The Hurricane Has Become Human

N.T. Wright, in the introduction to his book, For All God’s Worth, writes:

How can you cope with the end of one world and the beginning of another one? Or the thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire became flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst?

This, he goes on to say, is what Christianity is all about. And the question for us is: how ought we to respond to such news? The answer is: Worship. That is the only appropriate response.

What is he referring to?

In the Old Testament, when God appeared to the people it was often a terrifying experience. God appeared to Job in the form of a tempest (AKA “hurricane”). When God appeared to the people of Israel in the wilderness on Mt. Sinai, it was in the form of a consuming fire, essentially a fire-storm of lightning and fire on top of the mountain. The message was: God is inapproachable. To attempt to come near to Him would result in certain death… God even told Moses that if anyone would see Him in His glory, they would surely die.

And yet, the incredible message of Christianity is that in the person of Jesus, “the hurricane became human,” that the “fire became flesh” and “life itself came to life and walked in our midst.” And as a result of what he did, we have the promise and the hope of the end of this corrupt world and the advent of a new and better world to come.

To really understand this, Wright says, to take it seriously, means that the only appropriate response is “sheer unadulterated worship of the True and Living God and following Him wherever He leads.”

“Worship,” he says, “is not an optional extra for Christians, nor a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.”

Worship is not an optional extra for Christians, a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.

He goes on to say that many people view Christianity as a being something which gives them a sense of comfort and nostalgia. This should not actually be the case if someone really understands what Christianity is about. Rather than making you feel cozy, the gospel message is one that upturns every area of your life.

Wright says Christmas is a perfect example of this:

Take Christmas, for instance: a season of nostalgia, of carols and candles and firelight and happy children. But that misses the point completely. Christmas is not another reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart. Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in the room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in the room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. The light shines in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christmas then, and Christianity as a whole, is not about escapism, it’s about reality. It’s about how God has intervened in our world, and as a result, everything has and will change. The only proper response to this is to worship God for all he’s worth.

Part of that response, part of that worship, is to take up God’s mission. As John Piper says, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”

May we truly understand the weight of the Christian message: “the end of one world and the beginning of another” — and may we be moved towards this rhythm of response: Worship and Mission.

For more on worship and mission, check out these recent messages from White Fields Church:

Mission & Mental Health

I recently finished reading Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

It was recommended to me by someone at White Fields, who had read the book and found a surprising correlation between something I had taught at church and the main thesis of the book.

The sermon was one I had taught in our Church Matters series on the topic of “Mission.” (Audio of that message here: “So That They May Have Joy”). My text was John 17:13-19, where Jesus prays over his disciples at the end of the last supper. In that prayer, he says that he was given a mission by the father, and now – in order that his disciples might have his joy in fullness – Jesus is giving them his mission.

The point is: there is a correlation between mission and joy. Mission is a prerequisite for joy. If you want to experience joy, you need to have a mission. Without a mission, you can’t have joy.

This truth can be seen in the fact that children, when they think about what they want to be when they grow up, they think of their future vocation in terms of mission: they dream not of being office workers, they dream of being teachers, police officers, firefighters, missionaries, astronauts, doctors, veterinarians, etc. In other words: jobs full of adventure and serving other people. Why? Because they find joy in that.

And yet, our society encourages us to look out for ourselves, be practical, don’t bother trying to “save the world” – just worry about yourself. And here’s the irony of that: the more that you focus on yourself, the less significant your life is in the big picture, and the less joy you will have.

This same point is made by Sebastian Junger in Tribe. His big idea, which he backs up with evidence throughout the book, is that hardship, rather than being bad for us, is actually good for us – in fact, it’s one of the best things that can possibly happen to a person or a society.

And yet, the whole focus of our society has been to make life more and more comfortable and free of hardship; the result of which has been an incredible rise in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and even violent crime. Times of crisis, such as terror attacks and natural disasters, indirectly have a positive affect on mental health in a society. The reason for this is that crisis causes people to band together and gives people a mission and a purpose to work towards and fight for, even sacrifice for. Without such a mission, people become unhealthy.

In other words: Junger is stating what the Bible has said for millennia: you need a mission. It’s a basic human requirement.

