Monday, August 19, 2019

The Elevator Speech

Elevator speeches. You have 15 floors to get out what your project is all about. So here’s my elevator speech from my summer’s project:

Jesus does an amazing thing: he forms an alternative kingdom community. He takes Matthew the tax collector who works for the Romans and Simon the Zealot who wants to kill Romans and 9 other people, each different in their own way and molds them into a kingdom community that changes the world.
How could something like that happen today? By being re-formed. So many voices, institutions, ideas, organizations have de-formed us. Our de-formation keeps us from forming an alternative kingdom community. 
To end our de-formation we need to be re-formed—as individuals and a community—to form an alternative kingdom community.
To be re-formed we listen to the voice of God. As we hear him we re-form our lives and community according to his Word. This re-forming happens as:
    • we put God and his glory before all
    • we love Jesus’ bride, the church—giving her the honor she deserves
    • we know who we are—his adopted daughters and sons
    • we know his big story—the story of creation, fall, redemption and his coming recreation.
Worship is heartbeat of being re-formed. God comes in Word and Sacrament in the context of weekly worship. In his Spirit he comes down to earth and at the same time lifts us up to heaven. As we weekly are stunned by being in His presence, we give him glory and he forms us into an alternative kingdom community. 
A kingdom community that is a picture, foretaste, and ambassador of God’s present and coming kingdom. 

In Re-form: Building an Alternative Kingdom Community in an Era of Differences we will uncover the wonder of becoming God’s alternative community. A community that gives the world a taste of things to come for God’s glory.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Three Quiet Fridays

Three quiet Fridays. 
After a summer of blogging about Kingdom Dreams all has been silent for three Fridays. What happened? A long vacation? Nothing left to say? Well the truth is Linda and I did sneak away for a long weekend. Another weekend I was teaching on Church Renewal at the CRCNA’s Inspire Conference. 
But the main reason for the silence was a shift in my sabbatical work. I moved from study and research (I have a reading list of ~140 books, with 50 or so being main source material) to writing. The writing is resulting in a study entitled, Re-formed: Building an Alternative Kingdom Community in an Era of Differences
One of the biggest surprises for me in this sabbatical work was being pushed back to our Reformed roots. I thought I’d be dealing with contemporary evangelical authors who were taking on the divides in the Christian community. I never got to those authors. Instead I found myself reading theologians like John Calvin, Herman Bavinck, Abraham Kuyper along with modern reformed scholars. These scholar/theologians provided a deep and rich picture of forming an alternative kingdom community.
I discovered that building an alternative community is rooted in being re-formed. We have all been de-formed by voices, structures, stories, and institutions in our society. To form an alternative kingdom community we must be re-formed. This re-formation is deeply rooted in Word and Sacrament in the context of a well planned weekly worship service that focuses on God’s glory and our re-formation.
The study Re-formed takes us on a journey. It uses the ideas that you’ve been reading about on this blog, adds in study of the Bible, of Creeds and Confessions, songs for reflection and more to form a pathway to be God’s alternative kingdom community. Re-formed does this in seven different study sections:
  1. Section 1: Foundation- God and His Glory
            To be re-formed we need to see the foundation of all of life: God and his Glory
  1. Section 2: Walls- The Church
            To be re-formed we need to see the church as unique creation of God in Jesus Christ. 
            The church is high and lifted up even as Jesus is
  1. Section 3: The Roof- God’s People
            To be re-formed as an alternative kingdom we need to know who we are as God’s 
  1. Section 4: The Neighborhood- God’s Big Story
            To be re-formed as an alternative kingdom community we need to know God’s Big Story
  1. Section 5: An Alternative Kingdom Community- Mission
            To be re-formed we need to know the 
    • mission
    • vision
    • foundations
    • values
    • loves
    • practices 
            of the alternative kingdom community
  1. Section 6: Shaping the Kingdom Community- Worship
              To be re-formed as a kingdom community we must be people of worship with an 
              emphasis on word and sacrament
  1. Section 7: The Water We Swim in
              To be re-formed we must take account of the voices and structures that are seeking  
               to de-form us

So now to editing...

Friday, July 26, 2019


When we started this journey of creating a kingdom community we noted: “God’s glory and honor must be at the center.” It is impossible to create an alternative community with people who have an WWIFM (What’s In It For Me) attitude.
This is especially true in Sunday worship. The central purpose of worship is God’s glory. “God alone is the center, the primary subject, object, purpose, and agent in worship.” (Kaemingk)
God calls us to meet with him; the ruler of all. He calls us as our Father King.  He calls as he who rescues us and the world. He calls, we respond to his call. 
What does this mean?
    • Worship is a good in and of itself as it proclaims God’s glory (Other good things may result from worship, but they are not central)
    • Worship must be formed around God’s glory.
    • God glorifying worship honors the fullness of God in life through
      • celebration & lament
      • thanks & confession
      • hearing God’s word & celebrating the sacraments.
      • gifts for the poor and for the church
    • We recognize that some liturgies lend themselves to God’s glory better than others
    • We recognize that many songs we sing focus not on God’s glory but on us
    • We are not the focus of worship, but worship that focuses on God shapes us into kingdom citizens by taking us out of the center.
Worship where God is at the center is one of the few activities in our self-centered culture that has built into its purpose to take us out of the center.  In worship we are not the purpose—our fulfillment and actualization are not the end. Instead we experience what it is like not to be the center of the universe. (Witvliet) 

