Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I have a friend that has become uncomfortable about his spiritual life.* He's adamant about the fact that he wholeheartedly believes in God. While his prayer life could use some improvement, I have to admit he does better than some. Almost religiously, he attends the services at his Church. He intently listens to the preacher and even manages to jot down a few key notes about the message every week. As far as the music goes, he can sing most of the songs verbatim without even looking at the screen up front; but even he will admit, his worship is sometimes mechanical. Come payday, my friend even places a check in the offering for no less than ten percent of his income. Yet he still feels somethings awry. He has this impression that he's missing something important. All the worry and uneasiness tends to keep his stomach in knots. "What if all of this isn't enough?" he asks himself.

Unfortunately, for my friend, it's not enough. All that 'doing' makes it appear the sole purpose of the Church is to be a conduit for self-help; which only results in apathy and passivity. And for that, the crucifixion of Jesus was a bit overkill. If that was God's only desire, he could have just given us the Bible and called it good. But he didn't! He sent his Son to show us how to live. To help us understand what the Church was all about. For that reason alone, I can't help but think God intended the Church to be far greater.

Sadly, my friend is not alone. There may be thousands or even millions of Christians who find themselves in the same predicament--passive spectators of irrelevant ritual. Their life of faith has been plagued with complacency and passivity. All because Church has been narrowed down to a Sunday ritual. It has been become about the building, a religion, a doctrine, or a denomination. This shift has resulted in a people that have become content with playing Church.
Dwight Robertson, the founder of KBM, illustrates this point quite well; “Unfortunately, much of what we’ve seen portrayed as Christianity in the past century has been a fireless counterfeit of what Jesus spoke of in the First Century. Christian faith has often been reduced to church attendance. And our concept of ‘church’ has often been reduced to fireless religious institution.”

It amazes me how the most exciting message known to man has been presented as one of the most boring messages ever heard on a Sunday morning! How have we idly stood by while the message of Jesus has been hijacked? We have narrowed the Gospel to a message of sin management and a personal relationship. The early Church saw the Gospel in a much different light. They knew that eternity hung in the balance! They understood that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. They recognized that it's implications stretched far beyond themselves. They saw it as a movement, if you will, that had the power to change the course of human history.

So, what happened? I think an obscure passage of Scripture might offer some insight.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

The problem has been our passivity. When it comes to matters of Church, I wouldn't exactly use the term forceful. Unless of course you are talking about bull-horn guy. You know who I'm talking about. The guy that's always asking you pointed questions. Making awkward transitions in conversation to bring up matters of God, faith, and salvation. Asking where you will go if you die tonight. Things like that. I think now is as good a time as any to clear up a few things. This passage of Scripture isn't conveying that kind of force. It's not condoning a Crusade-type attitude; it's not talking about turn-or-burn evangelism; and it isn't referencing smacking anyone upside the head with the Bible or forcing Jesus on anyone. The Greek word for forceful means “sought with burning zeal; to make a way with triumphant force.” Here, forceful is a reference to our purpose and our passion.

Why do you do what you do? Going to church isn't really advancing the kingdom anymore than drinking diet pop drops the pounds. Taking notes on the sermon doesn't do much good unless they are reviewed and put into practice. The same prayer before every meal isn't really praying ceaselessly, is it? Jesus even seems to make an off handed remark to the Pharisees about how they tithe, but overlook matters of justice, mercy and faith. And when it comes to those songs, are we actually engaging and worshiping in spirit and truth? The way we answer these questions will determine if we are being passive or forceful. And Jesus isn't looking for the passive! "Deny yourself and take up your cross." he says. There is nothing passive about that. The bottom line is this, do we want Jesus--and nothing else--or nothing at all?

There can be no more living defensively, trying to distance ourselves from the secular world. That won't keep anything at bay. Instead, we must live offensively. We should be leading the charge. It is our duty, as followers of Jesus, to fearlessly pave the way for the kingdom. Just as John paved the way for Christ’s ministry, we must pave the way for Christ's second coming. That's the only way we will ever overcome that which stands opposed to the message of Jesus.

“You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church.  And not even the gates of Hell will prevail against it.” The sick are being healed, lepers are cleansed, the dead raised, the blind see, the lame walk and sinners are raised to a new life. That's the picture of the Church Jesus gives us. The kingdom of heaven isn't for the faint at heart, the weak, or the passive. Nor is it for the indecisive. It's for the vigorous and forceful. It's for those who are working out their own salvation in fear and trembling, all the while not compromising with the world. The kingdom of heaven is only for those who are prepared to follow the whole counsel of God, no matter the cost. It is these individuals who are forcefully taking possession of the kingdom of heaven. And they are the ones helping others get there through a fearless proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus. Until we understand this, we will continue to wonder if this is enough.

The Bible is full of men and women, who perceived this call, surrendered all, and forcefully pursued the kingdom of heaven. The "Faith Hall of Fame" lays it out very clearly for us in the book of Hebrews.“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned into strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and even in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, and yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” These are not passive people. Last time I checked, the passive don't conquer kingdoms. The passive are more likely to avoid confrontation at all cost. So, it is highly unlikely they would be shutting the mouths of lions, quenching the fury of the flames, escaping the edge of the sword, or anything else along these lines. Nor do I recall the passive, being flogged, chained, and thrown in prison. Please understand I don't want to downplay the importance of attending church, or tithing, or anything like that. Nor am I intending to negate the fact that the Gospel saves. But, if that's all it does, it's not the whole message of Jesus. It should also move, motivate, stimulate, instigate, inspire, encourage, arouse and stir us! That is all.

*This hypothetical friend is sometimes me.

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