The Building Blocks

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Identity

Our identity shapes our view of the world, and our movement through it. Our identity is most easily summed up to say it is all by Jesus, for Jesus, and about Jesus. Just as there is nothing we can add to his victory, so also Romans 5:6-11 makes explicitly clear: that at the right time Christ died for our reconciliation. What is that right time? In verse 6: “while we were helpless”; verse 8: “while we were still sinners”; and verse 10: “while we were enemies [of Christ]”. Jesus is the beginning. He pre-existed Abraham, and he made reconciliation possible without our permission and without our asking – in fact, he did so despite our best efforts to thwart him.

Jesus is also the middle – he is the meat of it: our Light, our Bread, our Shepherd. He is not only with us on the journey, but he both creates the journey and guides us in it. More than that, Jesus is the means by which we live and by whom we are able to do any ministry.

Most amazing, he is the end: in that he has already defeated sin, Satan, and death; but more than that also: he is our reward! (cf. Habakkuk 2:14, Jeremiah 31:14, Revelation 21:23) It is Christ whom we receive in full at the conclusion of it all – after all our toil and struggle, after all that is or is not accomplished: we receive Christ in full.

If this isn’t explicit enough, Paul says,

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

Our Identity is by Jesus because he is the beginning – the origin, the fuel, the source that makes it all happen: our very breath is from him. It is for Jesus because he is the middle – we live and work through his grace and Spirit in us. It is about Jesus because he is the end; getting more of him is what it’s all about! In everything we do, we do it not to ourselves but to him.

Character

This identity spurs our character. As Christ is seated enthroned above it all, and everything circles around him and his glory, there seems to be a few primary postures toward God, the Body, and the lost that play expansive and pivotal roles in our ability to reflect the character of God to our dying world.

Humility: Rooted within us. Humility is inspired by a right understanding of who God is and who we are in light of him. It has even been said that, rather than a virtue, humility is simply the only possible reaction to the presence of the Holy God.

Unity: Shared with believers. Our primary evangelistic tool as outlined by Jesus. More than program, charisma, strategy, or STAT presentation, unity will be the primary flag to those around us that our King is greater.

Shalom: Shared with the world. Shalom is bringing the Kingdom here and now. Essentially, shalom is moving into a place of right relationship with God, right relationship with each other, right relationship with Creation.

These three characteristics are the fundamental bedrock to community life in Jesus. Building a solid foundation on these Core Characteristics must come before strategy and program. Not only this, but I am convinced that returning to these three root character traits will be the means to carry on in your calling.

It is not something to check off a list and move beyond. It is something that embeds itself deeply within you. As your community grows, multiplies, launches, struggles, collapses, revives, energizes, and transforms, it will be a constant circling back to these three fundamental building blocks: humility, unity, and shalom.

Movement

Most churches I have participated in (and every para-church organization or mission work) has had a heavy focus on the motions of Christian life: the activity, busyness, and program – which, itself, is only a small part of what we will call Movement in this book. Giving the benefit of the doubt, let’s presume that most churches simply assume we all have a solid Identity and Character, and so they talk a lot about Christian activity.

If we trust the polling agencies and psychologists, however, it would seem that most of us don’t have a solid, clear, unshakable grasp on our identity in Christ and the character that flows from that identity. How then can we possibly be in movement with the Spirit and will of God without being keenly aware of our identity in him? Successful and Kingdom-advancing community must flow in this order and with this priority: Identity, Character, Movement. Our Movement is actually just the exhaust of the internal combustion of a life transformed by a radical identity and profound character.

And that is the crux of it: if we focus our attention on our identity in Christ and make our work the shaping of our own hearts through a right understanding of Christ, explosive and attractive community on mission is bound to follow. Yet if we just focus on creating (by great effort and clever programs) explosive and attractive community and mission we usually miss Jesus in it and wind up failing.

Movement, as we will talk about it in this book, is the act of us moving from a place of brokenness to a place of restoration that reflects the original creative design of our person. Our Movement is the journey of God in our lives, as we move toward him by his Spirit (and everything else that naturally flows from doing so).

Tying it all together

The progression from understanding Identity, being shaped by Character, and thrust out in Movement is the context by which Kingdom communities flourish. In my short life and limited experience, I’ve seen this to be true across geography, culture, and demographic. To sum up:

The Building Blocks

Identity Character Movement
By Jesus ⇒ ⇐ Humility ⇒ ⇐ Rescue
About Jesus ⇒ ⇐ Unity ⇒ ⇐ Reconciliation
For Jesus ⇒ ⇐ Shalom ⇒ ⇐ Restoration

Reversing our Natural Tendency

I think most of us prefer to start with what we can see and move inward toward what we cannot see. We would prefer to start with Movement and work backward to Identity: we would prefer to say that our Rescue leads us to Humility which leads us to recognize that it is all By Jesus. However, the risk in this is that for most of us, the stuff on the surface doesn’t trace back to such a clear Identity.

If we base our Identity off our behavior (i.e. Movement), then we are getting the cart in front of the horse. It may require a bit of “retraining” our brains and hearts, but if we can begin with Identity we will always get a Gospel-centered Movement – I cannot guarantee the reverse. While I would hope that each of us, once rescued, would immediately connect that it is all By Jesus, I suspect this isn’t always the case: perhaps sometimes, when people “give their lives to the Lord” other motives besides Humility have fueled the decision.

When we start with Identity first we always get Jesus-centered Character and Spirit-fueled Movement.

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