The Kingdom: Rolling out the “Welcome Mat”

This past Sunday, October 8, 2017, I had the privilege of going to four church services in the city of London: Catholic Mass at St. George Cathedral, morning worship at Metropolitan Tabernacle (the Baptist church of the famous 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon), Anglican Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and an evening worship service at Hillsong London.

Each of the services had elements that appealed to me — that spoke to my soul, and each of them had elements that I wished would have been done differently. Most of these differences were simply a matter of preferences, but some of the rub I felt came from deep theological differences.

As a Baptist one would expect that this rub would have been felt most in the Catholic or at least the Anglican service, but it was not. As a proponent of traditional hymns along side contemporary worship music and multigenerational ministry, one might think the “rub” was felt most in the LOUD “epilepsy inducing” light show service at Hillsong, but it was not.

The most severe rub was at the Baptist service, and it wasn’t the music, or the prayers, or the liturgy, or whether or not I was welcomed. The rub was the heart of the Baptist service — the sermon, and it chaffed me to the point of wanting to stand up and yell, “STOP IT!”

Now, I have to be honest. I’ve been chaffed by other sermons. Most of the time it’s a good thing. It’s the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sin, making me uncomfortable in the tepid Christianity in which I have taken comfort. At these times, as well, I want to yell, “STOP IT!” like the man having the lizard torn from his back in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I am familiar with this rub; I do not like how it feels; but I know it gives life, abundant life. The sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle was NOT that rub. It was a rub, a chaffing, that comes from knowing that something is not quite right.

The message was from 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. It was going well enough I guess until point two taken from verse 10, “…to wait for His Son from heaven.” His point was that the Christian objective is to “wait” — to wait for Jesus. Now I’m all for a good sermon on being ready for the return of Christ, of living lives of holiness, on focusing on telling others about Christ, but in order that we wouldn’t miss his point the preacher went on:

Note, dear friends, that our aim is not to reform the world. Now Christian people are a people of compassion, and if people are suffering, we should have hearts that want to help. And God will raise up from time to time people with special opportunities (here examples of Christians fighting child exploitation during the Victorian period are offered as an example)…. But they knew that no sooner would they repair one problem that another one would turn up because of the fall of man, and because of the sinfulness of man, and the wretchedness of the human hearts. They knew that you can’t really reform this world; you can only do some good as you go along; you can only give relief as you can. But today there are some Christian people, even some evangelical and reformed people, who have fallen into the old trap that our chief business is to reform the world. And there are quite a number of books and well known names like Tim Keller, and, not such a well known name, but, Paul Trip, and others, who are telling you that your purpose of being here is to reform the world to repair the broken down house of this world. It isn’t, friends. It is a doomed world. It is a world under the judgement of God…. That old heresy of social restoration is being promoted once again.

This is the rub. Can we really separate the preaching of the Gospel with the living of the Gospel? And so I wonder…

  • I wonder if we are no longer under the obligation of being stewards of this earth (Genesis 2:15)?
  • I wonder if God no longer requires us to do justice and to love mercy (Micah 6:8)?
  • I wonder what the prayer taught us by Jesus himself, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means (Matthew 6:10)?
  • I wonder what it means for the first and second commandment — our love of God and our love of our neighbor — to be of the same substance (Matthew 22:37-40)?
  • I wonder what it means to have pure religion if not to care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27)?
  • I wonder why those extended an invitation to eternity with the Father is dependent upon food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes for the naked, care for the sick, visits to the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46)?

I suppose the argument would be that these (and the numerous other texts that could have been listed) are simply secondary concerns to “waiting,” to “preaching the gospel,” to “winning souls” — to welcoming people into the Kingdom of God.

But it just seems to me that if we are going to roll out the welcome mat of the Kingdom, we better make sure that we actually are living in the Kingdom.

And living the Kingdom means restoring the brokenness of a world that God loves — that God sent his son not to stand in judgment of but to love and to save (John 3:17)! Living the Kingdom is fighting against injustice, it’s about binding up wounds, it’s about caring for the least of these! That is the Gospel. That is the Good News! We cannot separate the preaching and the living of the Gospel!

That is a Kingdom worth living in!

That is a Kingdom worth inviting others into!

That is a Kingdom for which it is worth rolling out the welcome mat!

If you’re looking for that kind of Kingdom, I’ll tell you there isn’t a better choice you could ever make, and I would love to have the privilege to welcome you into that Kingdom.

But if your kingdom, if your “gospel,” is anything less than that, then I’m afraid it’s not the Gospel of Jesus, or Paul, or Spurgeon for that matter, and it may be a good idea to make sure your kingdom even has a welcome mat at all.

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Wednesdays with Walter–BACK NEXT WEEK

Crazy week.  Saturday, we moved back to the Waco area where my wife and I live in a 1965 Airstream.

