnishment but rather a word that denotes a completeness, maturity, full-grown, and developed. Kind of like the perfect Cabernet wine. Is a perfect wine one that is bottled perfectly, fermented perfectly, and free from any imperfection? Some would say yea. However the majority would say the perfect wine is one that has aged well. Over time. One that matured. One that has grown complete with time. This stands in serious contention with our imposed meaning which usually involves setting forth an impossible goal, living without flaw, and so on.

This certainly does not give one license to live without holiness, morality, and a certain godliness that (along with our actions) marks us as different from others who do not follow Christ. But understood in the proper context, holiness is part of maturity. A mature follower of Jesus will understand that we lose certain liberties in following Jesus. Certain actions or ways of thinking that without the knowledge of Christ we were free to partake in, are left/ should be left behind us. These things should be realized through walking with the Holy Spirit. Not the legalistic pressure of others around you.

To be “perfect” in the way Jesus is calling us to be in this context means to make room for growth and to do so on purpose. It is to make the necessary changes which bring about maturity or ripeness. As Norris says, “To mature is to lose adolescent self-consciousness so as to be able to make a gift of oneself, as a parent, as teacher, friend, or spouse.” (Amazing Grace, 56) In other words, to mature, to be perfect, is to leave behind our childish ways so that we may prosper in any given role or position God has us in.

Jesus embodied this. In fact Jesus gives us an amazing window into what perfection really is. For him it was being mature enough to give yourself to others. Whatever we have or whoever we are, no matter how little it seems, is something that can be given and shared with others around us. That requires a mature perspective that as followers of Jesus we aren’t here for ourselves.

We are here to draw everyone around us to the love and joy of knowing Christ. That is the glorious summation of our lives as followers of Christ. It is one that is glorious, adventurous, and perfect. Whether married, single, with kids, no kids, or any other situation–we are to live this life. A life clinging to this world, status, material goods, or anything else we try and fill that God-sized hole with would be an imperfect and immature life. One that is stunted by the frivolous things of a society that has lost its way in the tragic depths of shallowness.

Understanding and Aiming for the right kind of Perfection

Life is to be lived in the perfection Jesus calls us to live in. A perfection marked by growth. Not a lie of “having it all together.” A perfection marked by honest and authentic faith. Not a shallow veneer of sinlessness and self-righteousness. A perfection marked by the tension of seeking holiness and acknowledging brokenness. Not an embarrassing and harmful projection that one has already arrived.

In Ephesians Paul says, “in whom [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” We are that structure. The church. We are the ones growing, maturing, perfect-ing…

May all of us be driven by this daily desire to grow in Him.

Let it be our prayer that in all of our hearts what drives us is not a worldly image of perfection but rather a Christlike pursuit of growth and maturity.

How about you? How do you understand perfection? Is it hard to break away from societies concept of perfection  and embrace the biblical one? Why or why not?

Red Cups, Refugees, and the Redeemed

sccdred cups

Facebook. Oy vey!

I can’t believe I am about to say the following: “I miss the Facebook days of duck face selfies, cat vine videos, and numerous other “statuses” that were mindless and somewhat funny. I know they are still there but they are harder to spot these days. And to be clear,  I am fully aware of awesome power that is at our finger tips which is social media. It gives a voice (digital letters) to the voiceless (digital letterless). It serves as a place for people to bicker and argue lovingly dialog and share their personal view points and perspectives on everything from the weather to their pets to their sports teams and even world events. Even on things like plastic red colored cups and the fate of millions of refugees.

While I just complained about Facebook I must also admit that it is a fascinating window into the minds and hearts of many people. As a pastor the one thing I always try to do is simply pay attention. Pay attention to the hurts in people’s lives. The joys they celebrate. The fears, temptations, and trials they  express. With all of these things, my response as a pastor is to then call attention. To help align their situations and dispositions with the will of the Father. To help them bring their frustrations and/or inquiries to the feet of Christ and simply ask, “What now Jesus?” To join them in looking through the Scriptures and desperately plead, “Holy Spirit! Guide us and help us navigate these rough waters!”

I’ve been paying attention these last few weeks to news feeds, twitter feeds, and all things media. I’ve noticed a few things that I am absolutely positive you have noticed as well. For example: There was a lot of frustration and uproar over red “anti-Christmas”  Starbucks cups by virtually no one (save a few). And then there were people mad at those who were mad about the red “anti-Christmas” cups which was really no one. This confusing mind game that played out via social media also revealed something else: What Christians really believe is important.

Multitudes of Christians coming on Facebook were exclaiming what really matters because of the supposed Starbucks outrage. “Matthew 25! House the homeless! Clothe the naked! Feed the hungry! Share the gospel!” These and many like it were exclamations made by Christians who in an uproar over the seemingly, albeit confusing, scenario playing out that Christians were mad about red cups.

