Thursday, February 07, 2008

~ the kingdom of god ~

As I look at how communities of disciples of Christ are reimagining what it means to live as a Christian, I am at once inspired and overwhelmed. I am inspired, because I was raised on the optimism of JFK and MLK... I worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign and echoed their cries for opportunity, responsibility and community... I'm motivated by Barak Obama's insistence that we can bring positive change to our world together. I am overwhelmed, because I became disillusioned with politicians many years ago... I am constantly lead to believe that I will grow out of the idealism of community, especially once I get married and have kids (no matter that I am almost 32 years old and am quite convinced that I qualify as an adult, single or not)... I know that the realities are much harder than the vision. Are the CCDA ideals of Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution just something that made interesting fodder for undergraduate research ten plus years ago? If so, why are they still choking my heart strings? Am I just a bleeding-heart liberal, or is there something deeper going on here... something at the heart of the Church? Is "community" just a buzz word, or is it the model of discipleship (a.k.a. evangelism)?

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I am participating in an inductive study of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. We did not meet this week, due to terrible tornadoes and the observance of Ash Wednesday, but I was awe struck by the verses we examined. The idea of inductive study is that you begin with looking at the facts of the verse, follow with exploring what the verse is actually saying and sum up with how the verse can be applied. It may seem to be a "missing the forrest for the trees" approach, but there is a certain appreciation gained for the forrest when one takes the time to explore the shape of each leaf and the bend of each branch. The beauty becomes more defined.

The first verse we explored was 1 Thessalonians 1:4, For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you...

My mind instantly connected this verse with one I was first asked to memorize during a youth group mission trip back in 1993 (John 15:16):
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last...

We've been talking about the fruit of the Spirit in our lifegroup, so that too became a connecting point (Galatians 5:22-23):
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control...

So, the first thing that stood out to me was that the Thessalonians were loved and chosen by God to demonstrate the fruits of a relationship with Him.

1 Thessalonians 1:5
because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

This is where it starts to get exciting (everyone put on your glasses and join me in being a reading geek)! The Thessalonians (like all of us) were chosen by God to demonstrate fruit, but how did they come to know that fruit? Not through mere words. Their lives were transformed in two ways: first, and most important, the power of the Holy Spirit (the source of the fruit) was present in their lives, convicting them of how they were to live; second, the apostles (who had already been living in the Spirit) lived among them and demonstrated the fruit in their own lives. If you recall the promise of Christ in Acts 1:8, you will already have an idea of what is coming up in the next few verses: ...but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

1 Thessalonians 1:6
You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Joy is a remarkable fruit of a relationship with the Spirit of God. The Church in Thessalonia displayed Joy in their lives despite experiencing and witnessing sever suffering. They began to demonstrate the fruit of their relationship with the Lord, which was modeled to them by the apostles.

1 Thessalonians 1:7
And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

Thessalonia was a city in the region of Macedonia. Achaia was a neighboring region. There were some rather impressive cities in these regions. Paul notes that the Thessalonians lived out the fruit of the Spirit in their lives in such a way that they became a model to all of the other believers not only in their community or their city, but also to their entire region and the neighboring region as well. The Thessalonians modeled the lifestyle the apostles had demonstrated while living among them, and it did not go unnoticed.

1 Thessalonians 1:8
The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it...

The apostles went to Thessalonia. They lived among the people, shared the good news of Christ's redemption and modeled a lifestyle based on the fruits of a relationship with the Spirit. The Thessalonians accepted the grace of God through His Son, received the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, learned from the lifestyle of the apostles, and modeled the fruits of the Spirit through their own lives. Their lives, in turn, became models to all of the believers they came in contact with, or who heard about the way they were living... but not only in the regions near them. The faith of the Thessalonians, demonstrated through their fruit, became known everywhere... The Lord's message rang out from their lives!

Perhaps I am an idealist, but I believe that this is what the Church is intended to be. A body of disciples who have believed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who have received the grace of God, who trust in the power of the Holy Spirit and listen to the Spirits convicting. A body of disciples who practice the disciplines of the faith (when you pray... when you give... when you fast...) and whose lives demonstrate the fruits of a relationship with the Spirit of God (love... joy... peace... patience... kindness... goodness... faithfulness... gentlesness... self-control...). A body of disciples who embrace 1 Thessalonians 2:8 - We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. A body of disciples who rejoice in communing with their Lord and also with each other. I am still learning what this means, day by day, but I am commited to continuing to learn how to live out commuinty.

May this be my legacy:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Mark 12:28-34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

1 comment:

Ines said...

love the tree/leaf comparison of studying the word...there would be no trees or forest without branches nor leaves! :-)