Bearing Each Other’s burdens and the Spiritual Family

It was Wednesday night Bible study at Westside Church of Christ in Sullivan, Indiana. I was talking about Galatians 6:2, where Paul is instructing the believers to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” I was making a big fuss of this verse, using these words as an exhortation to the group to not only know what is going on in each others’ lives, but to always be ready to serve one another, to help each other with the difficulties of life, whether those difficulties are of the “spiritual” variety (i.e. emotional support, confessions of sin) or the “mundane” variety (i.e. help around the house, cooking a meal).

As I paused for a breath in my sermonette, one of the ladies in the group spoke up. “That’s all okay, but doesn’t Paul say in verse 5 that each person must carry their own load?”

I looked down at my Bible, found Galatians 6:5. “For all must carry their own loads.”

She was right.

So just to make sure everyone is keeping up, here I was talking about one of my favorite verses in Paul, and now everyone in the room is perfectly aware that merely three verses later, Paul seemingly contradicts both himself and everything that I have been saying up until that point in the discussion.

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

I honestly like these kinds of moments. Not only are they fantastic for helping me grow in humility, but they also force me to rethink my reality, to ask new questions, to become “as a little child.” To unlearn and relearn what made that passage so special to me. I still love Galatians 6:1-5, but I have a couple of new ways of looking at this passage in light of this wonderful lady’s prodding. The first is a little more obvious , and the second is a little more nuanced.

First, Paul is describing a community in process. In this community, those who are strong (“you who have received the Spirit”) gently help those who are weak move from a place of sin (6:1) and weakness (6:2) to a place where these individuals are able to stand by themselves and carry their own loads (6:5). The hope in this community is that through carrying each others’ burdens, each person will come to the point where they can carry their own load as well as the loads of others.

Second, Paul is describing the process of a surrogate spiritual family. Where else in life do we see a community inside of which some are strong and able to take care of themselves and others, while others are weak and unable to fully take care of even themselves? The family. For Paul, the church is a lived reality inside of which spiritual parents and elders are present in the lives of spiritual infants and children, helping them to grow and mature more fully in the image of Christ and into their God-given design. Just as Jesus said that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15), we all become little children again when we join the family of God. We have those who have come before us, both our forebears as well as those who are more mature currently in our midst, to teach us and to help us grow.

So yes, we should all bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ, and yes, all must work so that they can at last one day carry their own loads. These are not mutually exclusive statements, but rather statements that understand the reality of the human experience. We are not all strong always. We are not all weak always. But with the help of God’s community in process, God’s surrogate spiritual family, we can all begin the process of growing up into what God has wanted us to become all along.

Felix Felicis and How to Plan Your Day

One of my favorite scenes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince happens when Harry decides to use the Felix Felicis potion, or “liquid luck.”

Sorry, that’s the highest quality video I could find for the scene. If you don’t speak Czech, here’s a VERY low-quality English clip. It includes some great background giggles.

One of the primary storylines in the movie up until this point is that Harry needs information from Professor Slughorn, and up until this point in the movie has been completely unable to get Slughorn to reveal this information. In the clip, Hermione starts to remind him of the plan, the places he needs to go to find Slughorn so that Harry can succeed in his mission. After taking the potion, Harry has a different understanding of the plan. In fact, because of the potion he decides to ditch the plan altogether. Almost immediately we see that the original plan would have been completely ineffective. Had Harry followed the plan, none of the events that led to Slughorn opening up to Harry would have happened. Indeed, Harry might not even have found Slughorn if he had followed the plan.

How often do we plan, plot, scheme, and work, only to find out afterwards that we weren’t even on the right course to begin with? I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me.

Matthew 6:33 teaches us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” Sounds simple, right? Do things that I think will be good for God’s kingdom. It’ll be great. Won’t it?

So I plan, I plot, I scheme, I work, and then I do it all again. Sometimes it works. More often it doesn’t.
So why isn’t it always great?

Maybe it’s because most of my experience is in seeking my own kingdom. Maybe it’s because I don’t actually know how to pursue someone else’s kingdom.

