Yesterday at 4:45, I had just gotten out of my last class and I was exhausted. I had stayed up late the night before studying, and had spent all day taking two essay intensive tests. Yesterday at 4:45, Ethan had just gotten out of his last class and was facing a paper and a project to be done for the next day. The rational thing to do was for me to go home and go to bed early and get some rest, and for Ethan to get working on his homework so he could get to bed at a decent time to prepare for his oh so early lacrosse practice the next morning. Did we do the rational thing? No, and I am so glad we didn't.
Our college small group leaders, Austin and Lilibeth, invited us to go to a two hour discussion on Hugh Halter and Matt Smay's The Tangible Kingdom by none other than Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. It was a small group, maybe 40-50 people, and we had the awesome opportunity of talking to Hugh one on two after the talk.
I won't get too much into the details of the actual discussion, simply because I don't want to skew the information based on my own human error, but I do want to talk about how this discussion inspired me. I have not yet read the book, actually, but I will as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Anyways, the way these guys approach our relationships with Jesus, our place in the Kingdom, and what that calls us to do is something that, in hindsight, is so obvious. You know those things that when you hear a new idea, you just feel like its the most radical, yet incredible approach, but then when you start to really think about it, you feel kind of dumb because it seems so obvious? Well that's how I felt last night, listening, dumbfounded at what they had to say about the Kingdom.
They totally shifted what our lives should look like as Christians. They stripped off all the religion, and focus solely on becoming like Jesus. Dumbfounded. Christianity is about going to church, worshiping, being involved in Christian communities and small groups, studying the Bible, but that is only one-third of the puzzle. Did Jesus simply go to church, worship, study the Word, affiliate Himself only with Christians? No. So why is that the typical model of "being a disciple" of Christ? Was Christ simply nice to the sinners? Did He just smile at them when He came across them in His day to day life? No. So why do we as Christians stop at just being nice? Did Jesus just write checks to orphanages, work in a soup kitchen once or twice a month, or even go on mission trips once a year or even once a lifetime? No. So why do we stop there as well? Did Jesus run away from sinful activities to protect His own reputation as "pure" and "holy"? Don't we still view Him as pure and holy despite his affiliation with sinners? Then why are we afraid of building relationships with the lost and broken, even the blatant sinners? Did Jesus turn His head and pretend like there was no injustice in the world, that people weren't dying of horrible diseases, war, and poverty? Then why do we turn our head because it makes us uncomfortable?
Now please don't get me wrong, I am by no means saying all of this because I feel like I have got it all right and I feel the need to tell everyone else they are doing it wrong. I do everything I just talked about not being like Jesus, I am as guilty as guilty gets. What I am saying though, is that this seemingly obvious radical shift of perspective on my relationship with Jesus has inspired me to change my ways and the questions I stated above were questions I asked myself when figuring out how my own life differs from that of Jesus.
Hugh and Matt showed us their basic chart of dissecting the "Tangible Kingdom". What I discussed earlier about going to church, worshiping, Bible studies, Church groups, etc.., that falls into the communion bubble. The community bubble you see below was actually called, last night, something along the lines of being an inclusive person or group. I think this is what we as Christians struggle with the most. Somehow through confronting and righting our own sin, we have developed the self-declared duty of confronting and righting everyone else's sin as well. Jesus did not die on the cross for us to judge others, He died on the cross so not only would their sin be covered in heaven, but also on Earth. Our jobs as Christians is to provide a safe place for all sinners, a place WE can find help without shame, a place of unconditional acceptance, a place without a even a hint of judgement. This safe place isn't a concrete location, although it could be, but its something you are to walk around with and offer every second of everyday. It's easy to be nonjudgemental in places where you know you're not supposed to be, but its a whole different story when you're surrounded by a hyper-critical culture.
Something that really stood out to me was that Hugh discussed a personal story of allowing his own daughters to go to parties. A public Christian figure, a pastor, an author of a book that discusses what it looks like to live like Jesus allows his two daughters to go to parties. Why? Because he had people ask him if his daughters would be at a party because in the past, they have actually helped their kids make smart decisions in those situations. Living like Jesus is not avoiding sin like a highly contagious plague, living like Jesus is when you find yourself in those situations you act as Jesus would. I feel like common culture tells us to not only avoid bad decisions, but to avoid people who make their own bad decisions because our reputations could be at risk if we run with "that crowd." Number one, if we are living for Jesus, why do we care what others think of us? And number two, Jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, drunks, criminals, and a whole slew of what our world would deem as "untouchables," yet we don't consider Jesus as any of those things. Why? Because although He hung out with those people, although He built relationships with those people, although He loved those people and even called some of them to be His disciples, He carried out God's will while in relationship with them. He didn't avoid them, fearing His own well-being.
Being inclusive isn't about coming across someone who has a difficult life, self-inflicted or not, and trying to "save" them in neither the literal or the spiritual sense. Being inclusive means having absolutely no agenda when approaching them, other than seeing the person they are, and appreciating them for who they are. It means building a relationship with them based on friendship and love rather than "one day I can introduce them to Jesus." It means letting Jesus shine out of you rather than beating them with the Jesus stick. Befriending someone, loving someone, based not on their own person but rather on the opportunity to introduce them to Jesus is dehumanizing because they are now objectified as someone who needs saving rather than the person they are. Whenever you fall in love with someone, do you convince them to love you back with words, rationales, and by explaining your credibility? No, you just love them and them loving you back is a natural process that occurs because you love them. Why should it be any different with Jesus. Let Jesus love them through you and it will be natural. Words, rationales, and credibility are not listed in the armor of God nor in the fruits of the spirit, or really anywhere in the Bible when it teaches us how to show others the love of Jesus.
The third circle of the Tangible Kingdom is Missions, something I think every Christian knows and recognizes and is probably asking, how is this something new and radical? Being missional is not what I previously mentioned, occasionally volunteering at soup kitchens, or giving homeless people change, or writing checks to orphanages, or going on a mission trip once or twice. All of those things are great and awesome and please God, but they in and of themselves do not satisfy the missional third. Being missional simply means to have your eyes open and be proactive about finding need in your community, your city, your state, your country, your world and satisfying those needs. If you see a friend struggling, don't just "be there for them" but figure out how you can help them in the best way you can and then do it. If you see a homeless person without shoes or a jacket, take yours off and give them yours. If you see a disabled person having a difficult time, don't just open the door for them, but rather get them all the way to where they are going. These are all just examples on the top of my head, but they all come from the same basic idea of seek need, and when you find it, address it then.. not later at your own convenience. Being successfully missional isn't measured by the quantity of your missions, or even on how heavy your missions may be, but it is instead measured by your ability to open your eyes and let God show you what hurts Him in this world and allowing yourself to be His hands and solve it. It may be a tiny mundane task that you feel as unimportant compared to flying across the world and building an school for uneducated children in developing countries, but it is still being obedient to God and healing His hurt in the world and therefore is just as important.
Being the Kingdom of God does not mean that we simply have our church doors open to anyone to come worship, hear sermons, and do bible studies with. Being the Kingdom does not even mean simply having our hearts and homes open either. It means actively loving others as Jesus actively pursued and loved others. It means actually inviting people into our hearts and homes. It means not just being open to satisfying need, but to pursue solving needs with everything we have.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
over and out.