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And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (Luke 19:13 KJV)
This call to “occupy” is not new. Jesus of Nazareth told a story to his followers to encourage them, especially the ones who were asking if the kingdom would appear right away. They asked, “Will we live in a world with justice and mercy today?”
Interestingly, the people in the story actually “hated” the king. According to the Message, a popular common language translation of the Bible, those who hated the king…
“…sent a commission with a signed petition to oppose his rule: ‘We don’t want this man to rule us.’ (Luke 19:14 MSG)
What does it mean “to occupy”?
Well, according to this ancient use of the term, it refers to good stewardship. Those who were faithful to what the king entrusted to them, those who increased the King’s wealth, were given more than they already had. And to those who did not faithfully invest his wealth, the king took away everything.
Why was this the story Jesus told when asked if he was going to establish his kingdom now?
Perhaps the cry for justice in the heart of every generation can help us understand.
Most people do not want a king. They do not want to serve another, to be faithful to the cause of another. Most would choose not to trust a leader. While crying out for justice, they would reject the most faithful, the most merciful, and the most just leader the world has ever known. Few would see the importance of their own faithfulness.
Most did not, and still do not recognize him. He hid his identity in his humanity. Born in a little corner of a Roman Client State, Palestine. Entrusted to human parents of a middle eastern tribal people, Israel. Jesus was born a king. And only young shepherds and angels knew it. A few odd astrologers too.
Jesus, the son of God, preferred to be addressed as “son of man.” He occupied a human body. And, even after being rejected and killed by those to whom he came to love, he did not reject his creation. Raised in a resurrected body, he occupies that body today.
And he will return, no matter how many Freedom from Religion petitions are circulated, or similar petitions rejecting leaders. No matter how many continue to hate the thought of anyone being their leader, Jesus will return as king.
Have you been “occupying” in anticipation of the king’s return? Have you been faithful with what he has entrusted to you?
He is coming soon. In this Christmas season, may we all occupy our human bodies, our neighborhoods, and our world with the same attitude that Jesus did. Though he was privileged, he became a servant of all.
Have a blessed Christmas!
The noise of the one hundred students moving their metal chairs into circles was deafening. The Nairobi Church auditorium echoed with loud screeching as students from nearby University of Nairobi shuffled to form their groups according to the spheres or domains of society; arts, media, business, education, family, government, etc.
The room was buzzing with excitement. The intensive seminar, “Calling Quest 2001 – Transforming Your Nation Through Your God-given Vocation” is one of a series of seminars I have presented around the world for Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. At this event, I had the help of three of our YWAM Madison School of the Bible interns. After the first of several presentations, the students were anxious to discuss and search the Scriptures for answers to the hard questions.
Accompanying us was a team of thirteen students from Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, UC San Bernadino, and UVA, all of whom had been prepared to lead the Domains Small Group discussions during our week-long Field Ministry Internships orientation in Switzerland. When we arrived in Kenya, they came with questions too. Ju Rhyu, one of the Brown students, brought these questions:
How can I bring transformation in a world of injustice? What is my place in this world? Though I yearn to see justice in a world with nations rejoicing, the burdens and problems that stand before me seem too daunting, too massive. AIDS, poverty, corruption – how do I even begin to think about these things?
It was the week of July 24-27, 2001. Yes, only a few weeks later the world would be shocked at the events of September 11, 2001. (Several American colleagues and I were still in Nairobi on that day. We were attending an international conference for the University of the Nations. We were stranded in Kenya and then Europe, waiting for the airports to unclog so we could return to our families and friends in the USA, and a very different world.)
Ju’s questions loom even larger in the face of a world terrorized by a few radicals. What could a few Christ followers do in the face of such evil? How could they help end the injustices of the poor? What is God’s good purpose for humankind? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? And are we called to serve the needs of the world?
