“House churches should stop arguing with the institutional church and start planting Kingdom gardens.”
I wrote this over a week ago in my journal about ideas for this space. It’s been the running theme of everything I’ve been writing from “The God of the Mustard Seed” to “The End of the Argument” to “How to Share the Gospel Without Inviting Them to a Building.” The point is this: Instead of crusades against the past and other believers, let’s focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, making disciples and reproducing house churches.
How do we plant Kingdom gardens? We sow the Gospel message among our friends and neighbors, always combining Good News with good deeds. We invite those that respond (because there will be those who don’t) to become disciples of Jesus. As these new believers respond to the invitation of discipleship we continue to encourage them to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit, love others the way that they have been loved, and share the Gospel with others they know who don’t know Christ.
There is so much here to talk about. Very little of the house church movement focuses on growing up in Christ and what that looks like, but most of the New Testament focuses on this reality. That topic is too large for one post, but the effect of growing up in Christ and growing out through outreach and discipleship is a Kingdom garden. What started as tiny, laughable seeds has blossomed in the right soil and taken over some desolate patch of earth in order to beautify it.
These Kingdom gardens are the proof God is working in our midst. They speak more than our arguments. They speak more than our judgments on the rest of the church that doesn’t do things the way we do. The fruit and the beauty of what God is doing speaks for itself.
My prayer is that we, as house churches, can plant Kingdom gardens and leave the old arguments behind.
God is big. All of time and space exist within Him. He created everything that exists, He sustains everything that exists, and He shows up in these big moments in the Bible like the parting of the Red Sea or Pentecost or Armageddon (the End Times). And because we have all of these gigantic, mind-boggling pictures of God, it can be easy to believe that God exists only in “the big things,” that some how only the big things are significant or if it’s not big, it’s not God.
I don’t want to argue that God isn’t in the big things. I believe there are some things so big that only God can pull them off, but I also believe that if we only see God in “the big things” we miss God regularly showing up in small but significant ways. Consider one of the teachings of Jesus:
Jesus said, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.’
The Kingdom of God, the place where the all powerful, omnipotent God of all creation rules, comes to the Earth like the smallest of seeds. I think many times this flips the script on what we believe God is like. We’re looking for explosions with fire and smoke. God plants a single seed in the garden of the Earth and watches it grow.
This should tell us a couple of things about the nature of God. He’s humble. He doesn’t need announcements and show. He’s secure. He’s not the Wizard of Oz, using special effects to inflate what we think of Him. He’s not scared of the smallness. He embraces it as a strategy. He’s patient. He will let His Kingdom grow, not insert the full version in one final, dramatic moment.
But we, especially us Americans, don’t like seeds. We like manufacturing and microwaves. We like getting things done. And so this seed-like way of God is often missed by us. Which is unfortunate, because eventually the path of this humble seed is that it turns into a garden plant that birds of the air can nest in. By ignoring the Kingdom in it’s small, seed-like form, we run the risk of missing the fullness of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. The God who brings the Kingdom through seeds also is a God who grows His Kingdom into a large plant right in front of our eyes, if we perceive it.
You see, God is large. He cannot deny His nature. Eventually the largeness of God is manifest in the way His Kingdom touches the Earth. Gideon’s 300 will win the war. The baby in a manger becomes the One to whom every knee will bow. The defeated 120 in an upper room will experience Pentecost. He just first comes in small, often hard-to-perceive ways, so that those who are looking for Him find Him and those who are only chasing greatness miss it.
More on that tomorrow…
It’s a tragedy that’s been around for thousands of years. But every once-in-awhile God lets you see old truth through new eyes.
In short, the story goes like this: David had sinned by dealing deceitfully with Uriah the Hittite and sleeping with his wife, Bathsheba. The judgment, according to Nathan the prophet, was a sword of violence being unleashed in David’s family. This prediction begins to come true when Ammon (David’s oldest son) is killed by Abasalom (David’s third oldest son). Abasalom is banished from Israel, then restored, and once restored he begins to quietly launch a revolution to take the kingdom from David.
When the revolution happens, David is banished from his own kingdom. He takes a remnant with him and begins a war with Absalom that culminates in a final battle. It’s during this final battle that David forces his commanders to swear that if they capture Absalom they will not kill him. All of the commanders take the oath, but Joab, one of David’s most trusted commanders finds Joab hung by his hair in a tree and kills Absalom anyways.
