Church Life as Soundtrack to the Gospel

The God who “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) wants people everywhere to come to him and join his side. A loving, loyal, hopeful church makes it easier for people to do that but a shame-inducing, grudge-holding, bored church makes it harder. Either way, for good or bad, the church is highly instrumental in the process of bringing people to God.

I think it works like this. Imagine a touching scene in some movie – let’s take Spock’s death scene in the Star Trek franchise’s Wrath of Khan. Spock has just saved the ship but to do so he has had to enter a chamber filled with lethal radiation. He sinks to the floor. His long-time friend stands on the other side of the glass, watching him die. They exchange words of friendship and then Spock breathes his last. Though we have hardly noticed, music has been playing all the while, with a mournful horn and a high, melancholy violin. We wipe the tears from our eyes.

Now imagine the same scene. Spock sinks to the floor and Captain Kirk cries out, “NO!” in despair. But instead of the violin, we hear Yakety Sax by Boots Randolph.

Other than the background music, everything is the same, but this time there are no tears. The scene doesn’t connect. It is not believable. It’s just a couple of actors on a movie set. We turn to a different channel.

The life of the church provides the soundtrack to the words of the gospel. When we are a loving, loyal, and hopeful church, the lyrics of the gospel connect. They are believable. But when the actions of the church and the message of the gospel are mismatched, the words of the gospel fail to connect. People turn elsewhere.

In recruiting people for the kingdom of God, both actions and words will be necessary. Imagine the same scene, this time with heartrending music but without dialog. It would be confusing. We need words and actions, dialog and soundtrack. I know the idea of talking to people about God is intimidating for most of us. What do I say? What if I get it wrong? What if they have a question and I don’t know the answer? That intimidation factor goes down when the right soundtrack plays through our life and church but, even then, it can be scary. So, we need to be prepared.

(Part 2 will post tomorrow.)

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And We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden: The Church as Proof that Jesus Is the Way

Ever since humans were banished from the garden, they’ve been trying to get back: back to God and back to each other. The church is living proof that Jesus is the way back.

Let me bring this home. Gospel people don’t just talk gospel; they live it. They live the gospel of the kingdom as subjects of the king. They live the gospel of peace in their lives together. They live the gospel of forgiveness, both seeking it and extending it.

For the church to be the draw that God intends, it needs to be so much more than an hour on Sunday morning. If that is all we have, we’ll need to rely on A-List motivational speakers to inspire people, great musicians to send chills down their spines, or on wow factor and gimmicks. Such things may draw people to an hour on Sunday but they probably won’t draw them into the kingdom of love, and peace, and joy. That takes a church, not a service.

So, what should we do? We should make up our minds to be the church and not settle for going to church. That means change. Here are some changes we might want to consider. Join or start a church small group. It might be a Bible study group or a D-group or a task group – maybe one that visits shut-ins or does after-school tutoring.

Invite church people – even people you hardly know – to your home. Host a dinner. Have a party. Go to a restaurant. Take in a movie. One woman in our church hosts regular game nights, playing euchre and other games. She is constantly inviting new people, helping them know each other and like each other. Is that something you could do?

Join our first Tuesday visiting team or our Public School Prayer Team. Start a sports team: I did basketball for years. How about pickleball, softball, bowling, or golf?

Join a missional community or pray about starting one. One is already forming around Jesus and the mission to help Lockwood’s children and their friends trust him and become his life-long disciples. Another missional community might provide food for the hungry. Another might reach out in love to immigrants living in our community.

Whatever you do, however you do it, do it together. I know that is tough in a pandemic, but God can give you great ideas for togetherness at a distance. And when the pandemic is finally over, we’ll all get together. That will be the time for a big party – and lots of small parties: work parties, tea parties, birthday parties, and pizza parties. But whether we are working or playing or praying, our togetherness is a witness to the world that God’s kingdom is here and new citizens are welcome.

Those are some of the way a Good News Church lives the gospel. Next week, we’ll think about some of the ways Good News People can speak the gospel.

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America’s Other Religion (Hint: It Is Not Islam)

According to Pew Research center, 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian. This includes evangelical protestants, who make up the largest bloc in American Christendom, along with Catholics, mainline protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The next largest religious bloc in Pew’s study is Judaism, which comprises a little less than 2 percent of the population. Then Islam, which makes up less than 1 percent. Some have argued that the second largest bloc, dwarfing both Judaism and Islam, are those who identify as “nothing in particular.” They come in at about 16 percent of the total population.