Maybe it’s because if I am going to pursue a kingdom besides my own, I should probably consult first with the King.

My first step in pursuing God’s kingdom has to be pursuing God. If it isn’t, then most likely I’m just going to do whatever I think is best and then saying that it’s God’s kingdom.

Those aren’t the same thing.

Well, we never THOUGHT we would spend a summer in Indiana…

Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and soon, Czech Republic! After several months traveling, visiting some amazing places and meeting some amazing people, Laura and I are back in Abilene, the land of scorching summers, squash bug infestations, and grapefruit-sized hail.

Home sweet home!

Many of you already know that Laura and I recently spent a couple of months with a small church in Sullivan, Indiana. Westside Church of Christ invited us to spend our summer training their leadership team and some of the other members of their congregation in house church practice, development, and leadership. I sincerely wish that I could describe to you all of the amazing memories and experiences of this summer. Some of my personal favorites were visiting Reba Place Fellowship outside of Chicago, Christopher Smith in Indianapolis (author of the excellent new book Slow Church) , and our good friend Wesley Dingman, Ph.D. student at Loyola University.

Wes bought us a pizza at Lou Malnatti’s. He wins. Sorry, Chris and Reba Place.

But in the midst of those great experiences, our primary focus was our work with Westside Church of Christ. Like I already suggested, we won’t be able to describe to you all of the awesome experiences we had this summer, but we will be able to share some of the stories from this church, specifically the things that are connected to this blog. Keep your eyes open for more!

Look how they love one another…

(This post is the text of a talk I gave this Summer with our friends at Westside Church of Christ in Sullivan, Indiana. The stories all come from that church. It’s a great little place!)

“But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many [outsiders] to put a brand upon us. Look, [the outsiders] say, how they love one another, for [the outsiders] are animated by mutual hatred; how [we] are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put [each other] to death. And they are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren; for no other reason, as I think, than because among themselves names of consanguinity (terms of affection, or sibling love) are assumed in mere pretence of affection.” (Tertullian, Apology 39)

“Our bond, which you resent, consists in mutual love, for we know not how to hate; we call ourselves ‘brethren’ to which you object, as members of one family in God, as partners in one faith, as joint heirs in hope. You do not acknowledge one another, amid outbursts of mutual hate; you recognize no tie of brotherhood, except indeed for fratricidal murder.” (Minucius Felix, Octavius 31)

I wonder if you were bothered by the use of the term “outsider” in the first quotation. That word makes a lot of North Americans uncomfortable…we hate the idea of excluding people. Today, I will tell you some stories about people inside of Christianity. Though it may surprise you, these stories are not normal. Therefore, using words like “outsider” is not an attempt to exclude anyone or say that we should look down on someone who is not a Christian, but is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that it means something to be part of the family of Jesus, and particularly this family of Jesus.

Additionally, a lot of people like to focus on the negative things that have happened in the church over the centuries and focus on how those things have been far too much the norm. While I agree that the negative things are lamentable, today I wish to talk about what is good, because it is the good that points us to what God has always wanted for his people, and it is the good that we are striving towards.

The family of Jesus at its best has always been peculiar. Particular. Odd. Strange. At its best, people have noticed the church and have been able to see the good that is present there, whether or not they have liked or appreciated that good. For example, Roman Emperor Julian wrote to one of his Roman high priests, saying:

“Why do we not observe that it is their (the Christians’) benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase atheism (Christianity)?…When…the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

This emperor didn’t like the Christians because they made him look bad…they cared for his people better than he could. Julian tried to imitate their benevolence in an attempt to stop the momentum that the Christians were building among the people. He started social programs in the empire to take care of the poor, but the end result was that these programs were a poor substitute for the good that the Christians were doing. His effort ultimately failed.

If the church at its best has always looked a bit odd, a bit different from the society around it, then the same is true of this church. A great deal of what happens here does not look like what you would expect to see from any regular group of people. That is why it is important to notice what makes us different, and to notice how that looks like what has made the church different in past generations.

