History of Christmas: The Music

19 12 2011

I am posting my friend Bill Petro’s “History of the Holidays” blog on Advent as our guest blog this month.  Bill’s insights into the subject of history has been a blessing in my life for years.

Music early became a marked feature of the Christmas season. But the first chants, litanies, and hymns were in Latin and too theological for popular use. The 13th century found the rise of the carol written in the vernacular under the influence of Francis of Assisi. The word “carol” comes from the Greek word choraulein. A choraulein was an ancient circle dance performed to flute music. In the Middle Ages, the English combined circle dances with singing and called them carols. Later, the word “carol” came to mean a song in which a religious topic is treated in a style that is familiar or festive. From Italy, it passed to France and Germany, and later to England, everywhere retaining its simplicity, fervor, and mirthfulness. Music in itself has become one of the greatest tributes to Christmas, and includes some of the noblest compositions of the great musicians.

Interestingly enough, during the British Commonwealth government under Oliver Cromwell, the British Parliament prohibited the practice of singing Christmas carols as pagan and sinful. Its pagan roots in the 13th century and its overly “democratic” 14th century influences made it an unsuitable activity for the general public it was thought and it was to be mandated so, by the Commonwealth government of 1647. Puritans at this time disapproved as well of the celebration of Christmas, and did not close shop on that day, but continued to work through December 25. This was true too in New England in America, where in Boston one could be fined five shillings for demonstrating Christmas spirit. During this brief interlude in English history, during which there was no monarch, such activity by the populace was to remain illegal. But this activity was prohibited only as long as the Commonwealth survived, and in 1660, when King Charles II restored the Stuarts to the throne, the public was once again able to practice the singing of Christmas carols.

No musical work is more closely associated with the Christmas season than “Messiah” by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759). It may come as something of a surprise that it had nothing to do with the Christmas season when it was composed. It was initially performed for Lent, but since Handel’s death this music is usually performed during Advent. Incidentally, the full title of the work is merely “Messiah” although it is widely but inaccurately referred to as “The Messiah.” The composer was German by birth but became a naturalized Englishman in 1726. He wrote “Messiah” in the summer of 1741 in his characteristically quick 24 days, and his first performance was the following spring in Dublin. “Messiah” is usually attributed to have been originally done at Christ Church Cathedral, but that is only half true.

While the Christ Church choir performed it, along with the choir from St. Patrick’s Cathedral located three blocks away (pictured at right), the actual performance was done at Neal’s Music Hall on Fishamble Street half a block away from Christ Church on April 13 (pictured below.) For a while, Handel lived about a mile away, north and across the River Liffey. The music hall no longer exists, but the plaque below commemorates its location. The premiere was a benefit for prisoners in jail for debt as well as for a hospital and an infirmary. Enough money was raised to free 142 unfortunate debtors. It premiered in London a year later, but under the name “A Sacred Oratorio.”

– Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

www.billpetro.com





History of Christmas: The Year

9 12 2011

What year was Jesus really born?  I am using my friend Bill Petro’s “History of the Holidays” blog on Advent as our guest blog this month…

It’s obvious that Jesus was born on December 25, A.D. 1, right? Wrong. What we do know is that Herod the Great (who killed all the babies in Bethlehem younger than 2 years of age) died in the Spring of 4 B.C. according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, and the king was quite alive during the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) in the Nativity story told in the Gospel of Matthew. So Jesus would have to have been born before this time, anywhere from 7 B.C to 4 B.C. (Before Christ, or before himself!)

Why is there a gap of this much time in our modern calendar? We owe this to a Roman monk-mathematician-astronomer named Dionysis Exeguus, known to his friends as Dennis the Little. During the 6th century A.D. he unwittingly committed what has become history’s greatest numerical error as it relates to the calendar. As he endeavored to reform the Western calendar to center around Jesus’ birth, he erroneously placed the date of the Nativity in the year 753 “from the founding of Rome” (753 a.u.c. or Ab Urbe Condita), even though Herod died only 749 years after the founding of the city of Rome. The cumulative effect of Dionysis’ calendar error, which is the same calendar we use today, was to give the correct traditional date for the founding of Rome, but one that is at least 4 to 7 years off for the birth of Christ.

Did you celebrate the Y2K change of Millennium in 1997?

