Kingdom

A Response to My Article “End Times and Global Immersion”

During the past eight years, I have made four trips to Israel. I have participated in two six-month undergraduate and graduate study experiences and have co-led two short-term pilgrimage experiences for high school and college students. I’ve taken classes and shared meals with Jews, Muslims and Christians and have seen and heard uncounted stories of suffering and injustice. During my short amount of time living in Israel, I experienced many of the complexities of life in the Middle East.

Through all of the difficulties of adjusting to living in a new culture, the greatest was the confusion I faced as a white American evangelical. As Huckins states in his article, “Rather than immersing myself in the living narratives, I had been content with a theology and narrative that had been formed for me.”

As my life intersected the numerous narratives being told by the diversity of people living in Israel, I understood that I needed to seriously reconsider both the eschatology and the ecclesiology I’d been handed.

In North America we have the luxury of being highly selective and particular about whom we participate with in the life of a local faith community. Our freedom has provided us the ability of being able to divide ourselves by all kinds of denominational, theological, liturgical, political, racial and economic differences. We clearly delineate between who is in and who is out, who is one of us and who is one of them. Sunday mornings in North America more closely resemble tribal gatherings—each group closely gathered and facing inward—than diverse and interconnected expressions of the body of Christ.

As an American Christian living in Israel, all the ways I had been trained by our culture and my theological education to differentiate myself from other Christians no longer mattered. Participating in a community with other followers of Jesus meant more to me than it ever had before. The small church I experienced was diverse, strange and filled with beautiful tension. American evangelicals, Pentecostals, Messianic Jews, Christian Zionists, Palestinian Christians and followers of Jesus from various other countries and political persuasions all called this community home. Though there was plenty of bickering and arguing, I never witnessed it leading to actual division, neglect or hate. The truth is, we all needed each other to survive the daily struggle of life in Israel. As a legitimate follower of Jesus in the Middle East, you either accept the body of Christ for what it is—a diverse community that transcends race, theology and politics—or you choose to live in isolation.

The problem with the Western understanding of what it means to be a part of the church is that it really only helps our students understand what it means to be a part of church. Living in Israel transformed my understanding of what it means to be part of the church because I realized that in the United States we have constructed our religious institutions in such a way that we don’t really need each other.

As much as we all needed each other in the community I was part of in Jerusalem, this community also needed connection, support and encouragement from followers of Jesus around the world and in the United States. And, though I never realized it, followers of Jesus in the United States needed connection, support and encouragement from this small and unique community in Jerusalem and from other Christians around the world. We have failed to remember the words of Jesus—that our brothers and sisters are anyone who does the will of God,[1] not just people who look and think like us. This includes Huckins’ friend Mildad, the Palestinian Christian who lives in Bethany.

The kind of ecclesiological isolationism that many Western Christians practice leaves room for our other theological understandings to get distorted. We have allowed ourselves to get in trouble by practicing a weak ecclesiology, especially given the popularity and sensationalism of end-times prophecy and eschatological beliefs that include violence and despair. Our communities haven’t modeled what it means to hold ecclesiology and eschatology (regardless of our specific set of beliefs) in tension and have therefore indirectly taught our students that eschatology trumps ecclesiology.

As Huckins reminds us, according to a dispensational understanding of the eschaton, the existence of the nation of Israel is a necessary part of the sequence of events leading to the return of Christ. Therefore, many evangelical Christians support the nation of Israel in their cause against the Palestinians. As Huckins points out, what many of us don’t know (or don’t care about) is that American Christians are financially and politically supporting the oppression of not only the Palestinian people but other followers of Jesus—Palestinian Christians.

What dispensational theology states in practice is that it is more important to prop up the nation of Israel as a pawn in our end-times game than to stand with, suffer with and support other followers of Jesus who are being oppressed. This is not only one of the reasons dispensational theology is practically untenable but also why our students may not have a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

God confronts Cain after a dispute involving religion, jealousy and the murder of his brother.[2] In a rapidly changing world filled with confusion, tension, violence and possibility, all of us in the Western church are confronted by the asking and answering of Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If we’re to be the kind of Christians who can hold our theological convictions in tension while modeling and practicing an appropriate ecclesiology, we have to answer this question with, “Yes.” And if we say yes to this question, even if it is only in a whisper, we have no choice but to embrace followers of Jesus from around the world as our brothers and sisters and to actively pursue ways mutual connection, support and encouragement can be experienced.

