HeartGroups Series; Part 5 of 5

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. — Jesus (Mark 10.45)HeartGroups Series

Part 5

This week, I want to conclude our five-part series on our new HeartGroups, modeled after the function and form of the New Testament ekklesia. It still amazes me how deeply the nature of the New Testament church has been buried under 1,700 years of religious tradition. But this week, I am going to try and strike some middle ground between institutional “church” and the New Testament’s more organic gatherings. Something both institution and organic gatherings have—or should have, rather—is a strong sense of other-centered mission. This is rooted in the example Jesus gave us in the Jesus story itself.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10.45)

I have had some of the best conversations with our various HeartGroups coaches over these first two months, and one thing that comes out loud and clear, in perfect harmony with New Testament ekklesia, is that HeartGroups should also have a strong sense of Mission. I want to be clear, though. This is not the typical emphasis on “evangelism” we find in so much of evangelical Christianity today. Evangelism is not the goal of our mission focus; evangelism is the means to reach our goal. (I’ll explain this in a moment.) Turning people into mere believers was never the end goal (see Matthew 28.18-20). Helping others within the community become followers of Jesus and His teachings was!

Ever since the fourth century (with the Baptism of Constantine), we have witnessed a decisive shift (and successive drift) away from the teachings of Jesus to beliefs about Jesus as that which defines what a “Christian” is. Praise God for the few exceptions, but to a large degree, in our current culture, being a “Christian” simply means someone who holds certain beliefs about Jesus, and very rarely do those who call themselves “Christians” resemble the person or teachings of Jesus. Statistics today prove that although the worldview of those who “believe” in Jesus is different, the life of a person who sees him- or herself as a believer, in most cases (again, there are a few exceptions), is no different in reality (except for attending a weekly service) from those who are labeled unbelievers. Christians are just as prone to gluttony as non-Christians. Christians are just as prone to greed as non-Christians. Christians are just as prone to materialism as non-Christians. Christians are actually more prone to violence than non-Christians. Christians are more prone to pride and arrogance than non-Christians. And today, the divorce rate among Christians is for the first time higher than the divorce rate of non-Christians.

How did we get here?

I believe it began in the fourth century (actually probably a little earlier, but the fourth century is close enough), when those who bore the name of Christ made a clean break with the actual teachings of Christ. Those who called themselves Christians actually chose an ethic that marginalized Jesus and His teachings. Up until this time, what defined whether a community was following Christ or not was whether that community sought to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus. But once those ethics (non-violence being a key Christo-ethic) were abandoned, overnight, everyone in Europe became a Christian (literally). One of the fruits of focusing now on beliefs about Jesus rather then the teachings of Jesus was that Christianity became a hybrid of institutionalism and individualism (Clergy vs. Laity). And what determined whether a person was a Christian or not was no longer reflected in a set of principles by which a group sought to live their lives, but rather by a set of intellectual beliefs (theology) to which an individual person intellectually subscribed or not.

This epidemic remains with us today. Today, we see a religion that to a large degree is still using run-around logic to find ways to avoid applying the actual teachings of Jesus, and in those teachings’ place, we find division on top of division over beliefs about Jesus that define us. All the while, the world at large, all around us, is starving—both spiritually and physically. Today, we still witness a strong marginalization of the actual teachings of Jesus, followed by a community accompanied by a heavy emphasis on doctrinal beliefs about Jesus instead. (An example of this, especially during the time of year that is just upon us, is that we as Christians today can live lives of consumer-driven materialism in our American culture [a direct abandonment of the teachings of Jesus], but question the virgin birth for a moment [a belief about Jesus that is actually in only two of the four versions of the Jesus story that we have], and we are no longer considered “believers.”)

Please don’t misunderstand. Believing the right things about God is of vital importance for every one of us! But stop for a moment and consider whether this is the ultimate end or the means whereby we experience God’s end for us. Pay close attention to Jesus’s words in John 17:

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known IN ORDER THAT the LOVE you have for me may be IN THEM and that I MYSELF MAY BE IN THEM.” (John 17.25-26)

We can gather the following points from Jesus’s statement above:

1)Revealing the truth about God’s character was “in order that” an ultimate goal might be accomplished.

