The Way to a Positive Alternative

2589059730_be5d058882_mIn a culture that is hostile to Christians one has to admit to asking the question, why engage in the social issues of the day? The price is high, victories are few and far between and the culture at large seems to continue its inexorable slide each day. When the Christian stops to consider the definition of a “win” there is often silence. If our goal is to bend people to our will we find ourselves woefully off track and defeated.

Perhaps our objective should be colored with more humility. Rather than being seen as attempting to enforce a moral code at the end of a pointing finger we can be known for presenting a positive alternative. Painting a different picture of the good life, liberty and freedom that is winsome to those who stand in opposition to your beliefs, moral code and ethics. It will gain you an audience faster than vitriol and accusation and even if the recipient ultimately rejects your positive alternative they will have bared—if only to themselves—their true reason for choosing the social path that they are living.

Consider St. Paul’s imperative in the fifth chapter of Ephesians – “Be imitators of God”. The imitator takes on the characteristics of the original in such a way that the viewer gains the impression that they are seeing the real thing. Paul is certainly not recommending an idolatrous path to making ourselves into little-G gods. Rather, he compels us to model the attributes of God as He has revealed them to us in forming a positive alternative to share with the world at large.

If we recognize that God is patient [trusting in His Spirit to be work] and He does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:8-9) and God’s kindness in this respect leads to repentance (Rom 2:4), we will also discover that He wants all men to be saved and to come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4). If we further come to know that God is compassionate towards even those who are His enemies (Rom 5:6-8) and that His love for the world (John 3:16), we will better comprehend this love in terms of Christ dying for the ungodly (Rom 5:6) and that Christ had the same compassion for people (Mt 9:36-38). We can marinate in these twin threads of compassionate desire for the salvation of all people and develop from it a powerful positive social alternative.

If we are to be imitators of God then we must reflect to all we encounter the desire for their ultimate redemption and do so with compassion.

Image by Loreen Liberty

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All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

“Pastor, everyone thinks that…”

“Hey, everyone is going to …”

“Mom, everyone will be at …”

Everyone is an interesting pronoun. It is an indefinite form that doesn’t refer to a specific person or thing. While plural in its scope, it is treated grammatically as a singular. Everyone is the faceless mob.

Pastor, everyone dislikes the color of the carpet in the sanctuary!

Wow, you wonder, how could I have been so wrong? How can I be the only person who likes the [color of the carpet, the new sound of worship, the Children’s church, the youth pastor, (insert your current issue)]? This reflection should only last a second though as you recall your grammar. It represents the whole as a single entity, and since you don’t dislike (whatever) you recognize that the scope of its usage is necessarily limited.

Everyone is not leaving the church. Everyone does not disagree with the decision to name so and so as a ministry leader. Everyone is no one until you are included. Until then, the scope of the commenter is subject to challenge. When you do however, an interesting thing happens.

They almost never include themselves in ‘everyone’.

‘Everyone’ is a challenge or a test. The person using the term is poking and prodding to see what kind of a reaction they can provoke in you. If you take the bait and respond by asking what can be done about the issue at hand, don’t be surprised if the solution is deeply enmeshed in that person’s agenda. This isn’t necessarily malicious but it may threaten to derail the plans that God has laid before you for His church.

When I am confronted by ‘everyone’, I use a number of probing questions and statements to get to the heart of the issue:

  1. “Do you dislike …”: Often, this simply question helps to uncover the true nature of the speaker’s concern. Perhaps there was safety in posing the question as crowd-sourced and now they feel safe in speaking for the group even as they give their personal take on the issue.
  2. “Who exactly is unhappy with …”: This question can put a stop to agenda promoters as you indicate that you will speak to the other people directly, freeing her from the enormous responsibility of being the spokesman for the crowd.
  3. “You and I agree that … should be done, so it really isn’t everyone is it.” This is another statement that uncovers what really wants/needs to be said.

Grace and peace to everyone…

Regaining Our Missionary Footing

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…

The majority of churches in the American context have lost their sense of mission, settling for the comfort and care of their congregants and attenders. Missions—where supported—has a foreign connotation, referring to those sent to exotic outposts to evangelize the indigenous peoples. Seeing the blocks that surround church building as a mission field is left to the church planter.

…You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

While we should not go so far as to say that all of the Church is to see itself as mission outposts, certainly a fair percentage of churches should seeking the will of the Shepherd as to their calling in this respect. How many churches see their neighbors and neighborhood as a mission field in the same way as those sent to Japan or Mexico? How many congregations have done the kind of sociological research on the people in the immediate vicinity of the church that a denominational missions agency has done on the ends of the earth? Are we still attempting to attract people to programs rather than seeking out ways to deliver living water to them?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…

The American church has grown to accommodate the culture, adapting the culture’s ways to the service of Christ in an effort to attract more people to the building. Few practice service to others without the agenda of attraction, even if it is unspoken. The Church’s local influence should be such that we are culture makers, not culture takers.

The Church must regain its missionary footing and take the first steps right outside of her door. The Lord did not leave us the option of ignoring (our) Jerusalem in favor of the ends of the earth. It will require an outward focus from the top down, possibly at the expense of internal comfort. The mission re-starts right here, right now.

Grace and peace to you…

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Danger Close

 

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A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.  J.A. Shedd

Moving forward in any meaningful way demands a step in faith. Faith–deep soul-rooted, life-directing faith–may lead to danger. We take the steps of faith because we trust in God for what may come, whether it be into blissful comfort or the first tentative steps into the enemy’s territory, fully aware that sacrifice may be the result. A church that never moves from the sanctuary is safe, but that is not what the Church is for.

Read Paul’s boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Contrary to the witness of those who merely call themselves Apostles, Paul has the scourge scars and water marks of one who has walked, trusting God with each step as he fulfilled His calling to bear witness to Christ to the Gentile world. We continue to marvel at his effectiveness thousands of years later as he is held up as the model for our own vocational calling. We marvel, but are tempted time and time again to retreat to the safety of tradition and practice.

Church, this is not what we were created to be or do. We are the last hope of a dying world. We possess the fire of the indwelling Spirit meant to guide our hands and feet in boldly stepping into the darkness to call others out. Like the sailor who knows nothing of buoyancy and displacement but who trusts the Oak, nails and pitch to keep them afloat in the capricious and danger-filled seas, Christians need not know how or why God may lead them into a ministry effort, only that they may trust Him that it will not be in vain. 

Grace and peace in the Spirit to you…

image National Library of New Zealand