Here are some quotes from the book:

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. (xvii)

According to a global survey by the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression at as much as 8 times the rate they do in poor countries, and people in countries with large income disparities– like the United States– run a much higher lifelong risk of developing severe mood disorders. (p. 20)

[Poorer people experience lower rates of depression.] The reason for this seems to be that poor people are forced to share their time and resources more than wealthy people are, and as a result they live in closer communities. Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide. (p. 20 – 21)

Modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values (money, possessions, status) over intrinsic ones (sense of purpose, competence, moral/ethical/spiritual conviction), and as a result, mental health issues rise along with growing wealth. (p. 22)

Speaking of the extremely close bonds created by hardship in danger, “We are not good to each other. Our tribalism is to an extremely narrow group of people: our children, our spouse, maybe our parents is alienating, technical, cold, and mystifying. Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that.” (p. 94)

The last time United States experienced a significant period of unity was briefly after the terrorist attacks of September 11. There were no rampage shootings for the next two years. The effect was particularly pronounced in New York City, where rates of violent crime, suicide, and psychiatric disturbances dropped immediately in many countries, antisocial behavior is known to decline during wartime. New York suicide rate dropped by about 20% in the six months following the attacks, the murder rate dropped by 40%, and pharmacist saw no increase in the number of first-time patients filling prescriptions for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. (p. 115-116)

I agree with Junger’s thesis and much (not all) of his analysis, but – unsurprisingly – he does not give a solution. The only part of Junger’s analysis which I disagree with is that he chalks everything up to human evolution, whereas I, as a Christian, believe that the need for mission is part of God’s design in creating us. That aside, the main idea of the book is absolutely correct – and the Bible has been teaching these things for millennia, AND giving the solution!

In fact, there are so many verses in the Bible which relate to this subject, that I only have space here for a few:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:9-12)

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Furthermore, in Christ, we have been given a mission – THE mission – which really matters and is worth living for and dying for and sacrificing for, and all of us are called to play a role in it – no matter what our vocation. It is the only mission which ultimately matters; it is the only mission which will ultimately save the world, and we have full confidence that it will succeed, because we’ve already been told how the story ends…

In order to have joy, you need a mission. Embrace Jesus and get engaged in his mission.

And a final thought: How did Jesus design his mission to be accomplished? Through the church. That’s one of the reasons why church matters… to God, to you, and to the world.

Upcoming at White Fields

We’ve got a few things happening at White Fields Church in Longmont, Colorado that I wanted to let you know about:

Tomorrow we will be starting a new series called “Church Matters” in which we will be taking four weeks to talk about church: why it matters to God, to us and to the world. We’ll be studying the Bible to see God’s vision for the church, and what therefore we should be about.

White Fields Community Church fényképe.

There is a great local company that helps us with some of our graphic designs: CryBaby Design. Check them out and hit them up if you’re looking for someone to help with graphic design, branding or web design.

We also have a great administrative assistant on our staff who does some design and media work for us, like the following graphic for our upcoming Outdoor Worship Service on August 13, 2017 at 10 a.m.

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If you are in or around Longmont, we’d love to have you join us!

Finally, here is a video preview of what’s happening tomorrow at White Fields. Our mission team we recently sent to Hungary to work with the church that we planted years ago is now back and will be giving an update about what God did through them.

We also have some friends in town who are missionaries in Athens, Greece: Travis and Kristen Spencer, who will be giving a presentation after service about their ministry there.

Here’s that video:

The Problem with Evangelism

I came across this video from Penn Jillette which I found very compelling. Penn Jillette is the “Penn” of the comic/illusionist team Penn and Teller, both of whom are avowed atheists who use their platform as comedians and magicians to promote atheism.

In this video Penn talks about how after a show he was approached by a very polite and sincere man who gave him a Bible as a gift and sought to evangelize him.

Rather than being upset or offended by this, Penn says this:

“I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…

How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that…

This guy cared enough about me to proselytize.”

Here’s the whole video:

I respect Penn for having the intellectual integrity to say this.

Because the problem with evangelism is that in Western society it is considered extremely presumptuous to claim that other people need to change what they believe and believe what you believe or else they will be lost. But the problem is, that this belief is inherent to Christianity. To remove it would be to remove its very heart.

