Learning a new way to understand God’s Kingdom

I’ve always thought of God’s kingdom like this:

KingdomofGod-Circles

One circle represents the world we live in.  It includes the physical, cultural, and spiritual realities of our existence. The other circle represents the world God lives in, the Kingdom of God.  It has little or nothing to with physical realities.  It is more a way of being and living in relation to God’s purpose.  It is where God’s will is done.

As you can see in the drawing, the circles are intersecting.  If I could make moving images, I would demonstrate the circle we live in remaining stationary while the circle representing the Kingdom of God is moving toward it.  This demonstrates God’s Kingdom coming into our world little by little.  Any space the circles overlap represents God’s will replacing our own.  Eventually, at the end of time, God’s Kingdom completely overlaps our circle and God’s will is done everywhere.

I’ve learned a problem with this way of seeing it.  The Kingdom of God is limited to particular areas of our world.  As it moves in and crosses over the circle, it still remains separate.  Our world and God’s will are still isolated from the other.

So, I’m learning a new way to understand God’s Kingdom coming into our world, and it looks like this:

kingdomofGod-box

The box represents our world.  The four sides create a boundary to our physical, cultural, and spiritual realities.  Our world is everything inside the box.  Everything outside the represents the kingdom of God.  All the space surrounding the box, all four sides, is where God’s will is done.

The reason you don’t see a shape or object representing the Kingdom of God is because it can’t be contained.  It’s like a vapor or gas that takes up all the available space beyond the borders of the box.

As a vapor or gas, the kingdom of God enters our world from all sides and angles.  It presses in on every side and crosses over every inch of the border.  As the gas crosses into our space, it spreads all over and to every corner.  It starts out faint.  In all areas of the box, it’s possible to sense the kingdom of God is present.  More and more of the gas will cross into the box until eventually, it will become so dense that it will be only thing visible and noticeable.  The kingdom of God will replace the kingdoms of our world.

With this way of seeing it, the Kingdom of God coming into our world isn’t limited to a particular space.  It’s everywhere all at once.  Wherever you are in our world, it will be.  It’s mixed into world and impossible to separate.  Our word and God’s kingdom are no longer isolated.  They are cohabitating.  God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven, and no one has a monopoly on it.

Here’s why any of this matters to me.

It’s easy for Christians, for me, to isolate ourselves from the rest of world.  It’s easy to go to church, go to life-group or Sunday School, go to special church events, and hang out with mostly Christian friends.  When we do, we create our own little world within our bigger world.  Much like the shared space in the first diagram.

In our enclaves, we become like monks living in a monastery.  We cut off nearly all communication outside our little world.  We expect to experience the Kingdom of God in our separate spaces, but not anywhere else.  It’s limited to a particular space.

I’m learning God’s kingdom isn’t limited to any particular.  It’s everywhere.  It’s all mixed up in our world.  It crosses over into every space.  I can’t monopolize it.  I can’t control it.  I can’t contain it.

God wants us to get out and experience it.  In our workplace.  In our neighborhoods.  In our schools. In our ghettos.  In the poor.  In other cultures.  In other languages.  In the other gender.  In the old and the young.

Are we willing to go there? 

Where you experienced the Kingdom of God?  What does it look like to you?

 

 

Learning to listen to other’s pain

If you know someone long enough, eventually they will experience pain.

The last couple months is teaching me this reality.  A deluge of pain has swept across the lives of some of my friends and family.

My brother experienced the pain of being hit by a truck while riding his bicycle to work.

A friend experienced the pain of discovering a child has a drug-addiction.

A friend experienced the paining of losing a soul mate, one month after being diagnosed with cancer.

A friend experienced the pain of knee replacement when he was expecting a simple procedure.

A friend experienced the pain of being laid off from work, unexpectedly.

A friend experienced the pain of a son not able to handle the responsibility of college life.

A friend experienced the pain of a broken hip and the beginning stages of dementia.

In the midst all of this pain, I’m learning to listen.

It’s not easy.  I think most of us would rather do one of two things:  (1)  Avoid the situation.  It feels awkward to be around someone experiencing pain.  Most of us don’t know what to say, and don’t want to say the wrong thing.  It’s just easier to avoid it.  (2)  Give advice.  We want to help, which is good.  Not knowing what else to do or say, our minds easily rush to what we would do or say if we were in the same situation.

