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At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and purpose of holiness. There’s something else at work here. Holiness is also an outward response to that intimate friendship. To live in holiness, we must walk in holiness. The apostle Paul writes:
I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for. - Eph. 4:1
Building on the foundation that I laid in the previous post: Holiness is more than intimacy with God. Holiness is both:
- Personal intimacy resulting from relationship in righteousness through faith and
- Public witness of ethical behavior. God’s people are called to represent God’s holiness to a hurting world.
Holiness is not merely intimacy; it is also action and ethical behavior within the community and with all people. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright‘s book, The Mission of God, expains that holiness is manifest through ethical behavior, works of righteousness. The New Testament narrows it down to loving our neighbors. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Holiness, in contemporary language, may best be summed up in social justice. Paul writes:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Please understand, you do not earn holiness through any actions of your own. Neither are you holy if you simply do good works of social justice. However, those who have been called to intimate friendship with God have no choice about whether or not they are to love their neighbor, through ethical behavior in and through their community and through acts of mercy and social justice among the nations.
To be sure, holiness literally means to be ‘set apart,’ to be wholly different. God is holy, completely different, other than all other gods. And God in Christ Jesus calls his people to be holy as he is holy. Israel was also called to be holy, unlike any other nation.
In his book The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright outlines the nature of being “set apart”, the election of Israel. Israel’s election is:
- In the context of God’s blessing of “every nation”
- Does not imply rejection of other nations
- Not due to special features of Israel
- Founded only on God’s inexplicable love
- Instrumental, not an end in itself
- Part of the logic of God’s commitment to history
- Fundamentally missional, not just soteriological
When God accepts us and welcomes us into close fellowship with him through the blood of Christ, we are “MADE HOLY.” That holiness calls us to be wholly different:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way that pleases God. In fact, that is how you are living. In the name of the Lord Jesus we ask and beg you to do it more and more.You know the directions we gave you. They were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be made holy. – I Thes. 4:1-3
“What language should I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
This line comes from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a 12th century hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was a reformed Benedictine abbot in France during the time of great challenges to the Church. Islamic nations, European kings, and even as many as three simultaneous popes all vied for power in “Christendom,” where the Roman Church was preeminent in the Western culture. I cannot defend all that Bernard did during his thirty years as a minister, however I can safely say that his life’s work elevated personal faith over religious ritual. He called upon his generation to truly know Jesus.
I am moved again today by this personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
Nearly every time I teach for a week in a Youth With A Mission training school, I invariably return to the primal call of this hymn to intimacy with Jesus. This call is consistent throughout the Bible and throughout history. God calls us to intimacy.
When God called him by name, Moses replied, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exo. 3:5)
How strange. What made that place holy? The Almighty not only introduced Himself to Moses, but He shared the deep things of His own heart with someone he chose to trust. The LORD said,
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.”
What made that place holy was intimacy; God revealed his deepest hurts to Moses. It is the same when I share from my heart the things that cause me pain. These things are not for everyone to know. If I choose to trust someone and share my pain, it is a ‘set apart’ conversation, a holy moment with a trusted friend.
That place of trusting relationship is ‘set apart’ – it is a ‘holy’ place. When God chooses to open His heart to reveal His thoughts, it is a most Holy place because His character is perfect and His abilities are limitless.
God knows all things perfectly. He saw the suffering of the people of Israel in captivity that He chose to represent His name and bring forth the Messiah. They were in chains and cruelly mistreated and He heard their cries. God felt something in His heart that He shared with Moses. God invited Moses to the Holy place of intimacy where He felt that pain.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul went to Athens where he found an altar with the enscription: To the UNKNOWN GOD. This was Mars Hill, the place where people considered ultimate questions of origin, destiny, and value. Plato had taught his students, including Aristotle, to consider the uncaused cause, the wholly unchangeable and ultimate good. Perhaps Plato was a pre-Christian prophet to the Western world?
The difficulty with Plato’s line of thinking is that the ultimate good, the UNKNOWN GOD, cannot change. He cannot experience anything, including pain. This line of thinking became the frame of reference for Western theologians for most of Christian history.
