Category Archives: The Kingdom

Disciples or converts?

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. Instead we’ve made converts.

Scott McKnight, in The Jesus Creed says it’s the difference between a birth certificate and a driver’s license: “If conversion is like a birth certificate, we produce babies who need to be pushed around in strollers. If it’s like a driver’s license, we produce adults who can operate on life’s pathways.” This probably explains why so many here in the Bible belt are endlessly running from church to church seeking some place “we really get fed.” People who carry driver’s licenses generally also know how to go to the fridge, drive to the supermarket, and cook up a meal.

McKnight goes on to ask, “When was Peter actually converted?” Was is:

  • When he left his boat and followed Jesus?
  • When he fell before Jesus and confessed he was a “sinful man”?
  • When he confessed “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”?
  • When he confessed Jesus as Lord?
  • When Jesus breathed on the disciples with the Holy Spirit?
  • When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost?

It’s a tricky question for us because nowhere is it actually recorded that Peter said a “sinner’s prayer.” And that’s what seals it for most of us evangelicals. Undoubtedly this is something we need to wrestle with. What differentiates a disciple from a convert? And could it be that our “how do I get to heaven?” mentality lends itself to conversion over discipleship?

I believe this might well be one of the reasons we’ve lost sight of the Kingdom.

The Jesus Creed

I’ve been reading The Jesus Creed by Scott McKnight. Essentially the “Jesus Creed” says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

McKnight says that when the Creed is translated into prayer, it becomes the Lord’s Prayer. When it’s translated into a story it becomes the good Samaritan, and when it’s translated into a society it becomes the table of hospitality, which includes tax collectors, prostitutes, notorious sinners, and people we normally wouldn’t invite into our homes.

Years ago God put it in my heart to invite the residents of a neighborhood “boarding house” over for a proper meal. The across-the-street residents of the home were well known cast-offs, drug users, handicapped, and loners who had no place else to go. So they lived in these cheap quarters, paying weekly rates for a roof over their head.

It turned into a rich evening of friendship which remains in my memory as one of those sweet moments of Jesus’ presence.   I had no agenda, I didn’t present the Four Spiritual Laws to them, nor even try to manipulate the conversation around to giving a gospel presentation.  Still… not long afterwards, one of the guys called me over to talk about his need for Christ. He was an addict, and he suspected he may have been HIV infected. But he knew Jesus loved him, and he wanted to make his peace.

I miss doing radical things like that. Now I stay in an upscale neighborhood, (compliments of my generous friends who’ve welcomed me into their pool house), and spend almost all my time with my church family, who are positively amazing people!  But I’m longing to re-engage with people on the outside of the church circle again.  I’m not doing a very good job of that since leaving Sarajevo.   And I miss the way I invariably meet Jesus in those settings.

An alternative story

Ivan Illich, (the social philosopher, not to be confused with Tolstoy’s tragic figure), was asked one time about the best way to change the world:

“Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step forward. If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.”

Of course we know that the Kingdom is that fresh, alternative story waiting to be told. Jesus’ invitation to, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” was simply an offer to step into the adventure of His story.

The old, threadbare script about alienated humans trying to reach God through religion, sacrifice and ritual (blah, blah, blah), was shut down, canceled, and should have been run out of town for good by the dazzling news that God himself had taken on flesh, moved into the neighborhood, and embraced humanity right where it was. God’s new story was a comprehensive plan to redeem not only the human race, but to overhaul the whole of life and culture from gardens to garbage dumps, from prisons to palaces. Even nature itself waits for us to take our place in the action. (Romans 8:19)

I’m praying today that my soul will be saturated with the script, and that I will become a master storyteller of the Kingdom Tale.

The kingdom generation

Boredom happens when we miss the story of God, the epic battle that began in the garden. My generation medicated the boredom with drugs and traded adventure for success. Or – if we happened to be evangelicals – we scurried from meeting to meeting in a frantic search for signs and wonders, prosperity and rapturous emotions until we ourselves became addicts of another sort.

Then the King sat us all down, (those who would listen), and said, “Let me give you a story to live.” It’s a tale of a good and glorious King, and a poisonous spell that darkened the minds of his people. It’s an epic of heroes and romance, of breathless battles and nail-biting suspense. And it’s a story with my name in it. (And yours too!)

This generation – the young people I just left in Budapest, the Attention Deficit Generation – are cashing it in for a part in the story. It’s a swelling movement of grace and power, of justice and mercy. This, I believe, is the Kingdom generation. And the action is about to begin. It’s time to fasten our seat belts, study our part, and enter into history. “May Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”


Always a sucker for a castle, this one is in Budapest.

What is the gospel?

“What is the gospel?” The question sparked quite a discussion when it was tossed around the room at discipleship group last night.

For my first twenty-some years as a believer my answer would have been an incredulous, “DUH!? Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we could be forgiven.” And obviously that’s true as far as it goes. Only problem is, the gospel of Jesus went way beyond forgiveness. “Repent… for the kingdom of God is near” (Matt. 4:17) is vastly larger than “Repent so your sins can be forgiven.” When the kingdom of God entered human history in the person of Jesus, far more was changed than just the status of our guilt. Forgiveness was just the beginning. He quickly followed by adopting us into his family and setting off to restore everything gone wrong with the Universe. (Rom. 8:19-25; Eph. 4:10)

Today King Jesus is pouring his life, his beauty, his order, and his justice into all of human activity and experience. And that changes everything from the wonder of a rose to the way I play piano, from my work habits, to my relationships. The world has unfurled beyond imagination because the King has reclaimed His cosmos.

Kingdom or religion?

Back in 2004, somewhere between Richmond and Rocky Mount on interstate 95 the Holy Spirit interrupted my thoughts: “You know, son, that if your world became smaller when you ‘got saved,’ then you really didn’t receive the kingdom. You just got religion.”

