How is it church without sermons?

A line of pews in an empty church

On my social media channels recently, I posted Skye Jethani’s great article questioning whether a Sunday service revolving around a sermon is really the best model for church today. I also mentioned it in my last post about us leaving “real church”. The two combined made a good friend of mine ask, “How is it church without sermons?

That is such a good question, and it that made me realize that I had completely lost perspective on what a “mind-blowing paradigm shift” (her words) it is to separate church from the sermon.

The answer is simple, but working through it reshaped my thinking in a major way.

The function of church

Let’s start with the question of why church exists in the first place.

Church exists to help people grow into spiritual maturity, as measured against Jesus himself:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for ministry, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
– Ephesians 4:11-13

It also exists because we need each other:

And let us consider how we may stir up one another to love and good works, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
– Hebrews 10:24–25

Spiritual growth and encouragement — those are the dual functions of church.

The form of church

So if we wanted a church that maximized peoples’ spiritual growth and their opportunities for encouragement, what would that look like?

In the earliest days of the church, it looked like this:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
– Acts 2:42,47

The apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer — those were the four things that comprised church for the earliest followers of Jesus. And they were committed to those things; they weren’t just an add-on to their lives.

It’s easy to see how these four things accomplished the function of the church. Should it be different for us 2,000 years later? Should our focus be different in some way? I’m open to arguments, but I haven’t seen, read, or experienced anything that indicates to me that maybe we should rethink them.

If that’s true — if we should still be devoted to the same four things — then the question becomes how should we do them. Acts 2:44–47 tells us how the first church did it:

All the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and belongings and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

The temple was a convenient place to meet because there were areas large enough to hold them all as they listened to the apostles teach. Then they could break off into smaller groups to eat and pray together. When someone had a need, someone would sell something they owned to meet that need.

What would that look like today?

When we think of church today, most of us think about the Sunday event. That’s what church is to us. Church wasn’t an event for the first Jesus followers, though. It was their life. Going to the temple to hear the apostles teach wasn’t church. Eating and praying together wasn’t church. Meeting each other’s needs wasn’t church. Church was all those things collectively.

Last month I wrote:

I’ve struggled with this for years and have started wondering over the past few months if the biggest problem might be the way we do church. Virtually all churches use some form of the sermon-centric, Sunday event model — a model from a different time that today tends to result in clubs, not teams. I started 2022 believing that we could be a church that succeeded in our mission where many others were not. Now I’m wondering if that’s actually possible without doing church in a fundamentally different way.

So we’re stepping away from traditional church for now to see if there’s a better way. Plenty of people are already doing something different, in lots of different ways. Maybe there’s a better way for us, or maybe there’s not. There’s only one way to find out.

A month ago, I strongly suspected that it would take a radical departure from what we’ve come to think of as “church” for a church today to carry out its mission well. Now I think I was wrong.

Let’s assume that a healthy form of church emphasizes the same four elements that we see in Acts 2:42. If that’s true, then what would it take for a typical Sunday-event, sermon-centric church to become one where all four elements were important? I was thinking you couldn’t do it — that the two were just too far apart. But in reality, couldn’t you fairly easily shift emphases so that all four elements became important? That could be done in any number of ways, but it doesn’t have to be radically different, right?

How is it church without sermons?” There actually are sermons in these alternate models of church — or at least teaching of some kind. It’s just that they’re one part of a greater whole, not the centerpiece that they’ve evolved into.

And now I see that it’s a lot easier to get there than I thought.

Photo by Nikko Tan

Filed under Spirituality

We’re leaving “real church”

Sun setting on an old church

Where We Started

My wife grew up in church. She even found ways to get to church when her parents stopped going for a while. She loved it. Always has.

I did not. I only went when Mom felt strong enough to get three other people to wake up and get ready when they would rather be sleeping. That happened often enough that I was familiar with church, though, and familiar enough to know that I had zero interest in it. It didn’t make a positive difference in the lives of the people I saw. It just added rules I didn’t like and made me have to get up early on the weekend. No thanks.

That changed in the summer of 1988 when we visited a new church in the town we had just moved to. The pastor there actually believed what he preached. His life was different, and he didn’t apologize for what the Bible said or try to package it in a way that made it more palatable. He just told you what it said. That was the first time I had ever experienced that, and I realized it was actually true.

From then on, I loved church in the same way that my (still future) wife did. I was there every time the doors were open. I loved it.