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com





The History of Christmas: Advent

28 11 2011

The tradition of the lighting of lamps or candles leading up to Christmas is called Advent.  As we begin the Advent tradition at Mountain Springs this weekend, the blog of Bill Petro, nicknamed “Doc Rock,” is appropriate for a guest blog this month.  The “History of the Holidays” is written from Doc Rock’s historical insights.

Bill and I have been friends for 30 years, since we served together in ministry with Campus Crusade. In the intervening years, he has been involved in Information Technology with a number of high-tech companies and now specializes in cloud computing and virtualization. During all these years and more he has been studying and teaching history, and in the last couple of decades been publishing his articles online where they can be found at billpetro.com

History of the Holidays

The Advent SeasonAdvent means the “coming” of the Christ Child — is marked by the four Sundays before Christmas and is celebrated in the church calendar as one the most festive seasons of the year.

As we shall see in this series — many of the traditions, customs, and stories of the Advent Season have Christian roots while others have non-Christian sources. Some are legendary, and others are firmly rooted in history.

It is perhaps ironic that the actual date for the Nativity or birth of the Christ Child, which our Western calendar system is based upon, is not known with certainty. Indeed, the Feast of Christmas was not an early festival for the church, like Resurrection Sunday (Easter) was, and in fact did not see general observance until the 4th century. The western church did not agree upon the current date of December 25 until the early part of the 5th century under Pope Leo I, though this date for Christmas was first mentioned in the 4th century illuminated manuscript the Chronography of 354.

Some historians, especially in the Eastern Church, suggested that the date of Christmas was derived as 9 months after the Annunciation (to Mary) which is celebrated on March 25. This would place it on December 25. Many 18th century scholars, including Isaac Newton, argued that this date was picked to supplant the pagan year-end holiday Saturnalia that was celebrated by the Romans and many of whose customs survive today: decorations of evergreen, holly, mistletoe, feasting and the exchange of gifts.

December 25, the ancient date for their Winter Solstice, was celebrated as the birthday of the “unconquerable sun” or dies natalis solis invicti when the sun’s transit was in the lowest point on the horizon with the shortest “day” of the year and then with longer days coming began its transit northward. Under the Christian calendar the 25th was to become known as the birth of the unconquerable Son.

– Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

www.billpetro.com





My Top Most Influential Books – Part 2

7 11 2011

Francis Bacon once said, “Read not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.  Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  The following books, along with the first five mentioned in my last column, are books that I have “chewed and digested” like a fine meal, many times in my life.  These are the books that are dog-eared, have broken bindings, have been replaced several times over, and are still breathing and alive in my heart.  May these next five books serve as an inspiration and encouragement to you.

 

6.  An All-Around Ministry by Charles Spurgeon.  During a deep theological struggle in my life, this book of lectures to perspective pastors had a great impact in my life.  I often refer back to this book because of its cogent and robust perspective to pastoral ministry, biblical authority, and preaching.  Spurgeon organized a college for training men for ministry and at his death, over 800 men had been equipped for pastoring and preaching.  This book contains a few of Spurgeon’s choice messages delivered from the Prince of the Pulpit to the men he was equipping to be powerful preachers at his annual Presidential Addresses.  Twelve of the twenty-seven addresses are contained in this book.  Spurgeon said it best: “Learning is essential to preaching, but not the kind of learning required by University degrees.  There is a learning that is essential to successful ministry, viz. the learning of the whole Bible, to know God, by prayer and experience of His dealings.”

 

7.  Miracles by C.S. Lewis.  As a young believer, first hearing about the charismatic movement, watching my father go through many struggles related to conflicts in his church over the miraculous, I read this book.  Lewis’s book is a precise and rational handling of the possibility, and the probability of miracles, and it has always provided an intellectual foundation that God does indeed still perform miracles.  Lewis shows that a Christian must not only accept but rejoice in miracles as a testimony of the unique personal involvement and influence of God in our daily lives.

 

8.  Here I Stand: the life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton.  I have one of the original hardback books on my shelf.  I stole it from my dad.  Written in 1950 and still in print today, no other book in my knowledge has so beautifully captured in a readable way the life, struggles, and theological battles of Luther and the reformation.  Kenneth Scott Latourette, in the chapter notes for “Luther and the Rise and Spread of Lutheranism” in his History of Christianity, lauds Bainton’s biography as “a superb combination of accurate scholarship based upon a thorough knowledge of the sources and secondary works with insight, vivid, readable literary style, and reproductions of contemporary illustrations. It also contains so valuable a bibliography as to render needless an extended one in this chapter.”  As an addict for a good biography, I have read and reread this biography more than any other.

