PEOPLE WITH ATTITUDE attitude to suffering

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Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Here is the second distinctive kingdom attitude. It is supposed to make its presence felt when a situation arises that warrants sadness and grief. That happens a lot in our world as it did in the world of Jesus. It was pronounced enough to get a special prophetic mention. Isaiah talked about the coming Messiah, more than seven hundred years before it happened. His repeated statements caused considerable problems for the religious leaders of Israel at the time and later because they referred to the fact that the Messiah would experience great suffering.[1] Here is a sample: “….. a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)  All of us know something about personal loss. I am aware that our culture preconditions us to think about most things from an individual point of view, but I don’t think we should be ready to limit our understanding to that assumption.

When I read what others have written on this matter, I am surprised to find that they mainly talk about the sufferings associated with Jesus trial and crucifixion. There is no surprise about this. I have no idea at all as to the measure of that suffering. At the same time, as I have hinted above, I am not sure that Jesus was referring to that in his call to us to become people moved only by personal sadness. My appeal is, again, to the record of Jesus life and ministry. I ask the question of the stories in the gospels as to whether the experience of the cross was the main thing Jesus was grieved about. And I am sure you would come to the same conclusion as I. The answer is that Jesus was grieved on many different circumstances. So, to understand how this “attitude” works inside of us, we need to look at the record of Jesus’ grieving.

1. Jesus grieved over human lostness.  Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went, he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. ” (Matthew 9:35-38)  We have to pause a moment to read this story lest we miss the information that is telling us about something that kept on happening all the time. I’ve been a pastor for nearly fifty years and have been in the presence of people with all kinds of needs. Many times, those circumstances evoked a very natural sense of sadness and grief for what had happened. There have also been times when my job required me to get up and go out in all kinds of circumstances when I would have preferred not to, so I went and did my “duty.” Other times I have given my heart and soul to some situation only to find that people were using me for their own destructive self-gratification. This story tells me that Jesus went to a lot of places around the province of Galilee and every time he saw a crowd of people, his compassion was stirred by their sense of lostness and helplessness. They were like sheep without a shepherd, weary and helpless. And he gave them the very best of heaven’s compassion. It had nothing to do with how tired or depleted he might have felt. The voice of lostness called out to his heart, and his heart responded with deep and unending compassion.

We need to have an honest think about this. It seems to me that most Christians I know in my nation of Australia don’t have much of a feeling for lostness at all. They can quite successfully pursue their careers, raise their families, go on vacation and the like without feeling what is around them every day the way Jesus felt. We have often gone one better and hurled judgements at lost people. Every time Jesus witnessed human lostness it filled his heart with sadness, and from that sadness he responded to them.

2. Human heaviness and depression. 28 “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. 29 Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways, and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. 30 For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” (Matthew 11:25-30) Jesus made the experience of his Father’s love accessible to all. The religious system and its protectors shut people away from God through a ruthless system of demands. They portrayed God as distant, aloof and/or repulsed by sin. The only tangible connection with God was likely to be his disapproval and disgust. There have been times when the church has been obsessed with the same ideas. If you read the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” you will undoubtedly be persuaded to think that way. It was especially so for the multitudes of very poor people whose poverty, though often contributed to by the authorities and their taxes, was construed as the judgement of God on their sin. The reference above stands in its own judgment on such an attitude. Instead of shame, blame, guilt and punishment, Jesus was calling on those who were weary with the complex burdens of life to come to him and experience rest. Notice he didn’t give them a ten point plan of how to deal with stress. His solution was for them to draw close to him so that they could experience rest.

In our own day, we are still plagued with the weights and burdens of the day, and it seems so common for people to be crushed by them. How sad, that a society like ours that seems to offer so many ways to be happy is exposed by a seemingly endless line of depressed people. Often, they are led to that horrible place where the only source of release seems to be to take their own lives. Jesus didn’t offer advice on how to avoid depression. He didn’t point out all of the things they might have done to avoid getting in such a state. He offered himself and his presence, his love and compassion as the answer. And he invited them to journey with him, be yoked to him so that they could learn from walking that journey WITH him. His willingness to open the door to people loaded up with cares meant that he would be carrying their load until there was no more load to carry. And he was going to do it without making them feel obligated and guilty for doing it.

Paul shares a similar sentiment while writing to the church in Thessalonica: “With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives—because you had become so dear to us.”[2] All of this is the outworking of what Isaiah was shown about the ministry of the promised Messiah-King: For sure He took on Himself our troubles and carried our sorrows. Yet we thought of Him as being punished and hurt by God, and made to suffer. 5 But He was hurt for our wrong-doing. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so we would have peace. He was beaten so we would be healed (Isaiah 53:4,5)  The beautiful attitude modelled by Jesus with regard to human load-bearing is to invite them to unload and find rest. He is moved by the weight and touched by the tiredness. If we are willing to come to him, we will not only NOT be pushed away, as we so often find in our own community, but we see someone willing to relieve the burden and carry the load. 

One of my character flaws relates to my ability to put down my keys and then forget where they are. When all my children were growing up, it was a legendary proneness. So when I shouted out in a house full of wonderful fellow humans asking if anyone had seen my keys (and I was always rushing to get somewhere), I would be met with grunts and comments lacking in any form of compassion. And it was even harder to raise a search party. Everyone was too busy asking me where I had left them. Everyone knew exactly who to blame. And they were right. This story of human load bearing is not complete without referring to a particular occasion. When I had looked everywhere without success, I didn’t know what to do – so as a last resort I cried out with a loud voice to Jesus. I acknowledged that he knew exactly where the keys were and would he tell me so I could get on with my ‘important’ job of serving him. Immediately, into my mind came the words, “They are in the garbage tin.” I searched the household bin with no joy. I went to the bin outside but nothing. Then I went over to my office and in the little paper bin by my desk were the said keys. Voila! As I said, Jesus’ offer is for us to come to him so that he can give us rest – and this rest is available not only to the spiritual giants who never lose their keys, but to those of us babes who seem to make it a habit. And the postscript to the story is a habit I have now developed of always putting my keys in the same place at home, and at the office. Not a problem.

3. Sicknesses: 13 On hearing this, Jesus slipped away privately by boat to be alone. But when the crowds discovered he had sailed away, they emerged from all the nearby towns and followed him on foot. 14 So when Jesus landed, he had a huge crowd waiting for him. Seeing so many people, his heart was deeply moved with compassion toward them, so he healed all the sick who were in the crowd. (Matthew 14:13,14)  Have you ever spent an extended period in a hospital, perhaps in the emergency department? Human sickness creates a huge burden. From a personal point of view, it can dominate the life of an individual along with the members of their family. A large city hospital represents a concentration of sadness and suffering that cannot be measured. On the occasion recorded here Jesus had decided it was time to get away from the crowds and their needs. He sailed across the lake with his disciples. When they saw what was happening, the crowds simply followed around the edge of the lake. Perhaps the wind wasn’t very strong that day so while Jesus had a slow boat ride the crowd was gathering at the place he was about to land. They were waiting for him. That very statement doesn’t fill me with much excitement. I can imagine the disciples being moved, not by compassion but by anything from frustration to anger. Today we would go into some room, close the door and turn off our mobile. It wasn’t so easy in those days.

Regardless of how inconsiderate it might have been and even though Jesus was worn out from the previous ministry demands, something characteristically beautiful surfaced: an attitude of deep compassion. He was moved more by what he saw in them than he was by his own needs and emotions. Now there’s a challenge for people like us who measure out our availability based on convenience and personal preference. A challenge for those whose doors close at 5:00 and whose phones go to message bank; for those whose sense of responsibility is governed by some set of workplace agreements; for those who never answer their phones and don’t often respond to messages. Jesus felt deep compassion, and that compassion didn’t run dry until the last sick person was healed. What they felt from Jesus was not just the opportunity to be well, but the opportunity to be in the zone where they felt the compassion of heaven rather than the often indifference of this world. While grubby human selfishness makes it hard to connect with them, divine compassion is always accessible and welcoming.

The attitude Jesus was referring to regarding human sickness was not the sorrow of the sick persons themselves, but the compassion for those who are sick within the ones who are well. The blessing is not that Jesus heals sickness, but that the kingdom of God should be made up of people who are not able to live around sick people without moving to relieve their burden because of spontaneous and consistent compassion. Comfort happens because they find the presence of Jesus there.