It is, however, debatable that the “nothing in particular” folks form a religious bloc. It’s like giving an empty space on my bookshelf a catalog number. However, there is another religious group that is much larger and more influential than all those listed above, with the possible exception of Christianity.

Unlike the “nothing in particular” group, this bloc clearly meets the criteria to be considered a religious group, though it is entirely overlooked by Pew and by most sociologists. This group has no official structure or hierarchy, but it invokes a god, possesses a historical narrative (or mythology, as some deem it), and reverences its saints.

This religion has received various labels over the years, but the one that has been around longest, given to it by Rousseau before the American Revolution, is “Civil Religion.” According to the sociologist Robert Bellah, Rousseau outlined the simple dogma of Civil Religion as: “the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance.”

Isn’t this Civil Religion simply Christianity by another name? Not at all. While Civil Religion recognizes a sovereign God who operates in the affairs of nations, it does not acknowledge him to be the Father of Jesus. Neither does it confess Jesus as Lord, which is the fundamental requirement of biblical Christianity. Interestingly, every American President in history has mentioned God in an inaugural speech. Not one has mentioned Jesus Christ.

This does not mean that none of our presidents have been Christians but it does suggest that they have seen Civil Religion as publicly acceptable but Christianity as a private affair. They freely speak of God and ask his blessing at the end of their speeches, but is it the God of Jesus they invoke?

The American version of Civil Religion (there are others) borrows freely from Judaism and Christianity. Its metanarrative draws on the biblical story. It features an oppressed people, like Abraham’s descendants in Egypt (think Europe), who are liberated and make their way to the Promised Land (America), which becomes “a city set on a hill” and a light shining in darkness, revealing a better way to the world.

This idea led Ben Franklin to propose that the seal of the United States feature Moses lifting his rod and parting the Red Sea. Thomas Jefferson wanted it to display the children of Israel, led by the cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. This is telling, given that Franklin was no orthodox Christian and Jefferson was no Christian at all. They believed in God, but they didn’t confess Jesus as Lord.

Civil Religion’s appropriation of Christian themes has led to great confusion for many Americans, who assume they are Christians because they believe in “God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice.” But Ben Franklin’s creed does not make a person a Christian. Faith in Jesus does.

Civil Religion has often legitimized expansionism. Its providential god – the one Bob Dylan called the “God on our side” – has declared a “manifest destiny” which sanctions the removal of all obstructions, including indigenous peoples, and permits preemptive action against all threats, including people of other religions. At present, this includes Muslims. In the future, it could conceivably include Christians.

Faith in Jesus and belief in the God of Civil Religion produce different results. Faith in Jesus leads to an all-encompassing spiritual formation that brings with it a way of life – a Jesus way of life. Civil religion lacks this coherency. Incapable of bringing a way of life, it offers only a tenuous hold on power.

(First published by Gannet)

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The Contrast Society: “See How They Love”

On the night before he was killed, Jesus huddled up with his disciples, told them what was about to happen, and laid out his expectations for them. This is what he said: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:33-35).

Talk about a contrast society! The world practices a politic of power and that is what it understands. The church practices a politic of love and that is not what the world understands … but it will notice. Most of the time, it doesn’t – doesn’t pay any attention to us. But we will get everyone’s attention, according to Jesus, when we love.

If we are married, we love our spouses. That is our way. Among Jesus’s people, wives love their husbands (Titus 2:4). Husbands love their wives (Colossians 3:19). And, because that isn’t always easy, the church helps people learn how to love their spouses. (That is Titus 2:4.) Kids who are raised in a home where their parents love each other have an enormous advantage in life. We mean to give them that advantage.

But we don’t stop with loving our spouses. We love all Jesus-followers, wherever we find them, whatever their race or nationality. We love Baptist Jesus followers and Pentecostal Jesus followers. We love Presbyterian Jesus followers and Methodist Jesus followers. We love Catholic Jesus followers and Anglican Jesus followers. We don’t postpone loving them until we find out their denominational flavor.

But that love for Jesus followers shows up most clearly in the local church. It is here where love shines brightest—but that’s not because we are easy to love. In the local church, like the local factory or the local bar, there are always people who are hard to love. I don’t like his style. I don’t like her habits. He hurt me! She let me down. We’re what Jon Foreman calls “the church of the dropouts, losers, sinners, failures, and fools.” We make no claim to be loveable but we make every effort to be loving.

