Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Mission(s) (page 1 of 2)

In an Age of Pluralism

 

coexist

The first century was an age of pluralism–every bit as much as this twenty-first century. How did the fledgling Church survive and, indeed, thrive in such a context of competing voices? How did they become “These men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6)? What can we learn from those who lived most closely with Jesus?

William Ramsey was an expert on first century life. He describes the scene in this way:

“An easygoing Christianity could never have survived; it could not have conquered and trained the world. Only the most convinced, resolute, almost bigoted adherence to the most uncompromising interpretation of its own principles could have given the Christians the courage and self-reliance that were needed. For them to hesitate or to doubt was to be lost.” (The Letters to the Seven Churches, p.220, italics added)

Ramsey was not a preacher. He was a classical scholar and archeologist. He was reporting to us as a historian. He had no theological ax to grind; nor was he seeking a soapbox. He was not peddling ideology, but reporting the facts as they stood in that intensely pluralistic age. He penned his words in 1904, well before the cultural shifts of the 20th century which had such a profound influence with regard to a resurgence of pluralism in our nation.

His words when read through our current cultural grid may seem to promote an isolationist mentality. That would be to misread the facts. The earliest Christians wore their insistence upon the exclusive claims of Christ in a missional way that thrust them out from holy huddles and into the mainstream of their society. Their pagan contemporaries wondered aloud about their selflessness and love for the disenfranchised and marginalized of their age.  They held their stubborn orthodoxy with profound love toward both Christ and those around them. They proved that resolute faith in the exclusive truth of the Gospel is at the heart of transforming love, not its enemy. May the Lord who held the balance of “grace and truth” so beautifully enable us to do so in our day and may He find us such ready channels for His love that once again the world might label us “These men who have turned the world upside down.”

Living Strategically, Part 5

So where does all this living strategically end?

Consider the last phrase of Jesus’ last statement to His followers before ascending back to heaven and being seated at the Father’s right hand: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Acts 1.8

Think of that! With His last words Jesus told us this doesn’t end until the gospel has reached “to the end of the earth.”

But just what did Jesus mean by “the end of the earth”?

Like the other steps along this journey it must be understood both culturally and geographically. For the first century Jew, the landmass upon which I set as I write this (and upon which you probably sit as you read this) and the people who populated it would have been “the ends of the earth.” It is not likely they could have imagined that this part of the world existed; nor could they have comprehended the culture in which we now live.

So how do we (or any other Christ-follower at any other time and in any other place) identify what gospel-faithfulness “to the end of the earth” looks like?

The people living at “the end of the earth” are those who are far from you geographically and unlike you culturally. They are not near or even in proximity to you. You will have to “go” to them (Matthew 28:19-20) or you’ll never get the gospel to them. This will involve crossing barriers—and not only physical/geographical ones. Those will prove the easiest of the barriers to cross. The folks at “the end of the earth” probably won’t be speaking English, so you’ll face a linguistic barrier. They will likely don clothing that you wouldn’t be immediately comfortable wearing. They will think differently than you’ve been raised to think—looking at the world through internal eyes that begin from a different starting point than you do. What they value you may not; what you value they may devalue.

The people at “the end of the earth” are different than you. And you—as a gospel-carrier—are responsible to initiate crossing those divides. Which may lay bare the greatest barrier of all—the one that exists within your heart.

With the shrinking of our world and the instantaneous nature of communication these days, you may be wondering “Why not just do an email blitz?” Or “Let’s just get a satellite link-up and get this thing over!” Or “Just reduce the gospel to 144 characters and tweet it out!”

I don’t underestimate the potential of harnessing technology for the advance of the gospel, but I must underscore that this is a people-to-people transaction, a life-to-life transference. That can be enhanced by technology, but it cannot be replaced by it. If we ask technology to do for us what God tells us to do, we are not being faithful to the God who has saved and is sending us. We must beware of the very real possibility of hiding behind our technology—protecting our comforts and hiding our fears, rather than giving them all up to Jesus in sacrificial obedience to Jesus’ call.

So how do we all—each and every one of us as followers of Christ—faithfully fulfill the call of Christ to get the gospel to the peoples at “the end of the earth”?

The formula is old, but it still captures the options and provides footprints in which to walk and live strategically.

