How does the Kingdom of God unfold?

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How does the Kingdom of God unfold?  In other words, how does God bring about God’s reign, right here and right now.

This isn’t a new question.  The Romans believed they were carrying out the gods’ commands.

In addition to ownership of resources, military force, and working relationships with the elite, emperors secured their power by claiming the favor of the gods. Their imperial theology proclaimed that Rome was chosen by the gods, notably Jupiter, to rule an “empire without end.” Rome was chosen to manifest the gods’ rule, presence, and favor throughout the world.

(Source: The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide by Warren Carter, pg. 7)

If this argument sounds familiar, it is because it is.  Substitute in America for Rome and Jesus for Jupiter.  There are even Christian pastors who are pretty good at preaching this type of gospel.  It’s a message of comfort to wrap Jesus in the flag.

But is it the unfolding of the Kingdom of God?

Maybe God does use nations to unfold God’s Kingdom and reign.  I think there are some good examples of this.  But I also don’t think God really cares much about our imaginary lines drawn on maps separating people from one another.

I also have trouble with the idea that we are special compared to other people in other places and different times in history.  I don’t buy the idea that God has been waiting around until just this time and place for us to show up to carry out God’s will.  I think God is always active throughout history in a variety of places.

How does the Kingdom of God unfold?  One person at a time, but in many places, and across time.  It’s like a ripple effect that once one person is touched by an encounter with God, it reverberates out from that person.  This is how God always works.

 

You don’t get to be only partly Christian

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Yesterday I heard a story that I’m sure has some variations to it, but the essence of the story is what matters.  When Charlemagne ruled Europe, he converted people – usually by force.  When the hoards of soldiers were baptized, there were a group of soldiers who made sure to keep their arm out of the baptismal waters.  When asked why they did this, the response was that they wanted to make sure that their arm was unbaptized so that they could wield their sword and kill whoever they needed to kill.

Baptism doesn’t work that way, of course.

And neither does Christianity, and discipleship.  At least, it’s not supposed to.  You don’t get have the label of Christian and then go around and dehumanize people, only love some people, and say that God is in charge, except for my money.  That’s not how it works.

Or as Michael Foss says in Power Surge:

In order for the church to fully accept the task of training leaders to serve beyond the congregation, it needs to be clear about the boundaries of discipleship:  there are none! There is no place where a Christian does not live as a Christian.  There is no place where a Christian is not called to participate in God’s love for the world.  Discipleship takes place wherever disciples find themselves.

(Pg. 158, Power Surge)

There’s no wiggle room in this.  The idea here is that this is a full life deal.  It’s not a section here or section there only.  You don’t get to choose what God takes control over.  You don’t get to decide what God isn’t allowed to touch.  It’s a full body experience.

Foss goes on to offer an explanation that I think is pretty good:

People come seeking not theological argument but the experience of God…As a person’s experience of God begins to permeate all of life, faith becomes a way of being in the world – a way of life – more merely a way of thinking or believing.

(Pg. 180, Power Surge)

Faith isn’t an intellectual position that we hold.  It’s a way of life.  It drives everything we do.  If it doesn’t, then why bother with it at all?  If faith isn’t making life uncomfortable and challenging how you live, then what worth does it have?  If faith doesn’t hold a mirror up to your face and ask you “Is that really how you hear God in this moment?” then what good is it?

If faith is there, hounding you, and altering you, then it is doing its job.  If it’s merely patting you on the back and saying – “amazing, you were right again,” then that’s not faith.

Can anything good come from…”

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In our Gospel lesson from this past Sunday, Philip has an encounter with Jesus who tells him – “Follow me.”  This clearly impacts Philip and changes him.  He is excited and goes and tells Nathanael about Jesus, telling him that he has found the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about – Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.  Nathanael responds by asking “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

This question haunted me all week.  I saw this question play out in four instances.

The first was something I wrote about at the end of last week – about a white nationalist running for Congress, right here in Central PA.  The low point of his nine-page press release announcing his candidacy was his intention to take the American Dream away from the hoards of Muslims and those from Central and South America who are storming the borders.  His question is this – Can anything good come from Muslims?  Can anything good come from Central and South America?

The second instance was the President’s statement about other nations.  You can read what I wrote here.  The President was asking a similar question.  Can anything good come from Haiti?  Can anything good come from El Salvador?  Can anything good come from Africa?