4. The death of a family member or close friend: When Mary finally found Jesus outside the village, she fell at his feet in tears and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus looked at Mary and saw her weeping at his feet, and all her friends who were with her grieving, he shuddered with emotion and was deeply moved with tenderness and compassion. He said to them, “Where did you bury him?” “Lord, come with us, and we’ll show you,” they replied. Then tears streamed down Jesus’ face. (John 11:32-35)  There is a lot about this story that is unusual. Jesus was told that Lazarus was sick, but didn’t leave immediately. When he was told that Lazarus had died, he said he was sleeping. When he came near to Bethany, he waited outside the town rather than going to the home of Mary and Martha even though they were grieving. He was deeply moved with compassion, having seen Mary’s sadness. When they took him to where Lazarus was buried, and he saw the people filled with grief he began to weep also, even though he knew that Lazarus was about the be raised from the dead. Instead of getting obsessed about finding the answers to those questions I would instead allow the information to tell me something about Jesus and the personal life of someone who is proclaiming and advancing the kingdom of God. 

It is typical of western culture to see that Jesus was overcome by emotion, even though he had already told the disciples that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. The fact is that Jesus’ display of emotion and the outcome of the incident are two very different issues. More to the point, it shows the way “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” works in practice. Regardless of the large story going on, people are grieving for their lost brother and friend. That’s what Jesus connected with. It shows empathy, not analysis. The empathy for Jesus was immediate. Being surrounded by people experiencing the pain and loss brought about by death was something that belonged to the very core of his personhood and mission. He had come to destroy the power of death. Like Paul would say a bit later, “Death, where is your sting, grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55,56) So Jesus looked at the sorrow and was immediately and deeply moved to tears.

We often lock away our feelings, especially those of us on the male side of the gender line. God isn’t locked up. We know that by what we witness here. Jesus wasn’t feeling sadness for himself; He was feeling the grief of those around him. This identification is another example of “blessed are those who mourn.” Kingdom people will have an attitude about the sufferings of others. They will readily and fully identify with those feeling. On that basis, they will not only share in the circumstances of others, but bring the very presence of the King of the kingdom of God. Jesus knew the big story and the big picture. It never prevented him from registering and sharing in the feelings of the smallest story – in this case, a small group of Lazarus’ friends gathered around his tomb in mourning. What Jesus does, God is doing. As Jesus wept with the mourners, he was making the unseen heart of the Creator and Father God known. That is amazing. We are the people of God when the sadness and grief of others genuinely moves us. I am not talking about sending a sympathy card or writing some nice words in it. I am talking about something that comes from inside your heart and meets or resonates with their hearts.

Kingdom people have attitude about the sadness and suffering of others. We are deeply touched by it.

5. The stubborn resistance of the people of God  34 O city of Jerusalem, you are the city that murders your prophets! You are the city that pelts to death with stones the very messengers who were sent to deliver you! So many times I have longed to gather your wayward children together around me, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—but you were too stubborn to let me. 35 And now it is too late since your house will be left in ruins. You will not see me again until you can say, ‘We welcome the one who comes to us in the name of the Lord.'” (Luke 13:31-35)

41 When Jesus caught sight of the city, he burst into tears with uncontrollable weeping over Jerusalem, 42 saying, “If only you could recognise that this day peace is within your reach! But you cannot see it. 43 For the day is soon coming when your enemies will surround you, pressing you in on every side, and laying siege to you. 44 They will crush you to pieces, and your children too! And when they leave, your city will be totally destroyed. Since you would not recognise God’s day of visitation, your day of devastation is coming!” (Luke 19;41-44)

There are a variety of reasons for experiencing grief. We have no trouble relating to the previous example outside the tomb of Lazarus. Here is a very different set of circumstances. Luke records these two occasions. There were at least two occasions where God mourns the stubbornness of the people he has called to proclaim his nature and purpose to the families of the earth. If you were to read the whole of the Old Testament in a couple of sittings, it would take you a bit more than 52 hours. But if you did that you would notice how prone these people were to forsake their special relationship with God and how they were so easily compromised by turning to worship idols and adopt the values of the nations around them. Then read the gospels. Jesus, the awaited Messiah, comes. Tellingly, John writes these words to describe what happened, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13). Jesus came to people who should have been the ones most likely to recognise him but was rejected by them. I don’t know whether anyone has ever rejected you? Worse still, to be rejected by a whole group of people, or worse, rejected by your own people – but Jesus was. In human experience, it is the stuff that breeds resentment, bitterness, separation and retribution. With Jesus, it was tears of sadness. Please read the two passages at the beginning of this section and soak up the environment created by Jesus attitude. No slighted anger. No abuse. No threats. Just sadness at what they were doing and the consequences they would experience.

There is a particular poignancy about the second of the two statements. In the narrative, it comes as he finished entering Jerusalem on a donkey. He saw the sad prophetic act of triumph as they waved palm branches and then burst into tears at what was about to ensue. Even the atmosphere of victory could not cover the deep feeling of remorse. In a week these people would be part of a different crowd with very different intentions. In his book, “Postcards from Babylon,” Brian Zahn has made the profound observation that it is likely that two different kings were entering Jerusalem at about the same time. From the west came Pontius Pilate, representing the Lord Caesar. His credentials of office were displayed by his armed soldiers marching before and after his chariot and showing off the might of Roman oppression. On the other side of the city, a rabbi from Galilee entered on the colt of a donkey. His feet were likely dragging on the ground. A very different King representing a very different kingdom. As he entered, I think Pilate might have looked at the gathering crowds of pilgrims and strengthened his resolve to keep the Jews under control until the Passover was finished. Jesus looked at the same city and burst into tears. They were from different worlds and saw different things as they entered.

My point is to note the attitude. Jesus was filled with grief, not for himself but for the people who thought they represented God but were as lost from him as the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.[3] When we become sons and daughters of the kingdom what is going to be released in us is the same attitudes to rank stubbornness and arrogance. Not the passions associated with personal hurt but the flow of sadness for the people who remain in peril. Within forty years the city would be sacked, the temple destroyed and the people massacred. I want to feel the same way toward the people who resist and reject my message and ministry. I want to make tangible to them the way God feels. It’s funny how we, as followers of Jesus can be compassionate toward people with no commitment to Christ but show hatred to those people who follow Jesus but disagree with us. Here is a ‘heads up’ on how God feels toward them.

6. The unbelief of Jesus’ disciples Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

This statement may well mark the deepest expression of sadness and frustration from Jesus apart from the events leading up to and including the cross. Jesus had just come back from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John. They found the remaining disciples surrounded by a crowd of people and a demonised boy. The disciples had unsuccessfully tried to cast out a demon and were engaged in a verbal altercation with some religious leaders. When the boy’s father told Jesus, he responded with an expression of deep grief. There is an obvious question needing to be asked here. Was Jesus upset at the disciples or the generation of people who had collectively contributed to the chronic level of unbelief? A literal translation of the text would be as follows, “O generation (of) unbelieving and perverted (people). Until when will I be with you and bear with you.” My own conclusion is that he was referring to both. It was the disciples who couldn’t cast out the demon, so we can only assume that they were the ones directly implicated. It is very easy to understand that their level of faith was connected to the collective views of their ‘generation.’ The shallow demonised religious system that weighed people down with obligation and locked them away from knowing God had played its part. Compromises with both Hellenistic and Roman pressure and influence had also played a role. The outcome was displayed in the fact that the disciples he said and done everything they knew how to do, but the demon remained. The gospel record will show that they had had previous experience at casting out demons before. This demon was able to resist their efforts. More correctly, they were not able to operate at a level of authority needed to give the maleficent presence its marching orders. When they ask Jesus about it later, he explains that the only way for them to gain that level of authority is through prayer (and perhaps prayer with fasting). In other words, a change is needed in the relationship between God and the disciples for them to exercise the full measure of his power.

I guess some people will assume that Jesus is merely expressing disappointment and/or anger at the remiss of the disciples. They should have been able to cast out the demon. No teacher or parent will scold a pupil or child if they have been asked to do something that is impossible. Would I ask my ten-year-old son to jump over a two-metre wall and then berate him as he is lying on the ground after a failed attempt? I would be cross with the same son if I asked him to pick up his clothes from the floor of his bedroom and found that he was still playing on his Xbox. In the latter case, the problem was nothing to do with ability but will. The same must be true for the disciples. Their lack of faith must have related to their lack of commitment rather than ability.