PRAY – First, pray, determining just what part in this gospel advance God is calling you to fulfill. That is a whole other series of articles for me to write and I can’t do that here. But pray, first, to determine your God-appointed place in this God-given strategy. Then, whatever God’s part for you, pray for those involved at every part of this strategic gospel advance.

GIVE – “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). Fund the gospel forward. Connect with a missionary. Give. Regularly. Systematically.

GO – Some of us must add to our praying and giving the life-altering reality of going. Not just on a short-term mission trip. There must be some—and I mean significant percentages of our SAF people—who change the direction of their lives and spend the rest of their earthly existence living among lost peoples at “the end of the earth.”

SEND – Those who remain must send the ones going. This means more than having a nice commissioning service when they leave. It means the ongoing disciplines and sacrifices of giving and praying … and all the other practical necessities that are required to keep them healthy, well and fruitful in places and among peoples at “the end of the earth.”

Strategic Living, part 4

Henry Martyn once said, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to him, the more intensely missionary we must become.”

Henry was in agreement with the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, who, just before ascending back to His Father’s side, said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Acts 1.8

If you love Jesus you’ll love whom He loves. And He has told us that He loves people in “Samaria.” That was a cultural and geographical designation for the first century Jews to whom originally He spoke these words. But you and I have a “Samaria” full of people Jesus loves as well.

How do you identify your Samaria and the people who fill it? They are the folks who are near or at least within proximity of you geographically—maybe right next door or within proximity of your neighborhood, work or school circles, social circles, etc. While they are near to you geographically you probably don’t naturally know them on a personal basis because they are different from you culturally. Their first language may be something other than English. They may wear clothing that looks foreign to you. They may seem to have different standards of personal hygiene. They value things differently than you. You know they are there. But they are different. There is no visible line between you, but there is a cultural line that takes intention to cross.

That is how the Samaritans seemed to the Jews who lived in Jerusalem and Judea. They were different. They had a mixed cultural and ethnic background. They had a different religion. They were distinct politically. But they were just beyond the natural and social circle of the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. The geographical distance wasn’t the real barrier to reaching these people for Jesus—fear, pride, prejudice, and comfort were.

The same barriers may exist in your heart today. They not only separate you from these people, they distance you from Jesus.

Take a few moments and ask God to help you answer this question: Who are some people within my community that fit this description? Write down something that helps you identify them.

Now, ask God to give you an opportunity to have a simple conversation or interaction with someone who qualifies as a part of your Samaria. When that prayer is answered by an opportunity that stands before you, write down when and how it came about. At this stage it isn’t necessarily about bearing witness to them necessarily, but about simply overcoming the fear of interacting with them.

Here are some hints:

  • Is there a university or college near you? Do they have a population of international students? Is there an office that oversees their experience in America? Are there programs to help them during their time here?
  • Are there places within your community or one near you that has an influx of refugees arriving from other parts of the world? Can you name what countries they originate from? Are there ethnic groceries or shops you could visit to converse with one or two of them?
  • Do you have ethnic restaurants that provide authentic (not Americanized) ethnic foods? Have you taken the time to talk with the owners and workers? To ask about their story and lives? To complement them on their food and service
  • Are there TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) programs in your area? They are always looking for native English speakers to have conversation with their students. Can you volunteer?

Strategic Living, Part 3

We have been considering how to live our lives on purpose, with intention, on mission with God.

Acts 1:8 is the map Jesus has given to us for this purpose: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

As we have seen Jesus’ strategy has four key parts: the advance of the gospel to …
1) “Jerusalem”
2) “all Judea”
3) “and Samaria”
4) “to the end of the earth.”

Last time we considered the first prong of this four-fold strategy—reaching our Jerusalem. Your Jerusalem is made up of the people who are geographically near to you and culturally like you.

Let’s now consider your Judea. Those in your Judea are still culturally like you, but they are different than those in your Jerusalem because they are geographically in proximity to you.

Acts 1.8

What does that mean?

The people in your Judea are “like” you in things such as income, neighborhoods, tastes, schools, work, ethnicity, language, hobbies, sports/reading/music/entertainment interests, etc. But they don’t’ live in your immediate circle of relationships or community, yet neither do they live at the ends of the earth. These people live within proximity of you; they are neither next to you nor far distant from you. They are people generally like you in terms of culture, but who are just beyond the circle of your immediate relationships.