Later in the week, I took a ride up to Allison Hill in Harrisburg.  Allison Hill is the poorest section of Harrisburg.  You can feel the poverty when you drive through it.  The homes are falling apart, there is trash everywhere, and weeds growing all around.  When you look inside the “restaurants” you see a thick plexiglass window separating customers from employees in order to protect the employees from robbery.  When you look at the faces of people who live there, you see the hopelessness.  Can anything good come from Allison Hill?

Lastly, our church is two miles from what is known as the Miracle Mile.  It’s one of the busiest intersections of travel in the US.  I wrote more about this here.  It’s full of people who are homeless, prostitutes, drug problems, sex trafficking, human trafficking, and immigration issues.  Can anything good come from the Miracle Mile?

Are these questions any different from what Nathanael asks Philip?  Nazareth was known as being a worth place where nothing good ever came from.

Yet it is Philip’s response that struck me – “Come and see.”  Philip could have thrown a great deal of stats and figures, rational arguments, and what not at Nathanael, but he didn’t.  If this interaction were happening today, I imagine that Philip could have done Facebook postings and other social media posts to try to convince Nathanael.  But I don’t think he would have.  His answer tells me something else.  You don’t convince people with facts and figures.  You let them experience and encounter Jesus for themselves.  And when that happens, their lives change.  Then they know for themselves.

Can anything good come from El Salvador? Yes.  My friend David is from El Salvador.  He lives in Finland and works for the Lutheran church there.  Working with youth and with international folks.  He answered Jesus’ call to follow him.  David invites all to come and see the amazing things that are happening and how Jesus encounters people in Finland and beyond.

Can anything good come from Africa?  Yes.  My friend Moses is from Tanzania.  He answered the call to follow Jesus and it took him to the US.  He now works at a local Lutheran church as their youth director. And he’s building bridges with the local African-American community.  Bridges that could never be built by the mostly white congregation on their own.  He invites people to come and see how Jesus is encountering us and changing lives.

Can anything good come from Allison Hill?  Yes.  Christ Lutheran Church is in the heart of Allison Hill.  20 years ago the senior pastor was sent there to shut the church down because they were down to seven members.  Instead, the pastor answered Jesus call to follow him.  They opened a health clinic and it has expanded to include a pre-natal clinic, and a dental clinic over those 20 years.  People’s lives are literally changing because of an encounter with Jesus.

Can anything good come from the Miracle Mile?  I believe the answer is yes.  A week ago, a disciple at St. Stephen and myself went over to talk with the general manager of the local truck stop.  We wanted to ask questions about the homeless population who uses their facilities.  Her response was that no one had ever asked them about the homeless before.  We were shocked and not surprised.  They are very open to working with us.  And so on Friday night, in the wee hours of the morning, we’ll be going over to the truck stop to meet the homeless.  We are going then because that’s when the homeless come inside.  We’re going with the intent of offering free showers for those that need them, laundry service with people, and providing a meal at the local restaurant attached to the truck stop. The shower, laundry, and food are important.  But that’s not the end of the story.  It’s about spending time with people, re-establishing their humanity, hearing their story, and seeing how Jesus calls us to follow him with people that he spent time with.

I don’t know what Friday will look like.  And that doesn’t matter.  But I invite you all to come and see.  I invite you to come and see on a Friday night.  I invite you to come and see how you can be a support for those who go over in the middle of the night – not everyone is meant to go in the middle of the night.  Support and preparation during the day is important too.  Making phone calls to potential partners and churches is important.  Finding other services that align with this mission is important – maybe something like the SOAP project – a mission designed to free women trapped in trafficking and prostitution.

Philip responded to Nathanael’s question by saying come and see.  And he did.  And Jesus encountered him – and his life changed.  And so I invite you to come and see.  Come and see.

“Why are we having people from all these shithole countries coming here?” – Quote by Donald Trump

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I hope that quote ticks you off.  I hope it bothers you.  I hope it upsets you to see the word shithole right there in front of you.

But more so, I hope it makes you really upset when you realize that he is talking about whole groups of people – people who look different, sound different, and think differently than our protected president.

I hope it makes you really upset that the president thinks it quite normal to degrade entire groups of humanity because they are inconvenient.