This is not the place to become embroiled in the broader issues of living a life of faith in Jesus. On one occasion some people came and asked Jesus what they should do to do the works of God. Jesus said their most significant and most important task was to believe on the one God had sent (i.e. Jesus himself).[4] I am convinced that faith is not just some kind of temporary mental posture or less still, an affirming emotion. At the same time, it is a measurable state. Jesus talks about little faith and great faith in precisely that way. As here, he also talks about unbelief as a measurable human condition. The famous words from Hebrews 11 tell us that faith is the “substance” of things hoped for and the “evidence” of things that are not seen. So, faith is a level of conviction about something we can’t see. We see it as reality, even though it has not yet happened. This phenomenon is everywhere in the Bible from the beginning to the end. We are also told that “without faith, it is impossible to please God.”[5] On this occasion, recorded by Luke, the disciples were able to exercise faith but had allowed the “unbelief” of their generation to override the trust they should have had in what Jesus had modelled for them and taught them. I think that makes sense, both for them as well as for us. We also live amid a generation that has worked hard to convince itself of its own independence and self-reliance. 

It would be wrong for us to assume that “unbelief” should be thought of as an empty space or a vacuum created by the lack of faith. The word for unbelief is “apistos” (and the word for faith is “pistos”). The prefix works like our English prefix “anti-.” It is an active state, not a passive one. A contemporary idea would be a phrase used to describe people who oppose the idea of climate change. They are called, “climate-deniers.” That term more correctly carries the idea of “unbelief.” A person manifesting “unbelief” is a “belief-denier.” They are actively opposed to the idea of faith in (or faithfulness to) God. They have chosen an alternative belief system, one which they are actively pursuing.

To get back to the point of all this, we learn from this incident in the Gospel of Luke that when Jesus own disciples choose an alternative belief system than the one that Jesus was showing and teaching them, the response from Jesus is deep grief -, not anger or resentment.

When Jesus teaches about the second of nine attitudes that will be trademarks of the citizens of the new kingdom, one such expression of grief will be toward unbelief – our own or other people’s. The grief is understandable when you think that the Creator, Father, Redeemer, Provider, Purposer has made known to us the way we are to live as sons and daughters of God – and we take the capacity we have to respond to that love by rejecting it and trusting in a humanly contrived system, such a rejection is met with an outpouring of grief. That such a thing should happen? The reward for those who share this sadness is going to be blessed. Notice that we are not told we will see everyone we care about putting their trust in God. What we will experience will be the comfort of that very God who feels precisely the same as we do only more so. This grief doesn’t cause Jesus to give up or turn aside. He doesn’t pick up his ball and go home. He challenges that unbelief by continuing to fulfil his Father’s purpose. He continues to model and teach how to exercise faith. Such comfort is precisely the blessing we need. God intended deliverance for this demonised boy. As soon as the demon in the boy realised Jesus was present the boy was thrown into a convulsion. When Jesus drove out the demon the process demonstrated the effects of the struggle. When he told the demon to go, the boy fell on the ground as if he was dead.[6] Then, the boy revived and was totally set free. When the disciples settled for something less than what God intended, Jesus called it “unbelief.” That is hugely sobering for all of us who trust what is written for us in Scripture. Then they started arguing with the religious leaders. Now, there is a definite example of unbelief. They should have grieved as Jesus did. So should we. When they were told what do to get from a place of unbelief to a place of faith – i.e. prayer (or prayer with fasting), we should heed the same advice.

So all of these are examples from the life of Jesus where he was giving expression to this attitude. We need to check out our own hearts. We need to measure how we are doing soberly. Otherwise, we will do what most people do who don’t know God or his attitudes. We will grieve for ourselves and a small group of family or friends and conveniently close our hearts toward the needs of people we meet every day in every place. Let us pursue God until this compassion is fully released from deep inside us so that we make God known in this compelling way.


[1]         These are called the “Servant Songs.” They are also referred to as the songs of a “Suffering Servant.” They are found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50 and 52,53.

[2]         1 Thessalonians 2:8

[3]         See Luke 15

[4]         See John 6:29  “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

[5]         See Hebrews 11:6 “, And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

[6]         See Mark 9:26,27

WRESTING AGAINST Luke 4.1 Part 3

 

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13

HOW WAS THE PRESENCE AND WORK OF THE ENEMY RECOGNISED?
We don’t need to revisit the question as to whether the devil appeared physically or otherwise. Nor whether they physically or spiritually travelled to the temple in Jerusalem (read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t already). The devil is called the “deceiver,” after all. It is safe to assume that the episode was shrouded in deception.  Jesus found himself standing on the highest point of the temple. That, in itself, did not constitute the presence of the devil. It was an amazing building, as noted by some of Jesus’ followers.[1]  The principle to note here is the fact that this intrusion by the devil started out by utilising what might be considered as the very core of religious orthodoxy – i.e. the temple in Jerusalem.

It won’t be a stretch for us to regard the devil as capable of initiating a work by using something as core and as orthodox as the temple, especially Herod’s temple. That, in itself, represents nothing demonic.  It is the next three ideas that identify the presence of the adversary.

Like the first encounter, Jesus is challenged about his identity as the Son of God. Is he really the Son of God? Could there be a trace of doubt in Jesus’ mind? After all, he had been led by the Spirit into this ‘godforsaken’ wilderness. He had been here forty days and had eaten no food. Doesn’t sound too much like the wonderful will of God, does it?  More than that, Jesus had been living as a carpenter in Nazareth for thirty years without any ‘show’ of his divine sonship. The people of that village were pretty much convinced that Jesus had nothing to do with God when he visited and began speaking in the synagogue.[2] There is a touch of irony here about the matter of Jesus’ identity. He had just come from the River Jordan where he had heard his Father’s voice telling him that he was a beloved and pleasing Son. Now he was a long way from the Jordan, and the affirmation he received there was being seriously challenged. I think there would be many people who would testify to the fact that when they had had some strong affirming experience of God, it is common for things to happen immediately afterwards to challenge those experiences. The devil’s schemes don’t seem to change over time.

The second string to this bow suggests that Jesus should put on a demonstration. He should throw himself off the top of the temple and allow everyone in the precinct to see what happens next. In other words, to put his identity on show. This was presented as a valid “test.” We might say, “Let’s test this and see what happens.” In almost every sphere of life, things are tested to validate their quality. The reason they are tested is that it is possible that something is not working properly or that during the process of manufacture or installation something might not be sound. We are all in favour of things being tested. We feel safer as a result. Think about this the next time you sit in an aeroplane. Each plane has been subjected to thousands of tests before flying. Add to that the tests that are updated every millisecond through the gauges and lights that the pilots and engineers keep checking. The reason for these tests is that things can and do go wrong. There is some logic about Jesus “testing” his connection with heaven before he starts on a ministry journey where he is going to be the mediator of all kinds of supernatural power. He is going to proclaim healing before it happens. He is going to teach with crowd-felt authority. He is going to still storms and call dead people back to life. A pre-emptive ‘road test’ would be quite a typical human idea, wouldn’t it?  A human idea perhaps, but one that called into question the faithfulness of God.

The third part of the challenge comes as a misquoted text from the Bible. We all know the devil is familiar with the Biblical text. Perhaps the devil had taken note of the fact that Jesus was using Bible texts to frame his previous testimony. The devil has a shot at it to make the idea sound as if it has Biblical integrity. In a little less than two thousand years of Christian history we have seen enough misquoting to last a thousand times a thousand lifetimes. People have ‘proved’ things, built teaching systems, denominations and reputations on misquoted and misunderstood Bible texts and portions. We have all been in Bible study groups and have marvelled at the differences of opinion possible from the same text or passage. The very fact that texts and references are quoted to ‘prove’ or endorse all kinds of crazy attitudes and actions knows no limit. The reason it happens is that when you quote a text like the devil did on this occasion, it sounds as if it has authority. Look at the example here. Jesus was challenged to prove his Sonship – to himself and to whoever might be around the temple at the time. The Bible verse said that if he jumped off the pinnacle of the temple, some angels would come and stop him from hitting the ground. I think it is plain to see the exegetical logic involved. We need to remember that the devil knew that the Bible verse didn’t mean that. He wanted Jesus to be smashed to death on the stones of the temple court.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO REBUFF THIS ATTACK OF THE ENEMY?