And it’s here that our story really begins–David does what any good father would do–he weeps for his son. We see David’s heart on full display as he cries out “How I wish I had died instead of you!” Now, Joab tries to be the sensible one in all of this. He reminds David that Absalom was his enemy and that many men fought (and died) in order to restore his rule, but that matters little to David. He eventually did pull himself together and honor his army, but we see his true heart on display in his lament.
This is where God began speaking to me. I was reading this story to my sons and my daughters and I could so identify with wanting to take their place even though one of them had tried to lead a rebellion against me. “No parent should have to bury their child,” says Theoden in the Two Towers and it’s this kind of love, however misguided it may seem to others, that fills parents when they think about the demise of their children, even ones who are their enemies. As parents, it’s only right to want to die, believing our children have a better future ahead. It’s what makes us parents.
As I read the story, I began again to see the heart of God–A father who loved his children so much, that even though they participated in a horrible rebellion to overthrow His Kingdom and replace it with their own, would rather die in the place of His children than see them perish. If we feel this way…if us natural human parents feel this way towards our children…if David feels this way towards his son who sought to overthrow him, then how much more must our heavenly Father feel towards us?
When I was in college, it was normal to stay up late. People stayed up late partying, studying, playing practical jokes, and all sorts of other things. So it was natural for me as I was following Jesus and reaching out to college kids for my nights to be late. Ministry happened at weird hours.
Then I moved to Kansas City. Remember that I moved to Kansas City to go to a Bible college that was part of a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week house of prayer that has been going non-stop since 1999. That means you could (and still can) walk in at 3 A.M. Christmas morning and there would be people there singing their hearts out or praying over the city.
The culture of a place like that changes you. You loose a little of your American preoccupation with holidays as you watch people you know faithfully interceeding for the end of abortion on Labor Day. When you commit to one thing being important above all else, even your American break in the calendar, you begin to see how much time you’ve truly built in for yourself in your calendar.
While we were in Kansas City we joined a house church network where the leader continually emphasized that the Kingdom of God is 24/7/365. And we tried our best to live that out. We led early morning prayer meetings for the house churches that forced us to get out of bed, trek to the agreed upon spot, and then pray for an hour or better. We connected relationaly all the time and any time. We agreed that if there were sacred times and spaces it was because every time was a sacred time and everywhere was sacred space. The type of community we were aiming for didn’t allow for closed off spaces in our calendar.
The same has been true for our house church network in Iowa. We certainly have borrowed from certain elements of these communities. Our house church has a prayer meeting that starts way before sane human beings should be up. I just finished with a meeting of some folks from each of the house churches and it ended at 11:30 P.M.
But I don’t say this to brag. I tell you all of this to say God’s Kingdom touches every area of our lives. Sometimes we like to think when God becomes King of our lives, He leaves alone certain areas of our lives like the schedule or the budget. But when God comes as King He wants everything. And because we are incredibly busy Americans, many times that will mean we need to make adjustments to our calendars so we can do the things He’s calling us to do.
There are verses that talk about using your time wisely. But instead of quoting those, I’ll leave you with this:
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
How we use our time is a reflection of whether our life is surrendered to the Lord or not. How we spend our minutes, hours, and days determines how we spend our years. We can use them for ourselves—”me time,” excessive entertainment, etc.—or we can lose our life by giving of our time for the things that are truly most important. This will include time for prayer and reading the word, but also meeting with others, discipling them, and serving them.
How are you using your time for the Lord?
“…making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
20 years ago a young, awkward, lanky teenager gave his life to Jesus. Without much direction or personal instruction, he consumed whatever material he could afford to buy out of his charismatic church’s bookstore. In the bookstore he found what looked to be a twenty year old copy of a book containing dreams and visions by a prophet named Rick Joyner. The book would affect the lanky teenager in profound ways by imparting a desire to know God and become more like Christ.
That lanky teenager, if you haven’t figured it out yet, was me. The book was actually only written two years previous. (In my defense, two years seemed like a long time back then.) It was called “The Final Quest.” In many ways the theme was very similar to “The Pilgrim’s Progress” in that Rick was expounding on deep truths of the Christian life as he progressed in an allegory portrayed as a physical journey.