However, the God who is revealed in scripture, Righteous and Holy, is also honest when He says He feels pain. Scripture says in Genesis 6:6:
“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
Some say these ‘human-like’ expressions of God are anthropomorphisms, that God is only using language that we can understand in our frailty and limited understanding. They say God is pretending to be like us so that we may relate to him.
If that is true, the ultimate anthropomorphism is Jesus. The ‘Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). He is Immanuel, God with us, offering intimate friendship to all who will come near.
Jesus is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being (Heb. 1). He represented perfectly the love and justice of His Father. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
When Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the Father wept. When Jesus felt the pain of rejection, the Father felt pain too. When Jesus made the atoning sacrifice on the cross, the Father made the sacrifice as well. God knows everything about everyone, including me. He knows every sin act that produces broken relationship and it causes Him pain.
God is all-powerful and all knowing, but He restrains His power and knowledge for the sake of relationship with us. If I had all power and all knowledge, I am sure I would determine to make use of my abilities. The results would be disastrous. However, I am not God. Inasmuch as I chose to break with my conscience and choose to selfishness, I became morally depraved. I was without hope and without God. I was in need of a Savior.
God could judge the earth and all the wickedness, but he waits patiently for you and me to return to our source of life and hope and love. God is restrained from judgment for the sake of relationship. He always chooses the highest and best for everyone.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15)
His invitation to “Take my yoke … and learn from me” is a call to intimacy with Him, “for (He is) gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
God is patient. He limits His judgment, not his ability or his knowledge, for the sake of relationship.
God stoops down to love you and me, free moral beings, because He is condescendingly gracious. God’s eternal nature is limitless from time eternal past to time eternal future; He is eternal in duration. The Greek notion, representing mankind’s highest thinking, says God is timeless. This sophisticated human invention gave rise to the ultimate ideal, the UNKNOWN GOD, who exercises His power and knowledge without restraint.
There is no point in confusing this issue; we either worship an ideal UNKNOWN who controls all things perfectly and is therefore responsible for all things good and bad, or we worship the God who is all powerful, yet patient, humble, and not responsible for the evil acts of humanity. We either worship a god who could not limit his power or we worship the One Moses met at the burning bush, the all-powerful “I AM” who shows restraint. We either worship a god who absolutely never changes, including no emotional responses to the acts of his human creation, or we worship the God of the Bible who responds to our prayers, is touched by the feelings of our weaknesses, and feels the pain of rejection and the joy of new life. We either worship a god who controls all things, or we worship Jesus who makes us free to choose to love him or reject him. We either worship a god who is created after our own image, or we worship the Suffering Servant of Isa. 53 who went to the cross to die for my sin.
Relationship with an UNKNOWN GOD is impossible. That is how we have true intimate relationship with a wholly blameless Eternal God. And this is why my prayers echo the words of Bernard of Clairvaux:
“Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
Goliath (pronounced: “Go-lee-at” in Spanish) was an especially big baby born to a single mom in a four-foot high cardboard box with only a straw mattress on the dirt floor of the Guatemala City garbage dump. Thousands of squatters made their home living on top of the garbage. They made their “homes” out of scraps, tires, boxes, and other discarded items found on the dump.
It was our Field Ministry Internship health care team’s first day at the clinic at the City Dump. The clinic might have closed that summer in 1991 if we had not arrived. The YWAM staff team leading the clinic were all enrolled in the first University of the Nations Introduction to Primary Health Care School for Spanish speakers. They were glad we came. Our FMI team, led by Nurse Bonnie, kept the clinic open and operating.
Our journalism and social work interns took a walk with me through the Dump community. We met a man with bright yellow eyes, a key symptom of an acute and fatal case of hepatitis, probably due to alcohol abuse. He was silent, but his facial expressions betrayed the fact that he was a dangerous man. After we directed him to the clinic, a woman told us the same man regularly beat his wife.