This brave response will undoubtedly lead to the rethinking and reorganizing of our theological, political, racial and economic opinions, which might be exactly what God wants us in the Western church to do. For the sake of our own souls, for the well-being of followers of Jesus around the world, for the sake of our students—both now and in the future—we have to find the courage to take this step.

1) Invite leaders from other Christian traditions to speak at your youth group, or invite your students and leaders to join you at a gathering of followers of Jesus that looks different from your own.

2) Challenge students to scour internet blogs and news sites looking for stories (both positive and negative) about other Christian communities from around the world. Set aside a few minutes in your weekly gatherings for students to share what they’ve found and to collectively pray for your newly discovered brothers and sisters.

3) Don’t avoid difficult theological, political, racial or economic conversations during your gatherings. Inviting students to hold differences with others in tension will go a long way in the future toward them knowing how to exist in connection with followers of Jesus who are different from them.

 



[1] Matthew 12:46-50.

[2] Genesis 4:9.

My Child, the Marlboro Man and Interdependence

I was lying next to my daughter Ruby as she drank her milk and started to fade to sleep.  She often hums her favorite songs through the garble of milk, but this night she set aside the milk so she could nail every note of her newly assembled tune.

To the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Ruby began singing the nicknames she has created of those who are closest to her…the people she lives life with.  She sang (start humming Twinkle Twinkle to get full effect!), “Nena, Titi, Ani, Sam, Momma, Elmo, Daddy.”  Ok, the truth is out…yes, we watch Elmo.  But, the red puppet aside, little Ruby was falling asleep to the names and images of those that love her and those in whom she loves.  Not only was this adorable, it was profound. 

I’d like to think this song was the 19-month version of evening prayers.  Her very last conscious thoughts of the day turned not to herself, her toys, her dolls…no, they turned to others.  To those we share life with; community mates, family, neighbors. 

What would it look like if we all went to sleep not consumed with prayers for ourselves (or with personal details of life that I so often allow to take over my thoughts), but with prayers for others?  These are the prayers of one radically shaped by community.  Not just a group of people who hang out a lot, but a group of people who are intentionally shaping their lives in the way of Jesus and see life in community as the best way to faithfully live this out. 

True community is wrestling through life’s good and bad…together.  It is carrying each other’s burdens.  It is not just sharing meals, but sharing mission.  It not about building one’s personal kingdom, but about participating in God’s Kingdom. 

Life in community is exchanging the autonomous life of independence for a life of radical interdependence.  First between the great mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and second between ourselves and the community we have entrusted ourselves to.  The Marlboro Man (independence, freedom, self reliance) of our Western culture is a deceptive myth and the anti-thesis of relationships in God’s Kingdom.

From the beginning, all humanity was hardwired for community.  We were designed to find life in communion with God and communion with one another.  We can’t fully understand who we are and who God wants us to be outside of life in community. 

Ruby’s prayer-song was simple and innocent, but I believe it was a window into the divine.  It was a glimpse into the dream God has for his people and through childlike faithfulness I got to get a sneak peak of what that might look like. 

Thin Places Launch & Video Trailer

While I have been at work on the development and writing of Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community for over a year, the contents are the culmination of over 10 years of lived theology, story and practice.  While I love to write, this project has been uniquely fulfilling as it is the story of the life calling I (and my family!) have given ourselves to.  It is not abstract theology or philosophy, but rooted in real relationships and experiences from a band of Jesus followers who are seeking to embody the Church everyday through communion with God, community with one another and deep engagement in our neighborhood. 

Further, it is not my book.  It is a book about community that was birthed and formed out of community.  With the wise and seasoned partnership of Rob Yackley, I am simply stepping back and doing my best to share what God has been and continues to do among those apart NieuCommunitiesWe hope this sparks the imagination and practice of Jesus’ communities all over the globe. 