Actually, we have two calls from God. Enjoying friendship with God, not merely right relationship, is our first call. Adam and Eve, the first inhabitants of the world in our God Story, enjoyed friendship with God. They were called twice. First, they were called to serve in the garden with the words “dress it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God made human beings in His image to rule and to be fruitful under His reign with full dependence on Him. Second, after Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered the world, God’s call became a cry seeking his lost friends. “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
However, calling changed after the tragic Fall of humankind. Because of the Fall, our first call is not to service, but to restored relationship. St. Augustine expressed the call to restored relationship to God in his Confessions,
“Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
When we are lost and outside relationship with God, our first call is to restored relationship through faith.
Calling to do something in the world was not separated from the call of intimate friendship. Both callings are integral to our relationship with God; both are integral to the imprint of God’s image.
Sadly, most of the students I spoke with in Nairobi that summer were not able to see a valid contribution or calling beyond the domain of the church.Though many were students of architecture, business, and communications, they did not understand the God-given calling to be an architect, or business person, or journalist. They thought the call to be a pastor or evangelist was the highest calling.
What do you think?
Our Domains Small Groups continued to press in diligently with their questions. They began to understand the imprint of God, what it means to be created in God’s image. The student groups searched the daily newspapers to see what was happening in their chosen sphere of society. Then they sought the Scriptures to understand God’s ways of governing the world.
Our team of student leaders prayed together with the Nairobi students for the very real and very current needs in the domains of health care, education, business, family, etc. They began to see past the stigma and blindness to the ills of their own society. For example, though there were already ten million AIDS orphans, it was only that summer that the first newspaper article reported that AIDS was the cause of someone’s death.
After the intensive seminar, the students continued to meet weekly to study and pray in their groups. They even took prayer walks around major centers of business, education, media, etc. They became activated in God’s calling to “dress and keep” the world. One group was ushered into the Deputy Mayor’s Office to present some of their findings and discuss the need for a better sewage system.
The students began to understand the high calling of living according to God’s design, offering their gifts, skills, and natural abilities in service to their neighbors and their world. Much of our ministry to the Poor is in helping our them understand their high calling, that they are created in the image of God. This leads us to Key #4.
Key #4: Defend the Image of God in the Poor.
The Nairobi university students at that CallingQuest and other seminars conducted over the summer of 2001 were among the most privileged of Kenyan society. However, they were missing something. We too are “Poor” if we fail to know our identity and vocation, our calling in God.
Those who know God have responsibility to the Poor. We are called to define and defend the image of God in the Poor. Because we know we are created in His image and we know His voice calling us to intimate friendship and purpose in this world, we must be diligent to defend the image of God in the Poor.
The Poor are not lazy or stupid. Jayakumar Christian writes,
“A people so close to the edge cannot afford laziness or stupidity. They have to work and work hard. Most of the lazy and stupid are dead.”
We too should be diligent. Our church life and worship should celebrate our relationship with Jesus Christ, our reconciliation with God. However, we also have the responsibility to minister to the Poor. We must look for ways in which the Poor have been limited in their access to love, justice, or peace.
Ministry to the Poor is not merely about access to material needs; it’s about removing obstacles and giving access to the cultural, social, spiritual, personal, and biological spheres of community.
Our outreach to the Poor should affect the whole system of poverty, the diabolical web to which they are bound. Our ministry is reconciliation. We are called to restore relationships, including relationship with God (religion, philosophy, theology), Community (political science and economics), the Environment (biology, ecology, engineering), the Wider World (sociology, international relations, justice), and Individuals (psychology, health care).
Ju Rhyu expresses her deepest desire that:
Through our time in Nairobi we would be able to teach that God reigns over and in and through all. He is Lord of government, business, science, technology, education, family, the church, arts and communications. The sacred should not be self-contained and relegated to a position of non-influence, but rather, should extend itself to influence holistically.
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?
Key #2: A Kingdom View of the Poor.
“Line up!” shouted the man who climbed out of the Ford Econoline 350 box truck. “Stand back! Stand de vuelta!” Clowns, balloons, and face painting helped attract people from the nearby pueblos. The dry wind swept up the grey dirt as the crowd of people from Cuidad Juarez, and the surrounding Mexican border squatter villages, gathered to receive clothes, food, and other donated items. Obediently, the people stood in line and waited for the man to open to back of the truck. I have no doubt the man and the others with him had kind intentions, however my heart sunk as I watched these people reduced to pitiable passive recipients of American excesses.