Smoke rose over the mass of garbage burning at the center of the dump. Our eyes began to burn and I wondered how anyone could live in this place. We continued to visit families in their “homes.” One family of twelve seemed very well settled with a larger one-room hut, probably 12×15 feet, which included a large family bed and hammocks for the smaller children.
On our return to the clinic, we almost walked passed the “box.” But we heard the whimpering of a baby inside. I stooped down to look inside. This small box was a woman’s home and she held her oversized baby, Goliath.
We were welcomed “in,” but only one of us could fit on the straw mattress on the ground next to her. I looked in the sad dark face of the woman and joined her. I held her big baby.
I didn’t know whether to choke from the smell, or cry for the conditions this baby was born into. With the help of a translator, I spoke to the woman about her baby and the Child Jesus, who was born in an animal stall.
The woman paid close attention and I sensed the Holy Spirit drawing her as my words were simple and direct. I spoke of a hope that was beyond all hope. I shared Jesus.
Goliath’s mom prayed with me that day. As I opened my eyes I could see something happened; her grin was from ear to ear. The next day, Golaith’s mom was at the clinic asking to help. She became a true follower of Jesus that day.
Key #3: Power from the Throne of God.
The third key to ministry among the poor is “Power from the Throne of God.” The Poor are powerless in many respects. The Poor are most often born into poverty, like a lottery of life. Most of us, certainly most Westerners, would likely not survive in such conditions.
The Poor are denied access; they are held in powerlessness primarily because of broken relationships. All their relationships are working against them. It’s as if they were caught in a spider’s web, a diabolical trap from which there is no escape.
The Bible says there are “principalities and powers,” or rulers of darkness, which keep people in bondage to sin and misery. The evil spirits lock the Poor out of healthy relationships, especially from “seeing” Jesus Christ.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” 2 Cor. 4:4
The enemy keeps the Poor in the cycle of poverty, a cycle of broken relationships. Relationship is the key dynamic of the throne of God.
What do the Poor need?
They need to be connected in relationship with God and others. They need a right relationship with their family, their community, and the resources of this world.
What is the problem with sin? It separates.
Sin separates us; relationships of all kinds suffer due to sin. The poor are no different from anyone; they need to be connected to others. The connection with others should not be primarily for the sake of provision; providing food, shelter and medicines has often been used as a means of control.
The poor need to be connected with the broader community where they have been restricted from access.
Kingdom-based Responses reflect Power from the Throne of God
A kingdom-based response to poverty will reverse the “process of dis-empowerment.”
A kingdom-based response will confront spiritual powers and principalities, including “god-complexes” that pins one group of people over another.
A kingdom-based response will heal bodies and relationships; it teaches and models a more complete worldview based on Christ’s character and authority to set them free.
A kingdom-based response will challenge the principalities and powers of darkness (including institutions that are instruments of those powers).
A kingdom-based response will establish “truth and righteousness”, and proclaim that “all power belongs to God.”
A kingdom-based response will restore a person’s relationship with himself/herself. As I wrote in the previous post, poverty, ultimately, is the poverty of “being” and of “purpose.” Conversely, abundant life is the abundance of “being” and “purpose”. It is from the vantage point of the throne of God that an individual and a people may find their God-given identity and vocation conferring the essential being and purpose.
My son, Justin, was there at the garbage dump clinic with my wife, Mary. Justin was just 15 months old. I held my son that evening and prayed with him as he went to sleep. We had little to no money, only $25 USD, on the day Justin was born. For many, we would be considered poor. What’s the difference?
“But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.” – Gal 2:18
This phrase penned by the Apostle Paul follows the prophetic impulse of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:
“Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-11 (NIV)
For those of us with that same prophetic impulse, I hope that you will be fueled with a passion to “build” what God is wanting to build and “tear down” those systems, beliefs, and practices which God does not approve. The apostolic and the prophetic are essential to the laying of foundations of the Church (Eph. 2:20). The “builder” anointing and impulse of the apostolic and prophetic is coupled with the “destroy and overthrow” anointing. The Spirit of God resists the proud. Anything, temples, kingdoms, or belief systems which resist the gentle flow of the Holy Spirit are marked for destruction.