I’m learning that 99% of the time, I simply need to be available to listen.  My friends and family in pain need me around, but they don’t need me to bring heavy words with me.  They only need me to listen.

This may mean sitting in a hospital room for a few hours.  It may mean listening to good memories of the past.  It may mean listening to grumbling and complaining.  It may mean listening to self-doubt.  It may mean listening to tears being shed.

Who is experiencing pain in your life?  Are you willing to be present and listen?

Learning 3 Advantages of Tag-team Preaching

I had never heard the phrase before, “Tag-team preaching.”  People started using it on their own.

It’s been used to describe the experience of Brooklyn (my wife) and I preaching a sermon together.  It’s interesting how we’ve never used the phrase ourselves, yet every time we preach together different people will use it.  People passing by after the worship service will say, “We love the tag-team.”  Most recently, a friend posted about it on Facebook:  “Great service tonight Coy and Brooklyn Lindsey. I loved the tag team.”

Originally, preaching a sermon together wasn’t our idea.  It mostly emanated from the fact that Brooklyn and I are on staff at the same church.  Both of us love to preach, and both of us would love the opportunity to preach in the main worship services whenever possible.  So, rather than choose one of us over the other, they asked both of us to preach at the same time.

I think we’re going on our 4th or 5th time of preaching “tag-team.”  To be honest, I struggled with it the first time.  I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to do it again.  It’s growing on me, though.  We’re starting to realize what works and doesn’t work, which you can learn more about a previous post Sharing the Stage with a Woman Preacher.

Here are 3 advantages of “tag-team preaching” that we’re learning together:

  • Women and men feel connected to the sermon.  Tag-team preaching doesn’t always need to include a female and male preacher.  But, there is an advantage.  The audience is limited by one gender’s experience and perspective.  We received a text message that said:  “Both of you did a great job today.  It is not easy to go back and forth.  It helps women and men understand better.”
  • The audience is less inclined to get bored.  Today’s media trains us to expect a change of scenery.  Too much of the same thing quickly becomes a negative.  You know what I’m talking about.  Think of your favorite TV show.  How many times does the camera angle, scene, character, lighting, volume, and background music change?  Tag-team preaching gives more space for some of this change to take place.
  • Both preachers feel less pressure.  This is true for 2 reasons. The first is practical.  The pressure to memorize the entire 35 minute sermon is reduced.  Each preacher only needs to focus on half as much.  The second reason is emotional.  Preaching can feel like a huge responsibility, especially when you do it alone.  Tag-team preaching shares the load.  Whenever others share the load with you, the burden feels lighter.  Some of the pressure is released.

If you’re interested in seeing what tag-team preaching looks like, you can check out our latest sermon:  Overcoming Overload Part 4:  Simplicity.

Have you experienced tag-team preaching?  What advantages did you experience?

If you’re a pastor, have you tried tag-team preaching?  What advantages have you experienced? 

 

 

Learning to live with Simplicity

Simplicity isn’t simple.

It may be even more difficult to preach a sermon about.  Brooklyn and I will be doing just that this weekend.  Speaking a message of simplicity to our church.

As I’ve read books (mostly Richard J. Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity) and studied the Scriptures, I’ve come to a conclusion:

Simplicity is leaving margins in your life for the marginalized.

Our culture trains us to live aggressively.  We’re encouraged to conquer, colonize, defeat, achieve, succeed, and reap the rewards.  Then, once we do, we’re told it’s not enough.  There’s more.  So, we start the obsession over again.

As a result, most of us live to the max.  We stretch everything to it’s limits, only hoping it can stretch a bit more.  There’s no time for rest, or resources to be shared, or relational energy to give.  It’s all used up.  Nothing is left.

We live without margins.

In living this way, we don’t have extra time, finances, space, energy, or concern for the poor, powerless, and defenseless.  Our way of being pushes others out of the boundaries of our life and into the realm of marginalized.

God’s vision of life for God’s people offers a different view.  We see a glimpse of it one of the Old Testament laws found in Leviticus 19:9-10:

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

God basically says to God’s people, “you don’t need it all.”  It’s safe to leave some room for margin on their land for the good of the marginalized.  God’s people are asked to simplify their own collection to provide for the poor, powerless, and defenseless.