 

9.  Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Growing up the son of a Lutheran pastor who was committed to peace, activism, and civil rights, my mom and dad often spoke of Bonhoeffer.  Long before his name became prominent among evangelicals, I had read Life Together and Cost of Discipleship.  Like others I’ve mentioned, Cost of Discipleship is tattered and no longer has a cover.  Given to me by my mom, she wrote on the flyleaf: “To our precious personal disciple of Christ, Stephen A. Holt, Love, Mom & Dad.”  The opening lines of the foreward capture the essence of the book, “When Christ calls a man…he bids him come and die.” Killed by Hitler in 1945, Bonhoeffer died a martyr’s death many times before he died—he understood what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

 

10.  Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  Knowing very little about prayer and fasting, having never heard of the power of silence (even though every teacher I ever had in school preached it to me), learning the need for submission, discovering the value of simplicity (though I still don’t practice it), God has mightily used this little book throughout my journey with Him.  Foster covers the spiritual disciplines with a history for each discipline and its potential for changing our lives.  Dr. Elton Trueblood from the foreward says it best, “There are many books concerned with the inner life, but there are not many that combine real originality with intellectual integrity.  Yet it is exactly this combination which Richard Foster has been able to produce.”

 

11.  Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor.  This book is one of my all-time favorite biographies.  Yet it’s more than just a biography.  This is the story of the great missionary pioneer to China, but with a twist.  Unique to other studies of great men is the inclusion of Hudson Taylor’s inner struggle to find the power of God in his life.  More than just what he did, this book carries us on the spiritual journey of Hudson Taylor.  His battles with trusting God with finances, his struggle to connect with the woman he desperately loved, and the weight of a growing ministry, drove Taylor to find the spiritual secret of the exchanged life.  No book has had a more profound and lasting spiritual impact on my life as a Jesus follower and leader.

 

Reading great books, written by great authors who possess great insights, is the key to staying stimulated, active and envisioned in your life.  I hope this is helpful to those of you who are hungry to keep learning.





My Top Most Inspirational Books – Part I

31 10 2011

“Read to refill the wells of inspiration.” – Harold Ockenga.

I never read a book until I was 10 years old. Honestly, I hated reading up to that time. Then entered Mrs. Milton, my fourth grade teacher. She didn’t care that I was the biggest cut-up, talker and comedian in the class. She was the first teacher that didn’t send me to the vice-principal’s office for deviant behavior. Her look (might I better call it a stare) was good enough, and I began to change my behavior. She was also the first teacher in my four year pedagogic history that actually seemed to like me.

Mrs. Milton believed that the love of learning and reading was more important than just knowing how to do it. She called my mom and told her that she needed to “force” me to read at least one hour a day. I could read any book I wanted to read. The only exception to the “any book” category was comic books. As I began to read, I discovered the adventure of books! I discovered biographies, sport stories and real life drama.

After that year, I was hooked on reading, and I have been ever since. Thank you, Mrs. Milton.

The leader who hopes to continually grow spiritually and intellectually must be constantly reading books. A leader is a reader. Leaders should intend to spend at least an hour a day reading for spiritual, intellectual, and personal stimulation if they are going to continually feed their soul and mind. Without books, a leader will eventually wither up and die.

I’ve been asked on many an occasion to share books that have most impacted my life. Following are the ten most influential and inspirational books of my life. Of the hundreds of books I’ve read and the thousands that I have perused throughout the years, the following books are the most dog eared, torn up and reread of any of the others.

1. Bible  

I was given a Bible when I was just a little tike. As far back as I can remember, the Bible was talked about reverently in my home. My father was a pastor and he read from three Bible texts every weekend in the Lutheran church. He believed in and built his life around the Bible. With these influences, I grew up with the Bible in my possession. But it was not until my freshman year in college that I got turned on to Jesus and the book He wrote. When I discovered Jesus, I discovered His book. His book possessed me. It came alive in my mind and heart and rocked my worldview, perspective, and paradigms for living. No book has so altered every aspect of my life like the Bible, the only book that is “living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” So, after all the years, I still read and reread the greatest book ever written. This book like no other continues to invade my life, my passions, my tears, my heart, my mind and my spiritual blood stream.

2. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

I know of no other book that is more dog-eared and underlined (the best indication of an influential book) than my friend, Wayne Grudem’s book on theology. As a pastor, fresh out of seminary when Mountain Springs Church was just being planted, I was constantly faced with theological and biblical questions I could not answer. After the Bible itself, my first go-to book was Systematic Theology. I still consult it whenever I find myself stumped on a doctrinal issue.

3. A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems

The book is almost falling apart at the seams. Given this book in high school, I have devoured every poem from the great masters of “the music of the soul” (Voltaire). T.S. Eliot has said that poetry is “not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.” And that is precisely how God has used these poems in my life. Whenever I go out for a day with the Lord or fly fish by a roaring river, I often take this book along and meditate on my favorite poems. Some of my favorites are: “Road Not Taken” (Robert Frost); “Character of the Happy Warrior” (William Wordsworth); “Crossing the Bar” (Rudyard Kipling); and, written in my hand, on the back of the cover, “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Great poetry continues to be music to my soul.

4. Prayer: The Key to Revival by Paul Cho

Visiting Korea in 1983 and seeing the commitment to prayer in the Korean church had a huge impact on my life. The spiritual revival in this country can be traced back to the church’s passion for prayer. Cho takes you through the history of revival and prayer and inspires us with why prayer is so powerful. This book by the pastor of the world’s largest church has influenced my wife, Liz, and I deeply. I reread this book every year, being inspired once again with the power of prayer.

5. Desiring God by John Piper

This book lost its cover years ago. It’s underlined on almost every page, with notes written in the margin throughout. In Psalm 37:4 we are commanded to “Delight yourself in the Lord!” and this book “is a serious book about being happy in God.” (preface) The thesis of Piper’s work is that God is happy and we should find happiness in Him. The subtitle for the book is “the meditations of a Christian Hedonist” and Piper is convincing in his argument that all Jesus followers should be full of the joy of a joyful God. The greatest statement in the book, in my opinion, is the author’s contention that the great statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith should be reworded, “The chief end of man is to glorify God “by” (instead of “and”) enjoying Him forever.”

These are my top five most inspirational books. In the next inkling update, I will share the next five. Let me conclude with this verse from one of my favorite poems by Alexander Pope,

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.





Sea of Galilee and the Voice of God

14 10 2011

It was the spring of 2007 and I had just finished leading a devotional time on the Mount of Beatitudes in northern Israel. As I looked out over the Sea of Galilee, the flashing light of the rising sun across the waves of the sea caught my eyes and pulled at my heart. The Lord spoke to me that morning with the word “72.” The Holy Spirit grabbed my heart and enveloped me with His love. The infusion of His grace, kindness, and power overwhelmed my mind. I was flooded with the memories of His miraculous leading in my life. I reflected that morning on the blessings, the friendships, the mountains of goodness that were mine as a result of knowing Jesus.

God spoke: “72” and it was one of those moments where you instantaneously know what the number meant (which was even greater verification that it was God, because I’m definitely not that smart). I understood that the Lord was speaking to me about the next 20 years, and my age at that time of 72. The Lord led me to reexamine my life in light of eternity. Over the next few days, Jesus continued to speak to me of His plan, purpose, and power for the next two decades.

Upon returning to Colorado I shared with the MSC staff that God was leading us to seek Him for His strategic plan for the next 20 years. And thus began a four-year journey of prayer times, retreats, fasts, consultations and planning.

The Emergence of Mission2030

As we sought God diligently He spoke to us clearly in the years that followed. He gave us a deepening heart for the city of Colorado Springs; He spoke to us of our need to better disciple our children and young people; He guided us to revamp and refresh our praise and worship, to teach from the Gospel of Luke and Acts; He led us to make changes in our organizational structure, thus Daniel becoming a Lead Pastor with me. God sovereignly brought church planters our way to befriend, coach and send out. Word & Spirit Network was birthed. The vision for Dunamis Conference was initiated by God. The vision of training leaders led to the embryonic development of Convergence Seminary.