At the risk of being ultra-repetitive, I need to point out again that Jesus was not just parroting words from the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:16 makes an elementary point: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” It refers to what happened to the Israelites at Massah and Meribah.[3] They had no water and complained to Moses that God could not be trusted to fulfil his promise. This quarrelling and complaining were described in the text as “testing” God. They gave the place where it happened two names: Massah, which means “testing” and Meribah, “quarrelling.” When Moses reminded them of these things at the end of the forty-year journey, he was charging them not to repeat what happened.  God had proved trustworthy every day for forty years. He had provided food and water for possibly a million and a half people.  Not bad considering they were wandering in a desert.  The suggestion that God could not be trusted was nonsense at best and a horrible insult at worst.

If Jesus was using Scripture as testimony, he was making known what could not be seen. What heart attitude and experience might he be referring to? To go back to the testing associated with flying, I made the point that these tests are done because of the possibility of human error or mechanical failure. Both of those things are possible, and when 300 people are 35,000 feet above the earth hurtling along at 900 kph, it’s not good when things go wrong. So they have created all kinds of tests to make sure they know that everything is AOK. What if an aeroplane could be built and flown where there was no chance of any malfunction. If that were possible, then you wouldn’t need all the tests.

And that is the very point here. What if God was not capable of failing to keep his promise? What if there was nothing that could separate us from his love? What if he was 100% faithful 24/7? And what if you were utterly convinced that this was so? If God was trustworthy and I was thoroughly convinced of it, THERE IS NO NEED FOR TESTING!!!!

My conclusion is that Jesus had been trusting in the faithfulness of his Father God for the whole of eternity and found that there was no occasion where that trust had failed. Jesus had been raised in Nazareth and had spent thirty years trusting God’s faithfulness and timing. This love/trust relationship had been working for all of that time. It was a total certainty. So when the devil comes to suggest that he should now push a button to test it out, you can see how the devil had misjudged what was inside Jesus.

Once again, the weapon Jesus used was not a Bible reference but a personal declaration of reality/truth. It was the first of Paul’s weapons in Ephesians 6. In quoting these words, Jesus was making known something that couldn’t be seen. We will find that this is consistent with the way Jesus modelled the use of spiritual weapons of war. Again, it is important to notice that the weapon wasn’t something he picked up and fired like a gun. This weapon was something belonging to his intrinsic personhood. He HAD a relationship with God based on total trust. That trust was active and activated every day. Because it was a heart/lifestyle thing, it was easy for him to realise that the suggestion of performing some kind of spiritual sideshow in the temple precinct was demonic. The same is true of the exercise of this weapon. He didn’t need to perform a loud, flamboyant ritual to ‘cast the devil out.’ He just had to tell the devil the truth and move on. It’s a bit like flicking a speck of dust from your coat. No need for drama. No need to stop everything and write a PhD thesis on the nature of the speck. Just flick it off and keep going. In this case, the phrase from a well known Australian advertisement is true: “one flick and they’re (it’s) gone.”[4]

THE OUTCOME

As with the previous two challenges, the devil had no weapons that would stand against this short statement of testimony from Jesus. He didn’t argue any point or raise any new idea. The whole intention simply collapsed. I know these accounts are concise, but the principle is profound. Think about some of the struggles you have experienced or have known about where the struggle seems to go on and on. I am convinced that on some of those occasions the length of the battle is due to other factors. One of those factors could well be that we are not using the right weapons. We are using weapons that Satan is quite capable of handling. This is especially true when we use human weapons: argument, pretension, status, manipulation, intimidation etc. Even though Jesus was hungry and had been forty days in a very remote and dangerous region, the fact that his trust in his Father had been established over time meant that he was fully capable of “flicking away the speck.”

It is also important to notice that on this third occasion where Jesus flicks away the taunt of the enemy he withdraws from that battlefield altogether. He doesn’t surrender. He just goes away and looks for what he would consider a strategic opportunity. I think there are some encouraging issues for us here. Someone once said to me that the devil could not sustain a long-term encounter. It doesn’t mean he gives up overall. It just means he doesn’t have the character strength to keep it up. From our point of view, it means that if we don’t stop resisting, then we will win. I notice that Paul makes this point in Ephesians 6. He talks about “standing.” I think that is a very profound insight into the way we approach battles. Jesus did it here. He didn’t get all charged up and go chasing the devil and focus his attention on the devil and forget about everything else. He merely resisted, and the devil got flicked. Too many people get too interested in everything to do with the devil rather than keeping their focus on serving Jesus and the kingdom.

On this occasion, Jesus didn’t change his tack. He went to the wilderness led by the Spirit. He flicked off the devil’s taunts. If he were a government department in Canberra, he would have invented five new procedure manuals and changed the name of the department a few times on the presumption that if it happened on one occasion, the whole game plan had to be changed. Not so in the kingdom of God. And there was no repeat of this kind of incident anyway. He had the same intention before this incident and the same after it. The attack changed nothing about Jesus’ approach to ministry. It was business as usual. We ought to take advice from this and do likewise.

WHAT WOULD NEED TO HAPPEN FOR ME TO BE ABLE TO USE THIS WEAPON AS JESUS DID?

Once again, we have watched Jesus use a weapon that he couldn’t take off or put down. Nor could he grab it to put on. This weapon had been developing from eternity. I think it is going to be true of all of the weapons. They are not going to be methods or rituals. They are going to be something we develop as part of our being. In this case, it had an attitude to God where there was total trust. For him, it was the same trust in a very different environment. If you read Philippians 2, you will see that Jesus stepped out of his status as God and stepped into humanhood. Instead of relating to his Father from heaven, he was doing it from the posture of human society on earth.But the relationship was the same, and the trust was the same. It wasn’t foolproof. As anyone can see from a read of the gospels, that relationship was maintained as a matter of critical priority.

So Jesus models for us what it means to trust God one hundred percent. When the devil came and suggested there might be a need to check it out and make sure God could still be trusted, there wasn’t room for it. The trust container was already full. No need to test something that is incapable of failing. Think about that for a while. God is totally incapable of failing. He is totally reliable. The challenge for us concerning this weapon is to be building that trust every day. Trust in God is built in the same way we build trust with others. We get to know them and the more we know, the more we trust. The more we trust, the more reason we have to trust.

I need to be building that trust. I need to do that by reading the testimony to God’s faithfulness. There are sixty-six books of it in the Bible, and there are millions of stories people have told about their experiences of trusting God and finding him to be faithful. Then, we can approach the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives by asking the question in any given situation: What would I do in this situation if I knew that God was completely reliable? Then go and do that.

PUT ON THE WEAPONS

I know some people like to follow some form of religious ritual when it comes to spiritual warfare. I hear them say, “We are going to go into spiritual warfare about this.” Others develop the habit of figuratively putting on the weapons mentioned in Ephesians 6 each morning. None of that comes from the modelling of Jesus. Putting on the armour amounted to hearing from God every day, worship and serving God every day and trusting God in every situation. That made him a certain kind of person, not someone who knew how to grab a gun from the cabinet and shoot at someone. When the devil wanted to turn Jesus’ primary attention to food, it just wasn’t something that held any attraction to him because what God said was always more important to him. Similarly, Jesus lived only to worship and serve his Father, God. It was a non-debatable issue and was his desired normal practice. When the devil wanted Jesus to switch to worshipping him, it didn’t ruffle a feather. Jesus had no interest in worshipping anything or anyone else. When the devil tried to get Jesus to doubt his identity and doubt the faithfulness of his Father, again, Jesus wasn’t interested. With three flicks these nasty little specs of evil were discarded like dust from a coat. He didn’t have to put on any weapons. He had been developing these weapons every day of his life. He didn’t ‘go and do’ spiritual warfare at all. He just gave testimony to what was inside of him, and the devil had no comeback. When we do the same, we will be armed in the same way. Neither physical needs nor personal ambition nor the desire to attract attention had any power.