Where We’ve Been

The pastor that changed my life also ended up being the one who married us, and in 1998 we found ourselves in his church together.

In 2007, God led us out of that church and into a series of churches that covered virtually the entire gamut of what a church might look like. First it was a young church plant co-led by a nationally known church planter. When he left the area for a new work role, we merged with another young church plant.

A few months later, God led us to the other end of the spectrum and into a 95-year-old Appalachian-style Baptist church.

Less than a year later, he led us out of that church — and out of institutional church altogether — into the organic/house church movement. Despite my almost daily protests and petitions to be able to go back to “real church”, he kept us there for 5.5 years before finally returning us to the now-100-year-old Baptist church.

In March of 2021, he introduced the idea of us starting a new church from within that old church — a way to renew the church and start a new path that would carry the church for another 100 years. We pursued that idea until January 2022 when we discovered that the path actually led away from that church.

We left there feeling like we had a pretty good idea of what the next few months would look like, but things did not play out anything like we expected.

Where We’re Going

Over a decade ago, it was already really bothering me that the way we do church didn’t seem to be working. I wrestled with that for a while until we went back to what I called “real church” (always with air quotes), and then it fell into the background for a while.

It stayed there until early 2019 when I read The Divine Conspiracy and saw for the first time the catastrophic incompleteness of the gospel I had been taught all my life. It began to change everything.

And then it all came to a head in March of last year. I could have phrased it better than I did then (I was frustrated), so let me try again.

I love church — love it — but it’s in really bad shape right now.

As followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be growing into people who are just like him:

We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image…
– 2 Corinthians 3:18

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
– Romans 8:29

…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
– Ephesians 4:13

And who, as a result, do the same things he did:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I have been doing…
– John 14:12

Other followers of Jesus are supposed to be helping us do that:

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus appointed roles in the church to be specifically responsible for it:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for ministry, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
– Ephesians 4:11-13

After 2,000 years, though, and despite almost 400,000 churches in America today, how many of us (myself very much included) would be described as “just like Jesus”? More broadly, how many of us know even one person who would be described as “just like Jesus”?

We’re essentially failing at our primary function. Something is wrong. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.

I’ve struggled with this for years and have started wondering over the past few months if the biggest problem might be the way we do church. Virtually all churches use some form of the sermon-centric, Sunday event model — a model from a different time that today tends to result in clubs, not teams. I started 2022 believing that we could be a church that succeeded in our mission where many others were not. Now I’m wondering if that’s actually possible without doing church in a fundamentally different way.

So we’re stepping away from traditional church for now to see if there’s a better way. Plenty of people are already doing something different, in lots of different ways. Maybe there’s a better way for us, or maybe there’s not. There’s only one way to find out.

And for you, there may not need to be a better way. I get that. I’m not bashing the Church or the men and women who literally give up their lives in vocational ministry. There is so much good that can be said of our churches. So much. Your church may be doing for you what Jesus wants it to do for you. I know plenty of churches are.

If it’s not, though, we’d love to have you take this side road with us and see what we find!

Read Part 2 » How is it church without sermons?

Photo by Tim Umphreys.

Filed under Spirituality

Burn it all down

Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols singing to the crowd

One day in eighth grade, I spent the very long bus ride home from school carving a large anarchy symbol into my forearm with a piece of metal I broke off my spiral notebook.

When my mom saw it a few days later, she flipped. “Why would you do that?!?”

It was a great question, and honestly I had no idea.

I do now, though.

It started with my best friend David.

One morning as we were getting off the bus, he handed me his earphones and said, “Listen to this.” It was maybe the best thing I had ever heard.

“What is this??”

“That’s punk.”

I was a heavy metal guy and thought punk was stupid. (An opinion I was absolutely sure of even though I had never actually heard punk.)

The Sex Pistols changed my outlook on everything that morning — so much so that carving an anarchy symbol into my arm seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, even though I couldn’t explain why.

I had always been a good kid. Acted right. Got good grades. Did what I was told.

People told me my life would be better if I did those things, and I believed them.

By eighth grade, I had realized it wasn’t true — and that most of the people who had been telling me those things didn’t really believe them either. It was all a lie.

The Sex Pistols knew that, and they were mad about it. All these people and organizations and institutions that were supposed to be helping us were actually just helping themselves.

Man, that resonated with me. I had finally found people who were speaking truth. The system was beyond hope. The only solution was to burn it all down.

