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.

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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.

From Point A to Point B

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Matt 28:19-20

Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptise them
  3. Teach them to do the same

I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin.  All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.

Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”

With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.

Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.

Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

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.