And we go beyond loving our fellow church members. We do the crazy thing and love our enemies. Here is where the contrast grows clearest. The rest of the world loves people who love them. We love people who do not love us, even hate us. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” That’s the way the world works. It’s not the way we work. “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Like God’s love (and, generally, unlike the world’s), our love extends forgiveness. Whether we are loving our spouses or our fellow church member or our enemy, we are ready and willing to forgive. That is a given. We forgive as the Lord forgave us (Colossians 3:13). We don’t do this because we feel like it – we usually don’t. We forgive because we belong to Jesus. We forgive because God has forgiven us. We forgive because we are the church of Jesus Christ. To refuse to forgive is one of the most serious offenses we can commit.

I hope you are seeing these two things: (1) God’s plan is to use the church – not just individuals in the church – to draw people to King Jesus; and (2) that happens as we are different from others, a contrast society in which people are loyal to Jesus and love each other.

Loving each other includes, as we just saw, forgiving each other, but there is a lot more to it than that. Most of the time, love is not tough but gentle; not hard, but easy; not disagreeable but fun. One of the most attractive things about the church is that we like each other. We are friends. We like to be together, hang out together. go places together. We do chores together. Eat together. Go on vacations together. Together is the key word here.

There is a great example of this in Acts 2. On the day the church first came into being, we are told that they were all together in one place. Later, when there were thousands of them, they were still together as often as possible. They ate together, prayed together, shared their stuff together, and worshipped together. Is it any wonder that they “enjoyed the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47)? Their life together was so attractive that it drew people in. The last line of Acts 2 is (v. 47): “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” And a few chapters later: “…more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (Acts 5:14). The relationships within the church were a major factor in that equation.

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Church and Kingdom: Not a One-to-One Correspondence

The church is where the kingdom of God takes shape on earth, but the kingdom extends beyond earth, beyond humanity, and throughout creation. Saturn and Jupiter, the Milky Way, the Horsehead Nebula, MACS0647-JD (the furthest known galaxy) are all under God’s rule and within his kingdom. The kingdom includes humans but also every other creature: bears and birds, elephants and mosquitoes (God haste the day when they are sanctified!), mice, whales, angels, cherubim, and seraphim.

The church and the kingdom do not possess a one-to-one correspondence. Think of it this way: the local McDonald’s is not McDonald’s Corporation, but it is McDonald’s. It does McDonald’s: Big Macs, fries, Egg McMuffins, Coke. It is a local expression of McDonald’s Worldwide. Similarly, the church is a local expression of the Kingdom of God Universal. The church is kingdom. The Church does kingdom.

Imagine going to a McDonald’s and ordering a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke. The young person behind the counter says, “Yeah … we don’t have those.” You’d say, “What kind of McDonald’s is this? You may call yourself a McDonald’s, you may have golden arches out front, but you are no McDonald’s.”

Just so, people can buy a building, put up a steeple, and erect a sign with the word “Church” in big letters but if they don’t do kingdom, they are not a church. McDonald’s has the Big Mac, fries, and Coke. What does the church have?

The church has Jesus. He is Lord. The church does not have a U.S. president as Lord. If it does, it is not a real church. The church does not have the so-called Almighty dollar as Lord. If it does, it not a real church. The church does not have a pastor as Lord. If it does, it is not a real church. Jesus is Lord. The church is kingdom (though there is not a one-to-one correspondence) and Jesus is king.

It is not that way outside the church. The workplace does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Nor does the government. The Elks, the Moose, the Rotary, do not confess Jesus at the beginning of their meetings, nor do most schools start their day by praying in his name.

But we do. We have Jesus over us and the Spirit within us; and that makes us different. We are what Chris Wright calls a “contrast society.” We are not like everyone else. We confess Jesus as Lord, both as individuals and as a group. We do things the Jesus way.

What does that mean – we do things the Jesus way? For one thing, it means we love each other. Talk about a contrast society! This past week (really, the past several decades) when Americans were fighting each other in the Capitol, hurting each other, screaming at each other, the church has an opportunity to show a contrast by loving each other. It is in the darkness that the light shines brightest. This is our moment.

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The Good News Church

Our lives can be proof both of God’s existence and his relevance. We we can make the good news about God attractive to the people around us (Titus 2:9). God intends you and I to be living proof. Our lives – and our lifestyles – are meant to be attractive. We are the clickbait. We are the draw. We are the five-star ratings on God’s Amazon page.