I hope it makes you really upset that the president has no trouble throwing anyone under the bus who doesn’t go out of their way to make him look good, doesn’t agree with his spin, and doesn’t meet his standards for what makes a human being have any value and worth.

I hope it makes you really upset that the president spoke these words and there was no one in the Administration who attempted to deny these words were said – validating that they were in fact said.

Where are the pastors who came to the White House to offer prayers over this president?  Where are the pastors and prominent “Christian” leaders who essentially declared that the gospel of Trump matched up with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Where are the “Christians” who declare that Trump is a good Christian, regardless of his multiple marriages and infidelities, shady business practices, mistreatment of many business people and others, his provoking nations towards hostility, and more?  Where are you John Hagee?  Where are you James Dobson? Where are you Jerry Falwell, Jr?  What sort of Christianity do you align yourself with anyway?  Be honest.

Where are you?  I can’t hear you through your silence, which condones such speech, ideology, and behaviors.  Your silence is deafening. And it upset me – no it ticks me off and makes me wonder if we both have the same understanding of what it means to be Christian and what God we both worship.

Here’s my question to you – how long do you think it will take for Trump to throw you under the bus the first time you offer any criticism of him?  Do you really think that he cares about you at all, beyond what he receives from you?

What is your Christianity founded in?  Is it founded on the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount or on a politician who cares only about himself who will use the label of Christian for his own end?  Jesus spoke the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.  Christianity is supposed to be about becoming disciples of Jesus.  Christianity is about proclaiming that our salvation resides in Jesus, not the empire, or the emperor.  Proclamation means speaking that out and living it out.  Where are you Christians?

 

 

 

In case you thought racism was far away…

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…It is not.  It is alive and well and in our midst.  And it isn’t even ashamed of itself.  It’s loud and proud.  And it’s hungry for more minds and hearts, and in this case votes.

Here’s a quote from a guy who is running for Congress, right here in Central PA:

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and more:

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(Source: Click here if you want to read all nine pages of this candidate’s rant.  The above quotes are taken from pg. 8 and 9 respectively.)

In case you want to know, his name is Sean Donahue.  On his website homepage he states:

The US was created for Americans who chose to worship God through Christianity. 

Source: Again, click here if you can stomach it.

As a pastor, I question what he means by Christianity and what god he is worshiping.  We can’t possibly be worshiping the same God.

Yet, working my way through the Old Testament, I can’t deny the genocide, racism, and nationalism that is ever-present and done in the name of God.

Humanity hasn’t changed that much – dehumanizing, devaluing, and separating people because of race, belief, etc.  And doing it in the name of God.

It’s right here in our backyard.

But it isn’t the end of the story.  For Christians there is more to God’s story and to God’s relationship with us.  And it is in the person of Jesus – the one who spent time with the outcasts. The one who walked through Samaria – the people the Jews hated and saw no value in.  He not only walked through Samaria, but talked with people and declared salvation to them.

Because that’s what God always does – God goes to the oppressed, to the outcast, to the outsiders and God encounters them.  God dwells with them.  God proclaims a message of hope, peace, forgiveness, and liberation.

It’s not just a message for the outcast and imprisoned.  It’s also for the oppressor.  To free them from their own bondage.  A bondage to fear, anger, hopelessness, mistrust, and more.

It’s a message for you and for me.  It’s a message for Sean also.  Our salvation doesn’t reside in the US as a nation, or the flag, or anything that the nation stands for.  Our salvation doesn’t reside in me-first and us-first mentalities.  Our salvation doesn’t reside in what gun we can tote.  Our salvation doesn’t reside in troops or armaments.  Our salvation doesn’t reside in politicians or in flawed ideology.  Our salvation doesn’t reside in our skin color or in nationalism.

Our salvation resides in Jesus – God who took on flesh and dwelt among humanity.  God who took on specific flesh in a specific place and time.  God who came as a brown-skinned Jew in what is now modern-day Israel and Palestine – not white America.  God who didn’t speak English, but rather Aramaic and Hebrew.  God who looked, thought, acted, and spoke as far different from what White Nationalist picture Jesus to be as you could get.

That is the God I worship.  That is the God I know in Christianity.  That is our hope and salvation.