That’s why I carved an anarchy symbol into my arm. I was all in. It felt good.

I still carry that anger. Listening to punk still feels good. I’m 50 now though, not 14, so it’s a more informed anger and more accurately directed.

But I’m still mad.

Filed under Spirituality

If something crosses your face, hit it

Offensive linemen

I wrote previously about how Jesus built a team, not a club, and talked about how one of the key differences between the two was that a team has a clearly defined goal that everyone is working toward.

So what was the goal of Jesus’s team?

Jesus said the reason he was sent was to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). When he sent out his disciples, he told them to do the same thing (Matthew 10:7, Luke 10:9). And as he was preparing to depart, he said that anyone who believed in him would do the same things that he did (John 14:12).

So the goal of Jesus’s team was — and is — to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. How do we do that?

We do it just like he did.

How Jesus proclaimed the kingdom

When Jesus sent out the seventy two, he told them “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest. Go!” (Luke 10:2–3).

Go and do what, specifically? “Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’” (Luke 10:9). When he sent the twelve earlier, he told them to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:8).

In other words, he told his disciples to do what they had already been watching him do: bring the kingdom and then tell about the kingdom.

That’s still our goal, to join with him in bringing and telling. But that’s a huge goal. It can be overwhelming. Where do we even start?

Where Jesus started

When I coached football, we ran a zone blocking scheme — each offensive lineman was responsible for an area, not a specific defender. To make it easy for our players to start picking it up, we told them, “If something crosses your face, hit it.” There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but that’s where we started.

And that’s where Jesus started. When an opportunity presented itself, he took it. He expects us to do the same (John 14:12, Ephesians 2:10). When God gives you an opportunity to bring the kingdom (Matthew 5:16) or tell about the kingdom (1 Peter 3:15), do it.

He summed it up in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Three people had an opportunity to bring the kingdom — to show real, Godly love to someone. Only one took it.

What would happen if you just took every opportunity that God put in front of you?

Filed under Other Stuff

Jesus built a team, not a club

Team / Club

A team has clearly defined goals that everyone is working toward. A club doesn’t.

On a team, everyone has a role and responsibilities. In a club, only a few do.

You can lose your spot on a team if you prove consistently that you’re not on board with the goal or your responsibilities. In a club, you can stay a member for as long as you meet the requirements and aren’t too much of a disruption.

As a general rule, churches in America today are clubs, not teams. They don’t have clearly defined goals that everyone is working toward, and the thought of turning someone out of church for not being wholly bought in may seem completely unlike the way of Jesus — but it’s exactly what he commanded and modeled.

In Luke 14:25–33, Jesus tells the crowd following him that they either have to be all in or all out; that there is no middle ground. He gets even more blunt about it in Revelation 3:14–16.

In John 6:1–66, he says some disturbing things in order to weed out the disciples who weren’t fully committed. In John 8:31–59, he simply walks away from believers who got offended by something he said.

Jesus loved, healed, and ministered to everyone — just like churches should — but he was very deliberate about only spending concerted time with those who were serious about following him.

Jesus built a team. We build clubs.

Filed under Spirituality

My Favorite Books

For what it’s worth, here’s a fairly complete list of books (last updated 11/20/22) that I really, really loved and would recommend highly. I’ve read a lot of books that I enjoyed, but these are the ones that were especially impactful to me personally. (Your mileage may obviously vary.)



Filed under Reading

The church in America is broken

Abandoned hymn books strewn with dirt and leaves

For the last 34 years, I’ve been in church every time the doors were open — heck, for the last several years I was the one opening the doors. I’m not in any way bashing the church or the leaders who work so hard. I say this not because I hate the church, but because I love it: The church in America is broken.

As followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be growing into people who are just like him (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:13, etc.) and who, as a result, do the same things he did (John 14:12).

Other followers of Jesus are supposed to be helping us do that (Matthew 28:18-20), and Jesus appointed roles in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers) to be specifically responsible for it (Ephesians 4:11-16).

After 2,000 years, though, and despite almost 400,000 churches in America today, how many of us (myself very much included) would be described as “just like Jesus”? More broadly, how many of us know even one person who would be described as “just like Jesus”?

The church’s primary function is to produce people who are just like Jesus, but we’re not. At all. Something is wrong, and it’s literally a life-and-death issue. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting. Something has to change.

I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m certainly under no illusion that I have any special knowledge or skills that make me the guy to figure it out. All I know is that I can’t be satisfied with the status quo anymore. There’s literally nothing more important than fixing this.

