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.
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.
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.
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?” 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.
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.”
“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.