Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Community for the Kingdom of God

Over the weekend Daniel & I attended a Bible Conference at our old church. (We were members there until just after K-A was born, all of our girls were baptised there and we love the people there dearly) Dr. Richard Pratt was the speaker and it was awesome. He is a the adjunct professor of Old Testament at RTS Orlando and director of Third Millenium Ministries . Every stereotype you might have of what a seminary professor of the Old Testament would be like is blown out of the water by Dr. Pratt. He's so great to listen to! He's funny and passionate about the Gospel, I've never met a Presbyterian more passionate about world missions, and this weekend he was all up in our faces. It was refreshing and very challenging.
Over two days and four sessions he challenged every member of the congregation to become a missional community for the Kingdom of God. The two points I can still remember are these:
1) We need each other because of who we are.
God said at the very beginning "it is not good for the man to be alone" and it if it was true of the first man at the beginning of the world when everything was perfect and mankind's relationship with God was perfect, then it is surely true of us today. It's not good to be alone. Sometimes we say "the only person I need is Jesus" but in my experience we saying that because a) we've bought into the lie of individualism or b) we're trying to justify our withdrawal from a painful situation. Either way it's totally unbiblical.
I can testify from my own personal experience the blessing of living in community. It's been about two years since Daniel and I were really settled down and committed to a community of believers but that season of our lives when we have been living in community was marked by great personal growth and relational harmony. Having a small group who you can be real with, who you can share your struggles with, to pray with you and for you, to talk about God with, to help hold you accountable, it is a precious, precious thing. I miss it so much.
While we were on the South side of Atlanta this weekend we spent a lot of time with some friends who we used to be super-close too. We lived right around the corner from each other when Emma was a baby. Once a week Adam and Daniel would get together for breakfast in the morning before work, Jessica and I prayed together nearly every week and were on the MOPS leadership team together. Just being around them again this weekend was terribly encouraging. Talking about our marriage and parenting, seeing their weakness and sharing ours it was very very encouraging. I was encouraged hearing that this other godly couple fight, like Daniel and I do, and about a lot of the same things, yet are happy and 100% comitted to each other. I was encouraged to see know that I'm not the only one who struggles with being tired all of the time and who is overwhelmed at times with trying to keep on top of everything there is to do to keep a home. When we are with Adam & Jessica there's no pretense, no smoke screens, no facad. These kinds of relationships are wonderful. During the time since we left that church and then moved up here to the north side of Atlanta I have often felt like my world is just falling apart and then I realize that it's mostly because we lack a support group - a community.
2) We need each other because our mission is too big to accomplish alone.
Our mission on this earth is, to use the language of Dr. Pratt, to make the whole earth into the garden of Eden, a place fit for God to dwell. Some people teach that this world doesn't really matter, (I even heard one preacher say that he thought that the earth would become the "lake of fire" no wonder that church isn't reaching the lost) however in the framework of Kingdom Theology that is nonsense. Our purpose on this earth is to extend and expand the Kingdom of God. We don't live here on earth to have a relationship with God and to "glorify God" in some sort of mystical, non-discript individualistic way before we fly away to heaven. No! We bring some of heaven down to earth. We take back as much of the enemy's territory as we can, we spend every day of our lives passionately and purposefully fighting in the war against sin and Satan and actively seeking to expand the Kingdom of God here on the earth. And we can't do that alone.
This fight is very real. Especially here in America, especially here in Atlanta. Dr. Pratt said that statistics have shown that by 2025 Atlanta could be one of a handful of predominantly Muslim communities. Rev. Stenner at New Hope is from Brighton, England and would often tell stories of what it was like to be a Christian in a post-christian culture. It's very sobering. It's no great leap of faith to think of my children raising their children in a post-Christian culture. We're practically there already. One thing that means for you and I is that we must be terribly purposeful in raising our children to be strong in the Lord. We must teach them to think like Christians, we must teach them to view everything in Kingdom terms. We must not allow ourselves to become distracted or let other things become the priority - good things like sports, the arts and even education - the one thing we must do is prepare our children to stand strong in a world that is going to stand against them. With Islam at our doorstep, we must train them to be "soldiers" in this spiritual war. And we can't do that alone.
