The Jesus Manifesto - Second Installment
Over the last 15 years, Larry and Melissa Beach have fostered more than 80 children in their home and enlarged their family to 15 through adoption. One of their adopted children, Mercy, is deaf, blind and brain damaged. Several of the other adopted kids have developmental issues. Many of their foster children have been terminally ill or severely disabled infants that no one wanted. They took these children into their home, knowing that they would not survive. In 2008 their home was destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Extreme Home Makeover came to town and built them a brand new home in what became a two-hour special that aired on ABC on Easter Sunday.
Melissa was being interviewed about her life, the show and everything. She said, "If you are among the least o these, if you're a child in need, one who would otherwise be institutionalized, then you're going to be part of our family. You're going to be brought here, not to an institution. You're going to be cared for and fed, you're going to have siblings, and you're going to share a life with us."
What is the motivation for this kind of life? What would make someone give up so much to care for children that require constant attention? Simple: Jesus. The Beach's are committed Christians, who believe in Jesus being the center of their life. Though they never dreamed that when Jesus became the center of their life it would lead to a life lived in sacrifice with such a huge family... but they couldn't be happier.
What happened on the outside of the Beach's house wasn't nearly as important as what is happening on the inside. The outside might have been rebuilt, but the inside had already been transformed into a living, breathing, embodiment of the kingdom of God.
Jesus often said to his disciples, "The kingdom [of God] is coming and is now." It's one of those strange mystical, Jedi Knight kind of sayings that Jesus was so fond of blurting out to his followers---and then almost assuredly he sat back and watched their puzzled expressions with amusement and love. The kingdom is coming.... and is now.
For several centuries, there have been basically two views of the purpose of the Church:
1. The Church is here on earth to save souls
2. The Church is here on earth to do kingdom work.
I would guess that the vast majority of Christians think that saving souls is what the Church is not only called to do, it is what it must do all the time. There are certain strains of Christianity that insist on conducting "altar calls"each and every time they gather...for anything. They do them on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday prayer meeting, funerals, weddings, Sunday school classes, youth group, retreats, rallies and events. If a group of four or more are gathered together to break bread at their local Chik-fil-A, they just might conduct an altar call because they read somewhere that one out of every four people in America don't attend church.
When I was growing up, I attended churches like this. One Sunday when the altar call was going on especially long and no one was coming forward, I sneaked a peak at the pastor. He kept trying to get someone to raise their hand. No one did. I was all the way in the back of the sanctuary so I had a view of the whole place. He finally said, "I see that hand," and ended the altar call. All the people in the pews felt good because someone got saved, which pretty much needed to happen each time they had church. The only problem was that no one had raised their hand. I was watching. Now maybe he just looked down at his own hand and said it so he wouldn't actually be lying... or he was just under so much pressure to produce, that he waffled.
Some Christians believe that the purpose of the church is to do good works, "for the kingdom of God." I once served on staff at a large mainline church in the suburbs of Chicago. This was a church that was dominated by people who believed the purpose of the church is to do good works. One of those good works was a preschool that occupied our children's education wing throughout the week. It had seemed like a good service to the community by the church leaders to enter into a partnership with the preschool, which catered to lower income families but was decidedly not Christian-based. Because it was funded through a series of grants from the state of Illinois, the preschool could not be "religious." As a result, all images that had to do with the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, etc. were removed from all of the Sunday school rooms that were used by our children.
I have two questions to follow up on these illustrations:
First, if our entire gospel is based on a fear of eternal torment and my only hope of avoiding it is to pray a formulaic prayer and join a church... is that really "good news?"
Second, if the church is relegated to the ranks of a social service agency, have we missed our calling? I would argue that the social gospel is no gospel at all if Jesus is removed from it.
In Revelation 3:15-17 we have an example of something different---the marks of a Jesus Church:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm---neither hot nor cold---I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.I think I can sum that whole passage up in one sentence: "Show me your faith that works, and humble yourself." When you slap this on either one of the previous two views of the Church it blows it up. For those that believe the Church's mission is to punch as many "Get out of Hell Free" tickets as possible at the expense of everything else---the whole "faith that works" concept goes out the door.
For those that believe the Church's mission is to do good works without a great deal of Jesus injected into it, need to ponder the whole concept of humility. N.T. Wright once wrote, "Far too many traditional churches have far too much tradition and not enough church." If Jesus isn't at the center of what we do in the church, the church itself becomes the center of attention.
A Jesus Church is one that demonstrates it's faith by doing kingdom work... in the name of the King.
In John 3:1-8 Jesus has a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who happened to be a religious leader on the Jewish ruling council. When Nicodemus asks him who he is, Jesus doesn't answer directly (Jedi stuff). Instead he says things like this:
"Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."
"Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit."
"You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'"
The words that are used for "born again" here are gennethe anothen, which essentially means "born from above."
When he references "water and the Spirit" scholars believe that this is a direct reference by Jesus to Ezekiel 36 and the vision of the valley of dry bones. In the vision the bones of thousands of dead people are basically "baptized" by water and then the Spirit "blows" life into them.
Stay with me on this... Len Sweet has written, "Jesus did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live."
You see, the whole idea of the "kingdom of God" has less to do with a place, or a space and more to do with a presence---namely the presence of God in Christ. For Christians, the kingdom of God is what happens when the presence of God in Christ breaks into our "world." It's not something we bring, build, cause or create---even though we may do kingdom work---it is a presence that we enter. Being "born from above" was another way of saying "entering into the presence of God." When the kingdom of God is fully realized, the presence of God in Christ will be in all and through all. The earth and everything in it (including those who are in Christ) will be made new, restored at last through the power of the resurrection.
When we our faith moves us to action, when we do kingdom work it's a foretaste, a sample of what it will be like when God's kingdom is realized "on earth as it is in heaven."
True kingdom work is done in the name of the King---in the name of Jesus. It proclaims Christ's lordship both now and in the future. It's the kind of thing that doesn't just turn what was bad to good, it transforms death into life.
A Jesus Church does kingdom work in the name of the King. Christians don't follow a brand of Christianity, they follow Christ. A Jesus Church is one that overtly exhibits the transformation that brought its people from death to life. It's filled with humility, and its people are in submission to the will of God and the leading of Jesus himself.
As Frank Viola wrote, "It's one thing to get the meaning of what Jesus said and did...it's another thing to start meaning it."