I’m learning God still calls God’s people to a life of simplicity.  Not as a burden to add to the list of legalism.  But, a re-orientation of life that makes way for freedom.  Freedom for the marginalized, first.  Then, freedom for you and me from our chasing after the wind.

Where do you need to leave some margin in your life?  Who are the marginalized that could be set free by collecting the fruits left over from the margins in your life?

Learning Tangible ways to stop Human Trafficking

This is a guest post by Kelly Green.  She is a writer, student, avid reader, and Christian leader in her community.  She is an active partner with Love146, an organization whose main purpose is the abolition of child trafficking and exploitation. She lives in Lakeland with her husband Matt, and two children Emma and Jax.  You can read her blog and follow on Twitter.

S.O.A.P.  Project

Can you take a minute to watch this news report or read the article?

http://www.wtsp.com/news/topstories/article/320873/250/Police-Man-held-two-teens-for-prostitution

Last week in Tampa two 16-year old girls were prostituted in an America’s Best Value Inn & Suites. The hotel owner had called the police about a disturbance, and when police arrived, they found the family of these girls trying to get them back. They had run away from home, and were being prostituted by a 33-year old man.

Last month in Polk county, there was a prostitution bust of 92 prostitutes, pimps, and johns. The Ledger listed all 92 suspects, including a 15-year old girl. Again, she was a runaway who had been pimped out.

http://www.theledger.com/article/20130513/NEWS/130519770

These aren’t rare cases. This is typical of human trafficking in the United States.
This is just what made the news right here in the last month.

Within the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 children are lured into commercial sexual exploitation (National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrown-away Children).

That’s just the first 48 hours. If you read about the bust here in our county, you’ll notice that many of the girls are around 20-years old. Some have been arrested for prostitution before. The average age that girls and boys enter into being trafficked ranges from 11-14 years old, according to Ernie Allen, the president of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Many of these “older” girls very well may have been on the streets since they were kids.

There are tangible ways we can help.

Our Love146 task force is taking on the S.O.A.P. project this summer. S.O.A.P. stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. The project was started by Theresa Flores, who was trafficked herself as a teen. Now she works to prevent this from happening to others.

The S.O.A.P. project targets high risk hotels and provides a monthly supply of soap to each room labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888). We approach hotel owners with photos of missing/runaway teens in our area and ask the staff to be on the look-out for these kids. We also provide training on what risk factors to look for to spot trafficking. Each month volunteers label these bars of soap and deliver them to the hotels. It’s that simple.

Right now we only have enough money to cover one or two hotels in our city, but I would love to have every hotel under $50/night covered. It’s such a simple, tangible way to seek the welfare of our city.
If you are interested in being a part of this project, shoot me an email at kelly_issakainen@hotmail.com.

Learning to listen to my own advice

To be transparent, it’s not easy taking my own advice.

As a pastor, it is easy, though, to expect everyone else to take what I’m saying and run with it.  It’s sort of my role to provide spiritual direction for others.  Couples come to me with relationship issues and I offer advice.  Parents meet with me about their children and I offer advice.  Students ask me about tough decisions and I offer advice.  Every Saturday Night I preach a sermon and in some form I am offering advice.

Recently, I’ve been catching myself off-guard.  It’s like the advice I’m giving is as new to me as it is the person I’m offering it to.  As the words roll off my tongue, I’m realizing I need to hear it too.

Within the last 6 months, I’ve entered into a mentoring relationship with two young (by young, I mean in their early 20s) Christians.  One is a ministry student completing an internship with me and one is a young  professional working in a family business.  I want nothing else but to offer every bit of knowledge I have to both of them so they will dodge a few major roadblocks and reach their full potential.

With both of these guys, I find myself giving clear advice with confidence that it is the direction they need to go.  I’ve offered direction on:

  • Creating Goals and Strategies
  • Not letting the past define you
  • Knowing your strengths as well as areas needing growth
  • Improving communication at work
  • Focusing on your own growth rather than other’s shortcomings
  • Organizing your time efficiently

There have been moments when I’ve given advice to one of them in some of those areas, and I’ve thought, “Man, I need to work on that myself.”