So we need to pursue everything God has said. Don’t just read the Bible. Hear and know what God has said. Don’t just hear it but do it. Continue to pursue all of the other things that God has said. You will be armed in there day of battle. We need to make sure it is God who is the object of our primary loyalty and worship. We have to get to the point where we know what it feels like to belong to God, serve God and honour God. When that primary source reigns in our day to day circumstances, we will again be ready in the day of battle. And we need to grow in our understanding and sense of conviction that God is so totally reliable that we will never need to “test” his faithfulness to us.

[1]         See Mark 13:1 “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

[2]         See later in Luke 4

[3]         See Exodus 17

[4]         Most Australians will remember a well-known jingle for a pest control agent called “Flick.”

NO PLACE LEFT TRAIL MARKERS #8 “WHERE-CHRIST-IS-NOT-KNOWN” DEFAULT

 

THE ‘WHERE CHRIST IS NOT KNOWN’ DEFAULT

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” (Romans 15:20)

HTBD

Having a preference for ‘off-the-map’ disciplemaking

This part of the ‘NoPlaceLeft’ toolkit is as profound as it is unnatural. Some of the people who make comments about this reference in Romans think that Paul was such an independent operator that he wasn’t capable of working with others. They assume that the phrase, “so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” is a statement of pride or arrogance. There is no genuine evidence to support this.

We know that Paul’s was writing to the Romans for a very particular reason.  He planned to go to Spain. Spain was a region where the gospel had not yet been preached. This decision was based on one of Paul’s longstanding principles. It was his default and it is sadly not one that many Christian groups seem to follow.  Think of the spheres around you – your neighbourhood, workplace, suburb or your extended family.  Think of the commandment of Jesus to the disciples that they were to “go” and preach the gospel to “every person.”  It is clear that the idea of focusing attention, resources and action on places and individuals who have not heard the gospel is not a priority at all.

The evidence from the four gospel records shows that Jesus operated with a ‘NoPlaceLeft’ strategy. The following references establish this pattern at least for Galilee.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (Matthew 9:35)

But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)

After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, (Luke 8:1)

Add to that the fact that he visited the regions of Gadara, Samaria, Syro-Phoenicia, Caesarea-Philippi and probably Mt. Hermon and most of the region is covered.  Historians have established that there were approximately 178 towns and villages in all.  It appears that these were deliberately visited at least once and possibly more than once from his home base in Caesarea.

Paul’s ‘NoPlaceLeft’ principle is also evident from the record.  There is much more going on than the more well-known missionary journeys that took him from Antioch to the provinces of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaea. Eckhardt Schnabel’s mammoth research[1]  identifies missionary ministry in Syria, Arabia and his home province of Cilicia before his association with the church in Antioch.

The account described at the beginning of Acts 16 is instructive on this matter. After visiting the churches in Galatia, Paul and Silas and their companions seek to implement the “where-Christ-is-not-known” default.

Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16)

It seems that they went to six different places to preach the gospel but were prevented by the Holy Spirit from doing so on each occasion. When we take into account, the distances involved and the fact that they were walking everywhere, it is just astounding. What God had in mind was a visit to a ladies prayer meeting in Philippi and the start of church planting in Macedonia and Achaia. All of those areas saw the gospel proclaimed in the years following but the incident shows the way Word of God intention and Holy Spirit tactics worked together. It was the Great Commission that started the team in those directions. It was the Holy Spirit who enabled them to fine-tune the operation. It is also an example of servants of Jesus going in obedience as a foundation to discovering the whole of the plan as a result of that obedience. I can hear people asking why a spiritual giant like Paul could have wasted so much time going to the wrong places. My response would be to suggest that those who raise such issues are probably better at idealistic theory  than practice. I’m sure every practitioner would have one or more Acts 16 stories in their timeline. The point to notice is the simple, godly principle: the next place to go is where there are people closest to you who have never heard the gospel.

It goes against human nature to be attracted to the least known more strongly than the most known. If you stand back and watch what happens when people from a church community meet together on a Sunday morning, you will find that just about everyone will gravitate towards the few people they know well and with whom they have already formed friendships. It is common for people to visit a different church and find that no one talks to them – except perhaps the person who is rostered on to greet people. This is so ungodly. It is similar concerning ethnic differences. If I am visiting a foreign country and I ask for assistance from two people – and if one of those people happens to be from my ethnic background, I will have an innate tendency to trust the person who is ‘like me’ more than the person from a different race. There is no logic to it. It is what happens to us when we live separately from God.

God is not like this and we are not created for this. It was the nature of God to want to dwell in the midst of separated and dysfunctional humanity. When Jesus entered Jericho with crowds lining the roads to watch him, it is possible that the person furthest from God in that crowd was the one perched in a tree – perhaps for security reasons as well as to be able to see. That Jesus spoke to him and reached out to him was not the result of an unusual decision to be generous.  It was his nature. The gospel records are replete with stories of the way Jesus defaulted toward lostness.  We only have to know Jesus a little bit and this kind of behaviour becomes entirely predictable.  The story from Luke 19 concludes with these words, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  I challenge you to live a single ordinary day based on this principle and you will get a sense of how far from the narrow way we have strayed.  We would much prefer to seek out “already found” people and spend our time with them.

When Paul met Jesus, his Gentile-hating heart began to be transformed.  He actually spent the rest of his life championing a cause to see them transfer their citizenship from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. Just try to imagine what you would be like if this was your normal way of thinking and acting.

Or, suppose you are in a room with twenty people in it. Five of them are known to you and fifteen are not known. Five are fellow believers and fifteen are non-believers. Then think about arriving home and being asked about the meeting. A typical response might sound like this, “Oh I hardly knew anyone there and most of the people were non-Christians. But, thanks be to God, there were four other Christians there so I was able to spend the whole evening talking with them about Christian things.” A less common but possible response might go like this, “Well there were a few Christians there that I knew but, thanks be to God I had the opportunity to meet some people I had not known before and who had never heard of Jesus. I was able to connect with them and share gospel ministry with them. What a great opportunity and a wonderful time!” It may sound a bit corny, but my point is that we need to deal with our ungodly default. I know there are fears and risks, but Jesus showed the best way to overcome all fear – by learning to exercise faith for a predisposition toward lost people.

It is possible that our self-centred culture and its traditions have infiltrated the church to the point where we have substituted a kind of safety and comfort default. We choose a few good friends in the church or we discover a few other Christian people in our workplace and form a cozy little tribal group that consumes all of our social energies and we make it sound like a godly virtue. When we read about Jesus totally identifying with humanity and living for thirty years in Nazareth without once indicating that he was God, we just admire it from a distance. We don’t get its message. We don’t consider that we should become incarnate to a group of people who are lost from God and live among them and learn to understand them so that we can effectively and lovingly minister the gospel of the kingdom to them. Rarely would we see this a something mainstream. Mostly we just see it is too hard and therefore invent ways of avoiding the idea let alone the practice.

Paul was not like that, nor were his fellow-workers and nor were the disciples they made in the churches they planted. They could plant a church in the centre of a region and know that the region would be saturated with gospel proclamation. Paul’s hunger to be like Jesus meant that his preference was to be with people who had never heard the gospel. It became the common experience. One of the reasons why we never hear the New Testament apostles writing to churches imploring them to abundantly share the gospel was probably because it was one of the things that they DID DO, even though they had problems with other issues – as we read in the letters.

One of the terms used to describe churches in recent years is the term, “great commission church.” It presumes that there are ‘normal’ mainstream churches that are not urgently fulfilling the command of Christ to preach the gospel and make disciples. Then there are a few churches that are nicknamed “great commission churches” because they intend to see the great commission fulfilled in their areas and beyond in their contemporary generation. Such churches and the followers of Jesus in them have to “deny themselves, take up their cross” to follow Jesus. It is a hard task. When was the last time you heard someone crying out in a prayer meeting for the lost people in their community spheres? When was the last time you went to a church leaders’ meeting where the agenda was all about how to fulfil the great commission?