There is both a book and a DVD small group curriculum (which I must say our publisher -- The House Studio -- did an INCREDIBLE job producing) that would be ideal for communities and churches to experience together.   The small group videos were captured right here on the streets and in the homes of our NieuCommunites’ site here in Golden Hill (San Diego).

I appreciate your interest, am looking forward to hearing your stories of community transformation and would be grateful for any support in passing the word about this!

Thin Places releases June 12th.  Huge thanks to Jon Hall and Peter Schrock for putting together this video. 

Pre-Order a Copy!

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Forward by Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and  Executive Director at ReIMAGINE

Book Description

There is currently an abundance of conversation and resources advocating for the Church to move from her congregational and attractional models towards more holistic, missional embodiments of the Church that submerge deep into the neighborhood.  While conversations and resources are often valuable, it is essential that we move from conversation to tangible practices and practical application that enlivens our kingdom imagination for shared mission that is rooted in community and place.

NieuCommunities is a collective of missional-monastic communities scattered around the globe that have been living this out for the past 10 years.  In this book, we share our “field notes” — through theology, story and experience – as a way to offer a tangible framework of rooted practices that develop apprentices of Jesus to live on mission in the unique soil of their local context.

While standing on a hill overlooking his community on the Island of Iona, the Celtic monk St. Columba began to pray.  He described his experience as a thin place, a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated.  We hope this book sparks the imagination and practice of individuals and communities across the globe to cocreate their own unique thin places that aren’t simply a dream, but a daily and transforming reality.

Here’s what comes with the small group edition:
-- DVD containing 6 video sessions with Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley
-- 1 copy of Thin Places
-- In-depth discussion questions to help you explore each topic
-- Video Sessions

Week 1: Introduction & Listening
Week 2: Submerging
Week 3: Inviting
Week 4: Contending
Week 5: Imagining
Week 6: Entrusting

Our publisher just released the complete Submerging video session for free!

Pre-Order the Small Group Edition!

What People Are Saying About Thin Places

“I thoroughly loved this book and found myself saying ‘Amen’ at every page. A primer in incarnational mission by those who have lived it and taught it for well over a decade.”   ~ Michael Frost, Author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Road to Missional

“As God continues to call the church to it’s most powerful essence of missional communities, Thin Places offers an inspirational look into practices and postures that forge God’s people together and propel them outward.”  ~ Hugh Halter, Author of The Tangible Kingdom, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, and Sacrilege

“Over the past decade interest in community life and neighborhood engagement have emerged as significant themes for a new generation of Christ followers who yearn for embodied and holistic spirituality. To thrive, this world-wild movement needs practical resources, born from historical awareness, thoughtful reflection and most importantly lived experience. Thin Places by Jon Huckins, is precisely this kind of storied resource, a tool that can equip groups to practice the way of Jesus and make a life together in their local contexts for the good of the world.”   ~ Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and  Executive Director at ReIMAGINE

“The terms ‘missional’ and ‘monastic’ are all too often tossed around by Christians as buzz words, an unfortunate reality given the importance of both terms.  That is why ‘Thin Places’ is such a gift to the church!  Not only do the authors understand and protect the integrity of both concepts, but bring them together in a way that points us towards an exciting future as God’s people actively living into His kingdom”   ~ Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastor and Author of The Cost of Community:Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom

“The call of faith has always included living in community. The thing is, it is really hard. And there are not enough places where gritty community meets possibility. But, that is what I found in my time with NieuCommunities. These are people who welcomed me in, as a stranger and not only treated me as an honored guest, they made me part of the family. In short, these are people who know what they are doing in creating Christian community and Thin Places not only chronicles their experiences, but invites other communities to imagine how to do the same.”  ~ Doug Pagitt, Pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Author of Preaching Re-Imagined and Church Re-Imagined

“In the modern world of exponential speed and individual mobility, there is a growing hunger for a faith that can be lived out together… where we can be present… where there is an embodied practice… where the gospel becomes tangible in a particular place. NieuCommunities extends the rare gift of a transformative discipleship process that is full-bodied and place-based. Their longevity and fixity is in rich contrast to a world of quick-fix and fast-track!  ~ Paul Sparks, Founding Co-Director Parish Collective