When our focus is on God’s glory we take steps toward being a kingdom community.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Shaping the Dream by Listening

Three weeks ago we spoke of how God shapes his alternative community using the Marks of the Church (Word, Sacraments, Discipline) In the “Mark” of the Word I mentioned that it is not just the preaching of the word that matters, but the hearing of the word. If the alternative community is going to be shaped we have to listen and put into practice what we hear preached. 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,
Because the word is Christ accepting men, it is full of grace but also full of judgment. . . If we ignore the spoken word of the sermon, then we ignore the living Christ. There is a sacrament of the word.
This is far more than most us imagine when we hear a sermon. It calls for far more investment in hearing, discerning, and then applying the message to our lives than we typically do. It’s also an often overwhelming call on the minister to study and prepare a message that reflects God’s heart in the text.
Scott Hoezee in his book Why We Listen to Sermons reminds us as we come to worship:
    • in the tradition of the church, the explanation for what happens during the average sermon is straightforward and spiritual: it is the work of the Holy Spirit
    • the Holy Spirit brings the sermon’s words into each person’s heart just a little differently. Those differences stem from what the Spirit knows any given person needs to hear
    • Everyone who preaches and everyone who listens to sermons ... has the expectation that the sermon will be eventful. Therefore, sermons should be written, preached, and received with the up-front anticipation that the Spirit of God is going to do something

When we listen, God shapes his alternative community.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Kingdom 4th Part 2

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8–10 NIV11)
Followers of Jesus are looking forward to the city of God (Revelation 21, see Saint Augustine). As we look forward to this city we discern some things in the political/nation realm:

    • We pursue the common good with kingdom integrity i.e. we work to invite the City of Man (see Augustine) to organize itself in a way that reflects what humans need in light of the ways of City of God.
    • We remember that the state is not the ultimate — it’s power has already been eclipsed and is passing away in light of Jesus’s rule and reign (Ephesians 1.18-23).
    • We learn how the City of God calls the City of Man to judgement and mercy. We see how mercy often triumphs over judgement.
    • We see that justice and injustice runs through us as a nation. In seeing this we hate the injustice and violence of our nation and we lament and repent of the injustice of our nation—even as we celebrate when justice has triumphed.
    • We are shaped by our worship (Word and Sacrament) where we are declare that Jesus is King and the world is his kingdom. When we leave worship we leave as those sent into the world to remind society of who and whose they are.

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Kingdom 4th are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you were “no people”; now you are “God’s people”. 1 Peter 2.9-10a
We are God’s people. We are his holy nation. We are his royal priesthood. Therefore we are citizens first of all of God’s kingdom. We take our cues for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from God’s kingdom. This has a profound impact on our our  involvement as the church in the U.S.
As a royal priesthood that brings God to the world we tell:
    • Leaders that they rule under the one true King and that their deeds and decisions will be judged by the King, therefore they need to live and rule as those who will give account.
    • Fellow citizens that we will be judged for the leaders we support and their ways. Therefore we call our leaders to be the sheep of Matthew 25 (make disciples of all the nations), not the goats. (Note: We see the beginning of this in the rule of Constantine whose “legislation is frequently driven by a concern to protect the rights fo the forgotten little people of the empire for the venality of officials, the burdens of landlords, the petty manipulations of the wealthy and the powerful.” Leithart “Constantine” p. 208
    • The state is not the Savior and the U.S. is not the new Israel-the hope of the world. Jesus is king and savior—the hope of the world. The church is God’s kingdom example to the world.

Declaring these things and believing them powerfully shapes our lives both in and outside of the political arena.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Shaping the Kingdom Dream

God calls his church as an alternative kingdom community. She is to live out the reality that Jesus has ushered in a new order of the ages (novus ordo seclorum). How does the church do this, where is the training ground to become this community?
The answer surprises some. The training ground is rooted in the Marks of the True Church. The Belgic Confession (16th Century) names three marks: 
   -  preaching of the gospel
   -  administration of the sacraments 
   -  the practice of church discipline
God shapes his alternative kingdom community first through he preaching of the Word (and as Calvin pointed out the listening and applying to life of that word by the hearer-more on that next week). God through his Spirit has been shaping the community this way for some 2000 years. Indeed, it is when the people of God gather as a covenant community that the Spirit comes in a particular way to enliven and empower the Word. Scott Hoezee in his wonderful little book, Why We Listen to Sermons reminds us, 
...if Pentecost itself is any indication, it would seem that the Holy Spirit has long chosen preaching as the Spirit’s primary way to get the gospel across to the world, because once that Spirit was poured out on the apostles, the very first thing that happened was that the apostle Peter preached a significant sermon. That sermon is the first of more than 24 sermons that form the backbone of the Book of Acts. Preaching...has been with the church since the get-go. It is how the Spirit works.

As the Spirit does its work Calvin tells us that the preacher “vanishes” (God centered, not preacher centered preaching) and the Word stands before us. 

So God builds his alternative kingdom community.