No less than a week later social media is in an uproar again. Many of these very same people, celebrities, groups, Christian artists, christian leaders and so on were now exclaiming how we must refuse asylum to refugees amidst the global crisis that is ISIS. Or that we should be selective in our process and only take in Christian refugees.

Am I the only one who sees a paradox here? On one day… we refine our Christian priorities like there is no tomorrow, as a response to invisible people mad about red cups. In the same week when tragedy hits (in multiple places, not just Paris) and the issue of refugee asylum comes to the fore and we completely forget what we just affirmed in regards to what Christians believe to be priority.

What was, “Matthew 25! House the homeless! Clothe the naked! Feed the hungry! Share the gospel!” descended into “Close all borders! We’re scared! Say no to those who are being murdered, raped, tortured, persecuted, oppressed, and so on.” Why? Because it might involve r-i-s-k. There may be danger involved in helping, housing, and receiving the displaced, the refugee, and the religiously diverse. Welcome to Christianity. And all this time some of us thought it was a domesticated comfortable club that makes us feel good. C’mon now. Jesus died for something much more meaningful and beautiful than that.

And so, a few things to ponder…

We can’t forget that we are pilgrims, sojourners, aliens, and strangers in a foreign land.

Allow me to explain. We, as in followers of Jesus, are not United States citizens first. We are citizens of a different Kingdom. Members of the Kingdom of God who happened to be citizens in the country of the United States. A nation in which I love and appreciate and am thankful for. But we are immersed into this physical space and time to usher in a different society. Not through legislation, not through voting, not through hash tags, not through rants, and definitely not through societal accommodation (Christmas not xmas, reindeer not blank red, etc). We usher in this supernatural Kingdom through marginal operation (helping the misfits, unwanted, lower class, and any and all in the margins of our society). In other words, we the church, exist on the front lines doing the unpopular, standing up for the hurting, dying, suffering. Why? Because that is our identity.

So if this society wants to do away with expressions of Christmas, or become ultra politically correct, the body of Christ shouldn’t lose sleep over it. Our identity is not wrapped up in the trajectory of this society, country, or culture. When it comes to what moves us, what drives us, what impacts us–it should never be the things of this world but only the heart of the Father.  Peter says it perfectly regarding our present state as Christians in the world:

1 Peter 1:17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. NIV

1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives. CEB

And so, its important to remember that at our very base and core, we know our identity as members of a different Kingdom. If we get this wrong then the lens we see our world through will be tainted, disfigured, and confused.

Being a Christian means we embrace risk and do not fear death.

One of the biggest reasons being thrown around for closing our borders and rejecting Syrian and Iraqi refugees is because it is a “Trojan Horse” tactic of ISIS or ISIL. Heres the reality:they are probably right. It very likely could be. Because of the supposed risk does that mean that we as Christians advocate that the hungry, dying, suffering, raped, oppressed, stay within their borders? Of course not! Risk is part of the reality we live with. Your life is not your own. Your safety went out the window when you chose to follow Jesus. You are a lamb among wolves. You are a stranger in a foreign land pointing the way to the hope of Christ.

As a citizen of the United States, I get the rationale. I get what “should” happen. I understand the State is not the church and the country has certain responsibilities to protect its own. But remember, we as followers of Jesus are members of a different Kingdom. And so our energy is going to be geared towards the redemptive and the gospel. Things like, “Bring them here so we can serve them, share with them, and help them. Clothe them, visit them, give them value. Protect them. Empower them.” Yes screen them. Yes do everything you can to ensure there is no ulterior agenda. I am not advocating mindless and naive actions. But by all means, as much as possible, let us be people who open our arms wide even if it would cost us our life or be a risk. Is that not what Christ did? Should we refuse to house the homeless, feed all the hungry, or any other act of love and justice because they could rob us, hurt us, or deceive us? Of course not. With wisdom we continue to serve and love but we ought to never refuse because of risk.

Lest we forget, our very Lord and Savior Jesus was a refugee. Yes, God was a refugee. Check out Matthew 2. So perhaps we could say, “rejecting the marginalized, the refugee, the displaced would be rejecting Christ.”

The way forward involves something more than Facebook.

Lastly, the church, Christian culture, humanity, has made it extremely easy to “help” others. With everything from hashtags, to profile pics, to writing checks–we may have handicapped the church’s creativity and imagination of how to bring the Kingdom of God here and now. Could it be that this is our finest hour? That the state of the U.S., the world, necessitates the church to rise up? To remove the shackles? The lethargy? The comfort?

