Growing up I had the coolest tree fort in my neighborhood. I'm not bragging, I lived in a rural community and there were only 3 other kids on my 2 mile-long road so that wasn't a hard contest to win. However, my fort was pretty epic. It was one of those multi-level forts with balance beams, ropes, and make-shift ladders connecting the platforms. I laugh today thinking back to the way my craftsmanship developed over the summer I spent building it when I was 10. The first platform was strewn with dozens of bent nails and was probably not safe in any way. By August I had grown to slightly less-shoddy work and was driving the majority of my nails correctly. I was proud of it. It was my ewok jungle. It was my castle. My domain. Countless sagas were played out in that fort. All of my people were invited into adventures at the fort - just no girls. My word and rules were law.
This week during church I had a half-revelation - one of those moments where you realize something you think you've known for a long time. We were reading Acts and I started to think about the Israelites. They were God's people. They were called into the greatest adventure-story of all time as the people chosen by God. They were even given 10 commandments to follow to abide in a relationship with God. Yet they messed it up. They weren't content. Their 10 commandments became 613 laws. Following the law quickly became prioritized over their relationship with God. They were totally closed off to the rest of the world. God had become a personalized-God that was only for them. They became exclusive. They became a fort. It would be impossible to follow God by their standards if you weren't a Jew and following those 613 laws. At its worst, a fort is a closed off space. At its worst it is a club.
The Kingdom of God is inclusive.
The Kingdom is for everyone.
Scripture: Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." Acts 10:34-36.
The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Peter was hitting the nail on the head. These weren't just casual words. This would have been a seismic paradigm shift for the crowd Peter was preaching to. Many of them were people that would have seen or heard about Jesus' earthly ministry. They would have known that Jesus loved, healed, and spoke truth into all people. Many in the crowd would have been followers of The Way - people trying to follow Jesus' teachings in a pre-organized Church. However, even after seeing the proof of Jesus' wide-swept acceptance they were still getting stuck on laws. They were picking knits. This passage would have called out a mentality shift for follower's of the way. Peter's words called them to no longer be all about the law or the rules of the fort - but all about Jesus.
Sometimes I'm afraid of being more concerned or focused on my fort than on the Kingdom. I could have hundreds of students in my fort but if I'm not actively engaging them in a bigger story by pushing the reach outside of our walls then I am not helping give the most full picture of the Kingdom possible.
What would it look like for us to break down our walls and be unified on serving the Kingdom together? Sacrificing programs for serving. Trading radical fun for radical Love. People - students especially - won't stay forever because of a program. Eventually something else will be "better," will be more fun. People stay because of what you believe. Belief is sticky. Belief is something you can build your life on.
This shift takes time. It takes breaking down the walls of what is easy and comfortable and going outside of our comfort zones. I think we are doing it, but I'm so excited to keep conversations going. We've spent an entire semester in conversation with other youth leaders, church leaders, and community members regarding collaboration. This has been such a good start. But there is still so much work to be done.
Follow up: join in! Actively serve in the community you are in. Be part of shifting from building forts to contributing to the Kingdom wherever you are.