Mike Cope's blog

Monday, January 03, 2005

"Already but not yet." That's a striking way of describing the breaking in of the reign of God. It has already come--but not yet in its fullness. We await the consummation when Christ returns. Probably most Christians find themselves leaning in one direction or the other. "Already Christians" are amazed at the power, signs, wonders, and answered prayers that are all around them. I'm a "not yet Christian." While I believe that the reign of God has broken in, I mostly see evidence of what remains to come. I can identify with the language of Paul that we (and all creation) long, groan, wait, and hope. I deeply love "already Christians." I need to be prodded by them. But I don't share much of their outlook. And it seems at times like their hyper-confidence is damaging to struggling people. When they talk about all the times God has spoken to them, I think of all the silences. When they speak of instantaneous healings, I remember all the people I've pleaded with God to heal but who died (including my daughter). When they talk about how God keeps pouring down his blessings (often meaning homes, cars, vacations, etc.), I think of all the people who become poorer as a result of their faith. They speak of a way of blessing. The gospel speaks of a blessing that involves loss and persecution. They leapfrog to Easter Sunday; the gospel goes through Good Friday and Silent Saturday. There are so many God-lovers who beg God to take away their depression, but it remains. There are many who ask him to remove their homosexual desires, but the temptations keep coming at them. (And for some of them it only makes it worse when they hear the testimonies of people who were instantaneously "cured" -- as in, "Why does God care more about them than about me?") I love these words from Larry Crabb (another "not yet Christian," I believe after reading so many of his excellent books): Modern Christianity, in dramatic reversal of its biblical form, promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world. The message, whether it’s from fundamentalists requiring us to live by a favored set of rules or from charismatics urging a deeper surrender to the Spirit’s power, is too often the same: The promise of bliss is for now! Complete satisfaction can be ours this side of heaven. Some speak of the joys of fellowship and obedience, others of a rich awareness of their value and worth. The language may be reassuringly biblical or it may reflect the influence of current psychological thought. Either way, the point of living the Christian life has shifted from knowing and serving Christ till He returns to soothing, or at least learning to ignore, the ache in our soul. . . . Beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have. An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity, but of realism. The experience of groaning, however, is precisely what modern Christianity so often tries to help us escape.

22 Comments:

  • Mike, thanks for verbalizing so well this tension that we live with daily! I for sure have eyes that see thru the lens of a "not yet Christian" perspective.....and lots of times perceive myself as lacking in faith because of it. As I grow older, my longing for Heaven
    continues to get stronger and stronger.

    I think Larry Crab's perspective is dead on accurate. Thanks for sharing that with us too!

    Your blog is a blessing to me! Thanks brother!
    DU

    By Blogger David U, at 1/03/2005 06:44:00 AM  

  • It's a blessing to me, as well! : )

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 1/03/2005 07:24:00 AM  

  • Wow! What a great piece. I am definitely a "not yet Christian". In agreement with the previous poster, I say thanks for verbalizing a very real and constant struggle for some of us believers. I like your way of describing "already Christians"...it's much kinder than my typical label of "holier-than-thou".

    By Blogger Jana, at 1/03/2005 07:34:00 AM  

  • Thank you, Mike. Timely. The challenge for me here is how to share this with seekers, and how to make it appealing to follow Jesus without assurance of relief from hurting in this world. It's like, "Look, you can have this abundant life like I do as a follower of Jesus! But sometimes it really sucks, sorry, can't flip the off switch on pain."
    I know I still have much to learn, and I pray that God will make it clearer how to express all this in time. I just know how many times I've failed miserably at this whole witnessing thing, and the responsibility and guilt I feel for those souls is great at times.

    By Blogger Clarissa, at 1/03/2005 07:40:00 AM  

  • You may already (or not yet) have a copy of George Eldon Ladd's book, The Gospel of the Kingdom.

    It is a great discussion of the Kingdom of God. It is one of the seminal works in the Vineyard Movement.

    Shalom

    By Blogger Ron, at 1/03/2005 08:34:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Is there an "already but not sure" category? It may be that many Christians are hanging out there. To make it to the "already but not yet" department would be quite a spiritual journey.

    What I would like to hear more of is how God is working in the lives of the "already but not yet" folks. Testimonies of those who have moved from "a painful past to a peaceful presence" because of the
    "breaking in of the reign of God" is where I find encouragement. To the "already but not sure" group, this may sound like an "Already Christian," which when making this assesment, they will probably change the channel. (Is there an "Already Christian lite" group? I recently read a book from someone I think was from this group and I found it to be inspirationally grounded in reality).

    Thank you for your challenging thoughts. Your blog is a blessing!