But isn’t that is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves? What if I mess up … again? I’ve done it before and I’m sure to do it again, so how can I talk to others about Christ and the Way? They’d see right through me. Besides that, there are things in my life that still haven’t been straightened out: relationships, past mistakes, current habits. What if people knew about these things? Better to keep quiet.

That is wrong thinking. God wants to use our lives not because they’re perfect but because they’re his. He doesn’t want us to shut up in shame or cover up in hypocrisy but to be ourselves; or, rather, to becomes our truest selves in full view of family, co-workers, and friends. It is not the perfection but the direction of our lives that draws people on to Christ.

Maybe you are deeply spiritual, morally superior, emotionally balanced, and genuinely loving – not to mention good looking. Your life is so far beyond the lives of your neighbors that the possibility of being like you doesn’t even occur to them. But the guy who isn’t all that different from them but is headed in your direction – they’ll follow that guy.

Here is what we need to understand today. We don’t do this alone. We’re not on our own. Drawing people to Christ and his kingdom is a shared task. We accomplish it as part of a group of people who are all going in the same direction. The people in that group are all imperfect and incomplete, but together they picture a better way to live and a better God to serve. Isolated, their lives are not convincing, even if they are appealing. But together they provide a compelling picture of life under God’s rule.

Let’s say you are that deeply spiritual, morally superior, emotionally balanced, and genuinely loving (not to mention good looking) Christian. People think of you as incredibly special – one in a million. But they think of themselves as one of the million. The idea of being like you won’t even cross their minds.

But if they see a group of people, including some who look a lot like them, living a different and better way, the idea will cross their minds. They won’t say, “That kind of thing is not for me,” because they’ll be wondering if it could be for them—especially if we invite them to see for themselves.

If this sermon were an essay, this would be the thesis statement: The church, not the individual, is the primary lure God uses to entice people into his kingdom. The church is uniquely important to God’s overall purpose and is irreplaceable. Deeply spiritual, morally superior, emotionally balanced, and genuinely loving – not to mention good looking – individuals are no substitute for the church. There is a dynamic present when the church is together that is missing when the church is disconnected (which is why the racially segregated church in America is so regrettable).

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Ahem, Your Assumptions Are Showing

We are normally not aware of our own assumptions. It they show up, it is usually someone else who notices them first, like a shirt collar tag or the spinach in your teeth. Human beings cannot function without assumptions any more than a body can function without a skeleton, but their assumptions are normally as invisible as their bones.

There are times, however, when people’s arguments are so thin that their assumptions show through, like the ribs of a famished child. This has frequently been the case during this past election cycle. When people engage in thinly veiled ad hominem arguments, their assumptions show right through.

Assumptions may be true or false, solid or porous, a helpful support or a useless frame. The beginning of 2021 is a good time to check our assumptions, make sure they are solid and are where they should be. To do this will almost certainly require a friend to look us over and tell us if our assumptions are showing. An enemy might be even better.

Inaccurate assumptions can lead to improper actions, painful emotions, and harmful results. A woman was stuck in the airport, waiting for a delayed flight. As her layover stretched into hours, she got hungry. Because she had pre-purchased an inflight meal, she bought only a bag of cookies, hoping they would tide her over. She sat down at a corner table in a crowded snack bar, opened a newspaper, and began to read.

She scanned the world and national news, then flipped through the lifestyle section. Just as she took up the business section, she heard the rustling of plastic. She lowered her paper to find a well-dressed man sitting across from her eating one of the cookies. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

She glowered at him, pulled the cookies to her side of the table, and conspicuously ate one. She then raised the paper to check what was happening in the markets. Almost immediately, he was back into the cookies. She lowered the paper again and glared at him but, the moment she raised it, he was at it again. This time she stared long and hard at him. In response, he broke the last cookie, slid half across to her, put the rest in his mouth and walked off.

She bristled with anger until her flight was called. At the gate, she reached into her purse for her boarding pass and found the package of cookies she had purchased earlier, unopened.

Unexamined assumptions can lead us to misjudge others’ motives, think ourselves superior, and create unnecessary conflict. Such things have been the hallmark of 2020. Democrats are naïve. Republicans are stupid. Mask-wearers are cowards. Mask-less COVID-deniers care only about themselves. Joe Biden is senile. Donald Trump is just a narcissist.