Dr. Pratt shared a great quote in one of his messages from Calvin who wrote in a letter to an English speaking church in Berlin that was fighting amongst themselves "you fight each other as if you are at peace with the world." And oh, how we fight. We fight as denominations and "movements" and churches. We keep brothers at a distance who ought to be our friends and allies. We fight as friends, we fight as families. We are very good at fighting, and I think Dr. Pratt made a good point that we fight and we distance ourselves from other believers because we do not realize that we really are in a battle. We are in a fight for our future and our children's future and their children's future. What sort of church - what type of Christian community and model of Christianity - will we pass down to the next generation? Oh, we must must be sure it is a passionate, missional one! Properly and purposefully united to fight this battle together.
This leads me to a little rabbit trail - you would not believe how hard it has been for us, as Charismatic Presbyterians, to find a place in the Christian community!! It's not too difficult to find Evangelical Charismatics, it's not impossible to find Reformed Charismatics even, but it has been very very very difficult to find a congregation that is willing to accept our Covenental Paedo-Baptistic convictions. (Or a Presbyterian church willing to accept our Charismatic convistions!) This has been terribly discouraging. The issue of Baptism really shouldn't be dividing people as it does. Just in case you're not convinced that this is a dividing issue read this article by Sam Storms about the leaders of Together for the Gospel. I think it's important for believers to study the Scriptures, be informed about both sides of the debate and develop a strong position however, excluding other believers only because of their views on Baptism (and Spirit-Baptism too) is "fighting each other as if you are at peace with the world". Okay, I'll step off of my soap-box now. (ha!)
This weekend raised some questions for me. The first one is this: Do I desire to live in community for the sake of my own comfort or for the sake of advancing the Kingdom of God? Living in community really is so much better that living outside of community. If you don't have a small group that is your spiritual community I strongly encourage you to do whatever you have to do to become a part of a small group, make the commitment and then give it some time. It has made all of the difference in my life - in my walk with God, in my marriage, in how I parent. Living in community has added so much stability and comfort to my life. So it's tempting to seek after a new community now for the sake of comfort. But I've been convicted that that is the wrong reason to seek to be in community. I need to be committing myself to living in community so that I can advance the Kingdom of God! I need the support of other believers, not just so that I can be comfortable and have friends, but so that I can go out and fulfil my mission in the world.
My second question is very similar: Do I desire to live in community so that my battle will be over or so that I can become engaged in advancing in the war? What I mean is this - living on your own is a battle. Everything seems harder when you're on your own. It's wearying. Fighting your battles alone is exhausting. Exhausting is not a strong enough word. It's like drowning, or dieing an inch at a time. It's desperate and defeating. Being in community brings hope and courage and strength. But the temptation is to desire community so that it will be easier to fight my personal battles and not so that I can link arms with my brother and sisters in Christ and engage in the war for the Kingdom of God.
It's almost become cliche in some circles to talk about being missional, it's another thing to really be missional. It's hard to live it out. I read a book by Mark Driscol last week called "Confessions of a Reformission Rev." I ate it up - it was like reading a novel! Only it is the story of how he fumbled through forming and growing his missional church in Seattle. He is also a key leader in Resurgance and the founding leader of the Acts 29 Network. He is one of the best examples of missional ministry that is doctrinally reformed. I've also benefited personally from the example of the local Newfrontiers church plant - Jubilee Atlanta, though they aren't reformed in the traditional meaning of that term.
I hope I've left you something to think about. I'd love to hear about your community and especially about how you are advancing the gospel together. If you know of any resources for missional community please share!!

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