The kingdom of heaven is not a place in the clouds; it is a city that comes from heaven to earth; it is a garden city; it is a city that is whole; it is a city where shalom reigns, where relationship is complete and restored, in every meaning of restoration, fully restored people to God, to each other and to Creation. The same Creation that God created good and seeks to restore has been fully restored through the death and resurrection of Jesus already, but not yet, awaiting its consummation and completion.
A city that is divided into little kingdoms is not a city where the kingdom of heaven exists. The kingdom of heaven is a place where there are no walls, where there is no separation between socio-economic classes, cultures, races, nations and peoples. It is a place that freely shares and gives to all out of the abundance that flows from God’s Spirit, ever-present and evident in all Creation.
The only purpose of the church is to live out this kingdom reality now as it waits for the full consummation and full manifestation of redemption in a broken, shattered and fractal world. The church is to be a sign, an instrument and foretaste of this already/not yet kingdom reality, rippling out, reflecting God’s model in the world.
As typical in most urban areas of large cities, Omaha, Nebraska’s most tangibly broken place is where the city once thrived. Less than 100 years ago, the north-central side of Omaha was the backbone of the city, but now it seems as if it is only a weight around an ankle, like a ball and chain. A part of our city has been left in ruins. Literally, left in ruins. There are over 2,000 homes on a condemned list and over 700 houses in Omaha are on a waiting list to be demolished – that is only what our city cannot afford to demolish. In North Omaha, for example, there are abandoned homes, acres upon acres of unused and unproductive lots of land, a growing food desert, lack of access to healthy nutritious food, extremely high fatherless homes, one of the highest STD spots in the country, a place where 80% of the homes are rentals run by slumlords, who take advantage and make huge profits off those who have little options, a place of high murder and gang violence, especially dangerous for a black person to live. This is not a place where God’s kingdom reigns.
This once thriving place has been abandoned, but where have all the people gone? A modern day economic Diaspora has taken place. Whoever can afford to, leaves for better pastures, fleeing west, south and north, mostly. This is not just a case of white flight; it is black flight; it is economic flight, leaving in its wake a wasteland prime for disorder, chaos and darkness.
The church, the people of God are called to be the light in the darkness, a lighthouse, a sign, and directional post pointing the way.
The growing economic centers of the west, south and north are just as broken, building larger and larger castles, producing larger and larger waste streams, from the flagrant use of money, creating mountains of refuse. Parts of our city’s waste could rebuild houses in other parts, feeding and rebuilding neighborhoods. Semi after semi load of usable lumber is tossed as trash in the dumps, while other parts of the city are just seen as dumps, unusable waste, unproductive people who wait for free handouts.
These growing socio-economic places are not free from brokenness; they just hide it better, behind their walls and castles, porn addictions, drug addictions, buying addictions. Violence is masked, sex is cloaked, and fathers don’t have time for their children.
There is no blame for the poverty, for all are impoverished. Where is the church? The church is in all these places, reflecting the culture, because the church is the culture. The church that God commands is to be a people set apart. On mission, together, in culture, but not of it, to be the light in the darkness, transforming culture to God’s culture of reconciliation, living resurrected lives.
What abounds in Omaha, NE is the complete opposite of what the heavenly city will be, it is not a city that is living now into this future kingdom reality. Revelation 22:1-2 tells us that the heavenly city will have in its center the throne room of God and from it will flow the river life with the tree of life on both sides of the river for the healing of the nations, the ethnos, the peoples, the cultures. In Omaha, the complete opposite is true. As you move out from the center in all directions, the wealth grows and grows, and the closer you get to the center, poverty increases. The abundance has flowed to the edges and the center is a dying wasteland.
What is even sadder is that we have been following a broken model. The center has been abandoned, and people have moved toward the edges in search of new frontiers. But the reality is that poverty in the west, south and north is also a growing problem. Poverty is also following the escapism. The wasteland is moving outwards as well. Without the center abounding and flowing, decay will continue outwards.
Our city might be becoming richer and richer, but the truth is most are becoming poorer and poorer. Not only is poverty moving from the center outwards, those who are younger, with children 5 yrs old or younger, the stats are even bleaker, with poverty on the increase. This is an indicator of the future of our city. Omaha, though growing numerically and geographically, is decaying…more and more resources are moving outwards, while the center, well you know already, in ruins.