The truckload of donations was part of an outreach ministry of a church on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande. It was the summer of 1990. We were in Juarez for six weeks with our Field Ministry Internship student teams of Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. On this hot July afternoon, we were assisting the American group that came to plant a church. We were asked to conduct simple health examinations, primary health care, in a makeshift medical clinic. This personal contact also gave us opportunity to ask if we can pray for the children and their families.
However, the oversized sound system and overzealous worship leaders made it difficult to pray, let alone conduct any thorough examinations in the clinic. The loud and raucous singing and music was giving me a headache.
I stepped out of the clinic to observe the open air meeting. The music continued as young American evangelists, many with clown outfits, went into the audience to pray for the sick.
Please understand, I am a firm believer in prayer and God’s power to heal.
But this disturbed me.
A small Mexican child, obviously frightened by the clowns laying their hands on him, was crying and reaching out toward his mother. Others were surrounding “Mom” and praying for her. The noise and confusion even had me anxious to leave. I wondered what this child and family would think of Jesus after this traumatic day.
This brings us to the second key to ministry among the poor.
Christian ministries will always reflect their leadership’s view of the poor, their understanding of the nature of poverty. That view may be less biblical and more the prevailing view of the surrounding culture.
What is your view of the poor?
The way we approach our ministry to the poor communicates value, either positively or negatively. No matter how many dollars or valuables we donate, our posture and attitude in what we do and say communicates far more than what we give.
When Christians reach out to the poor, we too often unintentionally communicate what we think of their value.
This is what the poor “hear”:
“We are complete, you are not.”
Simply put, the goal of our outreach to the poor should be to avoid communicating that lie. Our goal should be to identify with the poor in our mutual recovery of identity in relation to God’s creative design and purpose.
How do we do that?
In order to communicate value to the poor, we must first communicate value to the volunteer serving alongside us in ministry to the poor.
This is why we emphasize “Calling” in our university student ministries and outreaches. If our outreach emphasizes the discovery of vocation in the life of the volunteer, the Christian participant in ministry to the poor, then we will effectively communicate the value of the design and purpose of God to the community in which we minister.
Then we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor.
Our aim is the same as that of Jesus’ public ministry:
“And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’” (Luke 4: 17-19)
Our goal is to ‘set free’ the poor from their destructive relationships so they may enjoy Shalom, a Hebrew term for peace, completeness, and welfare. All of us are called by God to an abundant life of healthy kingdom relationships.
The way we reach this goal must begin with the right posture, the right attitude. We must begin by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus.
In our outreach to the Poor we must represent a kingdom community, demonstrating the biblical story and representing God’s identity and purpose in our relationships.
Our outreach should portray the kingdom of God, which represents the character of God in all the various expressions of his callings.
God is healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, etc. Therefore, these vocations are representing God’s character in community.
Outreach is best when we represent the kingdom of God in a community of servants. We represent the character of God and the holistic and interrelated spheres of His ministry.
Ministry to the Poor requires a view of the poor and a vision of the kingdom of God.
In this series, I am referring to the book: God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God, by Christian, Jayakumar.
U2 singer songwriter Bono expresses a spiritual yearning in the 1987 album The Joshua Tree hit single: “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” New Musical Express (a pop music mag in the UK better known as the NME), points out that the popularity of the song may be due to the way it showed that the band cared about something which could not be reduced to a few words, principles, or statements to “save” them. The spiritual yearning, “climbing mountains” and “scaling these city walls” with a singular aim, “only to be with you”, made U2 “special” with a message that resonated making the song among the most popular of all time. Why?
Bono captured the heart-cry of a generation. Harvard University graduate Noah describes his own spiritual yearning: “My education has prepared me better than most to ‘make a living’. But once I have that living, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do with it…” He continues, “My expanded intellectual capacities make it more difficult for me to find anything to believe in… the American educational system has armed me with so much cynicism and has not allowed more opportunity to contemplate what I truly want of life.”