2)What was that goal? There were two. First, so that the Love of God might be restored in us. In short, if our picture of God doesn’t also change us into a more loving people, then no matter how correct we may be in our beliefs about God, we simply become resounding gongs, clanging cymbals, empty nothings, gaining nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13.1-3). I want you to also notice the word “Them.” Jesus never called upon His disciples to follow Him all on their own, but to do so in an authentic community of fellow followers! The Love that He wants to recreate in us is in just that location—us! This love cannot be experienced “flying solo,” so to speak. Other-centered love requires experiencing life with others, in addition to ourselves. But even in saying all of this, even these groups of Jesus followers, following Jesus together, were not only to strengthen, instruct, encourage, and build each other up. The groups themselves, as a united whole, was to have an outside-of-the-group focus. Together, they were to live communal lives that were radically self-sacrificial for the blessing and benefit of others, putting on display the beauty of God’s other-centered love to the world around them.

3)Goal number two was “That I myself may be [dwelling] in them.” We find “them” here again, now also as a dwelling place for Jesus Himself. We have been guilty of reading this statement through the lens of our Western, individualistic culture. Jesus was not praying that He would be able to dwell in His followers individually or uniquely as isolated little dwelling places (plural). NO, no! Jesus wants to take the plurality of individuals and, by restoring love among them through the revelation of the character of God, take this plurality and turn it into a singular community that becomes the home or dwelling place of Jesus. The group is the place Jesus desires to dwell. Let me illustrate this with the metaphor used by Peter.

Peter uses the imagery of taking living stones and assembling them together to become a living dwelling place for God.

As you come to him, the LIVING STONE—rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him—YOU ALSO, like LIVING STONES, are being built into a SPIRITUAL HOUSE to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Peter 2.4-5)

Let’s get back to my statements earlier about evangelism. Evangelism, according to the New Testament, is simply the telling of the Jesus story (i.e., the Gospel). Those who embraced the Jesus of this story would find new life born within them. It was if they have passed from death to life, they were no longer a dead stone. They had now become a LIVING stone. But then an apostle would take those living stones and put them together in such a way that they fitted together properly and would become an actual LIVING HOUSE built out of these living stones! It wasn’t enough to just bring someone from death to life. They must, in being brought to life, now be connected with a community marked by an open, mutually participatory communal nature that not only reflected the other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God, but thereby put on display to the world around them the beauty of this love for all to see. (I know this is a far cry from what history records as happening by the institutionalizing of a “religion” that today we call Christianity. But what this simply reveals is that what today is called Christianity might be the furthest thing from what Jesus intended His followers to become.)

Today, we embrace beliefs about Jesus as individuals. And even when we come together, we come together in such a way as to maintain our isolation from each other (the historical purpose for which pews themselves were actually invented in the sixteenth century). We gather together as isolated individuals to “participate”—which many times simply means remaining quiet and listening—in a program centered around the moment where we passively listen to a discourse with a heavy emphasis on doctrines about Jesus rather than the ethical teachings of Jesus. (Jesus spent precious little time addressing people’s “doctrinal” beliefs. Jesus spent a large portion of time revealing to us the truth about the Father’s character by giving teachings on how His followers should live.) Even in the songs we sing, the lyrics are too often marked by the pronouns “I” versus “we,” both older hymns and recent contemporary worship songs alike, which only further reveal how far we have drifted. Again, these are generalizations of what we find on the whole. There are beautiful exceptions to this that I have witnessed, but to a large degree, these exceptions are just that—they are exceptions to the overly common rule.

This leads me to the point of this week’s eSight regarding HeartGroups and Mission, and an honest confession of failure on the part of myself and the ministry of RHM in the past.

As a ministry, and as the director of this ministry, I have become convinced that it is not enough to simply uplift the truth about our Heavenly Father as it is revealed in Jesus and then leave those who have embraced this new picture of God in passive isolation. It is as if we have traversed the globe, turning dead stones into living stones, and then just left them strewn across the field, each alone and lying there. These living stones must be assembled together in such a way that they TOGETHER become a dwelling place for Jesus Himself.