As some have said, this is this generation’s “holocaust.” Look at the articles. Talk to people from the middle of this refugee crisis. Lets open our eyes and hearts and put faces with the term “refugees.” Whether they be Christian or Muslim or any other religion or even ethnicity. Whether they are from Syria, Somalia, Algeria, Turkey, or any other country. They are people. They are families. They are marriages. They are children, elderly, and helpless.

download

When we can better empathize with these individuals, getting creative in how we assist them (or anyone for that matter) gets much easier. For instance, I know a family that is welcoming a student from one of these countries on a student visa who is going to go to a local college. They are rescuing her from the war torn region and giving her a roof and future. Why? Because their heart is broken for this girl and her situation in Damascus, Syria. I have a dear friend on the ground working hard to bring the gospel into war torn Syria who is researching on how our church can  creatively help, serve, and turn the tide of hate and violence. The second I get wind of practical ways we can get involved (for us as HighMillers and others outside of the church I lead) I will bring it right here.

In conclusion, should we pray? Yes. Should we donate? Yes. Should we do small things that show solidarity? Yes. Should we stop at that? No. This is not just about the Syrian refugee crisis. Its also about the U.S. Veteran crisis. Its about the mental illness, homeless, and many other domestic issues as well. Our hearts ought to be big enough for loving and serving both those local and abroad. Our creativity and imagination is boundless.

I understand. This issue is/ can be complicated for Christians living in the U.S. There are some amazing articles out there about this topic. Be well read. Think critically. Pray before you think/type. I want to encourage you. No matter the topic, take a look at how you are arriving at your decisions and dispositions.

Are you spending more time in Scripture than watching Fox News? Are you spending more time on your knees rather than reading Politico and other Left leaning blogs? News, articles, and other forms of media aren’t bad per se. But a disproportionate consumption of these without Scripture and prayer means an identity crisis is sure to ensue.

As a follower of Jesus cling to Scripture and the guidance of his Spirit. Isn’t that what the church has always done? We are the redeemed who by the power of Christ redeem others. The rescued becoming the rescuers. Enacting the story of Christ: He reached out to serve us…we reach out to serve and love others…even if they are refugees, Muslims, enemies, or any other label.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mat 5:46-48 NIV

 

Christ and the Journey Ahead: The Beginning

cropped-20151106_1216041.jpg

This is a picture from Quail Hollow. This is the exact location I have always come to hear from the Father, cry out to the Lord, and rest in His Spirit. This picture best represents what I think life is like: an exciting and arduous journey ahead. One that I believe is best walked with the Lord. Day by day. Minute by minute. Through each joy, tragedy, and storm.

As a pastor I hear questions swirling around the minds of many Christ-followers. Questions like:

“How do we live this life of following Jesus? How do we respond to a culture very different from our own? Who in fact was Jesus and what more is there to know about Him? How can I better love and serve others like He did? How do we engage the Scriptures and understand what is being written? How do we know what is to be literal and what is figurative in Scripture?  How can we better learn to hear the voice of God and be led by His Spirit in prayer? Where is God in the midst of my tragedy?

All of these and more are why this blog has begun. To start a conversation and help point us forward in our journey.

Questions like these (and many others) are what drive this blog. If all of us are honest, we have many questions. Inquires about life, purpose, direction, our faith, and so on. It is my prayer and hope that this blog can be a place where questions and topics can be explored which are relevant, important, and trans formative.

I make no claim to perfection. The beauty of this or any blog is in the mutual dialog that can take place. The goal is for this to be a community of fellow journey-ers that discuss, encourage, and learn from one another. It is my prayer that each blog entry that follows this beginning post would be a blessing to you. Whether they challenge, encourage, or make you think.

From time to time there may be an occasional book review, movie review, and other kinds of entries. There will be guest bloggers, interviews, and an occasional article from “outside” the common circle of Christianity. In all, I hope to make this a diverse blog with something for everyone.

In summary the purpose of this blog is to encourage, challenge, and strengthen our journey in becoming like Christ. The role of a pastor/ shepherd, as Eugene Peterson explains, is to “pay attention and call attention.” This means that with any topic a shepherd is thinking, listening, watching, wrestling followed by communicating what comes out of it. This blog is an outlet of that.

The target audience for the blog is first those I have the honor to lead @HighMill Church. Expect occasional entries on sermons, vision, testimonies and all things HighMill. The goal is to post 1-2 times each week. I also pray that what is here would somehow bless those outside HighMill as well.

Be sure and subscribe via email on the right hand side (widget button) so that you are able to stay caught up. If anything here challenges, teaches, or blesses you I encourage you to share it via one of the avenues below. The goal for any blog is to create community. So by following, sharing, and contributing–you are making that a reality.

Thank you and welcome to Christ and the Journey Ahead!

Noah D. Schumacher