Isa 57:14 And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
Then, after the destruction, the anointing to build takes the lead. Those whom God has rescued, the poor and the needy, the ones who have humbly sought God for grace, then become the builders.
Isa 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
The caution Paul offers in the building process is to beware of building systems that will resist the gentle flow of God’s Spirit as He seeks to rescue and restore the poor and needy.
As I develop a new training course on Missional Collaboration for the University of the Nations, I will be unveiling several aspects of the course through this blog. Today’s post originates from one of my papers and in response to an article on the Trinity by Mark Avery, professor of a course on Collaboration at Fuller Theological Seminary. This is the first of a series I will be posting as I develop the course. — John Henry
The Heart of God’s Mission is Relationship
Working together in God’s Mission is not complicated. Accomplishing the Great Commission is an enormous task. But fulfilling this commission from Jesus is through the empowering of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Father. The task is not placed completely on our shoulders. We are sharing in the task through our relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God’s Mission flows out of personal, intimate, encouraging, and cooperative relationship.
What is Missional?
The term “missional” is buzzing all over the blogosphere and publishers are happy to sell the many books on the topic. Sadly, the term “missional” has created some confusion. Under the umbrella of “missional” are various descriptions and historical formations of church, discussions of theological and political/justice issues, and questions of equipping/releasing leaders for christian ministry.
Darrell Guder, contributing editor of the book “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America” from the The Gospel and Our Culture Series (1998), explains:
“…by adding the suffix ‘al’ to the word ‘mission,’ we hoped to foster an understanding of the church as fundamentally and comprehensively defined by its calling and sending, it’s purpose to serve God’s healing purposes for all the world as God’s witnessing people to all the world.”
We are “Ambassadors of Reconciliation”
“So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20 RSV)
Simply put, to be missional is to join God’s Mission (Missio Dei), which is God’s desire to “reconcile to himself all things.” (Col. 1:20 RSV) I think it is important to dismiss the sham argument, the straw man set up to defeat this desire to be missional. For example, those who want to join those who are dismissing Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” even before they read it, please take some time to consider first this theological conversation about eternal judgment, whether it is a universalist or an annihilationist position. Theology is an ongoing conversation, which implies relationship, listening/speaking and learning. Theology is humanity’s study to understand God’s desire that “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ( 1 Tim. 2:4 RSV)
This emergence of theologians and Christian leaders who desire to see their church communities become “missional” is concurrent with significant global shifts in Global Christianity. For fifteen centuries the “Church” has been affiliated with the political powers of the Western world, beginning with Roman Emperor Constantine. This means we have almost always understood the Christian Church to be established and settled in the West, that the “mission fields” are outside the West. Please understand, the emphasis on reaching the unreached parts of the world is good and right. However, the formation of churches have been with the presumption of power and privilege within Western society, with a tendency to posture themselves paternalistically over the “younger” churches in the less-reached world.
The emergence of theological questioning about our understanding of God’s Mission and the Church’s role came to a point of crisis within the past three decades, when the geographic center of Christianity moved south. Todd Johnson, co-author of the Atlas of Global Christianity (2009) writes,
“Shortly after 1980, Christians in the South outnumbered those in the North for the first time in 1000 years.” (2004) Today over seventy-five per cent of protestant Christians are in the non-Western world.
The shift in the center of gravity of World Christianity came as a surprise to Western Christian leaders. Much of the Western Christian world predicted a decline in Christian numbers in Africa and Asia in the twentieth century. What surprised Western missionaries is how so many Africans and Chinese embraced Christianity, mostly without Western orchestration. To understand this extraordinary growth in World Christianity, Lamin Sanneh calls for a “fresh understanding of the gospel in world history.” (2003)
How does this Global Shift impact our understanding of Mission and Church?
We need to first understand the importance of relationship in a theology of mission. The doctrine of the Trinity informs our understanding of the dynamic relationship between the persons of the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s relationship with all of creation, especially the dynamic relationship between those created in God’s image, flows from the dynamic relationships within the Trinity.