If Jesus came to be a “Savior” who “saves” the “lost,” and to be a disciple of Jesus is to be sent on His mission, which is to seek and to save the lost, then to not evangelize is to betray the very heart of Christianity.

There are a lot of people who look at Christianity and say: “That’s a nice religion with a lot of really nice teachings and great principles. I love the community aspect of it; I respect the teachings about family, and morality and putting others first. But the one part I don’t like is how narrow it is. How presumptuous to claim that you are on a mission from God to save the world by converting people to believe what you believe!
When it comes to mission, I’m okay with you going to help poor people in developing countries by improving their standard of living — but why do you have to try to proselytize them?!”

There are even many Christians who would say, “I love learning about the Bible, and taking the sacraments and worshiping — but I don’t like that part about Christianity where we are always being told to go out and convert the world to what we believe!”

The problem with evangelism is that there are so many voices in our society today which tell us that the idea that you can be on a mission from God to change and save the world is at best: naive, and at worst: terribly arrogant. So instead, you should just privatize your beliefs: focus on your own life and leave everybody else alone.

But the problem with evangelism is that you cannot be a Christian and not care about evangelism, because the command to be on this mission comes straight from the mouth of Jesus.

“As the Father sent me, now I send you!   Go into all the world!  Preach the Gospel!   Make disciples of all nations — teach everybody to obey all that I have commanded you!”

That may not be popular – but it’s straight from the mouth of Jesus. And, to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ means you can’t ignore what he says.

It is encouraging to me to hear this coming from a person, in Penn Jillette, who does not (yet) believe, but has the intellectual integrity to admit that in order to live according to one’s beliefs, a Christian should share the gospel with others.

Evangelism and Street Witnessing Now Illegal in Russia

From Assemblies of God and Christianity Today:

Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law restricts religious practice in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.

The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they will not be allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities may be forcibly disbanded.

This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.

Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church. Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.

If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.

Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.

Sergey Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo.

“If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,” wrote Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”

Pray for the believers in Russia and for the missionaries who go to serve there.

Street witnessing was illegal in the first century, in the time of the Book of Acts, as were Christian gatherings. Such restrictions only caused the church to grow!

Please join me in praying for the gospel to spread throughout Russia despite these restrictions, and for the believers there to be emboldened to share their faith whatever the cost.

What Makes Someone a Missionary?

I spent 10 years in Hungary as a missionary. I had a visa and several legal papers for my residence there which stated on them that I was a missionary. Furthermore, I was sent out and supported by a number of churches who supported as a missionary.

This having been the case, I have put a lot of thought over the years into what it is that makes someone a “missionary”. 

I remember working alongside Hungarians in Hungary, doing the same work – and yet I carried the title of missionary, and they were just Christians who were serving the Lord. Every now and then, some of them would say that they too were missionaries then, since they were doing the same work. But what about the other Christians in Hungary who were not with our organization, who did similar work? Were they also missionaries? They didn’t seem to covet that title, but were content to consider their service simply completely normal Christian behavior.  Some Hungarians we worked with received financial support from churches in the West so that they could serve full time at a church. Did that make them missionaries, even though they were serving in their home country or culture?

Some missions organizations use the term “native missionaries” and raise funds in wealthier countries to support national workers who already know the culture and language of a place. The idea is that with the proper training and some financial support to free them up to do the work, these local Christian workers will be able to reach the places where they live more effectively than foreign missionaries. This is especially popular in countries which do not give visas to foreign missionaries. Is the word “missionary” appropriate in this case? 

What makes someone a missionary?

One time when my wife and I had come back from Hungary to visit family and supporters, we were in Carlsbad, CA, and at the beach some young people, probably in their early 20’s,  approached us and started talking about Jesus. They were evangelizing – and when we told them we were Christians, they told us that they had come from somewhere in the Midwest as missionaries to California. They hadn’t been sent by any church community, but believed they were called and so they had come. Does that make you a missionary?

When I moved to Longmont I knew some people who said that they were missionaries to Longmont, and raised support for their living expenses and various ministry endeavors, so that they could be free to pursue these things full-time. These particular people had grown up in Longmont and felt called to serve God in their hometown. 

What makes someone a missionary?

Something that has often been proclaimed in evangelical circles is that all Christians are called to be “missionaries” and that the work of missionaries is not something which only needs to happen in far off places with developing economies, there is need for evangelism and outreach in wealthy countries, including the United States as well. One bookmark I saw said: “You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a missionary, you just have to cross the street.”

