The story of Jesus is a story of a king coming to claim His throne and establish Kingdom. As the community of people who have been called into existence by Jesus, the church, then, exists to remind the rest of the world that a new order, a new reality, has now broken into this age. It should not produce a triumphalistic or imperialistic crusaders. Rather, living in loyalty to, with faith in, Jesus means living in the light of His triumph over sin and death and evil. It means learning to live the way of life that Jesus demonstrated and proclaimed.
I think churches are meant to be places where men and women can begun to experience and understand what life is like under God’s rule. One of my favorite authors, Lesslie Newbigin asked the critical question:
“How is it possible that the Gospel should be credible, that people would come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society)
What I think he means is that the only way the Gospel can be understood to people who live outside the Kingdom is when they see it lived out by a tangible community of Christians in a particular place. The implicit challenge, then, for the church, is that they need to be less concerned with being the socially respectable conformist places that far too many have become. Instead, recapturing that early sense of ekklesia, they would look more like small revolutionary cells which spread throughout the known world provoking riots by challenging this present evil age. Churches might want to become communities that live by Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom, committed to loyalty to Him and the way of life He laid out for His followers. The consequence just might be a provocative reminder to those outside the Kingdom of Jesus’ rule and reign.
Great article by Pat Forde, ESPN, on OSU Basketball and freshman phenom, Greg Oden:
“Three games in, it’s time to abandon understatement and speak the staggering truth: 75 percent of Oden could be enough to lift Ohio State to the national championship.”
Looking ahead to 2007 (holy cow!) I wonder how I can help create an atmosphere that is encouraging, and supportive, of the evangelistic efforts of the church. The key, I think, is the attitude of our heart. A famous Anglican Bishop once said, the whole essence of evangelism is one hungry man telling another where to find bread.
So, how can we develop hearts that will produce an outreach oriented church? This is some of what I’m thinking:
Adopt the “apostolic” attitude found in Romans 1.5-6: “Through Him (Jesus) and for His name’s sake, we (you) received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles (lost people) to the obedience that comes from faith.” Paul says that each one of us who has received grace for salvation has also received apostleship – meaning we have all been sent into the world as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5.20).
Find neutral ground to reach out to our friends and the community. The possibilities are endless. Have a Matthew Party (see Matthew 9). At my former church we had home groups that would host a “party in the park.” On a weekend afternoon they set up picnic area, played music, gave away hot dogs and balloons, did face painting and had relevant literature for interested people. It was a tremendous bridge into the community because is gave “sinners” an opportunity to rub shoulders with “saints” in a non-threatening atmosphere.
Cultivate an evangelistic mindset. Think person-to-person, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, colleague-to-colleague. This, in fact, is much more important than any program or event we could do. George Hunter, the author of Reaching Secular People, suggests that in our secular climate it takes twenty contacts (!) to build a bridge between our friends and Christ.
Spice up our evangelistic life with a little variety. Mix your approaches. For example, if you hear a single mom has a sick child you could: bring her dinner, mow her lawn, bring in the mail, visit the child and pray for him/her, share how your faith helped you in a hard time, invite her to church – or a home group, be a friend, have coffee – build a bridge.
Meet people where they are. Increasingly, the bankruptcy of our Enlightenment Culture (materialism, atheism, skepticism) is being made clear. Our society has moved from pluralism (many truths) to relativism (no truth is more true than others) to post-modernism (what is truth?). Many in the church panic and become ashamed of the Gospel, feeling that the Bible is irrelevant to our modern world. NOTHING could be further from the truth. In fact, this kind of thinking reflects more clearly a worldly analysis than a biblical one. The Bible is still living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword – able to penetrate soul and spirit and judge the thoughts and attitudes of peoples’ hearts ( Heb. 4.11 paraphrased).
So, start where people are. Tell them a story about your spiritual journey and then use the sword. Don’t simply defend the accuracy or authority of the Bible – tell them how it has applied to your life. Show them how the Bible might offer a solution to their situation. When you use the Bible in sensitive and wise ways you’ll be happily surprised how powerful it really is.
Try these. I promise it will put some life and adventure back into your Christianity. In fact, I am confident that they will thrust you center stage in the drama of the ages – joining with God in His tireless pursuit of the lost.
On a pretty little campus in the small NE Ohio town of Alliance, a football dynasty thrives. Yesterday, for the 9th time in the past 14 years the Purple Raiders won the NCAA III National Title. Terry Pluto, my favorite sports journalist, wrote a nice article on the team and coach, Larry Kehres. You can read it all here.
Giving up the band was very hard to do, because we both loved what we were doing. But something very powerful happened there. Sometimes you have to let go of what you love to really have it. Without being too melodramatic, it’s like Abraham waits all his life for a son, and then God tells him to go down and sacrifice Isaac. It’s one of the wildest espisodes in the Scriptures. But is seemed that when we got it back it was going to be even more powerful. The sort of spiritual ideas that were going around at that time were very profund but very heavy. Christ saying: “He that loves his life shall lose it.” I mean, this is pretty extreme. This suggests that if you really want to live, you can’t hold on to your life too tightly. You have to let go, you have to surrender. I’m not sure I understood that back then but, in my zealotry, I didn’t want there to be anything in my life that came between me and God, including music. Because, of course, you can make anything an idol; it doesn’t have to be money or it doesn’t have to be fame - anything can get in the way. Smugness, for instance. Years later I had a better understanding. You can hold on to something so tight it’s like you’ve already lost it. And that’s one of the those deep spiritual insights that took me a long time to discover. It makes you very weak to want something so badly. When you let it go you’re much more powerful. And something happened around that time, where we let go of the thing we’d wanted all our lives, the thing that had given me a way to face the world again, that made sense of me. That album (October), in a way was where U2 said: “We will go wherever we have to go. We will break all the rules of hipness. We will be as raw emotionally as we have to be, in order to be honest.” Even after that, we were giving up the band. It was really pushing it as far as we could to prove that we couldn’t be bought off by our ambition. And I think it’s an amazing thing, we nearly succeeded in derailing the band, but at the same time we regained it more fully.