So. I would like to tell you what we have noticed over the course of the past month, the things that help us understand what it means to be part of the family of Jesus that gathers in this building. I want to tell you the stories of your church. Along the way, I will scatter a few more references to the early church. Hopefully you will be able to see the connections, because they are there.

I have heard stories of people helping others find work when they lost their job.

I have heard stories of people helping others make ends meet when that person couldn’t find work…slipping that person a check or some cash when no one was looking.

I have heard stories of a woman drawing on her experiences of life and motherhood to encourage and empower younger women who find themselves in similar places.

I have heard stories of people searching out ways to engage in the lives of kids in this town who are in desperate need of more positive adult attention.

“The wealthy, if they wish, contribute whatever they desire, and the collection is placed in the custody of the president [elder, or overseer]. [With it] he helps the orphans and widows, those who are needy because of sickness or any other reason, and the captives and strangers in our midst.” (Justin, Apology 1)

I have heard stories of over a dozen people from Westside sitting in a waiting room when one of their own was in the intensive care unit, to the point where outsiders started asking questions.

“The most…of our brethren in their exceeding love and affection for the brotherhood were unsparing of themselves and clave to one another, visiting the sick without a thought as to the danger, assiduously ministering to them, tending them in Christ, and so most gladly departed this life along with them; being infected with the disease from others, drawing upon themselves the sickness from their neighbors, and willingly taking over their pains…In this manner the best at any rate of our brethren departed this life, certain presbyters and deacons and some of the laity…So, too, the bodies of the saints they would take up in their open hands to their bosom, closing their eyes and shutting their mouths, carrying them on their shoulders and laying them out; they would cling to them, embrace them, bathe and adorn them with their burial clothes, and after a little receive the same services themselves, for those that were left behind were ever following those that went before. But the conduct of the heathen was the exact opposite. Even those who were in the first stages of the disease they thrust away, and fled from their dearest. They would even cast them in the roads half-dead, and treat the unburied corpses as vile refuse.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7)

I have heard stories of people meeting daily in each others’ homes, sharing life together and bologna, and the bologna was enough because they knew that the sharing is far more important than the sandwich meat.

I have heard stories of someone joining this family because they watched this family, this church, sharing a meal and thought, “look how they love one another.” (Tertullian 39.8)

We have heard many stories, but now Laura and I are beginning to get some stories of our own.

We needed a place to stay. Not only did this church give us a home for the summer, but several people spent hours and days working before and after we got here to make sure that we would be comfortable.

We needed furnishings for our house. Not only did this church completely furnish our home, several people took it upon themselves to make sure that all of our needs were taken care of as well as our wants. One lady even made sure to find out what we were missing and took care of the last odds and ends almost single-handedly, willingly and graciously, saying that it brought her joy to bless others. Some of the younger (and older) men in the congregation drove all over western Indiana helping get all of these furnishings to our house.

We didn’t know where anything was in town, so several people took it upon themselves to take us on tours of their favorite spots.

We didn’t have much art in our house, so one of the young girls of this church drew us a picture to help beautify our home and bring joy and life to it.

We needed a relaxing day, so one of the families invited us to swim and fish in their pond, even teaching Laura how to fillet those fish. We ate those fish that night. And it was good.

Our car wouldn’t start, and someone helped me fix it (that is, he fixed it while I tried to look like I knew what was happening). He would not accept repayment of any kind, because someone at this church had helped him when in a time when he couldn’t repay. Several others had offered to help us in the same way.

Our lawn needed mowing, and the day that we were going to start asking around to borrow a lawnmower, someone (or someones) showed up and mowed the entire yard without us even knowing. That has happened more than once.

We have been invited into home, after home, after home, after home. We have had meals bought for us. We have both gained at least five pounds in the past month. We have experienced beautiful hospitality.

We have watched a young lady move in with her grandparents to take care of them when they needed some help, even though they would never have asked her to do so. She cares so much for them that she even learned how to hang up her grandfather’s shorts so they get just the right crease in them.

We have watched parents, both biological and spiritual, respond tenderly and compassionately to the weakness and vulnerability of the young people of the church.

We have watched this family of Jesus be the family of Jesus.