Before we can work with others effectively, we must know our own identity, our strengths and our weaknesses. There is little point in embracing the missional renaissance if we do not first take an honest assessment of ourselves, our communities and our culture. We must refuse to be conformed to this world, attempting to repackage our churches with a marketing ploy and call it “missional.” We must recognize how the Western Church has failed to be missional, opting for a settled institutional power-based attractional organization. People relate out of identity and their relationships form their identity. Like a child growing within a family, our identities are formed through our interaction and relationship with others. Our identities are shaped through our interaction with our environment, and the groups to which we relate. As individuals we relate to one another, however churches and groups do not effectively relate. Organizations are not typically designed to work together; they measure their success by their growth. Organizations, including churches, attract individuals to participate as members. Organizations need people simply to add to their size, their capacity, their reputation, their influence, and ultimately their power. To be missional we must first repent of thinking too highly of ourselves, our organizations and churches, and our culture. We must change our thinking, admitting how we have been conformed to the powers of this world, and choose to be transformed by the renewing of our minds to the word of God, submitting ourselves to king Jesus and aligning ourselves to God’s mighty word of power. The simple act of repentance, acknowledging that the Church is not the Kingdom of God, will help us to transform into missional communities.
We are all created in God’s image, and therefore our identity and our capacity to relate comes from God. The amazing dynamic of identity and relationships within the Godhead, within the Trinity, is the basis for a theology of relationship and collaboration. As we come to know God better, we will be enabled to work with others better.
The Missional Renaissance is an emerging ambition among thoughtful Christian theologians and leaders to make disciples of all nations (simultaneously engaging our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth). To be missional is to form mission shaped leaders and mission shaped churches.
Our table is the center of our home. It’s the place our family comes together, the place we welcome friends, neighbors, and strangers. We invite others into the kitchen where we chop and sauté vegetables, bake bread, stir sauces, pour the fruit of the vine (juice or wine, you choose), and prepare to savor the meal. Rich conversation with others around food is how we live, how we love each other, how we teach our children, and how we learn about others and our world.
We thought everyone enjoyed meals as families. We thought everyone invited people into their homes to share their lives. Sadly, we’ve met a growing number of people who rarely if ever sit at table with their families, let alone anyone else. By sharing our table with international students, young people from various religious and non-religious backgrounds, happy homes and broken homes, we’ve learned how very desperate this generation is for authentic relationships.
But that’s not all. The simplicity of sharing meals and intimate conversation may be more than we thought.
Think about it. Table fellowship was central to early church gatherings. Long before all the complex religious practices, the beautiful sanctuaries and the hierarchy of leaders were added to the simplicity of sharing life in Christ with others, believers shared meals from house to house. Though some gatherings may have been in the synagogue or a rented hall, much of the growth of the church came about in the intimate spaces, especially table fellowship. Without the New Testament scriptures, people gathered to remember the words Jesus spoke. They experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and spoke the simple gospel message and the church rapidly grew. People opened their homes and others brought their appetites, desiring to grow in their relationship with Jesus, which caused the growth of the “spiritual house”, the new temple of worship. It appears Jesus intends, and the early apostles taught, that we should be priests offering spiritual sacrifices from the altar of table fellowship. Peter writes:
“Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:2-5
There’s more. The New Testament “priesthood” is very different from the Old Testament priesthood and their focus on Temple worship. Before Jesus went to the cross, he prophesied the total destruction of the Temple, which came about before the end of the first century, and which resulted in the end of Temple worship. Jesus instituted a new form of altar worship, table fellowship. He instructed his followers to remember his sacrifice. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers:
“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor. 11:22-24
Jesus instructed us to “remember” and Peter instructed us to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Priests offer intercession, prayer for the people, including all nations. The Old Testament priests were born priests; they were from the tribe of Levites. The Levites offered the blood of bulls, goats, and doves for the remission of sin. Some became corrupt, seeking and maintaining power, and failing to intercede for the nations. Of all the words Jesus spoke, he spoke most harshly to those corrupt leaders that failed to be priests and a light to the Gentiles.