If, while reading that last sentence, you thought, “But that one is true,” your assumptions are showing – and they are about as attractive as spinach between your teeth. But what if we were to challenge our assumptions, to hold them provisionally until they were confirmed? Such a change could transform our relationships and our country. If, instead of assuming people from the other party are naïve or stupid, we were to question whether there might be something they see that we have missed, our attitude toward them would change.

This is not only true when we are considering other people. It is also true when we are considering God. For example, some people run from God because they assume that his demands on them would be unreasonable and would spoil their lives. Yet the testimony of both Scripture and people throughout history suggests the opposite: that God wants people to be joyful and fulfilled.

To look at our circumstances, we might assume that God has forgotten or forsaken us, or even that he opposes us. Even saints have at times struggled with such thoughts. But if we challenge that assumption and provisionally substitute the supposition that God intends to bring good to us and to the world, we might discover divine activity even in the midst of great difficulty. And once we find it, we might become part of it, and that would change everything.

(First published by Gannet.)

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Living Christian, Living Different.

Christians are not only different in who they are but also in what they do. I know a young woman who, after her first baby was born – I’d never heard of this before – ate the placenta. I’m sure someone will rush to tell me why that is a good thing (and maybe it is) but it is different, at least by my standards. But it is not doing unusual things that makes Christians different.

One difference is our habit (it’s not just an occasional thing) of doing good deeds. Jesus taught us to let our light so shine that people “will see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter echoed this: “…they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). Paul taught that God has prepared good deeds in advance for us to discover and perform (Ephesians 2:10). Most people try to get out of doing anything they don’t have to do. We go out of our way to do good for all people, especially our fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10). It’s a habit.

One of the big things we do that is different – countercultural, even – is we forgive. We don’t forgive because someone deserves it – forgiveness, by its very nature, is never deserved. We forgive because God forgives. We are different because he is different. When we forgive, we reveal what he is like. Forgiveness makes the teaching of God our savior attractive. When we forgive, we make it possible for people to believe that God will forgive.

When the people of Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston forgave Dylan Roof for the murder of their loved ones, they were different. That difference evoked a backlash from people who cling to unforgiveness as a kind of power. But how attractive Mother Emmanuel made the teaching of God our savior! If they can forgive, then maybe God can forgive me.

Think back to the passage in Titus, only this time substitute the words “employee” for “slave” and “boss” for “master”. (Titus 2:9-10) Teach employees to be subject to their bosses in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”  In the workplace, that kind of employee is different. That’s the kind of employee God wants us to be.

We could go one listing examples. I’ll just mention a couple of relatively easy ones that have biblical sanction. First, simply joining other Christians regularly for worship (which the Bible instructs us to do) makes us different. In an average week, only about 20 to 25 percent of our neighbors go to church (this was pre-COVID). If we go, we are different. Exploit the difference.

Another thing: the use of profanity has increased dramatically in American life, especially among religious people. If we will just refrain from using that kind of language (which the Bible instructs us to do), and from the anger and condemnation that underlie them, we will be different.

Christians need to remember the mission: to attract people to the king and his kingdom, where people live differently, live better, live forever.

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Christians Should Be Different: Here’s Why

How do we make the teaching about God attractive to people who have never given it any thought – don’t even know there is anything to think about? How do we help them trust the unseen God, when there are so many things they can see that everyone else trusts?

We make the teaching about God attractive and motivate people to join his side both by who we are (or by who we are becoming, since who we are now is still so very incomplete) and by what we do. What we do is the outworking of who we are (or who we are becoming).

First, who we are (or who we are becoming). This only works if we are different from the people around us. God’s plan depends on it. It is the difference that attracts people to God.

A magnetic field depends on having a north and south pole. It is the opposite poles that attract. Likewise, our power of attraction depends on us being polar opposites to those around us. That doesn’t mean being weird or hostile but it does mean being different.

In Leviticus 19:2, God says to his people, “Be holy for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” More than one famous Bible scholar has pointed out this could be translated, “Be different for I, the LORD your God, am different.”

Because the LORD is different from other gods (both those in the ancient and the contemporary world), we who serve him will be different from people who bow to other gods, including money, political power, science, and education. (By the way, Christians should be involved in all those things. They are good things as long as they remain humanity’s servants. They are devilishly evil things when they become humanity’s gods, which is something we have seen played out before our eyes in recent months.)