What, then, does it mean for this family of Jesus to be more the family of Jesus together?

Thinking back on the stories that I have told today, both from this church and from the church centuries ago, I have a feeling that it might look even more peculiar. Particular. Odd. Strange. I have a feeling that not everyone in the world will want to be part of it. But even if not everyone wants to be part of it, I also think that most people will be able to see the good that is present here. That even if they prefer if we fell off of the face of the earth, it is because they see that what we are doing is beautiful and therefore dangerous to the world as they know it. That if anyone has anything bad to say of us, that it will be something along the lines of “look how they love one another.”

“Look how they love one another.” Those words have always been among the most dangerous to the world as we know it. Was it not Jesus himself who said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”? When we love each other as Christ loves us, when we honor one another above ourselves, when we build each other up, when we live in harmony with one another, when we are servants of one another, when we confess our sins to one another, when we forgive one another, when we pray for one another, when we carry each others’ burdens. When we truly, practically, daily love each other as Christ loves us…that is when the outside world looks at us and says, “look how they love one another.” Some will say this in awe, some may say this in disdain. But regardless how they say it, this is how the world knows that we are the followers of Jesus. This is who we are, and this is who we are called to be.

Brennan Manning once said “The single greatest cause of atheism in this world is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.” The opposite is also true. The single greatest cause of Christianity in the world is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and with their life. That is what an unbelieving world will find worthy of belief.

Let us go, then, and be this. Let us be the family of Jesus, vibrantly and beautifully, so that the world looks at us and sees nothing but the love of Christ. Let us show the world the love that our Father has for us, the love of Jesus present among us, the love of the Spirit that resides within us. Let us be the people of God so powerfully that any accusation against us includes the words, “Look how they love one another.”

the most evangelistic thing

“The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church—to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ. It is the very shape and character of the church as the Spirit’s ‘new creation’ that is the witness to God’s reign in the world and so both the source and aim of Christian evangelism.” (Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom, 15.)

The most evangelistic thing the church can do is be the church. I don’t know how this claim strikes you at first glance, but let me tell you, when I first read it a few years ago, I was blown away. You see, I was in the midst of a four-year master’s degree focused on learning all the ins and outs of Christian ministry and mission. I’d dedicated years of my life to studying about evangelism, and I intended to devote my life to engaging in it in one way or another. And here was Bryan Stone telling me that the best thing we could do to fulfill Jesus’ instructions to spread the gospel and make disciples was simply to be. Not to have a missional program in place or to go on mission campaigns around the neighborhood or the world. Not to strategize and plan, to plot ideas and measure outcomes. Not even to figure out the most socially acceptable way to share the good news of Jesus with people in their various cultural contexts. But rather to just be. What in the world did Stone mean by that?!? And why, despite their dissonance with much of the other training I’d received (both in school and throughout life), did his words resonate so deeply with me?

Perhaps because of the dissonance and the resonance both, those words stuck with me. I kept turning them over again and again in my mind and in my heart. I pondered their meaning and I considered their application. And I found wisdom in them, particularly when I looked around me at the utter failure of traditional practices of “evangelism,” practices that rarely bring the true good news that they claim to. (“Evangelism” is Greek for “good news,” but more often than not our evangelistic practices are more expressive of judgment, condemnation, and exclusion than any actual good news.) When it came to winning the hearts of people to Christ, there just had to be something more, something better than that which I’d seen taught, modeled, lived—and, all too often, completely (and understandably) rejected by those who did not know Christ. And as I pondered his words, I realized that Bryan Stone was on to something.

Over the years since I first read Stone’s assertion, I’ve become utterly convinced that he’s right. I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve seen the miserable failure of traditional models of “soul winning,” as I’ve just mentioned. But it’s not just that that’s convinced me. It’s that I’ve seen the kind of evangelism Stone describes work. He says that the best thing we can do to share good news with others is to be people who’ve been transformed by good news and are thus an inviting alternative way of life. And I’ve seen that happen.