Someone has said that without goals, no vision is ever realized. God has given us clear goals for the next 20 years. Our prayer is that God through His power, will empower us to plant 100 campuses, 1000 churches and raise up 10,000 leaders.

We know that this vision is impossible. It is a God-sized vision given to a group of man-sized people who must have Holy Spirit empowered wisdom. We can’t do what God has called us to do unless He shows up, energizes and leads us step by step.

Cloud and Fire

I must admit that I am often baffled by God’s reasoning. When Jesus called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt He didn’t say that Moses would suddenly become a great speaker. As a matter of fact, he seems to have agreed with Moses that he was a lousy communicator (Exodus 3-4). God didn’t choose a seasoned leader in Moses either; Moses had been sequestered to the desert for 40 years! God didn’t choose a very obedient people to rescue. If the adage is true that “you can take the man out of his poverty but you can’t take the poverty out of a man,” the Israelites surely proved it. They were a complaining, argumentative, easily discouraged people, yet God called them out to be a people for His own choosing and purposes. God often doesn’t make sense of our natural inclinations.

Yet God did promise that He would “lead them by day in a pillar of cloud…and by night in a pillar of fire.” (Exodus 13:21) That was basically what he said and not much more or less than that. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s not very helpful when you consider thousands of miles of desert, no home, no fighting experience, no food or water, and Pharaoh’s army chasing you toward a watery wall called the Red Sea! Moses must have shouted to God more than once, “Are you crazy? Am I crazy?”

And it was at the edge of disaster that Jesus showed up in power. “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it… And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord…” (Exodus 14:16~18) Moses did what God said and deliverance came. The story of the Exodus is the story of a community of people on a pilgrimage wherein God led them clearly step by step. He used a cloud by day and fire by night. He led them and supplied all their needs. There was always enough food and water. Moses came to the end of his life proclaiming the faithfulness of God,

For the Lord’s portion is his people,

Jacob his allotted inheritance.

In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

and carries them on its pinions.

The Lord alone led him;

no foreign god was with him.

He made him ride on the heights of the land

and fed him with the fruit of the fields.

He nourished him with honey from the rock,

and with oil from the flinty crag”

Deuteronomy 32:9-13

In the same way, God is going to lead Mountain Springs Church. What God guides, He provides. Where God leads, He always meets needs. This is indeed an exciting time for us. This is a time of leaving what we’ve known to press out into the unknown.

We will most certainly have to be led with a cloud by day and a fire by night. We will need Jesus to lead us and empower us as move forward. The need for His wisdom has never been greater. But He will nourish us with His Word, replenish us with His Spirit and empower us with His presence.

Let us join in with the immortal words of John F. Kennedy as he spoke of Teddy Roosevelt,

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.”





The Downgrade Church: A Cry for the Real Kingdom

11 08 2011

“Markets Plunge as Jitters Grow: Downgrade triggers a 635 point drop in DOW,” is the headline of USA Today for August 9, 2011.  The article continues, “U.S. stocks sank in waves of stomach-churning panic selling Monday, following market meltdowns in Asia and Europe, as last week’s downgrade of the USA’s credit rating reverberated around the world.”  The headlines of the Washington Post on the same day:  “S&P downgrades U.S. credit rating for the first Time.”  The credit rating company said “political brinkmanship” in the debate over the debt had made the U.S. government’s ability to manage its finances “less stable, less effective and less predictable.”

With a week in which the war in Afghanistan saw the killing of 22 elite Navy Seals, and London burning after four consecutive nights of riots and looting, could the news get grimmer?  Evidently, yes.  On Wednesday, August 10, the Dow fell over 500 points, the 9th worst drop in history.  With the plunge of the Dow, “Confidence has already been falling,” said MF Global chief economist Jim O’Sullivan. “The (downgrade) further undermines confidence on Main Street as well as Wall Street.”  And it could get worse. George Feiger, CEO of money manager Contango Capital Advisors, thinks the prospects for double digit recession have intensified. With a loss of 2% in Dow Jones last week, and an almost 10% loss over the year, every major newspaper is carrying the headlines.  Economists are deeply concerned; investors are downright fearful.

