Our family recently returned to Columbus from Vancouver (Canada) where we were church planting for the last 5 years. I have lived in many places in my life, and I have to tell you that Vancouver is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Vancouver is this wonderfully diverse city surrounded by water and mountains. It is consistently named one of the top cities in the world for livability and quality of life. And it is also consistently named as one of the most expensive places to live in the world. So that really sucked for us as church planters! But like other cities around the world, including Columbus, underneath all of this beauty, Vancouver has a dark underbelly.
About 2 years after moving to Vancouver, we met a woman named "Kara" in our neighborhood. One of the things that our church planting community did was to throw parties in the park where we cook a ton of burgers and hot dogs and invite everyone in the neighborhood to come out and just hang out with us. It was a simple and easy way for us to meet lots of people. And it was at one of these parties that I met Kara.
Angela and I invited her over to our place for dinner one night. On the surface, her life was wonderful. Like many others that we met in Vancouver, she ran a very successful business, she owned a very expensive condo, and she worked ridiculous number of hours. She knew a lot of people, but she was desperately lonely.
As our conversation became more intimate, she opened up and shared with us that she had been deeply involved in various cults and Satan worship many years ago. She was no longer involved, but she was now living with this constant fear. She would regularly hear voices in her home that would keep her awake at night.
Angela and I shared the Gospel with her and then we prayed for her that she would experience the love and power of God in her life. She gave her life to Jesus that night. The next day, she wrote us a long note saying that she slept peacefully for the first time in years and that she was no longer afraid. Over the next 2 months, Angela met with her every week to study the Bible and pray together. Kara was baptized a few months later.
Upside-Down World and the Right-Side-Up Kingdom of God
Columbus, like Vancouver, is filled with wonderful people and amazing opportunities. But underneath all of this beauty, there is desperation, loneliness, and isolation. And there is this intense hunger to experience deep connection with others and with God. They may not put it in these words, but the longing is there.
Dallas Willard begins his incredible book, The Divine Conspiracy, with a story about a jetfighter pilot who was practicing some high-speed maneuvers on her jet. She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent—and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down. Willard says that this is the parable of human existence in our times. Not so much that everyone is crashing, but that most of us live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside-down or right-side up.
And this upside-down-ness is amplified in a city like Columbus where people are living at such high-speeds in order to pursue that degree, that promotion, that condo, that first million. And in the process, we lose sight of the fact that we are living life upside-down. We’ve gotten so used to living upside-down that it no longer bothers us.
Being the church in Columbus means to be the extension of God’s Kingdom, his dynamic rule and reign, to partner with God to see all that is upside-down made right-side up again.
Columbus does not need fancier church services or cooler websites. The city needs the people of God to embrace our Kingdom identity, and our Kingdom calling, for the Kingdom story which is all about making upside-down things right-side-up again wherever we are, whenever possible.
Whether it’s a neighbor, a homeless person, or that co-worker who is suffering from loneliness and depression even though she has everything that money can buy, the city desperately needs the people of God to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God and invite them into the Kingdom story.
A young man named "Charlie" moved to Vancouver from Taiwan to study English. He barely spoke any English, so we had a very hard time communicating with each other. He never said anything at group, but he kept coming back. Every week. It wasn’t until after a few months that I was finally able to understand a little bit of his story. It turns out that he showed up to our gathering thinking that it was a dinner club. He had no idea who we were or what we were about. He had zero church experience and he knew nothing about the Bible.
So I asked him, "Charlie, why did you keep coming back even after you realized that we were a Christian group?"
He said, "I kept coming back because I felt loved by you guys. And I experienced God for the first time in my life."
I met with Charlie every week to study the Bible together and share the Gospel message with him. But I also wanted him to participate in the Kingdom story. So, I took him and a bunch of other people from our church to one of the poorest areas in Vancouver. We walked these streets, gave out care packages, offered a listening ear, and prayed for many of them to be healed and set free from their drug addictions.
This was a very stretching experience for Charlie. But he also grew from that journey. It was a transformative experience for him. He got to co-labor with Jesus in seeing his Kingdom come. And whenever we walk closely with Jesus like this, we can’t help but be changed in the process. Oftentimes, doing the stuff is what actually helps us understand and believe the stuff.
After several months of doing life together in this way, Charlie received Jesus into his life, and he was baptized.
Who Is Your Person?
The Kingdom of God sometimes advances in the city in huge waves. But more often than not, the Kingdom of God moves forward one person at a time. One follower of Jesus waking up to their Kingdom identity, embracing their Kingdom call, and courageously stepping out to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom with one other person. One by one by one.
What about you? Who is your Kara? Who is your Charlie? Who is your person? Who is that one person in your life who needs to experience the right-side-up Kingdom of God? Why not give them a call right now?