Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Simple Guide to Overdoing the Great Commission.

Whenever pastors talk about missions, they will almost certainly talk about the Great Commission. Jesus gave this last command to His disciples before ascending into Heaven. In Acts 1:8, He says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And in Matthew 28:19-20, He adds, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Growing up hearing this from pastors most of my life, I could tell early on how much they liked preaching this sermon. It was easy. They could recite Jesus’ command, tap their finger on the page, and then point that finger at the congregation. “You are all missionaries,” they’d say. I liked that. The phrase “a missionary in your own backyard” had a snappy ring to it. It lit a fire in me to raise money for faceless, starving children. Raising money from the neighbors up and down my street helped the children and let the block know that I loved Jesus. I truly was a missionary in my own backyard. Once, I even stood up with a Bible in my first grade class when my teacher had mentioned a certain crisis that existed in the world.

And then I got my ass kicked for five years. Although some of the kids in my school were pretty ruthless, I don’t think they were actively persecuting me for my beliefs. I get the feeling that I pissed something off in the spiritual realm.

The first part of Acts 1:8 should demand our attention. Jesus told His disciples not to spread the gospel until they had received power from the Holy Spirit. Some people have told me that Jesus said to because the signs and wonders brought by the Holy Spirit would make God’s power evident to people hearing the gospel. I suppose that’s true. Paul said in 1 Corinthians the signs were used to show the message through God’s power and not human wisdom. I think there’s something else to it, though. They needed His guidance.

In Acts 16, Paul and his companions are out on one of their missionary journeys. In verses 6 and 7, “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” If people stopped to think about this, they might find it outrageous. “What? Didn’t God want the gospel preached there as well?” I think so, but through others and at a different time. The people in Galatia formed a pretty significant church. Paul’s letter to them may be one of my favorite epistles.

But this wasn’t the kind of mission trip where kids all wear the same T-shirts and build schools for impoverished communities. A lot people wanted to kill Paul and his buddies. Even in the cities he did visit, he faced riots and imprisonment and attempts on his life. But God miraculously saved him every time. Why? Because Paul went exactly where the Holy Spirit led him to go. He went into large, influential cities (cities, I should mention, that had more local authority to keep villagers from skewering the apostles) and shared the gospel to as many people as possible. This allowed others to share the gospel in turn with a common language and mutual history. “Hey Pete. Did you hear about that riot in town? You’ll never guess what this guy was saying to the people.” Voila! Ministry time. God put Paul in specific places to set other people in motion. His job wasn’t to save the whole world. I’d imagine that job would be very exhausting. And it would not have allowed more leadership to rise in the church. But people think that is their job. Save the whole world one backyard at a time.

For any of us who want to spread the gospel through full-time ministry (I wonder what “part-time ministry” means), we should consider this pattern. As we seek to do God’s work, we should listen for His voice and follow the direction He gives us. Otherwise we might take on burdens that are not ours and in turn place those burdens on our families and loved ones. I’m not saying that ministry never involves pain or sacrifice or hard choices that affect others. I mean to say we would do better to have God show us who to reach and then help them reach others. That way we don’t end up in Bithynia wondering why nobody’s listening or why those people over there are picking up heavy rocks.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What Do You Mean "It's A Ministry"?

For the past few months, or maybe two weeks after I started this weblog, I've viewed my writing here as exercise. Between writing my new book and a graphic novel (you heard me), I write about something completely unrelated just to stay in shape, so to speak. Sometimes those other projects have peripheral subjects that inspire the posts, but are otherwise unrelated. The point is, I very rarely think about 'Am-ha'aretz Press as serious ministry.

This has begun to change, though. When I realized that my parents weren't the only people paying attention, I had a sudden understanding of my responsibility. Recently, I've received emails and phone calls from people in Chicago, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, and Finland all saying how God spoke to them through my weblog.