Miracle Mile

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There is a stretch of road in the community I live and work in that is called the Miracle Mile.  According to Wikipedia (as good a source for this as anything else I found):

“The stretch of US 11 between I-76 and I-81 is known as the “Miracle Mile” since it contains plenty of traveler services including restaurants, gas stations, lodging, truck stops, shops, etc. There is no direct interchange between the two interstates, so travelers must use this stretch, or travel through downtown Carlisle, to get from one interstate to the other.”

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_11_in_Pennsylvania

The more common explanation I have heard regarding the name is that it got its name because it’s a miracle if you can get through the mile because of the traffic.  There’s some truth to that, but there’s plenty of exaggeration too.  Having lived in Washington, DC, even the Miracle Mile doesn’t see traffic like downtown DC or NYC.

Regardless of the reason for the name, it’s the name that this stretch of road has.

And it’s the stretch of road that also has a variety of people who are considered outcasts, expendable, unworthy, and worse.  It’s the stretch of road where there is homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution, sex and human trafficking, and immigration issues, among other challenges.  It’s the Miracle Mile – a place where it’s a miracle that people can drive through this stretch of road and completely ignore what happens there.  It’s a miracle that people can keep a blind eye to what goes on.

But what if that could change?  What if the Miracle Mile was known for something else – where miracles happen.

That’s what I think it can become.

That’s what God is calling on us to do.  To live out our faith, to create an environment where people can encounter Jesus and have their lives changed.  That would be a miracle.  To gather churches of different denominations together, agencies that deal with all sorts of challenges, businesses, etc.  All coming together to tackle the pervasive challenges that haunt the Miracle Mile.

What if the Miracle Mile were a miracle in our midst?  Not a miracle in the sense that you can get through it, but rather that it’s a miracle because people’s lives are changed – for the better.

Jesus is quoted as saying the following:

35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

(Matthew 25:35-40)

What if the miracle that God has in mind is right here in our midst? That those who are imprisoned in human trafficking, homelessness, and drug addiction are set free.  That those who are hungry are fed and the thirsty are given a drink of life-giving water.  That those who are widowed and alone have true companionship and community, that those who lack clothing are clothed, that those who are children would be loved and cared for, That those who are strangers are welcomed with hospitality, that those who have lost their humanity and dignity will have it restored.

That is the vision of what a miracle looks like.  That is what it means to live out the faith that we have been given.  That is what the kingdom of God looks like in our midst.  It’s not some distant, far off thing that we read about in the Bible.  It’s right here, just waiting to be unleashed.  And God is tapping us on the shoulder and saying, it’s time – it’s time for a miracle. It’s time for the Miracle Mile to be a miracle.

Waiting for politicians and celebrities to lead…

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…makes almost no sense.

It’s a simple greater than equation.  When the pleasure of the status quo is greater than the pain of change, hardly any human being will push for change.  Especially someone with a public eye on them.

Which is why putting our hopes in politicians and celebrities to lead the charge on any change is pointless.

Plus it pushes further the idea that the little people, us, who read blogs, and articles, and such, are helpless and can’t do anything without their leadership.  That’s bull.

A couple of examples.  I don’t watch awards shows.  I don’t see the point of watching an exclusive group congratulate themselves and pat themselves on the back for their good words.  I just don’t connect with it or get it.  A lot of other people enjoy these shows and find them entertaining.  More power to you if you do.  I read criticism of the latest show being that the men who received awards didn’t come out strongly enough for pay equity in the sense that none of them said they would refuse work unless the women received equal pay.  Go back to the equation.  Now you understand why they didn’t.

Or this.  During the same show it came out that Oprah is considering running for president.  The people who think it’s a terrible idea to have a billionaire, TV celebrity with no government experience running the country all of a sudden now are supportive of a billionaire, TV celebrity with no government experience running the country.  Yes, they are two different people with different styles, but still… Why are we pinning our hopes and dreams for the nation on someone so out of touch with everyone else, so far removed from everyone else?  It makes little sense.

We aren’t called to sit around and wait for someone else to take action.  We called to be uncomfortable and be inconvenienced.  We called to get up from behind the screens in front of our faces and in the palm of our hands and to get moving.  We are empowered by God to respond to the faith that God gives us.  We are thrust out, even when we don’t feel ready, to go and live the faith that has been given us.  And we are called to invite others to join in.