This is the reason we at Renewed Heart Ministries have added to our ministry what we are now affectionately referring to as HeartGroups, equipped with insightful coaches to help those who feel more like isolated stones assemble together in a meaningful way to experience God and His love for us and to put on display to the world around us the beauty of who God is, together!

“But those who embrace your teachings, Herb, are usually connected somehow to a local church,” someone may object. And yes, that is true in a contemporarily defined sense. I want to be clear: there is nothing wrong with “going to church,” in my opinion, even as “church” has grown to be defined by us today. I speak in a different institutionalized church around the globe almost every weekend. But no matter how faithful one may be in his or her “church” attendance, one can attend what we in our culture call “church” seven days a week and still never experience or encounter the reality of what the New Testament referred to as the church.

Within New Testament Ekklesia:

A building is no longer the Temple. The Open Mutually participatory gathering of followers is now where God dwells among us, putting on display, through this group, the beauty of who He really is (see John 1.14 and 1 Peter 2.5; churches were not buildings in the New Testament).

An animal on an alter is no longer the Sacrifice; the Common Life of Believers, together following the teachings of Jesus with THEIR lives, lived out in self-sacrificial love, is now the “living” sacrifice (see Romans 12.1 and 1 Peter 2.5; gatherings were not centered around sacrifice, sacrament, or sermon in the New Testament).

A hierarchical male authority figure filling an “office” is no longer a Priest, Rabbi, or Teacher, but rather, we as followers of Jesus and members of His Kingdom have together become a priesthood (or priestesshood) of ALL believers alike! See Matthew 23.8-12 and 1 Peter 2.5: All believers alike, themselves, were what we today call “Pastors” and any leadership that did exist [Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Elders, and Teachers] was marked by servanthood, serving the larger mutually participatory group, in contrast to hierarchical authority (see Luke 22.25-27).

In the New Testament, Temple, Sacrifice, and Priest have been transformed by the coming of Jesus, making what these three where in the past obsolete, replaced by something far superior! (See the epistle to the Hebrews.)

What does all of this have to do with HeartGroups and Mission?

In perfect harmony with New Testament ekklesia, HeartGroups also have a strong mission focus. What is their mission? Not to go to church, but to BE the church by putting on display the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, re-incarnated again as Christ’s body in visible form for all to continue to see.

If you are already meeting in a HeartGroup and you feel your group is in need of a more other-centered focus, this week, I want to challenge you to not just merely meet to encourage, instruct, and bless one another (although this too is vital and should not be belittled), but also spend some time, in prayerfully submitted brainstorming, considering how your group can possibly make a difference in the community around you. At bare minimum, find someone in your area who is in need and pool your resources together to make a difference in that person’s life. Jesus didn’t go around trying to get people ready to go to heaven when they died. On the contrary, Jesus went around doing good, setting captives free, making a difference in this age, creating change for the better in peoples’ lives NOW and then announcing, His Kingdom had come!

This is our mission too: to enlarge His Kingdom! Not merely by turning people into “believers” who believe differently now about certain topics. No, no! Once those stones are alive, we are called to assemble those stones together in a way that becomes a dwelling place for God Himself, incarnate once again—a living demonstration, putting on display the beauty of God’s character of love, once revealed in Jesus Christ and now revealed through His visible embodiment (Body, see Ephesians 4.16) for the world around US to see!

If you are currently not part of a HeartGroup and you would like more information on participating in a group or even hosting a group, please contact us at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/heartgroups.aspx

As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, and together, let’s go enlarge the Kingdom.

This marks the end of this series. Next, we begin a special series based on the Jesus story, which we believe will prove especially relevant during this upcoming holiday season.

I love you guys, and I’ll see you next week.

Herb

HeartGroups Series; Part 4 of 5 – Appendix

Matthew 20.25-28—Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 23.8-12—”But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.HeartGroups Series

Part 4 – Appendix

Due to a small number of objections and questions that have come in from last week’s eSight on how our rejection of hierarchical leadership styles within the church is one of the ways we put on display that the rule of The Powers has come to an end, I felt that this week, rather than progressing with this series, I would share a portion of the New Testament research that collaborates and supports last week’s statements.