What I truly want…
The search, seeking what you truly want, should not cause any shame. If you are not on a search for something more, then it may be you have lost hope for the future. Or worse, it may be your search has resulted in a dead end, a fatalistic future, which requires no participation. Fatalists, whether Christian or not, have no reason to invest their lives, their resources or their work, toward something meaningful. The future is fixed and cannot be changed, according to their fatalistic belief system. To know that the course of your life has meaning, you must consider ‘what?’ or more appropriately ‘Who?’ will give your life significance.
Os Guinness writes, “First we must resolutely refuse to play the word games that pretend calling means anything without a Caller – and we must not allow people to play such games on us.” He continues,“If we don’t recognize the Caller, there are no callings; all that can remain is work without true meaning.”
A spiritual quest for meaning
Be encouraged. There is more and the future is made by those who seek a better world, those who are really living in this world as a witness of the goodness of their Creator, the God who is both the beginning and the end. The call of God is a spiritual quest. It is a call to be like him, believing in the future and creating it through our words and actions, our work and our investment, our hopes and our prayers. Even God seeks. He is the One who calls. With all his power and knowledge, God seeks those of us who will respond to his call:
“Heaven is my throne, earth is my footstool. What sort of house could you build for me? What holiday spot reserve for me? I made all this! I own all this! But there is something I’m looking for: a person, simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.” Isa. 66:1-2 (The Message)
Responding to God’s call is taking this spiritual quest for meaning very seriously. I believe this generation, probably more than any other, is on a search for significance. Unfortunately, the search requires resources not readily available. Though some have been on the journey and could serve as guides, they often go unnoticed; the people who might serve as a guide or mentor are hidden in plain sight. They do not hang a shingle advertising their availability to lead you on a journey of significance. If they do, you might check for references. Those who can lead you on a journey of the discovery of God’s calling will not self-promote because the act of self-promotion is contradictory to the call of God. If you seek someone to help you on your quest, do not turn to a “professional” who has reduced the process of discerning the call of God to a “12-step program” or a costly university diploma. Instead, get on with your quest, respond to God’s call with all your heart. That quest, whether you are enrolled in university or not, will likely lead you to become more of a student, more discerning, and more prayerful. A quest is a “mystery discerning enterprise,” rather than a “problem solving” project. Your quest is not a self-help program and it is not merely an adventure. Those who go on adventures experience amazing things, but they return to their routine; their lives are not changed. Those who go on a spiritual quest are changed. If they return, they are never the same. They cannot return to the same routine. They have become pilgrims on a quest that will continue throughout their lives.
Should I seek a guide?
Keep your eyes open, especially the “eyes of your heart” (Eph. 1:18). Paul the apostle prays that you may “know the hope of his calling.” Discernment and humility are needed when considering who may be a guide as you seek what is really important. The guide will be someone who is on their own journey, discerning and seeking to obey their own call from God. That they are on their own quest will likely conceal their spiritual identity from you and their value to you as a guide. Recall the characters from J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings? Frodo’s quest came after Bilbo gave him the “One Ring” and Gandalf charged him to take the ring to Rivendell. On their way, Frodo and his friends met a stranger at the Prancing Pony Pub. Little did they know the stranger is the son of a king. Aragorn’s identity is concealed to others and partly concealed to himself. He is first introduced by the name Strider. Strider joined Frodo’s quest while serving as a guide and protector for the hobbits.
Please understand: This is not a formula for seeking a guide for your spiritual journey. However, Tolkien’s story is useful here. From my experience, the most valuable mentors/teachers to me have been humble individuals who were/are on their own spiritual journey. Their identity and their significance was largely concealed from me when I first came to know them. The extent of their service, guidance and protection, and their ultimate contribution to my spiritual quest is immeasurable. These individuals have been like spiritual fathers, investing themselves unselfishly as part of their own spiritual journey.