We aren’t called to wait for someone else to get it started.  We aren’t called to put our hope and trust in someone else and hope for the best.  We aren’t called to hand responsibility over.  We are called and empowered to get moving.

Outside the church walls

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I read a lot.  I read books, articles, blogs, social media postings, letters, etc.  I love to read.

I love words too.  I love to read, write blog posts, social media posts, tweets about the bible, prayers, etc.

I love to talk too.  I love to talk about faith, grace, theology, politics, philosophy – all deep subjects.

Those are all nice and good.  Sometimes those are essential.  But that’s not all we are called to.  We are called to more.

In the January, 2018 issue of Living Lutheran, Frank G. Honeycutt wrote the following words:

To an outsider in much of North America, Christianity might be perceived as an indoor, climate-controlled religion.  But so much of the Bible’s story is told outdoors. “If these [disciples] were silent,” Jesus once said famously, “the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40)

Source: Click here for the online version, pg. 5 for Honeycutt’s article

When I read that statement, it struck me.  So true.  So much of Jesus’ ministry happens out there.  He encounters problems when he is in the synagogue.  He’s doing ministry out there, beyond the walls.

My question is this – are we doing the same thing?  Why or why not?

One of the things that the disciples at St. Stephen are starting to look at are some of the pervasive challenges facing our community just outside the doors of the church.  We are situated in a unique location – just two miles down the road from one of the major travel intersections in the country – Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania turnpike.  There’s a mile stretch between these two major travel routes.  Commerce is going back and forth all day, every day, all day long, 365 days a year, non-stop.

And with so much traffic and commerce, there are many businesses in that one mile stretch that cater to the traffic.  But there are also other populations that reside on this stretch too – populations that no one wants to deal with, let alone talk about, or even think about.

There is homelessness, drug addiction and trafficking, sex trafficking, prostitution, immigration, and more.  It’s all there, right outside the doors of the church, just down the  road.  I pass through this stretch every day on my way to and from the church.

The question is, what are we called to in relation to this?  We called to be outside – where the challenges are.  We are called to build relationships.  We are called to proclaim boldly the good news of God’s loving saving presence.  We are called to not only think and talk about these people just down the road, but to do something.  We are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to bring Jesus’ very presence to populations that I think Jesus would want to be present in – the outcast, the forgotten, the imprisoned.

It starts with an acknowledgement – there are people who are homeless, who have big challenges, who are trapped in things they have no control over.  It starts with an acknowledgement – that Jesus has encountered us and changed our lives, but Jesus isn’t done yet.  It’s only the beginning.  It starts with an acknowledgement – taking the first step is really scary because we have no idea what will happen or where this will go.  That’s just were it starts though.  It’s only the beginning.

Hold on tight, we’re in for a ride.  Jesus is driving.  He’s taking us to places we don’t want to go.  He’s telling us to keep the doors unlocked as we travel through these places.  Not only that, he’s inviting us to get out of the car and be with people.  That’s scary.  But is there really another option?  We could keep staying inside the walls of the church, where it’s comfortable and clean and neat.  Where the facade of our lives makes us look good to those around us.  Or we can acknowledge what exists around us, acknowledge that Jesus won’t turn a blind eye and won’t let us sit in comfort.  Faith isn’t about being comfortable, it should make us uncomfortable enough to get moving.

John 6:68 quotes Simon Peter as saying:

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Yes, indeed Peter, Jesus does have the words of eternal life.  And not only that, Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable and cause us to react, respond, and get moving.

You have the words of eternal life Jesus, where else are we going to go?

What’s that?!? You want us to go out from these walls because of the words you have breathed into us?  You want us to venture to places we would rather not go because of the holy food that nourishes us?  You want us to get up and carry out the words that you speak to us?  You call on us to respond in trust to the faith that you give us?

The answer is yes.  I hear you calling me, us, and more, together.  To travel just down the road.  Outside the church walls.  Where most of the Bible happened.  I hear you calling us to not just read the Bible and hear the stories of a distant place and time, but to live the Bible and our faith.  Thank God we aren’t doing this on our own, but that you walk with us in this journey, that the Spirit is infused in us and empowers us to go, and that the Father is listening and continually creating a path set before us.