What I am offering this week is a ten-page document that is a basic compiling of some of the best New Testament scholarly research that we have available to us today on what the New Testament ekklesia actually looked like and how it functioned. Again this document is a compilation of the brightest and best research out there that I have been able to find to date. I have simply re-structured this research for easier reading, so that it can be passed on to you and to others in a more easily digestible fashion. This document reflects not simply my own conclusions (only a small portion of this material is from my own personal research) but of a vast majority of other scholars as well. (In other words, for those of you who are saying I’m a dreamer . . . “I’m not the only one.”)

This document is too lengthy to be posted in this email. But for those who are interested in the scholastic evidence for last week’s eSight (where we rejected all forms of hierarchical leadership styles rather than baptizing them) please check out the pdf I have posted at this link:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Sermons/lu/outlines/16hierarchy.pdf

(If this does not show up in your email as a link, please copy and paste this url into your internet browser.)

It is my prayer that as we continue to process this information, in the light God’s character of radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, that God will have a people who finally reject Constantinian Christianity in favor of becoming those who look like their Master once again. 1700 years is far too long. The time has come for those who carry Jesus’ name to resemble, once again, what Jesus and His Kingdom where truly all about.

For those who were looking forward to a “devotional” this week, I want to offer you my humblest apologies. We will return to that format next week. This week, please take some time and give this information prayerful consideration. This is research our intellects can rest upon, so that our hearts can passionately embrace the “New Creation,” the Ekklesia, we have in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5.17).

Happy Reading and keep enlarging the Kingdom!

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

HeartGroups Series; Part 4 of 5

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms . . .”— Paul, Ephesians 3.10HeartGroups Series

Part 4

Embracing The “Mission” of New Testament Ekklesia.

Far from being a whipping boy in an effort to appease an angry God, Jesus’s death (and resurrection) was the result of a life lived in utter rebellion against the Powers. These Powers had claimed that WE belonged to Them. And Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have brought to us salvation, redemption, ransom, reconciliation, and yes, even atonement (see Leviticus 16 for how atonement fits within a “Victory against the Powers” paradigm).

I want to challenge you to take some time and read through the entire New Testament, but not in the order we find it in within most of our Bibles. I’d like you to read it in the narrative order in which it was written (or at least the most likely order by the estimation of most scholars). There are some great tools out there for doing this. One of the many that has received much acclaim recently is Frank Viola’s The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. And though I never agree entirely with any author that I read, I believe this resource will prove itself invaluable to you in simply getting your head around the narrative order of the New Testament alone.

When we take Paul’s writings within the context of when, where, and why they were written, we see a series of terms that I would love to unpack for you this week.

These terms are:

“principalities and powers”

“thrones and dominions”

“angels and archangels”

“elements”

“heights and depths”

and even “law” and “knowledge”.

Paul’s words in his letter to the Ekklesia in Colossae, with these in mind, are astounding:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, visible and INVISIBLE, whether THRONES OR POWERS OR RULERS OR AUTHORITIES; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1.15-17)

The Greek word here for “hold together” actually means “systematizes.” There is an organizational structure, or “system,” to how Christ “created” this world to function. What we begin seeing in Paul’s epistles is that although there is a reign of order among creation, and it’s an order which in its original intention was a Divine gift, most of the references to the “Powers” in the New Testament consider them as now fallen from their original intent. They are still present, still ruling, but now in a fallen state. They are no longer active as mediators of the loving, creative purpose of God; now we find them usurping an unascribed authority, gained through humanity’s rebellion, and using both their original and newly gained authority as follows:

1) We find them seeking to separate us from the love of God (see Romans 8.38).

2) We find them ruling over the lives of those who live far from the love of God (see Ephesians 2.2).

3) We find them holding us in servitude to their rules (see Colossians 2.20).

4) We find them holding us under their tutelage or instruction (see Galatians 4.3).

And although the authority of these Powers is not limitless, we still find them, in the mind of Paul, exercising their power, again, within both their original ordered function and the usurped dominion gained through humanity’s fall.

C.S Lewis referred to this reality in the following words:

“I freely admit that real Christianity . . . goes much nearer to Dualism than people think . . . The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.”— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Some today refer to this cosmic conflict as a Great Controversy.