I’ve seen the church be all that it was called to be and designed to be, and I’ve seen people be transformed by it. I’ve seen lives permeated by God’s good news in ways that many would consider peculiar or even unnerving, but it’s because as Christians we’re called and enabled by the Spirit to be people who live in such love and trust and forgiveness and grace that we look very different. And I’ve also seen some who had written off or given up on Christianity take a second look because they see the transformed people of God and they’re intrigued and drawn in by the enduring witness that that life-giving transformation is.

In short, I’ve seen a new creation emerge in the lives of both individuals and communities, and I’ve seen that new creation bring new life, new hope, and new joy to all people—Christian and non-Christian alike.

I’ve been re-evangelized with this gospel of love and meaning in deep relationship with God and God’s people, and it’s my hope and prayer that all people can experience this. Because, let me tell you, it’s a lot more uplifting and exciting than anything else I’ve ever experienced in life. It’s true good news: God is love, Jesus is Lord, the Spirit is our trusted companion and guide, and we are people transformed in relationship with this God! And that is worth joining in on. Come along with me for the journey!

 

Time to Harvest: Part 3

So if we don’t need a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet, then what is necessary for harvesting the Kingdom of God? For the answer, we will look back to Luke 10, the place where we started our journey. We will primarily spend time in 10:1-12, though I am a pretty big fan of the entire chapter. Especially when Jesus says “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” What does that even mean? Sometimes Jesus talk craycray.

In the chapters leading up to Luke 10, Jesus has been traveling from city to city with his band of followers. Jesus has been teaching, healing illnesses and infirmities, driving out demons, and proclaiming the good news that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you” (10:9). And occasionally (once) he feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After raising a kid from the dead.

And you thought your preacher was good.

So Jesus is traveling around being awesome, but while this is happening there is another vital pattern that we often miss. In the towns where Jesus is doing his work, some people are receptive to Jesus’ work and teachings while other people are not. An excellent example of this phenomenon is 8:26-39. Jesus drives out either 1) a demon with Multiple Personality Disorder (actually called Dissociative Identity Disorder now, but if I had used the new name you wouldn’t have caught the admittedly lame joke) or 2) a really big group of demons that has basically set up a massive hippy demon commune inside of this guy. Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs, and the pigs promptly drown themselves.[i] The people of the area are somewhat understandably scared by all of this and ask Jesus to leave. But the man who now has a lot more room in his head wants to join Jesus; in fact, he begs. Jesus tells him, “return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”

To recap, here is our pattern that happens when Jesus shows up in towns throughout Israel: 1) Jesus proclaims the nearness of the Kingdom of God through his words and actions, 2) most reject Jesus and ask him or force him to leave, 3) some either follow Jesus or remain in their own region proclaiming the Kingdom of God, depending on what Jesus calls them to. Pay special attention to number 3, because it is the basis for the rest of our work. Those who are receptive to Jesus’ teaching either follow him and become part of his traveling group, or they stay in their own region and become local proclaimers of the Kingdom of God – people who share the peace of Christ in their local context.

In Luke 10:1-12, Jesus sends his followers out to do the exact same thing. Those who are following Jesus go to stay with those who have remained in their own regions to proclaim the Kingdom of God (number 3). Jesus’ followers proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God through their words and actions (number 1). Finally, some towns do not welcome Jesus’ followers, so they leave because no one there had accepted Jesus in the first place (number 2).[ii]

Those who followed Jesus get most of the attention at this point, but I want to give some attention to those who stayed behind (number 3), the ones that wanted to follow but were told by Jesus to remain in their town proclaiming the Gospel. Luke 10 does not say this, but I believe that Jesus is referencing these people specifically in 10:6 when he says, “and if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person.”[iii] The homes of these people of peace become the staging grounds for Kingdom activity in that area. The people of peace house the ones who were sent, feed them, and help make sure that the Gospel is not hindered. If one of these people is not present in the town, Jesus’ followers simply move on. They wipe the dust from their sandals…not even the active presence of Jesus in this town could bring about change in a single household, so what could they have done? “Yet know this: the Kingdom of God has come near.”