But what makes us different? The fundamental difference is that we are God-oriented. If somehow God could be removed from our lives or we could be removed from our God (thankfully impossible), we would no longer be us. God is not just a part of our life, not even a big part; he is our life (Colossians 3:4). I’ve known people who have left the faith, moved from professing belief in God to professing disbelief in him, and the curious thing is that nothing really changed. I don’t see how that is possible – if they were really God’s people. Our lives, put bluntly, are about God.

Our values are also different. Most people’s chief values are: current comforts and pleasures (what St. John calls “the lust of the flesh”); future acquisitions of comfort and pleasure (“the lust of the eyes – gotta have that!”); and a position of status or prestige (“the pride of life”). I don’t say they enjoy those things – they don’t time; they’re too busy trying to acquire them – but they value them.

Our values are different. When we are granted pleasures and possessions and positions, we enjoy them; but we don’t need them and we won’t let them derail us from our pursuit of God, of love and of truth. That makes us different.

We don’t fear – or at least the person we are becoming is starting to overcome – the fears that control most people’s lives. They fear loss, humiliation, weakness, age, and death. It is ironic: in Western society, people lead the safest lives in the history of the world, yet they experience more anxiety than ever before. People have been taught to fear the next snowstorm, the next president, next market reversal, virus, disease, and internet outage. Unbelievable amounts of money are spent to protect people from their fears. But we fear God and, because we do, we are getting over our fear of everything else.

Another difference is our hope. In our day, distraction has usurped the place of hope, but that is not so in our lives. Even when we are nearing the end of life here, we continue to look forward. Our hopes transcend the next election, the end of COVID, our next vacation. The vacation may get cancelled; COVID may not get cancelled – it may continue; the election may usher the wrong party into power; but our hopes remain undiminished. Even immanent death cannot take hope from us.

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The Wrong Metaphor for Christian Mission

Ideas are always context dependent. They make sense within a context. Outside of that context they may have a different meaning – or no meaning at all. The words I just used to describe our role (salespeople, promoters, advance team, marketing team) are found in a marketplace context. Salespeople coax shoppers to spend money on their product. Marketing teams try to capture market share. But the marketplace is not the best context for understanding our role.

Let’s try a different context that might help us gain a more biblical understanding of our mission. Instead of the Madison Avenue executive who attracts dollars, or the social media influencer who attracts followers, let’s substitute the revolutionary who attracts recruits.

I realize how controversial that image is in our day, when extremists are radicalizing young people and recruiting them to perform atrocious acts of violence. But I prefer it nonetheless because it has biblical resonances the other images lack. The good news we have been investigating is the gospel (the announcement) of the kingdom and of the king. It is the good news, as was said in ancient Thessalonica, “that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).

Instead of a Madison Avenue context, try picturing a Majority World context where upheaval and discord have been the norm for a generation. The leader in power has been there for over 30 years, ever since a popular uprising and military coup landed him in office. But his government is corrupt. Tax monies, which are bleeding the nation dry, end up in the pockets of a dozen powerful men, along with vast sums of misappropriated foreign aid. Those men live in luxury while the rest of the nation is hungry and hurting. Whenever common people go to the streets to protest, the military is ordered to mow them down like grass.

But now a great national leader who has been abroad for decades is planning to return to put an end to the corruption and injustice. His advance team is in your town, and they tell you about him. He is a great man who is humble and kind, honest and just, wise and powerful. They tell you about his plans to install a government that will protect its people, not feed on them. You have questions. They have answers. At some point, they challenge you to join them, to come over their leader’s side in anticipation of his return – and you do.

Now it is your turn to recruit others. This is not about market share or follower stats. It is about freedom, justice, truth, mercy, grace. What hangs on this is the future. You are advertising for a ruler, not a dollar.

That is roughly the position in which we find ourselves. We are not trying to corner the ecclesial market. We are not fighting for our share of religious dollars. Our only competition is with those principalities and powers that have usurped God’s place. We have news of a king and his coming kingdom. He will change things and make them right – and is already making things right in our own lives. Our lives provide the proof – the cosmetological proof – that he knows how to make things right. And we can tell people with confidence that he accepts everyone who comes to him, no matter who they are, what they have done, or what side they have taken in the past.

This acceptance is known as the reconciliation. Listen to how St. Paul speaks of it (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of the reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of the reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

This is an important passage that deserves careful study, which is not within the scope of this article (but we will come back to it). At this point, we just want you to grasp the context: God has begun the reconciliation and has given Christ’s people the role of his advance team, promoting God, appealing to people to join the coming kingdom, to come over to God’s side.

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