The book starts out as a horrible army of demons are attacking Christians and Rick has to climb a mountain (“The Mountain of the Lord”), first for safety, but then as he begins to understand each level of mountain represents a different stage of maturity, out of a desire to know Christ more. As he climbs higher up the mountain he becomes more mature and more effective in the battle against the demonic forces.
Lately, the following section has been on my mind. In this stage of the vision, he is being lead up and down the Mountain of the Lord by the personification of Wisdom, aptly named “Wisdom.”
Wisdom led me down the mountain to the very lowest level, which was named ‘Salvation.’ ‘You think that this is the lowest level,’ declared Wisdom, ‘but this is the foundation of the whole mountain. In any journey, the first step is the most important and it is usually the most difficult. Without ‘Salvation’ there would be no mountain.’
I was appalled by the carnage on this level. Every soldier was very badly wounded, but none of them were dead. Multitudes were barely clinging to the edge. Many seemed ready to fall off, but none did. Angels were everywhere ministering to the soldiers with such great joy that I had to ask, ‘Why are they so happy?’
‘These angels have beheld the courage that it took for these to hold on. They may not have gone any further, but neither did they give up. They will soon be healed, and then they will behold the glory of the rest of the mountain, and they will begin to climb. These will be great warriors for the battle to come.’
‘But wouldn’t they have been better off to climb the mountain with the rest of us?’ I protested, seeing their present condition.
‘It would have been better for them, but not for you. By staying here they made it easier for you to climb by keeping most of your enemies occupied. Very few from the higher levels ever reached out to help others come to the mountain, but these did. Even when these were barely clinging to the mountain themselves, they would reach out to pull others up. In fact, most of the mighty warriors were led to the mountain by these faithful ones. These are no less heroes than those who have made it to the top. They have brought great joy to heaven by leading others to Salvation…
Again I felt shame for my previous attitude toward these great saints. Many of us had scorned them as we had climbed to the higher levels. They had made many mistakes during the battle, but they had also displayed more of the Shepherd’s heart than the rest of us. The Lord would leave the ninety-nine to go after the one who was lost. These had stayed in the place where they could still reach the lost, and they paid a dear price for it….
(The Final Quest*, Rick Joyner, pp. 51-53)
My point in retelling this part of the story is this: In some parts of the church, those who reach out to the lost, the broken, and the hurting are seen as less spiritual. Often they are perceived as a mile wide but an inch deep. In order to relate to the lost and the broken, the evangelists among us chose a different path than the cloistered life that supposedly produces maturity. And while we desperately need people coming to Jesus in this hour, our attitude towards those who can and do lead people to Jesus is often one of disdain for their lack of depth.
But Jesus thinks differently than we do. We live in an upside-down Kingdom. What that means is that things that seem very important to us now (money, popularity, worldly success) mean very little to God and the things that mean much to God (humility, honor, self-sacrificing love) mean very little to men. God’s Kingdom is upside down compared to ours. To be specific to our context, Jesus says, “But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then,” (Mark 10:31).
The church teaches us that the mega-church pastor, the preacher on a book tour, and the ascetic are all important and spiritual. But in this upside-down Kingdom, those that live lives near the broken to bring them to salvation are honored. They bear the price of relating to the brokeness of humanity and remaining close enough to the lost to be able to communicate the Gospel. Because of this, they may never write a book or draw a huge crowd, but they have God’s attention.
I write all this, not just so we appreciate evangelists more. That’s a good start. But I also write it so that we consider, very seriously, the idea that God may value an earthy, more mission minded version of Christianity than many think. Maybe according to the upside-down values of the Kingdom, Jesus assigns honor to those who make it their aim to live among and lead lost souls to the Mountain of the Lord. And if this the case, maybe we should make it more of our aim to be like those guys, and less like the mega church pastor, the writer, or ascetic. Maybe part of our journey into maturity is to become more like your lost co-worker and less like a monk, all for the purpose of reaching him and helping him know Jesus. Maybe instead of avoiding the world, we embrace it with the love of Christ and let that love transform us into more of who He is.
If we live in an upside-down Kingdom, I think it might be more important than we realize.
*It probably goes without saying, but I do not consider the revelation contained within the Final Quest to have anywhere near the level of authority of Scripture. I believe Scripture is a far more reliable witness than any personal revelation and I quote this section as springboard for conversation.
** Also note that this photography was altered from its original version: A duck was cropped out and the picture was flipped upside down.