The waste is wasting away faster and faster. This is a reflection of our culture, the greater culture that throws everything away. Shedding its resources, nutrients, minerals, water, and its life as far away as possible and as quickly as possible. Slow down the waste, slow down the water, slow down the decay. Return to the center, heal the broken people and places, brake the chains, proclaim it from the mountain tops, live it in the valleys, make everything level, peace and justice in every place, shalom.
From fractal to ripple, from ripple to fractal. We must begin with a ripple. Like a stone in the pond, we need to move from the center out. A fractal separates and disintegrates, a ripple moves from the middle together in unison and harmony replicating outward. Fractal patterns are usually destructive, ridges to valleys, streams to rivers, rivers to the ocean, lightening striking the ground, damaging. A ripple mimics and pushes outward as a mirror. A ripple is a target with a bulls-eye in the center. To hit the bulls-eye, to hit the mark, means no more sin. The church needs to stop fractalling apart and begin the ripple effect, transforming and being transformed.
How does the church be transforming? It does so by being transformed. How is the church be transformed? By going across cultural and socio-economic lines. To go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, is not just a geographical statement, it is a cultural one. To venture on mission into each of these zones means to cross cultural boundaries, to go to the thing that doesn’t make sense, rippling beyond their boundaries of place and culture. It is intercultural mission. The missionary statement in Acts was spoken to a people who separated themselves from the cultures around them. To love your neighbor, your community, your city, your nation, your world, yourself, means to go into those places, allowing God to break down the walls of class and culture. The walls must come down and boundaries must be crossed before anything can be rebuilt.
How does the church lead the way? The first step is to replicate and disperse intentional faith communities who live out the calling of the church, moving from the edges back to the center. Second, we must start where we are and go to where we are not. We must welcome others into our spaces and go to theirs. Come and see, go and do. A ripple effect is needed, both in and out.
But first, we need a model. In order to follow the model, we need a model to begin with. We need to start where we are. We start with our church building and we start with the home. The call of the church is to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. We must follow the zone map. Zone 0 is the home. Zone 0 is the Church.
For me, zone 0 is my house, my family. This means the best place for me to create a model for mission is to begin where I am. Come and See. Go and Do. The ripple must begin at my home, with my house, with my family. Our primary mission field is the family, my spouse, my children. My mission is to disciple, equip and train others in kingdom mindedness, in Christ-likeness, living sacrificial and redemptive lives to a decaying and “fractaling” world. I must invite and welcome others in, and them send them out to do likewise. I must invest in my family, but I must also welcome the other into my home, my space, hospitality, to heal the world in the name of Jesus, focus small, accomplish big. Now that is straight up Bible. Jesus focused on a few, and that few changed the world, enabled by the Spirit of the living God. To create a ripple effect, I must focus on where I am at, where I am comfortable and invite the other into that place. I, not I alone, but we, must begin where we are, invite others in, and move out together. We must move out together because zone 0 is not just the home, the family, but zone 0 is the Church. We must move from the center and move outwards, crossing boundaries of geography and culture, reproducing a kingdom reality of justice and peace, of grace and mercy, of lowliness and sacrifice. We must lay down our lives, our ambitions, our kingdoms, for His kingdom, for the Great kingdom, coming from heaven to earth, the throne room of God, a place where the abundance flows from the center outwards.
We must move inwards and outwards. We must bring people in, and send them out. We must ripple. We need to replicate sustainable intentional missional models throughout our city. We must begin somewhere. The only place where I can think to begin is where I am at and where we must go. I must begin with where I am and go to the hard places. The command to go from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth - Jerusalem, the thriving downtown, Judea, our suburban neighborhoods, and Samaria… What is your Samaria? Your Samaria is the culture and people we reject. It is those we despise. For many, in our city North Omaha is our Samaria and there are many other Samaria’s and despised groups that could be named. And the ends of the earth – there are no limits to the love of God and his rippling reconciliation and renewal.
Yes, many are impoverished. Yes, many are in need. There is need everywhere, there is brokenness everywhere, but let’s start in the center, our homes, our church buildings, our city centers. As people at the edges, as we invest in the center, we change and we become changed. Transforming others, being transformed ourselves. But let us start with the blatant and tangible. Let us become instruments of love, peace, abundance, planting seeds of the gospel.
Photos were taken by @Birdcage Release
What an amazing 48-hour learning experience we had! Great food, great people, dirty hands. What more could you ask for?
Thanks to Avi Pogel, Jeremy Hardin, and Andy Hillmer for helping to teach this course. Take a look at the photos of our time.