A Visible Kingdom in a Culture of Death

The culture of death has never been so visible. It’s every where you look today. The sanctity of life has lost all meaning.

Another black teenager dies in a drive-by and we just flip the newspaper page because it happened in the same section of town that last week’s shooting occurred. And oh, by the way, he was in a gang. “That’s just life in the inner city”, we say.

A man is arrested for shooting his wife in a fit of rage and we shrug because there was a history of domestic abuse and no one cared enough to intervene before things got out of control.

New abortion statistics are released and we grieve for a minute, decide to send $15 to our favorite pro-life candidate’s campaign, and we don’t think about it again until the next major election.

A terminally-ill cancer patient moves to a state where euthanasia is legal and we cry for a minute that she decided to take her own life but we do little to address the real issue.

We hear the stories about countless Mexican lives being lost due to their country’s ever-thriving drug industry and the only concern we have is “guard our borders better so they don’t come here.”

Christians lose their lives by the hundreds in Iraq and we pray for them before chalking it up to radical Islam doing what radical Islam does.

Ebola kills thousands of men, women, and children in West Africa and we irrationally freak out about the minuscule possibility that a handful of American kids on a mission trip on the other side of the same continent will bring the disease back home with them.

Where’s the concern? Why aren’t Kingdom people taking a stand for life?

In this Advent season, we celebrate the Kingdom coming near. The celebration of God sending his own essence in the person of Jesus to this condemned world to redeem all of humankind is what this season is all about.

Yet, even though Christ came and raised up a Church and taught it to be actively involved in all matters of life and death, it decides to stay in the periphery, paying politicians to deal with the issues rather than tackling them head-on.

Life matters. Every single person made in the image of God matters to God and thus should matter to us, His people.

Black, white, red, brown, yellow, illegal, elderly, diseased, unborn, mentally-ill, homeless, incapacitated, criminal–they all matter to God.

Where are the Kingdom people at times like this? Sure, there are ministries helping the hurting. In most cases, however, you have to look with a high-powered microscope to find Kingdom people.

The Kingdom is strong enough, viable enough, and populous enough to be extremely visible in these tumultuous times.

Kingdom always starts small. It all started with a baby in a manger. 30 years later it was Jesus plus the twelve. A few years later, 120 people carried the Kingdom mandate into the Upper Room. Soon thereafter, that 120 turned into 3,000. And it kept multiplying from there. 2,000-plus years later it should be much more than what we see.

Life and death is a Kingdom matter. Do what you can, where you can. Reach out. Do not be polarizing in a time when we should be incarnational.

Stand with the oppressed minority. Pray for the sick. Minister to the homeless. Serve the weak, downtrodden, and lonely. Reach into the ghetto. Help the illegal.

Every life matters. Every Kingdom-minded Christian is needed. Let’s do the work.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

Advertisements

Playing it safe ’til He comes

It’s as maddening as it is exhilarating. If you’re on the winning side there’s no greater sight. If you’re the loser, you’d rather stick a needle in your eye than watch as it plays out. It’s football’s Victory Formation.

When the outcome of a football game is no longer in question late in the game, the team with the lead usually goes into an offensive formation that completely protects the quarterback as he takes the snap and almost immediately takes a knee to just keep the clock running. The losing side usually has no timeouts left and no hope of a comeback when the winning side begins this formality.

The Victory Formation is the winning side’s way of making sure they don’t turn the ball over causing a potential miraculous comeback-win for the opposing side. The Victory Formation is playing it safe.

It appears that time may be getting short. The return of the Lord might not be that far away. There are signs all over the place.

Whether that means His return happens next year, next decade or even longer, we’re in the fourth quarter of time.

Because of this perceived shortness of time, many Christians seem content with running out the clock from the Victory Formation while a handful of ministers and leaders continue the trench-warfare that comes with snatching people out of the fire (Jude 1:23).

The hour is too late and the stakes are too high to live out our Christian faith from the Victory Formation.

Sure, it’s a safe way to play the game. There’s almost zero chance you’ll end up losing possession of the football. Might as well take a knee and run out the clock, right?

In Luke 19, Jesus gives the parable of the 10 talents. In the parable, Jesus says a man of noble birth was going away to become king and he gives 10 servants one talent each with the instruction “Occupy til I come.” Occupy meaning put this money to work or continue conducting business until I return as King.

The story continues with the nobleman returning to find one servant who earned 10 talents off the original amount given to him. The next servant had gained five. The final servant hid his only talent in a cloth and did nothing with his master’s money. He played it safe because he was scared of his master.