That might mean people who live one or two communities beyond the city where you reside. It might mean people in your company that you don’t regularly have any contact with. It might mean people in the same industry or career as you, but whom you don’t yet know. It might mean people involved in community groups or athletic teams like yours, but whose groups and teams are different from yours. It might mean people with the same hobby as you.

Who might some of these people might be?

You likely won’t know them by name, because you don’t know them personally … yet. You’ll probably have to identify them by other markers. For example, if you love High School football, you might say, “Others that gather at the same Friday night game” or “Other parents/boosters of our team that I don’t yet know.” Or it might be “Other engineers (or accountants, teachers, plumbers, etc.).” It might be, “Other book lovers (if you love to read).” Or, if your hobby is crafts, it might be “Other craft lovers.”

You get the idea.

Take a few minutes and ask God to help you identify people who are generally like you, but who you don’t yet know. Consciously (or better, in writing) identify several of those who make up your Judea.

Now, what is one thing you can do to take a step toward those people? Just to begin to build relationship with them, to position yourself in their lives, to get to know them and to let them begin to know you?

When will you take one of those steps?

As you take that step, remember, when you are walking with Jesus into their lives. You might not share the gospel with them this week (or maybe you will!), but you are moving toward the place where they will trust you enough to allow you to do so. As has been said, you are building relational bridges capable of bearing the weight of truth.

Strategic Living, part 2

In my last post we began to explore the idea of living strategically. After Jesus rose from the dead and as He was ready to ascend back to heaven He outlined for His followers the strategy in which He would lead us for the rest of time. Jesus laid out for them and us the strategy that would usher Him back to earth in His Second Coming. This was not something just for the first century, but for all the centuries to come. This was not something just for super-Christians, but for all us ordinary Christ-followers in all ages and in all places. If we are Christ’s, we’re all on one mission—God’s.

What does it mean to live strategically?

Let’s start with a definition: Strategic: strǝtì:dʒik. adj. of or relating to strategy ǁ of material needed for war but not available in sufficient quantity in the country needing it. (Webster)

Honestly, when I saw the second part of the definition, I was surprised. That’s not what came to mind when I thought of “strategic.” But then life is often a battle, isn’t it?

What do you need in this arena of battle/life which you may not possess in sufficient measure? Several things, including: purpose, vision, power, and intentionality.

Jesus addressed all three when He said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The unfolding of the rest of history is laid out in this simple sentence. This is the God-designed, divinely-ordained strategy for all the rest of time—for His entire Church, for each church, and for every Christian.

As we’ve seen the strategy has four key parts: the advance of the gospel to …
1) “Jerusalem”
2) “all Judea”
3) “and Samaria”
4) “to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1.8

Let’s consider just the first prong of this four-fold strategy—reaching our Jerusalem. Each prong operates on two axes: geographical and cultural. To identify and deploy strategically into your “Jerusalem” think in terms of those “geographically near” and “culturally like” you. I’m talking about people close at your hand and “like” you in things like income, neighborhoods, tastes, schools, work, ethnicity, language, etc.

Jesus is calling each of us to live strategically (with purpose, vision, power and intentionality) in relationship to the people He has put near to us both geographically and culturally. How are we to do that?

This starts out pretty simple. Just take a moment and write down the names of three to five people under each of these categories:

  • Family
  • Close friends
  • Co-workers/neighbors/classmates
  • Acquaintances/old friends/extended family

When you’ve completed that step, slip the paper into your Bible so you see it each day as you read God’s Word and pray. Include these people specifically in your praying.

In addition to praying, watch for opportunities to step intentionally more deeply into relationship with those you’ve identified. It may come through an opportunity for conversation. It might be through the possibility of assisting them with something. Maybe the Lord will open a chance to spend some time with them.

Whatever form it takes, cross that line on purpose, for Jesus, and with fresh faith. God is answering your prayers! And He is leading you into a deeper relationship with the people He has sovereignly placed in your “Jerusalem.”

Be encouraged! You are beginning to move with God in your immediate corner of the world!

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