Monday, September 07, 2009

On Mission, Changing the World, and Not Being Able to Do It All

This Labour day, Kevin DeYoung has an interesting post on work. The titles of each section:

Busy, Busy, Dreadfully Busy

Doing More for God

Thing One and Thing Two (And Thing Three and Thing Four...)
Two Blessings Along the Way
Two resources were very helpful to me as I wrestled with all of this in seminary. The first was the senior sermon preached to my class by Gordon Hugenberger of Park Street Church. The sermon was based on John the Baptist’s words “I freely confess I am not the Christ.” Hugenberger’s point to a group of soon-to-be pastors was simple. “Look, you are just the best man, not the groom. You are not the Messiah. Don’t act like it. Don’t let people force you to be something you are not. Don’t let them expect too much from you. Confess to yourself and to your people: I am not the Christ.” I still have a copy of the sermon (thanks Joey) and listen to it from time to time. Many pastors would do well to remember this humble and freeing confession. And many churchgoers would be thankful to have their pastors let up on all the “go do the mission of Jesus” sermons. He was the Christ after all and we are not.

The second resource that helped me was a little book called Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, A Heart for Mission by Tim Dearborn, who, at the time of the book’s publication, worked for World Vision (and still may, I don’t know). Dearborn talks about all the urgent appeals in the church to “modify our lifestyles to enable a more just distribution of the world’s resources, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, build homes for the poor, tear down all barriers that unjustly divide humankind, enable the reduction of the world’s arsenals in pursuit of peace...” He argues that for too long the church has motivated people to mission by news of natural catastrophes, complex humanitarian disasters, unreached people groups, and oppressed and exploited minorities. We’ve been given statistics and we’ve been told all about the sad condition of the world. The take home from all this has been to give more, care more, serve more, love more, sacrifice more. The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection had been turned into bad news about all the problems in the world and how much more we have to do to make things right.

Again, I know what you are going to say: but we do need to love, serve, and sacrifice. Absolutely, we do. But here’s what else we need to realize:

1) We all have different callings. Every Christian must give an answer for the reason for the hope that we have, but not everyone will do beach evangelism. Every Christian should be generous, but not everyone will live in the inner city. Every Christian should oppose abortion, but not everyone who march in protests or volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers.

2) The church, not the individual Christian, is God’s body in the world. We all have different gifts and the body has many different members. Even if I never directly engage the issue of AIDS in Africa, the church (through individuals or corporately) can still be showing the compassion of Christ to these orphans.

3) Even Jesus left good work undone some days. Even Jesus got tired. Even Jesus couldn’t do it all (in a manner of speaking).

4) God is the one who does the work, builds his kingdom, renews his world. As Dearborn says, “It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.”

5) Greater is he that is in me that he that is in the world. The most important work to be done in the world has already been accomplished.

On top of all this, we need to make sure our exhortations to do more rise to the level of God’s glory and sink deep into the gospel. If the exhortations don’t culminate in the glory of God then the youth people and the evangelism people and the poverty people are not really after the same thing. They are just competing interest groups in your church or in your mind. And if the exhortations don’t go deep into the gospel (and they often don’t), then we are just beating up others and ourselves with utopian dreams and masochistic oughts.

The gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is of first importance after all. So don’t forget: God loves you. God forgives you. God redeems you. God keeps you. God was here before you and will be here long after you. The truth, the world, the church, the lost, the poor, the children are not dependent upon you.

Light and Easy, No?
I’m not for a minute advocating a cheap grace or an easy-believeism. But the yoke still is easy, right? And the burden still is light, is it not? The danger–and it’s a danger I’ve fallen foul of in my own preaching–is that in all our efforts to be prophetic, radical, and missional, we end up getting the story of Pilgrim’s Progress exactly backwards. “Come to the cross, Pilgrim, see the sacrifice for your sins. Isn’t that wonderful? Now bend over and let me load this burden on your back. There’s a lot of work we have to do, me and you.” A cross, yes. Jesus said we would have to carry one of those. But a cross that kills our sins, smashes our idols, and teaches us the folly of self-reliance. Not a burden to do the impossible. Not a burden to always do more for Jesus. Not a burden of bad news that never lets up and obedience that is always out reach.

No doubt some Christians need to be shaken out of their lethargy. I try to do that every Sunday morning and evening. But there are also a whole bunch of Christians who need to be set free from their performance-minded, law-keeping, world-changing, participate-with-God-in-recreating-the-cosmos shackles. I promise you, some of the best people in your churches are getting tired. They don’t need another rah-rah pep talk. They don’t need to hear more statistics and more stories Sunday after Sunday about how bad everything is in the world. They need to hear about Christ’s death and resurrection. They need to hear how we are justified by faith apart from works of the law. They need to hear the old, old story once more. Because the secret of the gospel is that we actually do more when we hear less about all we need to do for God and hear more about all that God has already done for us.

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