The telling reason Jesus gave this parable is all the way back in verse 11. Luke says “he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”

So it’s possible the people had a penchant to play it safe since they thought the Kingdom coming in power was imminent. Maybe the underlying attitude among the followers was one of complacency or worse–safety.

Aslan, the Lion in C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s story The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe represents Jesus. As the inquisitive children ask about Aslan, Mr. Beaver replies, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lewis got that one right. Jesus is anything but safe. Following Him is anything but playing it safe. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)” Does carrying your own method of execution sound safe to you?

It’s not time to play it safe. It’s not time for the Victory Formation. There’s still a war over men’s souls. There is still a battle to fight. There’s still a devil loose.

Yes, we already have ultimate victory. But truly following the King is anything but safe.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

Finding Hope in the Church

Have you watched the news lately? I can’t say that I blame you if you haven’t. There really is nothing but bad news these days. Whether it’s ISIS or Ebola, it seems like civilization is going to Hell in a hand basket.

And with the renewal of the euthanasia debate in recent weeks, the faces of hopelessness have become even more real. In Oregon, one dear person–someone made in the image of God–chose to take her own life this week instead of enduring the painful duration of brain cancer.

I cannot imagine being in her shoes for even a second. But it’s clear that hopelessness has become the rule of the day.

Is there a better time than now for the Church to rise up and declare there is hope?

Perhaps the greater question is, can the Church rise up and declare the hope of the gospel?

In Colossians 1, the Apostle Paul begins to reveal his ministry to the church at Colosse. Paul wrote the letter from prison after hearing that the Colosse church had begun to believe a mixture of false doctrines. Among those beliefs was the heresy of gnosticism.

The Gnostic belief that reduced the role of Jesus from Saviour to just another source of knowledge, had quickly distracted believers in Colosse.

To this attitude, Paul asserted that God was using him to make known the full message of Christ–a message that was hidden in mystery to the Colossians because of their mostly Gentile background and their drift back into heresy.

Paul said the key to the mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).”

What we have then in Colosse is a church in which Jesus had become a lesser thing. Christ was now just another means of knowledge unto salvation, rather than the hope of all the world.

It was a church that had become just like its surrounding culture.

Sound familiar?

Could it be that the world is hopeless because much of the church has become hopeless in our day?

Is the Church in America merely an empty shell in today’s culture?

The Church with Jesus Christ at its head is still the hope of the world.

Where Jesus is still the central theme, there’s still hope. Where His Lordship is still celebrated, there’s still hope.

Pastor, if Jesus has become a lesser thing in your sermons, your worship, and your everyday walk, please put Him back where he belongs.

The hopeless world cannot afford to have a hopeless church in this day.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

The Church: Being the Hands and Feet or Sitting in the Seat?

Sunday morning has come and gone for now. Don’t worry, though. You’ll get another opportunity next week. Chances are that seat is really comfortable. It’s likely right in the middle of your comfort zone. No pressure. No work. No hassle. Just come and enjoy the show for a little while.

No doubt that is the definition of Christianity for some.

While I’m thankful that those of you who hold to that view are at least hearing the Word preached, I want to challenge you to broaden that perspective.

I’m churchy, man. I’m more churchy than Noah was arky. But if Sunday morning is the central focus, what happens in my church Monday thru Saturday? Does it cease to exist as a force? If the Church is a living, breathing organism, what happens when the lights are out and the alarm is armed?

From a Kingdom perspective, the church building is just the rallying point. It’s the hub where you get energized to be the Church, not the destination where you merely have church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul said “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Surely that was only for the leadership though, right? The pastor should be doing all that stuff while the rest of us spare parts count down the days from Sunday to Sunday. Not even hardly.

Think about what Christ did in His earthly ministry. He ministered to the poor. He mended the brokenhearted. He set captive people free. He healed. He saved. He delivered. He preached good news. And nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus tell His followers that all that stuff should stop as soon as He leaves.

As a matter of fact, John records Jesus saying, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do (John 14:12 NKJV).”

The only qualifying statement Jesus made about who would do these works was “whoever believes in me.” He didn’t say, “Only those who go through seminary” or “those who lead churches”. That covers everyone who believes, from the pew-warmer to the pastor, and from the church-goer to the choir leader. Jesus was talking about the Church.

The Church has the hands that serve the community. It has the feet that carry the Gospel and the eyes that burn with passion for souls. That is the Church–the body of Christ.

I know it’s easier to sit in the Sunday seat inside the building we call “church”. And it’s certainly more comfortable.

Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are called to. Let’s get busy being what we’re supposed to be–the Church.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.