I would love you to make this a diary item for your life for the next three months. Start reading the many passages in the Old and New Testaments that exemplify the heart of God to reach his lost children. Just get a hold of the parade of the prodigal son for a start and begin to ask God how the heart of the father in that story could be reproduced in your own heart. Then get a few other desperadoes to join you in this magnificent obsession. Just make a start in the Holy Spirit university course, “Where Christ is not Known 1.01”. Make a list of the people in your spheres who don’t know Jesus and begin to pray for them and then plonk yourself in their world enough times with the intention of making the gospel known to them in some way. May such an experiment become a life-long passion.

The only way a ‘NoPlaceLeft’ vision will be fulfilled is when enough believers in a given area make it their weekly goal to make a difference to the degree of lostness in that area. It will take a group of people to do it because it will be the only way there will be enough encouragement and faith to carry the day against the remiss of the church as a whole and the barriers put up by our culture and its traditions. Just think for a moment. Our culture has been so effective in disempowering the idea of rescuing lost people with the message of the gospel that it is considered culturally inappropriate, not just by the community but often by the church as well. Let’s make a commitment to see God change that status quo.  We can start by deliberately focusing our attention on the next person who has never known the amazing love of Jesus.

[1]      Early Christian Mission (2 Volume Set)  – IVP, 2004

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND

                                                                             An Unexpected Phone Call

cell-phone-call-clipart-calling-clipart-blob-making-a-phone-call-clipart

I had a great little moment yesterday afternoon courtesy of a phone call from the Uniting Church Moderator from  one of the Australian states. The Uniting Church was the denomination to which I previously belonged. I spent approximately twenty-two years working as a leader in various churches within that movement. When we decided to separate from the Uniting Church, most of the members of the congregation left to form what is now Grace Canberra. At the time, it was relatively controversial and in some cases acrimonious. I think I can say that we didn’t bear any resentment or bitterness toward that denomination and kept working to make and keep our hearts pure as part of the post-separation process. The criticism from some Uniting Church leaders was difficult at the time. We tried to follow the call of God as much as we could. We sought to relate with people who were displeased with us with as much grace as we could.  We were responsible for numerous imperfections as we tried to find the road ahead.

An Unexpected Journey

It was along this track that Crosslink Christian Network came into being. It was a Network based around “kingdom of God” values. It was relational, flat-structured and outwardly focused. As far as I can see the emergence of the Crosslink Network is a reflection of something that has been happening for some time. I think God is working to see the church as a testimony to the kingdom rather than and idea of “kingdom” defined by some “badge-wearing” church or group of churches. The very many different denominations and groups around the world are all built on distinctives which, although they sourced from the Bible, have been exaggerated to the point where they become abhorrent monsters having the capacity to self-elevate, separate, criticise and even hate other Christian movements and groups.

 

Crosslink is just a tool to promote the kingdom. It isn’t worth dying for. There is little to protect and nothing to defend. That’s the usual status for tools.  I know because I am a bloke who likes using better tools. So the thing that will make Crosslink obsolete will be when it is no longer useful in promoting the kingdom of God. We can all send it to the place where all good-but-superseded-tools” finish up. Being a non-harder by nature, and because my shed is small, mine usually end up at the rubbish tip. I feel no nostalgia about it nor do I have any loyalty to a poor tool when I can have a better one. Sadly the movements that seem to generate such exalted significance start out as tools and end up as badges that we wear to distinguish ourselves from others.

 

Crosslink is no more immune from this challenge.  It can easily become the “next badge” that we wear.  I will be more than happy as long as Crosslink continues to do things that exalt Jesus as King and that make his Kingdom accessible to everyone everywhere. The kingdom of God doesn’t get proclaimed because of a particular structure and no structure can stop it from being proclaimed. The demonized religious system that Jesus came to didn’t prevent the kingdom of God being proclaimed. Not a bit. If we ever presume that the particular structure we left is the reason that the kingdom of God did not come, we deceive ourselves. It may well be full of obvious shortcomings, but it doesn’t have the power to stop a kingdom person from doing kingdom things.

 

A Kingdom Moment in a Tribal World

So, back to my phone call. The leader of this part of the Uniting Church in Australia rang me because he was trying to help an ethnic-based congregation in his city to be able to function better as a church. There were difficulties in this particular church being adopted by the Uniting Church but he wanted to see them helped. It was the kingdom heart of this man that deeply impacted me.  I can think of a few Uniting Church leaders in past days who would never have countenanced the idea. The reasons would have had nothing to do with Jesus or the kingdom. They would have been grubby “tribal” reasons.[1] And if I, upon discovering that this was a Uniting Church leader, decided to gain some grubby satisfaction about the fact that he was talking to me, when a few (and just a few) of his colleagues said things about me that were unfair I would be imbibing the same “grub-ery.”  How pathetic.

What was important was the fact that a group of followers of Jesus were seeking to serve the kingdom and needed support. What was profoundly satisfying was the fact that we could talk together about trying to get some tools that would help them without tiptoeing around subliminal issues of whose “name tag” would be attached and who was going to get bragging rights. From the beginning of the conversation to the end, I was profoundly impacted by the “kingdom-ness” of what we were doing together and heartened by it.  It had that distinct heavenly flavour about which I have developed a much keener discernment in recent years.

I am sure it was the fact that it was Uniting Church that accentuated this for me.  I have an abiding sense of gratitude for everything that church gave to me and a deep longing for our relationship to be healthy and useful to God. The same would be true for any other group of Jesus-followers, for the same set of reasons. The challenge is to find tools that will help get the job done. Who owns the tools is not a kingdom of God question. Who gets to use them is more the issue.

 

 

Crosslink has been in operation for nineteen years. In that time, I have had many encouraging interactions with Uniting Church leaders and people. Not until yesterday did I feel that I had talked with anyone from my former denomination who understood what Crosslink was about or how we could use the tools God has given us to work together for an outcome that would honour Jesus and serve the kingdom. Maybe there are more such moments out there. Bring them on I say. The more we do, the less power to our adversaries.

[1]      I have taken up using the word “tribal” as the antithesis of kingdom only because it seems to do the job better than any other metaphor I can think of. The best way to think about “tribal” is to think about e.g. rugby league. I follow the Canberra Raiders. I am convinced we are better than anyone else. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to offer their sporting loyalty to any of the other fifteen teams in the NRL competition. Week by week, when I go to a game, I can easily tell who to like and who to dislike. Who to cheer and who to abuse. I don’t need to have rational reasons for doing this because it’s a tribal thing. I am from Canberra and we are the Raiders. That’s the end of the subject whether we are first or last in the competition. When people treat their movement or denomination or preferred theological system as I treat my loyalty to the Raiders they are operating in a tribal way and this will always result in them, and us, hindering the work of the kingdom of God.

JESUS AND THE U.S. HIGH COURT DECISION ABOUT MARRIAGE

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT WE HAVE LOST OUR WAY TO THE BATTLE-FRONT?

court-gay-marriageI love the idea of marriage. It was God’s idea and was woven into the fabric of created goodness. But I’m glad I was able to marry someone because I wanted to love her for the rest of my life and raise kids and see them married so they could present us with grandchildren.

I’m grateful that the home I grew up in had a marriage between two people who were not perfect, but committed. That commitment provided at least two generations of descendants with a place to call home. A father and a mother were in residence who learned how to love us and each other. What a profound blessing. It was based on a marriage commitment between a man and a woman and they remained committed for life. They both died in the home they had built as a young married couple following World War II. It was home to us, our kids and their kids.

We have enjoyed all of that because of the Christian influences upon our culture and society. It started with a bunch of people all across the Roman Empire who loved and served Jesus Christ and who determined to live out these and other values because they trusted Jesus. There was no law that said they should and no law that said they shouldn’t. They lived it because of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and because of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Much later, when the Roman and successive empires gave favour and influence to the church such values were enshrined in constitutions and the legislation that flowed from it.

It is more common for legislation to follow social change in a given society. There are exceptions, but this is generally the case. It is the case with the idea of marriage in western nations. I don’t know if you have been living long enough to notice, but there have been both monumental and incremental shifts in the values being lived in our society. Long before there was pressure to change the legal definition of marriage, the commitment and understanding of marriage was changing.