The “tribe” of priests in the New Testament are also born to a priesthood; they are born of the Spirit. They are not individually priests with special callings. The priesthood is all those born of the Spirit. New Testament priests do not shed blood, as the Levites did. Instead, they recall the complete and finished work of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, our high priest:
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” – Heb. 7:23-27
So this priesthood is not for a select few in the Church, not a specialized role that must be earned and not a special class of people within the Church. This priesthood of all believers is the call to intercede, to pray and offer a different kind of “sacrifice” on a different kind of altar.
Table fellowship had become very controversial in the early church. Peter struggled with the issue and Paul confronted him about it:
“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” – Gal. 2:11-12
Jewish believers needed to learn Christ’s mission. They needed to be free from their cultural and religious systems of power. They needed to recognize how those systems resist Holy Spirit.
Finding freedom in the Spirit will lead us to cooperate with him. He is here to make Jesus known in all the earth. The Holy Spirit is spreading the good news. Our part is to be that priesthood, inviting our neighbors to table fellowship. Preaching is important, but we must not neglect breaking bread with neighbors as part of our intercession for our neighborhood as a kingdom of priests.
The Christmas story is more than the idyllic picture of stars and shepherds and the birth of a baby in an animal stall. It’s also about an amazing story of God’s justice and his Mission, contrasting attractional and missional messages in the Christmas story. It begins with the faith of a young girl from Nazareth who arrives in Judah to see her relative. Her first words are:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
Mary is a walking miracle. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, she is now a pregnant virgin with a promised son. Gabriel, an angel who stands in God’s presence, makes an amazing declaration to Mary: “The Lord is with you! You have found favor with
God.” The promise to conceive came true. But would this baby boy really “be great“, and who will call him “the Son of the Most High”? How will the Lord God give to him “the throne of his father David”? How will he “reign over the house of Jacob for ever” with a “kingdom that will have no end“? This is what the young Galilean girl is pondering in her heart as she flees from the scorn of her neighbors, and apparently the temporary frustration of her fiancé, for this untimely pregnancy and walks to the city of Judah to stay with her relatives, Zachariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth had her own miracle baby; she was old and never had children. Elizabeth was promised a child, John, who would become the prophet, calling his people to repentance and preparing the way of the Lord. At the
sight of Mary, Elizabeth feels her baby leap in her womb. In that moment, Elizabeth experiences the infilling of the Holy Spirit and exclaims a prophetic word with her joy:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your
womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting
came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And
blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of
what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42-45)
Without the knowledge that comes through the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth could not have known that her young niece was indeed “the mother of the Lord”. Similarly, the Holy Spirit sets ablaze Mary’s tongue as she continues her prophetic, and strangely
“And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Luke 1:50-55)
This young girl recalls God’s promises of justice and mercy and exclaims that God has already “put down the mighty from their thrones.” There is a strangely political tone here, a sense that God’s justice was coming or had come in this miracle child. Mary, no doubt, pondered things in her heart for many years. Who is this boy? Surely he cried as a baby, vulnerable and in need of the many forms of sacrificial love of his parents. We can also wonder about those growing years when Jesus worked with Joseph, his earthly dad, and cared for his younger brothers and sisters. The writer of Hebrews gives us a hint at his early years, disclosing that he “learned obedience through what he suffered“, likely including rejection due to his dubious birth (Heb. 5:8). We also know from Luke’s
gospel that before Jesus’ public ministry, he had a regular practice of standing up to read the Scriptures in the synagogue. The portion we find in the gospels after John baptizes him, after the devil tempts him in the wilderness, and after his public ministry begins. Jesus returns to his home country, Nazareth, and on the sabbath he enters the synagogue, stands, and begins to read from Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
Right then he closed the book, something nobody expected. They wanted him to read the next phrase: “and the day of vengeance of our God“ (Isa. 61:2) Instead, Jesus gave the book back to the attendant, and sat down. Everybody just stared at him. Breaking the tension, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Suddenly everyone was happy and thought very highly of “Joseph’s son.” They too began to wonder. (v.22) That’s when Jesus seems to stick his proverbial foot in his mouth. Everything goes sour when he says:
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’ Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (vs. 23-27)
Jesus does not seem to care if people liked him or thought highly of him. He is not attractional; he’s missional. He just put it all out there. The people were expecting
a word of God’s vengeance, God’s promised deliverance exclusively for the people of Israel. But Jesus instead speaks of God’s initiative of grace to the outsider, the Gentile nations. Jesus gives a message of God’s Mission. What happens? All hell breaks
loose. They were all “filled with wrath.” No longer did they wonder at the grace of Joseph’s son; they rushed him and got ready to push him over a cliff. (vs. 28-29) Somehow, Jesus managed to walk away. The Day of Christmas is a day of vengeance, but it is not what most people think.
