Dressed for Heaven

-excerpted from “It’s Like This: Visions that Help and Hurt the Church”

I discovered that the work of justice still needed to take place in my life when I was questioned by a Black friend of mine.  “What’s the experience of being White in America?” he asked me.

I shrugged.  “I’ve never thought about it.”

“That’s the experience of being White in America,” he told me.

320px-Martin_Luther_King_press_conference_01269u_edit.jpgI can now answer the question.  The experience of being White in America is comfortable apathy.  It’s not necessarily malice or stereotyping.  It’s the mere disregard for the fact that you are benefiting from a system which disadvantages others.  The sense of nonchalance in the face of the struggle of a minority, the passive negligence of the other who must work against tougher odds, is the modern face of racism.  We may not have separate bathrooms, but we still have separate possibilities.

Justice is that outward movement of love from a simple compassion for others towards a determination to create compassionate systems and structures.  Love seeks to build a home for the homeless.  Justice seeks to stop future generations from experiencing homelessness.  The blueprint of heaven is not merely for an individualized faith that makes one a better person.  It is a plan for a better world.

Justice means living as though by a set of laws no one else has read.  Becoming a citizen of a new kingdom means living by the laws of that kingdom, even it if is still only a kingdom to come.  It is when employment is free of gender bias, when education is free of political slant, when relationships are founded in respect, society is awash with civility, and classism gives way to abundant generosity that it becomes clear the kingdom of heaven is infecting the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus told us to look for signs of it – that the lame would walk, the blind would see, and the deaf would hear.  Is it any less supernatural when unjustly shackled are free to run, the prejudicially blind are awakened to clarity, and the apathetically deaf become compassionate?  These are the signs that the kingdom under construction is coming to be.

The call of Christians is to begin to live by the rules of the kingdom that is to come instead of by the rules of the kingdoms we’ve inherited.

Standing in the Chicago airport, I was bundled in multiple sweaters, coats, and undershirts.  I had been summoned to be a groomsman in a frigid January wedding (for which I never forgave the groom).  I couldn’t wait to get back to my home in Hawaii.  Standing across the terminal from me was an older couple dressed in matching aloha wear, which, in Hawaii, is the equivalent of writing “tourist” on your forehead.  I couldn’t resist walking up to them and asking, “So where you headed?”

They almost shouted, “We’re going to Hawaii!” Of course they were, and everything about them said that they were, from their audacious outfits to their beaming smiles.  They knew where they were going, and they couldn’t wait to get there, so much so that they had already dressed for it.  They dressed themselves in such a way that no one could miss what they were doing, even if someone might be prompted to make fun of them.  And making fun of them wouldn’t have dampened their spirits, because their destination was just that appealing.

Shouldn’t it be that way with the people of heaven?  Shouldn’t we be so dressed for our destination that no one could miss it, so excited about our travels that it just oozes out of us?  The kingdom of heaven is so compelling that we can’t wait till we get there; we have to start living it here.

My book is available!

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My new book, It’s Like This: Visions that Help and Hurt the Church is now available by ebook at Amazon.  For everyone who cares about the church, It’s Like This is meant to be an essential step towards a God-sized vision.

Churches languish for lack of vision, and pastors often blindly misunderstand the way their congregations already think about the church’s vision.  Everyone has a governing metaphor by which they think about the gathering of God’s people – some think it’s a country club, and some think it’s a battle ship.  Some think it’s a circle of wagons, and some think it’s a kingdom under construction.  Identifying the metaphor you think best for the church is critical to casting a vision for the church’s future.

It’s my hope that any church attender, church leader, pastor, or visionary will find the book of use.  Enjoy the book and pray for your church!

Vitality and Vision

There is one key characteristic that distinguishes thriving organizations from dying organizations, and that is vision.  Tony Mayo, of Harvard, says “when initially describing someone as a ‘great business leader,’ the knee-jerk reaction is often to cite something about his or her strategic ability or vision.”1  Vision gives purpose to any business, team, or church, and without vision, an organization is rudderless.

The vision of any church should be to reach a lost world for Jesus, simply because it was His vision.  He himself said he had come for the sick, not the healthy and that a good shepherd leaves 99 safe sheep to seek the one who is lost.  Churches whose mission is to care for their own, or to preserve conservative ideals, or “to keep everyone happy,” have committed themselves wholeheartedly to rejecting Jesus’ call on their lives, even while they still talk about Jesus.

When a church has rejected Jesus’ vision, it picks a surrogate.  Leadership guru John Maxwell writes, “If your organization has a wonderful culture, but no vision, then you might really enjoy your time together, but you’ll never go anywhere.”2  Instead of reaching for a high-impact future, a church without vision turns to memories of the glory days and talks about how great it is because of how great it was.  It returns to the same leaders it has always had, the ones who provided it a vision in the past, because it does not realize that yesterday’s vision cannot be today’s.  I always read news articles about churches that have failed, because the quotes from the last remaining members are so revealing.  They say things like, “We used to have such great potlucks.  I don’t know what happened.” They hide behind claims like, “I guess people just don’t go to church like they used to.” What has actually happened is that at some point the church settled for life as usual instead of pursuing a mission to reach a lost world.  They traded vision for safety.

A vital church is one in which vision defines the church.  It decides what programs and activities happen and which ones don’t.  Vision defines the vocabulary, visual imagery, and public presentation of the church.  A vital church is ok saying “Good-bye” to those who reject the vision.  It’s not ok with saying “Good-bye” to vision in order to please the discontent.

Vital churches are churches that declare, “There goes Jesus!” and go chasing after him.  It’s a vision you don’t have to second-guess, rewrite, or pass occasional amendments to.  It’s his vision, and it works.

1 https://hbr.org/2007/10/the-importance-of-vision

2 http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/culture-vs-vision-is-it-really-either-or