“It has become painfully obvious to many that the religious atmosphere of the West has drastically changed. Are we Christians still to be a people animated by the Gospel? If so, than more than ever, we need small bands of people like NieuCommunities that move into neighborhoods with the Gospel in their hearts and shaping how the live to change our communities for the sake of the Kingdom.”  ~ Jason Evans, founder of the Ecclesia Collective

“You do not get to clarity alone. Gaining new understanding of what God desires of his followers comes only in the context of community. No one does community better than the NieuCommunities tribe who value both authentic life change as well as missional impact. For over ten years NieuCommunities has formed people who look, love, act, and live like Jesus. This new book chronicles their journey and gives those passionate to live different, for Christ, hope. I highly recommend this read.”   ~ Terry Walling, President of Leader Breakthru and Author of Stuck!

There is a “come and see” authenticity about NieuCommunities that is so reminiscent of Jesus calling the disciples out of fishing boats on the shore of Lake Galilee I can almost taste the salt air. At the same time, the “come and see” community is balanced by a “go and do” mission that gives me hope for inside-out change in neighborhoods in the global city. At a time when many are talking about missional communities, NieuCommunities quietly and expertly goes about doing it—forming young men and women and transforming neighborhoods. The vitality of NieuCommunities is less about what is being said than what is being lived. You’ll want to read this book and listen to their story.  ~ John Hayes, founder of innerCHANGE and Author of Submerge and Living Deep in a Shallow World.

“As the Church is rediscovering its missional ethos within a post-Christian culture that has been saturated with religious consumerism and nominal commitment, we have needed communities that could model a new path forward for us. NieuCommunities has done just that and I excitedly anticipate a book that captures their journey.”   ~  Kyle Osland, Pastor at Icon Church, San Diego.

”I have had the privilege of seeing the NieuCommunities mentoring year up close as a pastor of a church community in which both mentors and apprentices have participated. I can witness to the transforming impact their mentoring has had on people. In an age when we are so often (de)formed by default by the forces of consumerism and individualism,  NieuCommunities offers an alternative formation: intentional mentoring relationships shaped by kingdom practices of community, service, cultural engagement, scripture and prayer. Surely this way of mentoring is a vital pathway for re-forming the church to participate in the mission of God.”   ~ Tim Dickau, Pastor of Grandview Church, Vancouver, B.C. and Author of Plunging Into the Kingdom Way: Practicing the Shared Strokes of Community, Hospitality, Justice, and Confession

“The Christian Scriptures tells us that in the present life we will receive hundredfold in houses and for many of us that’s hard to believe but at NieuCommunities you get to experience this reality come true.  Where there is a NieuCommunities there you will find people with houses ready to share with all who come to find rest and it is by this commitment to hospitality that we experience the Scriptures coming alive.”  ~ Darin Petersen of Relational Tithe and The Simple Way

Sitting at the Unlikely Kingdom Banquet

neighborhood christmas party

As I scanned the room electric with people from such vastly different backgrounds, yet interacting in such dynamic ways, I couldn’t help but seeing this as a snapshot of the Kingdom Banquet Jesus describes in Luke 14.  All having been invited because of some personal connection with someone in our community, I talked with a New Age Spiritual Director, a Jewish Atheist, a local newspaper reporter, an expecting mother who had recently experienced divorce, a bunch of guys who we play sports with from our local community center and many, many others.

Each year we (part of NieuCommunities) host a Neighborhood Christmas Party in Golden Hill.  It is a time to celebrate and gather all of the dynamic relationships that have been budding forth in our neighborhood.  As a covenant community living on mission, our small band of Jesus followers has exponentially extended its influence through shared commitments of listening, submerging and inviting.  As the “Green House” (what we call a big green Victorian home that serves as one of our community hubs) filled with guests, it was clear that this was the culmination of what God was faithfully doing in and among us as we sought to be good news in the neighborhood.  Stories were being shared among those that otherwise may never interact and God’s Story was unfolding as a direct result.  This was a place where God’s dreams for humanity were becoming reality; a thin place.  Somewhere heaven and earth are only thinly separated.