***

What then is necessary for harvesting the Kingdom of God? Based on the work we have done so far, we can finally answer our question. Specifically, we need:

  1. Workers.
  2. People of peace.
  3. Harvest fields.

The workers are those who have been called by Jesus to follow Jesus, who are now sent out by Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God through words and action. The people of peace are those who have been called by Jesus to stay where they already were, called to become Kingdom outposts, pockets of peace in the growing Kingdom of God. And the harvest fields? We are the harvest. All of creation. Every person, place, animal, tree, rock or anything else that is not currently fully alive as it will be in the Kingdom of God. Everything that could be included when we hear Paul say, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God,” and that “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”[iv] Harvesting the Kingdom of God is harvesting a new world…the world as God would have it.

So are we finished? Not quite yet. One more thing is necessary for the harvest, and this is important…the most important thing of all.

Attention to what the Lord of the harvest is doing.

We need workers and people of peace who are attentive to what the Lord of the harvest is doing in their lives and the lives of the people around them. We do not need people who are attentive to building a new church building, engaging in a new church program, or debating one more point of doctrine. Those things can be important, but they are not the most important thing. Attention to the Lord of the harvest is the most important thing…in fact, it is the one necessary thing out of which all good things flow.

Who is this Lord of the harvest? In case you haven’t figured it out, God the Father is the Lord of the harvest. Or is Jesus the Lord of the harvest? Or maybe the Holy Spirit is the Lord of the harvest?

In Luke 10 we meet the Lord of the Harvest, who has sent himself into the harvest, and who is now placing himself inside of his people for the sake of the harvest. His harvest is a people, the People of God, inside of which a kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is growing. His harvest is not just the restoration of all things into what they once were, but the redemption of all things into what they were always meant to become.

The harvest is always plentiful, because the creation is eagerly longing for it. Not because creation was made to be harvested, but because creation was made for the Kingdom of God. The Lord of the harvest is already actively engaged in the harvest. And we are invited to join in.

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 

[i] Sometimes we forget how freaky some of these moments in scripture really are. If you are willing, take a second to imagine what this scene would be like if Hollywood took a stab at it. Wow.

[ii] This appears to be a pattern in the early church as well, as we see Paul and Barnabas (and later Silas and Timothy) going out in pairs (like Luke 10) to stay with the Kingdom outposts around the Roman world, proclaiming the Kingdom of God in words and action.

[iii] I have been using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible for this series of posts. Other versions say “person of peace.” That is a bit catchier, isn’t it?

[iv] Interestingly enough, the workers and people of peace are part of the harvest. Part of the task of the harvesters is to harvest more harvesters. You probably already figured that out though.

Time to Harvest: Part 2

In my previous post I argued that, contrary to the opinion of Steve Holt, it is always time to harvest in the fields of the Kingdom of God. I also left the argument unfinished, because in a conversation discussing “when is the time to harvest?” it is also important to address “how do we harvest?” Before I answer that question, I would like to answer the question, “how don’t we harvest?”

At the end of my previous post, I left you with a rather silly cliffhanger: “I will be back (hopefully soon) with an explanation (hopefully good) of why we shouldn’t try to harvest corn with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet, and why we probably shouldn’t try to harvest for the Kingdom of God with those things either.”

Well. That certainly doesn’t make any sense when taken out of context. Let’s both take a minute to go back and read my last post. Come on, I am doing it too.

***

Okay, I understand now. I was trying to be cutesy. Regardless, it was a valid point.

I said that I would give an explanation for why we shouldn’t harvest corn with a set of crazy random tools, but I don’t think I actually have to give that explanation. Though most people are fairly separated from the processes that go into getting canned corn on their dinner plate, I sincerely hope that most people are not so separated from logic that they think hammers, guitar picks, and fighter jets are part of the corn-picking process.

(However, if you know of a farm where those are normal corn-picking tools, please respond with their information in the comments section, because that would require a field trip.)

So moving past the corn metaphor (finally), why is it also a bad idea to enter the harvest of the Kingdom of God with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet? And why in the world is that even a question?