Photo by Dave Babler.

Filed under Other Stuff

Christianity is not a Spectator Sport

Most of us don’t consider ourselves to be in ministry any more than we consider ourselves to be players of our favorite sport. We might throw the ball around in the back yard, but that’s about it.

Paul says that’s wrong. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 he writes:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, and the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

You see what he says here? If you are in Christ, then you are in ministry.

The job of apostles/prophets/evangelists/preachers/teachers is to make you aware of that and to equip you for it so that you can be out in the world representing Jesus as a full-time minister (Ephesians 4:11-14). It doesn’t mean (probably) that you change what you’re doing. It just means that you do it for a different reason and with a different focus.

And it’s not just people that we’re in the ministry of reconciling — it’s all things (Colossians 1:19-20). It’s systems and structures and institutions. It’s the environment. It’s life itself. Jesus came to begin undoing the curse (Luke 4:17-21), and he wants us to join him in that work (John 14:12).

This is something we’ll work on constantly at SoFo Church: How’s your ministry?

Photo by Jakob Rosen

Filed under Spirituality

Why Our Saints are Losing Their Leaves

This interview of Anthony Hopkins is a haunting look at the end of life:

Florian told me when we met, “The [character’s] name is Anthony.” He said he wrote it for me. And he put my actual birth date in. There’s a scene in the office with the doctor, where she says, “Date of birth?” I say, “Friday, the thirty-first of December, 1937.” As a little bit of character, I said, “Can I add ‘Friday’? Because I know the date.” I wanted to show the doctor, “I’m in perfect control. There’s nothing wrong with me. Friday. You got a problem with that?” That is a man who is in control—but, of course, he’s not. He’s been used to control all his life. He was an engineer, an exacting profession, with two daughters. His favorite has sadly been killed in a car crash, we assume. And he’s a bit of a tyrant. He’s not a bad man, he’s just been a tough old father, impatient and irascible, and now finally he’s losing control of it all. In the last scene, he says, “I’m losing all my leaves. Everything’s falling away.” And that must be a devastating tragedy.

He talks about when his father died:

My father had a heart attack on Christmas, 1979. I was in London doing “The Elephant Man.” But he survived another year. He lingered on and he deteriorated. Round about the spring, he started losing his body. I would go to visit him in the hospital, and he was beginning to become comatose. He was becoming irascible as well, impatient—with me especially, because I was his only offspring. I used to sit with him and make him promises. You know, you make these empty promises: “When you get out of here, I’ll drive you from New York to Los Angeles.” Because he loved America; he wanted to travel. I went in there a few days later, and he had an old road map of America, and he was sitting on the side of his bed and looking at this road map. I knew he would never make it.

The morning after he died, I went in to collect his things, and I saw his bed already occupied by the next patient. I thought, That’s it. Life goes on. He’s gone. And I got his reading glasses, his pen, his map, his book, and I sat in the car and thought, God Almighty.

It immediately made me feel the same thing I felt nine years ago reading Wright Thompson’s article about Billy Varner, Bear Bryant’s long-time driver. This passage in particular:

Nobody ever has a plan. A man looks up and he’s 76 years old, with memories he can’t touch and not much else.

In an article a few weeks ago, Dr. Diane E. Meier, longtime director of Mount Sinai’s Center to Advance Palliative Care and a 2008 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship, provided great insight into this:

It’s important to disabuse you of the notion that pain is the reason people request medical aid in dying. Pain is not the reason. It is existential and spiritual.

It all reminds me of a phrase I’ll always attribute to Danny Hansard: “I’m not afraid of death. It’s the getting dead that scares me.” Clearly, though, many people are scared of both. I used to lament how tragic that was — facing death with no eternal hope. How absolutely miserable and increasingly terrifying life must be.

I have realized, though, that it’s just as common among those in the church as those outside. And that’s even more tragic. They ought to know better! I was continually frustrated by people who were ignoring so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3). The shorter the time, the greater the excitement and anticipation should be! How could they possibly be miserable??

I know why now.

People who have never experienced fullness of life aren’t likely to find it when life isn’t as pleasant anymore. When the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to their old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken their sky. When their legs start to tremble and their shoulders stoop. When their teeth stop grinding, and their eyes see dimly. When the door to life’s opportunities is closed, and the sound of work fades. They rise at the first chirping of the birds, but their sounds grow faint. They become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets. Their hair turns white, and they drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper. (Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 12:1-5.)