So what are we to make of all of this? What makes someone a missionary?

A little etymology helps to sort things out:

Missio = send. Thus, to be a missionary is to be someone who is sent.

There is a sense in which all Christians have been sent by Jesus to carry out his mission, which he received from the Father, in his mission field, which is the entire world.

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – ‭John‬ ‭17:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭20:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

However, some are sent and supported by a local body of believers, led by a sense of calling from God, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts ch 13. It is clear from the Book of Acts, that Paul had an ongoing relationship with his “sending church” in Antioch, returning there after each of his missionary journeys. It seems there there was an accountability, and probably some degree of financial support from the church there which had sent Paul out. 

Here’s how I sort it out: All Christians are called by be “on mission” with God, in his mission field, which is the entire world. In fact, to be on mission is an essential and inherent part of what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, it should be normal for all Christians to do the work of a missionary wherever they live, whether it is their home or not. This is the NORMAL Christian life.

And yet, I feel that we should preserve the significance of the word “missionary” for those who are sent out on a mission by a local body of believers to another place, following the leading of God. There is a way in which to use the word missionary to loosely diminishes the sacrifices and the unique challenges faced by those who leave home and country and follow God’s leading to go to another place, having had a local body of believers confirm this by sending them out. Similarly, there is a way in which the concept of the priesthood of all believers can be taken to a degree which detracts from the significance of a calling to be a pastoral overseer. While we are all called to minister and we are all called to be on mission, these titles point to particular roles.

There is an interesting place in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where Paul tells Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Timothy 4:5)  Paul, in Ephesians 4, mentions the “office” or official role in the church of “evangelist” – in other words, it seems that there were some people in the church who had this title. However, it would seem that even though this was not Timothy’s official title or role, Paul was encouraging him to do the work of an evangelist nonetheless. 

I believe the same applies in regard to the discussion of the term “missionary” or “pastor”. If you are a Christian, you may not be an officially sanctioned “missionary” – but you are called to do the work of a missionary nevertheless! You may not be a pastor, but you are still called to do the work of a pastor in your interactions with other people.

Was Paul Suicidal?

Recently at White Fields I have been teaching through Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in a study titled, The Pursuit of Happiness.

This past Sunday I taught on Paul’s famous saying: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” – and I explained how the gospel gives new meaning to our lives and it redefines what death means for us. Audio of that message can be found here.

In that sermon, I didn’t get to what Paul says after that famous phrase. Here’s the rest:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)

A reader of this blog sent me a message this week about this passage:

I have always wondered if Paul was experiencing a period of depression when he wrote this epistle. What he says in verse 1:22, “yet what I shall choose I cannot tell” even makes me consider that he was in some ways considering “suicide”. I know that sounds preposterous, and I’m not suggesting that he actually thought of killing himself but rather maybe purposely doing something that would result in his death. In todays world it might be called “suicide-by-cop”. It seems as he continues through the remainder of the chapter that he convinces himself that it is better to remain for the benefit of others. It could be that he was just experiencing a time when his death seemed imminent and he was preparing the readers for that eventuality, but I think that he was experiencing a great amount of stress during this time. As always, he was able, through the Spirit, to overcome his stress and turn it into a beautiful, encouraging letter. I believe it probable that all men of great faith experience times of doubt or fear brought on by the enemy.

That’s an interesting thought. Certainly Paul was facing dire circumstances, and I fully agree with the final sentence, but I wouldn’t go so far as to agree that Paul might have been having suicidal thoughts – even to the degree of doing something that might provoke someone else to kill him.

To me, the tone of the letter is one of triumph in the face of harsh circumstances, even death.

I believe that what’s going through Paul’s mind as he writes those words is that he wants to explain something important to the Philippians: That although as Christians, the ultimate hope of the Gospel is the hope of eternal life in paradise with God, that should never minimize the purpose that God has for our lives here on Earth.

This seems to have been a problem amongst some of the early Christians. 2 Thessalonians was written, in part, to let the Christians know that Jesus had not yet returned, that the Parausia, the Second Coming, was still to come – but that as we await Jesus’ imminent return, we should not be inactive;  we should still work hard. That’s why he says:

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

The context of that, is that the Thessalonians were eagerly expecting the return of Jesus any day – as all early Christians did, and as it seems that Jesus intended all Christians to do, which is the reason for his vagueness about when his return will take place.