All day Monday and Tuesday, I was at a preaching conference at Baylor University/Truett Seminary.  Last night and tonight, I am at another preaching conference in the Waco area.  

Walter and I will be back next week; maybe with some thoughts on the preaching conferences!  

Evidence that God is in Control: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 7

Do you ever look around the world and wonder, “Is God really in control?” Doesn’t it seem more often than not that the ones who are in control are oppressing the people and the precepts of God. If God was in control, wouldn’t the Church have an increasing, rather than decreasing, influence on culture? If God was in control, wouldn’t my… and mean His agenda be moving forward?

Today, Walter reminds us of another follower of Jesus who struggled to see God’s control. And then Walter leaves us with a powerful question to ponder on this Wednesday with Walter.

From The Social Principles of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch. Chapter 3, “Standing with the People,” page 32.

SECOND DAY: The Social Test of the Messiah
And the disciples of John told him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to the Lord, saying, Art thou he that comets, or look we for another? And when the men were come unto him, they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh or look we for another? In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits; and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me. Luke 7:18-32. (Click here for a more contemporary translation.)

Was Jesus the Coming One? He did not quite measure up to John’s expectations. The Messiah was to purge the people of evil elements, winnowing the chaff from the wheat and burning it. His symbol was the axe. Jesus was manifesting no such spirit. Was he then the Messiah?
Jesus shifted the test to another filled. Human suffering was being relieved and the poor were having glad news proclaimed to them. Sympathy for the people was the assured common ground between Jesus and John. Jesus felt that John would recognize the dawn of the reign of God by the evidence which he offered him.

What, then, would be proper evidence that the reign of God is gaining ground in our intellect and feeling?

Nearly 2,000 years later, many of us still struggle understanding how Jesus is the Messiah or how God can be in control in a world that looks so out of control.

If we are honest, most of us want to rule the way the rest of the world rules — with strength and power. Moving forward our own agenda (thinly veiled as the agenda of God) with power and might.

Wether we are on the left or the right, we believe that to fight fire we need a little fire ourselves. We justify our own violence, or at least those who carry out violence on behalf of our beliefs, by saying we are fighting evil.

We just don’t think that the Messiah is cutting it anymore. We need action, and after all, we are doing it for Him!

And through the noise in my mind, the quiet example of Jesus cuts — echoed in the question of Walter, “What, then, would be proper evidence that the reign of God is gaining ground in our intellect and feeling?”

Do my intellect and feeling betray the type of Messiah for which I long? A military Messiah. A Messiah who isn’t afraid to say it the way it is. A Messiah who is willing to stand up. A Messiah who moves forward my… I mean His agenda!

I keep looking for evidence of God’s control in the world around me. Walter reminds me that I should be looking for evidence of God’s control within me. Within my mind. Within my heart.

I look for evidence that God has the whole world in His hands when far too often there is a lack of evidence that I have placed my mind, my heart, my life into into His hands.

Is there evidence of God’s control in our thoughts and feelings for those in need of protection?

Is there evidence of God’s control in our thoughts and feelings for our “enemies”?

Do we seek to promote our own agendas at any cost and by any means or do we truly seek to promote the agenda of Christ through self-sacrificing love? What do our intellect and feeling reveal about this? What evidence is there that the reign of God is gaining control — not in the world around us — but in the intellect and feelings within us?

Wednesdays with Walter: Day 1

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.12.37 PM.pngI had hoped to post this as a video.  I even recorded about 30 minutes of video and tried to edit it — it was awful.  Not the quality of the video, but the quality of the content.

There is something tricky about presenting issues like social justice.  It’s tricky because we don’t listen to each other anymore.  We don’t spend anytime listening.  We might spend time with our mouths shut in a conversation, but too often we’re just preparing what we are going to say next when the idiot “across the aisle” finally shuts-up.

I guess that’s why I want to do “Wednesdays with Walter.”  I want to see if we can still listen….  I want to see if I can still listen to someone with whom I disagree.

Book cover.jpgIn the introduction to “The Social Principles of Jesus,” Walter says, “[This book] does not undertake to furnish predigested material, or to impose conclusions.  It spreads out the most important source passages for personal study, points out the connection between the principles of Jesus and modern social problems, and raises questions for discussion.”

Are we still capable of doing that — reading together, exploring connections between the source of our convictions and the real life problems in front of us, and engage in serious discussion about the most important questions facing us.

I hope we can.

I hope I can.

Walter breaks “The Social Principles of Jesus” into four sections.  The first of these four sections is “The Axiomatic Social Convictions of Jesus.”

If you’re not sure what “axiomatic” means, don’t sweat it — I had to look it up to make sure myself.  It means that these are self-evident — they are the “duh” principles of Jesus.  They are obvious by just looking at his life and ministry.  For Walter, he wants these to be axiomatic — self-evident — in the lives of followers of Jesus as well.

