(September 1, 2017) 8:18 AM Yo folks!
So September is almost upon us. Huzzah! The kiddos are finally back in school. The weather is turning cooler. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Those of us who teach are back into teaching mode. This week’s classes were phenomenal. I asked, “So what must we do to follow our Father’s footsteps into the kingdom?” For starters ….
- Reject manmade status symbols (like titles).
- Embrace the flat kingdom.
- Affirm, remember, and proclaim: THERE ARE NO HOLY PLACES.
Oooh, that last one.
Religions have their shrines, temples, mosques, and churches. Not so Christianity. We worship “in Spirit” — that is, worship is spiritual, not material — and “in truth” — that is, according to what the Bible teaches and not our human traditions. Moreover, the church is a missional church. Missions is an active word. We pursue the path of the kingdom precisely because the Way of Jesus is a path of shalom for all people. Christianity is an insurgency. We throw off all those things we once considered so important and now consider them to be no more than skubala. We put our minds and energies into the service of the daily, grinding, upstream-swimming, frustrating, impossible work of overturning injustice. Why, we’re even willing to put aside our legitimate rights (as Jesus did) if the time to exercise them isn’t right. We do not grow weary in well doing. We show up when others need us. We set apart our days for the work of proclaiming with our hands and feet the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter if we live in India or Indiana. Together, we’ll keep up the holy work, keep laying down our lives, keep worshiping, loving, making space for others. We refuse to let the lies of churchianity hold us back.
There’s something exhilarating about living this way. There’s something wondrous, fantastical even, about flinging open the door of simple church and exclaiming, “Bring it on, Jesus!” This was my view this morning on my front porch as I meditated on the word.
My text was Phil. 1:12-14.
Since my Bible is so messy, the text reads as follows:
Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ’ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν, ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.
As I thought about how Paul made the cause of the Gospel his number one priority, I wondered aloud: “How can I do that this day?” It’s a lovely thing to watch men and women living kingdom lives. Their whole beings are an act of worship (not just what they do during “worship” on Sunday — oh, how I wish we could rid ourselves of that concept!). As Paul shows us, there’s no single way to be a Christian. Sometimes even in our prisons we can do life together and make our circumstances count for the Gospel. Isn’t that it? We are the smell and touch of Jesus, wherever we are. God in the flesh, Word made man — surely it matters. “One can scarcely miss the focus of Paul’s concern, here and always: Christ and the gospel,” writes Gordon Fee on Phil. 1:12-26 (p. 56). Paul “…intends much of this to serve as paradigm” (p. 57). As always, Paul turns the attention away from himself and his circumstances to the Gospel. I like that. I like to think that everything from my recent bouts with bronchitis to my teaching Greek to my giving to disaster relief in Houston — all of it is a sacrament of community. Sometimes the best way for me to properly celebrate the kingdom is to answer my students’ emails in a timely fashion. We can embody the kingdom by going to the nations (as we ought), but we can also embody the kingdom by an unhurried family meal or a visit to a homebound relative. I want to live out my faith, not just talk about it. I want to live it out as an embodiment of the Gospel in real places, in real contexts, and with real people.
Paul’s point in Phil. 1:12-14 is a simple one: The Gospel is not bound (pardon the silly pun). It’s advancing both inside and outside prison. It survives despite jerks who preach it with false motives (1:15-18). And it will survive even if God takes Paul home to heaven (1:19-26). I live in a Christian subculture that elevates the Bible to the fourth member of the Godhead. We celebrate the cult of the speaker. (Apparently you can type that sentence and not be struck by lightening.) But the real question is: Have our lives been molded by this Spirit-inspired word? The purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us and then send us out into the world. And guess what? Everyone gets to play. Seminary students do. Mothers folding diapers do. We all do. Despite our “issues.” Paul’s teaching us in Phil. 1:12-14 to focus simply on the Gospel. Don’t let your daily problems drive you to panic. Let them drive you joyfully to leverage your circumstances for Jesus. Don’t give up or give in. Patience in the midst of trials is the trademark of God’s Holy Spirit in your life. And that’s a good word in this aspirin age of ours.