The point is this: We should not have a Christianity in which we encourage people to just believe in Jesus and then hang on and wait for death! I think Paul wanted to Philippians to understand that: that Christianity isn’t only about going to heaven when you die, it’s about living this life for Christ – as much as, and as long as possible.

It’s not only that because of the Gospel, DEATH IS GAIN – but also: because of the Gospel, TO LIVE IS CHRIST!

Another reason why I think Paul was not discouraged when he wrote to the Philippians is because he closes the letter by saying:

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:21-22)

What this means is that members of Caesar’s household, including the Praetorian Guard (members of which were chained to Paul 24 hrs a day in 6 hr shifts), were becoming Christians through his being there in jail. I think Paul was feeling particularly encouraged after facing years of discouragement prior to this. Finally he was starting to see some fruit and the purpose for which God must have allowed this series of terrible difficulties and injustices happen to him. Many of us may never get to see that in our difficulties, but when we do it helps to encourage us that God is indeed in control and using all of the frayed strands to create a beautiful tapestry.

 

“The Kids Haven’t Changed. You Have.”

I see a lot of talk online about ‘Millenials’, and almost all of it is negative. It’s been going on for years now. Recently I saw a video in which a young woman apologizes on behalf of millenials everywhere for them being so awful. This video was shared widely by, you guessed it: people 35 years old and up.

A few years ago I went to a conference in Colorado Springs with Jeff, the Administrative Pastor at White Fields. The conference was put on by Barna Research Group and was about ministry to Millenials.

There were a few really good points made at the conference. One was that it’s going to be really hard to reach young people if they feel that you disdain them and don’t like them. The other one was, that despite all the chatter that Millenials are lazy, self-centered and entitled, if you really look at the virtues of this generation, you will see things like: they are heroic – they want to do great things and save the world! What if that was harnessed and directed towards good goals? That youthful zeal could accomplish many great things.

Here’s what I think: Each generation of adults is quick to forget that older people looked at their generation and thought the same things about them that they now think about Millenials. Remember GenX?  Remember Generation Y?  Remember how in the 90’s everyone thought the sky was falling and that the GenX-ers were never going to get jobs and move out of their parents’ basements?

Or how about we go back even a little bit further, to 1985, to John Hughes and The Breakfast Club. Remember the conversation between Vern the assistant principle and Carl the janitor?  Here’s a clip to refresh your memory:

“The kids haven’t changed. You have.”

Good point, Carl.

One of the things I appreciate most about the association of churches I found myself in as a young person (Calvary Chapel) was that they encouraged young people’s zeal, and gave them outlets for it. As a young person I had the opportunity to go overseas, full of zeal and idealism, and serve Jesus. I will forever be thankful for that opportunity. They didn’t squash my zeal, they gave me an outlet for it. They didn’t tell me that if I wanted to serve God then I needed to go to school for 6 years first and get a degree in Youth Ministry, until I came out tired and so burdened with debt that I wouldn’t dare do anything daring. Being busy serving God and working with churches as a missionary probably kept me from the siren call of temptation and other vain pursuits.

How about instead of bemoaning this up and coming generation, we encourage them to use their enthusiasm and heroism for God’s mission and give them plenty of opportunities to do so?

 

About Those Muslims…

I ran across this factoid in my reading today:

In my experience working with muslim refugees from places like Iran, Afghanistan and Kosovo, I found that many people born and raised in muslim families in majority muslim countries are open to hearing and considering the Gospel – sometimes more open than people in “Christian” Europe and North America.

Many people born and raised in Islam know very little about what the Koran teaches, and for them being muslim is more about cultural identity than theological conviction.

Consider this: the majority of muslims in the world do not speak Arabic, yet the Koran is to be read only in its “pure” form: in Arabic. What this means is that the majority of muslims have not read the Koran for themselves. The largest muslim majority country in the world by population is not even in the Middle East: it is Indonesia, and in Indonesia Christianity is legal, there is a sizable Christian population and there is opportunity for muslim people to hear the Gospel.

