So Easter happened. Many people say that means Jesus is alive and God has defeated the powers of darkness. But what’s different? It isn’t a different world than it was on Saturday… Every year we celebrate Easter, and every year the same problems abound and then we celebrate it again. So Christ is risen? What’s changed?
This is a huge challenge that needs to be taken seriously and as I wrestle with it here’s what I come up with… This isn’t a question that we should fling at God. Like, “Come on God, make the world more like your kingdom now!” Rather, it is the question that God persistently and hopefully and powerfully puts to us. Like, “I have empowered life and love and forgiveness – now I need you to trust them and go and start making the world more like our kingdom!”
What if… that was how we understood Easter and therefore what we did as followers of Jesus? What if… making that happen was why people got together to be a church?
That is a vision of the church that I can get excited about!
Plaids are interesting. They allow you to put together colors that would normally never be found in clothes. And strangely, plaids need those surprising contrasting colors to save the base colors from being boring and unnoticeable. They don’t belong there, yet seem to at the same time.
As a person chosen by God to be God’s holy people (1 Peter 2.9) you are the contrast colors to the world. You don’t quite fit in, you aren’t part of the usual script, yet somehow you look good there and belong there. You are not only valuable, you bring hope, breathe life and redeem the fabric of humanity from itself. You do it because the color you bring is the color God gave you.
Wear plaid. Do plaid. Remember.
Shane Claiborne said some things about Acts chapter 2 that opened this up for me when we were talking about poverty as part of our JustStart> at Jacob’s Well. The relevant verses are Acts 2.44-45
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Now one can throw up all sorts of complications around this passage, like how they pooled and distributed their wealth, and the difference between needs and wants. Such controversies miss the point, however, which is that when the church began, they happily and mutually filled the holes in each others lives.
Elimination of poverty isn’t a requirement or a duty of the church, it is simply what happens when church happens. In other words it isn’t giving your congregation a name, a constitution or erecting a building that makes you a church, it’s God working among and through you to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. When people are church, they start living differently – others see that and like it. They want to be part of it. And when they do, they too are part of the church and their needs are met. The contagious, ever expanding, life-giving movement that introduces the kingdom of God is happening.
What is a sign that a church just got born? Needs are met. Poverty – all types – ends.
- If you are thinking of starting a church, don’t miss this.
- If you are wondering what to do with your church, don’t get distracted from this.
- If you are looking for a church, look for this as a sign of a living one.
You or I can’t change the world. You or I may not even be able to change ourselves. But that shouldn’t make us feel hopeless about change ever happening because that isn’t how it happens.
As churches who are all in the business of changed lives this is something we have to get straight. We want to equip people with all sorts of behaviors that are more in line with God’s view of our lives, but they will never make the difference. The fundamental piece is entirely different and doesn’t center upon our capability, but on our learning to accept and follow along with what God is doing in the world. In fact the question isn’t ‘What can you do?’, the question is ‘Can you trust God?’ Even a little bit. Because God will take even the smallest seed of trust and turn it into something great and beautiful. God says, “Just Start.” It is only then that we start loosening the grip on our lives enough that we start to get our hands on things that God can make really matter. That’s scary. And that’s why it takes trust.
We have been talking and thinking and dreaming and doing justice the last six weeks as Jacob’s Well. It has been interesting. I know people who have started some pretty admirable endeavors, one person told me he wants to quit his job and open a communal house as a long term shelter for homeless people. Many have done nothing. There is no judgement, there is learning and watching and wondering. This is hard stuff and the changes that could happen, that should happen will take time – more than six weeks.
One thing I relearned during this time is just how the world is going to change. I truly believe that God wants the world to change, to better reflect God’s intentions, love, hope and righteousness than it does. But it isn’t going to change because we change it. Really, I mean it! The world needs to change, we are part of the change, BUT that change doesn’t happen because we get around to making it happen. The world changes when we let God change us.
Gandhi’s quote is famous, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is as true as it is profound. What it doesn’t say is that even that change isn’t made by us. The world needs to be changed, and it happens when we are changed, but that change needs to come from beyond us. We cannot comprehend the nature or the scope of the change, we do not have the will nor the patience to make it. We have to let God do it.
Jesus talked about those who give up their life for his sake would find it (Luke 9.24). Paul talked about dying and rising to Christ (Romans ch.6). But how does that happen? How do we let God change us. This is hard to answer because sooner or later we get to something that we do. The difference is that this isn’t a matter of continually trying to manipulate ourselves or the world, but of simple dwelling in God. Being still, listening for God anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes getting away from the world to hear, other times diving into the world to hear. And when we notice anything – even the something-almost-nothing (1 Kings 19.12), letting God know we are afraid and don’t know how. And asking God to remake our hearts to receive the change we cannot make ourselves.
It is good to have a community of people who walk along with you when you try to let change like this start happening in your life. And when our communities become holy places wide open to this happening in and among them, this world is going to get changed.
Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!
We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!
Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.
Between us and sufficiency is the word “Enough.” There is no such thing as enough – it is always a little more than what we have – so as long as we keep chasing it we never get to what really satisfies us. God promises to provide what we need, to which we say, “yes” and wink because we don’t really believe it. When we hear God say “what you need” we hear “what we want” and are secretly afraid that it won’t be “enough.”
We need to learn to desire that which is sufficient. Clearly we haven’t been good teachers or models of it for one another. We need to ask God for some direction on this. The promise of it is that if God can quiet our drive for what we don’t have, then we may discover peace with what we do have. That in itself would be a very good thing. But it also allows us to take the next step.