And those who have never found fullness of life struggle to truly believe in — trust in, deep down — a brilliant eternity. If they never learned to trust God for this life, it’s unlikely they can truly trust him for the next.

Sure, a few do find it. But as Dallas Willard writes:

As things now stand we have, on the one hand, some kind of “faith in Christ” and, on the other, the life of abundance and obedience he is and offers. But we have no effective bridge from the faith to the life. Some do work it out. But when that happens it is looked upon as a fluke or an accident, not a normal and natural part of the regular good news itself.

The fact that few find a life of abundance is our fault — those of us whose jobs it was to equip them and help them grow into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). We have been “blind guides”. We didn’t know the way to go, so we couldn’t possibly show them. And we didn’t know because nobody taught us.

Thankfully there is mercy for us, and there is still time to begin telling — with compassion — a better, truer story.

Photo by Johannes Plenio

Filed under Spirituality

The Catastrophic Incompleteness of Our Gospel

In Matthew 13:44-46, Matthew records these two related parables of Jesus:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

I started going to church regularly in the summer of 1988 — and by “regularly”, I mean that I was there literally every time the doors were open. It was that way for over 30 years. Heck, it had even gotten to the point where I was actually the one opening the doors.

In all that time, including almost two decades of teaching the Bible, I had never made much of the hidden treasure and pearl of great value. I had heard the parables plenty, and could quote them basically verbatim, but they just didn’t mean very much to me.

Which seems astonishingly odd to me now.

I mean, think about it: Jesus says there is something of such monumental worth that a person would joyfully give up all he has to obtain it. If that was true, what person in their right mind wouldn’t stop to figure out what, exactly, he was talking about?

I never did, though, and now I know why.

In 30+ years of going to church regularly, and teaching the Bible almost 2/3 of that time, I can’t remember ever really thinking about the “kingdom” at all. I know for sure I couldn’t have told you what it was.

That all changed in December of 2018 when I started reading The Divine Conspiracy for the first time. As I read it, I felt exactly like Apollos in Acts 18:

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

I had taught and preached with great excitement, but I absolutely did not understand the way of God as adequately as I thought I did. Dallas Willard did for me what Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos.

This passage sums up where my personal understanding fell short:

When all is said and done, for many “the gospel” is that Christ made “the arrangement” that can get us into heaven. In the Gospels, by contrast, “the gospel” is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed.

The particular faith tradition I had spent three decades in focused heavily on our need for salvation. We were going to spend eternity one of two places, and we couldn’t make it to the good one on our own. Once we let Jesus save us, it was then a matter of being as good as possible until we got to go to Heaven. That was “the gospel”. Despite the fact that the New Testament is full of good news about the life we’re living right now, we never spent much time on that part.

Because of that, for us, passages like Matthew 13:44-46 are what Scot McKnight calls a blue parakeet: Something in the Bible that doesn’t fit at all into our established understanding, so we have to figure out what to do with it. Usually, we end up either ignoring it or interpreting it in a way that forces it to fit.

That’s what I did, unknowingly, with all mentions of “the kingdom”. They just blended into the text and I never really thought about them — which was mind-blowing when I began to realize how absolutely foundational the concept is. It shows up over and over and over again, even in passages that I was very familiar with. Here are just a few:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (Matthew 11:12)

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28)

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:10-11)

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19)

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52)

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

That’s just a handful of the passages from Matthew’s Gospel alone. “Kingdom” is mentioned 119 times across the four Gospels and 36 more times in the rest of the New Testament. How do you understand the gospel without understanding the kingdom?? How could I have had such a colossal blind spot?

As I began to fill in that massive gap in my understanding, other blind spots starting clearing up too. Things like the fact that Jesus said the reason he came was so that we could have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance — to the full, till it overflows (John 10:10). That he said he had told us “these things” so that his joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete (John 15:11).

In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul writes “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” It has been devastating to realize that so many of us have done just the reverse! Our hope in Christ is for the next life only. No wonder so many Christians are just as miserable as everyone else and have lives that look no different — we don’t know any better!

We’ve somehow turned the good news for here and hereafter into good news about the hereafter alone. That’s not at all the way God wants it to be.

The incompleteness of our gospel is killing us. And as the salt and light fade away, the world goes down with us.

Photo by Osman Rana

Filed under Spirituality