Did you know that Christianity is the most culturally and racially diverse religion in the world – by far?!  Every other major faith has 80% or more of its adherents on 1 or 2 continents, but roughly 20% of Christians are in Africa, 20% are in South America, a little less than 20% are in Asia, a little more than 20% are in Europe and North America each.  No other religion even comes close to the ethnic and cultural diversity of Christianity.

One of the differences between Christianity and Islam is that whereas Christianity affirms other cultures and languages, Islam does not. Wherever Islam has spread it imposes a foreign (Arabic) language and culture, including dress, art, music and other forms of expression upon its adherents. Christianity does not; rather Christianity liberates the African to be fully African and the European to be fully European in regard to language, dress, art, music and other forms of cultural expression. Considering the fact that the majority of muslims live outside of the Arabian Peninsula, this is a particularly compelling aspect of Christianity compared to Islam, which has imposed Arabic culture upon people at the cost of suppressing their African, Persian, Indian, etc. forms of cultural expression. For the Arab, while Islam does represent a distinctly Arab cultural expression, the fact remains that for 600 years a strong and healthy, culturally-Arab Christian community thrived in the Middle East, the remnants of which still remain – although they are currently endangered – in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Christians, we have been given a mission which is greater than protecting and preserving our comforts. We have been given a mission to “preach the Gospel to all creatures” and to “make disciples of all nations”.  This includes the 1.6 billion people on around the world who self-identity as muslim. We live in unprecedented times, in which more people raised muslim have come to faith in Jesus Christ in the last 20 years than in the previous 1400 combined. May God do an even greater work in the years to come, and may we share His heart for all people.

Shaping Culture: It’s Your Job

There’s a concept I want to share with you: it’s called “the cultural mandate” – and here’s the big idea behind it:  It says that part of God’s design for mankind is that we would be responsible for shaping culture.

The cultural mandate is found in Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15 and is repeated in Genesis 9:1-3.

Here’s the gist of it: In speaking to Adam and Noah respectively as representatives of the human race, he commissions them with a task. It was a matter of stewardship, which involved overseeing the natural and social aspects of this world – for the purpose of human flourishing.

One author puts it this way:

This mandate involves the whole realm of human culture, from habitat to agriculture, industrialization and commerce, politics and social and moral order, academic and scientific achievement, health, education and physical care – a culture which benefits man and glorifies God.”
(G.W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions)

Interestingly, this mandate from God to shape the culture was given two times: once before sin entered the world, and again after sin had entered the world. That means that this mandate is incumbent on us regardless of our spiritual state. It also means that, although the world is broken and fallen, we are still responsible for stewardship over this world – and that doesn’t apply only to natural resources, but to the shaping of the culture of our society.

Just as the Jews in exile in Babylon were told to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7), and just as Mordecai was commended for being a person who “sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of his whole nation” (Esther 10:3), we are called to do the same in our day and age and in the societies we live in as people who love and honor God – even as we wait for the ultimate eschatological fulfillment, when all is made as it was once intended to be by Jesus at his return.

Christians: shaping culture is YOUR job!
Yes, sin, brokenness, selfishness and evil in the world make this task much more difficult, but this mandate has still been given to us by God.

One author put it this way:

“Even fallen man has the potentiality and responsibility for faithfulness to his wife, for diligence in training of his children, for skill in the performance of his daily work, for justice in dealings with others. He has the capacity for running schools and hospitals, for tilling the ground and causing even unfertile ground to produce. He still has the capacity for governing society.”
(D. Pentecost, Issues in Missiology) 

To that, I would only add this:  If fallen man has these capacities, how much more so do those who have been redeemed and regenerated by God through Christ and has his enabling Spirit dwelling inside of them?!

This cultural mandate also doesn’t diminish in the least our “spiritual mandate” to bring the life-changing message of the Gospel to the world, which alone is able to bring eternal salvation to people. Jesus himself warned against those who “gain the whole world and yet lose their own soul” (Mark 8:36). Both mandates are important. The results of spiritual redemption will touch every part of man’s life and being and will influence culture and social aspects of life.

So for Christians, rather than retreating from culture or creating an insular counter-culture – it would seem that we have a God-given responsibility and call to shape the culture and society we live in through direct engagement. What that looks like in each of our lives is a matter which we must work out in our own situation before God.