The first of these axiomatic social convictions of Jesus is the “Value of Life.  This is the first chapter of the first section.  Each chapter is broken down further into 7 daily readings and then some concluding thoughts by Walter.

Take a minute to read the first and second day readings for the first chapter:

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As I read these two Biblical stories in close proximity, I was convicted about the sacredness of human life in the story of the child and the story of the sick.  Walter raises questions for his own day, but his placing these stories in such close proximity raised questions in my mind about our own day and problems facing us within our own society.  And this is where it gets tricky.

Are you willing to listen?

Are you willing to hear the voice of the other?

Are you willing to see the axiomatic social convictions of Jesus and allow them to challenge you regardless of where you stand — theologically or politically?

If Jesus saw “something heavenly in children, a breath of the Kingdom of God,” then what should our response be to the 600,000+ unborn children who are aborted in the United States each year?  How should we respond in the ballot box as well as in the pew?

Some have probably stopped listening.

Others may be saying “amen” and asking for more, but the more that Walter provides — the more that is part of the undeniable, axiomatic social conviction of Jesus — asks us to consider the care for the sick — especially the sick among the unwanted.

If Jesus is so moved by the humanity of the leper that he stretches out to touch him, what should our response be to those in most desperate need of health care in our country — the uninsured, those with pre-existing conditions, and even those here illegally?  We may be tempted to say that this is the role of the church and the individual.  But if we truly live in a country where the government is of the people, then shouldn’t the government be an extension of our convictions of care for the least of these?  How does this affect our view of the current debate over health care?

It surprised me that in two very short pages, Walter Rauschenbusch is able to confront and convict me from the “right” and the “left.”  Basically offend everyone!  Is this the offense of the Gospel of which Scripture speaks?

I hope that you will continue to join me for more Wednesdays with Walter.

I hope that you will leave comments and join the conversation.

I hope that we will be able to listen to one another as we explore together the social principles of Jesus.

 

Check out my website for more about Kerry Bender — www.KerryLBender.com

 

 

Second Mothers

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JoAnne and Heidi
About today’s author:
Heidi is a pastor’s wife, mother of two, music educator, and school counselor.  She is passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of others through music, counseling, and living a life that exemplifies her faith in Christ.  She teaches at Harvey Public School in Harvey, ND. 

You can read more about how Kerry knows Heidi and his deep appreciation for her by reading a post earlier in this series by clicking on “Legacy of Childhood Friendships.”  Heidi wrote an earlier post as well, “The Power of Childhood Friends,” but she was asked to write this post concerning “Second Mothers” because of the impact that her mother, JoAnne Tschetter, had on Kerry’s life; JoAnne passed away in 2000.  You can read more about Kerry’s deep appreciation for JoAnne by reading yesterday’s post “My Other Mother.” 

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​I was not particularly close to my mother as I was growing up. As I look back now, I see clearly the time and creativity and love she poured into me, even as I held her at arm’s length as a surly teenage girl. I remember one of my Sunday School teachers having a great spiritual impact on my life during this period. Kerry’s mom, Sadie, was a woman of great character and wisdom. I couldn’t wait for each new lesson, because she spoke with such knowledge and confidence in God’s love for me. To this day, she is a woman I respect and admire because of her deep and abiding faith and her example of Godly character. She influenced my journey of faith and my spiritual walk more than any other woman, aside from my own mom. ​

My mother died at the age of 50, just as I was beginning to truly appreciate her for her wisdom and strength and for her role in my life. As a young woman who was newly married and expecting my first baby, I felt her absence acutely during moments when I desperately needed advice and guidance. I have been so blessed by several women who have graciously and unobtrusively stepped in to my life to fill the gaping hole left by my mother’s early death.

​My mother-in-law Laura offered to stay with me after both of my girls were born. This began a process of transformation in our relationship. Although she is a woman of deep faith and of great love, I did not fully appreciate her close involvement in our lives at the beginning of our marriage. However, as the days went by and she quietly and graciously helped whenever and wherever she could, I began to feel my walls of resistance crumbling. We began to bond over shared struggles, and what was once an obligatory relationship became a friendship of choice. I now seek her advice and counsel often, and I truly love her as a mother.

​My step-mom has also been a tremendous source of advice and strength in my life. When my dad got remarried, Karla did not in any way try to replace my mother. She has simply become my friend, and in the process another mother figure in my life, offering advice, support and unconditional love.  

​What strikes me about all of these women is their faithful prayer support. I know that on a daily basis I was and am being covered in prayer. While each of them has been concerned about my physical and emotional well-being, I know that they seek God’s best for me first and foremost.  

​As a mom, a pastor’s wife, a teacher and a school counselor, I have many opportunities to speak into the lives of young men and women. Now more than ever, there are children who need a praying and listening adult who will come alongside them and help them navigate the difficult waters of growing up. May I be a blessing to them, as many have been to me.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”