Have you ever had one of those moments when you just don’t know why you are doing what you’re doing anymore? Ever lost the essence, or maybe forgotten the context? Have you ever spent weeks, months or years working on something to find out you left the “main thing” behind you and now you’re just holding onto something that is peripheral, or a side-issue?
As I look at the current narrative of the Church, I can see many places in its story that this is happening to us. It seems some of us are a forgetful bunch. Others of us are an uninformed bunch who have never known the true essence of what this is supposed to be all about, never been told the real climax of the story of God, and as a result, the part we play in it now.
For example, perhaps you look around at the pain and brokenness in this world and ask the question, “What is the point? Where is God in all of this? I thought He was supposed to be good, and powerful…?”
What you’re asking there is the core essence of the narrative about God. So let me take a moment to tell you the story of God engaging with this world – key phrase there, engaging.
The macro-narrative of Scripture tells us of a God who engaged with the world that He had created right from when it broke itself, up to now and will continue to do so into the future. The agenda has always been to get it back to the way it was right back at the very start: perfect. Perfect in relationship with this God, with itself and with it’s surroundings. And this story of God, this narrative of shalom, has a climactic moment when the renewing (note: renewing – making things new again) activity of this God takes on skin and bone in the arrival of Jesus Christ.
Right, let’s take a breath from that big moment, settle ourselves down again and pull out some specifics. How exactly has God gone about renewing creation?
In the Bible is a group of four books called the Gospels. These four books are the collective record of Jesus ministering in the world. Now, let’s say you were to read them and ask a great question like, “What was the core theme of Jesus’ ministry?” As a friend put it to me the other day, what is the “essence of the essence?” Well, over and over this is what you will keep finding: a phrase called “the Kingdom of God”
God’s perfect rule was breaking into the brokenness of all of creation through the words, miraculous demonstrations and deeds of Jesus. Jesus was restoring things back to the way they were always meant to be, putting things back to rights as they were once created to be. The renewing message of the Kingdom was demonstrated by Jesus when He:
healed the sick;
calmed a storm;
preached about a new hope;
cast out demons;
restored outcasts to right-standing in a community;
broke barriers of clean/unclean, man/woman, Jew/Gentile;
miraculously fed multitudes;
taught on a new way to be human in this world;
ate with outsiders;
and many more things all to demonstrate what it looks like when the Kingdom of God breaks in and collides with this broken world. The Good News of the Kingdom is the climactic crescendo, and Jesus played it out for the world to experience.
But then He did something crazy.
At the beginning of the book of Acts, we see how He tagged in a bunch of people, effectively saying: You do this. You must keep sharing this message and doing this mission.
Enter: the Church.
This group of people became His body, empowered by the very same Spirit that had empowered Jesus. With the cry, “Jesus is Lord!” they continued and radically laid their lives down to further His message and the mission of bringing the Good News: “the Kingdom of God is near! Turn and see!”
Two millennia later, the group of people with this message and mission is now us. Sadly, it seems that most of the time we seem to sell ourselves short. We have made Jesus’ message a bit easier to grasp, and just stop at “us” and our “personal salvation” which is all about having faith to get us to heaven – so no wonder we ask questions about the brokenness of the world, and wonder where God is. Our story has become too small and stingy. The narrative of the Kingdom is not us just having faith here and now to go somewhere later when we die. The Kingdom narrative is one of our new Spirit-filled lives engaging with God’s activity in this world now; our faith invites us to live this ‘God is making all things new’ hope. The narrative we are invited in to join is: “the Kingdom of God is near! Turn and see!”
We are invited to see this message and mission for all it’s worth and join in. Christ has started a re-humanising movement: He spoke on this new life, He showed what it looked like to live aware of it and He showed how to live it once you have encountered it. The life of the Kingdom is near, as near as your next action, or words you speak, or prayer you pray. With those things you can help see the Kingdom colliding into this present reality.
So is this the narrative of God you know?
Planting a church means placing ourselves into the context of the grand narrative: the Kingdom of God. It’s this message of the Kingdom lived out by the words we speak, the prayers for miraculous demonstration and the deeds of doing good works that we start our answer, because it is the context in which Jesus started the Church.