Road to Emmaus

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The story of the Road to Emmaus has been on my mind for several months now.  It’s an interesting story:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

(Source:  Luke 24:13-35)

When I reflect on this passage of Scripture, I’m drawn in.  Not in the typical way though.  I’m drawn in because of what happens in the story – observing it from the outside and hearing what happens.  And hearing the call of Jesus for the church.

I hear five stages that I think apply to discipleship today.

Stage 1 – Initial encounter.  We read this in vs. 13-17.  The disciples were doing their thing and then Jesus comes and encounters them.  And not only that, engages with them, even though they don’t recognize him.  How is this any different that what we are called to as church – to bring Jesus, to be Jesus’ presence with others, even when they don’t recognize Jesus yet.  And to engage.  How do we as church do initial encounters with people?

Stage 2 – Visitors/Spectators. We read about this in vs. 18-27.  The disciples are engaged in conversation, but aren’t called to anything yet.  And Jesus goes a bit deeper.  He tells them what he is about.  And they watch and listen.  And he leaves it there for them to decide if they will move to the next step.  Will they move on towards discipleship or let Jesus slip through their fingers.  Do we do this in church?  We’re really good at allowing people to be spectators, but how about nudging people to further commitment?  Do we make being a spectator too easy?

Stage 3 – Deeper engagement/commitment/membership.  We read about this in vs. 28-29. They’ve heard and they want more.  But they don’t realize yet what that means.  What do we do as church to offer people the opportunity to go deeper even without knowing what that means for them.  Is membership just a simple thing where people sign up and then get lost in the mix of other members, or does it mean more?  Can it be a step on the path to discipleship?  What are we doing to engage people who have encountered Jesus and want more?  How are we helping them to that deeper commitment?

Stage 4 – Discipleship.  We read about this in vs. 30-32.  It’s in the breaking of the bread that Jesus reveals himself to the disciples.  Their hearts are on fire now.  They have encountered Jesus and it has changed their lives.  And they are ready to go and do, to serve, to proclaim, to make more disciples.  And it is at this point that they are ready to follow Jesus, the one who encounters and engages them.  And it is at this point that Jesus steps aside to free them to go and do.  Do we do this in our churches?  Or do we stop with membership?

Stage 5 – Leadership.  We read about this in vs. 33-35. The disciples are truly disciples, and they are now in the role of making more disciples, of starting the process over again with others.  They go and proclaim Jesus to others so that others can encounter Jesus, be intrigued, want more, engage with Jesus, and become his disciples so they can go out and spread the word and start the process over with others.  How do we do this in our churches? Are we creating an environment where people can not only encounter Jesus, but become disciples and equip them to go and make more disciples?

If a church have these five stages in place, I’m willing to bet it’s a church that is thriving, where hearts are on fire, where people want more Jesus because they see how lives are changing, where the lay people are leading the way in service, and where disciples are going out making more disciples.

How to tell if someone is a Christian

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Martin Luther wrote the following:

Oh, it is a living, busy, active and mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such good works, however, is an unbeliever….Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times.  This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes [people] glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures.  And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith.  Because of it, without compulsion [Christians are] ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown [them] this grace.  Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible to separate heat and light from fire.

Source: Martin Luther, “Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” in Luther’s Works, Vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), pp. 370-71.

I actually read this quote in another book – Power Surge by Michael Foss (pg. 82-83).

Luther pretty much hits the mark on how to tell if someone has been transformed by Jesus and is living out new life in Christ.

Does this mean this person is perfect – hardly.  However, I think it means that even though a person will fall and fail and sin, they will confess and keep seeking and receiving forgiveness, and get up and try again.

You might notice a few things that are absent from Luther’s description.  You might notice that a Christian isn’t someone who claims the label of Christian and then supports policies that go against what it means to be a Christian.  You might notice that a Christian isn’t someone who claims the label of Christian and then supports behavior that diminishes and dehumanizes other human beings.  You might notice that a Christian isn’t someone who claims the label of Christian and then lays responsibility for action on others, on government, or non-profits.  You might notice that a Christian isn’t someone who claims the label of Christian and then puts their faith and trust in a politician to lead the charge for good works.

A Christian isn’t called to wait for someone else to get good works started.  They are called to respond to the faith they have been given, and to start carrying out that faith – even if they are the only one.