Nailed by the Spirit! It’s a sad fact that nearly twenty years of my life were spent in an eclipse of sorts, when I relegated practically all my “worldly” music, books, and social life, along with my interest in anything that couldn’t be found in a church building to a mythical wasteland of “secularism.” I thought I was pleasing a God who took little interest in the world around me; a God who hung around church buildings despairing of the world, and waiting impatiently to launch the only truly important event yet to come: the Return of Jesus.

The Kingdom has changed all of that now. Life is no longer a waiting room. It’s an adventure of epic proportions, and Jesus is surprising me everywhere I look. We’re not just saved from sin. We’re saved to the kingdom.

Goodness! There’s so much about this churning in my heart this morning.  But the adventure is calling me.  “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  

Stay tuned!

City on a hill

“Look Mr. Don! No Glory!” Alper was excited to point out the Gypsy neighborhood we were to visit, and to demonstrate that he was learning to recognize the glory – or in this case the absence of the glory of God. Banja is a tired little huddle of shanties resting in a sea of dirt, lapped about by whitecaps of shopping bags, plastic bottles, and candy wrappers. We’d come to spend Jesus-time with the young Gypsies who called Banja their home, twenty or so teenagers who soon filled the room with flashy-white smiles of rhythmic praise and haunting melodies of joy.

My topic for the evening was the Kingdom. (I suppose that’s no shocker for those of you who know me!) “Let’s dream for a bit about what Banja would look like if it was the perfect place to live,” I invited.

“No More Trash!” volunteered the first one.

“Other students would stop hating us for being Gypsies,” offered another.

“People would help each other!”

“People would LOVE each other!”

“No more mud!”

“No more criminals… no more police!”

One after another they spilled what was in their hearts, an innate dream of the Kingdom hardwired into each of us by the King himself.

I told a story about a King who’s people were afraid of him, and so he disguised himself as a homeless man and moved into the town dump. I think my new friends liked the king. And I’m pretty sure if Jesus were anywhere near Banja, Bulgaria, he would have been hanging out with this little gang, who reminded me so much of first century fishermen.

Sometimes God’s glory is in the landscape, and sometimes it’s in the faces of His people. If these young Gypsies would let the glory in their hearts spill out to the muddy landscape around them, Banja would be a city on a hill.

The Kingdom is a Team

Jet lag is still nipping at my heals, but since I mentioned getting some “good news” out, I figure I’d better deliver.

As it turns out, God sometimes does use even cheese sandwiches. When Ahmed came to talk several weeks ago he was distressed and questioning the whole purpose of his life. And during the course of the conversation, (which involved a TV special where someone’s life was “changed by seeing Jesus in a cheese sandwich”), we spoke about how God really does change people’s lives when they encounter the living Christ.

We prayed together, but then I had to leave for Hawaii. So I introduced him to Tom, Kristie, and the Romanian outreach team who loved him, shared their stories with him, and showed him Jesus in everyday community. But they had to leave as well, and so they passed the ball off to Clay, who sat up talking and praying with him until the wee hours of the morning.

So to make a long story short, we met for coffee on Monday, and Ahmed told me he’s trusted Jesus and experienced first hand a change in his heart. (He said he even had to restrain himself from hugging a group of nuns who passed him on the street last week, which is quite a thing for a young Bosnian!)

Yesterday another friend, (a recent convert), told me his story of having to defend his faith with a group of five Wahabbis, (the radical Islamic sect). He said, “A year ago my life was so boring. But since becoming a Christian, I wouldn’t trade all those years of boredom for my one day of talking with the Wahabbis.”

The two things I want to highlight here are the “hallelujah” of seeing God at work in people’s lives, and the team aspect of the Kingdom. Paul said:

” I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow. What matters isn’t those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow. The one who plants is just as important as the one who waters. And each one will be paid for what they do. Apollos and I work together for God, and you are God’s garden and God’s building. .” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

All my life I’ve wanted to be a part of an adventure, and part of a winning team. And the Kingdom offers both.

Cynicism and Angels

Lately I’ve been looking for angels, the humanoid kind who sometimes pass by unnoticed on the street. It keeps me from becoming cynical after being serially ignored by store clerks, or walking the entire distance into town without so much as making eye-contact with a single person. So I look for angels. Yesterday they showed up in the form of ten-year old neighbors Adis and Amir, who raced down the street to practice their English on me. Just now it was the waiter at the Bill Gates Cafe who looked me in the eye, greeted me, and asked if I wanted “an Orangina like yesterday?” You probably have to live here to truely value these small angel-sightings.

Cynicism can be a temptation for me and a particularly un-Jesus-like trait. From my reading of the gospels, our Servant-King / Savior had a wonderful gift for optimism, hope and promise. His kingdom-eyes didn’t deny the darkness, but saw through it.

But there’s no denying I’m a product of brooding, pessimistic American Evangelicalism. Awhile back I had a conversation with an American friend who wanted to discredit the present / future kingdom of God on the grounds that the world was destined to become “more and more evil” until eventually Jesus would be oblidged to rapture us all out of the mess. We American Evangelicals have become practiced at gleefully asserting, “See there!? Wars! Earthquakes! Famine!! Surely it’s time for Jesus to return!!” But therein we miss the kingdom.

“Jesus told them another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field. One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up. The man’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?’ ‘It was some enemy who did this,’ he answered. ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ they asked him. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first,tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.’ ” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Did you catch that? The rich, golden wheat of the Kingdom grows ALONGSIDE the tares. Of course there will be death, destruction and evil. Yet the promise remains that “the light will shine in the darkness”, ” nations will come to the glory”, “the tares will be removed from the WHEAT”, and “the kingdom will be established.”