The struggle…the work
Your search will take you far from familiar territory. You cannot respond to God’s call hidden safe behind the comforts of your own culture, whether material comforts or theological/ideological comforts. Responding to God’s call takes the honest seeker both deep inside the needs in their own heart and out to a world of desperate needs. If there is deep within you a passionate desire to make a difference, you will need to become desperate enough to free yourself from the shackles of your own culture, your own hurts, and your own false beliefs. To get to know your own identity, which includes your family, your culture, and your personal trauma in life, is hard work. The call of God will always lead you to a thorough assessment of your motives and values, your woundedness and your strengths. To know that passion and the difference for which you are called is not found by taking an online survey for $50. Bottom line, it takes work to discern your calling.
“Doing anything as a calling-especially doing something quite difficult-is a lot more fulfilling than merely drifting.” Michael Novak, from his book, Business as a Calling.
Do you need to find a “happy optimum” between push and pull of being a part of your home church and being your own distinctive person with a calling and experience in your wider community? Does your work or school life look like a mission field to you? Perhaps you have a desire to start a bible study, prayer group, or plant a simple church in your community? Pursuing that desire will likely require that you will have to say “no” to appeals to volunteer in your local church.
Does your hope for your own community, your work, school, and neighborhood, make you feel like that your concern is in opposition to the needs of your local church?
This is the tension many of us are experiencing today. Why? While some mega-churches are still serving the needs of our culture attracting large numbers of evangelicals to a market-based church program, the attractional model of church is no longer effective in our growing post-christian culture. To put it simply: It’s a great time to be THE church, but it is not a good time to be A church.
This presents a tremendous personal challenge to us, and especially to pastors. Many will simply not understand your desire to engage your world and network beyond the local church. Some may find self-esteem and safety within the local church. Some will already find acceptance and significance within the church and therefore not have a strong sense of need to extend their relational group. The more successful and “tight” the church group, the less likely it is that some would sense any need to extend their relationships.
Those of us who reach beyond our church communities are in a dynamic tension called Optimal Distinctiveness. Optimal Distinctiveness is the desire to be identified within a group and distinguish oneself from the group. This is the dynamic tension, this shifting identity, distinguishing oneself from the local church group, is part of the process of a new missional spirit in a post-Christian world. This is a spirit of collaboration.
If you are experiencing this dynamic tension, you need to learn the spirit of collaboration. You must be able to balance your identity within the context of collaboration, working with other groups and ministries outside the local church. To explain, let me share a bit of my own journey.
For 24 years, I have been serving with Youth With A Mission. I have worked with and among many church groups, mission agencies, and student organizations in over 30 nations. All the while I have extended the “fame” of my own spiritual father, my pastor, George Isley. He died a few years ago, but he continues to be my model of pastoral ministries. Over the years, I have come to realize a significant part of my identity was shaped in that local church and with that pastor. Meanwhile I have also found a significant part of my identity in the extended inter-group ministries I founded with Youth With A Mission, the Student Mobilization Centre of the University of the Nations. Though it was often a challenge for me to find the right approach to ministries outside the local church, the spiritual identity of a humble servant-leader modeled by George Isley continues to be my standard. To sum up, I have not followed the model of the popular itinerant preacher with products to sell and a slick appeal for an offering. The spirit of collaboration is not self-serving; it develops trusting personal relationships, freely giving, serving, and loving in the Spirit of Jesus.
As faithful believer in Jesus Christ, our ultimate responsibility and loyalty is to the Great Commission and our Servant King Jesus. We must continue to respect the amazing work that God has done and is doing through our local churches and pastoral leaders. However, our commitment and loyalty to Jesus and his mission must be greater than our commitment and loyalty to our own denomination, local church, and even our pastors. Reaching out in the spirit of collaboration is not a disloyalty to the local church; it is a greater commitment to THE global church.
You could appeal to your pastor for “permission.” Though it is difficult, you could also appeal to your pastor’s own human need to extend relationship beyond the boundaries of the local church. Your appeal to your pastor will reveal something to you; it will reveal your own search for personal balance.
The challenge will come when you are expected to continue to work in your local church and perhaps meet your pastor’s expectations. I want to leave you with a few recommendations:
1. I recommend that you clarify your identity, the identity God has shaped in your life as a committed member of your local church.
2. I also recommend that you take it slow. If you change too fast and too much, you may find yourself ostracized or excommunicated from your home church.