It was to deliver us and to defeat these Powers that Jesus came, lived, died, and was resurrected:

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” (Luke 11.21, 22)

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil . . .” (Hebrews 2.14)

(I have written at length concerning this theme in our four-part Christus Victor series earlier this year. Please feel free to go back and reread that series if at any time you get “lost” while reading this week’s eSight.)

Notice the contrast between the Enemy’s words during the temptations and Christ’s words after the Resurrection:

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you ALL THEIR AUTHORITY and splendor; it has been given to me [by Adam, See Genesis 3 and 1 Corinthians 15], and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4.5-7)

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28.19-20)

Jesus had come to gain this authority back for us, but not by bowing to these Powers as the Enemy had tempted. Jesus would gain back this authority rather by the long and slow process of living a radically subversive, other centered life, dying a cruel self sacrificial death at the hands of these Powers, and then through the final, glorious climax of a resurrection. By these methods and these methods alone, Jesus would establish His Kingdom in the place of Theirs. (A Dominion that at its core exists as a new way of doing life based on the character of God itself, i.e., the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. See Daniel 7.9,13-14 cf. John 12.31; Matthew 26.64)

Jesus’s message was:

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME near.’” (Matthew 4.17)

The message Jesus sent His disciples out with was:

“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME near.’” (Matthew 10.7)

Jesus’s last words to Pilate were:

Jesus said, “MY KINGDOM is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now MY KINGDOM is from another place.” (John 18.36)

Paul’s message till the end of his life was the same:

“He proclaimed THE KINGDOM OF GOD and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28.31)

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had been victorious! Paul’s letter to the Colossians again tells us of this victory:

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into THE KINGDOM of the Son he loves . . . ” (Colossians 1.13)

“. . . having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, he made a public spectacle of THEM, triumphing over THEM by the cross.” (Colossians 2.14,15)

Again the words of Jesus in reference to the purpose of His own death and resurrection:

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the PRINCE OF THIS WORLD will be DRIVEN OUT.” (John 12.31)

And lastly the words of John:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and THE KINGDOM of our God, and THE AUTHORITY of his Messiah. For THE ACCUSER of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been HURLED DOWN.’” (Revelation 12.10)

But how does this relate to HeartGroups and New Testament Ekklesia?

This is the most exciting part of this week’s eSight!

“His intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH [the Ekklesia], the manifold wisdom of God should be made known TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS . . .” (Ephesians 3.10)

WE, plural, together as the Ekklesia, in it’s original New Testament form, have been called to put on display, the accomplished reality of Christ’s defeat of the Powers on the Cross (God’s manifold wisdom; See 1 Corinthians 1.23,24). We have been called to put on display the radical beauty of God’s character of love which is at the core of this New Kingdom, to put on display the defeat of God’s (and our) enemies (see Epheisans 6.12), and that under this new Kingdom there is a new way of doing life!

But what does how we do Ekklesia have do with putting on display the Character of God and God’s Divinely accomplished defeat of the Powers? (In other words, what we are really asking is, “How does our form really relate to our function?)

Let’s start slow.

Ephesians 3 is at bare minimum, clear that we have been called to make known this “manifold wisdom of God,” (God’s accomplishment on the Cross) together, IN COMMUNITY to these Rulers and Authorities for all, both on earth and in heaven to witness.

I want to submit to you this week, something that I know is challenging to many, but if we are to be honest about taking the teachings of Jesus seriously we must take, even this into consideration. Please remain open minded. Even the form in which our gatherings take, in light of the God ordained function that we as His Body are called to, really does matter more than some realize.

Let me explain.

The Ekklesia is made up of Jesus’ followers that are announcing to The Powers that their reign has ended. Their very existence is to announces to the Stoicheia (Greek for “The Elements”, or rather The Powers: Galatians 4.3 and Colossians 2.8) that we who “used to live when [we] followed the ways of THIS WORLD and of THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR” (see Ephesians 2) are now free from Them, because of Jesus, to live out our original design once again. What was that original design? Follow carefully:

Then God said, “Let US make humankind in OUR IMAGE, according to OUR LIKENESS; and let THEM have DOMINION . . .” (Genesis 1.26, NRSV, See also John 17.)

