Today, I as I concluded my reading in Acts the second half of the final chapter really stood out to me.
23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.
Paul testified about the kingdom of God. I thought the phrasing sounded familiar. In Acts 1, Jesus concludes his time on earth by “speaking about the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God has been expounded upon and heavily debated theologically. However, now more than ever, I am seeing a need to return to communicating specifically about the way of Jesus. Too many churches teach and preach as if we can fix ourselves in lieu of a God who loves us from a distance, yet never take the time to know Him. Modified self-help expressions of Christianity do not work. People do not buy it. What does it look like for God’s laws and love to permeate every aspect of our lives?
I had two recent conversations with different people about the Gospel. Both openly rejected historic institutional Christianity. They wanted no part in another social club that had a poor history. However, when the conversation changed to following Jesus and allowing his model and teaching found in the Bible affect our lives, they were more open. In fact, one agnostic Jew (non-practicing, self-proclaimed agnostic, Jewish heritage by birth), made a distinct comment as I asked him to respond to my spiritual journey coupled with the Gospel. “I like the way you have articulated the personal belief and expression to following Jesus. That makes sense. No, there is no way I would consider Christianity as a religion for myself or my family.” In his mind, Christianity brings bad, but following Jesus may bring some good.
Somewhere along the line, our thinking shifted from Christianity as a movement to be advanced to an institution to be maintained. To do ministry or to organize something to care for people and connect with people that does not directly get organized by a committee, team, or minister in the church is completely foreign in most cases. To simply equip people to go live as Jesus has transformed their lives and respond to the Holy Spirit takes serious effort, instead of simple obedience. Alvin Reid comments on the need for such a reversal:
We can complain about that and mourn the loss of impact, or we can look at the early church who had no standing in the culture, had no buildings to invite people to enter, and yet so lived the gospel in the culture that they turned the world upside down…A missional church focuses as much or more outside its fellowship (and thus outside the walls of the building!) as it does on the inside. Missional believers think of themselves as being sent into the culture as ambassadors for Christ. The typical conventional church today magnifies what happens inside its fellowship and often even more inside a building (which is not the church, by the way).
The rediscovery of Christianity as a movement (the kingdom of God manifested in every believer) is paramount to the future of the church. The rediscovery can get messy and will get messy. We are dealing with real people and their real problems. We are dealing with a real world and its real brokenness. But, seeing the kingdom manifested is nothing less than joining Jesus on His mission to seek and to save the lost through making disciples. It is seeing the holistic health of God come to a city. It is a foretaste of a future heaven. It is God in action through His people.
What’s fascinating? Our world is trying to provide holistic health, transformation, and enter into the mess. In some cases, they are doing a better job than the church. Our founder, Jesus, was the best possible example of entering into the mess.
Last week, I went to a gathering of faith-based people in all professions for the city of Vancouver. The organizers always have someone present some information. The main speaker provided a brief overview of ACEs and how to have tough conversations with teenagers and families specifically around the issue of marijuana, opioids, and alcohol (see youthnow.me for some of the information provided). The main speaker had to repeatedly encourage those in attendance, “messy means it won’t look like you think it should.” She then would provide a very normal example from her experiences. One example she provided: progress may mean the parent goes from smoking weed every day and giving it to their kid to smoking weed every day and not giving it to their kid. Progress. Steps.
Her other main point: “You cannot take (fill in the blank drug) without offering something better, or when stress gets high they will always return to (fill in the blank drug to cope).”
As I heard her plea to offer something better to faith-based people who served in health services, social services, the school systems, and other community health organization, I could not help but ask a few questions.
Church, are we truly offering something better?
Christian, are you living something better?
Better is not demonizing their choices or the consequences. Better is not fixing them. Better is not making them more moral. Better is not a message of faux happiness. Better is not dismissive of “faulty” reasoning. Better is not merely waiting to talk and share information. Better is not ignoring the mess.
Better is resiliently listening to those in front of us and seeing them as people, not projects. Better is keeping curious even when we do not want to be. Better is being empathetic. Better is following through on a care path. Better is connecting the dots from the Gospel to life’s situations. Better is including them in your walk with Jesus on how you are letting the kingdom of God transform every area of your life. Better is hope and joy in the ways of Jesus.
30 Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.