I want to take this a little more seriously. Not to say I'll be writing here every day. I can't promise that. But I'm inviting you into the process. Here's how. Many of my posts and other writings come as a result of questions raised in conversation. But I live around a lot of busy and driven people, so I spend much of my day alone. (You may have noticed that I don't have a lot of posts. I keep telling myself that quality trumps quantity.) If you have any questions or subjects that you would like me to address, please leave a comment. I'm almost certain that you don't need an account to do so. Adam did this once and it inspired one of my favorite posts.

That's all I wanted to say for now. God has been kicking my ass over a few things, and I'm sure I'll have more to say after we work through some of it. Until then, don't be afraid to tell me you love me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When We Move, It's A Movement.

A friend of mine gave me the new John Eldredge book, Walking With God. Because my “to-read” list is pretty long, it can take ages before I finally get to the newest book. For some reason, I decided to upset the natural order of things and skip other books I had promised to read first. So far, I like Walking With God very much. It’s actually a little spooky how close Eldredge’s teachings mirror the life my family has lived for the past fourteen years. It’s like the guy’s been reading my mail, or at least my book. John, if you're reading this, let’s hang out.

Last night, I read the section “Until God Becomes Our All”. I tried not to get visibly excited while sitting in a hip cafĂ© as I read these words. “The first and greatest command is to love God with our whole being. Yet, it is rare to find someone who is completely given over to God. And so normal to be surrounded by people who are trying to make life work. We think of the few who are abandoned to God as being sort of odd. The rest of the world – the ones trying to make life work – seem perfectly normal to us.” So help me, I almost said aloud, “That’s me!” I’m not saying that I get it right all the time, but my mistakes happen in the middle of my effort to live for God by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Abe once told me that one of the most neglected commands in the Bible is to have no other gods before God. I think I agree with him. Millions of good Christian people just snarled at me, I know. But think about it. People will follow God as long as it doesn’t look foolish, jeopardize their finances, or interfere with any other plans they may have. They worship at the alter of money, image, career, relationships, or whatever else started as a gift from God. But I’m not writing about idols today. I had a long night, you know? I want to write about something exciting.

This verse comes from Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible. Acts 9:31 “Then the Messianic community (the church) throughout Y’hudah (Judea), the Galil (Galilee) and Shomron (Samaria) enjoyed peace and was built up. They lived in the fear of the Lord, with the counsel of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit); and their numbers kept multiplying.” Two things ought to stick out from that verse. The believers feared God, meaning they lived for Him above everything else, and they sought the direction of the Holy Spirit. When the church lived in this way, they grew. People came to Jesus. It sounds pretty basic, right? Still, why do I look at the church in the western world and see so little life? How much are these churches growing because people are giving their lives to Jesus and how many churches are growing because of the Fan Club?

At church yesterday, the pastor taught on John 8. This is the awesome passage where Jesus says in verses 28, “So Yeshua (Jesus) said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM [who I say I am], and that of myself I do nothing, but say only what the Father has taught me.’” Jesus lived this way. He served God first, and only moved with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is our example, and all throughout the New Testament we are encouraged to live as Jesus lived. My pastor asked if anyone wanted prayer for that kind of relationship with God and a number of people responded. I prayed for one of my new church friends. He told me that he wanted a more dynamic, personal relationship with God. “I want that extraordinary life,” he said. Enough with that boring and normal and safe version of faith where we try to keep everything under our control. Let’s change the world.

This isn’t melodrama, people. I’m talking change. There is a reason the Gospel is called “Good News”. The world needs to hear this. And if people in the church are willing to sacrifice control of their lives (trying to make it “work”), giving all of themselves over to God, the world would take notice. The very thought of it touches my punk rock heart. Some people might say we need to take responsibility for our lives. I did that already, and I nearly ruined the whole thing. My responsible life didn’t mean much until I dedicated it to God in total surrender. Unless the church today begins to live as it did in Acts 9:31, it will become more inbred and ineffective. The church needs to move with the direct and personal guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s like the Orchid song says, “when we move, it’s a movement.”