Remember from part 1 of this series:

“Within the Godhead we discover mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community. In the Godhead, there exists an eternal, complementary, and reciprocal interchange of divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship. There is an absence of command-style leadership. There is an absence of hierarchical structures. There is an absence of passive spectatorship. There is an absence of one-upmanship. And there is an absence of religious rituals and programs.”

When we mimic the Godheads form, when we return to the original intent of what the New Testament Ekklesia was supposed to be, we are rejecting a form that by contrast mirrors the power structures of the kingdoms (and thus the “Powers” behind them) of this world.

This is why Jesus so strictly forbid the church from, even in it’s form, looking anything like this world:

“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER THEM; and those who exercise AUTHORITY OVER THEM call themselves Benefactors. [Remember we do not find this among the Godhead itself] BUT YOU ARE NOT TO BE LIKE THAT. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22.25-26)

“But you are NOT to be called ‘RABBI,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers [equal]. And do not call anyone on earth ‘FATHER,’ for you have ONE Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘TEACHER,’ for you have ONE Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23.8-12).

We find in these passages a stern forbiddance of hierarchal, “power over” structures within those who claim to part of Christ’s new Kingdom. Remember in Jesus kingdom, temple, sacrifice, and priest are no more. (We, as a living Ekklesia, are God’s dwelling place, how we do life, modeled after Jesus, is a living sacrifice, and we together as equals are a “priesthood” of all believers.) The Old Testament Levitical system is NOT what we are to patterned after, but rather, we are to be patterned after the original design of the Godhead itself (See Genesis 1.26) of mutual love, service, and participation. Christ came to restore us to this.

Again, we are not to have among us the hierarchal, power over, power structures we find all round us among the kingdoms of this world. We are called to put on display something radically different. We are called to the open, mutually participatory nature of the Godhead (our original Parents) Itself!

Our FORM in itself is a proclamation, a sign, a token to the Powers that their unbroken dominion, Their way of doing life, has come to an end! The Ekklesia, done properly, does not function under Their hierarchal power structures anymore (with passive spectators who passively submit, mirroring the kingdoms of this world which in turn mimick the Powers of this world.) The Ekklesia even by its form is to put on display that WE ARE UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT! We are now under the direct Headship of Christ, marked by mutual, open, every-member-functioning-participation like what we find within the Godhead and thus a demonstration of the Kingdom that is rooted in Their Love. Just the very existence of Ekklesia, when our form is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, is an aggressive act against the Powers in a world still claimed to be ruled by those Powers. Ekklesia is an act of protest, saying we are no longer Their slaves, but freed ones, following a NEW rule, the rule of Christ. Just the mere presence of the Ekklesia is a sign to the Powers of the coming end, of Their emerging encirclement and Their imminent and final defeat.

Paul continues in his letter to the Ephesians:

“For our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against THE RULERS, against THE AUTHORITIES, against THE POWERS of this dark world and against THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.” (Ephesians 6.12)

This is a new kind of community (Kingdom/Ekklesia) conceived within the Godhead (John 17), given birth on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), established and enlarged by the Cross (both Christ’s and ours; Luke 9.23) Genuine Ekklesia is a far cry from being “religious.” True Ekklesia is about putting on display the radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love of God! But how we do Ekklesia is not mysteriously exempt from any of this.

Seeing that how we do “Church” is itself a protest against the “Powers” is loaded with meaning for those who are seeking to return to a more New Testament form of Ekklesia. All resistance and every attack against the “gods of this age” will be unfruitful, unless the Ekklesia, itself, IS resistance and attack. It is imperative that the Ekklesia itself demonstrates, in its own life and fellowship, how believers can live freed from the Powers. We can only “make known” the manifold wisdom of God to the Powers if our communal life together displays something radically different than how the Powers themselves demand life should be done. We do this, together, in so many ways. But NOWHERE is this more evident than by our absolute rebellion against the hierarchal power structures of this world and the “Powers” behind them. When we deliberately choose NOT to pattern our gatherings after the kingdoms of this world, but after the Godhead itself, when we choose to conduct our gatherings with an open, mutually participatory nature, under the Headship of Christ, this again put’s on display the Victory of Christ and that a NEW Kingdom has arrived!