    Thank you for this soul searching challenge.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 1/03/2005 08:53:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Is there an "already but not sure" category? It may be that many Christians are hanging out there. To make it to the "already but not yet" department would be quite a spiritual journey.

    What I would like to hear more of is how God is working in the lives of the "already but not yet" folks. Testimonies of those who have moved from "a painful past to a peaceful presence" because of the
    "breaking in of the reign of God" is where I find encouragement. To the "already but not sure" group, this may sound like an "Already Christian," which when making this assesment, they will probably change the channel. (Is there an "Already Christian lite" group? I recently read a book from someone I think was from this group and I found it to be inspirationally grounded in reality).

    Thank you for your challenging thoughts. Your blog is a blessing!

    Thank you for this soul searching challenge.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 1/03/2005 08:53:00 AM  

  • One more for the "not yet" camp.

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 1/03/2005 09:10:00 AM  

  • For another interesting take on the "Already, but not yet" aspect on the Kingdom, go to this link, which is a sermon preached by Lee Camp at Otter Creek on the Lord's Prayer and specifically the Kingdom. http://www.ottercreek.org/sermons/the_lords_prayer_june_13_2004.mp3

    By Blogger Phil, at 1/03/2005 09:13:00 AM  

  • I read in Luke 14:12-14 today. It is Jesus telling about inviting people to a banquet and inviting the people who are poor & needy...people who can't pay you back. Doing this intentionally. The thought came to me that this is doing ministry, doing faith, doing life at a loss.

    This passage really has a lot to say about blessings, and it is not what the health and wealth insert-coin-here's-your-miracle theology says. Not only is life (or God) not even steven or me getting ahead, but I should intentionally find ways to live at a loss for the benefit of others who are at a loss already...maybe even by no choice of their own.

    If the people I serve can pay me back, fine, but it is a lot better to find people who can't. Market driven ministry (faith and life) which weighs a cost-benefit analysis is completely opposed to this passage, and yet listen, look, and experience the market driving the ministry, the faith, and the life of so many American Christians. My mirror gives a representative sample, I confess.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 1/03/2005 09:26:00 AM  

  • Put me in the peculiar category "already AND not yet." (Of course, I'm a guy who believes that the correctly-worded plea should be "guilty by reason of insanity"!)

    This life is so much more bearable/enjoyable by the presence of the Kingdom within and without; here and hereafter. The "pie in the sky by and by" is sweeter by anticipation after tasting just a tiny bit of the "pie now."

    I share a suspicion of hyper-confidence (arrogance?) ... of giddiness rather than joy. Like Paul, I've often received the answer "My grace is sufficient." And I'm just beginning to see how huge that grace is ... how much, much worse life (here and now) would be without it ... how incredibly rich life can be with it, even with nothing else.

    Grace answers the groan. It is sufficient.

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 1/03/2005 09:48:00 AM  

  • Rock on, MC. Posts like this only reinforce your hero status in my mind. Thanks, man! You bless us so much. I am looking forward to having some time with you and everyone in Cali.

    By Blogger Brandon Scott, at 1/03/2005 11:00:00 AM  

  • There is so much I have to learn and I'm thankful to be able to "sit at your feet". Sometimes I feel like I need permission to think outside of the box I grew up in. I find that permission AND I'm challenged every week through your blogs. Thanks for making me think, and for continually pointing me to Jesus.

    By Blogger Niki, at 1/03/2005 12:24:00 PM  

  • Mike, as usual, I'm off on a parallel universe from everyone else. ;o) Is it really a case of "either or" - maybe there is another position that combines a bit of both sides.

    I read Paul decrying his 'thorn in the flesh' and as Keith mentioned, God answering Paul with "...my grace is sufficient..." - yet God also heard the cries of barren women and cries of parents with sick children, some were healed, and in some cases, new babies were born. He also has said, John 21: 22Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” And again, He has told us through Paul that He is "the God of all comfort..."

    This continues to be a fallen world and tragedies will always dog the human race until Jesus returns to bring His new heaven and new earth. IMHO, all of His decisions in our lives are learning opportunities for us, maturing circumstances, and a time for reflection of our faith that He truly is in control. It's okay to ask "why?", Jesus did from the Cross, but God isn't required to answer our question.

    When there are "miraculous" healings and events, I rejoice with the rejoicers. When tragedy hits, I mourn with them and in all these circumstances I try to remember He IS there - this all belongs to Him.