By the time the Letter to the Ephesians is written, the church has emerged as a social and political force. The author, likely not Paul, has identified problems of the universal significance of God’s act in Christ. This letter shares the theme of Romans (Jew & Gentile conflict), but that conflict is apparently fading. There’s little reference to that conflict in Ephesians. However, a wider conflict in the Greco-Roman world has emerged: The challenge of the pagan worldview of pantheism. In this letter, the author argues that Christ is supreme.
This author is not likely to be Paul. Though clearly dedicated to Paul’s message, the author brilliantly outlines Paul’s gospel of grace. The message is Christ and his supremacy. In this letter we find a “representational Cristology”, which is the revelation that we can determine our future based on Christ’s life and resurrection.
The flow of the the argument is in two parts. First, the “Universal Significance of Christ” (1:3 – 3:21), which includes meditations on the meaning of Christ and the revelation of God’s eternal plan, with the presence of Holy Spirit as guarantee until inheritance. Christ is described as “head” of creation and of the church, but Christians sit with him in heavenly places. Therefore, Christians are free from the prince of the power of the air. God’s mysterious and eternal plan has always been Christ’s death & resurrection.
The purpose of the Church, then, is to make the mystery known, to declare the outcome of Christ’s finished work. That is, the church is to declare the unity of humanity in Christ, that there is no longer any “wall” or distinction between Jew or Gentile. Through the cross, Christ has reconciled all to God. (4:1-6:20)
The author then directs the reader’s attention to behavior, how we should then live, in light of these realities. Believers need to understand how to relate to non-believers and how to make their stand against forces of darkness. We are called to “live worthy”, functioning as members of a family, with good order, and self-sacrificial love.
In 1986, when our YWAM troupe did a pantomime drama in a public high school, I was asked to give the closing, which was typically an altar call. But I did not want to set off a political “bomb” in the public school. I simply held up the “black gloves” that represented sin and said, “you know what these are and you know now how they isolate you and cause broken relationships.” I said, “I want to invite you now to break down the barriers in response to the Star of this presentation (and you know who that is). Reach out to your fellow students and teachers and tell them you really care about them today. Be free from the powers that hold you in isolation.” That was it. That was the altar call. Be free and truly human.
I’ve struggled with the issue of a private consumer-type evangelism for years. I am not content to be part of a community that presents a private “ask Jesus in your heart” commitment to Jesus. Proclaiming Jesus is King is an afront to all principalities and powers and rulers, both human and otherwise.
I am becoming more vocal confronting powers with the “royal proclamation” and fact that “Jesus is Lord”. It has never felt anything like treason, however, it may very soon.
The message that Jesus is Lord is not private, but there are amazing private rewards. We can experience intimate fellowship with the Father, through the Holy Spirit. We are no longer waiting for the End of Days; they have come through the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of all the Promises to Israel. When he returns, we will all be like him. We have the Spirit now as a deposit, that we will be fully like him, a New Humanity. We will be everything we were always intended and designed by God to be, fully Human.
To say “Jesus is Lord” represents a commitment to live in such a way that the reality of the confession must be realized in all of society, in our community as well as in the surrounding culture. This profession is an afront to the personal lifestyles and religions of the surrounding people as well as to the political powers that purported to “lord it over them.”