Christmas Party 2

There is a profound connection between the act of extending an invitation and the work God has in store for all Creation.  When we invite, we are reflecting the characteristics of God’s Kingdom.  An invitation is the doorstep of a restoration to community.  With Jesus, God’s restoration project came to a culmination in the inaugurating of a Kingdom that would extend and be available to all people in all places.  Whether simply inviting a friend from the local coffee shop to a Christmas party or extending the radical invitation of Jesus apprenticeship to an aspiring leader, God’s heart and plan is revealed through the inviting posture adopted by his people. 

“By The Way, She and Her Son Have Aids.”

(My Monday “Travel as Pilgrimage” post will have to wait until Wednesday this week)

Teaching to my homeless friends

There is a soup kitchen a few blocks from our house that provides two warm meals for local homeless each day near downtown San Diego. They are the longest standing soup kitchen in SD and one of the only ones still open. Before each meal is served, there is a 30-minute service led by a variety of local pastors. I was asked to speak before this morning’s meal.

I thought, “these people have to hear 14 messages a week?! What else could they possibly need to hear? Would some simple human interaction go farther than another ‘sermon’ being preached at them? After all, I can’t pretend to have any idea what it feels like to live a day in their shoes.”

Adjusting my attitude and perspective (and knowing I wasn’t the guy to change how things had been done for the past few decades), I began to prepare by exploring what it could look like to share the tangible Good News of a Kingdom where the first will be last and the last will be first. A Kingdom where the hungry are fed, the suffering find peace and the hopeless offered new life. A Kingdom where Jesus is most evident within the suffering. A Kingdom that isn’t only a future reality, but something to be experienced in the here and now.

Walking through the doors, I was able to look into the eyes of God’s Kingdom inhabitants.

I’m always convicted walking into such places, as it is so easy to talk about injustice, but all to rare to actively step into the lives of those being impacted by injustice. Far stronger than the guilty conviction was the sense of God’s Spirit resting on his beautiful children. Most stared numbly at the ceiling or slept with their head resting on the table. They had all been let down at some point in their lives. Whether through abandonment, loss or suffering, each had an earlier chapter in their story that led to their current chapter. I recently heard that 90% of homeless sincerely desire to get off the streets. They don’t want to be there, but they are held captive. While society has in large part turned a blind eye to their suffering, Jesus announced that they are the center of his attention.

Upside-down Kingdom

I told the story of the pain, suffering and depression that surrounded the loss of our first child (Read More Here). We had so much hope in the life of that baby and it was instantly taken from us. I shared Jesus’ words that announce the poor, hungry and weeping as the inhabitants of God’s Kingdom (Luke 6). We read Luke 13 where Jesus describes the great Kingdom feast where the first will be last and the last first. I concluded with Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom is at hand (Mark 1) and that in the midst of the suffering, pain, disappointment and abandonment, the hope of God’s Kingdom is now. It is in Jesus resurrection that we can trust the Story of God as being good and leading to life…not just in the future, but today. Finally, I shared the news of my daughter Ruby’s birth just 7 months ago and the hope that her life embodies everyday.

When I finished, a young woman (I’ll call her Gloria) with a baby son came up to me. I saw them as soon as I walked in the door this morning, but hadn’t been able to connect with them. She put her son in my arms and shared how much she loved him, but was sad that his development was stunted. He was 10 months old, had already had one surgery and was scheduled for another this week. I could sense that she felt alone and even guilty for his condition as she didn’t know she was pregnant until nearly 5 months along. He put his hands on my face and smiled. I wondered if he had ever experienced the love of a father.

About 20 minutes later a women came up to me and said, “I know you’re close to that God of yours and thought you should know that both Gloria and her son have aids. She might have to give him up in the next year. Maybe you could pray for them?”

My heart broke.

As is often the case, I went in to a situation seeking to initiate transformation…but in the end, I was the one transformed. My prayer is that we both were.

I also pray that we will all choose to step into the stories of those forgotten by society and affirm the reality of God’s Kingdom come in both word and deed.

What faces do you see everyday that you sense God calling you towards?  What can you learn about their story?  How can you point them to the hope of God’s Kingdom through your words and deeds?

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