Colony of Heaven/Land of death – Jeremy Austill

“Jesus is not just a cover up. He saves us in our innermost, making us look like something starkly new in this old, weathered world.”

At night as I am tucking my kids into bed, I turn on music in their rooms. I made a couple of CDs with strategically selected worship music that serves as the soundtrack for their bedtime. The selections are from worshippers, poets, and artists such as Jason Upton, Rick Pino, and Jesus Culture. My son goes with the flow. He is good with whatever is on the CD, but my daughter has fallen in love with an altogether different compilation of songs. Somewhere along the way a children’s music album came into our possession. It has 21 tracks that harken back to my days drinking generic Kool-Aid and Vanilla Wafers in children’s church. One of her favorite songs is “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, and to hear her sing it is to be ushered into a land of cuteness from which you may never want to leave. If you are reading this, you likely remember the lyrics to this song…

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

It is a precious song, pulling on the childlike heart to open our mouths and with much gladness and celebration, tell the world of the arrival of our Savior. The message of telling the world about Jesus has been pervasive throughout my life and it certainly has rich biblical backing as a legitimate function of the followers of Jesus. And while I do not want to dismiss the power of speaking out loud the Good News of Jesus, I wonder if at times our evangelistic zeal has been used as a cover up for our lack of looking like the Good News. Hear me out…

I am highly familiar with the concept of an imperfect christian being covered by the splendid grace and mercy of God. This is not so much a lecture in holiness or a condemning of sin in the Body of Christ. Rather, it is the asking of a question which I believe is of the utmost importance in our present hour. Do we look like the Kingdom of God? More specifically, do we look like the thing we are inviting the world into? Again, this is not about perfection. Far too often we elevate what we deem holy living (i.e. not doing the bad things the Bible says are bad), above all the other attributes we as the Church should take on as citizens of God’s Kingdom. Think of it this way, as an American there are particular cultural, national and patriotic norms that help identify you as a citizen of this country. We sing the national anthem, have an affinity for the colors red, white and blue, explode fireworks in the middle of the summer, eat hot dogs and hamburgers, predominantly speak English, watch the Super Bowl even if you aren’t sure what “first down” means, and there are a million more norms that ingrain us into the fabric of our American society and give us a sense of identity. 

As people of God’s Kingdom, “not doing bad things”, is only one of many identifiable attributes. It should be noted, a tremendous attribute of God’s Kingdom is the high level of “tolerance” given to our imperfections and the enormous amount of grace and acceptance given to a broken and contrite heart in aftermath of having done a “bad thing.” I heard Pastor Maury Davis recently say when asked why he became a christian, his response was, “It’s the only religion that would have me.” It made me laugh…and then made me ponder. Despite what others would have you believe, christianity is the most “tolerant” religion on the planet. I know the Lord has certainly stayed with me in spite of my many errors. Anyway…

Yes, the ultimate Good News is that in my sin and imperfection, Christ died for me. However, the next layer of Good News is that we have now been made sons and daughters of God, are citizens in His kingdom and can live a counter culture life. Eugene Peterson says the Church is “A colony of heaven in a country of death.” We have been invited to look like heaven on earth. Before we can sufficiently tell about peace we have to look like peace. Before we declare the hope of Jesus it would be ideal for the Church to look like hope. The same goes for joy, kindness, mercy, love, etc. When I say, “look like the world”, the default thought most of us have is connected to sin actions and behavior. It is time we contend with our faulty language. To “look like the world” is to be absent the attributes and culture of God’s kingdom. You can tell me you are saved but at some point, on an individual level, we have to take on the virtue of Jesus. On a corporate level we must look like the better way, the alternative to the common of this fallen world. We must join our evangelistic zeal with a Church culture that reveals the truth of our message…Jesus is not just a cover up…he saves us in our innermost, making us look like something starkly new in this old, weathered world. I will conclude with an analogy Jesus made In Matthew 13, the Kingdom of God is like leaven, it permeates every part of the dough. 

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