    Balance is a word I guess I'm looking for. Again, imho, neither of the extremes you have painted quite get the whole picture, if I may be so bold as to disagree with you, my dear Pastor. When we become His obedient children He does not release us from the pain of physical illnesses, aches, pains, unhappiness, sadness, and eventual death. But along with all those groanings He accompanies us, lifting us up with His promises of the "to come" - giving us of His comfort that we might comfort others that suffer and through all our problems, learn to rely totally on Him.

    We continue to spin in the universe around our sun and His Son, experiencing some bright daylight of joy and also some dark nights of pain.

    To learn to rely totally on Him, have total trust in Him is probably one of the greatest miracles He bestows on us. That's when I find my heart and eyes open up to daily miracles of beauty in His creation and the great gift of a capacity to love. Without Him, how would we know how to truly love one another?

    I'm almost certain these ramblings of mine have absolutely nothing to do with what you wrote, but these are the thoughts your words brought to my mind and I also keep remembering, Ephesians 2:6-7 (NIV)
    6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

    By Blogger Kathy, at 1/03/2005 02:36:00 PM  

  • I think the "already" and "not yet" groups may be separated more by our own expectations than anything else. If we expect to be blessed materially, tangibly, measurably by our walk, those blessings may or may not come. But if our EXPECTATION is to live at a loss for others (I like your wording, Fajita), we will reap the consequences of that lifestyle both here and when the "not yet" kingdom comes. The way I see it, it's all part of the upside down (from a human standpoint) gospel. Lose your life to save it. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If a man asks for your coat, give him your cloak also. Mix this in with the fact that Christianity does not bring with it immunity from troubles, and it seems like an odd way to run a railroad. Completely backwards from our natural, selfish inclination, and it has to be tried to be found, not the other way around.

    By Blogger don, at 1/03/2005 03:04:00 PM  

  • God's love is a many, many splendored thing. We all get our glimpses of Heaven from many corners of the earth. Fortunately, God's house has many rooms. If it were not so, He would have not told us so. Christians by many, many camps smell as sweet. Diversity of philosophical viewpoints within the kingdom do make for greater love, many sweet smells, many rooms in the Father's house.

    By Blogger WDS, at 1/03/2005 07:12:00 PM  

  • Mike, I am right with you. If it is already here, then, I must be missing something. I know there are good times here but how do you explain how God would let his kingdom be so hard for so many people? I have such a hard time when people try to explain away someone's hardship...if you just do this...if you just will pray this way...just read this scripture...it's because you didn't deal with your child in the right way...you weren't a good enough wife.......if you would've just done these things...it would all be okay and God will bless you. Or...look at me...God has blessed me with all these things...a beautiful house, wonderful children, a loving husband, so many talents...and not everyone has those things...so does God only bless certain people? Okay, I am rambling but it can't be here already because I don't want to live in this forever and I know there are millions out there who would say the same. Maybe my theology is a little warped but it just comes from what I have experienced.
    grace, Julie

    By Blogger julie, at 1/03/2005 07:44:00 PM  

  • During younger more cynical days I used to refer to what I called "Outer Space Christianity." I pray I have matured considerably since then, but that rather rude one sided phrase was in reaction to my inability to relate. I always felt somehow less than. It's a balm deep within my soul to know that brothers and sisters hurt and get really discouraged just like me, and that together we can help each other during those difficult times to see the light of God breaking through dark clouds. Mike, God continues to bless so many people through your life and testimony which shines so brightly in your writing.

    By Blogger Brian Hudspeth, at 1/03/2005 09:32:00 PM  

  • Thank you for opeing the eyes of a minister who thought the world needed to be "Already Chrisitans."

    By Blogger Josh, at 1/04/2005 10:35:00 AM  

  • We on this a few weeks ago but you nailed it today. I used to think I was not a "great Christian" because I to thought all those things and felt all those things as people describe their blessings, relationships, and healings. So good to see your thoughts on this. You bless so many with this blog!

    By Blogger SG, at 1/04/2005 06:28:00 PM  

  • Such a perspective is what prompted Landon Saunders to say that he better relates to and feels more comfortable around "outsiders" than "insiders."

    By Blogger MarkS, at 1/05/2005 05:21:00 AM  

  • Isn't it interesting how healing or "wholeness" does not always present itself like we think it must. And to expect God to make us whole by restoring what we think we are lacking can result in us limiting his power in our lives.

    Gary Smalley used to talk about the bonds that families form when they go camping. It wasn't the camping so much as it was the sharing of conflict or struggle. Perhaps, it is the experiencing of conflict, even tragedy and sharing it with God that bonds us with him most deeply.

    Still, I am all for praying for the miracle and praising God when it happens, even to someone else. Yes.....I am all for it, but it is often easier said
    than done, and my feelings don't always follow suit when I think God has passed me by.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 1/05/2005 09:02:00 AM  

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