(To be fair, I want to express again, this is not the only way we put on display Christ’s victory, but it is foundational to all else that we do. To be fair, we also do this too when we, as a community, choose to live radically self-sacrificially so that we might reach out in our larger communities to make a difference with our resources. (We put on display that we are now freed from “Mammon’s” clutches.) We do this when, in our gatherings, we no longer recognize any difference between peoples, whether by class, economic status, race, gender, or nation. (Galatians 3.19; James 2.1-4; Ephesians 2.13-16) We do this when justice, mercy and love prevail in our own gatherings and social differences (or any other differences for that matter) lose their power to divide us. Our manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God to the Powers is meaningful only insofar as it springs from an Ekklesia whose inner life is itself a proclamation and demonstration of a new way of doing life together. Through all these ways, it is as if we are screaming to the Powers, “This world is under NEW management! And we are the PROOF!”)

But let’s be careful not to go too far. Our duty is NOT to bring the Powers to their knees. Christ has already done this through His Cross! Our duty is to simply but firmly put on display Their already accomplished defeat! Our duty is to put on display, as a community, that we are no longer under Their rule! Ours is to put on display the beauty of our new King’s character of Love and His way of doing life. We are, together, to put on display what this NEW kingdom, NEW reign looks like. And, in the face of Their empty claims, which are now nothing more than a grasping at straws, to declare the reign of the Powers has come to an END!

Wherever the Cross is genuinely preached, the unmasking and disarming of the Powers takes place. And wherever genuine Ekklesia is accurately practiced through open participatory gatherings, the church demonstrates to other realms that Jesus Christ—God’s manifold wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1.23, 24)—is alive enough to lead a fallen race who used to belong to God’s enemy.

Genuine Ekklesia is much more than simply how one does “church”. It’s about doing life, together, in such a way as to put on display the radical character of our God and the defeat of His Enemies, even to those very Powers themselves, for all both in Heaven and on Earth to see.

Lastly, this cannot be done by individualistic, personal, solo efforts, but rather by communities that mirror the relationship the Triune God, Itself, of mutual love, acting as one. (See John 17.20, 21.) Too many of us are still living as if we are just passing through. We are living as if our goal is to accept Jesus as our “personal” Savior (i.e., “get saved”) before we die, so we, individually, can “go to heaven.” This is a far cry from the New Testament’s paradigm. “Heaven” is not our home. THIS EARTH is our home! ITS DOMINION has been given back to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection! I’m sorry to have to say, we aren’t going anywhere. In the age to come, God is NOT taking us “home” to be with HIM! No, no. God is coming HERE to make His home WITH US via Return and Resurrection! (See Revelation 21 and 22 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

What does all of this mean? It means simply this:

1)The Cross declares that Jesus is already the Savior of the World! God’s Enemies have been defeated!

2)We, as the Ekklesia, have been called to embrace Him now as Lord, and to live out the radical beauty of His NEW Kingdom in community with one another, and by thus putting His Character and Kingdom on display, to declare God’s enemies are defeated, a new Kingdom has arrived, and we are to enlarge the borders of this New Kingdom, His Kingdom, one humble, loving relationship at a time.

This is EXACTLY what Jesus taught in the parable of “the mustard seed.” The Gardener planted it in HIS garden till it grew, subversively underground, sometimes even unnoticeably, and un-measurably, until it took over “the whole garden.”

“Then Jesus asked, ‘What is THE KINGDOM of God like? What shall I compare IT to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’” (Luke 13.18,19)

“He told them another parable: ‘THE KINGDOM of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it GROWS, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’” (Matthew 13.31, 32)

Remember, we have not been called to conquer the world for Jesus, but to simply love the world (and one another) like Jesus, via Ekklesia!

So in light of God’s Victory on the Cross against the Powers, and His Glorious purpose for His Ekklesia, His Bride, in putting that Victory on display, go forth this week, and as community, live like Christ, think like Christ, serve like Christ, and love like Christ and thereby, go enlarge the Kingdom.

I love you guys.

We’ll see you next week.

For information about our new Renewed Heart Ministries’ HeartGroups please look us up on the web at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/heartgroups.aspx