Because we have tried to harvest for the Kingdom of God with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet. Metaphorically speaking, of course.[i]

First, the hammer. No, I do not mean the hammer and sickle. Communism isn’t the problem. At least, not in this country.

The hammer is our attention (and sometimes addiction) to building bigger buildings inside of which we hope that we can build bigger gatherings that will gain the momentum of bigger audiences, bigger encouragement, and bigger worship experiences, showing the world that we have the biggest God.[ii]

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of good things happen inside of big church buildings. I have spent a LOT of my time in big church buildings, and a lot of who I am is directly connected to my time spent in those church buildings. However, absent the actual tools of the harvest, those big buildings have very little to do with the harvest. That leads me to what I consider a pretty big question; if those big buildings have little to do with the harvest, then why do we spend so much time, energy, and money on them?

Second, the guitar pick. The guitar pick is strongly connected to the hammer, but not the same thing. The guitar pick is our attention (and sometimes addiction) to the experience, the big show and the big names, the big teaching moments, programs, and campaigns.

I was feeling particularly gutsy the other night while Laura and I were having dinner with a couple who used to serve in the eldership at the church we are working with. I said that what most people participate in on Sunday mornings looks more like the theater than the church. And then I held my breath and waited to get torn apart. Imagine my relief when they both jumped in and immediately agreed, and not just about “the denominations” (an old Church of Christ way of saying “everyone else”) but also for the a cappella Stone-Campbell churches they had usually been part of.

Again, don’t think that I am saying there is nothing good, important, or even useful about our worship experiences, programs, campaigns, sermons, etc. But again, I say that absent the actual tools of the harvest, these things have very little to do with the harvest. So why do we spend so much time, energy, and money on them?

Finally, the fighter jet is our attention (and sometimes addiction) to winning arguments. Being right. Having the last word. Attempting to force our beliefs and way of life on others in any way, shape, or form. Defending God.

(Before I get into the point that I actually want to make, there is a different direction that I could have gone with the fighter jet metaphor. My friends, the United States of America is not the same thing as the Kingdom of God. Not even close. Let’s please not treat them like they are the same. I wish I did not feel the need to say that, but I will keep saying it until I am convinced that the two are not confused. If you do not understand why I could have gone that direction with this metaphor, then say something in the comments and I or someone else will point you in a good direction.)

We are entirely unable to force, manipulate, or coerce others to agree with us, join us, or even like us; at least, not in a healthy way.[iii] I’m not just saying we shouldn’t try to do those things for high-brow moral reasons, though I suppose that could be true as well. I am saying that coercion is completely ineffective and incredibly harmful in the harvest for the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of the God who would rather die for his People than to defend himself from them. God does not need our defense.

The best argument for God has always been a people being formed in the likeness of God.

There is certainly a place for debate in the Kingdom of God. There is certainly a place for argument, conversation, and disagreement, especially because those things are not always coercive at heart. These things can in fact be quite healthy. One of the main reasons for this series of posts is that I disagreed (somewhat) with my good friend Steve, and decided to say something about it. But again, absent the actual tools of the harvest, these things have very little to do with the harvest. So why do we spend so much time, energy, and money on them?

***

If the hammer, the guitar pick, and the fighter jet aren’t helpful in the harvest of the Kingdom of God, then what is helpful? Again, I have run out of time. I will return soon with one final discussion on this topic in which I discuss what is necessary for the harvest of the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, Steve has already threatened me with his next poorly-exegeted post…look out![iv]

 

[i] Prepare yourselves for my newest literary technique/rhetorical device. He is a super-villain. I call him “MegaStrawMan.”

[ii] Please, please, PLEASE remember that I am completely aware that MegaStrawMan is in the house, and that I am pushing against him just as much (if not more so) as I am pushing against reality.

[iii] Next time you are around a copy of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, take a look at pages 60-62, starting where it says, “the first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success,“ and ending somewhere in the neighborhood of, “we had to have God’s help.” I think this should be required reading for followers of Jesus…but that’s another blog post.

[iv] I apologize to anyone who was offended by the presence of MegaStrawMan in this post. Please let me know if I need to make any amends for him (or, more appropriately, myself).