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’m alone on this.  Nor do I think it is specific to pastors.  All of us, in some form or another, give advice on a regular basis.  And most of us, if we are honest, need to listen to our own advice from time to time.

I’m learning I do.  What about you?

What advice have you given recently that you know you probably need to work on yourself?  

 

Learning how to keep winning

I’ve never liked losing.

As early as 4 years old, I can recall a passion to win.  Particularly, as it related to sports.  Every game was important to me.  Whether it was playing baseball in a neighbor’s yard, or in a city recreational league, I expected to win.

I didn’t lose many games during my early years.  I started playing soccer in Kindergarten and don’t remember losing a game until my fourth grade season.  In the three other sports I played (baseball, basketball, football), it became natural for our team to win the championship.

So, losing was tough.  With losses being so rare, they came with great pain.  Yes, I was one of those boys who would cry after losing.

A best-selling book I’m reading, Ender’s Game, has brought the concept of winning to the forefront of my mind.  The main character is a young, prepubescent boy (Ender) who is drafted and contracted as a potential candidate to save Earth from alien domination.  In training, he passes through the ranks years ahead of common standards.  At an age deemed untenable by most, Ender is winning simulated battles against the best commanders in the Battle School.  Now, he’s the highest rank commander, has never lost a battle, and has defeated the odds time after time.  Already feeling pressure to keep winning, he has this conversation with his Colonel Graff:

Graff:  “To what, commander, do you attribute your remarkable success?

Ender:  “You gave me an army that does whatever I can think for it to do.”

Graff:  “And what have you thought for it to do?”

Ender:  “We orient downward toward the enemy gate and use our lower legs as a shield.  We avoid formations and keep our mobility.  It helps that I’ve got five toons of eight instead of four of ten.  Also, our enemies haven’t the time to respond effectivtely to our new techniques, so we keep beating them with the same tricks.  That won’t hold up for long.”

Graff:  “So you don’t expect to keep winning.”

Ender:  “Not with the same tricks.”

To keep winning, you must keep developing new tricks.  New techniques. New strategies.  New methods. New…whatever you want to call it.

Use a new trick long and consistent enough and it becomes an old trick.  Predictable.  Reproducible.  Defeatable.  Incapable.  Boring.

Don’t get me wrong.  Many “tricks” are mainstays and should be.  They lay a foundation for all that you do.  I think most of us are good with these.  But, there comes a time when the new needs to break through.  I think most of us struggle at this point.

It applies to parenting, athletics, work, friendship, marriage, churches, organizations, and governments.  To keep winning or achieving remarkable success, you need to constantly imagine, practice, develop, and implement the new.

Do you feel like you are winning?  What do you attribute to your success?  What holds you back from coming up with new tricks?

Learning how to serve widows and single mothers

I received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize, it said:

It had been amazing.  Please continue encouraging your members to serve.  They truly were the hands and feet of Jesus!  I pray for God’s blessing upon your church.  Thank you again and feel free to share.  I’m looking forward to my husband’s return in August.  Please keep him in prayer until then.  Enjoy your weekend. 

The text is from Amanda.  Her story is unique, yet it is shared by so many women.

About 8 months ago, Amanda was 8 months pregnant.  With a less than 4 weeks till her due date, she was making plans to give birth without her husband by her side.  It’s not that he didn’t want to be there, he couldn’t.  He would be thousands of miles away in a country not his own serving his duty as a United States military professional.

A family came up to me after church one Saturday night.  They are neighbors with Amanda.  They said, “We have a neighbor who could use some help.  She’s late in her pregnancy.  Her husband is serving in the military overseas.  She can’t and shouldn’t be mowing her lawn.  Can we do something to help?

6 months later, I received the text at the beginning of this post as a “Thank you” from Amanda.  10 Families from our church served Amanda for the past six months by doing her lawn care.  In her own words, she says”

Please continue encouraging your members to serve.

Amanda realizes something she wants to pass on to us.  Her voice echoes through the lives of thousands of other women in our city, our country, and our world.  She’s not the only one who needs support.  We can’t stop now.