This is the topic of the next several posts. Let me know you are reading and post your questions, suggestions, and testimonies.
The letter to the Galatians may be Paul’s most important, representing the life and death struggle for the universal Church. It may have been followed by what may be the most important event in early church history, the Council of Jerusalem.
Paul also exhibits his most combative attitude in this letter. He does not open with any sense of gratitude for the church at Galatia, as was his custom. Paul, instead, must take on those other “teachers” who are presenting a “different gospel”, which undermines Paul’s gospel of justification by grace. Those other teachers were what Paul calls the “circumcision faction” (NRSV), who were demanding Gentile believers to observe the law of Moses, to become circumcised, which is to rely on Jewish Heritage.
Paul had met with Peter, had joined him at table fellowship with Gentiles, and later rebuked him for pulling away from that fellowship when those “Judaisers” arrived. Even Barnabas pulled back and joined in this “hypocrisy.” Paul calls into question the motives of those teachers; was it to avoid persecution or to gain some advantage?
It’s unclear exactly who those other teachers are that are putting Gentile believers under a “yoke of slavery,” but his words for them are as biting as ever. He claims they will “pay the penalty,” that they are “accursed,” and he wishes that they would “castrate themselves.”
Paul declares that the believers who have come under that “yoke” are “stupid” and “foolish.” They are by their actions denying the sufficiency of Christ, the gospel of Grace Paul preached to them. They are willing to “add” something, as if something more were necessary, to their simple trust in God.
Paul’s argument is that everyone, even Jews who do ‘works of the law’ in accordance to their heritage, must abandon their hope for a right relationship with God through trust in any other means, including Jewish Heritage. We must all find our hope and place our trust in Christ alone. Paul argues that Jewish heritage is more than adherence to Mosaic Law. Their father is Abraham, whose faith in God and not his adherence to any law. Therefore, Paul argues that reliance on law is finished for all Christians. The law does not and cannot foster the kind of faith and trust that leads to life. The Law was an imperfect agency, added as a kind of tutor, which identifies sin.
Followers of Christ are to emulate the trust of Abraham. The controversy called for the Council of Jerusalem. The consequences of this letter and this issue had divided churches, and if it had not been resolved, may never have allowed for Gentile believers without conversion to Judaism. The consequences would have dramatically hindered missionary efforts. The core of this issue may be the strong tendency of many Jews to place their trust in their ethnic and religious identity.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians calls us to eliminate all barriers to full religious participation based on race, sex, social status, etc. This is the challenge, I believe, for any cross-cultural transmission of the gospel. For that reason, if this controversy had not been sufficiently quelled, it would have done irreparable violence to the gospel of grace.
Two forlorn Jewish disciples met a stranger as they were leaving Jerusalem, the center of their world. After hearing them explain that their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified, the “uninformed” stranger responded, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 NIV) The resurrected Jesus explained what was plainly written in the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke’s gospel concludes with Jesus’ statement that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47 NIV)
How can this message of Jesus be pronounced “to all nations” if the Jewish people, centered within the context of a national expectation of the coming Messiah, failed to recognize him? If his disciples who walked with him and heard his teaching had failed to understand, what were the implications for the apostles who began to preach the gospel to different cultures? How do different contexts, and different centers of cultural understanding, effect the interpretation of the message? What must we therefore understand about the role of culture in the understanding of the New Testament? After feigning a continued journey, Jesus sat to break bread with his fellow travelers. In an instant his identity was revealed and he left those two disciples with hearts ablaze and compelled to go tell somebody.
In his book, Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes, Justo González offers helpful insights for Biblical interpretation through cultural paradigms of marginality, poverty, mestizaje and mulatez, exile and aliens, and solidarity. Making use of these paradigms, I will argue that the reinterpretation of the apostle Paul’s identity, the misinterpretation of the gospel message across cultures over the centuries, and the challenge Paul presents to the Church to disarm principalities and powers over cultures are all necessary to overcome the temptation to confuse the message of the gospel. Understanding the role of culture is essential to understanding the New Testament and therefore the mission of the Church.
(This is the first of five posts on this topic. Look for the next in a few days.)