The church is experiencing its own downgrade.  The last forty years have seen the church in the West losing evangelistic, theological and, most importantly, authoritative ground, at an unprecedented rate.  The church in America has lost over 10% of her members in the past 10 years (Pew Report).  Almost 90% of all churches in the U.S. are plateaued or losing members (Pew Report and Barna).  Europe has been in an evangelistic and theological downgrade since World War II.  When you travel through England, as Liz and I did last year, the great cathedrals of Christendom are empty, many of them rebuilt into coffee shops, restaurants and museums.  The UK actually has more tourists visiting cathedrals than actual church attendees in the entire country!  Could this be prophetic of the U.S. church over the next decade?  Maybe.

The church has been downgraded in its spiritual credit rating.  The evangelical church in general, and the pastorate in particular, have been thrown to the media dogs of suspicion, controversy and irrelevance.  And rightly so.  Giving the press gossip fodder that rivals even Hollywood—from sex scandals, money laundering, drug use and wikkileak level bedside reading, the leadership of the church has lost much of its credibility to speak from.  As goes the pulpit, so goes the pew.  And the pew is going the way of the pulpit.  Barna has reported that divorce, immorality, and sexual habits are of little or no difference within the church as outside.  This is alarming stuff!

But is it alarming enough to grab the headlines of our hearts?  Even here in Colorado Springs, a city known as the “Mecca of evangelicalism,” over 78% of its people never consider the church a weekend option.  They would rather go rafting on the streams of the Rockies than drink from the living streams of the Spirit.  Something’s been lost.  I hear much of the debate these days centering on tangential topics like: new church growth methods, multisite opportunities and internet streaming. Though I believe all of these discussions are important, in my core I know they are not central to the issue at hand.

I would propose that we’ve lost the central message of Jesus.  I would submit that the magnus opus of Jesus is missing in most of our evangelical churches.  The core of Jesus’ message was not how to grow the church, or what missiological method works best in a changing culture—though as a missiologist, I do believe these are important though not central questions.

People flocked to listen to Jesus.  They came and gave their lives to something bigger, something of a metaprophetic nature.  They packed the hillsides because He spoke “not as the Pharisees.”  Jesus had a teaching that transcended economics, politics and the Jewish law.

Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God.  He made it His central message wherever He spoke.  His very first and very last sermons were centered on the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17; Acts 1:3) He spoke over one hundred times of the kingdom; He said that He healed the sick and delivered the demonized because the kingdom of God had come.  Arguably the greatest sermon ever given, acknowledged even by secular historians, was a treatise on kingdom living (Matthew 5-7).  The most revered prayer of all time, which Jesus told His disciples to pray, is a cry for the kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:8-13).  In speaking exclusively about treasures and idols on earth, Jesus taught His followers to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:19-33).  When Jesus taught His disciples to preach, He told them to speak out, “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Luke 10:9).  Even while Jesus hung on a cross, He was accused of being a king (Luke 23:1-3, 38). Indeed, Jesus was about preaching the kingdom and demonstrating the kingdom in every move he made. He modeled a life in harmony with the kingdom of God.

And it is that kingdom that church leadership seems to have lost. The downgrade of the kingdom, however, hasn’t been lost on the people of God. They are tired of the emphasis on everything but the kingdom of God. From denominational squabbles over worship styles to how to make our churches more acceptable to the culture, the saints can smell out the confusion.  From cheap grace messages placing the emphasis on the American dream, political stands, and the newest cultural icons streaming down from Hollywood and CNN, we’ve offered everything but the kingdom of God.

We (and I include myself) have offered conflicts instead of communion; an American kingdom instead of the Jesus kingdom.   We have offered up battles over fundamentalist vs. charismatic, reformed vs. Arminian, individual salvation vs. discipleship, and the church building orgy, coupled with the social gospel vs. evangelical gospel.  We have fought battles on every front, many of them good causes.  But the causes have largely not been centered in the message of Jesus—the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is always relevant.  For the church to be relevant, we must rediscover and surrender to the kingdom of God.  We hold the keys of the kingdom—Jesus gave us the keys that will unlock any cultural, political, social, individual door.  If we can recalibrate our lives around kingdom living, we will be a people who once again “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  The book of Acts begins and ends with the preaching of the kingdom (Acts 1:3; 28:31).  We are the 21st century disciples of that same unshakable (Hebrew 12:28) and unchanging kingdom.  This is our time; this is our charge.  Let’s get back to the greatest Man who ever lived and rediscover the greatest message He ever preached, “Behold, the kingdom of God has come!”