Concerned about Heaven, Here and Now—Not Hell

Many people are discussing hell right now. I'm more concerned with the kingdom of heaven—what God wants here and now.

Imagine one idea that could distract Christians from some of the biggest problems we’ve ever faced: people suffering around the world, the world’s super power (the US) in an economic crisis, the most strategic and intense part of the world crumbling (the Middle East), and the rise of poverty everywhere. These issues are not what most Christians are discussing; instead, we’re talking about hell and one person’s opinion.

I’m disappointed in us.

A few years ago, the big issue was a pastor who openly talked about sex on stage. And before that, gay marriage was all Christians could seem to talk about. Five years before that, the rapture is all Christians wanted to discuss. All of these are important issues—and things we need to sort out—but how many opportunities have we missed by focusing on the “issues” rather than on Christ?

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Egypt, Bieber, Libya, Gaga and Jesus

Recently, I saw the positive side of our culture’s obsession with celebrities: people are looking for someone to follow and worship—they’relooking for a messiah.

Pastors often chide congregations for their celebrity obsession, but what if we could take that phenomena and use it for good? I think we can. And I think Jesus understood that a culture’s folly could be turned into glory. 

I realized this a few weeks ago when I was reexamining a conversation Jesus had with his disciples. 

“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ [the Messiah].’ And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him” (Mark 8:27–30 ESV).

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The Myth of the Apolitical Church

The church is anything but apolitical. We can act like it is all we want; that won’t change the facts.

Most church systems are as complicated as our local government. We have elders, deacons, pastors, board members, committees, sub-committees, small groups, discipleship groups, and youth groups—and that’s not the end of the list. We’re not sure who is in charge of what, or whom we should direct our questions to—outside of the senior pastor, of course. So the senior pastor remains distracted. The staff remains unfocused. And most people aren’t sure what those men called elders actually do outside of meet behind closed doors.

Order is good. Government is good; bureaucracy is not. Confusion will destroy us. I suggest a change.

We need to reinitiate Paul’s model for running the church. I think we can do so within the parameters that our government has set up for us. We can meet legal requirements and Paul’s requirements at the same time.

I serve as the board president of a church plant here in Bellingham. And we’ve been subtly experimenting with this idea—more by the leading of the Spirit than intentionality. That’s exactly the way I think church business should be done. We should be intentional about letting the Spirit do His job. Acting according to the Spirit’s plans should be our goal. Business is something we do out of necessity; the Spirit’s work is something we do because we are called to it.

Paul says: “Now you [all] are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kind of tongues” (1 Cor 12:27–31 ESV).

In the church, God has appointed a hierarchy of offices:

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Spiritual Gridlock: The End of Miracles?

“My grandma is in the hospital, and she needs prayer. Can you pray for healing for her?”

“Of course, let’s pray.”

There’s nothing wrong with this dialogue, but the conversation ending there is tragic—yet, this is how most prayer meetings go. We pray to God like He is going to do all the work. We act like we don’t need to be involved. Ultimately, God does do all the hard work, but that doesn’t make us exempt.

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Banishing Sunday School Teachers

What we do in church services doesn’t matter if it doesn’t change our lives and the lives of others. Biblical illiteracy is on the rise, and will continue to be until we make discipleship part of our life.

Most of us don’t have mentors, and when we do, they aren’t spiritual mentors—they’re business mentors. We rarely think about being discipled in the ways of Christ.

When we think of education, we think of universities and colleges. Biblical education, outside of Christian schools, isn’t even part of our thought process, and that’s a tragedy. We spend thousands of dollars paying for higher education, but how much do we spend on biblical education? When I think of it in those terms, I’m terrified about our future.

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Jesus in a Cashmere Sweater

"You should try our cashmere sweaters. They'll lift you up. I know that Jesus is supposed to lift you up, but cashmere sweaters are the next best thing." —A retailer on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving

You can't make up quotes like that. I responded, "I'm blogging that."

I don't need to stand on a soap box and tell you everything wrong with Black Friday. You already know. (And that's a big list.) I also don't need to tell you all the good things about Black Friday. (That's a big list too.) Instead, let's imagine Jesus and his prophet friends in cashmere sweaters.

We've been discussing the spiritual offices listed in 1 Corinthians 12:27–31. So far, I've asked: Are spiritual gifts really gifts, or are they more like curses? I've also said: We don't compare ourselves to Elijah, but should. And I've noted that we treat pastors like restaurant managers. Now I have another question: Do we treat prophets like retail clerks?

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Treating Pastors Like Restaurant Managers

If your pastor said he is an apostle, you probably wouldn't be thrilled. You may even hit him with the five books of Moses, or smack him with the four gospels. But you would be wrong, at least according to Paul.

I recently said that we don't compare ourselves to Elijah, but (in some cases) should. Your pastor may not call himself an apostle, but maybe he should. I'm a bit bias about this, and here's why.

I was called to a spiritual office at an early age. This experience made me ask, "Why do I meet people who fell into the pastorate after an internship, or who thought becoming a pastor sounded fun?" My experience couldn't be more different than theirs. Shouldn't every position in the church be a calling?
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We Don't Compare Ourselves to Elijah but Should

I've never heard someone say, "My spiritual office is apostle." Or, "My spiritual office is prophet." But I have heard people say that their gift set seems similar to Paul's, Elijah's, John's or Peter's. Most people, though, are hesitant to even say this. They're afraid of what will happen if they do.

We wonder if our fellow church members will think we're odd. I've had lots of people confide in me about this. They say things like:

 "If I tell them that God has called me to something like healing, they may ostracize me, or even kick me out of the church."

"When I thought about telling my pastor that God has called me to be a prophet, the first thing that crossed my mind was: 'He will tell me I'm crazy.' "

"How can you tell a church leader you're called like an apostle? They will think you are on a power trip."

"If I tell them I want to teach, they will say I'm too young."

These are legitimate concerns. And yes, some people are crazy. But these concerns say something about you and me--us church-goers. We make people feel isolated. We have convinced people that if they tell us that they're "called," we will make them feel even more alone. We need to make a change.

Paul tells us to think in terms of spiritual offices. Warning: After you read this passage, your view of the church may change. You may want to go and alter the entire structure of your church. Don't worry, it's a good idea.

"Now you are the body of Christ [the church] and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts [that's all these things:] of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts." (1 Corinthians 12:27-31, emphasis mine).

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Writing, Editing, Publishing and Leading: My New Site

In September, I officially launched JohnDBarry.com. In addition to writing about seeing the infinite God in everything here on Conversant Life, I blog at JohnDBarry.com about writing, editing, publishing and leading. I hope you decide to follow both blogs.

 

Also: If you want to know about the topic of my book, The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, check out ResurrectedServant.com, where I write about what resurrection means to us today, and what it meant to the ancients.

 

Spiritual Gifts or Curses?

Spiritual gifts is the favorite hot-button issue of any dying church. The logic is: if we're failing, it must be because we haven't identified the spiritual calling of the people in our church. Seems logical, but it isn't.

I'm currently part of a church plant. I thought I had a theology worked out for church planting--and seeing the infinite God in every part of it--but I don't. It's a work in progress. There's no theological system that works out-of-the-box--only Macs do that. (Seems obvious now.) The life of a church will always be a work in progress--out of necessity. The problem is that we've stopped working and assumed that our framework is right. Maybe that's what is killing churches.

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About
The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.