As a community of Christ followers, we are learning that part of our identity needs to  be caring for widows and single mothers.  It filters through the words of James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  

We don’t always do it right or on time.  We still have much to learn.  But, it’s something we can’t neglect.  Our ears must be attentive to the stories of women in need around us.  Our hands, feet, mind, and heart must be ready to respond to their calls.

Thank you to every person and family who served Amanda.  I agree with her words, you “truly were the hands and feet of Jesus!”

How is your church serving the community?  What advice would you give to a church learning to serve widows and single mothers?

 

One way a church can fight child hunger in your community

PrintIn our community, it’s called Kidspack.

Kidspack is a local organization that bridges a gap.  It seeks to fill the hunger void from the time students leave school until they return to school.   Subsidized breakfast and lunch programs provide meals for disadvantaged students at school, but there’s no promise of food when they get home.  Kidspack partners with community volunteers to provide food packs for the children as sustenance when they are not at school.

Disadvantaged children attend most, if not all, of our local schools.  “Nearly 17 million children live at the risk of hunger in the United States – or 1 in 4 that are‘food insecure’ not knowing where their next meal will come from.”  Kidspack believes hunger affects more than their bellies.  It affects their ability to learn as well as their physical, mental, and emotional health.

Kidspack celebrates meeting it’s goal of feeding 1000 children for the 2012-2013 school year.  By May 15th, the organization reported feeding 1011 children in 55 schools in 4 counties.

Our church partners in the effort.  Every other Saturday night, an hour before the worship service, a small group of volunteers gathers at 5pm to pack 240 food packs.  Once a month, members of the church faithfully sponsor one or more children with financial donations.  Every Friday morning, volunteers transport boxes of foodpacks to 8 different schools for drop-off.  120 students have food on the weekend through the service of our people.

Any church can do the same.  Here’s how:

  • Partner with an organization like Kidspack.

If you don’t have an organization in your town or near you, then you can:

  • Ask your local school(s) to identify students with a need.
  • Build a healthy relationship with the local school(s).
  • Ask permission to provide foodpacks at your local school(s).
  • Raise funds to cover food costs.
  • Develop plan to purchase food.
  • Plan food packing dates.
  • Organize foodpack dropoffs at local shool(s).
  • Repeat.

Maybe your church is ready to start something in your community?

 

 

 

Last Days are Here! Learning to walk through it with others

Every day we are one step closer to last days.

I’m not talking about an eschatological event or end of the world type of last days, though.  I’m talking about the end of era in your life.  All of us have already experienced a last day, and will continue to face more in the future.

My 6 year old, Kirra, woke up to her last day of Kindergarten.  Needless to say, the last few days have been filled with a range of emotions.  I’ve witnessed excitement, frustration, pride, worry, and sadness.  She has much to think about.

Experiencing this for the first time as a parent is a learning experience.  I feel unprepared.  I expected the first day of school to be a challenge as a parent.  I had no idea the last day would be as well.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve experienced last days before.  I’ve come face to face with the fear and excitement of a major transition.

Learning the care I need to give to Kirra during this transition has led to me think of others who are facing last days.  Last days such as:

  • The last day of high school, college, or graduate school.
  • The last day of pregnancy.
  • The last day of work.
  • The last day of a marriage.
  • The last day of kids living at home.
  • The last day of prison.
  • The last day of being a bachelor or bachelorette.
  • The last day of playing a sport.
  • The last day of life.

Every last day is a transitional moment.  It comes and goes with a range of emotions.  Some good, some bad, but normally a mixture of both.

What I’m learning from Kirra’s first major last day is this:  we all need others to help us walk through the transition.  A shoulder to cry on.  A board to sound off of.  A word of encouragement.  A voice of truth.  A strong back to help carry the load.  A party to celebrate.

The Church, God’s people, are called to care for others who are experiencing last days.

Jesus’ disciples had a last day.  They experienced a major moment of transition.  It was their last day with Jesus.  But, instead of leaving them alone to figure it out on their own.  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come alongside them with power (Acts 1:8).  The Holy Spirit was there to lead them through the transition.

Now as the Holy Spirit lives in us, we have the opportunity to lead others through their experiences of last days.

What last day are you facing?  In the past, has anyone walked with you through a last day?  What might it look like for God’s people to lead others through times of transition?