Bono, U2 BY U2
A friend called me this week to talk through some challenges, storms, he’s facing. Paul’s voyage to Rome became the backdrop and context for our discussion. This voyage, you’ll remember, ended in a shipwreck on Malta. In the account in Acts 27 we read three things about the storms of life, three facts that stand out from the text:
1. Storms in life are inevitable. They will happen. You will experience them. If you’re not in a storm right now, just wait. You will be in a storm. They are a part of life. In James 1:2 it says “When you face trials…” It doesn’t say “If you face trials.” Count on it! You will face storms in life. Nobody goes through life sailing easy from cradle to grave. We have tough times. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, the very first sentence says, “Life is difficult.” It’s true. Life is difficult because storms are inevitable.
2. Storms are unpredictable. They come suddenly. They come unexpectedly. They are unpredictable. In this story it says in v. 13: “a gentle south wind began to blow” – it was the wind they wanted. Very next verse: “before very long, a wind of hurricane force swept down.” Try as we may, we cannot predict the things that will happen to us. It’s amazing what people try - astrology, biorhythm, tarrot cards, new age philosophy, etc. They’ll try anything to see if today’s going to be a good day or a bad day. But we can’t predict storms. They are unpredictable. They are inevitable.
3. Storms are impartial. They happen to good people, they happen to bad people. They happen to followers of Jesus Christ, they happen to the irreligous. They happen to all of us. Matthew 5:45 “God sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Being a Christian does not exempt us from being in storms. There is a misconception that people have, that the only time they have tough times is when they’re disobeying God. That’s not true. The fact is, God has not promised us a storm-free life.
This is not heaven where everything is perfect and God’s will is perfectly done. We have choices and people sin and make mistakes and people get hurt. If storms, then, are inevitable and if storms are unpredictable and if storms are impartial then the issue really becomes, “how will I respond?”
Hebrews 12.13 remind us to, “Encourage one another daily.” While you’ve got an opportunity, encourage one another. Hebrews 10.25 says, “let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” About once a year I meet with some of clergy friends of mine from around the world. We’ve known each other for quite a while. And we meet together to encourage one another. We share our lives together and debrief one another on the previous year. We remember what happened the previous year and we challenge one another to do better. We comfort one another in our struggles and we pray for one another. None of us is meant to go it alone. We need one another. We need a spiritual family of brothers and sisters in Christ to keep us going when the going gets tough. Our Lord surrounded Himself with a group of friends to encourage Him. The unique thing about the Christian understanding of God is that God is in Trinity, and essential to that knowledge of God is this constant encouraging model of the Father loving the Son through the Spirit. There is this dynamic reciprocation of love and encouragement even within God Himself - and we are made in His image. The Holy Spirit who is given to us, is the encouraging Spirit who works through the lives of one another. John Wesley said, “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion, of going it alone.” We’re tempted to do that, but we can only continue to run the race strongly if we are aware of others supporting us along the way. Who are supporters in your life? Do they know what they mean to you? Who are you supporting and encouraging?
Jesus highlighted the costly nature of engaging the Kingdom. In Matthew 10.38 he said, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Here is the ultimate cost - my life.
The first question this text raises is this; “what does it mean to take up one’s cross?” People talk to me all the time about the difficulty of cross-bearing. “What a cross I have to carry! I have a physical burden . . . I suffer from migraines or ulcers . . . I have arthritis or sciatica. What a cross of physical pain and weakness has been laid upon me!”
Other people will talk to me about the cross they bear in regard to problems that they have to face: “My husband in so short-tempered - what a cross I have to bear putting up with his unpleasant disposition.” Others tell me, “My cross is working in a non-Christian environment. I have to hear profanity day after day. What a heavy cross I carry!”
Such experiences are not crosses. They are burdens; and no doubt, some burdens may be crushing. But a cross is not a burden. A cross is a place of death. So when we speak of the burden of our cross we speak inaccurately. When Jesus spoke of taking up our cross, He meant that you only do this when you are ready to die.
Now, obviously, He is not saying every Christian must suffer physical death. I believe that He does mean, though, that every follower of Jesus Christ must be ready to die. I mean this: if we find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between our loyalty to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom and anything else, we choose Him, no matter what the cost. It means, to me, a complete dedication, an act of self-surrender which holds nothing back. It means that my life, my hopes, my will, my ambitions, my desires are all given to Jesus. Bottom line, it means that my life is not my own but His.
Jesus cannot be King of my life until I count myself dead - “crucified with Christ” ( Galatians 2.20).
I’ve been ill (fever) and injured (separated clavicle) these past few days which has kept me away from my blog. God willing I’ll be back shortly. Blessings.
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