I am from the baby-boomer generation; born immediately after the Second World War in Australia. My parent’s generation and then my own generation have seen a massive shift away from following Jesus and the resulting desire to trust his commands and teaching. At the centre was a shift was from serving Christ to serving ourselves. The opportunity for material prosperity was too good to refuse. Freedom from oppressive wars and depressions made it the all the more accessible. I watched this shift play out among my children’s generation and then in their children’s generation. Self-indulgence is pretty much the ‘tie that binds.’ So many things have happened as a consequence. Most of them could be summed up as a kind of decaying of our society as people have chosen to live for themselves rather than for the reason they were created – i.e. to worship and serve Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that it takes at least a generation or maybe two for a particular value to be reshaped in a society and for another value to take its place. It then takes a bit longer for that value to apply pressure on the laws. That’s how it stands with regard to marriage law in most western nations of the world. Our society has been profoundly shaped by individualism and self-indulgence. The reference point is not Jesus. It is not even the community. The reference point is inside the individual and is measured by degrees of comfort, pleasure and personal preference. As I discovered with a bit of pop-research a few years ago, the shaping values relating to personhood have been self-centredness, self-preservation and self-determination.[1]

So no matter what rhetoric we use to describe high court decisions about marriage, we lost this battle a long time ago when those of us who were responsible for showing redemptive love, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and being salt and light to our spheres became more absorbed by extending our own kingdoms than we were about the kingdom of God. As a result, the communities for which we carry responsibility could no longer see the difference between a Jesus-serving family and a non-Jesus-serving family. And when our community finds a whole raft of ways to self-indulge we have often muttered a “Tut, tut” or expressed some kind of quiet disapproval and watched it happen.

I am totally in favour of finding ways to inform our communities about the life-giving values that are revealed for us in and through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I am certain that changes to marriage definition are a bad idea. It has never been about equality. To take a term that has exclusively described a life-long relationship between a man and a woman and apply it to other human relationships is like the call to name every different kind of fruit an apple. We have different fruits and they are distinguished by different names. We have different relationships and they should also be distinguished by different names. No, it’s a very definite attempt to destroy something good simply because in the western cultures it has a Christian origin.

What I have diminishing conviction about the assumption that the battle line should be drawn at the point of legislation. It is too late in a battle that we have already been losing. The real battle has been lost in the homes of ordinary people in the community. Even if we kept on winning the battle at the point of legislation we have still lost the commitment of the hearts and minds or people in the community.

Since when has the kingdom of God depended on legislation for advancement? It seems to me that a gospel problem needs a gospel answer. The way of Jesus for seeing change in society is by living and proclaiming a gospel of good news. The battle for marriage began to be lost when we set aside the task of proclaiming the gospel to everyone and started hiding ourselves away in our churches and church programs. We capitulated to the power of the enemy when we chose to become more and more self-indulgent rather than self-denying [as we are commanded in the teaching of Jesus]. It continued when we separated ourselves from the community rather taking responsibility for our community.

And then, when the community we have failed for years succeeds in supporting laws about things like marriage that are destructive, we presume that the issue is fighting the law rather than bringing light to our darkening community. It’s the cheap option and the long-distance one. Long distance morality is always an easier option than laying down your life for your ‘enemy.’

The vacuum we have allowed to happen waits for a well-organized pressure group with a deconstructionist moral agenda. When we stand back and judge rather than move forward with a desire to figure out how we can relate to and redemptively love people who are gay, we end up misrepresenting the gospel and ending up with polluted ‘salt’ and with our ‘light’ covered by a jug. It is we who should be doing the greater repenting. We were meant to be missionaries and we simply chose to stay at home. When the missionary work of other groups becomes more successful it is hardly credible for us to hurl our accusations at government members or opposing lobbyists.

We should get back into the battle that we have been called by Jesus to fight with the weapons he modeled every day of his life. If we do, we will find that we have returned to fighting a battle we cannot lose and one for which the enemy has no power to resist. We need to work actively to teach and train so that our marriages and homes are filled with every reason for people to want to look no further.

I think we also need to listen hard to people who are choosing or actively pursuing same-sex relationships. On the basis of that understanding we may find ourselves more equipped to live out and impart something that is good news. Then we may recapture what our Christian forefathers and mothers had and regain the influence they had. What was gained without legislation cannot be sustained ONLY by legislation. What is lost through legislation will only be gained by seeing change in the homes and families around us.

[1] Note that these three stand as totally opposite values to the ones Jesus talked about when he described Christian discipleship [cp. Matthew 16 and Luke 9]. In both places he said that true personhood is built on self-denial, self-sacrifice and in following Him.

TODAY WE VISITED HERRNHUT

June 20, 2015 Dresden, Germany

 

HERRNHUT TOWERToday we visited a small town in a part of Germany that is probably eastern-most called Herrnhut. Even though its population is listed as being around 6,000 according to Dr. Wiki most Germans wouldn’t have even heard of it let alone visited there.  Strangely it may well have had as much or more influence on the course of Chrsitian history as any of the better known German Christians – Luther etc.

 

But as I said,  most people wouldn’t have a clue what could be significant about Herrnhut. It is a small town tucked away near the Czech border east of Dresden, Germany. You wouldn’t go there unless you wanted to. It isn’t on the way to anywhere, and maybe that is more than slightly symbolic.

 

The fact is, at the turn of the eighteenth century (1700 and still a lifespan away from James Cook plonking his plodders on a large mostly undiscovered island in the Pacific), Herrnhut was nothing more than a few acres of land on an estate belonging to a local Saxon Count, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.   Enter a couple of Moravians looking for a safe place for their persecuted brothers and sisters and  a union was formed that would change the face of the wider church forever. That was what happened in Herrnhut on June 17th 1722.

 

It actually started with refugees. Once people began to hear that Zinzendorf was willing to provide a safe place to live, they just kept on arriving – from quite different expressions of Christian faith. This is two hundred years after Martin banged his Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. It started with people whose past trauma and strong convictions made it almost impossible to get along. Zinzendorf then gave up his day job in the courts at Dresden, shifted out of his big house in Berthelsdorf to live in the village with the refugees. He and his wife just visited people in their homes, shared Bible study and prayed together. A fresh dose of the Word works its wonders and the motley residents committed to serve Jesus through the word rather than arguing about pet theories. Add to that a Holy Spirit visitation one Wednesday in August and twenty five years later over a hundred missionaries are loving people into the kingdom of God all over the world. Some even sold themselves as slaves in order to stand alongside them with love from heaven. Add to that a prayer meeting that started with twenty-four people agreeing to pray for one different hour each day so that the work would never stop. That prayer meeting continued without stopping for more than a hundred years.

 

God's Acre HerrnhutNola and I walked up through God’s Acre where these early pioneers were buried to the wooden tower on top of the hill. The wooden tower was not actually a prayer tower but it gives a three-sixty of the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1341We went back into the village and one of the few places with a door open was the church – originally built in 1730 as a prayer hall. There were a few people wandering around and a few panels that had English translations for those of us who haven’t embraced Deutsch. After a while I found myself sitting in the middle of this large square room on my own. I didn’t see an angel but as I recounted to the Lord my deep thanks for what happened in this town and then from the people of this town to the world, I began to weep for a thousand ‘Herrnhuts’ to receive the vision and faith that was birthed in this unlikely place. Many of us are refugees of a different sort. We are people who have made costly decisions about the past and the present in order to see a different future. We are certainly as divided. Like the were and our world needs more of what they carried.

I was sitting in a spot where a great man was prepared to become nothing – and in the process became an inspiration to most and an annoyance to everyone who was standing still.

 

Zinzendorf and the Moravians were midwives to the modern missionary movement, to the Wesleyan revival and through that to the Pentecostal and Charismatic renewals of later years. And who are they today – a group that hardly anyone knows about. Sadly their descendants no longer represent the Moravian pioneers of 1727. The Moravian Church has gone the way of the rest of Christianity – from pioneering by passion and Holy Spirit power to preserving the externals without too much of the heart.

 

I don’t believe in getting what they had. I believe in being inspired by them to get what is needed to pioneer a track out of the ecclesiastical malaise and to see where passion for Jesus, a love of revelation from heaven and a communal dependence on the Holy Spirit will produce. I want to walk that journey. That’s what I prayed for alone in the middle of the prayer hall in Herrnhut.

 

I came away not wanting to simply recount a whole host of Zinzendorf stories, but to discover my own – and to help other people discover theirs. If that happens I will be the more grateful for our excursion to Herrnhut. Loved being there. Don’t want to go there again. Just want to be where Jesus is making his love and mercy known to someone who needs it.