There once was a good King who ruled a kingdom with love and justice. Even though this King was beyond equal, he was not understood by many of his subjects. In time a rebellion was launched throughout much of the kingdom and those subjects who were ruled well by the King began to resist his laws and laugh at his decrees. Conflict began to erupt as those who threw off the King’s rule clashed with those still subject to His reign.
Now the King had one son, as just and good as his father. He was the apple of his father’s eye and more than anyone else represented the good that could come from being subject to the King. The son loved the Kingdom as much as the King and it caused them both great pain to see the rebellion sweep through the Kingdom. The King’s son asked for permission to lead the Kingdom’s army in restoring order to the Kingdom and the King. Seeing the love that his son had for the Kingdom, the King sent the son to the furthest reaches of the Kingdom to restore the reign of love and justice.
For a long season the King’s son fought on behalf of the Kingdom. He did not just battle the forces of the rebellion. He helped them. He was determined to demonstrate to the rebellion that the King’s reign was not just rules, but a good way of life that benefited all. His army would restore buildings destroyed by the battle, even while the rebellion looked on and mocked the King’s authority. He would personally take in the orphans of battle, especially if the orphans’ parents were part of the rebellion.
One day, the son came across a faction of rebels that was like most they had encountered. One rebel in particular thought he would prove a point and he shot the king’s son with an arrow through the arm. This incited others from the rebellion to fire at the king’s son, something no one had ever dared to do previously. And that day, the King’s son died, watching the people that he loved rejoice over the victory they had achieved in killing him.
The news reached the King back at his palace and those of the army that escaped reported to the king the names of the villagers that were involved. The King rose from his throne, rallied an army and fought through the rebellion until he found the very group of men who had killed His son. He captured those men, brought them back to His kingdom and showed them his kindness. He treated them with the same love that he treated his only son that they had killed. He treated with special kindness the one who shot the first arrow. It was his intention to love this man more than the rest, because he knew that the deepest rebellion was in him.
In time, the prisoners of the King learned of his goodness and justice. The man who had killed the King’s son especially became convinced of the King’s love for his people. Though he had cost the King the most, he experienced the King’s acceptance and favor unlike any other in the kingdom. He who was the King’s sworn enemy became his friend and they shared a special bond because of the love the King had for not only this prisoner, but also the son he lost. And that prisoner, who fought the King, rebelled against his ways, and tormented his son was named Travis. And he spent the rest of his life gratefully accepting something he could never have earned.
Photo Credit: Sant Pere de Rodes by Rienante El Pintor de Fuego
Every week here at Pursuing Glory I try to bring together the best posts I’ve found that will equip the end-times church to operate in her God-ordained destiny. These are the best blogs, articles, books and other resources related to our purpose here at this site. Feel free to visit, comment, and make use of the resources found at each site.
I thought I would try something new this week. I’ve always meant to include other media besides blogs on our “Food for Thought” posts. It just so happens that this week there are a couple of significant contributions from the organic church world that I think are worth taking a look at. Let me know if you find any of these helpful in the comments section, and if people find them helpful I may try to find more. Enjoy!
Kieth @ the Subversive1 blog has been tearing up the internets with a series of articles on how to minister to the poor. Alan @ The Assembling of the Church references that post in this blog and he quotes a song by LeCrae that illustrates why church planting among the homeless and poor is absolutely necessary.
Shawn is a prophetic voice that has been pioneering a church in L.A. amongst the creative community there. He’s been posting at Shawnbolz’s Weblog about the difficulties of pioneering, and this post talks about the difficulty of continuing to walk in breakthough throughout our everyday lives.
Guy @ The M Blog writes about the need for continual training as we pursue the establishment of God’s Kingdom. I think continual training is a must for anyone serious about Kingdom transformation. Don’t miss the excerpt from Curtis Sergeant’s “What We Can Learn from the U.S. Marines.”
Len at Next Reformation has been thinking deeply about Ephesians chapter 4. Here he quotes various authors’ and thinkers’ thoughts on the realities found in Ephesians 4. What I love about these quotes is how they tie weakness and vulnerability together with displaying the glory of Jesus.
Starfish Files is an e-magazine put together by the leaders of the house church movement in Canada. Don’t miss the feature article: “Repenting of Dead Works for a Great Harvest of Souls.”
Neil Cole teaches on the true place of the five ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4. I love Neil’s emphasis on Christ as the source of all the gifts. There’s a lot to be learned here.