 

Brian Medway

June 21, 2014

Can You Tell a Good Story in Three Minutes?

what's your storyThere is hardly anyone who doesn’t like to hear a good story. In fact it may have something to do with how we were created. It should not surprise us that God chose a series of smaller stories to tell a single big story. The big story is the one that resolves in the revealing of his Son, Jesus and of the coming of the kingdom Jesus embodied and proclaimed.  The Bible tells that story through the experiences of series of individuals, families, tribes and nations spanning some thousands of years. But it is a story for every individual, family tribe and nation – of every generation.

People who have made a decision to believe and follow Jesus also have their own stories and experiences. These stories happen because they respond to His story. They experience God’s grace for themselves in a myriad of ways. All of these stories reflect contemporary experience of the God who came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said that these stories would become tools in the spread of the message of Jesus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] The ‘witnesses’ Jesus anticipated were going to be the people who did things by Holy Spirit power, including telling stories.

 

Most of us have stories of things God has done. At the beginning and along the way we have responded to his Word.  As a result God did things. We usually call these testimonies.  The ordinary word is “stories.”  Its a simpler word and doesn’t need to be translated.

 

The challenge about telling a story that connects people to Jesus doesn’t happen automatically. Neither is it a case of acquiring some form of professionalism or human excellence.  Leave that to TED and Disney. We are talking about improving our skills so that the message it carries is easy to receive. The people listening to us get to see how good God is. That’s what Jesus referred to when he said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” [1] In this way the Spirit of God will be able to speak to the heart of a person. Stories are like any other art form. They don’t just carry facts; they speak a message from one person’s heart to another person’s heart. I doubt that here is not a single story in the gospels relating to Jesus that doesn’t carry a message from the heart of God to the heart of the people he loves who are separated from him.

So the challenge for many of us is to tell those stories well, and free of tribal Christian jargon.  It is also a challenge for us to tell them in a succinct manner.  If stories are to be the tools that carry God’s message to someone’s heart there is no justification for telling them in a tardy way. How you relate the facts that make up your story will either enhance the message or hinder it. So we should take the trouble to make sure we tell it in a way that make it as easy as possible for another person to understand. Telling the story is not about us, it’s about them. A few simple tools and some practice will enable us to achieve this worthy goal.

Consider these observations from the gospels. When Jesus told the parable of the sower it took less than a minute and even when he later explained what it meant it only took less than another minute. The story of the Prodigal Son takes three minutes. You will soon realize from your own reading that the majority of the stories are the same. There may be some wisdom about this that we can easily miss. In the first place, a short story told well is easy to remember. If it carries a message then the message will also be easy to retain because the story is short and simple. In the oral language culture of Jesus’ day, those stories were remembered and told and retold and the told again. Their messages could be received and implemented and confirmed and then passed on to others. All of this is because the stories were simple and well told.

 

There is now a rush happening around the world. It is mostly due to the fact that the marketers have discovered the power of the story and suddenly everyone is learning how to tell stories better. Our heritage simply rests on our Creator and the Son who came to reveal him.

Many stories we read as novels are from forty thousand to eighty thousand words. That takes between three and a half to seven hours to read for the average person. But no one sits and listens to someone telling a forty thousand-word story. As we have indicated previously, Jesus told stories and gave teachings that were only a few minutes, many less than a minute.

So we want to learn to tell a story in three minutes. If we can learn to tell story well, and do it in three minutes it will become much more useful as a tool for kingdom ministry.

 

[1] Matthew 5

WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS DON’T WORK OUT

looking perplexedThe previous Prime Minister of Australia who said, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy” could have been reporting back on a modest read of the Bible – or even a more thorough read.  He could also have been reading one of the volumes that track the almost two thousand years of Christian history OR he could have just been observing his own life or the life of people around him.  Most of us watch, read or listen to the news and the litany of horrors reported wash over our western-culture hearts and minds without causing too much discomfort –  such is the effect of long exposure to ills that plague people like us who mostly live a long way from us.

There are a few streams of modern mostly western Christianity that have by-passed the Bible and want to presume that the blessing of God amounts to a life of freedom from pain, hardship and discomfort.  Fortunately they are comparatively small groups.  The idea that following Jesus is the key to ease and comfort is totally unsupported no matter which end of the Bible you read.

Having said that it is totally biblical to be convinced that God has a destiny for us.  The Bible is full of promises to this end.

So what do we do when we think we have been following Jesus and trusting God.  What about when we expend time, effort, money and skills to the pursuit of some goal we are sure belongs to God – AND SOMEWHERE WE COME TO AN IMPASS.  What we think God was leading us into doesn’t happen in the way we expect.  The situation that ensues so often finds us vulnerable, sometimes resentful and hurt and even embittered.  We read everything Job said about his life and about God and feel a strong sense of identification.  It could happen when you apply for a job, or two or a hundred – and get knocked back.  It could be when you move to a place and the world caves in on you.  It could be that you form a relationship that ends up in pieces.

What do we need to understand and what do we need to do in order to continue to have hope.  What do we do to get to the place we think God wants bring us to?

I have just completed ten short audio segments speaking about this matter.  Before you listen, go read Acts 16 from verse 6 onwards.  Read it enough times so that you are familiar with the story.

I hope what you hear will be helpful.

 

THE POOR IN SPIRIT PEOPLE

poverty-in-africaJesus preached a sermon one day that has been forever known throughout history as the “Sermon on the Mount.”  It is an amazing and wonderful expression of what the kingdom of God is like.  But it begins in a funny way.  He starts out by referring to nine different attitudes that people have that qualify them to feel blessed.  If I am warm on a cold night I feel blessed because of that warmth.  If I am with my children and their children sitting around a table spending time together I feel blessed because it brings me so much pleasure.  They are my family.  Even when they are a bit ratty, I still feel blessed to be ‘un-alone’ in this life.  Well, Jesus talks about that same kind of experience related to nine different attitudes:  poverty of spirit, grief, meekness, passion for righteousness, merciful, purity of heart, working for peace, being mistreated for the sake of righteousness, and being belted for following Jesus.  Not a list that would make it to any popular magazine on the Australian market.  The well being involved in all of these attitudes is hidden in what they lead to or what happens as a result:  God’s kingdom comes, comfort happens, we get to be free in all the earth, we get to see righteous results, we receive mercy, we get to see God, we get to be called God’s children, we get heavenly reward.

 

I have included five programs here that I did for the Christian radio show I have each day during the week in Canberra on 1 WAY FM.  It is about the first of these nine blessings.  It it about being “poor in spirit” so that the kingdom of God can come.

 

I hope you find them useful and helpful.

 

Brian Medway

Pioneering – Kingdom Style

Here are five segments I did recently on the matter of pioneering.  Pioneering is a requirement for people who want to follow Jesus.  These came from a conversation I had with some young Africa people who had recently come to Australia to study, completed their degrees, were married and are trying to find jobs.  Their experience is classic pioneering and, as such, it is hard work.  One of the reasons why it is hard is because they are in the midst of a community where not everyone is pioneering.  Perhaps the majority are settlers – quite comfortably.  This is a primary metaphor of the life of a person seeking to follow Jesus.  In this nation we have kingdom pioneers.  They are in the minority.  Most of the people who claim to follow Jesus are settlers.  They have started following but have settled at some small place on a road that isn’t finished.  They are the people who have sacrificed their destination for the sake of the comfort they are able to manage where they are. I want to continue to pioneer the kingdom of God.  I want to see how it comes and how it is foreshadowed and how it is proclaimed.  This is how I understand the ministry and nature of Jesus Christ.  He was a kingdom of God person living in the kingdom of this world and engaging with it.  I want to encourage and be encouraged by the other pioneers who hunger and thirst for that kind of righteousness, whose palates are not satisfied with the take-away food provided at the roadside food bars because they have tasted the banquet of heaven and are spoiled forever.  These people are not the heavenly-minded super-spiritual people who talk in mysteries.  These people are the life changers and transformation agents.  They are not looking for private personal pleasure, but for seeing the end of unworthy pain and suffering and of unworthy pursuits.  These people are engaged with an ever expanding portion of the community they live in and the communities beyond.  For the sake of Jesus and the kingdom they do not rest and are not satisfied.